Gajendra-mokṣaṇa līlā

Gajendra

We all know the story – Gajendra was playing in the water with his family, crocodile grabbed him by the leg, Gajendra tried to free himself but in the water the crocodile had the advantage. Exhausted, Gajendra prayed to the Lord who then appeared to save him. Gajendra went to Vaikuṇṭha, crocodile was restored as a gandharva, end of story. Main lesson is that we should fight crocodile of māyā in the most favorable, strengthened position. Also that when things go very very wrong it’s perfectly fine to take shelter of the Lord. What more can be said?

Well, the plight of Gajendra and his turning attention to the Lord is relishable by itself, but there’s one more interesting point in this līlā – Gajendra didn’t actually called for the Lord by name. Technically, lots of personalities could have helped him  – Indra, Brahmā, or Śiva, and Srīla Prabhupāda comments that demigods felt somewhat disrespected that Gajendra didn’t turn to them. But Gajendra didn’t call for Lord Nārāyaṇa either – he didn’t use any names of the Lord whatsoever. And yet the Lord came. Why?

Because in his prayers Gajendra described the qualities of the Supreme Lord. Identified by qualities, demigods ruled themselves out as not fitting the description but the Lord, hearing that Gajendra is talking about Him, came immediately. That’s an important lesson for us. We know Lord’s name, we call Him by His name day and night, and yet He doesn’t come. Because we are not serious and the name means nothing to us. Nothing special, that is – just a couple of syllables. Gajendra approached it differently.

Whenever we need something, we need to solve a particular problem. There’s context to our every request and desire, and all our problems are of material kind requiring material solutions. We want material elements and objects to rearrange themselves and start acting in a different way. Why would the Lord come to do that? This has nothing to do with Him or His role in the running of the universe. Gajendra saw it deeper (though he remembered a prayer from his previous human life). He went for the heart of the matter, pun intended. In his description of the Lord he stressed Lord’s fully independent position, Lord’s full control over material energy, Lord’s detachment from it, Lord’s unmanifested form etc etc. That was the entity he begged help from. He didn’t call 911, nor animal control, nor asked for a crowbar to stick in crocodile’s mouth – he didn’t ask for any material solutions. He asked for the source of everything and for the ultimate friend of everyone. In this situation the Lord couldn’t ignore his plea, which brings us to another point.

The Lord and His name are non-different, we know that, but from this līlā we can also learn that the Lord and His qualities are non-different and inseparable, too. Once we realize that, realize who the Lord really is in relation to matter and to our suffering, then we can call Him by this realization, by the qualities we see in this realization, and it will be the same as calling Him by His pure name. Or, if we put it differently – the name we usually call for Him does not appear because we don’t understand who He really is.

Chanting is mainly abhidheya, it’s the practice, but understanding I’m talking about here is sambandha, which precedes abhidheya. Therefore no matter how much we chant, we first need to get proper sambandha, proper understanding of our situation, of who the Lord is, of what He can do for us, and of what we can do for Him. Then chanting, abhidheya, will bring fruit – prayojana. If our sambandha is corrupted by presence of material desires and anarthas then abhidheya will not lead us where we want to go.

Unfortunately, this point was mentioned by Śukadeva Gosvāmī and elaborated by Śrīla Prabhupada after Gajendra’s prayers (ŚB 8.3.30) so I just read through them without realizing how important his description of the Lord really was. It was suitable exactly for his situation, too – because Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana did not think Gajendra meant Him and saving elephants isn’t Kṛṣṇa’s job anyway, not His kind of rasa. Speaking for myself, I think I can say more about that Kṛṣṇa than about the form of the Lord which deals with pour distressed souls in this world. Now I can list maybe two or three qualities that Gajendra mentioned and feel like I have to reread the whole chapter again.

It’s not a bad idea, but my mind is a sieve these days, I’m not sure how much I can retain and repeat, let alone remember for the next life like Gajendra did. We don’t carry words from one life to another, we carry concepts and desires, so it’s not just the verses and translations that has to be remembered, but their very essence, their deepest meaning. And it’s also not a random collection but they need to be organized in a proper way, how one quality follows from another or how they form hierarchical structure, which ones need to be put first, which ones need to come later etc. I’m not sure I’m up to it, but I’d ask for readers blessings anyway – without Vaiṣṇavas mercy, what chances of success are there?

