Society Looking Forward

On New Year’s eve Mahatma Prabhu had a zoom session with Bhakti Vijnana Goswami where they were answering questions about the problem of criticism in our society. That was the stated topic but in the beginning BVGS asked to start with something a bit more auspicious to discuss and they never got to “criticism” questions specifically. All in all they were both concerned with how to move our society forward, beyond the state of current split. They didn’t state so explicitly but this concern was punctuating all their answers, occasionally openly discussing the legacy of the current generation and what will happen in the future. So “society looking forward” is an appropriate title for this article, and it’s appropriate for another reason which I will discuss later. The video itself is at the bottom.

My conclusion, after carefully listening to this two hour talk – our society is not going anywhere nice anytime soon and conflicts will remain unresolved for the foreseeable future. Why so pessimistic? Do I disagree with all their arguments? No, not at all. Everything they said was reasonable and rational and I see nothing to object. I’m pessimistic because they are not addressing actual problems, not even acknowledging actual problems, and, consequently, go in a completely irrelevant way while trying to solve what they think is a problem.

First thing that should be noticed – they are both from the liberal camp and so do not have any disagreements with each other. This makes the discussion basically into an echo chamber where they don’t have to deal with the opposition but only with their perceived images of what the other side thinks. They got together and jointly defeated their own straw man. Real world, however, is filled with real people who act in many unpredictable ways and solving our differences with them is a categorically different kind of problem. In other words, the way this discussion was set up was not conducive to any productive outcome.

I will say that BVGS should not be easily labeled as “liberal” because, to his credit, he stays out of debates as a matter of principle. After FDG resolution, however, he did record a video where he called GBC presented quotes conclusive. That was not my impression at all, but I’d refer to Sivarama Swami’s more recent analysis where his conclusion was that GBC presented quotes do not support even their own position, what to speak of defeating the opponents. Sivarama Swami can be counted as conservative but his argument has nothing to do with this division – it points out bipartisan lapses in logic.

This is an interesting point – both speakers encouraged everyone to step outside of liberal-conservative designations but, as it happens everywhere over and over again, failed to see how they themselves are conditioned. Doctors should heal themselves first, or otherwise we slip into “do as I say, not as I do” territory. In the end, the entire discussion sounded like two liberals telling what is wrong with the conservatives, demonstrating how conservatives are uncultured and disrespectful. They didn’t say this outright, of course, but all the recognizable examples they used were of conservative faults. Again, even though all the points were totally legitimate, their underlying attitude was not that of respect for the opposition.

I would agree that conservatives are not the most cultured group in our society and their conversations are often seem as straightforward, unfiltered sadhu-ninda, but it absolutely doesn’t help when their entire set of grievances is dismissed just because someone somewhere said something unacceptable. Bhakti Vikasa Swami, who is a conservative, often gives examples of liberals using unacceptable language against himself and others of his persuasion, with examples and quotes, too, so, by the logic employed by the speakers here, conservatives also have the right to dismiss the entire liberal agenda on the strength of one or two examples of bad behavior. And so both groups end up dismissing each other which, naturally, does absolutely nothing for reconciliation.

Another thing that I noticed immediately was soft, soothing, and reassuring voices, especially that of Mahatma Prabhu. I don’t think he turned it on specifically for this occasion the way a cult leader takes a moment to prepare himself before addressing his flock, I think he genuinely believes he has all the answers and feels pretty confident in his position, a position where he thinks he knows how to solve or at least how to avoid running into problems, but here is the thing again – he is not part of a solution, he is part of the problem itself. His confidence rather signifies unwillingness to change, which means inability to become a part of the solution – because, and I can say it with a hundred percent confidence – our divisions will not be overcome by everybody coming to my point of view (or Mahatma’s for that matter). We all need to change something in ourselves, and change is frightening and doubtful, not soothing and reassuring.

Speaking of avoiding problems – one way to do it is to declare current chaos a new normal. That way nothing needs fixing. This technique was applied throughout the discussion. In the beginning they both talked about diversity and how it is an avoidable and even a desirable thing. They also talked about unity and cooperation as the new siddhanta trumping everything else. I would agree, but this description of the situation redefines the problem into the new normal. Lots of devotees feel very real pain in their relationships with the society but it’s dismissed as something totally expected and even desirable. That it’s THEIR problem for not accepting this new status quo and they would be better off if they just accepted it instead of standing firm and arguing. Why do they do so? Easy answer – because they feel sure and confident in their own position, too, and they are not going to give it up against their own logic and reason.

