Developing Compassion

Over the weekend I read a story of one mataji who feels being mistreated by ISKCON authorities and I might get back to it later but my main realization after reading it was that compassion is not easy. Let me explain.

There are many gurus and devotees who stress developing compassion in their preaching and in general it’s a good thing. There are arguments over what kind of compassion they promote and why it is overstressed when compared to how often Srila Prabhpada mentioned it but I propose to look at it in a different way.

Every being here operates five winds of prana to sustain itself. They are mentioned in several Srila Prabhupada’s purports to Bhagavad Gita but only briefly. I actually want to avoid their Sanskrit names to avoid dealing with all possible explanations being offered in the literature and focus only on their main functions.

First is the “intake” wind when new stuff – information, food etc – gets inducted into the system. Second “wind” is when this new stuff gets analyzed and disassembled into parts. Third wind distributed these parts or “nutrients”, so to speak, throughout the system. Fourth wind expels that which has no use to the system. Finally, once the system is nourished and ready, the fifth wind produces something for the outside world. It’s how we project ourselves into the world, how we leave our mark on it.

In this classification talking about compassion is the work of that fifth wind but it also means that it’s only one fifth part of being fully compassionate and probably not the biggest part either. What about the other four? First I should say that “compassion” is not a substance in itself but a by-product of seeing the world and every being in it as a part of the Absolute Truth. Interestingly, you don’t even need “God” here, just your own concept of what “Absolute Truth” is, and so when you see another entity as a part of it you naturally feel compassionate if that entity is in some kind of trouble. If your understanding of “Absolute Truth” is limited to your family then you compassion will extend only to your family members, or only to members of your nation, or whatever classification that makes you feel “together” with that entity.

In the first approximation “compassionate on intake” means not eating meat, ie not causing harm to other beings just because you want to eat, but it’s only the first approximation. Devotees should offer everything they eat to the Lord but they should also honor the prasadam, not just devour it like wolves. Honoring prasadam is a skill that takes quite some time to develop. The difference here is like between hunger and appetite – appetite is healthy, hunger isn’t. Appetite is what makes you ready to appreciate the effort cooks put into preparing prasadam, hunger makes you wolf down food without saying thank you. And that’s just food – there are many other forms of intake, too. We absorb information, we listen to the news, some of it is good and some of it is bad, we hear gossip, we absorb mood of enjoyment and we hear calls for help. We absorb the weather when we come out into the sun or when we take in the atmosphere of a moonlit night. We absorb all kinds of ideas, funny moments, serious moments – there is A LOT of stuff coming into our systems and we should be compassionate with all of it, seeing it as Lord’s mercy coming to us in all possible ways and we should be thankful for ALL it. Going by the definition I proposed above about compassion needing trouble first – whatever our intake is, someone has made a sacrifice to provide it. It caused them some inconvenience, however little, and so there is always some trouble that can invoke compassion in us. Sometimes thank you is enough but if you insist on always being compassionate then you nideed to know what exactly to be compassionate about.

Compassion of the second wind is best exemplified by people like doctors, car mechanics, or computer repairmen – they all have to analyze what you have given them, take it apart, figure out what the problem is, find the ways of fixing it, and then put it back together again. As professionals they will do it without judgment even if you have done something really stupid. Less mature among them will tell their friends and make jokes about it, but never in your presence. More mature will take a note for the future and present it to their peers in a non-judgmental way. Thus there is evolution to this understanding, too. At the step of analyzing it, instead of pointing out and condemning all the bad choices made when putting your “food” together, we can note the influences and how people thought it would be a good ideea. We would want to help them make better, more informed choices instead, and make them feel comfortable admitting what they have done. In any case, we can appreciate the effort they put into producing our “food”. Whether it’s superior or inferior someone had to do it and now we are processing it for our pleasure so there is always something to say thank you for and feel compassion for whatever trouble people went through.

Compassion of the third wind is best exemplified by employers – they have a big job to do and they want to split it among others. Actually, a much better example would be Srila Prabhupada asking his disciples for help and giving them opportunities for service. Each delegated service is a source of nourishment for others and being engaged in it relieves them of their troubles. When employers create jobs they help other people to become happy, productive, and rewarded for their efforts, too.

Compassion of the fourth wind is when we realize that what is classified as refuse for us becomes an intake for someone else. They have to take it apart, spread the parts as nutrients, and in the end something new and fresh is going to come out. That’s how fertilizing the soil with cow dung works, for example. So, even if you reject something as unsuitable and useless for your system there will always be someone who can make use of it and make a living off it, too. Compassion here is easy – just think of garbage collectors handling you trash.

Going back to the story I mentioned in the beginning – first problem in stories like this is that people do not listen with compassion, meaning there is no compassion on the intake. At first it looks like an easy fix and there is lots of advice on how to listen with appreciation and make the person comfortable and relieved when they share stories of their misfortune, but this “make yourself accommodating” is the function of the fifth wind – the function of presenting yourself to the world, not the function of the intake. On the intake you might still be as insensitive as ever but externally you will appear nice. This is not compassion, this is a smile of a hotel employee and they do not always have your best interests at heart.

Being compassionate on the intake is a function of a devotee honoring prasadam – he is not hungry, he is internally satisfied and unaffected, but he creates an appetite necessary for exchange of rasa between cooks, the Lord, and the devotee himself. He doesn’t try to look good, he tahnkfully appreciates every morsel of food he puts in his mouth. When he listens to a complaint he takes it as prasadam, too, and when he processes what he hears he practices the compassion of the second wind – he is non-judgmental, he understands why people did this or that thing, and he is ready to offer advice on how to make it better, but only if they are ready to hear it.

When he promises to help it he figures out who should be doing what part and presents each part as a service opportunity mean to nourish devotees who take it up.

When he decides on punishment he doesn’t just discard the offending devotees but puts them in a situation where their behavior can be rectified so they can continue feeling useful and then eventually come back into the fold.

What happens with the “sob stories” is that first they (“the authorities”) don’t listen to you or only pretend to listen without actually caring. Then they immediately become judgmental and start blaming you for your problems. Then they order someone to do something about it but people feel like it’s not their service, they have nothing to do with it, and there is no follow up anyway. Finally, they decide that it’s you who are the troublemaker and it’s you who should be expelled from the system and sent somewhere for rectification. Usually, it doesn’t go even that far – they just declare a list of places where you can’t be, not the places where you could go to make yourself better. Or they’ll say something like “take shelter of Govardhan, he can help you”. What is Govardhan is supposed to do with you is not their concern and they carry no responsibility for that.

Two observations here – first is that simply talking a lot about compassion means next to nothing if you can’t even listen with compassion. Second is that no one can be expelled from the universe and those five winds will continue working. It means that there IS a place for you somewhere and eventually you WILL find it, but it will probably be outside the authority of “the authorities”, who might even keep talking about “building the house for the whole world to live in” to rub salt into the wound and also to demonstrate their total ignorance. There is a Sanskrit term for that – Dharma-dhvajis. It’s people who wave the flag of dharma for self-promotion but have no use besides that.

The most important lesson, however, is that developing compassion begins with becoming a better devotee. Honoring prasadam is one of the basic skills, after all. Okay, it might start with realizing that compassion is important. Then you start talking about it at every opportunity. Then you try to be compassionate yourself and so you try to appear as a compassionate listener. Then you realize that making an effort to appear compassionate does not make you actually compassionate, it rather makes your compassion fake, and this is where you realize that to become compassionate you have to make some serious changes in yourself, and that’s where it actually begins – when you succeed in learning how to honor prasadam, not just eat it. You are different person then and next you will learn to see everything coming at you as prasadam.

