About disappearing swans…

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hare Krishna

Тайный Узбек – Arrival of Lord Caitanya

I was listening to my music on shuffle and suddenly a non-devotional song from many years ago came up. Why was it there? Because it’s non-devotional only in a literal sense, the song is actually very cryptic and no one knows its true meaning, which becomes self-evident to anyone who knows about the mission of Lord Caitanya. I remember I was going to write about it all those years ago but it never happened until now, when I feel the urgent need to put everything else on hold.

The (Russian) title translates as “Secret Uzbek”, which doesn’t sound grammatically correct in both languages but that doesn’t matter because his identity is totally mysterious. From reading fan explanations on the internet I think Secret Uzbek is a code word for “Inner Mongol” – someone from Inner Mongolia, and in that singer’s mythology it could mean any Eastern Messiah coming to liberate the West. The singer is more into Buddhism, Tibetan mysticism etc but he used to sing Hare Krishna on stages and thirty years ago he was as popular in Russia as George Harrison.

Speaking of “Inner Mongols” – there’s a Russian book, mentioned by fans, and in that book “Inner Mongolia” is described not as a geographical place but it is located inside of everyone’s heart as a state of consciousness free from all material designations and in which a person sees his spiritual nature and the opulence of the spiritual world. And it’s not really “inner” because “inner” means something in relationship to “outer” world but they mean something categorically different – not here, not there, not inside or outside of anything. And they use “Mongolia” because it’s a play on words – if it’s “inner” it must be “Mongolia”, and in relation to real Mongolia “Inner Mongolia” is actually “outer” – it’s a region in China surrounding the country of Mongolia.

Anyway, please disregard the visuals, especially in the beginning – I’m not sure who the made the video and the images mostly serve to connect present day reality (some anti-government protests of 2011) to the message of the song itself. Keep in mind that it’s poetry and so you supposed to feel the message, the emotion, the import behind the words, especially when translation is done by a non-poetical person such as myself. I kept Russian lyrics as well.

Мы держались так долго, как только могли,
Но туда и сюда – напрочь забыли пин-код.
И теперь мы скользим, не касаясь земли,
И бьемся в стену, хотя с рождения знали, где вход.

“We held on as long as we could but, this way or that way, we completely forgot PIN to our lives. Now we just slide down with nothing to grab on to and we ram our heads into the wall even if we know where the door is.”

People of my age and older still remember the times of old morals – loyalty, chastity, honesty, modesty etc. It’s hard to stand against times, though, and even as devotees we are forced to accept the new norms where words like “infidelity” do not exist, where taking selfies absorbs most of people’s free time, and it’s perfectly okay to scroll through Instagram feed during a conversation with another person. We still strive for meaningful relationships and we do know how they should work, ie where the door is, but in real life we still do everything just the opposite. It’s the same thing with any other goal as well. We know how to learn things in depth but always study just enough to pass exams or prepare presentations. We know what a proper diet should be but we still indulge in ice creams and snacks. Or we know that we are not supposed to watch TV or movies but… These days every devotional video is put to some carefully chosen Hollywood soundtrack and I wonder how many movies they had to watch to find these tunes. There was a Janmashtami invitation with soundtrack from Call of Duty video game – I “shazamed” it and it was recognized instantly by the app. There’s a new dedication to yesterday’s Prabhupada’s Vyasapuja with movie soundtrack as well. It’s all pervasive now and we know we are not supposed to do any of those things but we still doing them and in this way our lives glide down to hell and we have nothing to hold on to anymore. Especially non-devotees – no dharma left for them whatsoever. Dharma means that which sustains so, in a way, we have to grab onto it to survive so it makes sense.

Second verse:

Но тяжелое время сомнений пришло и ушло,
Рука славы сгорела, и пепел рассыпан, и смесь.
Вылита. И тому, кто тут держит весло,
Сообщите, что Тайный Узбек уже здесь.

“Yet hard times of doubts have come and gone. The hand holding a cup of vanity has burned, its ashes are scattered and the drink is spilled. Please inform the skipper that the Secret Uzbek has already arrived.”

In the US and pretty much the rest of the western world there’s a serious crisis of leadership and it appears that no one is in charge but in Russia “the man holding the rudder” is still the same – Putin. The protests shown in the video were protests against his election, too. In Russian narrative drinking from the cup of vanity is their obsession with all things American. After the break of the Soviet Union they all thought that joining the democratic world will bring them peace, happiness, and prosperity, but after bombing of Yugoslavia, western support for Chechen terrorists, invasion of Iraq, and 2008 economic crisis that dream was shuttered and their leaders realized that a new course was needed. So the singer delivers the message – do not worry, the Secret Uzbek is already here.

If we turn to actual mythology then what I translated as “hand holding a cup” is “hand of glory” used in black magic, there’s a wikipedia page about it – it’s a severed and pickled hand of a hanged murderer. From his fat they made candles and from his hair they made candle wicks, and then inserted these candles between fingers of this “hand of glory”. Using it as a torch during robberies or burglaries was supposed to render people immobile, sleepy, and otherwise unable to resist. When this torch-hand burns out its effects are gone, too, and suddenly robbers are exposed and unable to hide themselves anymore.

See how this meaning is the same meaning I translated first – it’s something illusory used to fool people but eventually you realize you have been cheated. Magic or politics or history – same meaning can be expressed through different words, or same words can be interpreted in different ways to elicit the same understanding.

Skipper, “man holding a paddle” in the song, is probably Charon, the Greek god who takes the souls of newly deceased across the river Styx into the underworld. This meaning also fits if we consider it to refer to Yamaraja – Lord Caitanya’s arrival means Yamaraja’s jurisdiction over the world gets suspended.