This “normalize the problem” technique completely avoids the possibility of real problems developing in our society, which means some things do need to be rejected and changed instead of embracing them in the name of “unity in diversity”. There was a very good opportunity presented when someone asked a question of how to reconcile Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s uncompromising behavior with the current situation but Mahatma Prabhu did not use it and rather avoided it by saying that most or many, I don’t remember exact wording, of today’s compromises are related to details, not the principles. That may be true, and it’s also true that details are always open to adjustment, but what about compromises in our principles? That’s what the opponents complain about all the time – today’s ISKCON has compromised on principles. The possibility of that happening was not discussed, but that is exactly what we, as a society, need to address and need to solve. This is one more reason for my pessimism – they avoid mentioning the problem, let alone try to tackle it.

To simplify it, this whole “unity in diversity” and “cooperation above everything else” preaching becomes “I’ll do whatever I want and you have to be cooperative”. The option of you telling me that I’m nonsense is not provided – you always have to cooperate with me. Because “Prabhupada said that…”

This is actually another reason I’m losing my hope – all throughout the discussion they relied on “Prabhupada once said…” arguments. We’ve been throwing them around for fifty years, they never solved anything, and there is no reason throwing a few more “Prabhupada saids” into the discussion will magically change anything for the better. Why? Because it’s not about what Srila Prabhupada said, it’s about what YOU think is more important right now, and so you are not channeling Prabhupada, you are using him as your own crutch. Quotes are a dime a dozen, there isn’t a single position that can’t be supported by a couple of “Prabhupada saids”.

Moreover, it’s not about what was actually said – we should move beyond words, because they are “details”, and get to the underlying principles. Something like “Srila Prabhupada always considered this to be … and on one occasion he said…” Then we can deal with ideas, not with quotes. This would elevate the discussion considerably, but, in my opinion, we, as a society, still require every idea to be firmly rooted in quotes – we don’t deal with ideas as reality. We still think ideas grow from quotes and therefore are secondary, when, in fact, it’s the other way around. Ideas are eternal, they existed before quotes and they will exist after quotes, and they are the same ideas that can be reflected in Srila Prabhupada’s and in our own consciousness. Our guru opens them up for our perception, but guru does not invent compassion or austerity or whatever it is being considered. So our relying on “Prabupada saids” displays lack of our actual realization, our blindness to any reality other than sensually perceptible. This is not a platform where rifts can be healed.

This gets me to one possible solution to our current conundrum, but I want to mention another first – if we talk about the house for the whole world to live in then the first thing we should understand about houses is that they have different rooms and each room has its own use, has its own mood, has its own set of rules, and has its owner, too. Similarly, in the house called “ISKCON” there should be many many different rooms, almost everybody should get his own room, and externally perceptible behavior in each room will be different. KW devotees can wear baseball caps, Indian “conservatives” can tie their dhotis in their conservative ways, in the western part of the house devotees can eat and do other things at the same time without feeling the need to wash their hands and mouths. In the Vedic part of the house they would drink water “Prabhupada’s way”, without glass touching the lips. What this means, and I would argue that it’s inevitable, is that there will be gay marriages in some rooms but not in others, there will female diksa gurus and female sannyasis in some rooms but they won’t be allowed into others.

When the idea of FDGs being allowed in some locales was first floated there was a collective gasp in our society. “Split in the sampradaya”, it is being argued. But it’s not a split if you really really talk about the house for the whole world. This “house” thing goes to the very root of our existence as ISKCON devotees, of what “ISKCON” is and why do we even need it, if we want to stuff the whole world into it. Why not just call it “world”? That’s a discussion for another day, however.

Second solution to how we should try to solve our differences relates to “looking forward” in the title. Looking forward means we imagine ourselves to be the seers and the world in front of us as our field – ksetra and ksetra-jna from Bhagavad Gita. Both the speakers thought of it this way – I’m here, ISKCON is in front of me, and I can solve problems by manipulating it. It’s totally natural for us to think this way, but, if we accept and realize that the universe is one giant tree, then this model of “looking forward” becomes absurd. If you noticed that you branched out, as it happens on the trees, then you cannot possibly solve the created difference with the trunk or with other branches by growing your branch further and further, which is what “looking forward” is as you develop your given ksetra.

To solve the problem, to find unity again, you need to move backward to the point BEFORE branching has occurred. It might mean going back in time to remember the moments of unity. That would be a valuable exercise but not always possible because memories fade. More important, however, is to trace the appearance of our differences on the universal tree itself, and this tree has a hierarchy which is currently present, though not easily accessible.

Early on in the discussion Mahatma Prabhu made an observation that we come to dislike people we disagree with and he repeated this point several times, as if our personal dislikes are related only to the trivial need to defend our pride. That may be so, but this is not the only root of our disagreements, and this is another example of avoiding the problem and not acknowledging it even exist. We dislike people, including our opponents, because they remind us of our own qualities which we are trying to reject. Sometimes we dislike things due to our conditioning, like cats dislike swimming, but dislike based on rejection of things unfavorable to devotional service plays the central role in our disputes. I would insist on that. We reject certain values in our lives as anarthas and we rebel when others come around and shove them in our faces again, especially in the early stages of separation when anarthas are not totally eradicated from our consciousness. We lash out at others because we still struggle within ourselves, like when we blame women for dressing provocatively because we still feel sexual attraction.

