Pretense of No Taste

Consider this passage, and many many more like this:

“A human being is inclined to hear good narrations and stories, and therefore there are so many books, magazines and newspapers on the market to satisfy the interests of the developed soul. But the pleasure in such literature, after it is read once, becomes stale, and people do not take any interest in reading such literature repeatedly. In fact, newspapers are read for less than an hour and then thrown in the dustbins as rubbish. The case is similar with all other mundane literatures. But the beauty of transcendental literatures like Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is that they never become old. They have been read in the world by civilized man for the last five thousand years, and they have never become old. They are ever fresh to the learned scholars and devotees, and even by daily repetition of the verses of Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, there is no satiation for devotees…”

SB 3.5.7p

Who will disagree? And yet there are great many devotees whose experience is vastly different. Many haven’t bothered reading Bhagavatam even once, having heard most of the stories in the lectures already.

Typical explanation is that this passage is true for pure devotees. In fact, ellipses at the end stand for “like Vidura”. We are not like Vidura yet, the explanation goes, but one day we will become like him and then our taste for Bhagavatam will awaken.

I reject this explanation, however. We don’t need to become “like Vidura” and Prabhupada’s statement is true for everybody, we just have to learn to read right.

First, however – “mundane literatures are stale”. This should be expanded to all other forms of mundane art and entertainment, but we obviously do not feel like that. We are irresistibly attracted to movies and computer games and such. Every new one feels fresh, not stale. And yet they are stale. Why? Because they are limited in the rasa they can provide.

Devotional progress is progress, meaning we start at some point and then we go up, up, and up, passing many stages in between. Bhagavatam is the ripe fruit of the Vedic literature, we hear from day one. This means that we have to get to the very top of the tree, rising past all the branches on the way.

Lord Caitanya gives His mercy to everyone regardless of our situation and this means that we can be at the very bottom and have a thousand more branches distracting us. Naturally, as part of our evolution, we want to explore what is offered there, but Lord Caitanya’s mercy is a vector pulling us up, so every time we step off the “straight and narrow” we feel guilty because we clearly feel the attraction of whatever is in on offer but we also know we should dismiss it. Dealing with this guilt is not the subject of this post, however.

The point is that every branch between ourselves and the ultimate goal WILL feel fresh and exciting once we get there – this is how we feel when a new movie comes out, but at the same time exploring this branch for however long we want will keep us restricted to this branch and when we come back we will be exactly where we were before. It’s for this reason that mundane literatures are stale – they will not get you beyond their own location and cannot offer anything higher than that.

Tree branches usually grow towards the sky, too, so we will feel some elevation while traveling there, but they never actually reach the sky and for that you have to come back to the trunk and continue your climb. Next time you will see such a branch you will know what’s there, what’s attractive about it, and the limits of its offerings.

Let’s take an average human and look at the tree of Vedic literature he has to digest before his consciousness becomes ready for Bhagavatam. Ramayana and Mahabharata would be his starting points and nobody can count the number of moral lessons just in these two books. After they have been learned one would discover the beauty of Bhagavad Gita, and then Bhagavatam continues where Gita leaves off, as we usually say.

What if our average human is a westerner and never reads any of these books? Doesn’t matter – one’s consciousness still has to go through all the same steps and learn the same moral lessons on human behavior, human values, interactions, the role of the state, the role of the opposite sex etc etc. They just have to be learned from western literature. We have two and half thousand year old library for that, there is everything there, too.

The earlier description still applies – each of these lessons, however valuable, is limited to its location on the tree of progress. From below it looks fresh, from above it looks boring, and because it’s static it can be called “stale”.

At the first look Bhagavatam also looks stale – same stories being repeated in class after class, sometimes with more embellishments and sometimes with less, but it’s all the same. How many times we are going to hear about Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada? It’s not going to end in any other way. Stale, right? Wrong.

