Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Nama-Aparadha

It appears Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur (shortened form only for the sake of post title being concise) had a lot to say on nama-aparadha. I’m typing this down before I forget as I just listened to these stories in a class where no references were given and I can’t find confirmation in available sources. The speaker gave a lot of details and he has access to Bengali originals so there is no reason to doubt these accounts whatsoever, so here goes.

First thing, and this is where more clarity is probably needed, is that before Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati the concept of nama-aparadha was absent in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. This might not have been true of ALL Gaudiya vaishnavas but there were cases of notable opposition and this can’t be ignored. The fact that this opposition didn’t feel challenged until Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati started speaking up on this shows that there was this tacit understanding – there are no nama-aparadhas in chanting the holy name. This was their argument – the Name is all forgiving and all powerful so there cannot be a way to offend it as a matter of principle.

We could say – “Wait a minute! What about that famous verse from Padma Purana?” Every ISKCON temple has its translation on the wall somewhere – the list of ten offences. Temple devotees often recite this list before morning japa, too, so how it can be denied? The speaker didn’t clarify this but he said that Padma Purana is… not a fixed text, shall we say. Damodarastaka we sing every day during Karttik is also from Padma Purana but can’t be found in any contemporary editions. The ten offences verse is still there but it’s already in a different Canto from the time of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, so it’s possible that this verse was not widely known. Off the top of my head I can’t think of an exact place where this Padma Purana verse on nama-aparadhas is discussed in Goswami literature, though I believe everything can be found in Srila Jiva Goswami’s sandarbhas or in Hari-bhakti-vilasa. By itself it won’t mean much anyway because most of the Gaudiya vaishnavas were illiterate and caste goswamis who preached to them avoided nama-aparadhas for their own reasons.

I said “avoided nama-aparadhas” not in a sense they avoided committing offences, no, they avoided talking about offences because then it would mean they’d had to give them up and they didn’t want that. They didn’t want to reform themselves and they didn’t want to discourage their followers either. If people wanted to have a kirtan – let them, don’t interrupt them, gradually the Holy Name would purify them automatically. If you start stopping their kirtans they’ll lose the taste completely and so what would you achieve?

It’s all very reasonable and this is exactly what we often hear today – let them sing, it won’t hurt, they are singing Hare Krishna, what more do you want? Don’t be fanatical, show a little appreciation, don’t turn people away from chanting, encourage them, nurture them, give them facilities, give them praise. Gradually gradually they will come to the stage of pure chanting by the power of the Holy Name. Moreover, if you start enforcing your rules everybody will leave and you won’t have anyone to have a kirtan with.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had none of that. His central point on nama-aparadha was that it never goes away automatically by itself. Never. People who believe it will happen are only fooling themselves. Even Krishnadas Kaviraja says so in Caitanya Caritamrita – offensive chanting will go on for many many lifetimes (CC Adi 8.16). It’s a waste of everybody’s time, and in Kali yuga time is valuable – it flies away much faster than before.

Two stories were given to demonstrate this in the life of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. First story involved a devotee from Nityananda Vamsa who helped him establish Gaudiya Math in Calcutta. He was once present during a class and when he heard Srila Bhaktisiddhanta preaching extensively on avoiding offenses he loudly protested, saying that he never heard anything like that form his guru, who was a famous acharya who translated many Goswami books (into Bengali, I suppose). To this Srila Bhaktisiddhanta calmly, without naming any names, replied that anyone who doesn’t teach his disciples how to avoid offences in chanting is not a real guru and it was not a real initiation. The devotee left, unable to tolerate such disrespect, but it is actually true – it is an essential part of initiation procedure. One must not only give a mantra but also give instructions on how to chant it. There are no rules in chanting the Holy Name but offenses must be avoided, this is essential, otherwise mantra will not bring its expected results.

There was another anecdote given, this time from Srila Prabhupada. He once let his senior disciples to give initiation lecture and he was sitting there and listening. Then at one point he interrupted it and said that one absolutely must mention avoiding the ten offenses during initiation, and then Srila Prabhupada took over and completed the talk himself. Again, no reference were given and I wouldn’t even know how to search archives for a class like that. There are 67 hits in Folio on “initiation lecture” and there is no facility to search within the results so I’d have to read them one by one, which is impractical. I have no reason to doubt it happened.

The point is this – offenses absolutely must be avoided, which we all already know, but do not take very seriously, and the guru absolutely must teach his disciples how to do that. I don’t want to play part of initiation lecture police but recent FDG initiation class was very short on anything to do with chanting and with the Holy Name and I don’t think they mentioned offences at all. They all talked about this glorious achievement of having female gurus instead. I don’t want this to be a dig at FDGs either – just a neutral point that a guru should absolutely teach about avoiding offenses, otherwise he is not a real guru and initiation is not a real initiation either. For all I know, that female devotee could have taught about offenses on other occasions, which would be sufficient, so, once again, it’s not a dig at FDG, just a reminder what we should be on a lookout for when someone claims to be a guru. Doesn’t matter male or female – it applies to everybody equally.

Second story from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s life was connected to his preaching in Jajpur in Orissa. That one I could find and so here is an account of what happened as told in Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava:

After a public program in Jajpur District, whereat Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura had spoken about the ten offenses against the holy name, the maharaja of that area objected that since the Lord’s name is pure it can be chanted in any manner without question of aparādha; and the many sadhus present there abetted his claim. Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura told the doubting monarch, “I will show you how this is true.” He asked the sadhus to remain throughout the entire second session of that function, scheduled for the next evening. “We will be having saṅkīrtana and Hari-kathā, so you should not leave,” he said. Those sadhus came, but the majority left early, being habituated to smoking ganja and tobacco or taking tea at that time. Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura then pointed out, “Because of their addictions they cannot stay for saṅkīrtana. Is this not due to their offenses?” The maharaja understood. Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura then told him that Kali resides where there is meat-eating, gambling, illicit sex, intoxication, and the search for money, so these vices should be given up by serious reciters of the holy name.

SBV 3.12.Namaparadha (located in Volume 2)

This is self-explanatory. Btw, the first story could be the one described in the previous paragraph in the book but the names mentioned and circumstances are different, so it’s either a different story or it comes from a different source, or the speaker misremembered it, which is not very likely given his scholarly nature and proficiency in both Bengali and Sanskrit. Otherwise the content of that chapter in SBV confirms everything else I heard in that class and said in this article.

One must absolutely avoid nama-aparadhas as otherwise one would not be able to make any progress. A guru who tolerates nama-aparadha committed by his disciples only deludes his followers. I’ll conclude with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s own words on this subject:

Without taking shelter at the lotus feet of śrī-guru there is no harināma. Not knowing the difference between nāma and nāmāparādha, many persons accept mud instead of milk. Thus it is absolutely essential to know the right object of worship. Why we should perform bhajana, which bhajana we should do—understanding this is called initiation from śrī-gurudeva. Dīkṣā is the pastime of imparting sambandha-jñāna.

Srila Prabhupadera Goloka-vani 3.155


Vanity thought #1584. Advaya jnana

I’ve mentioned this term once when talking about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s last public address but I didn’t do it full justice and want to come back to this topic again.

HH Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī gives the following definition in the glossary to his Srī Bhaktisiddhānta Vaibhava biography:

  • Advaya-jñāna—(1) knowledge that there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and His names, forms, qualities, weapons, and so on, and that anything pertaining to Him is of the same spiritual nature; (2) the object of that knowledge, who is nondifferent from it, namely Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This meaning is often conveyed by the term advaya-jñāna-tattva (see SB 1.2.11).

The Bhāgavatam verse referred to in this definition is the famous:

vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam
brahmeti paramātmeti
bhagavān iti śabdyate

vadanti — they say; tat — that; tattva-vidaḥ — the learned souls; tattvam — the Absolute Truth; yat — which; jñānam — knowledge; advayam — nondual; brahma iti — known as Brahman; paramātmā iti — known as Paramātmā; bhagavān iti — known as Bhagavān; śabdyate — it so sounded.

Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān.

Advaya jñāna is not the part we usually discuss there, though, and it’s not mentioned once in the purport, so it’s new. OTOH, there’s nothing conceptually new about it either – it’s the “nondual substance” in our translation, we just normally gloss over the term. If we look into word-for-word translation there’s no “substance” there, there’s only jñāna, knowledge, which could be a source of confusion.

In our default understanding knowledge and the object of knowledge are different so we can easily understand what “know the substance” means but when we talk about “nondual” then the difference between the act [or state] of knowing and the object of knowledge disappears. We can’t “know the Brahman” in the normal sense. On the platform of advaya-jñāna the difference between “know” and “Brahman” disappears, and I would argue that the “I” that supposedly “knows the Brahman” disappears, too.

This might sound impersonalist but it isn’t – our “I” is a product of a false ego, it doesn’t exist in the Absolute Realm and it ceases to exists when we attain advaya-jñāna. Impersonalists are our fellow transcendentalists and they speak the truth in this regard, the only part they miss is that even despite dissolution of our material identity we can revive our original spiritual one and thus get a new “I”, which, unlike the present one, will be “nondual” – qualitatively non-different form the Lord/Brahman. It won’t have material duality but it will be spiritually differentiated from the Lord.

Out of all schools of dvaita we with our bhedābheda are actually the closest to advaitins but at the same time we are their most outspoken opponents. Go figure. The difference is relatively small and unnoticeable on the material platform but it makes or breaks out future spiritual lives – denying existence of the transcendental form of the Lord, which we can’t even see, is our doom as devotees. As future devotees, I might add, for now we are only candidates with limited training.

Somehow the decision we make here now affects our future spiritual karma and we are warned with all seriousness and heft of our guru and predecessor ācāryas to make the right one. They must know and see something we don’t. Perhaps our human form of life IS very special and we should not trifle with our choices. They might appear innocent but they will have far reaching consequences.

Our reaction to hearing these warnings is to increase the level of hostility towards māyāvādīs and convince ourselves that we are nothing like them. It helps to stay the course but whether it’s factually true or not is a matter of dispute. The more we learn about impersonalism the more we notice it in ourselves. We notice impersonalism in our relationships with others, we notice our attraction to impersonalism we observe in the materialistic society, we notice impersonalism in our whimsical interpretations of śāstra or Prabhupāda’s instructions, it can be found everywhere, we just have to look hard enough.

Technically, every time we do not see something as manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s energy is a sign of impersonalism. Anything we see as NOT Kṛṣṇa’s property is due to our impersonalism, too. Any place where we do not see Kṛṣṇa’s personal presence is impersonalism. There’s a lot of it to find in our lives. Most of the time we don’t even bother to look, which is another symptom of impersonalism – as if Kṛṣṇa wasn’t there.

Here how we can connect this Bhāgavatam definition with the one given in the glossary, which, I presume, was taken from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s usage. Advaya-jñāna is “knowledge that there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and His names, forms..” When we say the word “Kṛṣṇa” and we do not see His personal presence and His direct control over everything else present in our view we are being impersonal and we do not possess advaya-jñāna. Once again – advaya-jñāna and advaita are actually opposite. On the advaya-jñāna platform we must see the Lord, on advaita we can’t.

All this talk about definitions and I didn’t even get to the heart of the matter, to why this concept of advaya-jñāna was so important to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta – it was one of his go to terms when talking about goals of devotional service. My excuse is that I’ve lost the sense of urgency myself in the time between conceiving this post and sitting down to actually type it. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to invoke it artificially and just go with what I have now.

Let’s take how the term was used in Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s last speech:

    All should remain united in following the āśraya-vigraha, for the sake of serving the advaya-jñāna.

Āśraya-vigraha here can be understood as either the guru (Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī himself) or Śrī Rādhā, doesn’t really matter, but look at “for the sake of serving the advaya-jñāna“. Here the term is non-different from Kṛṣṇa Himself. We should follow our ācāryas, all the way up to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, for the sake of serving Kṛṣṇa. See how the meaning of advaya-jñāna is different here from our default interpretation as “knowledge of non-dual substance”. We still see “Kṛṣṇa” and “knowledge” as different and we certainly use these two words differently in our everyday lives, even in conversations on spiritual topics, but this difference is illusory.

The point is that we should strive to achieve the real advaya-jñāna platform where this duality disappears. Unfortunately, we can’t take our opponents with us, we must leave our battles with them behind, they are not real, they are a product of illusion and we shouldn’t be attached. Arguing with atheists, with people from other Vedic schools, with fellow devotees – it’s all illusory, a product of a dual vision. It doesn’t matter, we need to know Kṛṣṇa first, then we can continue our arguments from a proper platform and illuminate these souls with proper advaya-jñāna.

Vanity thought #1583. Lines of authority

For a week now I’ve been talking about the departure of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, his last public address, his last days, and his actual last words. However, despite knowing all this I still stick by the version I’ve heard many many years earlier from a devotee whose name I don’t even remember. Lines of authority are funny that way.

Modern people pride themselves on being logical and rational but one of the most obvious areas where logic fails them is their irrational allegiance to their first authority on any subject. Everything they hear after that is viewed through the prism of their first “guru”, turns out I’m not an exception.

One can easily find confirmation of this phenomenon in people’s mundane lives, I don’t want to waste time on proving that. One’s political views on the value of the free market, for example, are usually so long held that it’s impossible to actually trace them to the first person who asserted that capitalism is good, or capitalism is evil, both utterances pronounced with the air of the authority around the speaker. Everything else that comes after that would still be forever judged according to that first premise. Another example would be one’s opinion of historical figures – you hear it once and it will stay with you for the rest of your life. Unless it’s something you take a keen interest in and mentally prepare yourself for fundamental changes in your understanding you are stuck with your guru forever, it’s just how our minds work.

What interests me more is how this phenomenon manifests itself in people’s spiritual lives. Sometimes you just need to hear a few words from a person to determine where he comes from and how far he can possibly progress in a foreseeable future. You can also easily determine how much interest he takes in the subject and how important it is to him, but more importantly – how it will affect his next life.

If you talk to Indians you can spot traces of “yata mata tata patha” planted in their minds so long ago they are not going away – all paths are good, all are spiritual, and you can worship all gods equally. The plus side is that they are less offensive at least in their external behavior. Likewise, they have absorbed their knowledge of Kṛṣṇa with their mothers’ milk, no matter what anybody ever says about Him they will still see Him as God.

If you talk to non-Indian Hindu wannabes then the first thing they know is that you are Brahman and God doesn’t really exist, Kṛṣṇa being simply a tool to achieve higher understanding. No matter what they read after that they’ll always think of themselves as Brahman and as being above such silly concepts as devotion. It just doesn’t wash off.

On the plus side there are people who got their first spiritual lessons from our books and you can spot them a mile away, too. The way they might talk about māyāvādīs is a dead giveaway, and also the way they talk about things like reincarnation or yoga, or Sanskrit, or elements of varṇāśrama. We, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, are known for having immutable and easily recognizable views on such topics. The way Śrīla Prabhupāda presented them makes them unique even so many years later and in people who can hardly remember his name. These things stick.

Sometimes I wonder why it is so and whether it has any spiritual value behind it. With Śrīla Prabhupāda it’s easy – even a small knowledge attained on our path can save one from the greatest danger, but what about this subconscious allegiance to all kinds of bogus gurus? Does it make people spiritually crippled for the rest of their lives?

In some cases it does because it makes people carry their attachments and upādhis. Eventually they have to overcome those but it takes a very long time, which is obviously not good. OTOH, this allegiance can be seen in a positive way, too – a guru is a guru. You surrender and he teaches you and you can never ever give him up. Objectively speaking he might be a bogus guru but it’s the one given to you and so you have to stick with him no matter what.