Ha, this is actually one of the popular arguments – instead of controlling how women dress male devotees should control their own sexual urges. A lot can be said in response, but I would remind the reader that even Lord Caitanya admitted to experiencing bodily changes when seeing women. It was in the chapter about glories of Ramananda Raya in the Antya lila.

Not to be distracted – dislikes are not related to other people, nor are they related to our wounded egos, but they have a very real foundation as unfavorable things that need to be rejected. When we say rejected it doesn’t mean they have no place to exist – in a house there should be a room for passing stool, too. There is another dimension to it, too – things become rejected as we move our consciousness up the hierarchy of the tree, leaving unfavorable things where they belong.

BVGS should know it very well as he often cites the advice given to four Kumaras in the 11th Canto – don’t try to disconnect the mind from sense objects but rather disconnect yourself from the mind. In our case it means we should not be “looking forward”, which on the tree means taking the focus or our consciousness from the heart and outwards to the intelligence, to the mind, and to sense objects, where our “forward” actually is. For us it means going “backward” or “upward” or “inward” – I can’t select one word because moving up the tree towards the heart and the Lord is not a spatial movement with directions. Once this is understood it becomes clear that our rifts can be solved by philosophical debates because philosophy is discussed by the minds but we need to move above that to intelligence, then above intelligence to moral values, which reflect the state of our ego, and then to the heart/self, which is the point of our connection to Srila Prabhupada and Krishna. Unless philosophical debates serve as a method of yoga to elevate our consciousness from mundane reality to Srila Prabhupada and Krishna in our hearts they will be fruitless in the search for unity.

The speakers know this – they very clearly mentioned that the point of unity for us is acceptance of Krishna as God and Srila Prabhupada is His representative, but the problem is that we don’t want to stay there, at this point of unity, we want to move forward and create more things and put them all into one shared space, which is currently like a one room house. And then people start screaming that this cr*p doesn’t belong here, pardon my language. Of course they would say that. Get your own room to do your own KC Zumba, people are trying to meditate here.

Staying in this one point of unity is not easy, of course. We would need to keep our consciousness focused there and do not let our mind deviate to observe all other kinds of things. It would require us to be in samadhi, and, of course, it’s not something we propose as a practical solution. I mean what would be the reaction if somebody proposed that unity in our society is only possible when everyone will be in samadhi? Totally impractical – we can’t keep our minds on the holy name for one round, what to speak of samadhi. Fair enough, but this is what is necessary. Who said that we can solve our differences by remaining ourselves? Not me. We really really need to get into a samadhi and there is no other way. For one thing, once our consciousness if firmly fixed as Krishna’s feet (or on Prabhupada – same thing), we will actually see how everything every devotee has ever done is connected to this same point and therefore everything will become instantly respectable. It would also mean we will have an infinite variety of things to appreciate so samadhi will not be boring. It would also mean that, because our consciousness does not slide down into mundane reality, the variety of other people’s services, however imperfect individually, will not affect our concentration and will not throw us off balance. In other words, we will see differences but we will leave them where they belong without taking them personally.

Who has ever said that duality can be overcome by absorbing our minds in the Supreme? Oh yeah, Bhavagatam. We all know that, but we are trying all other different ways first. And that’s why I’m not hopeful at all. But at least I know what would work for me so I know what I have to work on myself.

PS. One other thing, not related to the topic itself – during the discussion it was said that bhakti is a synthesis of the best things taken from karma and from jnana. In the same way it is said that Gaudiya Vaishnavism took two of the best things from each of the four other sampradayas. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but I would point out that all the best qualities seen in this world are “divisions” of Krishna and in the same way karma and jnana TAKE their best qualities from bhakti. Neither bhakti nor Krishna are a synthesis of various things which are neither bhakti nor Krishna. They are not an emerging phenomena in the same way modern science says consciousness emerges from interaction of matter.

Judging Judgmentalists

Here is the conundrum – if you see people becoming judgmental, how do you judge their behavior without indulging in it yourself? My answer is drawing the difference between judging and discriminating. That might not be fully satisfactory either because after making your assessment you are still tempted to feel yourself superior. This isn’t going to be solved until one becomes perfectly satisfied with the arrangements Krishna has made for him and therefore is not bothered with someone else being better or worse. Their arrangements are perfect for them, too. Why then should there be the need to discriminate at all? Because we are not static beings and we are always on the move. What is perfect for others might not be as good for us. We are always driven by “association”, after all – ideas, feelings, experiences coming from outside. They affect us and we react, and so discrimination is necessary. We just have to manage it without becoming judgmental.

