We have completed a set of events on Pilgrim’s journey, he got his books back and said good-bye to police captain, but the underlying theme of his odyssey continues as a phase of a larger cycle. The captain challenged him about the power of the the prayer as opposed to the power of reading the Gospels and the pilgrim said they were equal, and yet he was representing praying as a method that works. At the same time he was reunited with the books so he was excited about reading. Next stage on his journey will continue these topics and it shows how these two activities resonate with each other, how they amplify each other, feeding off and stimulating each other in turn.
There will be significant ground to cover in this installment and I think it will need at least two appendices dealing with two lists that pack quite a lot separately.
The pilgrim walked fifty miles along the main road but then decided to try something else. Too much traffic, I guess, so he turned off into a country road where villages were far and few and between. His MO was to read Philokalia during the day, taking shelter of a big tree, and walk at night. He loved that book and learned a lot from it, his only concern was that he didn’t have a place to sit down and immerse in it completely. The book was encouraging him to chant his prayer and the prayer was drawing him to study what the book teaches about it.
He read the Bible, too, and he realized that Philokalia was the key to unlocking Bible’s treasures, he discovered that the Bible was full of hidden meanings and Philokalia was uncovering them for him. Here is a list of his discoveries taken from English translation of the diary: “the inner secret man of the heart,” “true prayer worships in the spirit,” “the kingdom is within us,” “the intercession of the Holy Spirit with groanings that cannot be uttered,” “abide in me,” “give me thy heart,” “to put on Christ,” “the betrothal of the Spirit to our hearts,” the cry from the depths of the heart, “Abba, Father,” and so on.” I think this deserves unpacking separately.
With these realizations his praying evolved to a whole new level. As the prayer was flowing from his heart he started seeing everything surrounding him as “delightful and marvelous” – trees, grass, birds, earth, air, daylight – everything was telling him that it exists and is shown to him as a demonstration of God’s love for humanity and that everything he sees feels grateful to the Lord and glorifies Him in return. When the pilgrim saw it he understood what the books mean about knowing the language of animals and he understood what it means to know the speech of all creatures. This needs unpacking, too, but I wouldn’t even know where to start because this has to be experienced, it has to be seen. As far as people report – you don’t actually talk to trees and animals, it’s not a verbal communication, but you understand why they behave in a certain way, you can reply to this understanding on exactly the same level it came to you, and they will get it and respond accordingly. Conversations like this can be translated into words but only if a third party asks, otherwise words are not necessary. This vision, this realization is related to seeing the root of every creature’s existence, their raison d’etre, and responding to it with great respect and appreciation. I don’t have much experience in this regard and can point to people in popular culture saying things like “he sees me” or asking “Do you feel me?” These expressions refer to the same deep understanding of another person’s reason for existence, that’s where they came from before they got trivialized by the public and entered into Urban Dictionary.
Speaking of the public – I’ve never seen this kind of vision attained when observing human society while it’s been very common when observing the nature. Something about what we, people, do feels unnatural and disconnected. Maybe it’s all our garbage and highways and everything, or maybe it’s due to our inability to distance ourselves, which is necessary for becoming observers. Or maybe it would need a high level of spiritual realization, way above our current level. It works with animals and trees because humans are already higher than them so no extra effort is necessary. Moving on.
After some time the pilgrim reached a very remote region and didn’t see a single village for three days. He ran out of his dried bread and started to worry about food. He, however, dispelled this uneasiness by turning his heart to his prayer again. There is this joy in surrendering to God’s will that doesn’t leave any space for unhappiness even if the reasons still seem to be perfectly valid. I don’t remember where I’ve seen this recently, probably in some commentary on something, but even if the state of being hopeful drives away all fears, real peace comes only with absolute hopelessness. Just leave it to the Lord and simply be with Him. Worries come only in relation to the events of this world. Forget about it and just be with God. That’s where the real peace is. In our lingo this state is called “akincana”. In this term “kin” is from the beginning of question words – what, where, who, etc, and “a-kin” makes it to mean “no questions” to be placed to the world, nothing to ask for or about, which means one doesn’t expect any answers, which means one doesn’t entertain any hopes.
