In Shanti Parva 326.42-43 Krishna, talking to Narada about His nature, says that even though Narada can see Him it doesn’t mean that Krishna assumes a form. In fact, Krishna can dissolve it at any moment. What Narada sees as Krishna’s form has been created by Krishna’s own illusion and is unrelated to the elements of creation. He is not connected to the creation (sarva-bhuta-gunair-yuktam-NA).
Here we have to remind ourselves that all other forms we see in this world belong to the world and are controlled by the world. We have DNA of our parents, language of our mothers, education of our countries, moral values of our communities and so on. We do not own any of these, rather we are owned by them and they make our behavior very predictable. My next sentence will be in English, for example – I can’t help it, because that’s what the readers expect and I’m obliged to fulfill this expectation. Plus my keyboard is set to English, too, and so I couldn’t type in Swahili even if I wanted to.
What I mean to say is that we declare ownership over a small part of the universal body – on this planet, in this country, in this community, in this city, in this house, on top of this chair, and we claim that it’s “ME”, but the behavior of this “me” is controlled by the superior entities in the hierarchy, and this “me” also aims to fulfill desires of other “mes” in this world.
Or think of it in the language of elements – 98% of this “me” is made of water, which is drinking water available where I live. Some of it form the tap, some of it from the bottles. I breath air of where I live, too, and eat food that grows nearby. Even imported stuff comes from this planet and we don’t get Soma from the Moon in our supermarkets.
All these creations – names, bodies, places, countries, planets – they are products of maya or of material nature. Krishna’s form is not like that – He creates it by His own illusory potency, and this form is independent of creations of Maya and doesn’t have to work according to Maya’s laws.
It also means that it has to work according to its own laws – Krishna’s senses follow Krishna’s mind just like ours do, and Krishna’s body depends on Krishna’s prana, just like our body does. It’s up to Krishna whether to “descend” into this world or not, and how far down He would choose to come. This is related more to Lord Caitanya, however, because it’s Lord Caitanya who controls our ISKCON movement. He might decide to appear in person and become visible to the eyes of His selected devotees, or He might decide to descend only to the level of mind (and tell us what to do), or only to the level of intelligence (and tell us what’s right and what’s wrong), or to the level of sense perceptions (and manifest ecstatic emotions). Or He could decide to stay in our hearts and let us do the rest ourselves. Under His gentle supervision, of course.
Avatara means “cross down” – cross down from one level of “reality” to the next below, making it “more real” with each successive step, until the descending personality becomes a sense object perceptible by our senses – that’s our level of reality – “bhu”.
What is common to all these levels of Lord Caitanya’s descend is that they are not controlled by events of this world, their behavior and appearance cannot be dictated, though they can reciprocate with our material minds, senses, bodies etc. When we see Him it’s an exchange between His form and our eyes, for example.
This understanding naturally leads to us creating a litmus BS test – whenever someone speaks about KC and we can see how his ideas follow progressions and developments based on and dictated by the norms of this world we can be sure it’s not Lord Caitanya speaking. It might look attractive and persuasive, it may be very rational and very compelling, but Lord Caitanya’s presence is fundamentally different and follows a fundamentally different logic and rationality. You know it when you see it, as they famously said about “adult content”.
There are people who are better than us in one, two, three, or even in every aspect we can think of, but we can still sense if they are people “of this world”. Lord Caitanya isn’t, and that was also the impression left by Srila Prabhupada on many many others. “Not of this world”. Throughout history people noticed this feature in many many saints and sadhu’s, too.
So, if someone presents Krishna Consciousness we should expect nothing less as “not of this world” as well, and we should not settle for anything less either.
In the previous post we discussed the testing, which means building up sraddha, which leads to diksa. These words do not exist in Christian vocabulary but that’s what they do anyway. The process of gradual spiritual realization is universal, it doesn’t matter how you call the stages or even how you break the stages up. The old man tested pilgrim’s interest in constant praying, the pilgrim tested whether the old man knew what he was talking about or not. Krishna tests whether the devotees are serious about chanting. Only when everybody is satisfied the admittance to the next stage is granted.
If you recall, this testing was done while the old man led the pilgrim to his “desert” – the picture of what it could have looked like is in the previous article. When they arrived it looked like an invitation for the pilgrim to take advantage of the facilities – they had “temple room”, they had “prasadam”, they had company of wise devotees – everything needed was there. And yet the pilgrim instinctively refused the offer. This puzzled me at first but then I got it – he was afraid that now, after finding his spiritual master, he was being handed over to the institution. That was probably another test, and the pilgrim passed. He stayed the course, he didn’t exchange his quest for the comfort of institutional devotion. He stood up by his pledge: “Show me what prayer without ceasing means and how it is learnt,” as English translation goes.
During diksa the disciple is given a mantra but here the old man promised to give him a book. This also puzzled me because it shows a different understanding of what guru is or does – he is the one who brings us to the wisdom of previous acharyas, almost like a ritvik. There is a caveat, however – if one thinks that everybody can read a book and so guru is only like a librarian, it isn’t so. Everybody can read everything, that is true, but what they see in these books is a different matter. On our own we see only what reflects in our minds and dismiss or overlook that which has no corresponding images in out brains, it just doesn’t register. Guru, on the other hand, opens our eyes to new levels of reality behind the same set of squiggly shapes on white paper.
“Om ajnana timirandhasya” – he opens my eyes which are covered by ignorance. It’s not a matter of what we look at, it’s the matter of what our eyes can see. The book the old man is talking about was written about five hundred years ago and is a staple reading for Orthodox Christians, but it takes a guru to see passages in it illuminating the mystery of unceasing prayer. It’s called Philokalia and it’s an 18th century compilation of much much older Christian texts. More about it later.
Pilgrim’s reaction was similar – “Why this book? Is it better than the Bible?” Everybody has the Bible already but it doesn’t teach people unceasing prayer, at least not directly, so why another book? The old man replied that no, of course it’s not better than the Bible, but that it contains instructions by the acharyas and it opens up what Bible keeps secret from general population, including instructions of praying. He compared the Bible to the Sun – we can’t look at the Sun directly, we need something like arcwelder’s glass or some other device. Philokalia is such a device for reading the Bible.
So far so good – guru introduces us to the treasures of the parampara, to the collective wisdom of the devotees who came before us. Notice how this principle is followed even in Christianity – the old man hasn’t introduced anything new and he warned the pilgrim that approaching the scripture on one’s own is dangerous. And then he gave the actual mantra – the Jesus Prayer. I thought every Christian knew it but the pilgrim, apparently, heard it for the first time. The prayer itself also came from the book, btw – the old man was reading out the exact instructions:
‘Sit down alone and in silence. Lower your head, shut your eyes, breathe out gently, and imagine yourself looking into your own heart. Carry your mind, that is, your thoughts, from your head to your heart. As you breathe out, say “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Say it moving your lips gently, or simply say it in your mind. Try to put all other thoughts aside. Be calm, be patient, and repeat the process very frequently.’
“The process” itself is fairly common, but rarely practiced. We are told to chant japa loudly, or at least loud enough to hear ourselves, but, traditionally, japa was not meant to be heard. Putting aside considerations of which method is better, there is a lot to be said about the process given here. In fact, I would argue that it’s what we are supposed to do, too, with only difference being that our chanting should be audible. All other components should be the same.
In the early days, both in ISKCON and in our personal practice, we tend to fall asleep if we close our eyes and lower our heads. Loud chanting in the company of other devotees helps to overcome that, but we are not in our early days anymore and the danger of falling asleep should have passed already. Now we CAN sit down alone and in silence and close our eyes and bring our mind into our hearts and chant quietly, only for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be counted towards our japa rounds and one does not require beads for this, but beads help concentration and discipline, too, so why not? The only difference is the prayer itself.
Wikipedia’s version of Jesus prayer is longer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” but wikipedia acknowledges variations. Here we don’t have “Son of God” and we don’t have “sinner” – “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” How does that compare to our Hare Krishna mantra? First of all, our mantra doesn’t have God in it. “God” is a relationship with the Divinity that does not figure in our Gaudiya Siddhanta. We just say that Krishna is also God for those who don’t live in Vrindavan, but in Vrindavan He isn’t. Since we are not Vrindavan ourselves we can address Him as God and capitalize His pronouns, but this is a conditional and not an absolute understanding.
“Jesus” has a Hebrew meaning and it refers to one who “saves” or who “delivers”. Common Sanskrit name with the same meaning is Mukunda – one who gives (da) liberation (mukti). This aspect is not present in Hare Krishna mantra, too, because, ideally, we should not be caring for liberation. The concept of liberation means there is a duality of our vision – this is bad and should be rejected and that is good and should be accepted. In our acintya bheda-abheda philosophy, however, EVERYTHING is intimately connected with the Lord and therefore there is nothing to reject and there are no Krishna’s gifts to be liberated from.
“Christ” comes from Greek and has a meaning of “anointed” there. Plus, whoever chants this Jesus Prayer definitely refers to one historic personality of Jesus Christ, who is “anointed”. Our equivalent is “Blessed Lord” in the first editions of Bhagavad Gita As It Is, which was later dismissed as too Christian and as assuming that Krishna needs someone’s blessings to become similarly “anointed”. Srila Prabhupada never used “Blessed Lord” himself and we do not miss its removal. Krishna is not “anointed”, He is the one who “anoints” everyone else. He is true “sat” – not just in the sense of “eternal” but also in the sense of “independent”. Absolutely everybody else, including all the Gods and gods and Vishnu tattvas, are dependent on Krishna. He is the only true “sat” personality out there. Anyway, without going into explanations of Trinity, Jesus is seen as God and not as a dependent entity, so the difference is not so big on this one.
