Vanity thought #1698. More of the same

There are two more verses in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam offering so called proof that Kṛṣṇa isn’t the original Personality of Godhead but by now it’s easy to guess how it will go – yes, words svayam and bhagavān are mentioned together but it would take quoting them out of context and serious twisting of meaning to build an argument against Kṛṣṇa.

First up is SB 7.1.1. It’s a question by Mahārāja Parīkṣit about Lord’s impartiality. If the Lord is equal to everyone, why does He side with demigods in their disputes with demons? Fair question, and in response Śukadeva Gosvāmī explains this point philosophically first and then tells a story of Śiśupāla who was killed by Kṛṣṇa but still attained salvation. The question is the prelude to Jaya and Vijaya falldown story.

    śrī-rājovāca
    samaḥ priyaḥ suhṛd brahman
     bhūtānāṁ bhagavān svayam
    indrasyārthe kathaṁ daityān
     avadhīd viṣamo yathā

    Word for word:

    śrī-rājā uvāca — Mahārāja Parīkṣit said; samaḥ — equal; priyaḥ — beloved; suhṛt — friend; brahman — O brāhmaṇa (Śukadeva); bhūtānām — toward all living entities; bhagavān — the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu; svayam — Himself; indrasya — of Indra; arthe — for the benefit; katham — how; daityān — the demons; avadhīt — killed; viṣamaḥ — partial; yathā — as if.

    Translation:

    King Parīkṣit inquired: My dear brāhmaṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Viṣṇu, being everyone’s well-wisher, is equal and extremely dear to everyone. How, then, did He become partial like a common man for the sake of Indra and thus kill Indra’s enemies? How can a person equal to everyone be partial to some and inimical toward others?

As expected, the words bhagavān svayam are there but so what? Grammatically every commentator links svayam not to bhagavān but to the verb avadhīt – killed. Why did the Lord kill daityāns Himself? It has absolutely nothing to do with relationships between Kṛṣṇa and Viṣṇu. The name Viṣṇu doesn’t appear in the verse but Śrīla Prabhupāda translated bhagavān here as “the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu” anyway because it has absolutely nothing to do with the question of “superiority”.

This whole debate is senseless anyway because there’s no difference between Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu forms. It matters only to those obsessed with choosing the best God for themselves. If Kṛṣṇa is the origin of Viṣṇu then their worship of Viṣṇu becomes inferior, they think, which is nonsense.

For many hapless followers of Madhvācārya it’s unthinkable how a simple cowherd boy from a village in India can be superior to Viṣṇu, the Lord of the whole universe, and how Kṛṣṇa’s simple village girlfriend is a source of Lakṣṃī, the goddess of fortune. It’s a lot easier for them to imagine that Kṛṣṇa is simply Viṣṇu having fun by playing a kid. Let them think this way, what does it matter to us? We know that neither Kṛṣṇa nor Vṛndāvana are parts of this world and that Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are eternal and it’s rather going out and being God either in the material or spiritual world that is taxing for Him. Not that He has any difficulty but it spoils His fun.

We do not think of Kṛṣṇa as someone similar to us – work first, play later. He doesn’t live for karma, it’s us who have to earn the right to imitate Him first. By imitate I mean indulge in sense enjoyment. We don’t think of Viṣṇu working as God to earn the right to relax with His intimate friends in pastoral settings.

Finally, there’s this verse from the Eighth Canto (SB 8.5.4):

    patnī vikuṇṭhā śubhrasya
     vaikuṇṭhaiḥ sura-sattamaiḥ
    tayoḥ sva-kalayā jajñe
    vaikuṇṭho bhagavān svayam

    Word for word:

    patnī — the wife; vikuṇṭhā — named Vikuṇṭhā; śubhrasya — of Śubhra; vaikuṇṭhaiḥ — with the Vaikuṇṭhas; sura-sat-tamaiḥ — demigods; tayoḥ — by Vikuṇṭhā and Śubhra; sva-kalayā — with plenary expansions; jajñe — appeared; vaikuṇṭhaḥ — the Lord; bhagavān — the Supreme Personality of Godhead; svayam — personally.

    Translation:

    From the combination of Śubhra and his wife, Vikuṇṭhā, there appeared the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vaikuṇṭha, along with demigods who were His personal plenary expansions.

Vaikuṇṭho Bhagavān Svayam – nailed it! Almost exactly like Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam. Q.E.D.

Except that this chapter describes descendants of the fifth Manu and how various ṛṣis, kings, demigods etc appeared in his dynasty. Among them, from the marriage of Śubhra and Vikuṇṭhā, appeared the Supreme Lord Himself and His name was, appropriately, Vaikuṇṭha.

Once again, it has nothing to do with Vaikuṇṭha being the original Personality of Godhead. It simply says that God Himself appeared as Vikuṇṭha’s son.

Alternatively, the word svayam could refer to the verb jajñe – He appeared Himself. This is apparently the interpretation in other, non-Gauḍiyā commentaries.

Alternatively, the word svayam could refer to sva-kalayā – Himself through His plenary expansions. In this reading it’s through sva-kalayā or as sva-kalayā rather than with sva-kalayā. If big ācāryas whose explanations are included with Śrīmad Bhāgavatam apparently disagree on the exact meaning it doesn’t make Prabhupāda wrong and it still doesn’t make our Gauḍiyā siddhānta wrong either. They most likely never given it a second thought because this verse isn’t controversial in any sense, there aren’t issues there to argue.

Another thing about this verse is that it’s not clear which Vaikuṇṭha appeared here. It can’t possibly mean Vaikuṇṭha as planets in the spiritual sky and sura-sat-tamaiḥ, which Prabhupāda translated as demigods, weren’t liberated residents of the spiritual world. The name was a mere coincidence and was derived from mother’s name rather than from spiritual Vaikuṇṭhas.

Arguing that this Vaikuṇṭha is bhagavān svayam implies that this form eternally exists in the spiritual world, too, from where it descends into our realm. This could be said about various forms of Nārāyaṇa but in this case the spiritual identity of this avatāra remains hidden, He never gets mentioned again, and we are expected to believe that He was the origin of all Viṣṇu forms?

That’s screwing out the meaning that is simply not there, again, and it all comes from obsession with superiority. It doesn’t matter which form of Nārāyaṇa is the original one, which is svayam. If it so happens that our original spiritual body is a servant of Lord Nārāyaṇa in Vaikuṇṭha then it won’t matter if Kṛṣṇa came first – we will always be at the lotus feet of the form of the Lord we are meant to be with. It’s as silly as arguing which father to choose because he is “better”. “Better” can be measured objectively but the choice is simply not there.

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Vanity thought #1697. Svayam Bhagavan Narayana

Let’s look at the second “proof” that Kṛṣṇa isn’t “bhagavān svayam”. It’s SB 5.24.27:

    tasyānucaritam upariṣṭād vistariṣyate yasya bhagavān svayam akhila-jagad-gurur nārāyaṇo dvāri gadā-pāṇir avatiṣṭhate nija-janānukampita-hṛdayo yenāṅguṣṭhena padā daśa-kandharo yojanāyutāyutaṁ dig-vijaya uccāṭitaḥ.