If this looks like a pretty high level of advancement – no, sorry, it’s only the first step in vaishnavism. Queen Kunti in the First Canto uses the state “akincana” as a prerequisite to chanting the pure name, stating that it won’t happen otherwise. This state is elusive, unfortunately, as we all can attest to the unfailing ability of things like good food to fill us with hopes. Happens all the time, doesn’t it? When you smell it you hope for a good meal, with your first bite you hope for satiation, and when you ingest it you feel an influx of energy and confidence, ie your hopes are rising up.
The pilgrim was walking along a huge forest and suddenly he saw a very friendly dog running out of it. Friendly dogs mean friendly owners and the pilgrim followed the dog into the forest where he was met by a skinny, pale middle aged man. They asked introductory questions and immediately took liking of each other. The man was living in something translated as a dugout (“mud hut” is used in the above linked translation but it’s not a hut). It’s basically a hole in the ground, something like a trench, with a roof over it. The man said he was a forest ranger watching after the timber. The pilgrim said he was jealous of this life – alone, in the solitude, not having to mix with all kinds of people on the road. The man replied that there is another dugout nearby and the pilgrim was welcome to use it. Villagers bring bread once a week so they will be set for food, and the only problem is that later in the fall two hundred guys will descent on this forest to fell all the trees and their watching job will be over. “Works for me,” replied the pilgrim, and so a new phase of his journey started.
It should be noted that they both considered living only on bread to be totally sufficient. The fact that the man was described as skinny and pale doesn’t say much in favor of this diet but he had also lived like this for ten years and was not going to die anytime soon, which is also saying something. The pilgrim was very happy with this turn of events and he gratefully noted that the Lord fulfilled his desire for solitude. He also noted that there were four months left before late autumn when loggers were supposed to come, which means it was August and he was only two-three months into his journey and no more than two months since he started chanting. Quite a progress.
Guys exchanged their life stories and it turned out that the man was a village artisan, doing all kinds of skillful things for the public, but he also had a fair share of vices. He wasn’t an alcoholic like police captain but he loved to get into fights and insult people. Village deacon had a very old book about Last Judgement and he would go from house to house reading from it for money. For ten cents he would read it until morning while people would go about their chores, and so the man got to hear these stories, too, and started thinking about his sins and his future. He realized that he stood no chance and that he needed to atone for his sins. He sold his business, his house, and moved into the forest where he had lived for ten years already. He got paid in bread and candles, which he used for his altar. He would get up before sunrise and pay obeisances and pray, he would eat only once a day and, when walking around looking after the forest, he would wear sixty pound chains on his body, and not the golden chains either – it was not to show off but a voluntary austerity meant to atone for sins.
He said he liked this life at first but then thoughts about women and stuff started creeping in, leaving him confused. He hoped to atone for his previous sins but wasn’t sure he was saved from the new ones, and he wasn’t sure the Book was telling the truth either. He then gave a list of common doubts regarding Christian doctrine – how dead people are supposed to rise up? Who knows for sure that hell exists? What if it was written by popes only to scare ordinary people into obedience? What if austerities of a righteous life are all for nothing and there is no heaven waiting ahead? Why should people restrict their joy now if there is no certainly about joy in the afterlife? Is he wasting his life living in a forest? Wouldn’t it be better to return to the village and restart his professional career? Yeah, he had a lot of time to think about these things and this also tells us that he was also a neophyte on his spiritual journey.
Previously I described the police captain as a neophyte on the basis of doubts in his own chosen path and it was not very fair. This guy was a lot more doubtful than the captain but I would still insist there is progression between these two cases. Police captain was a karmi and this forest guy was a jnani. Police captain relied on religion for his enjoyment and this guy relied on it for liberation from suffering. It’s not the language Christians use and there is no hint of this progression from one case to the next in the diary but once you see it can’t be unseen.
