Vanity thought #1089. Essential cheating, three to five.

Yesterday I tried to “scientifically” describe essential principles of irreligion. Just like every activity in this world is influenced by a combination of the three modes of nature, every irreligious undertaking must be influenced by a particular combination of five irreligious forces.

It’s all speculative, though, might have zero actual substance behind it.

So far I’ve covered two out of five principles. First is vidharma, which means activities obstructing one’s real dharma, or, as Prabhupāda once said, anti-dharma. Is there a contradiction between these two definitions? Only on the surface. “Anti-dharma” would appear something like breaking regulative principles while obstruction of real dharma would be something relatively innocent as staying in bed late on Sunday.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, explains it like this:

    In whichever position you may be, if you try to satisfy Kṛṣṇa according to your capacity, sva-dharmācaraṇa śaktyā, here it is said. Sva-dharmācaraṇaṁ śaktyā vidharmāc ca nivartanam. Vidharma…., vidharma means anti, anti-occupational duty. Ultimately our occupational duty is to serve Kṛṣṇa. Anything which does not help me in serving Kṛṣṇa, if we give it up, and anything which helps me to serve Kṛṣṇa, if we accept, in that way if we live,

Here he mentions SB 3.28.2 where vidharma is translated as “unauthorized duties” or “duties not alloted to him”. Ultimately every duty except pure devotional service is unauthorized and not alloted, it doesn’t have to be specifically forbidden, like meat eating.

In that sense everything we do in the material world qualifies as vidharma, practically speaking, which is fine – we are talking about essential aspects of irreligion that should be present everywhere just like all three modes of nature.

So, the first principle is that irreligion is not spiritual, which sounds too obvious but must be said anyway.

Second principle is paradharma, activities imposed by others. I’d say that the idea behind it is what is good for them might be above our own level and so should not be imitated. It does not specify that the activity itself is harmful, just that it’s not suitable for us.

The key here is that it comes from others, not form one’s guru. Only a guru can give a real dharma, everyone else will mislead us (unless they are guru in their own sense)

The third principle is upadharma. There are several definitions again. First, it’s introduced as upamā, “principles that appear religious but are not”, which in full translation becomes “analogical religion” (SB 7.5.12). In the next verse it’s “concocted religious principles” which becomes “A new type of religion created by one who is falsely proud and who opposes the principles of the Vedas” (SB 7.5.13).

The purport to that second verse starts with “To create a new type of dharma has become fashionable in this age” – this is promising and apparently follows the definition from the translation, but then it continues: “So-called svāmīs and yogīs support that one may follow any type of religious system, according to one’s own choice, because all systems are ultimately the same. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, however, such fashionable ideas are called vidharma“. So we are none the wiser.

Let me try to distill the essence of upadharma the other way. The clue is given in the first definition from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam – it’s upamā, which means “similar”. Now we can see how it can become “analogical” and then “concocted” and then “created by those who…”

The idea is that it looks genuine but it isn’t. Even its proponents and inventors think it is genuine. Take Rāmakṛṣṇa, for example – he must have believed in this own BS about yata mata tata patha method, which means “every method is okay”. It sounds reasonable, considering proliferation of different religious schools in the world, but it’s still BS. There’s only one way and it must be acceptable by God, we don’t get to choose ourselves, as Rāmakṛṣṇa implied.

How do such seemingly solid ideas come about? They are created by people who perceive themselves as ācāryas, become falsely proud, and somehow believe their own inventions even if they oppose genuine principles presented in the Vedas.

In short upadharma looks genuine, propagated by people who think it’s genuine, but it isn’t, it’s just an imitation of real religion.

The fourth cheating principle is chala-dharma, “cheating religion”, or “interpretation by one’s jugglery of words”. This one is specifically explained in the purport:

    When Kṛṣṇa directly says something and some rascal interprets it to mean something different, this is chala-dharma — a religious system of cheating — or śabda-bhit, a jugglery of words.

The difference from upadharma would be that it is intentionally misleading. Proponents of chala-dharma know they are wrong but they imply various methods to justify themselves anyway. If upadharma is the product of sincere ignorance, chala-dharma is produced by con-men.

