Living in peace with Krishna West

I was reading something by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and he mentioned a stunning verse that immediately reminded me of Krishna West. In our books in appears only once, in the Eleventh Canto – translated and purported by Hridayananda Dasa Goswami himself. This should be enough of an authority for his followers but I wanted to investigate its origin a bit further. This is what I found.

In commenting on SB 11.20.9 Hridayananda Dasa Goswami apparently used Bhakti Sandarbha (A.173) for the purport because that seems to be the only place where he could have gotten the following verse mentioned by Jīva Goswāmī as being spoken by the Lord:

    śruti-smṛtī mamaivājñe
    yas te ullaṅghya vartate
    ājñā-cchedī mama dveṣī
    mad-bhakto ’pi na vaiṣṇavaḥ

    “The śruti and smṛti literatures are to be understood as My injunctions, and one who violates such codes is to be understood as violating My will and thus opposing Me. Although such a person may claim to be My devotee, he is not actually a Vaiṣṇava.”

That’s a very strong statement – they may claim to be devotees but they are not.

Krishna West argues that “devotional dress” does not exist and all the rules regulating our devotional appearances and behavior are Islamic in origin, or in any case do not need to be followed – because “preaching”. This argument is destroyed in this verse – we MUST follow injunctions of śruti and smṛti, simply going by what we think is “goodness” is not enough. Rejecting these prescriptions would disqualify us from being accepted as devotees by the Lord.

BTW, it’s plain obvious that devotional dress and behavior in ISKCON are a lot closer to South Indian vaiṣṇavas than to Muslims and I hope KW is not going to preach to Ramanujas or Madhvas that they are following Islamic rules, too. As you will see later, even if our codes were influenced by Muslims or Ramakrishnas it doesn’t mean they can be rejected.

So, back to the heavy speaking verse – where does it leave KW? What do they have to do? Embrace dhoties and saries and tilakas and halava? Not going to happen and should not be happening against their will. However, the verse itself (SB 11.20.9), which was also used by Jiva Goswami in the same anuccheda, gives a clue:

    tāvat karmāṇi kurvīta
    na nirvidyeta yāvatā
    mat-kathā-śravaṇādau vā
    śraddhā yāvan na jāyate

    As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for devotional service by śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ, one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.

Sridhara Swami, also quoted in the anuccheda, explains: “The word ‘karmani’ here means ‘regular and occasional prescribed duties’.” HDG translated it as “fruitive activities” in the word-for-word, so it’s not exactly “regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions” as in the translation. This gives KW a way out – they have to follow prescribed duties according to their culture, regular and occasionally rising. These duties might not be Vedic but, as prescribed duties, we should accept them as some sort of upadharma for degraded people of non-Vedic civilizations.

That’s where they get their definitions of “goodness” already anyway, like acceptance of pants or pizza or french fries or or veggie burgers. Let them do it, in fact, they SHOULD do it – until they feel satiated and become naturally detached, or until they develop taste for Hari-Katha and forget they ever liked these things.

In the anuccheda Jiva Goswami mentions a few other verses explaining the conditions for when one can give up following “karmani” – when one takes complete shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord and stops relying on anything else in his life, which is a pretty advanced stage not yet reached by vast majority of non-KW devotees as well.

In this way both KW and mainstream ISKCON can happily co-exist. It becomes a problem only when KW devotees reject prescriptions given to mainstream devotees as artificial. That’s when they become non-vaiṣṇavas opposing to the Lord even if they still claim to be devotees. They, effectively, start saying that rules they follow themselves – how they dress, how they eat, how they behave in public – are sattvic and “real”, but mainstream vaiṣṇava rules are bogus. Calling them Islamic inventions only exacerbates the matter.

There’s another discussion about whether following upadharma can take one all the way to the Lord, as KW claims. SB verse above means that if they still feel the need to follow it then śraddhā yāvan na jāyate – their faith has not been yet awakened. In this position they shouldn’t be arguing about how exactly śraddhā will eventually blossom into prema. That would be premature.

This mistake – that by following upadharmas they feel they are qualified to talk about “going all the way”, as they say, is manifested in another area – that they feel they are qualified to talk about dharmas given in śāstra, too. Forget about arguing about actual merits of wearing dhoties all the time – the mistake is to treat dharma and upadharma as equal in the first place. They might not use the same words but that’s what they mean when they say things like “the Lord enjoys french fries and puris equally because they are both sattvic and are cooked with love and devotion.” Cooking oil is not sattvic, only ghee is sattvic, so the Lord would enjoy french fries cooked in ghee better than cooked in oil, there’s no equality even there, and that’s before comparing root vegetable (potato), which grows in cold, dump darkness to wheat.

This can be explained in many different ways, but the bottom line is simple – upadharma is called upadharma for a reason – it’s not as good as real dharma. At first, I was doubtful that I use the word “upadharma” correctly, but no, it seems fit with the definition in SB 7.15.13:

    dharma-bādho vidharmaḥ syāt
    para-dharmo ‘nya-coditaḥ
    upadharmas tu pākhaṇḍo
    dambho vā śabda-bhic chalaḥ

    Religious principles that obstruct one from following his own religion are called vidharma. Religious principles introduced by others are called para-dharma. A new type of religion created by one who is falsely proud and who opposes the principles of the Vedas is called upadharma. And interpretation by one’s jugglery of words is called chala-dharma.

It would seem unduly harsh to KW but they DO oppose the principles of the Vedas in favor of their version of “goodness” and they do think that Hridayananda Das Goswami is qualified to lay down new principles for others to follow, which is an indication of false pride being present, and it IS a new kind of religion when compared to mainstream ISKCON. I meant it to mean a sub-dharma not fit to be mentioned in Vedic texts but either definition is okay, mine was more generous.

The peace formula I propose here is simple – let them do their sattvic things, that’s how they’ll eventually get purified, but they shouldn’t reject rules followed by mainstream as bogus. They should just stay out of these “comparative studies”, nothing good will come from criticizing ISKCON. Most likely they’ll develop an attitude that is condemned by the Lord and the Lord Himself will stop considering them as His devotees. That’s a pretty heavy warning there at the top. As I said – stunning.

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The meaning of “Lord Caitanya”

We think Lord Caitanya descended and then disappeared some five hundred years ago. On one hand it’s an undeniable fact, on the other hand it betrays our materialistic way of thinking about these things – in this version He gets born and dies as an ordinary human, we only use different words like “descended”, “appeared”, or “disappeared” for the sake of etiquette. What we mean, what we perceive in our minds, is actions of “birth” and “death”, so using more respectful terms doesn’t help very much. I think there’s a way to expand our understanding of what’s going on here.

In the introduction to Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the meaning of Caitanya as “living force”. In the first few chapters Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja explains the mission of Lord Caitanya in various ways and one aspect of it is to propagate chanting of the Holy Name and to purify the whole world through this chanting. In the introduction Śrīla Prabhupāda explains it in terms of “living force in immortality” or “character of the living force in immortality” and how the Lord makes it happen for the souls born in Kali yuga. Why not take it as the actual definition?

I mean under materialistic way of thinking “Lord Caitanya” means a person who was born and died five hundred years ago, that’s the main definition, and then we add the details with information about His divinity, mercy and so on. What I propose is to take “giver of immortality to the living force” as primary definition instead and THEN start filling it with details about when He was visible, what He looked like etc.

In relation to our gradual awakening from the dreams of māyā Lord Caitanya appears as He who gives the sound of the Holy Name and fills it with spiritual realizations. Prior to Him chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra was absent from this world and without His mercy it does not produce desired effects. Technically, the mantra itself was known, of course, but no one paid much attention to it, and now, when everybody is aware of its existence and benefits of its chanting, hardly anyone actually becomes a devotee – without Lord Caitanya’s mercy it’s not possible.

Lord Caitanya was also Kṛṣṇa Himself who appeared in the mood of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī but I can’t personally relate to it (yet), what I do know is that chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra effects changes in myself. I won’t argue if to other people Lord Caitanya means Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa nahe anya, but I would argue that to me it means gradual spiritual awakening, which is a legitimate part of His mission and He and His mission are non-different.

