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.


Fear kills… but that’s exactly what we need

When commenting on Krishna’s birth, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur illuminates the meaning of sad-garbhas, six younger brothers who were killed by Kamsa. Many already know it but let me recapitulate. These sad-garbhas were previously grandchildren of Hiranyakasipu and there were cursed by him to be killed by their father. Their father at the time was Kalanemi who then appeared as Kamsa and killed them one by one in a very cruel and inhuman manner, even though they were not technically his children anymore but were born to Vasudeva and Devaki. I don’t want to clarify this little inconsistency at this point.

The point, made by Visvanatha Cakravarti and summarized by Srila Prabhupada in a comment on SB 10.2.8, is this – Krishna was not going to appear in an ordinary human womb. The womb had to be purified and prepared first. Sad-garbhas, as previously the sons of Marici, were incarnations of six objects of enjoyment – of five senses and the mind, and this enjoyment is incompatible with bhakti. Visvanatha Cakravarti says that this enjoyment naturally arises from executing devotional service – nice music, delicious food, gorgeous deities, incense, stimulating conversations – but it is feared by a sincere devotee, who thinks enjoying these things will suck him into a cycle of birth and death. Therefore this enjoyment has to be destroyed. How? By fear.

Fear itself is incompatible with devotional service, too. In fact, the first thing that should happen to a devotee is that he becomes fearless. Here is where Kamsa comes to help – because he is fear personified. It’s his constant and uninterrupted fear of Krishna that brought him to perfection of his life, and here this fear is employed to kill all kinds of material enjoyment. Outsourced, so to speak.

His previous name, Kalanemi, literally means “the wheel of time” and it further demonstrates his power to end all things, ie kill them, and when time comes for you it appears as fear as well. Understood either way – it’s an external and natural force we have no control over, it’s just how the universe rolls – time comes and things end, nothing we can do about it.

So, what happens is that even if we are attracted by KC lifestyle and life gets pretty good, the fear should arise for us to progress any further. First he fear that this enjoyment is distracting us from bhakti, and then fear manifests externally as the force stripping us of our good karma, otherwise known as Hari – one who takes things away. Practically, it means no more good prasadam, no more sweet kirtans by Jahnavi Harrison or whoever is at the top of our charts now, smell of incense would give us headaches and philosophical discussions into the nature of things will become a huge turn off. And we WILL be afraid of losing these things. And simultaneously afraid of keeping them, too – because we will come to understand they are holding us back.

Next step is the appearance of Lord Balarama, the seventh embryo. It’s Lord Balarama, also known as Lord Nityananda’s mercy, which prepares things for Krishna’s appearance. We have heard it many times – we can’t get Lord Caitanya’s mercy without Lord Nityananda. It’s the law – Balarama, Krishna’s first expansion, has to come and set everything up. Visvanatha Cakravarti gives a list – He has to set nivasa, dwelling place, sayyana – resting place or bed, asana – sitting place, chattra – umbrella, and so on.

Old furniture has to be moved out (sad-garbhas) and new furniture has to be moved in – and not from Ikea but from the spiritual world. I hope self-assembly is not required. Balarama is the “sat” aspect of the absolute truth and “sat” means existence, which is a crucial point – it does not need proof! It simply exist and it’s a proof in itself. We can’t argue that it must be there because we have quotes and logical reasons – they are not a replacement for “sat”. If that’s what we rely on to convince ourselves then it’s cheating – Lord Balarama or Lord Nityananda’s appearance is self-evident and it becomes the source of all other arguments built upon this fact. It replaces the very foundation on which our understanding of the world is build, replaces whatever we currently think is self-evidently true. Like that health is good or money is good or honesty is good or helping others is good or looking after yourself is good. These are all legitimate aspects of the Absolute Truth, taken in a sense of “sat”, but they are only partial and limited representations of it. They become like fireflies in the presence of the Sun.

What happens next is that Krishna makes His entrance (“cit” aspect) and things become extremely clear but, more importantly, now our bhakti (“ananda” or “hladini”) will start growing like mad. Prema bhakti, as Visvanatha Cakravarti specifies, but that is beyond the limits of this article.

One more point I wanted to make is that Devaki provided the womb for the Lord after receiving the seed from Vasudeva’s mind, which is also beyond the limits here, and in a similar way we receive the seed of bhakti from our guru. It takes less than a second for this transmission – lava-matra, to be exact, and then we become like Devaki’s womb – we become the carriers of this seed. We need to uproot all the anarthas, just as sad-garbhas had to be killed, and then the seed of bhakti can start properly gestating. Then Lord Nityananda’s mercy brings us Lord Caitanya and by the mercy of Lord Caitanya the creeper of our bhakti starts to grow, eventually reaching Krishna’s lotus feet up there in Goloka. These two descriptions – the standard one from Caitanya Caritamrita and Visvanatha Cakravarti’s explanation of Krishna’s birth – are talking about one and the same thing that has to happen to all of us. Same principle, same stages, just the point of application is different – one is applied to Devaki and another is applied to our own bodies, which might happen to be male and so incapable of carrying children.

Kamsa threatening Devaki

Vanity thought #1673. The good we have

I ended yesterday’s post with saying we don’t know how good we have it. Maybe, but we sure do know we have it bad – torn by mind and senses, drowning in the sea of temptations, and chanting without any visible progress. I must be crazy to recommend reliving this life to anyone.

I see that we have a graded variety of responses to questions about our prospects. First we learn about being with Kṛṣṇa in one of the five rasas. That’s the stage where Christians can asks us if we really dream of ourselves as girls having sexual relationships with Kṛṣṇa. That’s how they understand it, that’s how we understand it at first, too.

Then comes the realization that this world is not a place for a gentleman. I don’t think anyone actually dreams of his future life in Vṛndāvana, I don’t think it’s even a phase, but the initial fascination with pastoral leisures in Vraja needs to give space to dark reality of this world anyway. We need to realize that we are hopelessly fallen, no matter what everyone says. I mean there are tons of not so helpful devotees giving us all sorts of respect but they don’t know what they are talking about and we shouldn’t believe them. We are fallen. Period.

This is the stage where we temper our expectations and focus on immediate progress with constant questions in vein of “Are we there yet?” We don’t pay much attention to descriptions of Vṛndāvana pastimes anymore, we are more concerned with stuff that makes sense to lives instead – battles with mind and all the “wonderful” things that reside there – greed, lust, envy etc.