“Stick with him” doesn’t mean you can’t recognize errors in his teachings but it means you should never ever lose respect. It’s like with your father – no matter what he does he is still the one who gave you life, nothing will ever change this simple fact. So yes, I’m prepared to appreciate people allegiance to frauds like Ramakrishna if it’s done with the spirit of always honoring your ācāryas. I believe one can, and should be encouraged to, keep this gratitude in their hearts even if they moved on to better understanding of God and devotional service. More likely they will never be able to move on but if they did gratitude is still in order.

Oh, and about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s last words – I was told by a devotee, in great confidence, that he said that we should always chant the holy name and it will save us no matter what happens in our lives. Things will get messy, mistakes will be made, falldowns will be experienced, relationships torn, institutions ruined – but if we keep chanting through it all our lives will be spiritually successful. Chanting is the only thing that matters.

As it’s recorded in Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī’s biography, the actual last words were: “All of you, present and absent, accept my blessings. Remember that our sole duty and dharma is to propagate service to the Lord and His devotees.” Not exactly what I was told, but I still stick by my remembered version. How? By explaining it away, by refusing to see the contradiction.

Fine, he didn’t say “..our sole duty and dharma is to chant the holy name”, but I didn’t understand it to mean only chanting and not saṅkīrtana either, and saṅkīrtana is nothing else but “propagate service to the Lord and His devotees.” There’s no contradiction here. He didn’t say build temples, distribute food, or even distribute books, he meant perform saṅkīrtana in a broader sense – as preaching, which is discussing the Lord in the company of others, chanting the holy name is included. This is what “propagate service” means – talk to others about glories of the service to the Lord. It’s still the same thing as chanting.

I’m not going to give up my eternal gratitude to that unknown devotee just because there’s an apparent inconsistency. Spiritually, the message is the same, it’s advaya jñāna, which is another great subject taught by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta.

Vanity thought #1582. The actual event

I’ll try to pretend that nothing happened over the New Year – no family gatherings, no drives to the airport, no skype sessions with missing relatives, and just pick up where I left off. It’s probably the only way to get back in the saddle, as they say.

So far I’ve discussed Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s last public address to his disciples, not the actual event of his departure from our view. He sensed that death was coming to claim his body but he kept on preaching, arguing that Hari bhajana is our only engagement in this world and so we shouldn’t stop it even for the death itself.

For some people their final days last for a long time, weeks if not months. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, otoh, kept a fairly busy schedule almost until the end, he was confined to bed for only ten days. If we look at the civian calendar, he was last seen walking about on 20th Dec when he surprised Ananta Vāsudeva Prabhu by visiting him in his room because he hasn’t seen him in quite a while. On the 23rd he gave that last speech, the next day he noticed that there was no kīrtana and no lecture going on in the temple and demanded the normal program to be resumed. There is a joke on this topic about a dying Jewish shopkeeper and his family, devotees are apparently no different in keeping their priorities straight no matter what. The biography doesn’t have any records after that day until Dec 31.

On New Year’s eve he had a busy morning, not that anyone cared about New Year in India. Śridhara Svāmī was there and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī asked him to sing Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī pada. This episode was also recalled by Śrīdhara Mahārāja himself and it was pretty close to how it’s described by Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī’s biography. The thing was that Śrīdhara Svāmī wasn’t a regular singer and so a senior disciple instructed the usual, reputed kīrtanīyā to take over. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, however, insisted on Śrīdhara Svāmī continuing and said that he wasn’t concerned with melodious intonations.

He then asked another devotee to sing one of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s songs which ended with the following verse:
“O Lord, I am extremely unfortunate. My attachment for the holy name has never come about. The heart of Bhaktivinoda is overwhelmed with sadness.” Upon hearing these last lines, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī clapped his hand to his forehead as profuse tears of humility decorated his cheeks, warning of the lamentable plight of being unattracted to the holy name – that’s verbatim from the book.

This is a perfect illustration of what is supposed to happen to us in the best case scenario at the highest possible stages of advancement. We won’t be having visions of Kṛṣṇa and His jolly calves prancing around Vṛndāvana. All we can hope for is profound humility, overwhelming realization that we have absolutely no taste for chanting of the holy name. Nothing else is possible to realize while in bodily consciousness – lack of bhakti is our constitutional state here, we can’t have it any other way until our consciousness gets separated from material senses and sense objects. Ordinary people see flowers and sunsets, perfect devotees see absence of the Lord and absence of devotion.

Next came a big and important talk about the future of the mission. I don’t want to start an argument how exactly it should have been interpreted, what was the background, or how different parties understood it. I’ll just give my own impression and would urge everyone else to thread carefully, too. There were lots of invested interests at the time, different devotees chose different courses of actions and we can be sure they felt totally justified themselves. Our side is Srila Prabhupada’s side but he wasn’t there and if someone says that this is not how it all played out we can get into an unpleasant argument for no good reason.

It was the day when Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī gave instructions on how to carry on Gauḍiyā Maṭha mission in his absence, that the devotees should form a GBC and so on. That’s what we know about it but there were other instructions, too, and it might have been confusing. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī entrusted management to one particular devotee, for example, and he wasn’t everybody’s favorite. He then asked who was the most knowledgeable in the śāstra and entrusted that devotee to continue spreading the rūpa-raghunātha-vāṇī. Similarly, he gave various orders to other devotees who might have thought it was more important for them than worrying about GBC.

I can see how some devotees might have interpreted these orders as indicators of who should be appointed as an ācārya and I can understand how they didn’t take the order to form the GBC more seriously because it wasn’t addressed to them personally. We can easily say “they didn’t form the GBC and that’s why they failed” but we should also remember that instead of “they didn’t” we can consider various “they dids”. I’m pretty sure no one thought “I’m not going to follow this order” but everyone was busy busy with what they thought they had to do. It happens to us all the time – we become too preoccupied with doing something and don’t even notice we missed something else. It’s very easy to judge others from a safe distance and with full knowledge of history. Things never look quite the same in the heat of the moment, we should not forget that.

Among other, non-controversial things, there was an order to complete publishing Vaiṣṇava-mañjuṣā – a Sanskrit dictionary explaining meaning of every word, every root, every syllable, every sound as manifestation of Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī got a big donation for this project once and it was important for another reason, too, which I intend to explain in a couple of days.

Another instruction was to a disciple who had a temporary fallout with his guru: “Either in love or rupture, it is good to maintain the same purpose.” This should tell us that our relationship with our guru is eternal and while it sometimes appears to be affected by karmic considerations we should not take it very seriously, these things come and go, they hinder our relationships only for a short time.

His last message was: “All of you, present and absent, accept my blessings. Remember that our sole duty and dharma is to propagate service to the Lord and His devotees.”

Next morning, around 5.20, he came to consciousness and asked who was present. Devotees were supposed to change shifts at that time and as one devotee was leaving, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta left the body. His last words were “Oh…Oh…Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa”.

This happened in Calcutta and devotees took his body to Māyāpur for final rights, arriving there when it was already evening. It’s not particularly important what rituals they observed and how. His body was transcendental but we should be more concerned with the journey of the soul. I want to speculate on how the death could have possibly felt for Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta but it won’t be today.

Vanity thought #1581. Really old school

While talking about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s disappearance and last instructions it would be very appropriate to discuss his views on saṅkīrtana and his contribution to book distribution and preaching in general.

My starting point in this series of posts during Prabhupāda marathon is an “ideal” saṅkīrtana temple where everything is centered on book distribution and where saṅkīrtana means book distribution first and foremost. We don’t have those anymore for many reasons and resurrecting them would probably be a Utopian idea but saṅkīrtana is not an arrangement for this world, it’s not supposed to fit here. Those who are after its nectar do not belong to this world either, they are just passing through. Consequently, this series of posts is not about how to make our lives here easier, but to remind us of a perfect life that exists in eternal service to Lord Caitanya, not in this world. It’s not about how to reconcile Vedas with science or evolution, or how to reconcile Kṛṣṇa consciousness and Christianity, or about any of the subjects concerned with worldly phenomena. Our only goal should be the mercy of Lord Caitanya which manifests in service to His mission, too bad if we do not live up to it.

