Vanity thought #1333. Buddhist death

I just read an account of the death of an advanced Buddhist monk and it was fascinating. I just don’t want it to go into recesses of my memory without making some sense of it. Writing helps to internalize things and understand them better, as they say.

This is not the first time I was interested in Buddhist experiences and it somewhat worries me. They are not devotees, never will be, perhaps in some distant lifetimes in the future, if they are lucky. Their hearts know no devotion and they are indifferent towards the Lord, we shouldn’t mix with those people, and yet they are fellow transcendentalists and very often of the no-nonsense type. It just so happens that they can be trusted more than māyāvādīs from a Hindu tradition.

Buddhists can be excused from not worshiping Kṛṣṇa or Nārāyaṇa, they know nothing about Him. Māyāvādīs, otoh, are not just indifferent, they are inimical and envious. When they hear of the Lord’s pastimes they want to experience them themselves and thus accept worship from other people. Therefore their attitude are far more dangerous for us.

It would also be nice if we had similar accounts about vaiṣṇava departure but nothing comes to mind. I’ll get back to that point in a moment, first let’s deal with this Buddhist lama.

I don’t know much about Buddhist hierarchy but he appears to have been a head of one of the major Buddhist sects, exiled from Tibet and headquartered in Sikkim, quite far away from the more [in]famous Dalai Lama. There’s a wikipedia entry on him and though it doesn’t reference this particular story it still corroborates it nicely. I don’t particularly care about the rest of his life, somehow or other he achieved what could be called liberation in our terminology and that is remarkable, how he did it is not, not for devotees anyway.

The story is written by the doctor who treated him for cancer. The doctor met him three times, during the initial diagnosis, then a few months later in Hong Kong, and then he was attending during lama’s last days in one of the American hospitals.

During initial cancer diagnosis they spent a considerable amount of time, I would imagine. They ran all the tests and prepared a course of treatment. Lama wasn’t very cooperative, however. Instead of telling medical personnel where he felt pain he’d just smile and ignore them. It wasn’t annoying or anything like that but very unusual and impressed everybody there.

He just didn’t treat his disease as ordinary people would do. He didn’t display any anxiety, no fear of death, no concern for his own well-being at all. It just didn’t register with him, his mind was elsewhere.

This attitude was even more prominent during their second meeting in Hong Kong. Lama lost a a lot of weight but his attitude didn’t change a bit. It was still just another experience for him, business as usual, something you do between brushing your teeth and taking a shower. He wasn’t concerned about being on the precipice of death at all and medical stuff in Hong Kong was just as impressed as the Americans.

The third time the doctor and the lama met was during his final days in Chicago and that’s the most detailed part of the story. The attitude was the same, but this time the body was really giving up, medically speaking. They had him monitored for blood pressure and heart rate and everything they could do in those days – it was 1981. Several times it appeared that the lama was a goner but it wasn’t his body that got to decide but his spirit and on those occasions the lama would just return to consciousness and behave as if nothing had happened. He was certainly not impressed by his body’s behavior and wasn’t taking cues from it. If necessary, he would jack up his blood pressure or speed up his heart, everybody would be amazed, lama would look around say a few words, and go back to his meditation.

He refused to sign a will and appoint a successor, something that caused a split in the community afterwards which is present to this day. I wonder if there was any significance to this. Was it a conscious decision? Was it an oversight? Did he not think of it as something important? Or did he simply saw the future and went along with it?

Sometimes we assume that things are ought to be clear but the universe might have other plans. GM didn’t stay united and didn’t succeed in post-Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura time and that enabled us, the ISKCON, to develop and preserve our own identity. With all respect to senior vaiṣṇavas from GM, nothing good came out of our cooperation ever and so their relative decline helped us to stay away and spare us more trouble. Well, maybe it’s not a good argument in favor of uncertainty but in any case GM failed not against Kṛṣṇa’s wishes but according to them. Maybe that school of Buddhism is going through a similar experience, too.

Then there was the day of death. Lama’s heart stopped, he was revived again, the heart stopped again. The doctor went with chest pumps to help the blood flow anyway for almost an hour, way longer than necessary, and everyone thought it was over. Yet a few minutes later the lama came back to life.

The doctor described this moment as a final check in. The lama returned to consciousness to see if his body was any good. It wasn’t. He hang around for a few minutes, accepted that the body was useless, and died.

Except he didn’t.

Against hospital regulations they kept the body in the same ICU room for three days because Buddhist monks accompanying their master insisted that he was still in deep samādhi. The doctor spoke about a change in the atmosphere around the body but the most amazing thing was that lama’s heart was still worm even if it wasn’t beating for days. Somehow they didn’t take temperature readings but the doctor tested it manually – the heart region was warm while the rest of the body wasn’t. The skin also didn’t feel like the skin of a dead person – it was still elastic and resumed form after being squeezed. This is a similar observation to the one about the body of a Buryat lama that is presumed to be still alive and in deep samādhi at the ripe age of 170+ years I wrote about last year.

After three days the samādhi was over and the lama finally left. Rigor mortis set in and the heart went cold, there was also a change in the atmosphere in the room.

Wikipedia article linked earlier describes a few more “magical” occurrences afterwards. Between death and cremation the body shrank to the size of a child. I don’t know if it’s normal, however, and whether it means anything. On the day of the cremation there were also rainbows and unicorns and two of lama’s healthy dogs left their bodies, too. Perhaps it shows that lama’s soul was still around and only the cremation broke the last bond. What was his next destination we do not know. I’d imagine it was some place where he could continue his spiritual practices.

Was he fully liberated? Maybe not, in a sense he was still connected to the body, but it could also be understood that he kept that connection on his own will, not forced by karma and the modes of nature. His consciousness was free from regular illusion affecting all of us, that’s probably the most important aspect.

Now, could this experience be relevant to the devotees? Most of the time nothing special like that happens to us. We just leave without displaying any siddhis. If we meet Kṛṣṇa upon death, it doesn’t usually register externally. Some devotees go out with a smile but that’s about it. I think Buddhists are still people of this world and their progress is charted in relation to this reality while devotees leave this place altogether without any trace and without any residues of attachment and connection to their physical bodies. I hope that’s what happens anyway.

We’ll all find out sooner or later.

Vanity thought #1326. More on confusing history

The story about real Lord Buddha, historical Buddha, Candragupta, Candragupta Maurya, and Aśoka is very confusing, to say the least. Until the “real Lord Buddha appeared around 1800 BC” revelation it was pretty straightforward but now everything comes into question, contradictions are everywhere, and possible explanations dare us to defy Occam’s razor rule at every step.

As it stands now, we have real Lord Buddha, then real Candragupta Maurya two hundred years later, then his grandson Asoka who converted to Buddhism and expanded the empire. Then we have historical Buddha a thousand years later, another Candragupta who wasn’t Maurya and possibly another person who is assumed to be historical Asoka who converted to historical Buddhism. Then we also have two Candraguptas of the Gupta empire which took over India some five hundred years after historical Aśoka, one of them could have possibly been Candragupta that lived before historical Aśoka and by now it’s just one royal mess.