It’s the stage of battling anarthas and we are going to be stuck there until the rest of our lives, realistically speaking, but, of course, we can’t remain in one place for too long and we develop interest in something “better”. Many decide that absorbing our minds in Kṛṣṇa is the best. They trot out quotes how reading about rasa dance can free one from mundane lust and they dive into esoteric literature, seek association of “rasika-bhaktas”, and they can’t really stop themselves. Whatever I think about that path it needs to be acknowledged that they do constantly remember the Lord.

Btw, each of these stages is fully supported by quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda or other ācāryas – that’s what I was saying in the beginning – we can easily calibrate our response to questions about goal of this lifetime and say whatever one needs, or rather wants to hear.

Beyond the stage of artificial sweetness is service to one’s guru and our mission. Some think they are above preaching and that only paramahaṁsas can do it right so everyone else is just wasting their time but we have clear orders and clear examples from history – our life depends on preaching and if we try to imitate solitary bhajana we will stagnate and eventually die off like Gauḍīya Maṭha did. Imagining himself an elevated devotee because one conveniently always thinks of Kṛṣṇa is easy. Whipping your mind and getting yourself out to face atheistic opposition in hope of finding potential devotees is hard. Not everyone cut for that but it’s the only way to move forward in our spiritual lives.

We are not Kṛṣṇa’s servants, we are servants of our gurus and all the other vaiṣṇavas. Self-appointed rasika bhaktas do not see the value in serving guru’s orders and they do not have the taste for it, which means they do not see non-difference between guru and God, which means all their alleged advancement it phony. Unless you realize that a second of selfless service to your guru, however inconsequential it might appear, completely eclipses all the arguments in the world you don’t know the first thing about Kṛṣna consciousness, you just imagine things.

Sometimes you can see it in debates – there are things that mature devotee will simply not say. It might be hard to explain this to neophytes but there’s a spiritual weight attached to certain thoughts and emotions and if you don’t feel it it appears all the same to you, but there are subjects that are too close to devotees hearts and they will never ever treat them lightly. It doesn’t require explanations, really, we should simply try to absorb their mood, their devotional attitude, then we might appreciate it ourselves. Fools rush in where angles dare to thread, as they say.

Anyway, how good do we actually have it? Doesn’t feel good at all, just average, so what’s the actual score? Repeatedly returning to our current situation is not even considered when we think about our prospects. Chant until you develop taste for the name. Remember Kṛṣṇa at the end of your life and return back to Him. Submit yourself to you guru’s feet and pray to be engaged in saṅkīrtana to experience some real bliss. Who wants to come back to the drudgery of our current lives? It’s nothing to be proud of.

This is where I beg to disagree. We chant, we take prasādam, we worship the deities, we worship the guru, we read Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, we tell others about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we offer obeisances, we think about the Lord, we donate our time, energy, and money to the Lord. What more do we want? Why do we think that all these things are tasteless and immaterial and we need a serious upgrade in the next life? When we reach that next level are we going to say “I worshiped the deity in that last life on Earth but it was nonsense, nothing like the Lord we directly see here”? Are we going to say “Nah, the name as I chanted it in my last incarnation wasn’t sweet at all, in fact it was tasteless”?

Why do we think we deserve an upgrade when we haven’t achieved even a modicum of perfection here? What’s wrong with coming back to the very same life and trying to chant better and better? What’s wrong with trying in our service to guru again and again until we get it right? And when we do get it right, why will we be asking for anything else? Bhakti is its own reward, once we attain it we won’t be needing anything more. What stops us from developing bhakti right where we are now? Why do we need this “progress” to some other situation?

Hmm, these are just some thoughts. If there’s a need for us to serve in some other capacity in our next life then so be it, I’m just saying it’s not necessary and should not be expected automatically.

Vanity thought #1463. Distance

Contemplating our inherent lack of sweetness and inability to express ourselves properly led me to think that we should better keep respectful distance from Kṛṣṇa. The Supersoul is always with us, closer to our hearts than anything else we perceive as real in the world, including our own [false] ego, so keeping artificial distance from Him is implausible, but Kṛṣṇa is different, He is not your ordinary Lord.

We can’t approach Kṛṣṇa like we can approach the Supersoul – sweetness is absolutely necessary, otherwise He has nothing to gain from our association. Eloquence is not a requirement, though, so we can leave that out for the moment.

Sweetness overrides everything else, however. One day Kṛṣṇa (as a grown up), showed up at Vidura’s house but Vidura wasn’t at home, only his wife was. She was Krṣṇa’s devotee, too, but she was caught of guard. Vidura wasn’t a rich person, there was nothing in his house to offer to the Lord but cheap bananas, and that’s what Viduranī run for so that she could offer at least something to the Lord.

She started peeling bananas for Kṛṣṇa but, completely overwhelmed with experience, she mistakenly threw bananas in the bin and gave peels to the Lord, who dutifully took and ate them. Vidura then came back and seeing what his wife was doing started chastising her but Kṛṣṇa immediately stopped him. “I don’t know what your wife is feeding me,” He said, “but it’s the best thing I’ve eaten ever.”

The point is that from our offerings Kṛṣṇa takes only bhakti, only sweet, unalloyed devotion, and if we don’t have it then He wouldn’t even taste our bhoga, however opulent it might be. He can’t taste anything else but bhakti. He doesn’t know what our ghee or sugar taste like, He can taste only our hearts.

That’s where our sweetness should come from, not from sugarcane or honey, and if we don’t have it – what else are we going to offer to the Lord? Prayers? Kṛṣṇa, I mean Vṛndāvana Kṛṣṇa, does not listen to prayers, they break His mood, and He won’t step outside to listen to ours either.

What is the value of prayers then? If we want to serve Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana then they don’t mean much, especially if all we say is how great He is at creating the world, how He defeats all the demons and so on. We can take a clue from Six Gosvāmīs who praised Kṛṣṇa for His sweetness and for His dealings with intimate devotees, but we are even worse at offering that. It’s so far out of our experience that we shouldn’t be talking about it.

We all, however, learn to relate to the Absolute Truth as it reveals itself to our consciousness and that’s where prayers are absolutely essential. Atheists feel grateful for the gift of life and knowledge, Christians are grateful for God sending His own son to death. Hindus are thankful for money, children, husbands for their daughters, fame etc, so they pray for that and praise relevant manifestations of the Lord for providing it.

This, btw, might sound like impersonalism and māyāvāda – all forms of the Divinity are just manifestations of one indivisible Brahman, whoever you choose to worship doesn’t matter. I can see how it can be interpreted this way and maybe that’s why some of the followers of Advaita Ācārya thought he was preaching impersonalism, too.

