Vanity thought #1603. Problem with ecstasy.

Last time I mentioned something about symptoms of ecstasy – they are not universal proof of one’s advancement and therefore expecting our devotees to display them to prove that ISKCON works is unjustified. There’s a one curious Bhāgavatam verse in this regard (SB 2.3.24):

    Certainly that heart is steel-framed which, in spite of one’s chanting the holy name of the Lord with concentration, does not change when ecstasy takes place, tears fill the eyes and the hairs stand on end.

On the surface the idea seems very simple – only stone hearts do not melt when chanting the holy name. This is how I remember and understand it instinctively. Perhaps I’m confusing it with some other similar verse, probably from the songs of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, but this is not what this śloka says. Let me read it again, I still don’t get the full range of its implications.

First, it talks about steel framed hearts, aśma-sāram, which means it must be a rhetorical device because no one has actual steel framed hearts. Clicking around Sanskrit translations shows that aśma means stone and sāram means essence so it would be correct to translate it as “stone-hearted”, too, doesn’t make a difference to the meaning.

Secondly, the verse talks about those who chant the holy name with concentration, which is a no small feat. We’ve been trying this for years with little success – concentration is elusive. The exact word is dheyaiḥ and it means concentration and meditation, not just walking around, checking the birds and making plans for the rest of the day. We are talking about serious chanting here.

And then there’s the kicker – this heart does not change WHEN ecstasy takes place. Not that the person doesn’t experience ecstasy, he does, and there are two symptoms given of this ecstasy – tears fill the eyes and hairs stand on end, but it doesn’t change the heart. What is going on here?

We’d be glad to experience some ecstasy, we have śikṣāṣṭaka verse begging for it (CC Antya 20.36):

    ‘My dear Lord, when will My eyes be beautified by filling with tears that constantly glide down as I chant Your holy name? When will My voice falter and all the hairs on My body stand erect in transcendental happiness as I chant Your holy name?’

If Lord Caitanya only hoped that one day it would happen to Him, what about our expectations? And, according to Bhāgavatam, if we finally achieve that state it still doesn’t guarantee the change in our hearts? That’s depressing. Let’s see what Śrīla Prabhupāda says in the purport.

I’m not going to paste it here or go through it sentence by sentence, it’s too long for this, but there’s a general thrust there – this verse condemns prākṛta-sahajiyās. It needs to be noted, however that this term was given to us by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, no one has heard of it before, and therefore proper explanation of what it means is in order, which is what Śrīla Prabhupāda did in the purport.

The first paragraph puts this śloka in context as it comes in the third chapter of this Canto. This is where direct worship of Viṣṇu is finally recommended and is “suggested herein in relation to the change of heart”. The whole chapter is titled “Pure Devotional Service: The Change in Heart” and this verse is its culmination. After that the discussion shifts to the matters of creation.

Next paragraph explains what is this expected change of heart should be. It’s not about attaining love of God and manifesting bhāva but about accepting one’s position as Lord’s eternal servant and detachment from material world that goes hand in hand with it. This is what we are supposed to achieve, not walking around crying and shaking. Śrīla Prabhupāda does mention symptoms of ecstasy and that they are a natural consequences of this change of heart and he deals with the apparent contradiction later. His next paragraph explains that if we do not observe material detachment that it must be due to offenses and only due to offenses, there are no other reasons.

Second half of the purport deals with bhāva and it relies on Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī and even Rūpa Gosvāmī opinions to condemn unscrupulous neophytes’ imitations of it. Apparently it has a long history, going back possibly as far as Lord Caitanya Himself. Hmm, actually there’s a story with Haridāsa Ṭhākura and a snake charmer where one of such imitators tried to steal crowd’s attention but was beaten with a stick.

While condemning the imitators Śrīla Prabhupāda also says: “They are sometimes even affected by the reflection of such transcendental symptoms, yet if they still do not give up the forbidden habits, then they are hopeless cases for transcendental realization.” So they can experience glimpses of actual symptoms, not always imitate them, but they are still hopeless for transcendental realization.

In the next paragraph Śrīla Prabhupāda cites the example of the meeting of Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya and how the Lord had to suppress His ecstasy because other people were present. This is proof that even the first class devotees do not display bhāva all the time, for “certain circumstantial reasons”, and therefore

    … real, steady bhāva is definitely displayed in the matter of cessation of material desires (kṣānti), utilization of every moment in the transcendental loving service of the Lord (avyārtha-kālatvam), eagerness for glorifying the Lord constantly (nāma-gāne sadā ruci), attraction for living in the land of the Lord (prītis tad-vasati sthale), complete detachment from material happiness (virakti), and pridelessness (māna-śūnyatā). One who has developed all these transcendental qualities is really possessed of the bhāva stage, as distinguished from the stonehearted imitator or mundane devotee.

Six fool proof symptoms of progress are given – absence of material desires, constant engagement in service, eagerness to chant, desire to live in holy dhāma, indifference to material happiness, and absence of pride. It’s not very difficult to find ISKCON devotees manifesting those and we should take them over any other external “proofs”. All other traditions must be hiding their advanced devotees, or, more likely, no advanced devotee would even engage in a attack on ISKCON or Śrīla Prabhupāda. Unfortunately, it’s the loudmouthed ones that set the tone of public discourse, especially on the internet, and it’s one of the reasons why I think internet is a giant waste of time.

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