 

On Existence of Pure Devotees

It’s quite a popular opinion that there are no pure devotees left in ISKCON or in the rest of the world. We can’t see them, the reasoning goes, there are no self-effulgent acharyas. True enough, but it’s not an absolutely valid criteria. There had been no self-effulgent acharyas converting people to vaishnavism by thousands for several hundreds of years in Gaudiya history. Even Bhaktivinoda Thakura wasn’t self-effulgent enough for many of his contemporaries. Jagannatha Das Babaji wasn’t self-effulgent. Gaurakishora Das Babaji wasn’t self-effulgent. For thirty years after disappearance of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati there had been no self-effulgent acharyas visible either. Srila Prabhupada was already there but no one noticed his “effulgence”.

“Self-effulgent” acharyas appear every once in a while and the actual meaning of their “self-effulgence” –  when we use that word – is that we see what they do to other people. We need to see “reflection” of their self-effulgence in others, which contradicts the very meaning of the word. If there are no thousands of followers we can see there’s no self-effulgence we can’t. Therefore I can’t take this line of reasoning seriously.

Visible conversions of thousands of people are rare events in history and they happen according to the schedule of the Lord, the schedule we don’t have access to and can’t predict. These periods come and go and they depend on so many factors – the US wasn’t ready for Srila Prabhupada until late 60s, for example. It’s unreasonable to say that unless there are mass conversions and mass preaching going on there are no pure devotees in the world.

Let’s address the problem of visibility then. There could be pure devotees out there but because it’s not the time to manifest their preaching power we can’t see them, but that’s not how the reasoning goes, unfortunately. Instead, the argument is that “I know most of our devotees and I don’t see anyone pure among them”. Jagannatha Das Babaji and Gaurakishora Das Babaji weren’t big preachers but they were well-known in devotional community so one does not need to be a big name preacher to get noticed by the community itself. So it becomes “because I don’t see any pure devotees in ISKCON it means there aren’t any.”

Notice how “objective” existence of pure devotees becomes dependent on our subjective ability to see. Materialists talk like that, not devotees. Kanishtha adhikaris talk like that, not madhyamas. I mean the definition of madhyama is that he sees three categories of people, one of which is pure devotees. Therefore if one does not see uttama adhikaris it means one is not on a madhyama level yet.

There is no “objective reality” here, all these perceptions are personal. Even what we accept as “objective” is just a consensus. There ARE very large communities in ISKCON where this or that devotee is accepted as uttama and they accept it as objective reality, with all contrary views dismissed as the vision of a fly. Step outside this community and this objective reality dissolves by itself, leaving one with his own subjective impressions instead. There ARE examples of devotees changing their minds on the basis of association. In one sanga they knew this devotee to be uttama and that devotee to be a deviant but when they join another sanga their views switch around. These are not the visions of madhyama adhikaries but of kanishthas.

Definition of kanishtha is that he sees bhakti only in himself and maybe in his guru. There’s even a stage where one considers his guru a great devotee because he is my guru. “He gets me,” they say, “he knows how I feel, how devoted I am,” which becomes the main guru qualification eclipsing all other considerations. I don’t want to name names but there are plenty of devotees, some are very vocal, who believe they know Srila Prabhupada and judge everyone else by this very subjective standard. If one agrees with me on everything, he can be considered my guru or at least a siksha guru. Of course they don’t consider their own understanding of Srila Prabhupada to be subjective – atmavan manyate jagat – they believe the entire universe complies with their visions.

This gets complicated when devotees remember times when everybody else thought the same way and everybody was taught the same understanding but I’m not here to prove that this or that devotee is truly a kanishtha, just to point out a common kanishtha fallacy – they do not see bhakti in anyone else but themselves and therefore it’s impossible for them to see pure devotees. It’s impossible even for a madhyama adhikari, to be fair. Madhyama devotees only recognize that someone is more advanced than themselves but not much more. They would rather reserve judgement on who is pure and who is not and offer equal respect just in case.

