Vanity thought #1681. Essence of life

When I first started this blog I thought I’d write mostly about japa and chanting, I hoped writing about it would make me concentrate on chanting more. That didn’t happen. Why? What is the reason we can’t just be happy chanting our rounds? Why do I feel the urge to write about inconsequential things like Panama Papers?

To be fair to myself, chanting for me didn’t become a secondary activity, it is still usually forms the center of my day, but somehow or other I write about other things instead and this creates a somewhat dual personality. During japa I try to purge various “Panama Papers” topics from my mind as much as possible and feel great satisfaction when they go away, but when I put down my beads and sit down these “Panama Papers” is all I can think to write about. It’s like feeding on the refuse. Why do we do it to ourselves?

All I can notice in our books now is how one should not imitate elevated devotees like Haridāsa Ṭhākura and how, instead of dedicating our life purely to chanting, we absolutely need positive physical engagement. I’m not sure “positive” is the right word here but that’s how it feels when we do something related to Kṛṣṇa as opposite to mundane stuff like sleeping or working.

It’s as if we are not meant for chanting at all and we were specifically born to do “great things” instead. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself said as much when he talked about East meets West combination that made ISKCON so successful. We, the westerners, bring the muscle only and it’s all we will ever be good for. We do chant, of course, but only the bare minimum we managed to extort from Śrīla Prabhupāda who simply wouldn’t go below sixteen rounds per day. If he did we’d settle on four, maybe, just as they do with bābājīs in Vṛndāvana.

Let’s say we did set our mind on chanting as our sole devotional activity. This has been done before so the possibility is there. First thing we’d realize is that we need to give up our jobs and families and that we can’t stay in the West unless strictly in a temple without ever venturing out. This is a clear indication that our current bodies and our current conditioning is incompatible with this nirjana-bhajana. We need to place ourselves in a completely foreign situation which probably doesn’t exist anymore even in India, though temples would still be the safest bet – if we can deposit enough funds for our upkeep because temple management is usually not charitable to those who don’t do positive physical service.

This reminds me – Śrīla Prabhupāda was actually invited to stay at Rādhā-Dāmodara temple in Vṛndāvana, free of charge, he didn’t come, ask, and pay for it. This means that when it’s necessary Kṛṣṇa can make necessary arrangements and inspire others to cooperate with our service, though the word “can” here implies the possibility of changing His pre-existing plan for us because of our whims. It’s not a devotional attitude and we should drop it. Kṛṣṇa is not our servant to make special arrangements for us, He already has all the arrangements for those souls who follow His plan, we just have to take advantage of them and be thankful.

Our common translation of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra also indicates that we chant now to get physical service in the future: “Oh Lord, Oh energy of the Lord, please engage me in the loving service of Kṛṣṇa.” Straightforward reading is that we beg to place us in a position where we get to manipulate material energy for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure – build temples, distribute books, make new devotees, expand our mission and so on. We rarely translate Hare Kṛṣṇa to mean “please let me chant more and more and let chanting be my only reward”.

To be honest, that’s what I do when I don’t know what to write about in this blog. I just chant and hope that necessary thoughts would come into my head on their own. It’s the same karmic mentality of chanting for gains rather than chanting for the sake of chanting.

As I said, maybe we are not meant for japa at all, it’s not what Kṛṣṇa placed us in our bodies for and so we should concentrate on what is available rather than on what is perfect. Arjuna didn’t chant sixteen rounds, let alone day and night, and He pleased Kṛṣṇa by his physical service far better than any of us can ever hope. There are plenty of instructions in Bhagavad Gītā to follow our nature instead of artificially trying to be holier than we are.

One solution to this could be prioritization – chanting is the best and the most important service, as we know, and everything else should be subservient to it. Everything else illusory, it runs under the directions of the Lord, we shouldn’t be attached to the results, and so it shouldn’t require as much attention from us as chanting. All these other duties will eventually pass, we’ll get old and useless, the material nature would let go, and then we could actually dedicate our lives to pure chanting.

I don’t know the verse but Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja said that execution of our “material” duties require dedication, focus, and attention to detail. In other words, we should put all our hearts into it. At the same time it should also be done with detachment, which means “no attachment to results”, not “no attachment to the activity”.

When I sat down to type this post I was going to prove chanting as the essence of our lives but in the end it’s actually whatever service that is given that should take all our attention and it is our current engagement that should become the sole focus of our consciousness. Of course service to Kṛṣṇa is the essence of our lives but since we can’t see Him directly we have to choose between materially manifested activities, which include chanting, too.

This kind of focus is easier to achieve under the direction of the guru when he specifically tells you what you need to do and for the time being you can forfeit everything else you have ever heard but that kind of baby sitting cannot last forever and we need to manage on our own. All our duties ultimately come from guru and Kṛṣṇa anyway, or at least they are sanctioned by them – like when we go to work or look after our families. It’s this connection that we should see and honor and, perhaps, it’s this connection that can be called true “essence of life” on the material platform.

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Vanity thought #1574. Bhedabheda

What is the difference between various forms of preaching and book distribution? In Bhagavad Gītā Kṛṣṇa simply says: “explain to my devotees” – abhidhāsyati (BG 18.68). The other vaiṣṇava translation gives it as “promulgates”, which fits with preaching even better. Is book distribution some special form of preaching or is it all the same?

I suppose there’s no point in comparing saṅkīrtana with meditation or offering fire sacrifices, or even with deity worship. Deity worship is prescribed for Kali yuga, too, as we have to follow pañcāratra system along with bhāgavata system (see here and here, for example), but Lord Caitanya established saṅkīrtana as dharma for this age, there’s no way around that.

If we perform saṅkīrtana with all our hearts our success is guaranteed and we will at least return back to Godhead but deity worship alone will probably not suffice, simply for a reason that hardly anyone is able to perform it to a satisfactory standard on his own. We need saṅkīrtana to maintain purity necessary for deity worship, and we need deity worship to maintain necessary purity when we are in the temples, when we are off saṅkīrtana, so to speak.

Both are the service to the Lord, both are authorized by our ācāryas and so both will be accepted if done right, there’s no difference in that sense, but saṅkīrtana is available to anyone, even a slight success will earn us Kṛṣṇa’s good graces forever and is enough for at least liberation. Deity worship requires a lot more time and training by comparison, those who can do it are safe, too, but most of us simply can’t. It’s much harder to get it right than saṅkīrtana.

If we see deities as dolls that need to be decorated and looked after we are not doing deity worship, it will earn us some brownies but it’s not service, it’s hardly better than child’s play. Preaching, on the contrary, works its magic under any and all circumstances, though we have our own creative ways to screw it up, too.

Let’s talk about different kinds of saṅkīrtana and see what makes it work and how book distribution fares by comparison. First we have harināma, of course, the original saṅkīrtana as started by Lord Caitanya. Simply walk the streets and sing the mantra, what could be easier? It purifies everyone who hears it regardless of whether they understand it or not or whether they agree with our preaching. It goes straight into the hearts and turns them inside out while people’s consciousness is still absorbed in gross matter. Hearing the holy name, hearing the mantra, is the original and the most trusted way to transmit spiritual knowledge and deliver the soul, no one will ever change that.

Here’s the caveat, though – people must hear from a pure source, from a self-realized devotee. The same name and the same mantra coming from the mouths of non-devotees do not transmit bhakti, only śuddha name does, and which one of us can deliver that? Lord Caitanya could, Śrīla Prabhupāda could, many of our ISKCON devotees could, but normally our public chanting is not that potent due to our low level of advancement. In harināma we are restricted by our own conditioning.