The famous “tat te ‘nukampam” verse has the word bhuñjāna in it, translated as “enduring” in that context but literally it means “eating”, “consuming”, “enjoying” etc. We have to learn how to do it right, how to treat all our intake as Lord’s mercy. That’s the first step in developing compassion. Talking about it is only preliminary, and there are many more steps to follow.


Preaching at the time of war

Over the weekend one leader of Ukrainian (and Russian devotees) had a two-day Zoom conference on dharma and adharma, hoping it would help devotees navigate through dilemmas posed by war. First question after the second session was, roughly:

Devotees developed two main attitudes – one says that our business is preaching and we have nothing to do with one set of demons attacking another set of demons. The other says that we can’t call ourselves spiritual if we do not respond to the suffering of people around us and if we do not condemn those who cause this suffering.

In response the leader mentioned the first meeting between Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and how Prabhupada insisted on solving the problem of independence first but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was adamant that preaching chanting of the Holy Name can’t wait and it’s the most important activity. “Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta replied in a quiet, deep voice that Kṛṣṇa consciousness didn’t have to wait for a change in Indian politics, nor was it dependent on who ruled. Kṛṣṇa consciousness was so important – so exclusively important – that it could not wait”, as it goes in the Lilamrita.

Oh, who am I kidding, that wasn’t the answer at all. The answer was:

Preaching is meaningless if it doesn’t address people’s pressing problems. We can’t be preaching abstract solutions to people who experience real life problems. Preaching means we tell people what they should do in every particular situation, and not only tell but demonstrate it, too. We need to feel what people feel and help them find their inner confidence to do what is right. We need to help people find their inner strength, find their inner place of strength, and from this place they would make their own choices what to do. This is the essence of preaching – help people find their inner selves.

Therefore we can’t skip on basic things in our preaching – we need to explain what is going on and we need to tell people what position they should take in relation to these events. This requirement should be self-evident, otherwise there is no point to preaching.

The juxtaposition of two prevailing attitudes mentioned in the question is artificial. We do need to tell people how to preserve their dignity, their humanity, and how they can act to that effect, and this is what creates place for philosophy. We shouldn’t use philosophy to avoid dealing with problems. That wouldn’t be preaching.

And so it went on like this a little longer. Translation is not word-for-word, I can’t be bothered with exact translation here.

I think it was a brilliant answer, but my conclusions from it are probably different from the intended ones. My first conclusion is that yes, people need to hear what is suitable for them and not what they see as abstract and idealistic, but this means that in certain situations they don’t need the Holy Name. They need food, they need shelter, they need compassion, they need reassurances, they need to make sense of the world – all kinds of things instead of chanting.

Another conclusion is that unless we can demonstrate how chanting solves their problems we shouldn’t be preaching it. If you can’t show how chanting makes people’s minds peaceful then don’t tell them to chant. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta could do it, he *knew* that chanting is so important that it can’t wait, therefore he could say it, but if we try it people will dismiss us because we don’t know how it’s supposed to work and it really doesn’t – just words.

So the world might not be ready to hear the message or we might not be ready to convey it. Either way – preaching won’t work. What to do?

One answer is that we ourselves might not have the power but the Holy Name does not depend on us. Our job is to bring it to people, we are not in control of what happens next. Sometimes we are but it’s not a requirement. And at the same time we should have enough sense not to preach when people are going to only make offenses.

Another thought is that we shouldn’t be quick to judge what people’s real problems are. They are always under illusion in this regard and their expectations never match with their real necessities. If we try to fix *their* problems then we will never get around to preaching chanting of the Holy Name because they would always have something on their mind that they think needs to be addressed first.

So yes, we should know what people feel but we should also be able to transcend their feelings and get right to the root of it, and we should do it in a way that they feel they just had a revelation about themselves. So if there is a war and everybody is running for their lives – the Holy Name drives away all fears by its mere presence. Why can’t we give this fearlessness to people? Short answer – we ourselves don’t have it and we only pronounce syllables, not the Holy Name itself. All we need to say is “Chant Hare Krishna and everything will be okay” and really mean it. We should *know* it for ourselves, know well enough that other people can absorb our confidence. Then it will work.

Or we could always simply try to deliver the Holy Name to others regardless of how qualified we are ourselves. This might sound like a cop-out but it takes faith to believe that this will work, too, and people will pick up on this faith and absorb it and this will also make it work. Or they will just try saying “Hare Krishna” and the Name itself will manifest its power. This can happen, too.

All in all, I think Ukrainian devotees are doing okay, given the circumstances – they support people’s angst against Russia to earn their trust and build rapport, and then they feed them prasadam and do kirtans and discuss philosophy. I wish it wasn’t “Hare Krishna against Russia” but blind uncle is better than no uncle. Eventually devotees themselves will figure out that Russia is not their enemy and then people they preach to will catch up, too. In any case – what else can be done if devotees themselves are convinced that they are in a holy war against putinoids? You can’t change their minds in a moment and you can’t tell them to stop preaching, distributing prasadam, doing kirtans etc.

It’s a bit below my expectations but we need to learn appreciate devotees as they are, not as what we expect them to be. Of course it also means that when I’m looking for something new in Krishna Consciousness I won’t be turning to devotees who would call me rashist putinoid, but I’m sure there are lots of other things they do better than me so I can learn those, if I ever need them. It’s exactly the same solution I have for feminists and whoever else I happen to disagree with. Everybody hits their ceiling at some point and we don’t need to learn from what they do trying to break through their ceiling, we can learn from whatever they build trying to reach it.

Peter Principle – employees rise to the level of their incompetence

Not to start whole other thing, but it would be like trying to learn sringara rasa from cowherd boys. I’m sure they have their opinions on it but it’s not where we should look for guidance. This is true about all religions, too – in one classification Madhvas are perfect at dasya, Sri Vaishnavas are perfect at awe and veneration, Vallabhas at vatsalya and so on. Everybody has a ceiling and in the material world everybody is trying to break through it, too. We should be able to spot when it happens and when people preach beyond their adhikara.

Vanity thought #1311. Pure devotees

After talking about liberated souls who realize the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth I should say something about devotees, too, otherwise what’s the point? It might also appear that impersonalism or Buddhism are okay because they seem to satisfy our desire for liberation so it is necessary to describe superior situation of a pure devotee next.

When Uddhava asked Kṛṣṇa about the symptoms of conditioned and liberated souls he got what he wanted but Kṛṣṇa also spent most of the chapter talking about His devotees. The pursuit of liberation is incomplete until one directs all his energy to devotional service, and not just incomplete but useless (SB 11.11.18):

    If through meticulous study one becomes expert in reading Vedic literature but makes no endeavor to fix one’s mind on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then one’s endeavor is certainly like that of a man who works very hard to take care of a cow that gives no milk. In other words, the fruit of one’s laborious study of Vedic knowledge will simply be the labor itself. There will be no other tangible result.

Note that it’s a śloka #18 in a 49 verse chapter. All talking about conditioning and liberation is done, from here on it’s all about devotion. If liberation does not lead to devotion than it’s like a caring for a cow that does not give milk. It would be labor for the sake of labor without any other tangible benefits.

From the memory, liberated person is always equipoised and his consciousness is not affected neither by suffering nor pleasure, he has no material desires, doesn’t strive for anything, and spends his life simply observing the rest of his karma working itself out. He also doesn’t care what everybody else thinks or does one way or another. He is free from duality of seeing things as good or bad and always detached. Okay, that about covers it.

