Inside Look

Before Covid Mayapur festival was a showcase where leaders of our movement presented their latest ideas and realizations, and now it’s back. Excited with the opportunity, I started listening to daily Mayapur classes again. Vaisesika and Bhakti Vijnana Goswami are special cases, and the latest at the moment of typing is Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s class I haven’t listened to yet, so I’ll comment on three “liberals” instead – Devamrita Swami, Anuttama Prabhu, and Bhadri Narayana Swami. The last two are the names behind controversial NA GBC decisions so an insight into their thinking is valuable.

I’m not going to go through their lectures point by point, just summarize the “performance” of all three.

Their classes consist of two parts. First part is where they sing Jaya Radha Madhava, recite Bhagavatam verse, read out translation and purport, say a few standard words, and segue into what they really want to talk about, which comprises the second part. This second part has no connection to the first or to Bhagavatm in general apart from that segue. When talking about that second part references to Bhagavatam are scarce and at best supportive, ie they pick the evidence for their thinking, but this thinking itself is based on their personal experiences of living in the world, not on Bhagavatam per se.

I need to put a disclaimer here first – when people talk about their personal experiences they are going to be measured against experiences and realizations of others. Some would say “Wow! Never thought of it this way”, some would say “That’s what I’ve been thinking, too!”, and others would go “That was my thinking several lifetimes ago,” to paraphrase Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.

We just can’t avoid this type of judgments but I think they should not be used beyond their scope – “this realization usually comes before that, and that realization usually evolves to that,” and so on. Krishna doesn’t judge His devotees like that, He judges them by how well they “perform” in their given position. Thus they can achieve full success from any step on the ladder of realizations.

Typically, there’s a progression through human forms of life until one become a fully realized brahmana, then one should become a vaishnava, but for those born in Lord Caitanya’s movement and dedicate their lives to chanting and preaching all these stages are understood to be in the past. They appear as members of this Hare Krishna movement to “do the needful”. In Anuttama’s case, for example, this “needful” includes interfacing on behalf of ISKCON with other religions, which means whatever deficiencies are there in the role itself are not necessarily deficiencies in Anuttama Prabhu as a devotee. They could be, but I would not indulge myself in these judgments. In other words, if anything in this article appears as describing faults – these are faults inbuilt into the roles these devotees play, not the faults in the devotees themselves. They have to do it this way for our society to function.

With that disclaimer out of the way, the second parts of their classes appeared to me as “Bhagavatam free”. Devamrita Swami went into extolling virtues of the UN and the panel of topmost scientists who calculate the position of Doomsday Clock. He just couldn’t stop talking about it. Srila Prabhupada was never impressed with the UN and its role has greatly diminished in this century, so why look at them with such awe and reverence?

Who knows any scientist who works on that Doomsday Clock? Even if some of us do – what are their big studies that demonstrate exceptional quality of their thinking? What is it about them that should impress us a students of Bhagavatam? Why should we pay so much attention to them? I mean travel all the way to Mayapur to hear our best spiritual leaders talk about something you can discuss for hours with total strangers on Reddit? Sounds like a waste of time.

Nevertheless, their latest explanation for moving their clock forward is notable – in the past we had institutions to hold back our hot headed political leaders but today there are no rules to keep them in check, they just do whatever *they* think is right, whatever they think at the moment, with no respect paid to their predecessors or customs or rules or anything.

Moreover, since even the Doomsday Clock people highlight the failure of institutions, why should we pay attention to the UN and quote UN Secretary General proclamations in our classes? That man is powerless and is often ignored by actual big powers like the US or Russia.

Anyway, Devamrita Swami’s segue to this part was “unity in diversity” and so he divided the world into two groups – “globalists”, who are obviously for unity in this thinking, and “territorials”. Globalists have one flaw – they don’t usually include animals into their vision, but Maharaj said that some of them have been noticing that and so, I think, they could become actual carriers of unity in diversity once they all go vegan. Okay, that’s an interesting classification, but it’s not based on Bhagavatam.

Bhagavatam offers all kinds of divisions for us to observe. If it’s in two then we have suras and asuras, if it’s in three we have three gunas, if it’s in four we have four varnas, if it’s in five we have Pancopasana – five types of religion, explained in detail by Bhaktivinoda Thakura. If it’s in six we have Six Darsanas. Some of these divisions are complimentary, ie varnas, some are evolutionary – first you go through this, then you evolve to that, as in case with Pancopasana or Sad-Darsanas. The point is that Bhagavatam gives are plenty of ways of looking at the world and classifying its elements. We just need to study them and become sastra-caksus. These would be real divisions, too – like Sankhya enumerates actual elements from which the world is made as opposed to modern chemistry.

But since we are not doing that, let’s talk about “globalists” and “territorials”. I would say that globalists are not for unity but for uniformity. They absolutely hate any meaningful diversity. Everyone should read the same news and discuss same topics on same phones after watching same movies while snacking on the same popcorn and same Pepsi. Everyone knows iPhone but when it first entered the market one of its big strengths was that it was just one iPhone, same size for all. I remember this argument very well – you go to Apple site and there is only one iPhone there, it was iPhone 4 at the time, and its beautiful. You go to Samsung site and there are hundreds of models there, all different, and you don’t know what to choose. iPhones had almost zero customizations by comparison, they all had the same ringtone and provided uniform experience to toddlers, grandmas, and top executives alike, and people loved it. That’s what globalization means – uniformity. Every country has to be a democracy, voting, elections, separation of powers, free press etc etc. When they join the EU, for example, every country has to update its internal laws and procedures to fit with EU’s and they have to embrace the same moral values, like LGBT rights. Globalization means uniformity, as I said.

Devamrita Swami might see it differently but I obviously think my description fits better. In any case – these are relative considerations. By Bhagavatam science I would go with “asuras”. I disagree with his description of the other group, “territorials”, too. They themselves talk about multi-polar world where everybody has the right to develop in their own way. Their concept is like Vedic mangala – several centers of power which thrive on their own and in cooperation. What they lack, for now, is the emperor to hold it all together, but such emperors were rare even in Vedic history. I mean even Maharaja Yudhisthira was not accepted as such by Kauravas after his Rajasuya sacrifice. This is something we should study very deeply ourselves first, but it’s not the time to do that here.

Anuttama Prabhu’s favorite topic is “Look how good Christians are!” This time he reminded himself not to quote from the Bible and sneaked only one quote only near the end, and the rest of the time he quoted his Christian friends. “This guy said this and that guy said that, look how humble they are, we can learn something from them, too.” Why not learn the same things from our Bhagavatam personalities? Why not learn from Caiatanya Lila?

At one point Anuttama Prabhu told an anecdote how he was with one of his Christian big shot friends, was left alone for a moment, and another Christian approached and tried to preach to him. When his Christian friend returned he apologized for the disturbance. Nice, right? Right, but this behavior is dictated by interfaith rules where everybody accepts that no one knows God and so shouldn’t talk about Him. NO PREACHING to each other. That’s their first rule. They cannot and will not select one of them the way sages of Naimisharanya selected Saunaka Rishi and Suta Goswami. It’s not that kind of community, which means no enlightenment can possibly take place there. Which means it’s a waste of time – unless we absolutely have to sit there for some political reasons, like getting government funding or seats on UN panels.

Besides, Christians are filled with “anyabhilasa” – desires other than pleasing the Lord. They all want to make *this* world into a better place, for example. Not a bad idea, of course, and we can find the same desire expressed by Srila Prabhupada, but it’s related to our behavior in *this* world – since we are already here we have to make the best deal out of a bad bargain, but not to the vision of perfect maha-bhagavata devotees who know that God is actually always in control, and whose ideas of what is better are very different from ours. It is better to make people hear Krishna’s name, for example. The name is absolute and no interfaith rules can override it. Of course we shouldn’t imitate these maha-bhagavatas and the name coming from our mouths would not normally carry the same power, but it’s a good point to always remember anyway. In any case, your average Christian ideas of what would be better should not be accepted at face value. They might think the world would be better if gays could marry each other, for example. Whatever, they are just not the best association to take, come to Mayapur and spread around.

