About disappearing swans…

A few days ago Youtube suggested me a video, a song, with “Hare Krishna” in the title, so I checked it out. I’ve written about another song by the same singer here already and I’m fairly familiar with his earlier music, but this turned out to be new to me. I knew he used to sing “Hare Krishna” in concerts but I haven’t seen it on any records.

The reason might be because it’s from a movie that came out after I joined so I never watched it and didn’t know it existed, until now. At first I thought it was too sugary but as I listened to the lyrics I thought it deserves to be explained and shared, not that I can really explain it with my meager intelligence.

We’ve had a fair share of famous singers using Hare Krishna in their records, starting with George Harrison. Boy George was a poster boy for a while, too, but there’s one notable difference with this Russian “B.G.” – his songs have always been very cryptic, like sutras. Btw, I’ll use “BG” to spare English readers from parsing his full Slavic name. In the previously covered song I saw appearance of Lord Caitanya, for example. Second appearance, to be precise – because that’s what Hare Krishna movement is – Lord Caitanya’s entrance into lives of those who were not fortunate enough to have lived in India five hundred years ago. I don’t know if anyone else can understand that song this way, no one on the internet, afaik, but I insist that this is a legitimate interpretation. Just reflect on the meaning of that line from Bhaktivinoda Thakura – “all the people of the world are patiently waiting for the time when Lord Caitanya’s party comes to their door.” Just think about it’s meaning, let it sink into our hearts, and I’m sure you’ll see Mahaprabhu everywhere, too.

Anyway, back to this song. It appeared at the end of the movie, I haven’t watched the whole thing but from the plot descriptions it looks like a weird spy story. The song is timed in such a way that “Hare Krishna” comes exactly when the credits starts to roll – a reward for those who really pay attention, just like the Holy Name itself. The movie begins with another cryptic song about “Blue Janitor”, which I knew by heart in those days, but I never thought that it was about Krishna before I read our books. “Janitor” is simply an urban substitution for “cowherd boy”, function is the same. Perhaps it deserves another post. The video I post here is an extended version and singer’s voice is much much older than back in 1991.

In this song Christians can definitely hear about Christ – lyrics open with the prayer for “vanished swan” which disappeared into darkness. Russian case inflections make it suggestive that the speaker prays *for* this swan, or *about* this swan, which kinda blows Christian interpretation – who are we to pray *for* Jesus? We can pray *to* him, but not for him, right?

Then comes the refrain – “let the saints give us protection”. Just think about this prayer at the end of each verse – how often do we appeal to the help of the parampara at the end of whatever it is we have to say? How often do we realize that we are completely dependent on our predecessor acharyas? How often to we reflect on the meaning of “rupanugas”?

Typically, our prayers start and end with Srila Prabhupada, but his strength didn’t come from nowhere – he spent years of sleepless nights praying at the Rupa Goswami’s samadhi for help and guidance, weeping alone in the darkness. Srila Prabhupada’s mercy wasn’t “causeless” in this sense – he fully prayed for it, pardon the pun.

So, who do we pray for when we embark on any new adventure? “Let the saints offer us protection”. Saints, not the Lord. Who are we to appeal to the Lord directly? If He ever listens to us it’s only because of the mercy of the sampradaya.

Second verse is fully encrypted, 256 RSA key. If in the first verse “swan” can easily be identified as JC, the second verse talks about “sleeping trees”. What are they? Who are they referring to? It’s like passages from Rig Veda that can be easily translated but their meaning is still incomprehensible. And there are passages there that haven’t been properly translated yet – it’s still just a word soup to Sanskritologists. So, I don’t know what Christians make of it, but to me “sleeping trees” are us, ordinary people who haven’t been awakened to our real lives yet. Spiritually speaking, we are senseless like trees, even though we can move about in the material world. This translation makes sense to me.

Second line talks about wind that doesn’t touch their dreams, or can’t touch their dreams, or won’t touch their dreams. How to parse this prayer? What I see is Lord’s mercy which is still being withdrawn from us. His lilas are ever growing but they don’t touch our miserable, tree-like existence. They don’t cross into our lives, they can’t cross down here, and they won’t. But if we pray for it… That’s what we do with chanting Hare Krishna, after all. We beg the Name to descend into our lives and wake us up from our dreams. But it won’t – not until we make ourselves ready. In the Bible there’s a line in this regard: “many be called, but few chosen”. Unless we are chosen, we are like sleeping trees. Chosen – it means the final word belongs to the Lord, it’s not up to us.

Lord’s mercy is unlimited, but it won’t come into the heart filled with anarthas. So by constantly chanting, mantra after mantra, round after round, day after day, year after year, we slowly chisel away all the accumulated dirt in our hearts and hope that one day we’ll become worthy of Lord’s mercy. Therefore we pray for the “wind” that normally doesn’t disturb these sleeping trees. “Wind”, btw, is the property of air, it’s what brings movement, brings change into the world. It purifies and liberates and lifts us up. It’s a very appropriate prayer whichever way you look at it, and it ends with the appeal to the saints to extend their protection.

Next verse reminds us that in front of the Lord we can’t offer any excuses. We can’t blame anyone else, we can’t pass our faults as someone else’s. We can’t be dishonest. This is a very important point – the Lord resides in that corner of our hearts where we are absolutely honest. How often we ourselves go there? Not very, right? But that’s where the Lord dwells. But what to do about our faults? Next line tells us – “you yourself is a justification enough”. What??? How can this bag of envy and cheating and lust be a justification for anything? We can’t process it in our ISKCON realm of four regulative principles, for example. We can’t contemplate a situation where the Lord would accept one’s committing sinful activities and forgive one for that. It’s our red line – four regs or out. Nevertheless it’s the truth – our existence is justification it itself to appear before the Lord and become accepted. How so?

The easy answer lies in “tat te ‘nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo” verse from Bhagavatam which says that for a devotee absolutely every situation, even an unfavorable one, is a blessing from the Lord. The point is that whatever the Lord arranges for us, even if detestable by everybody else’s standards, is His loving and caring arrangement for our purification and benefit. When seeing it this way, as a matter between oneself and the Lord and without trying to impress others, one can appreciate the body and its karma given to us as a justification in itself to invite the Lord into our hearts, or rather to reveal Himself. With this vision one automatically gives up propensity to lie and hide his sins – there are no sins between us and the Lord, only His unlimited mercy and our lack of appreciation for it.

Next line further elaborates on this condition of the heart – one stands before the Lord without “bread in his hands”. In Russia honorable guests are greeted with a loaf of freshly baked bread (and a serving of salt), but once we open our hearts to the Lord we realize we have nothing to offer to Him. We own nothing in this world and so we feel totally unqualified to receive Him. There are lots of personalities in Srimad Bhagavatam who attained Lord’s mercy but we are not one of them. Narada Muni discovered that every one of the otherwise celebrated devotees has this attitude of being unqualified and undeserving of Lord’s mercy in Brihad Bhagavatamrita.

Another feature of the soul in this humble position given in this line is that one has “no guiding star” in his life. To anyone else we can say that we follow this person or that person, this idea or that idea, prefer iPhones or Androids, liberals or conservatives, but in front of the Lord we have no one else to follow and no places to go, no other destinations. The song informs us that at this moment one feels himself infinitely alone. I suppose because the world and everyone else in it just fades away and disappears from view. Who are you going to turn to when you are standing before the Lord? No one else is there. Alternatively, the “star” in this verse can refer to stars pinned on the chests of brave soldiers and generals, feathers in one’s cap, so to speak. Makes sense as well.

And then, after a couple of minutes of the flute solo (this flute like instrument really carries the entire song), comes the last verse which repeats the line about “vanished swan” but this time it says that He disappeared only to come back to us again, and this time refrain has changed to “saints HAVE given us mercy”. This turn makes the song into an outpouring of vipralambha, the pain of being separated from the Lord, not just lecturing on things. Without deeply feeling Lord’s absence one cannot possibly cry for the Holy Name. Harinama IS the cry of the soul separated from the Lord, it’s not the sound of someone content with his life. It doesn’t happen to people who still think they own things, have positions, reputations, interests, goals, “guiding stars” etc. It’s only when we distance ourselves from these worldly things that we can turn our attention to the Lord and utter His name with love and devotion. Let the saints extend us their mercy so that we can actually do that.

