Vanity thought #1426. Frogland

There’s a devotee with better than average knowledge of poetry and every now and then he quotes some pertinent observations from classics. Somehow or other these people have been blessed with a unique insight into human condition and it’s uncanny how Kṛṣṇa conscious they appear when quoted in the right context. Maybe Shakespeare was right that there’s nothing new under the sun, or was it actually from the Bible?

What is interesting, though, is that all these quotes come from dead people. Our contemporaries fall seriously short when compared to them. Take this insight on saving souls from David Beckham, for example:

    I definitely want Brooklyn to be christened, but I don’t know into what religion yet.

Brooklyn here is his son, btw.

Sometimes Louis C.K. says something insightful, like when he talked about money as if he was a true renunciate:

    I never viewed money as being “my money” I always saw it as “The money”. It’s a resource. If it pools up around me then it needs to be flushed back out into the system.

Of course he is no renunciate, he is hopelessly caught in the snare of sex. Maybe he realizes that he is enslaved by the sex desire, maybe not, but he, like everyone else, can’t even imagine life in celibacy.

There are two other clowns who supposed to be observant and witty but, looking through the entire video below, actually anything but, at least in my no so humble opinion. One of the last sketches here, however, hits home.

It’s a prayer circle that suddenly draws attention of God Himself who then gives them one single instruction on how to please Him – sell everything they own and spend money on helping poor. When they first hear His voice they drop on their knees but as the import of the message downs on them they start having second thoughts, and then openly rebel, declare the house to be hunted, and run away.

I’m not sure real Christians are ready to admit that there’s a lot of truth in this scenario but at least to these two it looks entirely plausible, minus the voice of God, of course. They then continue about a religion where you just do a short five second ritual once a month and be done with it. I hope actual Christians are not like that yet and actually look forward to their services, many of them would probably welcome them to be shorter, though. It’s just a sign of our times, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.

Modern culture completely screws up people’s knowledge of the world around them and especially history. Like that infamous Dr Frog they look at everything through the prism of their very limited experience. Having seen nothing but his own well Dr Frog can’t even imagine there could be such a thing as an ocean. He can’t imagine it being limitless and he can’t imagine that water there is salty. None of his friends and family members, assuming he has them, can confirm the possibility of an ocean, and therefore in his view an ocean not only doesn’t exist but can’t exist, too. That’s what they say about God now.

Maybe it’s not a new phenomenon and people have always judged other cultures by their limited standards but this time it’s different, we refuse to learn from others but rather ascribe our own values to everything foreign or ancient. I noticed this during last year’s Cosmos TV series where Neil deGrasse Tyson described every historical episode as a struggle of science against religion, for example.

More often it’s about struggle for human rights and democracy, though. All Disney’s animated movies about Chinese or Indians or Arabs follow the same cliche – smart young people rising against unreasonable oppression of their elders. No matter what era or what country they place their story in, the attitudes are always the same. It’s same characters saying same things, just drawn differently. Last week there was a three part story about Ancient Egypt on TV and guess what – it was about challenging customs, giving women their rightful place, exposing priests as corrupted hacks profiting from selling lies, and, I guess, something about gay marriage, too, because this particular “universal right” is fashionable now. I caught a part where the pharaoh was taught to appreciate beer, the drink of the masses, instead of boring palace wine.

They just can’t imagine people having different values and living different lives. If two men were close to each other they must have been gays. Case in point – Michelangelo. Lots of people convinced of his homosexuality on the basis of having close friendship with a young and attractive man. Real historians dismiss it as a conjecture but in the modern mind closeness means sex, there’s no other way to express people’s deep feelings.

They even go as far as allege homosexuality in such ancient practices as blood/spritual brotherhood that existed in every culture from vikings to Chinese. They just can’t imagine that there was no sex involved and say that the practice was a covering for gay marriage.

When they look at Mahābharata they accuse Arjuna of being gay for year when he lived incognito in the court of Mahārāja Virata, even our devotees of GALVA persuasion cite this as an example. It all sounds convincing except I don’t think Arjuna ever expressed his sexual attraction to men during the time when he was “gay”.

That is all peanuts, however, compared to their attitude towards God. They just can’t imagine Him being real and being able to communicate with His devotees. While in India it’s a given in the West it could be nothing more than mythology and imagination, and not just God, gods in general and even practices of yoga can’t possibly be real, because they don’t have any comparable experiences in their beer guzzling, sex-obsessed culture.

When Indians had their first contacts with Greeks they sent a dozen “ambassadors” to demonstrate the advancement of their civilization. It’s no surprise that Indians choose sadhus and ascetics to represent them because they have always been considered as the highest order in Vedic culture. Greeks, however, just couldn’t understand it, like at all. Why would people wearing only loincloth be considered as crème de la crème? They thought Indians were animal like barbarians. They couldn’t fathom that these ascetics had real mystic powers, they were proper children of Kali Yuga and considered only wealth and sensual pleasures as a sign of progress.

I imagine sadhus were astonished at Greeks’ profound ignorance and one of them tried to demonstrate his abilities through self-immolation, a typical yoga procedure for leaving one’s body at will. It registered in Greek annals but they failed to appreciate the significance and implications. Modern descendants of Greek culture, science, and democracy can’t comprehend it either.

This kind of things doesn’t happen to them, doesn’t exist in their perverted society, therefore it couldn’t exist anywhere else.