It matters far more how one personally perceives either Jesus or Krishna or Rama. Word meaning does not go from dictionaries into the heart but from the heart to the lips, and dictionaries can take a hike. Nevertheless, dictionary meanings of “Lord”, “Jesus”, and “Christ” are there and I bet for most Christians they are what they feel in the heart, too. If we want we also can assign the same meanings to Krishna’s names in our mantra, but we really shouldn’t – in the ideal, pure chanting of the Holy Name these meanings are not present.
Then there’s “have mercy on me”, which is a verb followed by the object of the prayer. In standard explanation of Hare Krishna mantra this call for mercy is also there, though it’s more “engage me in Your service”, which is what we understand by real mercy. In Russian translation, this “have mercy” means more of “forgive me for my sins”, and so later addition of “have mercy on me, the sinner” completes the thought very nicely. Nicely in a sense that it makes it complete, not in a sense that we would totally approve of this prayer.
Hare Krishna mantra is ultimately chanted for the pleasure of the Lord. It doesn’t matter whether He showers His mercy on us or not – it’s not a concern at all. We just want Him to listen and to feel happy about it. In other explanations anything related to ourselves is purged from the meaning of Hare Krishna mantra altogether – the Name dances by itself and we are not participants. “Hare” refers to Krishna calling for Radha and “Krishna” and “Rama” refer to Radha calling for Krishna. They are perfectly happy together and we are the third wheel in this relationship. We only provide our tongues, and even tongues are not truly ours as they are made from matter. The mysteries of the Hare Krishna mantra go deeper and deeper but our actual realizations can’t catch up so there is no point in theorizing about something we/I can’t experience. What I can say with confidence is that our chanting shouldn’t be focused on our own benefits, on what we have done in the past, whether we were sinners or not, it shouldn’t be focused on what we can obtain in the future, it shouldn’t depend on whether Krishna “has mercy” on us or not – the flow of love should be unconditional and uninterrupted – ahaituki apratihata. It’s about Radha-Krishna, not about us.
In this way we can definitely see value in these instructions, but we also should keep in mind a relatively lower conception of the Absolute and the purpose of the prayer given here. At least at its starting point – it WILL get better later on.
We all know it’s bad but let’s hear how Krishna talks about it to Uddhava in the 11th Canto:
para-svabhāva-karmāṇi na praśaṁsen na garhayet
para — anyone else’s; svabhāva — nature; karmāṇi — and activities; napraśaṁset — one should not praise; nagarhayet — one should not criticize;
The translation should be obvious here – one should neither praise to criticize others. Two simple rules. There is another rule hidden here, however, and it’s been decoded in this verse by Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami in CC Antya 8.80: ‘Between the former rule and the latter rule, the latter is more important.’
This means there is rule #1, rule #2, and rule #3, stating that #2 is more important than #1. If we are compelled to speak about others and have to make a choice than offering praise breaks rule #1 (and not rules #2 and #3), but criticizing others breaks two rules – #2 and #3 (but not #1).
Put it another way – on first reading there are two rules and if you break one your fault is at 50%, but when this third, hidden rule is considered than offering praise brings your fault to only 33% (one rule out of three) and criticism raises it to 66% (two out of three). This means that criticizing others is twice as bad as praising them. Fascinating math is at work here.
Still the question remains – why praising is the sin, too? One thing is the nature of the praise itself and I don’t want to delve into it now. What we should definitely avoid is being enamored with “achievements” because that obviously leads to creating material attachments. The point Krishna makes in the rest of the verse is different:
viśvam ekātmakaṁ paśyan prakṛtyā puruṣeṇa ca
viśvam — the world; eka–ātmakam — based on one reality; paśyan — seeing; prakṛtyā — along with nature; puruṣeṇa — with the enjoying soul; ca — also.
Let’s focus on the first part here – both “achievements” and “faults” are part of ONE reality. Just yesterday a new explanation of this came out, based on Nyaya Sutras. Rule #3 above also came from Nyaya, btw, as was explained by Srila Prabhupada in the purport to that CC verse. That Nyaya Sutras article is rather complicated so I’ll only restate its conclusions and if you want proof then go through that sequence of sutras yourself.
The reality is like the famous Yin-Yang, it is ONE but has black and white sides to it. Black contains white, white contains black, and they continuously merge in and out of each other and absorb each other in turns.
In other words, the reality contains both good and bad, and within each “good” there is an unmanifested seed of “bad” which will eventually grow and absorb the very “good” it has grown out of. And then everything will become “bad” but carrying an unmanifested seed of “good” inside which will eventually grow and wipe out all the “bad” around it. But will keep the seeds of “bad” inside which will eventually grow and wipe out all the “good”, and so on and on and on indefinitely. Therefore there are two rules – take shelter of neither good nor bad. They are one and the same and both should be avoided.
Okay, but what about rule #3 then? Where does it come from and why “good” is made better than “bad”? I’m afraid I can’t answer it based on Nyaya for the simple reason I don’t know where it came from exactly and how it is explained there. In this Bhagavatam verse, however, it was Krishna who put “good” first and made it a lesser evil than “bad”, and it’s usually easier for us to understand Krishna than to understand Nyaya.
The Yin-Yang description is good for the world itself but it does not include existence of the spiritual reality and it doesn’t include the connection between the two. Krishna, however, tells Uddhava how to leave this world and enter into transcendental reality, and with that in mind He traces a path out of the indefinite sequence of “good” and “bad”. This was a chapter on Jnana yoga which is a mechanical process of stopping the wheel of samsara. The wheel, btw. The WHEEL! In the wheel analogy a thing that is currently down will eventually be up and that which is up will be eventually brought down. The “upness” and “downness” of a thing are both embedded within and, in due course of time, will come out and become dominant. That which made you a winner will make you into a loser, too, and that which made you a loser will bring you victory as well.
In any case, there is a path out and Krishna illuminates the stepping stones that won’t make us sink into samsara again. “Do this, then that, and never do those things, and if you can’t avoid it then it’s better to do these things, but you should remember that if you step into this you will eventually sink if you don’t move out in time.” It’s like a dance where all the floor tiles are equal in shape and size but correct sequence of steps and correct timing create something transcendental to the floor and to the tiles – a dance.
In a similar way the Lord guides us through the events of this world, partaking in some and avoiding others, and when we do it right and respond to His movements it creates a beautiful dance of life. Sometimes it’s Lord sankirtana movement that overwhelms everyone who comes in touch with it. At other times it looks mystically enchanting to others. And yet at other times they don’t get it at all and turn away in disgust. They can have their opinions, but what we should remember is that we are not “dancing on the floor” – we are “dancing with the Lord”.
“Eyes up here, please,” as they love to say in a somewhat different context. But it’s the same principle.
I took a one-week break and it was for a reason – the subject matter is very grave and it has to be approached in the right frame of mind. Even more – the right frame of mind has to develop on its own and we can’t rush these things. I could have kept blabbering about each line in the book but words would have diluted the meaning. Towards the end of his life Thomas Aquinas shared with his confidant: “The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.” We might never agree on what he meant exactly, but we can take these words to mean that thinking, talking, and writing about things is nowhere near the same as to know them from direct experience. I saw a rendering of this quote where when TA compared his writings to straw he meant that they were destined to be burned to ashes on meeting the Truth Itself. To put it simply – talking too much cheapens the thing. Nevertheless, continue I must.
Last time we left the pilgrim walking nowhere in particular, frustrated, when an old man caught up with him and invited him to his “house program”. The pilgrim showed no interest and I feel compelled to complete their conversation with our typical subtext: “I know everything you can tell me, old man. I’ve been to hundreds of these programs already, there is nothing new to be learned there, and I have a real problem to solve, far above your limited understanding, so forgive me for not being very excited. My problem is above your pay grade.”
The beauty of acintya-bheda-abheda philosophy, however, is that every tiny part of the Absolute can display the power of the whole thing. Every mantra, every quote, even if repeated hundreds and thousands of times without any effect, can reveal the full glory of the Lord in an instant. You never know when and where it can happen and so one should always be respectful and prepared to be blown away. This is what the old man did.
He inquired about pilgrim’s problem and said that in his … erm, I don’t know what’s the right word for a forest dwelling built by elderly monks seeking renunciation from world’s worries, and they are not really monks and it’s not really a monastery. They are just old people living together on their own, they have no titles and no standing in the society. Direct translation would be “desert” but even in modern Russian it’s not used this way anymore because these communities no longer exist. But we can reflect on the meaning of “desert” here – it’s not about sand and heat and lack of water. It’s about lack of worldly worries – that’s what turns it into “desert”. In Russian the root of this word comes from “nothing”. And it was ten miles off the main road. Anyway, the old man said that his people know lots of things and can answer all sorts of questions, so “What is it?”
“A year ago I heard that one should chant the Holy Name incessantly, not only when one is awake but also when one is asleep. How is it possible?” The actual question was much longer, had scriptural references, and showed deeply felt hankering for a solution, but space is short. This is the point where one should realize that questions of this nature shouldn’t be taken lightly, that they should come from the heart and shine with sincerity. Only then we can expect any real answers. Before that happens even the guru will be cheating us. Even the guru won’t disclose that which we are not really eager to hear. The glory of the Holy Name must always be protected from idle talk.
Upon hearing this inquiry the old man crossed himself. Not every day one meets a person who is so eager for the Truth, and this eagerness itself is already worshipable (acintya bheda-abheda again), and at this point of spiritual journey one must attain sraddha, one must attain faith in the words of the guru, and for that the guru must dispel disciple’s doubts and earn his trust, and at the same time one must not disclose everything at once, as per above paragraph. The old man handled it brilliantly. First, he explained what the problem really was and what was at its root. This showed the pilgrim that he “gets it” and demonstrated that he has a very deep understanding of the issue. It also blamed it on others, thus creating a bond between guru and disciple against “them”. While he was explaining all this, they almost reached his place and the pilgrim was all primed for actually confidential instructions, but that I will leave for the next time. For now I’ll just try to translate old man’s introductory speech. Not to English, which is already available here, but to “Vaishnava”.