Can it be straightened out? I don’t think so but let’s try anyway.

First of all, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam makes no connection between Lord Buddha and Cāṇakya, Candragupta, and Candragupta’s grandson Aśokavardhana whatsoever and so neither should we. The connection that firmly exists in public consciousness should be simply ignored, it has no basis in scripture.

What causes all the confusion is identification of “Sandracottus” in Greek records with Candragupta Maurya and the existence of a large number of stone inscriptions which are attributed to Aśoka.

Let’s talk about these inscriptions, known as Aśoka edicts. There are 33 of them and they are found all around India, and I mean “around” literally – it looks as if they are planted on the outposts of the empire. Some of them are engraved on the huge pillars cut of monolith rock, some are on boulders, some are on cave walls etc. Over the time they, including the pillars, have been moved around but, I think, generally we should have no reason not to trust this map:

They represent the first tangible evidence of the existence of Buddhism, wikipedia says. Okay.

Most of them are in Brahmi script, a pre-Devanāgāri writing system, and they are composed in Prakrit, not Sanskrit. More on this “pre” part some other time. These edicts are also the earliest examples of Brahmi, so it’s a double first.

Could they have been written 1500 BC or whereabouts? Very unlikely, because at least one of the edicts, located in Afghanistan, is written in Aramaic and Greek. In 1500 BC it would not have been possible, certainly not as far form Greece as Afghanistan.

This means they couldn’t have been written by Aśokavardhana of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

The edicts tell the story of a king who is called “Devanampiyadasi”, the Beloved of the Gods, with a few slightly different spellings. No one knew who he was and Brahmi itself was deciphered only in the mid-19th century and so no one could read it. Then, in 1915, someone discovered a new rock which used “Aśoka” in the edicts, and then another one like that on the other side of the country. Thus the modern history of Asoka was born.

It must be said that these inscriptions are not only first evidence of Buddhism but that many of them are not corroborated by any other Buddhist sources, too (there is, however, a much later Buddhist book called Ashokavadana that apparently speaks of the same king, apparently being the key word, and it’s full of stuff that makes it hard to believe anyway). The edicts mention wars and events, most likely exaggerated, that have no records anywhere else, so take it or leave it.

Buddhists could count the date of the Buddha himself from the date of these edicts and their “Aśoka”, so it’s not a small thing. The edicts tell how many years have passed since Buddha until Aśoka’s coronation and they tell how many years passed since Aśoka’s conversion to Buddhism, it’s important math for that religion. There’s a major problem with the math, however, because of the tie to historical “Candragupta” there appears to be a gap of sixty years there between various “known” events. In Buddhism it is known as “long” and “corrected long” chronology, as the gap has been found and explained away almost two hundred years ago based on other Buddhist texts even before they knew of Aśoka’s edicts.

Recently, however, other, shorter chronologies have been gaining followers in Buddhist academia and they move Buddha’s death closer and closer to us and closer to closer to their Aśoka. They have lots of old Buddhist books to argue about there but they don’t even touch on discrepancy with the edicts. They all take dates of Aśoka’s rule as cast in stone, relative to Candragupta who they don’t touch. The dates mentioned in the content that is actually cast in stone is another matter.

As I said earlier, the easiest way for us is to simply dismiss this historical Aśoka as a different person from Aśokavardhana of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, in fact, he shouldn’t even be called that at all. I still use this name simply out of habit. Whoever was behind “Devanampiyadasi” deserves his credits on his own strength, there’s no need to link him to the character from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

Historical Buddhism as we know it has nothing to do with real Lord Buddha either so we have no reason to argue about their history and their teachings. We should just beg them to leave Candragupta and Aśokavardhana alone.

Or we could recalculate OUR timing of Candragupta to make him fit with historical Buddhism and historical Aśoka, that would solve us many of our problems, too. However, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is apparently very clear about dates and timings of the involved dynasties so there’s little leeway here left, certainly no enough to stretch the timeline by 1200 years.

There’s no easy solution here. What is easy for us would be outright rejected by everyone else and what is easy for them is unacceptable for us. There’s also the point that it’s highly unlikely that we will ever be able to convince our opponents, we should rather build our own support base instead.

History is written by the victors, they say, and there are no reasons this maxim shouldn’t be applied to this situation, too. Whoever gets more followers will get to write it. We might not hope for victory per se but simply being recognized as a contested party would be a huge recognition of our position already.

Once again, the spiritual side of this argument didn’t have time to be reflected here and I’m sorry about that.

Vanity thought #1310. Proof of concept cont’d

Continuing from yesterday – is it possible to prove that non-empiric reality exists? It might not be possible to prove it empirically but I only need a proof of concept for now. Let the atheists agree to the strong possibility that it exists and that there are methods of attaining it. It all has to be done on the examples of impersonalists because we can’t bring God into the picture, so vaiṣṇavism is out.

So far I enlisted help of Buddhists here in favor of advaitins for a number of practical reasons. The downside of using them is that I don’t know much about Buddhist doctrine and so can only loosely translate it into ours or into language accessible to the atheists. I don’t think it’s a big problem, though – we need to find a cross-cultural language anyway if we want to talk to people outside of our tradition.

The next step is this. Let’s say Buddhists achieve their nirvana, is it possible to prove that it is real? The main problem is that it is still a transcendental state that cannot be registered empirically so atheists would never be fully satisfied no matter what. Next best thing is to show connection between transcendental and empirical reality, the one that has always been there in our tradition but got lost as influence of Kali Yuga got stronger. There are external symptoms of a person who has achieved liberation and they must be uniform across all religious traditions.

At this point I must admit I can’t just recite a verse enumerating them one by one. There are several ślokas in Bhagavad Gīta that would fit, and there’s a whole chapter in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.11), so let’s start from there, these verses repeat what had been said in Bhagavad Gīta anyway.

It’s part of a conversation between Kṛṣṇa and Uddhava appropriately called Uddhava Gīta. Kṛṣṇa answers Uddhava’s questions and this chapter answers the one that I’m looking for (SB 11.10.37):

    Please explain to me the symptoms by which one can tell the difference between a living entity who is eternally liberated and one who is eternally conditioned. In what various ways would they remain situated, enjoy life, eat, evacuate, lie down, sit or move about?

Note how the last sentence repeats Arjuna’s question (BG 2.54) almost word for word. In fact, Kṛṣṇa’s answers are also very similar. Come to think of it, Bhagavad Gīta’s version is even better and more to the point. Uddhava Gīta, otoh, has a bit more verses and a few more details. We, as devotees, need to remember, though, that liberation is only a preliminary stage and Kṛṣṇa spends half of the chapter describing what one should do AFTER he has become liberated, how one absolutely must engage in devotional service.

In both cases, first symptom is that liberated soul gives up all material desires. He simply observes interactions between his senses and their objects but takes no interest in them.

Afaik, that’s very similar to Buddhism – those who have attained nirvana still need to live out their karma first. That’s the stage we can use as practical examples. I believe there plenty of Buddhist monks who have visibly extinguished their material desires. The problem with them is that they also withdraw themselves from the world and those desires would come back as strong as ever if they were placed in our situation, in the midst of the civilization.

