Vanity thought #1751. Ways to hear

Continuing from yesterday, someone asked a question after class about how to stay faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda. The answer was to read his books, and I expanded on that in the previous post. The follow up question was how to develop taste to read the books. I think it’s a very important question that many of us prefer not to deal in real life.

It takes some honesty to admit that we don’t have the taste for reading. Many would protest this assessment, too, but it’s not different from the second sloka of Lord Caitanya’s Śikṣāṣṭaka which ends with “I have not taste for the Holy Name.” It doesn’t mean that we might not have the taste for chanting but might have a taste for reading instead. On the spiritual level both these activities are equal. Externally we might prefer kīrtana to japa or reading to kīrtana but these are only external considerations. Most likely what we really prefer is the beating of drums or self-confidence of accomplished yogis absorbed in meditation on the Holy Name, or we simply like to sit alone and read, doesn’t really matter what.

Not having taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books is a default state of a conditioned living entity. There are many times when we do like to read or chant or sing, of course, but those are displays of the Lord’s mercy when He tries to attract us despite our stubborn absorption in materialistic enjoyment. We should clam no personal credit for this.

So, having admitted that we’d often rather do something else then to read, how do we develop the taste for reading? The answer given after class was that there are many forms of reading and that listening to Bhāgavatam lecture can be counted towards one’s daily requirement of one or two hours with Prabhupāda’s books. Listening to Prabhupāda’s tapes (lectures, not bhajans) can also be counted as reading, and we can do that everywhere. The speaker said that he, personally, listens to tapes every day while doing various household chores. In this connection I heard that Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmi famously listened to tapes while in the bathroom. Or maybe it wasn’t him, I don’t remember exactly.

There’s nothing wrong with this answer – if we don’t like reading we can take our daily doze of philosophy in other forms, too. I see some other considerations that, I hope, could expand our understanding of what is actually going on here.

First, the philosophy. We read, and we were instructed to read by Prabhupāda himself, so that we become strong in our understanding of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and gain the ability to refute any objections. This is important, or rather WAS important, because these days hardly anyone is concerned with philosophical arguments when we preach, and even if they do they quickly become defensive about their own, highly cherished understanding, and no amount of solid arguments can change their minds. It’s the sign of our times – people are very proud of their own intellectual achievements, however meager they are, and anyone else with any other ideas is seen as an enemy rather than as a source of possible enlightenment. Point is, knowing philosophy is important but relatively less so when we preach. For many of us most of our preaching is to ourselves anyway and we read Prabhupāda’s books to stay in personal spiritual shape rather than to convert the rest of the world.

There’s also a point that after so many years we know our philosophy inside out, so much that we think we can forget some minor details or ślokas because keeping them all in memory is not as important as seeing philosophical principles manifest themselves in real life around us. We definitely know all that we can possibly need to explain things on the streets and much more. Reading for knowledge, therefore, is not a consideration, maybe for those who are only beginning their path to Kṛṣṇa. The devotee asking that question looked like he already knew what an average devotee is expected to know.

What we really read books for is for Prabhupāda’s association. We absorb his attitudes, follow the train of his thought, appreciate the turn of phrase and construction of arguments not to learn something new but to be with him in our minds if not in our hearts. The opposite of this kind of reading would be searching Vedabase or Folio for specific information we need in our own mental battles with someone. We might find it and it might turn useful, or we might misconstrue the meanings as I discussed yesterday, but what we won’t get is Prabhupāda’s association.

The association of a pure devotees is extremely important, no one would argue with that, but it does not always bring material results in the form of winning arguments. It has value that often has no value in the material world and we won’t gain any visible benefits, but those who got it won’t exchange it for all the wealth of the universe.

The next point to consider is how to develop taste for Prabhupāda’s association, because that is not automatically given, as I explained earlier. The answer about listening to tapes is fine, but it’s given from the position of Prabhupāda’s disciple. Second and third generation devotees should rather find this taste in the words of their own gurus rather than try to approach Prabhupāda personally.

Different Prabhupāda disciples see him differently. Take the incident with canopy over Rādhā-Londonīśvara deities during their installation, for example. The design had it rested on four columns but columns themselves were not fixed in any way. During the ārati one of the columns gave in and Prabhupāda had to personally step in and hold it in place. The class speaker told this story but he probably wasn’t there personally and heard it many times from devotees who were present (because he joined in London, too). Yamunā Mātājī was there and she remembered Prabhupāda’s uncommon agility and how he was faster than lightning to jump up and catch that falling column. She suddenly saw that the Deities were not marble statues for him and he cared about them as one would care for his own child.

Mukunda Gosvāmi noticed the speed, too, but he also thought that Prabhupāda stepping on the altar itself was unusual and he saw it as a necessary infringement on deity worshiping rules. He also remembered how angry Prabhupāda was and how he ordered to take that canopy away immediately. There was no place for it, though, and so Mukunda had to get help and carry it out on the street through the room packed with visitors. Some even thought it was a part of the ritual.

Śyāmasundara Prabhu probably has his own take on this story because he was the one who designed the altar and the whole temple room, too. It was a very complicated design that made the room look like inside of an upside down wooden ship. It was very intricate work and many had doubts it was necessary and that Śyāmasundara could pull it off, even Prabhupāda was skeptical. He did pull it off but the column incident was certainly an unfortunate oversight.

I’m using this as an example how disciples of different gurus can find different appreciations for Prabhupāda, and one’s own guru take on these stories should serve as primary input. In igniting interest in spiritual matters our own guru’s mercy is primary so it’s the surest way to gain appreciation for Prabhupāda, too. Then we can enrich our taste by taking in stories told by other people but we should never forget whose input is the source of all our understanding.

My suggestion here is that if we don’t feel the taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books we should fix the problem with hearing our own guru first. If we do that right then interest in listening to Prabhupāda will appear naturally. Then we can read or hear his tapes and we’ll take Prabhupāda’s association through the medium of our spiritual master and it all will become perfect.

Vanity thought #1750. Overcorrection urge

It might be a worrying phenomenon for me, but every time I hear what I think less than adequate responses to devotees’ questions I think I need to raise my voice and “correct” the answers. The answers are not wrong per se but appear to me as too incomplete to satisfy the questioners. In many situations I can’t just offer my opinion because that would be out of line, so I take this one recent example to vent out here.

It was a regular class and the speaker was a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda, so it would have been clearly impossible for me to speak over him there. The questions were translated and I heard them in English but I think, in the heat of the moment, the speaker misunderstood what was being asked exactly.

The first one was about how to stay faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda. The answer was to read his books. The nuance that was missed was how to avoid deviations in our understanding of Prabhupāda’s teachings. Simply reading books is clearly not enough as we have plenty of disagreements over what Prabhupāda meant to say.