Kanishtha adhikaris do not have bhakti, they have only anarthas, and madhyama adhikaris possess some bhakti already. Consequently, what they see in the world is a reflection of their own hearts and so kanishthas do not see any devotees around while madhyamas see some. This is the heart of my argument, really – we do not see what is there in the world, we see what is reflected in our minds. We do not see the world with our eyes, we see it with our minds.

There’s even scientific data to demonstrate this. Human eye collects much more data than even today’s cameras. Calculations vary, the highest number I’ve seen is 576 megapixels, but the optic nerve can pass only less then 10 megabits per second. In another place they say that transmitting images from the eye should take about two seconds (if they were transmitted in full). This article puts it all together and there is one interesting fact there – for every ten neurons getting data from the retina the brain has four thousand neurons to begin to process it. Sorry for this little detour, but it demonstrates what we know from our scriptures – one perceives the world through his mind, through his “ceto darpana”, the mirror of his heart. External information contributes relatively little.

This is true for uttama adhikaris, too. They have nothing but bhakti in their hearts and so they do not see anything else in the outside world either. Everybody is a pure devotee for them because that’s the only thing they are able to recognize. Kind of devotional application of “for a hammer every problem is a nail” phenomenon. There’s a story to illustrate this.

There was one Swami Samarth, a big devotee in cult of Dattatreya in Maharashtra. He was translating Valmiki Ramayana into Marathi and giving extensive discourses on Rama lila. Even Hanuman attended them in a disguise of an ordinary human. At one point, however, Hanuman noticed a discrepancy. Swami Samarth said that the flowers in the Asoka Gardern where Mother Sita was kept were white but Hanuman, who was actually there, remembered them as red. After the lecture Hanuman approached the Swami and asked for this small correction but the Swami refused. They argued but then decided to ask Lord Ramachandra Himself for a judgment. Hanuman put Swami Samarth on his shoulder and took him to Lord Rama. After listening to both of them Lord Rama refused to take sides and send them on to Sita. Sita then confirmed that the flowers were white, apparently granting victory to Swami Samarth over Hunuman, who personally visited and talked to Sita in this garden. How could this be? Mother Sita then explained that the flowers were white but Hanuman was so angry at Ravana, so filled with rage, that he saw everything, including flowers, as red.

This sounds a bit apocryphal but the story was picked by Gour Govinda Swami to illustrate this same point and so it should be acceptable.

To sum it up – when people make proclamations about non-existence of pure devotees all they say is actually the content of their hearts, not much more. Of course there are plenty of clever ones who call everybody a pure devotee, calculating that the chance of getting something good out of this flattery is greater than a chance of getting something bad, but that’s another topic for another day.

Speaking of Gour Govinda Swami, he often cited another proof that there are pure devotees in the world, shastra based, but I don’t feel it’s as straightforward as it sounds so I’ll leave that discussion for another day, too.

Angelic singing

They don’t let go, do they? Here’s a recording of real life angels made in a locked down church:
 

Presented by one of our initiating spiritual masters to a large audience at one of those “bridge preaching” festivals. On the stage there’s harmonium so they probably just had a kirtan. Behind him is a whiteboard with names of Siva, Vishnu, Krishna, and their consorts Pravati, Lakshmi, and Radha – looks not like “bridge” but pretty straightforward preaching instead. He gives a short introduction about how this recording came about, which is as follows: one overnight visitor to Mt Athos wakened in the middle of the night, hearing beautiful singing coming from the temple. He thought he overslept and missed the morning program so he ran there but temple doors were locked. He peeked through the window and saw lots of angels inside. He got his dictaphone/player from his room and recorded their singing through this window.
 
Next the speaker says that authenticity of this record is being investigated by professionals, but also tells people to simply hear it and feel it for themselves. Several people saw their previous lives while listening to this recording, he says. One woman saw herself in her mother’s womb. He asks the audience to take it seriously, it’s not a joke and not a prank. He wants to share this experience as a gift to others because it would not be right to keep it to himself. Audience applauds.
 
While recording is cued up, he tells people that some specialists have already declared that human voice is physically incapable of making such sounds. He again asks people to feel it for themselves and then shares his own realization – that times are changing, that higher powers are getting involved, supernatural things are happening and our faith will become stronger and stronger in this regard. Materialistic people are doomed, we should not strive for material things, we should use them only as an instrument, like we use healthy lifestyle. Everything else is already given and angels are coming to sing with us already. They know us very well. “Our festival will not go unnoticed up there,” he says. And then the recording starts. Of real life angels.
 
