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.

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The meaning of humility

There’s one elusive quote from Śrīla Prabhupāda. Elusive in the sense I don’t see it explained anywhere else in his books. I’ve seen is supported in the statements of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī but can’t find them at the moment. The latest I’ve seen it is in this image on facebook but originally it’s from Harivilasa Prabhu’s memories on Following Srila Prabhupada DVD 5 (source):

Humility means that you are convinced beyond any doubt that there is nothing in this world, absolutely nothing in this world, not your money, not your family, not your fame, not your gun, not your education, nothing that will save you except the mercy of Krishna. When you are convinced like this, then you are humble.

It’s obviously quite different from a dictionary definition of humility or from how we talk about what it means to be humble or from Bhāgavatam examples of humility, and even from tṛṇad api sunīcena verse in Śikṣaṣṭaka. In fact, it is so different it doesn’t make sense at all. We can’t disagree with the requirement to see Kṛṣṇa’s mercy as absolute but why is it called “humility” here? I’m not entirely sure but I do have an idea and I do consider this definition of humility as a new standard. It doesn’t apply everywhere, obviously, but it’s what humility means in the ultimate sense.

To start with we need to look at general meaning of humility – it’s an attitude displayed in relation to others, though one can be humble in the face of events and impersonal forces as well. In any case, to speak of humility you need to accept the worldview where there is you and there are other people and things, and you all relate to each other in terms of “bigger” and “smaller” and “weaker” and “stronger” etc. You need to see your own power and the power of your counterpart and conclude that one power is greater than the other. Then you can start thinking about displaying humility. It would not make sense to talk about humility is these basic distinctions aren’t there.

In the quote Śrīla Prabhupāda gives us a few examples of distinct entities – family, guns, education etc. They are not our counterparts, however, but they are sources of one’s own strength when we compare it to that of “others” whose existence is indicated by mention of “save you” – there’s someone or something to be saved from. So we have three parts to consider – me, others, and sources of my strength.

Now let’s see what these parts mean in terms of Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy. “Me” could be me as the soul or it could be me as an embodied entity, forced by māyā to identify with material form. “Others” can be divided similarly into spirit souls and forms created by material nature. As we shall see later it doesn’t really matter, and the answer was given to a person still identifying himself with the body in the context of relating to material objects, not relations in the spiritual world.

So now we have “me” foolishly thinking that I’m am my body even if I do theoretically know that I’m not, so I have to elevate my current understanding of humility to that suitable to my real nature – jīva trying to free itself from clutches of māyā. That’s why the definition was given in the first place – to improve our current understanding. Then we have “others” who are not actually “who” but are “what” – forms created by the illusory energy. Jīvas behind these forms are similarly illusioned and have no control of what the forms do or how they appear because forms are products of universal guṇa and karma.

This basic understanding is actually quite revolutionary – we are not dealing with other jīvas, we are dealing with products of guṇa and karma, and even more to the point – with OUR guṇa and karma. Because we can’t perceive guṇa and karma of others and because we can’t perceive anything but what is allotted to us anyway. Nobody can do anything to you that is not in your karma. They can’t harm you and they can’t give you pleasure either. All that we experience is OUR guṇa-karma.

This means that we have a misconception about our real identity, we are aware it exists but it’s very persistent and we need to overcome it, and we are dealing with results of our karma which we perceive as “others”. We intend to counteract these results with our own powers which we draw from the sources mentioned in the quote – education, means knowledge, means we think we know what to do. Family provides emotional support, guns provide physical safety, wealth provides resources and so on. From Kṛṣṇa conscious point of view all these are illusory and unreliable. They are also in the same category as threats – they are both provided by karma. We have no more control over our gun as over a home intruder. It is the same karma that dictates that the gun is locked and you have no time to load the ammo and protect your family. It might work or it might not just as the intruder might attack you or might decide to flee.

What Śrīla Prabhupada is saying here is that actual knowledge means that in our interactions with illusory energy we can rely only on Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. Because He is in control of the illusion and because He can free us from our karma as well. Actual knowledge means all we are ever dealing with is Kṛṣṇa’s energies. There’s one energy to create our perception of the world and another energy to counteract that perception if necessary. Both are strictly controlled by Him and both work for our ultimate benefit.

It’s this vision – that there’s absolutely nothing but Kṛṣṇa everywhere, which brings humility. When death is coming it’s Kṛṣṇa who wants to kill me and when I’m saved it’s Kṛṣṇa who saves me as well. When Kṛṣṇa presents danger with one hand we can take shelter of His other hand, there’s nothing else to it. In this state we realize that we don’t have any powers ourselves but are absolutely helpless in the face of Krṣṇa’s all-powerful energies. Of course it brings humility.

If, by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, we become freed from the illusion and we see actual spirit souls then the attitude of enjoyment and dominance disappears. We become servant of the servant of the servant, we stop competing with others’ powers but rather want to help them and serve them to please Kṛṣṇa better. That is the state of our constitutional humility which should be thought of in spiritual terms, not through comparisons to our mundane definitions.

Anyway, realization of humility as explained in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s quote means we realize we never deal with other people or forces but only with ourselves (and Kṛṣṇa, of course). All the phenomena we perceive as “outside” are actually products of our own hearts and our own illusion. They don’t objectively exist. Just like in quantum mechanics – if you don’t look the particles aren’t “there”, they exist only as possibilities. These possibilities are converted into observations by guṇa-karma. If we take shelter of the material energy She would show us all kinds of things. If we don’t look all these things will disappear.

Humility means we don’t compete with creations of our own illusion but take shelter of Kṛṣṇa, or if we do decide to compete due to our lack of knowledge it’s only Kṛṣṇa who can counteract them anyway. The deep seated illusion that we do have some independent sources of power goes away, we sort of become stripped of our powers, and this realization brings humility.

This realization will not come about as a result of observing material nature – we have to stop looking at it and concentrate our consciousness on Kṛṣṇa instead. This means that my explanation isn’t really necessary – one can just absorb himself in chanting the Holy Name and the humility will appear naturally. It doesn’t need to be explained, it will become a self-evident, undeniable truth.