Atheists can certainly pick up on that and answering them is not going to be easy. A liberated person performs all kinds of ordinary activities but he does not see himself as a doer and he does not engage in actions because he wants something. I don’t know how we can demonstrate that, it’s just something one must experience himself. Even seeing a liberated person with one’s own eyes might not be enough because people ascribe all kinds of motivations to others and get them wrong all the time. “He does this but he doesn’t really want to” is not a kind of explanation that will go down easily.

Another symptom of a liberated soul is that he is exceptionally tolerant and undisturbed by hunger or pain, nor does he react to pleasure or worship (SB 11.11.15):

    Sometimes for no apparent reason one’s body is attacked by cruel people or violent animals. At other times and in other places, one will suddenly be offered great respect or worship. One who becomes neither angry when attacked nor satisfied when worshiped is actually intelligent.

I think even fully liberated persons would visibly react when attacked by vicious animals, these are bodily reactions done on a subconscious level, no one can stop them, but a liberated person’s consciousness won’t be affected. He won’t become angry or protective, he won’t desire revenge, he won’t ask for help either.

Problem is, it’s hard to find examples of such behavior and it can be explained differently, too. Drugs make people feel impervious to pain, or extreme fear, or excitement. The key here is mental equilibrium which is not present in all these other cases, and to notice that one must observe the person very closely.

One more important symptom of a liberated soul is that he doesn’t judge things as good or bad and sees everyone equally. We always pass judgments on things that happen to us and we always pass judgments on people. Sages don’t. They are not outraged by injustice and they do not celebrate correcting it either. They have no morals, practically speaking. They refuse to condemn and they do not offer praise.

It makes sense to us but I’m not sure if atheists would be as agreeable. Morals are important to them, justice is important to them, I don’t think they expect a spiritual person to be indifferent.

Perhaps that could be played to our advantage, though – if we show this as evolution of consciousness rather than people being sociopaths from birth. For an ordinary man outrage over rape of a little girl is unavoidable, for a liberated person it’s nothing to be worried about, it’s just karma, same thing for everyone, the differences are relative.

I don’t see atheists accepting this attitude, though, it’s just cold blooded and heartless and won’t attract anyone. I wouldn’t personally mention it unless I’m absolutely sure the person on the other end is capable of understanding it.

Taken one by one, none of the above arguments would appear to be conclusive, but taken as a sum and coupled with unmistakable absence of personal desires and aspirations we might just establish a foothold.

The next step is crucial, everything depends on it – a liberated person must inspire trust in his words. If he says that the world is an illusion and there’s a higher reality then we must believe him even if we can’t share the vision ourselves. It’s at this point that possible misinterpretations of the earlier symptoms should not get in the way of establishing credibility.

Imagine a dude living in the mountains, eating and sleeping very little, undisturbed by the weather and lack of comfort, equipoised in all circumstances and without any personal desires and aspirations. Why would he lie? Why would he lie to you and why would he lie to himself?

It should be clear that he is not performing austerities in order to achieve something and then he’ll stop. It should be clear that it’s how he prefers to live his life, day in and day out, year after year, decade after decade, and he would never initiate any changes himself.

If we can demonstrate that then we might have a shot. It all depends on establishing credibility, and that’s a major point going for Buddhists because Indian gurus have very little.

Maybe I should give it a try on some public forum, see how it goes.

PS. Forgot to insert sense control somewhere there but it’s such an obvious point we should not need a special reminder.

Vanity thought #1309. Proof of concept

I was wondering if it’s possible to prove that impersonal aspect of Kṛṣṇa exists. Actually, it should be no-brainer but it isn’t, I haven’t seen anyone done it successfully, or rather any atheists accepting the result. Maybe it’s because it has hardly been tried on a large scale.

By “proof” I mean empirical proof, the one that atheists put so much value on. Something they can do without building up faith, which is a whole different matter. In my experience, most people don’t see the difference and those who do don’t go around educating people. I mean the difference between bhakti, which doesn’t exist without faith, and other Hindu schools that can get by without faith just fine. For ordinary folks it’s all lumped under “religion”.

I assume that atheists don’t want to worship God in any shape or form, can’t stand the idea of God, won’t discuss the possibility unless there’s empiric proof. Empiric proof of Kṛṣṇa’s existence, however, is impossible. He can appear before our material senses, no problem, but it wouldn’t become proof because perceiving “God” is a matter of relationship, which does not exist in atheist hearts. They don’t have premāñjana, salve of love, which is necessary to see God. The way they cast their glance on objects of their perception is opposite to how we should look at God, so they won’t see Him, they would only see a material form and nothing else. Therefore any appeals to God or God’s authority should be excluded from the conversation.

First question – why bother? If we don’t talk about God then what’s the point of talking at all? Just to please ourselves with our own brilliance? Score some easy victories over atheists? Win some hard battles that we can remember forever? Life is short to waste it on such selfish pursuits, we need every minute, every second, and every breath to work on developing bhakti, the day will definitely come when we’ll regret all the wasted time.

The operative answer is that realizing impersonal aspect of the Absolute is a great achievement in itself and a necessary step towards being attracted to God. Or I could recall that dreaded compassion – impersonal realization equals liberation, if we bring people to it they’d be very very grateful. Perhaps the best effect, however, would be that all those atheists would shut up and realize they are talking nonsense.

Their propaganda is very widespread and very powerful. They are naturally smug about themselves and, like it or not, the aura of success attracts people like nothing else. Basically, they challenge religions not so much by arguments but by demonstrating how good atheism makes them feel. Arguments come and go, most don’t keep them in their heads, but everyone wants the taste of the same smug superiority and, as people’s intelligence is generally very weak in Kali Yuga, taste always wins.

If we accept that this is where real danger lies then winning the argument won’t probably matter. Despite their bold proclamations, atheists are not rational in their beliefs, at best the arguments can somewhat undermine their self-righteousness, but that would be a great achievement already – they surely won’t be talking as much as they do now, and if they actually take to the path of impersonalism they’ll keep quiet as part of their practice, we can’t lose here. Unless we lose the argument, of course.

So, how would one go about proving impersonal aspect of the Absolute? The easiest way, as far as I can see, is to refer them to Buddhists. Śankarācārya was supposed to beat them long long time ago but from what I see his teachings have been completely discredited while Buddhism still lives on, albeit it’s getting harder and harder to find serious practitioners. I blame this on that Ramakrishna dude and his followers.

If Śankarācārya’s mission was to bewilder the people of Kali Yuga, Ramakrsihna finally made it happen. Whatever good there was in advaita philosophy has been completely expunged by Ramakrishna who left only degraded demoniac mentality and nothing else. There was impersonalism before Śankara, of course, but his is the only school that survived through time and was flourishing even when Lord Caitanya was present, but not anymore, it has been overtaken by Ramakrishna inspired impostors.

