Living in peace with Krishna West

I was reading something by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and he mentioned a stunning verse that immediately reminded me of Krishna West. In our books in appears only once, in the Eleventh Canto – translated and purported by Hridayananda Dasa Goswami himself. This should be enough of an authority for his followers but I wanted to investigate its origin a bit further. This is what I found.

In commenting on SB 11.20.9 Hridayananda Dasa Goswami apparently used Bhakti Sandarbha (A.173) for the purport because that seems to be the only place where he could have gotten the following verse mentioned by Jīva Goswāmī as being spoken by the Lord:

    śruti-smṛtī mamaivājñe
    yas te ullaṅghya vartate
    ājñā-cchedī mama dveṣī
    mad-bhakto ’pi na vaiṣṇavaḥ

    “The śruti and smṛti literatures are to be understood as My injunctions, and one who violates such codes is to be understood as violating My will and thus opposing Me. Although such a person may claim to be My devotee, he is not actually a Vaiṣṇava.”

That’s a very strong statement – they may claim to be devotees but they are not.

Krishna West argues that “devotional dress” does not exist and all the rules regulating our devotional appearances and behavior are Islamic in origin, or in any case do not need to be followed – because “preaching”. This argument is destroyed in this verse – we MUST follow injunctions of śruti and smṛti, simply going by what we think is “goodness” is not enough. Rejecting these prescriptions would disqualify us from being accepted as devotees by the Lord.

BTW, it’s plain obvious that devotional dress and behavior in ISKCON are a lot closer to South Indian vaiṣṇavas than to Muslims and I hope KW is not going to preach to Ramanujas or Madhvas that they are following Islamic rules, too. As you will see later, even if our codes were influenced by Muslims or Ramakrishnas it doesn’t mean they can be rejected.

So, back to the heavy speaking verse – where does it leave KW? What do they have to do? Embrace dhoties and saries and tilakas and halava? Not going to happen and should not be happening against their will. However, the verse itself (SB 11.20.9), which was also used by Jiva Goswami in the same anuccheda, gives a clue:

    tāvat karmāṇi kurvīta
    na nirvidyeta yāvatā
    mat-kathā-śravaṇādau vā
    śraddhā yāvan na jāyate

    As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for devotional service by śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ, one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.

Sridhara Swami, also quoted in the anuccheda, explains: “The word ‘karmani’ here means ‘regular and occasional prescribed duties’.” HDG translated it as “fruitive activities” in the word-for-word, so it’s not exactly “regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions” as in the translation. This gives KW a way out – they have to follow prescribed duties according to their culture, regular and occasionally rising. These duties might not be Vedic but, as prescribed duties, we should accept them as some sort of upadharma for degraded people of non-Vedic civilizations.

That’s where they get their definitions of “goodness” already anyway, like acceptance of pants or pizza or french fries or or veggie burgers. Let them do it, in fact, they SHOULD do it – until they feel satiated and become naturally detached, or until they develop taste for Hari-Katha and forget they ever liked these things.

In the anuccheda Jiva Goswami mentions a few other verses explaining the conditions for when one can give up following “karmani” – when one takes complete shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord and stops relying on anything else in his life, which is a pretty advanced stage not yet reached by vast majority of non-KW devotees as well.

In this way both KW and mainstream ISKCON can happily co-exist. It becomes a problem only when KW devotees reject prescriptions given to mainstream devotees as artificial. That’s when they become non-vaiṣṇavas opposing to the Lord even if they still claim to be devotees. They, effectively, start saying that rules they follow themselves – how they dress, how they eat, how they behave in public – are sattvic and “real”, but mainstream vaiṣṇava rules are bogus. Calling them Islamic inventions only exacerbates the matter.

There’s another discussion about whether following upadharma can take one all the way to the Lord, as KW claims. SB verse above means that if they still feel the need to follow it then śraddhā yāvan na jāyate – their faith has not been yet awakened. In this position they shouldn’t be arguing about how exactly śraddhā will eventually blossom into prema. That would be premature.

This mistake – that by following upadharmas they feel they are qualified to talk about “going all the way”, as they say, is manifested in another area – that they feel they are qualified to talk about dharmas given in śāstra, too. Forget about arguing about actual merits of wearing dhoties all the time – the mistake is to treat dharma and upadharma as equal in the first place. They might not use the same words but that’s what they mean when they say things like “the Lord enjoys french fries and puris equally because they are both sattvic and are cooked with love and devotion.” Cooking oil is not sattvic, only ghee is sattvic, so the Lord would enjoy french fries cooked in ghee better than cooked in oil, there’s no equality even there, and that’s before comparing root vegetable (potato), which grows in cold, dump darkness to wheat.

This can be explained in many different ways, but the bottom line is simple – upadharma is called upadharma for a reason – it’s not as good as real dharma. At first, I was doubtful that I use the word “upadharma” correctly, but no, it seems fit with the definition in SB 7.15.13:

    dharma-bādho vidharmaḥ syāt
    para-dharmo ‘nya-coditaḥ
    upadharmas tu pākhaṇḍo
    dambho vā śabda-bhic chalaḥ

    Religious principles that obstruct one from following his own religion are called vidharma. Religious principles introduced by others are called para-dharma. A new type of religion created by one who is falsely proud and who opposes the principles of the Vedas is called upadharma. And interpretation by one’s jugglery of words is called chala-dharma.

It would seem unduly harsh to KW but they DO oppose the principles of the Vedas in favor of their version of “goodness” and they do think that Hridayananda Das Goswami is qualified to lay down new principles for others to follow, which is an indication of false pride being present, and it IS a new kind of religion when compared to mainstream ISKCON. I meant it to mean a sub-dharma not fit to be mentioned in Vedic texts but either definition is okay, mine was more generous.

The peace formula I propose here is simple – let them do their sattvic things, that’s how they’ll eventually get purified, but they shouldn’t reject rules followed by mainstream as bogus. They should just stay out of these “comparative studies”, nothing good will come from criticizing ISKCON. Most likely they’ll develop an attitude that is condemned by the Lord and the Lord Himself will stop considering them as His devotees. That’s a pretty heavy warning there at the top. As I said – stunning.

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Gurus and expectations

Last weekend our regular program class was on the section in the Nectar of Devotion which deals with not accepting unfit disciples, not constructing too many temples etc. It’s a pretty straightforward topic – one should not initiate too many disciples, certainly not with the idea to increase his own prestige. Śrīla Prabhupāda also discusses the obvious statement that one should not initiate those who are unfit – how sometimes it’s necessary for propagation of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. Nothing we haven’t heard of before.

What spiked my interest, however, was looking at the sources for this section. In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu there’s a line by Rūpa Goswāmī stating these three rules (we’ll talk only about guru-disciples one here) and then he gives a supporting verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.13.8). The way Śrīla Prabhupāda translated that verse later on, when he got to the Seventh Canto, is somewhat different from how he talked about it in NOD:

    A sannyāsī must not present allurements of material benefits to gather many disciples…

See how it’s not about them being unfit or about extracting material benefits yourself (by guru). This is something else entirely – do not make any promises. This has not been mentioned in the class and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone explaining the rule this way. Once I spotted it, however, it downed on me that it’s what the very first line in NOD says as well:

    … a person may have many disciples, but he should not act in such a way that he will be obliged to any of them for some particular action or some favor…

That is a development on the initial thought, which is based on one word in that Bhāgavatam verse – anubadhnīta, which in word-for-word given as “one should induce for material benefit”. This word is repeated in Rūpa Goswāmī’s own line as well, in fact it’s the only meaningful word for this rule, the other two are “no” and “disciple”. Then in both SB and NOD we see Śrīla Prabhupāda explaining various implications of that word. In SB purport it’s all about not making alluring promises and nothing about “unfit” or “for your own prestige”:

    So-called svāmīs and yogīs generally make disciples by alluring them with material benefits. There are many so-called gurus who attract disciples by promising to cure their diseases or increase their material opulence by manufacturing gold. These are lucrative allurements for unintelligent men. A sannyāsī is prohibited from making disciples through such material allurements.

It’s pretty straightforward here, too, but let’s discuss implications of this rule most of us overlook when it comes up in NOD or when it’s buried deep somewhere in the Seventh Canto. I mean this rule is evoked quite often but is somehow never put this way. When we were reading it last week in class it went straight over our heads, too.

In NOD Śrīla Prabhupāda actually gives an explanation why attracting disciples with materialistic promises is dangerous – it makes guru obliged, ie conditioned and bound up by karma. Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t even say what promises are forbidden, he says one should not act in such a way that he becomes obliged. Stated like this it casts a very wide net – any time one feels a guru is obliged to do something for him the rule has possibly been broken.

A disciple might have his own expectations, of course, it doesn’t mean his guru actually promised anything, but I can think of several examples where two hands must have been clapping, and they are not very comfortable topics to discuss. Still, let me try, I only try to understand the issue here, not cast any doubts on anyone’s spiritual purity.

