ISKCON Sandwhich

It is widely accepted that the most exalted part of Krishna lila are the five chapters about rasa lila. Sometimes Bhramara Gita added, too, and maybe the meeting at Kurukshetra. However, for most of us these topics are mostly of academic interest. For some this academic interest is genuine. Others indulge in them because they believe they should be a part of their sadhana, and yet others discuss these topics because they want only the best for themselves.

If I were to pick pastimes best suited to our own situations I would take one from near the beginning of the Tenth Canto and the other near the end.

First story goes like this – Krishna once sent a messenger to engage conditioned souls in His service. First the messenger addressed the leaders of the society but his call was ignored and unappreciated. Then he addressed their dependents and, surprisingly, they got very enthusiastic and genuinely wanted to help. Not only that but they also decided to dedicate their entire lives to Krishna’s service and, above and beyond what they were asked, they actually went to Krishna’s place and personally submitted their pleas to be with Him forever and ever.

Practically, however, it was impossible as they were born into bodies unsuitable for serving Him directly, and so they were turned away. They were told to go back home, resume their duties as members of the society, and purify their consciousness by constantly remembering the Lord, worshiping His deity, and chanting His names. It just wouldn’t look good for them to be in direct contact with the Lord in their current state. This was actually the message delivered to them from the start – dedicate this one life to Krishna’s service and at the end of it you will get His association.

Mostly, this is what had happened but not all of these devotees were meant to follow this order. Some of them gave up their lives before they could be reintegrated into society or before this reintegration has become a norm. They got reunited with Krishna before going through that dangerous process as their love for Him was already sufficiently developed.

The rest returned to their families and, just as Krishna promised, they were accepted back despite their bold declarations and previous goodbyes. Whether they manage to develop genuine love for Krishna and attain His association at the end remains to be seen, sometimes it looks doubtful, sometimes sure, and sometimes they don’t even think about it anymore.

The second story is about a subset of this group. Well, not exactly but it’s still about devotees who had had Krishna’s association before, always remembered these moments fondly, but who then went on to build their own lives, hoping to succeed in the end. These devotees attained Krishna’s special mercy, and the special part of it is that Krishna ruined all their chances at material success and took away everything they hoped to have.

They have not become productive members of society, they have not set examples for everyone to follow, no one remembers their names and hardly anyone keeps their association. If they are remembered at all it’s often as examples of how devotees should NOT manage their lives. Their life stories are used to teach importance of developing valuable skills to survive and prosper in the outside world, they are used to illustrate importance of looking after one’s health, they are used to illustrate importance of planning for the future, as a person in sattva guna should do.

Not only they ruined their own lives but they also subjected their wives to lifelong, soul crashing poverty as well. It’s either that or they had to be divorced as hopeless cases not ready for actual family lives. In Bhagavatam pastime the wife remained chaste, of course, and even she is not the hero of the story her situation and her devotion needs to be noted. She was caught in the life of inescapable poverty but she was determined in seeing it through no matter what, but even then she knew she still had unfulfilled material desires and she knew that these faults in her devotion could be purified only by Krishna.

She had a choice – keep suffering and hope it goes away on its own, or come to the Lord and admit her weakness, but even that not personally but through her husband. She chose to approach the Lord for help to the alternative of suffering in silence. When commenting on this story our acharyas spare no words in describing her pitiful condition. He body was emaciated and her face dried up. She didn’t have a nice sari to put on, she had to wear an old one where threads were falling apart and colors washed away long time ago. When she requested her husband to seek help from Krishna her voice trembled – not from excitement or gravity of the situation but from being weak and exhausted by constant hunger. She had to beg her husband to accept her choice many many times before he finally conceded and agreed to seek help.

Not only that, but when her husband was about to leave he asked her if she had any gifts to bring to the Lord. An ordinary woman would retort that he was the one supplying their necessities of life and he should be well aware that they have nothing, but she was not an ordinary woman. She accepted that it was her responsibility to manage their household and if there was a need to produce a gift it was her job to find a suitable item from whatever was available. But in this case there literally was nothing so she went to beg flat rice from her neighbors. “Flat rice” was the cheapest kind of food at the time and, to collect sufficient quantity, she had to beg from people leaving on all four sides of their house. Luckily, each one gave something and so she collected four morsels, barely enough to qualify as an offering. She didn’t have anything to nicely package it either so she found a strip of cloth even older than her sari and tied this rice inside.

You know how the story ends, but let me pause it right here. What I wanted to say that most of our ISKCON today is sandwiched between these two categories of devotees – those who couldn’t stand coming back to material lives and those who have been blessed by Krishna to fail in their material lives completely. Both of these were successful but our fate is unclear as we are neither here no there. Or rather were were given two chances to succeed already but we didn’t use them. Will there be another? Or will we have to rot here until we become ready to accept that second choice of dire poverty for Krishna?

I think we will get unlimited number of chances but they all will ask the same question – are you ready to undergo untold suffering yet? No – get another life. Yes – the world at this point is ripe with opportunities for suffering, there can always be something foiund just for us and we can apply ourselves immediately.

Or we can always give up altogether and settle for what we call “liberation”. Krishna gives it very easily, they say, but bhakti is “sudurlabha” – very difficult to attain. Our acharyas explain in this regard that it’s bhava bhakti that is sudurlabha, not the sadhana bhakti we all practice now. This sadhana can earn us liberation but not actual bhakti. This means we can get whatever we want but Krishna won’t pay us any personal attention beyond what is required by etiquette (in case we end up living on the same planet, for example).

We often say “give bhakti” or “give bhava” but I don’t think it’s actually like that – it is not a thing to be given but rather a relationship we are invited to enter into and “bhava” is a necessary component of this relationship. It’s not like “Okay, I’ve got bhava, let me go find Krishna and see if we can do something about it.”

In that second Bhagavatam story there’s is a verse spoken by Maharaja Parikshit where he rhetorically asks how could anyone not appreciate stories about Krishna. Our acharyas didn’t take it so rhetorically, however, and, in unison, commented that it actually happens very often – many people hear the stories but it doesn’t affect them and they do not develop taste for hearing more. There are at least two other Bhagavatam verses mentioning the same – Krishna katha doesn’t work on everyone. Those verses talked about what disqualifies people but in this case the acharyas point out the qualifying condition and it’s in the verse itself – “viśeṣa — the essence (of life); jñaḥ — who knows”.

In other words, it’s not enough to simply like Krishna’s stories – because likes and dislikes are temporary and depend on the prevailing gunas, but one must discover the essence of life and then appreciation for Krishna lila will become permanent and ever growing – because His lilas ARE the essence of life, if we look for it thoroughly. This means that we should see Krishna not as a handsome boy who lived five thousand years ago in Vrindavan (or maybe even a boy who still lives in Vrindavan but is invisible), but as the essence of our lives right now, wherever we are.

This is why I chose these two Bhagavatam stories – they are easily relatable and one can find this all-attractive Absolute Truth in what is happening to us right here right now. If, while searching and reflecting on it it happens to have a form of a bluish boy with a flute – great, this means we are getting somewhere. I think it’s a better way than studying rasa lila because it’s the best or because it promises to relieve us from lust. I believe there are other stories we can easily relate to personally, too, but today I chose these two. And it’s also a sad fact of life that we/I have been sandwiched in some transitionary state where we are neither here nor there and the outcome is uncertain.



So many things happened in a month that has passed. Or rather nothing happened but so many people said so many things, the latest being BVPS offering his side of the story. The whole discussion revolved around punishment and cover ups and responsibilities and coming clean – the political side of it. Sannyasa Ministry suspended BVPS as a sannyasi and GBC announced that he should be called Anirdesya Vapu Dasa from now on. Or maybe until Sannyasa Ministry makes a final decision on his status, they didn’t make it clear. In any case, I want to go back to the time of the abuse and at that time he was BVPS so that’s the abbreviation I would use.

As far as I know, nobody has seen this “Anirdesya Vapu Dasa” so the name refers to a non-entity at the moment. Is he wearing white? Who knows. There is a just a name for now. They say it’s his pre-sannyasa name but he was a saffron clad brahmachari then, not a white wearing… “I don’t know what”. There is no known designation for sannyasis exiled from their ashram. It seems we are making things up as we go, which is a legitimate non-Vedic way of living our lives. Vedic ways, unfortunately, have been killed by his indiscretions (to put it mildly) and for many of his detractors they have become thoroughly discredited and they are not coming back any time soon. Devotees are developing an allergy to all things Vedic now. But I don’t want to talk about them.

Let’s talk about sex. I’ll repost the link to the redacted testimony by BVPS “main squeeze”, a twenty plus year old woman at the time. None of this has anything to do with pedophilia, I would state it right away. There’s an unsettled argument whether the victim from CPO report was fully eighteen at the time her breasts were fondled but even if she was short by several months she was not physically a child. So no pedophilia, period.