There’s a difference, however. All the demigods only *act* as channels to the same Absolute Truth, they are as different from Him as our guru – representatives but not Godhead Himself. So, when Hindus worship Gaṇeśa they worship a distinct personality who has been infused with powers by Viṣṇu, and it’s ultimately Viṣṇu who grants the benedictions, but He delegates Gaṇeśa to act on His behalf so Gaṇeśa can never be excluded, not now, not in the future, not ever, which is contrary to māyāvādīs’ conclusion. Of course if we don’t want to involve Gaṇeśa in our prayers and approach the Lord directly (or rather through our guru) that is fine, too. The kind of things we should approach the Lord for cannot be delivered by Gaṇeśa anyway. Problem with Hindus is that they don’t see Viṣṇu acting through Gaṇeśa, or they don’t see Viṣṇu and Gaṇeśa as different persons.

The point was that we should offer prayers according to our perception of the Absolute, that would make us honest and honesty is the absolute must in devotional service. We can’t pray like Brahmā did because it’s not how we see the universe, for example. We only can learn how to see the universe from Brahmā’s prayers and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s our vision, too. Lord Brahmā is grateful for his set of experiences of Kṛṣṇa, we should be grateful for ours.

If Kṛṣṇa ever shows up in person, of even when talking to the Deities, we should talk about what we know and how we see the Lord and, given our meager experiences, eloquence might not be necessary yet. We’ll learn it as we progress, but honesty should always be there, it’s an absolute must.

Now, if we are honest about ourselves we should see how far our consciousness is from Kṛṣṇa’s actual pastimes and how we lack necessary devotion to talk about things of interest to Kṛṣṇa – gopīs, gopas, calves, stealing butter etc. If we praise Him for any of those pastimes it would be awkward as we have no idea what we are talking about. You don’t tell strangers how you appreciate intimate moments he might be having with his wife so it’s not something we should bring up in our prayers to Kṛṣṇa either, even though we might think that His dealings with Rādhārāṇī are awesome.

That’s why we need to keep our distance and talk only about what we really know. I suppose it would be honest to express our appreciation for the sweetness of His pastimes as they are revealed by His pure devotees, but not for the pastimes themselves as we didn’t see or participate in those. Technically, it would be appreciation for the power of saṅkīrtana, the power of discussing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes among devotees.

Alternatively, sometimes we can see Kṛṣṇa as taking personal interest in our lives and arranging things for our service, I guess it is perfectly okay to feel grateful for this help. Someone might argue that it’s not Kṛṣṇa Himself, who never steps a foot outside Vṛndāvana, but someone else helping us out. To this objection I would answer that if devotees ask Kṛṣṇa personally and help comes, why shouldn’t Kṛṣṇa be given the credit? Who is to say that the hearts of these devotees aren’t in Vṛndāvana already, which isn’t a place but a state of one’s devotion.

Of course there will always be mentally unstable people imagining things but I’m talking about genuine service as authorized and directed by proper authorities, like preaching or book distribution. It’s Lord Caitanya’s personal project and He’d have absolutely no objections if we prayed for Kṛṣṇa’s help while doing it, and it’s by His mercy that Kṛṣṇa woul help us, so there’s no problem here.

How to properly relate to Lord Caitanya is a topic for another day.

Vanity thought #1461. Sweetness

One distinguishing feature of bhakti is sweetness. We sort of know this but in our everyday lives we don’t get to experience anything like it and so it doesn’t really register with us how sweet relationships between Kṛṣṇa and His devotees are.

Mādhurya is just a word for us, a technical term describing something we have no idea about. Practically everybody can understand when we talk about Lord’s greatness, even the atheists have experiences of awe and majesty of the universe or universal laws – that’s what gives them the taste for their philosophy. Lots of people can admire either the Lord or the universe, they can be humbled by these realizations, too, but that’s not the same as Kṛṣṇa’s sweetness.

We simply have no clue and maybe we shouldn’t be going around looking for one, it would only be profanation. Attractiveness of bhakti, pure devotion, can only be appreciated by liberated persons, otherwise we’d naturally define bhakti in terms of our material emotions and those are not only nowhere near the same but also necessarily boring and tiresome.

We have a term “puppy love” for something we consider cute, innocent, and sweet, but the implication is that one should get over it, it can’t possibly last and one shouldn’t trust this kind of emotions. They don’t stand the test of time and so the sign of maturity is not being swayed by them. Saying that seven year old Krsna’s relationship with girls of the same age is the highest possible taste in the spiritual world cheapens it. It’s not love, we think, it’s childish infatuation, and we can’t really see it any other way, it’s just what it is in the material world.

We can intellectually restrain ourselves from entertaining such thoughts and we can’t anchor mādhurya relationships anywhere in our materialistic lives, so the moment we try to “understand” them we reduce them to mundane debasement, it just can’t happen otherwise for us in our current state.

Is there any hope for us to appreciate this sweetness? Yes, there is, but it must not come from “sweet talk”, we can’t distill mādhurya by squeezing nectar from worldly romance. Our romance might be rooted in original relationships in the spiritual world but that connection is too deep and too distant so it’s practically lost for us forever.

The only legitimate way is through complete purge of our own materialistic consciousness first, then through appreciating this sweetness in those who already possess it. Materially produced mādhurya, like recycled urine, will never be suitable for drinking, no matter what “science” says about it’s “cleanliness”. Well, it could be argued that every drop of water we ever drink contains some of recycled urine, purified by the sun and by passed through soil and sand, but that would be stretching the analogy too far.

This legitimate mādhurya appreciation process is very delicate, we always need to keep the perfect balance between our spiritual realization and our exposure to sweetness of Kṛṣṇa līlā. Too little of sweetness won’t probably hurt us but any excess can poison our lives for a long time because it would strengthen and develop our material attachments instead – when we accept our mental imagery of Kṛṣṇa līlā as the real thing and grow to like it.

Our Srīla Prabhupāda was always on the case of scientists and māyāvādās but my personal impression of Srīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī is that he saw prākṛta sahajiyā as the greatest danger to devotional service. Māyāvādīs and scientists can spoil regular folk and however much we care about their spiritual well-being, sahajiyās spoil devotees and this loss is much greater. Also it makes more sense to talk to devotees about dangers facing them rather than dangers facing someone else and so if we mostly read what Srīla Bhaktisiddhānta preached to devotees then sahajiyā must naturally come ahead of māyāvāda and other apasiddhāntas affecting outside society.