Kṛṣṇa says a lot more about devotees and offers a list of twenty eight qualities (SB 11.11.29-32):

    ..a saintly person is merciful and never injures others. Even if others are aggressive he is tolerant and forgiving toward all living entities. His strength and meaning in life come from the truth itself, he is free from all envy and jealousy, and his mind is equal in material happiness and distress. Thus, he dedicates his time to work for the welfare of all others. His intelligence is never bewildered by material desires, and he has controlled his senses. His behavior is always pleasing, never harsh and always exemplary, and he is free from possessiveness. He never endeavors in ordinary, worldly activities, and he strictly controls his eating. He therefore always remains peaceful and steady. A saintly person is thoughtful and accepts Me as his only shelter. Such a person is very cautious in the execution of his duties and is never subject to superficial transformations, because he is steady and noble, even in a distressing situation. He has conquered over the six material qualities — namely hunger, thirst, lamentation, illusion, old age and death. He is free from all desire for prestige and offers honor to others. He is expert in reviving the Kṛṣṇa consciousness of others and therefore never cheats anyone. Rather, he is a well-wishing friend to all, being most merciful. Such a saintly person must be considered the most learned of men. He perfectly understands that the ordinary religious duties prescribed by Me in various Vedic scriptures possess favorable qualities that purify the performer, and he knows that neglect of such duties constitutes a discrepancy in one’s life. Having taken complete shelter at My lotus feet, however, a saintly person ultimately renounces such ordinary religious duties and worships Me alone. He is thus considered to be the best among all living entities.

The purport goes over the list in some detail, too. Note that Kṛṣṇa here doesn’t say anything about devotional service itself, all these qualities are “objective” and visible even to those without a clue about transcendental relationship between the devotee and the Lord. Later on Kṛṣṇa describes various aṅgas but doesn’t say anything about rasas or the bliss that executing them brings both to the Lord and to the devotee. He doesn’t say anything about things like taste at all.

Anyway, the list is long and there are many interesting things there to discuss. Let’s see what comes to mind first.

A saintly person never injures others. Hmm, and yet there was Arjuna. How can we reconcile this? One way would be to talk about what “injure” means. We immediately assume that it relates to inflicting damage to someone’s body but what if a devotee sees only damage to one’s relationship with Kṛṣṇa and ignores everything else? That’s the only thing that ultimately matters. Or we could say that Kṛṣṇa was speaking about the kind of renunciates that Arjuna wanted to become in the beginning of the Gīta but acting on personal orders of the Lord is better than that.

Then there are some qualities common with non-devotional liberation – freedom from envy and jealousy, which is on the list of Buddhist perfections, too, btw, seeing equally happiness and distress, but then Kṛṣṇa says, according to translation, it leads to work for the welfare of others.

Can we read it as “devotee doesn’t care about personal experience of duality but strives to promote only good things in the lives of others”? I don’t think so, it doesn’t make any sense. Why would he promote appreciation for good things if he doesn’t have it himself, strives to purge remaining traces of it from his own life, and sees it as a cause of suffering? There goes the material concept of compassion – a devotee doesn’t have it. Welfare of others is not material but spiritual welfare – devotees preach, not primp. I wish Kṛṣṇa elucidated the difference but he didn’t. The purport, however, makes it clear:

    Foolish persons under the influence of false egotism, considering themselves to be the ultimate well-wishers of others, execute superficial materialistic activities rather than attending to the eternal happiness of others.

Perhaps Kṛṣṇa didn’t see the need to explain this because of the particular word He used – sarvopakāraka, which is parāpakara, supreme benefit of others, preceded by sarva, everyone. In our tradition parāpakara means bringing people to Kṛṣṇa and engaging them in service, there’s nothing better than that. Para means ultimate, it can’t be just giving people food or fixing their medical problems.

“Foolish persons under the influence of false egotism, considering themselves to be the ultimate well-wishers of others” is a pretty damning verdict. People who fall for this are not only foolish but they also imitate Kṛṣṇa, specifically His position as a well-wisher of every living being.

This quality also nicely complements the first one on the list – kṛpālu, which is literally compassion. Here’s an example how this kṛpālu/compassion is used elsewhere in Bhāgavatam (SB 4.25.3):

    the great saint Nārada, master and teacher of all spiritual life, became very compassionate upon the King and decided to instruct him about spiritual life.

There are other uses, too, however. Take one from the story of King Citraketu – Aṅgira Ṛṣi, out of compassion, granted him a son. Material compassion, right? Yet the son was pretty soon poisoned by envious wives, King Citraketu was inconsolable, and that’s when Aṅgira Ṛṣi and Nārada Muni gave him spiritual instructions he wasn’t very interested in when he asked for the mercy initially. Four Kumāras, who cursed Jaya and Vijaya to be born in the material world, are also described as compassionate – because they assured Jaya and Vijaya that they would return to Vaikuṇṭha after only three birhts.

Most often, however, kṛpālu is used to describe Lord Caitanya and there was not even a tinge of material compassion in His person, we all know that. His compassion means granting bhakti and nothing less.

I think it’s enough for today, will continue next time.

Vanity thought #1307. Failing strategy

A while ago I adopted a strategy to deal with controversial figures in our movement – listen to them speaking on Kṛṣṇa consciousness. I thought that when one hears about Kṛṣṇa from their mouths all disagreements would appear minor and insignificant, something one could easily forgive considering the real benefits of their association.

This strategy has failed again.

I heard so much stuff I couldn’t understand or agree with that I’m about to give up on that person. I do not doubt his devotion and effect it has on others but as far as I am concerned – it’s just not for me. In my particular state of conditioning it just rubs me the wrong way.

Maybe ten-twenty years from now it will become less grinding for my ears and I would regret missed opportunities, it has happened to me before, but for now listening to that person only leads to mental aggravation. So, whatever I say in the rest of this post is only my personal grievances, I won’t claim that it is objective, guru-sādhu-śāstra based assessment.

It all started off very well, except for the voice that sounded like the person could barely hold his tears. It might have been a genuine spiritual emotion but I was taught to be very skeptical about it. I think that people who can’t contain themselves right from the start of the class are probably frauds. In all my experience it takes a long build up and a tight bond with the audience for tears to come out and emotions overtake the speaker. One can’t just start expressing deep, confidential feelings out of the blue when the listeners aren’t ready and might still fidget in their seats, their minds not fully absorbed in the lecture. I know who would do such things and I was taught to stay away from those people.

Just recently someone mentioned Śrīla Prabhupāda interrupting what looked like an emotional kīrtana and saying that such singing is not for Kṛṣṇa but for one’s own subtle sex enjoyment, that was in a relation to a different topic I’m not going to cover today.

Otherwise, the content was solid for the first half an hour or so, emotions gradually subsided, and I thought that not only I was learning some valuable lessons but my strategy worked. Then the hell broke lose.

First, it was a little jibe about “extremism” in our movement. When something is not right we overreact and create more problems than the little thing that ticked us off. This might be factually true but what I saw is an excuse to get away with anything. The fact that the speaker could be correct and my objection was an overreaction made me uneasy. “I’ll get him next time, I thought”, and I didn’t have to wait long.

BTW, we have a clear injunction to reject all things unfavorable to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We should probably do it politely and without creating too much fuss but reject we must, there are no two ways about it and no space for compromises.

The next thing was “compassion”, which has become a trigger word for me. “..if we are Krishna Conscious, if we understand our own eternal soul and our relationship with Krishna, we will recognize that every living being is part of Krishna and everything that exists is Krishna’s property. That consciousness is the only state of mind that can bring true and complete…” – wait for it – “Compassion!”