Book distribution remedies that because our own imperfect association is only the beginning of preaching, the bulk of it will happen when people start reading. When we sing the names in public and leave the place the name leaves with us, too, but books stay in people’s hands, the association with Śrīla Prabhupāda continues. We ourselves might have been terrible in our effort but if even one of those books makes someone into a pure devotee we will be saved simply by association. In short, harināma gives people the name as delivered by us, books give people the name as delivered by Prabhupāda, and people will keep his association as long as they read. Relative advantage of book distribution is clear in this case.

Our society also went through a period where we called everything we managed to sell “saṅkīrtana”. The idea was that the money were used for a good cause and people got the spiritual benefits regardless, as ajñāta sukṛti. However true, it’s not preaching, spiritual knowledge hasn’t been disseminated, Kṛṣṇa hasn’t been glorified, so it’s not saṅkīrtana in any sense. People were not made into devotees even for a brief second, which is essential to qualify by Gītā standard – this knowledge must be explained to devotees, to those who are ready to submit themselves to God.

Then there’s prasādam distribution. Śrīla Prabhupāda loved it and it was meant to be an integral part of our movement – chanting, temples, prasādam. In the beginning he didn’t even know how books would become our basis, he hasn’t written any yet, not for street distribution anyway. Still, prasādam must be accompanied by preaching to qualify as saṅkīrtana. People will get benefits regardless, and much bigger benefits than from buying a scented candle, but to qualify as saṅkīrtana preaching must be there, too. Quite often we don’t do that, skirting the issue of the source of our prasādam and presenting it as “food”. People come and get “free meals”, not taste remnants from Kṛṣṇa’s plate mixed with His saliva. Come to think of it, not many of our devotees meditate on Kṛṣṇa’s saliva while eating either, it’s still gross.

Then there’s a question of whether we serve prasādam at all. In order for Kṛṣṇa to accept the food it must be properly prepared and properly offered by a qualified devotee according to the instructions of his guru. We can’t rely on neophytes offering food with spontaneous devotion, which is the only other way for it to be accepted by the Lord. Otherwise it must be done according to the prescriptions of our ācāryas and offered through the entire paramparā, it’s strictly following these orders that guarantees that bhoga become prasādam fit for consumption by devotees. A lot of what we distribute hardly qualifies and we tell ourselves that it’s still good enough for non-devotees even though it might be substandard otherwise.

The quality of Prabhupāda’s books is not spiritually compromised in any way so the relative advantage of book distribution is again clear.

There’s still straightforward preaching, public programs and delivering lectures, and a couple more arguments for and against book distribution but I’ll leave them for another day. There’s one more thing I forgot to tell about “saṅkīrtana temples” when I wrote about those a couple of weeks ago – the food must always be spiritually top notch.

“Garbage in garbage out” was the understanding, saṅkīrtana devotees could not afford purity of their consciousness being compromised by substandard food, and it wasn’t about external quality and nutrients but the consciousness with which it was prepared. Only brāhmaṇa initiated devotees were allowed in the kitchen, it was a very serious business. The consciousness of the cooks must not be contaminated by laziness or sleepiness, let alone lust, and their minds must not wander anywhere from performing their task with love and devotion.

Food cooked this way and according to the instructions of our ācāryas regarding recipes and ingredients is fit for offering to Kṛṣṇa, is surely accepted, and it fills with divine consciousness anyone who is properly respecting it. It lifts saṅkīrtana devotees off their butts and flies them out into the streets. There should probably be a separate post on proper saṅkīrtana food, maybe later.

Vanity thought #1538. Evernow

Saw this word on TV, it’s about some video game and I don’t think it means anything special there. For us, however, “evernow” is an interesting concept.

I don’t know much about Buddhism but I like their understanding of reality as illusion. It might not be a correct representation of Buddhism but that doesn’t matter, it works equally well across all platforms. The future is not real because it hasn’t happened yet, the past is not real because it’s already gone, the only reality is the present moment but even our present is made of connections to either the past or the future. We need to strip the present of these connections to appreciate its true value and see it for what it is.

Things we see around us are results of previous activities, they were made some time ago, given color and shape, and they constantly change, even if changes are imperceptible. Whatever we observe is, therefore, not the reality as it is but reality as it was and that reality doesn’t exist anymore. This means that relying on our senses to interact with “reality” is a delusion and nothing exists objectively.

Making plans is illusory, too, because plans are driven by desire to enjoy things that don’t exist yet. We think we can shape the reality in a way that pleases us but that pleasure doesn’t exist yet. It might come out satisfactory or it might be disappointing. Chasing it is not the reality.

The only reality, as I said, is now, our current state stripped of references to the past and projections into the future. I’m sure there’s a lot more to Buddhism explanations of this than that but it’s enough of a starting point for me.

There could be a big discussion whether what we feel now is real or illusory. Buddhists and advaitins would say that feelings are not real, we would say that feelings and their corresponding senses exist but they are not ours, and, furthermore, we also have our own eternal spiritual senses which are waiting to be engaged and experienced in service to Kṛṣṇa. The point where we could agree on is the importance of now.

When under the influence of the mode of passion we direct our consciousness into the future and make plans. Future doesn’t exist yet and when it comes it will happen according to the plans of the Lord, not ours, so hoping to extract pleasure from it is like a lottery. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but we get enough small victories to get hooked up and keep buying tickets. We think that we can become richer that way, that our lives will become fulfilled and that we’ll have enough memories to die in knowing we didn’t live in vain.

It might work – if we ignore the elephant in the room, the death itself, which is like the moment when you get thrown out of the casino. Yes, you might have good times there before that happens and even win something but in the end you always run out of credit and lose. “I’m going to gamble away all my money but I’ll have fun while doing it” is not a particularly clever life plan.

So, making our own plans for something that is going to happen according to somebody else’s will is gambling and it will end the same, in a big loss. That’s for placing our faith in the future.

Dwelling in the past is more of a mode of ignorance thing. It doesn’t lead even to creating future karma and earning future brownies. People in this state only try to relive their past moments again and again. As time passes by their memories fade and then they’d have good memories of the time when their memories were good. “I remember thinking about my wife made me feel warm but now I don’t even remember her name” – that type of thing. These days conversations like this are more likely revolve around “remember that time we got high and …”

People try to replay those old feelings and experiences even though they can’t actually feel them anymore and they can’t get off their asses to do anything about it. That’s dwelling in the past and it’s a very subpar way of enjoying your life even by materialistic standards.

Now is governed by the mode of goodness. One sign of it is knowledge – only people in full knowledge can let go off the past and stop worrying about the future. Why make plans when Kṛṣṇa has already made them? His plans are perfect and they have been put into practice an infinite number of times in the infinite number of universes. Trying to improve on them, which is what materialistic planners are doing, is futile. Even trying to predict them is pointless because things will happen anyway and in their own time and we can’t stop them from happening, nor can we protect ourselves.

That’s what trusting Kṛṣṇa means – we can finally stop planning our own lives and surrender to His superior will. It doesn’t mean that our minds stop working. Universe will keep on rolling and our minds will roll with it. Heart will continue pumping blood, lungs will continue inhaling and exhaling, hair and nails will continue growing. People in full knowledge don’t worry about that.