Bhadri Narayan Swami’s pet topic is how God exists and science is wrong. He quoted this scientist saying something stupid and that scientist saying something stupid and another scientist saying something smart for a change, but it all was centered around the same old point – scientific explanation of the world is wrong. I don’t know how old it is, maybe starting with Easy Journey to Other Planets written before Srila Prabhupada came to America. To get the correct perception of the world, as it is described in Bhagavatam, we need to follow sadhana. That was Maharaja’s second point. He himself has been doing this for fifty years, got a sannyasa a few years ago, but didn’t display any actual insights that have been revealed to him as a result of his practice. It will definitely come in the future, we were assured. We just have to stay the course and eventually the right combination of chemicals that produces life will be found. Oh, wait, that’s what the scientists hope to find at the end of their so far fruitless practice. Our hopes are different. At the end of our so far fruitless practice we will discover something else.

Of course Maharaja would have something to say to this joke but I’ve recently seen it somewhere else, too – our Bhagavatam based but scientific model of the universe will be presented very soon and it will make perfect sense. We already have “Vedic Astronomy” book and the final result is just around the corner, maybe even tomorrow. This argument has been given for thirty years now, ever since that book had been published.

It wouldn’t be Bhadri Narayana Swami’s class if it wasn’t peppered with insightful anecdotes from Srila Prabhupada’s life. No one can possibly beat him at that. On second thought, though – what exactly makes these stories insightful or humorous? The choice is Maharajas. He sets the context and he gives a quote that stands out of *that* context, and that’s what gives it a “wow” factor. In other words, he shares what he finds insightful himself, but if he gets permanently stuck on “science is wrong and therefore God must exist” then his insights eventually become limited, too. Perfect for the role he plays but limited by the role itself. I mean how many times can you hear “the death rate in America is the same – 100%” and go “wow”? It would be like Ramananda Raya starting each conversation with Lord Caitanya with that same Padma Purana quote about varnasrama. He didn’t do that, did he? How many times are we expected to laugh at the same joke? I don’t think it’s what is meant by “talks about the Lord are ever fresh”. Thankfully, this one was not told in the class but I don’t think I heard any new Prabhupada quotes either.

It’s okay, we can’t make new quotes for the next ten thousand years anyway, but the same quotes shown in a new light would be appreciated – it all depends on our level of realization, on what it is we came to share. In this case it was “don’t believe the science, God must exist”. If you never heard Bhadri Narayana Swami give this lecture fifteen times before it might be interesting, but I am not one of these people. In fact, I stopped listening to his classes because they are all the same. I admit. Shame on me. I should probably go and drown myself somewhere for saying this. In atonement for this sin I promise I’ll listen to his next year class in Mayapur. Just in case I forget that science is wrong and Bhagavatam is right, which is always a real possibility (I mean me forgetting things). Actually, I will probably be missing Bhadri Narayana Swami’s voice and his jokes by then, so I will probably be delighted.

I should also mention that Risiraja/Ashish Daleela wrote at least a dozen books detailing how and why science got it wrong exactly if measured by Bhagavatam science, and another dozen books detailing how the same phenomena, ie universe or evolution, should be described in Bhagavatam terms. So I’m judging Bhadri Narayana Swami’s lecture against that lofty standard and I admit I can’t avoid this judgment. His ideas, however correct, are child’s play compared to the work done by Risiraja. They do not present the evolution of our thought, by which I mean progressively deeper understanding of the Bhagavatam.

All in all, I wish our leaders spent more time with our books than with their “outside” lives. That way they wouldn’t be lecturing us on the UN, Christians, or science instead of Bhagavatam, and it would come naturally. There’d be no need to remind them not to quote the Bible or anything like that. However, they behave and therefore speak according to their assigned roles in our society and the universe at large. It’s just how they are supposed to be, so what’s there to complain? “They are GBCs, we expect better of them,” one might object. Right, but GBC is a managing authority and management is not the highest thing in the world. If anyone wants something more they should look past this kind of leadership and transcend it, so to speak. Just like in that conversation with Ramananda Raya – “Yes, it’s true,” Lord Caitanya would say, “but it’s not enough so please tell me more.”

And, once again, I would avoid judging GBC devotees against the standards expected for their roles. I hope they are all doing better than fine, but whatever the correct answer is – it’s not my point at all.

PS. This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a question at the end of Anuttama Prabhu’s class. Someone sounding Indian said that we should accept Srila Prabhupada as our founder acharya whose words are absolute, but what to do about people who freely twist his words this way and that according to their whims? Anuttama Prabhu replied that to solve this problem SAC, headed by Urmila Prabhu, has developed a hermeneutics course. “I’m talking about this course exactly, that’s where the devotees freely speculate about Srila Prabhupada’s words!” the person counteracted. “Which course did you take?” – “The one offered by VIHE” – “Very strange, I took the same course twice and loved every minute of it.”

There was simply no easy way out of this situation. Effectively, Anuttama Prabhu had to prove to the devotee that his perception was wrong. On the spot. This kind of conversion rarely happens and it takes a lot of time and a lot of gentle persuasion, you can’t do it as the answer to the last question after the class. I didn’t take that course and have no intention of doing so, but I strongly suspect that devotee’s perception was correct, at least partially.

Anuttama Prabhu mentioned one episode with two sannyasis getting two opposite instructions as an example of Prabhupada’s statements that need reconciliation, but it depends on what one wants to see – there is a way to tell the same story without highlighting the contradiction. Hari Sauri Prabhu, who told it in his Transcendental Diary, was not confused by it, he found it mildly humorous, in a “wait a minute, did you notice that?” fashion. He didn’t need to create a hermenutics course about it and he didn’t see it as a problem that needs to be solved. To him Srila Prabhupada was wholesome at all times.

This needs a detailed explanation but my simple point here is this – hermeneutics was invented by and for people who need to justify their speculations. Like there is a famous instruction in the Vedas to perform agnihotra before sunrise, but then in another place it’s said that agnihotra should be performed after sunrise. There a system in Mimamsa that solves it but the larger point is that those who follow their gurus are never faced with this problem in the first place. Mimamsa solution in this case, btw, is to follow your guru, too. In other words – one would have to go looking for contradictions instead of doing his service, and when one finds them he’d need a system to resolve them, and the best way to resolve one’s doubt is to ask guru, is it not? But today we have these “hermeneutics” instead.


Vanity thought #1578. Theologizing

Just to illustrate my previous post here’s an old article by Kenneth Rose from ISKCON Review journal, Vol 2, 1986 – almost twenty years old. I don’t think much has changed since, nothing that would matter here.

Christianity has accepted homosexuality, for example. The Pope himself is ambiguous on the subject and last I heard about it half of American Christians don’t consider it a sin anymore. Does it change anything in terms of attempted mashup of ISKCON and Christian theology? No. Things have only become dumber since, judging by the language. The poll results are here, btw – even majority of Catholics are for gay marriage there.

Once again – the way things are going we have nothing to talk about with Christians. If they insist on seeing themselves as such it’s a rather unfortunate conditioning and it comes with supposedly dogmatic views that easily fold under public pressure. If you are a Christian it seems you don’t have any moral principles and go with the flow. Same as atheists but unlike them you won’t even admit it. Modern Christianity is a terrible platform to seek common language on in our preaching, better to avoid it altogether, but I digress.

I don’t know why this article was chosen for ISKCON Review, probably because it was largely favorable and we could take any good publicity in those days. It also comes from a person who had been in ISKCON for a year and a half and so supposedly knows what he is talking about. Maybe from a Christian perspective his could be considered as an inside view but I doubt he ever read anything but the Bhagavad Gītā and hadn’t seen Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Nectar of Devotion, or most of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. As far as I can see, he has/had only rudimentary knowledge of our philosophy, and yet still it impressed him.

Speaking of language – I don’t know if it was a trick but there are lots of big words there that I needed to look up in a dictionary to fully grasp their meaning. It isn’t particularly academic but certainly wants to be seen as more than just light reading, and yet the thoughts behind the language are simplistic, at least from a vaiṣṇava perspective.