This was at a festival in 2018.
 

Back in 2014 this same story was featured in some Russian language TV program where Russian Donald Trump Junior asked an Orthodox priest a few questions about it. His first question was whether these were real angels or maybe “besy” – demons who try to divert faithful form the path of religion. It’s a big thing in Orthodox Christianity – Prelest. I don’t think I can give it justice here but there are tons and tons of warnings to practicing monks not to confuse genuine spirituality with these demons’ work. The priest answers that in this case it’s unlikely because he can’t find any deviations being introduced here. However, he doesn’t consider subtle pride that comes with realization “we can see and hear angels, we are important” so this doesn’t sound conclusive to me. They made out the song and the words, btw, and discussed why the recording captures only the part of it. The beginning was missed, that’s understandable, but the last part was not sung because it’s about concerns of ordinary humans not shared by angels so they naturally didn’t sing about them, the priest explained. Another point he made was that this singing follows traditional Byzantine style, sung in unison, as opposed to the style introduced in the 17th century splitting choir voices into multiple harmonious parts. This record should settle the question of whether this innovation was appropriate or not, he says. All in all it was a deep and meaningful discussion. You can turn translation in Youtube settings if you want:

 

A lot can be discussed here, the “prelest” angle could turn very fruitful, for example. Or we could talk about fitting these Christian angels into Vedic hierarchy, or so many other things, but let’s start and stop with just one – it’s a fake. In the comments to the above video people give references to 1962 performance of this song by a Greek singer and that it needs to be sped up for the desired effect. I tried it myself and it sounds remarkably similar even without any editing.

What more needs to be said? Maybe that fakes generate a lot of life of their own and people eagerly fall for them – just look at all the current claims about coronavirus.

Finally, this leaves me with the most disturbing realization of all – these days our gurus cannot be explicitly trusted and everything they say needs to be double checked. How can devotees make any spiritual progress this way? Even if I’m not his disciple, when I hear him speak I expect him to speak the truth, not spread cheap internet fakes for dubious purposes. We are not getting closer to angels by doing this. Paraphrasing Srila Prabhupada – if you hear angels while chanting, keep chanting – it will go away. This turns us into sahajyas who take everything very cheaply. Forget about trust – such association needs to be avoided instead. And how do you know when such a devotee imposes another fake on you? How do you know when a vaishnava speaks the truth and when he embellishes it for the benefit of the audience? Simple – vaishnavas don’t do that so we don’t need to guess. We need to hear to a “guru” or to a “dhira” – heavy and steady respectively – to people who are not swayed by fakes and feelings.

PS. I spotted this story on Hanuman’s website but he is such a deluded offender that I don’t want to provide a link. It was sent to him by some unnamed devotee so he is not the original source that really needs to be credited.

Srila Prabhupada was very liberal towards women… or was he?

Prabhupada, Malati, and Gurukripa(?)

Let’s look at this small collection of Prabhupada’s quotes, some of which are instantly recognizable:

  • If one becomes Kṛṣṇa conscious, then he doesn’t require husband. He does not require. He . . . She knows that “Kṛṣṇa is my protector. Why shall I artificially seek after father or . . .?” And what protection, for a few days, either the father or the son or the husband may give? Real protection is Kṛṣṇa.
  • Such natural instincts of a woman or a man are manifested only in the bodily conception of life. When either a man or a woman is advanced in spiritual consciousness, the bodily conception of life practically vanishes. We should see all women as spiritual units (ahaṁ brahmāsmi), whose only duty is to satisfy Kṛṣṇa.
  • if the wife can bring her husband into practicing this process, then it is all right that the husband accepts wife as Spiritual Master.
  • – Could a woman be a temple president? Prabhupāda: Yes, why not?

Obviously, they display Prabhupada’s liberal thinking towards modern women.