First of all, one should be grateful to the Lord for the appearance of such a desire in his heart. We should realize that it’s a call from the Lord and this should fill us with comfort and confidence. While the laulyam itself, the eagerness for Krishna, grows within one’s own heart, it’s brought there from the outside. It’s not our invention and it’s not a phenomenon produced by this world. As I said before, when it comes it’s almost like the appearance of the Lord Himself because they are intrinsically linked. In fact, sometimes devotees pray for his laulyam more than they pray for the Lord Himself – because prema pumartha mahan – bhakti is a reward in itself, there is nothing greater than love of God, not even God Himself in person. Bhakti compels everyone – us, Srimati Radharani, Krishna – everyone.
One should take comfort in this understanding and one should realize that everything that happened before was only a test of one’s readiness. The Holy Name is always there, but we start striving for it only when we are ready. Thus we should see all other limbs of devotional service as training and preparation. Until we start hankering for The Name this preparation is incomplete. It’s necessary, it has to be passed, one has to invest himself very seriously, but it’s not the real thing yet. All other aspirations should fade away and one should appear to the world as a depressed person bereft of joie-de-vivre, bereft of joy of life. Many devotees today are afraid of being perceived as such but that’s the deal – if you want to live your life than Holy Name isn’t for you. Yet. Another requirement is simplicity – one must not approach the Holy Name while thinking of some other benefits. It’s not that “let me succeed in chanting and then everyone will get off my back”. Or “and my pain will go away”. Or anything else other than the Holy Name itself. All these other aspirations, hidden deep within the heart, are sings of duplicity. We need simplicity instead – nothing by the Holy Name.
There is no wonder other people can’t help us here, for they are in the same position as us – lacking qualification, lacking sincerity, lacking simplicity, but rich in selfish desires. They can talk, they can pontificate, they can give lectures, they can write books (or blog articles) but, since they approach this subject by the strength of their minds and on rationality of their God given intelligence, and not on the direct experience, their instructions are mostly concerned with external features of the unceasing chanting and not with its essence. They can talk about its benefits, about its power, about its auspiciousness, about its fruits, about procedures and techniques. They can tell us what we need – softheartedness, purity, honesty, attention, non-enviousness, humility, and so on. But what IS this unceasing chanting and how to chant like that? That they can’t say and can’t demonstrate. Rarely one will find instructions on these most important questions. These answers require direct experience, not scholarly thinking. Moreover, mental deliberations tinged with mundane commotions force us to measure divinity by our own material standards. Some go even further and claim that pure chanting can be obtained by sadhana, by doing some heroic service, that it will be some sort of a reward and so one must simply try very hard. They completely miss the point that all these heroic deeds are produced from chanting, they do not cause it. Sadhana is produced from chanting, too – it’s what you do when you love God. What we do now is mostly imitating it. I’m not against following sadhana – I am saying that when the pure Name appears in one’s heart one would “perform sadhana” with genuine love and devotion, not with the word “perform” in mind. Whatever we do in our devotional service, chanting is at the root of it. We are able to do these things now only because we have touched the Holy Name one way or another before. We wouldn’t be doing it if we had zero experience.
Without the pure Name we won’t find our way to Krishna. It simply won’t happen. Therefore we should chant and chant and chant as much as we can. As often as possible. This is, really, all we can contribute ourselves – because, as I said, the appearance of the Name and even the appearance of genuine eagerness for the Name is a gift from God. It has to be given. Or, rather, our offering for chanting many rounds has to be accepted. It’s like you can bring your goods to the market but the final word is by the customer. Of course if you don’t bring your goods there will not be even the possibility of making a sale. So, once again, all we can contribute ourselves is our efforts, and our efforts should be incessant.
That was quite an introduction. Let it sink in for a moment, let it brew in my mind for a couple of days. There is no use of going forward until these fundamental truths are fully established in our minds.
Out of the blue Bhakti Vikasa Swami dedicated a whole talk to “falldown of Harikesa”.
He says he felt he wanted to say something after watching this video. I watched it, too, though not recently. I’m not going to re-watch it or go throgh BVKS response minute by minute. I will just say that I was surprised how BVKS got so much wrong. I blame it on him doing no research whatsoever, except maybe repeating what he remembers from the official GBC releases from that era. He certainly didn’t try to find out Hari’s side of the story.
In ISKCON he is still presented as Harikesa but he himself prefers to be addressed as Hari and I think this should be accounted for. I see it as his personal rebellion against what he considers as an unwelcome imposition on his persona. The name given at his initiation was the root of everything else that came with it and so he rebels at the very concept of “guru” as it is understood in ISKCON. At the same time he does not reject his relationship with Srila Prabhupada, he is just allergic to the “guru” aspect of it, which he considers as external and rather limiting. “Limiting” because it was good and useful for some time but after that time had passed and lessons had been learned he discarded it as no longer necessary formality. The actual relationship goes deeper than that. I think it’s like as if your father becomes your school teacher and you have to behave accordingly and your father calls you by your last name just like he does everybody else, but this teacher-student relationship is external to your father-son connection and you can’t bring it home. It has to be left outside if you want to preserve real bonds of unconditional love between you two.
That aside, I think Hari and his remaining followers would simply laugh at the suggestion that Hari has left Krishna Consciousness. It would sound ridiculous to them but it’s the basis of BVKS entire talk. Sheer nonsense. I can’t speak on Hari’s behalf, I don’t think he would be interested in explaining himself to ISKCON, and I’m not sure he’d want any of his followers to respond either, but I feel pretty confident I know enough to try and explain his situation.
First off, he left ISKCON in 1998, not 1999, and it was a drawn out process, not a moment’s decision – it lasted months. Much of this time Harikesa (not Hari yet at the time) spent trying to convince GBC that ISKCON can’t continue in the same vein and he would not stay (as everybody expected) unless ISKCON dramatically changed its course. GBC did not bulge and Harikesa left. Now, I say “GBC” but it was actually GBC EC, and it was actually one or two people speaking on EC’s behalf. I wasn’t there and don’t know all the details. There are still many devotees who lived through this very difficult period and, in fact, just a couple of weeks ago I heard another account as it was experienced on ISKCON side of things.
Eye witnesses in this case, however, are not very reliable because everybody was very heavily affected and everybody had his own perspective, often not shared by even his close friends. I know my understanding is very incomplete as well, but I can point to reliable sources who went on record. Reliable might also mean “I don’t trust half of what he says” because even that limitation makes the other half still “true” and therefore possible to rely on. But I don’t think we need to dwell on the details at all. Nobody came out spotless, pure, and fluffy out of that period. Mistakes were made, words were said, but, with time, we should be able to see past that. Those were just fluctuations, only spikes on the “long arch of the universe” that bends towards justice. For primary sources one could read “Good Old Days” discussions on Hari’s forum. I also looked at archived snapshots of his site – he eventually deleted all controversial material from there. There are also tons of his audio recordings where he speaks about ISKCON and Prabhupada from time to time. In summary, his post-1998 development is characterized, in my eyes, as “anything but ISKCON”. He consciously purged all ISKCON affiliations and authorities from his life and from his talks. Babies have been thrown out with the water but it’s an understandable reaction. Can the loss be substituted in the long run? I believe it can – because his is a different branch growing from the same root. The nutrients will eventually reach him, too. This takes me back to “falldown from Krishna Consciousness”.
In Hari’s understanding he is far more Krishna Conscious today than he was in ISKCON. He still quotes from Bhagavad Gita, still relies on examples of Lord Caitanya and Six Goswamis, and his life is centered around his relationship with his Radha-Krishna deities. He is very very close to them, so close that he won’t even post their pictures on the internet – if people want to see Them they should come to Them personally. One prominent ISKCON sannyasi, after seeing them, said that his deities are really alive. That might have been flattery but it’s undeniable how often Hari refers to his deities as the source of his strength, the source of his inspiration, the source of his knowledge, the source of love for others and so on. I will repeat it again – the time he spends in the company of his deities is the foundation of his life. Everything else sprouts from it.
BVKS at one point mentioned how Harikesa Swami, in the “Glimpses” video, was telling devotees that they should never fall down but then fell down himself. I remember it differently. I rather remember how what Harikesa Swami said in that speech is almost exactly the same as what Hari tells his followers now, sans ISKCON paraphernalia and sans institutional spin required to be put on by an ISKCON guru and a sannyasi. That speech centered around devotees having real relationships with the deities, too. That’s what we are never supposed to give up, not following ISKCON norms and regulations.
Several times in the video BVKS brought up the importance of following sadhana. No one is against that, but sadhana is a personal thing. It looks the same when everyone lives in the temple but once people build lives on their own they should set their own sadhana according to their situation, and then follow that. BVKS came across as thinking that Krishna Consciousness is the result of following one uniform sadhana. This is the kind of thinking that was utterly rejected by Harikesa back in 1998. I mean we should all remember that bhakti is not caused by sadhana and that actual loving devotion cannot be manifested within boundaries set by external sadhana rules. Latest example I’ve seen is that Jagannatha Dasa Babaji shared his prasadam plate with dogs. A devotee compliance with sadhana is voluntary and is not required. One could object that we are not on that level yet and so sadhana for us is a must. This kind of thinking was also rejected in 1998.