Rose chosen three areas in which Christianity can learn something from vaiṣṇavism, and Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism in particular – revelation, God, and eschatology. On revelation he sees our exclusivity as being on par with Christian belief that Christ is the only God (or part of the Trinity, doesn’t matter). We, instead, insist on Kṛṣṇa being the fountainhead of all the avatāras. Rose also cites a passage from one of the purports to Gītā where Prabhupāda says that it’s a unique scripture that contains knowledge no available elsewhere.

He cannot accept such claims and does not consider the possibility that they could be true. He does not condemn us for making them either but that is not enough. Gītā does indeed contain information about the soul that is unavailable in Abrahamic religions, as well as information about yoga and lots of other important things. No one disputes Gītā’s position within the body of Vedic knowledge either but Prabhupāda was clearly writing that purport for the western audience where knowledge of the soul is still not common and reincarnation is still rejected.

Just because Christians make similar claims to exclusivity doesn’t make us wrong. It does not follow. Plus we can easily put their Christ in our context and explain his position and his mission and why and how it works but they have absolutely no place for any of our characters in their religion. They have no place for Kṛṣṇa or Lord Caitanya, they have no spiritual place for our gurus/prophets, it’s all demoniac to them. We, otoh, do not deny JC’s divinity and we are quite comfortable with it.

None of that had registered with Rose and instead he offered three ways to deal with our claims to exclusivity – repress them, embrace them, or construct a general theory of theism that would accommodate both theistic traditions. Sounds reasonable on the surface but he is still concerned with his own attempts to understand God, not with God’s nature as He reveals Himself. It must make sense to Rose with his limited knowledge and intellect, he wants to construct a universe he understands himself. It’s still an egocentric and selfish approach, and he decided to pursue it in the section he called “revelation”!

I don’t know what “revelation” means to him at all. He jumps to the next section where he attempts to construct the nature of God without pausing to contemplate that this kind of mental gymnastics is incompatible with revealed knowledge, but at least he discusses some aspects of it when trying to talk about God and he gives arguments from prominent Christian philosophers on the apophatic vs cataphatic theologies. Apophatic would be our “neti-neti” but it would also mean that we can’t use our brainpower to say anything positive about God, which, in turn, would mean that revelation must be the only source of positive knowledge here. We can say “God is not human” but we can’t say what God is, for example. We don’t have words or concepts to describe God and we won’t understand Him unless He reveals Himself.

On the cataphatic side we have an argument that since we are created in His image we can deduce at least something positive about His nature. Rose slides into praising our doctrine of simultaneous oneness and difference here. Thanks for it being appreciated, it makes sense – if we all have forms, bodies, and personalities then it must mean the God has a form, body, and personality, too. It’s our go to argument against advaita, but it misses the point of revelation again – unless God reveals Himself all our cataphatic statement about Him will be grossly inadequate. Simply knowing that He has a form is not the same as seeing that form.

Rose’s construction of new, encompassing theology will never reveal God, neither Kṛṣṇa nor Christ. To be fair, those Christians who do appreciate the power of revelation are not concerned with theology as much as him. Philosophy seems to be a substitute for those who do not have actual spiritual knowledge, which is true in our tradition as well. Rose claims that our theism is a “logical implication of the metaphysical axiom of inconceivable” and maybe he is right but this “theism” has nothing in common with actual spiritual knowledge arising in one’s heart. Spiritual knowledge is not a matter of logic but what more can you offer if you don’t have it? Can’t expect much from Christians here, and many of them aren’t even aware of the limitation of the philosophical approach.

What Rose got right is the recognition that our tradition offers people a concrete view of what spiritual world is like – to the degree that it can be described in words, of course. None of the Abrahamic religions offers anything substantial in that area. “God will wipe away all tears” is probably as far as they can go. We, otoh, have plenty of people who talk about nothing else but happenings in Kṛṣṇa’s Vṛndāvana. Personally, I’m skeptical about this practice but it shows the vast difference in the ability between our traditions to at least construct a picture of a spiritual world.

Finally, Rose raises the subject of vegetarianism – he likes the idea but he says that vaiṣṇavas put orthopraxy before orthodoxy there, which shows his misunderstanding why it actually matters. He doesn’t get purity, neither internal nor external. This is not true about all the Christians in the world but many would argue that power of Christ transcends our personal imperfections, therefore eat away all the animals you want to kill and wash it down with wine, legitimate Christian tradition going back to JC himself.

Once again I’ll remind of that concluding Gītā verse which describes pre-conditions for preaching and saṅkīrtana – we should not disclose this knowledge to those who are not austere and therefore unclean in their habits (BG 18.67). We are explicitly forbidden from doing so. Our only excuse here is that once we get to the point where we can tell people about God, after discussing the relationship between the body and the soul, and they remain receptive to our message then their sins immediately get cancelled, and so we can continue preaching until their next hamburger. Those who heard the message and then go back to sinful activities should be excluded until they clean up their act. I bet Rose didn’t digest this last section of the Gītā at all.

The whole point of this post is that trying to communicate with Christians on their own platform will be fruitless even if we run into genuine well-wishers. Being a Christian is insufficient for hearing the message of Lord Caitanya, we need to take people beyond such bodily conditioning first.

Vanity thought #1577. How to talk to Christians

Short answer – you don’t. But before I elaborate on that I need to issue a little rant about the holiday period.

I hardly have enough private time to chant my rounds. What I do is wake up earlier, pretend that I’m still asleep, and chant before people realize I’m up. Writing for this blog is nearly impossible, too. No one cares what I do on my computer but the overall atmosphere in the house is such that I just can’t concentrate on my posts when everyone around is chatting about family news, current news, new Star Wars, and everyone expects to be listened to and given replies, small talk is unavoidable. My consciousness is just not in the right place, sorry.

Practically it means that I will surely miss a few days here and there. I intend to make up for them when I have time but that would probably be after new year, not before that. It also screws up my train of thought because my brain is overwhelmed with all these opinions on mundane matters I’m expected to entertain. As a result my consciousness is contaminated, my mind is wandering all over the place, and it’s just not as good as usual. Who invented these holidays and for what purpose? Worst time of the year ever.

Anyway, continuing from the last post about Christians – how do we talk to them successfully? My answer is that it’s impossible and for a very simple reason – our message is meant for those who realize they are spirit souls and as such are ready to accept their eternal constitutional position as Lord’s servants. Kṛṣṇa’a servants, to be exact, but Kṛṣṇa isn’t proper God in their understanding of the term and we don’t serve “Lord Kṛṣṇa” ourselves so we can let that one slide.

Kṛṣṇa accompanies as as the Supersoul and in this feature He acts as a Lord and accepts our service. He also does that as His mūrti and as His name. “God” is one of His names and it carries enough potencies with it to rule over the universe but personally, as a resident of Vṛndāvana, Kṛṣṇa isn’t God. So, when we talk to people about God we should be careful about suddenly introducing serving Him in one of the five rasas and other such esoteric truths.

Anyway, the basis of all spiritual knowledge is the fact that we not our bodies but spirit souls. “Christian”, otoh, is a bodily designation and on that platform any spiritual realization is impossible. Devotional service must be sarvopādhi-vinirmuktam — free from all kinds of material designations, or free from all desires except the desire to render service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we talk to people on any other basis then bhakti does not arise and saṅkīrtana does not happen. Saṅkīrtana means talking to devotees, not souls’ bodily designations. We can’t have saṅkīrtana with Christians just as we can’t have saṅkīrtans with cats and dogs.

The difference is that Christians possess a human form of life and so have the capability to transcend their bodily conditioning while cats and dogs can’t. Sometimes, by the mercy of the Lord, even dogs can be engaged in service and perfomr as sort of saṅkīrtana but normally it’s not possible. Christians should generally do better but not if they keep seeing themselves as such.

What should normally happen when we preach is that we ask people who they are and what they do, or find out this kind of information by other means, and then we tell them how our books are relevant to their lives because they are not actually their bodies but spirit souls and as spirit souls we need to develop spiritual knowledge. If they express interest in yoga we can tell them that there are other, better kinds of yoga than simply exercising in a gym. If they are interested in astrology we can tell them that our books describe the past and the future of the entire universe and explain why astrology works – because of the three guṇas acting under the influence of time and that planets are like crystals shining spotlights of this “guṇa energy” or some such. Then we tell them that as spirit souls it shouldn’t be our main concern and we need to put astrology into a spiritual perspective.

