Vanity thought #1051. Walled Garden of Eden

Yesterday I talked about Microsoft Windows polluting our consciousness in every which way. Go along with it and they’ll subject you to all kinds of corporate sorcery, luring you into the world they want you to live in, a kind of matrix, if you remember the movie. Resist it and it will turn you into a greedy thief seeking free stuff for your own pleasure. You’ll survive on these freebies, but at what cost to yourself?

This whole thing with Internet being free is just wrong. Why should it be? Why should there be free stuff or free exchange there when there’s not such thing real life? I think it’s just recent history playing with us.

In the beginning internet was a plaything for the academia, that is for Kali yuga brāhmaṇas of sorts. These people got their tenure, they are not interested in making money from this new invention, they just love playing with it, sharing stuff they know etc etc. The businessmen who stepped in, like news organizations, for example, also applied their MBA training and decided that they shouldn’t charge their new customers but build up a loyal base first, so they put their content for free as well, and so it started.

In a way, while being “free” seems like a distinguishing feature of the internet, big part of a reason for it was that it was money hungry businesses who decided they would make more money off us this way but then it got out of control. They thought they would build up their customer base and then make them pay because they’d have nowhere else to go. What they miscalculated was that the internet was going to be big, very big, and it would keep growing like crazy so people would always have some new place to go.

New businesses are always moving in and, interestingly, doing the same thing over and over again – giving stuff away for free, hoping to cash on it later. So all you have to do is to look for the new entrants with new freebies if your old stomping ground started talking money.

In a way, internet is a giant, self-perpetuating pyramid scheme where money is always a future promise for investors. Investors aren’t stupid either, they invest into money losing proposition and then they sell these companies on the stock market for even crazier amounts of money. This way some popular photo-sharing service employing a dozen people that never charged their customers a dime can be valued more than the entire General Motors that produces millions of cars every year and sells them for one’s yearly salary, for example.

Anyway, that’s just one possible explanation for people assuming that internet must be free. Even though most of the time it is, we shouldn’t fall for this assumption. It’s like a kid walking into a candy store – everything is sweet and super delicious but it doesn’t mean we should go ga ga over it. We should be a little more mature than that – expectations of free stuff do not do any good to us as devotees, they are just temptations.

So, is there any place where we can escape all this marketing circus? Is there any safe place, a walled garden of peace? Yes, Apple.

Not the most promising answer but Apple is good for what it does, we just don’t normally think of it this way. Right from the start Steve Jobs wanted to make computers. Best computers possible, really cool, a real pleasure to use, no BS, no compromises, honest to God best value for your money. Of course he came to charge a lot of them, too, but that wasn’t his main intention. He really wanted to provide the best computing experience and charge what he thought was a fair price for his effort.

At Apple they control the whole process from start to finish. They select and often personally design even the smallest components that go inside and they control and monitor every piece of software or even simple files that get loaded into the finished products even by the customers themselves. It is possible to load pirated stuff in Apple computers (and iPhones) but that is just not what people do. They make it fairly complicated for ordinary users and the entire Apple experience screams “DON’T DO IT!”

Apple takes paternalistic approach to their customers – it teaches people how to use their computers from ground up. It teaches people how to do every task, how to accomplish every goal, they leave nothing to choice, they offer no freedom to do things differently. This, they, believe, assures that they can convey the best computing experience as they understand it themselves to every Apple customer.

Once you’ve learned it, the idea of stealing songs doesn’t even enter your head anymore. You want a song, you go to iTunes and buy it, easy and simple, and cheap, too.

As far as Microsoft goes, the only Jobs’ quote I’ll ever remember is that MS has “no culture”. They put up sloppy products and they don’t care or maybe don’t even notice how out of place or plain stupid some of their things are. Their error messages are a prime example – instead of helping they only confuse people more and more. Who writes those things? For what purpose? Do they ever think how they would be perceived by the users? Security is another area where Microsoft has never been able to put their shit together. Why?

Basically, it’s because they’ve started with a primitive 16 bit DOS and just kept adding stuff to it to make it look like a sophisticated, mature system which it never was and never will be. They have never cared about their leaky foundation and did absolutely outrageous things from security point of view, like signing every user with administrative privileges by default so that in a couple of key strokes anyone can compromise it in a myriad of ways. Well, actually, DOS was not designed to separate people into administrators and ordinary users, Windows just make it look that way.

It was only the past couple of Windows iterations that were build from ground up instead of expanding on that dreadful DOS.

Apple, on the other hand, started with a Unix derivative that was designed very intelligently from the start. They’ve got the right framework, right foundations to build on and on and on, and it would never crack.