In history of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism we had saṅkīrtana as led by Lord Caitanya, then saṅkīrtana as led by Lord Nityānanda, then the Six Gosvāmīs, then the period of Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura, then we had dark ages until Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and his revival of Gauḍiyā tradition. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta continued that and then Śrīla Prabhupāda took it all over the world. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta then appears as just a link in a chain but he was so much more than that.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote many books and started the bhakti vṛkṣa program but after his retirement from public preaching it practically stopped so Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta had to start literally from scratch and he did it on a scale never seen before. He didn’t just cultivate small groups of devotees, he built temples and entire communities around them, all around India. His reach was unprecedented, he got the ear of biggest political and government leaders and he had festivals attended by millions of people. He put saṅkīrtana on an industrial footing, so to speak.

It wasn’t about the books, though, he hardly printed any and he wasn’t a prolific writer himself. Nevertheless, he “discovered” bṛhat mṛdaṅga, before him it was just a printing press. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda had various publications going on during his life and he also printed his own books but that had all stopped and to revive it Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta needed new material, again starting from scratch.

Mostly he published periodicals, the main one being Gauḍiyā in Bengali. He also had Harmonist in English and a Hindi periodical as well. He published those in great numbers and had thousands of devotees go out and distribute them to the public, something Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura didn’t have in his time. Someone might correct me but the idea of investing all the money into printing books, the famous order given to our Śrīla Prabhupāda, occurred to him in last years of his life, he didn’t have time to put it in practice.

What I mean to say is that saṅkīrtana for him didn’t mean book distribution as it came to mean in ISKCON. Still, saṅkīrtana was the only life and soul of Gauḍiyā Maṭha, it just manifested differently.

Remembering Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s speeches and instructions, he always talked about Hari-kathā, which was his preferred manifestation of saṅkīrtana. He hardly ever sang the holy names but he always talked about Kṛṣṇa. He also used terms like Hari-bhajana, śuddha Hari-bhajana, Hari-seva-katha and the like. In simple words – we must always talk about Kṛṣṇa and of nothing else. This was saṅkīrtana in its purest form, free from all other motivations.

Devotees followed his example, too, and gave speeches everywhere they went, that’s how their mission had grown, just as we did in ISKCON half a century later. This is the heart of saṅkīrtana – talking about Kṛṣṇa to appreciating audience, to devotees. Every other form must not undermine this main principle. Find devotees and talk to them, if there aren’t any around – make people into devotees and talk to them. If you are alone – find devotees and talk about Kṛṣṇa in their association. There’s no other way. Even when we do japa we do it Haridāda Ṭhākura’s style – outloud so that there’s always some living entities who can hear it.

Every devotee in Gauḍiyā Maṭhas was expected to go out and preach every day just as they were required to chant their rounds. They were supposed to do it “Nityānanda style” – approach people and beg them to consider the message of Lord Caitanya. Devotees also asked for donations, which is an old tradition. People saw them as sādhus and hearing spiritual instructions and then giving donations was a part of the ritual.

What pleased Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta the most, however, was when devotees persuaded people to buy the magazines. That’s how he eventually got the idea of Bṛhat Mṛdaṅga – don’t just talk, leave something to read later, too. This is what our Śrīla Prabhupāda did as well – asked devotees to distribute Back To Godhead magazines along with harināma and prasādam. It was only later that the devotees figured out that they could distribute big books, too.

Eventually we got around to the idea that books can be what cows were to people in Vedic ages – foundation of the entire society and expression of wealth and prosperity. It’s a Kali yuga solution, though. If we want to build a varṇāśrama we need to go back to land and cows but if you do not worry about settling down and putting roots then books are the best. They are also not wealth per se, you can’t eat them, but they can be converted to money. Most importantly, they give everyone a chance to serve saṅkīrtana mission.

Some devotees in Gauḍiyā Maṭha got the wrong idea that donations were the basis, just like some of our devotees thought that books were the basis because they brought in money, but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta cut them short. Preaching is the basis, as well as the goal and the method, money is just something that the universe provides to oil the wheels. Saṅkīrtana is never about the money, if one thinks like that he immediately looses all spiritual realizations.

One time Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta told the entire temple to stay in and wait and he left for saṅkīrtana all alone. He didn’t collect anything substantial, as far as I remember, but someone suddenly showed up with a big donation of foodstuff on his own and everybody was immediately convinced. As long as preaching is going on the universe will cooperate in this regard, we don’t need to make any separate efforts. This is another principle we should never forget if we talk about book distribution.

I wish I remembered something more on this topic but I don’t, so I’ll give it a rest.

Vanity thought #1580. Last words

Let’s look closer at Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s last public address I posted yesterday in full. It was jotted down by one of his disciples and then published in Gaudiya magazine, which was Gauḍiyā Maṭha’s main publication. The English translation from Bengali can be easily found elsewhere on the internet. A book by HH Bhaktivikāsa Svāmī has several footnotes that deserves to be included, too, but let’s start at the beginning.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī never in his entire life took any medicine, he put his health solely in the hands of Kṛṣṇa. We are not advised to imitate him in this but we should at least know that it’s a possibility and only our immaturity as aspiring devotees is stopping us from following his footsteps in this regard. Our conditioning puts us at the mercy of the material energy, if she tells us to take medicine than we should not act as if are liberated, we depend on her and on her help but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta didn’t.

Having said that, he still behaved as a conditioned living being – experiencing pain, old age, constant battles with his mind etc just like the rest of us. For him, however, all those troubles were external because he didn’t identify himself with his body. We do, we think it’s us who get old and sick, and we hardly ever notice our mind wondering away from Kṛṣṇa’s service, we just happily go along for the ride, only occasionally catching ourselves on deviations. When we think of liberation we expect that all these troubles would stop but from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s life we can see that it won’t be the case. Birth, death, old age, and disease will continue but we won’t take it personally and to outsiders the advantage provided by Kṛṣṇa consciousness will be impossible to detect.

So, even if Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was aware of his imminent departure he continued with his service without interruptions. He left his body in the morning of January 1, 1937, yet he spent whole of November giving daily lectures on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in Purī which lasted for several hours each. When he was returning to Calcutta in the beginning of December quite a few people realized that they were seeing their guru for the last time. He became bedridden on the 18th of December, only two weeks before departure, and the last public speech was given on the 23rd. After that he just didn’t have the power but regularly listened to devotees singing songs by Bhaktivinoda and Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākuras.

A couple of doctors approached him but devotees joked that instead of treating him they got a treatment themselves – spiritual treatment, that is. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s arguments were simple – this body is given to us for engagement in Kṛṣṇa kathā and so harināma is the only suitable medicine. The doctor in Purī whose main proposal was to restrict Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s lecturing got it the heaviest and was left completely bewildered that all his learning was completely blown to pieces. He didn’t expect that a patient would be so clear in his dedication to Kṛṣṇa’s service that he’d forgo his personal bodily comfort even when threatened by death. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta wasn’t fanatical either, it’s just that the condition of his body had no effect on the condition of his consciousness, mind, or intelligence.

His last speech began with asking forgiveness from those who were thought to be his enemies. Our Śrīla Prabhupāda did that, too, and some have misconstrued it to mean that he abandoned his disciples and took shelter in his godbrothers instead, finally realizing the error of his ways. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s apology, however, makes it clear that all this enemy making business was for people’s own benefit and he hoped that one day they will surely realize it. That’s how we should see our Prabhupāda’s
apology, too, even if it was worded differently, as far as I remember.

    I have upset many persons’ minds. Many might have considered me their enemy, because I was obliged to speak the plain truth of service and devotion toward the Absolute Godhead. I have given them all those troubles only so they might turn their face toward the Personality of Godhead without any desire for gain, and with unalloyed devotion. Surely some day they will be able to understand that.

