Vanity thought #1581. Really old school

While talking about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s disappearance and last instructions it would be very appropriate to discuss his views on saṅkīrtana and his contribution to book distribution and preaching in general.

My starting point in this series of posts during Prabhupāda marathon is an “ideal” saṅkīrtana temple where everything is centered on book distribution and where saṅkīrtana means book distribution first and foremost. We don’t have those anymore for many reasons and resurrecting them would probably be a Utopian idea but saṅkīrtana is not an arrangement for this world, it’s not supposed to fit here. Those who are after its nectar do not belong to this world either, they are just passing through. Consequently, this series of posts is not about how to make our lives here easier, but to remind us of a perfect life that exists in eternal service to Lord Caitanya, not in this world. It’s not about how to reconcile Vedas with science or evolution, or how to reconcile Kṛṣṇa consciousness and Christianity, or about any of the subjects concerned with worldly phenomena. Our only goal should be the mercy of Lord Caitanya which manifests in service to His mission, too bad if we do not live up to it.

In history of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism we had saṅkīrtana as led by Lord Caitanya, then saṅkīrtana as led by Lord Nityānanda, then the Six Gosvāmīs, then the period of Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura, then we had dark ages until Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and his revival of Gauḍiyā tradition. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta continued that and then Śrīla Prabhupāda took it all over the world. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta then appears as just a link in a chain but he was so much more than that.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote many books and started the bhakti vṛkṣa program but after his retirement from public preaching it practically stopped so Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta had to start literally from scratch and he did it on a scale never seen before. He didn’t just cultivate small groups of devotees, he built temples and entire communities around them, all around India. His reach was unprecedented, he got the ear of biggest political and government leaders and he had festivals attended by millions of people. He put saṅkīrtana on an industrial footing, so to speak.

It wasn’t about the books, though, he hardly printed any and he wasn’t a prolific writer himself. Nevertheless, he “discovered” bṛhat mṛdaṅga, before him it was just a printing press. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda had various publications going on during his life and he also printed his own books but that had all stopped and to revive it Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta needed new material, again starting from scratch.

Mostly he published periodicals, the main one being Gauḍiyā in Bengali. He also had Harmonist in English and a Hindi periodical as well. He published those in great numbers and had thousands of devotees go out and distribute them to the public, something Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura didn’t have in his time. Someone might correct me but the idea of investing all the money into printing books, the famous order given to our Śrīla Prabhupāda, occurred to him in last years of his life, he didn’t have time to put it in practice.

What I mean to say is that saṅkīrtana for him didn’t mean book distribution as it came to mean in ISKCON. Still, saṅkīrtana was the only life and soul of Gauḍiyā Maṭha, it just manifested differently.

Remembering Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s speeches and instructions, he always talked about Hari-kathā, which was his preferred manifestation of saṅkīrtana. He hardly ever sang the holy names but he always talked about Kṛṣṇa. He also used terms like Hari-bhajana, śuddha Hari-bhajana, Hari-seva-katha and the like. In simple words – we must always talk about Kṛṣṇa and of nothing else. This was saṅkīrtana in its purest form, free from all other motivations.

Devotees followed his example, too, and gave speeches everywhere they went, that’s how their mission had grown, just as we did in ISKCON half a century later. This is the heart of saṅkīrtana – talking about Kṛṣṇa to appreciating audience, to devotees. Every other form must not undermine this main principle. Find devotees and talk to them, if there aren’t any around – make people into devotees and talk to them. If you are alone – find devotees and talk about Kṛṣṇa in their association. There’s no other way. Even when we do japa we do it Haridāda Ṭhākura’s style – outloud so that there’s always some living entities who can hear it.

Every devotee in Gauḍiyā Maṭhas was expected to go out and preach every day just as they were required to chant their rounds. They were supposed to do it “Nityānanda style” – approach people and beg them to consider the message of Lord Caitanya. Devotees also asked for donations, which is an old tradition. People saw them as sādhus and hearing spiritual instructions and then giving donations was a part of the ritual.

What pleased Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta the most, however, was when devotees persuaded people to buy the magazines. That’s how he eventually got the idea of Bṛhat Mṛdaṅga – don’t just talk, leave something to read later, too. This is what our Śrīla Prabhupāda did as well – asked devotees to distribute Back To Godhead magazines along with harināma and prasādam. It was only later that the devotees figured out that they could distribute big books, too.

Eventually we got around to the idea that books can be what cows were to people in Vedic ages – foundation of the entire society and expression of wealth and prosperity. It’s a Kali yuga solution, though. If we want to build a varṇāśrama we need to go back to land and cows but if you do not worry about settling down and putting roots then books are the best. They are also not wealth per se, you can’t eat them, but they can be converted to money. Most importantly, they give everyone a chance to serve saṅkīrtana mission.

Some devotees in Gauḍiyā Maṭha got the wrong idea that donations were the basis, just like some of our devotees thought that books were the basis because they brought in money, but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta cut them short. Preaching is the basis, as well as the goal and the method, money is just something that the universe provides to oil the wheels. Saṅkīrtana is never about the money, if one thinks like that he immediately looses all spiritual realizations.

One time Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta told the entire temple to stay in and wait and he left for saṅkīrtana all alone. He didn’t collect anything substantial, as far as I remember, but someone suddenly showed up with a big donation of foodstuff on his own and everybody was immediately convinced. As long as preaching is going on the universe will cooperate in this regard, we don’t need to make any separate efforts. This is another principle we should never forget if we talk about book distribution.

I wish I remembered something more on this topic but I don’t, so I’ll give it a rest.


Vanity thought #1580. Last words

Let’s look closer at Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s last public address I posted yesterday in full. It was jotted down by one of his disciples and then published in Gaudiya magazine, which was Gauḍiyā Maṭha’s main publication. The English translation from Bengali can be easily found elsewhere on the internet. A book by HH Bhaktivikāsa Svāmī has several footnotes that deserves to be included, too, but let’s start at the beginning.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī never in his entire life took any medicine, he put his health solely in the hands of Kṛṣṇa. We are not advised to imitate him in this but we should at least know that it’s a possibility and only our immaturity as aspiring devotees is stopping us from following his footsteps in this regard. Our conditioning puts us at the mercy of the material energy, if she tells us to take medicine than we should not act as if are liberated, we depend on her and on her help but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta didn’t.

Having said that, he still behaved as a conditioned living being – experiencing pain, old age, constant battles with his mind etc just like the rest of us. For him, however, all those troubles were external because he didn’t identify himself with his body. We do, we think it’s us who get old and sick, and we hardly ever notice our mind wondering away from Kṛṣṇa’s service, we just happily go along for the ride, only occasionally catching ourselves on deviations. When we think of liberation we expect that all these troubles would stop but from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s life we can see that it won’t be the case. Birth, death, old age, and disease will continue but we won’t take it personally and to outsiders the advantage provided by Kṛṣṇa consciousness will be impossible to detect.

So, even if Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was aware of his imminent departure he continued with his service without interruptions. He left his body in the morning of January 1, 1937, yet he spent whole of November giving daily lectures on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in Purī which lasted for several hours each. When he was returning to Calcutta in the beginning of December quite a few people realized that they were seeing their guru for the last time. He became bedridden on the 18th of December, only two weeks before departure, and the last public speech was given on the 23rd. After that he just didn’t have the power but regularly listened to devotees singing songs by Bhaktivinoda and Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākuras.