I don’t know how to put it without provoking unnecessary controversy. How about this – you can’t make kids love Krishna by forcing rules on them. You can force them to bow down, you can force them to memorize slokas, but it won’t make them love Krishna. It would be rather counterproductive as many of our parents discovered for themselves. By 1998 Harikesa Swami was in the movement for some 25 years and much of this time he was one of the most powerful spiritual leaders, as was freely admitted by BVKS himself. You can’t say that he had no love and devotion in his heart and depended solely on following sadhana. But that’s what BVKS effectively said. I don’t want to cast any aspersions on Maharaja’s personality, but to Hari and his followers this sounds like an eternal neophyte dragging everyone down to his own level, for otherwise – for the neophyte – the world doesn’t make sense. I know that in personal relations BVKS is far more accommodating and warm than in this talk, but he was channeling a rather common ISKCON way of thinking. Utterly rejected in 1998, as I said. Dogmatic, bigoted, cold, permeated by envy – the worst features produced by any organized religion. We all have it in us so it’s not a personal dig at BVKS. I’m also guilty of this thinking and of imposing my rules and judgments on others – look at this article itself!
Back to 1998 – in Hari’s own version, he was devastated by financial losses on Russian stock market. It wasn’t *his* losses. I doubt he had sufficient understanding how the money was made there to accept personal responsibility. The company was created by one devotee who was inspired by Harikesa Swami’s disciple and he named that company after her. He got initiated by Harikesa Swami later – he wasn’t a brahmachari ordered to go and learn stock markets. As I heard in memories of recently departed Brahmananda Puri, Harikesa Swami would sometimes tell him how much money he needed and Brahmananda would find a way to make it happen. As far as I know, Brahmananda himself was not up to date on how that stock company worked either – the nitty-gritty was left to the devotee actually running it. Brahmananda had several other businesses as well and Harikesa Swami had no idea how to actually run those either. How could he be held responsible? Only in a very limited way. Besides, it was a stock market meltdown on the scale of an entire country and it couldn’t have been avoided. If we say devotees should never take risks like that I would answer that devotees exist in this world precisely to “launder” people’s money. They, the people, all earn it in nefarious and sinful ways and only us, devotees, are capable of purifying these offences by engaging this money in service of Krishna, which Harikesa Swami did. Most of this money went into Mayapur, btw.
Another aspect of the “falldown” was even more important (if true). When Harikesa Swami was made GBC chairman he learned about the extent of women and child abuse in ISKCON and he tried to do something about it. Having money played a big part in his ability to persuade others to go along and, conversely, losing money made him powerless. This was a big part of negotiations in the summer of 1998 as well – GBC thought they could use the funds in any way they wanted while Harikesa and his donors supported his agenda or demanded their money back. The fact that GBC did not support the reforms Harikesa Swami initiated also played the part in his decision to part with ISKCON altogether.
One could say that we’ve never heard of these reforms so it might be a made up excuse to make himself sound better as a champion of women’s rights. I admit I’m largely unaware of those reforms, too, though I did hear a few words about it. This is not important, however, what is important is that “women’s rights” was the main reason why Harikesa Swami decided to break with Srila Prabhupada as his “guru”. In the video BVKS said that Harikesa blamed Prabhupada for his own problems, but in Hari’s view he blamed Prabhupada for what happened to ISKCON’s women and children everywhere. He didn’t blame him for forcing Harikesa to take sannyasa, which also meant he had to keep his vows against his personal desires. No, Hari blames Prabhupada for forcing all of ISKCON to follow the same path of renunciation, in all ashramas, including grihasthas. He rejected this entire path, he rejected the process. He did not reject the goal and he found another way to approach it.
This goes to the heart of the matter – what should be our relationship vis-a-vis “material nature”? All things considered, renouncing it doesn’t sound like a mature Gaudiya Vaishnava understanding. What makes it “material” is Maya but nature has its own existence free from Maya’s influence, too. Hari is learning to see it as Krishna’s energy, not as something separate we can enjoy ourselves, and, consequently, we need to develop appropriate relationships with it. “It” meaning everything manifested in this world – women, demigods – everything. ISKCON’s traditional understanding is that it’s all maya and all needs to be rejected – phalgu vairagya. Therefore one must be a sannyasi to be considered as a real devotee – everybody else is somewhere below, in the andha-kupa of married life. It might be accepted as necessary for many, but still “below”. Hari doesn’t see it that way, he sees it as Krishna’s energy which requires to be related accordingly and which derives its value from its relation with Krishna. If “treating it accordingly” requires to have sex then so be it – sannyasa by itself has no value in this structure and doesn’t make one better or more advanced. In fact, it rather makes one worse off spiritually because of insistence on external rules and drawing a line between one’s physical body and one’s consciousness which is always full of interactions with “material energy”. It’s a line between sex and no sex, with subtle sex in between (but still sex!). This distinction is artificial, in Hari’s view – it’s all sex anyway, the difference is some of it is inappropriate and other is perfectly fine and desired by the Lord Himself.
One of the common objections to Hari’s current views is that it’s “sahajiya”. I just said “sex desired by the Lord Himself”, for example. I don’t mean Krishna wants to have sex with us, I mean Krishna wants us to have sex with each other in the appropriate way. And by “each other” I mean absolutely every manifestation in this world – all interactions here are interactions between feminine and masculine energies, they are all sex. You plug your charger in the wall outlet and it’s “sex” already – the parts are designed to accommodate each other’s assigned “genders”. Absolutely every interaction in this world, if it has any chance of success, must be between feminine and masculine energy. There is nothing “sahajiya” about this understanding. How about I turn the argument around and say that anyone who thinks that “sahajiya” is to think that attaining Krishna Consciousness is as easy as following sadhana and one does not bother himself with subtleties of interactions between sakti and saktiman. “Sahajiya” is when we think that what we already have (4 regs and 16 rounds) equals Krishna Consciousness already.
Well, of course it’s not “sahajiya”, it’s just an argument for argument’s sake. Plus sahajiya has to feel good and one should not have to force himself and everybody else into following it, so our 4×16 combination doesn’t qualify. That last point was sarcastic.
One more thing about this feminine-masculine dynamic. As I said, it’s how the whole word works on absolutely every level. When scientists talk about our brains and how left and right hemisphere are different they talk about this same dynamic. Our bodies have both “male” and “female” part in them, the externally manifested gender is only the dominant “color”. We can place it at the top of hierarchy and on the levels below there would still be other male and female parts and behaviors. These parts and behaviors are common to all people but, depending on dominant gender at the top, they would manifest slightly differently.
What we tried for the first three decades of ISKCON is to purge all signs of femininity from it. It was undeniably a masculine in gender and it created an imbalance. That’s why Harikesa heard from the deities (more on that below) and he realized that it can’t continue like that. Harikesa left but then, in just a few years, the same shift happened anyway – everyone got married, brahmacharies went extinct, and female voices and attitudes asserted themselves. Today we call it “mission drift” and “watering down” and “so called devotees”. That might be true, but pure masculinity has no place in the spiritual world – we are all feminine energy there. And it has no place in this world either – it’s the domain of Sakti – Durga. Nor does it have place in Gaudiya philosophy, which is about Radha-Krishna – female energy cannot be excluded.
Personally, I already sense that after two decades of feminism our devotees are getting fed up with in, including feminists themselves, and are striving for the rise of masculine principles again. You don’t have to trust my “sixth sense” on this, I’m just saying that I see the symptoms everywhere. It’s like Maharaja Yudhisthira saw symptoms of Krishna’s departure everywhere in the nature around him. Birds behaved differently – how’s that connected to Krishna, a scientifically minded one might ask. But they are – these universal shifts are, well, universal. They can manifest everywhere, there doesn’t have to be a visibly traced connection. But that is getting off-topic.
It might appear from my arguments that Hari has made no mistakes at all and never said anything cringe worthy but I’m just avoiding his faults (as I perceive them) here. There is a very thin line between dealing with male-female energies appropriately and sliding into genuine sahajiya, for example. I would even say that we, as a society, haven’t figured it out after five hundred years and for every “sure we know” I could find legitimate examples from the opposite side, either working or not working – depending on what is the opposite of what you want to prove. We’ve had everything in our history, but that’s also a different subject.
Speaking of cringe – BVKS mentioned terrible horrible rendering of Sad Goswami Astaka by Harikesa Swami when he had that “Rasa” band. There were two versions and I guess Maharaja means this one here. Listen for yourself, I understand what he wanted to hear there but I think he is grossly exaggerating. There was another rendering, earlier one, I understand, and it’s available here. I don’t think Maharaja meant that one at all. He also mentioned that it was just Harikesha Swami and no one else, implying that no respectable devotee had joined. That’s not entirely true. In the early 90s they organized what was called “Gauranga Bhajan Band” and they toured several countries in Eastern Europe, culminating with a huge concert in Moscow with 30,000 people in attendance. That band included Sacinandana Swami and Moscow concert had Indradyumna Swami, BB Govinda Goswamis, and Bhakti Vaibhava Swami (our recent GBC chairman) jumping up and down on stage as well. “Rocking” like there was no tomorrow. That concert was one for the ages. If this elicits cringe in devotees then I don’t think it can be helped and I’d refer to the description with words “dogmatic” above. All said, there was a lot of stuff in Hari’s musical career that not everybody will be comfortable with, but it also produced this. I can’t think of any devotee who could top that offering of devotion. Singing someone else’s bhajans in a sweet sweet voice is just not on the same level. Finding your own song and your own words is a next stage in evolution. Not many devotees can write their own songs.