We can easily spot this in our lives when we try to invent excuses for ourselves. We can also easily spot this in the public discourse – when devotees propose something that doesn’t sound right and then plow through our books for quotes to justify it anyway, like female dīkṣā gurus, or when one wants to justify his criticism of vaiṣṇavas. I would say all our debates on all controversial issues are examples of chala-dharma. First one concocts some nonsense and then tries to make it sound legitimate.

The difference from upadharma is not only in that one knows he is wrong but also in the method one applies to legitimize it – word jugglery.

Finally, the fifth principle – ābhāsa, “pretentious religious principles” which also becomes “dim reflection” in SB 7.5.14. “Pretentious”, however, is mentioned three times while “dim reflection” only once.

These two meanings are somewhat contradictory because pretentious means “exaggerated”, which the opposite of “dim”. How come? I think we should consider the dynamics here. “Dim reflection” is meant to appear in comparison with a real religion while “pretentious” is how it’s supposed to appear before ordinary men.

This approach defines ābhāsa not in absolute terms, not for what it is, but by how it is made to look – like a real thing. It’s like a fake Rolex watch that is presented with the air of awe and reverence built around venerable brand. It doesn’t testify to the quality of the watch itself, which might be perfectly acceptable for everyday use, but it’s about asking people to value it by evoking the real thing.

In this sense it’s very close to chala-dharma, religion presented by con-men. Abhasa would be the “con” part of it while chala would be the cheating itself.

I don’t know if the list has become comprehensive yet but I think I’ve got enough to try and summarize all five features of irreligious activities.

First, they all obstruct our real service.

Second, they are presented by anyone but not a real ācārya.

Third is that they looks similar to a real thing but they aren’t.

Fourth is that they are meant to fool people.

Fifth is that they appeal to our existing respect for a real religion.

Sounds comprehensive, too early to say if there is anything missing, but, most importantly, it all sounds self-evident, much better than when I noticed this the first time, so some progress has been made.

And on that note I beg to retire for the day.

Vanity thought #1088. Essential principles of cheating

Coming back to five branches of irreligion I discussed two days ago – I want to distill their essence the same way I’ve tried to understand principles of Pañca Tattva. It’s not going to be easy and I don’t know myself if it’s possible at all but I think I should try anyway.

To recapitulate – Nārada Muni was instructing Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira in various aspects of varṇāśrama and then suddenly started speaking of irreligion. Sanskrit terms used in these couple of verses do not appear anywhere in the Bhāgavatam so they are all we have to go on, which is not much for such an important topic. Here are the verses themselves (SB 7.5.12-14):

    There are five branches of irreligion, appropriately known as irreligion [vidharma], religious principles for which one is unfit [para-dharma], pretentious religion [ābhāsa], analogical religion [upadharma] and cheating religion [chala-dharma]. One who is aware of real religious life must abandon these five as irreligious.

    Religious principles that obstruct one from following his own religion are called vidharma. Religious principles introduced by others are called para-dharma. A new type of religion created by one who is falsely proud and who opposes the principles of the Vedas is called upadharma. And interpretation by one’s jugglery of words is called chala-dharma.

    A pretentious religious system manufactured by one who willfully neglects the prescribed duties of his order of life is called ābhāsa [a dim reflection or false similarity].

In the first verse the list is given, in the second there are definitions of four kinds of irreligious activities, and the last verse explains the meaning of the fifth.

In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t say much on the subject either, only gives a hint of what these irreligious activities might be in real life but then he uses examples that are not relevant to the current situation – the world has moved on, we don’t fight the same battles as Guḍīyā Maṭha fought a hundred years ago.

One might notice that these irreligious activities have prefixes added to the word dharma and so we can understand their meanings simply by figuring out the meanings of prefixes. Unfortunately, this won’t work, for a couple of reasons.

First reason is a principal one – we do not learn the meaning of Bhāgavatam by analyzing grammar. We do not take word meanings from mundane dictionaries, juggle them together (chala-dharma?), and discover spiritual truth.

Our method is descending – we learn the meaning of the book from our guru, then we apply the meaning of separate words to describe the world around us. This is how Sanskrit is supposed to be learned – it’s a language of God, every word, every syllable, every sound is full of spiritual potencies, it describes various phenomena of the spiritual world.

When the language is used down here it becomes contaminated and original, pure words get attached to mundane objects used for sense enjoyment. Then people who become proficient in subverting pure spiritual meanings for sense gratification start teaching others and produce dictionaries. There’s nothing we can learn from them, it’s no the way for us to go.