With this problem out of the way – to the matter at hand. A few days ago a devotee recommended me some sannyasi I’ve never heard of before. I wish we had more of this in our society because we should always be on the lookout for good association, but these recommendations do not always excite us as they excite the persons who send them. I’ve experienced people going “meh” in reaction to my recommendations and now it looks like it’s my turn to be less than excited after hearing to that sannyasi talks. I’m not sure I should disclose his name but I also see no reason to hide it either. It might reflect not so well on his guru and his godbrothers might freak out, so, for now, I’ll keep his identity hidden. I got two links to lectures and the order in which I listened to them played a large part in how I formed my opinion. It was first impression, then “also this?”, and then “and that thing, too?” and so on. I hope the reader will recognize familiar patterns and familiar declarations and that’s how this post might be useful even I don’t get around to disclosing the names.

First thing I heard was “What are you going to preach? First you need to hear this, then that, then realize these things, then … so what is the use of your preaching?” I’ve heard this argument before and I will say this – it comes from people who have never been made into tools in Lord Caitanya’s hands. They just don’t have the experience and, according to their mental calculations, it should not be possible. Those who DO have direct experience of this know that it works and they know how it works. They also know that it can’t be calculated into existence by building mental arguments one onto another. The process is different and it doesn’t depend on how much you know at all. It doesn’t depend on how many slokas your remember or any of that sort of thing.

The easiest way for me to reference this is on the example of book distributors, though not all of them. Sometimes, somehow you are just made to do the right thing and say the right words, and it’s attributed to guru and Lord Caitanya’s mercy, sometimes they attribute it to Paramatma. Sometimes they are compelled to do the right thing against their own judgement. Sometimes this “voice” is absent, and some book distributors never hear it at all, but some seek it out everywhere and at all times because it brings them into the state of samadhi. They just go with the flow of Lord Caitanya’s mercy, fully aware of their personal disqualifications, but these disqualifications don’t stop anybody – neither Lord Caitanya, nor book distributors, nor the people they are talking to.

Another aspect of this is that they do not discuss Radha-Krishna pastimes or complicated philosophical points. It’s not what happens at all. They punch through all these cultural, emotional, and intellectual layers and reach straight to the heart of the person. Then the heart issues a cry of freedom, love, and devotion, and the sankirtana devotee hears and reflects it back. It’s a non-verbal communication and, as people eventually go away, they are left wondering what just happened to them and they try to use words to justify their experiences, but it still remains inexplicable and indescribable. Their minds and intelligence might struggle with intellectually parsing the contents of our books and so they might not open them again, but they will never ever forget that moment of meeting a devotee, and that transformation of their own hearts. It will take time to propagate through the rest of their bodies, through all the gross and subtle layers, and bring it in sync with the vibration coming from Lord Caitanya, but it’s only a question of time, which by itself is a question of how many transformations are needed for the body to go from it’s current state to the state of recognizable “pure devotion”. We are not concerned with this re-tuning of the body, however, we are concerned with Lord Caitanya’s given ability to reach out and touch people’s hearts. So back to the beginning of this argument – some people have never experienced it and they rule out the possibility. That’s what I heard in that sannyasi’s argument. Those who had this experience will never ever say “you are not qualified because you didn’t hear or didn’t read enough”.

Next thing I heard was his insistence on going only through the guru, which is sastrically correct, of course, but, to me, he went completely the wrong way about it. He made himself into the sole guardian of transcendental knowledge and made his disciples into being totally dependent and deprived of all mercy, unless it’s HIS mercy. Once again, anyone who experienced acting as Lord Caitanya’s tool knows that one is not the sole guardian of anything and is not in control of anyone. Devotees who had experienced it had see how mercy flows through other devotees, too, and how it can potentially flow everywhere, and how the devotee himself can sometimes get in its way and it will still flow and reach intended recipients. This mercy is totally independent.

Now, the disciple should see his guru and his sole protector and his sole beneficiary, but he should also see how “guru” is a principle not confined to the material body and how the same guru speaks to him through variety of media. If a person sitting in front of you does not acknowledge that and claims exclusive proprietorship I, personally, would not consider him as a genuine guru. I would consider him to be simply “full of himself”. This is a rather subtle point that must be experienced, too – it takes practice and purity to see one’s guru speaking through different people and even thought what we call “objects”. Srimad Bhagavatam gets to this point only in the Eleventh Canto, too. Or I could refer one to Srila Prabhupada’s disciples who feel his presence, care, and guidance everywhere. Or I could remind one that guru is a the “servitor God”, not “master God”. Servitors should never claim to be masters. If one does so it’s a vestige of one’s material conditioning. The desire to be in control should go away but it takes time, so it’s forgivable, but I insist it should be recognized for what it is.