A typical ISKCON disciple expects that initiation will bring him recognition, that he would leave his current social strata of uninitiated “friends of Krishna” and enter into an exclusive club of ISKCON members for real. It’s a huge step up, nowadays it’s somehow even harder to make, but it’s a topic for another discussion. Offering initiation so that one becomes a fully fledged member of community has been done since forever, including by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. In NOD he explains why sometimes this rule has to be broken but in the absence of emergency there’s no justification for this.

When most of our devotees lived in the temples initiated disciples expected a place to live and engagement in service. When I grew up it was practically a demand – every temple resident must be given service, and not just any service but the one suitable to his nature. There were tons of seminars on how to achieve this and they were given by gurus who actually felt that it was their obligation. These days devotees live mostly outside but temple management or project management is a big big thing, gurus might not be directly involved but that’s only because there are too many people to manage so they delegate these responsibilities. The point is that our spiritual leadership obviously feels obliged to provide comfortable situation for our devotees. It would be an anathema to reject this responsibility, it’s unthinkable – we spent so many decades indoctrinating our entire society it’s not even an option anymore.

No one can stand up and say “I’m not making any promises. You might have service or you might not have service. You might get living quarters, food, and clothing, or might not – nothing to do with me.” And yet this is exactly what Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Bhakti Rasāmṛita Sindhu, and Nectar of Devotion tell us – do not make promises.

For non-temple devotees getting guru’s blessings for any project is a must. They open a restaurant – it must be under auspices of a guru, you set up a publishing company – it must publish books by spiritual leaders, you start a farming project – it must be associated with a big name, too. In all these cases devotees expect their projects to succeed. I don’t know how much of an obligation it is for the spiritual masters themselves, I hope they don’t get caught up and do not make any promises.

Varṇāśrama is, perhaps, the most controversial topic here of all. The very meaning of varṇāśrama is to produce tangible material benefits. It must produce food – milk and grains, and some even talk about allowing polygamy. If our varṇāśrama projects do not provide sense gratification they are considered a failure. Of course we all say that varṇāśrama is needed for practicing devotional service but it’s just our code word for “comfortable material situation”, let’s not pretend otherwise. The full sentence should read “comfortable material situation is needed for practicing devotional service”.

When we look at varṇāśrama this way it’s hard to justify our gurus and even Śrīla Prabhupāda himself pushing for it and not breaking “do not make promises” rule. I mean we generally think that by following Prabhupāda’s specific instruction on varṇāśrama we can obtain satisfactory sense gratification, be it marital advice or gurukula advice or farming advice, or advice on making your own toothpaste. We treat this advice as promises, and as the most solid promises ever. It. Should. Work.

Why? Did Śrīla Prabhupāda consider that advice as his solid promises? I don’t think so. Did he use it to attract people? Generally – no, but sometimes devotees were inspired to get closer to him by engaging in those projects, succeeding, and then claiming their rightful spots in his entourage, like on morning walks. When a spiritual leader starts any such project now it does attract devotees and disciples. The word in SB and BRS is śiṣya, btw – any kind of disciple, not only initiated ones. Projects do attract following, that’s a fact of life, and so if someone talks these projects up to recruit people then he creates an obligation, and that would be against the rule.

The tough part is that managing ISKCON is impossible without making promises and luring people in. One of our senior leaders lured devotees through their wives, for example. Ever so subtle but the message was “you do this and your marital happiness is assured”. It’s just how the world works, so what can we do? Here’s a radical solution – stay out of it. ISKCON is a preaching movement meant to attract more and more people but the rules for them are not the same as rules for making personal spiritual advancement. Personally, we should not fall for the same type of propaganda we are forced to produce when we reach out to non-devotees.

Even more radical solution – ISKCON is not meant for our own comfort. We cannot expect or demand it to serve our material needs. It is not meant to provide us with pensions or provide emotional support or business opportunities or food or shelter – nothing, really. Only when we want to serve it without any such expectations, not even waiting for a thank you, we can start making actual progress the way Rūpa Goswāmī has meant it. When all these egotisitical interests are absent from our relationships with our guru we can start to appreciate him for what he really does for us – saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka trāṇāya kāruṇya-ghanāghanatvam…

Seeing Krishna Everywhere

We know that seeing Kṛṣṇa in everything is the goal of our practice. Maybe not the only goal but that’s what it means to be free from māyā – a devotee starts seeing Kṛṣṇa in absolutely everything. It’s the highest state of realization so we naturally think it’s not for us, certainly not at the present moment. It is true – we can’t attain this stage by our own efforts, it comes as a result of Kṛṣṇa bestowing His mercy so you either have it or not and we don’t. Still it doesn’t mean we don’t need to try.

“How can we artificially put Kṛṣṇa into everything?”, one might ask. “Not artificially”, is the answer. Kṛṣṇa IS in everything, the connection is always there and this connection is real  – we just have to find it. By His grace this connection will be realized to the highest degree just as we know “Kṛṣṇa” is God but full realization of this fact is yet to dawn on most of us.

This is what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī said on the subject of what it means to observe things in this world:

    We must find the link between whatever objects we come across in our day-to-day life and Kṛṣṇa, because every object is an integral part of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, to discover the factor that unites them is actual observation of an object.

We “must”! Actual observation of an object is to discover the link of this object to Kṛṣṇa. How’s that?

Science is very proud of its power of observation but here we see that they completely miss the point of “observation” is. Observation means to see connection to Kṛṣṇa. Well, okay, but how?

This is where Sāṅkhya comes in and we have no excuse not to study it because we are given all the facilities, specifically Lord Kapila’s teachings in the Third Canto. One might say “I’m not a philosopher, I can’t understand these things.” Okay, but it’s only a matter of effort – I’m pretty sure people who object this way do not consider themselves as scientists either and yet they know quite a lot about how the world works according to modern science. They know how cars work, for example – that there are engines where gas is burned, that there is a transmission, there are axles, wheels, breaks, power steering etc. They know how computers work, they know how refrigerators work and so on. Obviously not in great detail but the point is that they put in the effort to learn these things and they only need to put in the effort to learn Sāṅkhya, too. We don’t need to know it in great detail either – all we seek is a link to Kṛṣṇa, remember, not how to create flying mansions like Kardama Muni.

One way or another I put some effort while reading “Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”, a book which I covered extensively here, and I feel like I got the principle of how it works.

First of all – objects of this world do not have connection to Kṛṣṇa per se because Kṛṣṇa never steps a foot outside of Vraja, but they are connected to Viṣṇu who, in turn, is connected to Kṛṣṇa. As far as this world is concerned tracing its objects to Viṣṇu is going to be enough, certainly for the moment. That is also where Sāṅkhya starts – from Mahā Viṣṇu. I’ll try to delineate the essential steps, skipping what isn’t important for the task.

Mahā Viṣṇu casts a glance at pradhana and what is produced is mahat-tattva. Mahat-tattva is, therefore, like a reflection of the Lord, or a impression of the Lord left in the material nature. It looks exactly like Him but it’s not. It’s as attractive as the Lord Himself but it is also separate and so we can relate to it in a different way – as enjoyers, not as servants.

When we say “look” we mean only visual appearance but mahat-tattva is a collection of ALL God’s qualities – beauty, strength, fame, renunciation etc. We can’t visualize most of these but we can certainly perceive them with our minds. I’m saying this to decouple of our idea of “what is” from “what we can see”. Tattva means that which is, not that which we see.

Anyway, second Puruṣa avatāra selects a few qualities and from this set creates what we now call “the universe”. Our universe started with the selection of austerity, cleanliness, generosity, and truthfulness. We should keep in mind that what is meant here is the very essence of these concepts because the words we use come loaded with baggage of history. No one likes austerity, for example – the word bears negative connotation, but the essence of it still is a self-evident virtue, an undisputed moral value – the ability to discard something. It feels good to get rid of unwanted things and it feels good because it’s originally a quality of God. Purity is self-evidently good, too, and so are mercy and truthfulness.

Three guṇas get to work on these selections, mix and match them and in this way the complexity of the universe multiplies. In our case we take four qualities, color each in one of the three guṇas and we immediately get twelve different things. Then they can be combined in certain proportions, too, and in this way the universe expands.

What we now call the universe is a world of visible things. Somehow “tattva” for us is that which we can see. If, for example, we hear sound we accept that it’s real and not imaginary only if it has a source which we can perceive visually. Ākāśa sound, the “voice from the sky”, is impossible in modern science. When we can’t see things we use microscopes or we create visual models, like that of an atom, which turns out to be a very incorrect representation according to quantum theory but everybody still draws atoms with nucleus and rotating electrons.

In Sāṅkhya, empirically perceptive objects are the last stage of the creation and everything before them is actually “more real”. Empirical objects are like mp3 files, which encode songs into mp3 format. In the same way empirical objects encode desired sensations which exist prior, just like a song exists before being encoded into mp3. The difference is that in science we accept that songs are real but moral values are not. It would be interesting to investigate at what point science considers the song as “real” but let’s leave it for now.