Another reason why formal knowledge of Sanskrit won’t help here is because prefixes used to form these words often have positive meanings, we don’t expect them to describe irreligious activities at all.

Just think of it, we have Para Brahman and Parāmātma – Supersoul and Supreme Brahman. Shouldn’t paradharma mean supreme religion? Apparently not.

Same goes for “vi” – we have viśuddha, purified goodness, and we have vijñana, purified knowledge or realization, yet vidharma doesn’t mean purified religion.

This means all I have to go on is definitions given by Nārada Muni and common sense.

The other day I was asked to clean the house and I didn’t have an excuse to wiggle out so I agreed and diligently went and dusted everything, swept and mopped the floors and so on. Was it an irreligious activity? Which one? Let’s see.

First of all, I think that these types of irreligion never exist in a pure form but always as a mix, same as three gunas. We can’t isolate any one of the modes of nature in this world, everything we observe here has traces of goodness, traces of passion, and traces of ignorance. Likewise, any irreligious activity might have traces of all five kinds of those, some more prominent than then others.

So, vidharma – activity that prevents one from executing his spiritual duties. I spent several hours cleaning the house, I could have spent this time reading books. Maybe not in real life, maybe I would have sat in front of the computer instead, but that would be just another kind of vidharma I resort to when I don’t want to serve the Lord.

Was it a paradharma? This is a puzzling one. In word for word translation Prabhupāda defines it as “imitating religious systems for which one is unfit” but in the full translation it becomes “Religious principles introduced by others”. I think it’s just a mix up here that BBT should look into.

If I take full translation meaning – I was told to clean the house by others and I was told that it was for the benefit of all the family. Perfect example of paradharma.

If I take the word for word translation then I could say that typically we should perform these kind of duties with the mind concentrated on Kṛṣṇa, as instructed in Bhagavad Gīta. We should perform them as a sacrifice to the Supreme. If we can do it we’d be acting in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

Personally, I’m unfit for that, as per definition of paradharma. In this interpretation paradharma is not what I was told to do by the family but what I was told to do by Kṛṣṇa and Śrīla Prabhupāda.

One could object – “Wait a minute! How could instructions of our ācāryas become irreligious? It’s impossible by definition.” To this I might answer that Śrīla Prabhupāda arranged for us to serve in the temples and clean the temples. If we do that then maintaining our consciousness focused on Kṛṣṇa becomes easy.

When one develops a vision where everything he sees or does is perceived as connected to God he can go on and carry his service outside. I’m not that person yet. I’m only imitating, trying to be holier than I am.

I think we can actually combine both meanings and say that paradharma is a “religious” activity imposed on us by others and even if it works for them we might not be up to it ourselves yet. Basically, it’s imitating someone else’s progress.

There are still three types of false dharma to go but this post is getting long, I shall continue this tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1085. Five ways to unlock your potential and fail

Discovering your inner strength is a popular topic in self-improvement circles. Kids go through it at the age of ten, I guess, but some return later on and hang out by self-help section in bookstores forever. Audio versions of the same motivational material are popular, too, people listen to them in cars as they travel to work to become empowered.

Does it ever work?

I don’t think so, but that is just me. I remember one devotee who left the temple and joined some marketing pyramid scheme to support himself. Suddenly he started talking in power-speak. He donned a suit and whenever he saw anything he would exclaim “And it’s less than ten dollars!” That price somehow has become his threshold of value.

A generic pen – “And it’s less than ten dollars!” A slice of pizza in a temple’s food shop – “And it’s less than ten dollars!” A picture frame someone used for the photo of his guru – “And it’s less than ten dollars!”

It was understood that he was training himself to aim big, to talk really valuable things, to expect everything in his life to be very, very expensive, to project a powerful personality. Didn’t really work in a temple community but some brahmacārīs took notice. The attitude is extremely polluting, of course. As devotees we should value simplicity and we shouldn’t use money as a criterion. Things have value due to their nature and their connection to Kṛṣṇa, price alone doesn’t tell us anything useful.

Still, that devotee was doing what he thought was right, and he was also doing what he was taught in his marketing scheme seminars. He had to support himself and we can’t judge how people earn their living, it’s between them and their karma, with Kṛṣṇa’s help.