If I accept that this is how Lord Caitanya appears in my life then I can’t say “He disappeared in 1534” because that doesn’t make sense now. In fact, He NEVER disappears because His presence as “immortality of the living force” which fills the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra with spiritual potency does not go away, ever. Well, I can commit offences and stop chanting as a result or chanting would become ineffective but something tells me it would only be temporary and Lord Caitanya’s mercy would reach me even at my own worst.

Lord Caitanya is addressed as mahā-vadānyāya and kṛṣṇa-prema-pradāya in his praṇāma mantra. At this stage prema-pradāya practically means “giver of devotion”, exactly what I’m talking about, and mahā-vadānyāya means supremely merciful and magnanimous so there’s no way to avoid Him, means in this aspect of His personality He never disappears.

I remember this when I chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, my mind gets absorbed in mundane thoughts, and suddenly I wake up and purge them from my consciousness – it’s the appearance and mercy of Lord Caitanya. I might think it’s my own effort but it isn’t, I falsely appropriate it. Why do I remember to stop thinking nonsense things? Because of Lord Caitanya, who is ever present, ever ready to help, ever putting meaning in words “Hare” and “Kṛṣṇa” and “Rāma”, ever filling them and myself with living force and immortality. He didn’t disappear five hundred years ago, He is always here, with me, even if I don’t fully appreciate it yet.

Okay, but what to do with the fact of Him taking birth in Navadvīpa and then living for forty eight years “on Earth”, in materialistic speak? First of all, accepting materialistic worldview means accepting a timeline, which is also linear, not cyclical like in Vedic science, so let’s distance ourselves from that first. Lord Caitanya’s existence and appearances are not restricted by time, place, or circumstances, only by our readiness, devotion, and His mercy. If we accept ourselves as parts of the materialistic community based on science and history then we can’t see Him because that time has passed. If we realize that we are not a part of that world then we might pray for Lord Caitanya’s full appearance right now, subject to our readiness, devotion, and His mercy.

In one place, I can’t find it right now, Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja describes Lord Caitanya as mercy personified, which I take to mean that mahā-vadānyāya aspect has a form and that form is of a tall, large man with lotus eyes, long arms, and golden complexion. It might take a while for us to realize that feelings like mercy can have forms but we can start with the fact that we recognize things like “look of compassion” or “manifestation of mercy”. Mercy isn’t impersonal, in relation to our beings it takes forms suitable to us so that we at least recognize it as “mercy” and not as “malice”. Like a crying baby who perceives mother’s mercy first as sound of her saying “Coming!”, then adds a perception of her figure appearing in his view, then the gentle touch of her arms and warmth of her body, then a sensation of nipple in his mouth, and then the taste of mother’s milk, so Lord’s appearance in our lives is also gradual. It starts with the sound of the Holy Name and graduates in Goloka, just have patience and keep crying for Him. His mercy WILL take more perceptible forms, we just have to start somewhere and keep going.

Engrossed in materialistic thinking we do not recognize that the power which shakes off our distractions as we chant the Holy Name IS Lord Caitanya Himself, we take it for granted. There’s a similar situation with our thinking about atoms I heard many many years ago. We think that atoms have nucleus and there are orbiting electrons (not entirely correct but the most common model) but Vedic science would look at the same atom and say “it occupies space – either, there’s movement – air, there’s energy – fire, there’s bondage between parts of nucleus – water, and there subatomic particles themselves – earth”. Same thing, different perspective, different science. Materialists take existence of space or movement for granted but in Vedic science those are fundamental elements making matter, not protons and electrons.

Materialistic worldview and their understanding of the universe or history do not have any independent sources of existence, they are not objective reality. It’s a degraded “Vedic culture”, in the simplest terms, and periodic decline of religion was mentioned by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gīta, so every now and then the Lord appears even before the eyes of the degraded population so that some of us get to see Him “for real”. On average, I’m removed by about twenty five generation from Lord Caitanya and my ancestors were nowhere near India at the time. They didn’t see Him, how can I expect this body produced by them to see the Lord? They weren’t even among those who only heard of Lord Caitanya, or even heard of the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa. Those events, however, were recorded and accepted as “real” even by atheists. My ancestors were not qualified for that particular manifestation of Lord’s mercy, there were nowhere near it, so I get this mercy in the form of chanting that only begins to make sense, which is a solid start. What’s there to complain?

I know devotees who had a much better perception of Lord Caitanya’s mercy that me so I can see a gradient, which means it’s real and progress can be actually made.

The main point is to appreciate Lord Caitanya in the form we can perceive rather than raise our expectations in line with our materialistic upbringing where it’s all or nothing – you can either see God or He doesn’t exist. No, He DOES exists, and there ways to sense His presence other than “seeing”, we just not paying attention.

The meaning of humility

There’s one elusive quote from Śrīla Prabhupāda. Elusive in the sense I don’t see it explained anywhere else in his books. I’ve seen is supported in the statements of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī but can’t find them at the moment. The latest I’ve seen it is in this image on facebook but originally it’s from Harivilasa Prabhu’s memories on Following Srila Prabhupada DVD 5 (source):

Humility means that you are convinced beyond any doubt that there is nothing in this world, absolutely nothing in this world, not your money, not your family, not your fame, not your gun, not your education, nothing that will save you except the mercy of Krishna. When you are convinced like this, then you are humble.

It’s obviously quite different from a dictionary definition of humility or from how we talk about what it means to be humble or from Bhāgavatam examples of humility, and even from tṛṇad api sunīcena verse in Śikṣaṣṭaka. In fact, it is so different it doesn’t make sense at all. We can’t disagree with the requirement to see Kṛṣṇa’s mercy as absolute but why is it called “humility” here? I’m not entirely sure but I do have an idea and I do consider this definition of humility as a new standard. It doesn’t apply everywhere, obviously, but it’s what humility means in the ultimate sense.

To start with we need to look at general meaning of humility – it’s an attitude displayed in relation to others, though one can be humble in the face of events and impersonal forces as well. In any case, to speak of humility you need to accept the worldview where there is you and there are other people and things, and you all relate to each other in terms of “bigger” and “smaller” and “weaker” and “stronger” etc. You need to see your own power and the power of your counterpart and conclude that one power is greater than the other. Then you can start thinking about displaying humility. It would not make sense to talk about humility is these basic distinctions aren’t there.

In the quote Śrīla Prabhupāda gives us a few examples of distinct entities – family, guns, education etc. They are not our counterparts, however, but they are sources of one’s own strength when we compare it to that of “others” whose existence is indicated by mention of “save you” – there’s someone or something to be saved from. So we have three parts to consider – me, others, and sources of my strength.

Now let’s see what these parts mean in terms of Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy. “Me” could be me as the soul or it could be me as an embodied entity, forced by māyā to identify with material form. “Others” can be divided similarly into spirit souls and forms created by material nature. As we shall see later it doesn’t really matter, and the answer was given to a person still identifying himself with the body in the context of relating to material objects, not relations in the spiritual world.

So now we have “me” foolishly thinking that I’m am my body even if I do theoretically know that I’m not, so I have to elevate my current understanding of humility to that suitable to my real nature – jīva trying to free itself from clutches of māyā. That’s why the definition was given in the first place – to improve our current understanding. Then we have “others” who are not actually “who” but are “what” – forms created by the illusory energy. Jīvas behind these forms are similarly illusioned and have no control of what the forms do or how they appear because forms are products of universal guṇa and karma.

This basic understanding is actually quite revolutionary – we are not dealing with other jīvas, we are dealing with products of guṇa and karma, and even more to the point – with OUR guṇa and karma. Because we can’t perceive guṇa and karma of others and because we can’t perceive anything but what is allotted to us anyway. Nobody can do anything to you that is not in your karma. They can’t harm you and they can’t give you pleasure either. All that we experience is OUR guṇa-karma.