Kṛṣṇa also has His own cunning way to place us under the illusion any time He wants so that we continue acting out His plans. That won’t be the same kind of illusion that covers ordinary living entities, though, it won’t be controlled by cold karma but administered by Kṛṣṇa Himself, and sometimes He’d do it for His personal enjoyment, too, like He does with devotees in Vṛndāvana. I mean we shouldn’t worry that if we surrender to Kṛṣṇa our lives will suddenly stop. They won’t.

What should happen when we disassociate ourselves from both the past and the future, though? Will we cease to exist, in the Buddhist sense of the word? Maybe, I’ll tell you if it ever happens to me, but for now the best engagement I can think of is chanting the Holy Name.

Most of the time we chant while still thinking of either past or the future, mulling over things we said and done, dreaming up alternative scenarios, role playing future conversations to get ourselves ready, or feverishly exploring new ideas and inventions. All these things distract us from listening and add colors of passion and ignorance to the pristine form of the pure name. We’ll never hear the name as it is as long as we divert our consciousness away like that.

So, we should stop doing it, let it go, drop the plans, stop thinking about revenge and injustice, and simply concentrate on the name. Let the name speak to us instead of us shouting at it with angst or begging it to fulfill our desires. These desires aren’t even ours, they are born out of the false ego and directed by the material modes.

One could say that as eternal souls we can’t stop our desires but our real, spiritual desires will not manifest without the Lord revealing Himself first. We can’t have them without connection to the Lord, without the Lord being present, either personally or in the name, so we must learn to hear the name first and wait until it reveals itself. All desires manifesting before that happened are material and worthless, we should led them go.

Then we can discover the bliss of living in the eternal “evernow”.

Vanity thought #1489. Guhya stage

Yesterday I talked about the second wave of a preaching bug which affects the best of the best. They become saṅkīrtana leaders and are most effective when preaching to fellow devotees, which multiplies their outreach exponentially. Preaching to devotees is also specifically mentioned by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gītā so they get a shot of extra bliss on that authority, in addition to doing saṅkīrtana in the company of appreciative bhaktas.

This might not last forever, though, and at some point many such devotees withdraw and apparently retire. One part of it is age – active preaching requires a lot of energy which older people simply don’t have. Another part is Prabhupāda’s promise of work now, samādhi later – there’s no “later” for old people and if they deserved a break they are entitled to have it.

Yet another reason is maturity of their devotion. I’m going to speculate here and speak of a platform I have no personal experience with, so forgive me if it doesn’t look exactly like this in real life.

Bhakti, pure bhakti, begins only after liberation, whatever we do before that stage is necessarily mixed with karma and jñāna and all kinds of selfishness. Liberation doesn’t happen at once, though, it’s a process of gradually cleansing our hearts and the further along we get, the more sensitive to impurities we become, and the more appreciative of pure chanting.

At some point even being the company of devotees starts to feel like a waste of time. It is helped by the sad fact that our internal communications mostly consist of grāmya kathā, otherwise known as prajalpa – idle talk that has little connection with glorifying the Lord. At some point devotees simply lose interest in listening to it any longer. We somehow assume that discussing Kṛṣṇa related topics is for preaching and for Bhāgavatam classes but in our everyday interactions it’s perfectly okay to talk about health, jobs, families, cars, or iPhones.

If one makes progress in his devotion he must realize that this has to be avoided, which makes devotees to shut themselves out and restrict their interactions with the community to the bare minimum. It is often accompanied by immersion in listening to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s recorded lectures and reading his books over and over again.

In case of our leaders, their privacy is usually respected and they are provided proper facilities to cultivate their devotion. Old age, declining health, and lack of physical energy help to justify this kind of “indulgence”, which is never afforded to young bhaktas. They deserve it, everyone thinks, and, come to think of it, probably treasure rare moments of their association even more, which is essential for developing quality over quantity. There isn’t anything new these mature devotees have to say, everyone already knows what to do, the main concern is taking these simple messages seriously, and the more respect we afford to the source the bigger the effect.

Anyway, we don’t officially call this stage nirjana-bhajana but this is what it essentially is – when devotees derive more nectar from the holy name itself then from interacting with others. We don’t want to officially label it “pure chanting”, which is a requirement for nirjana bhajana, because this label would require a lot of baggage to be brought in, too, we don’t want to deal with that. Fact is, people DO find pleasure in solitude with the name, they wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.

Does it mean they are not engaging in saṅkīrtana anymore? Does it mean they lost the taste for preaching? There are plenty of people who consider this taste and this type of chanting as superior to in-your-face preaching by ISKCON “zealots”. On the face of it, the charge seems to be justified, but we shouldn’t judge the situation by its face anymore. If we really assign superior value to solitary chanting then we should also realize that we lose our qualification to judge. What happens between the Lord and His devotee at this stage is outside of our ability to understand.

I would offer a simple explanation – the beauty of the holy name is so mind blowing that it takes a long time to process and get used to it. It completely throws the devotee off balance and completely redraws his perception of reality. The world fades away, nothing seems to matter or even register, and there’s no question of preaching because the holy name consumes one’s entire consciousness, no one else seems to even exist.

Earlier I said that this transformation is gradual so the devotee oscillates between his ordinary perception and the revelations of the holy name. Preaching, as he has been doing it before, is defined by the rules of ordinary behavior and he is naturally not going to a attention to it anymore, it becomes a distraction from his newly acquired vision of the holy name.

This is a stage of guhya, secrecy, because no one else can get inside the mind and heart of such a devotee. We can only guess how things look to him at this point but we are bound to guess wrong, or only partially right. The full picture is impossible for us to see.

As an aside – anartha nivṛtti never actually ends and needs to be practiced all the way until we are in spiritual Goloka in full spiritual bodies, even presence in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in the earthly Vṛndāvana requires cleansing of the heart from the last vestiges of contamination. One source of these anarthas is devotional service itself, we are naturally bound to misinterpret bhakti and abuse it for our own ends.

When we see a devotee visibly losing taste for preaching we assume that preaching is no longer important and need not be practiced, and it reflects on how much value we place on it in our own lives – it becomes less valuable, something we think we’ll need to abandon once we reach the stage of perfection. We accept that we have to do it for now but not eternally, and many use this as an excuse to justify their laziness. This is actually a digression and we should protect our minds from such thoughts and attitudes.

Finally, a devotee withdrawing from others is like a butterfly in a pupa stage. Before that he was a caterpillar, and caterpillars can be amazingly beautiful. This beauty is not present in the pupa stage but once its over and the butterfly emerges we realize that their new beauty infinitely exceeds the beauty of the caterpillars in every respect. When these devotees emerge from their adjustment to presence of the real holy name in their lives they will return to preaching like no one has done it before, like Śrīla Prabhupāda. Their potency will be indisputable and their powers will be self-evident. Then we can understand how one Moon can overshadow millions of tiny stars.

This is bound to happen in due course of time, certainly not to everybody in this life, but what our tradition has never had a lack of is existence of such self-effulgent ācāryas, we simply need to be patient, sometimes it might take hundreds of years.