Next I heard a long rant about “Maya”, how we should choose between Maya and Krishna and so on. The hallmark of this kind of argument is presumed juxtaposition of Maya and Krishna where she is presented as our equivalent of Christian Satan, where there is an eternal battle between this Satan and God, as if Satan has some sort of independent existence. Well, again, it requires realization to know it for certain, but even intellectually we must know that Maya has no independent power and no independent existence. She cannot possibly oppose either Krishna or Lord Caitanya. No independence means she cannot force her own will. She doesn’t have her own will – she is shakti, she makes the will of the shaktiman happen. And who is shaktiman here? Krishna, of course, and also ourselves as His parts and parcels. We have the ability to desire control and Maya makes it happen. We play little gods and Maya carries out the gameplay.

There is no such thing as “Maya tells you…”, which was the basis of that sannyasi’s argument. Maya doesn’t tell you anything – YOU tell her what you want and she fulfills YOUR desires. She also runs the universe so she fulfills Krishna’s desires, too, and this mismatch between our desires and Krishna’s desires creates perpetual swings between happiness and distress, but it’s not the point. Technically, she fulfills desires of Maha Vishnu, or one might argue that she works for Lord Siva, but that is also not the point. The point is that she doesn’t tell you anything – she reflects your own desires and echoes your own words and orders.

Of course we all know “don’t listen to Maya” warnings but I would argue that they shouldn’t be elevated to the status of tattva. We want something, material nature arranges for the fulfillment of this desire, we become attracted to the results, and we want more. It’s at the point where we start feeling attraction that we can say “Maya tells me” but this process is mechanical, there is no actual person telling us to do things. You wanted to like that thing and now you do – none of it is Maya’s fault.

Another aspect of Maya acting on Krishna’s orders is that she arranges these things perfectly for our gradual purification. She is not our enemy. Let me repeat that – she is not our enemy. My impression from that sannyasi’s talk was that he still doesn’t get it. Once you do, you will become overwhelmed with humility – because you will see the world as being perfectly run already, something we should also already know, and so one becomes not judgmental but appreciative instead.

Speaking of humility – that sannyasi clearly thinks that it’s caused by humiliation. This was a question and answer part of the class and he put down and humiliated absolutely every questioner. He didn’t grant anyone the capacity and ability to pose an honest inquiry that should be answered. Pariprasnena in Bhagavad Gita means there should be questions and questions must be answered by the guru. In this case, however, this guru went straight for character assassination of anyone who dared to open his mouth. He was a little more accommodating in the second talk I listened to, but the first one was just a festival of putting people down, one after another.

Several times this sannyasi stressed that because guru means “heavy” it means he has to be heavy on his disciples. That’s a misunderstanding. Heavy means not easily swayed – by emotions, events, or arguments. Being “heavy on somebody” is an idiom from English language, I don’t think it even exist in Sanskrit, even if sometimes guru is supposed to be “cutting” his disciples false egos. Sometimes Srila Prabhupada was “heavy” in this sense, too, but not very often and he certainly never invited people to get in line for punishment.

Speaking of which – I believe it’s some kind of psychological issue when people expect pleasure from punishment. It’s one thing to experience it when it happens naturally but it’s quite another to come to your guru and request him to put you in pain. It’s unhealthy. Purifying pain should not be the constant feature of guru-disciple relationships. However, I believe this is where the source of this sannyasi’s power lies.

In the second talk he told a story of his personal spiritual journey and to me it confirmed my suspicions – humiliation is the path to glory in the same way that austerity is the path to comfort and riches. You withhold experiencing one aspect of reality and then it comes to you anyway to complete your experience. This is an aspect of the law of karma I can’t possibly explain in great detail now. In everyday terms this same sannyasi demonstrated how it works – in the ashram he was serving they once undertook some fast with overnight chanting involved, and the next day they ate triple the normal and slept twice the usual. They, basically, saved some enjoyment for later and they experienced it all at once instead of spreading it over the normally allotted period of time.

Same works with humility, and pretty much everything else. If you want to experience glorification and respect, withhold what is allotted to you now, which means become “humble”, and then wait for the big payout when it comes all at once. You can see the same principle in waiters, shop assistants, and all other kinds of service personnel – they serve you now because they expect you to pay them good money in the end, and the end goal for them would be to not serve you anymore.

Need I mention that it’s the opposite of actual love and devotion? It’s a big topic in itself and I just don’t have the time.

And then this sannyasi went into putting down his unnamed godbrothers and seniors. One anecdote after another demonstrated his superiority and their deficiencies. At one point he even started mocking some other devotee’s voice to demonstrate how pathetic that unfortunate soul was. At another point he took on GBC’s then current chairman and smashed him to pieces. He went as far as to tell Prabhupada’s disciple to get a better guru, not noticing how absurd he sounds – he was on the roll, having finished with denigrating his own disciples and now rolling over everybody else. There wasn’t an authority he couldn’t take on.

If his utterly humiliated disciples enjoyed this ride of ruling over the world and humiliating others, even if in their absence when they cannot say anything to defend themselves – I can understand them, though I would call them sycophants with some serious psychological issues.