A couple of other things. BVKS said that Harikesa’s followers were not solid devotees and didn’t read our books. It was also based on a testimony from “Glimpes” video. I think I know what he refers and it was about the period when there were no Russian books to read and all devotees had were, indeed, those Rasa records. This very same devotee later published first underground Bhagavad Gita and Isopanishad, and then he became the head of Russian BBT, publishing about twenty million books. I have spent a lot of time with him, personally, and I would say that he is one of the most thoughtful and intelligent people I’ve ever met in my life. To say that he didn’t know our books is a claim I can’t accept in any shape or form. There were a lot of other devotees who left ISKCON after 1998, too. What about them? Did they know the books? Well… sankirtana devotees in those days were required to read two hours a day, it was an essential part of sadhana and it was followed everywhere. Only during marathon times devotees were allowed to reduce reading time to one hour. Then they all left as well. Contrast this with recent GBC report that 80% of our current leaders don’t read our books regularly.
So, what happened? Why did they leave it if wasn’t their sadhana (I’m talking about rank and file sankirtana devotees who collectively set world book distribution records) and if it wasn’t their reading? That’s a whole other topic by itself and I don’t want to tackle it here. I would repeat that Harikesa rejected the process and, interestingly, the process had created its own goal, not necessarily the same goal as we were supposed to achieve. In other words it created a different conception of the Lord than the Lord is Himself. That conception got shattered, but since Hari wasn’t beholden to it he himself survived. Those who had seen it constructed and then shattered left. Krishna, as He is, remained, of course.
There was also the whole story with the tantric and vibhuti. His name is Citesvara, I served as his interpreter when he came to Russia and I have a few things to say about him. First is that he won’t reject money from people ready to give it even if they don’t require any treatment. Second is that he follows his tradition and all his mantras, tantras, yantras, yajnas, kavacas, vibhutis – all his powers come from his istadeva, who is none other than Hanuman. It’s not a demigod worship at all. Do I need to say something in defense of Hanuman’s powers? I hope not. Maharaja himself mentioned Lord Vamana as presiding deity of health. How’s that different from approaching Hanuman for ghost protection? Or even from taking Tylenol from headache – whatever works. Third is that I personally witnessed Citesvara performing legitimate exorcism of truly possessed persons, just like they show them in the movies. To see people losing control of themselves and starting to behave like that – impossible to restrain and speaking in voices that I can describe only as “evil” – is very unnerving to say the least. I have no idea what I could have done if that person overpowered Citesvara, too. There was no escape from the room, no other exits. Luckily, Citesvara kept his cool and subdued the “demon” (we call them ghosts) with his peacock feathers, holy waters, and mantras. It actually worked, though I admit that I didn’t see the ghost getting inside that little box he locks them in. If someone claims that it was all bogus I could only shake my head and say they have no clue whatsoever.
Besides that, Hari himself offers several reasons why vibhuti could not have been the cause of his nervous breakdown. For one thing, it happened several months after he stopped taking it but withdrawal effects should be felt immediately. I myself seriously doubt that Citesvara knows western medicine well enough to spike his vibhuti, plus I doubt he could have easy access to psychotropic drugs even if he knew what was needed. Swedish lab results could have been caused by anything – we don’t know what exactly makes these ashes powerful in the first place. Their production might as well produce compounds that are known to western chemists as drugs. Speaking of medicine, one thing needs to be said.
In the video Maharaja said that Harikesa Swami went mad. Going by GBC reports it’s hard to disagree and one of them even features a diagnosis by psychiatrist. I can’t deny that at times Harikesa Swami seemed totally mad, but people should know that that psychiatrist never ever met him and diagnosing people this way is illegal and, when Harikesa Swami actually went for psychological evaluation, he was told that if he reported this diagnosis then that doctor would lose his licence. Oh, and Harikesa was declared perfectly sane by a psychiatrist who actually interviewed him.
One other interesting thing that needs to be said in this regard – during that summer he spent a lot of time with the deities, as I said already, and he felt a clear communication from them. When he mentioned it to GBC they thought it was a sign of madness, too. Their reasoning was that deities are made of stone and they don’t talk or communicate to people. In short – you can’t hear God. I understand that but, on the other hand – isn’t it what we came to ISKCON for? To establish connection with God? To Harikesa it seemed ridiculous and he didn’t need GBC approval or confirmation of what the deities “told” him. They don’t really “speak”, they communicate differently. One would have to go through hundreds of Hari’s lectures and meditations to understand this process. I haven’t done it but I know people, his followers, who did and for them this connection is as real as you reading these words. They don’t need anybody’s opinion to tell them whether it’s real or not – it’s the direct, self-evident experience, the kind Srila Prabhupada offered everyone when he taught us to chant Hare Krishna mantra.
After all these years we should know it and we should learn to recognize it in others. We should also learn to recognize fakes, but that is possible only when you know how the real thing works. It’s also a whole other different subject I won’t go right now.
All in all, I expected more from Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja. I don’t think he researched these things well enough and I believe when presented with additional information he would adjust his thinking accordingly. I don’t want this post to be addressed directly to him because it would require certain etiquette adjustment rather than me freely speaking my mind. I would conclude by saying that denying people’s spiritual experiences is at the very heart of this episode. If we admit that it was possible we would judge it one way, and if we deny it we would judge it differently. That’s all, really – we believe that ours is the only way and that we “got it” while other devotees must be bogus.
Last time we left the pilgrim unable to digest a fairly straightforward and self-evident advice – ask the Holy Name to guide you in how to chant the Holy Name. It’s obvious to us thanks to simple philosophical lessons we learn on day one with Lord Caitanya – the Name is non-different from Krishna and so it can fulfill all desires just as if Krishna was present personally. There is nothing the Name can’t do.
This should give us better appreciation for Lord Caitanya’s contribution to human progress. Without Him people just could not put two and two together. It’s also notable how pilgrim’s society was not ready for Lord Caitanya’s message. It had to wait for over a hundred years before it became digestible. A lot of things happened during that time and here’s a novel way to connect the dots.
PIlgrim’s Diary became a blockbuster of a book and philosophy of non-difference between the Name and God became a reality, especially in the Russian monastery on Mt Athos. It was declared a heresy by the church (they blame it on the council charged with deliberating the matter being overrun by Protestant advisors from Germany). Following the verdict Russian emperor had to sent military (!!!) ships to forcibly relocate the dissenting monks from Athos to undergo re-education elsewhere. The idea didn’t die, of course, and found its way into chambers of Russian elites contemplating the nature of God, the world, the Word and so on. After Bolshevik revolution it was these thinkers who started the new, revolutionary school of Soviet mathematics. It’s fundamental difference was acceptance, as a matter of fact, that mathematical formulas are a reality of their own, that language of mathematics is the language of nature itself, and symbols and things they signify are intrinsically connected.
These new mathematics became the basis of new, revolutionary physics, and then revolutionary chemistry, biology, and so on. By the time Ananta Santi started talking to scientists about the power of mantra in the 70s there was already a state sponsored lab studying this exact same phenomenon – the connection between sound and “reality”. Ananta Santi didn’t even have to preach about God, they just took him in for speaking about mantras and it became an official government project. But forget those mad scientists. All the ordinary devotees remember that in those days they didn’t know anything except that there is this maha-mantra and that it has all the powers in the world. That’s all they preached, for the simple reason they didn’t know anything else – no books, no philosophy, nothing. They tested this power on anything they could think of and they had no doubts.
The pilgrim, however, couldn’t comprehend any of it and was left dissatisfied. This inability to parse the answer bothered him very much and he walked 200 miles thinking about it and unable to sleep. Suddenly, he found himself in a provincial capital with a big church and an abbot who really loved to serve traveling Christians. Pilgrims in those days were like sannyasis to Indians – they had to be taken care of, served, fed, sheltered and asked for blessings, of course. This pilgrim posed a different question, however – how to attain liberation. The abbot gave a standard answer – live according to commandments, pray to Jesus, and salvation is yours. The pilgrim, naturally latched on this mention of prayer and asked what he really wanted to know – what is unceasing prayer, how to attain it? How is it possible?
In response the abbot went to fetch a book and then read a passage from it. The gist of it was that constant prayer means prayer of the mind. When the mind is… Oh, forget translations – it was an equivalent of “man mana bhava” verse. Always think about the Lord. “How to always think of God,” asked the pilgrim. “I don’t really know,” replied the abbot, “understanding might come by God’s mercy,” and that was the end of the conversation.
Nevertheless, the pilgrim learned something new and something important – the mind must be engaged. How, he did not know. And he also heard that the Name must reveal itself, the Name cannot be forced, not even the method is possible to grasp without mercy. It was spoken not in these words but that was the lesson anyway. Unable to comprehend it, the pilgrim set off on his way, frustrated and without any particular destination. He walked about five days along the main road when an elderly man caught up with him. He looked like a devotee but not very mainstream, and he started begging the pilgrim to visit their neighboring nama-hatta. He glorified their prasadam, kirtans, association – everything, but the pilgrim wasn’t moved. His mind was lost in searching for his answer and he didn’t feel like another house program somewhere is going to do anything for him. The old devotee, however, was persistent.
And that’s how the pilgrim met his guru.
Their conversations deserve their own posts, and probably more than one. For now, however, I hope you can see the irony of the situation – the pilgrim was given correct answer to his question twice but it didn’t register. He was then sent a devotee to guide him personally but he didn’t pay attention – so many devotees say so many things and never to the point. Like right now, for example, if you go to ISKCON Vrindavan youtube channel there are tons of recent videos, you can scroll the whole year back, so many speakers, but who can we listen to? All of them? I’ve never heard any of their names. The ones I tried basically stay on message and faithfully repeat the siddhanta, which is a method in itself – simply repeating things over and over again. It’s advised even in Vedanta sutra but, and I can attest to it, it does absolutely nothing to engaging the mind. The effect is rather the opposite – one would think about literally anything else but the subject matter which is being repeated over and over again.