A couple of doctors approached him but devotees joked that instead of treating him they got a treatment themselves – spiritual treatment, that is. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s arguments were simple – this body is given to us for engagement in Kṛṣṇa kathā and so harināma is the only suitable medicine. The doctor in Purī whose main proposal was to restrict Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s lecturing got it the heaviest and was left completely bewildered that all his learning was completely blown to pieces. He didn’t expect that a patient would be so clear in his dedication to Kṛṣṇa’s service that he’d forgo his personal bodily comfort even when threatened by death. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta wasn’t fanatical either, it’s just that the condition of his body had no effect on the condition of his consciousness, mind, or intelligence.

His last speech began with asking forgiveness from those who were thought to be his enemies. Our Śrīla Prabhupāda did that, too, and some have misconstrued it to mean that he abandoned his disciples and took shelter in his godbrothers instead, finally realizing the error of his ways. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s apology, however, makes it clear that all this enemy making business was for people’s own benefit and he hoped that one day they will surely realize it. That’s how we should see our Prabhupāda’s
apology, too, even if it was worded differently, as far as I remember.

    I have upset many persons’ minds. Many might have considered me their enemy, because I was obliged to speak the plain truth of service and devotion toward the Absolute Godhead. I have given them all those troubles only so they might turn their face toward the Personality of Godhead without any desire for gain, and with unalloyed devotion. Surely some day they will be able to understand that.

He then told his disciples to propagate the message of Rūpa-Raghunātha and become particles of dust at the lotus feet of rūpānugas. That they should live only for Hari-bhajana and nothing else, completely ignoring the opposition and lack of appreciation. Several Sanskrit terms probably need clarification here. Aśraya-vigraha that he asks us to take shelter of (and it was a message to all aspiring devotees everywhere, not just to those present at the time) could be understood to be either guru or Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. The advaya-jñāna that we are supposed to serve is the realization of transcendental nature of Kṛṣṇa’s form, qualities, pastimes etc – that they are non-different from Kṛṣṇa Himself. It is a transcendental, fully spiritual platform as opposed to our mundane vision of duality. It doesn’t mean advaita.

Then he implores us: “Let our bodies, which are like those of aged oxen, be offered into the saṅkīrtana-yajña of Lord Caitanya and His associates.” Aged oxen were the ones that were offered in Vedic sacrifices, their bodies considered useless for anything else and fit for rejuvenation through a yajña. This is a very fitting description of our condition regardless of our age – we are no good for anything but saṅkīrtana. All our other achievements are only an illusion. Once again Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta reminds us that “..our constitutional position and all in all is to in every birth to become dust at Śrī Rūpa-Raghunātha’s lotus feet.” Note “in every birth” – he is not telling to go back to Kṛṣṇa and be done with it. Being of some use to Śrīla Rūpa and Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmīs is not only superior utilization of one’s soul but our only goal, this blog’s name not-withstanding.

He also speaks of Bhaktivinoda-dhārā, which is “the line of Bhaktivinoda”. It will never stop and it is our duty to make sure it is so. He then again stresses importance of serving Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī by quoting a verse by Śrīla Raghunātha: “Taking a blade of grass between my teeth, I fall down and pray again and again to become dust at Śrīmad Rūpa’s lotus feet, birth after birth.” He can’t stress this enough – devotional service is not about making sure we are spiritually alright but it is service to our ācāryas. He doesn’t say “go play with Kṛṣṇa in any rasa you like”. That’s not our goal, it’s a proposition for the neophytes, we should know better.

Then comes the part about dealing with inconveniences and his solution is not to worry about it. We should not be overwhelmed by troubles not desire to overcome them. That’s the answer to the question why he apparently didn’t do enough to save Gauḍiyā Maṭha from disintegration. It was certainly an obstacle in the mission of Lord Caitanya but the instruction is to simply carry on with service, not aim to overcome the obstacles, which would make us attached to the result. Kṛṣṇa-sevā-rasa does not arise in those who are still concerned with attachment and detachment.

He admits that such an understanding might be baffling because every human being in this world wants to overcome various difficulties. However, as devotees our only requirement is to transcend this platform, go beyond dualities, and “enter the kingdom of eternal necessity”. Once again he reminds us: “we have no love or hatred toward anyone in this world. All arrangements made herein are but temporary.” It’s impossible to make enemies in the course of devotional service, people might think that way but they’d be wrong, and we ourselves certainly should not see anyone as our enemy, nor should we love anybody either. Not mothers, not fathers, not wives and husbands, not children – nobody. All these are only material forms covering the essence, which is that they are all sparkles of Kṛṣṇa’s energy.

In his concluding paragraph he again asks us not to feel dejected while engaged in seven-tongue flame of saṅkīrtana-yajña – a reference to seven auspicious qualities mentioned in the first verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka, and he concludes by once again imploring us to preach Rūpa-Raghunātha-kathā. He repeats the importance of this service to Rūpa-Raghunātha so many times that we should finally get it in our heads that it’s the only thing that matters in our lives. I hope it registers but we should also know how to differentiate the real service from lip service given by many pseudo-devotees, but that’s the whole other topic, extensively covered by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta himself. Just not for today.

Vanity thought #1579. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s disappearance

This is another vaiṣṇava holiday that should not go unnoticed if we are talking about saṅkīrtana because without Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s contribution we wouldn’t even be here. He did not start it, he did not finish it, but such is the beauty of devotee’s service that it is absolutely essential for the full manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s glory and pastimes. You just can’t have Lord Caitanya’s mission without Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, or without Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, or without our Śrīla Prabhupāda.

A few words should be said here about that last title – Prabhupāda. In Gauḍiyā Maṭha “Prabhupāda” was Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta but then our ISKCON devotees thought that our “Svāmījī” was a living representation of it and decided to call him that, too. When “Svāmījī” arrived in Māyāpura and saw this banner welcoming him as “Prabhupāda” he commented that his godbrothers wouldn’t like it. I’ve never seen their reaction discussed publicly in ISKCON, I bet it wasn’t favorable and it probably set the tone for all the subsequent interactions. Appropriating the title of you guru is a dangerous thing but our Prabhupāda accepted it and all the bad karma that came with it as a necessary burden. At the end of the day, in ISKCON we think that even “Prabhupāda” doesn’t give him the full honor and want to improve on it by considering other titles like “sampradāya-ācārya”, which is even higher, on par with Madhva himself. “Prabhupāda” withstood the test of time and no one objects to it anymore, they got over it, but when we talk about life of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and hear this title used by his disciples it immediately stands out and puts us on our toes. We can’t remain indifferent and maybe we shouldn’t.

There’s a lot to be said about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda (sometimes he is called that, too), but since it’s his departure day we’d better focus on this last pastime in his life. He sensed that it would come from far away, leaving hints in his speeches here and there for years, almost a decade. The famous “fire will burn” prediction about Gauḍiyā Maṭha made in private to our Śrīla Prabhupāda came in 1935, more than a year before his disappearance.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta didn’t like what he saw in the future and he knew he had little power to stop it, it was going to happen one way or another. Sometimes people ask why he didn’t stop the rot and why he didn’t straighten out his disciples, why he didn’t make sure that GBC was firmly established and working prior to his leaving. These are all good questions and we know that our Prabhupāda did it right, obviously learning the lesson from GM. It is, however, not true that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta didn’t do enough himself – that is a wrong expectation from a devotee. We only do what Kṛṣṇa wants us to do and we do not interfere with His plans for the material world. Sometimes He manifests His pastime of saṅkīrtana in full and sometimes He winds it.

That’s why I think Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta knew what was going to happen, he saw the signs, but he did only what is eternally assigned to the spirit soul – glorify the service to the Lord, perform saṅkīrtana. That’s the only thing that can counteract inauspicious influences in our hearts. It might not have been enough to stop material energy from rotting but if his unfortunate disciples kept that message in their hearts then their lives would have become successful despite all the external failures. We do not perform saṅkīrtana to change the world, we perform it to change the souls. The world will keep rotting all throughout the Kali yuga, it’s Lord’s plan and we should let it go, our interest doesn’t lie here.