After processing all this I decided to change my first impression as “sugary” of the Hare Krishna chant that follows this verse. It might appear sugary due to lack of chanting practice by the singer, but its foundation is solid.

There are many other things I want to appreciate about this song. How the word “prayer” appears only twice in five minutes but every line is tied to it grammatically – because of Russian inflections of verbs and nouns. I guess that’s what it feels like when translating Sanskrit – there simply are no tools in the English language to convey all the nuances and poetic beauty they produce. That is not to say that English poetry is somehow deficient, but it’s different, and it means that it expresses certain feelings but not the ones found in Sanskrit, or in this case in Russian. They are beautiful in their own way, but different. Just like there’s no equivalent for the sweet beat of mridanga. Lord’s madhurya needs appropriate instruments to be expressed, it can’t be done with whatever drum you can find, you can’t express it fully without mridanga.

Did I mention that the movie with this song came out in 1991, which means it was recorded even earlier? Possibly at the time when Russians had only underground Bhagavad Gitas or, maybe, first imported Teachings of Lord Caitanya and Isopanishads at most. How did BG get this deep insight into our philosophy? For one thing, it’s not really unique and is common to all religious paths, Christianity included (but not to all Christians, naturally). Come to think of it, their anticipation of the second coming IS love in separation, though they don’t normally talk about it this way.

In this connection we can remember the story of Narada Muni who experienced a brief appearance by the Lord and then spent the rest of his life longing for Him. It was certainly love in separation, and we can see similar examples of echoes of the original separation of the gopis in Vraja everywhere. It reverberates through the entire world, manifesting itself here and there, and it takes real appreciation for it to spot it in everyday events. At this point I don’t mind whether it comes from our devotees or from people like this BG. We should feel forever indebted to whoever brings it to us – amanina manadena. How else can we expect to chant the Holy Name? Only by seeing His mercy in every soul, every object, every phenomena coming into our experience.

Hare Krishna

The meaning of “Lord Caitanya”

We think Lord Caitanya descended and then disappeared some five hundred years ago. On one hand it’s an undeniable fact, on the other hand it betrays our materialistic way of thinking about these things – in this version He gets born and dies as an ordinary human, we only use different words like “descended”, “appeared”, or “disappeared” for the sake of etiquette. What we mean, what we perceive in our minds, is actions of “birth” and “death”, so using more respectful terms doesn’t help very much. I think there’s a way to expand our understanding of what’s going on here.

In the introduction to Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the meaning of Caitanya as “living force”. In the first few chapters Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja explains the mission of Lord Caitanya in various ways and one aspect of it is to propagate chanting of the Holy Name and to purify the whole world through this chanting. In the introduction Śrīla Prabhupāda explains it in terms of “living force in immortality” or “character of the living force in immortality” and how the Lord makes it happen for the souls born in Kali yuga. Why not take it as the actual definition?

I mean under materialistic way of thinking “Lord Caitanya” means a person who was born and died five hundred years ago, that’s the main definition, and then we add the details with information about His divinity, mercy and so on. What I propose is to take “giver of immortality to the living force” as primary definition instead and THEN start filling it with details about when He was visible, what He looked like etc.

In relation to our gradual awakening from the dreams of māyā Lord Caitanya appears as He who gives the sound of the Holy Name and fills it with spiritual realizations. Prior to Him chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra was absent from this world and without His mercy it does not produce desired effects. Technically, the mantra itself was known, of course, but no one paid much attention to it, and now, when everybody is aware of its existence and benefits of its chanting, hardly anyone actually becomes a devotee – without Lord Caitanya’s mercy it’s not possible.

Lord Caitanya was also Kṛṣṇa Himself who appeared in the mood of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī but I can’t personally relate to it (yet), what I do know is that chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra effects changes in myself. I won’t argue if to other people Lord Caitanya means Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa nahe anya, but I would argue that to me it means gradual spiritual awakening, which is a legitimate part of His mission and He and His mission are non-different.

If I accept that this is how Lord Caitanya appears in my life then I can’t say “He disappeared in 1534” because that doesn’t make sense now. In fact, He NEVER disappears because His presence as “immortality of the living force” which fills the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra with spiritual potency does not go away, ever. Well, I can commit offences and stop chanting as a result or chanting would become ineffective but something tells me it would only be temporary and Lord Caitanya’s mercy would reach me even at my own worst.

Lord Caitanya is addressed as mahā-vadānyāya and kṛṣṇa-prema-pradāya in his praṇāma mantra. At this stage prema-pradāya practically means “giver of devotion”, exactly what I’m talking about, and mahā-vadānyāya means supremely merciful and magnanimous so there’s no way to avoid Him, means in this aspect of His personality He never disappears.

I remember this when I chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, my mind gets absorbed in mundane thoughts, and suddenly I wake up and purge them from my consciousness – it’s the appearance and mercy of Lord Caitanya. I might think it’s my own effort but it isn’t, I falsely appropriate it. Why do I remember to stop thinking nonsense things? Because of Lord Caitanya, who is ever present, ever ready to help, ever putting meaning in words “Hare” and “Kṛṣṇa” and “Rāma”, ever filling them and myself with living force and immortality. He didn’t disappear five hundred years ago, He is always here, with me, even if I don’t fully appreciate it yet.

Okay, but what to do with the fact of Him taking birth in Navadvīpa and then living for forty eight years “on Earth”, in materialistic speak? First of all, accepting materialistic worldview means accepting a timeline, which is also linear, not cyclical like in Vedic science, so let’s distance ourselves from that first. Lord Caitanya’s existence and appearances are not restricted by time, place, or circumstances, only by our readiness, devotion, and His mercy. If we accept ourselves as parts of the materialistic community based on science and history then we can’t see Him because that time has passed. If we realize that we are not a part of that world then we might pray for Lord Caitanya’s full appearance right now, subject to our readiness, devotion, and His mercy.

In one place, I can’t find it right now, Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja describes Lord Caitanya as mercy personified, which I take to mean that mahā-vadānyāya aspect has a form and that form is of a tall, large man with lotus eyes, long arms, and golden complexion. It might take a while for us to realize that feelings like mercy can have forms but we can start with the fact that we recognize things like “look of compassion” or “manifestation of mercy”. Mercy isn’t impersonal, in relation to our beings it takes forms suitable to us so that we at least recognize it as “mercy” and not as “malice”. Like a crying baby who perceives mother’s mercy first as sound of her saying “Coming!”, then adds a perception of her figure appearing in his view, then the gentle touch of her arms and warmth of her body, then a sensation of nipple in his mouth, and then the taste of mother’s milk, so Lord’s appearance in our lives is also gradual. It starts with the sound of the Holy Name and graduates in Goloka, just have patience and keep crying for Him. His mercy WILL take more perceptible forms, we just have to start somewhere and keep going.

Engrossed in materialistic thinking we do not recognize that the power which shakes off our distractions as we chant the Holy Name IS Lord Caitanya Himself, we take it for granted. There’s a similar situation with our thinking about atoms I heard many many years ago. We think that atoms have nucleus and there are orbiting electrons (not entirely correct but the most common model) but Vedic science would look at the same atom and say “it occupies space – either, there’s movement – air, there’s energy – fire, there’s bondage between parts of nucleus – water, and there subatomic particles themselves – earth”. Same thing, different perspective, different science. Materialists take existence of space or movement for granted but in Vedic science those are fundamental elements making matter, not protons and electrons.