I guess it’s possible to still find true followers of Śankarāchārya but they are extremely rare and by the nature of their practice would necessarily excuse themselves from being present on the Internet, so there’s nothing there to refer our atheists to. Any other kind of Hindu spirituality would be tainted by Ramakrishnaism of some kind and we’d be forced to explain why it has to be rejected.

Yoga is another path towards realization of the Absolute that could be useful to our argument but finding a real yogi is even harder than finding a real sanyāsī, claims about yogis sound too far fetched and require about as much faith as belief in God Himself.

Situation in Buddhism is somewhat better, not because there are more Buddhists around or that modern Buddhists are more presentable than modern impersonalists but because there are less windbags in that tradition, there are less obvious frauds and, I believe, there are more success stories there.

I’m not saying that Buddhism is better than advaita but it’s a fact that there are several Buddhist countries in the world and some of them take their religion very seriously while India is overrun by secularism and worship of all things western with their inherent hedonism, and therefore does not promote necessary level of austerity to achieve success on a noticeable scale.

In Thailand, for example, it’s not unusual to walk on a body of a monk that doesn’t decay after his death, lots of temples, often no-name ones, have relics like that and even more temples have stories like that to tell. I believe they call them “arahants”, the perfect ones, the ones who have attained nirvanna and will not take another birth after leaving this body. There are difference in interpretations between various schools but for our purposes we can assume they have achieved liberation.

In Bhutan the number of monks and their austerity is astonishing, simply out of this world, and while they and other Mahayana schools might set “bodhisattvas” as their ideal, plenty among them would look like Theravadan arahants to lay people like us. A while ago I wrote several posts on a Buryat monk who is claimed to be still alive after 170 years.

Stories like that won’t surprise anyone in India but casual researcher will most likely to run into a fraud there because everyone claims superpowers there and literally no one can be trusted. I mean their best examples are running around naked at Kumba Melas, who would take them seriously? Posers, the whole lot of them.

Okay, say we find some good examples among Buddhists or elsewhere, would that be enough to convince the atheists? I was just getting to that but that should probably be left for another day. As usual, the introduction seems to take more time and space than the argument itself.

I don’t think it’s a fault, btw, I believe that most questions arise because of a lack of foundation, once we understand where we are coming from most questions somehow answer themselves or simply disappear, and therefore I do not consider it as a waste of time.

Vanity thought #1169. Undead lama

For a few days I’ve been looking into a curious case of one undead lama. I think I’m ready to put it together, so here it goes.

His name is Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov and he is from Buryatia, a region in the Russian Far East, on the border with Mongolia. Buryats claim to have lived there for three thousand years and they have always been Buddhist. Their school is similar to Tibetan Vajrayana but they do not pledge allegiance to Dalai Lama, they have their own leaders. BTW, it’s not clear whether they are truly separate people or just a subgroup of what is known as Khalkha, the largest Mongolian ethnic group that descended from one of the mountain ranges surrounding Himalayas from the north. Historians don’t know where the name Khalkha came from but they obviously haven’t read Śrīmad Bhāgavatam…

Anyway, Dashi Dorzho was born in the middle of the 19th century, no one knows where. He appears to be an orphan, which is very unusual for Buryats who keep a good track of their children and families. Some, therefore, claim that he simply appeared as a five year old boy with a skull in his hand, a sign of an enlightened person, Buddha.

He studied in Buddhist monasteries and gradually rose through the ranks, at the age of sixty he was elected as the chief Buryat lama, his position confirmed and recognized by the Russian emperor. Apparently he did a lot of good work for the state, building hospitals, raising funds and supplies for the Russian army that was always at war with someone. He opened the first Buddhist temple in Saint Petersburg, then the Russian capital, which technically makes it the first Buddhist temple in Europe, too. For his work he got several medals and awards from both Russian and Mongolian governments. Then he resigned, which is normal for Buryat lamas, unlike Tibet where there are no elections and no resignations.

After communist revolution things were rather slow to change in Buryatia but eventually he realized that Buddhism was in grave danger. He sent most of the lamas across the border to Mongolia before Stalin came down with his purges. He didn’t leave himself, though, simply stating that communists won’t catch him in time, and they didn’t.

He left his body in 1927, and this is where the story actually starts.

He gathered his disciples and told them to recite a prayer for the souls of the departed. They hesitated, as he was still alive, so he started the chant himself and gradually everyone joined in. Buddhist chants that I heard can last for hours, this one was probably no different. Dashi Dorzho “left” his body in the middle of the prayer.

His instructions were unusual, however. He wasn’t to be cremated, his body was to be put in a pine box and buried, then opened up after 30 years (or 75 years according to different accounts). Monks did as instructed.

Then purges came in. The temple where he lived all his life was razed to the ground, witnesses said that the field was completely flattened, with torn pages from the books dotting the ground. Lamas were imprisoned or executed, Buddhism was on the verge of extinction.

Stalin died in 1953, thirty year date was coming four years after that, but then there was an earthquake in the region and monks decided it’s better to check on the Dashi Dorzho a bit earlier, just to make sure that everything was alright. Exhuming bodies was illegal and no one even thought of asking Soviet authorities permission on religious grounds so it was done in secret. Everything was indeed okay, the body taken out, dressed into new clothes, and then returned to the same pine box. Then, in 1973, the place was flooded so the monks had to check on the body again. That’s when they filled the box with salt, probably to dry it out and protect from future water damage.

Finally, after 75 years, it was time to lift it up again, for good. Communism was gone, new Russian authorities were a lot more cooperative, new temples were being built everywhere, and the state actually took interest in the case and sent several officials to monitor and report on the proceedings.

The body was taken to the main Buddhist temple in the region and it’s being kept there until today, in a glass box that is open to the public several times a year on special holidays.

Now, about the body. Everyone has his own opinion about it. Local Buddhists, scientists, state authorities media, etc. Everyone is pushing his own narrative and we are no different. Naturally, I want to be “objective” here, more objective than anyone else, but we should remember that we come from a tradition where Vyāsadeva still lives in the Himalayas and Aśvatthāmā still roams the Earth. We might not look very objective to outsiders if we try to argue our views here.

Anyway, local Buddhists are convinced the Dashi Dorzho is still alive and won’t hear anything otherwise. He is simply in the state of samādhi, they say, he is not dead. Media goes along with this because it sells and quotes results of the scientific examinations for support.

Well, official report talks only about a “corpse”, nothing else. “Corpse this” and “corpse that”, they are not crazy to write anything different in the official papers. In private conversations and interviews scientists who conducted the examination are not so certain, however. The body was examined several times until Buddhist authorities forbade it in 2005.

That was a story in itself. Medical examiners naturally undressed the body to study it closely but someone leaked the photos to the press and when revered Dashi Dorzho was presented naked for everyone to see Buddhists thought it was enough and scientists were not to be trusted. The fact that they treated Dashi Dorzho as officially dead didn’t help either. At the moment the body is not allowed to be filmed or photographed even on public occasions but plenty of photos are still on the internet, of course.