I’m saying that trying to enact some external decrees enforcing this and that, prohibiting these people from doing this, ordering those people to do that, establishing some structures and notarizing them with mundane authorities is a fool’s errand. We need to save souls, the material nature will cooperate according to Kṛṣṇa’s will, not ours. If Kṛṣṇa wants to destroy something then some fancy piece of paper with a stamp on it is not going to stop Him.

There’s a famous last speech delivered by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta to his disciples from his deathbed. It was about a week before his leaving and it illustrates this point brilliantly – do not even bother to remember with these mundane concerns and concentrate only on what is truly important. This speech is quite long for the blog so I’ll just leave it here and continue in the next post:

I have upset many persons’ minds. Many might have considered me their enemy, because I was obliged to speak the plain truth of service and devotion toward the Absolute Godhead. I have given them all those troubles only so they might turn their face toward the Personality of Godhead without any desire for gain, and with unalloyed devotion. Surely some day they will be able to understand that.

All of you propagate the message of Rūpa-Raghunātha with supreme enthusiasm. Our ultimate desire is to become dust at the lotus feet of the rūpānugas. All should remain united in following the āśraya-vigraha, for the sake of serving the advaya-jñāna. In this ephemeral sphere you should live somehow or other only for Hari-bhajana. In spite of all dangers, criticisms, and discomforts, do not give up Hari-bhajana. Don’t be disappointed that most people in the world do not accept topics of unduplicitious Kṛṣṇa-sevā. Do not forsake your own bhajana of Kṛṣṇa-kathā-śravaṇa-kīrtana, which is your all in all. With humility like a straw and forbearance like a tree, you should always perform Hari-kīrtana.

Let our bodies, which are like those of aged oxen, be offered into the saṅkīrtana-yajña of Lord Caitanya and His associates. We do not aspire to be any kind of heroes of karma or dharma, but our constitutional position and all in all is to in every birth to become dust at Śrī Rūpa-Raghunātha’s lotus feet. The bhaktivinoda-dhārā will never stop. With all your energy, devote yourself to fulfilling the desire of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. There are many among you who are well qualified and able workers. We have no other wish whatsoever. Our only motto is:

adadānas tṛṇaṁ dantair idaṁ yāce punaḥ punaḥ
śrīmad-rūpa-padāmbhoja- dhūliḥ syāṁ janma-janmani

Taking a blade of grass between my teeth, I fall down and pray again and again to become dust at Śrīmad Rūpa’s lotus feet, birth after birth.

Certainly there are multiple inconveniences while we are in this mortal domain, but there is no need either to be overwhelmed by them or to try to overcome them. Rather, even during the duration of our present life we must become acquainted with what we shall gain after surpassing all those difficulties, and what shall be the mode of our permanent existence. In this world we are compelled to make decisions regarding objects that evoke our attraction and revulsion, both those that we want and those we do not. Attachment and detachment in this damned existence increase according to the degree that we are separated from Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet. When we are able to transcend the position of attachment and detachment in this world of death and are attracted by the holy name of Godhead, then only can we understand the taste of Kṛṣṇa-sevā-rasa.

At the present time, Kṛṣṇa’s instructions seem highly startling and perplexing. Knowingly or unknowingly, everyone who is considered a human being is more or less struggling to eliminate those invading elements that baffle our perception of our eternal need. Our only requirement is to enter into the kingdom of our eternal necessity, by going beyond dualities. We have no love or hatred toward anyone in this world. All arrangements made herein are but temporary. Therefore that supreme goal is indispensably necessary for everyone in this world. All of you should work unitedly and harmoniously for the same objective of attaining eligibilty for sevā to the original āśraya-vigraha.

May the conceptions of the rūpānugas flow in the world. Let us never feel the slightest dejection while engaged in the seven-tongued flame of saṅkīrtana-yajña. Only if we have undaunted and ever-increasing attachment for it shall we achieve all perfection. Under the guidance of the rūpānugas, all of you should fearlessly and with utmost energy preach Rūpa-Raghunātha-kathā.

Let the import of it simply sink in before offering a commentary. It’s so beautiful as it is that it can be read again and again and even memorized if possible.

Vanity thought #1578. Theologizing

Just to illustrate my previous post here’s an old article by Kenneth Rose from ISKCON Review journal, Vol 2, 1986 – almost twenty years old. I don’t think much has changed since, nothing that would matter here.

Christianity has accepted homosexuality, for example. The Pope himself is ambiguous on the subject and last I heard about it half of American Christians don’t consider it a sin anymore. Does it change anything in terms of attempted mashup of ISKCON and Christian theology? No. Things have only become dumber since, judging by the language. The poll results are here, btw – even majority of Catholics are for gay marriage there.

Once again – the way things are going we have nothing to talk about with Christians. If they insist on seeing themselves as such it’s a rather unfortunate conditioning and it comes with supposedly dogmatic views that easily fold under public pressure. If you are a Christian it seems you don’t have any moral principles and go with the flow. Same as atheists but unlike them you won’t even admit it. Modern Christianity is a terrible platform to seek common language on in our preaching, better to avoid it altogether, but I digress.

I don’t know why this article was chosen for ISKCON Review, probably because it was largely favorable and we could take any good publicity in those days. It also comes from a person who had been in ISKCON for a year and a half and so supposedly knows what he is talking about. Maybe from a Christian perspective his could be considered as an inside view but I doubt he ever read anything but the Bhagavad Gītā and hadn’t seen Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Nectar of Devotion, or most of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. As far as I can see, he has/had only rudimentary knowledge of our philosophy, and yet still it impressed him.

Speaking of language – I don’t know if it was a trick but there are lots of big words there that I needed to look up in a dictionary to fully grasp their meaning. It isn’t particularly academic but certainly wants to be seen as more than just light reading, and yet the thoughts behind the language are simplistic, at least from a vaiṣṇava perspective.

Rose chosen three areas in which Christianity can learn something from vaiṣṇavism, and Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism in particular – revelation, God, and eschatology. On revelation he sees our exclusivity as being on par with Christian belief that Christ is the only God (or part of the Trinity, doesn’t matter). We, instead, insist on Kṛṣṇa being the fountainhead of all the avatāras. Rose also cites a passage from one of the purports to Gītā where Prabhupāda says that it’s a unique scripture that contains knowledge no available elsewhere.

He cannot accept such claims and does not consider the possibility that they could be true. He does not condemn us for making them either but that is not enough. Gītā does indeed contain information about the soul that is unavailable in Abrahamic religions, as well as information about yoga and lots of other important things. No one disputes Gītā’s position within the body of Vedic knowledge either but Prabhupāda was clearly writing that purport for the western audience where knowledge of the soul is still not common and reincarnation is still rejected.

Just because Christians make similar claims to exclusivity doesn’t make us wrong. It does not follow. Plus we can easily put their Christ in our context and explain his position and his mission and why and how it works but they have absolutely no place for any of our characters in their religion. They have no place for Kṛṣṇa or Lord Caitanya, they have no spiritual place for our gurus/prophets, it’s all demoniac to them. We, otoh, do not deny JC’s divinity and we are quite comfortable with it.

None of that had registered with Rose and instead he offered three ways to deal with our claims to exclusivity – repress them, embrace them, or construct a general theory of theism that would accommodate both theistic traditions. Sounds reasonable on the surface but he is still concerned with his own attempts to understand God, not with God’s nature as He reveals Himself. It must make sense to Rose with his limited knowledge and intellect, he wants to construct a universe he understands himself. It’s still an egocentric and selfish approach, and he decided to pursue it in the section he called “revelation”!