Materialistic worldview and their understanding of the universe or history do not have any independent sources of existence, they are not objective reality. It’s a degraded “Vedic culture”, in the simplest terms, and periodic decline of religion was mentioned by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gīta, so every now and then the Lord appears even before the eyes of the degraded population so that some of us get to see Him “for real”. On average, I’m removed by about twenty five generation from Lord Caitanya and my ancestors were nowhere near India at the time. They didn’t see Him, how can I expect this body produced by them to see the Lord? They weren’t even among those who only heard of Lord Caitanya, or even heard of the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa. Those events, however, were recorded and accepted as “real” even by atheists. My ancestors were not qualified for that particular manifestation of Lord’s mercy, there were nowhere near it, so I get this mercy in the form of chanting that only begins to make sense, which is a solid start. What’s there to complain?

I know devotees who had a much better perception of Lord Caitanya’s mercy that me so I can see a gradient, which means it’s real and progress can be actually made.

The main point is to appreciate Lord Caitanya in the form we can perceive rather than raise our expectations in line with our materialistic upbringing where it’s all or nothing – you can either see God or He doesn’t exist. No, He DOES exists, and there ways to sense His presence other than “seeing”, we just not paying attention.

Vanity thought #1681. Essence of life

When I first started this blog I thought I’d write mostly about japa and chanting, I hoped writing about it would make me concentrate on chanting more. That didn’t happen. Why? What is the reason we can’t just be happy chanting our rounds? Why do I feel the urge to write about inconsequential things like Panama Papers?

To be fair to myself, chanting for me didn’t become a secondary activity, it is still usually forms the center of my day, but somehow or other I write about other things instead and this creates a somewhat dual personality. During japa I try to purge various “Panama Papers” topics from my mind as much as possible and feel great satisfaction when they go away, but when I put down my beads and sit down these “Panama Papers” is all I can think to write about. It’s like feeding on the refuse. Why do we do it to ourselves?

All I can notice in our books now is how one should not imitate elevated devotees like Haridāsa Ṭhākura and how, instead of dedicating our life purely to chanting, we absolutely need positive physical engagement. I’m not sure “positive” is the right word here but that’s how it feels when we do something related to Kṛṣṇa as opposite to mundane stuff like sleeping or working.

It’s as if we are not meant for chanting at all and we were specifically born to do “great things” instead. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself said as much when he talked about East meets West combination that made ISKCON so successful. We, the westerners, bring the muscle only and it’s all we will ever be good for. We do chant, of course, but only the bare minimum we managed to extort from Śrīla Prabhupāda who simply wouldn’t go below sixteen rounds per day. If he did we’d settle on four, maybe, just as they do with bābājīs in Vṛndāvana.

Let’s say we did set our mind on chanting as our sole devotional activity. This has been done before so the possibility is there. First thing we’d realize is that we need to give up our jobs and families and that we can’t stay in the West unless strictly in a temple without ever venturing out. This is a clear indication that our current bodies and our current conditioning is incompatible with this nirjana-bhajana. We need to place ourselves in a completely foreign situation which probably doesn’t exist anymore even in India, though temples would still be the safest bet – if we can deposit enough funds for our upkeep because temple management is usually not charitable to those who don’t do positive physical service.

This reminds me – Śrīla Prabhupāda was actually invited to stay at Rādhā-Dāmodara temple in Vṛndāvana, free of charge, he didn’t come, ask, and pay for it. This means that when it’s necessary Kṛṣṇa can make necessary arrangements and inspire others to cooperate with our service, though the word “can” here implies the possibility of changing His pre-existing plan for us because of our whims. It’s not a devotional attitude and we should drop it. Kṛṣṇa is not our servant to make special arrangements for us, He already has all the arrangements for those souls who follow His plan, we just have to take advantage of them and be thankful.

Our common translation of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra also indicates that we chant now to get physical service in the future: “Oh Lord, Oh energy of the Lord, please engage me in the loving service of Kṛṣṇa.” Straightforward reading is that we beg to place us in a position where we get to manipulate material energy for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure – build temples, distribute books, make new devotees, expand our mission and so on. We rarely translate Hare Kṛṣṇa to mean “please let me chant more and more and let chanting be my only reward”.

To be honest, that’s what I do when I don’t know what to write about in this blog. I just chant and hope that necessary thoughts would come into my head on their own. It’s the same karmic mentality of chanting for gains rather than chanting for the sake of chanting.

As I said, maybe we are not meant for japa at all, it’s not what Kṛṣṇa placed us in our bodies for and so we should concentrate on what is available rather than on what is perfect. Arjuna didn’t chant sixteen rounds, let alone day and night, and He pleased Kṛṣṇa by his physical service far better than any of us can ever hope. There are plenty of instructions in Bhagavad Gītā to follow our nature instead of artificially trying to be holier than we are.

One solution to this could be prioritization – chanting is the best and the most important service, as we know, and everything else should be subservient to it. Everything else illusory, it runs under the directions of the Lord, we shouldn’t be attached to the results, and so it shouldn’t require as much attention from us as chanting. All these other duties will eventually pass, we’ll get old and useless, the material nature would let go, and then we could actually dedicate our lives to pure chanting.

I don’t know the verse but Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja said that execution of our “material” duties require dedication, focus, and attention to detail. In other words, we should put all our hearts into it. At the same time it should also be done with detachment, which means “no attachment to results”, not “no attachment to the activity”.

When I sat down to type this post I was going to prove chanting as the essence of our lives but in the end it’s actually whatever service that is given that should take all our attention and it is our current engagement that should become the sole focus of our consciousness. Of course service to Kṛṣṇa is the essence of our lives but since we can’t see Him directly we have to choose between materially manifested activities, which include chanting, too.

This kind of focus is easier to achieve under the direction of the guru when he specifically tells you what you need to do and for the time being you can forfeit everything else you have ever heard but that kind of baby sitting cannot last forever and we need to manage on our own. All our duties ultimately come from guru and Kṛṣṇa anyway, or at least they are sanctioned by them – like when we go to work or look after our families. It’s this connection that we should see and honor and, perhaps, it’s this connection that can be called true “essence of life” on the material platform.

Vanity thought #1538. Evernow

Saw this word on TV, it’s about some video game and I don’t think it means anything special there. For us, however, “evernow” is an interesting concept.

I don’t know much about Buddhism but I like their understanding of reality as illusion. It might not be a correct representation of Buddhism but that doesn’t matter, it works equally well across all platforms. The future is not real because it hasn’t happened yet, the past is not real because it’s already gone, the only reality is the present moment but even our present is made of connections to either the past or the future. We need to strip the present of these connections to appreciate its true value and see it for what it is.

Things we see around us are results of previous activities, they were made some time ago, given color and shape, and they constantly change, even if changes are imperceptible. Whatever we observe is, therefore, not the reality as it is but reality as it was and that reality doesn’t exist anymore. This means that relying on our senses to interact with “reality” is a delusion and nothing exists objectively.

Making plans is illusory, too, because plans are driven by desire to enjoy things that don’t exist yet. We think we can shape the reality in a way that pleases us but that pleasure doesn’t exist yet. It might come out satisfactory or it might be disappointing. Chasing it is not the reality.

The only reality, as I said, is now, our current state stripped of references to the past and projections into the future. I’m sure there’s a lot more to Buddhism explanations of this than that but it’s enough of a starting point for me.

There could be a big discussion whether what we feel now is real or illusory. Buddhists and advaitins would say that feelings are not real, we would say that feelings and their corresponding senses exist but they are not ours, and, furthermore, we also have our own eternal spiritual senses which are waiting to be engaged and experienced in service to Kṛṣṇa. The point where we could agree on is the importance of now.

When under the influence of the mode of passion we direct our consciousness into the future and make plans. Future doesn’t exist yet and when it comes it will happen according to the plans of the Lord, not ours, so hoping to extract pleasure from it is like a lottery. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but we get enough small victories to get hooked up and keep buying tickets. We think that we can become richer that way, that our lives will become fulfilled and that we’ll have enough memories to die in knowing we didn’t live in vain.