PS. One corollary of this is that when people get into fights and try to prove something to somebody or rage against something somebody has done they are actually dealing with themselves. The solution to fixing their perceived problems is not fixing the world but fixing their own hearts. In my experience people do not normally accept this suggestion but it’s the truth. All we need is to become Kṛṣṇa conscious and all the “problems” will be solved, which is what Śrīla Prabhupāda says in the quote – we need to attain Kṛṣṇa’s mercy (and then we can call the result “humility” as well).

Vanity thought #1798. Jaganmithya

I have not decided what to do with this blog yet. I don’t think I’ll continue it in the current form because it doesn’t fit my “lifestyle” anymore. I wrote these articles when I was consuming a lot of information and I thought I’d regurgitate it in some Kṛṣṇa related manner and in the form of “vanity thoughts” – because I wanted to see myself posting 1000 blog entries, each over 1000 words long, and never miss a day, for example. None of these reasons exists anymore. Gone.

I’ve stopped subscription to a local newspaper and I can’t believe how much simpler my mental world has become. The newspaper provided structure, a coherent narrative which I could fill with random news bits gathered elsewhere but now this structure is gone and whenever I see something on TV or on the internet I don’t know where to put it or bother to process it and so it just goes past me. At first I thought I’d read the same news on the computer but when I scroll through my feed now I don’t want to click on many of the stories that would have been of interest to me in the past because without that supporting narrative, the structure, they are senseless. They have background that I don’t want to investigate and they’ll present conclusions I’m not interested to read.

Actually, dabbling in Sāṅkhya helps a lot here because just by looking at the headline I can see what kind of flavor the article offers and decide to decline it, or indulge, as sometimes happens. The most obvious example is BBC’s “ten things we didn’t know last week” series. It clearly offers a summary of exciting things that happened last week but since I don’t want to taste that excitement I don’t want to keep myself “updated”, no matter what the actual news were. I can’t stand any more of those “bash Trump” moments either. I don’t care what he did or didn’t do, I just don’t want to hear any of those “you can’t believe..” stories. That’s the prime example of carvita-carvaṇānām for me at the moment – chewing the chewed and still expecting some flavor to come out of it.

Lots of stuff have gone that way in the past couple of months. I don’t generally click on “this is what really happened” articles either because, for one thing, life is complicated, devil is in the details, and I don’t have the energy to investigate stuff, but, more importantly, I don’t want to taste the flavor of smugness which is usually delivered with this type of writing.

Once again, big thanks to Sāṅkhya for explaining how news stories, and this includes vaiṣṇava news as well, come not from events themselves but from desires the authors want to satisfy. Just by sensing these desires it’s easy to decide whether indulging in their manifestations is attractive or not. Once you replace reading this stuff with reading Bhāgavatam or remembrances of Śrīla Prabhupāda the attractiveness of anything else automatically fades. I hope this is what’s happening to me, too.

I might continue with covering “Mystic Universe” because there are a few areas there that I want to investigate again but I don’t know when I’ll be up for it. It’s not a pressing matter. This effort will have no effect on the chandelier model of the universe which will be presented at TOVP and even if that model will appear inadequate in some respects I have no objections because it’s not worth fretting over. The temple will be awesome, the sooner they finish it the better, and the few perceived “mistakes” here and there won’t matter much.

In the big scheme of things, nothing matters much – hence the post title. We don’t usually take these words of Śaṅkarācārya seriously but they are not wrong because they can also be found in Niralamba Upaniṣad. Whatever conclusions māyāvādīs draw from them is their problem. Everything in this world is temporary, including happiness derived from observing these temporary phenomena. This happiness is hopelessly corrupt because it is contaminated by innumerable iterations of three modes of nature acting on the moral principles of mahat-tattva, which are originally seen as “goodies” separate from and independent of the Lord. Our universe is about hundred and fifty trillion years old – that’s a lot of modifications to something that was wrong from the start.

By the standards of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam all of it is tasteless. The whole tree of the universe, from roots to fruits. One could object that a devotee sees everything in connection with Kṛṣṇa so we don’t reject this world but rather engage it in its proper function, reuniting it with the Supreme, but I’m not so sure about what it is exactly we are supposed to reunite. What if you see someone eager to enjoy separately from Kṛṣṇa, thinking “I’ve finally got something for myself and I’ll have a jolly good time with it”? I would say that these people should not be disturbed and we should definitely not try to partake in their “happiness” ourselves. I would say that what a devotee sees in this situation is Lord’s energy satisfying desires of helpless and delusional living beings.

An example of Vaṁśīdāsa Bābājī comes to mind who didn’t talk to people at all. When we engage with someone on our level of reality we assume that we are communicating with an entity which, in reality, doesn’t exist. Vaṁśīdāsa Bābājī didn’t make such assumptions and didn’t reply, he only talked to his deities and if people construed answers to their questions from his talk it was good enough for them but Vaṁśīdāsa didn’t care if they made sense of his “replies” or not. There were exceptions, of course, but that was his general behavior.

Our philosophy is subtle on this point – the world exists but it’s connected to Kṛṣṇa as His energy so it’s not correct to say that Bhāgavatam speaker does not exist, or Bhāgavatam blasphemer, for that matter, but when a jīva desires to glorify the Lord our minds should immediately get attracted and relish in the effort and when a jīva forgets the Lord and goes on about his own adventures our minds should “forget” this misguided effort, too. A jīva is not obliged to anything in this world but the Lord and has no relationships with anyone but the Lord so we are not required to interact with anything or anyone we see here. Our bodies will do this task as determined by their guṇa and karma, we should not take personal interest in these forced interactions.

Even when we see guru and devotees we should know that it’s the Lord reaching out to us through His trusted agents, and also that Lord’s messengers are integral parts of the Absolute Truth and so non-different from the Lord as well. On our current level of reality it’s the main way the Lord can reach us because we can perceive guru and devotees with our senses. Of course there’s also a deity form and the Name but the range of communications with a guru is much wider. We can’t build a relationship with the Lord, or with the Holy Name, without simultaneously building a relationship with the guru. One does not exist without the other.