This means that we have a misconception about our real identity, we are aware it exists but it’s very persistent and we need to overcome it, and we are dealing with results of our karma which we perceive as “others”. We intend to counteract these results with our own powers which we draw from the sources mentioned in the quote – education, means knowledge, means we think we know what to do. Family provides emotional support, guns provide physical safety, wealth provides resources and so on. From Kṛṣṇa conscious point of view all these are illusory and unreliable. They are also in the same category as threats – they are both provided by karma. We have no more control over our gun as over a home intruder. It is the same karma that dictates that the gun is locked and you have no time to load the ammo and protect your family. It might work or it might not just as the intruder might attack you or might decide to flee.

What Śrīla Prabhupada is saying here is that actual knowledge means that in our interactions with illusory energy we can rely only on Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. Because He is in control of the illusion and because He can free us from our karma as well. Actual knowledge means all we are ever dealing with is Kṛṣṇa’s energies. There’s one energy to create our perception of the world and another energy to counteract that perception if necessary. Both are strictly controlled by Him and both work for our ultimate benefit.

It’s this vision – that there’s absolutely nothing but Kṛṣṇa everywhere, which brings humility. When death is coming it’s Kṛṣṇa who wants to kill me and when I’m saved it’s Kṛṣṇa who saves me as well. When Kṛṣṇa presents danger with one hand we can take shelter of His other hand, there’s nothing else to it. In this state we realize that we don’t have any powers ourselves but are absolutely helpless in the face of Krṣṇa’s all-powerful energies. Of course it brings humility.

If, by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, we become freed from the illusion and we see actual spirit souls then the attitude of enjoyment and dominance disappears. We become servant of the servant of the servant, we stop competing with others’ powers but rather want to help them and serve them to please Kṛṣṇa better. That is the state of our constitutional humility which should be thought of in spiritual terms, not through comparisons to our mundane definitions.

Anyway, realization of humility as explained in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s quote means we realize we never deal with other people or forces but only with ourselves (and Kṛṣṇa, of course). All the phenomena we perceive as “outside” are actually products of our own hearts and our own illusion. They don’t objectively exist. Just like in quantum mechanics – if you don’t look the particles aren’t “there”, they exist only as possibilities. These possibilities are converted into observations by guṇa-karma. If we take shelter of the material energy She would show us all kinds of things. If we don’t look all these things will disappear.

Humility means we don’t compete with creations of our own illusion but take shelter of Kṛṣṇa, or if we do decide to compete due to our lack of knowledge it’s only Kṛṣṇa who can counteract them anyway. The deep seated illusion that we do have some independent sources of power goes away, we sort of become stripped of our powers, and this realization brings humility.

This realization will not come about as a result of observing material nature – we have to stop looking at it and concentrate our consciousness on Kṛṣṇa instead. This means that my explanation isn’t really necessary – one can just absorb himself in chanting the Holy Name and the humility will appear naturally. It doesn’t need to be explained, it will become a self-evident, undeniable truth.

PS. One corollary of this is that when people get into fights and try to prove something to somebody or rage against something somebody has done they are actually dealing with themselves. The solution to fixing their perceived problems is not fixing the world but fixing their own hearts. In my experience people do not normally accept this suggestion but it’s the truth. All we need is to become Kṛṣṇa conscious and all the “problems” will be solved, which is what Śrīla Prabhupāda says in the quote – we need to attain Kṛṣṇa’s mercy (and then we can call the result “humility” as well).

Gurus and expectations

Last weekend our regular program class was on the section in the Nectar of Devotion which deals with not accepting unfit disciples, not constructing too many temples etc. It’s a pretty straightforward topic – one should not initiate too many disciples, certainly not with the idea to increase his own prestige. Śrīla Prabhupāda also discusses the obvious statement that one should not initiate those who are unfit – how sometimes it’s necessary for propagation of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. Nothing we haven’t heard of before.

What spiked my interest, however, was looking at the sources for this section. In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu there’s a line by Rūpa Goswāmī stating these three rules (we’ll talk only about guru-disciples one here) and then he gives a supporting verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.13.8). The way Śrīla Prabhupāda translated that verse later on, when he got to the Seventh Canto, is somewhat different from how he talked about it in NOD:

    A sannyāsī must not present allurements of material benefits to gather many disciples…

See how it’s not about them being unfit or about extracting material benefits yourself (by guru). This is something else entirely – do not make any promises. This has not been mentioned in the class and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone explaining the rule this way. Once I spotted it, however, it downed on me that it’s what the very first line in NOD says as well:

    … a person may have many disciples, but he should not act in such a way that he will be obliged to any of them for some particular action or some favor…

That is a development on the initial thought, which is based on one word in that Bhāgavatam verse – anubadhnīta, which in word-for-word given as “one should induce for material benefit”. This word is repeated in Rūpa Goswāmī’s own line as well, in fact it’s the only meaningful word for this rule, the other two are “no” and “disciple”. Then in both SB and NOD we see Śrīla Prabhupāda explaining various implications of that word. In SB purport it’s all about not making alluring promises and nothing about “unfit” or “for your own prestige”:

    So-called svāmīs and yogīs generally make disciples by alluring them with material benefits. There are many so-called gurus who attract disciples by promising to cure their diseases or increase their material opulence by manufacturing gold. These are lucrative allurements for unintelligent men. A sannyāsī is prohibited from making disciples through such material allurements.

It’s pretty straightforward here, too, but let’s discuss implications of this rule most of us overlook when it comes up in NOD or when it’s buried deep somewhere in the Seventh Canto. I mean this rule is evoked quite often but is somehow never put this way. When we were reading it last week in class it went straight over our heads, too.

In NOD Śrīla Prabhupāda actually gives an explanation why attracting disciples with materialistic promises is dangerous – it makes guru obliged, ie conditioned and bound up by karma. Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t even say what promises are forbidden, he says one should not act in such a way that he becomes obliged. Stated like this it casts a very wide net – any time one feels a guru is obliged to do something for him the rule has possibly been broken.

A disciple might have his own expectations, of course, it doesn’t mean his guru actually promised anything, but I can think of several examples where two hands must have been clapping, and they are not very comfortable topics to discuss. Still, let me try, I only try to understand the issue here, not cast any doubts on anyone’s spiritual purity.

A typical ISKCON disciple expects that initiation will bring him recognition, that he would leave his current social strata of uninitiated “friends of Krishna” and enter into an exclusive club of ISKCON members for real. It’s a huge step up, nowadays it’s somehow even harder to make, but it’s a topic for another discussion. Offering initiation so that one becomes a fully fledged member of community has been done since forever, including by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. In NOD he explains why sometimes this rule has to be broken but in the absence of emergency there’s no justification for this.

When most of our devotees lived in the temples initiated disciples expected a place to live and engagement in service. When I grew up it was practically a demand – every temple resident must be given service, and not just any service but the one suitable to his nature. There were tons of seminars on how to achieve this and they were given by gurus who actually felt that it was their obligation. These days devotees live mostly outside but temple management or project management is a big big thing, gurus might not be directly involved but that’s only because there are too many people to manage so they delegate these responsibilities. The point is that our spiritual leadership obviously feels obliged to provide comfortable situation for our devotees. It would be an anathema to reject this responsibility, it’s unthinkable – we spent so many decades indoctrinating our entire society it’s not even an option anymore.

No one can stand up and say “I’m not making any promises. You might have service or you might not have service. You might get living quarters, food, and clothing, or might not – nothing to do with me.” And yet this is exactly what Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Bhakti Rasāmṛita Sindhu, and Nectar of Devotion tell us – do not make promises.

For non-temple devotees getting guru’s blessings for any project is a must. They open a restaurant – it must be under auspices of a guru, you set up a publishing company – it must publish books by spiritual leaders, you start a farming project – it must be associated with a big name, too. In all these cases devotees expect their projects to succeed. I don’t know how much of an obligation it is for the spiritual masters themselves, I hope they don’t get caught up and do not make any promises.

Varṇāśrama is, perhaps, the most controversial topic here of all. The very meaning of varṇāśrama is to produce tangible material benefits. It must produce food – milk and grains, and some even talk about allowing polygamy. If our varṇāśrama projects do not provide sense gratification they are considered a failure. Of course we all say that varṇāśrama is needed for practicing devotional service but it’s just our code word for “comfortable material situation”, let’s not pretend otherwise. The full sentence should read “comfortable material situation is needed for practicing devotional service”.