He then told his disciples to propagate the message of Rūpa-Raghunātha and become particles of dust at the lotus feet of rūpānugas. That they should live only for Hari-bhajana and nothing else, completely ignoring the opposition and lack of appreciation. Several Sanskrit terms probably need clarification here. Aśraya-vigraha that he asks us to take shelter of (and it was a message to all aspiring devotees everywhere, not just to those present at the time) could be understood to be either guru or Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. The advaya-jñāna that we are supposed to serve is the realization of transcendental nature of Kṛṣṇa’s form, qualities, pastimes etc – that they are non-different from Kṛṣṇa Himself. It is a transcendental, fully spiritual platform as opposed to our mundane vision of duality. It doesn’t mean advaita.

Then he implores us: “Let our bodies, which are like those of aged oxen, be offered into the saṅkīrtana-yajña of Lord Caitanya and His associates.” Aged oxen were the ones that were offered in Vedic sacrifices, their bodies considered useless for anything else and fit for rejuvenation through a yajña. This is a very fitting description of our condition regardless of our age – we are no good for anything but saṅkīrtana. All our other achievements are only an illusion. Once again Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta reminds us that “..our constitutional position and all in all is to in every birth to become dust at Śrī Rūpa-Raghunātha’s lotus feet.” Note “in every birth” – he is not telling to go back to Kṛṣṇa and be done with it. Being of some use to Śrīla Rūpa and Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmīs is not only superior utilization of one’s soul but our only goal, this blog’s name not-withstanding.

He also speaks of Bhaktivinoda-dhārā, which is “the line of Bhaktivinoda”. It will never stop and it is our duty to make sure it is so. He then again stresses importance of serving Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī by quoting a verse by Śrīla Raghunātha: “Taking a blade of grass between my teeth, I fall down and pray again and again to become dust at Śrīmad Rūpa’s lotus feet, birth after birth.” He can’t stress this enough – devotional service is not about making sure we are spiritually alright but it is service to our ācāryas. He doesn’t say “go play with Kṛṣṇa in any rasa you like”. That’s not our goal, it’s a proposition for the neophytes, we should know better.

Then comes the part about dealing with inconveniences and his solution is not to worry about it. We should not be overwhelmed by troubles not desire to overcome them. That’s the answer to the question why he apparently didn’t do enough to save Gauḍiyā Maṭha from disintegration. It was certainly an obstacle in the mission of Lord Caitanya but the instruction is to simply carry on with service, not aim to overcome the obstacles, which would make us attached to the result. Kṛṣṇa-sevā-rasa does not arise in those who are still concerned with attachment and detachment.

He admits that such an understanding might be baffling because every human being in this world wants to overcome various difficulties. However, as devotees our only requirement is to transcend this platform, go beyond dualities, and “enter the kingdom of eternal necessity”. Once again he reminds us: “we have no love or hatred toward anyone in this world. All arrangements made herein are but temporary.” It’s impossible to make enemies in the course of devotional service, people might think that way but they’d be wrong, and we ourselves certainly should not see anyone as our enemy, nor should we love anybody either. Not mothers, not fathers, not wives and husbands, not children – nobody. All these are only material forms covering the essence, which is that they are all sparkles of Kṛṣṇa’s energy.

In his concluding paragraph he again asks us not to feel dejected while engaged in seven-tongue flame of saṅkīrtana-yajña – a reference to seven auspicious qualities mentioned in the first verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka, and he concludes by once again imploring us to preach Rūpa-Raghunātha-kathā. He repeats the importance of this service to Rūpa-Raghunātha so many times that we should finally get it in our heads that it’s the only thing that matters in our lives. I hope it registers but we should also know how to differentiate the real service from lip service given by many pseudo-devotees, but that’s the whole other topic, extensively covered by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta himself. Just not for today.

Vanity thought #1579. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s disappearance

This is another vaiṣṇava holiday that should not go unnoticed if we are talking about saṅkīrtana because without Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s contribution we wouldn’t even be here. He did not start it, he did not finish it, but such is the beauty of devotee’s service that it is absolutely essential for the full manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s glory and pastimes. You just can’t have Lord Caitanya’s mission without Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, or without Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, or without our Śrīla Prabhupāda.

A few words should be said here about that last title – Prabhupāda. In Gauḍiyā Maṭha “Prabhupāda” was Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta but then our ISKCON devotees thought that our “Svāmījī” was a living representation of it and decided to call him that, too. When “Svāmījī” arrived in Māyāpura and saw this banner welcoming him as “Prabhupāda” he commented that his godbrothers wouldn’t like it. I’ve never seen their reaction discussed publicly in ISKCON, I bet it wasn’t favorable and it probably set the tone for all the subsequent interactions. Appropriating the title of you guru is a dangerous thing but our Prabhupāda accepted it and all the bad karma that came with it as a necessary burden. At the end of the day, in ISKCON we think that even “Prabhupāda” doesn’t give him the full honor and want to improve on it by considering other titles like “sampradāya-ācārya”, which is even higher, on par with Madhva himself. “Prabhupāda” withstood the test of time and no one objects to it anymore, they got over it, but when we talk about life of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and hear this title used by his disciples it immediately stands out and puts us on our toes. We can’t remain indifferent and maybe we shouldn’t.

There’s a lot to be said about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda (sometimes he is called that, too), but since it’s his departure day we’d better focus on this last pastime in his life. He sensed that it would come from far away, leaving hints in his speeches here and there for years, almost a decade. The famous “fire will burn” prediction about Gauḍiyā Maṭha made in private to our Śrīla Prabhupāda came in 1935, more than a year before his disappearance.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta didn’t like what he saw in the future and he knew he had little power to stop it, it was going to happen one way or another. Sometimes people ask why he didn’t stop the rot and why he didn’t straighten out his disciples, why he didn’t make sure that GBC was firmly established and working prior to his leaving. These are all good questions and we know that our Prabhupāda did it right, obviously learning the lesson from GM. It is, however, not true that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta didn’t do enough himself – that is a wrong expectation from a devotee. We only do what Kṛṣṇa wants us to do and we do not interfere with His plans for the material world. Sometimes He manifests His pastime of saṅkīrtana in full and sometimes He winds it.

That’s why I think Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta knew what was going to happen, he saw the signs, but he did only what is eternally assigned to the spirit soul – glorify the service to the Lord, perform saṅkīrtana. That’s the only thing that can counteract inauspicious influences in our hearts. It might not have been enough to stop material energy from rotting but if his unfortunate disciples kept that message in their hearts then their lives would have become successful despite all the external failures. We do not perform saṅkīrtana to change the world, we perform it to change the souls. The world will keep rotting all throughout the Kali yuga, it’s Lord’s plan and we should let it go, our interest doesn’t lie here.

I’m saying that trying to enact some external decrees enforcing this and that, prohibiting these people from doing this, ordering those people to do that, establishing some structures and notarizing them with mundane authorities is a fool’s errand. We need to save souls, the material nature will cooperate according to Kṛṣṇa’s will, not ours. If Kṛṣṇa wants to destroy something then some fancy piece of paper with a stamp on it is not going to stop Him.

There’s a famous last speech delivered by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta to his disciples from his deathbed. It was about a week before his leaving and it illustrates this point brilliantly – do not even bother to remember with these mundane concerns and concentrate only on what is truly important. This speech is quite long for the blog so I’ll just leave it here and continue in the next post:

I have upset many persons’ minds. Many might have considered me their enemy, because I was obliged to speak the plain truth of service and devotion toward the Absolute Godhead. I have given them all those troubles only so they might turn their face toward the Personality of Godhead without any desire for gain, and with unalloyed devotion. Surely some day they will be able to understand that.