Pure devotional service of the level where one can express sweetness of Kṛṣṇa līlā is very very rare and it’s even rarer for it to be manifested before devotional dumbbells like us. If it happens, however, it’s extremely powerful and contagious and it would finally give a meaning to our lives. It probably won’t actually happen so we don’t have to worry about what to do in such a case.

Another source of this sweetness could be Brijabasis who are naturally born with it even though technically their devotion might not yet be perfected. They do not yet participate in Kṛṣṇa līlā and they do not chant 24 hours a day but they don’t have to force themselves to think about Kṛṣṇa, He is constantly on their minds as it is.

“Problem” is that they generally keep to themselves and do not reveal their internal world to outsiders. To earn their trust is very very difficult and usually requires years and decades of austerity and dedication. One must really prove himself and it ain’t easy.

To “deserve” acceptance one must completely give up all material aspirations and demonstrate full control over one’s senses, patiently and cheerfully executing his service in the harshest conditions.

Vṛndāvana these days can be a very inhospitable place once you give up your external defenses in the form of clothing, houses, air-conditioners and heaters. Summer temperatures can really kill you and winter cold can be intolerable without protection. Locals can be hostile, too, until they strip you of all your attachments. Even monkeys would join in. Vṛndāvana won’t kill anyone, of course, but it would provide the bare minimum to hang onto our lives, in terms of food, too, and that could be too much for comfort seeking people like us.

This is actual proof that we can appreciate bhakti only when we reach the stage of liberation and tolerate anything material nature can throw at us with unflinching devotion, until that happens even Brijabasis won’t talk to us.

Next problem is the language – they don’t speak English let alone other foreign languages, they don’t even speak Hindi for that matter – they consider Hindi as too harsh to express their love for Kṛṣṇa and they soften it as necessary. AFAIK, their talk can be understood by Indians but comprehension is not yet appreciation and appreciation is not yet the ability to express yourself, so even learning the language could take years for us.

I’m afraid translating it back to English would be impossible, there are simply no words for their moods and rasas, our equivalents could be dictionary correct but the sweetness would be gone, it just doesn’t exist in our world just as Kṛṣṇa līlā can’t be compared to anything we know. The words and the līlā are non-different, after all, and this just another confirmation of this basic spiritual principle.

Well, at least we know our goal and we are free to hope, by the mercy of Lord Caitanya we might get infected with at least appreciation for the value of Kṛṣṇa’s sweetness, and we are certainly on the right track.

Vanity thought #1456. Pashandis

Pāṣaṇḍīs is our go to word for atheists. I think it’s more technical than mūḍha, fools, though sometimes they go together like in this verse where Śrīla Prabhupāda expands on various meanings of the word pāṣaṇḍī as explained by the previous ācāryas. Apparently, there are many ways one can qualify as an atheist but can it happen to devotees?

Technically, it’s not possible, because Kṛṣṇa’s devotees never lose their bhakti and Kṛṣṇa forever preserves whatever they have, plus He assures failed yogīs that they can resume their path in the next life. This, however, is a long term view, outside of scope where we can use words like “he became an atheist”. In such a long run all those pāṣaṇḍī designations are temporary and not worthy of attention.

Say one commits offenses, gets cast in hell, returns, and resumes cultivating his devotion. Fits perfectly both with what Kṛṣṇa says would happen to such a person and with our immediate desire to label him an atheist. Devotees never go to hell, of course, but there are many other ways Kṛṣṇa can dish out an appropriate punishment, which is more of a lesson than actual suffering. By devotee here I mean anyone who has ever sincerely called Kṛṣṇa’s name, which is enough to save himself from clutches of māyā forever and earn a place at Lord’s lotus feet. In the long run – we are speaking of multiple lifetimes here – hundreds of lifetimes if one rejects his guru, for example.

The verse that promises to “carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have” has a condition attached, however (BG 9.22):

    But those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form – to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.

One must continue worshiping the Lord with exclusive devotion to qualify for the assurance that his bhakti will be preserved, or so it appears from direct meaning. Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the kind of worship, meditation, and “exclusive devotion” needed in the purport:

    One who is unable to live for a moment without Kṛṣṇa consciousness cannot but think of Kṛṣṇa twenty-four hours a day, being engaged in devotional service by hearing, chanting, remembering, offering prayers, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, rendering other services, cultivating friendship and surrendering fully to the Lord.

There’s some leeway in not thinking of Kṛṣṇa twenty-four hours a day but “unable to live for a moment without” KC is tough. Can any of us honestly say we can’t live without Kṛṣṇa even for a moment? I’m tempted to say that I had plenty of those but, on second thought, I probably haven’t. One way or another, but ever since I first opened Śrīla Prabhupāda’s book I’ve always defined myself as Kṛṣṇa’s servant, or Lord Caitanya’s, to be precise, as historically it was this form of the Lord that I saw as my eternal master.

One could say it’s a pride talking and I am very well aware of that but denying and denigrating Lord’s mercy is a far greater offense to commit. People can call be proud and whatever but I’m not going to deny that Lord Caitanya has extended His mercy, took me under His shelter, and never left me since, even if always keeping me at a safe distance from Himself. I am not going to deny this reality for that would make me a pāṣaṇḍī myself. I’d rather be a foolishly proud devotee wannabe than a pāṣaṇḍī.

Here’s the thing that atheists don’t understand – that there’s another reality beyond what they are able to perceive themselves. They think that devotees imagine things but we don’t. Lord’s mercy is as real as anything else we see in the world around us and even more real in a sense that it’s constant and is always there while all other observed phenomena are like lose bits of colored glass constantly rotating in the kaleidoscope of life.

Atheists might come to a certain understanding how the world works and they think they figured it all out but with a little twist of fate the entire picture changes and new, previously unthought of connections are born and they need to rework their entire science again.

Look at the current financial market turmoil – in the past couple of days all stock indices crashed about 10%, which is huge, and it probably indicates start of a long term “correction” rather than a fluke. The projection so far has been that the US has finally overcome its recession and is headed for the first interest rate hike in September. Interest rates are important as basically they show how profitable the economy is – when everything is growing you ought to charge people more. Since 2008 it has been near zero while historical healthy average is about 2-4%. Current crash means that expectations of the US finally returning to normalcy need to be abandoned and with this come difficult questions about money printing and high level of debt. The answers so far hinged on “it’s all going according to plan” mantra but if it clearly isn’t then dollars and US bonds might become worthless and no one knows what will come next.

There’s plenty of ground for speculation about world economy but my point here is that science of economics suddenly has become useless and they need to create new theories about how it all works, which they will have to abandon the moment the next crisis hit.