    Word for word:

    tasya — of Bali Mahārāja; anucaritam — the narration; upariṣṭāt — later (in the Eighth Canto); vistariṣyate — will be explained; yasya — of whom; bhagavān — the Supreme Personality of Godhead; svayam — personally; akhila-jagad-guruḥ — the master of all the three worlds; nārāyaṇaḥ — the Supreme Lord, Nārāyaṇa Himself; dvāri — at the gate; gadā-pāṇiḥ — bearing the club in His hand; avatiṣṭhate — stands; nija-jana-anukampita-hṛdayaḥ — whose heart is always filled with mercy for His devotees; yena — by whom; aṅguṣṭhena — by the big toe; padā — of His foot; daśa-kandharaḥ — Rāvaṇa, who had ten heads; yojana-ayuta-ayutam — a distance of eighty thousand miles; dik-vijaye — for the purpose of gaining victory over Bali Mahārāja; uccāṭitaḥ — driven away.

    Translation:

    Śukadeva Gosvāmī continued: My dear King, how shall I glorify the character of Bali Mahārāja? The Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of the three worlds, who is most compassionate to His own devotee, stands with club in hand at Bali Mahārāja’s door. When Rāvaṇa, the powerful demon, came to gain victory over Bali Mahārāja, Vāmanadeva kicked him a distance of eighty thousand miles with His big toe. I shall explain the character and activities of Bali Mahārāja later [in the Eighth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam].

The “contentious” part is highlighted in Sanskrit and English. When we look at the translation there’s nothing suspicious there at all, there’s no case to be made, so it’s all in manipulating Sanskrit to mean something else. The śloka is quite long and translation ends with the beginning (“I shall explain … later”) because that’s how often Sanskrit sentences are formed. Never mind that, what we are asked to look at is the Sanskrit “yasya bhagavān svayam akhila-jagad-gurur nārāyaṇo dvāri gadā-pāṇir avatiṣṭhate” which means “at whose door someone stands” (speaking of Mahārāja Bali) and the “controversy” is in the identity of that someone.

This then distills to “bhagavān svayam akhila-jagad-gurur nārāyaṇo” and we can possibly subtract “akhila-jagad-guru”, too, because it’s simply an adjective describing Nārāyaṇa as a master of three worlds. That’s how we get “Bhagavān svayam Nārāyaṇa” which is offered as proof that it’s Nārāyaṇa who is “bhagavān svayam”.

Once again, I’ve heard that other commentators explained this verse in the same way as Prabhupāda, which is to be expected, so what’s the problem? It lies in the self-appointed Madhvas who took it as their mission to discredit not only ISKCON but the entire Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism, too, starting with the Six Gosvāmīs. I guess they spare Lord Caitanya because He didn’t write anything and it’s the Six Gosvāmīs who expressed our Gauḍiyā siddhānta.

When we cite commentators from other sampradāyas agreeing with our interpretation they say that we reject them when it suits us. Well, Srīla Prabhupāda used an edition of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam which contained several Sanskrit commentaries, most notable of which was Śrīdhara Svāmī’s who was clearly not Gauḍiyā because he lived a few hundred years before Lord Caitanya.

On that note, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī explained that when translating the famous kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ verse (SB 11.5.32) Śrīdhara Svāmī separated tviṣākṛṣṇāṁ into tviṣā and kṛṣṇam – black color instead of tviṣā akṛṣṇam – NOT black color because he wasn’t aware of the future advent of Lord Caitanya and so thought that it was Kṛṣṇa Himself who was spoken of in that verse. The arguments in favor of this interpretation of Śrīdhara Svāmī’s “mistake” are not the subject of this post, however.

Anyway, we have the right to disagree with commentators from other traditions on issues of our siddhānta but it doesn’t mean we reject their ability to understand Sanskrit altogether. This verse isn’t controversial and it does not deal with the topic of hierarchy among various avatāras the way our reliable “ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam” which specifically refers to the preceding list of incarnations – ete, and contrasts them with Kṛṣṇa. We would argue with alternative interpretations of this verse but are not going to question our siddhānta because of a random phrase spoken in completely different context elsewhere.

Now, does this different interpretation of “bhagavān svayam nārāyaṇa” make sense? Nope, not to my eye. I won’t argue for the word order in Sanskrit because I’m not qualified on that but the turn of the phrase and the context make the meaning very clear:

Someone was standing, guarding the door of Bali Mahārāja, and it was none other than God Himself, Nārāyaṇa. That’s the whole point of the glorification of the Lord here – that He took a menial position in service to His devotee. It’s not about Nārāyaṇa being “bhagavān svayam” but about God Himself coming to guard the door. The alternative interpretation diminishes the beauty of this verse.

Alternatively, svayam there could refer to “akhila-jagad-gurur” to further stress that it was the master of three worlds Himself who took this service to His servant. In this reading it’s not only that Nārāyṇa is Bhagavān that produces the effect but also that it was the teacher of the three worlds Himself, which adds to the glory of the Lord submitting to His servant in the gesture of deep appreciation for Bali’s surrender.

All in all, it’s a typical screwing own fancy meanings out of otherwise clear verses. This one is quite famous by itself because it highlights the most impressive features of Lord Vāmanadeva – that He took guard service at the door of His servant. The other one, about kicking Rāvaṇa, is not very clear because I don’t think it’s in Bhāgavatam at all. It’s well known story anyway, even though I’m too lazy to trace its origins right now.

Anyway, after running in troubles with Hanumān and other monkeys Rāvana went to Bali and got stopped by Vāmanadeva at the entrance. He tried to squeeze in but Lord Vāmana put His foot on him and nearly crushed him. This was the moment when Rāvaṇa’s body got the mercy of Viṣṇu’s lotus feet and became qualified to be killed by Lord Rāmacandra. After purifying Rāvaṇa this way Lord Vāmaṇa let him in and it was in that conversation with Bali that Rāvaṇa was shown a mountain of gold bedecked with jewels that turned out to be a mere earring that fell off Hiraṇyakaśipu. Rāvaṇa couldn’t lift it and Bali told him that Viṣṇu has killed demons much bigger than him, just so Rāvaṇa knows. There’s nothing there about Vāmanadeva kicking Rāvaṇa, however, maybe to give him a boost to ascend back to the higher planets, I don’t know.

Vanity thought #1696. Bhagavan Svayam

We all know the verse – ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam (SB 1.3.38). It’s our main proof that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself and not a mere incarnation of Viṣṇu. It must, however, be controversial to the other vaiṣṇava sampradāyas who do not consider Him the source of all other avatāras. Nimbārka sampradāya and followers of Vallabha ācārya are with us on this, we should not forget that. Still, as a branch of Madhva sampradāya, it’s a pretty big disagreement on our part.

I guess the main point of followers of Madhva is that Kṛṣṇa is listed as an eighth incarnation of Viṣṇu and they just go with that. There’s another story that Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma were born out of black and white hairs from the head of Viṣṇu when Brahmā and others came to beg for protection from evil Kaṁsa so they clearly must be incarnations of Viṣṇu and not the other way around.