Unlike any corpse of that age known to science, Dashi Dorzho’s body is still soft, his skin is elastic, his joints are working, there’s no sign of decay whatsoever – all the fingers and toes, all the nails, hair, ears, nose, everything is still preserved. Eyes are not dry, they haven’t leaked out, they are EYES. Some people claim that they’ve seen Dashi Dorzho open them and they could see a living person looking back at them.

Scientists have taken samples of his hair, skin, and nails, and examined them in laboratories – chemically, they are no different from samples taken from living people. They’ve studied proteins and cells and they were still as alive as cells could be. One often quoted bit is that the “corpse” looked as if it died no longer than 36 hours ago. Except it’s been almost eighty years at the time.

The body still has blood in it. Once the body was scratched in an accident and blood oozed out though it was more like a gel than a liquid.

They didn’t use the stethoscope to listen for heartbeat, no one thought it was necessary at the time, there was just one new age dude who examined “brain waves” and found brain pulsating four times a minute or something but we can’t take that stuff seriously without using proper equipment.

Now the body is kept in the glass box, it sits in the lotus posture by itself, doesn’t need to be propped, there’s no refrigeration of any kind even though in summers outside temperature reaches 40 degrees Celsius, which like a hundred Fahrenheit. Nothing happens to it.

Well, not exactly, occasionally the body sweats, and its weight fluctuates, but that could be attributed to the effects of being kept in salt for nearly thirty years – it can react to moisture in the atmosphere, sometimes absorbing, sometimes releasing it. Sound plausible. It’s more difficult to explain fluctuations in the body temperature. Usually it’s around 18 Celsius (64 F) but on public holidays, when Dashi Dorzho greets the visitors and gives blessings, it rises to 34 C (93 F), almost normal.

So there. What to make of it? Scientifically the case of Dashi Dorzho is impossible and there are no known cases in Buddhism either, at least not from this age. There are plenty of Buddhist mummies around the world but they are all dead. We can find several techniques to reach the state of mummification without using any embalming but they never produce soft bodies with moving joints, intact eyes, and blood still in the veins.

I don’t think I’ll include any pictures here, they don’t do Dashi Dorzho justice. On most of them his nose appears to be disfigured but that is not the case if you look at all of them closely. Salt also has damaged some of his skin and so it doesn’t look alive in places and that needs to be overlooked, too. In all the photos his mouth is closed but in his current condition it looks as if he needs a piece of cloth to hold it. By “current” I mean fully dressed up for greeting visitors. In regular corpses rigor mortis settles in the jaw very very fast, under two hours. Dashi Dorzho has been “dead” for 87 years now. Or we could say he’s 162 years old.

So, these are the facts, the only thing I forget to mention is that there’s no sign of any kind of embalming, no signs of any surgery, and the body never gave out any decaying odors, not even when first taken out of the box.

There are all kinds of implications here, of course, and I’ll address some of them in another post, this one is getting too long now.

Vanity thought #186. Generations clash.

A couple of days ago I read an article on some of the problems facing Buddhism in America and I thought it was relevant and indicative of what is happening in the larger world and, possibly, in ISKCON, too.

What is happening with American Buddhists is that they are dying out, naturally.

First generation Buddhists there evolved from the counter culture movement that sought alternative values and religious practices. They spend years and even decades in places like Nepal and Thailand studying under local gurus and masters.

Schools, centers and retreats they established back home were meant to channel that ancient wisdom to the modern society but things rarely flow one way. New converts brought new ideas and new approaches and they didn’t care much about Thai or Nepalese monasteries and so the old guard is worried – traditions are under threat from these young, dynamic, and successful preachers.

Though the first generation made Buddhism a household name and a popularly accepted religion they failed to keep the momentum going until the past decade or so and now the new generation takes all credit for the revival, and deservedly so.

So, on one hand we have people who spent almost their entire lives trying to go deeper into the tradition and valuing it above anything else, on the other hand we have lots of noobs who can’t understand what is so important about following some old teachers on the other side of the globe.

Old guys have time tested methods on their side, new guys tell them that old methods don’t work anymore, they tried some new ways and they worked better, or did they?

This is not restricted to Buddhism only, of course. Lately, for example, people have learned how to use touchscreens on their phones and tablets and now they don’t appreciate the good old mouse anymore. Apple is right on target with their new operating system integrating mutlitouch gestures from mobile devices into their notebook computer line.

They, the Apple, even went so far as to change how you scroll down the screen. With the mouse you pull the scroll bar down but on the phones you flick the page up – ever noticed that? Now Apple did the same thing to notebooks, too – if you want to see what’s down the page you pull the page up, not down as we’ve been doing for two decades now. Actually we’ve been reading things on paper like this since birth – as you read further you move the paper up, it’s the computer mouse that taught us to pull a scrollbar down instead.

It is mighty annoying at first, people report, but they get used to it. These new generation approach has its merits, after all.

So, I want to be fair to these young bloods even if what they do doesn’t sit with me very well at first.

To begin with – they are very very smart in certain ways but not so much in others. Thanks to standardized education they are being taught very effectively everywhere and now we have an enormous pool of people who take our standards for granted.

We’ve been working our socks off for decades to distill our best practices and our best knowledge and serve it in easily digestible portions. How long did it take us to accept that women, blacks and gays deserve an equal chance at everything and should be judged on the result, not on appearance? Hundreds of years. Kids learn this in kindergarten now.

They literally take from where we left off and carry on. They have a wider perspective, they are unconstrained by our old habits, prejudices and attachments. If something works they take it up easily, they don’t have the baggage of “in all my life I never thought…”

Thanks to the Internet they also have an easy access to enormous pool of alternative ideas and approaches we never knew existed. Young people mix and match all the time until they get it right, the share success and failures and they learn from them very fast, and there are simply more of them, I mean the headcount of educated folk now and fifty years ago.

So, if the goal is to learn something – you can’t beat the new generation.

Older folks might be proud of having read Bhagavat Gita a million times and being able to recite all the verses, younger folks don’t see the point – they’ve heard all about it already, if they don’t remember Sanskrit they can look it up on the Internet in seconds. That’s another trait of the new generation – outsourcing memory.

With the information and all kinds of data overflowing from every possible source there’s no question of trying to remember everything, or even everything important – it’s far more practical to remember where everything that’s important can be found. That’s just practical management of limited resources.

They won’t be reading Bhagavat Gita millions of times, they got the point already, they’d rather read other versions to see if any new angles can be explored and incorporated, thus enriching their understanding.

Is there any danger in these developments? For American Buddhists, for the society as a whole, for the devotees?

Take this observation – in “my” days we had only a limited collection of stories from Krishna Book to tell each other when it was time to talk “pastimes”. If someone learned a new story it quickly spread in the community, everyone was eager to relish it, new stuff was relatively rare. Now there are so many translations of so many books online new stories fail to excite anymore, not unless you twist them in a new and cool way. Mix and match, mix and match…

Devotees are relatively safe, though, we still stress following the tradition and gurus and we are careful to preserve our knowledge “as it is”, but Buddhists are truly screwed, imo.

