Last two entries in the series discussed the mechanics of chanting and the pilgrim had observed how his prayer entered into his heart and developed a life of its own, filling him with humility and warmth. It looks like his path to perfection was wide open, just like Siberian steppes. It looks like from now on we will hear more and more insights and revelations into mysteries of unceasing prayer. Not so fast. I myself always have this idea in my mind that simply by chanting Hare Krishna I will attain all perfection. I don’t think I will ever let it go but I’m reminded time and time again that I need to rely on things other than japa for the foreseeable future, not even only for the time being.
So what else do we need? Sambandha – the knowledge of our relationship with the Supreme. Japa or praying is the next step – abhidheya, acting on the knowledge of sambandha. Time and time again I’m reminded than my knowledge of Krishna is incomplete and in many ways corrupted, which means chanting is not going to bring results. We have to have a clear conception of what we are doing first. Anartha nivritti, for example, is nothing else but crystallizing our knowledge of what is right and what is wrong, hacking away at that which has no value (anartha). This is what makes our chanting progressively pure and it’s the only way to success. Offensive chanting (I don’t like the term as it doesn’t do justice to what’s happening) can last forever and if anarthas are still being kept chanting will eventually stop.
If you think about it – our entire “material” lives are just lessons in identifying and letting go of anarthas. The other day someone talked about devotees discussing football scores and how it was somehow normal. I would rather reflect on what makes us interested in football in the first place. Is it the game itself? Quite often it’s quite boring. Is it the few bouts of excitement? Yes. Is it our own “muscle memories” of playing football ourselves that make us appreciate these movements? Yes. Is it our affinity with fans of a particular club? Yes. Is it our particular taste in selecting one club anthem between many other clubs? Yes, like Liverpool’s “You will never walk alone”, for example. Next we can examine why we like these things. Why do they seem so important to us? What is it that really makes us tick? Next we can consider if these values are valuable or not, or whether assigning them to football clubs is justifiable. We can consider where these values originally come from and discover that they are just certain shades of Krishna which appear under certain circumstances, under certain light. Rama lila, for example, probably has millions of little lessons scattered all throughout so we can find them, appreciate them, and then what we value as our football club will hopefully become just a tiny reflection of what we have found in Krishna, not worthy of being of huge interest at all. Hopefully, we will learn to recognize Krishna in every bright and attractive feature of this world, just as He told us in Bhagavad Gita. But I’m digressing.
We left the pilgrim on his march to Irkutsk, a city close to Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia. Jesus Prayer entered into his heart and filled his body with warmth. This warmth urged him to take deeper appreciation of the instructions given in Philokalia and he felt very grateful to it for opening him to these wonderful experience of seeing his praying in a new light. There was another reason for reading, too – he knew that the books warned practitioners against what is called Prelest on wikipedia. He was worrying about illusions of advancement meant to divert a seeker from his path, and these illusions cannot be seen from the inside, from within illusions themselves, so books, or better yet mentors, are the only sure way to escape their traps. Pilgrim’s departed guru also warned him about this, so he changed his schedule – walking and praying during the night and reading books during the day. He had two – his old copy of the Bible and second hand copy of Philokalia he bought with his summer job money.
He liked praying already but when he read Philokalia he discovered a whole new level of appreciation and a whole new level of depth to his practice. Words of the acharyas filled his praying with meaning and opened up new horizons. They had given him daily Eureka moments. This is the function of samabandha and also a function of diksa, and it’s not a one time occurrence, as we can see here. There is always something new to be learned, which means new initiation, but let’s not talk about diksa too much here. What the pilgrim noticed was that praying itself helped him understand passages that he couldn’t decipher at first. I can attest to it, too – sources of new information appear to me in response to my chanting as well. I’m not bragging here – most of the time these are distractions that I filled my mind with during japa and then they come to be for real and I have to deal with them until I understand they have no value. Sometimes I get positive revelations, too, like if I wanted to know something about the Name and then I hear the answer somewhere else. Distractions take a little longer to turn to my profit but eventually it happens, too, and in this way sambandha always improves one’s chanting, and then chanting leads to discoveries of new sambandhas, which lead to more chanting and so on. In this way the Name IS the only means even though it appears to be separate from “guru” – from externally observable beings who deliver information.
In this way the pilgrim walked for two months, begging for dried bread and drinking water to sustain his life. Then, one day, two guys caught up with him and asked him for money. He honestly told them he didn’t have any but they didn’t believe him. They argued that pilgrims get good donations but have nothing to spend them on so he must have had some money on him. When they saw that their argument wasn’t going anywhere they whacked him on the head with a wooden cane, grabbed his bag, and ran off. He hid his passport in his hat, which was important for passing through checkpoints, and this mention gives us a clue to timing of this story as these passports were introduced in 1861. What I see as equally important to the story is that he mentioned his passport first and not his lost books (or his stock of dried bread). This kind of gives us an insight into his actual priorities – yes, he liked his praying, but no, when his life was in danger he thought of his passport first. I mention this not to blame but to keep our expectations in check – his road to perfection was still largely untraveled, he was making only first steps.
Nevertheless, when he realized the loss of his books he started crying. He continued his journey but now he was inconsolable – he really really missed the association of his books, which was his only replacement and the only manifestation of the guru. He thought of his books as his first real treasure and also as his last – he had nothing left in his life. On the third day he got exhausted and simply collapsed. His guru appeared to him in his dream and told him that losing his books was a lesson in detachment – we can’t make ourselves dependent on the objects of this world. He also told him that it was a lesson in not making our own plans. The pilgrim thought his way forward was clear but the lesson was not to be so fast and accept setbacks as manifestations of Lord’s will. We have to approach Him on HIS conditions, not on ours, even though we can argue that we want only spiritual goals. Nope, that won’t do. We have to accept His schedule, not insist on ours.
The pilgrim woke up pacified and with new determination continued his journey, drawing strength from his prayers. After three days he caught up with a convoy of shackled prisoners and found two guys who robbed him among them. He got so happy on seeing them he fell to their feet and started begging them for his books. This is not how mugging victims usually approach the perpetrators but the guys weren’t moved and asked for money in exchange for information. Just think about it – they were shackled, led to prison, and still they demanded money before they could return their illegal loot. The pilgrim promised them he would pay after he begged at the next stop and they told him that his books were confiscated along with everything else and were carried on a cart under supervision of police captain escorting them.
The pilgrim went to the captain and the captain said that he won’t let him look for his books on the way but once they reach their next stop he would be happy to help. More importantly, he was surprised that the pilgrim could read and wanted his books back before anything else, and that among all the books in the world he wanted his Bible. He let the pilgrim walk along the cart and they got to talk on the way about this and that, and when they arrived to the next village where they were supposed to take rest he helped the pilgrim to find his books and invited him to spend the night in his hut. The pilgrim was very glad to be reunited with his books, he held them to his chest and tears of happiness rolled down his face. “So, you like your Bible?” the captain asked, “Let me show you mine,” and he took out a small gospel from his chest pocket, embroidered with silver. “Let me tell you about this book and what it had done to me,” and he called for supper.
I’ll leave captain’s story for the next time.