SR documented development of her relationship with BVPS and quite explicitly described the sex part of it. Again, right off the bat – there was no sex, just sexual activities or whatever they call it nowadays. Popular term is “sexual abuse”, and I’m only half joking, as some call it “rape of children” and don’t think twice about it. Whatever the precise classification, the simple fact is that it was not suitable for one in the sannyasa order of life and therefore BVPS could not be called a “svami”. This much is clear, but “this much” is actually not very much at all in the big scheme of things, and that’s what interests me in this whole story far more than political repercussions of the affair.

According to SR’s narrative, BVPS was interested in exploring workings of sexual energy. I’ve already made plenty of jokes about using penis as energy measuring device so let’s take it a bit more seriously this time – BVPS was interested in how bodies of living entities come under the spell of sexual energy, where this energy enters into the body, how it transforms, and what effects does it have. Once you know how it all works you can keep this energy under control, pretty much like Neo in the Matrix, for those who still remember the movie. You can avoid it, redirect it, dissipate it, transform it – anything you want, and it won’t have control over you anymore. Considering that it’s the primary energy of the universe you will, in effect, achieve liberation. Brahma bhuta prasannatma, which is the threshold of actual devotional service.

My point is that the stakes were high, really high, and if BVPS could achieve what he wanted he would have become God. Not God literally, of course, but in comparison to full mastery of this knowledge losing titles like “svami” is a very small price to pay, shouldn’t even register on the radar. Of course it would be foolish to advertise your newly attained powers so BVPS kept his research in secret and he was correct in telling SR that nobody would understand what they were doing, or rather what they were trying to accomplish. “Here is a sannyasi exploring workings of sexual energy” – who would understand and accept that? And yet it’s not exactly against the principles of sannyasa. Bear with me for the moment.

We have a clear rule – a sannyasi should never be alone with a woman, even with his sister, as Srila Prabhupada taught us, so clearly what BVPS did was wrong. Right, but what is the purpose of that rule? Should we consider sannyasi being alone with a woman as a falldown in itself? Of course not. We understand this rule as a necessary precaution – one time you are alone and it’s all fine. Two times, then three times, then you get yourself a female secretary, but somewhere down the line you WILL cross it and engage in activities which must be classified as a falldown, like having sex. Except BVPS “did not have sex with that woman”, as Bill Clinton immortalized it.

How does that first verse of Nectar of Instruction goes:

A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.

Tolerate the urge of genitals, specifically. A man who can avoid ejaculation for many years of sexual activities must have a very high level of control. The absolutely perfect level would be not to experience any kind of arousal but that is not what “tolerate the urge” rule demands. The “urge” in this case is to ejaculate and according to Auyrveda ejaculation should not be restricted just as one should not restrict himself from the urge to urinate. So anything that does not progress to restricting ejaculation is “tolerance” and “control”, sastrically speaking, and BVPS complied.

In recounting their first sexual interaction SR says she suspected BVPS ejaculated, as he suddenly rushed off to the bathroom, but she cannot confirm it and even if it happened, by her own accounts BVPS was able to control himself since then. As soon as he felt his arousal going out of control he would go and take a cold bath. I’m not sure this is healthy from Ayurveda perspective but at the first approximation it IS “tolerance of the urge of genitals”.

The rationale now goes like this:

– Do not stay alone with a woman

– But why?

– So that you don’t fall into sex

– Okay, I got that part nailed, so no worries

That’s the first approximation only, however, and the devil is always in the details. There are many other things that went wrong in that affair to declare it innocent. For one thing – what about the woman? SR didn’t spell it out but I suspect she did reach orgasm during this sexploration of her body. BVPS did tell her that their arrangement is sufficient and therefore she didn’t need to be married, which is plain wrong. On the surface it might have looked like it was working – she didn’t have to get into the whole mess that marriage is – emotionally, financially etc etc, and it did look like she was sexually satisfied, so problem solved? Not even close, not even the same ballpark, not the same category of solution.

Marriage is a solution in that it fully involves the entire range of “personhood” of a human being, on all levels, and compared to the depth and breadth of this involvement sex itself looks like a small and not very significant part. You literally transcend it. It’s like when a couple is trying for a child no one even thinks about savoring mechanics of it the way people gossip about sex. Totally different thing, totally different approach, totally different attitude, totally different feelings involved – it’s just not the same thing. Sex has been transcended.

Then there are varnasrama considerations – first people have lust, then they purify it through above described experiences of grihastha ashram, then they evolve to the point of vanaprastha. They do not engage in sex anymore but they still do everything together – go on pilgrimage or perform tapasya as prescribed in the scriptures. Their “marriage” connection is still maintained even when sex is no longer in the picture. By “marriage” I mean fundamental dependence on interactions of the male or female energies in the universe. Divorce doesn’t turn one into a vanaprastha, sorry to say. One needs to fully develop and fully understand interactions of male and female energies and in the end peacefully let it go in a state of full detachment. Divorce means you can’t stand that other person and this hate is just another side of attachment, it’s the wrong opposite of “love”. So yeah, where was I? Ah, varnasrama – the arrangement between SR and BVPS was far short of what is required or what would be helpful, which means his experiment was a failure.

This is another important aspect of this affair – should this exploration of sexual energy be considered a success or a failure? If we count by ejaculations then it was success but if we count by varnasrama science then it was a failure. I don’t know what BVPS current estimate is but I hope that, ideally, he realizes that the whole thing was wrong, that the very theory behind his research was wrong. This explains why results on one hand could be acceptable (no ejaculations means sex control) but because he was testing the wrong theory it doesn’t really matter. The conclusion then should be “sex energy does not enter from breasts to penis, as I tried to measure in this experiment”. Sex energy enters from inside the heart, not from outside objects. Outside objects only respond to sex desire from within and it’s there on the outside that they divide themselves into male and female, ie breasts and penises. At this point it’s too late to control it. It might look possible at first, ie can be stopped by taking a cold shower, but these physical means only keep sex energy from transforming itself from one state into another, not dissipate it completely.

Complete dissipation and shutting of the inner source comes only from channeling it through prescribed varnasrama methods where it eventually get transcended or sublimated in the spirit of service. It’s not through “servicing the lady”, it’s through mutual service to the prescribed duties. It’s not control by becoming bigger than sex, it’s control through service to a cause which is much bigger than sex. It’s the same strategy as with liberation – we do not become liberated by gaining control over maya, we serve Krishna instead and by doing that we become His integral parts and parcels, and then maya can’t touch Him, and we got liberated by the virtue of being stuck to his body – sthita dhuli sadrisam vicintaya – please consider me a speck of dust stuck to Your lotus feet.

Another way to look at it is that in his experiments BVPS tried to control his senses and achieved a reasonable degree of success but it’s not the same as controlling lust. Lust has three seats in the body and senses is only one of them, the other two being mind and intelligence (BG 3.40). Did he successfully control mind and intelligence? When SR went to Australia in 2008 he couldn’t stop himself and went to grope breasts of the younger victim, three times. He didn’t ejaculate on those occasions but nobody would call it successful self-control.

Speaking of which – by self-control we often understand control of one’s physical body, like when taking a cold shower to curb sexual arousal, but I would argue that this is control of what is in front of us, of what is within our control, not control of the “self” which is behind us, so to speak. “Self” is “atma” in our literature and “atma” is what makes things move. “Atma” for the senses is the mind, “atma” for the mind is the intelligence, “atma” for intelligence is false ego. When one’s consciousness is firmly tied to his physical body then “atma” for him would be senses, because senses themselves are not physical. In this state self-control would mean reducing sexual agitation, which then usually manifests as changes in physical body (unless Viagra was taken). “Cold shower” means changing of the environment, changing of the stimuli, and even “cold” is perceived by the whole body first, not just by the part with increased blood flow to it. Alternatively, people are known to lose their mood by other means, too, like a sudden change of tone or subject when speaking, and then the physical body responds. The point is that “control” here means controlling the cause, not the effect, and this rule applies to all levels of “self-control”, too.

When one’s consciousness is on the mental platform and one mentally marches into a girl’s room mentally undressing her in the process, “self-control” would mean control of intelligence, which mean destroying the picture where these actions will be considered possible and positive. The mind needs certain assumptions about the situation to imagine these things and these assumptions are provided by intelligence. Destroy and erase them and mind would have nothing to work with. One would have to step back from his fantasies for that and it’s the most difficult part – to withdraw inside and find the cause, which is what self-control is.

What if one’s intelligence gets polluted and somehow always creates a picture where sexual relationship look possible and desirable? The “atma” for intelligence is false ego and that’s where it should be fixed. One would have to re-imagine himself as an entity that simply does not have sex with the object in mind. Dogs don’t have sex with humans, for example, but we can surely find something easier. In BVPS case he could have brought his “guru” personality to the front of his consciousness and as a guru and a protector neither of the women would look like sexual objects. We always have several identities available to us and we can, in theory, switch to any of them and lose our sex desire. It still could be very hard to instantly rethink oneself like that but it’s what “self-control” is.