In light of my newly planted understanding of how the universe works, I’d like to propose a different answer here.

When the three guṇas manifest material objects one always takes the predominant role and the other two step into the background. I’m not sure I remember all the details correctly but one guṇa expresses the intention, another guṇa means of achieving it, and the third guṇa gives the actual result. We can also see it in terms of sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojana – because material world is only a reflection of how things work on the spiritual level.

The important point here is to distinguish between the predominant aspect and two subservient ones. If we don’t do that then all that is contained in Prabhupada’s words becomes seen as of being of equal value so one becomes free to pick one over another and make a whole philosophy out of it. If we see that some ideas and thoughts are more important then others then we’ll never elevate minor details to the status of absolute truth never to be contradicted.

First, we should see Prabhupāda’s intention in writing this or that purport, for example. That would be the predominant thought and everything else must be seen in relation to it, not as standing on its own. Next we should see how Prabhupāda decided to express this intention, what line of arguing he chose, what quotes he brought to support it and so on. It’s only after that has been ascertained that we should look at his actual words.

If we go about it the wrong way then we start by picking familiar words, then see how they form sentences, then construct our meanings from them. Just yesterday I described this process as the materialistic one and it causes all sorts of trouble. Just consider this often quoted letter to Hamsaduta. I don’t want to post it here in full, take you time to read it if you want.

The context is replying to what Hamsaduta (I’m using Prabhupāda’s own transliteration of the name here) had written before. That’s the context and that’s the intention. Prabhupāda goes there point by point, talking about buildings and rents. Then he thanks Hamsaduta for appreciating newly published Bhagavad Gītā and expands on his plans to start examinations testing his disciples on how well they understood the philosophy because solid understanding of the Gītā guarantees that one becomes a strong preacher. This sets the context for the next paragraph:

    Next January there will be an examination on this Bhagavad-gita. Papers will be sent by me to all centers, and those securing the minimum passing grade will be given the title as Bhakti-sastri. Similarly, another examination will be held on Lord Caitanya’s Appearance Day in February, 1970 and it will be upon Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. Those passing will get the title of Bhakti-vaibhava. Another examination will be held sometimes in 1971 on the four books, Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and Nectar of Devotion. One who will pass this examination will be awarded with the title of Bhaktivedanta. I want that all of my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of the generations. That is my program. So we should not simply publish these books for reading by outsiders, but our students must be well versed in all of our books so that we can be prepared to defeat all opposing parties in the matter of self-realization.

See how he concludes it – he wants his disciples to be prepared to philosophically defeat all opposing parties. That confirms his purpose in writing that paragraph. The method he applies here is holding examinations, which means people will prepare for them and study the books very seriously. He talks about different level of examinations based on different books, too, because some books are considered more philosophically advanced than others and so there should be a progression.

It all makes perfect sense.

If we go about it the wrong way, however, say by searching Folio or Vanisource for key words, then these words will immediately stand out and probably be highlighted for us, too. Then we start by reading the sentences these words appear in and we construct the meaning from that. This approach then would give us a shorter version:

    … all of my spiritual sons and daughters … possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples.”

BOOM! Prabhupada wanted both men and women to become dīkṣā gurus!

Technically, it’s the correct reading and the ellipses in the middle do not alter it, but because we gave these key words the same value as to Prabhupāda’s intent and the way he decided to express it, there arises a serious contradiction and an ongoing problem for the whole society.

That was not the only question after that class I thought I should comment on so I’ll address the rest tomorrow. For today, however, I must stress the importance of a “holistic” approach to reading Prabhupāda if one wants to stay faithful and not deviate from our siddhānta. One must know what Prabhupāda wanted to say, how he chose to say it, and only then look at the actual words. To know what Prabhupāda wanted to say we might read the whole thing over first and put it in the context, or we can learn of Prabhupāda’s intention from our guru and his godbrothers. His overarching intention is to spread the glory of pure devotional service, we don’t even need books to know that, and all his books, conversations, and letters, must be seen in relation to that one big objective. How well and how deep we understand it depends on our service and the mercy of the guru, not so much on reading itself.

In any case, just as with creation of the universe, we should go from big to small, from more abstract to more detailed, not like materialists who build the big picture by combining minute details and unifying disjointed theories.

Oh, and one more thing – when guṇas create something the actual material manifestation is always carried out by tama, and I just said that one guṇa, possibly tama, can take the predominant role. That’s something I don’t really understand yet, but it will come up in my review of the book on cosmology again and I hope I’ll get it then.

Vanity thought $1542. Responsible following

When I was talking about devotees taking matter into their own hands and moving our mission without waiting for GBC orders I didn’t mention writing books even though that was my initial idea. Then I thought that the article came out nicely even without comments on book writing so I decided to leave it altogether. Then I came across one of such post-Prabhupāda books and now I think that the issue deserves consideration.

We have a dilemma in ISKCON – on one hand when we say “our books” we mean Prabhupāda’s books and we accept them as the law books for the next ten thousand years. They are transcendental and free of all imperfections, and they are more than sufficient to guide one back to Godhead. Everything else that comes later will always pale in comparison, and, frankly, there’s no need.

On the other hand, we have Prabhupāda’s instructions on writing, that it is a legitimate devotional activity. This order actually came from Lord Caitanya himself and Śrīla Prabhupāda told us to continue this mission in ISKCON, that’s what he build Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma temple for – so that serious devotees take advantage of the facilities and take responsibility educating the rest of the world in Kṛṣṇa consciousness (CC Madhya.23.104).

We also have no shortage of devotees ready to write and publish books, it’s something that comes naturally in course of devotional service. So, how do we write something that is going to be intrinsically inferior and unnecessary, and yet we were practically ordered to do so? What for?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer. We can stop publishing non-Prabhupāda books and even excommunicate the offenders – that won’t work, of course. Or we can let people write and publish freely and contaminate Prabhupāda’s pristine teachings with their speculations. That will work but will probably ruin our mission, too. In a way it’s an echo of our guru succession problem.

We need gurus but we also know that none of them lives up to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s standard. There’s a rittvik solution, there’s ISKCON solution, there are people who emigrate to GM or bābājīs, and there’s prabhupādanugas non-solution of criticizing everyone. Needless to say, ISKCON solution is the only viable option, but it still leaves questions about substandard gurus.

Likewise, printing books under supervision of GBC is the only way forward but it still leaves the question of substandard literature slipping through, and there’s a question of distribution, too. If a guru writes a book, can his disciples distribute it? Who will get the money? Temple? Guru? What if temple authorities say that saṅkīrtana time should be spend on distributing Prabhupāda’s books and devotees should use their own time for promoting their own gurus. What if they are temple devotees who don’t have their own time?