Bhagavatam is fundamentally different because it’s “spiritual”, means it’s ever fresh and dynamic. What does it mean? Does it mean there must be a different ending? No. It means that on every read there will be some changes in ourselves which will change our perceptions of the text, change what we see in it. All the Ramayana and Mahabharata lessons are in there, too, just in a more condensed form, and so on every new reading one is supposed to discover them opening up in his consciousness. The text is the same but “OH! That’s what it means!” perception will be different.

One doesn’t have to be Vidura to learn these lessons, one only has to be attentive and introspective and reflect on the same stories from all possible angles. Hiranyakasipu’s story won’t change, but how many devotees remember his instructions to his family after the death of his brother? How may of us remember how he combined true spiritual knowledge with disdain for brahminical culture? How many of us reflected on how one person can be both spiritually aware, I mean know about soul, samsara, karma etc, and yet be allergic to varnasrama? How many of us look at the world and at ISKCON devotees with this possibility in mind – they can know Bhagavad Gita AND be anti-varnasrama at the same time? Most of us want just one easy label to be put on everybody.

How about Ravana being a brahmana, having implemented varnasrama, and still getting in trouble with God? When we compare someone else to Ravana, do we allow for that person to be properly initiated and follow proper sadhana?

We don’t need to be “like Vidura” to start seeing all that, start seeing Bhagavatam characters as three-dimensional personalities with faults, virtues, aspirations, obligations, relationships, all honestly trying to make the best of their lives. We just need to be attentive and reflect on what we read, not try to finish the chapter as fast as possible so that we can turn on the computer. It doesn’t mean we need to see Radha and Krishna for real to appreciate Bhagavatam, appreciate “rasa” – it’s full of rasa for each and every one of us already, it’s just that rasa we can extract from Bhagavatam is not as exalted as that experienced by Sukadeva Goswami.

When we see what Bhagavatam can give us we will also see that its offers are superior to “mundane literature” and that, indeed, we can find something new on every new reading – not new in the text, but something new within us, add something new to our consciousness. When we read enough of it we will look at a new movie trailer and immediately see that we already know what’s going to be there and the limits of where it can go. New trailers will become stale for us, too, and not because we see Radha-Krishna but because Bhagavatam tells it better.

So “no taste” is not an excuse. Rather we should admit that our taste already exists but it’s relatively low. We should stop pretending that we expect something higher, and we should find what is suitable for us in Bhagavatam. And we should know that we need to discover something new inside us, not that the text on the page should change.

Vamsidas Rules

Many years ago I wrote a seven post series on Vamsidas Babaji, so I’m not going to start from scratch. I’m rereading the book and it blows my mind again how awesome he was. Vamsidas Rules! But I also mean “rules” as a noun.

The second of the two existing photographs of Vamsidasa Babaji

Our standard position is that he was an avadhuta type of paramahamsa and therefore we should not follow his example but stick to our sadhana. This is perfectly right, but we can look at it from another angle, too. We accept that Vamsidas was always in a perfect communion with his deities, with Lord Caitanya, and with Lord Nityananda. This means that at any given moment he had a perfect judgment on what to do and what is right. This means that if there is a disagreement between sadhana prescribed behavior and Vamsidasa, it’s Vamsidasa’s judgment that should be accepted as superior.

Can we extract rules from here and so improve our sadhana prescriptions? Possibly, but the main problem is that each of his judgments was unique to that set of circumstances and to that set of individuals involved. No one knows how he would act in a different place at a different time and with different people. So that is not the way to go, but I believe it’s not the only way either.

Basically, we don’t have access to the same precision in decision making as did Vamsidas, no direct access to the Lord to check how He feels about it. We have no clue what the Lord actually wants, and so we act according to general prescriptions just to be on the safe side. Even if we make a mistake it won’t be fatal – following sastric prescriptions assures us of that.

We can also say that regardless of actual circumstances our service lies in following sadhana. An outsider might judge us by the circumstances – is it favorable to take a warm shower, for example, but our thinking might ignore that – guru says I should take cold shower so I will follow that and accept boons and blessings that come from following the guru. If cold bath causes harm to the body then that will be accepted, too, but our service is a service to the guru, not to the body, so potential bodily harm is of very little interest.