As for all those other jīvas scurrying about in search of ephemeral happiness – who cares? The more we hear topics concerning the Lord from the mouths of devotees the less interest in those mundane lives we will have ourselves. This is the method to turn transcendental reality into our own experience, especially in this age. It will be wise for us to take to it wholeheartedly.

Vanity thought #1785. Pioneering value

This whole series of posts about pioneering came out backwards. At first I wanted to write something about a conversation on the value of these memories but then realized that retelling the memories themselves would be useful, too, so that’s what I have been doing for over a week now.

Once a had a chance to talk to one of ISKCON’s traveling sannyasis and initiating gurus. It was a little weird because I was sitting next to him while his disciples came in and offered full obeisances. It was some sort of a spiritual fair where ISKCON got a booth so I thought it would be okay if I don’t offer obeisances on seeing a sannyasi for the first time during the day, which is the rule best followed inside temples or dhamas, I think.

Because it was a fair I remembered Kirtiraja’s story of Moscow International Book Fair of 1979, which I covered here in one of the previous posts. I showed up there on a weekday, which was slow, and so there were only few devotees there, hardly any visitors, and there was no prasadam. The plan was to bring prasadam for distribution on weekend.

One story led to another and pretty soon I told maharaja everything I ever heard of those days, though sometimes he’d say “Oh, yes, this was told by Bhakti Vaibhava Svami” so I didn’t repeat that which he already knew. I genuinely thought he’d be impressed but all he said afterwards was “That was pioneering days, now our mission is different”. This has struck me.

At first I tried to argue: “But there are no official ISKCON temples in China, isn’t preaching there pioneering, too? – I’ve been going there for thirty years,” maharaja replied. Okay, what about this country and that? “Been going there for twenty years.” Okay, but China is such a large country, how many places have you visited? “About a hundred.” It was impenetrable so I had to think about this back at home.

Is there a value in these memories when tasks and goals of our society have changed? I’m not sure we are doing very well with nurturing existing devotees but that is also beside the point – what is the current value of our old preaching efforts?

I realize that people reading this blog might be bored to death with stories about Russia and sankirtana devotees they’ve never met and whose names I didn’t disclose on purpose. It’s not something I think about day and night either. Should I just let it go and concentrate on our current lives instead, talk about something relevant to people of this day and age?

I don’t think I will ever abandon my memories, or even memories I received from other people and which I cherish as if they were my own. There are two ways I justify this attachment.

One is that these pastimes are as transcendental as those of Lord Caitanya and His associates, and later of their followers. Someone might find it somewhat blasphemous but that’s how Lord Caitanya’s mercy has been manifested before my eyes and so to me it feels even more transcendental than pastimes from several hundred years ago I can’t easily relate to.

Anything related to spreading Lord Caitanya’s mission and attracting people to Krishna is legitimately transcendental. I didn’t see much of it this way when I lived through it myself but appreciation has been growing gradually over the years. It might be the case of me romanticizing my past but I think it’s a wrong way to look at it.

When we romanticize the past we assume that there’s past as it really happened and past as it has been reconstructed. What “really happened”, however, does not exist as objective reality. We are still talking about personal perceptions, either as they are remembered or recalled by others and stored as memories. When we access them now we decode meanings that exist either in these memories or existed at the time of the events themselves and this process is subjective, too, and the perceptions we recreate now are as real as any other. It’s these current perceptions that carry value to us which we want to share, not the events themselves.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what “real past” was, what matters is whether we are able to see it as transcendental now and whether we can share these realizations in the present, whether we can make them inspirational. The ability to inspire others depends not only on us but on their reception, too. If we are making stuff up and others clearly see that we are exaggerating than we can’t expect them to be inspired, so memories need to have firm foundation in actual events. It’s complex theory of how much you can get away with and you can spot it in some storytelling about Krishna or some other well known events. I swear my stories are all true, however.

Another way I see value in these “pioneering memories” is because they make an excellent object for meditation and, all said and done, I don’t mind being reborn in the same position of service to sankirtana again. I hope next time I’ll appreciate it even more.

It’s a pet theory of mine – do we really expect to become closer to Lord Caitanya after death? What about our gurus and all the acaryas between us? Are we going to become closer to the Lord than them? Isn’t our position in hierarchy of Lord Caitanya’s army permanently fixed? If these were just temporary roles of no significance then positions could be changed but does anyone see Srila Prabhupada’s position as temporary, for example? I hope not.

In retrospect, I see those days as the best service of my life, I haven’t done even remotely close to that since. How can it ever lose value then? It’s unthinkable to me. Maharaja that made me think about all this is busy spreading Krishna consciousness despite his advanced age but I’m not as lucky or as pure. He is like Uddhava who was with Krishna until the very end and I’m like.. Wait, this comparison is inappropriate. What I wanted to say is that there were plenty of devotees who had only a few moments of service to the Lord, both in Krishna and in Caitanya lila, and recollecting these moments for the rest of their lives is a perfect meditation. We are even taught that such meditation in separation is more intense than when being in Lord’s presence. Which is another argument why recalling these memories might feel sweeter than living through them in real time.

As I was typing this my blood test came in – all clear, I’ll have another round of chemo soon and on that my treatment should be over. I expect full recovery, that is recovery from chemo and all related side effects, to be complete by March. Whether I’ll have my old energy levels back or not I don’t know. I’ve been out of it for so long I don’t envision my new healthy life yet.

Vanity thought #1784. Pioneering problems

Last time I wrote about success of Moscow Second International Book Fair in 1979 and the impact it had on the number of devotees there. Before the fair western devotees held private programs with less than a dozen people attending, the visit after the fair, I think in 1980 or 1981 was completely different.

In Moscow there must have been a hundred people crammed into apartments and at one point devotees even spilled out in the street – in dhotis and with tilakas on their foreheads. They had foot washing ceremonies and āratis like a fully fledged ISKCON temple. Never mind that to put a tilaka on they first spit in their palms and blew conch shells from the wrong end – the transformation of Moscow yatra was astonishing.