Periodically these problems rise up, usually brought by our critics. It would have been easier if our spiritual and managerial lines of authority never diverged, like it was in Vedic times or even in early days of GM. You live in guru’s aśrama and preach and collect on behalf of your guru, you don’t have allegiance to anyone else. In ISKCON, however, we pledge allegiance to Śrīla Prabhupāda, our guru, and our temple authorities. These three will often contradict each other in the eyes of less mature devotees, it’s just a fact of life.

What would be the ideal solution? I think if our devotees wrote books introducing people to Prabhupāda that would be pleasing to everyone. Not necessarily as openly promotional literature for his books but as a natural stepping stone, lifting people up without them even realizing so.

This would address the need to modernize our presentation, too, so we don’t have to rely on outdated scientific information to make our case. Sometimes we genuinely need to soften the edges around Prabhupāda’s presentations, like in the case with women having smaller brains. We can lift this quote straight from Folio/Vanisource but then it would likely to be rejected outright. We can quote the entire context of the conversation but that would be distracting.

I think we should do what devotees around Prabhupāda did all the time – try to explain Prabhupāda’s words to those too far entrenched in their own views. A certain level of preparation is needed to digest even relatively simple spiritual knowledge and it was disciples’ duty to coach Prabhupāda’s visitors in the basics.

Sometimes, and you can see it in conversation records, devotees openly tried to explain Prabhupāda’s words in his presence. On one hand that would imply that they thought they were better preachers than their spiritual master, on the other hand Prabhupāda didn’t object when their explanations helped to move the conversation along. It is the same subtle skill of faithfully representing your guru according to guru’s wishes.

I’m thinking of books like “A Message to the Youth of India”, which I haven’t read but which could be a nice opportunity to address problems facing young Indians under onslaught of Internet and Hollywood, and real opportunities to emigrate to the US. What should be their connection to their spiritual roots? What parts of their culture are important and need to be preserved at all costs? Arranged marriages? Vegetarianism? Regular temple visits? Seeking out association with sādhus? Charity?

These are all practical questions that are not obvious to the first time reader of our Bhagavad Gītā As It Is. We can also have practical queries about science that didn’t exist in Prabhupāda’s days, especially genetics or quantum physics. What happens to the soul of a cloned animal? What is GMO from the spiritual perspective? How does Big Bang fit with Bhāgavatam? Can atoms have minds? Even atheism came up with new questions and challenges that don’t have straight and easy answers in our books. We only can interpret them to satisfy the curious, or we can pull some quotes together, but even then we need to give our own explanation about their meaning and priority.

Take the word svadharma, for example. It appears multiple times in our books and every time the translation is somewhat different. Sometimes following svadharma is prescribed, sometimes Bhāgavatam recommends abandoning it. Sometimes it refers to material occupation, sometimes it refers to our spiritual engagement. On that note, I think we desperately need a book on modern māyāvada. Back in Prabhupāda’s days we didn’t know who those māyāvādīs and impersonalists were but now they are the ones who speak for Hinduism and lots of people are convinced that unity with Brahman is what Hinduism is all about. We have a neo-Advaita movement that didn’t exist in Prabhupāda’s days, we have followers of various rascal “gurus” that got covered fairly well by Prabhupāda in his conversations but none of that criticism made it into the books. We have to adapt this criticism for modern followers, too, because they can say that they are not doing any of those outrageous things Osho got blamed for, for example.

And then we have books written as if to undermine and improve on Śrīla Prabhupāda. There are books on rasa-līlā, for example, or new renditions of the tenth Canto. Sometimes they could be justified, sometimes not. So far we don’t have alternative translations of the entire Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but there’s one easily available online that takes Prabhupāda’s book and sort of abridges it to suit I don’t know who. I thought Bhagavad Gītā was off limits but turns out there was a version published fifteen years ago that follows Prabhupāda’s format very closely. Why would any disciple replicate the writings of his guru? Shouldn’t our writing be at least complimentary and not seen as replacement? One reviewer said that this translation is more sophisticated and scholarly than author’s spiritual master’s – Śrīla Prabhupāda’s.

Any disciple who produces an imitation that elicits superlative comparisons with his guru should immediately burn it, in my view, but it didn’t happen. Oh well, that devotee has left ISKCON and there’s nothing we can do about it, but it’s an example of what we should not do if we want to be responsible followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda.

Vanity thought #1540. Moving the anchor

I suppose moving the anchor is a difficult job for a small boat in a middle of a storm. If waves are too big and currents are too strong there’s no guarantee you’ll reach you desired anchoring place without being swept away, so the moment you lift it up you come at the mercy of the ocean, and slowly dragging the anchor along the bottom is not an option either. What to do?

We are more or less in the same situation but our anchor is Śrīla Prabhupāda. Losing our connection with him leads to immediate doom, you can’t move him – he is “guru”, heavy, but the preaching field might have shifted away from our anchored position. If it hasn’t done so yet it’s only a matter of time.

Our other anchor is books, we can’t deviate from them but if people need something else to reach their hearts we have nothing. Our corporate structure was designed around books, BBT prints them, ISKCON distributes them, and it hasn’t changed in the past half a century.

These days people read e-books, probably more than they read paper books, but out structure is not designed for distributing those. Our saṅkīrtana devotees do not walk around the malls giving out download links for a modest donation, that’s not how e-books work.

Internet has completely upended publishing industry and they adapted but we didn’t. Right in the beginning we caught “internet is free” virus and put all our books online. Not the BBT itself, they couldn’t be bothered, but volunteer devotees. For a while vedabase.net was a go to place for reading all Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books but that site had no formal affiliation with ISKCON, afaik, and then its owner got busted for keeping sexual slaves and eventually name lease expired, it’s inaccessible now.

Vedabase.com took over and it’s a site run by an official repository of Prabhupāda’s archives but it’s not BBT and if they printed their content on paper BBT would sue them, or GBC would order them to stop, whichever comes first. It’s also good for references but they don’t offer e-books for download, so it’s unreadable offline without some hacking. I doubt many people use it for actual reading rather than for quick look up and giving references.

The other big problem is that these archives were historically meant for devotees, they were not meant to attract general people, so their presentation is nothing like our printed books, it’s just a plain text on a background color from the 90s, plus a little texturing. It’s functional and absolutely perfect for devotees but if we had a print equivalent of this and tried to sell it to people on the streets Śrīla Prabhupāda would be outraged. He put so much effort in making our books look nice, he never compromised on quality. There are no pictures, no colorful jackets, nothing.

If someone asks us on the street if our books are available online we can certainly direct them to Vedabase or any other similar site hosting Bhagavad Gītā, but if it comes at the expense of not selling a book then it’s not saṅkīrtana the way Prabhupāda wanted it to be done. This is where it becomes complicated.