I don’t know what “revelation” means to him at all. He jumps to the next section where he attempts to construct the nature of God without pausing to contemplate that this kind of mental gymnastics is incompatible with revealed knowledge, but at least he discusses some aspects of it when trying to talk about God and he gives arguments from prominent Christian philosophers on the apophatic vs cataphatic theologies. Apophatic would be our “neti-neti” but it would also mean that we can’t use our brainpower to say anything positive about God, which, in turn, would mean that revelation must be the only source of positive knowledge here. We can say “God is not human” but we can’t say what God is, for example. We don’t have words or concepts to describe God and we won’t understand Him unless He reveals Himself.

On the cataphatic side we have an argument that since we are created in His image we can deduce at least something positive about His nature. Rose slides into praising our doctrine of simultaneous oneness and difference here. Thanks for it being appreciated, it makes sense – if we all have forms, bodies, and personalities then it must mean the God has a form, body, and personality, too. It’s our go to argument against advaita, but it misses the point of revelation again – unless God reveals Himself all our cataphatic statement about Him will be grossly inadequate. Simply knowing that He has a form is not the same as seeing that form.

Rose’s construction of new, encompassing theology will never reveal God, neither Kṛṣṇa nor Christ. To be fair, those Christians who do appreciate the power of revelation are not concerned with theology as much as him. Philosophy seems to be a substitute for those who do not have actual spiritual knowledge, which is true in our tradition as well. Rose claims that our theism is a “logical implication of the metaphysical axiom of inconceivable” and maybe he is right but this “theism” has nothing in common with actual spiritual knowledge arising in one’s heart. Spiritual knowledge is not a matter of logic but what more can you offer if you don’t have it? Can’t expect much from Christians here, and many of them aren’t even aware of the limitation of the philosophical approach.

What Rose got right is the recognition that our tradition offers people a concrete view of what spiritual world is like – to the degree that it can be described in words, of course. None of the Abrahamic religions offers anything substantial in that area. “God will wipe away all tears” is probably as far as they can go. We, otoh, have plenty of people who talk about nothing else but happenings in Kṛṣṇa’s Vṛndāvana. Personally, I’m skeptical about this practice but it shows the vast difference in the ability between our traditions to at least construct a picture of a spiritual world.

Finally, Rose raises the subject of vegetarianism – he likes the idea but he says that vaiṣṇavas put orthopraxy before orthodoxy there, which shows his misunderstanding why it actually matters. He doesn’t get purity, neither internal nor external. This is not true about all the Christians in the world but many would argue that power of Christ transcends our personal imperfections, therefore eat away all the animals you want to kill and wash it down with wine, legitimate Christian tradition going back to JC himself.

Once again I’ll remind of that concluding Gītā verse which describes pre-conditions for preaching and saṅkīrtana – we should not disclose this knowledge to those who are not austere and therefore unclean in their habits (BG 18.67). We are explicitly forbidden from doing so. Our only excuse here is that once we get to the point where we can tell people about God, after discussing the relationship between the body and the soul, and they remain receptive to our message then their sins immediately get cancelled, and so we can continue preaching until their next hamburger. Those who heard the message and then go back to sinful activities should be excluded until they clean up their act. I bet Rose didn’t digest this last section of the Gītā at all.

The whole point of this post is that trying to communicate with Christians on their own platform will be fruitless even if we run into genuine well-wishers. Being a Christian is insufficient for hearing the message of Lord Caitanya, we need to take people beyond such bodily conditioning first.

Vanity thought #1577. How to talk to Christians

Short answer – you don’t. But before I elaborate on that I need to issue a little rant about the holiday period.

I hardly have enough private time to chant my rounds. What I do is wake up earlier, pretend that I’m still asleep, and chant before people realize I’m up. Writing for this blog is nearly impossible, too. No one cares what I do on my computer but the overall atmosphere in the house is such that I just can’t concentrate on my posts when everyone around is chatting about family news, current news, new Star Wars, and everyone expects to be listened to and given replies, small talk is unavoidable. My consciousness is just not in the right place, sorry.

Practically it means that I will surely miss a few days here and there. I intend to make up for them when I have time but that would probably be after new year, not before that. It also screws up my train of thought because my brain is overwhelmed with all these opinions on mundane matters I’m expected to entertain. As a result my consciousness is contaminated, my mind is wandering all over the place, and it’s just not as good as usual. Who invented these holidays and for what purpose? Worst time of the year ever.

Anyway, continuing from the last post about Christians – how do we talk to them successfully? My answer is that it’s impossible and for a very simple reason – our message is meant for those who realize they are spirit souls and as such are ready to accept their eternal constitutional position as Lord’s servants. Kṛṣṇa’a servants, to be exact, but Kṛṣṇa isn’t proper God in their understanding of the term and we don’t serve “Lord Kṛṣṇa” ourselves so we can let that one slide.

Kṛṣṇa accompanies as as the Supersoul and in this feature He acts as a Lord and accepts our service. He also does that as His mūrti and as His name. “God” is one of His names and it carries enough potencies with it to rule over the universe but personally, as a resident of Vṛndāvana, Kṛṣṇa isn’t God. So, when we talk to people about God we should be careful about suddenly introducing serving Him in one of the five rasas and other such esoteric truths.

Anyway, the basis of all spiritual knowledge is the fact that we not our bodies but spirit souls. “Christian”, otoh, is a bodily designation and on that platform any spiritual realization is impossible. Devotional service must be sarvopādhi-vinirmuktam — free from all kinds of material designations, or free from all desires except the desire to render service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we talk to people on any other basis then bhakti does not arise and saṅkīrtana does not happen. Saṅkīrtana means talking to devotees, not souls’ bodily designations. We can’t have saṅkīrtana with Christians just as we can’t have saṅkīrtans with cats and dogs.

The difference is that Christians possess a human form of life and so have the capability to transcend their bodily conditioning while cats and dogs can’t. Sometimes, by the mercy of the Lord, even dogs can be engaged in service and perfomr as sort of saṅkīrtana but normally it’s not possible. Christians should generally do better but not if they keep seeing themselves as such.

What should normally happen when we preach is that we ask people who they are and what they do, or find out this kind of information by other means, and then we tell them how our books are relevant to their lives because they are not actually their bodies but spirit souls and as spirit souls we need to develop spiritual knowledge. If they express interest in yoga we can tell them that there are other, better kinds of yoga than simply exercising in a gym. If they are interested in astrology we can tell them that our books describe the past and the future of the entire universe and explain why astrology works – because of the three guṇas acting under the influence of time and that planets are like crystals shining spotlights of this “guṇa energy” or some such. Then we tell them that as spirit souls it shouldn’t be our main concern and we need to put astrology into a spiritual perspective.

One way or another but we should quickly find a way to go from people’s conditioned nature to their eternal position. We start by talking to welders and accountants but we always end by talking to souls and we should make this transition as fast as possible, because that’s where saṅkīrtana finally starts. Talking about yoga and astrology is not saṅkīrtana, just a necessary prelude. It’s for this reason that we shouldn’t talk to Christians but make them understand that they are not their bodies and continue talking to them as souls, not as Christians anymore.

But aren’t Christians supposed to be God’s servants in their own right? Do they really have to give up this particular designation? Śrīla Prabhupāda told us not to try and convert religious people into Hare Kṛṣṇas so there must be a way to talk to them as Christians.