When Bill Gates choose a platform for his Windows he didn’t care about such things, and I guess that was one of the reasons for “no culture” comment. Windows overtook Apple when they allowed their OS to be installed on any “IBM-compatible” machine, opening doors to many manufacturers to build their own MS Windows computers (and to piracy, too). This enabled people to choose their hardware and match it up with their preferred software, giving them more freedom and satisfying every customer on the market.

What they lost, however, is a unifying experience of Apple which guarantees that things will work perfectly on each and every one of their machines. This also allowed people to tinker with their computers, replacing practically all of the components at will and installing millions of different programs to perform the same tasks.

What they lost, however, is a safe, caring, fatherly environment of Apple’s walled garden.

Here how it relates to us as devotees – we are not supposed to be tinkerers, we are not supposed to learn things by ourselves, we are not supposed to invent millions of ways to perform the same task – we are supposed to learn things from our guru, trust him, and accept whatever the outcome as perfect. We are supposed to live in Apple’s walled garden and accept Jobs as our guru. Well, the aspect of guru that teaches us computing just as we learn cooking or deity service from devotees other than our spiritual master.

Problem is, as I said earlier, Jobs might be a guru but he is unlikely to be a representative of Kṛṣṇa. Like the guru of the demons, Śukrācārya, who eventually had to be abandoned by Bali Mahārāja for leading him away from service to the Lord.

Still, it would be better for us to accept that computer things need to be done in a certain way, as taught by our teachers, and they must serve some higher purpose that would justify whatever contamination we might take while working with them. We should use computers for Kṛṣṇa and it shouldn’t matter *how* we do things with them, only *what for*. We shouldn’t approach them as our toys, or as a field to exercise our control, or as a field to exercise our “creativity”. Turn it on, do something that should help you in your self-realization, turn it off, that’s it, and it’s easier to cultivate this attitude while using Apple.

This, of course, shouldn’t be our only consideration when choosing computers, but it’s something we should be aware of when we make our choices.

Vanity thought #1047. An Apple a day

doesn’t keep māyā away. I’m talking about Apple Computer, not a fruit. Late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs has probably moved onto the better pastures but that doesn’t do anything for us.

I don’t want to repeat the story about Jobs being a regular at a Portland temple, dancing his socks off and then stuffing himself with prasādam. We hope that it was the most significant thing he even did in his life, we have no reason to doubt that Kṛṣṇa has never forgotten his service there. We can also interpret the moment of his death, which he himself described as “wow”, as a confirmation that Kṛṣṇa’s devotees will never perish.

Apart from that, Steve was a genuine asshole, parking his car in a handicapped spot just because he could, jumping queues in the cafeteria, and generally treating people as rubbish. I don’t want to talk about that either. In materialistic terms it had both positive and negative effects but it doesn’t matter for Kṛṣṇa so it shouldn’t matter for us.

What I want to talk about is Apple’s impact on us as devotees as well as ideas and ideology behind the company. Once again, Steve Jobs might have been responsible for them and they shaped his future karma but we shouldn’t care about that. Karma is karma, it’s there for everybody, Kṛṣṇa has no interest in it and neither should we.

Apple is a fascinating phenomenon, it’s so much more than just computers and other gadgets, it’s an attitude, it’s a cultural phenomenon, it’s a life choice that defines millions of people for years and years of their lives. It also affects lives of people who somehow oppose Apple’s philosophy, they just can’t be themselves in Apple’s presence anymore. It affects us as well, with so many of our devotees buying into this Apple idea and treating their MacBooks and iPhones as Steve’s prasāda. Apple is like an official sponsor of Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. When Kṛṣṇa wants His devotees to be connected and up to speed, He sends them Apple. So it affects us.

First, the name itself. I didn’t read Steve Job’s biography but I scanned the chapters about the beginnings of his company. It was around time when he spent several months on a friend’s farm where they tried to live an alternative lifestyle. Somehow I think that when he was looking for a simple, catchy word to name his company he chose apple for that reason – they tried to grow them there.

The word “apple” doesn’t carry any negative connotations, it convey vitality and values – traditional staple food no one had ever had an problems with. Milk is associated with animal cruelty now but apples are still unblemished. Apples are refreshing, energizing, cleansing, healthy – perfect to inspire positive thoughts and hopes about the company.

Then came the logo. The original was uninspiring, maybe paying tributes to medieval typography than to anything else, but then came the death of Alan Turing and that’s where we should start paying attention.

Alan Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, a father of the computer, some say, an iconic name for computer enthusiasts in those days. He was also gay, which made his life very very difficult. Eventually the pressure had got to him and he killed himself by eating an apple injected with poison.

That’s how we got the Apple logo – an apple with a bite taken out, and painted with rainbow colors, the symbol of homosexual freedom.

Do we really want a symbol of homosexuality to be our designated Hare Kṛṣṇa computer company? Their current CEO, Tim Cook, was just outed as gay on TV, some runaway mouth unwittingly confirming rumors that have been circulating for years now.