This is just a general example – ignore the world, we are not of this world anyway, and focus on guru and Krishna instead. If guru and Krishna are pleased by our dedication then a mistake in judgment is of no consequence – “whatever”.

Nevertheless, we should remember that mistakes CAN be made, and they are not always of purely karmic variety – Vamsidas equally rejected devotional activities, too. Chapters on his travels to Vrindavan and Puri are introduced with a nice quote from Bhagavatam:

My lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage.

SB 1.13.10

And the first paragraph says that his travels were inspired by Krishna to bestow mercy on conditioned souls. Sounds fine, right? But then in the accounts of his travels I don’t see much evidence for that. Most people he met were ignored, dismissed, or rejected straightaway with only a couple of examples of him being kind and merciful and appreciative. I mean his typical response to donated food was like this:

People frequently came to Vaṁśīdāsa’s kuṭī with offerings of various cooked preparations, but he would almost always refuse, saying, “No! No! Gaura-Nitāi will not eat this! Take it away!”

Or I like his response to a harinama party of Purushottama Math devotees doing a roaring kirtan in Puri. He said something like “You beat mridangas to the point of breaking, but you hearts don’t even crack”. He said it in Bengali and there is translation in the book, but it’s hard to convey his pithiness in English. Haven’t we been to a few kirtanas like that – a lot of enthusiasm and pumped up energy, and people forget that kirtan is supposed to be an expression of love of God? It does not even enter their minds – they are too absorbed in jumping and making loud music.

It’s okay, I don’t blame them, but from Vamsidasa’s point of view it was not satisfactory, and this is what I believe we should keep in mind – even while engaged in otherwise perfectly devotional activity we can find a way to forget about Krishna, what to speak of Krishna prema. Let’s go back to the food quote – we are told to assume that all offered food is automatically prasadam and then distribution of this food to the hungry (right now Ukrainian refugees, for example) is devotional service.

Not so fast, Vamsidasa says – even Gaura-Nitai can refuse to eat that which is not offered with sufficient devotion. Nor will Vamsidas take it and offer it himself, even though he could. After all, it’s our “go to” explanation – I might not be a devotee but if I offer on behalf of my guru then Krishna will surely accept it. Not so fast – not if the guru is anything like Vamsidas, who would refuse to offer spiritually spoiled foodstuffs.

Coming back to his travels – one time local people brought piles of food to him, seeing him as a visiting sadhu, and he told his servants to dump it all in Ganga – no use. He could have cooked and offered it himself and in this way benefited the people who donated it, but he didn’t – he couldn’t care less. He once remembered a saying from his native place about clothes merchant trying to set up business in the land of sannyasis – sannyasis wear only loin cloth, you can’t get any business from them. Vamsidasa’s point was that bestowing mercy on people who are not looking for it is useless.

Of course one could immediately mention Lord Caitanya who freely gave Krishna prema to anyone regardless of their qualification. Okay, but they also HAD one super important qualification – the were placed in the presence of Lord Caitanya! Besides, Vamsidas showed us what Gaura-Nitai personally wanted when he was present – in the first half of the 20th century. “Don’t bother with these people,” seemed to be Their advice.

Gaudiya Math was doing their preaching at the same time, but Vamsidas didn’t care much for them either. It doesn’t automatically mean GM was not important but it rather points to it being only a preliminary level, which was of no interest to Vamsidasa – see his mridanga comment earlier.

Would he have been enthusiastic about preaching in Srila Prabhupada’s time? Possibly, but surely not about each and every ISKCON devotee. And we are not living in that era now so it’s not that every preaching endeavor must be automatically accepted as pure devotion. We can’t just say “Vamsidas would have been ecstatic seeing this”. Rather we should try to learn the difference ourselves so that his judgments do not look inexplicable to us. How? That’s the most important question.