One way or another but we should quickly find a way to go from people’s conditioned nature to their eternal position. We start by talking to welders and accountants but we always end by talking to souls and we should make this transition as fast as possible, because that’s where saṅkīrtana finally starts. Talking about yoga and astrology is not saṅkīrtana, just a necessary prelude. It’s for this reason that we shouldn’t talk to Christians but make them understand that they are not their bodies and continue talking to them as souls, not as Christians anymore.

But aren’t Christians supposed to be God’s servants in their own right? Do they really have to give up this particular designation? Śrīla Prabhupāda told us not to try and convert religious people into Hare Kṛṣṇas so there must be a way to talk to them as Christians.

In answer to that – yes, they are God’s servants in their own right, but when they talk to us that right ceases to matter. As spirit souls they are God’s servants regardless, designating themselves as “Christians” becomes only a hindrance at this stage.

Christianity is not all useless but the only thing it’s good for from the spiritual POV is that it makes people understand “I need to serve God”, everything else that comes with it is nonsense. They do not understand the soul, they think the soul is our temporary subtle body – mind, memories. emotions etc. They do not understand that all living beings ARE souls, they think that some of them HAVE souls while others don’t. Inside their heads is unholy mess. “If you are have a soul then who are you? ” – “I’m me”. Thousands of years of Christian science and they haven’t gotten even to spiritual ABC.

And just think what being a “Christian” really means – fact is, you can’t say for sure until they clarify what kind of Christians they are exactly. They have two thousand years of history and the exact definition of “Christian” has been tweaked countless number of times but popes, synods, priests, reformers, politicians etc. etc. Their current understanding is a reflection of all those decisions or reactions to those decisions. Catholic or protestant? Anglican or other kind of protestant? Orthodox? Greek or Eastern? Adventist? Mormon? What difference does it make? A lot to them but none to us and none to their souls.

That’s why we should stop talking to Christians the moment they announce themselves as such and tell them that as eternal souls we all must serve God with all our hearts, dedicating every minute of our lives. When we talk about God like that it becomes saṅkīrtana, when we argue about eating meat and reincarnation it stops being saṅkīrtana, as simple as that. It’s a shame they don’t accept reincarnation but we shouldn’t let this issue derail our saṅkīrtana efforts. They understand that they will have some kind of life after death and that’s good enough for us, we can talk about selfless service instead and how to achieve it, how to organize our life in such a way that we can always glorify the Lord. We can also tell them about God creating the universe and how great He is, they won’t argue against that and so it will become saṅkīrtana.

Just don’t let their Christian conditioning get in the way and ruin everything.

Vanity thought #1576. And so it is Christmas

I just realized that it’s one of John Lennon’s songs, not the elevator musak they play around this time of year. Either way, Christmas is impossible to avoid and so are Christians. I don’t know of a good strategy that works on them, I know lots that don’t. Perhaps reflecting on our experiences with them we can come to a better understanding of what Christianity is and how can we penetrate its defensive shields.

Off the bat, there’s a famous assertion by Śrīla Prabhupāda that Christ is a corrupted version of “Son of Kṛṣṇa”, which is often taken by devotees to mean that Christ and Kṛṣṇa are the same. I don’t know any Christian who has ever been impressed by this argument so it’s not for them, for others it’s mildly amusing and the result depends on whether they like this kind of outrageous ideas or become deeply suspicious of anyone advancing them.

The fact that Prabhpāda was most likely right doesn’t matter, the idea is outrageous by modern standards and modern knowledge of Christianity. We can also site supporting arguments about Christ being in India, none of them are accepted by Christians either. At best they’d note it as something to check back with their pastor and we can be sure they’ll hear nothing good about us there.

We can impress people with our knowledge of Christianity until we run into a proper authority, if we think that we somehow can defeat thousands years of Christian science and convince them they are all wrong we are delusional. It won’t happen if only for a reason that people won’t give up their long held beliefs regardless of the evidence, and even our “evidence” is shaky.

I know of a devotee who learned all the Ten Commandments by heart, which is very unusual even for the practicing Christians, and he used it to impress upon others that when he says Christianity and Kṛṣṇa consciousness is compatible he is speaking as a Christian authority. It works on some, until they get in touch with real Christian authorities, and then they feel cheated and their trust abused. There’s just no good way to make Christianity and Kṛṣṇa consciousness work on this level.

There’s a devotee, won’t mention his name because he is still around, a prominent member of ISKCON, who spend years if not decades researching reincarnation and vegetarianism in early Christianity and other ancient cultures. It was all very impressive and I myself was totally convinced, until he went to debate his findings with real Christian scholars. They shredded his theory to pieces. I don’t think he deserved this and their arguments were spurious but that’s what happened. You just can’t fight with pigs and not get dirtied.

If “Christian scholars” were any intelligent they would have accepted the message of Lord Caitanya a long time ago or at least had given up meat eating. Their intelligence, however, is good for reading books but useless for controlling mind and senses. All they do is selfishly justify themselves, there’s no true spiritual inquiry there whatsoever. There probably are some scholars who would be receptive to our philosophy and still stay with Christ but they are not the ones called to put those impudent Hare Kṛṣṇas in place. You can’t win against the people they bring forward for this particular task.

Say we mention Jesus’ time in India. There’s a legend that after ascension he went to Kashmir and died there, this time for good, and there’s even a tomb. It’s a nice story but most likely a total fraud invented by western “travelers”. Any Christian with a mobile phone can debunk it in seconds. The story is plausible but only until you hear the other side version of it. The truth doesn’t matter here, it’s what people know, what they think and how they react. It might work on some but then their reaction later on when they discover the “real” facts about it in their churches is unpredictable, probably extremely negative, and they’ll tell everyone they know about it, too.

We can also site apocryphal gospels as proof of this or that but the key word here is apocryphal – they are not accepted by the Church, if we rely on them then all we do is dupe people into believing conspiracy theories. Doesn’t matter whether they contain truth or not, it’s a political battle for hearts and minds and if we take on the Church head on we will probably lose. Politics and accompanying duplicity should have no place in real saṅkīrtana, it’s a crutch for those who can’t and a staple for those who won’t give up their material attachments.

Duplicity is one of the anarthas, we can’t keep it. If we see a not very sophisticated opponent and bring an argument that we know doesn’t work on anyone with actual knowledge then what it is if not duplicity?

Hmm, if only it was that easy, because a real saṅkīrtana devotee doesn’t care for such mundane norms and won’t hesitate to lie if it helps the person to penetrate layers of illusion coving his soul, like his mind and his intelligence. What these layers think about the lie is immaterial, they are just matter acting under the guṇas and orders of the Lord, we have no quarrel and form no relationships with them. To succeed in this endeavor has to see the soul, though, not material forms grown around it. A real saṅkīrtana devotee can pull it off but imitators will be severely punished.

Speaking of material energy – we must acknowledge that the entire western civilization is a result of JC’s preaching, a testament to his spiritual weight and power. This can be explained in many ways, let’s say that uncompromising logic of science is possible only because scientists, who were all Christians then, wouldn’t allow any compromises in their search for truth. The pathos of an ideal scientist is that of an absolutely honest person – a religious principle, the last one still surviving in this age.

This means that when we rely on comforts provided by the civilization we must acknowledge the role of JC in starting it and millions of people who followed him and in the course of their search created so many wonderful things. We can’t say that we don’t care about JC because we are Hare Kṛṣṇas. How about hot water in the middle of the winter? Why can’t we be grateful about that?

What I’m driving at is that we should not artificially distance ourselves from Christianity and juxtapose it with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and then try to prove that Christ and Kṛṣṇa are the same. People can smell this duplicity even without realizing it, there’s something just off about this attitude, it won’t work.