All of you propagate the message of Rūpa-Raghunātha with supreme enthusiasm. Our ultimate desire is to become dust at the lotus feet of the rūpānugas. All should remain united in following the āśraya-vigraha, for the sake of serving the advaya-jñāna. In this ephemeral sphere you should live somehow or other only for Hari-bhajana. In spite of all dangers, criticisms, and discomforts, do not give up Hari-bhajana. Don’t be disappointed that most people in the world do not accept topics of unduplicitious Kṛṣṇa-sevā. Do not forsake your own bhajana of Kṛṣṇa-kathā-śravaṇa-kīrtana, which is your all in all. With humility like a straw and forbearance like a tree, you should always perform Hari-kīrtana.

Let our bodies, which are like those of aged oxen, be offered into the saṅkīrtana-yajña of Lord Caitanya and His associates. We do not aspire to be any kind of heroes of karma or dharma, but our constitutional position and all in all is to in every birth to become dust at Śrī Rūpa-Raghunātha’s lotus feet. The bhaktivinoda-dhārā will never stop. With all your energy, devote yourself to fulfilling the desire of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. There are many among you who are well qualified and able workers. We have no other wish whatsoever. Our only motto is:

adadānas tṛṇaṁ dantair idaṁ yāce punaḥ punaḥ
śrīmad-rūpa-padāmbhoja- dhūliḥ syāṁ janma-janmani

Taking a blade of grass between my teeth, I fall down and pray again and again to become dust at Śrīmad Rūpa’s lotus feet, birth after birth.

Certainly there are multiple inconveniences while we are in this mortal domain, but there is no need either to be overwhelmed by them or to try to overcome them. Rather, even during the duration of our present life we must become acquainted with what we shall gain after surpassing all those difficulties, and what shall be the mode of our permanent existence. In this world we are compelled to make decisions regarding objects that evoke our attraction and revulsion, both those that we want and those we do not. Attachment and detachment in this damned existence increase according to the degree that we are separated from Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet. When we are able to transcend the position of attachment and detachment in this world of death and are attracted by the holy name of Godhead, then only can we understand the taste of Kṛṣṇa-sevā-rasa.

At the present time, Kṛṣṇa’s instructions seem highly startling and perplexing. Knowingly or unknowingly, everyone who is considered a human being is more or less struggling to eliminate those invading elements that baffle our perception of our eternal need. Our only requirement is to enter into the kingdom of our eternal necessity, by going beyond dualities. We have no love or hatred toward anyone in this world. All arrangements made herein are but temporary. Therefore that supreme goal is indispensably necessary for everyone in this world. All of you should work unitedly and harmoniously for the same objective of attaining eligibilty for sevā to the original āśraya-vigraha.

May the conceptions of the rūpānugas flow in the world. Let us never feel the slightest dejection while engaged in the seven-tongued flame of saṅkīrtana-yajña. Only if we have undaunted and ever-increasing attachment for it shall we achieve all perfection. Under the guidance of the rūpānugas, all of you should fearlessly and with utmost energy preach Rūpa-Raghunātha-kathā.

Let the import of it simply sink in before offering a commentary. It’s so beautiful as it is that it can be read again and again and even memorized if possible.

Vanity thought #1265. PK cont’d

Yesterday I questioned the qualifications of the emerging Indian middle class to pass judgment on religions that existed for thousands of years. To me it appears they do it with adolescent impudence, just because they had a few years of a good run. That aside, is their criticism justified in any way?

Whenever religion comes under attack I, due to my current misidentification, take the side of the faithful, infidels be damned. I should probably think first, though, and make my decisions with a cool head, free from attachment induced emotions.

Truth is, these Indians are saying things we should have been saying ourselves. Whether due to ignorance, lucky coincidence, or unexpected insight, they chose to expose corruption where we should have been exposing it ourselves. Śrīla Prabhupāda did it, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī did it, but we have dropped the ball.

We embraced Hinduism, sometimes for mercantile, sometimes for political reasons, and this association does not come free. We now must treat fellow misbehaving Hindus as a family, which means put them above any criticism.

PK has given us a long list of grievances against modern Hinduism, some exposed by the protagonist but many more exposed by twittering public. They’ve started a TV campaign for people to observe their local religionists, film them on their phones, and then send examples of cheating to the studio. They called it “wrong number” campaign, implying that when religious fraudsters speak on behalf of God they dial a wrong number to connect to him.

PK first meeting with Bhagavan was at a temple market where he saw several mūrtis in different sizes and at different prices. The man who sells them fails to properly explain to PK deity’s transcendental nature and how he should relate to it. His friend joined in and told PK that small deities are meant for small tasks and if he wants his lost remote beacon back he should go to the big deity in the temple because bigger deity has longer legs to catch the thief.

PK then goes to the temple and offers pūja in front of the big deity but is being pushed away before he gets the results. In crowded temples people get at most 10 seconds for praying and must move on to make space for the next in line. In some temples longer darśana is possible if one makes a generous donation. I’m not saying we should necessarily speak up against such practices but, besides practical considerations, they are born of neglecting proper pañcarātrika vidhi.

Instead of an authorized pūjarī everyone is encouraged to offer their own stuff, which they buy from temple merchants. Whether the deity would accept such offerings from unqualified and most likely grossly contaminated persons is not considered at all. As long as people spend money it’s all good.

The guy who sold PK the small mūrti got caught out on trying to explain why people need deities at all. He said that Bhagavan doesn’t need a transmitter and can hear people directly, but if He does, why there’s a need for a deity then? To tell God about our joys and sorrows? Of course not, deities are there to offer us the opportunity to engage in service. 5-10 seconds waiving of coconuts, flowers, and money on a tray is not it, proper worship should take one several hours each day, day in and day out without any breaks.

Not many people can do it, of course, and that’s why the Lord descended in Kali Yuga in the form of the Holy Name, something that went amiss for the movie creators. In general Hinduism the ability of the Lord to hear people directly is taken for granted without any consideration for Lord’s own arrangements. We are given the idea that we can invent our own methods of worship and they will all work the same regardless of Lord’s own instructions or feelings. Hinduism somehow makes God obliged to reciprocate with sloppiest of our services. We are being told that we are so special that God would eagerly accept everything from our hands.

Perhaps it all started with that fraud Rāmakṛṣṇa and his yata mata tata patha nonsense. This is what Śrīla Prabhupāda had to say about it (SB 6.8.19):

    Even most people who claim to belong to the Vedic system of religion are actually opposed to the Vedic principles. Every day they manufacture a new type of dharma on the plea that whatever one manufactures is also a path of liberation. Atheistic men generally say, yata mata tata patha. According to this view, there are hundreds and thousands of different opinions in human society, and each opinion is a valid religious principle. This philosophy of rascals has killed the religious principles mentioned in the Vedas, and such philosophies will become increasingly influential as Kali-yuga progresses.

He plainly calls such views atheistic and a philosophy of rascals. Do they have any chances of achieving Lord’s lotus feet? Umm, not quite, to say the least, as Śrīla Prabhupāda immediately continues:

    In the last stage of Kali-yuga, Kalkideva, the fierce incarnation of Keśava, will descend to kill all the atheists and will save only the devotees of the Lord.

Why should I feel protective about these Hindus?

In the movie they raise similar “wrong number” objections against other religions, too, in the spirit of equal rights, I guess. Christians tell people they would go to hell, Muslims tell girls they would shoot them if they go to school and so on. The movie also spends quite a lot of time arguing against religious identification itself. PK goes to a maternity ward and examines a new born baby for the signs of his religion, which God he should belong to. There’s no reason for us to be upset about that either.

Śrīla Prabhupāda brought us Kṛṣṇa consciousness so that people could transcend such materialistic view of religions and accept a scientific approach. Principles of Kṛṣṇa consciousness are the same for each and every religion. The soul is a soul, God is God, and Holy Names are Holy Names. The fact that we concentrate on the name of Kṛṣṇa doesn’t mean any kind of sectarianism. Kṛṣṇa is not a Hindu name, it means the all attractive aspect of the Absolute Truth, and Lord Caitanya is the all merciful aspect of the Absolute.