Vamsidas talked to his deities and sought their opinions. Maybe this is not exactly correct – he checked if doing something would be pleasing to Them, knowing Their personalities very well. Sometimes he wasn’t even looking for Their pleasure, as he occasionally chastised Them, too. In our case we have Paramatma, which means we should learn to feel things with our hearts. I don’t mean feel the emotional response, which is formed by the female side of our character. The head must be cool, and Paramatma is not an emotional being either – He wont’ talk to us with passion. Nevertheless, He is there to guide us and this means to help us listen. We just have to do our part and open our hearts to Him instead of the cacophony of sounds outside. We should be indifferent to happiness and distress, Krishna tells this in the beginning of Bhagavad Gita, and then He repeats it over and over again. This is what should be preliminary – keeping cool when everyone implores us to feel things and demands expressions of outrage.

How to do that? This should be clear from the next installment in the Pilgrim’s Diary series. I have almost completed instructions of one of the saints the pilgrim was given to learn as homework, and the last part deals exactly with that – how to keep one heart capable of hearing God. So please have a little patience – it’s coming. Perhaps going through Vamsidasa’s book again is what is necessary for me to complete that article.

On Importance of Lying

There is one curious verse in Srimad Bhagavatam:

In flattering a woman to bring her under control, in joking, in a marriage ceremony, in earning one’s livelihood, when one’s life is in danger, in protecting cows and brahminical culture, or in protecting a person from an enemy’s hand, falsity is never condemned.

SB 8.19.43

What would you make of that? Srila Prabhupada left no purport so we are on our own. I guess we should forget about speaking only truth at all times, as is expected from pure vaishnavas, and this verse does not talk about withholding information either, it’s about straightforward lying.

But first let’s look at the word for “lie” – here it’s “anṛtam — falsity”. The etymology of this word is interesting – if sat is truth then why falsity is not asat but anritam, which is the opposite of rita? Rita refers to a natural progression of things in the universe, most notably seasons following one another. Sun should rise in the morning and set down at night, when Moon takes over – this natural progress of the universe is rita. Falsity, or lies is therefore defined as deviation from natural flow of things, while asat is either that which does not exist or that which is temporary, which is another definition of non-existence – things that exist are eternal. A lie is not like that – it’s a deviation from nature, a rejection of what is supposed to happen, replacing with what we want to happen instead. Going against the flow of the universe is bound to end in frustration as we are too small to resist, so why is lying practically prescribed here?

First of all, this verse is spoken by Sukracarya to Bali Maharaja to justify cheating Lord Vamana of the promised three steps of land. This should immediately reduce its credibility, but our acaryas quote it elsewhere so it is meant to be accepted, not rejected out of hand. At the same time we understand that this is not the ultimate instruction for devotees but refers to rules of conduct in a society. I would also add “absolute rules” – not that it’s only for Vedic era but not for us. It’s the rules by which Krishna and His associates live in the spiritual world, too – in as much as it’s non-different from His pastimes here.

Sukracarya’s last argument

Now let’s look at what we are allowed to lie about. There are three pairs covered in three lines and then the prescription in the fourth – these lies should not be condemned. Personally, I have no idea what lying in a marriage ceremony refers to, but, thankfully, our acaryas make it clear and for some cases they give sastric support, too (not for marriage, though). Anyway, first line is a pair of a man and a woman.

We can lie to a woman to win her trust. This is a major one and I would stress that it’s a permission to lie about womanly things, not about your taxes to a female auditor. Women want to look attractive and by that they want to bring men under control. In this we, men, can play along and validate their aspirations. There is nothing wrong with praising women’s looks or grace or wit to make them feel happy about themselves. It’s not spiritually enlightening but as far as social interactions go it’s permissible.