When we look at varṇāśrama this way it’s hard to justify our gurus and even Śrīla Prabhupāda himself pushing for it and not breaking “do not make promises” rule. I mean we generally think that by following Prabhupāda’s specific instruction on varṇāśrama we can obtain satisfactory sense gratification, be it marital advice or gurukula advice or farming advice, or advice on making your own toothpaste. We treat this advice as promises, and as the most solid promises ever. It. Should. Work.

Why? Did Śrīla Prabhupāda consider that advice as his solid promises? I don’t think so. Did he use it to attract people? Generally – no, but sometimes devotees were inspired to get closer to him by engaging in those projects, succeeding, and then claiming their rightful spots in his entourage, like on morning walks. When a spiritual leader starts any such project now it does attract devotees and disciples. The word in SB and BRS is śiṣya, btw – any kind of disciple, not only initiated ones. Projects do attract following, that’s a fact of life, and so if someone talks these projects up to recruit people then he creates an obligation, and that would be against the rule.

The tough part is that managing ISKCON is impossible without making promises and luring people in. One of our senior leaders lured devotees through their wives, for example. Ever so subtle but the message was “you do this and your marital happiness is assured”. It’s just how the world works, so what can we do? Here’s a radical solution – stay out of it. ISKCON is a preaching movement meant to attract more and more people but the rules for them are not the same as rules for making personal spiritual advancement. Personally, we should not fall for the same type of propaganda we are forced to produce when we reach out to non-devotees.

Even more radical solution – ISKCON is not meant for our own comfort. We cannot expect or demand it to serve our material needs. It is not meant to provide us with pensions or provide emotional support or business opportunities or food or shelter – nothing, really. Only when we want to serve it without any such expectations, not even waiting for a thank you, we can start making actual progress the way Rūpa Goswāmī has meant it. When all these egotisitical interests are absent from our relationships with our guru we can start to appreciate him for what he really does for us – saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka trāṇāya kāruṇya-ghanāghanatvam…

Seeing Krishna Everywhere

We know that seeing Kṛṣṇa in everything is the goal of our practice. Maybe not the only goal but that’s what it means to be free from māyā – a devotee starts seeing Kṛṣṇa in absolutely everything. It’s the highest state of realization so we naturally think it’s not for us, certainly not at the present moment. It is true – we can’t attain this stage by our own efforts, it comes as a result of Kṛṣṇa bestowing His mercy so you either have it or not and we don’t. Still it doesn’t mean we don’t need to try.

“How can we artificially put Kṛṣṇa into everything?”, one might ask. “Not artificially”, is the answer. Kṛṣṇa IS in everything, the connection is always there and this connection is real  – we just have to find it. By His grace this connection will be realized to the highest degree just as we know “Kṛṣṇa” is God but full realization of this fact is yet to dawn on most of us.

This is what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī said on the subject of what it means to observe things in this world:

    We must find the link between whatever objects we come across in our day-to-day life and Kṛṣṇa, because every object is an integral part of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, to discover the factor that unites them is actual observation of an object.

We “must”! Actual observation of an object is to discover the link of this object to Kṛṣṇa. How’s that?

Science is very proud of its power of observation but here we see that they completely miss the point of “observation” is. Observation means to see connection to Kṛṣṇa. Well, okay, but how?

This is where Sāṅkhya comes in and we have no excuse not to study it because we are given all the facilities, specifically Lord Kapila’s teachings in the Third Canto. One might say “I’m not a philosopher, I can’t understand these things.” Okay, but it’s only a matter of effort – I’m pretty sure people who object this way do not consider themselves as scientists either and yet they know quite a lot about how the world works according to modern science. They know how cars work, for example – that there are engines where gas is burned, that there is a transmission, there are axles, wheels, breaks, power steering etc. They know how computers work, they know how refrigerators work and so on. Obviously not in great detail but the point is that they put in the effort to learn these things and they only need to put in the effort to learn Sāṅkhya, too. We don’t need to know it in great detail either – all we seek is a link to Kṛṣṇa, remember, not how to create flying mansions like Kardama Muni.

One way or another I put some effort while reading “Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”, a book which I covered extensively here, and I feel like I got the principle of how it works.

First of all – objects of this world do not have connection to Kṛṣṇa per se because Kṛṣṇa never steps a foot outside of Vraja, but they are connected to Viṣṇu who, in turn, is connected to Kṛṣṇa. As far as this world is concerned tracing its objects to Viṣṇu is going to be enough, certainly for the moment. That is also where Sāṅkhya starts – from Mahā Viṣṇu. I’ll try to delineate the essential steps, skipping what isn’t important for the task.

Mahā Viṣṇu casts a glance at pradhana and what is produced is mahat-tattva. Mahat-tattva is, therefore, like a reflection of the Lord, or a impression of the Lord left in the material nature. It looks exactly like Him but it’s not. It’s as attractive as the Lord Himself but it is also separate and so we can relate to it in a different way – as enjoyers, not as servants.

When we say “look” we mean only visual appearance but mahat-tattva is a collection of ALL God’s qualities – beauty, strength, fame, renunciation etc. We can’t visualize most of these but we can certainly perceive them with our minds. I’m saying this to decouple of our idea of “what is” from “what we can see”. Tattva means that which is, not that which we see.

Anyway, second Puruṣa avatāra selects a few qualities and from this set creates what we now call “the universe”. Our universe started with the selection of austerity, cleanliness, generosity, and truthfulness. We should keep in mind that what is meant here is the very essence of these concepts because the words we use come loaded with baggage of history. No one likes austerity, for example – the word bears negative connotation, but the essence of it still is a self-evident virtue, an undisputed moral value – the ability to discard something. It feels good to get rid of unwanted things and it feels good because it’s originally a quality of God. Purity is self-evidently good, too, and so are mercy and truthfulness.

Three guṇas get to work on these selections, mix and match them and in this way the complexity of the universe multiplies. In our case we take four qualities, color each in one of the three guṇas and we immediately get twelve different things. Then they can be combined in certain proportions, too, and in this way the universe expands.

What we now call the universe is a world of visible things. Somehow “tattva” for us is that which we can see. If, for example, we hear sound we accept that it’s real and not imaginary only if it has a source which we can perceive visually. Ākāśa sound, the “voice from the sky”, is impossible in modern science. When we can’t see things we use microscopes or we create visual models, like that of an atom, which turns out to be a very incorrect representation according to quantum theory but everybody still draws atoms with nucleus and rotating electrons.

In Sāṅkhya, empirically perceptive objects are the last stage of the creation and everything before them is actually “more real”. Empirical objects are like mp3 files, which encode songs into mp3 format. In the same way empirical objects encode desired sensations which exist prior, just like a song exists before being encoded into mp3. The difference is that in science we accept that songs are real but moral values are not. It would be interesting to investigate at what point science considers the song as “real” but let’s leave it for now.

There was a little switcheroo in the above paragraph – empirical objects encode sensations but what we actually want to encode, what we actually want to produce, are moral values as originally found in mahat-tattva.

When I look at the bedside lamp I see that it was designed to be beautiful – that is a quality straight from Kṛṣṇa. They followed a different standard of beauty but the goal itself is the same. The lamp is supposed to provide light in the darkness – to provide knowledge and dispel ignorance – another quality straight from Kṛṣṇa. Depending on how closely I examine the lamp I will find more and more ways the designers and manufacturers wanted to embody and present certain virtues or moral values.

This is how everything that is created works – first, there’s the desire to represent a moral value, one or more of Kṛṣṇa/Viṣṇu’s qualities, then there’s the effort, and then there’s the result. It’s sattva, rajas, and tamas. Three modes are involved in absolutely every act of creation, every act of production of every material object. One of the modes might be predominant but all three are always there.

Sattva manifests as a desire to see a form of the Lord. Not the complete form but one of its features. Once you see sattva in every object you see the Lord already. Not complete vision but something definitely from Him. Mission accomplished.