We don’t claim monopoly on mercy, of course, but I don’t know of any religion that has any equivalent of Kṛṣṇa, and since they do not deliver that particular aspect of God their mercy is incomplete. They are free to worship all-knowing or all-powerful aspects of the Lord and there are unlimited number of names that would serve their purpose but Kṛṣṇa is just not one of them. It has nothing to do with Hinduism or Indian history.

And, of course, there’s always a great supply of outright fraudsters making all kinds of claims in the name of God. We used to reject them all and when the movie exposes them, too, there’s no reason for us to object.

Here’s the thing – while there were some protests against the movie, generally, Indians have accepted it as a genuine snapshot of contemporary religion and most of them do not feel offended in any way. Fraud is fraud and calling it for what it is does not offend anyone.

Another point is that we’ve been trough all of this before – a hundred years ago, and Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura complained about contamination of Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism even earlier. Forget all the bogus religionists, even our own sampradāya got corrupted and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, whose appearance day is today, incidentally, had vigorously cleansed the body of Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism of all traces of corruption.

His attempt went a lot further than PK’s. He really turned corrupt establishment on its head. Family gurus were rejected en masse, brāhmaṇas were stripped of their privileges, all kinds of apa-sampradāyas were summarily dismissed – no one was safe. None of the characters or practices shown in the movie would get even the right to exist, let alone be treated as sacred.

Truth is, and it was loudly proclaimed by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, none of it has anything to do with real religion, which is selfless and unadulterated service to the Absolute. All which is passed as religion nowadays is only an illusion. It was true a hundred years ago and it is still true today.

Truth is, these PK “revolutionaries” look like children compared to the expositions of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta. They spotted some mistakes here and there but they offer no alternatives, no solutions, and certainly no service to the Lord. What kind of reform is that? It shouldn’t be even mentioned in the same paragraph as Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s.

They are caught in the perpetual cycle of discovering some faults, making some noise, and reverting to the old ways only to start it all over again. Hundred years later, still on the same page. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta offered a real way out, uncompromising and unadulterated, but unless we take to it sincerely we’ll end up just like them, criticizing and criticizing and criticizing without making any progress.

Vanity thought #1263. Self-motivation

Another quote from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī came to my attention and occupied my mind ever since. It was used in a way that I didn’t feel very comfortable with and so I set out to establish the “truth”.

The quote is usually given like this:

    Unless we extend our best efforts earnestly, and qualify ourselves for the Lord’s mercy, it is next to impossible that we can be rescued from our fallen condition.

Everywhere I see it given it accompanies the argument that we should take our salvation in our own hands. Once you accept this responsibility it allows you to fully engage in all kinds of Hare Kṛṣṇa self-help techniques, which are basically rip-offs of mundane self-improvement industry that took the world by storm since the end of last century.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, afaik, never commented on it because its rise happened after his time here. While being extremely popular in certain circles, in my not so humble opinion, a suggested abbreviation of this “Self Help and Actualization Movement” describes it perfectly well (SHAM). That’s the usual criticism leveled against it – these books don’t help, they just get people hooked up on reading more of them. Apparently, 80 percent of consumers of this 7 billion dollar industry are repeat customers (as of 2008).

Their techniques are disgusting, at least to me. They’ve taken the worst of marketing industry and applied it to prey on vulnerable people. It’s one thing to peddle trinkets no one really needs, it’s quite another to abuse people’s suffering. Yes, this world is full of it but it had managed to survive without SHAM for thousands of years. Then these geniuses came along and figured a way to capitalize on this suffering by selling their useless products.

They really are conmen. They seek a chink in your moral armor, the need that you would like to be taken care of without paying the actual price, and promise to fix it for next to nothing. You buy into their promises, give them all your money, invest in their methods emotionally, and when it doesn’t work they convince you to pay more.

At this point another human fallacy kicks in – people are afraid to cut their losses, they just keep investing and investing, hoping for eventual turn around that never comes. They need validation of their choices so they would never admit they made the wrong ones, not after spending so much to affirm them. Once committed to improving their lives through, in this case SHAM, they don’t have the courage to turn back. Partly because they didn’t have the courage to solve their problems the right way in the first place and therefore wanted to outsource the solution to these scam artists.

Here’s the truth about conmen – they can never cheat honest people, only those who want easy money.

But is it really fair to compare SHAM to con, however? What is so dishonest about people’s desire to solve their problems through self-help?

I believe it’s the fact that they are not doing it the right way – by following the instructions given by guru or by the scriptures.The right way requires submission and surrender and following orders even for those who pursue material aspirations. Self-help, by definition, frees you from this slavery. You are in charge of your own life – one of their most common “affirmations”.

As it always happens in the material world, if you want to be free from service to the Lord, māyā would make you to serve the illusion. This is another paradox of this SHAM thing – they call it “self-help” but at the same time they provide 13 billion dollar worth of services to sustain it (as of 2013). Books, seminars, audio tapes, the whole lot. Without this injection from the industry the whole thing would just cease to exist.

So, you are encouraged to tell yourself that you are in charge but they make you totally dependent on the peddlers of this method. Oh, they are so nice, they “get” you, they are just like you, having faced exactly the same problems themselves. They solved it and now they want to teach you how to do the same, and it would cost you very little. Every con starts like this.

Okay, but is it fair to imply that devotees who offer such seminars are conmen, too? No, it is not. At the very least, they catch those of us who fall through the cracks. If they have any ulterior motives, such as fame or their own maintenance, these can be overlooked. Devotees are not greedy and as far as fame is concerned – we should always be ready to offer praise to any servant of the Lord, it is actually our duty, so what’s the little harm of making our ISKCON self-help gurus famous? It’s not ideal but it’s not the end of the world either.

There are devotees who struggle with requirements of our society, it’s natural, but they are still devotees and Kṛṣṇa loves them just the same. He won’t let them turn back to māyā and material ways, He accommodates them elsewhere in His kingdom. Some find shelter in Gauḍīyā Maṭhas, some with Vṛndāvana bābājīs, some in self-help seminars. Not the worst thing that can happen.

On the other hand, if we sense that our desired goal, pure devotional service to the Lord, is within our reach, falling sideways into any of those delusions would seem like going to hell.

Another quote I heard today – Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to one wayward devotee that if he rejects his guru Kṛṣṇa would deprive him of an opportunity to find a guru again for seven hundred lives. Seven hundred lives if we say “no” to Kṛṣṇa representative who came to save us from the material quagmire and decide to strike out on our own. Running away to an “easy” guru is probably even worse.

And yet another quote from our ācāryas – this world is full of cheaters and the cheated. If we do not want to submit ourselves to the guidance of guru sent to us by the Lord, we’ll be cheated by someone else. From that perspective, the self-help seminars at least keep one in ISKCON.

Having said all that – what about that initial quote from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī:

    Unless we extend our best efforts earnestly, and qualify ourselves forthe Lord’s mercy, it is next to impossible that we can be rescued from our fallen condition.

Doesn’t it advocate “self-help”?

Yes and no. When taken out of context it apparently does, but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta would probably object to twisting it to suit any other agenda but the meaning he intended himself.

The context for this quote actually comes from Śrī Vaiṣṇavas. They have these two schools of thought regarding Lord’s mercy – the monkey and the cat. Cats carry their cubs themselves while monkey mothers let their babies to hang on to them by their own strength. Similarly, one school of thought puts our spiritual well-being solely at the hands of Lord’s mercy while the other puts it all to our own effort.

Lord Caitanya, reportedly, offered a “well” solution – person trying to get out of a well needs someone to lower the rope but he also needs to catch on to it himself. Both are necessary.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī expressed it in one of his parables in the Upadeśa Upākhyāna series that were eventually made into children’s comics – Mercy For Earnest Only.