If we tell people to visit BBT site then there are two of those, one run by ex-ISKCON devotees who wrestled rights to works published during Prabhupāda’s lifetime but the correct one is BBTi, and it doesn’t offer any books for sale there.

If people want to purchase e-books they’d have to go to bbtmedia.com, or krishna.com, or krishna.org and follow the link to krishnastore.com. Oh, wait, that last one is run by another ex-ISKCON devotee and sells “original” books, not the current version published by BBTi. So, krishna.org is dodgy, but krishna.com is okay, you just go there, click on “store”, and can buy all the books there. Except for e-books, darn it, so you have to start again and go to Books menu and select e-books from there.

Our institutions are simply not designed for the internet age, and even proper e-books from bbtmedia.com come without illustrations, which is a shame. Well, maybe if you buy one it would be illustrated but I got mine when bbtmedia provided free downloads on request while there were still in the trial stage.

This turned into a long rant but the point was that we, as an organization, are firmly anchored to physical books. If people go swim around the internet we are not there, and we can’t move our anchor. What to do?

It’s the same question I left off with yesterday and I can probably think up some other ways to restate it.

How do we move forward? Wrong question – we should be moving to Kṛṣṇa, “forward” in the present context means going to hell. Should we follow people and try to catch them before they fall off the Earth? Yes, of course, that’s our given mission, but it’s in conflict with our commitment to staying with Prabhupāda.

We aren’t ācāryas in our own right yet and our inventions tend to backfire, there’s no one in our society who we can trust and use as a new anchor and we aren’t ready to tether ourselves to a new ācārya anyway, nor should we ever be, considering the way ISKCON defines itself.

The world, meanwhile is moving into a post-internet age of sorts where people have only apps and can’t be bothered to open browsers, type addresses, and use web interfaces. There are plenty of apps that bring websites to your phone to avoid this hassle but there are many big app names that first create apps and then add websites later, if anyone wants to use them at all. Mobile increasingly comes first, internet later.

Bbtmedia doesn’t offer any apps, to get their e-books one still has to go old fashioned way – go to website, download, read with an appropriate app for your device. Or buy them from official store for your platform. If you want apps there are plenty of them but they are all by other developers, often using BBT’s artwork. I don’t know if they infringe on BBT copyright there but it’s the same unholy mess as we have with books on the internet, only worse.

How can we catch attention of the people who not only never read paper books but hardly use their computers. Their lives are tethered to their phones and so are out of our reach. Should we move our anchor to be closer to them? I think it’s unavoidable, but, sadly, I only managed to state the case, not offer any solutions. Maybe tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1379. Books

In our tradition we have a strange and potentially explosive relationships with our books. They are considered sacred, of course, and thus infallible. We must accept them as they are and never ever, under any circumstances, question their accuracy. This applies to everything from Ṛg Veda down to books by Śrīla Prabhupāda. Books by his followers, however, do not enjoy the same status, but that is a different matter. Today I want to talk about our relationships with our authoritative literature.

I said strange and potentially explosive because it’s hard for us to literally believe in all that is said there, and yet we consciously purge all critical thoughts from our minds. Having doubts in accuracy of the scriptures is not only blasphemous but also a failure in our devotion. Full, unflinching faith in guru and śāstra is the pre-condition for discovering the full import of the Vedic knowledge, we can’t get around that dictum. We don’t want to have doubts in our books, we are ashamed of them and dare not to speak of them in public.

What does it do to our faith? I’m not sure, but all this suppression might blow up in our faces one day, hence “potentially explosive”.

Take the Moon landings, for example. Śrīla Prabhupāda talked about it quite a lot but one particular moment I remember reading about was when he once snapped and said “You might not believe me but how you can not believe the śāstra?” I’m not sure it was a very strong argument because our relationship to śāstra appears to be very different from his.

Śrīla Prabhupāda accepted śāstra as the Absolute Truth without any possibility of any faults and inaccuracies. We, OTOH, accept śāstra only as much as Prabhupāda told us to, otherwise they are just books about Hindu mythology. We would never ever consider the situation where Śrīla Prabhupāda could be wrong but śāstra was right because for us śāstra has no legitimacy outside of Śrīla Prabhupāda. He endorses it and we accept it. He doesn’t endorse it and we dismiss it.

We don’t care much for the original four Vedas, for example. In principle, they are infallible, in practice we don’t have neither brains nor purity to realize, understand, and appreciate this infallibility. Besides, Kṛṣṇa Himself says that Vedas deal with the material nature and we should rise above such concerns (BG 2.45).

We often mention quotes from various Purāṇas and sometime lift up whole stories from them but most of what is contained outside of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is of no use to us whatsoever. We suspect a lot of it is very contradictory and we are not interested in reconciling the differences. If we have differences between Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and any other book describing the same story we take Śrīmad Bhāgavatam over any other evidence without a blink. Does it mean those other versions are unauthorized and erroneous? We’d rather not say this out loud and talk about different audience and different goals instead. Isn’t it strange?

In effect, we deny objectivity to Vedic knowledge. We accept it as a breath of Lord Nārāyaṇa and therefore as Absolute Truth but we don’t treat Vedas as absolute, maybe only in the broadest sense possible. We rather see all instances of Vedic knowledge as tailor made for particular purposes. If a particular passage serves the goal of purification of a particular set of individuals we consider it a success. If while doing so the passage contradicts Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and our ācāryas we just shrug it off.

Maybe that’s how Prabhupāda saw it, too – Śrīmad Bhāgavatam above everything else, even above one’s guru, and all other Vedic literature as subservient to the goal of developing bhakti. If it prescribes eating meat or beating your wife then we see in the context of gradual elevation of extremely sinful persons, elevation that would eventually lead to Śrīmad Bhāgavatam where such practices will be rejected.

I don’t think any Vedic scripture prescribes corporal punishment for women but if it did, that’s how we would explain it.

And then there are contradictions between what we consider as authoritative sources. We take Bhagavad Gīta as undisputed authority, for example, but not the rest of Mahābhārata. There are sections in Mahabhārata that are rendered very differently in different versions. In South India, for example, Vyāsadeva was born out of marriage of Parāśara and a daughter of a fisherman. Elsewhere Parāśara simply took the girl and impregnated her, out of wedlock, under the cover of fog he created so that people wouldn’t see him doing it. Which version describes what really happened and which version doesn’t? Did South Indian storytellers add the marriage part because of the sensitivity of their audience? South Indians are sticklers for the rules, can’t have sex outside of wedlock there.

Once the possibility of sacred text being adjusted to the taste of the audience is there we wouldn’t know where to stop and what to trust, and why can’t we make changes to suit our times? After all, if it leads to developing bhakti it should still be considered faultless, as I argued above. You see the problem here?