Living in the material world we have lots of various duties, we have different aspects of our nature that we cannot neglect either. Our job is not to become sannyāsī renunciates and gurus of the whole world but purify our given nature in whatever position we find ourselves at the moment.

The auxiliary of this principle is that all dharmas are fundamentally good, they are given to us for our purification. Unless we fulfill our obligations we cannot jump to the next step so whatever we are forced to do now is absolutely necessary.

The downside of this is that we immediately run into a host of problems associated with following duties other than selflessly serving the Lord. Our path, the path of Bhagavatam is dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavo ‘tra – Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated (SB 1.1.2), accepting any other duties goes against this principle, just as it goes against sarva-dharmān parityajya of Bhagavad Gīta.

We can, of course, look at all our obligations in their relation to our ultimate goal but sometimes that might be difficult for beginners like us. Understanding how exactly we deviate from the path of pure devotion should be easier, and just as helpful as well.

In the Seventh Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam Nārada Muni taught Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira the duties of the civilized beings and the subject of adharma naturally came up, too, in three verses begining with SB 7.15.12. Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t elaborate a lot on practical examples so, I believe, we have some freedom to interpret the modern applications.

The first verse lists:

    There are five branches of irreligion, appropriately known as irreligion [vidharma], religious principles for which one is unfit [para-dharma], pretentious religion [ābhāsa], analogical religion [upadharma] and cheating religion [chala-dharma].

In subsequent verses these five deviations are defined and in the purports Śrīla Prabhupāda explains what they are.

Vidharma, for example, is religious duties that obstruct one’s own religion. Śrīla Prabhupāda gives examples of concocted religious paths, probably like Rāmakṛṣṇa’s nonsense, and says that following those distracts one from surrendering to Kṛṣṇa according to His instructions.

What would it mean for us? Probably inventing new roles and rules according to time, place and circumstances but which do not have sanctions of the ācāryas and go against principles of varnāśrama. An example could be redefining our family duties towards our children, parents, and partners, too. Modern serial monogamy is one such invention. Introduction of divorce into vaiṣṇava culture is another.

Maybe they are legitimate reactions to modern life, maybe not, but they have nothing to do with serving Kṛṣṇa, they prevent us from following genuine varṇāśrama, and so we should not take them seriously.

Para-dharma is, apparently, when these new rules are given to us by others. When we feel we have to do something and it goes against true dharma is one thing. When we take others’ advice is another. What might be good for them is not necessarily good for us. Vidharma might look close enough but following others is probably a bit more dangerous for our spiritual life. Our own feelings can be corrected by the Supersoul, if we are sincere enough our inner voice could be easily corrected by Him, but when we follow someone else we place our faith into something completely unreliable and outside our control. In this case our inner voice must be consciously ignored.

Ābhāsa is a pretentious religion. Śrīla Prabhupāda gives example of brāhmaṇas who are not fit for their position, a hot topic for the Gauḍīyā Maṭha in its early days but those of us living in the west have probably never met such people. For us it’s pretentious TV evangelists or all kinds near ISKCON quacks professing deep Vedic knowledge in astrology or ayrveda, or self-important “reformers” who assume they are spiritually advanced enough to tell ISKCON and GBC how do their service. They look devoted and knowledgeable but we should be skeptical. Authors of self-help books should fall into this category, too.

Upadharma is outright concoction, same as vidharma but with a focus on doing wrong things rather than not doing the right ones. I guess Kṛṣṇa West could be put into this category if it is ever declared legitimately bogus, which I, personally, don’t think it is. Veganism could be called upadharma, too, chanting only Pañca tattva mantra instead of Hare Kṛṣṇa and ritvikism are perfect candidates as well.

Finally, chala-dharma looks like twisting the śāstra to suit one’s own needs. “Eating mushrooms is okay as long as you don’t offer them to deities” kind of of thing. “I need to read books by Jīva Gosvāmī because Prabhupāda said so in the very first verse of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam” is another example. In material life such “exceptions” are too numerous to count. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” “We all need to pay our taxes but…” Our life is full of excuses like that. They sound okay but they aren’t, they are chala dharma

Every time are need to do something we can look at the nature of our new duty – is it detrimental to executing our existing ones? Is it forced on us by others? Is it done to appear better than we really are? Is it just an obvious concoction? Is it a shameful and hypocritical abuse of the rules? It’s not very difficult to see where it’s coming from.