There was a little switcheroo in the above paragraph – empirical objects encode sensations but what we actually want to encode, what we actually want to produce, are moral values as originally found in mahat-tattva.

When I look at the bedside lamp I see that it was designed to be beautiful – that is a quality straight from Kṛṣṇa. They followed a different standard of beauty but the goal itself is the same. The lamp is supposed to provide light in the darkness – to provide knowledge and dispel ignorance – another quality straight from Kṛṣṇa. Depending on how closely I examine the lamp I will find more and more ways the designers and manufacturers wanted to embody and present certain virtues or moral values.

This is how everything that is created works – first, there’s the desire to represent a moral value, one or more of Kṛṣṇa/Viṣṇu’s qualities, then there’s the effort, and then there’s the result. It’s sattva, rajas, and tamas. Three modes are involved in absolutely every act of creation, every act of production of every material object. One of the modes might be predominant but all three are always there.

Sattva manifests as a desire to see a form of the Lord. Not the complete form but one of its features. Once you see sattva in every object you see the Lord already. Not complete vision but something definitely from Him. Mission accomplished.

Rajas and tamas are also connected to the Lord but indirectly so we don’t need to bother about that if we see Viṣṇu already. It’s not difficult to spot His qualities but sometimes they are not obvious, too. Murder is universally condemned but the initial desire is for the Lord’s power to subdue enemies and do not say it’s not attractive. We all enjoy dominating others from time to time, murderers just take it a bit further. Same raw power of domination is expressed through rape as well, it’s not difficult to see it but most of the time it’s not what we focus our attention on.

The problem with murderers and rapists is that Lord qualities are not meant for our enjoyment so even if He has the power we should not appropriate it for ourselves. Second problem is that of ignorance – domination is only ONE aspect of the action, the unbearable suffering of the victim is another. If we ignore it then we’ll be surprised by what karma brings in – karma doesn’t care what part you particularly like, it serves the entire fruit whether you remember ordering it or not. Let’s not get sidetracked here, though.

The main point is to see how absolutely everybody in absolutely every action wants to express some aspect of Kṛṣṇa and how that aspect will be forever a part, and actually the root part, of every created object, like the dharma of the lamp is to give light, which means knowledge.

Another point is to remind that it will be an aspect of Viṣṇu, not Kṛṣṇa, which means we can relate to all objects only in śānta and dāsya, which means awe, reverence, and servitude. This is encapsulated in amāninā-manādena line from Śikṣāṣṭaka – we can only give respect to everyone and everything in this world, all attempts to relate in some other way will be misguided and are signs of ignorance of our actual relationships with objects of this world.

That video I’ve been watching for the past two months demonstrates this point as well. Just watch/listen/read it for a few minutes, the subject will come up again and again:

 

 

 

“I was deleted from ISKCON”

This is another old post that has been sitting as a draft for ages. Today I would have written it very differently but I think it should be preserved as historical evidence for myself – I DID think like that only a year or so ago, and now I changed.

———–

I’ve heard this phrase twice in the past few weeks and every time I internally reacted to it though I’m not sure how exactly. I want to set myself straight on this and I still don’t know how this effort will turn out a few hundred words later. I have few ideas where it could go but let’s see. It’s mostly for my own purification.

Technically, it goes like this – we perceive something and first the intelligence tries to make sense of it, categorize it, figure out the context, intention, subtext, details etc. When this is done the new experience is plugged into our overall tree of knowledge, it becomes “memory” and it becomes searchable by date, person, place, topic and so on. As we ponder it longer we build more and more connections to already stored memories and so we might have sudden “realizations”.

The mind’s job is to like or dislike the experience, simply-minded thing that it is, and let’s not get entangled in whether it agrees or disagrees with judgments passed by intelligence and how they interact with each other. The point is that these first reactions are automatic and we don’t have much control over the process. It’s not that we have much control over anything else in the material world either but even if we think we are the doers we should honestly admit that first impressions are not our doings, it just happens and then we claim credit for it (as in “I knew it right away!”).

This is where this blog post comes in – the part where I feel I can make a difference by talking about it in a certain way. I could argue that this is also illusory and is determined by guṇa and karma but since I’m forced to think myself as a doer and given instructions on how to behave then I have no choice but to go along. The idea is to turn talking, thinking, and typing into a yajña, into glorification of the Lord and His devotees, so let’s get to it.

I was not proud of my first reaction to “I was deleted from ISKCON”, it was clearly lacking respect and empathy and, passing the buck, dictated by standard internet responses like “I’m fresh out of ***** to give”. We should not take shelter in this callousness no matter how prevalent it is today. As it happens, we have a whole “social media” generation coming up and it’s one of the first thing they learn in their world – no one cares about your feelings, people are too busy worrying about theirs. If you think sharing your feelings will be embarrassing – don’t, they don’t care about your dignity. On the plus side they won’t put you in “never listen to him again” category either. If you can present your case strongly no one will care about your history.

Those who fall for sob stories are suckers and they are meant to be milked as followers, fans, blog or channel subscribers. They can also be farmed – quite literally. You find what emotions they find appealing and you carefully feed these emotions to them, building a narrative and increasing their commitment. You get right people to deliver these emotions, find the right formula, and then they’ll do everything for you – whatever you want – buy tickets, deliver “Likes”, retweet, watch your videos again and again, and if you are smart you’ll be rolling in advertising money in no time. We should not fall into this trap, either as content consumers or content creators, our relationships should be more meaningful even if externally we happen to do the same thing – our consciousness should be different.

This wasn’t my full first impression, though, it was just a reaction to perceived bitterness. This bitterness might not have been even there but that’s what I heard. This first thought was suppressed rather fast and beyond that there was “what does it even mean – deleted from ISKCON?” and a sense of mismatch with reality. To me it stopped making sense about a decade ago.

There was a time when everything was clear – this is ISKCON and this is non-ISKCON and ISKCON was supposed to be pure and non-ISKCON wasn’t supposed to be touched. By standards set in those times this is still true and I’m not saying we should bring devotees who left for Sridhara Swami, Narayana Maharaj, ritviks etc back into the fold but what is considered ISKCON nowadays allows a great deal of freedom. Devotees learned to be in ISKCON and at the same time do outrageous things unthinkable in the “good old days”.

My temple won’t sell books for money, for example, they just won’t. Books only have to be given away for free, sponsored by members of the congregation. I grew up in a temple sustained by saṅkīrtana and we sold them for roughly ten times the price of today. I can’t remember exact consumer goods prices but I think one set of then available books could buy people a ton of potatoes and devotees sometimes distributed over a hundred sets per day. We saw the value of the books and so people felt they were valuable, too. Devotees today see this value differently and they don’t think it would be justified to demand so much money in return.

We have projects like “Krishna West” where they are okay with homosexual “marriages” between initiated devotees – hard to see that being approved or even contemplated by Śrīla Prabhupada. We have temples and entire countries off limits to certain preachers because authorities are afraid that their presentations would disturb the minds of the congregation. Last year there was a book banned by the GBC resolution, then unbanned following the outrage, and I’ll give a quote from a related e-mail: “One GBC member even stated that ISKCON’s very existence in his country would be jeopardised if this book were seen to at all be representing ISKCON.” I don’t think that GBC member was kidding there – some pretty straightforward things cannot be repeated in certain places anymore. We have mega preachers whose websites talk about love and compassion and don’t have words “Hare Krishna” on their front page. We have massive, millions meals a day food distribution programs where we are legally prohibited from mentioning that it’s prasādam or saying anything about philosophy, let along chanting, we have eye clinics and hospitals, we have sannyāsīs going on cruise ships and singing with māyāvādīs, we have māyāvādīs performing kīrtanas at our public programs, we have devotees forced to take paid exams to be even considered for initiation. Just what is it one must do to get “deleted from ISKCON” nowadays?

Somehow or other we’ve learned to see past all those things and don’t stress ourselves, though many do feel strongly about it. I think GBC doesn’t have the guts to put all those “deviants” straight, besides often they ARE the GBC. Every year GBC publishes its budget, for the sake of transparency I believe, and now it comes to about 130,000 US dollars. What about millions they collect for TOVP? I’m not saying there’s impropriety there but that GBC’s transparency appears to be irrelevant – that’s not where money could be misused. This isn’t the fault of the current members but does contribute to the impression that GBC is only a paper tiger. I’ve seen our local GBC read news on his iPad while singing Jaya Radha Madhava in class. How’s that going to improve our temple standards?

It is easy to get into a black book and be banned, i.e. “deleted”, but only if you openly revolt and disturb peace, otherwise no one cares and, if you can get along with the authorities, you can get away with murder.