Or take example of Prabhupāda’s translation in SB 1.7.23:

    You are the original Personality of Godhead who expands Himself all over the creations and is transcendental to material energy. You have cast away the effects of the material energy by dint of Your spiritual potency. You are always situated in eternal bliss and transcendental knowledge.

“Have cast away” implies that material energy once had power over the Lord (this is Arjuna speaking to Kṛṣṇa) but not anymore, Kṛṣṇa has cast it away. How could it possibly be? In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t address this point directly but he nevertheless states that “He has nothing to do with the actions and reactions of the material manifestation because He is far above the material creation.” This means material nature cannot affect the Lord, not now, not in the past, not ever, and yet straightforward reading of the translation gives the impression that it has happened sometimes before.

Checking with another English translation available online as well as translations of the word in question, vyudasya, shows that it does not have to be in present perfect tense (has + past participle). Here, for example, it’s translated as “wards off”. Most likely it’s simply an error in the translation.

What should be done about it? Nothing. It’s one of the very first books translated by Śrīla Prabhupāda and both the verse and word-for-word was done by him personally, and he used present perfect tense there. BBT can’t just change it after fifty years. It’s one of the idiosyncrasies of the text that should stay there for the history. In the current version original “thrown away” has already been changed to “cast away” and that should be the end of it.

“Throw away effects” is not correct English and so “cast away” is a legitimate substitution by the editors, I fully agree with BBT here. Changing the tense, however, affects the meaning of the translation and Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted it to be in present perfect, editors have no right to change that.

So now I have to learn how to live with an error in the translation that no one is going to change, it’s part of our tradition now, showing a little inconsistency with the siddhānta. Would it ruin anything? No, I don’t think so. On the contrary, it kind of stresses the inviolable principle of Kṛṣṇa being unaffected by the material nature. The apparent error impresses this point even stronger.

Whatever leads to better understanding is legitimate, right?

Sometimes I think Kṛṣṇa drops these things on purpose, like the pastime of Him leaving the planet. From siddhānta POV it can’t be true and yet it was, and it even makes Kṛṣṇa look stronger – He doesn’t have to follow even his own rules. If someone catches us on this we can only laugh in response and appreciate the Lord and our ācāryas even more. It’s like a variation of “can Kṛṣṇa create a rock He can’t lift?” paradox, except this time it’s about creating rules. Yes, He establishes siddhānta, and then He breaks it.

So what?

Vanity thought #1355. Book sponges

Let’s take a short break from talking about Haridāsa Ṭhākura and talk about something else before it leaves my memory forever. There’s this media personality, Reza Aslan, who is doing circles of TV shows and writing articles for major newspapers who happens to be a Muslim and who defends Islam and religion in general against bigotry and stereotyping. I’ve never read his books but followed some of the controversies he has been involved in. Last night he was interviewed by Jon Stewart and it was the first time I had a chance to listen to him presenting his views without big interruptions.

Aslan made several very interesting points I had never heard before and offered new perspectives on familiar topics, something we, as ISKCON devotees, can keep in mind, too.

Depending on your browser, you might need to “unblock content”, this wordpress page is secure while the video below is linked to an unsecure Daily Show page. If that doesn’t work there’s a link further down the post.

Sorry about autoplay, I can’t find a way to disable it for this video, embedding it into the blog is hard enough because WP does not provide facilities for flash embeds for security reasons.

Disregarding the opening joke about religion providing comfort amidst strive caused by religion, Jon’s first question was a pertinent one – why doesn’t God just stop this and settle it once and for all, who is right and who is wrong? It’s a totally legitimate question from an atheist pov – why, if there’s one true God, there are so many religions at each other’s throats? How can we hope to convince non-believers if we can’t decide on who is God among ourselves?

Typical ISKCON answer would be that we are indifferent to all the isms in the world and we are not against or pro any particular religion either, we are not even Hindu. I always suspected that people never really believed us and considered us a part of Hindu tradition anyway.

Reza Aslan provides a different answer. First, he said that religions are a matter of identity more that they are a matter of beliefs and practices. As an example he gave a recent survey result saying that 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christian but a much smaller number of them actually practice Christianity as expected – attending mases, reading Bible every day etc. Religious identification goes much much deeper than that and encompasses all aspects of human behavior – nationality, ethnicity, world-views, politics etc. Religious identification, therefore, is a description of who you are as a person rather than a statement about your beliefs and rituals you practice.

He was then interrupted by Jon and the discussion veered a bit off into problems with Islamic extremism but then Reza got back to his point. It’s a common misconception, he said, that people derive their values from their scriptures while in reality very often it’s the case of people inserting their values into their books.

His arguments in support of this observation are compelling. If that wasn’t true all Christians would interpret the Bible in exactly the same way, which is obviously not the case. He said that in the US not even two hundred years ago not only slave owners and abolitionists used the same Bible, they used the same verses to justify their diametrically opposite positions.

His next step was even more radical – without interpretation of the scriptures they are just words on a page. They require somebody to read them, to interpret them, to encounter them in their lives to extract any kind of meaning, and in the process of this transaction people bring their views, their opinions, their politics, their social ideas INTO the text.

How people read the scriptures has everything to do with who they are. God, ie reading the scripture, doesn’t make you a bigot, you are just a bigot, you were a bigot before you even heard of the book.

That wasn’t the end of the interview, however, you can watch the rest of it here but the topics they discussed later were about “solving Middle East”. I want to pause on Aslan’s observation about religions carrying the will of the people instead.

It goes against conventional wisdom, we are pretty sure it’s not how it works in Kṛṣṇa consciousness but the truth it is that it’s not supposed to work like that and yet it always does.

I’m tempted to use the term (and blame everything on) “organized religion” here but religious institutions are just one step in a process that starts much earlier, it’s just an external form that is loaded with all other kinds of meanings. The “original sin” here is infusing our own material experiences into spiritual life, spiritual instructions we are supposed to accept without tampering from our ācāryas.

In fact, this is what ācāryas do themselves – they adapt current circumstances to fit with eternal principles and we praise them for it because otherwise no one would survive in ISKCON. We can’t practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness like Lord Caitanya and His associates did. We can’t practice it even as Guaḍīya Maṭhas did. And even if we did everything exactly like GM, we wouldn’t be able to preach as widely and as effectively, so changes and adaptations are necessary and unavoidable.

It is tempting to think that Śrīla Prabhupāda, as an ācārya, knew exactly what he was going to do with ISKCON but if we look at our real history we will see that it wasn’t the case. He wasn’t literally throwing stuff at a wall to see what sticks but we can find plenty of ideas that didn’t pan out when he tried them. Or we can go back to his pre-ISCKON history and see how his attempts at preaching weren’t successful at all.

It isn’t a spot on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s unparalleled devotion, it’s only an observation that in the material world even overwhelming spiritual power does not always manifest in full.