Who cares about compassion if one understands his eternal soul and relationship with Kṛṣṇa? Who cares if people have enough land for agriculture, which was the context for introducing this “compassion” thing. Then there were a few examples how compassion should become natural to our lives and then came the story of Mahārāja Rantideva from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (SB 9.21).

Mahārāja Rantideva once undertook a forty-eight day fast and when he was about to take food people starting showing up and asking him to give them some. Rantideva had to give away everything, including the last cup of water, and that’s when he offered a nectarian prayer, in Śukadeva Gosvāmī’s own estimate (SB 9.21.12):

    I do not pray to the Supreme Personality of Godhead for the eight perfections of mystic yoga, nor for salvation from repeated birth and death. I want only to stay among all the living entities and suffer all distresses on their behalf, so that they may be freed from suffering.

In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda compares Mahārāja Rantideva to Vāsudeva Datta:

    Vāsudeva Datta made a similar statement to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, requesting the Lord to liberate all living entities in His presence. Vāsudeva Datta submitted that if they were unfit to be liberated, he himself would take all their sinful reactions and suffer personally so that the Lord might deliver them.

The highlighted part makes it clear the purpose behind this attitude – sinful reactions stand in the way of people developing devotional service and that’s the reason sins must be taken away by devotees. It’s not about food per se.

The speaker, however, slightly mistranslated the verse to end with “in every birth I take, let me give up my life in compassion for others.”

No, compassion is not the goal of life and no one prays to the Lord to be born again and again so that he could practice it. There could be only subtle difference here but it sounded unacceptable to me. Strictly speaking, Mahārāja Rantideva didn’t say that he wanted to relieve people’s suffering so that they could become devotees, that was implied in Prabhupāda’s purport. The big difference, however, is that he wanted to relieve people’s suffering, not attain his own compassion. His prayer wasn’t about developing his own consciousness but only about welfare of others.

Perhaps it was this annoying ambiguity that angered me even more. I would once again remind that my personal reactions to this should be taken only as such, as personal, and probably also as an example of how not to react.

The thing is, I’ve recently heard the greatest argument against compassion ever. It was in reply to a question about differences between an upper and middle classes. The answer was comprehensive and fascinating but it’s the compassion bit that is relevant here.

Speaking of upper class females:

    ..philanthropy is their ideal career. A philanthropist cares about everyone else, and for one to care about everyone else, one must first elevate oneself above everyone else. It’s a very high-status career that involves little unpleasant, real work.

This nails it! To be compassionate one must feel himself higher than the objects of his compassion. Compassion flows from high to low, not the other way around. Pure spiritual compassion, like the one displayed by Vāsudeva Datta is a different thing, it’s about enabling the Lord to be compassionate to others. Not “let me show the mercy” but “let the Lord show the mercy”. It also doesn’t have anything to do with material situation.

The only thing people lack in this world is Kṛṣṇa consciousness, their material suffering should not be the cause for our concern, only to the degree that sinful activities prevents one from developing his Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

The compassion that I hear about from this speaker is always about seeing others as less materially fortunate. They have less food, they have more stressful lives, and therefore we must be compassionate to them. To become compassionate in this sense one must attain high status for himself first, and what kind of devotee would want that?

I’ve also heard the same argument about impersonalists – they are full of compassion because they think they are better than everyone else. The higher you think of yourself the more compassion you can potentially have.

Well, pure devotees do not see themselves as more fortunate in any way. They do not even see themselves as better devotees, they see everyone else doing a far better service to Kṛṣṇa than themselves. There’s absolutely nothing of their own that would allow them to feel superior to anyone in any respect.

Madhyama level devotees must differentiate and must value their position in relation to the Lord as higher than that of non-devotees but it’s still not the grounds for feeling materially superior and, therefore, “compassionate”.

In fact, it’s the people who live in comfort and have no inclination towards God that we need to be compassionate towards. Those in distress, otoh, are just one step away from a prayer, our work there is almost done. It’s our inability to convert those who are better off that should worry us most. Personally, I would prefer them to get in serious trouble rather than protect them from suffering. It’s not my job to take away their material happiness but I would gladly pray to the Lord to withdraw their illusion of comfort.

The lecture rolled on and I had even more objections but my mind was made up after this compassion episode and I’m not sure it can be undone. I will stick with my strategy anyway and try to find some redeeming qualities in those I don’t like but I won’t push it to the point of feeling offensive. It’s a fine line and I don’t want to risk crossing it.

Vanity thought #1189. Gluttony

Earlier this year there was a documentary on TV called “7 Deadly Sins” that deals with, as the title says, deadly sins. So far I’ve watched only Gluttony but I’m sure I’ll explore the rest of it, too, perhaps excluding lust.

It’s produced by the guy who created “Super Size Me”, an experiment where he would eat nothing else but McDonald’s meals for one month, accepting a “super-size” option every time it was offered. He gained 11 kg and suffered a number of other problems, one of the doctor comparing the effects to severe binge alcoholism.

For gluttony episode of the series he chose two powerful spokesmen plus an unusual take on the after effects. First up was John Basso, a restaurateur on a mission to teach people that his food is bad for their health. He serves burgers and fries and high calories sodas and he makes them extra, despicably unhealthy. He was on an off the news for the past couple of years and every time he drives this same point home.

Each burger patty is accompanied by five slices of bacon that they do not drain of cooking grease, plus cheese and other stuff, and their French fries are fried in pure lard. The names are telling, too – It’s a “Bypass burger” and “Flatliner Fries”. The biggest, Quadruple Bypass Burger, has four patties, twenty slices of bacon, and four times the calories recommended for a whole day. Eat one and they’ll wheel you out in an actual wheelchair, as per restaurant’s theme – you are a patient, waiters are nurses, orders are prescriptions, and the owner is a doctor. Those who weigh over 160 kg are entitled to a free burger, on the house.

Notable restaurant’s achievements include death of their 260 kg spokesperson at the age of 29, heart attacks suffered by customers right at the restaurant, and all kinds of what normally would be considered bad publicity. But, strangely, that’s what drives the sales. People love it exactly for that – unadulterated promotion of gluttony at any cost.

The “doctor” has created an image for himself as some sort of a health crusader, trying to teach people about dangers of eating fast food, but they just don’t listen. Once he was interviewed on TV and he brought a plastic bad with actual remains of one of his dead customers. It was there, right on the table in front of the camera, ashes of someone who died eating his food, and people still ignore his point.

In this documentary he starts with the commercial featuring his now dead spokesman and he begs people to wake up and realize they are fat, not “plus size”, not portly, but fat, and they should lose weight or “Hurry up, die, and be done with it.” Later on he says that he doesn’t want to be popular, he wants to infamous and hated and he tries everything to be as despicable as possible.

Do people listen? No! They take it as a challenge instead. Why? Many just like the risk, like to brag that they have eaten these burgers and survived, but otherwise it’s just gluttony, and to display its power the producer presented 320 kg adult entertainer “Darling Nikky” talking about her love of food.

She goes on and one describing everything she likes and how it makes her feel “orgasmic”. I don’t know where they found her but she is a quite disgusting character in every respect. Well, she is friendly and cheerful but that’s about it, after that it’s “me me me” and “what I like to eat and how it makes me feel”. Charging people for looking at her body is how she makes her living. Google search doesn’t bring anything resembling porn but, at 324 kg she looks like a certified freak and some people apparently have a thing for that. Her current “boyfriend” features in this documentary, too.