They don’t have guru system at all in the West, they have no spiritual leaders, no Pope, nothing. Dalai Lama is not it. They also don’t have any traditions to preserve – unlike monasteries in Nepal or Thailand, Buddhists in the US have been exposed to all kinds of interpretations from day one. None of the centuries old traditions has any particular respect and prominence in the new land, they all have to start building reputation from the scratch, most of the time side by side with their traditional rival schools, too.

Old timers might start grave and serious talks how they learned something from their ten years in the mountains but younger ones can interrupt them with “yeah, I know, also look at this guy from Thailand who says that …” Annoying – yes, but I bet their “insights” are amazingly correct, too.

You can’t beat them at learning – remember?

They are missing the important point, though – you go to guru not to learn stuff but to learn humility and appreciation. Stuff can be found on the Internet but it won’t make you humble, it would rather make you more proud.

It’s like Oscar Wilde said over a hundred years ago – “know price of everything but value of nothing”. We go to guru to learn value, not price, not the superficial information.

ISKCON devotees are relatively safe and well protected, though. We know that we approach devotees in hope that their devotion rubs off on us, too. Those who seriously seek devotion do not put too much trust in acquiring books.

Superficial methods do not work for us at all, people realize rather soon that you can’t play a devotee, the trick is not in finding best kirtana tunes or best recipes or sitting postures or squirreling away hundreds of books and hours of mp3 lectures. When all these things fail we remember that we should go and humbly inquire about the Absolute Truth instead, and, thanks to Srila Prabhupada, in his ISKCON there will never be a shortage of opportunities to do just that.

Buddhists are screwed, in comparison. Their new leaders never put that in practice themselves and they don’t see the value of providing such services to others either.

Unless, of course, someone discovers that being humble is cool. Then they’ll have an avalanche of humility on their hands.

Actually, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if ISKCON had a flood of humility, too. I mean real flood leading to tasting real nectar. So far we only read about it being so widely available in Lord Chaitanya’s times. Now we are warned not to expect it in our personal lives anytime soon.

Resuming that flow wouldn’t be bad at all, but who is there to turn the tap?

Vanity thought #130. Krishna unhinged. The End.

Hopefully.

The next incredible part in Ghata Jataka is the story of Krishna capturing Dvaraka. In Srimad Bhagavatam it’s specifically said that Krishna constructed the city Himself, with detailed descriptions of architectural designs and participation of several demigods, too. In Buddhist version the city was already there and there was a magic ass guarding it. When the ass saw intruders he sounded alarm and the city would lift and transfer itself to the sea.

Krishna got a hold of the ass first and the ass told Him the way He could prevent the city from flying away. Thus Krishna entered the city, killed the king and took the kingdom for Himself.

That’s a too serious accusation to respond. I see no reason to doubt Srimad Bhagavatam here. I don’t see the way to reconcile it with Ghata Jataka, it’s just plain wrong. I don’t know where they lifted their story, but it follows right after description how Lord Krishna and His brothers burned and pillaged the kingdom of Ayodhya.

Then it gets really peculiar, this is where the heart of the Ghata Jataka lies, the purpose of narrating the whole story. Krishna apparently dies, His father, Vasudeva, is overwhelmed with grief and some person, called Ghatapandita, consoles him by teaching some Buddhists lessons on pain and suffering.

I don’t want to comment on the philosophy there but what Ghatapandita did was to run around Dvaraka like a madman crying “Hare, Hare”. WHAT???

Moreover, just as Krishna heard these cries He had risen from dead.

Turns out it wasn’t “Hare” he was looking for but a hare, ie large rabbit. There’s a rabbit in the Moon, so saying goes, and he wanted a hare that appears on the face of the Moon, and because it’s ridiculous to lament the inability to get it there was some lesson on attachment and stuff. Not my thing, I might get it completely wrong so I won’t pass any judgement.

Actually, in the translation Ghatapandita asked: “Give me a hare, give me a hare”, I just used a little poetic license for dramatic effect.

There’s a famous story in Brihad Bhagavatamrita, after all, that describes nearly identical situation. Once Krishna was so overwhelmed with separation from Vrindavana that he fell into trance and everyone in the city wept uncontrollably.

Eventually, with the help of Lord Brahma and Garuda they brought Krishna back to life by arranging deities of Nanda, Yashoda, and gopis and dressing Krishna as a cowherd boy. When Krishna woke up He thought He was in Vrindavan and He started talking to the deities and told them about a strange dream that He left Vraja for Mathura and build a city of Dvaraka. Krishna then went on about as if He was still in Vraja and went to the ocean thinking it was Yamuna.

Eventually Balarama, whispering in Krishna’s ear, reminded Him of the mission to destroy all demons and warriors. He told Krishna of Pandavas and the rest and Krishna eventually changed His mood and realized that He has other duties to perform.

Okay, there’s no “Hare Hare” per se but this is exactly like devotees brought Lord Chaitanya when He fell in trance, too, even before they knew He was Krishna Himself.

It’s a pity Ghata Jataka talked about some rabbit instead, but shastras are shastras – we are not supposed to change them for the better. It’s a dangerous path, this is exactly how the Buddhist book got worse.

Anyway, there’s a story of Krishna’s brothers dressing a young man as a pregnant woman and asking a local ascetic about the date of delivery. They got the answer right but they had no idea what it really meant. That is about the same as it is in Srimad Bhagavatam, except in Bhagavatam the curse is described in better detail – how the club they hid under Samba’s clothes became stalks of cane which Yadavas later used to kill each other, and how the iron parts for the club became arrowhead for the hunter who eventually shot Krishna.

Then there’s a story of Balarama’s death. In Srimad Bhagavatam Balarama goes into meditation and simply disappears, in Ghata Jataka He got eaten by one of the reborn wrestlers from Mathura who, in death throes, prayed to become a goblin who could swallow Balarama.

Why should we believe that story at all?

Krishna was wounded by hunstman Jara, just as in Srimad Bhagavatam and, before dying, He, the incarnation of Sariputta, taught His companions “the science” and that’s the end of the Ghata Jataka.

There’s no mention of battle of Kurukshetra or anything else, not a hint that Krishna was some kind of a special person, let alone the Supreme God. There’s no mention of bhakti, nothing religious in this story whatsoever. The only part is Buddhist explanation of death and attachments, and referral to “the science” at the end.

That’s another proof that without devotion no one can understand God, they couldn’t even see God, had absolutely no idea. It’s not just Krishna that they didn’t understand, Krishna keeps His own inner world very close to His chest, but for everybody else Krishna was God as they knew it. Nevermind Vrindavana pastimes, there were plenty of people who saw Him as God and had no knowledge of Vraja whatsoever. Buddhists who compiled Ghata Jataka weren’t among them. Totally missed the point. I wonder how many people similarly missed the greatest chance of their entire material existence form time immemorial in exactly the same way.

It was easy to learn about devotional service for anyone who has seen Lord Chaitanya but the Ghata Jataka story shows that Krishna kept His divine nature completely hidden and only a few select devotees could see Him as God, and there were probably millions of people who thought they worshiped “God” but didn’t recognize Krishna at all.