The other day I saw a perfect definition of what atheism means but it was given as a sarcastic observation of a former Christian so it’s not quotable. The gist is simple, however – any answer to the question “Do you accept JC as your only savior” that isn’t an absolute unqualifiable “yes” is atheism. “Unqualifiable” is not a word but the meaning is clear.

By this logic we are all atheists in one way or another. We don’t particularly care about JC, of course, but any look at the world as real in its disconnect from Kṛṣṇa is atheism – we do not see God. Any time we do not see Kṛṣṇa we are atheists. Any time we instinctively enjoy our senses we are atheists because senses are meant for enjoyment by Kṛṣṇa, not by us.

The only question is the degree of our atheism and the duration of its spells, otherwise the word is meaningless for any conditioned soul because we are all atheists by our [conditioned] nature.

If we hope that as devotees we are spared of the full blown atheism and will never go back to our old life (never mind the habits for the moment) there’s still the mystery of jīva falldown. If we somehow turned our face away from Kṛṣṇa while in His company and got dropped into the material world it means there’s always a chance of going back on our nascent bhakti here, too. It’s not safe here for everyone, which is what our ācāryas have been saying all along.

I could finish this post by saying that the only answer lies in chanting the Holy Name but I think the immortal words of the original “pāṣaṇḍī”, Adi Śaṅkara, would be just as suitable:

    You fools, just worship Govinda, just worship Govinda, just worship Govinda. Your grammatical knowledge and word jugglery will not save you at the time of death.

It’s the first verse of Bhaja Govindam often quoted by Śrīla Prabhupāda. Check out the full translation linked on that page, it’s worth it.

Vanity thought #1197. Science of rasa

We are supposed to take it very seriously even on our neophyte level, especially on our neophyte level. There are examples of Śrīla Prabhupāda nipping all instances of rasa-ābhāsa, inappropriate mixture of devotional flavors, in the bud. Sometimes devotees would pick up concocted mantras somewhere in India, sometimes they would pick up unauthorized traditions or rituals. Sometimes they would pick up innocuous practices but from the wrong kind of people and Prabhupāda would prohibit it so that we, ISKCON, wouldn’t invoke associations with deviant vaiṣṇava sects.

Rasa-ābhāsa was mentioned in Caitanya Caritāmṛita several times and never favorably. Lord Caitanya was rather strict in this sense and never listened to any unscientific expositions on devotional service. Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī was tasked with screening all poetry and presentations before they reached the Lord because, from experience, any deviations from bhakti-siddhānta made the Lord very angry. It’s a serious thing.

So, should we study it? Here’s a sample from Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu:

    A mellow temporarily appearing transcendental but contradicting mellows previously stated and lacking some of a mellow’s necessities is called rasābhāsa, an overlapping mellow, by advanced devotees who know how to taste transcendental mellows. Such mellows are called uparasa (submellows), anurasa (imitation transcendental mellows) and aparasa (opposing transcendental mellows). Thus the overlapping of transcendental mellows is described as being first grade, second grade or third grade. When the twelve mellows — such as neutrality, servitorship and friendship — are characterized by adverse sthāyi-bhāva, vibhāva and anubhāva ecstasies, they are known as uparasa, submellows. When the seven indirect transcendental mellows and the dried-up mellow of neutrality are produced by devotees and moods not directly related to Kṛṣṇa and devotional service in ecstatic love, they are described as anurasa, imitation mellows. If Kṛṣṇa and the enemies who harbor feelings of opposition toward Him are respectively the object and abodes of the mellow of laughter, the resulting feelings are called aparasa, opposing mellows. Experts in distinguishing one mellow from another sometimes accept some overlapping transcendental mellows (rasābhāsa) as rasas due to their being pleasurable and tasteful.

Should we have a test on this?

Probably not in the beginning but if we are exposed to unauthorized and unscientific practices from the start we might suffer in the long term. Maybe offenses are committed, maybe it’s just far more difficult to correct bad habits then to learn good ones anew, better to stick to what is given to us by Prabhupāda.

Some devotees take this rasa science very seriously and study Six Gosvāmī’s books very deeply. I don’t know if they succeed and make genuine progress, one noticeable side effect is that they assume elevated positions from which they lecture everyone else and even dare to correct our immediate predecessor ācāryas because they learn “straight from the source”.

Even if that does not happen they start to see everything through rasa relationships taken from the books. I don’t know how appropriate this is. I mentioned a while ago a wise quote that if all you have is a hammer then very problem is going to look like a nail. Some get fixated on varṇāsrama and explain everything through that prism. Some see everything through pañca kośa – anāmaya, praṇāmaya etc. Some see everything through sambanda, abhidehya and prayojana. Some see everything through the prism of book distribution. They are all right in their own kind of way but it’s still like blind men trying to figure out an elephant – no one is quite right and even if taken altogether it’s not guaranteed that you get a complete picture. One actual look at an elephant, otoh, clarifies the matter completely.

Similarly, one taste of actual spiritual relationships with the Lord should put an end to all speculations, however scientific and reasonable they appear.

Still, we have the books, and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu is just an introduction, there’s a lot more in, say Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi I mentioned yesterday. These books were written for us to study, were they not?

Right, of course we should study them, but I think we shouldn’t approach it as lightly as those who are doing it now. Śrīla Prabhupāda warned us about getting into this deep stuff prematurely. We aren’t supposed to delve into the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam until we realized the subject matter of the first nine, for example. We shouldn’t even think about enjoying rasa until we are completely free from the influence of the material energy. We can talk about rasa but without actually tasting it it will be like sex-education classes for pre-school kids.

Personally, I think we should also remember that books on rasa were written by personalities who had real, first hand experience of them. They were describing what they saw, what they felt, what they directly observed. We, otoh, are approaching it as ordinary text books written for ascending process of acquiring knowledge. “Read the book, understand the subject, pass the test, become qualified” kind of process, which in itself is a kind of rasa-ābhāsain spiritual progress, it won’t work.

Every time I hear someone talking about rasa on the basis of theoretical understanding gleaned from the books I feel like I should leave the place immediately. People boasting about knowledge of things they have absolutely no clue about are to be avoided even if the subject is Kṛṣṇa Himself.

One particularly annoying kind is self-appointed rasika bhaktas who claim to relish transcendental mellows displayed in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. One of their first arguments in favor of this practice is that one cannot develop attraction to Kṛṣṇa if he doesn’t hear about Him. That is true but only up to a point. We cannot develop attraction to Kṛṣṇa if we still identify ourselves with our bodies and express ourselves through them.

