Vanity thought #1299. Lord’s many mouths

I’m catching up on weekend posts, this one should count for Sunday. As I said in last article, we had a family gathering and I couldn’t find time to write this blog and I hate weekends for this. There was a time when I could squeeze a post virtually out of nothing, even type it up on a mobile phone screen, but not anymore. It feels below the standard, below the level of attention it deserves. Even if the standard is arbitrarily set by myself it doesn’t mean I can easily lower it because I imagine it as as service to the Lord and therefore I can’t change anything without a good excuse. Not being in the right mood is not an excuse in my understanding and so I’d rather wait for the right opportunity than get away with half-baked, shorter articles.

That’s the thing I mentioned yesterday – we tend to do things entirely on our own and assume that they are accepted by the Lord. When guru micromanages our lives he can give us instant feedback and correct us but, generally, in our tradition that is not the norm. Our ācāryas were usually left to their own devices, guided by their own understanding. Following in their footsteps we dedicate all our service to our guru but being informed that the service is accepted should be considered a luxury. In pre-GM and pre-ISKCON times there was no local management to act as guru’s proxies, everything was done in one’s heart.

I’m not going to pick up the phone and ask someone in charge to read my posts to make sure my “service” was accepted. It would have been the norm if I worked for an official ISKCON blog but such arrangements are impractical anyway. It’s okay for temple devotees to be always overseen but not for the large congregation. We can’t build ISKCON’s bureaucracy to act as a clearing house for all service done by all devotees everywhere, Kali yuga would corrupt it in no time. Either those put in the position to check everybody’s service would start acting selfishly or those who would feel their efforts were under-appreciated would revolt.

In Vedic times brāhmaṇas were perceived as receptacles of service on Lord’s behalf, whatever one wanted to give to Viṣṇu he was supposed to give to brāhmaṇas. Maybe one day ISKCON would evolve to this level, too, but I don’t see it happening in my lifetime. We don’t even entertain the idea that some of our devotees could live outside of the temples and be totally dependent on donations from the congregation. There are devotees who serve the congregation in usual brahmanical occupations, like astrology, but they get renumeration for specific service, casting horoscopes in this case, not simply for being brāhmaṇas. No horoscope, no donation. That’s being brāhmaṇas by trade, not the same thing.

Our society is not ready to see every devotee with brahmanical initiation as Lord’s mouth. Just visit any of the Hare Kṛṣṇa websites to see that we eagerly exclude a great number of devotees for slightest transgressions. On ISKCON side there’s at least the authority of the institution to justify our actions but among those who are “independently thoughtful” there are no authorities at all and no one deserves to be fed simply for being a brāhmaṇa, except maybe a couple of people who publicly agree with your views on the internet.

Seeing that level of vitriol directed even at sannyāsīs makes it implausible for our devotees to rely on the congregation for support. No one is going to give donations to your family simply because you got brahmanical thread from ISKCON’s “rubber-stamp gurus”.

Even if people understand your situation and are willing to help they would do it as a help to YOU. They don’t see it as THEIR duty to the Lord, they just don’t. They think the Lord accepts their service directly and they don’t have to pass it through brāhmaṇas at all. They also happen to be wise enough to teach the rest of our society the right philosophy and act as moral guardians in post-Prabhupāda time, not that anyone’s listening, but that’s how they see themselves.

In Vedic times it would have been unthinkable. I would go even as far as to say that if we consider the Lord as the proprietor and the sole enjoyer of everything in this world it means that He does so through the brāhmaṇas, not personally. You can’t feed the deity and then feed yourself without making sure that every brāhmaṇa in your reach is fed, too. You can’t have the deity satisfied but the brāhmaṇas hungry, that’s not how you should serve the Lord at all.

I will not break any news if I say that we, that our ISKCON and near-ISKCON householders, are not calling for everyone outside our door three times to come and take prāsadam we offer in our homes before we consider it’s our turn to finally sit down and eat. That rule says everyone, not only brāhmaṇas, and not only twice initiated devotees in good standing with ISKCON authorities, though that would be a good start.

I can easily demand this standard because I don’t know of any such devotees for many many kilometers in any direction from my house, I’m safe here. If I lived in one of the devotee communities that sprang around our temples, and especially in Vrndāvana and Māyāpura, I wouldn’t be so determined about it, that’s for sure. It’s easy to be a hero in my position.