I think the ideal option is to take a straw in our mouths and humbly beg Christians to improve in their own faith. Kṛṣṇa consciousness would be a real upgrade there but we need humility first and we need to see Christians for who they are, which isn’t easy either. I think I’ll write more about it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1485. Paradoxes of preaching

I don’t quite remember how I got from discussing the need to rest to the need to preach, maybe it’s that Christian sermon that reminded me of preaching, even though that woman didn’t say a word about it, as far as I remember. Hmm, perhaps these Christians are not totally worthless, after all, and can help keep us on track, too.

Speaking of Christians, their preaching is also New Testament based, the Old one doesn’t have any such prescriptions, so, I suppose, they would also have difficulty fitting it into overall theology. Why is it that preaching starts with Christ but he himself didn’t teach anything new but came to fulfill? Same question as I ask myself when looking at our tradition. They say that Jesus was God’s unique gift to mankind, a Savior, and because preaching naturally is an act of saving, it makes total sense. Why hadn’t God been worried about saving people earlier, though? Weren’t they fallen and corrupted by the original sin from the beginning of creation? What changed?

Never mind, we attribute our preaching to Lord Caitanya who inaugurated the saṅkīrtana movement as the yuga dharma for this age. In previous yugas other processes were more suitable but, as they slowly started to lose their potency, the Lord appeared to dharma saṁsthāpanārthāya, to reestablish principles of religion.

I guess at this point Christians can claim that “Jesus did it first” but maybe it was because Kali yuga consumed Palestine faster. Never mind.

Yesterday I tried to attribute preaching to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, and since trying Her mood of devotion was Lord Caitanya’s primary reason for appearance it makes sense. The only missing part now is whether preaching can be connected to regular saṅkīrtana or whether it’s something truly special.

Christians see the differences between proselytism and evangelism, for example, and there are differences between evangelists and missionaries, and between pastors and preachers. It’s obviously a complicated matter, a concept that doesn’t easily fit into the existing classification. Same happens to us.

We do have a Bhagavad Gītā verse (BG 18.68), however:

ya idaṁ paramaṁ guhyaṁ
mad-bhakteṣv abhidhāsyati
bhaktiṁ mayi parāṁ kṛtvā
mām evaiṣyaty asaṁśayaḥ

For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me.

Here it’s not only the learning that is important but explaining it to others. Teaching others is even better, and this means preaching. That’s how we see it in our tradition but still something is not right, something is missing.

First of all, it’s not explaining to others but explaining to mad-bhakteṣu. my devotees. Secondly, it differentiates between preaching as a tool to achieve pure devotional service from preaching as a goal in itself, if it, indeed, originates with Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. She doesn’t do it to get something else, introducing others to Kṛṣṇa is a perfect service in itself, though I do not know what rasa is that exactly.

We understand preaching to mean going out and converting non-devotees, and it’s not what Kṛṣṇa talks about in this verse. Or maybe we understand preaching wrong.

Here’s another thing – our leaders, the best of the best, hardly ever talk to non-devotees. They preach by giving Bhāgavatam classes in our temples. They also preach by their life example but only devotees get to see and appreciate that. I mean every preaching story by our sannyāsīs starts with “I was sitting on the plane next to…”, and I remember only one variation: “We were travelling by train and there were these guys…”

Travelling is the only time their lives intersect with those who most need to be preached to. And not travelling as in backpacking through Asia or the way medieval merchants traveled to India and China. Modern transportation is a different beast altogether. It’s not a valuable experience anymore, it must be short, comfortable, and isolated from others as best as possible. It’s not like walking together whole day and then finally relaxing by the campfire, which naturally leads to a lot of sharing. People do not buy economy tickets so that they can talk to each other and many try to avoid it at all costs. These people are not travelers, they are passengers.

So, why is it that our preachers do not normally engage with non-devotees? Are they doing something wrong or is there something wrong with preaching this way? And if there’s something wrong with this understanding of preaching then why do they share these few precious moments with the rest of us as if it were most memorable experiences of their lives? Why don’t their stories start with “I was giving this Bhāgavatam class and there was this devotee who…”? Why don’t they remember our faces, life stories, and questions? Hmm, they do remember questions, though: “This has been asked many times before”, or “This question betrays some incorrect understanding on your behalf.” Maybe not in these exact words but the message is there.

I must admit, having to explain simple things all over again does kill the mood, as I said yesterday – we can’t discuss Lord’s intimate pastimes when people are still wondering how the mind gets to control the soul, for example, and ask questions about that.

This difference existed from the very beginning of Lord Caitanya’s mission, btw. They used to lock the doors of Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura’s house to exclude outsiders from their kīrtanas on purpose. And they closely guarded Lord’s later pastimes in Jagannātha Purī, too. There are stories of devotees feeling excluded and then rejoicing when being allowed to enter. There are stories of envious atheists spreading rumors and trying to pollute Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura’s reputation, too. This practice has been the talk of the town for quite a while.

To be fair, at that time preaching hadn’t been started yet, Mahāprabhu hadn’t taken chanting to the streets yet, but it does show that kīrtanas should be reserved for devotees only. And we can’t say that because they were held behind closed doors they were somehow incomplete, not saṅkīrtanas.

Hmm, this is going slower than expected, the secret nature of preaching is still escaping me, even though I do have an idea where to take this discussion next.

Vanity thought #1483. Proselytism

Preaching is one of the most striking similarities between Christianity and ISKCON but we don’t usually discuss why it is so, or maybe I have missed these discussions. We do analyze behavior and development of various religious groups, we have friendly visits to see how others manage, we engage in interfaith movement, but I don’t remember ever hearing about preaching. Perhaps it’s one of the topics that is politely avoided in our dialogue, and one can easily imagine why – we preach completely opposite things, on the face of it, and so there’s no space for a joint stand without stepping on each other’s toes.

For Christians preaching is imploring others to accept JC as their only light and savior and it goes right to the heart of their religion. There’s no space there to allow “let them to their thing, they might be right in their own ways” thinking. As soon as we approach there they see us as completely bewildered by the devil, worshipers of a false god, and a black one at that. If we ever going to agree on something it’s on instilling good morals and feeding people, not on preaching.

Of course one could say they preach, we preach, sure there’s something common in our experience, and be totally right, but from their POV, I’m afraid, our “preaching” is as much preaching as Satan spreading his corruption. Fine, we don’t have to talk about it with them, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t raise interest among ourselves. There’s still so much we don’t understand about it that any effort should be welcome.

On the surface it’s easy – maddened by spiritual ecstasy that comes from chanting Mahāmantra we cannot contain ourselves and naturally want to share it with the whole world. Or we can also say that we are doing it on the order of the spiritual master, if Prabhupāda said “print books” we print them and if he said “distribute books” we distribute them. Questions, however, still remain.

One could say “What is the use of talking about it and discussing questions if all we have to do is just do it?” Right, but what if we are not doing it and can’t find strength or opportunities to do it even if we seem to be solid on the philosophy and all other doctrinal points? What is missing? Why haven’t we internalize the need to preach? Why don’t we accept it like we “accept” the need to eat? Why is it not equally obvious and irresistible? Why it was felt at some point in our lives but not anymore? Is it a regression?

What is the scriptural basis for preaching, for example? We have plenty of examples of devotees who achieved perfection without doing any significant preaching? Why is it not listed among nine, or even sixty-four limbs of devotional service? Maybe some of those limbs could be explained as to include preaching but none does so directly, afaik.

What is the difference between proselytism and preaching? Is it important? If it is, should we avoid one while engaging in the other?

Usually, proselytism means converting others to one’s own faith. Prabhupāda went to a Christian country and converted thousands to Hinduism, it could be argued. We don’t, however, accept this argument. Prabhupāda took people who were completely disenchanted with Christianity and even the general western way of life. He didn’t convert good, wholesome Christian boys and girls, he took the dregs of the society (pretty much like Jesus did).

Nothing Prabhupāda had ever said about Christianity would justify conversion. If they want to join ISKCON – fine, but our first message to them is to strengthen their own Christianity and follow their own commandments. Prabhupāda was preaching spiritual science that works in whatever religion one wants to apply it.

He similarly was against converting Muslims – let them worship their God, but just do it properly, with love and devotion, and in knowledge of their constitutional position as tiny spirit souls who are thrown in the ocean of birth and death. They, and Christians, too, might reject reincarnation, but if JC is able to deliver them at the end of this one life then reincarnation is besides the point.