On the second leg, in Latvian capital Riga, devotees were even less apprehensive about state authorities and they organized a public program in a local auditorium. KGB couldn’t tolerate this brassiness anymore and swooped in, aided by dozens of uniform police. Kīrtirāja and Harikeśa Svāmī were not arrested, luckily, but were deported. Ananta Śānti, however, was the one who suffered the most as they kept him in prisons or psychiatric hospitals ever since.

The story goes that Soviet leader at the time, Brezhnev, had a personal traditional healer who knew the devotees and put a word on their behalf while the KGB boss wanted to arrest and try the western preachers. A short while later Brezhnev died and by 1983 this KGB boss became the supreme leader himself. That’s when the repression of Hare Kṛṣṇas started in earnest. Communities were broken, devotees were put on trials or sent to psychiatric hospitals and the age of horror began.

During this time neither Kīrtirāja nor anyone else could obtain a visa into Soviet Union and everything seemed to be lost but then Gorbachev came onto the scene and Soviet Union suddenly became open to public pressure and that’s when Kīrtirāja organized a committee to help Soviet Hare Kṛṣṇas. Devotees all over the world helped in any way they could, here’s a video recorded by Australians with Śrī Prahlāda singing a song addressed personally to Gorbachev:

There was a whole record of songs like this and Śrī Prahlāda, a child at the time, personally delivered a letter to the Soviet Embassy in Australia.

The whole protest movement was organized by Kīrtirāja, however. He was the one collecting all the information and publishing booklets and articles in the media with details of devotee persecution. Horrible things happened to Soviet devotees at the time. Some were kept in prisons, which aren’t exactly the best places for sādhana. Others were deemed mentally ill and treated with drugs meant to completely suppress one’s consciousness and the will to live, like a chemotherapy for the mind. One woman had a child while in jail who was taken away from her by the state and died in infancy from the lack of care. Entire books have been written about this, I can’t do justice to history in this one post.

Then came the famous Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in Reykjavik in 1986. Kīrtirāja got himself a journalist accreditation to attend and set up a protest camp right outside Gorbachev’s hotel. Every morning Gorbachev had to pass by it and read the placards and signs held by devotees there.

On the last day of the summit Kīrtirāja went to Gorbachev’s press conference hoping to give him a copy of Bhagavad Gītā but the security didn’t let him anywhere near the Soviet leader. Then he spotted Gorbachev’s personal interpreted sitting in the audience, the man was in all TV broadcasts and Kīrtirāja immediately recognized him and decided to approach him instead.

“I have a very nice book here,” he said, “would you like to pass it to your boss as a gift?” The man had one short look at it and said “He already has a copy.” Puzzled, Kīrtirāja offered the book to the man himself. “I already have a copy, too,” he replied. “How’s that possible?”

Turned out that on the way to Iceland Gorbachev and his posse stopped in Denmark and saw a stack of our books in the Soviet Embassy there, so they all helped themselves. The program of placing books in every possible Soviet outposts bore its fruits. For years Kīrtirāja gave free books to embassies, consulates, trade or culture missions, and what do you know – one day Gorbachev himself got a book there.

That was not the end of the campaign, however. There were still over two years before Soviets changed their policy and once the political will was there everything happened very fast. Some devotees were in prisons and only two weeks later they were on a plane to India for the first ever pilgrimage there.

There was a scuffle over how many devotees would be allowed to go and who exactly should be on the list, with list A and list B prepared in case someone couldn’t make it. In the end, however, everyone on either list was allowed to leave.

Kīrtirāja, who couldn’t set a foot in USSR himself, was waiting for them in Calcutta. He took the devotees to Purī, hen to Māyāpura, then to Vṛndāvana. There were 89 people in the party, iirc, and Kīrtirāja was their main interlocutor, arranging their traveling, lodging, prasādam, taking them to temples, parikramās and tours, helping with shopping and negotiations and what not.

The whole pilgrimage lasted two months and Kīrtirāja was physically exhausted. Devotees were leaving from New Delhi and their luggage weighed four and a half tons of Kṛṣṇa conscious stuff – deities, paraphernalia, clothes, incense – everything they needed for starting dozens and dozens new temples back home.

When Kīrtirāja finally bid the final good bye, gave final hugs, and saw the plane take off, he was passing by airport’s Baskin Robbins, went inside, and simply collapsed on the chair there. He had not energy left and that was the moment when he not just thought to himself but had a realization that his service was done, finished, over.

He stayed as a GBC for a while and went to Russia many times since but it just wasn’t the same. Someone else had to take over and it was a completely different stage of Hare Kṛṣṇa revolution.

The pioneering days were truly over.

Vanity thought #1783. Pioneering success

Yesterday I wrote about Kīrtirāja’s Prabhu efforts to penetrate behind the Iron Curtain and place our books into the hands of Russian (Soviet) people. One event that was truly seminal in nature in this regard was Moscow book fair of 1979 and it deserves its own mention.

First Moscow International Book Fair was held in 1977 and Gopāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmī went there on behalf of Indian BBT. It was the first time for everyone and so no one had a clear idea how to extract most benefits out of it. I mean even the potential buyers didn’t know how it would all work. In retrospective it could be said that all Gopāla Kṛṣṇa (not Svāmī yet) got was a certificate of participation, which he presented to Śrīla Prabhupāda, but the real benefit was in laying preparation for the next visit. That’s where Kīrtirāja came in.

Second fair was in 1979 and he was representing Indian BBT again so as not to look like spreading American propaganda. He also knew the rules and how to use them to full advantage. One such rule was that publishers couldn’t sell books at the fair but the workaround was that they could take orders so Kīrtirāja had BBT supply him with order forms with prices printed in roubles. During the fair he would collect the money and BBT filled this orders later, totally legally. Hundreds of books were sent into USSR that way.

Another rule was that there had to be an official interpreter but Kīrtirāja protested that our books contain so many technical terms that an ordinary interpreter wouldn’t be able to translate them correctly. He persuaded the organizers that his own interpreter, Ananta Śānti, was already perfect and their official interpreter can take a break. It worked.