It’s not that we don’t know these things, we just can’t wrap our heads around actually doing them. We don’t know where to even start, which means that there’s a legitimate reason for the absence of such practice. In fact, I’d say that the absence of this practice means that it’s not how the Lord wants us to conduct our affairs. When we are ready it would seem natural just as any other things we do in our service. I don’t think it’s a matter of minor tweaking of our attitudes or even a matter of “brāhmaṇa feeding revolution”. Kali yuga should substantially release its grip over our society before we reach the required enlightened level.

There should be no questions about brāhmaṇas qualifications in our minds, for example. We can’t force people to feed the Lord through receptacles they cannot see as trustworthy, that won’t work, they’ll rebel. We also have to become clear what “brāhmaṇa” means for us. Right now every devotees is expected to receive a second initiation regardless of his actual varṇa qualities, and we have a good reason for that, but that would also mean we should feed ALL devotees regardless before we can sit down to eat ourselves, even those without second initiation – because they are all dear to the Lord already and only time separates them from eventually reaching the formal status. You can’t give prasādam to one devotee and overlook the other anyway.

Sadly, we would rather see devotees being personally cared for by the Lord Himself, because He is the Rich and Mighty One, we would rather not see it as OUR duty and service. We’d rather them have their own sources of food and income, we don’t them to be our eternal dependents, especially householders among them. All brāhmaṇas were expected to be householders in Vedic times and having a wife and a house was not an excuse to tell them to go feed themselves but times have changed. We’d rather offer food to the small form of the Lord deep inside our homes, in our well-guarded dens, where no one but the Lord can have it without taking even a bite out. Then we would consume it ourselves, quietly, preferably without Lord’s external receptacles ever hearing about our feeding time.

Oh, we are such hypocrites, but what can we do? It’s in our nature, and it’s one of the reasons why we would never be allowed to come anywhere near the Lord while still in our material forms. We can imagine serving Him in any variety of ways but that would always remain only our imagination. Hopefully, it’s the intent that counts, otherwise we are doomed.

This should make one appreciate chanting of the Holy Names even more because it is ALWAYS accepted by our guru and the Lord, our sixteen rounds are sacred in this way. It’s the only service we can have absolutely no doubts about and it’s the only service we took a vow to perform until death, all other vows were NOT to do something.

While we chant the Holy Name all the problems that should worry us otherwise simply disappear. Great, isn’t it?

Vanity thought #253. Shudra seeking protection.

I wish I was but I am not. The other day, when I was reading Varnashrama piece on Dandavats, I got distracted by all the little things I thought were not up to my high standards and I missed the big picture – is varnashrama really necessary?

Not in this age, it’s impossible in Kali yuga, there are no brahmanas or kshatriyas or even vaishyas, everybody is born shudra and that’s already giving modern people too much credit. At some point Srila Prabhupada was pretty clear about this – it’s impossible to reinstitute varnashrama in the present ugra-karmic society. The reason is obvious, if you look at how our society is organized now, it simply doesn’t have space for cow protection or agriculture based life, or any kind of sustainable development.

Long time ago one little factoid got stuck in my memory – the US, with the 4% of world population, consumes 25% of the world’s resources. The numbers have probably changed in the past decade due to the rise of China and the growth in the developing world but this was the starting point for the current dynamics. Everybody wants to have a good life like in America but the numbers will never balance – they live well by taking stuff from others, the others do not have anybody to take stuff from, it’s a Ponzy pyramid in a closed system, it will never work.

Convincing Chinese not to live like Americans is impossible, too. If they had some sort of religion to reason with them it would have been easier but they don’t, they put all their faith in greed and vanity, it is only a matter of time before the whole thing crashes like a house of cards.

So, there’s no place for varnashrama in the modern world, it is filled with factories and stock exchanges instead and it’s not going to give up its pursuits voluntarily.

At other times, however, Srila Prabhupada wanted varnashrama badly enough for some people to argue that he said his work only fifty percent done, that the other fifty percent was meant to be building a perfect society. That maybe so, turns out that there was discussion on Dandavats back in August when only a part of the varnashrama conversation was posted and some have raised doubts whether Prabhupada actually meant that, but one thing is certain – he wanted varnashrama at least in a limited form. Some say it was supposed to be example communities to show the world that there are alternative ways of living, some think he had much grander plans.

Here we run into a little problem – did Prabhupada actually have any concrete plans? If he did it means our job is only to understand and implement them properly, if he didn’t then our jobs are much less clearly defined. Is it correct for us to assume that Prabhupada had absolute vision of the material world, absolute knowledge of the past, present and future or was he poking in the dark and throwing things at the wall, hoping some would stick?