To me self control, or ātma-vinigrahaḥ from BG 17.16, means always stepping “back” or “inside” – however one models spatial relationship between body, senses, mind, intelligence or ego – and changing the cause of your situation, not dealing with effects in front of you. The main problem is that most of the time we don’t see the cause and we don’t see the “self” that controls it. Our consciousness is outward looking, we see what is in front of us, not what made us do these things or brought us into these situations. By the time it happens it is often too late to do anything about it. What we see is an effect already, the cause has already done its thing, it’s in the past and outside our reach. What to do then?

Not much is possible, and therefore we should begin self-control long before we get ourselves in trouble. Ultimately, Krishna is the cause of everything and therefore we are told to always take shelter in Him. He won’t place us in situations which are unfavorable for our relationships with Him, also known as “unfavorable for spiritual progress”. While we are looking forward with our eyes and other senses, He’ll get our backs and cover our sixes, that’s the only safe way to live a conditioned life. So on one hand the solution is trivial – chant Hare Krishna and be happy, but if we combine it with the constant search for the Self and rely on the Name to sort it out we’ll quickly start seeing Krishna’s protection and start sensing this “self”, too, the cause of whatever is happening. This will change us into inward looking beings and this will make us independent of the world around us, meaning less and less conditioned, which is a good thing, right?

Back to BVPS – the hopeful thinking is that “he has learned his lesson” but we should know what this lesson must be and whether it was actually learned. We won’t know until he tells us himself but I can speculate a little, as if it was me learning these things. So first lesson – physical control of ejaculation is possible, at least theoretically. Second lesson – it means nothing because it’s just an effect, not the cause. Third lesson – removal of the situation, ie SR getting married, does not mean disappearance of lust. I have no idea how BVPS handled this stage. Most men would redirect their lust towards someone else, or more likely resort to watching porn, but I really hope this is not what happened and Maharaja found a way to detach and disassociate himself from lust altogether. His interest in research might have been fully satisfied, for example. This means he would see sex as boring – been there, done that, got the t-shirt. This probably is not enough to defeat lust altogether but at least the Sannyasa Ministry would be satisfied.

Will the Sannyasa Ministry ever make peace with what happened? That would require a great degree of maturity and detachment. SR mentioned that BVPS took inspiration from the author of the Kama Sutras, who was a lifelong brahmachari. This means that there was this man who knew female sexuality in great detail without himself being affected, like Neo in the Matrix. Did he ever tried any of the techniques described in Kama Sutras? I can’t think of a scenario where he didn’t and it was all only theoretical, but this is a complex subject. For one thing “sutra” mean a compressed statement which is difficult to decipher but I don’t see anyone having difficulties with parsing Kama Sutra. Is the modern version full of interpolations to fill the gaps? I can’t say.

The problem is the strategy itself – typically, Sannyasa Ministry would be firmly against any contact with females but true detachment means interaction without being affected. Avoiding females is the means but detachment in female association is the goal, and you’ll never know you got there until you tried it. And “tried” means there would be failures in the beginning. We can throw tantrums at BVPS but I bet vast majority of our sannyasis test the waters themselves now and then. Some conclude that they should still stay away from women completely, some think having a female secretary doesn’t affect them anymore, and there are many stages in between, like consulting married couples or having a large posse of female followers. In any case, we haven’t even thought about the transition from Chota Haridasa to Ramananda Raya and so devotees like BVPS chart these unknown waters themselves.

Sannyasa Ministry demands Chota Haridasa like behavior, BVPS went for Ramananda Raya’s. And failed. Or maybe it was his first try only and by now he perfected it already – almost fifteen years have passed, after all. And hopefully perfection is not anymore seen as giving women oral sex without getting aroused. That was one weird definition, if you think about it. Women are very useful creatures in many other ways, if one wants to approach them in the spirit of yukta vairagya. Varnasrama system takes care of that already, as I described above.

Last question in this connection – should BVPS have married SR or maybe that younger girl to make honest women out of them? It would have been a good solution in theory but in practice marriage involves far more than sex and one shouldn’t marry only for sex either. With all these other consideration in mind I don’t think marriage would have been suitable in this case. Some say he should become an honest grihastha now, too. Maybe, if he wants to, but who do you have in mind as his wife? The man is seventy years old, never had a job in his life, won’t be allowed in ISKCON, what kind of marriage it would turn out? Perhaps there are older women looking for companionship in their ripe age, but is this what BVPS wants for himself? Last time he was sexploring a twenty year old woman, what would he want with a fifty-sixty year old one? The only possible arrangement that comes to mind is “seva-dasi” widows living with “babajis”. Maybe it’s what is suitable for BVPS,too, but who in ISKCON would ever recommend that?

And with this I think I can put this topic to rest. There are other aspects I thought about here but I don’t see them as important. BVPS had tried to explore sex, got burned but also got invaluable experience, it’s not clear what exact lessons he learned from it but one thing is clear – we, with our cliched thinking, are not qualified to judge his behavior because it’s far beyond our own capacity to try or to understand. We can surely apply the very simple rule of no female association for sannyasis and demand that he no longer be called “svami” but even that demand is stupid – one is placed in sannyasa or any other ashrama with considerations for the future, not as a punishment for what happened ages ago. It just makes us vindictive. And we do have to learn how to progress from Chota Haridasa to Ramananda Raya eventually. It’s fine to say that for now we can’t live even like Chota Haridasa so we should not concern ourselves with Ramananda Raya yet, but Chota Haridasa ended up as a gandharva in heavenly planets – what would be our destination if even his example is too high for us?

In one sentence – BVPS example is here for us to learn, not to judge.

Dreaming On

Every now and then I have dreams that I remember forever. Some I remember for the feelings they generated and some I remember because they also make sense. The previous one like that was years ago and I had another one just last month, and I think I need to write it down.

It was an unusually long dream, it started in an apartment I’ve been in only once in my life but my whole family was there, including people whose lifespans barely overlapped and who have never met each other, and yet there we were, sitting around, chatting, waiting for snacks, snacking etc. I got myself a newspaper and made a big deal out of it. There was crossword in the back and articles in the middle that I wanted to discuss but no one engaged with me and just looked at me lovingly, appreciating that this must be important to me.

Then it was time to leave and the plan was that there is this big road with taxis and public transport and it would take me home but to get to that road I had to travel down a small winding street first. It was dark and the street barely had any lights and all the buildings were dark and locked up. There were buses there and I was waiting to catch one but when it came it was not what I was expecting. Instead of a bus there was one of those shuttle car contraptions they use, except this one didn’t have any roof or any seats, just a flat platform and it was as crowded as an Indian train on the internet. Just as many people were running along around this “bus” and they all had a look of zombies on their faces, though they were not interested in me whatsoever so there was no sense of danger. Okay, the bus is out, I thought, so I had no choice but walk.

I was walking for a while, in the dark, with only the moon and stars to show the way, and then on the side of the road I saw a sign for “Red Light District” and a bunch of tourists grouping by. It wasn’t anything like I imagine Amsterdam red light district looks like, there were no red neon lights or anything, just an entrance into an alley. So I went there out of curiosity.

The landscape there was very different. There was no road surface, no sidewalks, it was as if buildings were sticking out of a mountain of black slag. It was dark, cold, and wet. Rain was dripping but no puddles could be formed on slag’s surface. Buildings had no lights and no one was there, except for occasional tourists, and I have to say something about them, too.

All tourists I saw there were Chinese and they all were like NPCs in video games. It stands for Non-Playing-Character. NPCs are usually assigned to do one task, like show the direction or give you something, but otherwise they don’t interact with you and do not acknowledge your words or presence. Tourist groups are like that – they come on package tours where all their experiences are pre-planned and their interactions with the environment are restricted to taking selfies and producing sounds of exaltation. They are literally incapable of any other interactions, they don’t understand if someone is talking to them and even if they did they wouldn’t comprehend the speech or know anything useful to try to answer. Their tour guides are more alive but still limited in what they can do or say.

So brothels, right – they weren’t what I imagined. These were buildings with no windows and no doors whatsoever. I mean there were doorways but no doors. There was light pouring from the inside and that’s how you knew there were entrances. I went into one and it was empty, there was a small round hall, maybe three feet wide, and there were “rooms” radiating from it but no doors and no walls between them either – all separators were only waist high. Everything was made of the same kind of material, possibly bricks covered with cement paste and painted over in dark colors, mostly brown, and I mean everything – there was no furniture and beds were made in the same way, too. There was no bedding, nothing, just some unidentifiable knick-knacks here and there. There were no lamps or lights except the ones in the hallway and so the backs of the rooms were in shade but otherwise you could see everything you could look at. Most of the hallway lights were “warm white” but occasionally one of the bulbs was red or green or blue, and everything was empty.

Another prominent feature was that hallways and rooms were at different levels, kind of like a winding staircase, so when you walk through the hallways you go up and down, rooms would be on one side, and then there would be another exit, not the same as the one you came in from, so you’d be out on the street but in a totally different place. Then you’d see another building and you’d go check it out, too, and so that’s what I did for while – just walk around, gaze at things, walk inside empty rooms, and there was no one around.