I haven’t yet tried this classification in real life but I hope it works, it was given by Nārada Muni himself, after all. Would this knowledge stop us from doing the wrong things? Maybe not, but at least it would stop us from accepting these cheating dharmas as a real.

Vanity thought #829. Stereotypes, part II

Earlier this week I saw on the news that people of South East Asia got a new phrase, “Don’t Thai to me”, when they feel they are being cheated. There’s nothing unusual about stereotypes like that but, afaik, Thais themselves got a similar stereotype about untrustworthy cheaters and for them it’s Indians. They say that if you are suddenly confronted both by an Indian and a snake, kill the Indian first. Why?

Anyone who has been to India for any length of time knows that you better watch yourself when dealing with natives. There’s nothing they won’t do to squeeze an extra dollar from you and they don’t feel any shame in that. Why?

We’ve been told that, in contrast with Westerners, Asians are communal people but how can they be communal and so dishonest at the same time? How can they maintain communities without basic trust in each other?

In my personal experience, they do trust each other and they are loyal to their community members but that doesn’t extend to outsiders who are considered a fair game. Once you in, you are in and safe, before that, you have no rights and little respect.

None of this would really matter to us as devotees but we have to deal with this on our visits to the Holy Dhamas and that might really stress some people who expect dhamas to be filled with perfect vaishnavas. Something just doesn’t compute there. Either we have to completely abandon our basic ideas what perfection is or we have to admit that dhamas have been overrun by unscrupulous non-devotees.

Personally, I’d vote for the first option.

From the dhamavasis POV all money originally belongs to Krishna and by taking it from us they reunite Krishna and Lakshmi and engage our wealth in Krishna’s service, so they are doing us a favor. We can say “Hold on, but we are devotees, too!” to which they answer “Right, so you understand that there’s no loss, you take it to Krishna, we take it to Krishna, what’s the difference?”

Alternatively, they can see it from a traditional POV where brahmanas are considered mouth of the Lord. If you want to offer something to God, He accepts it through brahmanas, therefore they are see themselves digesting our money as the work of Krishna own stomach.

Should we worry about it? Well, if we’ve been given an order by our spiritual master or our authorities and, in course of executing this order, we’ve acquired some funds, then whatever logic they offer, we cannot allow them to take money that belongs to our guru. Even if dhamavasis appear before us in their original spiritual forms we should not give in to their demands.

They have their service, we have ours. Our goal is to please our guru, not theirs.

Strictly speaking, even if Krishna Himself shows up and demands what belongs to our guru we should be skeptical because our position is dasadasanudasa, as Gaudiya vaishnavas we serve Krishna’s devotees and we cannot betray their mercy. After all, you can’t be a manjari and spill all the secrets to Krishna at the same time, which gopi needs a servant like that?

If our actions somehow displease the Lord we hope that it works out through the proper chain of command, that’s what depending on the mercy of our guru means. Krishna can forgive an offense against Himself but if we upset our guru we are done for. Of course we can also hope that our guru would accept our betrayal because it pleased Krishna but that’s a risky game to play. Krishna is a fickle master, sometimes His mercy is there and sometimes it isn’t, and when He goes away on His merry ways, how can we return to our guru? How can we beg for service again?

This is a very unlikely scenario, btw, it shouldn’t happen to us on our present level.

What usually happens is that we travel to Holy places on our own volition. We don’t have any particular engagements in the dhama, we are just visiting, and therefore we shouldn’t assume that our funds are the same as our guru’s. In that case different rules apply.

When Sanatana Goswami went to see Lord Chaitanya at Benares he was still wearing a fancy chadar and Mahaprabhu made it known that the chadar should go. Sanatana Goswami traded it for some old, worn blanket and that pleased the Lord. We cannot attain Lord’s company while maintaining unnecessary possessions and that stands true for attaining Lord’s dhama, too.

We should not show up in the dhama while flashing out wealth, even if only to ourselves, and from that POV being ripped off by dhamavasis is Lord’s way of telling us how we should approach Him, so we shouldn’t protest.