So there I was, starting off with expectations of hearing from an inspiring devotee, and ending up with … that. I don’t want to judge, as I said, but this is definitely not for me. I feel like I’m forgetting something to comment from those talks, but it’s time to wrap it up anyway.

All in all, nothing that I heard was absolutely against our siddhanta – all these statements and ideas have their place, but when one has the enjoying attitude he would naturally try to apply them outside their scope and it will be disastrous. We do this with everything else in the world already, this was an example of doing the same thing with our siddhanta. Christians and other critics have done it to our siddhanta as well, twisting and turning it to sound ridiculous, so even this is not new.

This is not to say that there is no benefit in listening to this devotee’s preaching whatsoever – in one of the talks you can hear the exultation in the interpreter’s voice, and not over the issues I discussed above but over “regular” statements about the role of guru and expositions of crooked mentality. One has to go through these things and one will naturally be excited about them, so this sannyasi’s preaching is far from being a total waste, but none of that is actually spiritual, which brings me back to my first argument – intellectually parsing our siddhanta and seeing it applied in the world around us does not cause outpouring of Lord Caitanya’s mercy. Mahaprabhu’s mercy cannot be captured by logic and rationality, nor can He be captured by humility. He will respond in kind, as Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita, but that response would be less than available idea. I would refer to Srila Prabhupada’s “they haven’t got a clue” response to the critics of his movement. In the end, even the critics came around to accepting that Lord Caitanya’s mercy flowed through Srila Prabhupada’s disciples against all common sense. Or I could refer to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati waving away a swarm of Vrindvana babajis as kanisthas – they should have had known better but they still haven’t had the clue. This kind of ignorance of Lord Caitanya’s mercy is entirely possible.

Of course we cannot say the same thing as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and declare ourselves to be better than them, but we should keep it as a reminder of who we have to follow, as a guiding light for ourselves. This kind of discrimination is necessary. More over, I’m confident that with time even that sannyasi will exhaust his good karma accumulated through humiliation and servitude, and come to appreciate real humility and desire to be of service, which is not the same thing. Maybe not in this lifetime but one has to see that humiliation and servitude do not pay off either, even if for a while it appears they bring good, enjoyable results.

Democracy through Vedic lens

We are not supposed to be affected by politics but that’s not the reality of our situation. Even our Communications Ministry issued a statement after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol a week ago. Rather than avoiding the issue or plunging into virtual battles head first, which is even worse, let’s try to make sense of what’s going on from a Vedic perspective.

First thing we will notice is that “democracy” is not part of our vocabulary. It’s not found in Srimad Bhagavatam, which is our go-to text on how a society should be organized. Why? There are descriptions of Kali yuga there but democracy did not deserve a mention. My answer is that democracy is not a thing. It’s something we imagine as important but to the outsider, like to a Vedic historian looking at developments of society through the ages, it’s practically invisible.

We know how Bhagavatam talks about leaders who would rob their followers blind, how leaders would feed on the population. Well, modern democracy does that already, but so do dictatorships. Does it make a difference? Here is a radical idea – the only thing that exists is people who have power to control others. When they exercise this power responsibly *we* feel it as democracy, and when they do it irresponsibly *we* feel it as dictatorship and tyranny. The only difference is in *our* perception. And then we pass our feelings and perceptions as reality.

One might object that democracies have elections, but so do countries *we* call dictatorships. As I’m typing this, there are still protests going on against “Europe’s last dictator”, the man who won the elections with support of 80% of the population. Or we can put out an argument that Singapore is a one party dictatorship while Singaporeans definitely do not feel like they live in one, and that their governing party is made of fine, sane, and outstanding individuals. This brings me back to my first point – the only thing that matters is how the power is wielded, not how it is obtained.

I can cite the case of King Vena in support – it didn’t matter how he came to power, it only mattered how he ruled. It didn’t matter how he was removed, it only mattered that he was. It didn’t matter how his successor was installed, it only mattered that finally there was a king to control the rogue elements in the society.

In modern society, we are preoccupied with how transitions are accomplished, not with the accomplishments of the rulers. We believe that there is a perfect connection between how the rulers are selected and how they behave afterwards. It makes sense, in general, but it’s not an absolute rule and it’s definitely open to abuse by professional electioneers. In the big picture, focusing on the process of selecting the ruler rather than on the ruling itself looks strange, especially if there is a stipulated requirement that a ruler can’t stand for re-election after a certain period of time.

Srila Prabhupada’s position was that perfect kings would rule so nicely that no one would want to change them. We can latch onto the word “kings” here but that would be missing the point of having a perfect ruler, which is the key. Why should it matter how the perfect rule was achieved? King or no king, president or prime minister – what matters is what they do when in office.