This brings us to “women are less intelligent” and “women are like children”. Isn’t similarity with children obvious here? You want to encourage and boost confidence of both. They want it and they often really need it, and so this is our service to them. It’s not lies – it’s service. We understand that this is the right way to make them truly shine, to let them achieve the best they can do, to fully express themselves. In as much as we think it’s important to let them do that – we can help, and help means lying in this case. There can be a whole other article written about it but I will say just this – this kind of free, unencumbered expression is what makes jivas get full satisfaction in their selected endeavors and start looking for something better. Without it they might become devotees but they would still carry these holdover material desires, something they wanted to do but never achieved. We should all get these out of our system, not just women among us.

This proves “less intelligent” statement, too – people who depend on others’ approval are not very confident in themselves and lack of confidence means lack of clarity, which means foggy picture of reality, which means their intelligence is subpar. I take intelligence in Sankhya terms here – the ability to distinguish one thing from another and their connection. If you are unsure about something it means there is a lack of discernment, which means lack of intelligence. It’s not about measuring IQ – the very question “Do I look fat?” already indicates lack of confidence, clarity, and therefore intelligence.

But this is also an integral part of the female nature, we, men, are not excited by women who do not care for their looks and who do not seek our help and affirmations. Well, maybe some do get excited, but I suspect they are latent homosexuals – in a sense they are drawn to male qualities, not the female ones.

It is also a part of the female nature to take offense at questioning their abilities and so telling women they are stupid is stupid in itself. Rather we should tell them what they need to hear to make the next step in their spiritual progress and we should do it with an attitude of service, remembering that there is a thousand ways we can screw this up and therefore we should be prepared to take the blame for it.

The corresponding part in this pair is a groom at the wedding party. Groom’s qualities should be praised and exaggerated and there is nothing wrong with it, and this should be done jokingly, not that one should dare a man to do something dangerous and tell him nothing will happen because he is very strong. This explanation – to praise groom at the wedding, is offered by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti. I see it as a similar confidence building gesture. The groom should be confident about himself, as he has never tried marriage before, and the bride should be confident about her choice, too, and the rest of both families as well. At this point no one knows how the marriage will turn up, means no one has any clarity, means their intelligence is clouded, and to move forward they need positive reinforcement. And at the same time everybody understands that this praise doesn’t come with “satisfaction guaranteed” kind of promises. It’s a moral booster, not much more.

Next line is about oneself, with two situations given – improving business and self-protection. This is left without commentaries but the meaning is clear – trade-offs are worth it. It’s better to be alive but with bad karma for lying than dead, and it’s better to be rich, too. We’ve heard this from Srila Prabhupada many many times – businessmen are permitted to lie about their dealings and about their products, it comes with the territory. And it is also true that lies like this create karma to be “enjoyed”. You get more money but also more customer complaints and it’s easy to overdo it. Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes in his autobiography about one period in his life when he was placed in a position where he was making tons of money, but questionably, and he didn’t feel comfortable with it and gave it up.

Last pair is about protecting others, cows and brahmanas and everybody else. Their protection justifies lying and Jiva Goswami mentions that devotees are also included. Srila Visvanatha gives two quotes from sastra in support: varṇināṁ hi vadho yatra tatra sākṣy anṛtaṁ vadet from Yajnavalkya, who adapted Manu smriti specifically for Kali Yuga. Vadho is “killed” here and varninam is translated as a “person of status”, which derives from varna as in good qualities and good descriptions of someone.

This poses a bit of a conundrum. Typical example from Puranas is someone I don’t remember seeing a person running away and then a group of thugs asking which way he went. To protect that person it’s okay to point in another direction but imagine if this becomes your job? Let’s say highway robbers attack half a dozen people a day and they all flee past you. How do you make a decision which of these unfortunate souls are “persons of status” and which are nobodies not worth lying for? Should you develop a scale where for true VIPs you point in a direction 180 degrees from where they went and for everybody else it’s less – some at 90 degrees, some at 45, some, who are near rascals, get the search party sent very close to where they went, maybe only at 10 degrees off, and some, who clearly don’t deserve to live, are given 100% accurate directions. How do you get to decide? But this is what sastra says, the second quote from unnamed sruti: tasmāt kāla eva dadyāt kāle na dadyāt tat satyānṛte mithunī-karoti. According to time, kala, one gets to decide whether to tell the truth, satya, or a lie, anrite. I’m not sure how mithuni fits in here, it’s not reflected in the translation, but karoti indicates that this is what we should do and decide ourselves, making it into our karma.