It might work – if we ignore the elephant in the room, the death itself, which is like the moment when you get thrown out of the casino. Yes, you might have good times there before that happens and even win something but in the end you always run out of credit and lose. “I’m going to gamble away all my money but I’ll have fun while doing it” is not a particularly clever life plan.

So, making our own plans for something that is going to happen according to somebody else’s will is gambling and it will end the same, in a big loss. That’s for placing our faith in the future.

Dwelling in the past is more of a mode of ignorance thing. It doesn’t lead even to creating future karma and earning future brownies. People in this state only try to relive their past moments again and again. As time passes by their memories fade and then they’d have good memories of the time when their memories were good. “I remember thinking about my wife made me feel warm but now I don’t even remember her name” – that type of thing. These days conversations like this are more likely revolve around “remember that time we got high and …”

People try to replay those old feelings and experiences even though they can’t actually feel them anymore and they can’t get off their asses to do anything about it. That’s dwelling in the past and it’s a very subpar way of enjoying your life even by materialistic standards.

Now is governed by the mode of goodness. One sign of it is knowledge – only people in full knowledge can let go off the past and stop worrying about the future. Why make plans when Kṛṣṇa has already made them? His plans are perfect and they have been put into practice an infinite number of times in the infinite number of universes. Trying to improve on them, which is what materialistic planners are doing, is futile. Even trying to predict them is pointless because things will happen anyway and in their own time and we can’t stop them from happening, nor can we protect ourselves.

That’s what trusting Kṛṣṇa means – we can finally stop planning our own lives and surrender to His superior will. It doesn’t mean that our minds stop working. Universe will keep on rolling and our minds will roll with it. Heart will continue pumping blood, lungs will continue inhaling and exhaling, hair and nails will continue growing. People in full knowledge don’t worry about that.

Kṛṣṇa also has His own cunning way to place us under the illusion any time He wants so that we continue acting out His plans. That won’t be the same kind of illusion that covers ordinary living entities, though, it won’t be controlled by cold karma but administered by Kṛṣṇa Himself, and sometimes He’d do it for His personal enjoyment, too, like He does with devotees in Vṛndāvana. I mean we shouldn’t worry that if we surrender to Kṛṣṇa our lives will suddenly stop. They won’t.

What should happen when we disassociate ourselves from both the past and the future, though? Will we cease to exist, in the Buddhist sense of the word? Maybe, I’ll tell you if it ever happens to me, but for now the best engagement I can think of is chanting the Holy Name.

Most of the time we chant while still thinking of either past or the future, mulling over things we said and done, dreaming up alternative scenarios, role playing future conversations to get ourselves ready, or feverishly exploring new ideas and inventions. All these things distract us from listening and add colors of passion and ignorance to the pristine form of the pure name. We’ll never hear the name as it is as long as we divert our consciousness away like that.

So, we should stop doing it, let it go, drop the plans, stop thinking about revenge and injustice, and simply concentrate on the name. Let the name speak to us instead of us shouting at it with angst or begging it to fulfill our desires. These desires aren’t even ours, they are born out of the false ego and directed by the material modes.

One could say that as eternal souls we can’t stop our desires but our real, spiritual desires will not manifest without the Lord revealing Himself first. We can’t have them without connection to the Lord, without the Lord being present, either personally or in the name, so we must learn to hear the name first and wait until it reveals itself. All desires manifesting before that happened are material and worthless, we should led them go.

Then we can discover the bliss of living in the eternal “evernow”.

Vanity thought #1391. Insanity

According to Einstein, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I tend to value his insights and I reminded other people about this observation multiple times but when it comes to myself the rules are always meant to be bent, aren’t they?

It was only a week ago that I tried chanting three lakhs of names and the lesson I learned from the experience is that for me it’s still premature. Then yesterday I heard that I might have another couple of days to myself next month and the first thought that came into my mind was “I should try again, I really want to try again”. Isn’t it insane?

This wasn’t the first time I attempted to chant three lakhs, I think I tried a few time before and succeeded twice, but there’s only one memory that is etched into my mind, from the very first time I completed the task. It was about 11 PM and I had only six or seven rounds left. I was tired like a dog, I was sleepy, my hand ached, the tip of my middle finger was cracked and almost bleeding, and yet I still had determination to finish. That’s when I sensed a kind of epiphany, it was as if Kṛṣṇa finally conceded that I deserve His attention and His recognition of my effort. It wasn’t just a second wind for me, it was sudden realization that my chanting mattered and I was “welcomed to the club”, so to speak.

Now the actual membership is obviously deferred until I sufficiently purify my consciousness but from that moment on I knew that my place was booked, reserved, waiting for me to reclaim it.

Maybe it’s this one memory is all that drives me to try again and again, I want to relive that glorious moment, even if it didn’t feel like anything special externally. There was no tears, hairs standing on end, nothing of that kind, just an internal understanding that Kṛṣṇa was somehow pleased. And not even Kṛṣṇa personally, but the Holy Name or maybe the Supersoul – something or someone I have a regular relations with in lieu of relations with Kṛṣṇa Himself, my personal understanding of who or what the Absolute Truth is. It didn’t reveal itself, just let me know that my chanting had been heard, and I can’t forget it.

Several times after that I got a subtle message that “now it’s not the time”, and to augment it I was given some other engagements I had to accept. This last weekend was the first time the universe went along with my plan and that’s why I hoped it would work, but it didn’t. It’s still not the time, so why do I want to repeat it next month?

Well, I don’t actually want to repeat it, I want to learn from mistakes and do it differently, but I haven’t decided yet what exactly I want to change. Maybe I should set a lower limit, maybe set no limit at all, maybe set only the number of hours dedicated to chanting, maybe decide to chant whole day and simply record the number at the end. Maybe chant only as long as I feel like it, maybe find some other way to avoid the pressure. I still have time to find the best formula, and I think I will need it.

Last Saturday might have been the worst day in my recent memory, quality wise, but the week after that was easily the best week I remember. My mind was unusually cooperative and attentive and my consciousness was always in the right place. Now the effect is slowly wearing off and I might need another boost, another marathon.

Next time I try, should I chant slower, without a rash, and try to appreciate every Name coming out of my mouth? Or should I set a goal and try to hack my way through exhaustion and sleepiness and don’t stop until I’m done? I think this second approach is the one that worked for me last Saturday and that time when I actually finished my rounds. Should I change this winning formula and focus on quality rather than on the valiance of the effort?

It’s hard to say what’s better. Effort means sacrifice, sacrifice means reward, reward means mercy and recognition by Kṛṣṇa. Attentive, quality chanting might please Him right away, under normal circumstances it always feels better and it should be our goal anyway. Chanting is not just means to an end, a price to pay in exchange for some spiritual goodies, pure chanting is the goal in itself just as bhakti is the reward in itself. Whatever it leads to is not as valuable as the process.

The counterargument could be that my chanting is not pure yet and so for me it’s the effort that could possibly count, Kṛṣṇa is not going to listen to my chanting itself.

There’s also something to be said about other forms of purification. On Saturday I haven’t taken any prasādam, for example, and so only one function of my tongue was engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service. My intelligence was also dying for learning things, processing information, figuring stuff out etc. I didn’t give it a chance to purify itself through philosophical speculation or whatever way works for purifying intelligence.

And what is it with my using “I”, “my” and “mine” in every sentence today? Should I address this self-centeredness first? Is it possible for us to turn ourselves around and talk about these important things without filtering them through personal perspective? Is it possible to talk about them from Kṛṣṇa’s POV? I still don’t know how and this means I’m still not ready for pure chanting.

Or is pure chanting something that simply needs to be done, not talked about? Am I overthinking things? Should we just chant without seeking external validation from our intelligence? Should we give up our attachments to hows and whys and what fors and just chant. Chant, don’t talk.

Or is it completely natural to be nervous about it, like a boy before his first date, but this nervousness would go away by itself once our date with the Holy Name starts rolling?