In answer to that – yes, they are God’s servants in their own right, but when they talk to us that right ceases to matter. As spirit souls they are God’s servants regardless, designating themselves as “Christians” becomes only a hindrance at this stage.

Christianity is not all useless but the only thing it’s good for from the spiritual POV is that it makes people understand “I need to serve God”, everything else that comes with it is nonsense. They do not understand the soul, they think the soul is our temporary subtle body – mind, memories. emotions etc. They do not understand that all living beings ARE souls, they think that some of them HAVE souls while others don’t. Inside their heads is unholy mess. “If you are have a soul then who are you? ” – “I’m me”. Thousands of years of Christian science and they haven’t gotten even to spiritual ABC.

And just think what being a “Christian” really means – fact is, you can’t say for sure until they clarify what kind of Christians they are exactly. They have two thousand years of history and the exact definition of “Christian” has been tweaked countless number of times but popes, synods, priests, reformers, politicians etc. etc. Their current understanding is a reflection of all those decisions or reactions to those decisions. Catholic or protestant? Anglican or other kind of protestant? Orthodox? Greek or Eastern? Adventist? Mormon? What difference does it make? A lot to them but none to us and none to their souls.

That’s why we should stop talking to Christians the moment they announce themselves as such and tell them that as eternal souls we all must serve God with all our hearts, dedicating every minute of our lives. When we talk about God like that it becomes saṅkīrtana, when we argue about eating meat and reincarnation it stops being saṅkīrtana, as simple as that. It’s a shame they don’t accept reincarnation but we shouldn’t let this issue derail our saṅkīrtana efforts. They understand that they will have some kind of life after death and that’s good enough for us, we can talk about selfless service instead and how to achieve it, how to organize our life in such a way that we can always glorify the Lord. We can also tell them about God creating the universe and how great He is, they won’t argue against that and so it will become saṅkīrtana.

Just don’t let their Christian conditioning get in the way and ruin everything.

Vanity thought #1576. And so it is Christmas

I just realized that it’s one of John Lennon’s songs, not the elevator musak they play around this time of year. Either way, Christmas is impossible to avoid and so are Christians. I don’t know of a good strategy that works on them, I know lots that don’t. Perhaps reflecting on our experiences with them we can come to a better understanding of what Christianity is and how can we penetrate its defensive shields.

Off the bat, there’s a famous assertion by Śrīla Prabhupāda that Christ is a corrupted version of “Son of Kṛṣṇa”, which is often taken by devotees to mean that Christ and Kṛṣṇa are the same. I don’t know any Christian who has ever been impressed by this argument so it’s not for them, for others it’s mildly amusing and the result depends on whether they like this kind of outrageous ideas or become deeply suspicious of anyone advancing them.

The fact that Prabhpāda was most likely right doesn’t matter, the idea is outrageous by modern standards and modern knowledge of Christianity. We can also site supporting arguments about Christ being in India, none of them are accepted by Christians either. At best they’d note it as something to check back with their pastor and we can be sure they’ll hear nothing good about us there.

We can impress people with our knowledge of Christianity until we run into a proper authority, if we think that we somehow can defeat thousands years of Christian science and convince them they are all wrong we are delusional. It won’t happen if only for a reason that people won’t give up their long held beliefs regardless of the evidence, and even our “evidence” is shaky.

I know of a devotee who learned all the Ten Commandments by heart, which is very unusual even for the practicing Christians, and he used it to impress upon others that when he says Christianity and Kṛṣṇa consciousness is compatible he is speaking as a Christian authority. It works on some, until they get in touch with real Christian authorities, and then they feel cheated and their trust abused. There’s just no good way to make Christianity and Kṛṣṇa consciousness work on this level.

There’s a devotee, won’t mention his name because he is still around, a prominent member of ISKCON, who spend years if not decades researching reincarnation and vegetarianism in early Christianity and other ancient cultures. It was all very impressive and I myself was totally convinced, until he went to debate his findings with real Christian scholars. They shredded his theory to pieces. I don’t think he deserved this and their arguments were spurious but that’s what happened. You just can’t fight with pigs and not get dirtied.

If “Christian scholars” were any intelligent they would have accepted the message of Lord Caitanya a long time ago or at least had given up meat eating. Their intelligence, however, is good for reading books but useless for controlling mind and senses. All they do is selfishly justify themselves, there’s no true spiritual inquiry there whatsoever. There probably are some scholars who would be receptive to our philosophy and still stay with Christ but they are not the ones called to put those impudent Hare Kṛṣṇas in place. You can’t win against the people they bring forward for this particular task.

Say we mention Jesus’ time in India. There’s a legend that after ascension he went to Kashmir and died there, this time for good, and there’s even a tomb. It’s a nice story but most likely a total fraud invented by western “travelers”. Any Christian with a mobile phone can debunk it in seconds. The story is plausible but only until you hear the other side version of it. The truth doesn’t matter here, it’s what people know, what they think and how they react. It might work on some but then their reaction later on when they discover the “real” facts about it in their churches is unpredictable, probably extremely negative, and they’ll tell everyone they know about it, too.

We can also site apocryphal gospels as proof of this or that but the key word here is apocryphal – they are not accepted by the Church, if we rely on them then all we do is dupe people into believing conspiracy theories. Doesn’t matter whether they contain truth or not, it’s a political battle for hearts and minds and if we take on the Church head on we will probably lose. Politics and accompanying duplicity should have no place in real saṅkīrtana, it’s a crutch for those who can’t and a staple for those who won’t give up their material attachments.

Duplicity is one of the anarthas, we can’t keep it. If we see a not very sophisticated opponent and bring an argument that we know doesn’t work on anyone with actual knowledge then what it is if not duplicity?

Hmm, if only it was that easy, because a real saṅkīrtana devotee doesn’t care for such mundane norms and won’t hesitate to lie if it helps the person to penetrate layers of illusion coving his soul, like his mind and his intelligence. What these layers think about the lie is immaterial, they are just matter acting under the guṇas and orders of the Lord, we have no quarrel and form no relationships with them. To succeed in this endeavor has to see the soul, though, not material forms grown around it. A real saṅkīrtana devotee can pull it off but imitators will be severely punished.

Speaking of material energy – we must acknowledge that the entire western civilization is a result of JC’s preaching, a testament to his spiritual weight and power. This can be explained in many ways, let’s say that uncompromising logic of science is possible only because scientists, who were all Christians then, wouldn’t allow any compromises in their search for truth. The pathos of an ideal scientist is that of an absolutely honest person – a religious principle, the last one still surviving in this age.

This means that when we rely on comforts provided by the civilization we must acknowledge the role of JC in starting it and millions of people who followed him and in the course of their search created so many wonderful things. We can’t say that we don’t care about JC because we are Hare Kṛṣṇas. How about hot water in the middle of the winter? Why can’t we be grateful about that?

What I’m driving at is that we should not artificially distance ourselves from Christianity and juxtapose it with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and then try to prove that Christ and Kṛṣṇa are the same. People can smell this duplicity even without realizing it, there’s something just off about this attitude, it won’t work.

I think the ideal option is to take a straw in our mouths and humbly beg Christians to improve in their own faith. Kṛṣṇa consciousness would be a real upgrade there but we need humility first and we need to see Christians for who they are, which isn’t easy either. I think I’ll write more about it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1575. Param vijayate

I’m not sure I’m in a sufficiently purified consciousness to properly elucidate reasons and arguments I’m about to propose. I’m still on relative merits of book distribution vis-à-vis all the other services. Simply proving that saṅkīrtana is better is relatively easy (books is preaching by Prabhupāda and they last forever) but I myself am not impressed by these arguments anymore. I want to go deeper and see the unity of all preaching and all service, albeit if it’s done on a pure platform.