On the other hand we have gopis and other residents of Vrindavana who also had no idea who Krishna was yet we accept them as the highest devotees imaginable. Yet there were others in Vrindavana, too, like brahmanas who refused to give Krishna and Balarama food and thus misused their precious births.

Krishna was standing outside their doors, begging for something to eat, and they turned Him away. How unfortunate indeed – they were selected from among billions and trillions of spirit souls within this universe to see Krishna face to face and they missed the chance.

On the other hand – that’s why we follow Lord Chaitanya who was the most munificent avatar ever and spread knowledge of devotional service even to certified demons like us, I mean people of western society.

Oh, and there was a good, dharmic reason behind destruction of the Yadu dynasty – Krishna came here to destroy ALL warriors, not just the enemies of Yadavas. After Kauravas were defeated it was Yadava’s turn to turn in and disappear.

There’s also the matter of lack of peace and quiet among the Yadavas themselves. Not everything was rosy and peachy in Dvaraka, there are references to it in Srimad Bhagavatam, and in Brihad Bhagavatamrita there’s a mention of Kamsa’s mother and they way she was introduced implied that there actually was some unreasonable behavior in Dvaraka and it wasn’t unusual.

So Krishna completed His lila by destroying Yadavas and taking them back to Vaikuntha or whatever it is He brought them from.

This material world can get anyone’s head screwed, including Krishna’s personal associates accompanying Him in His lilas.

Should be a lesson to all aspiring paramahamsas out there.

Vanity thought #129. Krishna Unhinged Part II

Picking up from where I left off yesterday – I think I figured why Krishna appeared so unappealing in Buddhist Ghata Jataka, and structural failure of our perception of dharma.

First, it could be discounted as simple ignorance. People who compiled that version of the story presumed that Krishna was just a village ruffian on his first trip to the city, that His behavior was in no way justified. Ignorance is probably the best excuse, if they knew the background and intentionally didn’t tell us it would be just sinister.

Let’s imagine how it all looked from Kamsa minions side of the story. As a faithful subject/henchman, one would never admit to any of Kamsa’s wrongdoings which included murdering hundreds if not thousands of infants, some of them personally, just crashing the tiny newborn babies against the walls and pillars, maybe stomping on them or suffocating them. There was also a matter of sending countless demons and rakshasas to kill Krishna Himself.

So, pretending that none of this had ever happened, some imaginary Kamsa’s lawyer would attack Krishna for what He has done in response and holding Him to some lofty standards. “How dared He to enter Mathura uninvited”, for example. “How dared He to take garments meant for Kamsa, the king!” Suddenly it all becomes about rules and civility, forget that Kamsa set the wrestling match specifically to kill Krishna and Balarama. Actually, no, they never forget it, they just pretend Kamsa was an innocent victim there.

Next step would be to demand a full trial, the higher the court the better, and with jury, of course. There should be plenty of options to appeal, too, and there should be bail. The purpose, of course, is to keep Kamsa free to do whatever he wants including hutching new plans to assassinate Krishna. The general public, however, must be made to believe that all Kamsa wants is justice and fairness.

And it’s from this point of view, the position of the cheated public, that Krishna is described as an ungrateful villain in the Buddhist version.

I wonder if all our modern claims of justice are following the same path, too. Our “heroes” kill whoever they want under flimsiest pretenses yet to the world the preach complete faith in justice and fairness. Presumption of innocence is not applied to their enemies at all. A month ago they killed Osama Bin Laden without any trial, not even an attempt, not even a chance to present his version of what has happened with 9/11.

Surely, it looks as if Bin Laden had fully deserved his fate, but what do we really know about his involvement? Could it be that he just claimed the glory for himself, being appointed a symbol of terrorism/resistance? Could it be that he had no personal involvement with planning and execution at all? No one stopped to ask, and no one even pausing to ask now. There are some muted opinion pieces in non-US media about potential dangers of targeted assassinations but no one takes them seriously. It’s a good think they killed Osama, the common wisdom goes.

A few days ago they captured another mass murderer, Serbian Ratko Mladic. That guy was responsible for the worst case of genocide in Europe since World War II. Fifteen years he has been in hiding and now he is about to be brought to trial. Good.

Except people who are going to try him have been complicit in the genocide themselves. They just set back and watched and when shit hit the fan they feigned ignorance and lack of resources. In on account they even turned down the bombing mission against Ratko Mladic forces because paperwork hasn’t been filed properly. The planes just flew several circles above the troops slaughtering civilian men, women and children, and then turned back.

Now they are going to put it all on one man.

Some justice indeed.

Oh, even more, the whole hunt for Osama Bin Laden was illegal from the start to the finish. They got their first clue by torturing terrorist suspects in secret prisons outside of the US and outside US laws, and hidden from the public of the host countries, too. Then they set up surveillance in Pakistan without local authorities knowledge, and finally they executed the raid which was a straightforward challeng to Pakistani sovereignty, and they are saying they would do it again, laws be damned.

Though no, not actually, the laws will be praised and “upheld” – for public consumption, while the might makes right and people with power can abuse laws in any way they like.

So, I no longer wonder how it came to be that ordinary people might try to judge Krishna by these modern standards.

I also find it ridiculous that justice should be blind. The only thing it’s blind to is people with power to subvert it. That is the reality, the slogans for the rest of us are just that – slogans.

When Krishna came to restore dharma He most certainly didn’t mean our modern interpretation. I’m sure it counted as adharma in His view.

Actually the only acceptable dharma is to serve God. There’s no such thing as “blind” justice at all. Blind justice denies the supremacy of the God by definition, it might be the only way a demoniac society can function but for people who believe in God there should be no blindness at all.

As I said yesterday – in a demoniac society everyone looks for equality because they all want to be equal – equal to God. Everybody deserves the same rights and freedoms because everybody’s born equal – equal to God.

We, as devotees, should always remember this fundamental flaw in modern interpretation of justice and fairness when we try to explain why Krishna did this and that.

How did Buddhist got caught up in this, too? I can only speculate, but, let’s not forget – they don’t have any special position for God, too. They are all equal in their impersonal understanding of the world and the creation. Everybody can become Buddha, and Buddha wasn’t God, He was just one of us who advanced further than anyone else.

I can see how their denial of the existence of the Supreme Autocrat can lead to blaming Krishna for what He did to Kamsa, and, ultimately, how that kind of philosophy can lead the rest of us to the travesty of justice that passes off as law in our days.

God, it looks like I can’t finish this story today, too.

Vanity thought #128. Krishna unhinged.

This crazy story is brought to you courtesy of the Buddhist tradition. There Krishna appears in a text called Ghata Jataka.

Jatakas are stories of the previous incarnations of Buddha, but Krishna’s case is different because there He is presented as an incarnation of one of the Buddha’s chief disciples – Sariputta.

To make it more confusing, Wikipedia claims that Sariputta was actually Krishna’s father while this source, where I got all my info from, claims Sariputta was Krishna Himself. Actually, their version of Krishna does not deserve a capital “H” in pronouns, I’ll continue using it only because Buddhist story still describes real Krishna’s pastimes.