We have one ex-guru here who got married under questionable circumstances and abandoned his disciples but no one, absolutely no one, considers him as fallen but rather as one of the seniormost authorities, always welcome to give class or lead kīrtana. One day he was at a festival where his “former” disciples were present and they got along just fine, no bad feelings as far as I know. As far as I can see I was the only one thinking that it could be awkward. I think it’s a welcome change but in the good old days that would have been unthinkable. Some things do improve.

Question is – how do we survive in this atmosphere that would appear surreal only a short time ago? We’ve learned to see and appreciate devotees’ commitment to Śrīla Prabhupāda and their submission to the ultimate authority of GBC. Everything else is just fluff, a foam on the surface of the Ganges. It’s just three modes of nature forcing jīvas to experience their karma, and that these experiences are carefully calibrated by Kṛṣṇa to bring their speediest recovery from material affliction. It might not be how current generation of devotees sees with it but this explanation works for me when I spot dissonance with my own upbringing in KC.

The only thing I can do to speed up this purification process is to engage in saṅkīrtana myself. When we talk about philosophy, praise and appreciate the devotees, discuss Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes etc all the impurities in our hearts gradually disappear and then people simply won’t do the things that are improper. They would stop talking about themselves and their feelings, they would stop acting out their feelings and they would stop doing things for their own pleasure.

Ultimately, Kṛṣṇa is so big that when we get even a drop of Kṛṣṇa consciousness all our worries appear incomparably small and fade away. I think this is how the promised Golden Age is supposed to manifest itself – not in fixing problems but in redirecting our consciousness elsewhere. “Reality” is produced from our minds and it’s “mind over matter” all the way. How to fix our minds? By mantra, of course. What mantra works the best? Hare Kṛṣṇa.

What about being in or out of ISKCON? I don’t think we have an authorized list of members and all one needs to do is to be loyal to Śrīla Prabhupāda as opposed to any outside ācārya, and to GBC, and even that in broadest possible terms. If one is already on some “no-fly” list then that has to be cleared, of course, and there are higher standards for those with appetite for authority positions, too.

Does anyone in ISKCON care whether one makes such a commitment? No, they really don’t. In the old ISKCON it mattered but old ISKCON doesn’t exist anymore. What is the use of this new ISKCON then? Umm, you get to discuss Kṛsṇa kathā in the company of devotees. You don’t get this anywhere else. Of course there are devotees outside ISKCON, too, but their appreciation for Kṛṣṇa kathā is considerably less and certain things cannot be mentioned at all because of their lack of commitment or commitment to different personalities. I’m not talking about anything esoteric, which is a common but wrong assumption, I’m talking about one’s personal realizations which are, if we are being honest, still on the level of dealing with matter. How to see spirit in matter, how to see value of devotees, or books, or non-devotees, or family. There’s no magic involved but mature ISKCON devotees see all these simple things differently and they have a lot to share in this regard, there’s always something to learn from them. From outsiders? Not so much.

What I’m saying is that a sober and intelligent man should take this opportunity and use it rather than restricting oneself with “in”, “out”, or “deleted” labels. There’s a verse in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam on a different topic but it in passing mentions this “world of names” (SB 2.2.3):

ataḥ kavir nāmasu yāvad arthaḥ
syād apramatto vyavasāya-buddhiḥ
siddhe ’nyathārthe na yateta tatra
pariśramaṁ tatra samīkṣamāṇaḥ

Synonyms:
ataḥ — for this reason; kaviḥ — the enlightened person; nāmasu — in names only; yāvat — minimum; arthaḥ — necessity; syāt — must be; apramattaḥ — without being mad after them; vyavasāya-buddhiḥ — intelligently fixed; siddhe — for success; anyathā — otherwise; arthe — in the interest of; na — should never; yateta — endeavor for; tatra — there; pariśramam — laboring hard; tatra — there; samīkṣamāṇaḥ — one who sees practically.

Translation:
For this reason the enlightened person should endeavor only for the minimum necessities of life while in the world of names. He should be intelligently fixed and never endeavor for unwanted things, being competent to perceive practically that all such endeavors are merely hard labor for nothing.

Monastery dream

This post has been sitting as a draft for more than half a year so it’s not “just had a very vivid dream” and some details have become hazy, some disappeared altogether, but I still remember it and want to say a few words about it before letting it go. If I started this post from scratch I would have done it differently, but, in respect to my memories from back then, I’d rather edit what I started and continue from where I left the draft. So, here it goes.

Still don’t know what to do with this blog but I just had a very vivid dream that I want to save for posterity. A few years ago I had a similar dream that I still remember in detail and it became a model of our journey through this world, possibly permanently etched into my memory. These dreams capture essential ideas of our experiences and express them in unusual but highly memorable ways. Clicking on dream/dreams tag brings up probably a dozen mind blowing dreams I documented over the years. The one I mean here was the first, from 2012.

New dream was about my life in some sort of a monastery. It wasn’t ISKCON exactly because it lacked certain identifying marks – there were no deities, it was not really a temple, and there was no ideological rigidity, but there were feasts and there were some real devotees present – Bhakti Vikasa Swami, for one.

Somehow physical description of the place was very important. It felt like it was traditional cave dwellings for sadhus, like a line of caves I’ve seen in photographs of Petri or some places in India. The spirit of cave dwelling was there, the place was curved into natural rock, but it also had features of a traditional ashram – long verandas with entrances to each monk’s quarters, and top floor had windows from which you could climb out onto the roof over lower floors. That area was like a beach where residents would come out to take in the sun and relax, but what was beyond that roof was not really revealed. It wasn’t a building, it wasn’t planned this way, and it wasn’t level – I lived on a far right side where there was only the top floor and veranda leading to other monks quarters was a downward slope. Today’s insert – I remember it as a face of a cliff with ground level starting to rise from left to right, eventually reaching the top – that’s where there were windows and “rooftop” access. The dream started at the bottom and progressed to the top, or left to right. “Caves” were huge inside at the bottom but at the top, where we got windows, they turned into small one person rooms.

Because of this location I was kind of an outsider to the community – the main part where there were many more rooms and bigger halls used for gatherings and serving prasadam. They were all below top level and had no windows, it was always dark and damp inside, and very austere. In the beginning they were populated by the “first people” and I sort of knew them but not by names, and pretty soon they disappeared somewhere and were replaced by new generations. There was a hierarchy there, there was seniority, there emerged “meisters”, but “first people” were very few and they were all equal. I wasn’t really one of them, as I said, but due to me being there long enough I got to be treated as a senior myself, which will come up later. Today’s addition – physically, I saw only the artifacts left by the first people – piles of things in the corners, occasional metal dishes etc. First people appeared in the dream as shadows of themselves, or, actually, as shafts of light. They spoke, but not in words – they spoke truths. Words to describe these truths weren’t invented yet. I don’t know where first people disappeared to, but I was one of the last ones to catch their glimpse. The cavernous halls where they originally lived stayed empty and untouched out of respect. The populated part started immediately to the right (the dream always progressed from left to right, which was also up the slope) so people would always remember that their history is on the other side of the wall but never actually go there because first people’s presence there was reality no longer possible to grasp by mundane senses. 

We were all there to seek after Absolute Truth. There was no label attached, the Truth was not defined – it was a matter of discovery, not assertions, and it was obvious to all that the Truth must be found “inside”, through the process of self-realization and looking beyond physicality of our perceptions.

One of my first memories from that time is that of a female devotee who I intended to marry when I was still living in the temple. I knew who she was in the dream but she was present more as an idea – there was no face, no bodily features to remember, nothing. Just something vaguely gray, as in dressed in gray robes. We did communicate, though, and we both knew that the proposition was about sex, but we understood that spiritual connection was first and foremost. After talking about our respective paths to the Truth we realized that our roads are going to be different and physical union would be detrimental to our spiritual progress. And so I left and didn’t think about it again. She disappeared somewhere along with “first people” and that was the end of it.

When I later went to the same place it was full of devotees and they were having a feast. It was in a cave like cavern, though, so there was no light. I could not make any devotees’ faces or features, only their aluminium lottas were visible in the darkness. They were sitting in a line coiling around the room like a snake and this room also had a second floor, more like a gallery along the walls, and it was also filled with feasting devotees. I got myself a place at the end of the line but someone spotted me and invited me to talk with one of the elders, who was very kind and appreciative but I don’t remember any of that conversation. We shared memories and appreciation for the first people, much of it non-verbal. It was nice, devotees offered me a seat and fed me sumptuously, but I didn’t know anyone either in his entourage or among devotees feasting in the main room so there was nothing for me there apart from eating and I never returned to that place again.

Next I turned my attention to the girl living right next to me, literally the first room as I would go from my place down to that main area. I had no illusions what I wanted from here, it was the same proposition – sex. This time we talked for a long long time, on multiple occasions, and got really really close – only spiritually, however, as there was no descending into physicality of any kind, and it ended in the same way – getting married deemed to be detrimental to spiritual progress. Close association with that girl, however, made the biggest impressions of my dream. I saw her making progress, moment by moment, from one encounter to the next, and soon I wasn’t able to keep up.