Then, as I was inside one room, a TQ person from LGBTQ+ abbreviation entered the hall from the outside. These people present themselves as larger than life, they impose their bubbly attitude on you and urge you to participate in their exultation, and rooms had no exits other than through the three foot wide hallway, so I was trapped. It imagined I was a customer and its joy had no bounds (I don’t know what pronouns to use for them, sorry). So it quickly marched into the room, laid itself on the bed, spread its legs (still fully dressed), and told me to get on top and do it. That was my chance. I exclaimed “But you are a man with dick and balls!” and before it got a chance to convince me otherwise I ran out of the room, because now I was the one closer to the exit. I ran out of the building down the sloping slag under my feet, and couldn’t find an exit from the alley, so I tried entering another building and walking out on the other side but still saw no exits. This went on for a while – how to find the way out of this place? Then I saw a group of tourists.

I approached their guide and she was packing people into an elevator. “Can it take me out?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied and let me in. The elevator was triangular and I squeezed myself into the sharp corner. Only two more tourists in NPC “taking selfies” mode got in after me, the elevator went down, and one side of it remained open. At some point the tourists jumped off through that open side and I continued alone. Then I saw that the elevator is approaching its ground level and descending into someone’s living room.

There is a term “furries” now – it’s teenagers imagining themselves to be cats or dogs and so they dress up and play along accordingly. The ones who lived there were more like oversized plush toys or mascots and they took very unhealthy interest in me. They thought I was their customer and they tried to grab me. The elevator had no buttons and all I could do is to realize that I really really really don’t want to be there. When I concentrated on that I noticed that the elevator stopped. As I looked inside that living room with furry rapists in it the elevator started descending again and one of them was even able to grab my feet. I understood that I could control the elevator with my mind and if I don’t look and don’t think about this place the elevator would go back up. After experimenting with it for a while I got a hang of it and eventually it took me out of that place and back into the alley again, but where was the exit?

I frantically ran around here and there, even tried to ask tourists, but I was getting hopelessly lost. And that’s when I saw a woman. I identified her as a prostitute working there but she was a woman, not a freak. She looked at me and I realized that she was perfectly sane and could help me. She was coming home with the groceries and I followed her into her building. She went into something that could have been a shower or a dressing room and shouted from the inside, to someone else: “Dear, how is you butthole doing after I inserted these balls into it last time?” And then this “someone else” came out from around hallway corner and it was a balding middle aged man, and he replied that his butt was doing fine. From the look on his face and the tone of their exchange I understood that he sees himself as a husband and he is bound to this woman and she is bound to him, they were no longer a prostitute and a client, there were family!

Not to lose the opportunity, I asked him “Hey man, could you tell the me the way out of here?” and he replied “What is this ‘here’ you are talking about?” or something like that. Remembering the elevator experience it downed on me that I can’t exit because my mind keeps me here, that there are no other shackles and barriers other than myself. This has been the typical guru answer since the dawn of the New Age and, happy with the realization that “I got it”, I told the man that I know what he means and explained it but, instead of welcoming me with New Age “join the club” smile, I was surprised to see a blank expression on his face. He genuinely had no idea what I meant. It’s at this point that my alarm clock went off and the dream had to end.

I turned into NPC mode myself as I stumbled to perform my morning duties, hoping that I could keep the live tapestry of the dream in my mind long enough to see the answer, but the dream eventually slipped away and I was left to rationalize it myself.

This is the problem – our rational minds can make everything clear but they never capture the complexity and unpredictability of the dreamworld, and therefore their explanations can never be as alive and as convincing as dreams. Too simplified, too devoid of textures and feelings. But it’s all I have now.

So how to interpret it? First answer – why was I interested in red light district in the first place? “Brothels” are mundane and repulsive, btw, when they call it “red light district” they make it far more presentable. Anyway, what was it with my interest in it? I don’t know, I didn’t feel any lust or any desire for sex while in this dream. Secondly, why was the first prostitute I saw was the TQ? I don’t know, but it scared the hell out of me.

Actually, it’s meeting the “husband-and-wife” team that bothers me most. Essentially, all of us are here because of seeking sex pleasure and many men have a realization that wives and prostitutes are the same, only more expensive. This “husband-and-wife” team, however, demonstrated the way out – sex life according to religious principles, which means transcending the carnal aspect of the relationship and treating each other as persons and with attitude of service.

This means we have no way out of this trap of a world except by finding life partners, husbands or wives, and learning to treat them like we are supposed to treat God. Well, not God, because people have their preconceived notions about God, but how we are supposed to treat Krishna – loving service without traces of awe and reverence. This means all this celibacy, brahmacharya, sannyasa, controlling sex desire etc. is useless. How about that?

The episode with the elevator kind of demonstrated it – by making determined mental efforts we can withdraw ourselves from sex but the elevator still moves only within confines of the brothel, it won’t take you anywhere else and eventually you will have to get off and “deal with it”. Does it mean I have to become like that sad middle aged john reporting that his butt healed nicely? This can’t be the only way out. But there isn’t, not by running around and looking for exit.

The facilities we use when we look for exit – eyes, mind, map of the place in our memory, legs etc, they are all part of the trap itself and they have no connection to the outside. Like for that man “here” was a meaningless word as it implies existence of “there”, which is not “here”, but “here” is all he knows and so he doesn’t call it that and there is no “there” in his vocabulary either. Similarly, the tools we use to get out are all working in one direction, they are all looking forward, and therefore they can’t possibly find the exit, which is in the direction of the “back”. All these tools are looking outside but the exit is inside.

What we need is not these forward looking tools but a hook in the back of our soul, and we need someone to pull us out, from the outside into inside. When I was thinking about it I compared it to a fishing net. Suppose you are a net and you are alive. You are in the sea and you spread yourself as far as you can, growing, growing, growing, capturing more and more fish, and your life becomes forward looking, but then the fisherman pulls you back and your consciousness kind of shrinks, leaving all the juicy fish you wanted to catch in the sea and taking you out of the sea altogether. You cannot control this pull and you cannot initiate it, certainly not by spreading yourself further and further.

Does it mean we are helpless? Not really. Our consciousness is still ours and we CAN employ it in a different direction, almost entire Bhagavad Gita is about this, if you look for supporting verses, but it’s not what we usually do. Usually we are told to chant “with feeling” but this “feeling” thing is from the wrong toolset. I will never forget the instruction to “just chant and hear”. Forget the feelings for the moment, just listen to the Name. The Name is that hook that goes into the back of our soul and pulls us out. The Name does have something to say, so stop talking about your feelings and listen to the Name for a change. The Name is NOT an object of this world. It can’t be fast or slow or melodious or sweet or harsh – it has no qualities of this world, it has a life of its own, and if we stop talking about ourselves and listen then the Name might just tell us all about it.

I could say that, in my estimation, these moments of just sitting and listening is the only time I make any real progress. All the rest is progress in how far my mind and senses reach, but only the name steers and pulls me in the right direction, the direction that really matters as opposed to achievements of the mind and senses – what we think, what we eat or don’t eat, what we wear, what we read, what we watch and so on. We measure ourselves and each other by this things but this dream tells me that none of it is of any importance, it will not take us out of here, and that’s why I thought I need to write it down.

Better way conundrum

LA diorama

BG 12.12 is a mind boggling verse:

śreyo hi jñānam abhyāsāj
jñānād dhyānaṁ viśiṣyate
dhyānāt karma-phala-tyāgas
tyāgāc chāntir anantaram

The structure is simple – it’s a list of activities which are progressively better, leading to tyaga, renunciation of results of work, which brings one peace. Figuring out what it means, however, is tough. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s translation:

If you cannot take to this practice, then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge. Better than knowledge, however, is meditation, and better than meditation is renunciation of the fruits of action, for by such renunciation one can attain peace of mind.

The problem is that dedicating fruits of one’s labor to various KC causes was given as the lowest in the preceding verses, which went “if you can’t do that then do this” fashion.

Śrīla Prabhupāda solves this by saying that there are two distinct paths – one of devotional service and one of gradual elevation, and it’s this gradual elevation that culminates in giving one’s money to the right cause. I mean before you give your money to temple construction you should really think about it (dhyāna), and to contemplate it you need to know that it’s even an option (jñāna), and before that one needs… What exactly?

He begins the second sentence in the purport with “For those who are actually not able to follow the principles of Kṛṣṇa consciousness it is better to cultivate knowledge…” See the problem? It’s not that jñāna is better than abhyāsa (practice), as follows from word-for-word: “śreyaḥ — better; hi — certainly; jñānam — knowledge; abhyāsāt — than practice,” but now it’s “jñāna is better than NOT following abhyāsa“. Or maybe he meant the path of devotion, as I said earlier and as declared in the first sentence, and the meaning is “if you cannot follow that direct method then take to the gradual path”. This makes sense, but then what is that thing that jñāna is “better than”? What is meant by abhyāsa?

Look at the verse translation again: “If you cannot take to this practice, then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge.” The sequence of “this better than that” is already broken here and becomes “this is better than NOT doing that”, which is not supported by Sanskrit, at least as far as I can see.