What I really want to achieve is just being with the Holy Name. Being with the sound, being with the concept, live my life in its shadow, hang out together. Maybe then I’ll get a chance to interact with it, pray, hear feedback, or simply know that the Name likes my company, too. Maybe He will teach me faster, maybe He will purify my consciousness faster, maybe He’ll teach me how to surrender.

In any case, the Holy Name is not the worst company to keep.

Vanity thought #1388. Limits of the Name

There aren’t any, right? The Name is identical with Kṛṣṇa, what possible limits could be there? And yet my Saturday marathon experience tells me otherwise. How so?

I wanted to chant a gazillion number of rounds on Saturday and I thought the Holy Name would help me to get through but it didn’t. I don’t mean I blame the Name for not finishing the gazillion (though that kind of help would have been nice), I mean that I didn’t feel the Name cooperated with me at all.

It’s not the number of completed rounds that I was really after, I just wanted to spend the entire day with the Name, in Name’s company. Just sit and listen and be together. It usually works, but not this time. Of course there are days when my mind is too disturbed to listen and my heart isn’t in the right place but these distractions are usually temporary, like clouds in the sky. I would have accepted having one, two, maybe three bad hours, but this time it even felt differently, it was as if my mind was disturbed on purpose and not by myself.

I tried very hard to shut it off and find my place but it was impossible. Even when I ignored what was going on there and listened only to the sound it didn’t go away. I would even say that my heart was in the right place, I knew what I wanted and I tried very hard not to give in to mind’s temptations, but some other forces were at play, too. Did they limit the Name? I think so.

Actually, I think it’s not some external powers interference but the limits of the Name Itself. It just couldn’t do what I wanted it to do or what I expected it to do.

Btw, I decided to use a neuter pronoun “it” for the Holy Name because that’s how I naturally see it. If the day comes when Name’s personal form is revealed to me the I will address it accordingly. It would be weird for me to talk about the Name as “He” at this point, it might be technically correct but it doesn’t feel right and it doesn’t reflect the reality as I see it, and I’m talking about MY experiences here, so I’m just being honest.

So I was wondering why the Name appeared so cold and distant and not comforting at all. Usually It reciprocates with however we want to relate to It – in practice it’s really up to us how to feel about the Name – that’s how reliable Its reciprocation is. This time it didn’t work.

And then it hit me – the Name is fully contingent, fully dependent of the guru’s mercy. It’s the guru who limits Its power. The guru is the boss and the Name has to comply. As far as we are concerned, the Name has no separate existence.

Of course it does exist – I heard It, It was there, but It won’t reveal itself without guru’s permission, which is as good as being non-existent because it’s the relationship with the Name that matters, not Its existence per se.

Basically, what I’m saying is that if the guru tells you to dig you can’t chant your way out of digging. You have to do what guru says, there’s no alternative.

In my case the required minimum number of rounds per day is sixteen. We can certainly chant more than that but we have to follow guru’s other orders, too, we can’t neglect them. Of course we don’t have specific todo lists posted for us each morning and all other tasks are general, not daily requirements, but still.

I mean guru tells us to read books – in general, though sometimes some disciples get an order to read minimum two hours every day. I don’t think it applies to me, though. Or maybe it does, I’ll get to that later. Guru tells us to preach or to distribute books but it’s also a general advice, it doesn’t mean that if we have other engagements on one particular day the it means we fail to follow. I guess if one has a deity to worship then he can’t skip on that service but I don’t have a deity, no deity in His right mind would ever entrust Himself into my service, that’s just how it is.

So, if all these orders are general and it wouldn’t be an offense to skip on them on one occasion in favor of something else, particularly chanting, why didn’t it work? Well, for one thing, reading everyday IS a standing order, I might not remember a specific occasion it was given but I know it’s expected. However, there are days when I don’t read and nothing happens, so that must not be it.

I believe the offense was of a different kind – we have a standing order not to imitate Haridāsa Ṭhākura and I tried to. I didn’t mean to, I just wanted to chant whole day – what’s wrong with that? The assumption that it is possible for me to do so in a proper service attitude, I guess.

All the other things I do everyday might not be as spiritually pure as chanting but when they are assigned to me by my karma and under Kṛṣṇa’s supervision it means they are meant to be done as service. There’s a whole Bhagavad Gīta to explain how everything must be done as a service to the Lord, no need to go into specifics.

What I did instead is ignore these naturally coming, and actually pre-arranged opportunities and decided to do my thing in my own way instead. AFAIK, neither Śrīla Prabhupāda nor my guru, nor any spiritual master in ISKCON wanted their disciples to chant non-stop, they’d rather have us working on purifying our material desires first, and I neglected this duty. Well, I didn’t have any particular material desires on that day, nothing that required immediate attention, but the point still stands – it is our duty to utilize material facilities provided by our bodies according to our nature to purify our consciousness. Attending to bodily needs does not have to be the source of bondage but we should turn it into a source of liberation.

Another argument could be made that since everything that happens to us happens with permission of the Lord, then how could my attempt to chant was any different? Wasn’t it arranged by the Lord for my purification, too? And if it did, how could it be seen as a transgression?

The answer is this very post – if I didn’t screw up my Saturday marathon I wouldn’t have realized the power of the guru and that the Name cannot be expected to act independently of him.

Of course Kṛṣṇa can do whatever He wants but in our relationship with Him He acts through our guru and only through our guru, and we wouldn’t want it any other way, considering that our goal is to be a servant of the servant of the servant. If Kṛṣṇa reached us directly, over and around our guru’s head, it wouldn’t be the relationship we want to have with Him or meant to have with Him, so He doesn’t.

Just think of all those manjaris in Vṛndāvana, if they had a bit of spare time, would they want to go and have a look at Kṛṣṇa on their own or would they have considered it as a betrayal of their commitment to facilitate relationships between Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā? They don’t want Kṛṣṇa for themselves, they want Him for Rādha. This is true not only for manjaris, too, very few people get to relate to Kṛṣṇa directly and on their own there, everyone else does so in the context of being subordinate to other devotees.

One more thing to clarify – by guru I don’t mean only the physical initiating spiritual master but the guru principle in all its aspects.

Vanity thought #1387. Dream turned into a nightmare

This has nothing to do with dreams we watch when we sleep, it’s my dream desire that got fulfilled and left me confounded and exhausted. I still can’t make sense out of it and speak about the experience with any clarity or certainty, so all interpretations are still on the table.

Last week I found out that I had Friday and Saturday all to myself and I thought it would be a good idea to dedicate these two days to chanting, especially Saturday. I haven’t done this in a long time, a few previous opportunities were lost to various circumstances, so I wasn’t sure it would finally happen, I was waiting and watching for any disturbance in the force, so to speak, but nothing happened and so Friday came.

I thought I’d prepare myself gradually and chant sixty four rounds first. My biggest worry was that my wrist would get tired of holding the beads and the skin on the tip of my middle finger might get bruised from counting the beads and rolling them between fingers as I chant, so I thought sixty four would be a good start.

I still had a few engagements on Fridays so I had to chant when I had free time, of which I had plenty. I finished the first sixteen in the morning as usual but the rest had to wait until the afternoon, minus some six rounds I squeezed at lunchtime. When I was finally free I took up the japa bag and did the other forty two rounds straight without a break.

It was tough but doable, I quite enjoyed the experience, it was just me and the Holy Name and my mind was cooperative. My wrist sore a little but I sensed no physical obstacles to the big Saturday whatsoever. Just one more day alone with the mantra, I thought. I was waiting for this a long time and it all looked good.

Then Saturday came and I started briskly. I was surprised at the slight increase in my speed and I took it as a sign that someone has done the calculations and decided that I had to chant faster to complete my task – I wanted to do the full three lakhs, or a hundred ninety two rounds, or three sets of sixty four, or twelve sets of sixteen.