Our community didn’t have any rules or regulative principles, we were simply searching for Truth, and if members thought that sex was part of that path then it wasn’t a question of breaking any taboos. When I was with that girl we didn’t discuss sex, we rather talked about the Truth. Initial attraction to sex itself was there in both of us but as we meditated together – I don’t have a better word for what we practiced – we both found that physical expression of our relationships would only be distracting to the “union of souls”, so to speak. We had much better time in each other’s company without descending into physicality of our bodies. As I said earlier – in our community it was obvious to all that Truth is hiding within us and is approached through introspection and transcending material bodily level, and somehow there was none of that all pervasive attitude that “bodies have needs”. We all knew that it’s not true and that it’s actually “mind over matter” in every respect.

As we spent time together I noticed that our goals and values started to diverge, that she was making some real mystical progress but I wasn’t. She was going deeper and deeper into states I wasn’t allowed into and physically it resulted in walls going up at the entrance to her room. They were like barriers I’d have to go around to see her. Then they started to multiply with lots of twists and turns to reach the inner chamber, and when I reached there she wasn’t too happy to see me. It was like passing through a labyrinth and then passages became narrower so that I physically couldn’t make turns there. These walls were not built, they just appeared there by her mystic power.

In one way I was upset at losing her association but at the same time I had absolutely no problems with my own life – I rather felt that it was her who was going in the wrong direction instead.  Her progress wasn’t a challenge for me, I really appreciated it, but I didn’t want any of it for myself. Eventually she stopped talking to me, barely acknowledging my presence, but knew I was there and that we had some shared roots.

Then it happened. Like a butterfly in a cocoon one night she came came out as a completely different creature. Physically, she was the same, a small skinny girl, but no more meditation and no more austerities – her path was complete. She stood on the roof of some building on THIS side of the cliff, not on the other side where our windows were, sort of in a courtyard. Everybody poured out to see what was going on, no one stayed in their rooms, the place was filled with people going “ooh” and “aah”. She stood on the edge of that roof and divine light was shining on her and she commanded it. She commanded everything. She shed her clothes but somehow a myriad of butterflies showed up and covered her naked body to protect her. She commanded this butterfly cloud as well. She commanded rain and thunder, she became a Goddess.

Then somehow she appeared right in front of me and offered herself. Not sexually but I was invited to take part in the spiritual union with her. She was naked, as I said, but her private parts were covered by butterfly made “bikini”, and where her body was open her skin became golden and self-effulgent. She was enticing me, displaying her mystical and spiritual opulences. She was not standing on the ground but hovering just above it. Everybody offered their obeisances, every eye was fixed on her form, but I somehow wasn’t impressed and simply passed on her invitation. I turned and walked away, up to my own room. She was disappointed but she had hundreds if not thousands of new admirers who became her servants, followers, disciples, her flock – I didn’t care.

That was the first time I was aware of my own room in this dream. It was high up, meaning to the extreme right in my dream’s geography, and therefore it had a window, a huge opening, actually, on the other side. Early morning sunlight, very orange, was pouring in and reflecting off the walls, off the bed, off the table. It wasn’t furniture, actually – it was all made of polished cement so by itself the room was dark grey or brown but the sun filled with with light and incredible sense of lightness as well. I don’t know how I meditated there before or what kind of spiritual activities I practice, but now it was obvious – the truth was on the other side of the window.

Somehow I have a feeling that, like with that girl undergoing a transformation, my window got much much bigger this morning. Like before it was small and high and therefore impossible to look out of but today it was like the entire wall disappeared and my room just opened up on that side. So I just walked out onto the roof, which was like a beach area because many saffron clad devotees were out there enjoying the sun. That’s where I met Bhakti Vikasa Swami, btw. He didn’t talk to me personally but was glad I joined the party.

This roof wasn’t wide, maybe a dozen or so steps to the edge, and it was made out of wavy roof tiles, of a reddish brown, almost orange color. Beyond the roof, however, started gardens that stretched as far as eye could see. Perhaps they were very beautiful but I didn’t really look. As I said earlier, it was like a beach – very long but not wide, and instead of the blue sea there was a sea of green trees, pastures etc. Devotees were chanting and singing there, blissfully, and it was the world unlike the caves/monastery I started this journey from. I didn’t feel the need to return to the monastery or to my room either, and yet the roof was clearly a temporary location, too.

Unfortunately, that’s where my dream ended.

When writing about my dreams I traditionally explain their connection with Krishna consciousness but at the moment I’m exhausted from typing. I do see this dream as a reflection of my personal spiritual journey, however. Actual ISKCON devotees appearing on the roof top beach was also very appropriate, but I have no clear explanation of the “goddess” part of the dream. I just feel like it’s some form of śaktism. It brings perfection but on THIS side of the border whereas the Truth clearly starts at the rooftop and then stretches into the ocean of green and that’s all I can say about it at the moment.

I just wanted to resurrect this old post before I start writing about something else, something that has been on my mind for a few days already, so forgive me for not rounding it up nicely.

Congregational plans

This weekend there was a presentation in our temple by a devotee from ISKCON’s Congregational Development Ministry and it was called “Gita for everyone”. I didn’t think much about it and sat down to listen just like everybody else.

The class was illustrated by PowerPoint slides and right in the beginning the devotee said that we should present Bhagavad Gita in a way that is easy, practical, and fun. There was a slide for that as well and it was repeated quite a few times. These Gita meetings should be held regularly and were compared to book clubs, with an appropriate slide of what book clubs are expected to look like – several women lounging about.

Somehow I just don’t see myself as part of that scene, though. I don’t know anyone who goes to book clubs, I understand it’s something bored American housewives do when they need an excuse to start drinking early. I assume they talk about books, of course, but what attracts them to this activity is not what attracts people to Bhagavad Gita, which is certainly not “easy” or “fun”. Or maybe it is now – perhaps I’m completely out of touch with times.

When I joined we were replicating ISKCON of Srila Prabhupada’s time. If we said Krishna Consciousness was easy we meant “drop everything and simply move into the temple”. When we said it was “practical” we meant there was always something to do and we could take part in the most exalted activity – sankirtana mission of Lord Caitanya. When we said it was “fun” we meant uninterrupted flow of nectar of sankirtana pastimes. None of that is compatible with book club settings.

Does it work elsewhere? I remember a devotee who hosts a local bhakti-vṛkṣa program shared her realizations once and her speech was heart rending, not “easy, practical, and fun”. In my view devotees should take Bhagavad Gita way more seriously than was suggested, and they already do.

I’m afraid we substitute real values we should be attracted to in the Gita by values common to modern society – “easy, practical, and fun”. It means we seek low effort (easy), we seek personal profits (practical), and we seek personal enjoyment (fun). I’m afraid all sorts of things will go wrong if we approach Krishna Consciousness with these expectations.

Maybe for some people making donations or offering food immediately brings undeniable prosperity but I’m not one of them. Even if it works it’s still only a karma-miśra-bhakti. I’m sure it’s very attractive to many but weren’t we supposed to propagate pure devotion, not get rich quick schemes?

There was a senior devotee who took interest in me once and the first thing he asked was about what attracts me to Krishna Consciousness. He was visibly relieved when I didn’t say “I like the food, the kirtans, the clothes – the culture”. I know it works for some but there are way too many people who aren’t in the least bit impressed by it. I mean we have the entire Krishna West, after all.

Anyway, from this point in the presentation I realized that I’m not going to be the part of this congregation, it’s just not for me. I have nothing against the devotee doing it, he was very sincere and very sure of what he was saying. As his personal service to the Lord it was certainly great – for him. The sad irony – for me – was that his service is officially called “outreach” and his stated goal was to turn every house on the planet into Krishna temple, and there I was not feeling it at all.

That is not to say I had no interest whatsoever – the biggest part of his presentation was showing how to make sense of Bhagavad Gita – 800 pages, three sections, eighteen chapters etc. When he was asking for each chapter’s title, for example, I tried to volunteer answers just like everybody else – it WAS fun, but it was fun of showing off your memory skills or the fun of showing off your erudition. I’m actually somewhat ashamed I fell for this old trick.

Making sense of the Gita is a big project and it brings the sense of accomplishment, plus it gives you an “inside knowledge” against which you can test anyone you meet with your “do you know that?” questions. I’m too old for this, however, and I know first hand that this kind of knowledge doesn’t last. Chapter titles, verse numbers, Sanskrit and translations – all these things gradually get washed away from the memory, they are impermanent and, therefore, they are not what we should focus on in our studies of Bhagavad Gita.

Actually, the clues were right there in the presentation itself – one verse, even remembering one single word from Bhagavad Gita can relieve the soul from all material contamination. But “remembering” here means something different. It’s not being able to repeat “sarva dharman parityajya” and then claim that you are free from sins, it’s the actual experience of giving up everything and actually feeling weight coming off your shoulders. You don’t even have to remember words for it to happen – this process of surrendering to Krishna comes BEFORE its expression in thoughts and, subsequently, in words. It’s not a mental activity for our minds.