If we decide to protect our possessions by keeping our money in the bank and exposing only very little to potential damage, that’s how they Lord would measure our devotion, too. Essentially it means that unless we are ready to give up everything we own, we shouldn’t show up in Vrindavana at all, and that is true, otherwise we are just tourists passing through. As much as Krishna appreciates our interest, by holding onto our possessions we are still robbing ourselves of genuine devotion. We can’t have both.

Does it mean we shouldn’t go to Vrindavana at all? Of course not, but we should understand our limitations and be ready to sacrifice whatever is necessary. Krishna isn’t a monster, He is not going to rob us blind, but we should always be ready to give Him whatever He wants.

On that subject I remember reading a fictional book about Jesus’ early days. His father took him and the entire family to the temple in Jerusalem and they had to pay exorbitant prices for whatever paraphernalia was needed for completing the rituals. When everyone was upset about it the father said that they didn’t spend more than they were prepared to, and if they got one dove instead of two it didn’t really matter.

So, if we are being overcharged for whatever it is we are offering to the Lord we should think about it not in terms of how much we got but in terms of how much we spent. Krishna will gladly accept even the smallest offering if it’s done without any attachment. The difference between ten and twelve bananas doesn’t matter to Him, it matters only to us because we still see these bananas as ours.

What if Krishna ate all our offerings and never left any prasadam, save for a few crumbs on a plate? A real devotee would consider it a perfection of his service, we would consider it cheating.

And this takes me back to the point of what perfection really is. Dhamavasis are perfect even when they lie and cheat, even when they eat eggs, even when they eat beef. We don’t see it that way but the Lord does, and we should accept that.

That’s why it’s very easy to commit offenses in the dhama and that’s why we cannot see its spiritual beauty, well, one of the reasons.

Same goes for Indians, comparing to us they are Krishna’s family. However imperfect, Krishna loves them as His own, and we should accept that, too.

Vanity thought #302. By hook or by crook

From the laymen point of view we already have a warped sense of morality, putting interests of the Lord and devotional service higher than our obligations towards fellow men. Just remember Krishna asking Yudhishthira to lie about death of Ashvaddhama, one of the reasons being that no one would believe Krishna Himself, and then punishing Yudhishthira for insubordination.

Everything goes if it’s meant for Krishna’s pleasure.

This is a tough sell when we present ourselves to the public and we have to be very diplomatic about it.

But what about cheating God Himself to obtain devotional service? Wouldn’t that be an ultimate deception where the end always, 100%, justifies the means? There’s no goal higher than acquiring love of God and that means that whatever else we’ve got to lose in exchange for it is well worth the trouble.

This is what I saw with my eyes tinged with the love of fault finding in this curious episode from Chaitanya Charitamrita, beginning from Madhya.1.199.

This is the first meeting between Lord Chaitanya and brothers Rupa and Sanatana and they asked the Lord for His mercy, presenting themselves as the lowest of all, lower than Jagai and Madhai, on the level with Muslim meat-eaters.

In this case it was the reason they presented for their deliverance that caught my fault finding eye – they tried to con Lord Chaitanya into saving them for His own selfish reasons, trying to play on Lord’s own desire for fame and glory. They practically challenged the Lord to save them to prove that He indeed is the most merciful avatar and that worked!

An ordinary person in this situation would have tried to prove his power and uphold his reputation by giving Rupa and Sanatana what they wanted. It’s pretty much how Lord Vishnu tricked the demon Vrikasura to prove his power to kill whoever he touched. Well, we don’t see that Lord Chaitanya responded to this con, He simply said that they were His eternal associates already so the matter of deliverance was just a formality.

Trying to trick the Lord was not the only “off” thing in that conversation, Rupa and Sanatana also went out of the way to prove their exclusivity as the most fallen souls. In this connection I always remember the episode when one devotee started talking to Prabhupada how he was the most fallen, too, only to be cut down in the most decisive way – “You are not most anything”, and that’s the reality of our situation – we are not “most” anything, we are just average and we don’t deserve Lord’s attention any more than the next guy.

It’s actually the mathematics of infinite numbers – in a world of an infinite number of spirit souls we can’t be “most” anything by definition, there’s always an infinite number of souls better and an infinite number of souls worse than us. In this crowd we are always average and unremarkable.

Why would Rupa and Sanatana say these things? One explanation could be that they weren’t Rupa and Sanatana at that moment yet, they were Dahir Khas and Sakkar Mallik, politicians by profession, and so their behavior was just a reflection of their old habits.