Our answer is that Kṛṣnas tu bhagavān svayam and all apparent inconsistencies must be resolved in accommodation of this overriding principle. We say that Kṛṣṇa appears here as an avatāra of Viṣṇu due to respect for the predominating deity of the universe. We say He comes through Viṣṇu, not out of Viṣṇu. That is also the answer to the black and white hair theory. We also say that Kṛṣṇa merely displays His pastimes for us, He doesn’t actually incarnate and He never leaves Goloka Vṛndāvana. Vṛndāvana simply becomes visible and how it fits with the evolution of the universe it’s not His problem, let Viṣṇu deal with public reasons for the appearance.

There’s another argument against our interpretation and it’s based on us reading too much into this “bhagavān svayam” phrase. It appears four other times in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, they say, and there it doesn’t refer to Kṛṣṇa at all so Kṛṣṇa is not special. Let’s have a look at these verses.

First up is SB 2.7.21

    dhanvantariś ca bhagavān svayam eva kīrtir
     nāmnā nṛṇāṁ puru-rujāṁ ruja āśu hanti
    yajñe ca bhāgam amṛtāyur-avāvarundha
     āyuṣya-vedam anuśāsty avatīrya loke

    Word for word:

    dhanvantariḥ — the incarnation of God named Dhanvantari; ca — and; bhagavān — the Personality of Godhead; svayam eva — personally Himself; kīrtiḥ — fame personified; nāmnā — by the name; nṛṇām puru-rujām — of the diseased living entities; rujaḥ — diseases; āśu — very soon; hanti — cures; yajñe — in the sacrifice; ca — also; bhāgam — share; amṛta — nectar; āyuḥ — duration of life; ava — from; avarundhe — obtains; āyuṣya — of duration of life; vedam — knowledge; anuśāsti — directs; avatīrya — incarnating; loke — in the universe.

    Translation:

    The Lord in His incarnation of Dhanvantari very quickly cures the diseases of the ever-diseased living entities simply by His fame personified, and only because of Him do the demigods achieve long lives. Thus the Personality of Godhead becomes ever glorified. He also exacted a share from the sacrifices, and it is he only who inaugurated the medical science or the knowledge of medicine in the universe.

Dhanvantariś ca bhagavān svayam, they say, is a clear indication that “bhagavān svayam” is not exclusive to Kṛṣṇa, contrary to our claims. The verse doesn’t end there, however, the line continues to include svayam eva kīrtir and in Prabhupāda’s translation svayam relates to kīrtir – “simply by His fame personified”. It might not be so clear from word-for-word but that’s how the full translation reads.

Could it be read any other way? Possibly, but, I’ve been told, Śrīdhara Svāmī and another commentator from Śrī sampradāya explain this verse in the same way. We traditionally consider Śrīadhara Svāmī the foremost authority on Bhāgavatam and if he says svayam refers to kīrtir here then who are we to argue?

It doesn’t stop our opponents, however, because they are not obliged to accept Śrīdhara Svāmī’s word as final. They also argue that Śrīdhara Svāmī’s edition of Bhāgavatam is incorrect and the “true” śloka end the line with “svayam āsa devo” instead of “svayam eva kīrtir”. In “svayam āsa devo” reading svayam should refer to Dhanvantari and not to anything else, say.

It’s hard to argue with this without knowledge of Sanskrit and without relevant books at hand – there are two editions of Bhāgavatam with accompanying commentaries that show the difference. I don’t think our opponents are Sanskrit scholars either, just amateurs who picked up something on the way. Still, let’s give it a shot.

Looking at the words themselves – “svayam āsa devo” can simply mean God Himself without references to particular hierarchy among avatāras. It still svayama āsa devo, not bhagavān svayam. Or it could be bhagavān svayam who then āsa devo – became a deva, an incarnation. The line then would then read “Dhanvanari was a God Himself who incarnated as a deva”. Once again, I cannot say anything definitive here without knowing how all these words should be connected to each other according to Sanskrit rules.

In Sanskrit it’s “dhanvantariś ca bhagavān svayam eva kīrtir” or “dhanvantariś ca bhagavān svayam āsa devo”. Ca means “and” and it refers to the list of incarnations described in that chapter. The second line is about curing people – “nāmnā nṛṇāṁ puru-rujāṁ ruja āśu hanti”. Nāmnā is “by the name” and it makes sense that it’s connected to svayam eva kīrtir – svayam eve kīrtir nāmnā, which is how Prabhupāda translated it – simply by His fame personified.

If we take the other version of the verse and the opposing explanation then “āsa devo” becomes hanging. I can’t see it any other way as “bhagavān svayam” became “devo” who by “nāmnā” cured people. What else does āsa refer to? Bhagavān svayam āsa – bhagavān svayam became…? It would make sense only if Dhanvantari wasn’t an avatāra but a source of an incarnation that then cured people and which is referred here simply as “devo”. This reading, however, is clearly nonsensical.

More importantly, whenever anyone challenges us like that we should ask them to state their allegiances first so that we can determine whether engaging them is worth the effort or not. If they rely on academic studies of the books and on that ground can easily dismiss an authority like Śrīdhara Svāmī if they find some alternative editions then we will never come to any understanding. We represent the authorities. When we don’t know something we refer to them and if someone accuses us of incorrect interpretations we, first of all, check with our authorities, not with academics and wannabe Sanskrit scholars. We are not going to argue Sanskrit meanings better then Jīva Gosvāmī, for example, and if these people think they can understand Sanskrit better than Him they are simply trolls stirring up trouble.

Perhaps this fundamental approach to our challenges should have been discussed first but making sure our translations stand firm is a lot more fun. Let’s see if it would as easy with three other “svayam bhagavān” verses.

Vanity thought #1695. Universal duties

Yesterday I talked about Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations (link). It’s a bit murky there even in their own framework because they try to reconcile natural, inalienable rights with legal rights granted by the states, which implies that governments and people are supernatural entities. From our perspective both natural and legal rights are granted by the Lord who is in control both of material nature and people acting within it. Let’s look at this issue from the point of view of dharma, point of view of obligations.

The need for obligations to meet rights is acknowledged in the Declaration but due to the artificial difference between people and nature it lacks consistence and it doesn’t form the central point, which it should be.

Take the inalienable rights, for example, take Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” A fetus within mother’s womb does not have the liberty to move around, a new born baby does not have this liberty either, only in a few months can the newly born person start exercising this right and the obligation to provide it falls on the parents. Does it mean the nature fails in providing for this right until the baby is ready to exercise it? What about sick people confined to their beds, what about people paralyzed in accidents?

The nature does not care about its obligations under this “universal declaration”. It’s probably why some argue that these rights can be provided only by God. If He doesn’t sanction it they stop being “inalienable”. And what about trees? They do not have liberty nor security and cannot defend themselves. Of course we are talking about declaration of human rights so trees are not covered but for Kṛṣṇa there’s no principal difference because He is the father of all living beings, not just people.