If you say “sarva dharman” but then seek easiness, practicality, and fun it means you haven’t actually abandoned all those other religions and haven’t embraced surrendering to Krishna as your only activity, as your only life and soul.

If the presenter only paused and considered the import of the quotes he included in his presentation he would have realized that it came out as inconsistent – there was a Prabhupada’s quote that during these regular Bhagavad Gita meetings we should chant its hymns and slokas we reverence and devotion, not ease and fun. How did they miss that?

My answer is that this understanding of Bhagavad Gita and what is attractive about it is superficial. Or that they say these things to the larger audience and therefore do not share their personal realizations. Which is another way to say “it’s superficial”. I hope it works and they can attract and maintain a very large congregation. I’m just not going to be a part of it.

PS. One other thing – supplementing your talks with PowerPoint presentations was cool twenty years ago and being attracted to these “marvels” of technology indicates another anartha. Proper sharing of realizations goes straight to the heart of the listener and so relying on visuals is a poor substitution when the real thing is absent. Do it for iPhones, not for imparting transcendental knowledge.

PPS. I didn’t have the heart to express my doubts about that talk publicly, everybody thought it was a success and this is where the future lies. Devotees have become so hopeful I don’t want to discourage them. I can’t pretend I share their enthusiasm either. I hope it won’t become a problem.

Vanity thought #1799. “It’s for the children”

Wikipedia gives it as “think of the children” but there’s no difference. It’s about emotional appeal which is used as a substitute for reason. Not that reasoning stands on a much more solid ground according to Sāṅkhya, but still.

A couple of months ago a debate started on Sampradaya Sun when someone brought up Bhakti Vikāsa Swami’s (BVKS) lecture where he spoke on Bhaktividyāpūrṇa Svāmī and child abuse. BVKS replied and, as expected, more questions followed until it all snowballed with half a dozen different people getting on his case as well. It’s gone quiet now, probably because SS editors did not want to publish submissions in defense of BVKS before he finished his presentation. At this point BVKS is not responding, probably because he thinks it’s unfair given how many others were allowed to attack him at the same time. Or maybe he thinks nothing good will come out of it, or maybe this issue drifted away from his mind already.

At one point I myself sat down and penned an article expressing my personal view, not really taking sides and joining the fight, though it’s clear what camp I should be enlisted in. Sun editor immediately replied saying that my submission could not be published and I was actually relieved because I’m pretty sure it would have kicked up a storm of angry responses. Two weeks have passed, I don’t think there will be any progress and that article is not going anywhere, though I would welcome the opportunity to edit it to a more presentable standard, make corrections etc.

Here’s the thing, though – I wasn’t trying to present the correct version of the child protection issue, I only shared my personal perception of it. This perception might be wrong but it’s the one that was created, so don’t blame the mirror. I diligently read the provided sources, I read all articles published about it at the time, I watched the documentary in question a year ago, and my article simply documented my conclusions.

I’ll just copy paste it here as it was, warts and all. I don’t want to rewrite it – it would be too much work for no particular reason. I’m somewhat ashamed of my dismissive attitude but that’s because I am not emotionally involved in this issue, and I only speak about this particular dimension of it in relation to one particular devotee.

Sometimes I feel like I’m writing this against my better judgement – with so many devotees pitching in what is the value of my personal opinion? I can’t claim to speak on behalf of silent majority either, and yet I don’t see my perspective as being totally out of wack and it’s the perspective that should, theoretically, count, too.

As a background – I’ve never met a child abuser or a victim of child abuse in ISKCON, or outside ISKCON, for that matter, but since it has become part of our history I take it on authority that it did happen even if I didn’t see it or hear about it at the time. It’s the stuff of long past and we should put it behind us, I thought.

About a decade ago I ran into an online debate with those who think ISKCON is a dangerous cult that should be outlawed and one of the accusations they threw around was that it’s a hotbed of child abuse and pedophilia. They didn’t cite any facts, however. I searched the internet myself and found only two cases, in one a wife reported her husband to the police because she found child pornography on his computer, and in another a devotee was arrested in a child brothel in Cambodia, though it was unknown if he was in that country on any ISKCON related business. And so I left this as a non-issue until last year when a new documentary was promoted on vaishnava news sites.

It sounded as if it uncovered countless new incidents and I diligently watched it through but the only case of current abuse I remember was that a female teacher pinched a stomach of a boy who couldn’t stand straight during temple ceremony. Not the best way to keep kids in line (though in a pinch would do – pardon the pun) but not serious enough to make an hour long documentary out of it either. And yet for the whole hour people were going on and on and on expressing their outrage and wringing their hands in agony and I thought they just liked themselves to be heard. Much of it was how everybody else is doing their service wrong and if you only asked the speakers in that video they’d put ISKCON straight right away. If I wanted to learn about actual contemporary child abuse then an hour wasted, that was my conclusion.

Then this debate got reignited again and this time it somehow focused on Bhakti Vidyapurna Swami (BVPS). This time we got links to Child Protection Office case files on him and I read them through, too. 2007 investigation lasted for half a year and found two incidents that “could possibly fall” into child abuse category – their words, not mine. One is that BVPS rubbed a chickpea paste on a forearm of the smallest girl in class and another about him manually pumping water while the girls were taking a bath – a common occurrence in India where kids take bath at public pumps all the time and no one thinks any of it, and that was all. Is this what triggers people nowadays? It’s not even a mole hill to make a mountain of.

CPO report makes it clear that they were concerned mostly with people’s reactions and that they didn’t see any victims to be rescued. That paragraph reads as if CPO was acting as “mind protection office” there, but they clearly failed given the amount of outrage BVPS’ behavior eventually caused.

Then we were given a link to 2015 report on Sri Radhe that “confirmed” BVPS transgressions from 2007 paper. I’ve read that, too. All I learned from that is that Sri Radhe, the “child abuser”, had a group of favorite students, Coke in her fridge, and snack wrappers in her trash. I can’t help but put “child abuser” in quotes. As far as accusation of inappropriate behavior between her and BVPS goes – I understand it happened when she got engaged, married, and pregnant, and, in any case, this has nothing to do with CPO matters.

In Sri Radhe’s report one thing stood out for me, though – all the girls were introduced as victims – “victim 1 says, victim 7 says” and so on, and yet no crimes were mentioned. A teacher “yelling” at the class is not a crime, or is it now? Then it occurred to me that in another possible interpretation these girls were, indeed, victims – victims of CPO investigation. They were forced to search their memories for all the negative experiences and then magnify and verbalize them, and then CPO officers validated them by writing them down and making them into official records. It looks as if girls were manipulated and their minds agitated against their teacher and I don’t know how they could come back and look the teacher in the eye after that. And it’s not just one relationship that was broken forever, I’m afraid they’ll never be able to trust any of their future teachers either, and, perhaps, they’ll always have reservations against surrendering to their gurus, too. It’s very easy to poison a child’s mind and I’m afraid CPO did just that. I can understand how no gurukula would want CPO officers to interview their students because damage caused by such investigations can’t be easily undone.

Then there was a link to an old Sun article on BVPS abuse from twenty-thirty years ago. In one of the recent posts the word “rape” was used as if BVPS was a child rapist, and yet this word does not appear in that long article. He did nothing of the kind at all, that “abuse” was about older kids engaging in homosexual behavior with each other and BVPS failing to prevent it and protect younger boys from it. Then there was a matter of corporal punishment but it was mentioned only briefly. At the time it was legal in Bengal and kids at Mayapur gurukula quite possibly had it easier than if they’d gone to other schools. The article mentions that silence from BVPS was considered a far heavier punishment than any beatings. Should CPO prosecute people for not speaking to children now? In the end – it was all pre-1991, BVPS has been sanctioned for it, none of it happens at the present time, and so it should be put to rest.

I remember one episode from last year’s video where, at the end of the class by BVPS, a female devotee stands up and practically starts reading a prepared list of accusations against him that had nothing to do with anything he said. I’m sure she felt she was rallying for a good cause but to me it showed a blatant disrespect for the position awarded to a class speaker, who should be treated as a representative of Vyasadeva himself. Carried away by anger these people lose their intelligence, their power to discriminate between right and wrong – just as Krishna described descent into hell in Bhagavad Gita. Someone mentioned here that BVPS is not allowed to give classes in the UK but he is a regular speaker at Bhagavatam classes in Mayapur where not only devotees but Sri Sri Radha Madhava, Panca Tattva, and Lord Nrisimha have no problems hearing him speaking every Sunday. He is good enough for Them but not good enough for the UK. Whose loss is that?

And it all sprung up to life from him rubbing chickpea paste on a girl’s forearm… This obviously can’t be the reason. I think what drives this outrage is the desire to feel righteous, promote a good cause, and rage against designated culprits to one’s heart content. This behavior doesn’t really need external reasons, any excuse would do, like spotting a word “rape” or “beatings” in some article. Triggering it is super easy. CPO officers from 2007 BVPS report realized and mentioned that danger but, according to their report, BVPS didn’t seem to care, and so here we are.