Jiva Goswami simplifies it – lying is permitted to prevent harm, himsa, to others and, conversely, truth is condemned, jugupsitam, when it produces violence. Just sit on that for a minute – if telling the truth results in violence it is condemned. It’s not a rocket science and we see examples of this everywhere but it is not explicitly stated in our usual definitions of truthfulness. Now there is a war, for example, and everybody understands that governments will lie to protect their own. Or take Julian Assange who is facing 160 years in jail because he disclosed information that allegedly put other people in danger.

This is easy to understand in principle, though danger can be seriously overstated, but what if you don’t take sides in a war, as a devotee should, but soldiers come to you and ask if you have seen enemy spies? What do you do? If you refuse to cooperate you put yourself in danger and this is covered in the second life of the verse – you have to protect yourself. What to do if demands of the second and the third line contradict each other? Sanatana Goswami usually says about lists like this that they are sorted in the order of importance, which means protecting others is more important than protecting oneself, especially if they are brahmanas or devotees, obviously, but Sanatana Goswami didn’t comment on this verse so this convention of sorting lists might not apply.

Regardless, we can’t cover all possibilities in any set of instructions, let alone one wordpress article, but the principles themselves are pretty clear – there are circumstances, mostly social interactions, where deviating from the expected natural flow of things in your descriptions is desirable or at least not punishable.

War Progress

I don’t mean how the war is progressing, I mean the progress we can make while contemplating wars. Some devotees can also make enormous progress during the war itself, as letters from places like Mariupol shows. Some devotees can also become overwhelmed by circumstances and descend into bodily consciousness. In this sense wars are like diseases, vyadhi – we can talk about symptoms, causes, and cures, but the bottom line is that one’s consciousness becomes degraded and one cannot worship the Lord normally anymore. King Kulashekhara’s prayer comes to mind here – at the time of death chanting will be impossible, and this can be extended to the time of war, too. I don’t want to discuss experiences of devotees in Ukraine – what do I know about that? I’d rather talk what use can arm chair generals like myself extract from contemplating wars.

First thing – wars prove that the world isn’t flat. Suddenly we see that some moral values matter more than the others and there is no equality between them, no flatness. When discussing wars people usually mention politics or economics, maybe history, but not morals. Morals are treated as one undifferentiated blob and at best one thing is taken out of it as a moral justification, something like “historical injustice”, but this doesn’t do actual justice to the place morals play in wars.

Modern wars have become somewhat sanitized – waged by governments which hire soldiers to fly to some distant places and all we get is pictures and videos in the media. The media can create an environment where public feels that their government decisions are justified and that the opposing side are definitely bad guys, but designating someone as a bad guy and celebrating victories shown on TV is not the same as going to war. Morals do not actually get involved here, it’s only a lot of huffing and puffing about nothing.

By contrast, conflict over Ukraine is a conflict of convictions deeply held by entire societies, not just by a few individuals in charge. What’s interesting, however, is that they all draw from the same pool of moral values, they have all the same ingredients, but they select different ones to put at the top of their hierarchies. I mean it’s not that no one understands Russian concerns about NATO missiles being potentially put in Ukraine, and it’s not that Russians don’t understand the value of independence, but when they create dominant-subordinate relationships between these two ideas they make opposite choices of what should come first.

This goes back to Putin’s redline – no missiles in Ukraine. Easy to understand but, as it turns out, impossible to take it seriously. Sure he didn’t mean that it would override Ukraine’s right to self-determination, but Putin made it clear – it’s a redline, nothing else matters when it comes to redlines. Ukrainian quest for independence was dismissed with one rhyme, in English it would be “like it or don’t like it, but have to tolerate it”. It also sounded a bit rapey when Putin said it and for a few hours western media puzzled over what he meant exactly, and then they moved on, but Putin didn’t. Redline was still a redline and Ukrainian independence had to be patient and take subordinate role.