We can say the knowledge of reincarnation is important when they curse others to eternal damnation but the truth is that they are still not very far off – the amount of sins we commit in this day and age does warrant near eternal residence in hell.

So, if they follow Christ correctly then reincarnation doesn’t really matter, and if they do not follow him correctly then it matters only if we push their doctrine to its limits while in the foreseeable future it still holds.

The point is, we don’t covert people from one religion to another, as long as they are worshiping God. As long as they want to attain loving devotion to transcendent Lord we should have no principal objections (SB 1.2.6).

There are, however, “lesser” religions and they are a fair game. Vedic literature, however, does not talk about religions but about dharmas, and there are plenty of those. They are all meant for gradual elevation of the soul but at this point in history things are going to get so much worse before they turn for the better in four hundred plus thousand years so it is going to be “gradual” in extreme. When westerners talk about religions they talk about a special kind of dharmas but these days they are totally confused about where to draw the line.

In the US they have freedom of religion but no clear constitutional definition of what religion is. Ron Hubbard found this loophole and realized that the only legal opinion that matters is that of the IRS, and so if he could convince the IRS to stop taxing him then it doesn’t matter whether any one else accepts Scientology as a real religion or not.

These days it goes like this – religions are based on faith, so if you can choose a set of things to believe in regardless of any evidence you’ll have yourself your own religion. They can cite vague benefits of having such blind faith, or they can do it just for fun, like pastafarians, but, basically, religion means pretty much whatever you want it to mean.

Should these fools be spared from proselytism on the same grounds Christians and Muslims are? Of course not, they are idiots. Should Buddhists be spared? I don’t think so, though we do not get much traction in Buddhist countries anyway, and in some of them proselytism is probably illegal.

In some sense proselytism is not even a thing in our vocabulary – because there’s only one true religion, the one that teaches loving devotion to the transcendent Lord, so there’s no question of conversion but only of acquiring it. If you don’t have it you don’t have a religion, in the sense the word religion means to us.

There’s also a “scientific” fact that once someone knows his actual position then loving devotion to the transcendent Lord becomes an obvious and natural consequence, not really a choice. I put scientific in quotes because I meant it the way Prabhupāda used, not the way science means to infidels. There’s a choice in which God to worship but this differentiation is superficial. We say we worship Kṛṣṇa but we really don’t, most of the time we deal with more or less the same aspects of the Absolute Truth as Christians or Muslims. Service to “Kṛṣṇa” becomes truly meaningful only after liberation and until then we all try to serve the all knowing and all powerful creator and maintainer of the universe. I could say that Christians focus relatively more on the “provider” part but we are not immune from begging the Lord to fulfill our desires, too.

Next up – why do we need to preach? What is the basis for it? Is it the same across all religions?

Vanity thought #1482. Christian hangups

Thinking about the sermon I’ve been discussing for a couple of days made me look at Christianity again and wonder what the differences and similarities between us and them are. I won’t go as far as to suggest that we can learn something useful from them, though we probably can, but I’d rather focus on hangups that are holding us (and them) back.

Two thirds through this Rhesa Storms’ sermon and there’s relatively little I can find in common with her. Sure, we all live in the same world and can relate to the topics and examples she raised, but then she, as a New Yorker, thinks she is special. We are not special, it’s the first thing we realize in Kṛṣṇa consciousness – because spiritual life begins with humility. When I listen to Rhesa I do not see a spiritual person on a quest for God, I see a woman who wants to make something out of her life and it just so happens that her Christian God has got to play a big role in her plans.

She talks, for example, how she one day realized that running around everywhere, angling for the best spot in front of the queue when waiting for the green light and checking Instagram when there were five seconds left on the countdown clock, is not the attitude most conductive to spirituality. Great, but we, in ISKCON, are being told that this is just stupid from day one. It’s rajas and tamas, it’s being in māyā, if we catch ourselves doing this we immediately think “Oh, shit, I’ve done it again.”, and when we shake it off we don’t go “Wow, I’ve never experienced this before, it’s really cool.” Instead we fill ourselves with guilt and remorse and lament slipping up. Well, maybe not so dramatic and maybe this isn’t the best reaction but the point is that it’s not a “discovery”, it’s pretty much the bog standard ideal for every bhakta.

Does it mean that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is superior? Umm, yes, it does. Let me approach this from another angle.

We talk about sanātana dharma, for example, an eternal nature of every living being. It’s not about being a Christian or a Hindu or a Hare Kṛṣṇa. Every living entity possesses it constitutionally, so we all are capable of manifesting it. The difference is only in the degrees of purity. Excuse me for generalizing, but Christianity is an upa-dharma for the less advanced class of men, in the same way as karma-kāṇḍa or jñāna kāṇḍa are objectively inferior to bhakti.

Christianity doesn’t translate directly into any of those lesser Vedic schools because it is about bhakti and loving God with all your heart but their problem is contamination, their miśra. They might get the main idea right but the execution holds them back just as anarthas are holding our progress towards pure devotion. We, however, have relatively few of those.

Christianity is for meat eaters and drinkers and woman chasers and sinners of all kinds, they openly admit so themselves, and that means that when they run into obstacles they have to deal with problems we, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, have left behind a long time ago. Not completely, of course, but on a doctrinal level we are solid. They, otoh, are wondering if they could have practicing gay priests. Practicing the gay part, I mean.

In Rhesa’s case and her vision of Christianity it’s about God helping us with our lives. Not us helping Him with His, as is the case in our philosophy. At one point she actually gets pretty close to an acceptable ideal, when she expands on that “Be still and know that I am God” psalm. Rise above the busyness of your life and seek solitude with God, realize that this busyness is not meant for us, it’s alien to our nature, it’s alien to spirituality.

She gives examples from JC’s own life, how he lived under considerable pressure himself. His ministry was short but an eventful one. Someone always was asking him to do this or do that, save this soul, cure that disease, do a miracle here, preach there, and he had his own GBC to manage, too, and they were equally clueless. In the midst of all this, just like Prabhupāda, Jesus found time to be alone with God and pray. Prabhupāda, of course, used that alone time to write books, which meant write down Kṛṣṇa’s dictation.

Jesus needed that down time alone with God to renew himself and prepare himself to withstand crazy demands of his mission. I think we can say that Prabhupāda used his connection with Kṛṣṇa to prepare for whatever challenges were facing him when the rest of ISKCON woke up and started pestering him for help, too.

So far so good, but then she reduced JC’s ministry to giving rest to weary people. Yes, Lord Caitanya does that, too, but we don’t stop on solving our own problems, it’s not bhakti, it’s not devotion, we aspire for something more, a lot more actually – serving guru and the Lord with all our hearts.

Here’s another thing that we have in common but which is holding us back – we want God to go along with our desires, want the same things that we do, so that when our wishes are fulfilled God is happy, too. Very few Christians realize that it’s still selfishness, just as very few of us realize that this is not an actual bhakti yet.

Bhakti starts when we want the same things as the Lord, not the other way around, when we fulfill His desires, often against our apparent self-interest. It’s not a one time sacrifice either, not one episode from our lives for the history books, but it should be our way of life, 24/7, nityam bhāgavata sevayā.

Again, philosophically we are solid on that but in practice very few of us can honestly say that we are are simply doing what guru and Kṛṣṇa want. Most of us are doing what WE want, but ostensibly for Kṛṣṇa. Getting ourselves into a situation where we go along with Kṛṣṇa’s flow is a rare privilege achieved only by the best of us, and, as far as I can tell, it happens only when preaching.

We can stay still and know that Kṛṣṇa is God and trust Him in every respect, He has enough power and supplies to look after us for the rest of our lives, but doing what HE wants means preaching, if we aren’t constantly engaged in preaching we are wasting His time.

Just think about it – Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was an illustrious ācārya, a preacher of the highest standard, but among thousands of his disciples only Śrīla Prabhupāda can be said to have fulfilled his desire and got himself engaged in a worthwhile preaching mission. The ratio among Prabhupāda’s disciples is definitely better but if we ourselves are not included then generalizing won’t help.