Ananta Śānti brought half a dozen devotees to help him and it’s them who did most of the talking. They were preaching there non-stop even if they hadn’t read the books themselves yet.

Another rule was set by Kīrtirāja himself and it was that their booth should always have prasādam to distribute. He told the devotees to prepare “simply wonderfuls” and they rolled them day and night in shifts. Somehow they rolled them into small balls the size of M&Ms, they would wake up before sunrise, roll the sweets, and bring them to the fair with their hands covered in blisters.

Kīrtirāja’s rule was that there was only one ball per person and when they run out of sweets and new trays weren’t in yet he’d collect crumbs on small pieces of paper and people would eat them with a great deal of respect. To fully appreciate the kind of impact it had consider this – by Kīrtirāja’s own calculations they had distributed 26,000 thousand sweetballs. Twenty six thousand, roughly four-five thousand per day. Can you imagine what king of buzz was going on around their booth?

It certainly attracted organizers attention – so many people and instead of one official interpreter there were half a dozen Russian speakers. To smooth things out Kīrtirāja gave the boss a gift of Bhagavad Gītā. At that time they only had English books and this Bhagavad Gītā came from a special pack Kīrtirāja brought with him which will feature in the story a little bit later.

Another rule was that all the books presented at the fair had to be either taken back out of the country of given to some official Soviet charity. None of the devotees knew of any charity that would take a set of English books so it was a kind of a problem – Kīrtirāja didn’t want to go back, well, full-handed. Towards the end of the fair, however, a shy but inquisitive woman showed up, asking about this and that but never stating her purpose. Turned out she was a representative for Lenin’s Library, which was like a Library of Congress for the Soviet Union. They certainly had the means to purchase the books but she wanted to get them for free as charity.

Once Kīrtirāja realized what was going on he thought that it was a perfect charity placement of all – in the biggest library of the entire Soviet Union and they quickly organized the official transfer. There was only a small matter of that pack of Bhagavad Gītās, originally there were twelve there but now there were eleven, and Kīrtirāja was not in the mood to take them back either. They were specifically meant for distribution among the devotees, translation etc.

He and Ananta Śānti came up with a plan.

On the day of leaving they went to the airport together with Bhagavad Gītās packed in a separate bag. Ananta Śānti took a strategic position in a cafeteria right outside customs and Kīrtirāja went to the farthest custom officer and tried to make himself noticeable.

He had custom’s declaration with a set of BBT books and so he had to produce his charity paperwork and explain everything that happened. His customs form also had twelve Gītās on it but there were only eleven left so Kīrtirāja had to plea with customs agent that it was a gift to the fair organizer, there was nothing sinister about it etc etc. It worked.

As soon as Kīrtirāja passed the customs and got his stamp he quickly ran around the row of customs booths towards the end of it that was next to the cafeteria and begged the guard there to let him out because he was so thirsty and his papers were already in order and he loved Russian tea and that worked to.

When he entered the cafeteria he left his book bag at the table and went to get his drink. Ananta Śānti picked it up and hurried outside, just like in spy novels. Kīrtirāja waited until Ananta Śānti was in the taxi and taxi left the airport and returned to the custom agent who checked him in only a few minutes ago. “You again!” he exclaimed, and Kīrtirāja gave him the same excise about tea and the officer couldn’t be bothered to go and check with the guard on the other end whether Kīrtirāja had his bag when he was going out for tea or not. Everything worked perfectly.

That fair marked exponential growth in Soviet community. Before that visiting devotees had programs with less than ten people attending but after the fair, on their next visit, they were already hundreds, but that is a story for another day.

Vanity thought #1781. Tribute to devotion

My previous post was actually typed up before New Year but with holidays sapping away my energy and time I was able to publish it only yesterday. I think I’ll say a few words before I continue.

Cancer visibly affects the extent of my prāṇa, which manifests in how far my interests in the world go. The effect was prominent when I started the treatment and it was heavy and when I physically felt that I had to grow up into my normal persona. For weeks my consciousness was confined to hospital bed and then I was driven home and the city seemed alien. Roads, grass, buildings, other cars, neighborhood, people, too – I had to indict all these things back into my consciousness and arrange them in some sort of order.

As I recovered my prāṇa extended itself, too, but one thing is clear – my overall universe has shrunk and it will never recover. There will be no mountain climbing or sky diving or traveling to far out places. At this point I realize that I won’t ever visit any new shopping malls in the city, nor will I ever go and see newly completed tallest building here. I don’t even want any of that.

I don’t know what will happen if I fully recover, I can’t see myself restarting a career, for example. I just don’t have that much interest in the world. I can’t even fully resume my usual blogging because it requires energy, time, and dedication. Donald Trump is seventy and he wants to be a president. I feel like I’m ninety compared to him.

It’s not that my senses have become weaker, if they did I haven’t noticed, but my prāṇa, my interest it the world, the extent to which I want to express myself here and sense objects I want to consume has diminished greatly. At this point I can see how one’s prāṇa might start withdrawing from outsides of one’s own body, losing control and awareness of limbs and senses, and it’s not that you become any less alive, it’s just that you are withdrawing from the world and kind of curious what will happen next.

In any case, next week I’ll have new tests and it will be clear whether I’m on the path to full recovery or cancer got a winning hand.

Back to the topic.

There were two devotees in our saṅkīrtana ashram who were out of this world and functioned on devotion alone. One was a disciple of a guru I couldn’t understand at the time. There was nothing wrong with him but I just couldn’t understand what other people saw in him. This guru wasn’t very inspirational, he wasn’t good looking, he wasn’t charismatic, he was a bad singer. So what if he said all the right things – everybody else said them, too, and so I couldn’t understand why people devoted their lives to him no matter how I tried. It took me years to get over this offensive attitude and now I think I can look past all that and see people’s devotion only.

This book distributor was very austere looking, which wasn’t generally attractive at all, and he was objectively a bad speaker. I don’t think he ever produced a long, complicated sentence, usually taking a break after every few words to think what to say next. How could he ever sell books was a mystery, but he did and he still does. The key was devotion to the orders of his guru, nothing else worked for him.