Before he became successful no one knew he was an ācārya. Or, to put it in other way, he didn’t succeed with ISKCON because he was an ācārya but he became an ācārya because of his success. You’ll never know if someone’s is “The One” until he tries, and most likely his first attempts won’t be impressive.

So, when devotees in our movement try something new we cannot assume they are acting on a whim, they might be genuinely trying to move our mission forward. We can’t say “don’t even try because you are not an ācārya”.

My point is that while it’s obvious that infusing our books with our own interpretations is dangerous there are cases where it might just work, in fact there WILL be cases where it will work and everyone would then agree that a new ācārya has been born.

Treating our books like sponges absorbing all kinds of nonsense from our lives is obviously bad, but not if a devotee is sincere and the Lord accepts his efforts. That’s how Kṛṣṇa’s glories, or rather glories of His devotees, become ever-expanding. That’s why there’s no limit to spiritual knowledge, no limit to Bhagavad Gīta interpretations, for example. I mean devotional interpretations, of course, not the ones produced by atheists or impersonalists.

The problem arises when there are various competing interpretations floating around at the same time and everybody starts arguing which one is correct. Why doesn’t Kṛṣṇa interfere? Why doesn’t He settle our debates?

Hmm, why should He? Why should debates be settled at all? Those who are right are engaged in proper devotional service already and their arguments enlighten everyone who listens, why stop the preaching? Those who are wrong need to purify their motives, too, and it can only be done by engagement, not by being idle. They need debates to cleanse their hearts even if they end up on the losing side. We are not Buddhists to seek cessation of all activities, we absolutely must try to serve Kṛṣṇa regardless of being right or wrong.

In the end, Kṛṣṇa will sort it out and everyone will get their spiritual benefits. All we see here is only an illusion, material gunas agitating material elements, and affected minds producing words, don’t take it too seriously as long as it’s connected to Kṛṣṇa one way or another.

Vanity thought #1056. Reenforcement

Yesterday I talked about treating everything that māyā sends us as Kṛṣṇa’s gift, Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. The logic is pretty solid, I think – Kṛṣṇa promises to take personal care of His devotees, we don’t see Him personally, He acts through the agency of māyā so māyā is His representative and we should not reject whatever she brings us [from Kṣṇa].

We agree to accept suffering as Kṛṣṇa’s lessons but duality is not our philosophy and this means that we should equally agree to accept pleasure. After all, life in Kṛṣṇa’s service is supposed to be pleasant, what kind of God would He be if He left His servants hanging without rewards?

So far so good, but what is scriptural basis for all this? It’s quite possible that I suffer from excessive imagination and it’s easy to question my motives, so, unless this view is supported by śastra or other authorities it could all be just worthless speculation.

I must admit, śastra appears to be silent on this point. I guess I could look for statements that a devotee should accept everything as arranged by Kṛṣṇa but that these kind of statements are too general. If there are any other direct statements in obscure books they would be too specific and context related, we need evidence from Bhagavad Gīta or Śrīmad Bhāgavatam or Caitanya Caritāmṛta.

This in istelf is an interesting topic – we have tons and tons of literature left by our ācāryas and Śrila Prabhupāda wanted us to study their books (SB 1.1.1):

    Within the past five hundred years, many erudite scholars and ācāryas like Jīva Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, Viśvanātha Cakravartī, Vallabhācārya, and many other distinguished scholars even after the time of Lord Caitanya made elaborate commentaries on the Bhāgavatam. And the serious student would do well to attempt to go through them to better relish the transcendental messages.

or here (SB 1.2.12):

    A sincere devotee must, therefore, be prepared to hear the Vedic literature like the Upaniṣads, Vedānta and other literatures left by the previous authorities or Gosvāmīs, for the benefit of his progress. Without hearing such literatures, one cannot make actual progress.

Yet our usual wisdom goes that we should read only books by Śrila Prabhupāda and I totally agree. Why?

For one thing, these two passages were written even before Śrila Prabhupāda left India, at the time when he had no idea what kind of disciples and followers his translation of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam would attract in the West. Or we could say he had wrong ideas about it. He expected to appeal to the cream of the society, real decision makers, but instead ended up with dregs, lowest of the lowest.

We could immediately spring to our defense and argue that as vaiṣṇavas we shouldn’t be judged by our birth bur rather by our dedication to service and so on but the fact that we do not behave like cream of the cream still remains.

While serious and responsible students might to well studying books by other ācāryas we read them only to increase our own standing in the society and support our own interpretations. Whatever we read, be it Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura or Śad Sandarbhas, we always end up correcting everybody else and imposing our own understanding.

Later quotes and letters by Śrila Prabhupāda addressed to his actual disciples rather than hypothetical readers of the first Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam make it pretty clear – we should stick to his books and do not pretend we are qualified to read anything “better”. Quotes like this, for example (Letter to Sri Govinda — Jaipur 20 January, 1972):

    There is no need by any of my disciples to read any books besides my books—in fact, such reading may be detrimental to their advancement in Krishna Consciousness.

That’s why I don’t feel like I haven’t done any research if I only think of what is written in our books. Unfortunately, in our books there’s no clear support for my yesterday’s idea. What to do?

There are two ways the idea that we should welcome everything māyā and karma send us as Kṛṣṇa’s mercy can be applied. First, it’s an understanding of paramahaṃsas. They don’t see anything as separate from Kṛṣṇa anyway. There’s nothing to argue here, except that we are not yet paramahamsas and shouldn’t imitate their behavior. Good point, will address later.

Secondly, there is indirect evidence that we should enjoy our karma if it wants us to. This is a rule for neophytes or even non-devotees.

In the Eleventh Canto Kṛṣṇa tells a story of an Avantī Brāhmaṇa and one of the reasons for his fall was this (SB 11.23.7):

    ..He would not even allow sufficient gratification for his own body at the suitable times.

You could look up the neighboring verses as well, especially this one (11.23.24):

    One who fails to distribute his wealth to the proper shareholders — the demigods, sages, forefathers and ordinary living entities, as well as his immediate relatives, in-laws and own self — is maintaining his wealth simply like a Yakṣa and will fall down.

That happened to him before he started on the path of self realization and that’s why I say these rules are meant for non-devotees. Are they meant for us? Not really.

Śrila Prabhupāda never wanted us to torture or exhaust ourselves. Whatever his disciples needed he always made sure they had it. Food, clothes, adequate lodgings, rest – devotees should never lack anything essential, especially not due to artificial restrictions.

This is not an excuse, however, to eagerly accept every bit of sense gratification sent our way by our karma. I didn’t not advocate such indulgence either. Yet when it comes – money, fame, love – things we can’t really escape, how should we deal with it?

I’d say that even if we can’t see them as connected to Kṛṣṇa as paramahaṃsas would, we still have sufficient knowledge to reconstruct this invisible connection. I also hope that we have sufficient experience to see the difference between finding connection to Kṛṣṇa and justifying our indulgence.