When we talk about our rights and Kṛṣṇa we should understand that we don’t have any but Kṛṣṇa mercifully agrees to accept some obligations. He starts the universe going and that’s about it. The rest is imagined by ourselves – the rights, justice, struggle for freedom etc. The universe develops according to His plan and it doesn’t deviate. We, on the other hand, always want to make improvements. Kṛṣṇa is not obliged to follow even His own plans but normally He sees that the universe does its thing without fail. When we ask for changes here and there it’s our problem and Kṛṣṇa is not obliged to satisfy our demands.

The Lord doesn’t care for what we want, His friendly advice is to accept things the way He planned them and follow His orders, that’s all. The wants and desires forced on us by the material energy are under complete control of karma and if we make fuss about it He gives us lessons from Bhagavad Gītā – happiness and distress are like seasons, just be patient and they’ll go away.

We can also say that He meets His obligations via karma – whatever we deserve we invariably get. Whether we consider it a fulfilled right or a suffering it’s not His concern.

We can also look at the universe as a gift to living entities who finally get bodies to identify with, like trying on dresses. Is it an obligation on His part? Not really. He only guarantees that a new body will be given but He doesn’t make any promises as to what kind and where. Not His concern, even though He always accompanies each and every living entity through each and every body, never leaving our side. In this sense we can take His presence as the Supersoul as His universal obligation and we can say we have the right of His council. In that the Lord will never fail.

See how our rights here are always result of Kṛṣṇa taking some obligations first? Does it extend to devotional service, too? Unfortunately not. By our constitutional position we are His eternal servants and in that we have the right to service but whether He accepts it or not and whether He engages us or not is not guaranteed. We don’t have the right to pure devotion right here right now. Maybe this should be a discussion for another day.

Back to “universal rights” – natural rights do not exist beyond our karma and there’s nothing we can do about it but when it comes to governments then even in Vedic system there’s a sense of obligation by the King to provide all the inalienable rights and more. Vedic idea is that the righteous king is a representative of God and if he does his job right his subjects will get only good karma and nothing bad will happen to them.

This is an interesting twist because in Kali yuga it doesn’t work, we have to deal with bad karma all the time and we never blame our governments but only ourselves. In Vedic times, however, peace and prosperity WERE natural as if it was an extension of Vaikuṇṭha. People had high expectations and, if their kings were really representatives of God, the obligation of God to reward His faithful servants was always fulfilled.

Modern governments are incapable of this, of course, but they do understand that it’s their duty to arrange nature in such a way that their citizens are happy in every respect. They might not believe in God but they do have the idea that they have to do their jobs right, ie follow dharma, and this should bring results. God or not but they have elevated management and politics into science – they know that there are laws governing success and so they try very hard to figure what their correct dharma is.

The UN declaration in this sense is not descriptive but prescriptive. They do not really mean that these rights are universal but they demand governments to accept these obligations. They say that it’s governments’ obligations that are universal and every state must accept them, and from that the rights will follow. The language of the declaration is not for the people to enjoy but for governments to implement. If they don’t implement them then these “universal” rights will cease to exist.

At the end of the day everything comes from following dharma – karma, rewards, and human rights, too. Or we could say that what they call “human rights” falls under artha and kāma, which follows dharma – obligations.

Vanity thought #1694. Universal rights

As I said yesterday, the topic of human rights is very extensive and it is beyond me to cover it in full. There will always be something missing. It also means that it would not be correct to simplify this subject to corresponding obligations and call it a day. The idea of obligations preceding rights I talked about yesterday comes from a modern political activist, after all, it was not born in isolation, it builds on previous knowledge and it has been expanded upon, too, often without even awareness of Simone Weil’s existence, I’m afraid.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, is a widely adopted obligation – by states, and it tries to find some common ground between inalienable and legal rights. Legal rights are contracts between states in their citizens while inalienable rights are “natural”, they supposed to exist even when states don’t, or when the UN itself collapses and ceases to exist. This means that people are aware of the concept of obligations and of the entities who are supposed to meet these obligations but they are not talking about it from the perspective I outlined yesterday.

There’s an ongoing discussion of what constitutes the inalienable rights, too. Some argue that they could only be given by God while others argue about the exact list of these natural rights. It seems that for the UN to be asserting these rights would be in any case outside its authority, at best they could recognize their independent existence but then they question would arise about relationships between nature and governments.

Can governments override natural laws? From Kṛṣṇa conscious perspective it’s easier to answer because we have a clear delineation of Lord’s energies and their hierarchy. For the secularists, however, it would imply existence of supernatural power – people themselves, but then people are product of natural selection so how could they become supernatural?

An easy example would be the power to kill. All people are born to live, that is the most natural law there is, so taking someone’s life would be overriding it, which shouldn’t be possible. I have no idea how atheists deal with these issues, maybe I should ask them.

To clear the confusion a little – there’s no such thing as death for the living entity, it can’t be killed, and there aren’t any visible actors in the world but the material nature itself. Being killed by another man is no different to being swept away by a tsunami because both animate and inanimate objects are driven by the same forces – modes of nature.

Step into an atheist world and figuring out who does what and what is nature and what is human responsibility quickly becomes very complicated. Some people argue that high sugar content in their food makes them do certain things so they should be blameless. Regardless of how courts react to this kind of defense it DOES have some ground behind it – we are not in control of our actions, we are conditioned beings, we act according to how we have been taught and, in this case, fed.

A drunk person behind a wheel WILL have a delayed reaction and might easily kill somebody and there’s nothing he can do about it. The law would still hold him responsible because drink and drive is already an offense but one could offer many excuses why he decided to do so – customs, culture, examples of other people and so on. It will not be enough to absolve him of responsibility in court but it would make his decision to appear “natural”. From our perspective he was acting according to karma and material elements comprising his body could not have possibly acted in any other way.

In fact, with enough foresight, this case was pre-ordained the moment he was born, and with even more foresight it was pre-ordained the moment the Lord cast a glance on pradhāna and it got agitated. The universe was born, the cycle of yugas has started, the propensity to intoxication got stronger in Kali yuga, the necessary plants were grown and converted to alcohol, the society taught people to drink and it also taught them to drive and so on.

As far as responsibility is concerned – every action leads to results. Sometimes these results are administered by “nature” and sometimes by other people, which looks different only from a conditioned platform where people claim some material elements as their own and others as belonging to “nature”. From Kṛṣṇa’s perspective it’s all His, and there are also His trusted representatives who control the actual administration.

With this in mind the distinction between inalienable and legal rights should not exist. It’s an invention of our minds where we take some laws into our hands and leave others to God, while atheists would say that God doesn’t exist and there’s only nature. As I said a few paragraphs earlier, there is no reason neither for them nor for the UN (which consulted with all major religions when drafting universal rights declaration) to claim status separate and independent from nature.

The UN here is caught between the rock and the hard place because when they consult with religionists they have to accept the idea that people came from God and are here to enact God given laws, they have to accept existence of supernatural power. The UN is also a secular organization that supports an atheistic view of the world that people are just highly evolved animals. The UN can’t admit existence of God for political reasons but it had to take God’s suggestions for consideration when drafting those rights.

