Vanity thought #586. The amazing snowman

This last holiday season one Swedish man in his forties didn’t feel like joining the festivities and decided to get away from it all. He packed up his car, drove to the North of the country and parked away from the main road. He didn’t miss anyone and had a jolly good time to himself. Ten days later, just before New Year, he ran out of food. He still had booze and smokes, though, so he thought he would stay a little longer, he didn’t want to return yet.

Ten days later he ran out of alcohol and cigarettes, too. By that time his hatred and resentment of the world grew so much he thought that he’d rather stay hungry and cold than come back to the society. To hell with them, he thought, I’m staying here. Ten days later someone called the police about a car parked in the woods but because it wasn’t reported stolen the police didn’t want to investigate it, apparently there are lots of abandoned cars all over Swedish forests.

The man still had his plan B – the main road was very close and the nearest gas station less then two kilometers away but he didn’t use it, he decided not to give a shit about the world he has left behind. And then came the snow, a lot of it, waist deep. By the time he tried to walk back he could make only ten meters before getting exhausted.

Fair enough, the man thought, I gave up on the world and the world gave up on me. He returned to his car and snuggled in his sleeping bag. He didn’t have any food but when he was thirsty he would scoop up some snow and eat it.

He was found on February 19, still alive, two months after he left the society behind.

When snow bikers who found him opened the door of his car he asked them if they had any coffee – no, they said. Well, do you have any cigarettes? No. Then get the hell out of here and close the door, you are letting the cold in!

The man is recuperating very well and is almost ready to be discharged from the hospital but so far he still refuses to talk to anyone. Sometime last year he got into a bad business venture and amassed huge debts. His house was repossessed and in Sweden you can’t claim social benefits if you don’t have a place of residence, and you can’t rent a place if you don’t have any money – catch 22. His girlfriend had also left him. He didn’t speak to his parents for twenty years and is not going to start any time soon either.

It’s an amazing story but what has it got to do with Krishna consciousness? Not much on the face of it, just another misanthrope, or another case study of the modern uncaring society. Most of online commenters can’t understand his point of view at all. People think he was crazy or suicidal, some think it’s a hoax because they don’t believe he couldn’t walk to the gas station (some say he actually went there to get supplies but that can’t be confirmed atm). Some people think it’s a publicity stunt to attract attention and make money on movie and book rights, they don’t understand how shallow and repulsive modern society can appear to someone who wants to look beyond its superficial charms.

We, as devotees, should take note of it next time we get excited about some new social invention like gay marriages or vegans.

More interesting, however, is how he survived the cold – it got down to -30 Celsius during that time. He didn’t have any food, he had only snow for water, and he still lived, just on his will power alone.

We think that only people like Hiranyakashipu or Ravana can perform austerities like that and it was millions of years ago in a different age. Apparently it’s still possible if one is determined enough.

So what’s stopping us from leaving this world on the power of the Holy Name? Why do we think it’s impossible to live in Himalayas like Nara Narayana or Vyasadev? Why do we not have faith?

I’m not saying that we should all try something similar, I’m saying that we should have full faith that it’s perfectly possible. I personally knew a devotee who spend whole night outside in -20 Celsius without a coat on, he didn’t even get sick afterwards. He was chased by the police for distributing books in some remote, unenlightened village, he ran outside of his hotel and was afraid to come back, chanting Hare Krishna through the night instead.

Last time I heard he left the movement and is considered blooped but I don’t believe for a second that he abandoned Krishna or that Krishna abandoned him, not after making sacrifices like this. They can say whatever they want but I will always see him as an eternal servant of Lord Chaitanya, no matter what he does in the material world, which is nothing major anyway.

I hope that when my time comes to go through tests like this I’ll have enough faith to keep going. I need to grow beyond the bodily conception if I ever want to become a devotee, these two concepts are incompatible, you choose either one or the other and I hope I’ll have enough strength to make the wise choice.

I’ll end with some pictures of the car and its insides:

Vanity thought #407. Vanity, piety and ekadashi

For a while now I’ve been noticing verses about how Krishna preserves progress of His devotees and how He ignores their temporary falldowns. In Bhagavad Gita, for example, He says that even if His devotee commits most abominable actions he should still be considered saintly, that for His devotees He would preserve what they have and also give what they lack (BG 9.22 and 9.30).

Then there was a passage from Srimad Bhagavatam (SB 11.20.25 and verses around it) where Krishna tells Uddhava that for His devotee there should be no worry about committing some offenses, but rather determination and enthusiasm to continue on his path.