He was a kind of disciplinarian in the saṅkīrtana ashram. You would never see him leaning against the wall after a Sunday feast, for example. He always finished fast, never talked about anything, and when he got up everybody felt that they should stop their sense enjoyment, too. It worked for everybody – we felt glad that somebody straightened us up and he felt that his attitude towards sense enjoyment was validated – there’s no time for this in our lives, we should think only about saṅkīrtana.

I don’t know how people reacted to him on the streets. His pitch was very simple, he could read their minds and say what they needed to hear, but the main point was that he was absolutely convinced that he had to sell them books on the order of his guru. He wasn’t doing it for fun and he wasn’t promising the Moon, he just had this air of supreme importance of the mission that he carried. People could sense that urgency below small talk and usual sales pitch and they had no power to say no.

If you asked him why and how he was selling so many books for so many years he would say that it was the order of his guru and that’s what Prabhupada wanted and that was that. He had no other considerations in his life. Later he got sannyāsa, too.

Another devotee, our absolute best, was similar in his dedication but he was a very different person otherwise. They plucked him out of a math department of a big university and there was some nerdy look about him. Like Harinama Nanda I talked about in the previous post, you’d never notice him in a group photo but if you get to look at him closely you’d notice that he was not only shy and naturally humble but also very beautiful. He had beautiful eyes with long eyelashes, perfect skin, nicely rounded cheeks and do on. He also didn’t have any macho air about him like many others in our ashram.

I can’t say that he was austere, he never seemed to be making any conscious efforts for it and never forced anyone around him to cut on their sense enjoyment either. What we consider as austerity came naturally to him and he was actually very happy about it. For most of us, when it’s time to finish the feast and go read some books, we know that it’s not what our bodies want to do but for him the very thought of it was inspirational.

He distributed tons of books and so he had to have a helper team and there was a stiff competition to get a place on that team so devotees who served with him were similarly excited and enthusiastic and didn’t need anyone to whip them up to keep with their sādhana and this created an atmosphere very conducive to ecstatic service and no one ever left disappointed.

People often asked him how he distributed books but he never had solid answers, save for one, which he rarely shared. One should always, always pray to the lotus feet of his guru in his heart. By the mercy of the guru one can get mercy of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityānanda and together they will make the books look very attractive and inner voice in people’s hearts impossible to resist. They also will take control of you body and mind and they will put right words on your tongue or direct your feet to go in the right places.

As a saṅkīrtana devotee you have only one job to do – pray to your guru. Your mind, your eyes, your mouth, your feet – forget about trying to control them, leave this to your guru. When your prayers are sincere then, by his mercy, the Lord will become the owner of your prāṇa and the Lord will take care of everything. You are not this body, you are a tiny spirit soul, and lotus feet of your guru is your only treasure.

That devotee was the embodiment of this principle. That was the only secret, and somehow or other no one else could come even close to his level of samādhi in this regard.

Vanity thought #1780. From personalities to transcendence

Yesterday I talked about various personalities in our old sankirtana department. There were many devotees there, it’s impossible to describe every successful book distributor but there were remarkable in that their personality traits were distilled and I think that’s what made them relatively better distributors than others. This is only half of the story, though, so I’ll continue.

In those days the best in the world were Navina Nirada and Harinama Nanda and they were used as a point of reference in our sankirtana ashram. We shared stories about them but never had them visiting us personally until a couple of years later.

Navina Nirada was young, tall, handsome, and Swiss. It was a lethal combination and the word “charisma” doesn’t even begin to describe the effect he had on people. He was like a celebrity and everyone who saw him fought for the opportunity to do something for him and get noticed. If he said people needed to buy books they couldn’t refuse. Of course he said lots of other words as well but that was just a small talk around the real connection he established by simply paying attention to people.

Three kinds of attractive traits I mentioned yesterday were basically of the same type – something given to us by karma and something that would work in any circumstances, not limited to sankirtana. In that sense you looked at these devotees or at Navina Nirada in particular and your mind would tell you that if you had his looks you could distribute thousands of books, too, try to do it in your wretched and unattractive body.

Personality wise, Harinama Nanda was the opposite. He was smaller, somewhat hunched from carrying heavy books clutched to his chest for many years, and you would generally not notice his presence in the crowd. Navina Nirada was a natural center piece of any group photograph and Harinama Nanda was that forgettable face in the back row.

I’m exaggerating the contrast, of course. Navina Nirada also happened to embody “sankirtana is the soul of ISKCON” we adopted in our temple. It was he who taught us that every devotee in the temple was a sankirtana devotee, they just served in a different capacity.

We had one kitchen devotee who was handicapped. He didn’t just have a limp, he had to drag his leg like no person I’ve ever seen in my life. Walking for him was a big challenge and he had his share of mental problems, too, but when it was decided that book distributors need to eat bread to keep their stamina and not get hungry half an hour after a meal he too this task personally and started baking bread program in the temple, eventually getting a professional oven and everything.

And yet every time he had a chance he would load a traveling bag full of books and drag it out even as he could barely walk himself. This could fill one’s heart with pity but it was the moment when he had the happiest face in the world because finally he had a chance to bathe in the ocean of sankirtana. He didn’t distribute much but that time was his and his alone, between him and Lord Caitanya and everyone saw that it was REAL. Navina Nirada and his sankirtana seminars were one of the main sources where he received this attitude, so it’s not just looks, far from it.

Harinama Nanda was/is not the man of this world. Whatever body he got is irrelevant, his consciousness was never here and people could sense it right away. Turns out I don’t remember many actual sankirtana stories about him but the strength of his dedication is still vivid for me. It gave him a real mystic power of controlling other people. One story I do remember (probably wrong) was that he was standing outside and hunching over books in his car, putting dust jackets on them or something, when he sensed someone passing by. He straightened up, turned around, and told that man that he needs to buy these books right now because it’s more important than life or death, and the man obliged without a question.

Harinama Nanda was the one who revealed to us that “I don’t have money” is not an acceptable excuse to avoid buying books. Everybody has some money, they just don’t want to give it to us. The way to overcome this is to convey to the people the importance of donating money for knowledge about God, and the only way to impart this realization is to fully understand it yourself. It’s not even a matter of belief – because people might think “you believe this but I don’t”, but a matter of realized knowledge.