Then we are shown the end of all these stories – how mortuaries deal with obesity. They make extra big coffins and such, but the worst part is the cremation – obese people to not fit in regular size furnaces, and when they are burned their melted fat starts dripping out. Picture that! They also have to be burned at lower temperatures so as to avoid potential “grease fire”.

Anyone is still up for eating? Extreme sense gratification is so gross we should always be aware of the path we step on every time we indulge ourselves. Human form of life is not meant for that.

This is what we have trouble accepting – human form of life is meant for total, complete, absolute renunciation of all sense enjoyment. Forget the materialists, it just doesn’t occur to them, but as devotees we still think “this can’t be true, there has got to be another way”.

We talk about yukta-vairāgya, we talk about prasādam, and it’s true, if we engage our senses in serving Kṛṣṇa we do feel being gratified just the same, but that is still not the purpose. Kṛṣṇa is the master of the senses, they are meant for His enjoyment, not ours, even the senses themselves are not ours, we just lay claim to them under the influence of false ego.

Being properly engaged in service gradually purifies our senses but in this case it’s not the process, it’s the result that is important – all sense gratification must eventually be renounced. Until that happens we can’t expect bhakti to blossom in our hearts. We can’t expect love and devotion for Kṛṣṇa to manifest in our lives.

Every time we catch ourselves thinking “oh, that feels good” is the time we shut down the door to inner Vṛndāvana, door to Kṛṣṇa. It could be food, it could be a soft bed, it could be a nice looking woman on a street – anything. This has got to stop.

There’s no way we can understand Kṛṣṇa’s desires if we are still interested in what our senses want instead, and if we don’t understand Kṛṣṇa, how can we serve Him? How can we satisfy Him? How can we lead our lives in a way that brings a smile to His face?

About that – people shown in this documentary are a glaring example why Kṛṣṇa has absolutely no interest in material life. He cannot possibly love us for what we are trying to be here – sense enjoyers expressing themselves through gross matter. Yesterday I talked about compassion – there could be no compassion for these material shells, it would only be a material sentiment. We need to see pure spiritual souls underneath, understand why Kṛṣṇa needs them, and then we can talk about compassion towards Kṛṣṇa who has been bereft of His legitimate loving relationships with these “people”.

I’m more and more inclined to agree that compassion is not “oh, these people do not have Kṛṣṇa” but rather “oh, Kṛṣṇa is deprived of their service, how can we help Him.” At this point I tend to think that love for other living entities is an unnecessary distraction. We should love only Kṛṣṇa, and relate to all others through His love for them, not directly.

OTOH, it’s not how we are told to relate to other devotees so there need to be some adjustments to this proposal. All in a good time, I hope.

Vanity thought #1188. Another take on compassion

I vaguely remember writing about compassion what seems like a long time ago. There’s a blog search for situations like this but I’m not sure I want to see my old ramblings, I would probably be ashamed of them myself.

These days most of the time we hear about compassion in a dictionary sense of the word. Stupid people suffer the results of their karma and our hearts bleed for them. Well, my doesn’t, and maybe I should be certified as a sociopath for that. Or maybe I just became numb to pain – you read enough news and eventually sob stories stop bothering you anymore, you just skip past them, sometimes consciously because you just don’t want to feel their pain. It always comes with string attached, too.

A while ago there was a spate of insurance ads on our local TV, they were all tear jerking and so, unlike real sociopaths, I KNOW how they feel, but they are also just business, nothing personal.

Most of other sad stories are also used as a pretext for call to action, that we as a society or as each citizen individually are ought to do something about it. Maybe enjoy a Band-Aid concert or something.

People are tired of being responsible citizens everywhere, it’s not just me. If someone asks for donations for some orphanage or something many would reply they donate regularly already, it’s part of their budgeting, so they don’t want to hear about any new causes. Others feel they do their part by drinking Starbucks coffee – the shop just have to inform them that part of the profits goes to some worthy cause and presto – you’ve donated and your consciousness is clear!

So, I have two arguments against being forced to feel compassion – first is that it hurts for no good reason, and second is that people want you to do something to alleviate the pain they just caused as if they are blackmailing you. A mature individual should decide to do something based on better considerations than temporary emotional distress. If the cause is worthy then it should be clear on its own, no pain should be necessary.

Some devotees insist on compassion being our primary quality, that we should be naturally compassionate and in pure state should act solely out of compassion towards all the living entities. I don’t buy it. If an abusive drunk gets a liver disease and still drinks himself towards death – why should I feel compassion for his self-inflicted suffering? Why should I take interest in his life beyond what is obvious? If you ask him he’d tell you a long story of being a victim and, basically, how his gross sense gratification gets thwarted again and again. Why should we listen to this and contaminate our consciousness by forcing ourselves to think that not getting enough booze on Friday is somehow important?

Our next step is then to say that we should feel compassion not for people’s pain so much but for their lack of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This is better and, I think, it’s the only legitimate reason. Poor guy thinks it’s his landlord or his wife who are torturing him but we know better. He expects us to fix his material troubles but we think that he should just start chanting and not worry so much about the lost cause of his material life. It probably won’t get better but at least his soul will be definitely saved.

Devotees who promote this line of reasoning often quote Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura who said that the only thing lacking in this world is Kṛṣṇa consciousness and so we have to give people that regardless of what they think they need. Or maybe somebody else said that, the point still stands.

The idea here is that people don’t realize that their real suffering is their disconnect from Kṛṣṇa. It’s the cause of all their other problems and, when they are advanced enough, it would pain them much more than anything that happens to their material bodies. This seems legitimate, it’s what we learn from Prabhupāda’s books, it’s what pained Prahlāda Mahārāja who prayed for the deliverance of all the suffering living entities, not for his own liberation (SB 7.9.43). Btw, when in the beginning of this post I called them stupid I was simply paraphrasing Prahlāda’s and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words – vimūḍha, first class fools and rascals.

Okay, these are text book ideas, so far I haven’t said anything new. There’s, however, another take on compassion that I heard in one of Aindra Prabhu’s room conversations (mp3 download). There he turns it all around and makes into the most beautiful exposition on love of Kṛṣṇa.

He says that real devotees feel for Kṛṣṇa, not for stupid jīvas who fully deserved their fate. He claims it’s how Lord Caitanya felt, too, but I’ve never seen this interpretation anywhere so I’m not sure.

When we turn away from Kṛṣṇa and go try our luck in the material world we give Him a lot of pain. We deprive Him of our service and our love despite everything He does for His devotees. A real Kṛṣṇa’s servant, therefore, would work his socks off to alleviate Kṛṣṇa’s pain. Whatever Kṛṣṇa wants, we should oblige. Why should we worry about anyone else but Kṛṣṇa and His devotees? Why should we divert out attention to studying these rascals misfortunes? Whose servants are we anyway? Kṛṣṇa’s or humanity’s?

Preaching, therefore, should be first and foremost about making Kṛṣṇa happy. We bring people back to Him because He wants their service. How THEY feel about it is irrelevant. Their only value is in their connection with Kṛṣṇa, either existing or potential, otherwise they can do whatever the hell they want, and they’ll probably end up in hell anyway.

We are all spirit souls, all different, some are probably “better” than others even by spiritual standards, but we shouldn’t seek connections to these people on their own merits, only through Kṛṣṇa. Maybe it sounds impersonal but it also makes a lot of sense. The Vṛndāvana rasas we hear about are not meant for our interpersonal enjoyment, they are only for Kṛṣṇa. He is the only enjoyer, we should not seek them in relationships with anyone else. This is what probably brought us down here in the first place.