Vanity thought #1465. There’s no other way

How literal is the famous śloka from Bṛhan-Nāradīyā Purāṇa is? First thing – I don’t have English translation of this purāṇa and so know only that it’s a verse 38.126. There’s unnamed source floating on the internet which claims that there are only twenty two chapters in that purāṇa, I don’t know how credible it is. There’s a paperback on Amazon with Vyasadeva himself listed as the author but I’m not going to order it just to check, sorry. The verse, of course is this:

harer nāma harer nāma
harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva
nāsty eva gatir anyathā

Since it appears in Caitanya Caritāmṛta (Adi 17.21) there’s no reason to believe that it’s a new invention as it has been around for some five hundred years. Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja wrote it down many years after disappearance of Mahāprabhu but during that time we had Six Gosvāmīs, particularly Śrīla Gopāla Bhāṭṭa Gosvāmī, going through all the Vedic literature to put books like Hari Bhakit Vilāsa together, which is nothing but a compilation of authoritative quotes. It’s inconceivable that harer nāma verse went unnoticed and unsourced and no one ever checked its authenticity.

It is also highly unlikely that anyone would insert this verse there prior to the appearance of Lord Caitanya because hari nāma wasn’t a thing then, no one was interested, no one had a motive, and so the verse should be accepted as genuine.

Next question would be about the context and this is what we don’t have. The context won’t change the primary meaning but it could give us a scope for its application, though even the scope is given in the śloka itself – the age of Kali. Someone who can read Sanskrit can check the original online but I bet that there are no excuses given there after the verse repeated “there’s no other way” three times.

So, the meaning should be taken as literally as we possibly can, there’s no leeway in interpretation, and here is where our intelligence often fails us. I have tried to find any alternative prescriptions so that people could object “it’s just one verse, there are others that contradict it”, but there aren’t any. There’s Kali Saṇṭāraṇa Upaniṣad which is just as clear and explicit.

It’s a short conversation between Lord Brahmā and Nārada Muni at the end of Dvāpara yuga and Nārada Muni gets straight to the point from verse one – how can people save themselves from the degradation of the incoming age of Kali. Lord Brahmā congratulated him for asking a question for the benefit of the whole humankind and replied that they can protect themselves simply by chanting the names of Nārāyaṇa. “Which names specifically?” Nārada asked, and in reply Lord Brahmā recited our mahāmantra.

Now, there’s some confusion whether it starts with Hare Rāma or with Hare Kṛṣṇa. There’s an opinion that the original order was later switched by Rāmānandis who naturally wanted to put Lord Rāma’s name first. This one is a bit of mystery but we shouldn’t have a problem with whatever order because once you start chanting non-stop you still get to pronounce the whole thing, wherever the true beginning of the mantra is. We also have the testimony of our entire sampradāya that it works.

Lord Brahmā then said that chanting this mantra destroys illusory cover of the soul and allows Parā Brahman to shine within one’s heart. Nārada asked about the rules for its chanting and Brahmā replied that there aren’t any. He then said that this mantra destroys sins of killing a brāhmaṇa and some other serios ones, if chanted 35 million times, and concluded by saying that it delivers one from sins of abandoning all varieties of religion (exact words Kṛṣṇa used in Bhagavad Gītā) and repeated that it’s the only way three times, just like Nāradīya Puraṇa.

That’s the whole upaniṣad, btw, only eleven verses.

Once again, the meaning is clear and indisputable – in this age of Kali there’s only one method, chanting of the holy name, and there aren’t any others. Other methods are obviously there, too, just look around, but they don’t work, and that’s the most important part.

We clearly have alternatives in our lives, from atheism to Christianity to Buddhism to impersonalism to māyāvāda and they appear genuine and attractive to conditioned souls but they don’t work, period.

Our disbelieving nature would then prompt us to ask “Why?” We think it’s a good thing – to ask questions, we are told to question everything right from the start of our education, the whole modern western civilization is build on “transparency” and “openness”, demanding answers is not only our right but a duty, we’ve been taught.

Nārada Muni didn’t ask why, what makes us better than him?

We might never know why practices of yoga and jñāna are ineffective in shielding souls from the effects of Kali but we can observe it in real life. No one achieves perfection by doing yoga anymore. We might have some examples somewhere high in the Himalayas but then they wouldn’t be under the influence of Kali there, would they? It’s not the yoga that protects them there, it’s the mountains.

They, if they even exist, avoid Kali by all means. They stay away from people, who are prime carriers of this disease, and they stay away from animals and vegetation, too. There isn’t a living soul around them to contaminate their environment with their egoistic attitudes. Air is still clean, there aren’t smells of urine or cooking meat wafting through their caves and there’s no industrial pollution either. Since they only breath air, once in a while, they do not interact with the world in any way and they wouldn’t even know if Kali was there, his influence doesn’t reach them and therefore can’t disturb their meditation.

Needless to say, it’s not for us, we are full blown Kali carriers, we ARE the disease, caves won’t help us. Our defensive walls should be built right around our hearts and spread from there, gradually purifying all aspects of our existence. Simply isolating our bodies won’t be enough, the disease is already within.

Karma isn’t even a serious yoga and it requires full support from the material energy, and in Kali yuga the material energy just doesn’t cooperate. There aren’t even suitable ingredients for the sacrifices, there aren’t qualified priests, and that’s in India itself. In the west this way of life is simply implausible. Karma yoga is a societal, communal effort, and in this day the best we can do is to give small part of our money to temples and hope they don’t misuse it, which they very likely will. The misuse will bring negative karma back to us and reduce our ability and desire to continue. Protecting ourselves by doing karma yoga is out of the question.

That leaves jñāna yoga and it’s not so easy to rule it out effectively, I’ll explain why I think so the next time.

Vanity thought #1391. Insanity

According to Einstein, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I tend to value his insights and I reminded other people about this observation multiple times but when it comes to myself the rules are always meant to be bent, aren’t they?

It was only a week ago that I tried chanting three lakhs of names and the lesson I learned from the experience is that for me it’s still premature. Then yesterday I heard that I might have another couple of days to myself next month and the first thought that came into my mind was “I should try again, I really want to try again”. Isn’t it insane?

This wasn’t the first time I attempted to chant three lakhs, I think I tried a few time before and succeeded twice, but there’s only one memory that is etched into my mind, from the very first time I completed the task. It was about 11 PM and I had only six or seven rounds left. I was tired like a dog, I was sleepy, my hand ached, the tip of my middle finger was cracked and almost bleeding, and yet I still had determination to finish. That’s when I sensed a kind of epiphany, it was as if Kṛṣṇa finally conceded that I deserve His attention and His recognition of my effort. It wasn’t just a second wind for me, it was sudden realization that my chanting mattered and I was “welcomed to the club”, so to speak.

Now the actual membership is obviously deferred until I sufficiently purify my consciousness but from that moment on I knew that my place was booked, reserved, waiting for me to reclaim it.

Maybe it’s this one memory is all that drives me to try again and again, I want to relive that glorious moment, even if it didn’t feel like anything special externally. There was no tears, hairs standing on end, nothing of that kind, just an internal understanding that Kṛṣṇa was somehow pleased. And not even Kṛṣṇa personally, but the Holy Name or maybe the Supersoul – something or someone I have a regular relations with in lieu of relations with Kṛṣṇa Himself, my personal understanding of who or what the Absolute Truth is. It didn’t reveal itself, just let me know that my chanting had been heard, and I can’t forget it.

Several times after that I got a subtle message that “now it’s not the time”, and to augment it I was given some other engagements I had to accept. This last weekend was the first time the universe went along with my plan and that’s why I hoped it would work, but it didn’t. It’s still not the time, so why do I want to repeat it next month?

Well, I don’t actually want to repeat it, I want to learn from mistakes and do it differently, but I haven’t decided yet what exactly I want to change. Maybe I should set a lower limit, maybe set no limit at all, maybe set only the number of hours dedicated to chanting, maybe decide to chant whole day and simply record the number at the end. Maybe chant only as long as I feel like it, maybe find some other way to avoid the pressure. I still have time to find the best formula, and I think I will need it.