Kaunteya Prabhu, I never thought I would agree with him on anything, recently collected Srila Prabhupada’s quotes in praise of democracy (ISCKONnews). In that collection Srila Prabhupada also spoke about monarchies being outdated. This is certainly unusual, but it makes perfect sense if we focus on what is important, on how the rulers rule, not on how they come to power. Today’s monarchies do not produce qualified individuals but democracy does, or rather might produce qualified rulers – there are plenty of misfires in democratic elections, too. It’s not so important how and where, it’s important that rulers are qualified, which is certainly in agreement with Srila Prabhupada’s general line on this.

Okay, with this point out of the way, let’s move on qualities of the leaders. There are many of those and our heads might start to spin, I don’t even want to start listing them but go straight to what matters most – honesty. Why? Because it’s the last pillar of religion in Kali yuga. When I was growing up it was an unquestionable requirement, today it’s optional and everybody has settled on politicians being liars so in a lot of situations honesty is not even expected. Ten-twenty years from now people might even stop asking for that because it will become in short supply not only among our leaders but among general population, too. I’m not talking about people lying to each other, I’m talking about something far more fundamental – people lying to themselves.

Even today people already admit that everyone wears a mask, and not of the medical kind, but an image of themselves they try to project outside. They cannot be just themselves, they need to project a different image, and that’s lying. Moreover, they start to believe in this new identity of theirs and so they don’t know what’s true and what’s false about them anymore. Externally, it manifests as hypocrisy, which means observers can spot radical changes in one’s behavior and attitudes and so lose trust in that person’s words or promises. This tears at the very fabric of society, even at the family level, where some hypocrisy is already expected at big family gatherings where people would rather pretend for a few days than show their real faces.

Back to democracy – without honesty, without that last pillar of support, it cannot possibly bring any positive results. Artha and kama cannot come without dharma, after all. It’s impossible. Dharma is that which sustains and there will be no sustenance without dharma. This is where we should focus our attention as devotees when analyzing government related events.

The immediate problem is that both sides in the US presidential election, which still occupies the news right now, accuse each other of lying. This brings me back to the point of feelings I mentioned earlier – we believe that what we perceive is the reality and we believe in infallibility of our perception. We, even as devotees, often state with absolute certainty that “this person is a liar” or that “these people are fascists”. Somehow it doesn’t strike us as odd that absolutely everyone says exactly the same thing about their opposition. What’s worse, people do not see how they change their opinions and approve today what they denounced yesterday, or denounce that which they approved before.

When we read the news we are naturally expected to take sides and declare one party righteous and the other demoniac, but that shouldn’t be our position. We should rather take the Vedic view and judge people and parties according to their adherence to dharma. We will soon discover that hypocrisy is all pervasive and taking sides in the absolute sense would be a wrong thing to do. In some ways each party is being honest, too, but the moment they sense your support they’d ask you to support all kinds of nonsense as well.

How can we navigate this? First of all, by being honest ourselves. We should not let our minds carry us away in support of or in opposition to either of the sides. We should not identify ourselves with their lies about themselves. They’ll claim a lot of things, but we should become “guru” – heavy and unmoved by these lightweight considerations. Why do I call them lightweight? Because they are in the mind and mind is a notoriously flickery substance. Mind is feather-like in presence of even the slightest wind of emotions. It easily invents new images of ourselves and perpetuate our hypocrisy. If we identify with the mind then we won’t notice that today it’s in one place and tomorrow in another – because the mind uses only itself as the point of reference. If something feels good it’s right and it doesn’t matter where this “right” is located – it’s always put front and center.

It’s only when we step away from this mental platform that we start to notice how hypocritical it looks to someone who doesn’t fly around with out mind but stays grounded in one place. This “someone” should be our intelligence, our ability to discriminate between what is right and what is wrong, what is important and what is not – regardless of how our mind feels about it.

The intelligence isn’t super steady either as our understanding and categorization of the world changes, too. Beyond the intelligence are our moral values and it’s better if we become grounded in those. With time we will discover that moral values are evolving, too. Practical example – attitudes towards homosexuality. I think people of my age can remember times when we considered it despicable. Today its existence doesn’t bother us anymore. So now we have to look beyond morality, too. In Vedic terms morality is expressed as our false ego – one step above intelligence. When speaking about it this way it becomes clear that one day we should discard it, too, but, as far as our reaction to politics is concerned, keeping our intelligence steady and our moral compass right should help us navigate that treacherous sea already.

I could compare it to oceanic liners or to aircraft carriers – no matter how strong the waves are, these things are just too big to be seriously affected. They know where they are, they know the maps, and they know their course. Similarly, by stepping away from the mental platform we should find enough gravity to pass through or, if necessary, to go around political turmoil, and, when asked about it, judge it from the perspective of dharma rather than constantly shifting perspectives of mundane wranglers who would easily overlook their real benefits in favor of whatever occupies their minds right now, like elections or retribution for past wrongs or perceived necessity to save the future from their political opponents.