Our ācāryas do not make it any clearer, I’m sad to say. Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary can be found here and he reads this verse in a totally different way. He doesn’t talk aboutn gradual elevation to taking up the process of devotional service but about progress in devotional service itself, which starts with following sādhana, which then leads to self-realization (jñāna), which then leads to meditation (dhyāna), and then to complete disconnect of senses from enjoying sense objects. In other words, by karma-phala-tyāga he means not giving one’s money to temples but stopping the senses from dwelling on any objects except Kṛṣṇa’s form and qualities. He says this is how the last word (anantaram) is linked to śreyaḥ and viśiṣyate (viśiṣyate — is considered better;) in the first line. Then he concludes “No other explanation can be considered.”

Well… We already have a differeLA dioramant explanation from Śrīla Prabhupāda, so… But let’s see how Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa explains it, too. I don’t know if his commentary is available online but if you google for it you can find a .doc file to download. First of all, his translation is already different:

Realization of ātmā is preferable to practicing remembrance of the Lord, but practice of meditation on ātmā is preferable to realization of ātmā. Preferable to practice of meditation on ātmā is renunciation of the results of work. From this detachment one finally gets purity.

Keep in mind that he didn’t write this translation – it’s how the English translator understood this verse from Baladeva’s commentary and from his own knowledge of Sanskrit. This translation, btw, is straightforward from word-for-word translations in Prabhupāda’s Gīta and that’s how I understand this verse, too. One could say that I should understand this verse from Prabhupāda’s translation first and then work backwards and mold Sanskrit meanings to fit with it but I’m not comfortable doing that. For one thing, Śrīla Prabhupāda never lectured on this verse and never quoted it elsewhere and available manuscript (transcription of a tape) is less than clear, too:

All we have on this verse

The translation already starts with “if one is unable” which is not evident from word-for-word, and in word-for-word it’s “Abhyasaj — by practice” rather than “abhyāsāt — than practice;” in the current version. 1972 Gīta had “abhyasat—by practice,” however. Which one is correct? To me Baladeva’s translation (by Bhānu Swami) makes perfect sense and it’s the other versions than need to fit into it, at least for now. Maybe one day someone can explain how “if one is unable” can be derived from Sanskrit and then I will gladly accept it, but until that day comes I would consider Śrīla Prabhupāda’s translation as conveying the meaning rather than strictly following Sanskrit words.

So Baladeva’s is the best? Not so fast. He also writes:

“Better (easier) than not accomplishing continuous, permanent remembrance (abhyāsāt) of the Lord is jñāna, direct perception of your own ātmā. Better than not accomplishing realization of ātmā (jñānāt) which is the door to realization of Paramātmā, is the practice of meditation (dhyānam) on one’s own ātmā…”

This structure is different from the structure of the verse itself. Now it’s “this is better than failing that”, just as Śrīla Prabhupāda starts his verse translation. The verse, however, goes “this is better than doing that” with no hint of taking the opposite meaning of “not doing that”. As I said – this verse is mind boggling.

On the plus side Śrīla Baladeva explains what is meant by abhyāsa here (remember how this was missing from Prabhupāda’s purport):

“Abhyāsa here means “uninterrupted” remembrance of the Lord, a very elevated stage of sādhana. In verse 9, abhyāsa refered to practice.”

Oh, wait, it’s the explanation supplied by the translator in a footnote, it’s not in the Sanskrit commentary itself. How reliable is it? How can we be sure that in this verse and three verses earlier the same word refers to two different things? Well, at least it makes sense. But not the sense Śrīla Prabhupāda put in his purport, which is also correct.

In the end this is how I understand it – there are two ways of progress, one leading to taking up devotional service and the other starting from devotional service as sādhana and leading to perfection. And by perfection we mean mind’s complete disconnect from this world and complete absorption in Kṛṣṇa’s actual form (as opposed to forced mental images of the abhyāsa stage).

Taking up devotional service is the center point and two paths are a kind of reflection one one another, so mirroring becomes possible – “this is better than NOT doing that” as compared to “this is better than that”. The culmination of the verse (karma-phala-tyāga) then comes to mean two different things – selfless renunciation of earned money to Kṛṣṇa and renunciation of ANY sensual activity. They are not different in principle (renounce and give to Kṛṣṇa) but very different in experience (“give my money” and “don’t even know what money is anymore”).

Ultimately, it’s not a question of what the verse means but a question of what it means to me. If there are other correct meanings applicable to other people it’s perfectly fine, but first and foremost we should correctly get the meaning intended for us. And then to other people we can explain it in the way intended for them.

Śrīla Prabhupāda talks about this in the purport, too:

“One may take either the step-by-step process or the direct path. The direct process is not possible for everyone; therefore the indirect process is also good. It is, however, to be understood that the indirect process is not recommended for Arjuna, because he is already at the stage of loving devotional service to the Supreme Lord.”

Either way, the result declared in the verse is attainment of śāntiḥ — peace. What this “peace” means depends on the individual. For people on the outside it means taking shelter of Kṛṣṇa and the Holy Name but for devotees on the inside it means complete detachment from tribulations of living inside the body and the body living inside the world. Once you attain that then another cycle of abhyāsa-jñana-tyaga begins. I could speculate that abhyāsa would come to mean directly seeing the Lord, jñāna would mean realization that Kṛṣṇa’s form is the best, and tyāga would mean rejecting all traces of Vaikuṇṭha and aiśvarya moods which have no place in Vraja.

PS. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī gives “devotional” names for these stages – jñāna is manana, meaning thinking about the Lord, dhyāna is smaraṇa, meaning having the Lord always residing in one’s head, and by tyāga he means giving up desires for svarga or mokṣa. This makes sense, too.


We all know “man mana bhava mad bhakto” verse and we also know that Krishna said the same line at the end for the ninth chapter. Does it make any difference? I believe it does, specifically in what should be understood by “Me” there. That’s what I propose to recalibrate in our understanding so that we don’t miss anything important.

Half the Bhagavad Gita was spoken between chapter 9 and chapter 18. Nothing changed in Krishna Himself, of course, and not much time had passed, maybe an hour at most, but during that time Arjuna had seen the universal form which absolutely blew his mind, and he also heard a chapter on Lord’s vibhutis. That must have changed his perception of who Krishna was significantly. When seeing universal form he apologized for treating Krishna too casually and addressing Him as “Yadava”, which was almost like a racial slur at the time. This indicates a huge change in Arjuna’s perception of “Me” before and after that.

We joined the conversation five thousand years later, with the rest of Mahabharata and all eighteen cantos of Srimad Bhagavatam in between, all explained through seventeen volumes of Caitanya Caritamrita. It’s also have been fifty years since we heard about Krishna from Srila Prabhupada. Actually, this year marks a fifty year anniversary of the unabridged edition of Bhagavad Gita As It Is. It went unnoticed, as far as I followed the news.

We don’t know the exact date it was delivered from the printers. Maybe someone somewhere keeps the records, maybe Jayadvaita Swami or Satswarupa Dasa Goswami, but in public we have almost nothing, and what we have is somewhat contradictory. We have this lecture from June 29, 1972 in San Diego where Pradyumna reads word-for-word translations for the first time (on record), but we also have next day interview with a reporter where Atreya Rishi says: “A new edition is coming out by Macmillan..”, immediately after showing the reporter an existing book so she could spell “Bhagavad Gita”, and then a couple of lines later Srila Prabhupada says “Now it is coming out in this bigger edition, Macmillan…” and they keep talking about how good this new edition is going to be. Then we have this video, from August 8 in Los Angeles, and there is a thick Gita lying on the table in front of Prabhupada. But then again – they already had something to read word-for-word translations from even while talking about the book being published in the future. Perhaps they had what Srila Prabhupada called “blue-print copies” sent from Macmillan and mentioned in this letter to Jayadvaita on May 28th. Just three days before August 8 lecture Srila Prabhupada writes a letter to Bali Mardana and says “I am expecting very soon the delivery of Bhagavad-gita As it Is* and you may dispatch many copies to England also.” The asterisk points to “paper back” note on that page and in Folio, so perhaps it was a new print, not the first print of unabridged Gitas. People who put that asterisk and an explanation there should know more but as far as publicly available records goes, this is where I’m going to put it to rest.

Back to the topic at hand – when we read “man mana bhava mad bhakto” line now we have a certain image of Krishna in our heads and we assume that this is that “Me” Krishna was talking about, but this “Me” includes a lot of things that weren’t known at the time the verse was spoken. We ourselves included them. Justifiably, of course, as we have learned these things from Srila Prabhupada, but let’s think a little about what Krishna Himself meant by “Me” when He was talking to Arjuna who hadn’t even seen the universal form yet. Our understanding is so past the universal form, we don’t take it seriously. We don’t take even four armed form seriously as we already know, from the first reading, that Krishna’s two armed form is better. Specifically, two armed form in Vrindavana and holding a flute. We know that as truth. Okay, but is this what Krishna meant at the end of the ninth chapter? Probably not.