Last Saturday might have been the worst day in my recent memory, quality wise, but the week after that was easily the best week I remember. My mind was unusually cooperative and attentive and my consciousness was always in the right place. Now the effect is slowly wearing off and I might need another boost, another marathon.

Next time I try, should I chant slower, without a rash, and try to appreciate every Name coming out of my mouth? Or should I set a goal and try to hack my way through exhaustion and sleepiness and don’t stop until I’m done? I think this second approach is the one that worked for me last Saturday and that time when I actually finished my rounds. Should I change this winning formula and focus on quality rather than on the valiance of the effort?

It’s hard to say what’s better. Effort means sacrifice, sacrifice means reward, reward means mercy and recognition by Kṛṣṇa. Attentive, quality chanting might please Him right away, under normal circumstances it always feels better and it should be our goal anyway. Chanting is not just means to an end, a price to pay in exchange for some spiritual goodies, pure chanting is the goal in itself just as bhakti is the reward in itself. Whatever it leads to is not as valuable as the process.

The counterargument could be that my chanting is not pure yet and so for me it’s the effort that could possibly count, Kṛṣṇa is not going to listen to my chanting itself.

There’s also something to be said about other forms of purification. On Saturday I haven’t taken any prasādam, for example, and so only one function of my tongue was engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service. My intelligence was also dying for learning things, processing information, figuring stuff out etc. I didn’t give it a chance to purify itself through philosophical speculation or whatever way works for purifying intelligence.

And what is it with my using “I”, “my” and “mine” in every sentence today? Should I address this self-centeredness first? Is it possible for us to turn ourselves around and talk about these important things without filtering them through personal perspective? Is it possible to talk about them from Kṛṣṇa’s POV? I still don’t know how and this means I’m still not ready for pure chanting.

Or is pure chanting something that simply needs to be done, not talked about? Am I overthinking things? Should we just chant without seeking external validation from our intelligence? Should we give up our attachments to hows and whys and what fors and just chant. Chant, don’t talk.

Or is it completely natural to be nervous about it, like a boy before his first date, but this nervousness would go away by itself once our date with the Holy Name starts rolling?

What I really want to achieve is just being with the Holy Name. Being with the sound, being with the concept, live my life in its shadow, hang out together. Maybe then I’ll get a chance to interact with it, pray, hear feedback, or simply know that the Name likes my company, too. Maybe He will teach me faster, maybe He will purify my consciousness faster, maybe He’ll teach me how to surrender.

In any case, the Holy Name is not the worst company to keep.

Vanity thought #1292. Aindra’s rights

Yesterday I talked about what might appear as “wrong” in HG Aindra Prabhu’s preaching. It isn’t wrong per se, was my conclusion, but only a consequence of a series of unfortunate events. On the material level all our actions have their causes and Aindra Prabhu’s arguments were no different. He made them in reaction to certain things and he advanced them in pursuit of certain things.

One could say that really transcendental messages shouldn’t be subjected to this kind of conditioning at all but even Śrīmad Bhāgavatam was recited following the imminent snake bite threatening life of Mahārāja Parīkṣit. It had to be of certain length to fit into a seven day period, for example. When retold to the sages of Naimiśāraṇya it had to be presented somewhat differently to suit the audience, and, again, it was told to satisfy a certain request. When Śrīla Vyāsadeva recorded it he again was trying to meet a certain objective.

What Aindra Prabhu did with our philosophy was no different. He had to react to certain things and he had to pursue certain things. The obvious difference, of course, is that Śrīmad Bhāgavatam was accepted as a spotless purāṇa by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

Still, it doesn’t automatically mean that Aindra was wrong, and, anyway, I’d rather talk about aspects where he was right. In the title of this post I meant “rights” as opposite of “wrongs”.

Aindra was certainly right when he argued that Lord Caitanya didn’t establish varṇāśrama as yuga dharma. He didn’t start the worldwide social development movement. He didn’t start book distribution movement. He didn’t start feeding people movement either. He started hari-nāma saṅkīrtna movement, congregational chanting of the Holy Name, and specifically Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra.

We can’t say that our goal now is to establish varṇāśrama. We can’t say that unless we have vaṛnāśrama we can’t really do saṅkīrtana. If there are quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda that can be interpreted so we must find a way to explain them in line with the teachings of Lord Caitanya. We have to find a way to explain them in line with setting saṅkīrtana, not varṇāśrama as the yuga dharma for this age.

There are two approaches to varṇāśrama. We can try to teach the world how adopt it, and we can try to set up our own model vaṛnāśrama communities, if only for the benefit of our own devotees if no one else pays attention. We can try to combine these two approaches, we might think of something else, too. The fact, however, remains – youga dhārma for this age is saṅkīrtana.

If we retire to our perfect little communities we won’t be engaging the rest of the society in performing the yuga dhārma, and if we go out and tell people about their vaṛnāśrama duties we won’t be chanting the Holy Name. There’s no way we can win here.

There’s another pertinent point – whatever we want to achieve in this day and age we have to do it by performing saṅkīrtana, there’s no other way. We chant and things automatically happen, that’s how it should work. We shouldn’t make any extraneous efforts, not our job. Technically, our chanting should inspire other people to do what is necessary, we shouldn’t divest our attention into any other schemes ourselves.

Perhaps we don’t need to change world’s social arrangement. If they love democracy so much let them. We should chant and thus inspire people to democratically elect proper, vaṛnāśrama ready leaders. It’s not our job to conquer territories and build our own state institutions on them ala ISIS.

More importantly, discussing these temporary conditioned topics was not the goal and not the legacy of Aindra Prabhu. They will soon be forgotten or fully internalized by our devotees who wouldn’t even know their source. His real legacy is his exceptional chanting. I can think of a few examples like him but no one displayed the same steadiness so far, not even close, imo.

Sure he had his moments getting lost in the melodies and directing others how to sing but most of his time was spent simply on crying to Kṛṣṇa. His kīrtanas were always addressing the Lord directly and his attention was undivided. Every Name, every word, every syllable was elucidated with full awareness of its significance. He never sang a name in vain, he never uttered it casually.

This loss of attention happens to a lot of devotees, even experienced singers. They occasionally slip into singing for effects – to make people dance, to make people appreciate the tunes, to make people enjoy the kīrtana and so on. Aindra’s singing was always a cry to the Lord and nothing else. Word after word, name after name, mantra after mantra, for hours non-stop.

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t have his kīrtanas playing as a background music. They are always too grave, too serious to take them lightly. I caught myself numerous times where I’d rather turn them off than listen to them with half an ear. I can’t fully concentrate on anything else while his kīrtanas are on. I can’t work, plain and simple.

One other thing I “accused” him of yesterday was his disagreements with his local authorities. Generally, it’s not the way to progress in spiritual life and I think I can see how Aindra paid for that but I’d rather look at it from another direction.

Had he not rebelled against his temple management he would have never left for Vṛndāvana, never started the 24-hour kīrtana, and never started grassroots hari-nāma saṅkīrtana revolution either. It was a small price to pay.

When one’s guru departs from his world there’s no one to dictate to a disciple what to do and what service to take. Institutional structures are still in place, of course, but that alone doesn’t guarantee anything. Yesterday I cited an example of Gauḍīyā Maṭhas that followed their own ideas and got nowhere but, institutionally speaking, they appeared solid. There was one devotee who didn’t go with the flow, however – Śrīla Prabhupāda.