One easy example is developing gopīs’ attraction to Kṛṣṇa by discussing His pastimes with them, which are sexual in nature. Sounds legit, because that’s what they did together, yet we do not have a transcendental point of reference here, only our mundane understanding of sex, so everything we say or think or imagine will necessarily be expressed in relation to our mundane sexual experiences. All the alleged “mellows” will be misappropriation of known sexual or romantic relationships we observed or experienced ourselves and transferring them to Kṛṣṇa and His “girlfriends”.

Perhaps I can use the example of gopīs giving Kṛṣṇa their foot dust once again. Their relationships with the Lord are considered topmost and unrivaled because it’s the highest possible kind of selfless service. Our rasika-bhaktas, however, reduce their relationships to sexuality. There was absolutely nothing sexual in foot dust episode, only the highest form of devotion.

Another example would be preaching and book distribution. There is no higher form of selfless service in the material world at the moment. Our ācāryas, who are all gopīs in Kṛṣṇa līlā, were all preachers down here and there was not a tint of sexuality visible in their service to the Lord when they were present. I don’t think anyone can translate the mellows they certainly enjoyed in their service here into romantic or sexual relationships between them and Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world. It’s unthinkable to look at them this way, they are too pure to place them into our mundane representations of Kṛsṇa’s sexuality.

And yet their rasas weren’t lacking in anything, they couldn’t be. Perhaps we need to write a new book on rasas, the one that describes progressive stages of devotion as manifested by pure devotees in the material world. I don’t think it’s possible but we can certainly compare levels of surrender of different devotees as well as describe ideal situations just like Rūpa Gosvāmī was studying devotion of Kṛṣṇa’s associates in Vṛndāvana.

Maybe it’s a totally bogus, speculative idea but I can see one good outcome already – we will learn to respect everybody’s contributions and cleanse our hearts of offensive mentality.

PS. Is it just me or has Sampradāya Sun cleaned up their act in this respect? There’s a surprising absence of critical posts there.

Vanity thought #1122. Banality of Bhakti

“Banal” is not a word one should ever associate with devotional service but I would be lying if I said it never feels that way. Yes, we should always be enthusiastic and full of joy but reality is that we are just as often full of boredom and can’t be bothered.

The reason is simple – we are doing sādhana bhakti, which is not a “real thing”. There’s no spontaneity or selflessness in our service and it is always interrupted by one thing or another, which means it doesn’t deliver ātmā suprasīdati, complete satisfaction of the self (SB 1.2.6).

It might be argued that for many of us it’s not sādhana bhakti either but only vaidhī – where we simply follow the rules without any comprehension and loving attitude. Such service is not even supposed to be joyful.

That shouldn’t be off-putting, of course, but we should adjust our expectations accordingly and we should not be discouraged by a lack of bliss.

In fact, I would argue that we better not feel any joy at all, that it would be in line with our actual position. Of course we can’t stop feeling happiness and distress but I mean spiritual joy, which is not supposed to be happening to people on our level. Senior devotees say that occasionally we all should get glimpses of spiritual pleasure but the key word here is occasionally. Normally it shouldn’t be there, if we feeling it we must be mistaken.

We didn’t invent the word ecstasy, it’s a fairly common feeling available to all conditioned souls, there’s nothing particularly spiritual about it. We just feel ecstatic about different things. Ours are spiritually legitimate but that doesn’t mean they are fully spiritual.

There are thousands and thousands of devotees in our movement who eventually exchanged this “spiritual bliss” for pursuit of ordinary sense gratification, which is impossible by definition – whoever tasted the fruits of devotional service will never ever, under any circumstances, desire material sense gratification again, occasional slip-ups in enjoying interactions between senses and sense objects notwithstanding.

What we should admit, I think, is that by Kṛṣṇa’s grace we have been put in situations where our material happiness was derived from service to our guru. Waves of love and devotion that occasionally overcome us are powerful and uplifting but we perceive them with material senses and as such they can be duplicated by artificial means, which is what the rest of the world has dedicated itself to. Sometimes they are successful and that makes them as convinced in the correctness of their ways as we are convinced in ours.

I mean science works for them, democracy works for them, communal spirit works for them, sex works for them, money works for them, love works for them – everything works, just not at all times. People remember successes and that keeps them going even if they are heading over the cliff.

We aren’t much different – our “blissful” experiences are just as rare and just as memorable, and they are usually sufficient enough to take us over our cliffs, too. Except we are supposed to be caught by Kṛṣṇa and lifted to His world rather than fall into the depths of hell like the rest of Kali yuga population.

I hope this works but this means that whatever we are doing now would matter only at the moment of death, on its own it doesn’t have much value, unlike pure devotional service that immediately takes one beyond material perceptions of life and death and identifying oneself with one’s body. We don’t get that, not yet, maybe not ever, only after taking another birth closer to Kṛṣṇa.

That next birth isn’t supposed to be a lifetime of uninterrupted ecstasy either. We can read about people who were with the Lord in Kṛṣṇa Book or in biographies of Lord Caitanya and His associates. They led “normal” lives in that they were born, went to school, many were poor, some were sick, they all got old and they all died. None of that felt particularly blissful.

Śrīla Prabhupāda promised us that Kṛṣṇa consciousness would solve the problem of birth, death, old age, and disease but the solution is not that the material world would stop, old age would stop, death won’t happen – no, the solution is that we will be raised above such trivialities and eventually leave this world altogether.

Until that happens, however, the world will go on complete with all the usual suffering. We aren’t free from suffering now and we are not going to be free from suffering if/when we get born in Kṛṣṇa’s or Lord Caitanya’s presence.

Remember how Gadādhara Paṇḍita got so old he couldn’t put a garland on his deity, Ṭoṭa Gopīnātha, and how the deity then took a sitting form to accommodate him? I’m pretty sure Gadādhara Paṇḍita’s body didn’t feel great about it. Pain and incapacity were surely there like they are going to become daily reality for us in a few years or decades, too.

Remember sores oozing pus on Sanātana Gosvāmī’s body? They surely didn’t feel great and didn’t make Sanātana Gosvāmī ecstatic. He even thought that his body became useless for devotional service and decided to kill it, only to be stopped by the Lord Himself who assured him there was still great future for him despite his current condition.

Remember how shortly after that Sanātana Gosvāmī took a path along the beach to avoid touching servants of Lord Jagannātha downtown and hot sand burned his feet?