Rajas and tamas are also connected to the Lord but indirectly so we don’t need to bother about that if we see Viṣṇu already. It’s not difficult to spot His qualities but sometimes they are not obvious, too. Murder is universally condemned but the initial desire is for the Lord’s power to subdue enemies and do not say it’s not attractive. We all enjoy dominating others from time to time, murderers just take it a bit further. Same raw power of domination is expressed through rape as well, it’s not difficult to see it but most of the time it’s not what we focus our attention on.

The problem with murderers and rapists is that Lord qualities are not meant for our enjoyment so even if He has the power we should not appropriate it for ourselves. Second problem is that of ignorance – domination is only ONE aspect of the action, the unbearable suffering of the victim is another. If we ignore it then we’ll be surprised by what karma brings in – karma doesn’t care what part you particularly like, it serves the entire fruit whether you remember ordering it or not. Let’s not get sidetracked here, though.

The main point is to see how absolutely everybody in absolutely every action wants to express some aspect of Kṛṣṇa and how that aspect will be forever a part, and actually the root part, of every created object, like the dharma of the lamp is to give light, which means knowledge.

Another point is to remind that it will be an aspect of Viṣṇu, not Kṛṣṇa, which means we can relate to all objects only in śānta and dāsya, which means awe, reverence, and servitude. This is encapsulated in amāninā-manādena line from Śikṣāṣṭaka – we can only give respect to everyone and everything in this world, all attempts to relate in some other way will be misguided and are signs of ignorance of our actual relationships with objects of this world.

That video I’ve been watching for the past two months demonstrates this point as well. Just watch/listen/read it for a few minutes, the subject will come up again and again:

 

 

 

“I was deleted from ISKCON”

This is another old post that has been sitting as a draft for ages. Today I would have written it very differently but I think it should be preserved as historical evidence for myself – I DID think like that only a year or so ago, and now I changed.

———–

I’ve heard this phrase twice in the past few weeks and every time I internally reacted to it though I’m not sure how exactly. I want to set myself straight on this and I still don’t know how this effort will turn out a few hundred words later. I have few ideas where it could go but let’s see. It’s mostly for my own purification.

Technically, it goes like this – we perceive something and first the intelligence tries to make sense of it, categorize it, figure out the context, intention, subtext, details etc. When this is done the new experience is plugged into our overall tree of knowledge, it becomes “memory” and it becomes searchable by date, person, place, topic and so on. As we ponder it longer we build more and more connections to already stored memories and so we might have sudden “realizations”.

The mind’s job is to like or dislike the experience, simply-minded thing that it is, and let’s not get entangled in whether it agrees or disagrees with judgments passed by intelligence and how they interact with each other. The point is that these first reactions are automatic and we don’t have much control over the process. It’s not that we have much control over anything else in the material world either but even if we think we are the doers we should honestly admit that first impressions are not our doings, it just happens and then we claim credit for it (as in “I knew it right away!”).

This is where this blog post comes in – the part where I feel I can make a difference by talking about it in a certain way. I could argue that this is also illusory and is determined by guṇa and karma but since I’m forced to think myself as a doer and given instructions on how to behave then I have no choice but to go along. The idea is to turn talking, thinking, and typing into a yajña, into glorification of the Lord and His devotees, so let’s get to it.

I was not proud of my first reaction to “I was deleted from ISKCON”, it was clearly lacking respect and empathy and, passing the buck, dictated by standard internet responses like “I’m fresh out of ***** to give”. We should not take shelter in this callousness no matter how prevalent it is today. As it happens, we have a whole “social media” generation coming up and it’s one of the first thing they learn in their world – no one cares about your feelings, people are too busy worrying about theirs. If you think sharing your feelings will be embarrassing – don’t, they don’t care about your dignity. On the plus side they won’t put you in “never listen to him again” category either. If you can present your case strongly no one will care about your history.

Those who fall for sob stories are suckers and they are meant to be milked as followers, fans, blog or channel subscribers. They can also be farmed – quite literally. You find what emotions they find appealing and you carefully feed these emotions to them, building a narrative and increasing their commitment. You get right people to deliver these emotions, find the right formula, and then they’ll do everything for you – whatever you want – buy tickets, deliver “Likes”, retweet, watch your videos again and again, and if you are smart you’ll be rolling in advertising money in no time. We should not fall into this trap, either as content consumers or content creators, our relationships should be more meaningful even if externally we happen to do the same thing – our consciousness should be different.

This wasn’t my full first impression, though, it was just a reaction to perceived bitterness. This bitterness might not have been even there but that’s what I heard. This first thought was suppressed rather fast and beyond that there was “what does it even mean – deleted from ISKCON?” and a sense of mismatch with reality. To me it stopped making sense about a decade ago.

There was a time when everything was clear – this is ISKCON and this is non-ISKCON and ISKCON was supposed to be pure and non-ISKCON wasn’t supposed to be touched. By standards set in those times this is still true and I’m not saying we should bring devotees who left for Sridhara Swami, Narayana Maharaj, ritviks etc back into the fold but what is considered ISKCON nowadays allows a great deal of freedom. Devotees learned to be in ISKCON and at the same time do outrageous things unthinkable in the “good old days”.

My temple won’t sell books for money, for example, they just won’t. Books only have to be given away for free, sponsored by members of the congregation. I grew up in a temple sustained by saṅkīrtana and we sold them for roughly ten times the price of today. I can’t remember exact consumer goods prices but I think one set of then available books could buy people a ton of potatoes and devotees sometimes distributed over a hundred sets per day. We saw the value of the books and so people felt they were valuable, too. Devotees today see this value differently and they don’t think it would be justified to demand so much money in return.

We have projects like “Krishna West” where they are okay with homosexual “marriages” between initiated devotees – hard to see that being approved or even contemplated by Śrīla Prabhupada. We have temples and entire countries off limits to certain preachers because authorities are afraid that their presentations would disturb the minds of the congregation. Last year there was a book banned by the GBC resolution, then unbanned following the outrage, and I’ll give a quote from a related e-mail: “One GBC member even stated that ISKCON’s very existence in his country would be jeopardised if this book were seen to at all be representing ISKCON.” I don’t think that GBC member was kidding there – some pretty straightforward things cannot be repeated in certain places anymore. We have mega preachers whose websites talk about love and compassion and don’t have words “Hare Krishna” on their front page. We have massive, millions meals a day food distribution programs where we are legally prohibited from mentioning that it’s prasādam or saying anything about philosophy, let along chanting, we have eye clinics and hospitals, we have sannyāsīs going on cruise ships and singing with māyāvādīs, we have māyāvādīs performing kīrtanas at our public programs, we have devotees forced to take paid exams to be even considered for initiation. Just what is it one must do to get “deleted from ISKCON” nowadays?

Somehow or other we’ve learned to see past all those things and don’t stress ourselves, though many do feel strongly about it. I think GBC doesn’t have the guts to put all those “deviants” straight, besides often they ARE the GBC. Every year GBC publishes its budget, for the sake of transparency I believe, and now it comes to about 130,000 US dollars. What about millions they collect for TOVP? I’m not saying there’s impropriety there but that GBC’s transparency appears to be irrelevant – that’s not where money could be misused. This isn’t the fault of the current members but does contribute to the impression that GBC is only a paper tiger. I’ve seen our local GBC read news on his iPad while singing Jaya Radha Madhava in class. How’s that going to improve our temple standards?

It is easy to get into a black book and be banned, i.e. “deleted”, but only if you openly revolt and disturb peace, otherwise no one cares and, if you can get along with the authorities, you can get away with murder.

We have one ex-guru here who got married under questionable circumstances and abandoned his disciples but no one, absolutely no one, considers him as fallen but rather as one of the seniormost authorities, always welcome to give class or lead kīrtana. One day he was at a festival where his “former” disciples were present and they got along just fine, no bad feelings as far as I know. As far as I can see I was the only one thinking that it could be awkward. I think it’s a welcome change but in the good old days that would have been unthinkable. Some things do improve.