Contrary to everybody else’s opinions he thought that his guru’s real mission was publishing books, and preaching in the west would be greatly appreciated, too. It is kind of self-evident to us now but in those days it simply didn’t occur to anyone but Prabhupāda.

Who is to say that Aindra’s insistence on re-establishing harināma parties all over the world won’t pay handsomely in the future, too? It might appear counterintuitive and unproductive in the face of our current problems but it appeared so to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrothers, too, and they were proven wrong.

Who’s got any real arguments against hari-nāma anyway? We might give reasons why we don’t do it daily but there are no reasons why we shouldn’t. No one ever in our society would start a sentence with “You shouldn’t do a daily hari-nāma because..” – it’s unthinkable. Most of the time we believe that dong so wouldn’t address our immediate needs, wouldn’t raise enough funds, wouldn’t distribute enough books, wouldn’t attract enough followers and so on. Still, it is THE yuga dharma, we can’t get around this simple fact.

Is it also the fact that we can’t develop Kṛṣṇa prema without chanting. We can earn money without chanting. We can discuss philosophy without chanting. We can collect donations without chanting. We can distribute prasādam without chanting. We can attract lots of followers without chanting. But we can’t develop prema without chanting, and our chanting should be not only pure but also constant and uninterrupted.

I also can’t say Aindra wasn’t right when he said that most of our devotees do very little kīrtana, even those who live in the temples. They have morning programs but time dedicated to chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra during maṅgala ārati is limited and there’s just a bit more after guru-pūjā and that’s all. Not even half an hour in total. We should definitely do more if we want to call ourselves “saṅkīrtana movement”.

Final, and perhaps the most important thing, is that talking about saṅkīrtana is not the same as actually doing it and Aindra Prabhu appeared as one of those devotees who knew that. Lots of times in his conversations he expressed the idea that instead of sitting and talking devotees should go down to the temple and sing. In this connection I don’t see the value of me typing any more words about it either.

Vanity thought #1291. Aindra

For many years I couldn’t made my mind about HG Aindra Prabhu. On one hand his reputation as the foremost kīrtanīyā is undisputed. No one in ISKCON history came even close, the informal title of modern day nāmācārya is fully deserved. On the other hand, he was always somewhat at odds with ISKCON leadership and that aspect of his life can’t be avoided, too.

I don’t know if there are different opinions on this, perhaps someone would provide an authoritative account how it happened, but, personally, I credit only Aindra with the grassroots worldwide saṅkīrtana revolution that has visibly changed the face of our society. It isn’t complete but it already has made a big difference.

I’m talking about proliferation of various kīrtana melās no one has ever heard of before. Aindra didn’t personally started them but it was his call for significant increase in performing harināma saṅkīrtana that provided the impetus. People just did whatever they could and short of 24-hour kīrtanas, kīrtana melās are the next best thing.

At this point I can’t help but notice that both these kīrtana melās and Aindra’s 24-hour kīrtanas have the same format – a group of devotees sitting down with traditional instruments and chanting for hours non-stop. They are not walking the streets and imposing themselves on unsuspecting public, often against people’s will. In both cases their main audience are temple visitors. Maybe this similarity is not that of causation – Aindra did this and kīrtana melās followed – but it looks so to me.

There are differences as well. Lots of kīrtanīyā groups look like professionals and pay more attention to the musical side of things. When Aindra started his one man band he didn’t even know how to play harmonium, he was self-taught and he learned more as he moved along. Eventually he produced professional CDs but most of his regular recordings are not musically impressing at all. He surely had a few catchy tunes but also tons of tunes no one could keep up with.

There’s also the inherent difference between pioneers and followers. Aindra started with nothing, he didn’t even plan to start 24-hour kīrtanas when he arrived in Vṛndāvana, and for the first half a year he was doing it alone, without any help. He says he’d ask anyone hanging around to pick up karatālas and join in, mostly various onlookers of Indian extraction.

Kīrtana melās of these days, otoh, are well advertised and enjoy massive support. The biggest ones gather over ten thousand people, it’s just not the same as struggling alone against all odds for years without any reward.

This struggle to establish himself also had its side effects, like everything in Kali yuga does. Unfortunate but true. And it’s this unintended consequence that puzzled me for years.

I might be wrong but my theory makes sense to me and it resolves whatever issues I might occasionally have with Aindra’s preaching so I’m quite happy about it. In fact, I can’t see it in any other way anymore.

It’s very simple – in his fight for recognition, not for himself but for big increase in congregational chanting of the Holy Name, Aindra had to justify it in all possible ways. He had to establish it philosophically, he had to made it look like a success to attract support, he had to preach to volunteers, and he had to prove it to himself, too. All of that had to stress relative supremacy of his chosen service which naturally looked as if it was made at the expense of everything else.

Whether he was talking on book distribution, saṅkīrtana, varṇāśrama, guru tattva, nature of the dhāma, development of bhakti, practically everything, he eventually turned it around to support his own service as the best solution possible. He would argue from śāstra and experience, he would argue from common sense and our preceptor ācāryas, he would argue for and against different positions, but at the end of the day it would always turn to implicit suggestion “therefore you should join harināma saṅkīrtana party in Vṛndāvana”. That has become the main giveaway for me.

I can’t possibly retrace all his arguments but very often I listened to them and thought that I wouldn’t necessarily interpret it this way, that other views are possible and just as valid, but there usually wasn’t anything clearly contradictory to our siddhānta. It’s only at the end, when he concludes that congregational chanting of the Holy Name in the Holy Dhāma is the best possible service that everything falls into the place. Why didn’t you say so at the beginning? Obviously there ARE other ways to serve the Lord which are just as valid so you premise and your conclusion can’t possibly be right.

Incidentally, every Indian bābā does exactly the same thing. They can drop tons of wisdom on you but at the end of the day the conclusion is that what they are doing is the only right thing.

To be fair, Aindra Prabhu never argued against book distribution, for example, and there’s nothing wrong with placing it below congregational chanting on a relative value scale, but for some reason he never ended his preaching with “therefore you should distribute books”. Never, under no possible circumstances, one would leave his room, pick up books, and try to distribute them. That’s just not right.

Why was it so?

Well, I already mentioned the need to prove his service and attract other devotees. You don’t do it by declaring it as second best and not really that important. The other reason is Aindra’s personal history. He left the West for Vṛndāvana after an acrimonious split up with his local management. I’m fully prepared to accept that the management was wrong and unfair and not spiritually enlightened enough even though I don’t know the exact circumstances. I’m prepared to give Aindra the benefit of th doubt on this, but the result was that he decided to chart his own course, pick his own service, and make his own name, so to speak. It worked, Kṛṣṇa clearly recognized his efforts, but it’s still not the best way to achieve progress in spiritual life.

In his case it led to the necessity to make his own judgments on practically everything. Ever since he left the US he had to make his own decisions and he didn’t accept any authorities but his own experience, understanding, and intelligence. More often than not it ends in disaster. In his own case it led to the assumption that one must take charge of his own progress, chart his own map and work towards his own goals, and there’s no other way.

The problem is that anyone who has a living breathing guru pleading his disciples to help him in moving the mission of our ācāryas has no space for passing his own judgments on what service he should take. We should try to please our guru, not invent our own ways. We are supposed to become “servant of the servant of the servant”, solely dependent on the mercy of other vaiṣṇavas and interested only in other vaiṣṇavas wellbeing, not chart our own course and declare it as pleasing to the Lord.