Personally, I don’t think he knew it all, I think Krishna revealed him only what was necessary, sort of on the “need to know” basis. I believe we don’t need to know everything in order to serve Krishna with love and devotion, if we assume that love and devotion means having full knowledge of the workings of the material world than our motives are clearly wrong.

Or look at it this way – when Prabhupada was composing his famous poems on the board of Jaladuta he openly admitted that he had no idea what was going to happen yet now we assume that a few years later he suddenly became an all knowing oracle with perfect knowledge and complete plans. Look at his attitude to marriages, too. At first he tried to match people up the “vedic” way but two years later he was buried under the mountain of complaints and marital problems that everybody dumped on him, thinking that “His Divine Grace” was meant to magically fix this kind of things. it wasn’t and he washed his hands off the whole idea.

Therefore I’m not convinced that Prabhupada’s last thoughts on varnashrama development are our final blueprints, he would have no problem changing them if he had more time and more feedback. He was just trying to find out Lord Chaitanya’s plans for spreading His mission and he wasn’t attached to any discoveries he made on the way. Some of them worked, like book distribution, others were not so successful, like trying to convince the academia to abandon their materialism.

We sometimes assume that Prabhupada had magical ability to succeed in absolutely every endeavor but that is just not true. He succeeded in endearing himself to Krishna, that was his goal, but when we think of success we assume it’s numbers of published books or opened temples.

I once heard that an average millionaire has to live through eighteen failures before he strikes big and Prabhupada’s life was not an exception to this principle. He tried to establish a League of Devotees, he tried publishing Back to Godhead, he worked very hard and for no rewards for a very long time before he finally succeeded with ISKCON.

Anyway, my point is that we shouldn’t be dogmatically fixated on what he said or didn’t say about varnashrama some fifty years ago, we should rather concentrate on how to make varnashrama helpful in raising our Krishna consciousness. We shouldn’t be attached to stubbornly pushing for farming communities, goshalas and gurukulas. Those things are nice but they are not for everyone, they might not work out very well in the long term even for those who live there.

There are also all kinds of Amish and other cult communities trying to do exactly the same thing – build isolated bubbles to protect themselves from the influence of Kali yuga, even if they don’t use the same terms. The fact is, they are not taking the world by storm, this is not how the majority of people want to live at this point. Maybe a hundred years later it will be all the rage and so we shouldn’t give it up but the rest of the world clearly needs something else now.

I don’t know what exactly the world needs, apart from more Krishna consciousness, there are people who dig up some old books and present different models of varshnashrama in hope of finding the correct recipe. I don’t think it will work either. Neither vedic sages nor Bhaktivinoda Thakur wrote their models for application in our 21-st century. The principles are the same, the goals are the same but the application must be totally different. We should find how varnashrama principles could fit with nine to five jobs, for example.

Traditionally, seeking employment like that would have been the domain of the shudras, no brahmana, kshatriya or vaishya would have accepted it but I wonder if the same criteria could still be applied today. And who should we call brahmanas? We have plenty of definitions but translating them into 21-st century language is a bit problematic. Traditionally brahmanas lived only on donations and it wasn’t difficult but soliciting donations now is a big business that is kind of hard to break into. It’s all done on corporate levels where you have to sell your charitable causes and I have no idea what any of that has to do with brahmanism as implied by varnashrama. Teachers are supposed to be brahmanas and there are great many of them who would generally qualify but they all live on salaries nowadays.

Anyway, I don’t know what the world needs exactly, I know what I need – I need protection from maya. I need to be given some tasks that would absorb by time and energy and bring some sort of spiritual benefit to the world. I don’t think I can take responsibility for my own life in this regard, so I am a shudra seeking protection.

Actually I am not, I’m too proud to follow orders, even if I were put in a perfect position for a shudra I would not be happy, I have an inclination to think that I know everything better than anybody else. I would not be happy in a brahmana position either as I don’t trust the donations rule.

Actually I am a mleccha seeking position in a system that I don’t belong. Well, maybe I’m seeking a system that would suit me and I think I am not alone here. Perhaps I want all those people trying to implement varnashrama to pause and think whether they should build high walled farming communities or find solutions that would work for the majority of the population.

Bottom line – I want to have means of livelihood that would make it easier for me to think of Krishna. I suspect I find myself in my current unemployed state precisely because my last job sucked in that regard. Well, at least Krishna is doing something about it, I will just try not to undermine his efforts.