I admit I don’t understand Ukrainian case for resistance here. Sure, they don’t want to be dictated who can and who cannot put whatever missiles in their country, but the very quest for independence is illusory. No one is independent in this world and Ukrainians themselves don’t want independence either. What they want is to be dependent on the West instead of Russia. They want to join NATO, they want to join EU – they want to belong somewhere. Where is quest for independence?

Maybe it’s just me, but their entire narrative nicely fits into this two minute cartoon:

You don’t need to understand Ukrainian here – there are two girls growing next to each other. One is a good one and the other is bad, then the good one gets new friends but the bad one cannot accept it and tries to spoil it. Such a nasty character. It’s simple. It’s also about as serious as their medium of choice – it’s cartoonish.

If they take this narrative seriously and Russians don’t then it illustrates my point – people put different relative values on otherwise commonly acknowledged things.

It’s not that Russians don’t want to be a member of European family, this is patently ridiculous, but after thirty years they came to a curious realization, also based on lists of moral values, btw. So someone compiled a list of Western values and a list of Russian values and observed that Russian list is longer and therefore Russia can’t fit into Europe in a same way a bigger thing cannot fit into a smaller hole. Well, actually they meant American values and even that representation was probably unfair, but I was surprised by their mode of thinking. Sample argument – Russians traditionally place high value on cooperation and collectivism so that welfare of the whole matters more than welfare of individual parts. Can this be accommodated in the western world? No, that smells like communism and will be misunderstood and rejected, generally speaking. Therefore Russians cannot express themselves through Western framework, and after many years of trying in frustration we come to the point where they say “dhik dhik”. This means “to hell with it” in Sanskrit, repeated twice).

This makes it a choice for keeping one’s own identity and big words like “self-actualization”. Russians here want to be themselves and nothing can stand in their way. I can’t say the same about Ukrainians, however. Their desire to become European does not go beyond having more money and better stuff to buy with it. Perhaps it’s Russian propaganda but I hear stories of Ukrainian refugees refusing to get a job when they arrive in Europe. They think that since they are suffering from evil Russians then Europeans will give them free place to live and monthly stipend to go with it. Someone called a friend in France and made their case “I want to show Paris to my children, can you recommend a free place to stay for refugees for two-three days?” The reply was “You are a refugee, not a tourist, and, in any case, France is not in the business of providing free hotels.”

What I mean to say is that Ukrainian idea of Europe is cartoonish and so for them it becomes a case of seeking a new identity instead of coming to terms with their existing one. I mean if Russians want to be themselves then Ukrainians want to be anyone else but Ukrainians. Just by comparing these two approaches to life makes me conclude that there is no real case for Ukraine in this war.

Another lesson is that “democracy” is an illusory concept, too. It’s not what gives countries their power. British empire got prosperous because it subjugated a lot of countries all around the world, not because of “democracy”. The US got a good chunk of Europe after WWII and made these countries into American vassals who aren’t allowed to make any serious decisions without American approval. Example – the fate of Nord Stream 2 is decided in Washington, not Berlin. Better example yet is that if you look at the map of countries that joined Russian sanctions you will see that it very nicely corresponds with the map of countries occupied by the US in WWII. They can’t disagree, they are not allowed to, they all have to toe the same line. To restate the same point – democracy is a distraction for the masses, real power lies in military and political dominance, just as it has always been, and it’s coming from Vedic times. Therefore there is no democracy in Bhagavatam – whoever has the real power gets to dictate the rules, that’s the law, and it works in “democracies”, too.

More interesting is a lesson on “independent media”. Traditional idea is that democratic societies need independent media so that people can make informed choices about direction of their countries. Russians don’t have that, they say. True, but Russians don’t see the role of the media in the same way. Since they reject democracy (not really, but to make it simple) then there is no need for the informed population. People who make choices have to be properly informed and others have to be either encouraged or assuaged or given something to keep busy with, and that’s what the rulers need media for. Did you get this – “rulers need media”? Because this understanding rules out any need for independence.