It probably means that the existent bill of rights will get renegotiated when atheists “advance” their views a bit further. The concept of marriage is up for renegotiation already, for example. Right to marriage is in the Declaration under Article 16 but it does not enshrine right to marriage between people of the same sex explicitly, nor does it define “family” even if it demands its protection. LGBT activists might campaign for clarification there so they could use this declaration to demand recognition of their relationships in every country that accepted it. Saudia Arabia abstained in 1948 but Iran and Iraq voted for it, potentially opening the door for legal argument in favor of same-sex marriages in these Islamic countries. Regime change, anyone?

In real life the renegotiation is not on the cards as long as the existing world order holds, and if it does come up for discussion it’s more likely that interests of conservative states will prevail over liberal agenda rather than the other way around.

It’s not of much importance, I was just trying to understand the concept of universal rights from a secular point of view.

Vanity thought #1693. Duties

A couple of days ago Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu wrote a very nice article on the subject of rights as seen from both Vedic and modern perspective. I’m still in awe of his previous idea about speech even though I forgot the exact term he used to call it.

In short, spoken words have different power depending on the situation and qualification of the speaker. When a judge says “I sentence you to prison” it actually makes things happen while we may curse anyone we want without any effect whatsoever. He approached this concept from within western philosophical framework and extended it to the power of a pure devotee speaking on Bhāgavatam.

It makes a lot of sense but it’s also an example of how my brain can’t retain information anymore, just the gist of it. I’ve heard this presentation several times as he made it a staple of his Bhāgavatam lectures and still the details escape me. Anyway, for the speech to acquire potency it must be pronounced by a person of authority and rely on “power vested in me” by other people or institutions. That’s what makes judge a judge rather than any ordinary person running off his mouth. When judge says something the institution makes it happen and people are either released or detained accordingly.

Likewise, in order to make the words of Bhāgavatam into reality they must be spoken by a person of authority, carrying powers vested in him by Kṛṣṇa Himself. Only then the spiritual import of commonly remembered ślokas can be fully revealed in the heart of the listeners.

This analogy does not touch on qualification of the hearers but mahā-bhāgavata devotees said to be able to infuse absolutely anyone with transcendental realization anyway. Lord Caitanya made even animals to join His kīrtana while He was traveling through a forest, for example.

If I remember more of that presentation I’d probably write about it again, today I wanted to talk about rights and duties.

Just as with power of speech, Ravindra Svarupa takes western philosophical ideas and extends them as universal principles evident in our Vedic literature. Normally, we don’t have a concept of rights in our philosophy but, as it turns out, it’s not our fault but rather common misunderstanding by the westerners of what rights actually mean.

Ravindra Svarupa says that he came across a book by Simone Weil and quotes a couple of passages from it. You can either read them in his Dandavats article or check wikipedia. I’ve never heard of Simone Weil so if someone rejects her assertions on philosophical grounds I would have nothing to say in her defense but within our own framework it makes a lot of sense. I would also add that she was interested in upaniṣads and Bhagavad Gītā, not only in leftist politics, and that she died possibly as a result of personal austerities, her desire to defeat the urges of her tongue.

She was also into Christian mysticism and the book we take quotes from has been written after her personal meetings with Jesus so relying on her authority in debates with atheists might not add much value to our points but, as I said, it makes a lot of sense. I don’t want to wade into a philosophical debate on the subject of human rights, it’s a very extensive topic covered by great many philosophers and I have no idea how Simone Weil fits there at all so all of this is mostly for our internal consumption.

Anyway, according to wikipedia “Weil asserts that obligations are more fundamental than rights, as a right is only meaningful insofar as others fulfil their obligation to respect it.” She says a lot more on the issue but this the central point relevant to us. We don’t have rights – we have other people being obliged to do something. If they are not obliged then our rights do no exist.

I don’t think this assertion is controversial and I don’t foresee easy arguments against it but it offers a completely different perspective on how we should approach the subject of human rights that is simply not present in modern discourse, and they talk about rights a lot.

Everybody talks about rights from the perspective of “I”, completely oblivious that “my” rights are a function of others. They say “I have the right to..” without realizing that what they actually mean “you must..”. If someone says he has the right to free speech, for example, what it actually means is that he demands that other people do not react to it. Or, to be specific, he demands that other people react only in a certain way and cannot react in the way he doesn’t approve.

Most people would include at least “please” with demands like that but to human rights campaigners “please” does not exist. More thoughtful people would consider if the request for a specific reaction is reasonable and whether it’s not too much of a burden for the other party but social justice warriors are oblivious of inconveniences to others, it just doesn’t occur to them at all.

Then they say things like “people in … have no rights”, which would mean that governments in those countries have no obligations, which is nonsense. They reject monarchy outright, for example, but they do not consider obligations of a proper king to the citizenry. Ravindra Svarupa gives a few quotes from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam to illustrate that Vedic kings had far more obligations then any modern democratic government which would mean Vedic citizens had more rights even though they had no democracy whatsoever.

In that regard, no modern democratic state guarantees jobs but it was an obligation of a Vedic king to make sure everyone who wanted work had a gainful occupation. Come to think of it, USSR had guaranteed employment and North Korea still does it, too, I think. Free healthcare and free education are other rights that were guaranteed in the socialist block and they have become common in Europe but not the US, though Bernie Sanders is busy changing American attitudes to it.

Interestingly, there was no free healthcare and free education in Vedic times but it doesn’t mean anyone was denied treatment or education. Ayur-Vedic treatment was herbal and so it was only a question of obtaining natural ingredients, and everyone had to pay guru dakṣiṇā at the end of their studies. That payment, however, was commensurate with one’s abilities and, again, it was king’s duty to make sure no one was poor and there were no entrance fees to start studying.

The relationship between rights and obligations is a complex one and it can’t be covered in one article or one blog post so I might continue with this subject some other time.

Vanity thought #1692. Troublemakers

Again and again I ran into people accusing us of this or that because they read some arguments from, invariably, ex-ISKCON devotees. I’m not talking about cults and brainwashing here but issues of siddhānta. There’s this idea that these people know what’s right but we, in ISKCON, are pretty much still in ignorance.

The fall of jīva is a never dying argument that is picked up even by so called advaitins. What have they got to do with this, one might ask, but they exploit this issue when we challenge them to explain how it is that Brahman falls into māyā.

According to advaitins there’s absolutely no difference between us, jīvas, and God, and it’s all called Brahman. They would argue with this wording, too – there are no jīvas, they’d say, there’s only Brahman and everything else is “mithya”, whatever that means to them. At this point conversation should become pointless because it’s mithya, too, and so are books like Bhagavad Gītā with Śankarācārya commentaries because they are clearly not eternal. The debate never stops, however. For some reason they can’t let it go and need to engage in “mithya” arguments until cows come home.

Anyway, we say that Brahman should never come under the influence of māyā and so we are either not in māyā or not Brahman, and this is where they bring the issue of fall down – it never happened, we are not in māyā, the concept of “we” or “I” is mithya, a false identity, and so our ISKCON’s theory of fall from the spiritual world is wrong and it’s not accepted in Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism.

