Pilgrim’s Diary 3. Testing

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.

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