It’s like discovering that there’s a spy among your friends – he looks just like before, you can have conversations with him just like before, but now that you know he is a traitor to your country it doesn’t feel right anymore. That’s what seeking compassion towards traitors of Kṛṣṇa’s love is – not right, very disturbing indeed. It’s probably offensive to Kṛṣṇa, too, even if it might not be on the list of the ten offenses.

Of course there’s always a neophyte stage where one doesn’t appreciate Kṛṣṇa’s devotees as much as he should but I’m not talking about neophytes here. Even if we are still on that level we should know at least theoretically the difference between devotees and non-devotees, which means between Kṛṣṇa’s flock and the rest of the local vimuḍhas.

They think they are in pain but it takes a pure devotee to see that actually it’s Kṛṣṇa who is in pain without their association, and so it’s only Kṛṣṇa who we should be concerned about, forget the rest, the world is too big and lives are too short for anything else.

Vanity thought #865. Bridging broadmindedness

Spiritual progress towards the stage of paramahamsa is accompanied by changes in attitudes and behavior which sometimes are difficult to understand and difficult to appreciate even for devotees, what to speak of materialists. Compassion seems to diminish, as I talked about yesterday.

I don’t think I gave examples but for materialists compassion is about providing care for basic bodily necessities. Religious people sometimes overlook those in favor of saving souls – there are examples of outrageous behavior that results in death of their own children, when instead of taking them to a doctor they try to heal them with prayers. I suppose there’s a value in this kind of compassion even if the results could be unacceptable to materialists.

Compassion of advanced impersonalists, in Aurobindo-Chinmoy-Chopra range looks like no compassion at all as they aim at people who aren’t materially suffering in the first place. No money, no wisdom. Same holds for Buddhists – they simply avoid those deeply affected by misery, meditation etc is for those in the mode of goodness, otherwise it simply won’t work.

I guess their kind of compassion has its value, too, because “rich” people need spiritual knowledge more than anyone else – they have finally achieved a human stage of life where eating, sleeping, mating and defending are not a primary concern and it is time for athato brahma jijnasa.

Now devotees are not simply more advanced humans, they are not of this world at all, their compassion does not bring any material benefits whatsoever, they don’t promise health, wealth or peace of mind, they aim at pleasing the Lord instead. For someone afflicted with material suffering it makes no sense – “I am in pain here, why are you talking about well-being of your Krishna who is full of knowledge and bliss anyway?”

Paramahamsas don’t seem to notice any suffering at all, no pain inducing misbehavior – this we don’t understand. As aspiring madhyama adhikaris we spend all our time differentiating between good and bad and choosing correct paths and this means rejecting some ideas and fiercely defending others. We bring examples of Srila Prabhupada’s wrath towards mayavadis or scientists or feminists or any other concepts we choose to fight against. It seems legit.

Well, we place Srila Prabhupada above ordinary paramahamsas yet in these cases we choose to highlight relatively lower aspects of his behavior, aspects that are suitable for devotees on madhyama level who do most of the preaching in this world. We think that if Srila Prabhupada behaved like us, displaying attitudes that we can relate to ourselves, ie chastising rascals, it is the highest principle of all.

Not really, first there’s a stage of paramahamsa where all these complaints disappear, then there’s a voluntarily step backward because personal spiritual progress and well-being ceases to be a priority – a perfect devotee happily agrees to live in any conditions and behave in any way Krishna wants him to without care for what it would do to his spiritual health. It cannot be destroyed anyway, he is incorruptible.

If we say we shouldn’t imitate paramahamsas, why should we imitate Srila Prabhupada who is situated even higher than that? There’s a thin line between following and imitation here which is beyond the scope of this post.

Let’s talk about broadmindedness instead. How does that change as one progresses spiritually through the above mentioned stages?

Surprisingly, one of the synonyms for “broadminded” is “catholic”. No one has ever accused catholic of being liberal or tolerant but that’s what’s in the dictionary. What I see here is the gradual change in meaning of the term as we observe its movement across different levels, from gross materialism towards spiritual perfection, pretty much like it happens with compassion.

For materialists “broadminded” means sexually permissive. They might object to such simplification but it’s true – almost everything they feel broadminded about is of sexual nature. Porn, masturbation, feminism, homosexuality or plain old freedom to copulate with anyone you fancy – these are ABCs of broadmindedness. If you are still fixated about those things, you can’t hope to progress towards liberalism of “higher” nature, whatever it means for them.

Freedom from rules and repression starts with sex just as any kind of spiritual progress demands sex control first and foremost. Simple but true, sex is at the root of everything here.

In this sense “Is the Pope catholic” becomes more than a rhetorical question because liberalism in church means anything but sex. Even “Liberal Catholics” use this word in a different way from how Catholics define it for themselves.

They say they are liberal because they accept a common goal for every human being, because their salvation is for everyone, because they never turn away anyone who comes to Christ.

This meaning is almost the same as was used by Srila Prabhupada. It’s not the opposite of conservative, as is understood by materialists and as it is used in modern society. We, devotees, are most liberal because we accept every living being as Krishna’s servant. We do not talk about liberalism as acceptance of every living being’s right to enjoy material nature in any way they want.

Then there’s a stage of paramahamsa where devotees do not see living beings enjoying material nature at all. They do not see what we call material nature, they see it as Krishna’s energy and therefore they see conditioned living entities interacting with Krishna through a medium of prakriti.

At that stage they become liberal in the modern sense of the world, too. Everything is permissible and deserving worship if it’s connected to Krishna, even when it looks like degraded sense enjoyment to us. There’s nothing degraded in relationship to the Lord. If we don’t see the connection it’s the fault of our perception only, it doesn’t mean that the connection isn’t there.

This is what happens with broadmindedness as one advances to a level of paramahamsa, one ceases to exclude or condemn anyone else.

We can’t imitate that and we shouldn’t imitate that because we have our own instructions to follow that say we should differentiate between spiritually favorable and unfavorable things but, philosophically speaking, we should never forget that nothing in this world really deserves condemnation, it’s only a temporary technique for us as neophytes in devotional service.

I think this needs lots of practical examples but I haven’t got any ready for today yet, so I’ll finish here.

Vanity thought #864. Bridging compassion

Let’s start with what happens to compassion on the soul’s journey from materialism to impersonalism to devotion to paramahamsa stage and then to parivrajaka acharya, assuming that it’s a normal process everyone eventually goes through.

When I put it like this it seems implausible, just as a statement that every conditional living entity starts his life as Lord Brahma. I mean there’s one universe for all living beings in it, how come each one serves as Brahma, math just doesn’t work. Same with parivrajaka acharyas – there are too few of them to make it a final destination for every conditioned living being.

If it’s not a normal process but rather a standalone phenomenon then there’s no point in seeing logic to it. It just happens for some but not for billions and billions of others. Still, let me try and bridge it.

At the moment we can see clear difference in the meaning of compassion between atheists, religious leaders, and devotees. Atheists empathize with bodily suffering, which includes emotional discomfort, too – hence “human rights”. Religious leaders used to have a monopoly on compassion but for them it meant roping everyone in their own churches. There’s no compassion for unfaithful, they all go to hell sooner or later and that’s all that really matters. They are not going to feed the hungry is there’s no conversion to be made.

Devotees, on the other hand, see suffering in a different light. They see people’s disconnect from service to Krishna as the root cause and offer to fix that. Once a person is re-established in the service to God, his material discomfort will cease to bother him if not disappear altogether. Watering the roots vs watering the leaves, as we usually explain it.