Sadly, by Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism they mean people who claim to speak on its behalf while professing loyalty to no one but their own brains. It’s mostly done by ex-ISKCON devotees and their only source is works by one Satyanarayan, the author of that book about leaves not falling from Vaikuṇṭha. Satyanarayan’s guru has already departed and left no writings delineating his philosophical views. We have no idea what his opinion on “going back to Godhead” was or what he thought about the origin of the jīva. Satyanarayan now answers to no one but himself. I’m sure he is a great devotee in many respects but making up his own theories by cherry picking quotes is hopefully not his greatest accomplishment.

I should also say that origin of the jīva is a murky subject that will always remain inconceivable to conditioned souls. Consequently, our ācāryas did not spend much time speculating about it. Only a fully liberated being can, theoretically, know all that happened before being snatched by māya, if concepts of “before” and “after” even exist outside the influence of material time.

We also can’t expect liberated souls to tell us all the stories about each one of us. Say Nārada Muni has the ability to tell us how exactly we ended up in this world but we can’t expect him to inform each one of us about it. There is a story, told by Maitreya, about falldown of Jaya and Vijaya, for example. It’s certainly a notable example and it clearly deserves a place in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but we can’t expect similar narrations for lesser personalities who ended up with no connection to the Lord whatsoever. Why would liberated sages talk about them at all? And why would that be recorded in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam?

The point is that origin of jīva is unknown, the “fall from Vaikuṇṭha” is unknown, it’s all very speculative and we don’t spend time discussing our personal fates. We only know that we need to go back to Godhead and none of our ācāryas had any problems with that concept. Just scroll to page 6 of this paper where there are quotes from previous ācāryas on this subject. They are further elaborated in the body of the text as well. I can’t count how many times they said “forget” in various ways. There are four quotes using the word “back” from Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī as well.

None of it matters to followers of Satyanarayan as they focus on quotes that talk about jīvas emerging from the body of Viṣṇu or some such. There’s no attempt at reconciliation, nothing. It’s as if our ācāryas never ever even thought about going back to Godhead at all.

What they do not forget to mention is that they know Gauḍiyā siddhānta. Repeat this plenty of times and our atheist/advaitin opponents would start to believe them.

Another confusion that ex-ISKCON devotees plant in people’s minds is that Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism has no connection to Madhva sampradāya. To be fair, some members of Madhva sampradāya hold this view, too, even though we have plenty of support and denunciations from their senior members. The argument goes that there was no connection between Mādhavendra Purī and actual Madhvas and the line cited in our literature does not match the one kept by Madhvas themselves.

First of all, it’s unthinkable to say that Mādhavendra Purī made false claims about his own lineage. It’s unthinkable to say that Lord Caitanya did not know what line Mādhavendra Purī came from. It’s unthinkable to say that Mādhavendra Purī’s direct disciples like Advaita Ācārya did not know what sampradāya they were initiated into. We can argue about records from centuries ago all we want but we should immediately reject the conclusions that make above mentioned personalities into liars. If they said they Mādhavendra Purī belonged to the line coming from Madhvācārya then it was so, as simple as that.

Secondly, who are we taking these arguments from? Afaik, on our side it’s the infamous Jagat. His devotion to Śrīla Prabhupāda will always remain unshakable but as far as his actions go they are downright disgusting. He left Prabhupāda’s shelter first for Lalita Prasad, then for some other ostensibly “traditional” Gauḍiyā, then he experimented with drugs, then with sex – joining real life prakṛta sahajiyās full time, then he became an academic, and recently he dropped kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ and took a vow of silence. What kind of authority on spiritual matters is this? He is bound to get it wrong no matter what he tries. Why do we have to listen to his opinions who represents the paramparā and who doesn’t?

It’s not the first time that I complained about bogus “gurus” and “academics” hijacking our siddhānta and making annoying claims but it’s the gift that keeps giving and they get cited again and again, hence continuous reactions.

Vanity thought #1691. Shelters

I was scrolling through google map and while panning past India I decided to zoom in. Right in the middle of the country there’s a little town I know absolutely nothing about – Jhansi, but it’s the town where Śrīla Prabhupāda started his League of Devotees and I thought that if I had no place to live I would easily choose Jhansi for its eternal transcendental connection to Prabhupāda’s pastimes. It’s a place worth taking shelter in. As I panned around I saw other familiar names coming into view and I thought taking shelter there would be desirable, too, and they also felt inviting. They might not be perfect places from a materialistic point of view and even spiritually they might be hopelessly infected with māyāvāda but they are still places where we, as devotees, should feel perfectly safe and protected for their transcendental history. This little episode made me think.

We have many options to take shelter in – guru, Kṛṣṇa, Lord Caitanya, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Bhagavad Gītā etc etc. Which one is more “sheltery”? Do we really need shelters? The answers are not obvious when you think about it.

In our books taking shelter is a normal occurrence, no one bats a lid when we read ślokas about “lotus feet of … is my only shelter”. It’s a celebrated sentiment, I would be mad to argue against it. And yet why would we have such a need from a philosophical point of view? Kṛṣṇa has already made a promise – ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ. He specifically tells us not to worry so why can’t we follow this simple instruction?

For a pure devotee, a paramahaṁsa who sees Kṛṣṇa in absolutely everything, there’s nothing to seek shelter from, nothing to be afraid of, at the very minimum it’s all Kṛṣṇa’s energy manifested for Lord’s pleasure. We are not pure devotees, we see lots of things as separate and independent from Kṛṣṇa and we feel threatened by them. It’s us against them – the atheists and māyāvādīs, and against māyā herself, too. We need to protect our nascent bhakti from their bad influence so we need shelter, we need safety, but philosophically paramahaṁsa’s position is correct and ours is delusional. Our fears are unjustified.

This doesn’t stop paramahaṁsas themselves praying for shelter, however. I mean we have a fair share of pure devotees in our tradition and not one of them, however exalted they were, ever forgot to take shelter. It comes natural even to them and I bet it feels very sweet, too.

Does the Lord like to see them scared and then protecting them? Possibly. What are they afraid of? I bet not of the same things we are. They might legitimately worry about Kṛṣṇa’s māyā because she will always be stronger than any one of us but their real fear even in that case would be of forgetting Kṛṣṇa. We are mostly afraid of bad karma. Maybe sometimes we worry what would happen to our devotion if we succumb to this or that temptation but we still see our punishment in terms of karma, not actual separation from the Lord. To feel separation we should first know Lord’s presence, we can’t miss what we never had. There could be argument made here that we can have anticipation of Lord’s appearance and we can miss that but not many of us are advanced enough to feel this anticipation yet.

Does Kṛṣṇa enjoy putting us in dangerous situations to intensify our interest in Him? Possibly, but that is playing with fire because dangerous for us often means “he is about to commit a serious offence”. We do not handle such dangers too well. This scare tactic would work in situations where see uncertainty about our future, however, and it should naturally please Kṛṣṇa if we rely solely on Him to guide us through. That’s how His mercy is described in our books, too – He takes away whatever little that His devotees have so that they surrender to Him completely.