Question is – how do we survive in this atmosphere that would appear surreal only a short time ago? We’ve learned to see and appreciate devotees’ commitment to Śrīla Prabhupāda and their submission to the ultimate authority of GBC. Everything else is just fluff, a foam on the surface of the Ganges. It’s just three modes of nature forcing jīvas to experience their karma, and that these experiences are carefully calibrated by Kṛṣṇa to bring their speediest recovery from material affliction. It might not be how current generation of devotees sees with it but this explanation works for me when I spot dissonance with my own upbringing in KC.

The only thing I can do to speed up this purification process is to engage in saṅkīrtana myself. When we talk about philosophy, praise and appreciate the devotees, discuss Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes etc all the impurities in our hearts gradually disappear and then people simply won’t do the things that are improper. They would stop talking about themselves and their feelings, they would stop acting out their feelings and they would stop doing things for their own pleasure.

Ultimately, Kṛṣṇa is so big that when we get even a drop of Kṛṣṇa consciousness all our worries appear incomparably small and fade away. I think this is how the promised Golden Age is supposed to manifest itself – not in fixing problems but in redirecting our consciousness elsewhere. “Reality” is produced from our minds and it’s “mind over matter” all the way. How to fix our minds? By mantra, of course. What mantra works the best? Hare Kṛṣṇa.

What about being in or out of ISKCON? I don’t think we have an authorized list of members and all one needs to do is to be loyal to Śrīla Prabhupāda as opposed to any outside ācārya, and to GBC, and even that in broadest possible terms. If one is already on some “no-fly” list then that has to be cleared, of course, and there are higher standards for those with appetite for authority positions, too.

Does anyone in ISKCON care whether one makes such a commitment? No, they really don’t. In the old ISKCON it mattered but old ISKCON doesn’t exist anymore. What is the use of this new ISKCON then? Umm, you get to discuss Kṛsṇa kathā in the company of devotees. You don’t get this anywhere else. Of course there are devotees outside ISKCON, too, but their appreciation for Kṛṣṇa kathā is considerably less and certain things cannot be mentioned at all because of their lack of commitment or commitment to different personalities. I’m not talking about anything esoteric, which is a common but wrong assumption, I’m talking about one’s personal realizations which are, if we are being honest, still on the level of dealing with matter. How to see spirit in matter, how to see value of devotees, or books, or non-devotees, or family. There’s no magic involved but mature ISKCON devotees see all these simple things differently and they have a lot to share in this regard, there’s always something to learn from them. From outsiders? Not so much.

What I’m saying is that a sober and intelligent man should take this opportunity and use it rather than restricting oneself with “in”, “out”, or “deleted” labels. There’s a verse in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam on a different topic but it in passing mentions this “world of names” (SB 2.2.3):

ataḥ kavir nāmasu yāvad arthaḥ
syād apramatto vyavasāya-buddhiḥ
siddhe ’nyathārthe na yateta tatra
pariśramaṁ tatra samīkṣamāṇaḥ

Synonyms:
ataḥ — for this reason; kaviḥ — the enlightened person; nāmasu — in names only; yāvat — minimum; arthaḥ — necessity; syāt — must be; apramattaḥ — without being mad after them; vyavasāya-buddhiḥ — intelligently fixed; siddhe — for success; anyathā — otherwise; arthe — in the interest of; na — should never; yateta — endeavor for; tatra — there; pariśramam — laboring hard; tatra — there; samīkṣamāṇaḥ — one who sees practically.

Translation:
For this reason the enlightened person should endeavor only for the minimum necessities of life while in the world of names. He should be intelligently fixed and never endeavor for unwanted things, being competent to perceive practically that all such endeavors are merely hard labor for nothing.

Monastery dream

This post has been sitting as a draft for more than half a year so it’s not “just had a very vivid dream” and some details have become hazy, some disappeared altogether, but I still remember it and want to say a few words about it before letting it go. If I started this post from scratch I would have done it differently, but, in respect to my memories from back then, I’d rather edit what I started and continue from where I left the draft. So, here it goes.

Still don’t know what to do with this blog but I just had a very vivid dream that I want to save for posterity. A few years ago I had a similar dream that I still remember in detail and it became a model of our journey through this world, possibly permanently etched into my memory. These dreams capture essential ideas of our experiences and express them in unusual but highly memorable ways. Clicking on dream/dreams tag brings up probably a dozen mind blowing dreams I documented over the years. The one I mean here was the first, from 2012.

New dream was about my life in some sort of a monastery. It wasn’t ISKCON exactly because it lacked certain identifying marks – there were no deities, it was not really a temple, and there was no ideological rigidity, but there were feasts and there were some real devotees present – Bhakti Vikasa Swami, for one.

Somehow physical description of the place was very important. It felt like it was traditional cave dwellings for sadhus, like a line of caves I’ve seen in photographs of Petri or some places in India. The spirit of cave dwelling was there, the place was curved into natural rock, but it also had features of a traditional ashram – long verandas with entrances to each monk’s quarters, and top floor had windows from which you could climb out onto the roof over lower floors. That area was like a beach where residents would come out to take in the sun and relax, but what was beyond that roof was not really revealed. It wasn’t a building, it wasn’t planned this way, and it wasn’t level – I lived on a far right side where there was only the top floor and veranda leading to other monks quarters was a downward slope. Today’s insert – I remember it as a face of a cliff with ground level starting to rise from left to right, eventually reaching the top – that’s where there were windows and “rooftop” access. The dream started at the bottom and progressed to the top, or left to right. “Caves” were huge inside at the bottom but at the top, where we got windows, they turned into small one person rooms.

Because of this location I was kind of an outsider to the community – the main part where there were many more rooms and bigger halls used for gatherings and serving prasadam. They were all below top level and had no windows, it was always dark and damp inside, and very austere. In the beginning they were populated by the “first people” and I sort of knew them but not by names, and pretty soon they disappeared somewhere and were replaced by new generations. There was a hierarchy there, there was seniority, there emerged “meisters”, but “first people” were very few and they were all equal. I wasn’t really one of them, as I said, but due to me being there long enough I got to be treated as a senior myself, which will come up later. Today’s addition – physically, I saw only the artifacts left by the first people – piles of things in the corners, occasional metal dishes etc. First people appeared in the dream as shadows of themselves, or, actually, as shafts of light. They spoke, but not in words – they spoke truths. Words to describe these truths weren’t invented yet. I don’t know where first people disappeared to, but I was one of the last ones to catch their glimpse. The cavernous halls where they originally lived stayed empty and untouched out of respect. The populated part started immediately to the right (the dream always progressed from left to right, which was also up the slope) so people would always remember that their history is on the other side of the wall but never actually go there because first people’s presence there was reality no longer possible to grasp by mundane senses. 

We were all there to seek after Absolute Truth. There was no label attached, the Truth was not defined – it was a matter of discovery, not assertions, and it was obvious to all that the Truth must be found “inside”, through the process of self-realization and looking beyond physicality of our perceptions.

One of my first memories from that time is that of a female devotee who I intended to marry when I was still living in the temple. I knew who she was in the dream but she was present more as an idea – there was no face, no bodily features to remember, nothing. Just something vaguely gray, as in dressed in gray robes. We did communicate, though, and we both knew that the proposition was about sex, but we understood that spiritual connection was first and foremost. After talking about our respective paths to the Truth we realized that our roads are going to be different and physical union would be detrimental to our spiritual progress. And so I left and didn’t think about it again. She disappeared somewhere along with “first people” and that was the end of it.

When I later went to the same place it was full of devotees and they were having a feast. It was in a cave like cavern, though, so there was no light. I could not make any devotees’ faces or features, only their aluminium lottas were visible in the darkness. They were sitting in a line coiling around the room like a snake and this room also had a second floor, more like a gallery along the walls, and it was also filled with feasting devotees. I got myself a place at the end of the line but someone spotted me and invited me to talk with one of the elders, who was very kind and appreciative but I don’t remember any of that conversation. We shared memories and appreciation for the first people, much of it non-verbal. It was nice, devotees offered me a seat and fed me sumptuously, but I didn’t know anyone either in his entourage or among devotees feasting in the main room so there was nothing for me there apart from eating and I never returned to that place again.