Being with the Lord does not guarantee material happiness, whatever we do with our bodies, however we engage them, it would always bring a mixed bag of pleasure and pain. Why should we only pick what feels good about our imperfect service and declare it “ecstasy”? What about bad things that happen to us? What if they outweigh the good ones for a while and force us to reconsider our commitment? What if what we perceive as bad is as pleasing to the Lord as what we perceive as ecstatic?

We can’t make such distinctions simply on the basis of our feelings, that would be unwise. The key to success in devotional service is steadiness and this means that a large part of our experience here would be banal. Would it make bhakti banal? No.

Returning to sādhana bhakti – what makes it work is not how it feels but our underlying dedication to our service. We are supposed to be satisfied by executing it regardless of our feelings, disregarding perceptions of good and bad altogether. That’s what makes it different from vaidhī bhakti where we force ourselves to perform our service for the sake of the future payoff, not because we see its spiritual value now.

So, there’s no banality in bhakti but this needs separation between our materialistic experiences and expectations and the as yet imperceptible spiritual side of our life. If we group it altogether than some things we do WILL appear as less inspiring than others so the banality CAN be observed even if it’s not really there.

It’s all in our minds, unavoidable as long as we are stuck on this relatively low level.

Vanity thought #1019. Truffaldino

Truffaldino was a type of a character in Italian comedy of two-three hundred years ago. There were heroes, heroines, villains etc but Truffaldino was there for comic relief, it was a servant, kind of a court jester who was supposed to be sharp but goofy. Perhaps the best known comedy featuring Truffaldino was the “Servant of Two Masters” and that’s why I remembered it here – it’s kind of relevant to our situation.

Plays were the most common form of public entertainment in those days and this one was like a modern soap opera – impossible to keep track of the plot and even harder to explain. There was rich background and too many characters to bother, so I’ll look at it only from the POV of Truffaldino himself.

As the title says, he signed up to serve two masters simultaneously and the comedy is build around him wriggling his way out of impossible situations. People would give him things to deliver to his master without specifying the name and he wouldn’t know who it was meant for, that type of thing.

Why did he sign up for this gig? Because he had serious food cravings and he thought that with two masters he’d have twice the amount of food. At one point he even eats a cat.

Okay, how does that relate to us? Because we also serve two masters – māyā and Kṛṣṇa, and we are driven by the same gluttony. Theoretically, we are devotees but as long as we are conditioned and act under the influence of the false ego we seek happiness expressed in material terms. We approach Kṛṣṇa to fulfill our material desires, asking for either pleasure or for freedom from suffering – same coin, different sides.

We want to please both – we want māyā to be merciful to us and we want Kṛṣṇa to be happy, too. No matter how it sounds, this is a great achievement already and there’s nothing wrong with this approach per se. Even Dhruva Mahārāja had material motives at first, everybody does, we only have to worry that we might get stuck at this stage longer than necessary.

Someday someone might write a comedy about bhaktas trying to juggle their materialistic aspirations with their service to Kṛṣṇa, we can all learn to notice such faults in ourselves.

The comparison with Truffaldino doesn’t end here, though. Turns out that his masters came to Venice to look for each other, they even stayed at the same hotel but as luck would have it, never met until the very end. One of them was a woman and so the whole plot revolves about two lovers reuniting. This makes Truffaldino acting like a mañjarī arranging the meeting between Rādha and Kṛṣṇa. That’s quite an unexpected interpretation for an Italian comedy but it has far reaching implications for us and our identity.

Whose servants are we? Kṛṣṇa’s? Or Rādhārāṇī’s? When we first come in contact with Kṛṣṇa consciousness we we learned that Kṛṣṇa is God and so we should serve Him. As we delve deeper into our Gauḍīyā philosophy we come to learn that actually our goal is to become servants of the servants of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. We follow in the footsteps of Rūpa Gosvāmī and we realize that he offered us the best position in the whole spiritual world – dāsa-dāsa-anudāsa of the best servants of Kṛṣṇa.

We realize that we ourselves will never amount to much and if Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure is our only concern then we better help those who really matter to Him. I’m not going to describe glories of mañjarīs here but let’s think what it means to us in terms of choosing our master, choosing who to pray for.

Yes, Kṛṣṇa is God, we obviously can always pray to Him, but for what? What’s the most He can give us? We have no idea what spiritual treasures He can unlock for us but if we see it in comparison to the treasures of this world then we are looking at it wrong. He can please us beyond our imagination but it’s still a self-serving, egoistic attitude.

We are also confined to living at least the rest of our current lives in our bodies with no access to real spiritual feelings. We know that we are made to suffer like this for our own benefit and we know that we have to make do with whatever situation we find ourselves in. What’s the point of praying to Kṛṣṇa then?

We can say that our constitutional position is being His servants but that also doesn’t mean much. He IS God, and we ARE His servants. Pray or no pray, it’s not going to change anything, our constitutional position is not going to change.

What we can attain is pure devotion, bhakti, it’s something that we have the potential for but it’s obviously needs to be developed even if we manage to shake off the illusion of being material bodies.

Here’s the catch, though – bhakti comes only from bhakti. We learn it from other devotees, not from Kṛṣṇa Himself, so if we want bhakti we should seek shelter of devotees, seek shelter of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. She has something we don’t, and without Her mercy never will – Kṛṣṇa prema.

That’s why if we choose wisely we should choose serving Her, not Kṛṣṇa. There’s another, practical reason, too – Kṛṣṇa is fickle. He is supremely independent and He is known to switch His allegiances and break His devotees’ hearts. In our present situation He simply doesn’t want to reveal Himself, He prefers to keep His distance, and that’s understandable, but we’ll never run into this problem if we take shelter of Rādha. Never.

There’s not a moment when Krṣṇa’s devotees forget about Him, never a moment when they decide to wander in the woods by themselves, minding their own business. They don’t have their own business. If we want to always remember Kṛṣṇa we have to learn steadiness not from Him but from Śrī Rādhikā.

There’s another comparison to be made with Truffaldino here – one of his masters was a woman dressed as a man, trying to behave like a “normal” person while hiding her true identity. We had Lord Caitanya doing just that and He had examples of devotees struggling to deal with His dual identity, too. Many were not aware of it, many didn’t understand it, and if we present it like that to the modern people they would immediately question His gender identity. They can’t imagine that spiritual emotions are completely asexual, as far as their material manifestations are concerned.

The comedy had a happy ending, of course, but, perhaps, the greater moral of the story was Truffaldino’s discovery of his true passion. Turns out his love of food was simply an expression of his desire to love an actual person. Once he finds his true love, his food cravings go away.