What we should be on the lookout for is wanting things. When they come they come, we can’t stop them, but most of the time our problem is that we want them, and that is detrimental to our spiritual progress. Even when we don’t explicitly want them, we get all giddy in anticipation at the very first sign of their arrival. This isn’t a mature response either.

Even more sophisticated enemy is mental speculations. They are also controlled by karma – our knowledge, our ability to think and analyze things, the external inputs and triggers – it’s all out of our control, yet when the opportunity comes we exercise our brainpower to the full. Stopping our minds from arguing with themselves is nearly impossible. We become obsessed with something and we can’t think of anything else, we can’t chant, we can’t read, we just need to prove this idea wrong and that idea right. We replay these arguments in our head over and over again.

How can we accept this as a “gift” from Kṛṣṇa? I don’t know. There must be some purpose behind it that escapes me but I don’t see how knowing this connection to the Lord would help control my mind anyway.

Except this one thing – it can help us see ourselves as different from our minds, get off the mental platform, and, hopefully, the mind will soon follow. Remembering Kṛṣṇa when there’s a storm in your head is a great skill and with experience we should be able to see how to treat our mental fixations properly. I don’t think it can be described in words, not by me anyway, but if infatuation with some subject can help us distance ourselves from our mental gymnastics then it’s a great step towards self-realization regardless of whether the subject is visibly connected to Kṛṣṇa or not.

If we can extract this kind of benefit then it’s Kṛṣṇa’s mercy already, point proven again.

Bottom line – paramahaṃsa vision is correct and perfect, we should accept it unquestionably, we just have to be careful in not imitating paramahaṃsa behavior prematurely.

Vanity thought #661. Enriching Srila Prabhupada’s mercy

People who declare their allegiance to Srila Prabhupada and his books while neglecting Prabhupada’s representatives are missing on some really great things and in the process also undermine their position.

Books are great, they are meant to be the law for the next ten thousands years and everything yet they are not Srila Prabhupada himself. Devotees who knew him and got the nectar of his association can’t possibly restrict his persona to his books.

Think of it as Vedas – they are great but practical application can be learned only through a guru. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada’s books contain everything we need to know but he also personally taught us how to apply this knowledge in our lives, and that has been learned through his association. Lectures, letters, conversations, morning walks, teaching devotees how to worship Deities, teaching them how to apply tilaka, how to play karatalas, how to cook and how to do millions of other things that we now perceive as defining our lives as ISKCON devotees.

By neglecting Srila Prabhupada’s disciples as insignificant kanishtha adhikaris, devotees of his books deprive themselves of an enormous amount of knowledge.

A guru is the living Veda, you look at him, follow him and you learn how to live your life. You can’t do the same by looking at books.

Another aspect missing for book devotees is the mood of Prabhupada’s disciples. Their devotion can’t be learned or even seen in books. The way they talk about him, the way they reminisce, the way they admire him, the way they respect him – these things rub off on us if we choose to seek their association.

Rukmini fell in love with Krishna simply by hearing about him yet nowadays some people choose to avoid association of devotees and claim to know and appreciate Srila Prabhupada directly. They miss so much, and by declining generosity of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples they put a big question mark over their interest in him, too.

The most important part, however, is that Srila Prabhupada’s disciples truly enrich his gift to the humanity. No doubt Srila Prabhupada was a focal point of Lord’s mercy towards rotting western society but it was by his disciples’ preaching and devotion that it was multiplied thousands of times and taken to hundreds of countries. Srila Prabhupada plus ISKCON is so much more than Srila Prabhupada alone.

Just like Krishna can never be found without His devotees and His devotees accentuate Krishna’s qualities, guru’s disciples increase and develop guru’s mercy, devotion, knowledge, and power.

Spiritual bliss is ever increasing by devotees efforts. They always, constantly, every moment of spiritual time add something to the ocean of service to Krishna. Exactly the same can be said about guru’s disciples and followers.

In this math, math of dasadasanudasa, the farther down the chain you are the more bliss is coming your way, brought to you by each and every one of your seniors and superiors. In the line of Rupa Goswami we don’t fight to get to the source, we fight to get the last, the lowest place down the line, cause that’s where all the mercy is, manifesting in full.

Srimad Bhagavatam is amala purana and the ripe fruit of all Vedic knowledge but it becomes even sweeter when it comes through the lips of Shukadeva Goswami. Similary Srila Prabhupada’s mercy increases both in volume and in flavor when it passed to us through his representatives.

How can a person reject all this and value only Srila Prabhupada’s books? No one who wants to know Prabhupada can be indifferent towards Prabhupada’s disciples or let alone feel himself superior in his devotion.

Love me, love my dog, as they say. Doing otherwise only exposes undercurrent of ulterior motives.

Vanity thought #314. What makes a book

Our Vedic scriptures are called apaurusheya, meaning they originated from the breath of Narayana Himself so we treat them as such, as absolutely perfect and free from all mistakes. Still, one has to keep in mind that there IS a difference between shruti and smriti, and there’s a difference between shruti, smriti, and the works of our acharyas.

We consider books written by Srila Prabhupada as being above all. Not that they possess a higher status than what comes from Narayana’s breath, we mean that we don’t have the capacity or permission to understand shruti or smriti independently, we must approach them through the medium of Prabhupada and if we see any contradiction we must refer to Prabhupada’s opinion over our own imperfect understanding of shastra.

The question is – what makes a book a book? At what point does a book appear and takes the status of a canon? When we hold a book in our hands these questions don’t normally arise but there are way too many controversies in the history of the opposition to our movement to completely ignore them.

At first there was nothing. Then Prabhupada picked up a Dictaphone and dictated translations and purports to several verses, be it from Gita or Bhagavatam. Then some devotee transcribed what he heard on the tape and typed it up. Then Prabhupada looked through the printed text and made some edits here and there. Then he picked up a Dictaphone, inserted the old tape, and recorded new translations and purports over the old ones.

In the end we have a book in our hands. Lots of things have happened in between and no one knows at which point the text became sacred, what should be considered the standard, canonical edition.

Is it Prabhupada’s original dictation? That version is lost forever. Prabhupada’s edits on transcribed pages are probably closer to the standard but even after that he personally ordered his disciples to proofread the text and make any necessary edits. Then there was the version that went to the printers. I don’t think Prabhupada re-read each and every sentence at that point once again.

Then, in some cases, there are edits discovered after books were already published, also carrying Prabhupada’s stamp of approval, and sometimes they are quite different from what appears in the books that devotees were already distributing to the people.

We should also acknowledge that Prabhupada himself didn’t have one final version in his head, carried it with him at all times, and could easily check if the printed books deviated or not. The edits on transcribed pages show that he, like any other human being, had second thoughts, too, and had no problem whatsoever with changing his ideas, sentences or passages.