Next I turned my attention to the girl living right next to me, literally the first room as I would go from my place down to that main area. I had no illusions what I wanted from here, it was the same proposition – sex. This time we talked for a long long time, on multiple occasions, and got really really close – only spiritually, however, as there was no descending into physicality of any kind, and it ended in the same way – getting married deemed to be detrimental to spiritual progress. Close association with that girl, however, made the biggest impressions of my dream. I saw her making progress, moment by moment, from one encounter to the next, and soon I wasn’t able to keep up.

Our community didn’t have any rules or regulative principles, we were simply searching for Truth, and if members thought that sex was part of that path then it wasn’t a question of breaking any taboos. When I was with that girl we didn’t discuss sex, we rather talked about the Truth. Initial attraction to sex itself was there in both of us but as we meditated together – I don’t have a better word for what we practiced – we both found that physical expression of our relationships would only be distracting to the “union of souls”, so to speak. We had much better time in each other’s company without descending into physicality of our bodies. As I said earlier – in our community it was obvious to all that Truth is hiding within us and is approached through introspection and transcending material bodily level, and somehow there was none of that all pervasive attitude that “bodies have needs”. We all knew that it’s not true and that it’s actually “mind over matter” in every respect.

As we spent time together I noticed that our goals and values started to diverge, that she was making some real mystical progress but I wasn’t. She was going deeper and deeper into states I wasn’t allowed into and physically it resulted in walls going up at the entrance to her room. They were like barriers I’d have to go around to see her. Then they started to multiply with lots of twists and turns to reach the inner chamber, and when I reached there she wasn’t too happy to see me. It was like passing through a labyrinth and then passages became narrower so that I physically couldn’t make turns there. These walls were not built, they just appeared there by her mystic power.

In one way I was upset at losing her association but at the same time I had absolutely no problems with my own life – I rather felt that it was her who was going in the wrong direction instead.  Her progress wasn’t a challenge for me, I really appreciated it, but I didn’t want any of it for myself. Eventually she stopped talking to me, barely acknowledging my presence, but knew I was there and that we had some shared roots.

Then it happened. Like a butterfly in a cocoon one night she came came out as a completely different creature. Physically, she was the same, a small skinny girl, but no more meditation and no more austerities – her path was complete. She stood on the roof of some building on THIS side of the cliff, not on the other side where our windows were, sort of in a courtyard. Everybody poured out to see what was going on, no one stayed in their rooms, the place was filled with people going “ooh” and “aah”. She stood on the edge of that roof and divine light was shining on her and she commanded it. She commanded everything. She shed her clothes but somehow a myriad of butterflies showed up and covered her naked body to protect her. She commanded this butterfly cloud as well. She commanded rain and thunder, she became a Goddess.

Then somehow she appeared right in front of me and offered herself. Not sexually but I was invited to take part in the spiritual union with her. She was naked, as I said, but her private parts were covered by butterfly made “bikini”, and where her body was open her skin became golden and self-effulgent. She was enticing me, displaying her mystical and spiritual opulences. She was not standing on the ground but hovering just above it. Everybody offered their obeisances, every eye was fixed on her form, but I somehow wasn’t impressed and simply passed on her invitation. I turned and walked away, up to my own room. She was disappointed but she had hundreds if not thousands of new admirers who became her servants, followers, disciples, her flock – I didn’t care.

That was the first time I was aware of my own room in this dream. It was high up, meaning to the extreme right in my dream’s geography, and therefore it had a window, a huge opening, actually, on the other side. Early morning sunlight, very orange, was pouring in and reflecting off the walls, off the bed, off the table. It wasn’t furniture, actually – it was all made of polished cement so by itself the room was dark grey or brown but the sun filled with with light and incredible sense of lightness as well. I don’t know how I meditated there before or what kind of spiritual activities I practice, but now it was obvious – the truth was on the other side of the window.

Somehow I have a feeling that, like with that girl undergoing a transformation, my window got much much bigger this morning. Like before it was small and high and therefore impossible to look out of but today it was like the entire wall disappeared and my room just opened up on that side. So I just walked out onto the roof, which was like a beach area because many saffron clad devotees were out there enjoying the sun. That’s where I met Bhakti Vikasa Swami, btw. He didn’t talk to me personally but was glad I joined the party.

This roof wasn’t wide, maybe a dozen or so steps to the edge, and it was made out of wavy roof tiles, of a reddish brown, almost orange color. Beyond the roof, however, started gardens that stretched as far as eye could see. Perhaps they were very beautiful but I didn’t really look. As I said earlier, it was like a beach – very long but not wide, and instead of the blue sea there was a sea of green trees, pastures etc. Devotees were chanting and singing there, blissfully, and it was the world unlike the caves/monastery I started this journey from. I didn’t feel the need to return to the monastery or to my room either, and yet the roof was clearly a temporary location, too.

Unfortunately, that’s where my dream ended.

When writing about my dreams I traditionally explain their connection with Krishna consciousness but at the moment I’m exhausted from typing. I do see this dream as a reflection of my personal spiritual journey, however. Actual ISKCON devotees appearing on the roof top beach was also very appropriate, but I have no clear explanation of the “goddess” part of the dream. I just feel like it’s some form of śaktism. It brings perfection but on THIS side of the border whereas the Truth clearly starts at the rooftop and then stretches into the ocean of green and that’s all I can say about it at the moment.

I just wanted to resurrect this old post before I start writing about something else, something that has been on my mind for a few days already, so forgive me for not rounding it up nicely.

ISKCON as acintya-bheda-abheda tattva

Never mind my previous post about doubts in ISKCON’s direction – it will all work out alright. The reason is that ISKCON is growing and spreading throughout the society, which means it draws more and more of less and less qualified people in. They all deserve their chance at getting the mercy of the Holy Name and so they all deserve a chance to become ISKCON members.

Our membership is very relaxed now, btw. Anyone who thinks that following teachings of Śrīla Prabhupāda can bring them to the Absolute Truth is qualified. It’s not about initiations, not even about rounds being chanted – the only requirement is śraddhā – firm faith in the teachings of our founder-ācārya, just as it’s said in śāstra – ādau śraddhā. Whether these people are still attracted by mundane qualities like easiness or practicality is immaterial. This definition of ISKCON membership is from one of the GBC resolutions a few years ago, 2013 or 2014.

Having said that, there’s also obvious difference between ISKCON of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s time and this expanded part of ISKCON today. It would be incorrect to say that it’s the difference between old ISKCON and new ISKCON because it would betray materialistic thinking, which is influenced by time and which assumes materially manifested phenomena as reality. Just because we don’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exists. Let me explain.

Under the influence of materialistic education we think that life comes from matter. As devotees we shrugged off this gross misunderstanding but vestiges of it still stay with us in various subtle forms. One of them is the assumption that if something isn’t manifested empirically it means it doesn’t exist or it’s “gone”. We don’t believe in independent existence of life, not for real. Instead we believe life exists on the spiritual platform as something magical, imperceptible, and unattainable. This includes all subtle manifestations of life such as mind, meanings, emotions, ideas etc. Our false, atavistic assumption is that if there’s no head to hold the brain and mouth to speak then ideas don’t exist. Even if we might verbally agree that it’s not right we are still prone to making the next logical misstep – that if heads, brains, and mouths disappear it means ideas disappear, too. In that sense old ISKCON is gone – true, but that’s not how it exists!

When we define ISKCON as Śrīla Prabhupāda’s child we mean that which comes from his unalloyed devotion. That devotion is eternal, it never disappears, it was never born and it will never cease to exist. Consequently, the same applies to the child of this devotion – ISKCON. It might get unmanifested, it might get embodied in different forms, which are ever changing in material perception, but it will never cease to exist. It’s eternal, its real state of being is immutable just like the soul.

What we see with our material vision, however, is simultaneously one and different from that eternal state of ISKCON’s being, and from my experience this simultaneous connection and divergence is inconceivable. Inconceivable in that it’s impossible to predict when we should treat it as the same and when as different. It’s kinda obvious when it actually happens but there aren’t any rules that would constrain any particular ISKCON manifestation to being one or another.