Pilgrim’s reaction to these doubts was rather mature. He was amused that even simple folk, not just the urbanites, can grow into “freethinkers”. Nope, concluded the pilgrim – dark forces have equal access to everyone and simple people are probably even an easier prey. The solution was obviously to fight against doubts with the sword of the Scripture, so he took out his Philokalia and read out a passage by St. Hesychios saying that restriction of the senses does not bring results if not accompanied by directing one’s mind towards God. Atonement of sins is not nearly enough without cleansing the heart and the mind. The pilgrim explained that even if one decides to turn his heart to God but is still driven by fear of punishment then it’s no more than a business transaction and only unalloyed surrender is the way. It’s like he was reading from Srila Prabhupada (that St Hesychios’ passage is less clear, however). He similarly recommended chanting of the Holy Name as the only reliable means of self-realization. The Holy Name will not only guard one against temptations but it will fill one’s heart with genuine love of God, which is the real goal of human life. He also gave instructions on chanting, the man accepted his reasoning, and become peaceful.
Having sorted this out the pilgrim went to his dugout and suddenly it felt like being in God’s own palace for him – because what he treasured most at that moment was solitude and the company of Philokalia, and now it was provided over and above. He read the entire book, from start to finish, and he marveled at the depth and breadth of these topics. The only problem was that with so much to know and appreciate he wasn’t sure how to keep the thread of instructions on chanting, which was what was most important to him. He really wanted to find the secret to unceasing and self-manifested prayer in the heart. This is probably the first time the prayer was called “self-manifested” or “self-chanting”. He had remembered two instructions from the Bible telling him not to give up his quest for seemingly unattainable, otherwise known as “hunting for the rhino” in our parlay, so he was determined to find the answers.
Since he had chosen to be alone and books were of no help here he had no choice but to turn to the Holy Name for guidance. He gave himself completely to it and didn’t do anything whole day but chant, hoping that the Lord might respond to his inquiry. Then he fell asleep and in his dream he saw his spiritual master, the one who first told him about chanting and about Philokalia (he died in episode 6). The pilgrim was in guru’s ashram, like in the old days (less than a month ago), and the guru was telling him about glories of Philokalia, how it is a treasure chest of spiritual secrets but at the same time contains simple things for simple people, too. He said that for those who are not very wise it’s not recommended to read the whole book from cover to cover but look only at the chapters suitable for their level of development, so those seeking instructions on unceasing prayer should read Philokalia in the following order, copy-pasting from English translation again:
“First of all, read through the book of Nicephorus the monk (in part two), then the whole book of Gregory of Sinai, except the short chapters, Simeon the new theologian on the three forms of prayer and his discourse on faith, and after that the book of Callistus and Ignatius.”
That’s another list that needs to be dealt with separately. I’ve located some of these already and the only thing left is to actually read them, should be done in about an hour. Ha ha, I don’t think a week would be enough, but this stuff is interesting and it forms the background to pilgrim’s next realization so I don’t want to skip it and I want to stay on the same page, quite literally here.
The guru then added that after this one should read the prayers of the holy Callistus but the pilgrim couldn’t find it in the book. He then asked the guru for help and the guru quickly flipped a few pages and located it easily. “Here,” he said, “I’ll even underline it for you,” and he took a piece of a charcoal and put a mark in the book. When I grew up it was unthinkable to mark books this way but this was a personal copy and these people weren’t very cultured by today’s standards (says more about our standards than about real culture). Instructions on reading continued and broke off only when the pilgrim woke up. It was still dark out and he tried to memorize guru’s instructions while they were still fresh in his memory. He also pondered whether it was a ghost or the soul of the actual guru, or maybe just a dream. Thinking about options and explanations he got up and noticed that his Philokalia was on the table instead of under the pillow, and that it was opened, and then he found that the passage from his dream was actually underlined with a piece of charcoal lying nearby. This confirmed to the pilgrim that it wasn’t a dream but a real visit from his guru, made possible by the mercy of the Holy Name.
He then read the assigned passages, then read them again, and he felt the urge to try their advice in real life. This means that by the mercy of the Holy Name he got access to necessary passages in Philokalia and then, in turn, Philokalia implored him to chant. The book gave him sambandha – what is this inner prayer, how it pleases the heart, and how to distinguish this pleasure from the weeds of bhakti, which can sometimes appear indistinguishable.