In reality, however, there are only a few moments like this in our lives, the rest of the time we face “dangers” that are not dangerous at all. Sometimes “dangers” even offer prospects of sense enjoyment and that’s when we really get bewildered because we are being torn between our senses and our intelligence telling us not to give in. Under these circumstances very few devotees have a presence of mind to seek shelter in the Lord and to rely on Him to offer a resolution. I’m not sure myself that letting things happen is the best choice here. On one hand they can’t happen without Kṛṣṇa’s approval, on the other hand we might be talking about breaking regulative principles here.

The other question is who should we beg for our protection. Is it okay to surrender to Kṛṣṇa without remembering our guru first? Is it okay to pray to Lord Caitanya without going through Lord Nityānanda? Is it okay to take shelter in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam? They are all perfectly good providers of protection but is there a hierarchy that we should always respect?

Personally, I don’t think so. Personally, I think it’s perfectly okay to invoke whatever person that comes into our mind first, spontaneously. The only caveat is that we should never ever disrespect all the other links in the chain that leads to Him. Sometimes we just don’t have the time to offer prayers to our guru, then to Śrīla Prabhupāda, then silently mention all predecessor ācāryas, then Advaita Ācārya, by whose mercy we can approach Lord Nityānanda, then beg Lord Nityānanda for permission to submit ourselves to Lord Caitanya, then beg Lord Caitanya to introduce us to Kṛṣṇa, or should we go to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, like real Gauḍiyās do? Are we real Gauḍiyās yet or should we stop pretending and beg for Kṛṣṇa’s help instead of Rādhā’s?

That’s not how people normally react to danger and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to behave like perfect vaiṣṇavas. Whatever comes to mind first should be perfectly acceptable. We should not imitate spontaneity when we are not under pressure either, it would take only a couple of minutes to go through the whole chain, probably starting with fellow devotees before approaching our guru, too.

Sometimes you’d be clearing the attic and come across a box that has your old copy of Bhagavad Gītā in it. It is perfectly okay to treat this book as a long lost friend and master right on the spot. It’s perfectly okay to rue all the years you spent in separation from this old book, who would object to this sentiment? If, on the other hand, you’ve been pondering a serious life choice and decide to approach local deities then proper decorum is a must and you shouldn’t forget to pray to your guru first.

On the transcendental level all these options for surrender are equipotent and interchangeable, the only rule should be not to show disrespect to any part of the chain and do not jump over anyone’s head, and that’s a transcendental attitude, too. Our material brains are not always in the position to express it in our mind and we don’t want to dwell on this mental platform for long anyway.

Vanity thought #1690. Locating Lanka

This is another topic that came up during this year’s Rāma Navami celebrations. Śyāmasundara Prabhu got the ball rolling and then Nandanandana Prabhu responded a week later. It doesn’t take a genius to realize they are talking about two mutually exclusive locations of Lanka, what should we do? Who should we believe?

First of all, they are not accusing each other of ignorance and they are not engaging in a war of words. Nandanandana Prabhu diplomatically stated that there are people who hold different beliefs and that was it. Śyāmasundara Prabhu, who wrote the first article, chose not to respond. He made his point and left it as it is, without provoking unnecessary debate that could lead to vaiṣṇava aparadhas. It’s nice that our senior devotees are so mature about it but it still doesn’t tell us which one of them is right.

Could they both be right? It’s not an unthinkable outcome when we run into dilemmas like this. The Earth is clearly a globe, for example, and it is used as a globe in Vedic astronomical books but it is also appears to be flat if we go strictly by Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Both views are probably correct simultaneously and it’s only a matter of perspective and conditioning. To us the Earth looks like a globe but to sages like Śukadeva Gosvāmī it looks flat. How is that possible we don’t know but we don’t have Śukadeva Gosvāmī’s vision either.

I’m not sure this solution could be possible in case of Lanka. Maybe in different yuga cycles the place changes but otherwise I don’t see how two views can be reconciled. It is more likely that one of the prabhus is wrong, we just have to learn to deal with it without making offenses.

Śyāmasundara’s article begins with a very appropriate quote from Cāṇakya Paṇḍita:

    A brahmana sees through the sastras.
    A king sees through his spies.
    A cow sees through its nose. (to detect eatables)
    And an ordinary man sees through his eyes.

It is applicable in so many debates, though it probably won’t convince our opponents. It should give us the confidence in our own faith, however. We should see through the words of guru and shouldn’t worry if other people see things differently. We can’t blame them for that and we can’t make them agree with us if they do not surrender themselves to guru and Kṛṣṇa, in many cases it would simply not be possible to come to an agreement if we use two different sources of knowledge.

This is also where two opposing views on the location of Lanka diverge. On one hand we have quotes from Rāmayana and other scriptures describing Rāma līlā, on the other hand we have some fifty real life locations claiming to be where this līlā actually happened.

This is where we have to go either with śāstra or with people’s claims. I haven’t read the whole article, it mentions too many places, but the only other proof that these are actual Rāma līlā locations is apparently weird phenomena like color of the land being different from surroundings. That is not much, considering that Lord Rāmacandra appeared more than a million years ago and so we should have huge layers of earth covering the original burnt spots. It’s just what happens with all the vegetation growing up and dying, with leaves covering the ground and so on.

It’s not enough to say that because this patch of land has darker soil than surroundings then it must be the place torched by Hanumān, or a red patch of land must the location of a battle and so it’s red because of all the spilled blood. From a million years ago. I’m not saying it’s impossible for blood to keep the earth red for so long and until we know the exact reason any explanation should be considered as a possibility but it would still be under “ordinary man sees through his eyes”. It’s not a very reliable evidence.

Then there’s this sentence: “Incredibly, the names of places have come down to modern times unchanged.” I’m sorry to say, but this means absolutely nothing. People might have given these names to places only a few hundred years ago, it doesn’t mean they persisted for a million years. Lord Caitanya’s birth place was completely forgotten in four hundred years, that’s more in line with people’s abilities to preserve history than to believe that there’s a million year old civilization still residing in Sri Lanka. Śyamasundara Prabhu also has given a link to a wikipedia article on the use of the name Lanka there – it’s not that old at all.

I’ve seen people inventing history for the sake of tourism with my own eyes, the urge and the desire for tourist dollars is too tempting to resist. It is true now and it could have been true a few hundred years ago, though probably more for reasons of vanity rather than riches. The sad fact is that if you build a temple you need some sacred connection to attract people. It could be a tooth of Buddha, a footprint of Matsya, or sandals of Lord Rāma Himself, anything would do.

I’m afraid this is true for many locations in Vṛndāvana and Navadvīpa, too. We can’t see transcendental reality behind ordinary geographical features so we take it on faith – this is where Kṛṣṇa did this, this is where Rādhā did that, this is where Lord Caitanya planted that famous mango tree and so on. In some cases geographical features fit with descriptions in śāstra but look at how Govardhana has changed since then, what are the chances that two hills in a dana-keli pastime haven’t shrunk, too?

Maybe all this business of tying locations from līlā to physical objects is futile to begin with. What difference does it make anyway? Are we going to consider some spots in the dhama as more sacred than others? From our position every speck of dust is transcendental enough, who are we to make any further distinctions?