Now, let’s look at this other selection of quotes

  • And the Western countries, they have been taught to become independent. That is artificial. That is all artificial. So woman by nature . . . Manu-saṁhitā (9.3) says, na striyaṁ svatantram arhati: “Women should not be given independence.” They must be protected by the father, by husband, and by elderly sons. They are not independent. No independence.
  • Similarly woman. Live with one husband fastidiously, with children.
  • A man should be trained to be a first-class devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa, and a woman should be trained to be a very chaste follower of her husband.
  • if you can show the women of the community how to help their husbands and children to perfect their home life, and all aspects of life, in Krishna Consciousness by chanting, aratrik ceremonies, and eating Krishna prasadam, then you will improve the conditions of the neighboring communities to an incalculable extent.
  • actual system is that the husband is Spiritual Master to his wife
  • because women are less intelligent, they should remain dependent on first-class father, first-class husband and first-class son. Then she is first class. That is the injunction. Woman should remain dependent in childhood upon first-class father, in youthhood upon first-class husband and in old age upon first-class son. Woman is never independent. If she becomes independent, her life is not very good. She must agree to remain dependent on first-class father, first-class husband and first-class son—three stages
  • – Can a woman be first class? Prabhupāda: Woman can become first class if she is chaste and very much attached to husband. And if the husband is first class, she becomes first class. Because woman’s duty is to follow husband. So if the husband is first class, the wife is first class, if she sticks to the husband.
  • – But she can never be first class unless she has a first-class husband. Prabhupāda: No, she is first class by following faithfully husband. And if the husband is first class, then woman is first class.

Obviously, these quotes create a very different impression. “So what,” you might think, “we have known the power of selective quoting before, what’s new here?” Well, the interesting feature of all these quotes is that they come from the same letters and conversations (and one purport). These things have been said to the same people on the same occasion, and almost immediately one after another. To illustrate this once again, consider these two letters written on the same day and on the same subject, but to different recipients:

  • My Dear Yamuna and Dinatarine, … You can attract the fair sex community. Most of them are frustrated being without any home or husband. If you can organize all these girls they will get a transcendental engagement and may not be allured to the frustration of life. Your engagement should be chanting and worship of the Deity Jiva Goswami advises that in the Kali-yuga sankirtana is the principle worship. Even if one chants many mantras it must be preceded by glorious sankirtana. Sankirtana is the maha-mantra.
  • My dear Jayatirtha, … Regarding Yamuna and Dinatarine, they want to live independently, that is the defect. A woman cannot live independent. According the the Vedic culture a woman is always to be protected by a man. Why they should purchase a house? We already have Los Angeles…

How to make sense of all of this and how to reconcile these contradictory quotes? Make you own conclusions, I don’t want to force any particular mode of thinking here, but I might add that conservative statements are far more extensive and even after I clipped them down in half they still take more space (and more time for Srila Prabhupada to articulate). This fact might not matter much but it’s worth noting anyway. Overall, I’d say that contradictions appear when we start hunting for quotes instead of studying Srila Prabhupada’s books systematically, verse by verse and purport by purport. Then we see big picture and all little facts fit into it perfectly.

In a similar way we, as the “owners” of our bodies, feel whole, complete, and well adjusted, but if somebody took a foot and a hand separately they might wonder how these parts can possibly fit together. This is a kind of acintya-bheda-abheda tattva available for us to ponder – how can Srila Prabhupada encourage and seemingly reject something at the same time? He himself did not see it as contradictory, however. The same principle is applied differently in different circumstances just like same trunk produces different branches, some extending north and some extending south, and all reaching for the Sun. Somehow it’s possible and I don’t want to boggle down in details of each case.

References:

https://vanisource.org/wiki/770107_-_Conversation_A_-_Bombay

https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/6/18/42/

https://vanisource.org/wiki/690614_-_Letter_to_Silavati_written_from_New_Vrindaban,_USA

https://vanisource.org/wiki/750705_-_Conversation_A_-_Chicago

https://vanisource.org/wiki/760113_-_Letter_to_Yamuna_and_Dinatarine_written_from_Calcutta

https://vanisource.org/wiki/760113_-_Letter_to_Jayatirtha_written_from_Calcutta

Actual legwork of searching for different sounding quotes in the same sources was done by one reviewer of one recent book and was posted on social media. He made a similar observation but as part of a review and he provided extensive commentary on each case. I tried to keep it short and to the point instead. For those who want to read the whole thing (in Russian), here’s the source.