What has He disclosed about Himself at that point? Not much. Most of the conversation revolved around the concept of the Supersoul and it’s not a trivial thing – it’s the connection of this world to the spiritual reality. It’s the Lord behind everything we see, with “we see” being the key point – it’s not the Lord of unknown and imperceptible domain, not the Lord of imagination, it’s the Lord of everything we see here and now. Arjuna, of course, said that Krishna’s description of the yoga process that leads to the perception of the Supersoul is impossible to follow. Nevertheless, it was in chapter six that Krishna casually conflated meditating on Self with “thinking of Me”:

TEXT 25: Gradually, step by step, one should become situated in trance by means of intelligence sustained by full conviction, and thus the mind should be fixed on the Self alone and should think of nothing else.
TEXT 26: From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the Self.
TEXT 27: The yogī whose mind is fixed on Me verily attains the highest perfection of transcendental happiness. He is beyond the mode of passion, he realizes his qualitative identity with the Supreme, and thus he is freed from all reactions to past deeds.

You see how over these verses mind goes from being fixed on Self to being fixed on “Me”? Is this “Me” a two-handed Vrindavana form with flute? No, that’s not how Krishna described it just two verse later:

TEXT 29: A true yogī observes Me in all beings and also sees every being in Me. Indeed, the self-realized person sees Me, the same Supreme Lord, everywhere.

and then:

TEXT 31: Such a yogī, who engages in the worshipful service of the Supersoul, knowing that I and the Supersoul are one, remains always in Me in all circumstances.

So that’s the first hint of the nature of “Me” that Krishna was talking about in “man mana bhava” verse. In the seventh chapter He gave a few details about this “Me”, beginning with “I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon” and so on.

In the next chapter Arjuna asks a few questions to clarify the meaning of the previously used terms and in reply Krishna says something about Himself, too:

TEXT 4: … And I, the Supreme Lord, represented as the Supersoul in the heart of every embodied being, am called adhiyajña [the Lord of sacrifice].

Once again – “Me” means the Supersoul. However, there is then verse 7:

TEXT 7: Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Kṛṣṇa and…

This is also a rarest occasion when “in the form of Kṛṣṇa” clause does not follow word-for-word translations and is not discussed in acharyas’ commentaries either, nor it is clarified in the purport. Nor was it present in the first, 1968 edition, nor was it present in the transcribed dictation. BBT might have a better copy but there is only one transcript of verse 7 and in the publicly available file it looks like this:

This doesn’t inspire much confidence that Srila Prabhupada meant “in the form of Kṛṣṇa” specifically. It first appeared in the 1972 edition where exact wording was fixed by Hayagriva. BBT retains it, probably because they don’t see compelling reasons to remove it, but it is not supported by translation of Sanskrit words, as I mentioned. What I mean is we that shouldn’t pin all our understanding of what “Me” means on this phrase alone.

Verse 9 in the eighth chapter makes the meaning of “Me” a lot clearer, and its prescriptive rather than suggestive:

TEXT 9: One should meditate upon the Supreme Person as the one who knows everything, as He who is the oldest, who is the controller, who is smaller than the smallest, who is the maintainer of everything, who is beyond all material conception, who is inconceivable, and who is always a person. He is luminous like the sun, and He is transcendental, beyond this material nature.

Then we get to chapter 9 and it has statements like this: “By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded.” Then there are some puzzles about the nature of this “Me” in relation to the created world and then Krishna adds some more details like these: “it is I who am the ritual, I the sacrifice, the offering to the ancestors…” and this goes on for four verses (BG 9.16-19).

Not all these descriptions are applicable to us – the four verses above are for “others”, for those who worship the Lord in His universal form, for example, but the overall trend is clear – by “Me” in 9.34 Krishna meant Himself as the Supersoul present in this universe, not about His two armed form in Goloka.

This means that by thinking about Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavana we are not exactly following His instructions in Bhagavad Gita. Is it a fatal mistake? Of course not. But I suggest that we should not be so dismissive of the Supersoul either. After all, it’s what we can fairly easily perceive in our present condition – the world around us and the Supersoul behind it. It’s “easy” when compared to perception of Krishna’s aprakata lila or to perception of Goloka. Otherwise we put ourselves at risk of indulging in contemplating imaginary forms created by our minds and thus ascribing all kinds of mundane qualities to Krishna and His associates as we “meditate” on Krishna lila. I put “meditate” in quotes because it means perception of the object, not thinking it up or imagining it.

To mitigate this risk we can strictly stick only to authoritative descriptions but this is not very practical when we have to listen to actual devotees telling stories about Krishna. Are you going to walk out every time they diverge from Krisna book even a little? Plus what we assume to be “authoritative descriptions” are also impressions made inside our heads and they are not necessarily accurate.

On the other hand, we must contemplate Krishna’s pastimes and you won’t see them by looking outside the window, and it might take millennia to realize Krishna with all His unique attributes and pastimes as the same person as the Supersoul, not to mention that realizing the Supersoul is not a trivial task either.

Nevertheless, seeing Krishna’s pastimes as totally separate from the world around us is not kosher, too, as it goes against the core message of Bhagavatam expressed in catur-sloki – everything in the creation is connected to the Lord and we must seek this connection at all times, both directly and indirectly. Lord Caitanya made it a lot easier for us as well – now we don’t need to extract sound of Krishna’s flute from top songs on the charts, we can look for the spreading of sankirtana movement, which is very easy to notice. Lord Caitanya is behind that – not so difficult to find.

I insist this would be a superior method to all alternatives. In the previous post I mentioned how people think that Lord Caitanya lived five hundred years ago in Bengal and now we are doing our own thing ourselves, albeit on His instructions. It’s fine, but the implication is that Lord Caitanya is absent from our lives and all we have left is the order to preach, and so “man mana bhava” verse means separating ourselves from this world completely, seeing it as false and disconnected from the Lord, and trying to focus on our mental form of “Bengali Caitanya” from five hundred years ago instead. I insist that this is not how Krishna meant for us to apply it.

He might protect us from making fatal mistakes and from sliding into outright sahajiya, but it’s one thing to expect protection from mistakes arising from ignorance and it’s quite another to indulge in something we know is wrong but hope the Lord will fix it for us anyway. This kind of thinking it on the list of offences in chanting and knowingly committing it will NOT lead to success.

To sum it all up – we should not disconnect the Lord from our everyday lives or from this world but rather try to seek Him as the source and controller of everything that happens. The immediate advantage is that this “source” and this “controller” actually exist and are eager to help us, while Krishna of our imagination might be truly imaginary. Don’t believe it’s a real risk? How about devotees who are convinced that Srila Prabhupada was very accommodating of gay lifestyle and saw no problems with gay couples living together whatsoever. I won’t mention the names, but that’s the image of Srila Prabhupada that one disciple, who had a lot of personal association btw, has in his mind now. Would you trust that image to be real and not imaginary? I wouldn’t. Do you trust that our images of Krishna in Goloka are true and undistorted? I don’t.

Developing Compassion

Over the weekend I read a story of one mataji who feels being mistreated by ISKCON authorities and I might get back to it later but my main realization after reading it was that compassion is not easy. Let me explain.

There are many gurus and devotees who stress developing compassion in their preaching and in general it’s a good thing. There are arguments over what kind of compassion they promote and why it is overstressed when compared to how often Srila Prabhpada mentioned it but I propose to look at it in a different way.

Every being here operates five winds of prana to sustain itself. They are mentioned in several Srila Prabhupada’s purports to Bhagavad Gita but only briefly. I actually want to avoid their Sanskrit names to avoid dealing with all possible explanations being offered in the literature and focus only on their main functions.

First is the “intake” wind when new stuff – information, food etc – gets inducted into the system. Second “wind” is when this new stuff gets analyzed and disassembled into parts. Third wind distributed these parts or “nutrients”, so to speak, throughout the system. Fourth wind expels that which has no use to the system. Finally, once the system is nourished and ready, the fifth wind produces something for the outside world. It’s how we project ourselves into the world, how we leave our mark on it.

In this classification talking about compassion is the work of that fifth wind but it also means that it’s only one fifth part of being fully compassionate and probably not the biggest part either. What about the other four? First I should say that “compassion” is not a substance in itself but a by-product of seeing the world and every being in it as a part of the Absolute Truth. Interestingly, you don’t even need “God” here, just your own concept of what “Absolute Truth” is, and so when you see another entity as a part of it you naturally feel compassionate if that entity is in some kind of trouble. If your understanding of “Absolute Truth” is limited to your family then you compassion will extend only to your family members, or only to members of your nation, or whatever classification that makes you feel “together” with that entity.