Much of the current debate is about Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s presentation, too. I don’t think his opponents read him carefully, without prejudice. Why accuse him of giving quotes out of context, for example? He only said that these quotes exist, that Srila Prabhupada did on some occasions support physical punishment for children. This fact is true regardless of context the quotes were made in. And then BVKS defended his understanding of the context, and people objected even more, and in this way the whole thing snowballs out of control and BVKS is accused of not following through on every argument.

It got to the point where devotees approaching Srila Prabhupada for guidance are accused of having “offensive contempt”. I don’t think anyone approached Srila Prabhupada with contempt, offensive or otherwise, in those days and Prabhupada and his servants would have spotted it right away. I can’t accept this as part of the “correct” context for that infamous conversation about gurukula, nor is this the context as relayed in Hari Sauri’s Transcendental Diary. They’ve discussed the discipline question for about 6 min out of a 44 min conversation, by the way.

It is true that Srila Prabhhupada was reluctant to accept corporal punishment as a solution and recommended that trouble maker should be sent to a farm but imagine the outrage if our gurukula managers started doing just that – sending thirteen year old boys to dig on farms, giving them no further education and following Prabhupada’s “not … everyone has to become literate” dictum! That would qualify as child labor and would be downright illegal. For all the analysis of that conversation this obvious point is somehow gets lost.

Bottom line, as I see it, is the usual – devotees bring modern standards from the outside and want to impose them on Vedic tradition. Today it’s opinions on child abuse and earlier it was about gender equality. Others do it with homosexuality and there’s the whole Krishna West movement, too.

Perhaps my accusations are unfair to devotees involved but I kept the names out so that I could talk about behavior, not personalities. In any case I beg forgiveness if I misunderstood their motives and their service. Still, this is the perspective present in my head and I can’t deny it’s there or that it’s not caused by observing this debate.

Hmm, on the re-read it’s actually not that bad, but I would definitely word it differently if I were to write this for Sampradaya Sun again.

Vanity thought #1797. Tulasi Krishna Preyasi

I feel it’s time to revive this blog after a long break. I’m not sure I can keep up with the usual schedule of writing a new, thousand word article everyday but, hopefully, it will come through trying. A few words first.

Just before New Year I opened a Facebook account, to discuss cosmology. It didn’t work out, however. I think I’ll discuss reasons for it some other day. Once you are on Facebook, however, you’ll get drawn in by friend requests and new content being suggested all the time. FB knows what you read and god forbid you ever clicked “like” on something because then it will start feeding you stories you’ll have hard time to ignore. One thing leads to another, you participate in conversations, and pretty soon you become part of a community. It’s not a bad thing in itself but it forces you to behave in a certain way, say certain things, click certain likes. For every debate there are certain established positions and you are expected to fit into one of those. Life will never be the same.

One such aspect is the “depth” of content there. No one posts a thousand words tractates there and no one reads them. Content has to be short and to the point, it should be scrollable and people should decide to “like” it after reading the title or at most a paragraph. It’s not meant for deep engagement and careful deliberation. There’s one popular devotee there who puts up dozens of old paintings depicting various līlās and sometimes he asks people to identify them for him. One commenter complained that he sees no point in spending time hunting for the stories and reading up on details to come back and find that the poster has long moved on to something else and has neither interest nor time to discuss it anymore. “Take one story and learn from it as much as you can,” he exclaimed (paraphrasing here).

This is not how I used to write for this blog and I miss the good old days. It’s not to say that this way is better, and I don’t even consider the matter of publicity. These are “vanity thoughts”, after all. These are things that occupy my mind and I somehow find them clever and worth sharing – not because they have value but because I want to feel that way about myself. By connecting these thoughts to the Lord I hope to purify myself from these motivations. After a three month break my attitude could have changed already, let’s see how it goes.

Facebook will never run out of controversial material to feel oneself clever about, I will give them that, so let’s take one topic I haven’t considered yet – Tulsi Gabbard. She is often in the news, and I mean vaiṣṇava news, and she’s invariably covered in good light. She was invited here, appeared there, got sworn on Bhagavad Gītā etc. etc. This favorable coverage doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any detractors and critics, however. Recently I listened to this class by Bhakti Vikāsa Swami and even if he didn’t mention her by name this lecture was about her.

To be honest, I don’t know why he didn’t say the name when it was so clear who he was talking about – she is not some “you know who” who cannot be mentioned but that’s how it was. Main thrust of his argument was against her support for abortion and gay rights and I don’t see how even his critics could disagree with him on this. His position is objectively correct. There’s however, a way to see a bit more of a picture while remaining in agreement with everything he said as well.

First, he didn’t really consider the argument that pro-abortion and pro-LGBT statements on her website are positions of her party. She is Congressman (-woman) from a Democratic Party and from Hawaii – these conditions dictate a lot of what she can and cannot say in public and are not necessarily indicative of her personal convictions. This doesn’t make her free from blame but we should consider shades of her guilt, too.

We ourselves, when going to work, pay government taxes and so support current government policies on abortion and gay marriage, too. It obviously varies from country to country or form state to state in the US but some share is always there. Likewise, by becoming members of a team we offer moral and emotional support to fellow team members and it includes sharing in their happiness of having a hot cup of morning coffee even if we don’t drink it ourselves, or anticipation of Friday night drinks at the bar we have no experience of. At least we are not expected to vocally object and denigrate these activities, which reads as tacit approval. Who among us barges into any of these office conversations with an offer to surrender to the Lord, chant His holy name, and abandon all sinful activities? So let us not hurry to throw stones just yet.

There’s also a matter of indifference. I don’t feel anything about abortions myself, for example. As far as my consciousness goes they don’t exist. Sure I know what they are and I used to know a girl when I was young who had an abortion herself, but I don’t remember her name, only that she was sad and regretful about her decision even if it didn’t stop her from her promiscuous ways. Otherwise – I don’t have any emotional reactions to abortions, or to gay marriage, for that matter – it’s not a part of my life and doesn’t affect me in any way. If I was a baker asked to make cakes for gay weddings I would surely have felt differently, but I’m not a baker, and neither is Tulsi Gabbard. As far as I know she just has this obligatory statement on her obligatory website and that’s it. It doesn’t mean she passionately promotes it, which would be clearly undevotional.

Regardless of this, however, she has the guts to go on stage in Washington hotel, give a speech, and then sing her heart out in kīrtana. I’ve found only a short version of it but there’s a longer one somewhere where you can see all the dressed up Washington people in tuxedos and cocktail dresses. It’s not like an ISKCON sannyāsī going on the same stage who has no connection to these people and nothing to lose. To me, this requires bravery and devotion, and these qualities should be appreciated:

A few words about devotees who make her into some sort of a saint who has done more for spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness than the rest of us together – they might not say it, but I think it’s obvious is that they appreciate her high position rather than her actual level of devotion or impact of her preaching. They didn’t care about her before she got elected to Congress. Now she is a leader and Kṛṣṇa says that whatever a great leader does others naturally follow, but we shouldn’t be those “others”, we have our own spiritual leaders and so we should appreciate Tulsi’s achievements but not give her the status of an ācārya just yet. She is certainly dear to Kṛṣṇa and we should contemplate how she could turn out that way even when growing in a sect splintered from ISKCON before she was even born while her father became a Christian minister. Was it her mother who protected her seed of devotion from all these deviations? I have no definitive answer but I’d like to this so.

Vanity thought #1796. VC – Cosmology should be semantic

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

The end of section on problems with modern cosmology is within the grasp. There are only two rather short chapters left and they largely summarize what has been explained in detail earlier. There’s one little bombshell dropped here, however, so, without further ado, let’s see this grande finale.

Dark Matter anomaly arises when we our observations do not comply with our theory of gravitation. We expect distant stars and galaxies to rotate with certain speeds but they do it faster as if they were in the presence of a large gravitational field. We attribute this field to dark matter.

In our solar system we also expect planets to rotate around the Sun with different speeds – those closer to the Sun must rotate faster and those farther away much, much slower. Saturn, for example, completes one rotation in twenty six Earthly years. Wait a minute, the Saturn also covers a lot more distance in this time so I’m not sure whether it moves faster or slower relative to Earth. Anyway, in Vedic cosmology, the book says, the problem of dark matter does not arise because all planets and all start rotate with the same speed.

What about our observations of [allegedly] slow moving Saturn, however? What if it moves slower than Mercury, which is the closest to the Sun in our solar model. This is where the book drops a mysterious sentence that despite same rotational speed the apparent speeds are different because planets are being dragged by the Sun and by the zodiac. Dragged by the Sun? I’ve read this before, I’ve heard of this from Srimad Bhagavatam, too, and I’ve read detailed explanations further in the book, but I still can’t explain what it actually means. Maybe it will come to me later.