I honestly don’t know how to earn this privilege, not for myself, not for anybody else. Perhaps it’s only by causeless mercy, but not the kind we usually reserve for saving our sorry asses from material troubles, we need the grant of love of God, that’s the only platform from which we can preach for real.

Preaching, btw, is another common area between us and Christians, but it’s a big topic I don’t want to start now.

Vanity thought #1366. Original Sin 2

I got interested in the topic of the Original Sin as an exercise in how different religions view inherent corruption in the nature of men. In Kṛṣṇa consciousness we do not see it in the exactly same way and we certainly don’t link it to the fault of one man (and one woman) as Christians do, but we all, regardless of our religions, have to deal with the results. Even atheists have to do something about it.

Our “original sin” is the moment the spirit soul turns away from the Lord and decides to take a tour of material world. This is debated by “no fall” vādīs but I won’t get into that now. We decided to have a different kind of relationship with the Lord, not the one based on service but the one based on pretending He does not exist and we’d better live our lives without Him.

Since the Absolute Truth is all-inclusive we can’t avoid dealing with the Lord, however, and, for our convenience, He created an inferior energy we can pretend to play with, and He placed us under the illusion that this energy is disconnected from Him. We wouldn’t call it a rasa but since the Lord is engaged supporting our decision it must bring Him at least some kind of pleasure, we are His children, after all. He literally can’t let us go, probably because there are no places outside of the Absolute Truth to go to.

Nevertheless, the original rejection of our existing relationships with Him must have been painful. We are certainly made to suffer, and so the cause of this suffering is our “original sin”.

There’s another force at play here, however – Kali Yuga. For us it’s only a harsher form of punishment, more ignorance and less goodness, but for other contemporary religions it is the only thing they have ever known. Perhaps only Judaism has a memory of what life was like before Kali took over but it certainly not the first thing one learns about that religion.

Introduction of Kali, and specifically increase in passion and ignorance, makes our sins two-layered. Some are due to our original rebellion and some are due to temporary waves of Kali Yuga overwhelming our consciousness. The original sin is eternal, the effects of Kali are not. I think it’s quite possible that when Christians or Muslims battle their sins they mean only sinful desires imposed on them by Kali Yuga, ones that come and go all the time and can be resisted by sticking to rules and regulations.

Seven deadly sins, for example, fall into this category. We are never lusty, greedy, or gluttonous all the time. We can easily figure out that these urges are temporary. We can learn to avoid them and we can learn to suppress them, they are more or less manageable, and so we see them as extraneous even if we attribute them to our sinful nature.

What I’m not so sure of is that battling this kind of sins helps people in other traditions realize the presence of the original offense towards the Lord in their hearts. Everything we do in this world is founded on that original rejection of Lord’s service, even at our best moments we are guided by the desire to avoid Him.

Of course, when we turn to religion we somewhat correct our mistake but this layer of grime on our hearts never goes away completely until we are safe and sound back in the spiritual world in the Lord’s company and in our fully spiritual bodies. Will Christians or Muslims get there, too? I think it’s very unlikely because their knowledge of the spiritual world is non-existent and if they don’t know where they are going it’s not likely they will ever get there. This is the stuff they’ll have to learn in the afterlife, though the same can be said about devotees, too – we are not likely to learn our spiritual position in Kṛṣṇa līlā in this life time, only general information about our destination.

This is an important point to remember – the process of anartha nivṛtti will continue until we reach Vṛndāvana in our spiritual bodies. Even being born in the Earthly manifestation of Vraja is not enough, as seen from the examples of gopīs who couldn’t join the rasa dance. What we are doing now is the major clean up that should allow us to acquire taste for bhakti, what we will do at the next step is being purified enough to eventually attain bhāva and then premā, which is theoretically possible while in our material bodies, but some anarthas will still be with us, that’s just the way it is.

So, I’m not sure if Christians and Muslims, or Jews, realize how deep our aversion to Lord’s service is seated within our hearts. It’s not just propensity to sin, if we are battling with four regs it’s still nothing, spiritually speaking. When those other religions recommend following certain rules as a way to counteract our inherently sinful nature it’s also still nothing, spiritually speaking – it’s just and introduction to vaidhī, regulations. Vaidhī does not equal to spontaneous devotion which alone can sufficiently purify our hearts.

Vaidhi-bhakti is performed for materialistic reasons – if spontaneous devotion is not there what other reasons can we possibly have? Some engage in following rules and regulations to make their lives better, more comfortable and more pleasurable. Some want release from suffering without any clear idea what comes next, but in any case path of vaidhi is a reaction to what happens to us in the material world.

Spontaneous devotion, otoh, is fully independent and completely self-sufficient, it like like that from material pov where the Lord is still invisible. It has no external reasons and it does not lead to any external goals, and it cannot be checked by any external means. It’s between the soul and the Lord and the material nature can’t get inside of that.

Only then we can hope to sincerely beg forgiveness for our original rejection of the Lord. Only spontaneous devotion can convince the Lord to give us another chance. Only then our original sin will get discarded.

Do Christians, Muslims, Jews, whoever, attain this stage? Perhaps only in the most confidential parts of their teachings, in the writings of the saints. It’s certainly not their required reading like our Caitanya Caritāmṛta or Nectar of Devotion. In my experience, vast majority of the regular believers have no idea.

We, as devotees, also should never forget that as long as we are in our material bodies we are bound to act out of selfish interests. By guru and Lord’s mercy we can be engaged in their service but it’s not an excuse for us to claim that we are not acting selfishly anymore. Our motives should never be presumed as pure. The fact that we must treat other devotees as spotless and unassailable in this regard should not give us any funny ideas about ourselves.

We are never really worthy the opportunity to serve, it’s not our divine right, not as long as we are in the material world. The engagements that we do have should be seen as causeless mercy from our guru, not even the Lord Himself. Causeless means we have not deserved it while mercy means that it’s sacred and must be cherished and protected. In this multi-party relationships between us, the material nature, the guru, and the Lord, only our motives are always impure and we should acknowledge that at all times.

There’s no place for vanity in spiritual life.

Vanity thought #1365. Original Sin

We all know the idea – first created people ate an apple against God’s injunction and were cast out of heaven. How and why it affects every human being born thousands and thousands of years after that episode is a mystery with many explanations.

To us, as devotees, it makes no sense whatsoever. Christians can’t say it makes no sense and would argue that it’s no mystery at all, but then many of them disagree on the answers, meaning they don’t know, meaning it’s still a mystery. The concept came into being only after Christ and does not exist in Judaism.

One of its corollaries is that since all men are born into total depravity they don’t have free will. We are all not simply inclined to sin but enslaved by our sinful desires. Then comes the Christ and saves us by his grace, whether it’s through baptism of something similar. The problem with this is the same as with Christianity itself – people were saved before, people who never heard of Christ were saved after, too.

It’s a little contradiction that arises more from missionary zealotry rather then from the idea itself. We ARE “slaves to sin”, slaves to the three guṇas, but we still possess free will, which is manifested in our attitude to God. Everything else is mechanically carried out by the material nature and so we are always enslaved in that sense – we never have control over what material nature does, we only hope she cooperates with our desire to serve the Lord.

As an aside, check how Christians, starting from Paul, dealt with this contradiction. In Paul’s letters to Romans (10.8-9) he quotes the Old Testament:

    But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

The problem here is that Old Testament didn’t need Jesus at the time, the words were spoken by Moses and he didn’t ask anyone to wait for Paul’s message (Deuteronomy 30:14):

    But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

The bold part, boldly telling people to save themselves now, without waiting for future Jesus, was omitted by Paul. They didn’t really need Christ then.

That is not to say that people aren’t perceived as depraved in Judaism, it’s just that they don’t accept JC as the only way. There’s this instruction from God to Cain in Genesis 4.6-7, for example:

    Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Afaik, in Judaism there are injunctions for men to urinate without using hands because of the fear of accidental arousal – can’t trust the human nature. Check out Halacha 23 on this page for more details.