Of course if we say anything about it it would be a very bad PR for our movement but internally we should remember that homosexuality is clearly a demoniac inclination incompatible with pure devotion. Any sex life is incompatible with pure devotion in this age but straight people at least have a chance of doing it right, according to regulative principles, and that would quickly elevate them and cleanse their hearts of lust. Gay people do not have such a chance, unless they go against their nature and enter into straight relationships.

Of course we should not ban gays from devotional activities but we should also remember that lust contaminates everything and so we should stay away from any expressions of gayness just as we should stay away from straight men and women obsessed with sex.

But was that Apple logo really a tribute to freedom of homosexuality? Or was it a protest against unjust persecution of gay people? I think it’s the second reason, and in this we can lend Jobs our support.

A hundred years ago our society has been through the similar stage – traditional religionists claimed that one’s opportunities in devotional service are determined solely by one’s birth while Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī argued that in devotion it’s not the birth, it’s actual qualities that matter.

We should at least understand what gays were going through and even if we disagree and do not approve of their agenda, we can find a common enemy in stifling traditionalists. Even now we should pay heed to this attitude when we contemplate what to do with our gay devotees. Do we give them a chance? What kind of chance? Do we ban gayness altogether in all its expressions?

It’s the same story playing over and over again, and I’m afraid I’m siding with Jobs’ reaction to it – it’s simply unfair to people who just happen to be differently conditioned. We are all afflicted one way or another, we should have a heart and see beyond the externalities. It’s what in people’s hearts that matters to Kṛṣṇa, not a particularly wired set of sexual organs.

If homosexuality is a contentious topic, there’s another explanation behind Apple’s choice of their logo – it’s an apple from the Garden of Eden that was given to Eve by a serpent and which spelled the doom of mankind.

“Try something different,” the serpent said. “Dare to be different. It’s an apple from a tree of knowledge,” he said. We know how it turned out for everybody.

It’s our quest of knowledge that binds us to the illusion. Once again, one of the direct meanings of māyā is “to measure” – it means desire to know and judge everything. Quest for knowledge, thirst for science – that’s what drives materialists and other assorted demons. They want to figure out this world without relying on God. They want to discover things without God’s help and they want to see things being great and valuable solely on their own merits.

As devotees, OTOH, we should learn to see God’s spark in every extraordinary phenomenon in this world and realize that nothing good exists here without drawing its attractive qualities from Kṛṣṇa. We could even argue that things look good and attractive precisely because they are invested with Kṛṣṇa’s potencies. He is “all-attractive”, after all.

We won’t find this attitude at Apple computer. On the contrary, they look like they channel some higher powers from demoniac planets. That would explain why their gadgets look so good, so perfect, so flawless. That would also explain why their new HQ looks like an alien spaceship, and not the goofy one they draw in the cartoons but a cool one you might actually agree to be taken in if aliens would ever come for you.

Am I being ridiculous? How is it possible for demons from higher demoniac planets (where life is even better than on the planets of demigods) to channel their sophistication and their demoniac attitudes down to our Earth? The same way any other planet affects our lives. Maybe it’s colors, maybe it’s certain electromagnetic waves, but somehow Mars projects raw, military style power while Sun projects pride or Jupiter channels wisdom. It happens, there’s no reason demons can’t channel their attitudes, too.

One way or another, but shouldn’t we be worried about embracing things inspired by demons? There’s one crucial thing they don’t project – devotion to God, so why should we continue buying into Apple’s ideas expressed through design but also through the way their computers work, they way the expect people to work with their computers, they way they expect people to think when they work with their computers – it’s all contaminating, it’s taking on unwanted association.

Our only excuse is that such association is unavoidable but that doesn’t mean we should be oblivious to the limits.

The worst part is using Steve Jobs connection to Kṛṣṇa as an excuse for us to indulge in all things Apple, as if him being a devotee somehow justifies our own sense gratification. It doesn’t. Nothing does. We should always be on the lookout for seeking sense enjoyment and immediately remember Kṛṣṇa and hope He shields us from temptations.

If we do not consciously do it we can never hope to become real devotees, it’s that simple

Vanity thought #142. I hate Mondays.

It never changes, does it? When I had a job I hated going there on Mondays and now when all I do is chant Hare Krishna all day long I hate starting it on Monday morning, too. Is there any real difference?

A while ago I speculated about chanting being the recommended sacrifice for Kali Yuga, here, here and here. If people used to offer horses to achieve all kinds of success before, can chanting Hare Krishna mantra bring the same results now? I still think the answer is “why not?”

From that perspective chanting my rounds is no different from any other job. I do it to get some benefits, just like I go (went) to work to get salary. Moreover, isn’t chanting Hare Krishna compared to watering the roots of a tree? Isn’t going to work is like pouring water on the branches instead?