That seems to be the standard view on the subject – falldowns are not as important as they seem to be and can be overcome simply by getting up and continuing with one’s service or sadhana. I should note here that it doesn’t really matter what a falldown is, it could be breaking four regs or it could be putting away Bhagavad Gita and watching some movie instead. Each one of us knows his own weaknesses and has his own demons to fight, the principle holds equally for all.

But then there’s this mind blowing verse from the Fourth Canto (SB 4.20.4) where Lord Vishnu personally tells Maharaja Prithu (an incarnation it his own right!):

If a personality like you … is carried away by the influence of My material energy, then all your advancement may be considered simply a waste of time.

All your advancement is simply a waste of time. How about that? How about “I preserve what you have” promise?

ATM I don’t know of any authoritative explanations of this discrepancy, just my own speculations, so beware.

What I think is happening here is that we tend to mix up our advancement on a material platform with our spiritual progress. By material platform I mean all the goodies we collect for years of engaging in “devotional service” – a couple of initiations, gayatri mantra, good standing in the community of vaishnavas, maybe access to Deity worship, invitations to give lectures or conduct seminars, maybe a responsible position in ISKCON management or a residence in the Holy Dhama and so on.

All of these things are incredibly important but ultimately they all have to be left behind in this world, they do not define us as devotees of the Lord, if we agree that real devotional service starts only on the liberated platform and is conducted in one’s original spiritual form.

From that point of view all our achievements are not much more than upadhis of materialistically minded persons, limitations stemming from living on a bodily platform. They see themselves as learned scholars, we see ourselves as learned scholars, too, or as brahmanas, or as “vaishnavas” with tilakas and kanthimalas, or as brahmacharies or even sannyasis. Same kind of illusion, just related to Krishna.

Our real spiritual treasures, however, lie somewhere else – we have been given the Holy Name and we have been accepted by our gurus. We have nothing else to show until we get past the anartha nivritti stage. Then we’ll start treasuring our attachment to Krishna, our ruchi, then bhava, and ultimately pure, unalloyed love – prema.

So what Krishna promises to preserve for us is just that – knowledge of the Holy Name and acceptance by the guru. Everything else is just temporary stuff that would be unwise to try and hold on to. It’s very important to have when we have it but when we die we will have to leave it behind.

This could be the kind of stuff that Lord Vishnu told Maharaja Prithu he could easily lose. The background for that verse was that Indra got envious of Maharaja Prithu’s strength and tries to still his sacrificial horse. He got nearly killed for that and that’s when Vishnu interfered (Lord Brahma spoke first, though) to stop Maharaja Prithu from committing a serious offense of murdering Indra.

The achievements that Lord Vishnu most likely meant was the accumulation of pious results of Maharaja Prithu’s sacrifices. One hundred horse sacrifices enable one to reach the position of the King of Heaven – clearly a karmic activity even if done in Vishnu’s name, and it’s also not very different from climbing the ladder of success in ISKCON. We might have one hundred full sets of Prabhupada’s books distributed, or one million servings of prasadam, or a thousand of disciples, or whatever else that suits our own level.

These things will be taken away if we let ourselves to be carried away by maya. Of that there’s no doubt and there are millions of examples. We might be able to collect these merits again in the next life but that should never be our goal, should it? What do we need these things for if not for our own vanity?

Krishna might not care about our falldowns but that also means He equally doesn’t care about the other stuff we might consider important now. He will preserve the spark of our devotion and the memory of the Holy Name, that’s all. When circumstances permit He would also direct us towards our guru, which, in turn, might turn into scoring some brownies for our service again.

I was pondering all of that today because it’s also edadashi, observance of ekadashi brings an untold number of benefits and general piety. Do we really need all that stuff? Umm, probably yes and no. Lord Chaitanya wanted His devotees to observe ekadashi but probably not because it would make us into pious persons.

I’ve decided to do a serious fast today, no food, just juice and milk, hoping to eventually go only on water. This proved to be an impossible task. Even a year ago, even a few months ago, on Nirjala Ekadashi, I had absolutely no problem with fasting. Today it was a torture.

I’ve learned two lessons – I totally identify myself with my body, and that this extra asceticism is absolutely worthless as its results can be wiped away in an instant.

Unfortunately these realizations also left me without an anchor – everything I used to rely on to give me strength turned out to be illusory, and I don’t know how to be an atmarama yet, I know about the Holy Name but I can’t glean any support from it, I don’t get anything that I can feel and measure, unlike reassuring words of fellow devotees or family members.

Hopefully the Holy Name does its work quietly in the background and something does get cleansed in my heart. If even that doesn’t work then I’m truly doomed. No family, no connections, no recognition can provide me with proper support as a spirit soul, and this is a dilemma on its own, perhaps one that I should address some other time.