This is actually the catch – platform of purity. Let’s take plain, straightforward preaching which was the staple in the early days of our movement. Whenever devotees could organize a public meeting they would come and speak, if Prabhupāda was visiting all the better but they didn’t have to wait. In India meetings like this were a norm wherever Prabhupāda went. It’s still going on, Rādhānātha Svāmī being the most visible speaker of this kind.

How do we judge success of such preaching? It’s not as easy as it sounds. We are not the only ones delivering sermons, compared to motivational speakers or Indian politicians we are rather shy. How do we compare ourselves to all those people who can speak of hours and hours non-stop?

We can judge our success by the reaction of the audience. Were they listening attentively? Did they ask pertinent questions? Did they react appropriately to humor or to the most serious parts of the speech? Did they applaud at the end? Was there an invisible but nevertheless palpable connect between the speaker and the audience? Did they visibly enjoy stories about Kṛṣṇa? There are plenty of signs to conclude that the speech was received well. Well, guess what – it works exactly the same for all the other big talkers, too, so what does it prove?

Some speakers might not say a word about God but there are plenty who exploit this topic very cleverly, especially māyāvādīs. Bhāgavata Saptāha speakers are very adept at story telling and very expert at controlling the audience, they got paid good money for that, they are professionals. They talk about Kṛṣṇa all the time, they also talk about devotion, and yet all their words are completely devoid of any spiritual value. Next to them we are amateurs, by all objective criteria, so how do we know if our preaching was successful?

One sure way to judge it if people come and offer service at the end. Some offer donations, some offer land, some offer their professional help, some become devotees. That’s how we judged success in Prabhupāda days but now it all has become rather murky. We get more benefits like that from personal, one on one meetings rather than from public engagements. In many cases the afterwards donation is obligatory just as participants expect a “welcome bag” with goodies, it’s part of the ritual, not a sign of devotion, and it’s specifically meant to make sure that everybody, starting from the speaker, had a good experience. It’s pretty much like Vedic yajñās – people go there to show themselves, it’s a big social event, everything is properly organized, but none of it is about devotion, only about making themselves feel good.

My point is that it’s very easy to fool ourselves into thinking that our preaching matters, the organizers and participants actually conspire to leave us with that illusion because they all get something out of it and want us to continue serving them, the idea of actually serving Kṛṣṇa doesn’t even cross their minds.

This can surely happen on saṅkīrtana, too – if our goal is to sell books. People appreciate the effort, like our company, love being pampered by God, love being loved and appreciated and spoken to as if they matter, books are also gorgeous, so they give money for that. We walk away with a book being sold, which will earn us a place at the saṅkīrtana table, good graces with the management, and continued safe residence in the temple. Everybody happy, except no one had given one thought to Kṛṣṇa.

A real saṅkīrtana devotee doesn’t tell people he’s giving them a gift from God, who loves them no matter what and wants to make them happy, instead he inspires people to become God’s servants and give gifts to Him. Saṅkīrtana devotee doesn’t come to give, he comes to take. Well, he gives them path to love of Godhead, the opportunity for God to take their lives away through devotional service. After meeting such a saṅkīrtana devotee a person doesn’t feel he has got something for himself, he feels he has given something to God, there’s a fundamental difference.

So, in both forms of preaching, if they are done right, Kṛṣṇa comes out the winner, and both forms of preaching can end up with people completely missing the point, therefore they are simultaneously one and different. The advantage of book distribution is that in the end everybody must give money so the chances of success are higher. I mean if the book is sold the chances are high that preaching worked. In case of public speaking no one is actually obliged to do anything, most listeners just walk away, books are usually left untouched, and so while the speech might have gone objectively well the preaching might not have happened at all. This has been observed at various “bhakti-fests”, for example, some say that they are the worst audience when it comes to giving something to Kṛṣṇa even though they are all nice and “love the experience”.

A few words of appreciation and a token gesture is all we personally need to feel good about ourselves. For a book distributor, however, it’s not enough, only a few books sold is a burden and lots of books sold is a temptation. Book distribution forces us to become detached from results and invest our hearts only in the process. Book distribution gives us service itself as the most valuable achievement, divorcing us from the book point tally. This is very hard to achieve, though not impossible, by doing other kinds of preaching.

Book distribution done as means of maintenance or as means to advance up the hierarchy deserves to be condemned. If one becomes puffed up by being a book distributor and starts looking down on the service done by others he needs to be avoided, too, but so do people who sing kīrtanas to get the girls or the gigs, who distribute prasādam to get famous and important, who deliver speeches to rub shoulders with VIPs and so on.

The fact of material life is that all these cheap substitutions are possible, people do it all the time, it works. It doesn’t work with book distribution, though. No one can distribute books steadily for a long period of time without having actual mercy of Lord Caitanya, and therefore it’s the safest method to avoid the traps of māyā and defeat the illusion in our hearts. Question is – are we qualified for it or are we destined to live with non-devotional duplicates of the real thing?

Vanity thought #1574. Bhedabheda

What is the difference between various forms of preaching and book distribution? In Bhagavad Gītā Kṛṣṇa simply says: “explain to my devotees” – abhidhāsyati (BG 18.68). The other vaiṣṇava translation gives it as “promulgates”, which fits with preaching even better. Is book distribution some special form of preaching or is it all the same?

I suppose there’s no point in comparing saṅkīrtana with meditation or offering fire sacrifices, or even with deity worship. Deity worship is prescribed for Kali yuga, too, as we have to follow pañcāratra system along with bhāgavata system (see here and here, for example), but Lord Caitanya established saṅkīrtana as dharma for this age, there’s no way around that.

If we perform saṅkīrtana with all our hearts our success is guaranteed and we will at least return back to Godhead but deity worship alone will probably not suffice, simply for a reason that hardly anyone is able to perform it to a satisfactory standard on his own. We need saṅkīrtana to maintain purity necessary for deity worship, and we need deity worship to maintain necessary purity when we are in the temples, when we are off saṅkīrtana, so to speak.

Both are the service to the Lord, both are authorized by our ācāryas and so both will be accepted if done right, there’s no difference in that sense, but saṅkīrtana is available to anyone, even a slight success will earn us Kṛṣṇa’s good graces forever and is enough for at least liberation. Deity worship requires a lot more time and training by comparison, those who can do it are safe, too, but most of us simply can’t. It’s much harder to get it right than saṅkīrtana.

If we see deities as dolls that need to be decorated and looked after we are not doing deity worship, it will earn us some brownies but it’s not service, it’s hardly better than child’s play. Preaching, on the contrary, works its magic under any and all circumstances, though we have our own creative ways to screw it up, too.

Let’s talk about different kinds of saṅkīrtana and see what makes it work and how book distribution fares by comparison. First we have harināma, of course, the original saṅkīrtana as started by Lord Caitanya. Simply walk the streets and sing the mantra, what could be easier? It purifies everyone who hears it regardless of whether they understand it or not or whether they agree with our preaching. It goes straight into the hearts and turns them inside out while people’s consciousness is still absorbed in gross matter. Hearing the holy name, hearing the mantra, is the original and the most trusted way to transmit spiritual knowledge and deliver the soul, no one will ever change that.

Here’s the caveat, though – people must hear from a pure source, from a self-realized devotee. The same name and the same mantra coming from the mouths of non-devotees do not transmit bhakti, only śuddha name does, and which one of us can deliver that? Lord Caitanya could, Śrīla Prabhupāda could, many of our ISKCON devotees could, but normally our public chanting is not that potent due to our low level of advancement. In harināma we are restricted by our own conditioning.