On one hand our Congregational Ministry reaching out to people with promises of fun and practicality is fundamentally different from pure selfless devotion of Śrīla Prabhupāda, but on the other hand if that is how we can bring people in and put them through the process of purification then even these materialistic goals become spiritual. I’m not going to share them myself but if it works for other people I’m all for it. In this way I see them as devotees and as non-devotees at the same time, as parts of “true” ISKCON and as impostors simultaneously. It’s inconceivable.

Empirically perceptible manifestation of ISKCON might grow and shrink. It’s like a wave spreading across the surface of the pond to reach the other shore. This wave will lift up all kinds of jetsam and flotsam, it will lift up and stir all kinds of silt and sediment, maybe even oil spills. If you meet this wave on the other side you might not recognize the water at all but it’s still the same wave, simultaneously one and different with the water manifesting it. In some places the wave will be almost invisible, in other places it will apparently grow in height, in some places it will appear as surf, but it’s still the same wave from the same source carrying the same transcendental vibration.

As individuals we are located in different places and experience it differently, but it’s the experience of the same vibration. Sometimes it might not resonate with us and sometimes it will, every strongly. Sometimes it will change us, sometimes we will affect the wave as well. These experiences are largely unpredictable, like in typical śāstric references to little straws being brought together and then drawn apart by whirlpools. We don’t have much control over what happens exactly, but the sincerity of our prayer, sincerity of our chanting is one predominating factor. Kṛṣṇa will not put us in a situation harmful to our spiritual progress. Challenging – yes, but never harmful.

On one hand it means that our situation doesn’t matter, we should simply go on chanting and let Kṛṣṇa worry about arrangements of the material nature. On the other hand it means all these arrangements are Kṛṣṇa’s arrangements and so should be treated accordingly – as His personal mercy. There’s inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference here as well. The world is material and, therefore, is of no interest, and yet it’s Kṛṣṇa’s world and, therefore, needs to be seen as His mercy. Eventually time will come when His mercy will be shown through fully spiritual energy instead but we can’t look in the mouth of a gifted horse, that would be selfish and, therefore, undevotional.

So, on one hand there’s ISKCON where they want fun and easy ways to get through Bhagavad Gītā, on the other hand there are devotees who made this video:

It deserves a post of its own, and one post would not be enough. I’ve been watching it for a month and a half now, a few minutes everyday. It’s is absolutely free from all contamination of karma and jñāna. It represents ISKCON I absolutely need even if my body is not manifested in the same place as devotees who made it. Does it matter, though? They encoded their devotion in this film and I decode it into instructions on my side of the world. In this way I obtain their association. In my experience it’s far closer than sitting next to a person you don’t really share your ideas with. In this way I’m part of the ISKCON I see but don’t appreciate much and a part of ISKCON I don’t see but feel so close to. It all is inconceivably one and different.

Congregational plans

This weekend there was a presentation in our temple by a devotee from ISKCON’s Congregational Development Ministry and it was called “Gita for everyone”. I didn’t think much about it and sat down to listen just like everybody else.

The class was illustrated by PowerPoint slides and right in the beginning the devotee said that we should present Bhagavad Gita in a way that is easy, practical, and fun. There was a slide for that as well and it was repeated quite a few times. These Gita meetings should be held regularly and were compared to book clubs, with an appropriate slide of what book clubs are expected to look like – several women lounging about.

Somehow I just don’t see myself as part of that scene, though. I don’t know anyone who goes to book clubs, I understand it’s something bored American housewives do when they need an excuse to start drinking early. I assume they talk about books, of course, but what attracts them to this activity is not what attracts people to Bhagavad Gita, which is certainly not “easy” or “fun”. Or maybe it is now – perhaps I’m completely out of touch with times.

When I joined we were replicating ISKCON of Srila Prabhupada’s time. If we said Krishna Consciousness was easy we meant “drop everything and simply move into the temple”. When we said it was “practical” we meant there was always something to do and we could take part in the most exalted activity – sankirtana mission of Lord Caitanya. When we said it was “fun” we meant uninterrupted flow of nectar of sankirtana pastimes. None of that is compatible with book club settings.

Does it work elsewhere? I remember a devotee who hosts a local bhakti-vṛkṣa program shared her realizations once and her speech was heart rending, not “easy, practical, and fun”. In my view devotees should take Bhagavad Gita way more seriously than was suggested, and they already do.

I’m afraid we substitute real values we should be attracted to in the Gita by values common to modern society – “easy, practical, and fun”. It means we seek low effort (easy), we seek personal profits (practical), and we seek personal enjoyment (fun). I’m afraid all sorts of things will go wrong if we approach Krishna Consciousness with these expectations.

Maybe for some people making donations or offering food immediately brings undeniable prosperity but I’m not one of them. Even if it works it’s still only a karma-miśra-bhakti. I’m sure it’s very attractive to many but weren’t we supposed to propagate pure devotion, not get rich quick schemes?

There was a senior devotee who took interest in me once and the first thing he asked was about what attracts me to Krishna Consciousness. He was visibly relieved when I didn’t say “I like the food, the kirtans, the clothes – the culture”. I know it works for some but there are way too many people who aren’t in the least bit impressed by it. I mean we have the entire Krishna West, after all.

Anyway, from this point in the presentation I realized that I’m not going to be the part of this congregation, it’s just not for me. I have nothing against the devotee doing it, he was very sincere and very sure of what he was saying. As his personal service to the Lord it was certainly great – for him. The sad irony – for me – was that his service is officially called “outreach” and his stated goal was to turn every house on the planet into Krishna temple, and there I was not feeling it at all.

That is not to say I had no interest whatsoever – the biggest part of his presentation was showing how to make sense of Bhagavad Gita – 800 pages, three sections, eighteen chapters etc. When he was asking for each chapter’s title, for example, I tried to volunteer answers just like everybody else – it WAS fun, but it was fun of showing off your memory skills or the fun of showing off your erudition. I’m actually somewhat ashamed I fell for this old trick.

Making sense of the Gita is a big project and it brings the sense of accomplishment, plus it gives you an “inside knowledge” against which you can test anyone you meet with your “do you know that?” questions. I’m too old for this, however, and I know first hand that this kind of knowledge doesn’t last. Chapter titles, verse numbers, Sanskrit and translations – all these things gradually get washed away from the memory, they are impermanent and, therefore, they are not what we should focus on in our studies of Bhagavad Gita.

Actually, the clues were right there in the presentation itself – one verse, even remembering one single word from Bhagavad Gita can relieve the soul from all material contamination. But “remembering” here means something different. It’s not being able to repeat “sarva dharman parityajya” and then claim that you are free from sins, it’s the actual experience of giving up everything and actually feeling weight coming off your shoulders. You don’t even have to remember words for it to happen – this process of surrendering to Krishna comes BEFORE its expression in thoughts and, subsequently, in words. It’s not a mental activity for our minds.

If you say “sarva dharman” but then seek easiness, practicality, and fun it means you haven’t actually abandoned all those other religions and haven’t embraced surrendering to Krishna as your only activity, as your only life and soul.

If the presenter only paused and considered the import of the quotes he included in his presentation he would have realized that it came out as inconsistent – there was a Prabhupada’s quote that during these regular Bhagavad Gita meetings we should chant its hymns and slokas we reverence and devotion, not ease and fun. How did they miss that?

My answer is that this understanding of Bhagavad Gita and what is attractive about it is superficial. Or that they say these things to the larger audience and therefore do not share their personal realizations. Which is another way to say “it’s superficial”. I hope it works and they can attract and maintain a very large congregation. I’m just not going to be a part of it.

PS. One other thing – supplementing your talks with PowerPoint presentations was cool twenty years ago and being attracted to these “marvels” of technology indicates another anartha. Proper sharing of realizations goes straight to the heart of the listener and so relying on visuals is a poor substitution when the real thing is absent. Do it for iPhones, not for imparting transcendental knowledge.

PPS. I didn’t have the heart to express my doubts about that talk publicly, everybody thought it was a success and this is where the future lies. Devotees have become so hopeful I don’t want to discourage them. I can’t pretend I share their enthusiasm either. I hope it won’t become a problem.