If we are asked for our opinion on what the world should be saved from – at the moment people should be saved from their own minds, nothing else, and everybody is eligible, not just people from the other side in politics.

The Heart of the Matter

Many ISKCON’s swamis wear sannyasi cloth but they do not live like renunciates. They live life of comfort and control large sums of money. They are regularly caught in illicit relationships and many have large female only following. Plus female secretaries and female servants etc etc. Check’s Hanuman’s Vasanas site for details. They should probably give up the pretense, get married, and live honestly.

Things are getting better now, but we have a long history of these renunciates spreading their dharma on young people who were never meant for this kind of life. They taught devotees that marriage is a falldown and women are not only to be avoided but despised and publicly denigrated in Srimad Bhagavatam classes. This ruined ISKCON experience for women, for their children, who often grew abandoned by these renunciates, and for young followers who grew up totally unprepared for actual life, and who denied their own nature in pursuit of “devotional glory”. Eventually they all got married or worse, and so the whole brahmachari experiment obstructed their natural progress.

This preaching was actually violence against them, and, sure enough, it was accompanied by physical violence against women and children, too, and almost always by psychological violence leaving women, but also men, with deep psychological traumas. Everybody can see that now and everybody understands that this preaching is not a genuine service to Krishna but that it rather defames the Lord, Srila Prabhupada, and his movement. They gave Hare Krishnas a bad name.

These preachers are not real devotees because real devotees have no enemies and are loved by all – like Srila Prabhupada. These devotees instead created enemies everywhere, and now we see ISKCON conservatives, who follow in the same mood, breaking friendship with more liberal part of ISKCON. Relationships between devotees are ruined. And yet they claim to be the true followers. Have they got no shame?

And what is the value of their renunciation? Do they think that by wearing saffron they become detached? Do they think that the dress makes a devotee? They wear it with such pride, and even if they wear white they still make sure everyone knows how devoted and pure they are. Real detachment does not come this way. It naturally comes as a result of real knowledge, real devotion, and it cannot be imitated.

Having said that, no one would argue that material enjoyment is the cause of all suffering and it has to be given up, but this has to be done carefully and responsibly. One has to know what he is renouncing and do it in full knowledge. Not like a young, fired up brahmachari swearing off women and declaring sex as disgusting, just because one acharya who lived a thousand years ago composed a verse with “I spit at the thought”. It was true for that acharya but we cannot imitate. For vast majority of us the path of gradual advancement is prescribed instead. Trust me, it won’t take long to realize that living with a woman (or a man) is not as peachy as it feels in the beginning. You won’t need anyone to tell you how detestable married life can be, that would be your own realization and it will be far more valuable. You won’t attain the same level of understanding and detachment simply by listening to others.

We should rather take example of Bhaktivinoda Thakura or even of Srila Prabhupada who fulfilled all their married obligations faithfully. They worked, the provided for the family, they raised children, and they didn’t renounce these duties prematurely. One should be a proper grihastha and follow all the rules, perform all necessary samskaras related to raising children, serve the devotees, serve the community – this position is actually glorious. Grihasthas are the backbone of devotional community and their service pleases Srila Prabhupada, Lord Caitanya, and Krishna. We have many many instances of married devotees being as appreciated as anyone else. Instead, our renunciates blame them and it’s really really insulting. Srila Prabhupada corrected this attitude once already during the infamous 1976 GBC meetings and the turmoil caused by overzealous Radha Damodara Travelling Sankirtana devotees.

It took our society many years to heal the wounds of those few years in mid-seventies. Eventually, our women have recovered, our children have recovered, philosophical distortions were corrected, women and children were put under protection and accepted as fully fledged devotees capable of all kinds of service. We thought we put these years behind us, but the same ideology is rising its ugly head again, and it’s just as inauspicious now as it was then.

What should be the answer? Well, we can take it from SB 6.5.43 – because all the above paragraphs were paraphrasing the previous verses, SB 6.5 36-42. These were the reasons given by Daksa before putting a curse on Narada Muni. Let me repeat that – these are the reasons Daksa had given for his cursing Narada Muni.

And you all thought was speaking sensible things, right? I’m shocked myself.

As a last resort, if we are really really attached to these arguments, we can try to take Daksa’s side in the dispute, but that would be a total distortion of Srimad Bhagavatam. The entire Sixth Canto describes this kind of conflict – Yamadutas with their rules against Vishnudutas, Daksa against Narada, and then Indra against Vritrasura. Bhagavatam’s side is very clear here – it’s not Daksa’s. Moreover, this is where the heart of Bhagavatam lies – Sixth Canto is described as its chest.

I’m not saying that fanatical renunciates should be declared as winners either. This description is only one way to look at them. Narada’s self-perception and his actual situation were different from how Daksa saw him, it’s important to remember that. Trying to catch Narada Muni’s actual mood, not Daksa’s description of it, is what should set our hearts straight, too.