Book distribution remedies that because our own imperfect association is only the beginning of preaching, the bulk of it will happen when people start reading. When we sing the names in public and leave the place the name leaves with us, too, but books stay in people’s hands, the association with Śrīla Prabhupāda continues. We ourselves might have been terrible in our effort but if even one of those books makes someone into a pure devotee we will be saved simply by association. In short, harināma gives people the name as delivered by us, books give people the name as delivered by Prabhupāda, and people will keep his association as long as they read. Relative advantage of book distribution is clear in this case.

Our society also went through a period where we called everything we managed to sell “saṅkīrtana”. The idea was that the money were used for a good cause and people got the spiritual benefits regardless, as ajñāta sukṛti. However true, it’s not preaching, spiritual knowledge hasn’t been disseminated, Kṛṣṇa hasn’t been glorified, so it’s not saṅkīrtana in any sense. People were not made into devotees even for a brief second, which is essential to qualify by Gītā standard – this knowledge must be explained to devotees, to those who are ready to submit themselves to God.

Then there’s prasādam distribution. Śrīla Prabhupāda loved it and it was meant to be an integral part of our movement – chanting, temples, prasādam. In the beginning he didn’t even know how books would become our basis, he hasn’t written any yet, not for street distribution anyway. Still, prasādam must be accompanied by preaching to qualify as saṅkīrtana. People will get benefits regardless, and much bigger benefits than from buying a scented candle, but to qualify as saṅkīrtana preaching must be there, too. Quite often we don’t do that, skirting the issue of the source of our prasādam and presenting it as “food”. People come and get “free meals”, not taste remnants from Kṛṣṇa’s plate mixed with His saliva. Come to think of it, not many of our devotees meditate on Kṛṣṇa’s saliva while eating either, it’s still gross.

Then there’s a question of whether we serve prasādam at all. In order for Kṛṣṇa to accept the food it must be properly prepared and properly offered by a qualified devotee according to the instructions of his guru. We can’t rely on neophytes offering food with spontaneous devotion, which is the only other way for it to be accepted by the Lord. Otherwise it must be done according to the prescriptions of our ācāryas and offered through the entire paramparā, it’s strictly following these orders that guarantees that bhoga become prasādam fit for consumption by devotees. A lot of what we distribute hardly qualifies and we tell ourselves that it’s still good enough for non-devotees even though it might be substandard otherwise.

The quality of Prabhupāda’s books is not spiritually compromised in any way so the relative advantage of book distribution is again clear.

There’s still straightforward preaching, public programs and delivering lectures, and a couple more arguments for and against book distribution but I’ll leave them for another day. There’s one more thing I forgot to tell about “saṅkīrtana temples” when I wrote about those a couple of weeks ago – the food must always be spiritually top notch.

“Garbage in garbage out” was the understanding, saṅkīrtana devotees could not afford purity of their consciousness being compromised by substandard food, and it wasn’t about external quality and nutrients but the consciousness with which it was prepared. Only brāhmaṇa initiated devotees were allowed in the kitchen, it was a very serious business. The consciousness of the cooks must not be contaminated by laziness or sleepiness, let alone lust, and their minds must not wander anywhere from performing their task with love and devotion.

Food cooked this way and according to the instructions of our ācāryas regarding recipes and ingredients is fit for offering to Kṛṣṇa, is surely accepted, and it fills with divine consciousness anyone who is properly respecting it. It lifts saṅkīrtana devotees off their butts and flies them out into the streets. There should probably be a separate post on proper saṅkīrtana food, maybe later.

Vanity thought #1573. The roots

When I remembered yesterday that the roots of our saṅkīrtana movement are right there in the Bhagavad Gītā it made me think twice about it. However special saṅkīrtana feels to us, it isn’t, but it doesn’t mean that all the other spiritual paths are the same either.

Specifically, I meant last verses spoken by Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna and they start right after sarva-dhramān parityajya, from 18.67 on:

  • Bg 18.66 — Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.
  • Bg 18.67 — This confidential knowledge may never be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.
  • Bg 18.68 — For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me.
  • Bg 18.69 — There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.

There are three more left, including the important one about studying the Gītā, but they are just concluding verses not particularly relevant here.

Bhagavad Gītā is pretty detailed on certain subjects, many topics are covered in multiple locations and there are verses that are repeated twice, too, but it doesn’t mean that these three bolded ones are insignificant in the overall scheme of things, especially the last one where Kṛṣṇa says that there’s no one more dear to Him than one who preaches on His behalf.

Lord Caitanya didn’t introduce anything new in this regard but He inaugurated actual fulfillment of this promise and brought it to the masses. It was staring right into everyone faces but hardly anyone could do anything about it, it was more of an academical proposition. People fancied the next verse more: “..he who studies this sacred conversation of ours worships Me by his intelligence.” That they can do but I would argue that it’s not the same thing, not even close.

Let’s see what Kṛṣṇa’s instructions on preaching are first. There are two – don’t do this and please do that. We are explicitly prohibited from explaining Bhagavad Gītā to sense enjoyers, non-devotees, and atheists. Those who are “not austere” are the ones who are too attached to sense gratification and openly laugh in our faces that there’s no way they are giving up meat, sex, or alcohol. If people cannot contemplate or appreciate such “tapasya” they are not ready for the message and we are forbidden from preaching to them.

This makes sense. Bhagavad Gītā starts with establishing our spiritual nature and supremacy of the soul over the body. Those who are not ready to accept this message are still animals and for them there are other appropriate ways of advancement. Bhagavad Gītā is called the essence of all upaniṣads for a reason, it’s not meant for animals. Consequently, the first thing to tell people about it is that they are not their bodies. Not about Kṛṣṇa, not about the holy name, not about devotional service, but the simple truth about not being these bodies. If that doesn’t register it’s time to move on and look for someone on a more appropriate stage of evolution.

One thing we shouldn’t do is to walk away smug and proud. There’s a similar prohibition against denigrating nascent spiritual activities of those in the lower form of consciousness. We should never ever disturb them but rather encourage them following their rules and regulations which would gradually elevate them to the point where they are finally ready to listen to Bhagavad Gītā. We must accept this with utmost humility and be people’s genuine well-wishers, it’s a great loss that despite their outwardly human form of life they are not ready for Gītā yet.

Lord Caitanya’s mercy for them manifests in the form of prasādam and chanting of the holy name as a leisure activity – let them have fun with it if that’s what they like. Let them come to concerts where the holy name is sung in public, at this point it doesn’t matter much if the performers are devotees themselves. Let them hold Bhagavad Gītā in their hands and let them feel our own respect and appreciation for it, maybe some of it will rub off on them, too.

Second condition is against preaching to non-devotees. On the surface it disqualifies practically everybody but what we should look for is people’s favorable attitude towards God, however they understand the concept. We say the word, people know it, and we can judge their devotion by their reactions. Those who even tacitly agree that God must be served and worshiped are devotees. It’s that simple.

Alternatively, everybody is a devotee, they just don’t know it yet, it’s their constitutional position. Expert saṅkīrtana devotees can awaken this dormant quality in people and find a platform where they are comfortable with acknowledging it in public, even if by mere silence. When we learn to see everyone as a devotee people will behave accordingly and we will create a good company anywhere we go. If we see them as envious atheists they will behave accordingly, too. It’s quantum mechanics of human relationships – the behavior of the observed object depends on the observer himself. Not always and not in full but enough for saṅkīrtana devotees to get a foot in the door of their soul and pry it open.

If we fail to do so and people remain envious of God as we subtly breach the subject there’s nothing to do for us there anymore, we should just move on, time is short, there are people out there who would benefit if we bring our books to them instead.