Paramahamsas don’t see any disconnect whatsoever, as I argued yesterday, hence they don’t see ground for compassion – every one is already better than they are themselves, it’s they who need all the mercy, not the other way around.

Parivrajaka acharyas artificially descend from that exalted platform in order to preach like your run-off-the-mill brahmacharies. Their mission is to demonstrate relative superiority of serving Krishna as a Lord and master than serving maya as a separate energy. They spread love of God.

How often does it happen? Almost never, just a couple of short periods in the day of Brahma. Even Sukadeva Goswami wasn’t in the mood to preach, for example. He gave his Bhagavatam class but didn’t stay to answer the questions. It’s really only Lord Chaitanya who decided to spread the love around, everyone else is essentially a normal religious leader, simply preaching the existence of God and benefits one would extract from worshiping Him, as per karma kanda section of the Vedas.

This makes appearance of personalities like Srila Prabhupada extremely unique and it makes it totally depended on the Lord in their mission. Without Lord Chaitanya there’d be no distribution of love, it’s that simple, they don’t decide it by themselves. They don’t just leave Krishna’s pastimes and decide to have a quick run to scoop a bunch of materialistic conditioned souls before breakfast.

That’s why I, personally, don’t accept that Srila Prabhupada acted with any degree of independence. Externally his body acted fully in accordance with the laws of material nature – it was born of union between a man and his wife, unlike that other religious leader everyone worships nowadays, it was brought up in a pre-existing environment, it was taken to pre-existing schools to be educated by people who were totally conditioned in every each way, it was set to meet his guru even though it was given different, nationalistic interests to pursue, it was set to live as a grihastha and maintain a family, it was placed in a proximity to Gaudiya Math but far away from its internal problems, it was placed in circumstances where it could afford to retire and take sannyasa, it was given enough free time to pursue translation of Srimad Bhagavatam, it was given a crazy idea to travel to the other side of the world with only a chest of books, it was given a one way ticket, it was given shelter on arrival, and then it was sent a bunch of hippies to meet. The rest is history, as we say, but I don’t see why suddenly Srila Prabhupada would be given power to commandeer material energy around him.

I subscribe to a different model – according to the universal plan there was a person scheduled to appear who would spread the message of Lord Chaitanya all around the world and a faithful living entity, known to us as Srila Prabhupada, came down to voluntarily place himself in this conditioned body. He voluntarily subjected himself to birth, death, old age and disease and apparent forgetfulness of his original position. If he ever had glimpses of his spiritual identity, they shouldn’t have been manifested in his material mind and memory, for what we can see and perceive here is NOT born of the spiritual world. It’s just an external shell we inhabit for a while, and in that sense there’s no difference between us and him, even though he was an eternally liberated soul.

Why so? Because you can’t tell pure devotee from a materialist just by observing his external behavior. We ourselves attributed certain aspects of Prabhupada’s behavior to spiritual origins, like his preaching, but there were and still are millions of people who don’t see it as anything special, just an old man making lots of followers by playing on people’s interest in all things oriental.

We know better, of course, but we should also admit that others don’t agree with our explanation – therefore the difference between a pure devotee and an ordinary human is not absolute.

This leads back to the question of free will – being a devotee does not make one into a master of the material world, does not make oneself into a doer. Even the best, eternally liberated devotees are simply observers of the show put up by the illusion. If Srila Prabhupada didn’t step into the shoes of that elderly Indian gentleman, someone else would. I bet there was a scramble there when there was an opening. This, btw, explains how some associates of the Lord Chaitanya are described as incarnations of different spiritual personalities. Ramananda Raya, fore example, was simultaneously Arjuna and a gopi. Haridas Thakur was Lord Brahma and Prahlada Maharaj.

Did they have any freedom to act here independently? I don’t believe so, they were like actors taking roles in a play. Quite possible that different acts were played by different actors, or two of them squeezing into the same costume – souls are not people, unlike our costumes a material body can easily fit two or three of them.

What I mean to say is that Ramandanda Raya did not have a choice whether to describe intimate Krishna’s pastimes or not. Lord Chaitanya made him speak, as Krishnadasa Kaviraja says.

Similarly, Srila Prabhupada didn’t have a choice what life to live here. He came down and took the whole deal, no negotiations. Therefore even if he had supreme, absolute vision of a paramahamsa his body was forced to live a way of a preacher, ie madhyama adhikari. We, of course, don’t look at it this way but some of his godbrothers didn’t think much of his spiritual prowess, they didn’t see anything special, preachers used to be a dime a dozen in Gaudiya Math, then everybody spiritually “evolved”.

Well, it’s a controversial topic and I might be completely off the mark, but this explanation seems better than assuming that parivrajaka acharyas come here as masters of material energy, as little gods. This also explains why there’s an apparent difference in spiritual advancement between “ordinary” paramahamsas and the preachers and it explains the source of their compassion, which appears to be absent on the stage of paramahamsa. It does not reappear, it’s that they take the bodies that are not paramahamsa like.

This is my longest post in recent memory, the case is made, time to give it a rest and contemplate where it could be wrong.

Vanity thought #863. Question of pain and compassion

We all feel pain and we also feel compassion to other suffering living beings. The more enlightened we become, the more we empathize with others, recognizing their rights to happiness. We admire leaders who give a lot to charity, leaders who extend help to those less fortunate, who inspire others to help those in need.

Spiritual paths also lead people to the same realization. Even impersonalists, having tasted the fruit of liberation, come back to the society with altruistic intentions. Actually, for them it’s a failure of their model because they can’t maintain their detachment from the world but once they realize the inevitability of engagement they choose the most “enlightened” option – serving others.

People who rise above the modes of passion and ignorance also want to spread sattva around and improve lives of those suffering under the lower gunas.

Compassion is also one of the qualities that naturally develops in devotees and of late it has become a catch word in certain ISKCON circles.

Our role models, Srila Prabhupada and his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, are considered the most compassionate souls, saviors of the entire world, glorified as parivrajaka acharyas. On the scale of spiritual advancement they are at the very top, as we recognize goshthi-anandis to be superior to bhajananandis. What makes the difference is the compassion towards all living entities, while bhajananandis “only” interested in their own spiritual well-being.

Let’s not focus on the fact that compassion of a pure devotee and compassion of a mundane philanthropist are two totally different things and that they lament totally different misfortunes. Let’s leave it out, for the moment. Compassion is where we are at.

Well, squeezed between goshthi-anandis and mundane philanthropists are ordinary, unremarkable paramahamsas. They don’t seem to have any compassion at all, totally oblivious to the sufferings of the world. They don’t see anything in need of fixing, they see everyone perfectly engaged in Krishna’s service as it is. How come? And where does this vision go when they decide to preach?

The question of how come is more difficult to comprehend. Preaching requires a conscious step down from their elevated platform in order to please the Lord, but how do they get to that platform in the first place, and why does compassion disappear?

How do they not see people suffering? How do they see everyone perfectly situated when the entire world is in agony?

I don’t think we, as non-paramahamsas, will even be able to understand it but we can theoretize and we can catch glimpses of their attitude in our clearest moments.

Explanation for suffering appears to be easy – they see people as they are, as spirit souls, and they see that suffering exists only as interaction of material senses with material objects. They are beyond duality of pain and pleasure, they are indifferent to it. They simply don’t notice it.

Okay, pain might be imaginary, or rather illusory, but deep unhappiness that comes from it is experienced by souls themselves. We might be made of stuff that is eternal, full of knowledge, and super-blissful but in our present condition we are objectively NOT full of knowledge and bliss.