Another explanation could be that it is perfectly acceptable to lie and cheat if it could lead one to obtaining devotional service. We already accept cheating karmis, if necessary, so why stop there? Why not cheat fellow devotees and the Lord Himself? What have we got to lose? If we don’t get love of God, what’s the value of our integrity, and if we do get it, what’s the value of our integrity?

Normally it would be impossible to obtain love of God without cleansing our hearts, hence lying won’t work, but with Lord Chaitanya the state of one’s heart is irrelevant, one always has a chance at totally unconditional and undeserved mercy.

Normally it’s impossible to cheat the Lord and the Lord might get upset with us for this but if the result is that we obtain devotional service then we will have unlimited patience of waiting until Lord’s anger blows over and we will win His acceptance in the end. He WILL be pleased, eventually, but it’s so much harder to wait for it when one doesn’t have love of God in his heart so why not take a shortcut?

Another explanation could be that even though one can’t possibly cheat the Lord, if the Lord enters into personal relationships with us He will have to follow some set of rules and thus He might allow Himself to appear cheated, just like Krishna allowed to be bound by mother Yashoda.

All of these are interesting possibilities, especially trying to obtain devotional service at all costs, but, personally, I’m inclined to think that it was only the effect of engaging in politics for too long, nothing really serious.

Vanity thought #246. Sources nest.

I was getting ready to resume writing about Srila Vamshidasa Babaji but run into a little problem with sources and now it’s spiraling out of control. It’s not a total waste of time, there are a lot of things that I should settle at least for myself before I can continue with a peaceful mind.

HH Bhaktivikasa Swami rejected some accounts of Vamshidasa’s life because their author failed to pass authority tests. I don’t know why, there’s not explanation given, but I think I have an idea now.

Vamshidasa’s biography presented on Gaudiya Math sites borrows heavily from “Saints of Bengal” by one Dr O.B.L. Kapoor, a book that is not mentioned by BVKS at all. What about some of the stories that came from that book? Are they authoritative? Can they be cited with any confidence or should they carry a disclaimer? With this questions in mind I turned to the good old Google for answers and discovered that those are surely some muddy waters to wade into.

This Dr OBL Kapoor surely had some history. He was an initiated disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and he joined Gaudiya Math around the same time as Srila Prabhupada, meaning that both were junior members and that’s what brought them closer. Srila Prabhupada mentioned him on a couple of occasions when talking about strict sannyasa vows.

Once they approached Srila Bhaktisiddhanta together – Srila Prabhupada, Dr Kapoor, and his young wife. They were young and they were excited about this opportunity and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was in the final years of his pastimes, Dr Kapoor’s wife was like a granddaughter to him, yet when she asked for a word in private Stila Bhaktisiddhanta refused her plea.

Srila Prabhupada and Dr Kapoor haven’t seen each other for some forty years until they accidentally bumped into each other at Radha Damodara temple in Vrindavana, they didn’t even recognize each other at first but when they did they both were very happy to be reunited and so Srila Prabhupada always had a soft spot for Dr. Kapoor.

Once Srila Prabhupada asked him how old he was, he wasn’t sure about their age difference. It turned out Dr Kapoor was nine years younger and then Srila Prabhupada asked him about his teeth, “All there”, Dr Kapoor answered, “never leave the house without them”, and he took his false teeth out to everyone’s laughter. Srila Prabhupada showed him his teeth, beaming like a little boy, he was happy he got one up on a younger man.

Dr Kapoor took part in many Prabhupada’s conversations in Vrindavan and they talked about all kinds of things, about the past, about the present. Dr Kapoor was always there to support Srila Prabhupada with his facts and arguments, he was like his consultant on all kinds of trivia and business dealings.

So, should we take his book as authoritative? I’m afraid not. The last conversation involving Dr Kapoor was a disturbing one. It was about his presentation at some scientific conference where he undermined our own Swarupa Damodara with “all matter is illusion” argument that sounds very much like mayavada. Devotees didn’t like it at all and countered him with our usual “if it’s all an illusion, let me take this illusory chair and hit you on your illusory head”. They were very happy to have defeated him and Prabhupada seemingly concurred “He has become mayavadi.” In Dr Kapoor’s defense it could be said that it was all hearsay and he wasn’t present during that conversation to defend himself. Fair enough, but he had a mayavadi history before he joined Gaudiya Math, too, and devotees remembered that.