Srimad Bhagavatam verses spoken by a pure devotee reveal the Superme Personality of Godhead and so words uttered by a pure book distributor reveal the spiritual beauty of our books. It’s not a game, it’s not an empty promise. People could see God in Prabhupada’s instructions and people can see God in the presentation of a book distributor. The power is there, we only have to become perfect conduits.

When people see this spiritual light engulfing their souls they will give you everything they have for these books, it’s not an exaggeration. The key, however, is to remember that you are not in control of this process, Lord Caitanya is.

Just recently I read another sankritana story on Dandavats. A devotee was going door to door and met a nice gentleman, a Christian with appreciation for others devotion to God, too. When it was clear that the man wanted the books the question of price came up and suddenly the man’s face lit up. “You know,” he said, “I was driving today and for some unknown reason I felt compelled to stop by the ATM and withdraw some cash. I never keep cash in the house and I had no idea what it was until I met you but now I know!”

Perhaps the bigger lesson here is that we are only participants in Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana pastimes, we do not cause them, they already weaved into the history of the universe. We just have to beg to be placed in the right place at the right time, to be given the opportunity to be engaged in this service, which, incidentally, is the meaning of our Hare Krishna mantra.

Vanity thought #1779. Casting

Yesterday I discussed how physical reality affects our ability to distribute books, to conduct saṅkīrtana. There’s a lot more to this relationship between nature and our lives and our service, too. Eventually I’ll get to a chapter from Mystic Universe which explains importance of physical features of certain places and why scriptures pay so much attention to it. I won’t go into it today, however, but expand on our “old school” saṅkīrtana.

To recapitulate – our temple then was physically structured in such a way as to keep everyone in their perfect spiritual position as servants of the saṅkīrtana mission. There was no fraternizing, there was always physically enforced respect, there was no familiarity to breed contempt, and saṅkīrtana devotees themselves were forced to be no more but servants of their master – their saṅkīrtana leader.

A couple of words here – one would normally expect saṅkīrtana leader to be an inspirational figure, one to give speeches and pep talk, like a football coach or something, but in our case it was different, and that difference proved helpful, too. Incidentally, his name was Yamarāja and it fit him very well – strict, feared, but respected for his fairness, and you’d always want to keep your distance, and Yamarāja is not known as an inspirational speaker either. By delegating philosophy and speaking to gurus, visiting devotees, and Prabhupāda, our saṅkīrtana leader firmly established himself as no more than a servant so no one could really challenge him on anything – he was just doing his job making sure that saṅkīrtana spirit found its full manifestation within his domain. He also never failed at anything we expected him to do. One can put it down to his personal qualities but the arrangement where you must be a servant at all times helps, too – Lord Caitanya’s mercy stops flowing the moment you think you are the boss and no one in the temple at the time could reasonably claim that position, not even the temple president.

Temple president’s position was curious. On one hand he was officially the boss, on the other hand saṅkīrtana department was so big and important and financially profitable that his own service seemed utterly insignificant by comparison. He could not control or direct saṅkīrtana so he naturally saw himself as its servant, too.

All in all, it was a perfect physical and administrative arrangement for facilitating book distribution in every possible way. Is it possible to repeat that? I don’t think so, I think you need to start from scratch – make book distribution your main goal, build a community of like minded people, and then hope that a suitable temple manifests itself. Our current temple was not designed for that purpose and I don’t see how it can be reconfigured. It does what it does well, though.

My main point today was to describe prominent saṅkīrtana personalities of that time. Their names are not important, some are no longer with ISKCON, and I don’t mean it as a comprehensive catalog of book distributors qualities and characters. These were the guys who were at the top, it just happened, and they were all attractive in their own ways but it doesn’t mean that these are the only options and one must always emulate one of them.

I happened to be with the guy who was intellectual. He had dark eyes and his stare would drill into people’s souls while he delivered one unbeatable argument after the other why we are not these bodies, why God is not Indian or Christian, and why everyone needed to buy our books. I’ve never seen anyone successfully challenge him on anything even as many tried. Perhaps people were not yet familiar with Hare Kṛṣṇas, perhaps they didn’t know winning arguments yet, perhaps they didn’t know our history, but whatever they did know he could immediately refute and leave people stumped.

I’ve tried that myself, having heard his presentation so many times, but it didn’t work for me. Why? Looking back I think it’s because I didn’t have firm faith in these arguments myself yet and people sensed it, and maybe because my voice and demeanor didn’t convey that sense of urgency, no could I stare down into people’s eyes without blinking and my mind wondering off somewhere else. There was no single-mindedness in me so “intellectualism” didn’t help.

Another devotee was just a bundle of joy. When he talked about Kṛṣṇa consciousness he could barely contain himself, he was so excited. People couldn’t pass on that kind of happiness and wanted to experience it, too. I don’t remember how he preached, I doubt anyone could – it was his emotional state that attracted people and they forgot anything else. You can’t imitate this kind of excitement, I certainly could and still can’t, and it’s probably impossible to maintain it for a prolonged period of time. Maybe so and maybe later story of this devotee turned very different but he WAS very excited then and it lasted for several years during which he distributed hundreds of thousands of books. So if you have some temporary personality trait that helps – use it to the full advantage while you can. That would be the best possible service for it ever.

One of the top distributors had a similarly attractive personality but of a slightly different kind. He was a kind of man you expect to come to rescue any time something goes wrong. He’d show up to change you tire or pull your car out of mud or catch you when you slip and fall or pull you out of the fire. It’s the kind of man that when you are in trouble and you see him you think “Thank god, now I’m safe.” When he talked to people they could instantly relate to him and trust him in every way and when he told them that they needed to buy his books they obeyed unquestionably. If he said so it must be true.