The pilgrim got caught in exactly the same situation, and yet the Lord didn’t give up on him. The Lord didn’t pay attention to the pilgrim avoiding the answer and, finally, He got through. Note to myself – do not avoid listening to boring repetitive lectures when they are foisted upon you. The Lord arranges it for a reason.
I’m still trying to catch up with how far I progressed with the book already so that what I say here is fresh at least in my consciousness. Maybe tomorrow. Nevertheless, there were a couple of things I didn’t mention yesterday and I think they are important to estimate the scale of the task the pilgrim is up to.
Vedic thought is commonly divided into six darsanas, six philosophical schools. Here lies the main problem – philosophy means “love of wisdom” while darsan means “seeing”. We are talking about two fundamentally different approaches to knowledge as if they were one and the same. It’s true that Vedic thinkers loved to philosophize as well, but we still shouldn’t forget that Vedic knowledge means experience, means actually seeing things you are talking about.
When we talk about six darsanas we know that our position is right at the top of the hierarchy, it’s Vedanta – the peak, the summit, the end of all knowledge. This makes us think of other darsanas as inferior but it’s not exactly like that. These six darsanas are like six faces of the dice – you see the one that is on top but it doesn’t mean the other five are false. I can’t delve into details right now, but I think it’s nice to think of the four first ones, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Sankhya, and Yoga, as facing four cardinal directions. This means that there are adjacent schools and that there are opposites, and that’s also too much detail I don’t want to touch atm. The two remaining schools, then, would be Purva and Uttara Mimamsa, with “Uttara” literally meaning “upper”. In this way we still end on top, and our opposite side, Purva Mimamsa, is opposite in that it’s fundamentally atheistic. Don’t want to go into details of that either.
The pilgrim doesn’t mention the word philosophy even once, even though it’s present in English translation. He is not after philosophy, he is not after wisdom, he is after actually seeing God, though he calls it “unceasing prayer”. We know better what he is after, he just doesn’t have the language for that … yet. It will be mentioned in due course of time.
Those who joined ISKCON in a traditional way remember how in the beginning they thought that the magic of personal association with Krishna is just around the corner. They (me included) thought that senior devotees are relishing it already. Hridayananda Dasa Goswami remembers how he went on a first sankirtana in a van and one devotee nodded off and started drooling on the way. He thought that this devotee was in genuine samadhi and was really really impressed. He thought he’d come to the right place, after all.
Then we realize that no, “senior devotees” are just like us. But we believe the sannyasis are the ones who really made it. Then we realize that sannyasis are also mostly ordinary people and do not go into trance every time they close their eyes. But our guru is surely a living resident of Goloka! Then it turns out that he is not, and Hridayananda Dasa Goswami might be the first one to tell you that about himself. What do we do then? Lose our faith? Of course not.
We find a way to explain their constant connection to God in some other ways. We find a different meaning to “God’s representative”. We get creative. I don’t mean that our understanding of guru shouldn’t evolve, but I would insist that our new understanding shouldn’t lead to us thinking that we ourselves almost made it, too, even though we do not have any direct contact with Krishna. Certainly not in the way we imagined it would be when we first heard of it.
Right now we know a lot and we can explain everything and we can behave like wise persons but that would still make us into philosophers, not into seers of the Absolute. Our knowledge is like a pride of being half pregnant. What’s there to be proud of? And what would be our destination?
The pilgrim doesn’t want to put up with explanations anymore. He heard the sastra speak to him and he heard the order to pray incessantly. He wants to actually experience it, he wants to put it to actual practice. Our aspiration should be the same.
One more thing – we often hear that God must be seen through ears, ie by listening. Listening to sabda-pramana, the authority – guru, sastra, that type of thing. This is fine, but we should also note that our acharyas stressed the supremacy of pratyaksa – direct sense perception. Aksa means “eye”, btw. We’ve been told that our senses are unreliable and that sabda pramana beats it all the time. I would argue that it’s a misunderstanding. It applies to gathering knowledge about this world but perception of the Absolute should be direct. Srila Prabhupada stressed this point from the very beginning. The first thing he said to everybody was that Holy Name is non-different from God and by chanting it we come in direct contact with the Absolute. He compared philosophizing about it to licking a bottle of honey from the outside while he gave us a direct method to taste the actual honey.
Our acharyas say that sabda pramana that contradicts direct perception must be rejected as faulty. That’s a radical statement, but they meant “sabda pramana” as “words of an authority” in a sense of using Google Maps to drive somewhere. In general, it’s an authority, but if you come to a dead end but Google says to go forward then this authority must be rejected. In a similar way, sastra for us is like Google Map Timbuktu. We accept its authority, but when we get to Timbuktu for real then if there are disagreements between authority and actual landscape then direct perception overrules sastra. With all due respect and all that.
This previous paragraph has nothing to do with the pilgrim and I hope we will never see any contradictions with sastra, but it’s just something to be kept in mind. Moreover, sastric viddhi, sastric prescriptions, have no authority over raganuga bhakti. If we choose the way of rules instead of the way of rasa then rasa will not reveal itself to us, as simple as that. This relationship is personal, the most personal we will ever have, and it means that the Name’s opinion on what’s right and what’s wrong should reign supreme. This, of course, can lead to outright sahajiya so caution should still be there, especially in the beginning, but that is a subject for a whole new discussion. In my experience, the Name will never lead us to breaking the rules, but people will find something to blame us for anyway. Infamy, I’m sorry to say, is the integral part of the deal. There is a Russian saying in this regard – one must have to pass through fire, water, and “copper pipes”. I haven’t seen an adequate English translation yet. The meaning is not to actually go through copper pipes, the meaning is to endure glorification by pipers blowing brass instruments. We must pass through this test as well. We cannot keep attachments to other people’s opinions of us.
“By Krishna’s mercy I somehow got initiated in ISKCON. By behavior I’m an ordinary sense enjoyer, within the four regs, of course, but still. By profession I’m rather useless.” In the actual book it’s “great sinner” and “homeless wanderer” but I’m trying to keep parallels as much as possible. As a homeless pilgrim his possessions were a backpack with dried bread on the back and a copy of a Bible in his front pocket, close to his chest. In other words, behind me is essential material support, meager by everyone’s estimates, and in front of me is my spiritual goal. That’s what moves me through life. This is how the pilgrim introduced himself. The book doesn’t have an “introduction” per se.
I realize there are plenty of devotees with respectable professional careers and solid bank accounts. It looks like this book is not for them, but read on, we are only a third into the first paragraph.
I was listening to one class recently and suddenly I heard “we should chant the holy name 24/7”. Of course we all heard it, but no, this time I really HEARD it. I heard it as something I really need to do, it was speaking to me. There are many many more passages like this in our books but, if we decide to accept it as a real order – what does it even mean? Surely we need time to eat and to sleep and to go to work and so on. We have a story of Lord Caitanya being told that one shouldn’t stop chanting even in the toilet, but that’s not a real injunction, is it? I don’t know anyone who takes it seriously. So what does it mean – chant 24/7? Now the first paragraph ends, at least in the original Russian. In English it was split into two.
The pilgrim decided to ask knowledgeable people. He had to actually walk from town to town, from church to church, and ask. We have youtube and facebook videos, and ISKCONdesiretree site has an awesome collection of old audio recordings. There are plenty of japa retreats, seminars, and workshops on chanting. The pilgrim, however, only heard general instructions on praying – what’s a prayer, how to pray, what would be the results, but no one spoke of how to actually succeed in praying. In our case Hare Krishna mantra is a prayer on its own and we all know that the Lord and His name are non-different so our situation is a little different, but let’s pause for a moment and consider the situation of the pilgrim and the society he lived in – they did not know that the Name and the Lord are one and the same! They did not have chanting of the Holy Name, they only had prayers.
Now let’s think about us – we know a lot compared to the pilgrim. We know what success in chanting is, we know that it takes us to the spiritual world, we know about the sweetness of the Holy Name, and we have examples of Haridasa Thakura, Raghunatha Dasa Goswami and others who actually succeeded in this process. What is our problem? It’s actually the same – it’s all only theory and we do not know anyone in modern time who lived up to this ideal.
Earlier I mentioned japa retreats and workshops. I’ve listened to tens of hours of those and they are great. But they all teach how to chant more and how to chant better, basically do more of the same. They do not promise a categorically different perception of the Holy Name.They do not offer a clear path to reaching Haridasa Thakura’s level. Rather we are told that it’s impossible and we shouldn’t even try. We do have a path in theory and we shouldn’t know it by heart from “adau sraddha” verse but it’s not the same as actually walking ruci, rati, asakti and so on. Do not even dream about it, is our usual advice.
What does it even mean to chant like Haridasa? We have two dimensions to our chanting – number of rounds and attentiveness. We can work on improvement in both areas, but we don’t really expect it to take us to the categorically different level, to add another dimension where one could put rati, ruci, asakti, bhava and other milestones. Are these even real words used by those who actually walk that path? Or is it only a theoretical framework for us, eternal neophytes?
A while ago I left an FB post about one sannyasi who took a vow to chant 300,000 names on ekadasis and he kept it, afaik. And then he got caught sexting with one of his admirers. I thought this was very frustrating and also that simply increasing the numbers is not enough. We can also improve quality but we also all know that the mind can’t possibly sit and listen to every name in every mantra. We have assurances that it’s possible with practice but no real life examples.
There was one devotee who offered a categorically different level of chanting but even he advised to commit to chanting only one or two rounds according to his method. The rest was supposed to be done with the same wandering mind as usual because total concentration is impossible. I have some doubts about that method but it’s a different subject matter which hasn’t been settled in our tradition. It worked for some and it ruined others. Anyway, back to the book.