The person who lowers the rope into the well to save us is our guru, and so to understand the context the quote should include the whole purport, not just the last sentence:

    Such a kind-hearted person is like the spiritual master or the Supreme Godhead Himself. He has already lowered a rope of rescue into the deep darkness into our ignorance. It is only by our earnest effort in catching hold of that mercy that we can be delivered and liberated from material agonies.

    Unless we extend our best efforts earnestly, and qualify ourselves for the Lord’s mercy, it is next to impossible that we can be rescued from our fallen condition.

See how the preceding sentence qualifies the last one – our “best efforts” should be not to simply qualify but to catch hold of Lord’s mercy.

Taken on its own the quote is presented to mean that we should qualify and the mercy would come, and if we don’t quality then it would be next to impossible to get it – the monkey logic of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism, which is incomplete according to our sampradāya. The Lord’s mercy is already there and we need to catch it.

Now I made it look like a little con substituting siddhānta of our ācāryas with the one that fits with SHAM. What can I say? It’s not the worst thing that can happen.

Vanity thought #1262. Self-reliance

To be honest, I thought self-reliance was a good thing that comes with maturity in one’s devotion. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, however, disagrees. Let me try and figure out why.

Sure, independence is a delusion, but in execution of our daily duties we are expected to become self-reliable, we are not expected to be micro-managed for the rest of our lives. We need to learn how to perform our service without begging for directions at every step, “independently thoughtful”, as Śrīla Prabhupāda *once* said. I actually wrote about this two years ago but from a different perspective than the one required today.

I was talking about independence in the sense of not relying on any single source for our judgment but on the deep knowledge and conviction in the core of our philosophy. If someone in the position of authority screws up somewhere we shouldn’t accept it if it clearly goes against the rest of our instructions available through countless books and lectures etc.

Still, even this kind of independence leads to some apparently undesirable outcomes. On the surface it’s perfectly innocent, we are not compromising on any of our values, but somewhere it goes wrong.

Consider quite a common idea that guru, especially a sannyāsī, should not meddle in private lives of his married disciples. Maybe “should” is a wrong word here but after refusing to hear about problems in sex lives of others one time too many it becomes kind of a default setting. So we approach guru for a spiritual advice, we approach senior gṛhasthas for advice on family matters, we approach yet someone else for business advice and so on. For many of us guru is not to be bothered for every little thing and it’s a very practical consideration. All these “other” questions are simply delegated to someone else, ideally representatives of the same guru, but in ISKCON everybody in authority speaks on behalf of Śrīla Prabhupāda so there’s no big difference.

Next step in this attitude is taking away micromanagement from Kṛṣṇa’s hands, too. We don’t need to rush to the temple and pray to the deities for every little thing. We don’t need to chant a million of rounds before taking a new job or moving to a new place. Well, maybe in these cases we do need to pray some extra but other, daily stuff we can easily manage on our own without any drama. Should I squeeze just a little more from this tube of toothpaste or not? Would it be greedy? Or would I be wasteful if I open the new one? Hopefully, we can manage these decisions on our own.

Another case in favor of our independence comes from gopīs themselves. When Kṛṣṇa asked for the dust from the feet of His devotees they were the only ones who provided it without thinking. “Kṛṣṇa needs it, we shall give it right away”, that was their attitude. They didn’t spend any time considering spiritual instructions or śāstric injunctions. All the other devotees thought about what guru and śāstra say on the matter but not gopīs. They were independent in their service.

Of course their situation is unique and their behavior not to be imitated but for the purpose of today’s discussion it still fits. They knew within their hearts what needed to be done and they did it relying only on their own understanding. They didn’t go to pray to the goddess Kātyāyanī as they did earlier when Kṛṣṇa managed to steal their clothes. They made an independent decision.

I don’t think that if we make similar decisions within our limited scope it should be called imitating, more like following in the footsteps.

But, as I said, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī apparently disagrees.

    ..if I remain adamant that I will accomplish my task on the strength of my own ability and competence, I will not be able to call out to Bhagavan in the true sense.

which followed by

    Often, I think that I am obliging Him by my prayers, and therefore I engage in other activities in which I don’t need to ask for His help. This mentality also indicates the absence of tolerance.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta then moves on to talk about the need to serve under the guidance of a proper guardian to save us from these “tendencies”, which are far from being the sign the maturity I ascribed to them above, so this is all we are left with.

I think the root of the problem is that we think that we oblige the Lord with our prayers and that it’s a bad thing. It’s hard to disagree if all we pray for is our personal comfort and prosperity. In many cases we know that our “problems” can be solved by material means – the fridge is only a few steps away and there’s food there, no need to pray for it to magically appear on the table. Medicine is also widely available and, unlike food, it doesn’t even need to be offered, just pay for it and your pain is gone. What’s the need for prayers here?

Apparently, this constitutes a problem. Okay, but what’s the solution? To keep asking the Lord to help us with our clearly material desires that can be easily attended on our own? Maybe there’s a clue in the next paragraph:

    Serving the lotus feet of Srila Gurudeva is our foremost necessity. In this world, we even need a guru to perform karma (material activities), to acquire jnana (knowledge) or to fulfill any anyabhilasa (desires not connected to serving Krsna). The guidance of such worldly gurus engenders insignificant results, which are the antithesis of the results bestowed by the lotus feet of a bona fide guru. Srila Gurudeva is the source of our genuine welfare. The very moment we become bereft of his mercy, diverse worldly desires manifest in our hearts.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta draws a distinction here between a “worldly” and “bona fide” gurus. We need the first kind in our every day life and they are the ones we can learn to become relatively independent from, living our lives simply by their teachings. “Bona fide” guru, however, we should never abandon his shelter even for a moment.

Worldly skills can be learned even without guru’s knowledge, as was the case with Ekalavya who learned archery from worshiping a mūrti of Droṇācārya, but even if guru blesses us in these anya-abhilāṣitā endeavors this kind of guidance is the antithesis of the blessings of the bona-fide guru, the only kind we should be seeking shelter of.

To me it means that if we concern ourselves with mundane affairs Kṛṣṇa would mercifully provide help, possibly in the form of a guidance by others, but that kind of guidance can never be compared to real devotion which grows at the feet of a real guru.

So, the answer to the question of independent thoughtfulness in our service is that it’s a wrong question to ask. We shouldn’t concern ourselves with such temporary material solutions to temporary material problems. Our real and only self-interest lies in attaining pure anya-abhilāṣitā-śūnyam service to our pure, spiritual guru.

Next question then would be – where are these “bona fide” gurus? Everybody we see around us are happily engaged in providing the kind of guidance we shouldn’t be seeking. It’s certainly useful for us as members of ISKCON but it still deals with temporary matters.

The answer is to see only what we need to see for our spiritual progress. All the other things are there but we shouldn’t pay much attention to them, and certainly not at the expense of guru’s real instructions. Let’s say we come to the Bhāgavatam class and we hear something about life in the outside world, something about their hypocrisy, something about atheists, something about politics etc. Chances are, all these views can be easily challenged, especially on controversial matters, but this is not what we should be taking out of the Bhāgavatam lecture. While all these words are being said we should sit and wait for the instructions to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa or for words glorifying Lord’s pastimes. That’s what we should be taking out of the class, not opinions on women’s roles in modern society or democracy as it’s practiced by Americans.

Our real life gurus, therefore, play dual roles as both our material and spiritual authorities and guardians, and on the material side of things they might look below par but spiritually guru is always perfect, albeit hidden from those envious of his position. We shouldn’t become those persons. We shouldn’t look at our guru with material eyes and seek only his material skills and intelligence. That would be utilizing him for our own gains, just as obliging Kṛṣṇa to serve our desires as was mentioned earlier.

Guru is Kṛṣṇa’s representative and so we can mistreat him just as we can mistreat the Lord. Neither guru nor the Lord is affected by our corruption but we do not do ourselves any favors by engaging with them in this way.

So, in answer to the original problem about independence – there could be no independence in our spiritual lives. Whether we need it in our material lives or not is besides the point.