At my normal speed it would have taken me just over nineteen hours, leaving less than five for toilets breaks, showers, and sleep. With the increased speed it would have shortened the time to eighteen with six hours for rest – a very manageable number. Give an hour for toilet breaks and showers and there would be five hours left to sleep. Less than I need but I didn’t mind sleeping late on Sunday morning.

The first sixteen rounds were counted as the required duty and they went fine, no worse than usual. Chanting was brisk, either my subconscious or the Supersoul were obviously pushing me, and everything seemed to be in order.

Then came trouble.

I don’t know what happened but my mind went completely berserk, I could hardly remember what I was doing, that I was chanting in the company of the Holy Name. The sick bastard seemingly went through every memory I have ever had, not missing anything, and I completely lost my composure. Externally I was fully on track but my consciousness just wouldn’t concentrate on chanting.

I thought that getting through this mind-storm was necessary and eventually it would quieten down but peace seemed to be elusive. The day was long, of course, a few hours of confusion wouldn’t matter if I finally found my place at the feet of the Holy Name, but it dragged on and on and on. And then I got tired.

I certainly couldn’t walk whole day like but sitting made me sleepy. I had this intolerable phantasmagoria in my head and at the same time I think I actually dozed off for a moment or two, still chanting and counting at the same speed but external consciousness being switched of. It was a state of torture while being caught in between being asleep and being awake.

So, at the end of the first sixty four rounds I decided to take a nap. It went well, I slept for maybe half an hour, woke up by myself, and continued chanting. Time wise I was still on schedule, everything was fine, except it wasn’t. Peace was still elusive, escapades of my mind stressed me out and I was thinking about finding a way to ignore it and listen to the Holy Name despite the cacophony of thoughts and memories in my head. I wasn’t very successful, but it’s certainly an idea to be explored further.

Towards the end of the second set of sixty four I was very tired again. I tried to perk myself up, walk up and down to get the blood going, but nothing worked. At least the mind got tired – if I was tired of listening to it imagine how exhausting it must have been inventing all those things. Aww, poor little thing, all this trouble for nothing, as I simply kept chanting and chanting.

Eventually I realized that I needed a second nap or I couldn’t go on. I took it, maybe for fifteen-twenty minutes, chanted some more, and got tired again. I knew I was going to be tired and I thought I had enough energy to continue overall, but I underestimated my strength. About an hour later I had to take another nap, with japa beads still in my hand, safely placed on a clean surface, I made myself comfortable, closed by eyes, and let it go.

It felt so good and when I remembered myself again I thought I needed some more sleep, it was so sweet and so I caved in. When I finally woke up three hours were gone. I kept chanting and doing math in my head – “how many rounds left, how many hours, am I still on track?” Then I realized that I could possibly finish three lakhs in twenty four hours but it would mean my next day would be totally screwed as I would have to sleep at least until lunch. I wasn’t even feeling fully refreshed and so wasn’t sure another nap would not be necessary.

That’s when I realized I had to give up. I chanted a couple more rounds but once determination was gone and decision had been made I saw no point. I went to bed and slept for seven hours straight. The end.

I didn’t complete the three lakhs but still did a “respectable” hundred and forty rounds, almost three quarters of the goal, but, most importantly, whole day long I didn’t do anything but chant, all my waking time was dedicated to chanting, minus toilet and showers. I didn’t eat anything, only drank water, and this might have compounded my problems, but by now my body is trained to live without food, it knows where all the nutrients are stored and I didn’t feel any hunger at all. Perhaps an injection of calories would have given me needed boosts of energy but I was defeated by sleep, not by hunger.

Should have thought of that – big chanting marathon like this requires a fully rested body but my wasn’t. I collected a lot of sleep debt over the week and it so happened that I had to pay it on this day. Next time I should account for that, too.

There’s a bigger problem, though – the mind. Something happened to it and something happened to me, it was like chanting beyond sixteen rounds was unwelcome. Higher powers, fate and the Supersoul, did not object extra chanting like they did before but they did not cooperate either. All throughout the day I felt a disconnect, I wasn’t myself.

Maybe it was stress of having to complete the self-imposed vrata that did me in. If I chanted because I wanted to it would have been okay but I chanted to prove something to myself. Maybe it’s all the planning and calculating and worrying that did me in. I chanted sixty four rounds the previous day without any worries at all, I knew I had time, I didn’t have to hurry, it was perfect.

The best explanation I have, however, is that I should simply go with the flow and make the best of what Kṛṣṇa and my karma have arranged for me already. By their grace I have enough time to read and listen and otherwise engage myself in service, trying to improve on that is foolish. I have plenty of material desires that cannot be addressed by chanting alone yet, they need other outlets, and I shouldn’t deny them when Kṛṣṇa arranges for their fulfillment.

This realization makes me feel that every moment of our lives is truly special in that it has been arranged by the Lord to bring us closer to Him. As I said, it’s foolish to try and improve on that, we should instead learn to see Kṛṣṇa’s hand behind everything that happens even when things do not comply with strict requirements of sādhana.

I must say that chanting since that Saturday has been very sweet and illuminating, nothing to complain about whatsoever, and all other daily engagements in service were sweet, too. I see things with new eyes and with newly found respect, and I like it. Lesson has apparently been learned.

By back2krishna Posted in Japa Tagged

Vanity thought #1255. Thought process explained

Somehow my mind lost its focus and keeps forgetting things when I write these articles. It’s a curious situation, actually. I know what I’m going to type but no matter what I do, I always forget half of it. Sometimes the reason is that I just don’t fully prepare myself mentally, don’t visualize every turn of the argument before hand, so when time comes to sit down and type I follow a different path from what was intended before.

You’d think that the solution would be to think the post through and memorize the key points but that doesn’t work either because when time comes to sit down the mind does not follow previously covered tracks, it tends to think new thoughts instead. As much as I want to stick to the program it follows “inspiration” and things get forgotten.

Inspiration is an important consideration in itself. “Writers block” is a real thing and I don’t want it to happen to me. Real writers have the luxury to wait for their inspiration to come but I took a vow to post something everyday and I don’t feel satisfied until the article reaches a thousand words. I can’t wait for the inspiration, I can’t depend on it, I have to produce it myself. How?

I used to think about it while chanting but I stopped a while ago. I used to pray for it but then I decided that it’s not worth diverting my attention to during chanting. That took almost two hours of preparation from my day and so sometimes I just don’t have the time to think these articles through. I just pray that when I sit down Kṛṣṇa would not forget me and accept my efforts as a service.

With an attitude like that I have to respect the flow of my mind. Well, it’s actually mind under the direction of intelligence under the direction of the modes of nature under the direction of the Lord. And, despite of what my mind tells me, I’m not the one writing these things. I’m here just to observe. Mind sees something interesting, takes a note of it, contemplates the topic, gets suggestions, remembers things, looks for confirmation, and finally presents it as an idea for an article.

Personally, I try to learn to distance myself from it. It would happen with or without my participation, the material world is not going to stop just because I decided to lose interest in it. Well, it will eventually stop for me but not for everybody else.

Usually, when a devotee writes something about Kṛṣṇa we treat it as devotional service coming from his heart, authorized and supervised by Kṛṣṇa. A devotee has to make an effort to please the Lord and we can judge the result by the purity of this effort, and also by the quality of the presentation. No one likes to read half-arsed messages that do not elicit any interest or inspiration.

I”m trying to distance myself from such thinking. I’m not this body and I’m not a doer of anything. By the arrangement of the material nature this body sometimes does something related to the Lord and that’s what I should be grateful for. Sometimes these efforts look relatively more accomplished, sometimes they look sloppy, sometimes they look pure, sometimes they look contaminated with envy, ego, or desire for sense gratification. I really have no control over it, my body lives in certain conditions and it reacts to them.

We will not obtain devotion by building up our temporary intelligence and “understanding” things. We cannot go on on chanting only either, we need our heads in the game, too, at least for the time being. We need classes, we need books, we need devotees exchanging opinions, we need to argue in favor of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and against atheism, we need tips on overcoming our anarthas. All those things are necessary but only from the bodily consciousness point of view. As long as we are here the body will be doing something but that alone will not lead to devotion.