The pilgrim traveled far and wide with his questions until he was told of a one wealthy grihastha who had a temple built on his own property and who, despite his wealth, never went anywhere and spent all his time praying and reading Srimad Bhagavatam and Caitanya Caritamrita. Remember how I said this book is probably not for successful people? Here is the first guru the pilgrim met on his quest and he was a very successful person by society’s standards.
He asked the pilgrim how he could be of service and the pilgrim explained that he was searching for instructions on constant and uninterrupted praying. What is it and how is it possible? The grihastha went quiet, then look at the pilgrim with great attention, and then told him that constant praying is the soul’s eternal flow towards the Lord and if one wants to succeed then only the Lord can guide one towards this goal. He then offered pilgrim prasadam but didn’t talk on this subject anymore, gave him some money, and sent him off without any further explanation. The pilgrim was dissatisfied.
It is a perfectly good instruction for us, however. We know that the soul is eternally Lord’s servant and that it’s a natural position and that in this position constant chanting is what people do, at least while in this world. We are told that chanting continues even in the spiritual world but there is no difference between chanting and any other activity there so it doesn’t really matter. Moreover, if we think about it, if chanting is the eternal bond between the soul and the Lord, then how one can model this relationship on any information coming from the outside world, which happens to be “material” right now? I mean if you fall in love with someone, do you really need to watch movies on how to do it? Or do you discover how your relationship works from actually relating to that person? Of course the Lord is the best guide in our situation. Someone might object – what about the guru? Okay, guru is important, but let’s never forget that by chanting we directly connect with the Name and the Name is the Lord Himself. Caitya guru is also a real thing, in case you forgot – it’s the Lord within the heart that guides the devotee – we don’t hear this term very often in our contemporary discussions. Of course one should be sufficiently purified to be guided like that and without guru one has no chances of reaching that level. The guru also nourishes our devotion in that our love is awakened by seeing his love for the Lord. In many ways we are mainly a reflection of his love and devotion and his presence never goes away. He always feeds us with rasa. But he is also not confined to his human form, ie his physical presence is not strictly necessary.
Anyway, even though I think the grihastha, or rather landowner in the actual book, gave a perfectly good advice the pilgrim didn’t have sufficient background to understand what it means, and this is what happens to a lot of us a lot of the time, too. We just can’t absorb the good advice because we are not ready. That’s why we don’t take instructions to “always remember Krishna and never forget” too seriously. How’s that even possible?
We have standard answers and we have devotees who chant every time they are not talking, but we can also see that once their minds are captured by some other ideas they stop. Constant chanting or remembering requires a conscious effort, which means we eventually get tired and have to stop. That’s not the natural flow of the soul towards the Lord we have just heard about in this book. It always feels artificial, it always has a beginning and an end, and therefore it should be classified as a material activity, should it not?
That’s it for today. It’s a short introduction to what we should be looking forward to in the coming pages. In a way, it’s not a story of a man coming to God, it’s a story of God coming to man. We’ve all got the first part covered already, we are all devotees here, saved and liberated, but how to make Krishna to actually appear in our hearts? How to develop that natural, constant, and uninterrupted flow of devotion to Him? That’s what the pilgrim set out to discover.
Actual book’s title is “The Way of the Pilgrim” but it doesn’t fully reflect its original Russian name, which is more like “Pilgrim’s confidential notes to his spiritual father”. This wording of the title doesn’t fully reflect the content, though – the name of the “spiritual father” is not given anywhere, for example. By content it’s a diary. However, the word “diary” doesn’t fully reflect the content either – diaries are supposed to give dates of the events but the text remains undated to this day. It’s a journal of personal realizations, but this description doesn’t fully reflect it, too. Quite possible it was written BY the unnamed spiritual father FROM the actual diary. I could make several arguments for this version of how the book came about but there could be arguments against it, too. It’s not so important and I’ll call it “Pilgrim’s Diary”.
The picture is a cover of another translation, search the Amazon if the link above does not satisfy you. Speaking of which, the free translation was done by an Englishm priest who was called French and who lived in Russia.
First time I read this book I gobbled it up and then thought it would be nice to reflect on it from a vaishnava perspective. Hopefully, the time has come, but I don’t know what shape this reflection will take. I think it will be a series of blog posts but I don’t want to go through the book chapter by chapter. I’d rather focus on what I think is relevant to our vaishnava community. I want to avoid dealing with Christian background altogether, it might be important but I think it would be mostly distracting. At one point I thought it would be nice to rewrite the whole thing as a vaishnava’s diary, set in our contemporary world. It won’t be difficult to draw parallels with ISKCON and place it sometime after disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. On the other hand, such a pledge would be too constrictive and it would put unnecessary demands of making this presentation literary coherent, which is not my goal at all, certainly not a this point in time. I also want to keep these posts short. There is zero chance of me maintaining the usual size of articles here and keeping the pace with the book as well. I want to read a bit, find something that resonates, and say something about it. Nevertheless, some “orientation” is in order and what I call “preface” might demand sufficient depth and detail. Hopefully not.
The diary is dated somewhere between 1856 and 1861. The reason is that these two dates were accompanied by significant changes to Russian public life but the book carries no signs of them so it must have been composed somewhere in between.
Preface to the current edition was written by a Russian Orthodox priest who emigrated after Bolshevik revolution and served in places like Serbia and France for the rest of his life. It was written shortly after World War II, too, so it’s not surprising that he emphasizes how Russia or that period was different from Russia of his time. What’s of interest to us is that in the 19th century there was a well established and dependable system of public travel throughout the entire country, which stretches for over ten thousand kilometres, I might remind you. It was before trains and most people traveled on foot with only well off being able to afford horse carriages. Foot traffic, however was high and well accommodated so that religious pilgrims could always find a free place to stay and generous people to donate bread. Usually bread was dried, I don’t think there is a fitting English word for it, so that it would last for weeks and one could take a bite or two to satisfy his hunger. There is a story I read recently in this regard.
One of the fathers of Russian medicine, Botkin, once had a patient who came to him in a really bad condition. He had advanced liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease – the whole nine yards. Botkin said that he would take the case but he could do it only in Odessa, which is a city on the Black Sea shore, thousands kilometres away from anywhere in Russia. He invited the patient to go for treatment there but gave him one condition – don’t travel by horses, walk like everyone else, and eat only dried bread on the way, like everyone else. A few months later this man reached Odessa, Botkin saw him again, but when the man asked when his treatment would start Botkin replied – no need, you are perfectly healthy already, months on the road have healed your liver, kidney, your heart – everything. The point is that it IS a very healthy way to live and it naturally corrects and strengthens the body.
So, the situation in those days was not very different from Caitanya Caritamrita times when everyone walked everywhere, too. Today, however, it’s probably impossible to live like that even in India. Sadhus there learned to travel by trains, which is convenient but nowhere as healthy.
In ISKCON we had the days when devotees could hop from temple to temple using cheap trains and buses, and there were even those who traveled to India overland from Europe. In any temple one could expect a place to sleep and prasadam, so life on the road was reasonably easy, but not anymore. Now one would have to send an email three days in advance, one would have to attach all kinds of recommendations or have some big authorities speak on his behalf. And today travelers are expected to support the temples by leaving generous donations, not the other way around.
This is, perhaps, the first parallel between the diary and our lives today, and let’s leave it at that.
Book’s preface dwells for quite some time on literary side of the text and it’s of no interest to us, except I was thinking about a separate post on this topic, but I don’t want to go into it right now.
I will end with self-evident parallel between vaishnavism and one interesting quote given in the preface, where it was not given proper treatment, in my opinion. I recently rephrased the extended version of it and I’ll paste it here with minor additions. It should give us the taste of what IS important in this book and what we should be looking for there:
“Vaishnavas live in their own countries, but they do so if they were passing travelers. As citizens they participate in public affairs, yet they tolerate local customs as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is the same as their homeland to them, but land of their birth is like a land of strangers.
They have children, but they are more concerned with serving their disciples.
They share feasts with each other but they do not partake in any other pleasures of the senses.
They live in their bodies, but they do not live by bodily demands. They pass their days here on earth, but they are citizens of Goloka. They obey the prescribed laws but surpass all laws by their lives.
They love all men but are persecuted by everybody. They are largely unknown and condemned. They are subject to death but restored to spiritual life.
They are poor, yet they make many rich. They themselves lack everything, and yet they overflow in all opulences, too.
They are often dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor they look glorified; they are spoken ill of and yet by these very words of blame they are also justified; they are reviled by the society but at the same time look blessed; they are insulted but repay insults with respect; they do good, even ultimate good, and yet are punished as troublemakers; when punished they rejoice even in apparent suffering as if Krishna personally caresses them. They are assailed by the liberals as racist and misogynists, and they are hunted by conservatives for their liberalism, too. Generally, those who hate them are unable to give any actual reason for their hatred.
What the soul is to the body, vaishnavas are to the world, even to the entire universe.”
We almost midway between Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance day of 2020 and of 2021, so what am I talking about? There is a paradox of sorts there – on his disappearance days we make special efforts to remember him and so we come closer, he actually “appears” in our consciousness, while in the middle of the year he kind of “disappears”. But that’s not what this article is about.
What I want to reflect on here is largely an Indian thing, though it manifests among western devotees, too, in somewhat different ways. When I say it’s an “Indian” thing it doesn’t mean all Indians are affected in the same way – there are simply too many Indian devotees to fit under any particular umbrella. I’m talking about a particular slice I see in particular communities and I hope it doesn’t spread to other Indian devotees elsewhere. These affected sangas are significant and non-trivial, and therefore I feel the problem deserves to be addressed.