Stars are parts of the zodiac and in Vedic cosmology they move at a constant speed, too. We think that those of them that are further away should move faster to keep up but here they are considered as parts of the same “disk” rather than independent celestial objects with no connections to each other. This is promised to be explained in later chapters.

More to the point, because in Vedic cosmology gravity is rejected as a driving force behind movements of stars and planets then what follows is that distances to them are explained differently as well. There’s a great agreement between Vedic observations and modern astronomy when it comes to rotational movement but distances to planets are all wrong – as Śrīla Prabhupāda insisted that the Sun is closer to the Earth than the Moon, for example.

Methods of measuring distances used by modern astronomers have been enumerated in this section and in semantic theory all of them were rejected one by one as they rely on unsubstantiated principles. Light does not travel in straight lines as assumed in the parallax method. Light is not equally distributed in all directions as assumed in inverse square law of luminosity. All parts of the universe are not made of the same type of matter as assumed by calculations based on Doppler shift. Once we drop these three assumptions and incorporate principles of semantic theory (Sāṅkhya) we can construct an entirely new model of the universe that will be in full agreement with śāstra, though scientists might not necessarily see the benefits of that agreement.

The last chapter starts with the point that it’s not only that we don’t know how to reconcile quantum theory with thermodynamics or general relativity but we have no idea what these reconciliations would look like. I think quantum field theory already claims to explain thermodynamics but don’t quote me on that. Physics needs postulates of dark energy and matter on the assumption that “dark” stuff we can’t see is physically just like the stuff we can. The author says that all these problems rise not from theories themselves but from the inability to incorporate meanings into science in general. I see what he did there – we can’t see meanings and they do not act like what we can see – objects.

Sāṅkhya provides the alternative to science where meanings are incorporated from the get go and difficulties experienced by science do not arise there. At this point I must add that I can neither concur nor disagree with this statement – no one knows if Sāṅkhya can be fully understood without accepting some contradictions here and there. It’s a bold claim to make.

Sāṅkhya based approach, however, will fundamentally alter our understanding of time, universe, and space we all live in. For now we see time and space as linear and flat, and all objects as physical. In Sāṅkhya we must first understand the nature of concepts and space-time in which concepts exist. This new space-time will become hierarchical and closed. As far as I understand, “flat” means that in our universe everything is made of the same kind of matter and in Sāṅkhya this flatness will be changed into hierarchy. Our space is “open”, meaning our universe has no boundaries and space between stars if filled with an infinite number of points which can make up continues straight or curved lines, for example. Closed space means that there’s the universal tree and that’s it. It’s not a tree in space and there are no straight paths between its branches. Our trees exist in space and squirrels can jump from one branch to another but this is not the correct model of the Vedic tree – outside space must be excluded.

Time is also arranged hierarchically, which will be explained later. For now I’ll just say, not being entirely sure, that our time folds in the time of greater beings like days fold into a week, weeks fold into months and so on. Vedic time is also cyclic – days, months, years and yugas go full circle and return where they started (never mind that space changes from Monday to Monday or from spring to spring).

Due to hierarchical nature of objects we won’t be puzzled by dark matter because all “dark” means in Sāṅkhya is it’s the kind of matter more abstract than our senses. Hierarchical organization of matter also means that all different kinds of space-time might appear in our physical view just as country, state, city, and street are all present in the physical sense but they are not the same types of location. We understand the difference between a concept of “state” and “street” but science somehow doesn’t recognize this distinction of type when it tries to reduce all matter to atomic interactions. Science suffer from physicalist dogma here and once that dogma is removed a new picture of the cosmos will emerge in which many of currently held views will become irrelevant, or wrong, or both.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of the section on problems with modern cosmology. The next section is dedicated to principles of Vedic cosmology but it starts with discussing another set of problems in modern science so it’s not going to be all about Lord Brahmā and the lokas he made right from the start.

Vanity thought #1795. VC – Putting Vedas back into Cosmology again

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

We are near the end of the section on problems with modern science. I think most of them have been presented already, leaving only a discussion on dark energy and dark matter which be the subject of the next couple of chapters. So far we’ve covered things like speed of light, Doppler effects, parallax, luminosity, thermodynamics, general relativity and some aspects of quantum theory. I might be missing something but it’s a long list as it is. In every case the book highlights problems with each discipline and explains them through semantic theory where these problems do not arise. Semantic theory, in turn, needs an induction of several principles so far completely absent from modern science and in today’s chapter there’s an attempt to describe these principle in Vedic terms, then somehow the discussion shifts to dark matter and conversion flows gently into the next chapter where some outrageous things are stated, but all in good time.

Should dark matter and energy have gotten their own chapter instead of stealing the show in the middle of the Vedic explanation of things? Probably, but the reason they are brought here is that there’s a nice semantic explanation of what “dark” means which ties it up back Sāṅkhya. Should I follow chapter’s narrative or should I re-organize the ideas in some other way? Probably, but I’m not sure my alternative would be better. Reorganizing ideas is a good exercise which leads to deeper understanding so I’ll try for a change. There are two hooks into Sāṅkhya in this chapter and we can start with semantics first and then describe these hooks later.

First of all, in Sāṅkhya the universe is a space-time tree and objects in this tree represent not only mass, which is the view of general relativity and gravitational theory, but any kind of semantic information. Various forms of semantic information are related to each other as abstracts and contingents. The most contingent forms are sense objects and that’s all we can perceive directly. Sense objects are produced from sensations which, in turn, are produced from senses.

We all have senses, there should be no argument about that, so we can perceive colors and sounds, but the author makes an interesting twist here – can we see color itself? We can see red and we can see blue but those are properties of color, as in “red color” or “blue color”. We see red and blue but not “color”. Similarly, we can hear musical notes but can’t hear the tone itself. To make tone perceptible it must have added details to produce a contingent object, like C#. In the same vein we have vision but can’t see vision itself not can we hear hearing. Concepts such as color and tone are abstract and by adding details to them we can produces perceptible contingents, such as sense objects, and it works in the down-up direction as well.

In this way the universal tree can be traversed up to the root. From sense objects to sensations, from sensations to senses, from senses to mind, from mind to intelligence, and from intelligence to ego. Each step is more abstract than the next. When we go from the top down we get progressively contingent objects with more details added to previous abstracts.

In our everyday life we all have language terms to discuss those abstracts and our common sense understanding of reality is not that different from Sānkhya. Consider intentions, for example. We all have them but we can’t see them directly. To demonstrate one’s intention it has to be converted into perceptible actions with perceptible sense objects. That way intentions can be “proven”. Intentions are causes of our actions but they are not seen, only their effects are visible.

Problem for science here is that intentions are excluded and ignored, except for humanities maybe. In hard science causes are attributed to visible objects and their properties, e.g. mass causes gravitational pull. All other things like intentions, guṇa, karma, mind, intelligence etc are physically imperceptible and therefore, from science point of view, are “dark”.

That’s where there’s a hook between Sāṅkhya and science in this chapter – empirical observations of movements of stars and galaxies do not conform with predictions of gravitational theory and their causes are attributed to “dark matter” and “dark energy”. Dark matter pulls stars together and is responsible for celestial objects rotating slower than they should, as if planetary systems or galaxies had a large core of invisible mass. Dark energy works in the opposite direction and forces galaxies to speed away. We can see that, no one is denying it, but the causes of these effects remain hidden and called “dark”. It’s worth repeating that together this dark mass and dark energy account for 95% of the total matter in the universe.

If only they could accept existence of abstract objects instead of only physically perceptible ones everything would become so much easier.

The second hook into Sāṅkhya, actually the first in the chapter, is that all interactions in Vedic universe are governed by guṇa and karma. These two have no equivalents in modern science and they are also dark and imperceptible but in this chapter they are linked to quantum theory. Remember that chapter on slit experiment a while back? The conclusion there was that the number of slits affects the outcome and this is what guṇa is compared to here.

Guṇa is part of our existence which modifies incoming information and which determines how it is perceived. In my mind I keep comparing guṇa to goggle with which we filter our existence. In slit chapter it was compared to base counting system – decimal, binary etc, but this kind of notation doesn’t change transmitted number itself the way pink glasses affect our vision.

Karma is channels established in the transmission of light, or any kind of information. These channels were discussed when we talked about light not going in all directions but being transmitted straight to the destination. There was source S, destination D, and cause C. Karma is this cause which connects S and D and enables information transfer. Guṇa, for some reason is compared here to D, or the part of our body which receives the light. It could be a leg or mind or eyes, I figure, but it’s an unusual way to talk about guṇa that’s for sure. It will make sense in the section on astrology, I guess, where guṇa and karma are described as two distinct celestial systems. This will come up in the next chapter as well but only briefly.

That’s it, a rather long chapter is done in one post. I might have missed a couple of paragraphs but nothing important. next chapter is very short and there’s a chance of finishing the entire section this week.