In the next verse we have Kṛṣṇa giving a guarantee that one who preaches Bhagavad Gītā will return to Him, but, most importantly, Kṛṣṇa guarantees bhakti. No other process deserves that, there’s no yoga to achieve bhakti, no other method that works. One could say that by the mercy of Lord Caitanya those who chant the holy name can achieve bhakti but that chanting must be congregational, it must be saṅkīrtana, which only confirms uniqueness of Kṛṣṇa’s promise here.

Saṅkīrtana means preaching, it means discussing Lord’s glories in the company of devotees, it means teaching others. One could argue that congregational chanting is not preaching per se but he would be wrong. This is the topic I wanted to cover initially but I ran out of space today.

Here’s the summary of how these three verses fit into a bigger picture – preaching is our shortcut to bhakti. Those who say that Bhagavad Gītā is only preliminary spiritual knowledge and we should learn more from Bhāgavatam, Caitanya Caritāmṛta and Gosvāmī’s books miss the point that those advanced scriptures are meant for those have bhakti already, who have already surrendered to Kṛṣṇa and thus achieved liberation. If we approach these books in a lower consciousness we won’t get their benefit. Moreover, if we approach those books thinking that we are so must more advanced than students of Gītā we will only further sink in ignorance and deprive ourselves of true spiritual life forever.

So we should take a piece of straw in our mouths, bow down before Bhagavad Gītā and humbly take these simple Kṛṣṇa’s instructions as our life and soul. Those chasing “higher” truth might as well be chasing butterflies, we should pay no attention to them and their boasting. Properly dealing with those people requires considerable skill but this topic is also beyond the scope of today’s post, too.

Vanity thought #1572. Take the message

It’d be criminal to miss the occasion of Gītā-jayanti when talking about saṅkīrtana. It so happens that every year Gītā-jayanti falls during Prabhupāda marathon, too. Is it a coincidence? Trick question.

For armchair experts in Kṛṣṇa consciousness there’s no significance of Gītā-jayanti and Prabhupāda marathon happening at the same time. Gītā-jayanti has been celebrated for thousands of years while we invented Prabhupāda marathon less than fifty years ago, it happens in December to take advantage of Christmas shopping spree in the West. There’s no relation there, it certainly wasn’t planned. While we do appreciate Gītā-jayanti as an important vaiṣṇava holiday our saṅkīrtana marathon runs on its own schedule.

Factually, this might be true – for armchair experts, but no saṅkīrtana devotee can allow himself to treat Gītā-jayanti this way. Coincidence or not, historical facts or not, but both Bhagavad Gītā and saṅkīrtana are manifestations of Lord’s mercy to fallen conditioned souls and saṅkīrtana runs on this mercy so you can’t seriously say that there’s no relation. Where others see a coincidence saṅkīrtana devotees see infusion of Kṛṣṇa’s mercy just when they need it the most. You don’t dismiss such help, you can’t afford to.

The argument can be made that while Gītā-jayanti itself was clearly a boon to the world, the annual remembrance of this occasion doesn’t have the same power. Well, let’s consider how it might work. Book distributors in India can basically shame anyone they meet into buying a Gītā on this day because every Indian knows he has to pay his dues to the Lord, it’s a one day in a year where they just can’t refuse.

In the West situation is obviously different, they have no idea what Gītā-jayanti is and feel no obligations about it whatsoever. Still, a devotee might tell them that this is Gītā’s birthday and it’s celebrated by hundreds of millions of people who appreciate Gītā’s message and that anyone can join in. Shaming people over birthday might work, if not on everyone but still there are those who feel more charitable on birthdays.

There’s a subtle way Gītā-jayanti might influence book distribution, too – it inspires book distributors themselves and so they carry the power of Lord’s inspiration with them. It definitely affects their preaching and affects everyone coming in contact with them. This appreciation for Lord’s delivery of Bhagavad Gītā might be the one last step that carries us over a line into the land where we finally become Lord Caitanya’s instruments rather than perpetual doubters. “Oh, Gītā-jayanti won’t work, it can’t work, it makes no sense – just see, let me approach that man and tell him about it, see how he doesn’t care, it’s all just a date in our calendar, it doesn’t have an effect on the rest of the world.”

Nope, it won’t work with an attitude like that and if we sense it in ourselves we should purge it immediately, we can’t allow it to nest in our minds. The gift of Gītā-jayanti works for those who humbly take all the help from the Lord that is offered and know that even a tiny drop of it can change people’s lives forever. When devotees realize its value themselves they can easily convince others to appreciate it, too.

There could be a yet subtler way that Gītā-jayanti matters – by changing the invisible force that runs the universe. A slight change in how guṇas operate might create a slightly different atmosphere that becomes conducive to discussing spiritual topics. People’s minds might become more receptive, some dirt in their consciousness that is blocking their spiritual advancement might be removed – we can’t see any of these things but they are entirely possible.

Finally, on the occasion of Gītā-jayanti the Supersoul Himself can simply urge people from within to buy the books from us. Somewhat crude but irresistible, and saṅkīrtana devotees know that it might easily happen by the grace of Lord Caitanya. That’s why they would never ever turn away such a self-manifested opportunity to pray for extra mercy as Gītā-jayanti.

I would also argue that Gītā-jayanti is a true saṅkīrtana holiday. Various incarnations and ācāryas could be considered patrons of various aspects of devotional service, Lord Nṛsiṁha, for example, offers us physical protection, Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī offers shelter to renunciates, and so on. In the same vein saṅkīrtana devotees are sons of Bhagavad Gītā.

It’s the most important among our books for general population, all our preaching to people on the streets is done from Bhagavad Gītā, not from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam or Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and Kṛṣṇa delivering Bhagavad Gītā to Arjuna was exactly the aspect of His personality that eventually manifested Lord Caitanya Himself, at least as far as His saṅkīrtana movement is concerned.

Here’s another thing to consider in this regard – there were two reasons for Lord Caitanya’s appearance, inaugurating the saṅkīrtana movement being the external one and experiencing devotee’s love for God being the internal and therefore the more important one. Our first reaction is to go for the best and think of saṅkīrtana as being lesser, but saṅkīrtana devotees embrace their mission with true humility in their hearts and realize that lesser or not, but the drops of this mercy coming their way is all they ever need in their lives.

People might argue about saṅkīrtana being inferior all they want but it delivers. Their artificial attempts to taste the “higher” nectar is self-delusion and nothing else. A truly humble devotee does not grab the best service but takes whatever is ordered, and our orders are to preach. As long as we are in these bodies that’s what we should do, if later on the Lord will require something different it doesn’t matter now. The argument can also be made that by taking the most insignificant service as our life and soul we please guru and Kṛṣṇa much better than trying to be big, important, and indispensable.

Saṅkīrtana devotee knows that he is totally dispensable and has absolutely no value to anyone without Lord’s mercy flowing through his body to the public. He won’t abandon this service no matter what, not for any promises of higher rasa if he’d just give it up and read about Kṛṣṇa’s intimate pastimes. It’s nonsense to even consider this proposition, it might impress only those who lack humility and have no access to Lord Caitanya’s mercy of saṅkīrtana whatsoever. Deprived of actual spiritual realization of being in service to saṅkīrtana they invent poor substitutees, that’s all.

I’ll just add that Kṛṣṇa Himself says at the end of the Gītā that there’s no more dear devotee to Him than they one who peaches this message to others (BG 18.69). We might also consider a couple of preceding verses clarifying what exactly Kṛṣṇa meant by preaching there (BG 18.67):

    This confidential knowledge may never be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.

Hmm, this clarification needs a separate explanation of how it should be applied practically, so I’ll just leave it here as a warning first.