In the first approximation “compassionate on intake” means not eating meat, ie not causing harm to other beings just because you want to eat, but it’s only the first approximation. Devotees should offer everything they eat to the Lord but they should also honor the prasadam, not just devour it like wolves. Honoring prasadam is a skill that takes quite some time to develop. The difference here is like between hunger and appetite – appetite is healthy, hunger isn’t. Appetite is what makes you ready to appreciate the effort cooks put into preparing prasadam, hunger makes you wolf down food without saying thank you. And that’s just food – there are many other forms of intake, too. We absorb information, we listen to the news, some of it is good and some of it is bad, we hear gossip, we absorb mood of enjoyment and we hear calls for help. We absorb the weather when we come out into the sun or when we take in the atmosphere of a moonlit night. We absorb all kinds of ideas, funny moments, serious moments – there is A LOT of stuff coming into our systems and we should be compassionate with all of it, seeing it as Lord’s mercy coming to us in all possible ways and we should be thankful for ALL it. Going by the definition I proposed above about compassion needing trouble first – whatever our intake is, someone has made a sacrifice to provide it. It caused them some inconvenience, however little, and so there is always some trouble that can invoke compassion in us. Sometimes thank you is enough but if you insist on always being compassionate then you nideed to know what exactly to be compassionate about.

Compassion of the second wind is best exemplified by people like doctors, car mechanics, or computer repairmen – they all have to analyze what you have given them, take it apart, figure out what the problem is, find the ways of fixing it, and then put it back together again. As professionals they will do it without judgment even if you have done something really stupid. Less mature among them will tell their friends and make jokes about it, but never in your presence. More mature will take a note for the future and present it to their peers in a non-judgmental way. Thus there is evolution to this understanding, too. At the step of analyzing it, instead of pointing out and condemning all the bad choices made when putting your “food” together, we can note the influences and how people thought it would be a good ideea. We would want to help them make better, more informed choices instead, and make them feel comfortable admitting what they have done. In any case, we can appreciate the effort they put into producing our “food”. Whether it’s superior or inferior someone had to do it and now we are processing it for our pleasure so there is always something to say thank you for and feel compassion for whatever trouble people went through.

Compassion of the third wind is best exemplified by employers – they have a big job to do and they want to split it among others. Actually, a much better example would be Srila Prabhupada asking his disciples for help and giving them opportunities for service. Each delegated service is a source of nourishment for others and being engaged in it relieves them of their troubles. When employers create jobs they help other people to become happy, productive, and rewarded for their efforts, too.

Compassion of the fourth wind is when we realize that what is classified as refuse for us becomes an intake for someone else. They have to take it apart, spread the parts as nutrients, and in the end something new and fresh is going to come out. That’s how fertilizing the soil with cow dung works, for example. So, even if you reject something as unsuitable and useless for your system there will always be someone who can make use of it and make a living off it, too. Compassion here is easy – just think of garbage collectors handling you trash.

Going back to the story I mentioned in the beginning – first problem in stories like this is that people do not listen with compassion, meaning there is no compassion on the intake. At first it looks like an easy fix and there is lots of advice on how to listen with appreciation and make the person comfortable and relieved when they share stories of their misfortune, but this “make yourself accommodating” is the function of the fifth wind – the function of presenting yourself to the world, not the function of the intake. On the intake you might still be as insensitive as ever but externally you will appear nice. This is not compassion, this is a smile of a hotel employee and they do not always have your best interests at heart.

Being compassionate on the intake is a function of a devotee honoring prasadam – he is not hungry, he is internally satisfied and unaffected, but he creates an appetite necessary for exchange of rasa between cooks, the Lord, and the devotee himself. He doesn’t try to look good, he tahnkfully appreciates every morsel of food he puts in his mouth. When he listens to a complaint he takes it as prasadam, too, and when he processes what he hears he practices the compassion of the second wind – he is non-judgmental, he understands why people did this or that thing, and he is ready to offer advice on how to make it better, but only if they are ready to hear it.

When he promises to help it he figures out who should be doing what part and presents each part as a service opportunity mean to nourish devotees who take it up.

When he decides on punishment he doesn’t just discard the offending devotees but puts them in a situation where their behavior can be rectified so they can continue feeling useful and then eventually come back into the fold.

What happens with the “sob stories” is that first they (“the authorities”) don’t listen to you or only pretend to listen without actually caring. Then they immediately become judgmental and start blaming you for your problems. Then they order someone to do something about it but people feel like it’s not their service, they have nothing to do with it, and there is no follow up anyway. Finally, they decide that it’s you who are the troublemaker and it’s you who should be expelled from the system and sent somewhere for rectification. Usually, it doesn’t go even that far – they just declare a list of places where you can’t be, not the places where you could go to make yourself better. Or they’ll say something like “take shelter of Govardhan, he can help you”. What is Govardhan is supposed to do with you is not their concern and they carry no responsibility for that.

Two observations here – first is that simply talking a lot about compassion means next to nothing if you can’t even listen with compassion. Second is that no one can be expelled from the universe and those five winds will continue working. It means that there IS a place for you somewhere and eventually you WILL find it, but it will probably be outside the authority of “the authorities”, who might even keep talking about “building the house for the whole world to live in” to rub salt into the wound and also to demonstrate their total ignorance. There is a Sanskrit term for that – Dharma-dhvajis. It’s people who wave the flag of dharma for self-promotion but have no use besides that.

The most important lesson, however, is that developing compassion begins with becoming a better devotee. Honoring prasadam is one of the basic skills, after all. Okay, it might start with realizing that compassion is important. Then you start talking about it at every opportunity. Then you try to be compassionate yourself and so you try to appear as a compassionate listener. Then you realize that making an effort to appear compassionate does not make you actually compassionate, it rather makes your compassion fake, and this is where you realize that to become compassionate you have to make some serious changes in yourself, and that’s where it actually begins – when you succeed in learning how to honor prasadam, not just eat it. You are different person then and next you will learn to see everything coming at you as prasadam.

The famous “tat te ‘nukampam” verse has the word bhuñjāna in it, translated as “enduring” in that context but literally it means “eating”, “consuming”, “enjoying” etc. We have to learn how to do it right, how to treat all our intake as Lord’s mercy. That’s the first step in developing compassion. Talking about it is only preliminary, and there are many more steps to follow.

Pretense of No Taste

Consider this passage, and many many more like this:

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

SB 3.5.7p

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I think we have more in common than it appears at first. Babylon is a Biblical city where they built a Tower of Babel. I would say that’s how historians interpret it in terms familiar to them but it could be just their angle on what is unquestionably implied already – Babylon was an organization.

When an organization builds a place for its members it would be called “city”, but you can’t have a city without having organization first. Two-three thousand years from now ISKCON Mayapur could also be seen as an ancient city and it would be so recorded in local chronicles, too – it doesn’t have any special name, it’s “ISKCON” for everybody living in the area, it’s a place, and it soon will be the size of a city.

The name “Babylon” comes from the local language for “Gate of God” and ISKCON is undeniably positions itself as the gateway to the spiritual world, too. Some argue that people can get there bypassing ISKCON but I would question that, it’s a different topic, however, let’s not go into it right now.

So we have two distinctive characteristics that are matching already – a spiritual organization that purports to transfer its members to the Kingdom of God. And then there was the Tower.

The account is recorded in Genesis 11, but there are so many translations there I have no idea which one is the best. The top of this tower was supposed to be in heaven, or reach heaven. And they wanted a name for themselves, too, so that they could be distinguished from the rest of the world. Like “Hare Krishnas”. We don’t say that the top of TOVP will be in heaven or reach Goloka, but we certainly hope that our “top” devotees will have full realization of their spiritual identity and reach Krishna’s personal association. We also have an organization that supports this progress to the top. It might not be an actual tower, but we use other words like “ladder” and “pyramid” so if the future historians come across them they might think we actually tried to built a pyramid reaching Vaikuntha.

Regardless, the meaning is the same – we have a structure that allows people at the bottom progress upwards and reach the top. We are proud of providing this structure, it’s our self-identification and the essence of our existence – preaching. We also want a “house for the whole world to live in” – how’s that not a tower? Okay, it isn’t a tower yet, not at the moment, where we assume that all our members are spiritually equal, all are deserving equal services and equal respect, but it’s a temporary vision and there is a great battle against this equality going on as we speak. In the end it WILL be a tower – some people and some sections of our society will be seen as being higher and some as lower. No one can resist varnasrama forever, it will assert itself because it’s the will of the Lord for how people should be organized in this world. The point is the same – we take people from mleccha and yavana background and we aim to promote them to the highest levels of bhakti, and, hopefully, to direct perception of the Lord. That’s what the tower does, too.

God’s reaction in the Bible, however, is not at all encouraging. There is no direct explanation given but God somehow didn’t want all these people in His heaven. His first words were already about how to squash this effort, not about why. In our ISKCON language it’s about rooting out sahajiya tendencies – only the purest of the pure can actually reach Krishna, not the sahajiyas, not the ones who take it very cheaply. For sahajiyas there is no entrance into spiritual realm whatsoever. They shall not pass.

Quoted from Gauidya:

The disease of prākṛta-sahajiyā-ism is very widespread. In a form that devours everything, takes various shapes, and steals the mind, it wanders throughout the universe, increasing the covering of those jīvas captured by a seemingly natural tendency to reject Kṛṣṇa, and by severe offenses to Vaiṣṇavas, it causes further degradation of the bound jīvas and uprooting of their devotional creeper.