Creating a book is a process, the actual book is only a snapshot of that process at a certain stage. More often than not there’s no such thing as one standard version that would be totally faithful to the intention of the author because even author’s intentions are changing, too.

The ultimate intention of the author, Srila Prabhupada, is that we faithfully follow the gist of his instructions and that means we should respect the process by which BBT books are published. Unless instructed to do so it is not our job to find discrepancies in the editions and the alleged presence of such discrepancies does not mean that we put our spiritual lives in danger – we rely on Krishna for protection, not on our meager mental capacities.

We should also remember that it’s better to be wrong trying to follow our gurus than to be right trying to prove our intellectual superiority. The world will not end if we commit mistakes here and there, what will end is our devotional service, it will end the moment we decide to go it alone, outside the remit of our guru and other spiritual authorities.

Vanity thought #245. Good Tidings.

Last night, after typing up this blog, I saw some really inspiring news in my tweeter feed and it I think they deserve some thinking about, and some other news stories from the past couple of weeks, too.

First was a Facebook article about an annual festival in Ukraine. Yesterday I was reminiscing about huge kirtans in Mayapur but that festival must not be very far behind, in fact its title is simply “The Biggest Festival”.

The author, HH Devamrita Swami, doesn’t compare it to Mayapur yet but someone in the comments hopes to elevate Ukraine to a dham status ASAP. In terms of the size it’s the biggest ISKCON event already, with 6,000 registered guests. Actually that doesn’t sound like much if you think that sporting events draw ten times more spectators every weekend and some large political rallies reach a million but we are talking about a six thousand strong kirtan here. Surely Man U fans can easily whip up a six thousand strong chorus and will be just as ecstatic singing their silly songs but we are talking about six thousand strong KIRTAN here. That is just mindblowing and it’s only going to grow, it already adds over a thousand more people each year.

Another aspect of that festival is that there was no compulsory fee. Registering devotees are informed of the organizing cost per head but they are not forced to pay, just donate as much as they want and it worked. This policy even worked in gift shops where people could pick up anything they wanted and just leave donations. What can I say, long live Soviet Communism!

Humor aside, this is what our spiritual communism should be like, we should give people our service and leave returns to Krishna. He WILL provide, after all that’s our fundamental philosophical premise. No wonder I had never been offered any managerial positions…

When things are growing it’s relatively easy to implement but what would happen when people get greedier? Would the festival go broke? Every country had experienced tough spells, some have never quite shaken them off, and deterioration is actually the natural quality of the material world, what would happen if people lose interest and devotees start leaving?

I don’t think it should be worrying. Let’s things run their natural course, somebody is going to lose some money, true, but it’s trying that counts, not the success per se, right? There will be devotees who will learn from the failures, too. What’s the actual loss?

There was another encouraging article I saw on Dandavats recently and it was about a Polish devotee, Mahasringa, who has been cooking for Food For Life and other prasadam distribution programs for decades now. He has fed three and a half million people and he is not thinking about retirement yet. This is just amazing dedication, wherever he lives or visits he just finds pots and pans and cooks. I’m sure he doesn’t always have funds, he provides his loving, selfless service and Krishna takes care of the rest.

I think Ukrainian festival organizers have the same attitude, too – we’ll do our part to our best and we’ll take whatever support Krishna thinks we really deserve. This is a massive shift in consciousness and it’s becoming institutionalized, not just dreamed about or eulogized. I hope this is only the pilot project and this model will be spread all over the world. God know the world needs it.

What it really offers to the world is the proof that we are not just some weirdos with funny handbags but we can actually make something work according to OUR laws, not the market economics. I think Srila Prabhupada was very clear that prasadam should be served in our temples for free to anyone who comes but somehow or other we had become focused on the “free” part as in “no such thing as free lunch” and at some point our free prasadam started coming with our mental conditions attached but things have been changing for the better for years now.

I’m sure no one was counting the proceeds amidst a roar of a six thousand strong kirtan, I’m sure lots of people were on the seventh heaven and weren’t even touching the ground in that euphoria, which, I think, is essential if they want to turn that place into a new dham – it needs the dust of their lotus feet.

Another good ISKCON news also came from former USSR, this time from Siberia. They have finally installed the first ever deities of Radha Krishna in Russia, and not in Moscow but in some godforsaken Siberian Gulag. Okay, that city, Omsk, looks quite respectable on the Internet, with over a million population, but I doubt it has ever been anything more than an unknown blip on ISKCON maps.

Apparently they have built quite a community there, got their own land, built their own temple, trained their own pujaris and so on. All of it without waiting for Moscow to lead the way. As far as I know HH Bhakti Bringa Govinda Maharaj has been the main preaching motor in that zone, and he is another devotee whose energy and dedication is unmatched. He is like a touchstone turning Siberian forest into gold, or maybe into groves of kalpa-vriksha trees.

In another, not so good news from Siberia, Christians in Tomsk have taken Bhagavat Gita to courts and they want to prove that it’s the extremist literature that should be banned and burned. Apparently devotees won’t be even allowed to keep Bhagavat Gitas, much less distribute them to the public. The demons have lost this case once already but now they want to bring new university “experts” who had previously banned Jehovah’s Witnesses. Legally the verdict might not have much affect on the book distribution as only one specific edition would be affected but it would be like adding a nuclear weapon to the arsenal of church propaganda there.

On that subject, there was a curious development in Paris recently where they have altogether outlawed praying in the streets. Granted it was aimed at a specific Muslim community that inconvenienced both traffic and pedestrians in one city block but they are looking to extend the ban to the rest of the country in a few months. Unfortunately I haven’t seen any news on how this ruling affected our harinama parties, I imagine they could be stopped and asked to disperse at any time. France, the nation that practically invented the western concept of liberty has gone a full circle and is promoting fascism instead.

Finally, the biggest story of the past couple of weeks had been the departure of HG Gopiparanadhana Prabhu. I have never seen him in person but it seems he was a living example of a learned and devoted brahmana, the kind that is most dear to Krishna, the kind that we mention several times every day when offering prasadam, and that’s just the first among his exceptional qualities. Personally, I’m going to re-read his translation of Brihad Bhagavatamrita at the earliest chance and find his Q&A group that, reportedly, was a trove of useful information.

I still don’t know what should be the reaction to the departure of vaishnavas. It’s sad for us but it’s good for them. Should we be selfish and miserable of happy for his return to Krishna? I don’t know, it should be a mix, I suppose.

To conclude this review I would happily report that no Dalai Lama quotes have found their way into my twitter for the past month of so. I hope it was only a one off occasion. He might be a cool dude but whose quotes are going to appear there next? Deepak Chopra?