Another example is family ties. In India they are famously strong but in the West children are expected to move out and live on their own from the age of eighteen, and even if they can’t afford to be financially independent they are expected to be independent in their views and decision making. Parent’s can’t wait until they ship their kids off to college. In some cases parents would also refuse any kind of service from their kids, not even helping to carry bags or luggage. Indians are shocked, westerners say it’s their “culture” and imply that therefore it’s okay. It isn’t, and it isn’t culture, it’s just habits and customs, and they can look as savage to civilized people as various tribal rituals somewhere in Papua New Guinea.

Bottom line, unless people renounce this nonsense they can’t have any hope of real spiritual progress. When Śrīla Prabhupāda brought Kṛṣṇa consciousness to the West fifty years ago it was a given, every new bhakta was ready to accept western culture as hopelessly corrupt. These days even some devotees are deeply attached to it and therefore very defensive. It won’t work. There could be no spiritual progress unless we cleanse ourselves from this western corruption and selfishness masked as “individualism” or “human rights”. Kṛṣṇa will never appear before us in any shape or form unless we abandon all these other kinds of “religion” – as modern people treat their “values” quite religiously.

Dr Frog mentality has to go.

Vanity thought #827. Cultural baggage

It doesn’t take long for any visitor to realize that India is a backward, disorganized and extremely dirty country inhabited by irresponsible and cunning people you can’t trust, and you surely wouldn’t want them for your neighbors. As devotees we try to see past this reality, as educated people we try not to generalize, but come on, you can’t take that country seriously, can you?

Comparing to well groomed Europe and parts of North America it looks like a cesspool. It’s a fact of life.

So, how can we hope to learn anything from them? Why should we even try? What have they got to show for all that allegedly superior knowledge? How can we not see their degradation?

I think every devotee has his own answer to that, we all try to reconcile the reality with what Srila Prabhupada taught us. Some learn to see it as famous bubbles on the surface of the Ganges. Some learn to see spots of goodness in places and in people, some just get used to it so it doesn’t bother them anymore, some learn to see simplicity instead of poverty, ditto for ritual cleanliness vs external hygiene. Some build areas of western like perfection around them, like we do in Mayapur. We all have our own ways, if we want to become devotees we must learn to cope, there’s no other way.

I think the reason for India’s sad state of affairs lies not in their degradation per se but in fundamentally different approach to life and in pursuing fundamentally different goals.

They always put dharma first and leave the rest in the hands of God. They know it’s Kali Yuga and therefore they don’t expect much from it.

Over in the West we think we are firmly in control of our destiny, we are responsible for our surroundings, and so we must take matters in our own hands. Instead of focusing on dharma we are into fixing things that can’t be fixed. Of course our efforts don’t go in total vain and we manage to build oases of sattva and even keep them that way but all our efforts are ultimately artificial.

We waste a lot of our energy on swimming against the current. Kali yuga will eventually prevail, if we stave it off in our neighborhoods it will enter our hearts and corrupt us from inside. It’s noble and heroic to put up this battle but it’s a battle in a war that can’t be won.

Kali won’t be stopped by decorating the corpse of our society, He can only be stopped by chanting of the Holy Name, and even in that case it’s not certain that we can extend victory inside our hearts to victory in our material surroundings.

So Indians take a philosophical approach to this. Just follow you dharma, serve the Lord or whatever it is you are supposed to serve in your position, and the rest will take care of itself. And if it doesn’t, no big deal, your job is to earn a lot of good karma for the next life anyway.

Maybe I don’t have an accurate representation of life in traditional Vedic society but all I read about it paints a picture of people who earn their livelihood by praying and conducting yajnas. They don’t work very much, or very hard, I don’t think they spend more than four-five hours of their day on work.

There are vaishyas and shudras, of course, who need to put hours in taking care of cows and farms but I’m talking about kshatriyas and brahmanas, and general traders here. Those are definitely in the “service economy”, ie they are being served. They spend five six hours every morning on their spiritual duties, then they retire for midday break before noon and they don’t come out until it cools down outside in the late afternoon. They have a couple of hours of evening activities and by six it’s time for spiritual duties again.

They don’t push themselves into what they believe is responsibility of the Lord or of their karma. You know how sometimes things just fall into place and sometimes you work so hard and things keep falling apart anyway? They know it, too, and they simply observe what’s going on. If something sucks they simply take notice of it but it doesn’t urge them into action. Philosophical, as I said.

So, if we see obvious imperfections in the Indian way of life we can try to be philosophical about it, too, and don’t fool ourselves into thinking that we are in control of the material nature. Let us chant, the rest will take care of itself. Or it won’t, the important thing to keep chanting.

On the other hand, Srila Prabhupada couldn’t tolerate such irresponsibility. He demanded perfection in everything we do. He demanded the best of us, he wanted us to be even more meticulous in attention to detail than we are at home. He wanted us to be Germans in managing things, Swiss in precision, Americans in creating things, French in cooking, Italians in design, and Russians in dedication to the cause, to paraphrase the popular saying.

Isn’t it a contradiction? I believe not, because all those things are needed for the benefit of Lord Chaitanya’s mission, not for our own comfort.

We should be philosophical about our own lives but we must have a completely different attitude in service to the Lord. This is where we should apply all our energy and all our efforts while maintaining our own bodies can be left to karma’s devices.

This is the basic message of Bhagavad Gita – work done for your own benefit is the source of bondage, so ignore it, while work done for the benefit of the Lord is the goal of life and should never be stopped. And it also brings the highest possible rewards, so no loss.

So, I guess it’s okay to be sloppy in our personal lives, as long as this sloppiness doesn’t affect our service we shouldn’t worry about it. And we shouldn’t worry about other people not worrying about their own lives, too.

Our cultural baggage needs to be left behind, but that has to be done with proper understanding otherwise it will keep following us and forcing us to commit all kinds of offenses. I hope this idea will help, even if only a little.