It’s highly unlikely that paramahamsas see us in our original spiritual forms having our original, spiritual fun and this is what makes them so happy about our condition. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. We are not here and there at the same time, our consciousness is not split, at this very moment we don’t have our original spiritual relations with Krishna going on somewhere in the spiritual world.

Paramahamsas see us as perfect servants right where we see ourselves now – in the material world. Our suffering is of this world, too, how come paramahamsas don’t notice or don’t care about it?

How come they see us as perfectly engaged in service when we are most certainly not?

I think I got an idea.

We are engaged in the service to maya, who is Krishna’s most trusted servant in this world herself. We see her as illusion but they don’t see her as separate from the Lord. For them service to maya is the same as service to Krishna, she is just Lord’s agent to accept this service on His behalf. He created her to interact with us. Since we can’t or don’t want to reach Him in the spiritual world He sets up a nice show for us and engages with us even when we refuse to see Him.

Okay, but what about suffering then?

Suffering is just a result of our service, a karmic reaction. People suffer in relationships with Krishna in Vrindavana, too. Of course that suffering is full of spiritual bliss, as taught by Lord Chaitanya, but it’s suffering nevertheless.

In both cases, here and there, it only increases our devotion. Separation from Krishna increases love of His devotees, and suffering caused by karma only increase our faith in power of maya, especially for non-devotees.

Atheists trying to improve their conditions as the result of their suffering only strengthen their bonds with material nature. Their answer is to have more illusion, seek deeper surrender, build more trust in science, and develop strongest faith that maya will solve all their problems.

So, the key to observing people suffering is not the suffering itself but their stronger commitment to their relationship with the Absolute Truth (which of them comes in the form of illusion).

If you really want to empathize with people – look at the world through their eyes and notice how they never ever want to be … evil, for the lack of a better world. Even in their darkest moments they can find justification for their actions. Everybody always strives to make the world a better place, even if only for themselves.

Most of the time it results in unpleasant karma but it’s not the results, it’s the drive to serve the Absolute Truth that impresses paramahamsas. When they see such deep, spontaneous, ever increasing devotion, when they see their unshakable faith, they realize their own imperfection and feel truly humbled. That’s why they can’t preach to anybody.

Of course their imperfection lies in not serving Krishna Himself rather than His agent, maya, but imperfection in service is imperfection, period, because they don’t see the difference between serving Krishna directly and serving His energy.

Now it all makes sense, I hope.

There’s a lot left to speculate here, of course, but let’s take it one speculation at a time.

Vanity thought #803. Unplugged

The term has become popular some thirty years ago when UK musicians started performing their hits on acoustic instruments for the public. The idea was to hear the songs as they are, without the help of amplifiers, reverberators, and all the gadgetry like the latest scourge of youtube – autotune. Use of electronics was believed to cover and obscure the original, pure, raw talent.

In the Internet era unplugged refers to disconnecting yourself from the digital universe, a sort of digital detox. Latest joke is about living through a blackout: “Internet was down, mobile run out of battery, had to talk to the family for a while – they seem like nice people.”

As devotees we should be totally unplugged from the society in all its aspects. Why? For one thing Krishna’s instruction is sarva dharman parityajya, and it’s not only about religions, dharma means so much more. Everything you feel you are obliged to do because of your position or your nature is your dharma, and you have to give it all up.

Another point is sarvopadhi vinirmuktam – devotional service must be free from all kinds of material designations. Whatever you think of yourself in relation to the society – get rid of it.

It’s not as simple as it sounds. Humans are social animals, we need other people around us for all kinds of support and this association provides comfort and safety to our existence while we are in the conditioned stage. Just making a list of all such support might take days, weeks, or even months as we discover more and more about ourselves.

A while ago I mentioned spotting feeling of anticipation when I pop some food into a microwave. Here is a device made by other people that makes my life so much easier, I feel comforted by their help and that makes me indebted to the society that looks after me so well. Give it up.

Today is Monday, everyone has the right to make a gloomy Monday jokes and everyone who works for a living would appreciate it. Well, don’t, as devotees we shouldn’t feel anything special about Mondays. Neither we can share the joy of TGIF. No matter how much we want to share these feelings, they are upadhis – external designations. We can’t hope to attain bhakti if we still wait for the weekend when we can unwind like everybody else.

I’m not even sure about Sunday feasts, all devotees come to love them dearly and wait for them just as 9-5 slaves wait for their brunches or something. Srila Prabhupada instituted this custom for the benefits of our guests and as a tribute to our conditioned nature but we can’t hang on to it if we ever hope to attain devotion.

Speaking of unwinding – we don’t get to come home in the evening, collapse on the sofa and take comfort in feeling of freedom and opportunity to relax. We don’t get to relax, ever, service to Krishna must be uninterrupted – nityam bhagavata sevaya. For everyone else this down time is well deserved and everyone expects us to appreciate it just like them but we are not part of this society, we don’t share in it.

If we work for a living everyone would assume that we deserve rest just like them but we don’t and we should banish the idea that we deserve anything from our minds forever. This is even more prominent on paydays – we are given money just like everybody else and this money is assumed to be ours to spend for our own pleasure, or at least the part of it not confiscated by our wives. As devotees we should never see any money as ours, we cannot allow ourselves to be tricked into the illusion of having power and opportunity to enjoy material nature.

Try to excuse yourself from having that feeling and see how difficult it is. Impossible would be a better word.

Somehow or other we always have at least some money just like we always have at least some food and so when we walk into a shopping mall we naturally assume the position of a shopper. Everything and everybody we see treats us like that and everybody reassures us that spending money and getting served is our purpose in life. No, that’s one of those dharmas we are supposed to give up. We cannot allow ourselves to become shoppers if we want to be devotees.

Or imagine driving or walking down a dark street and you see a collection of lights up ahead. People are there, there are shops, restaurants, cafes – there are people and, contrasting with the darkness around us it looks and sounds very enticing. Forget it, we are not part of that crowd even if we look like one of them – two legs, two arms, mouth to stuff. We cannot allow ourselves to be attracted by community of sense enjoyers.

Or take driving itself – as soon as we sit behind the wheel we assume identity of a driver, a responsible member of a driving community who follows all the rules and avoids causing problems to anyone. It’s like taking on a new body, it’s a particularly dense concentration of upadhis. Of course we can’t drive anywhere we like, off road or through traffic lights, but why can’t we? It’s one of those dharmas that need to be abandoned for the sake of Krishna’s service, too.

Here’s the tricky part, though – even if we are asked to abandon our dharmas we are also told to follow them to the best of our abilities. We still have to spend our money and eat our feasts and we still have to drive on the right side of the road, which could be left, depending on the country, but at no time we should allow to identify ourselves with any of those designations and we should never accept rewards for our compliance as ours.

We cannot allow ourselves to think “I deserved this” or “I deserved that” even if the whole society insists that we do so. We should completely unplug ourselves from them like sociopaths who can’t physically feel any empathy, which doesn’t stop them from appearing totally normal because they are very adept at faking human emotions.

This what sarva dharman parityajya also means – don’t take anything here personally, don’t cry for baby seals, don’t get swayed by pain and suffering caused by material nature, don’t get attracted by joy and happiness either. Charity and outwardly compassion are domains of impersonalists who don’t want to find relationships with the Lord and so try to fix the material world instead.

It’s unfixable and it doesn’t need fixing, we should not confuse liberation with creature comforts and once we achieve liberation we should strive to bring other people into Krishna’s service, not try to tell Maya Devi how to do her service. She can manage very well without our advice, thank you very much.

But first we need to do is to unplug ourselves, we don’t get to help a lot of people by staying materially conditioned forever.