Gauḍīya 11.409

In other words, while the endeavor for spiritual perfection is legitimate and there need to be a structure supporting one’s progress, unless there are guards in place to weed out less than perfect aspirants the Tower cannot be allowed to reach its destination. How did God go about that in the Bible?

The Tower of Babel episode is cited as an ancient explanation of appearance of many languages and that’s how it can be seen by historians, too, but that is the result, not the process, not God’s solution. His solution was to “confound their language”, which we can safely take as “ruin their common understanding”. Once people stopped thinking in the same way their cooperation stopped and so did the construction. Who has failed to notice the same scenario playing out in ISKCON right now, too?

Do I need to mention all the contentious issues of today? I hope not. What I did notice only recently, however, is that we began to understand the same passages very differently and become very sure in our interpretations as being right and the only possible. I don’t want to give examples of this happening in real life, but I have seen devotees from opposing camps literally unable to understand what they were talking about. A quote from the Bhagavad Gita purport is appropriate in this regard:

In the mode of goodness, one can see things in the right position, one can hear things in the right position, and…

BG 14.11, purport

We have reached the point where levels of our conditioning (or levels of purity, if you look from the other end) are so different that we can’t see and hear in the same way. Whether it leads to creation of a different language is only a question of time, I’d say. In the greater society they have already created a different language to explain themselves and I, like many others, have to rely on google to understand their newly minted vocabulary. Which I immediately forget, so it doesn’t really help.

So, with so many parallels between ISKCON and Babylon, is the fate of Babel Tower is our destiny, too? I hope not, and I’m afraid so at the same time. The current project of making topmost levels of spiritual advancement being easily accessible to all is surely going to fail and it is failing already.

Last year I signed up for a virtual Kartik parikrama and I had my fill of “Imagine you are immersing yourself in the waters of Radha Kunda. Imagine the …” stories for the rest of my life. Never again. People who indulge in these narrations and assume any of it is real will eventually get tired of them, too. It’s only a matter of time, and the fact that there is a large part of our society that thinks it’s a kind of sahajiya that needs to be rejected is a testament that God’s plan for Babylon is at work in ISKCON, too. In another example some incensed members recently called for boycotting fundraising for TOVP, the project which was supposed to unite all the people of the world around it, not just all the devotees.

That’s a negative projection, but I also hope that ISKCON will survive as an organization supporting the progress of its qualified members towards the highest destination. I myself need this. I need books, I need temples, I need devotees going to the temples and holding festivals and engaging in daily Krishna katha so that it then appears on Youtube. I need devotees buying books so that other devotees can write and publish them, or at least write blog articles and post things on Facebook. This won’t be happening without audience and audience means ISKCON should create and nurture it, for no other organization will. I don’t know about reaching heaven, but we all need to make steps up the ladder, and for that the ladder must exist and provide solid support.

I thought I would end here but there is another aspect to any organization – it stifles individuals. What some see as support others see as oppression. Or it might be an evolving view of one and the same person – as support in the beginning and as an impediment later on. So another kind of experience might be noticed, too – we are wondering around this huge structure, with all its staircases, lifts, and escalators, and people hurrying here and there busy with their own progress, and we keep looking for anyone who is still alive, whose spirit is still alive, who doesn’t hold grudges, who doesn’t fight the oppressors and who doesn’t lead revolutions, but knows his way around the place and can show us wonderful things hidden here and there, or who can bring us to the higher floors and open our eyes to the wonderful vistas available there. Meeting such a person would be a blessing, so we will keep looking.

And another thing – please don’t turn our kirtans into elevator musak. That would make it into a part of the tower, not live expression of the soul we are looking for here.

Real Bhajana Rahasya for Our Age

Just before Radhashtami Bhakti Vikasa Swami gave a series of talks called “There are no gopis in ISKCON”. I didn’t mean these in my previous post, but in the second installment he recalled “gopi bhava club” incident from Hari Sauri’s Transcendental Diary. The end of Prabupada’s argument there was “preaching will stop” and it seems very conclusive, but I don’t think it would work on “gopi-bhava” devotees themselves.

For them preaching is an external activity, external reason for Lord Caitanya’s appearance, while they are interested in the internal reason, which we all accept as being higher. They would also argue that external behavior, ie preaching, is automatically manifested from the internal one. I’m sure you’ve heard it many many times practically everywhere – preaching should come from the heart. If you heart is not pure then it’s not preaching, people can sense it, and it has no value. Aindra argued like that, for example. It’s very common and it’s common sense, too. I don’t think I have an objection to it either.

So how is “preaching will stop” argument is going to stop “gopi-bhava” proponents? They would also say that by preaching we actually mean accumulating money, followers, and temples, not actual preaching. They might also argue that it was super important during ISKCON expansion in Srila Prabhupada’s time so preaching had relatively higher value back then. They would also mention “boil the milk” instruction and another instruction not to open any more temples but only restaurants given to Tamal Krishna Goswami. This makes sense, too – everybody who was ready to surrender themselves had already joined and the rest needed only kirtans and prasadam, but mostly prasadam – because eating is the only activity that never stops.

Does Srila Prabhupada’s “preaching will stop” argument sounds as conclusive now? I hope it still does, but for a different reason – it is not as external as gopi-bhava devotees think. When done properly it is absolutely internal with absolutely no connection to events of this world. It is a pure manifestation of those same internal emotions cherished by gopi-bhava devotees, and it is nothing else. Whatever they mention – experience of Radharani’s love, experience of separation, experience of Lord Caitanya experiencing these things – it’s all there, on the street. You want bhramara-gita – it’s there, nobody can be as mad as a book distributor. You want kapalika yogi talk from CC? It’s there on the streets, too. A book distributor sees all kinds of forms as weirdly connected to Krishna, even the most abominable – because nothing can touch him, no substance of this world is able of polluting him, and so every connection to the Lord, however small, shines forth like a million of Suns.

Of course this level of realization takes years to attain but it won’t come from discussing gopi-bhava, it comes from being out there on the streets and actually learning how Lord Caitanya’s mercy works. For real, not from the books.

In other words, when Srila Prabhupada warned us “preaching will stop” he didn’t mean the external activity of making new devotees but the actual flow of Lord Caitanya’s mercy. Fools think it can be found anywhere else but in sankirtana, and only ignorants think that this mercy doesn’t flow when talking to meat-eaters. They think that unless you talk about gopi-bhava it doesn’t flow, but it does! And it doesn’t appear externally – it’s not in the words, so if you record and transcribe the conversation you won’t see it. Actual gopi-bhava is a lot more subtle than that and it is perceived by the heart even as a person mumbles something about money in his wallet. Only a real “bhavuka” devotee can see how, despite his mumbling and lame excuses, this person is totally on the hook already and his arguments are like gopis’ arguments when they were standing neck deep in cold waters of Yamuna and telling Krishna they don’t want to come out and they don’t want Him to see them naked.

Out in the streets you can actually see and feel how this pastime plays out, and this is how we are expected to realize its meaning and its rasa. But if people think “it’s only external” and think they can extract this rasa by talking – they are only fooling themselves. You would actually have to go out, find a potential gopi in the not so mature stage of development of her prema, show her Krishna, and watch how she struggles being torn between obligations to this world and these mind blowing books that simply can’t be resisted even if they say completely outrageous things on the surface. “On the surface”… – at this point only gopis’ heads were above the surface and their minds were telling them one thing but their hearts, deep within prema filled waters of Yamuna, were saying another. The hearts wanted to come out and the minds were trying to stop it.

Just go out in the streets and actually experience this pastime in real life, and don’t pay attention to people who call this “external”. It isn’t. And Srila Prabhupada was absolutely right – if preaching stops our actual spiritual progress stops, too, and it can’t be revived by reading those CC and SB chapters or tons of other books going into minute details. Even those subtle shades of rasa can be found on the streets, if you are worried about missing out.

Or we can challenge external-internal dichotomy itself. If someone says the pinnacle of siddhanta is separation experienced by Radharani in Vrindavan, or as it was experienced by Lord Caitanya in Gambhira, we can answer that no, there is something higher than that – the same experience as manifested through otherwise most separated parts of the Absolute Truth – specs of His material energy. That would, logically, be the pinnacle of acintya bheda-abheda tattva – the farther you go away from Krishna the closer it feels. Or the more insignificant you become the greater the rasa.

So let the fools deride us for being only external devotees who talk to people about trivial things like they are not the bodies. What do they know? Certainly not the actual rasa.

And, of course, we could be telling people about reincarnation and know nothing about rasa, too – if we think it’s only about getting a donation or about book scores or about **doing** our service – all kinds of external reasons and explanations. We actually have to learn how to find these gopis in the streets, eternally connected to Krishna underneath their external appearances. We can’t theorize or only imagine it either, we actually have to see, and this vision is given by Lord’s mercy. There are ways to attain it but, ultimately, **He** has to give it.

This is not a theory.