The pilgrim started with locating his heart, as was advised by Simeon the New Theologian. One has to close his eyes and direct his mind to it. It’s a process of visualization and I normally don’t put much value on it, but I’ve seen it being practiced elsewhere so I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand. It’s not something we learn from Srila Prabhupada, which is a rather damning label by itself. Should I try it myself? Not sure about that. Anyway, the pilgrim tried this several times a day for half an hour each and for the first few days he saw nothing. I guess it’s easy to imagine one’s heart but to actually see it with the mind is a different thing and, by pilgrim’s account, it requires a significant amount of practice.
After he started sensing his heart and sensing its movement, the heartbeat, he started placing Jesus Prayer inside it, as was instructed by Gregory of Sinai, Callistus, and Ignatius. I really need to check their writings out. This was also synced with breathing – on the inhale he said first part of the prayer and on the exhale completed it with “have mercy on me”. This he had practiced for an hour at first, then for two hours, and if he felt tired or lazy he would open Philokalia and restore his confidence again. After three weeks of practice (should I still try it!?!) he started feeling pain in his heart which was then replaced by delightful warmth, consolation, and peace. This encouraged him to chant even more and as he directed more energy and efforts to chanting he started feeling great joy. Sometimes he would feel his heart bubbling with exultation, sometimes he would feel lightness and freedom in his heart, sometimes he would feel love towards Jesus and to the entire creation, too. Sometimes tears would flow from his eyes, sometimes he would feel gratefulness for the mercy shown to an insignificant person like himself. Sometimes he would have great insights in the words of the scripture and sometimes what was complicated and misunderstood appeared simple and clear as day. Sometimes the warmth from his heart would spread all over his body and he would feel Lord’s presence everywhere. Sometimes simply calling Lord’s name filled him with untold joy, and he started to realize Lord’s words that kingdom of God is within us.
From these experiences he noticed that inner prayer brings results in three ways – in the soul, in the mind, and in intelligence. In Christian language it’s in the spirit, in the feelings, and in revelations. “Revelations” here means realizations, attaining knowledge, and therefore I think it’s justified to equate it with intelligence, buddhi. He then gives examples of these three kinds of realizations but I don’t think it’s necessary to translate them all. The ability to understand animals was classified as “revelation”, for example, sweetness of love of God as “spirit”, warmth in the entire body as “feelings” and so on. It’s a lot of stuff we don’t experience right now so listing it and sorting it out correctly doesn’t seem like a useful endeavor.
Five months into the practice of praying (two months before he got to his dugout plus three months according to instructions from Philokalia) he got so used to the prayer that he did so without interruptions and then finally he felt that the prayer got a life of its own, that it didn’t require his conscious efforts anymore, it flowed entirely by itself, and it did so in the heart even when he was sleeping.
We will leave the story at this point, just before the loggers came and a new chapter started. All I can say that in five months he achieved that which might not be attainable for me in my entire life. With this success in mind it’s hard to dismiss his method of visualizing the heart and placing the prayer inside it. On the other hand, it’s not what Srila Prabhupada taught us and so some reconciliation is necessary. It’s like manasika japa – I know some devotees swear by it but there is no way I’d replace any of my sixteen rounds with it. I’m open to trying it on top of sixteen but so far I haven’t noticed anything unusual about it. Maybe need to try more. The pilgrim didn’t notice anything at first, too, so it might require weeks of concentrated work, plus he was living in the forest with minimum distractions. This one episode with Lokanatha Swami threw me off balance for a week, what to speak of taking in some mundane news, like a war in Israel or Belarus grounding a plane. If we let our minds to indulge in these things we can forget about unceasing, self-generating prayer in the heart. Of this I’m confident. Nevertheless, it still shows the ideal conditions for chanting and it gives hope and encouragement to try it, so why not? What was that about hunting the rhinos?
I’m still in two minds about this. Maybe I should read those instructions in Philokalia first, and I have another source for “meditations” like the one described above. I should probably try those, too – visualizing things, controlling the mind in a sense of directing it to certain locations in space. What kind of space is that? Special kind of mind space? There is so much to know about these things, and there is also “simply chanting is enough”. So I’ll leave it at that.