No arguments in the universe can overwrite the request of our guru. If he says “please go into the streets and distribute books” then this is the best and only possible service for us regardless of how little benefit we would derive from it objectively. I mean, according to Aindra and his quotes, every service done in Vṛndāvana is multiplied a thousand times – can’t compete with this math.

We can’t develop Kṛṣṇa premā by walking the streets either, it’s just not the place for such exalted emotions. Kṛṣṇa premā can only be obtained at the feet of a fully self-realized mahā-bhāgavata devotee who himself is fully absorbed in intimate pastimes of Rādha and Kṛṣṇa. Can’t argue with that either, it’s patently true, and Kṛṣṇa premā should be our only goal in our Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but whatever arguments are there, if our guru asks us to start a prasādam distribution program then this is what we must do. For a devotee there should be no other choice. We serve Kṛṣṇa by serving other vaiṣṇavas and whatever service we are given should be taken as absolutely precious. We can’t turn it down because it’s not exalted enough.

Aindra put himself in the position where he had to make his own choices and his guru had long departed this world so it was really only up to him. For most of us this isn’t the case, and looking at the example of Gauḍīyā Maṭhas we can see that going alone is a very risky proposition. Aindra survived, good for him. He had enough purity and sincerity, we might not be so lucky.

Sometimes he was frustrated too – he felt didn’t progress towards Kṛṣṇa premā fast enough. If we put our fate into the hands of our guru we wouldn’t worry about such things, whatever realizations come, they come when we are ready and when Kṛṣṇa is ready to trust us. When we set our own timeline it’s easy to turn it into a succession of artificial deadlines, too. I mean who else are we going to trust with judging our progress? Who is going to tell us we are too slow or too fast? Kṛṣṇa directly? Nope, our own intelligence and our own estimate.

Anyone who is trying to do so, to take his service into his own hands, is likely to create disturbances for himself and for others. There’s a verse supporting it but I don’t remember where it is from. I’m not saying Aindra created disturbances but I bet there were quite a few unsettled souls who didn’t know what to do with their lives after listening to him, as coming back home and following their local authorities didn’t seem like an option anymore, and pure and simple living in Vṛndāvana simply isn’t for everybody. Many have tried, most have failed.

I think this rant is getting too long and I probably didn’t give as much credit to Aindra’s unprecedented dedication to saṅkīrtana as he deserved, perhaps some other day, there’s a lot to say about his particular style of chanting.

Vanity thought #1255. Thought process explained

Somehow my mind lost its focus and keeps forgetting things when I write these articles. It’s a curious situation, actually. I know what I’m going to type but no matter what I do, I always forget half of it. Sometimes the reason is that I just don’t fully prepare myself mentally, don’t visualize every turn of the argument before hand, so when time comes to sit down and type I follow a different path from what was intended before.

You’d think that the solution would be to think the post through and memorize the key points but that doesn’t work either because when time comes to sit down the mind does not follow previously covered tracks, it tends to think new thoughts instead. As much as I want to stick to the program it follows “inspiration” and things get forgotten.

Inspiration is an important consideration in itself. “Writers block” is a real thing and I don’t want it to happen to me. Real writers have the luxury to wait for their inspiration to come but I took a vow to post something everyday and I don’t feel satisfied until the article reaches a thousand words. I can’t wait for the inspiration, I can’t depend on it, I have to produce it myself. How?

I used to think about it while chanting but I stopped a while ago. I used to pray for it but then I decided that it’s not worth diverting my attention to during chanting. That took almost two hours of preparation from my day and so sometimes I just don’t have the time to think these articles through. I just pray that when I sit down Kṛṣṇa would not forget me and accept my efforts as a service.

With an attitude like that I have to respect the flow of my mind. Well, it’s actually mind under the direction of intelligence under the direction of the modes of nature under the direction of the Lord. And, despite of what my mind tells me, I’m not the one writing these things. I’m here just to observe. Mind sees something interesting, takes a note of it, contemplates the topic, gets suggestions, remembers things, looks for confirmation, and finally presents it as an idea for an article.

Personally, I try to learn to distance myself from it. It would happen with or without my participation, the material world is not going to stop just because I decided to lose interest in it. Well, it will eventually stop for me but not for everybody else.

Usually, when a devotee writes something about Kṛṣṇa we treat it as devotional service coming from his heart, authorized and supervised by Kṛṣṇa. A devotee has to make an effort to please the Lord and we can judge the result by the purity of this effort, and also by the quality of the presentation. No one likes to read half-arsed messages that do not elicit any interest or inspiration.

I”m trying to distance myself from such thinking. I’m not this body and I’m not a doer of anything. By the arrangement of the material nature this body sometimes does something related to the Lord and that’s what I should be grateful for. Sometimes these efforts look relatively more accomplished, sometimes they look sloppy, sometimes they look pure, sometimes they look contaminated with envy, ego, or desire for sense gratification. I really have no control over it, my body lives in certain conditions and it reacts to them.

We will not obtain devotion by building up our temporary intelligence and “understanding” things. We cannot go on on chanting only either, we need our heads in the game, too, at least for the time being. We need classes, we need books, we need devotees exchanging opinions, we need to argue in favor of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and against atheism, we need tips on overcoming our anarthas. All those things are necessary but only from the bodily consciousness point of view. As long as we are here the body will be doing something but that alone will not lead to devotion.

Bhakti is not the result of activities on the material platform so our interest in what happens here must be limited. We also need to learn to focus only on Kṛṣṇa related things and look past everything else. I can’t stress this enough – look past everything else that bodies do and focus only on their engagements in Kṛṣṇa related activities.

Sometimes there’s not a lot to get focused on, our appetites for sensory inputs might be bigger than what little Kṛṣṇa consciousness is available, and so we might get involved with something else, less directly related to the Lord. That’s natural, too, but then we should build patience and realize that simple remembrance of the Lord is more important than having mind and intelligence fully engaged in any other topic. Mind and intelligence are moved by the modes of nature, sometimes these winds don’t blow in the desired direction, but should’t it be an opportunity to disengage ourselves from the material world altogether? Let it do whatever it does and let not become judges of that. There’s still Kṛṣṇa to be remembered.

Judging things is what keeps us here. We need to have a look and form an opinion. We need to feel the satisfaction of figuring out something. We need to feel comfort of being properly adjusted in our position. We need safety of knowing our situation in time and place. We need to have a grasp on things. We need presence of our minds, and not only that, we need clarity. All that is on top of lower sensory engagements.

Well, we don’t need any of that. That’s what false ego wants – to be a fully integrated and fully adjusted part of the material nature. It’s not in our real interest at all.

To step back a bit – all these arguments started with two episodes I experienced while chanting. First was when I was doing japa in total darkness and very comfortably seated on a sofa. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t hear anything, the whole world just disappeared and there was only the sound of the Holy Name. After a while I stopped trying to produce this sound and just listened to it. I couldn’t really locate its source then – I didn’t hear it coming out of my mouth, I didn’t hear it entering my ears, the sound vibrations turned into the Kṛṣṇa’s names somewhere in my brain, which is impossible to locate. That’s when I started hearing “myself” as an outsider. The effect was similar to listening to recordings of one’s voice for the first time – our voice always sounds different from what we imagine when we speak.