These three devotees had some personal traits that helped in their book distribution, one had a strong intellect, a broad knowledge base, and quick thinking, another had a contagiously joyous personality, and the third immediately elicited trust. You can’t emulate that, you either have it or not, but then everyone has these qualities to some degree anyway and any saṅkīrtana devotee can utilize them in his preaching. Trust, happiness, and knowledge – these three qualities will always attract people no matter how they are mixed together, hopefully enough to sell them a book.

There were two other devotees who always stood apart from the rest of saṅkīrtana crowd and they deserve their own post, so tomorrow, holiday schedule permitting.

Vanity thought #1778. Reality matters

As I was watching Prabhupāda marathon pledging procedure at our local temple and wondering why we can’t bring back years of record saṅkīrtana numbers I realized that the situation is completely different today and our current reality is simply not conducive. So let’s take a trip down memory lane and see what I mean.

First, most our temple devotees then were brahmacārīs. Gṛhasthas were only in management positions, like temple treasurer and temple president. They didn’t live in the temple, couldn’t come to maṅgala ārati, left before the evening program, and so weren’t really part of temple life, plus their rank kept them above the main body of devotees, too. That way everybody had a brahmacārī spirit in them and there were no gṛhastha contamination at all. To book distribution this mattered a lot.

We tend to think that gṛhasthas are allowed to associate with women and have sex but that’s not the difference here. For the purposes of saṅkīrtana the main problem with gṛhasthas is that they had to make money. Brahmacārī, on the other hand, is completely transcendental to money matters. Book prices were set by the temple, the book distributor didn’t even think about keeping anything to himself, and his only concern was that collected lakṣmī matched with the number of sold books exactly. There was no question of discounts, no free giveaway materials, every book had its price and that was it, it was non-negotiable.

When a gṛhastha is expected to make profit from books all sorts of things enter into his consciousness and pollute it. People sense that a mile away and they see buying a book as a typical trade – I want this, you have a weakness for that, so let’s exchange something to mutual satisfaction. Late in the day, for example, both the buyer and the seller think that it’s time to give a discount. The buyer senses that he can get something cheap and the seller thinks that he can reduce his price so that he doesn’t have to carry books back. This reduction in profit is the price he is ready to pay for the comfort of not having to carry books back and look like a bad distributor, even to himself. The buyer senses this desire for comfort and this is what he wants to trade on – you get your comfort and I pay you less money. It’s tempting, and temptations pollute our minds, we lose the focus and single mindedness of our service.

Sometimes a book distributor might forego the profit altogether and chalk the books up as his personal donation to the temple where he got them from. He might then choose to give them away or keep them until next time, or practically forever. This correlation between personal well-being, well-being of the family, and saṅkīrtana does not help at all. Brahmacārīs don’t suffer from that.

Next, our temple at the time was a large two story building which previously housed some offices, I think. The point was that it had many completely separate units with separate entrances and they have been converted to āśramas. BBT had it’s office there, too, and it was completely off limits to ISKCON devotees. They shared a ground entrance but had a lock with a door code even before you got to second floor landing. You couldn’t walk in there unless you have been invited in and most of temple devotees have never been inside, like ever. BBT had its own kitchen and they brought their supplies separately, too.

To us, temple devotees, it was a practical demonstration that BBT is the heart of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s movement and serving there is more important than anything else. Printing books comes first, distributing them comes later.

Book distribution for us was the heart of ISKCON and saṅkīrtana āśrama (well, we called it “ashram”, not “ashrama”, so I’ll drop diacritics here) was the biggest ashram among temple departments. Temple room was the single biggest room in the temple, of course, but pūjārīs quarters and paraphernalia rooms behind it were incomparable in size to saṅkīrtana ashram, though it wasn’t much bigger than others. It had a door and, unless you lived there, you’d have to knock, but it was never locked, like BBT’s, and they didn’t have their separate kitchen. They did have their separate prasādam room, however, which helped book distribution.

Temple prasādam was a long drawn affair and in marathon times saṅkīrtana prasādam was served during Bhāgavatam class, for example, so that saṅkīrtana devotees could leave for book distribution right after the class was over rather than wait until temple room was prepared for serving and then wait until everybody is served. All in all, they left for saṅkkirtana a full hour earlier and their lunch time wasn’t fixed either, unlike lunch in the temple room, so they didn’t have to worry about making it back on time.

This physical separation and privileges made everyone treat saṅkīrtana mission as special and superior. The rest of the temple thought of themselves as no more than servants to that mission. Temple itself was more like a service pit on race tracks – saṅkīrtana devotees stopped there to recuperate and recharge themselves spiritually, their real life was on the streets, not in the temple.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in that ashram and the atmosphere there was very different from the rest of the temple. The kind of topics they raised during prasādam, the small talk they made while waiting in line for a shower, it was all strictly Kṛṣṇa conscious, there was no prajalpa whatsoever. Down in the temple room and temple devotees ashram it was free for all, even saṅkīrtana drivers had to be given their own place where they could let themselves go, like drivers do. These devotees formely drove taxis and trucks and those habits were always with them. They were free to enter saṅkīrtana ashram at any time but they had to restrain themselves there.

It’s not like saṅkīrtana devotees thought of themselves as gods, they had their saṅkīrtana leader for that role. They obeyed him unconditionally, they were his subjects and did not even think about going against his instructions. Even temple president wouldn’t dare to approach them without consulting with saṅkīrtana leader first. They were his servants in every practical sense and he was the only person responsible for their maintenance – he made sure they had food, shelter, clothes, cars – everything. If he didn’t provide something they had to accept it as austerity and no one has ever rebelled, in my memory. It was unthinkable.

The point is that this physical arrangement was the key to growing healthy spiritual relationships between devotees in different departments. Everyone then knew his role, who he had to serve, and who he had to take care of. Every relationship was personal on the spiritual level, not on some mundane character compatibility, and everything worked like a clock. That’s how we were able to break records then.

With current setup at our temple it would simply be impossible. We don’t have a single brahmacārī there, for starters, only visiting ones. Most of the congregation is visiting, too. There’s simply no place for cultivation of single-mindedness there, no facilities for maintaining a proper inner attitude necessary for successful saṅkīrtana. I’ll write more about attitudes of saṅkīrtana devotees tomorrow.