Shouldn’t I get the same benefits and much more from chanting Hare Krishna?

The downside of this logic is that it induces me to put lots of conditions on chanting. I calculate how much I would chant and how much I expect to get in return.

I felt this attitude very clearly this morning and it made me very sad. Suddenly the pride of chanting ten hours a day was replaced by realization that I spent fourteen hours on myself and I don’t think it’s enough.

It’s not how much we give to Krishna that stops us, it’s how much we hold back, right?

Well, I physically felt the attachment to *my* fourteen hours today, I was very much against giving them up.

Actually it’s more than fourteen hours. I found the new cruising speed – one round in five minutes, twelve rounds in one hour, hundred rounds in eight hours and twenty minutes. That leaves fifteen hours and forty minutes for myself. I felt like I’m finally getting something out of this – more free time to goof off.

Just like with work, after a while you learn the ropes and find an easy way to accomplish the same tasks that leaves more time to yourself, same thing is happening with chanting.

Is there any difference again?

I thought chanting faster would be good. I didn’t try to achieve it, it just happened. Three months ago I noticed I could chant faster than six minutes, I timed myself, I could chant even faster if I sat down, concentrated and controlled my breathing. Same thing happened over this weekend, except the times are about one minute better.

Back then I thought of trying to chant three hundred thousand names in one day. Actually it’s one hundred and ninety two rounds according to our tradition. Eventually I pulled it off.

Those were the days. Speed really mattered. Now I’m thinking speed is good because it gives me more time for myself. What a rascal!

I think I will start chanting one hundred and eight rounds from tomorrow. Interestingly, a hundred and eight is a very special number in our tradition but it doesn’t fit with our sixteen round counters. Our counters go ninety six then hundred and twelve. Never mind, 108 is still good.

One advantage of speed is the demand for concentration. As soon as I lose it I start mispronouncing the names, chanting faster keeps me on my toes all the time. I suppose after a while my mouth will get used to it and I would need to increase speed again.

Today I came across another argument against any special status for chanting the Holy Names. A few weeks ago BBC aired a documentary on the power of super brands, I finally watched the first part, technology, today at lunch. This is from their preview:

The scenes I witnessed at the opening of the new Apple store in London’s Covent Garden were more like an evangelical prayer meeting than a chance to buy a phone or a laptop. The strangeness began a couple of hours before the doors opened to the public. Inside the store, glassy-eyed staff were whipped up into a frenzy of excitement, jumping up and down, clapping and shouting.

Today I saw it on TV myself, there’s no exaggeration here. The shop staff were really whipping themselves up before going out to greet the customers, and the customers were no better, too. There was this dude who traveled all the way from California to witness opening of an Apple store, there were guys from China and Russia, too, and there was a local guy who has been to his thirtieth store opening himself.

Apple fanboys were really made look like a pseudo-religious cult there, but that’s not what is really interesting, it’s the claim made in the documentary that MRI scans of the brains show that Apple fans have exactly the same physiological response to Apple products as real religious people have to images of their objects of worship.

It’s fine to joke about Apple cult but are we any different? That same MRI guy admitted that he is thinking about Apple and its products twenty four hours a day, just like we do about Krishna, and he gets the same effects, feels the same emotions.

Can we replace Krishna with Apple and feel no different? Hmm, I could even say that Apple is more real – you buy the stuff, you use it, you enjoy it. I chant the Holy Names I don’t feel anything, just the sense of unavoidable duty. Sure we have many things to enjoy about Krishna – prasadam, really nice deities, sweet kirtans, but don’t we create all these things ourselves for our own amusement? Yes, they are transcendental and absolute but very few of us can’t tell the difference between tasty and average prasadam or between good and bad singing.

Until we reach the certain stage, ruci, if I am not mistaken, we still see those transcendental things with material eyes and Apple has an advantage here – you worship it and it gives you real, tangible things and benefits that cannot be mistaken for anything else. We have to tell ourselves that Krishna’s mercy is present in this rice, we can’t tell the difference otherwise.

Having said that, there’s a loophole in that MRI argument. First I heard of these experiments about five years ago and it was obvious then – they asked people to try and remember their most profound religious experiences. That is just nonsense – you can’t reproduce these things at will. You might try to reproduce the feelings they elicited but that is just pretending and it is rejected in our tradition.

If you are fooling yourself that you are seeing Krishna face to face the feelings you produce have nothing to do with actual spiritual experiences, you are just being phony. So that’s what worshiping Apple feels like, too?

Monday is finally over, worrisome but just as expected. I’ve been there before, gloom and doubts come and go, the important thing I lived through without dropping a round, there’s just one or two more days before I start feeling good again.