I’m too lazy to look at Wikipedia edits, perhaps someone confused Vasudeva with short “a” and Vasudeva with long “a”. One is the father, one is the son.

Original Wikipedia edition didn’t have this mistake – Sariputta was originally Krishna, Krishna’s father was added later.

Either way – couldn’t they at least assign Krishna to one of the Buddha’s incarnation? In our tradition we treat Buddha a lot better.

I suspect the problem lies with the nature of Buddhist canon itself – it was compiled hundreds of years after Buddha’s death and Buddhism had some ideological battles thought right from the start, so accuracy of Jataka stories describing his disciples is somewhat questionable. Who’s to say it wasn’t just a ripoff of Hindu stories circulated in the country at that time. Everybody would have told it differently, to the kids, to the neighbors, to the kings.

I guess the same can be said about passing down Srimad Bhagavatam, too, but we have clear authorship and too much philosophical and religious significance attached to it to suggest any frivolous tampering with the story.

Overall I don’t know how to describe the Buddhist version better – that there are difference or that there are some similarities – glass half full/half empty.

Names are slightly changed, probably to sound more Buddhist, Devahuti was imprisoned from the very young age, she wasn’t allowed to see any man, meaning no chance to marry, and so she couldn’t have any children. The opening episode of Krishna Book, the detailed description of the incident on the chariot with the voice from the sky, Kamsa threatening to kill her on the spot, Vasudeva begging for mercy and pleading to Kamsa’s reason – none of that has ever happened in the Buddhist text.

In our view that was a very significant occurrence, I think it’s very unlikely it was only a figment of some storyteller’s imagination.

Then there was an arrangement between Devahuti and her maid (!), Nandagopa(!) to swap children at birth, so that it would appear that Devahuit had only daughters while all her sons were given to Nandagopa’s care. There was no killing of Krishna’s brothers, no escape across the Yamuna. Again, I don’t think we’ve made that story up, more likely Buddhist sources were trying various plausible scenarios to tie loose ends together .

And then it goes on and on, but it’s not the historical accuracy or authenticity that makes Jataka version interesting, it’s how Krishna was presented overall – following from yesterday’s musings on His out of Vrindavana lilas.

Yesterday I said that Krishna’s main mission in this incarnation was not about Vrindavana pastimes, it was to relieve the earth of the excess of kshatriyas, atheists, re-establish principles of religion etc.

Vrindavana lila was just a bonus, came in a gift bag. No one until Lord Chaitanya realized the actual significance of Vraja lila, certainly not Buddhists. There’s not a single word about Krishna’s time in Vrindavana in Ghata Jataka, not important from the point of view and their interests.

God, they have no idea what they have missed!

To be fair, everybody saw Krishna according to his realization and attitude. For Lord Chaitanya’s followers He is the most attractive personality in all the material and spiritual worlds. On highest levels we are not supposed to be impressed by His position as the Supreme God anymore. His greatness, His power, His position among all the other Gods and gods – none of it would matter, we would just love Him unconditionally as a cowherd boy, for what he is – son, friend, first love etc.

Actually, this highest truth about devotional service to Krishna was practically the first thing I’ve learned about Krishna Consciousness so I take is as self evident truth. In Lord Chaitanya’s discussion with Ramananda Rai I couldn’t appreciate the build up of Lord Chaitanya’s questions and Ramananda’s answers. We are all supposed to serve Krishna with unalloyed love and devotion – why didn’t he start from that?

Looking at the Buddhist view of Krishna’s pastime makes me appreciate the mystery of devotional service a bit more. It really is NOT for everybody, common souls like me can only learn about it by the causeless mercy of Lord Chaitanya’s devotees. If not for that mercy we would probably be like these Buddhists – reading about Krishna as if He was some ordinary prince.

Still, it makes an interesting comparison between how devotees see Krishna and non-believers.

Yesterday I also talked about some difficulties we might face when explaining Krishna’s pastimes to outsiders and whether He really set standards of following religion. From how ordinary people understand dharma a lot of what Krishna did was at least contradictory and some would probably condemn Him outright. I think we don’t have a really good explanation for them, not without buying into the whole Krishna Consciousness ideology.

To put it another way – Krishna’s actions make sense only to the devotees. Everybody else might get completely bewildered or even hostile. From their point of view and their understanding of dharma Krisna doesn’t make sense.

This Buddhist story is a perfect example how people might completely misunderstand everything that Krishna ever done.

They talk about a gang of ten ferocious brothers plundering the country with absolute impunity and taking by force presents meant for the king himself.

I guess it’s the reference to the garment vendor mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam who refused to provide Krishna and Balarama with new clothing.

About a month ago I myself expressed some doubts about this particular incident and how it could have appeared to the outsiders. Well, today I’ve got the confirmation – some outsiders took the vendor’s side.

There’s a treasure trove of things like this in that Jataka, I think I’d better continue tomorrow.

So far I don’t see the bridge between devotees and non-devotees here. We can’t reach to them with logic and reasoning, only devotion in their hearts can make them see Krishna and appreciate His lessons in dharma.

Maybe this realization is of a more absolute nature than little disagreements over some “facts” in obscure Jataka tale.

Anyway, more on the matter tomorrow.

Vanity thought #63. Perfect combo.

One day I happened to chant a few rounds in the vicinity of Buddhist monks chanting some of their ceremonial hymns. The sound was mighty annoying and distracting but it was, in a sense, a perfect combo. Buddhist chants are supposed to empty one’s mind of all material desires while Hare Krishna mahamantra is supposed to fill one’s emptiness with spiritual purpose. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, though, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Still, it made me think about another important Buddhist point – one should live in the present moment. We sort of know that as devotees we should put our faith in Krishna and don’t make any plans ourselves but it is certainly not at the forefront of our consciousness. Buddhists, on the other hand, elevated living in the present to the art form and the ultimate goal of their mind work.

If you really cut your mind from lamenting about the past and from worrying about the future you are supposed to see the futility of it all. You should be able to see the world as it is – an illusion different from our real nature. Participating in this illusion, or identifying with our role in it, is the source of all suffering and the only thing that prevents us from realizing our true nature.

As devotees we certainly disagree on what our true nature is but deep understanding of the illusion of this world is still a big big step forward. Our path to perfection still starts with “aham brahmasmi” and “athato brahma jijnasa” and if Buddhist can show us that it is achievable for them, what’s stopping us?

I suppose this realization can lead us to the treasured simplicity – our worries about what happened yesterday or what is going to happen tomorrow are illusory, all we need to know is that Krishna will take care of everything, always have, always will. Unlike my father He can fulfill any desire if it comes from an innocent devotee, and innocence comes from not thinking about past and future and fully trusting Krishna instead.

If Buddhists can develop this without relying on God at all, how easy it should be for me? Pretty easy, I suppose. The problem is with karma – if I’m destined to worry about every little thing, I will have to worry. If I’m supposed to be happy about every little thing, I will have to leave through happiness, too. Maybe I should take a few lessons from that tradition on how to ignore these feeling and see them as different from my real self.

For one thing, that would be very very helpful when doing japa.