What’s interesting is that Russians are the last to arrive at this conclusion while in the West they nailed it thirty-forty years ago. In the 90s Chomsky was already writing articles on how western media doesn’t do what it’s supposed to and it doesn’t serve people [to inform them]. Today they say Russians don’t have access to alternative viewpoints. Not true – several popular outlets have been shut down only after the war started but had a free go for decades. People listened to them, they gathered their loyal following (pro-western, needless to say), but they failed to capture the collective mind, and when the war started the government decided that their nonsense it could afford during peace cannot be allowed during war.

Once again, if it was a “modern war” fought by distant people in distant places it would not have mattered much, like these pro-western media were allowed to present alternative views on Russian involvement in Syria, but this war is too close to home to allow for any fissure between the government and the people.

More on independence – it doesn’t exist, as I said, so it’s not a question of having independent media but rather a question of who these media depend upon. Legally, it means being designated as a “foreign agent”. Usually it comes with proof of foreign funding, going to organizations like US National Endowment for Democracy and the like. Having your stuff trained by these organizations is another sign of being a “foreign agent”.

Non-Russian audience is not expected to know but Russian cultural elites are very much like Hollywood – liberal to the core. Outside we are informed of relentless Russian propaganda but there is a large number of Russian movies which offer alternative narratives of events like Russian participation in WWII, which is traditionally close to Russian heart. They glorify or at least humanize traitors and Nazi collaborators, they present Soviet army officers as bloodthirsty monsters killing their own soldiers etc etc. These movies invariably bomb at the box office but, and here is a mind blowing fact – most of them are made on government subsidies! This is the extent of pro-western elites grasp on Russian cultural space – they own it.

A few years ago a famous director made a TV serial about a Russian security officer who discovered an American regime change plot involving Russian sleeper agents recruited back in the 90s. The elites would not tolerate it and the director had to publicly apologize for making such a pro-Russian serial and second season had to be directed by someone else. So no, it’s not true that Russians have no exposure to alternative views – they do, or they did before the war, and they rejected them. Why? Many reasons, but a prominent one is probably because they see that this agenda doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Propaganda is propaganda, and they prefer to be lied by their own government, which is another interesting point.

Western ideal is privately held, not government controlled media. Okay, but private companies work for the profit of their owners while governments work for the welfare of the citizens. Corporate media wants to make money off you and the government wants you to be happy. Government takes responsibility for its citizens and cannot fire them whatever they do. Businesses take no responsibility for their workers and if they don’t fit in corporate culture they are let go and they have to fend for themselves. Governments don’t do that – they are always with you, like the Paramatma.

Which media model is better? It’s a no brainer – government one, but in today’s world it’s the opposite. Governments are supposed to be our enemies intent on cheating us and abusing their power, and corporations are presented as our true friends so that we give them all our money, meaning all our labor. Isn’t it amazing what maya makes us believe?

This is getting too long and I better wrap up. All in all, this war gives us an opportunity to see how Vedic laws still work even as the reality is covered by illusion of independence and “democracy”. Here is one last argument to ponder.

There is a legitimate question – if nobody is independent, what is Russia and Putin are depended on? If Ukraine should depend on Russia then what about Russia itself? A hundred and fifty years ago one German observer commented – Russia is dependent directly on God. Why? Because if it were not so then there would be no rational reason for Russia still keeping itself together. One could make the same argument about ISKCON, too.

And an atmospheric picture as a farewell. Death flying on the back of western anti-tank missile.

PS. None of the above seems to be about spiritual matters, but I would argue that these realizations are necessary on the way to “brahma-bhuta” platform. We must learn to see things as they are, free from illusion and propaganda. Like what progress do you expect if you can’t come to terms with your own personality and refuse to accept and act according to your own nature? The process is called “self-realization” for a reason.