Finally, if we look with the eyes of the śāstra then real Lanka must be somewhere out in the ocean, south of India and right on the equator. The underwater geography checks out, too – there is a mountain ridge extending from India to that location and it could have been the bridge that monkeys built. After a million years it’s probably all we can hope for in terms of actual ruins.

And if we go to Sri Lanka and refuse to honor what they claim to be locations from Rāma līlā – what good will come out of that? None whatsoever. Just as with Vṛndāvana the real transcendental location should be revealed in our heart, it’s already there in the name but we a locked out of it for now. It doesn’t really matter where we physically are, the obstacles to seeing the real place are within.

We should just keep chanting and it will all be revealed in due time, though probably not in the way we hope to see it now.

Vanity thought #1689. Single purpose

I wonder if my recent speculation about single flavor experiences through an apparent variety of services can be applied elsewhere, in particular to Kṛṣṇa līlā? It’s not how we imagine it, that’s for sure, but there are good arguments in support of it, too.

The starting point was our possible connection with Lord Rāmacandra – we don’t seem to fit in His epic story with Sītā and then war with Rāvaṇa but if we think of Him as a perfect king then varṇāśrama could be our way. Lord Caitanya wasn’t interested in it, Kṛṣṇa wasn’t interested in it either, but Lord Rāmacandra seems like the perfect patron Lord of performing our varṇāśrama duties.

When we talk about varṇāśrama duties we can talk about our real life experiences and that’s where it might get real speculative but I don’t think that there could be a big disagreement here. We seem to do a lot of things under the aegis of varṇāśrama and going to work feels very different from relating to one’s wife or children but once we get over the duality of our experiences we can all see the underlying driver – desire to serve the Lord to the best of our ability.

I’d argue that it’s the same motivation regardless of external engagement. It doesn’t matter whether our duties are pleasant or stressful at each given moment, we still have to perform them because doing so would please the Lord. I’d argue that it’s the only way to find a real connection between our activities here and Kṛṣṇa – everything we do must be done for His pleasure only regardless of our feelings and regardless of the results. Our guru wants us to be perfect little soldiers in this battle, too, though following varṇāśrama rules is not very high on the list of things we should be doing for Lord Caitanya’s mission.

Speaking of Lord Caitanya – everything we do for Him must somehow be connected to saṅkīrtana, to spreading the glory of the holy name. I’ve written a couple of posts about this back in December – it’s entirely possible to build our entire society around this single preaching mission so that every devotee, from temple pot cleaner to best book distributor to temple president see themselves not as cooks, managers, or salesmen but as servants of saṅkīrtana. It’s a beautiful attitude to have, the best ever possible, and we have had experiences of implementing it successfully. Maybe now is not the time for it, I don’t know, but when it worked it worked wonders.

Once we learn to see that connection in each bit of our service we should realize that it is driven by one and the same “rasa”, just like following varṇāśrama. We want other people to appreciate Kṛṣṇa, that’s our single motive behind everything we do. I put “rasa” in quotes there because we don’t have a name for it – it’s not exactly dāsya, even though we are servants. Lord Caitanya’s mood is described as audārya, meaning magnanimity or generosity, and it could be a sub-rasa under mādhurya or something, I wouldn’t delve into Six Gosvāmīs literature just yet to find out exactly – if they even mentioned audārya it might have been in different context anyway.

The same attitude was displayed by Prahlāda Mahārāja, btw, who is in dāsya mood but there’s an argument that his compassion towards other living beings was manifestation of compassion of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. There’s an argument that rasas are not building up from śānti to mādhurya but rather spread down from Śrī Rādha to all other devotees who display parts of her complete spectrum of devotion. Some get this audārya and some choose to serve the Lord without it (if it’s even possible).

I’m not a sucker of compassion, a word I believe is generally abused in our movement, but that’s what Lord Caitanya’s mercy is – compassion. It’s what drives His saṅkīrtana movement even though saṅkīrtana itself can contain any other rasa. The best place to feel this magnanimity is in Māyāpura, it just permeates the whole atmosphere there and it is clearly different from the atmosphere of Vṛndāvana. To feel real sweetness of Vṛndāvana is impossible without being qualified for it but no one can escape the audārya of Māyāpura.

That’s probably why Śrīla Prabhupāda made us come to our annual festivals to Māyāpura so that we can recharge our batteries and return to preaching with full enthusiasm. It just doesn’t happen to those visiting Vṛndāvana where the most common reaction is to withdraw and dedicate oneself to chanting and recollecting Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.

Anyway, it is possible to see all service under varṇāśrama as driven by one single motive, one single rasa. It’s possible to see all service under saṅkīrtana as driven by one single rasa, too. Is it possible to see all service to Kṛṣṇa in a similar way?

On the surface of it – no, because Kṛṣṇa has a variety of devotees serving in a variety of rasas. That is not the case with Lord Rāmacandra as the king of Ayodhyā and it’s not the case with Lord Caitanya. We reject Gaurāṇga-nāgarīs who pretend to have various relationships with Mahāprabhu from His pre-saṅkīrtana days and accept only serving to His preaching mission as legitimate means of relating to Him. Relationships with Kṛṣṇa are not so restrictive.

What could be restrictive is our personal relationships with Him. In the spiritual world we might indeed be a one trick pony. Even those devotees playing in manjarīs focus on one single aspect of their service, afaik. Usually it’s decorating something in preparation of the visit of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. From description of other gopīs we can see that they are all expert in one particular field. Some are good a putting tilakas, some are good a cooking, some are good a playing musical instruments and so on. It is quite possible that they do not know how to do anything else and can’t care less about Kṛṣṇa’s relationships with calves or cowherd boys, it just doesn’t occur to them because they are too busy doing their own thing.

We also have examples of seemingly inanimate objects that serve only one single purpose – like the rope and the milk in Dāmodara līlā. They might be aware of everything else that is going on but all their lives they wait for that single moment when the Lord finally interacts with them.

Another argument is the fact that devotees on higher stages of progress are given one single mantra to worship the Lord and these mantras disclose one single devotional sentiment. From Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s commentary on Brahma-Saṁhitā I remember that everyone worships the Lord with mantras there. It’s only for us there’s a difference between mantra and the “real life” but in the spiritual world the sound and the reality are non-different.

One mantra, one sentiment, one rasa, one service – seems logical. It does not allow for personal variety but it should allow for variety of actions to express that sentiment, just as saṅkīrtana or varṇāśrama.

The only problem is pastimes where gopīs and Kṛṣṇa interact in unpredictable ways, especially when other devotees are involved, too. In those pastimes there aren’t any restrictions on what each and every person would do. Within limits, of course, because gopīs behave as gopīs and gopas behave as gopas. Still, some of these personalities are very versatile in their service. To this I could answer that we are never going to reach their platform, and that even with this versatility there’s always one single motive behind it anyway. Gopīs do not have any other interest but Kṛṣṇa or Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, as the case may be, everything they do serves this singular purpose in one single mood.

Hmm, it seems my new speculation is holding up very nicely. It would be great to check it out personally but for that one would need to visit the spiritual realm which is not on the cards, unfortunately. Maybe one day…