It’s “Indian” because they see Srila Prabhupada as one of them. Krishna is their God, not Prabhupada’s God. Bhagavatam is their purana, not Prabhupada’s purana. Lord Caitanya is their saint, not Prabhupada’s. Okay, Gaudiya Vaishnavas consider Lord Caitanya to be Krishna Himself, but for most Indians He was only a saint and if Gaydiyas make claims otherwise they accept them as “okay okay, whatever…” Indians are followers of “sanatana dharma”, as they love to proclaim, not followers of Prabhupada.
In other words, Srila Prabhupada is not as essential to them as to western devotees who had no idea of any of those things before Prabhupada came and informed them. Indians put Prabhupada in context of their religion and culture, but for western devotees Prabhupada himself created context from scratch and they put Indian culture into this context created by Prabhupada.
See how their visions are fundamentally different, how they are practically mirrors. It doesn’t matter for the moment which vision is correct and which isn’t, just that they are completely at odds.
Typical reconciliation is that Srila Prabhupada gave us the true, correct, and pure culture while today’s Indians live in some kind of degraded forms of it. Indians can accept this argument, too – no one would argue that onions are bona fide, for example, or that common Indian perceptions of God are not tinged with mayavada. Nevertheless, approaching Prabhupada from these two different angles cannot be reconciled completely and sooner or later the differences will come up to the surface.
Typical example of that is disagreements over some aspects of the siddhanta. For western devotees whatever Srila Prabhupada said is accepted as final truth and everybody else’s opinions to the contrary are rejected, but for Indian devotees allegiance to previous acharyas are never to be dropped. If previous acharyas said something than it must be accommodated, and, if necessary, Prabhupada’s opinion put aside. Note how I said “opinion” – not truth, but only an opinion. Sometimes it can be elevated to “personal realization”, but still not to the level of “truth”.
Srila Prabhupada might have spoken strongly on demigod worship but Indian vernacular doesn’t even have “demigods” in the vocabulary, so Prabhupada’s statements need interpretation. Maybe he didn’t mean it, or maybe he meant it only for westerners, or maybe he meant it only to certain types of demigod worship. At the end of the day, Indians are bound by their karma to respect the worship done by their ancestors and by their acharyas, they can’t give it up just because Srila Prabhupada said something somewhere.
This is understandable, but it’s still not what I meant by “disappearance” in the title. I mean something far more radical – Srila Prabhupada, as he was known to his western disciples, was not a person of Indian origin, not even of Gaydiya Vaishnava origin. His appearance in the west was a total surprise even for Srila Prabhupada himself. He had no idea it would turn this way. He himself couldn’t attribute his success to anything “Indian”, it had full potency by itself. The only connection he could trace was to the orders of his spiritual master. This is what he said again and again – my guru ordered me to print books, I did it, and this is what happened. He didn’t say that his mother taught him how to cook and so everybody loved his prasadam, and that’s how his first ISKCON temple survived. He didn’t claim proficiency in singing or playing mridanga. By Aindra’s standards he wouldn’t be allowed to play karatals on his 24hour kirtan party. Okay, he dedicated Krishna Book to his father, but that was one off. All the other times he gave credit only to following his guru’s order. Not even to his guru as a full personality – only to following one specific order.
The point is that Srila Prabhupada’s success was unique and it had a life of its own. It didn’t depend on anything else and it couldn’t be described in any other terms – it was a substance by itself, a category by itself. I will repeat – I think when Srila Prabhupada arrived in the US he himself had no idea what it would be like, it was a total surprise.
When it came Srila Prabhupada embraced it exactly like that – like it had a potency of its own and it had to be served, not controlled. This “success” dictated how Srila Prabhupada had to to things, not the other way around. I use the word “success” as only a label, it had to be felt to be described, as I said. I think the word “success” conveys the undeniable aspect of it – everybody knows what “success” is, everybody knows how good it feels, and nobody can deny it. But what you or I experienced as “success” is not the same thing as what was experienced by Srila Prabhupada and his followers.
Srila Prabhupada gave some explanations, the root of which is that it was a mercy of Lord Caitanya – based on the statement in CC that preaching can become successful only if Lord Caitanya puts His potency in it. On other occasions he attributed it to the power of the holy name, which he saw as absolute. This is the point where I can finally start talking about disappearance – we don’t see the power of Hare Krishna mantra as absolute anymore. An example – one devotee complained about being overwhelmed by sexual desires and Srila Prabhupada’s answer was to simply chant. In his explanation the power of Hare Krishna would drive away all lust from disciple’s heart. In Prabhupada’s experience he saw that happening all around him – hippies were chanting Hare Krishna and forgetting drugs and girlfriends. He saw it worked. We don’t. We offer all kinds of other solutions instead, like “watch your diet” or “stop watching porn”. No one today would say that simply chanting Hare Krishna mantra will solve your lust problem in a minute but Srila Prabhupada meant it exactly like that – chant loudly and lust will be gone immediately.
This is what has disappeared – the power of the holy name, and I would argue that its disappearance is linked to disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. It worked in his presence, we have many anecdotes documenting how minds and hearts immediately became pure in his presence, it was undeniable. Now the name is still with us but without Prabhupada its power is not manifested to the same degree. What I mean to say is that it’s Srila Prabhupada who has disappeared, not the Hare Krishna mantra.
Hare Krishna mantra is not tied to Srila Prabhupada exclusively, we all know that, but Srila Prabhupada gave it a particular potency. Sooo many devotees felt it directly. The annotation to the first Hare Krishna mantra record spoke about it with absolute clarity as if it was obvious to everyone. It was repeated from devotee to devotee, it was all-pervading understanding back then. Now it’s absent and no one talks that way with any conviction.
For me, however, it’s the preaching aspect of that same potency of Srila Prabhupada that disappeared first. Maybe because I can’t recall any miracles associated with Hare Krishna mantra but I was fortunate enough to see mind blowing preaching in action. It had a life on its own and, listening to many remembrances of that era, I don’t know anyone who did not notice it. They usually say only a few words (“millions of books were distributed”) and move on but actually seeing these millions of books going away to meet their eager readers was something else. At the time it was spoken exactly like this – books were going away on their own. They were not sold, not distributed, not given – they were going away on their own, and the entire purpose of sankirtana, as it was called back then, was to find that sweet spot in space and time where, by Lord Caitanya’s mercy, books would get a life of their own and practically distribute themselves against all odds and against all objections. The power was irresistible.
This is what has become absent and, to me, it indicates disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. Of course books were not the only vehicle of this mercy. One time I clearly felt it was when one of Prabhupada’s early disciples was describing San Francisco Ratha Yatra. Not the first one in 1967 but the one a few years later where Srila Prabhpada started the address with “My dear frustrated youth of America” (not exact words, but that’s how some remember it). To me it was the same kind of potency, the same “rasa”, so to speak, as the one I remember from my own life. It still lives in the hearts of at least some of Prabhupada’s followers, but that particular disciple has left his body already. Others remember it but prefer to talk about something else, like today’s politics. There is a lot to be said about why and how and who but let’s not talk about it now.
This disappearance is “mostly Indian” problem because this aspect of Srila Prabhupada’s success was never known there in the first place. They don’t have reference points for it, except may be construction of Juhu and Mayapur temples, which is not a lot in context of the entire Indian history and gets easily overflown by memories and histories of other events. Those other events are no less significant, like self-manifested deity of Radha Ramana, for example, but they are not “Prabhupada”.
For the past twenty something years Indian devotees distributed many more millions of books, and yet I never hear them speaking of book distribution with the same “rasa”. It’s just absent and book distribution means something else to them. Likewise, TOVP is a massive project, far bigger than Juhu, but TOVP presentations do not carry the same “rasa” for me. They rely on other things to “prove” themselves – like everybody should do seva, or everybody should make donations, or everybody should bathe Srila Prabhupada with sacred waters etc, and because of this conviction one should… When Prabhupada was present the proposition itself, whatever it was, had a power of its own, it was self-evident, not reliant on one’s appreciation of “seva” or “donations” or “sacred rivers”. These are aspects of Indian culture and they were totally absent when Prabhupada came to the west. He didn’t have to rely on them at all – his preaching was self-evident and no one know what “seva” even was.
This is a principal point, actually – people didn’t know what seva was and that it should have been offered – they offered service because Prabhupada was there and they felt they should do something in appreciation. Today it’s “you know that seva is important, and therefore you should go and offer it to Prabhupada.”
That’s why I’m saying that Srila Prabhpada has disappeared even though he is arguably at the most remembered stage in ISKCON’s recent history. His name and his pictures are everywhere, but not the actual memory of his presence.
Many of our senior devotees worry about it, they just express it differently. To me this disappearance is not very important – because Srila Prabhpada is present eternally, it’s only us who moved to a different location and, if we so desire, we can move into the place of his presence again.
What I really wanted to say but wrapped it in the disappearance topic is that Srila Prabhupada’s “success” was an entity of its own and even Srila Prabhupada was its servant, that even he wasn’t in control of it. To me this is the biggest manifestation of Lord Caitanya’s mercy and in decades since I haven’t found any substitutes that come even close. And I really mean “any substitutes” – not even if someone starts chanting three lakhs a day or cry incessantly or go into trance every time they see an image of Lord Jagannatha. I would even say that some big name ISKCON gurus of Indian origin have never seen it, simply because they weren’t there when it was manifested, they were in India, but that is a whole other can of worms.
I remember one of these big gurus wanted to visit the zone where preaching was booming but his request was rejected because “his mood would spoil everything”. Today this sounds ridiculous and great many devotees, each of them great in their own ways, would reject this argument out of hand but I, after deliberating on it for some time, would still argue that it was the right thing to do and that Srila Prabhupada’s preaching mood, his preaching rasa, should have been rightfully protected and that once that protection was withdrawn it simply disappeared – scroll to the top to see an explanation how and why.