Bhakti is not the result of activities on the material platform so our interest in what happens here must be limited. We also need to learn to focus only on Kṛṣṇa related things and look past everything else. I can’t stress this enough – look past everything else that bodies do and focus only on their engagements in Kṛṣṇa related activities.

Sometimes there’s not a lot to get focused on, our appetites for sensory inputs might be bigger than what little Kṛṣṇa consciousness is available, and so we might get involved with something else, less directly related to the Lord. That’s natural, too, but then we should build patience and realize that simple remembrance of the Lord is more important than having mind and intelligence fully engaged in any other topic. Mind and intelligence are moved by the modes of nature, sometimes these winds don’t blow in the desired direction, but should’t it be an opportunity to disengage ourselves from the material world altogether? Let it do whatever it does and let not become judges of that. There’s still Kṛṣṇa to be remembered.

Judging things is what keeps us here. We need to have a look and form an opinion. We need to feel the satisfaction of figuring out something. We need to feel comfort of being properly adjusted in our position. We need safety of knowing our situation in time and place. We need to have a grasp on things. We need presence of our minds, and not only that, we need clarity. All that is on top of lower sensory engagements.

Well, we don’t need any of that. That’s what false ego wants – to be a fully integrated and fully adjusted part of the material nature. It’s not in our real interest at all.

To step back a bit – all these arguments started with two episodes I experienced while chanting. First was when I was doing japa in total darkness and very comfortably seated on a sofa. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t hear anything, the whole world just disappeared and there was only the sound of the Holy Name. After a while I stopped trying to produce this sound and just listened to it. I couldn’t really locate its source then – I didn’t hear it coming out of my mouth, I didn’t hear it entering my ears, the sound vibrations turned into the Kṛṣṇa’s names somewhere in my brain, which is impossible to locate. That’s when I started hearing “myself” as an outsider. The effect was similar to listening to recordings of one’s voice for the first time – our voice always sounds different from what we imagine when we speak.

So that was the point when I started to realize that my body does its chanting on its own, I’m here just to listen. It chants by the mercy of guru, Kṛṣṇa, and devotees, and it’s the material nature that makes my lips move accordingly. I can only express interest in the process, that’s all.

Second episode was when I just woke up and immediately took my japa bag. I wasn’t fully awake yet, had no real concept of what time it was, how much time I had, what was my schedule for the rest of the day, and where everyone else was. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings and during this time I realized that I don’t need to know any of those things, chanting is perfect without this kind of knowledge.

So there… Word of caution, though – these articles shouldn’t be seen as inspired by Kṛṣṇa from within or anything like that. They are written by a conditioned soul under the modes of nature and according to its limited experiences in this particular incarnation. It so happens that during this time we see a rise of the movement of Lord Caitanya and so some of these experiences are influenced by the Lord and, accordingly, some of this stuff becomes related to the Lord, and that’s what should be appreciated, the rest is best forgotten. It will be forgotten at the time of death anyway, and whatever is taken by the soul into the next incarnation is not worthy of remembering either. Only the Holy Name matters, and it’s there with us at all times and it never changes, as fresh and youthful as ever.

Now I have to go and change the title of this post because that’s not what I had in mind when I sat down to type it at all.

Vanity thought #1216. Value of japa

For the past couple of days I’ve been writing about ways to improve japa but there’s a question that still bugs me there – what is japa’s relative value compared to other forms of devotional service. Usually I say that chanting beats everything but chanting is an English word that encompasses many forms and methods. Which one is the best? Can we survive solely on japa, for example?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, because as long as we chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra we can survive anything, and no because we have plenty of instructions requiring us to use different forms of chanting instead.

Take Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, for example. Simply sitting and listening to it, and asking appropriate questions, is enough to achieve perfection in devotional service. In some ways it’s even more effective that chanting the mantra because it engages our intelligence and fills us with awe and wonder, something we can’t easily experience by simply repeating the names. Just think of it, we can easily sit through an hour long class being fully absorbed and not losing concentration once. That doesn’t happen with japa, as I now clearly see from my logger.

We can’t repeat Mahārāja Parīkṣit’s feat of listening to Bhāgavatam for seven days non-stop without sleep or food but, if not for physical inconvenience of sitting on the floor, we can easily go for hours and hours, and with food and toilet breaks can easily listen to Lord’s pastimes for a whole day. The quality of our concentration would also be much better than during our japa.

More importantly, though, prescription for this day and age is hari-nāma saṇkīrtana, not japa. Japa is supposed to be a practically silent meditation, at most a practitioner might pronounce the mantras just loud enough to hear them himself. In this aspect japa is different from kīrtana and so we should remember that while kīrtana is a legitimate process of devotional service, japa is not. Why do we even use it, then?

Mostly because of Haridāsa Ṭhākura, our nāma-ācārya. He was chanting japa loudly all day long and it was accepted by Lord Caitanya as fully legitimate form of service. We are not to imitate but follow in the footsteps, and so our recent ācāryas set a daily minimum of japa for us all.

Contrary to the tradition we chant loudly, usually loud enough for others to hear, too. Haridāsa Ṭhākura argued that there’s always someone listening, if only insects on the ground, and even if the dead matter resonates to the sound of the Holy Name it still gets purified. Loud chanting purifies everything, the place, the atmosphere, everything and everyone within the reach of the sound.

ISKCON devotees were often laughed at by “experienced” vaiṣṇavas for their loud japa but that’s how we do it, we want it to be counted as kīrtana and in that there’s little difference between loud chanting on beads or singing or recitation or any other way of chanting.

Our japa satisfies “hari”, “nāma”, and “kīrtana” requirements but I’m not so sure about “saṃ” part, which is essential to our success. Lord Caitanya inaugurated the saṇkīrtana movement, not just kīrtana alone. We are in saṇkīrtana movement, and saṇkīrtana is understood to be different from japa.

There are many forms of saṇkīrtana, listening to Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is saṇkīrtana, too, and there are different interpretations of what “saṃ” prefix mean there exactly. Usually we say it’s congregational chanting, that people come together and get united in chanting. Japa doesn’t provide that, we chant japa for ourselves and the whole point is to shut out all other sounds when we chant. It can’t be called saṇkīrtana in this sense at all, so why do we do it?

Is it only because our ācāryas told us to do so? What is their reason, however? Maybe they realized that getting people to chant collectively is very hard while some form of chanting must go on every day regardless. That’s why our japa is the absolute minimum we should do, and it can’t be silent, it has to be like kīrtana, not mental meditation.

Regardless of the instructions for Kali Yuga, chanting of the Holy Name is universal. It always works and it’s the best method of service at all times. We chant a lot because we have a concession on offenses, if people tried it in previous ages they would be slaughtered by the reactions while ours do not count, karmically speaking. Mental ones do not count at all, for example, even if the Lord takes notice of our attitude and withdraws His mercy for a while. For some of our thoughts people in Satya Yuga would go straight to hell, we don’t get even a slap on the wrist.

Still, there’s another meaning of “saṃ” in saṇkīrtana – perfect and complete. In this sense it means pure, offenseless chanting coming from a heart filled with loving devotion. This kind of chanting is beyond the material platform, beyond the Kali Yuga, beyond minimum japa requirements, it reaches the Lord directly and so is perfect in every way. It’s chanting done by true paramahaṃsas who do not even see the material world anymore, only Kṛṣṇa Himself.

Can our japa qualify? Obviously not, but that’s how Haridāsa Ṭhākura chanted, if we want to follow his footsteps it’s how we should chant, too, otherwise it would also be imitation. Hmm, following is a thin line here – can’t chant too much and can’t chant sloppily either. Forget sloppily, we should chant on a transcendental platform if only for sixteen rounds instead of one hundred ninety two (about three lakhs).