One more curiosity – our classification of suffering into three categories, adhyātmika, adhidaivika and adhibhautika, apparently exist in at least some Jewish schools (source), too:

    ..Maimonides and other rationalists, and even the poet Yehudah Halevi, explain that what we consider evil has one of three sources, although Halevi divides the three into several more. Many painful situations are the result of what people do to themselves, such as stepping out in the cold without wearing adequate clothing or failing to study and then being unable to find a job. The second is when someone else causes the person pain, such as when Hitler decided to expand Germany by killing millions or when a neighbor cuts down a tree and it falls on the house next door. The third is the laws of nature, which, as previously stated, is good for the world as a whole but can hurt individuals, such as a heavy rain or winds that clean the earth, but kills people.

The main difference is that ādhyātmika miseries are those that arise from one’s body and mind, not exactly results of personal karma as presented in this quote.

Anyway, Judaism rejects the idea of Original Sin in the context of its effect on every human and proposed salvation but it does not object that sin exists originally in every man. In Judaism propensity to sin is individual’s responsibility, ever present and always to be fought off. Purity is possible through following the scripture, JC or no JC.

Interestingly, having the scripture and having its injunctions explained to you must already be some form of the grace. Jesus himself would be just one of the instances of such grace. Of course it’s Christians right to have a special place for him in their hearts but we aren’t similarly obliged, and Christianity does not break universal principles of religion. We just happen to get them in a fuller form, and, thanks to Lord Caitanya, completely transcend the inherently selfish interest in the problem of evil and suffering.

It’s not that we, Hare Kṛṣṇas, can explain it better, we just don’t care. We are not concerned with liberation from suffering, we are interested in what happens after it and how our liberated lives can be of any use to the Lord.

Original sin is not accepted by Muslims either, certainly not in the way Christians interpret it, but human weakness is inbuilt in Islam, too (source).

    And Allah wants to lighten for you [your difficulties]; and mankind was created weak.

Islam also has a fallen angel, Iblis, a carrier of pride, whose job is it whisper in people’s ears and urge them to sin. It’s a kind of equivalent of the force that modes of material nature exert on people in our tradition. The explanation is completely different, of course, but to people on the receiving end it doesn’t really matter where this force comes from, we can’t see its origin anyway and we have to resist it regardless.

One interesting aspect of Islamic worldview is that they do not separate good from evil in principle and strive to see both phenomena as manifestation of God’s will. Very mature understanding even from our position, and the one conspicuously absent from current discussion on Islam spurred by terrorism. Could it be a Christian knee-jerk reaction where they always separate the world into “us” and “them”? “Us” are always good and morally right and “them” are always barbaric and in need of purification. Even atheists can’t shake off this Christian legacy of trying to set the world right according to their beliefs, but more on the problem of original sin in atheism next time.

Vanity thought #1134. Hand of God – really?

I’m in two minds about God creeping into entertainment. On one hand it’s better to have shows about God than about anything else, on the other hand misrepresenting God is probably as dangerous as preaching atheism.

This summer there was a show about people who were left out after “rapture”, it had a very impressive start, imo, and I covered the first few episodes here but then it disintegrated into pursuing its mundane plot and I don’t even remember how it ended.

Its characters were focused on God all throughout but Christianity puts a limitation on how far they can actually go. After the first push they ran into a wall of selfishness. God as an order supplier can reveal Himself only so much, after that it’s dealing with your own life problems which aren’t interesting anymore.

How people feel about this, how they feel about that, what they are going to do about it all – I bet it’s not only me, God stopped watching it, too.

We aren’t any closer to God and we don’t have any higher realizations but we have an unbreakable connection to Him via our guru. Our critics can say whatever they want about quality of our guidance but the fact remains that paramparā is our link to Kṛṣṇa regardless of how it looks on the outside.

It would be wrong of us to expect progress in terms of acquiring some mystical powers and visions, I think everyone eventually realizes that, and with this hope gone all we have left is following the orders of our gurus. It might not look like much but it signals a change of direction – from pursuing razzledazzle of never ending bliss to quiet appreciation of every little crumb of devotion and mercy that comes out way.

Instead of prolonging the euphoria we cultivate patience and determination, and spiritual self-sufficiency – words of our critics don’t touch us anymore, we realize that one single word of our guru, one single moment of proper association is worth thousands and thousands of lifetimes, what to speak of critical articles on the internet.

We also get to realize that mercy is all around us if we are humble enough to admit it into our hearts and cherish it properly. We might not have anything to show for it but we also realize that devotional life is not for show, it’s for cleansing out own hearts and as long as it works we don’t care how it looks on the outside.

Christians and God seekers from The Leftovers had not internal goals to pursue, even the most dedicated ones. For them it was all about the rules and mechanics but we know that bhakti cannot be achieved by manipulating material energy – our bodies and world around us. That’s why they always end up in frustration – they tie up their spiritual progress to their external behavior, and Kali yuga always messes it up for everyone.

Austerities, temple worship, meditation – those things worked for us once, too, but in this age they are unreliable and time wasting. The only path to God lies through chanting and talking about Him, not through following external rules and obligations.

“What about four regs?” one might ask. What about them? If we chant sincerely following our regs comes naturally without extraneous effort, and if we don’t chant sincerely then forcing ourselves to behave won’t add anything to our spiritual advancement.

Having material attachments is not a sin, it’s holding onto them and hoping they would bring us happiness is what is offensive. We shouldn’t focus our attention on our external behavior, we have Holy Names to chant, that’s our only duty and our only service, everything else will fall in place automatically. That’s what faith is, from śraddhā to niṣṭhā.

Moving on.

Last month Amazon had a pilot of a show called “Hand of God”, the idea was… Wait, let’s start from the beginning. Amazon is a huge company with diverse interests, one of those is “in-house” entertainment. They are no longer content with selling content produced by others, which was originally limited to books, now they want vertical integration – their own entertainment sold through their own channel to people using their own devices.

They looked at success of Netflix original shows and thought they could do the same. This summer had seen the third round of such pilots, success is still eluding them but they are trying, throwing every idea at a wall and waiting for the one that sticks.

One of those ideas was a show about God. With their attitude in mind it was bound to be a cheap ride on a popular topic and that’s what they ended up with. It’s still not known if the pilot was received warmly enough to order a full season but that is not an important criterion of success for us anyway.

Was it really about God and His effect on our lives and our hearts? Or was it just a platform for miracles convenient for plot twists? They packed quite a lot in that pilot, trying to make it as shocking as possible. There was a judge who went off his rocker becoming born again Christian and we get to see and wonder if there’s any goodness and purity, and “hand of God” behind his madness.

Despite the name, God isn’t an attraction in this show, it’s what this super duper judge can do and how he can impress us, the mere hoi polloi, with his brilliant intelligence, high octane energy, wisdom etc. Once I realized that I lost all interest.

They again try to use God to make themselves look good. Humility is just not their strong suit. As soon as they get touched by this “hand of God” they use it to extend their powers and their control over material world. They never even think about becoming servants, only about masters of the universe, and they demand God’s blessings.

Is there any value in such utilization of God, as was my question in the beginning? I don’t know. God is absolute, everyone who remembers Him in any context purifies his existence but “God” isn’t the best name to remember so the effect is limited, and if one approaches God with the desire to take His powers and use them for his own pleasure then he kind of seals his own fate.

It’s what impersonalists do – they want to become God themselves, they don’t want to become servants. That’s what demons do, too – Viṣṇu is there to be equaled to and then possibly defeated. This attitude is decidedly undevotional.

Is it better than atheism, though? Not necessarily. First of all, they ARE atheists – they reject their relationships with God even if they accept His existence. They are even greedier than ordinary atheists who at least do not hanker after God’s powers to help them in their sense enjoyment.

We’ve also seen millions of atheists in former Soviet block countries becoming best of devotees. I think it was because their atheism wasn’t actually offensive towards God, they simply didn’t know anything about Him, and once they heard our message they immediately became receptive. It’s not the lack of knowledge, it’s the offensive attitudes in our hearts that make us into atheists.

I guess I should have clarified the meaning of “atheist” here first but it’s a big topic, even atheists themselves do not always agree on various aspects of this term.

And I still don’t know the answer if we should welcome using God for entertainment purposes. Certainly not for our own, of course, but for the rest of the population.