Три старухи в подвале, закутанные в тряпье,
Но прядущие драгоценную нить.
Знают, как знает тот, кто пьет, опершись на копье,
И как знают все те, кому нечем и незачем пить.

“Three hags in the basement, wrapped in rags but spinning a golden thread, know it just as the one who drinks leaning on spear knows it and just those who don’t drink or have no mouths know it.”

Three women here represent fate, they are Moiras of Greek mythology and at birth they give each soul his life, determine how long it will last, and the third one would cut it at death. They know Lord Caitanya’s time has come. The man drinking off a spear is Jesus Christ who was given a vinegar soaked sponge on the tip of the spear when he was crucified. He knows Lord Caitanya’s time has come, too. The other two categories are spirits or angels who have no interest in drinking – no interest in sense enjoyment in this world. They also know that Lord Caitanya’s time has come.

Так раструбите на всю бесконечную степь,
Сквозь горящий туман и мутно-зеленую взвесь.
Добывающим соль и ласково сеющим хлеб,
Шепните им, что Тайный Узбек уже здесь.

“So go an announce to every corner of the Earth, go through burning forest fires or poisonous smog. Tell those who mine coal and those who tenderly plant wheat – whisper in their ears that Lord Caitanya is already here”.

Of course the song doesn’t say “Lord Caitanya” but “Secret Uzbek” but His identity is unmistakable to us.

Он не – “за”, он не – “против”, он занят другим, как Басе,
Он не распоряжается ничьей судьбой.
Просто там, где он появляется, все,
Происходит словно само собой.

“He is not pro nor against, He’s concerned with something else, like Bashō. He doesn’t control anyone’s life. It’s just that wherever He appears everything happens automatically.”

Bashō is the greatest Haiku poet and Haiku poetry sees the world in a different way. Lord Caitanya doesn’t take sides, He has no friends or enemies, and He is not here to fix our problems – a point hard even for us to understand because, dyed-in-the-wool materialists as we are, we expect that chanting Hare Krishna will bring us material prosperity of all kinds. Nope, Hare Krishna mantra was not given to us for that and Lord Caitanya has no interest in that either.

However, when the Lord arrives in one’s heart all the problems automatically disappear and everything naturally falls into place and everything becomes glorious. These are the benefits of bhakti mentioned right in the beginning of Nectar of Devotion.

Так передайте всем тем, кто долго был выгнут дугой,
Что нет смысла скрывать больше тупость и жадность и спесь.
И бессмысленно делать вид, что ты кто-то другой,
Когда Тайный Узбек уже здесь.

“So please inform all those who have been twisting themselves into pretzels that there’s no point in hiding their ignorance, greed, and arrogance, that there’s no sense in pretending to be someone else – when Lord Caitanya is here.”

И даже если нам всем запереться в глухую тюрьму,
Сжечь самолеты, расформировать поезда.
Это вовсе не помешает ему,
Перебраться из там-где-он-есть к нам сюда.

“Even if we lock ourselves into the deepest jail. If we burn the airplanes and dismantle railways it won’t stop Him from coming into our hearts”.

Lord Caitanya’s mercy is unconditioned, we can’t hide our faults but we also can’t hide ourselves from receiving it. There’s no place His mercy won’t reach. He comes to even the most fallen.

И повторяю, что это не повод рыдать и кричать,
Все останется точно таким, как все есть.
А те, кто знают в чем дело, знают, и будут молчать,
Потому что Тайный Узбек уже здесь.

“I’ll say it again – this not the reason to scream and cry. Everything will go on as usual, but those who know it will keep silence because Lord Caitanya is already here”.

This is not anti-sankirtana call, as it appears on the surface, but it’s rather a call to stop arguing about irrelevant things like presidents, Muslims, or climate change. We are not here to fix the world, we are here to deliver SOULS, not bodies. Perhaps I need a separate article on the meaning of silence. In short, silence means silence about non-devotional matters. It means that no material sounds escape from one’s tongue. So we are not going to argue about elections and wars and whatever. Let all those things follow their prescribed Kali Yuga course. They deserved their time in history, let them have their moment, and we’ll keep silent about them and immerse ourselves in Krishna consciousness instead.

The song already implored us to preach this message far and wide – it’s not anti-sankirtana. But at the same time we should not disclose the glory of the Holy Name to non-devotees. That’s why earlier qualifications for the receivers were mentioned – those who mine and those who grow grains – those who hold on to their dharma. People are able to appreciate the gift of the yuga dharma only when they have appreciation for dharma in general. This way they can recognize it as the best of all dharmas – they need to know what to compare it to first.

It also doesn’t mean that there are people who should be excluded because of their moral degradation. No, it’s not an obstacle, but it rather means we should appeal to “dharma” side of people’s lives, however small it might be. If it’s gay marriage then we should appeal to their appreciation for loyalty and dedication, for example. There’s at least SOME dharma in everybody’s life. They treasure it and we should treasure it, too, and then we can give them the perfection of that dharma – the Holy Name. And then they are saved and Yamaraja can take a nap for the next ten thousand years.

In other words, we have to learn to see potential devotees in people. It’s easy to say “potential devotee” but we actually have to see their budding appreciation for dharma and only then we add yuga-dharma to that. Not that we see a degraded sinner and tell him to chant Hare Krishna. No, first we have to see dharma in that person, not his sins.

Anyway, I’ve gotten a bit of track. I just seem to be incapable of verbally expressing gratitude for Lord Caitanya’s merciful appearance in our lives. Maybe talking about mythology bumped me off track, can’t be helped now.