That is just the beginning, however. Turns out that after the passing of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura Adi Keshava Das, Dr Kapoor’s spiritual name, got attracted to Vrindavan’s babajis and after his retirement he took siksha and eventually sannyasa from one of them who he was told was a siddha mahatma, and the only one siddha who was currently present there and that’s how the blessings of his diksha were finally manifested. I don’t want to offend his memory but it sounds like he confused “diksha” and “ditching”. They might have the same verbal root somewhere but actually one is the opposite of the other.

I don’t know how they settle these things in the spiritual world, we are talking about major devotees here, people do not get to reside in the land of Vraja if they weren’t. By our standards, however, it is just not done, mahatmas or not. I think we have enough examples from Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati to raise plenty of suspicions about self promoted siddhas of Vrindavan.

While I was looking up those stories I also came across a series of articles in defense of Bon Maharaja. As I read them it appeared he was a genuinely humble soul, one of the best and foremost disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, fully engaged in bhajana and loved by all his saintly godbrothers. Then we have Srila Prabhupada addressing him by unprintable names. I say unprintable because I am not in the position to repeat them, no because of the strong language. Obviously there’s a story behind that and I think I’ve read it once or twice already but the particulars escape my mind. Suffice to say that Srila Prabhupada was not his only critic, maybe I’ll find out exactly what happened later. It’s just an example that there are all sorts of complications between all kinds of exalted personalities and it sometimes gives me a headache how to avoid contaminating my mind either by reading some unauthorized stories or offending their authors.

Back to Dr Kapoor, however. At this point I tend to think that he played for both sides there and pleased everybody by appearing as a perfect gentleman, he told people what they wanted to hear to score himself some brownies in every house.

Once I’ve heard that in one of his books he denigrated Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s preaching mission by calling it neo-Hinduism. Factually it might be correct, if you are talking to historian and sociologists, but for any genuine follower it would be highly offensive. They didn’t invent anything, they restored the principles of religion, they were empowered by Krishna Himself to carry out His mission. Dr Kapoor’s approach is understanable, however, if he really bought into “all that preaching is bogus and it’s only about money, learn the real bhakti from the babajis” propaganda.

I do not have exact quotes and even the book title but I heard that this argument is now picked on by those Russian Christians I mentioned yesterday in their bid to outlaw our Bhagavat Gita As It Is.

This is funny, because Dr Kapoor Himself had never shied from using his Prabhupada connection to promote his own books. If you read some of the introductions that are freely available on the Internet you’d think he is an officially recognized ISKCON writer.

Dr Kapoor was also telling the devotees that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had never been properly initiated by Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and lead them away to Nitai Gaura Radhe Shyam babaji community. Not only that, but Dr Kapoor also led people to believe that because Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati wasn’t properly initiated and offensive towards Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s initiating guru, Bipina Bihari Goswami, his path back to Krishna was closed forever and all of his followers were doomed, too. I bet he never dared to say such things in front of Srila Prabhupada, it didn’t happen just recently, his first convert left ISKCON in 1973, when Dr Kapoor was all sweetness in his recorded conversations.

That’s why I don’t see any reason to trust Dr. Kapoor’s writings on anything. He might have gotten even the facts wrong as his interpretation of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s initiation shows on close examination.

As far as Vamshidasa Babaji is concerned, Dr Kapoor was also a follower of some Haridasa Goswami who, I suspect, was the same Haridas that Bhaktivikasa Swami dismissed as untrustworthy, probably on the same grounds.

Finally, people who actually read Dr Kapoor’s books, particularly “Saints of Vraja” and “Saints of Bengal”, say that he really thought that crossdressers who pretend to be gopis and engage in sex with other dudes who dress as Krishna have some genuine and spiritually valuable interactions.

Anyway, digging up these old stories is fascinating, sometimes they bring the third, human dimension to the personalities we usually judge in black and white. Sometimes these personalities forgive each other transgressions, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they fool people, sometimes, like real paramahamsas, they pick only the nectar from collective memories.

This is the world we have to live in and deal with, and we have to try our best to keep our own noses clean. Let Krishna sort them out, no one but Krishna Himself is capable of keeping them in their proper places and arrange everything for everybody’s ultimate benefit.