So that was the point when I started to realize that my body does its chanting on its own, I’m here just to listen. It chants by the mercy of guru, Kṛṣṇa, and devotees, and it’s the material nature that makes my lips move accordingly. I can only express interest in the process, that’s all.

Second episode was when I just woke up and immediately took my japa bag. I wasn’t fully awake yet, had no real concept of what time it was, how much time I had, what was my schedule for the rest of the day, and where everyone else was. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings and during this time I realized that I don’t need to know any of those things, chanting is perfect without this kind of knowledge.

So there… Word of caution, though – these articles shouldn’t be seen as inspired by Kṛṣṇa from within or anything like that. They are written by a conditioned soul under the modes of nature and according to its limited experiences in this particular incarnation. It so happens that during this time we see a rise of the movement of Lord Caitanya and so some of these experiences are influenced by the Lord and, accordingly, some of this stuff becomes related to the Lord, and that’s what should be appreciated, the rest is best forgotten. It will be forgotten at the time of death anyway, and whatever is taken by the soul into the next incarnation is not worthy of remembering either. Only the Holy Name matters, and it’s there with us at all times and it never changes, as fresh and youthful as ever.

Now I have to go and change the title of this post because that’s not what I had in mind when I sat down to type it at all.

Vanity thought #1216. Value of japa

For the past couple of days I’ve been writing about ways to improve japa but there’s a question that still bugs me there – what is japa’s relative value compared to other forms of devotional service. Usually I say that chanting beats everything but chanting is an English word that encompasses many forms and methods. Which one is the best? Can we survive solely on japa, for example?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, because as long as we chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra we can survive anything, and no because we have plenty of instructions requiring us to use different forms of chanting instead.

Take Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, for example. Simply sitting and listening to it, and asking appropriate questions, is enough to achieve perfection in devotional service. In some ways it’s even more effective that chanting the mantra because it engages our intelligence and fills us with awe and wonder, something we can’t easily experience by simply repeating the names. Just think of it, we can easily sit through an hour long class being fully absorbed and not losing concentration once. That doesn’t happen with japa, as I now clearly see from my logger.

We can’t repeat Mahārāja Parīkṣit’s feat of listening to Bhāgavatam for seven days non-stop without sleep or food but, if not for physical inconvenience of sitting on the floor, we can easily go for hours and hours, and with food and toilet breaks can easily listen to Lord’s pastimes for a whole day. The quality of our concentration would also be much better than during our japa.

More importantly, though, prescription for this day and age is hari-nāma saṇkīrtana, not japa. Japa is supposed to be a practically silent meditation, at most a practitioner might pronounce the mantras just loud enough to hear them himself. In this aspect japa is different from kīrtana and so we should remember that while kīrtana is a legitimate process of devotional service, japa is not. Why do we even use it, then?

Mostly because of Haridāsa Ṭhākura, our nāma-ācārya. He was chanting japa loudly all day long and it was accepted by Lord Caitanya as fully legitimate form of service. We are not to imitate but follow in the footsteps, and so our recent ācāryas set a daily minimum of japa for us all.

Contrary to the tradition we chant loudly, usually loud enough for others to hear, too. Haridāsa Ṭhākura argued that there’s always someone listening, if only insects on the ground, and even if the dead matter resonates to the sound of the Holy Name it still gets purified. Loud chanting purifies everything, the place, the atmosphere, everything and everyone within the reach of the sound.

ISKCON devotees were often laughed at by “experienced” vaiṣṇavas for their loud japa but that’s how we do it, we want it to be counted as kīrtana and in that there’s little difference between loud chanting on beads or singing or recitation or any other way of chanting.

Our japa satisfies “hari”, “nāma”, and “kīrtana” requirements but I’m not so sure about “saṃ” part, which is essential to our success. Lord Caitanya inaugurated the saṇkīrtana movement, not just kīrtana alone. We are in saṇkīrtana movement, and saṇkīrtana is understood to be different from japa.

There are many forms of saṇkīrtana, listening to Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is saṇkīrtana, too, and there are different interpretations of what “saṃ” prefix mean there exactly. Usually we say it’s congregational chanting, that people come together and get united in chanting. Japa doesn’t provide that, we chant japa for ourselves and the whole point is to shut out all other sounds when we chant. It can’t be called saṇkīrtana in this sense at all, so why do we do it?

Is it only because our ācāryas told us to do so? What is their reason, however? Maybe they realized that getting people to chant collectively is very hard while some form of chanting must go on every day regardless. That’s why our japa is the absolute minimum we should do, and it can’t be silent, it has to be like kīrtana, not mental meditation.

Regardless of the instructions for Kali Yuga, chanting of the Holy Name is universal. It always works and it’s the best method of service at all times. We chant a lot because we have a concession on offenses, if people tried it in previous ages they would be slaughtered by the reactions while ours do not count, karmically speaking. Mental ones do not count at all, for example, even if the Lord takes notice of our attitude and withdraws His mercy for a while. For some of our thoughts people in Satya Yuga would go straight to hell, we don’t get even a slap on the wrist.

Still, there’s another meaning of “saṃ” in saṇkīrtana – perfect and complete. In this sense it means pure, offenseless chanting coming from a heart filled with loving devotion. This kind of chanting is beyond the material platform, beyond the Kali Yuga, beyond minimum japa requirements, it reaches the Lord directly and so is perfect in every way. It’s chanting done by true paramahaṃsas who do not even see the material world anymore, only Kṛṣṇa Himself.

Can our japa qualify? Obviously not, but that’s how Haridāsa Ṭhākura chanted, if we want to follow his footsteps it’s how we should chant, too, otherwise it would also be imitation. Hmm, following is a thin line here – can’t chant too much and can’t chant sloppily either. Forget sloppily, we should chant on a transcendental platform if only for sixteen rounds instead of one hundred ninety two (about three lakhs).

So, can we justify our japa by saying that we are following Haridāsa Ṭhākura? Not really, not if we do not do it absolutely right. Perhaps more appropriate justification for us is that śāstra tells to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra and so we are doing it one way or another, better than no chanting at all.

There’s the next step in interpreting “saṃ” in saṇkīrtana, too. When one chants perfectly, on a pure spiritual platform, his chanting can still be improved if he does so in the company of like minded pure devotees. If it can be improved than it’s not really “saṃ”, the argument goes.

It’s not quite the same congregational chanting that we do on the streets filled with non-devotees. That chanting is sublime in its own way, but this saṇkīrtana is like the talks between Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya, not meant for the general public, except we don’t say anything provocative, just the Holy Names.

This is really the best kind of chanting, it’s like our Bhāgavatam classes on steroids, the advantage being that we are not attracted by presentation, it’s not meant to please our minds and intelligence, as often happens in our classes. It’s just pure exchange of love for Kṛṣṇa.

The key to this chanting is perfect company. Perfect here means not in absolute terms but relative to other participants. It’s chanting between devotees who are just right for each other, no one is an obvious neophyte and no one is too far advanced for his chanting to be unappreciated by others. Every instance of the Holy Name in this company would spark love and devotion in each participant without fail and the feedback would melt chanter’s heart on the spot, too.

This kind of chanting is a real blessing, very rare to come, and it certainly beats murmuring japa to ourselves while our minds wonder off to far reaches of the material world.

If it’s not available, however, then we are perfectly within our rights to pray for this blessing when we chant our daily rounds. In any case, whatever service the Lord allows us to do is perfect in its own way, we can’t think of it as deficient, it’s meant for our gradual upliftment and therefore should be cherished.