So, can we justify our japa by saying that we are following Haridāsa Ṭhākura? Not really, not if we do not do it absolutely right. Perhaps more appropriate justification for us is that śāstra tells to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra and so we are doing it one way or another, better than no chanting at all.

There’s the next step in interpreting “saṃ” in saṇkīrtana, too. When one chants perfectly, on a pure spiritual platform, his chanting can still be improved if he does so in the company of like minded pure devotees. If it can be improved than it’s not really “saṃ”, the argument goes.

It’s not quite the same congregational chanting that we do on the streets filled with non-devotees. That chanting is sublime in its own way, but this saṇkīrtana is like the talks between Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya, not meant for the general public, except we don’t say anything provocative, just the Holy Names.

This is really the best kind of chanting, it’s like our Bhāgavatam classes on steroids, the advantage being that we are not attracted by presentation, it’s not meant to please our minds and intelligence, as often happens in our classes. It’s just pure exchange of love for Kṛṣṇa.

The key to this chanting is perfect company. Perfect here means not in absolute terms but relative to other participants. It’s chanting between devotees who are just right for each other, no one is an obvious neophyte and no one is too far advanced for his chanting to be unappreciated by others. Every instance of the Holy Name in this company would spark love and devotion in each participant without fail and the feedback would melt chanter’s heart on the spot, too.

This kind of chanting is a real blessing, very rare to come, and it certainly beats murmuring japa to ourselves while our minds wonder off to far reaches of the material world.

If it’s not available, however, then we are perfectly within our rights to pray for this blessing when we chant our daily rounds. In any case, whatever service the Lord allows us to do is perfect in its own way, we can’t think of it as deficient, it’s meant for our gradual upliftment and therefore should be cherished.

Vanity thought #1215. Don’t think twice

Yesterday I concluded with this little advice I adapted to chanting japa and I believe it deserves a bit more than PS at the bottom. The more I think of it, the more I realize how awesome that idea is. Not mine, but the general “don’t look twice” injunction.

We can’t stop stuff from getting into our faces. It’s easier to avoid it if one is locked up in a temple but these days even temple devotees are exposed to all kinds of contamination. Going out on saṇkīrtana isn’t safe either, relax only for a minute and you’ll start noticing all the awful things going on around you, and then it just snowballs.

That’s what happened to Ajāmila and countless others beside him. He saw a couple doing something inappropriate, another sage saw fish copulating, yet another heard ankle bells, it always ends badly. Mind senses something that looks like a promise of enjoyment, examines it closely, imagines how it would feel if it tried it itself. Kṛṣṇa, in the meantime, sees it as an offense against the Holy Name, keeping material attachments while chanting, and withdraws His mercy. Without His mercy we lose attraction to chanting and we lose concentration. Without attraction and focus our minds feel free to contemplate all kinds of sense enjoyment. The more we watch our mind work, now with eager anticipation, the more offenses we commit, the less mercy is left, and pretty soon we get completely lost in our thoughts and fantasies, nothing can save us.

Ajāmila got completely distracted until the very last moment of his life, we are usually luckier but only because Lord Caitanya’s unlimited patience. He doesn’t count offenses against the Holy Name and His support extends to even the worst offenders, He always ready to give us a chance. What’s even better, if we lose His trust, there’s always Lord Nityānanda, there’s always our guru and there are always other devotees.

If out lifestyle is completely centered around devotional service then performing it even automatically purifies us and sets us back on the right path. That’s why maintaining devotee association, no matter what happens, is extremely important for our spiritual survival.

There’s another principle at play here, however, not always visible but it’s nevertheless the only reality. Let me start from something closely related.

Today was Ekādaśī and it was also my second day of logging japa. Yesterday I had five interruptions and today, considering that it’s an hour more chanting, the number should have been higher but it wasn’t, it was only four. Why?

I belive it’s the power of Ekādaśī, chanting is almost always easier on Ekādaśīs for me. Mind is always more peaceful and I swear it feels like it’s actually enjoying chanting. It’s not attracted to any other Ekādaśī aspects, like reading or fasting, but it likes chanting. I have no explanation for this, considering that the mind is a dead material object, it must act under superior power, and it’s not me, it’s the guṇas of nature. They must have a special offer on Ekādaśī days, a special combination, as it would appear from śāstra.

There must be a reason to single out Ekādaśī among all the other days and connect it with Viṣṇu. In Kali Yuga the universe appears to be disconnected from the Lord but, perhaps, the fault is only on our side, we are not qualified for establishing those connections, which is usually done through Vedic mantras and rituals. Ekādaśī, however, is universal, just like change of seasons. Its effects probably felt better in previous ages but they still work. That’s what I think, anyway, I have no better explanation for magically improved chanting on Ekādaśīs.

What this means is that the quality of my chanting depends on external circumstances. Sometimes the guṇas are favorable to it and sometimes they force my mind to think about anything else but the Holy Names. I have no say in the matter – it all determined by currently predominating guṇa, external stimuli, and accumulated memory, minds reaction is purely physical and totally predictable. Not just on Ekādaśīs but every day and every moment of our lives.

The attempt to control one’s mind is, therefore, misguided. It’s okay to try it when we identify ourselves with our bodies but even on our side it’s intelligence that controls the mind and intelligence is just another material element, it’s not us, and it acts under its own masters. The only good thing that is going for it is that it remembers knowledge and instructions of our gurus. By Lord Caitanya’s grace our intelligence has been exposed to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we didn’t teach it ourselves.

The only thing we can do, by our constitutional nature, is to sit there and observe (BG 18.61):

īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānāḿ
hṛd-deśe ‘rjuna tiṣṭhati
bhrāmayan sarva-bhūtāni
yantrārūḍhāni māyayā

    The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.

The Supreme Lord directs all wanderings of all living entities, which means He also directs the wanderings of our minds and it’s by His grace and order that our minds occasionally focus on listening to the Holy Name or to presentations of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We can only sit and observe.

It’s with this principle in mind that I appreciate “don’t look twice” injunction more and more now. If all we can is to observe than we should avert our attention from things that we do not need to see to maintain our internal purity. If we don’t look Kṛṣṇa won’t show, it’s as simple as that. Sometime He might want to test us but that’s “sometimes”, and even then we should not look at the temptations. It’s bad enough to know that they are there, don’t look at them twice.

Same is true for controlling minds during chanting, as I said yesterday. Thoughts pop up and they offer interesting follow ups but we should not follow them, it’s not worth it, just ignore their offers. I also found that it helps to retrace distracting thoughts back to their origins – understanding how mind works helps catching it in the process, it becomes easier to recognize when it’s about to wander off in pursuit of interesting ideas.

Seeing the cause also makes ideas less fascinating, strips them of their magical attraction. This process works in the material world, too. Explaining jokes, for example, kills them most effectively, you can’t laugh at them anymore. Exposing background stories and reasoning also alway stakes away mystery and makes otherwise awesome individuals look mundane. TBF, it somehow doesn’t work on celebrities but there might be other forces at work there.

There’s also an expression that familiarity brings contempt. Usually we are warned about it in relation to our gurus and senior vaiṣṇavas but if we apply it to fascinating ideas that steal our minds then contempt is actually pretty useful.

Bottom line – watching the mind closely and stripping it of its magic is helpful to ignoring it, makes it easier not to look twice because you’d already know what you are going to see and you’d already know how it will all end, nothing interesting there.

Last thing – it all seems as technical as trying to control the mind in any other way. After all, we don’t have a choice whether to think twice about something or not, it happens under Supreme Lord’s direction. Perhaps I should have found better words to express it, if they even exist, but this expression of interest happens within our consciousness, comes from our soul, the Lord simply accommodates our desires. We might be forced by previous karma to experience attraction to this or that but eventually karma runs out or we earn new one that makes our minds ignore everything that is happening around us while we chant.

All we can do is appreciate how the Lord is helping us and guiding us on the way back home, even if He sometimes sends us on wild goose chases around the material world. It’s all for our ultimate good, our ultimate purification, we just have to be patient and appreciate His loving care.