I hope something like that happens to us, too, and rather sooner than later. Whichever master we choose to pray to (except māyā, of course), I hope we find spiritual happiness that would make us forget about all the attractions of this world. They are like anchors holding us grounded here, they spoil all the mercy coming to us from our ācāryas, they are anarthas that need to be purged

Vanity thought #1018. Science of Bhakti

Yesterday, and for the better part of this week, I tried to prove that “scientific method” isn’t as scientific as it’s made out to be, that science has no monopoly on it, and that it can be applied in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, too.

My last note, however, was that scientific method is of no use in catching Kṛṣṇa even if we fully comply with instructions of our ācāryas and rules of sādhana bhakti. I guess you can already see where it’s going.

Scientific method won’t work for us because the idea of reaching Kṛṣṇa by our own efforts is wrong. There’s another materialistic assumption about scientific method I haven’t mentioned yet – reliance on yourself. In science it’s axiomatic – if you want to learn anything, you have to study it yourself. If you want to discover anything, you have to search of it yourself, too. There’s a pretty straightforward correlation between success and efforts made to achieve it. It’s not a constant ratio, of course, but the correlation is always positive – you study, you learn. You don’t study and you don’t learn, there’s no other way.

We cannot achieve Kṛṣṇa by our own efforts, no kind of God would allow Himself to be exposed this way, not just Kṛṣṇa.

This puts a huge damper on whatever enthusiasm I might have about applying scientific method in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It makes it look like waste of time, and, in a way, it is. We don’t need to be scientists to learn this simple truth. What is hard is to always be aware of it.

Most of the time, being in a conditioned state, we forget that our efforts will never be the cause of whatever results we get. Karmically, yes, of course, but spiritually there’s no such thing as the law of karma. There’s only the law of causeless mercy. Causeless – get it, it’s the opposite of karma.

So, if we think that by chanting many rounds we can make Kṛṣṇa manifest in the Holy Name, we are wrong. If we think that by reading many books we can finally grasp the philosophy and develop love of God, we are wrong. If we think that if we go to all temple programs and serve devotees there we will earn the right of Kṛṣṇa’s association, we are wrong again.

Nothing works. No matter what we try, we can’t force Kṛṣṇa to reveal Himself. No matter how scientific or how rational our method is, it does not deliver Kṛṣṇa, because Kṛṣṇa is supremely independent. If He doesn’t want to, He won’t show Himself.

We can try the sneakier way – we get the mercy of guru first, then we hope to get the mercy of Lord Nityānanda, then, by His grace, we get the mercy of Lord Caitanya, and then Lord Caitanya will deliver us to Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet.

There’s nothing wrong with it, this is exactly what will happen, but it won’t depend on us, and Kṛṣṇa can block our progress at any point without any explanations. He is not obliged to explain Himself to us. Our guru, our predecessor ācāryas, our entire paramparā all the way up to Lord Brahmā – no one can force Kṛṣṇa to do anything. They can put a good word for us, and I hope they would, but final decision always rests with the Lord.

One could say that Kṛṣṇa always fulfills desires of His devotees but He does that our of His own free will, if He doesn’t want to, no one can force Him to do anything.

This isn’t the end of the world, though – we can always seek shelter of Śṛīmatī Rādhārāṇī and leave Kṛṣṇa to enjoy His selfishness alone, ha ha.

Seriously, though, this realization that we cannot command bhakti to appear in our hearts should increase our humility and that is always a good thing. Humility increases our patience and makes it easier for us to wait.

Another side of this realization is that we can reflect on the very nature of bhakti and on our expectations from it. Why can’t we get devotion? What’s wrong with us?

Let’s put it in very simple terms – bhakti means relationships with Kṛṣṇa. Not chanting in our own room, not reading books in a cozy chair, not eating prasādam, not dancing, not offering prayers, not offering obeisances, not associating with devotees – bhakti means associating with Kṛṣṇa.

Bhakti means relationships and so without contact with Kṛṣṇa it is meaningless. Nothing can substitute it either. In fact, our first contact with Kṛṣṇa will probably be devoid of bhakti, it would probably be about awe and veneration, not love yet.

So, in our everyday lives, when we don’t even hope to contact Kṛṣṇa directly, what is it that we expect from our version of bhakti? Our own happiness, that’s what.

We might say that it’s a spiritual happiness so it’s okay but it’s still about our own enjoyment, still fundamentally selfish. Bhakti will not grow in such a heart.

When we apply this so called scientific method in our devotional lives we usually judge results by the amount of pleasure this or that activity brings us. “Oh, serving devotees is so nectarian. Oh, book distribution is the height of ecstasy. Oh, freedom from sex is so cool. Oh, kirtans are so sweet. Oh, Bhāgavatam classes are so liberating.”

Without direct contact with Kṛṣṇa this is probably all we can hope for. We assume that this pleasure is given to us by Kṛṣṇa so it IS a kind of exchange, however indirect. It IS a kind of relationship, isn’t it? We do things and Kṛṣṇa reciprocates by giving us spiritual rewards. This doesn’t prove anything, however.

God reciprocates with every living being. He fulfills desires of every little worm slurping its way through delicious stool. Getting this kind of response is not bhakti. It is a higher level of enjoyment, true, but it’s still enjoyment. Our enjoyment, to be precise.

As long as we value our own feelings, we won’t get bhakti. We should be ashamed of it, really. It’s nice and kosher and it’s spiritually uplifting but it’s the very thing that keeps our hearts locked out of love for Kṛṣṇa.

We can’t say “I want pure devotion but I also want to feel good about it.” It’s an oxymoron, pure devotion and our own feelings are like oil and water, they don’t mix.

Well, what can we do then?

Not much, I’m afraid. We can forgo our feelings and engage in service without any ulterior motives, that would be good start. We might not be able to serve Kṛṣṇa directly but we can start by serving His representatives, and not just as a step to better things in the future but as our ultimate goal – as far as this life in this body is concerned it is true.

Without seeing Kṛṣṇa directly we don’t know how to please Him but we have His representatives and we can concentrate on their happiness instead of ours, and we should not treat this as a temporary assignment either. It’s all there is for us, life after life. Kṛṣṇa manifests for us through His devotees and so we should treat them correspondingly.

It is a kind of spiritual ABC but I haven’t heard anyone preaching in this vein for a very very long time. Maybe I am just unlucky, or maybe we, as a society, have become so suspicious of each other that we can’t say such things in public anymore. What can I say? It’s our greatest loss.