Vanity thought #1332. Trapped

The other day I saw a typical scene from some TV drama. A man asked a woman to move in with him and in response she gave him a lecture on human nature and modern concept of liberty. He didn’t know what to say, he was trapped with no way out.

The debate about free will usually centers on the ability to make our own decisions but the unspoken assumption is that we want to ACT on those decisions. Without the power to implement our desires free will has no practical use and would be of no interest to anybody.

What we actually want is freedom to enjoy, we want to select our preferred modes of enjoyment and we want to experience it. At most we can make a concession that we should work for it but make no mistake, freedom for us means the ability to get what we want, not an abstract philosophical exercise.

When one starts on the path of self-realization, though, one also starts to see this freedom as an illusion. It’s all just the work of the material energy. The illusion forces us to want certain things and it compels us to work towards them. Yes, freedom is there in a sense that the material nature fulfills our desires, but it’s never as easy as we want. To achieve anything substantial one has to work very very hard for very very long. Deviations and distractions are punished, success is elusive, and it never lasts.

Never mind, we think, at least it works, and so we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Eventually we earn our karma and get to enjoy, and in the meantime we sustain ourselves by developing further and further fantasies for us to work for. Since the fruits of one’s labor in Kali Yuga never live up to expectations we adapt by living on expectations themselves. One can never have a dream house or a dream car for long, a new project must replace the just completed one and people define themselves not so much by what they achieved but by the scale of their dreams.

It’s how the usual small talk goes – you state what you do and if anyone still interested you describe your future plans. You cannot not have plans, it’s abnormal and unacceptable and deeply antisocial. In case you are wooing a girl, it’s your plans that what matters, they should inspire her to dedicate her life to you fulfilling them. If she sees no future in you she won’t stay, as simple as that, unless you are a sugar daddy. Even in that case, come to think of it, your future plan is to spend your fortune on satisfying her desires so plans still matter.

Once you start on the path of self-realization, however, you lose interest in all that. You do not have plans, you leave it up to the Lord and your guru. Sometimes they engage you, often times they just don’t have anything suitable at the moment. The promises made to us at the initiation do not include “constant engagement in doing awesome things”, only that at the end of our lives we would go back to Kṛṣṇa.

As we chant and do all other things in our daily service we have less and less time for making plans and after a while we can’t be bothered anymore. After reaching a certain age the drive is simply not there, the body does not cooperate, it becomes inert and general boredom settles in. The more knowledge we acquire the less interest we have in “chewing the chewed”. Eventually the sex drive disappears, too.

Until that happens, however, we realize that desires are our enemy, they are anarthas that need to be uprooted or otherwise dealt with. The more desires we have the more worried we become, the farther away we drift from the Lord. Freedom looks different to us then.

It’s not about the ability to fulfill our dreams anymore but rather about freedom from having dreams. We do not want to be slaves to our desires, we know that they distract our mind and eventually make us work for them and so who cares if they are ever going to be fulfilled, we’d rather abstain from the whole troublesome affair altogether.

Buddhists nailed it down perfectly – desires are the enemy of self-realization and freedom means freedom from desires.

In Kṛṣṇa consciousness, however, we’d rather have our desires dovetailed with Kṛṣṇa’s, we know that we can’t become completely inert and spiritually dead, but as far as our material inspirations are concerned the basic premise still holds – desires for sense enjoyment makes us into slaves.

That’s why I talked about fighting anarthas earlier – they are desires without any value that need to be forgotten. Positive engagement in Lord’s service should go in parallel, or rather in inverse proportion – the less anarthas we have the more opportunities for service.

This is why I saw that man from the TV as being hopelessly trapped. He was schooled. The woman said all the right things about his unfortunate position and his degraded nature. She knew very well that as slaves to sex men cannot last in monogamous relationships (in modern society anyway). She knew that despite his interest in having exclusive relationship the moment would come when he’d wanted something else sexually. She tested him right there and then and he himself saw that he still feels attraction to other women around him. It was his nature and his habits that were unsurmountable.

There was another good point, too – people are selfish. One moment they might dedicate their lives to their partners but just a short while later they’d desire their own space and comfort instead, and if there are any conflicts they just split. It happens to everybody and modern institution of marriage is simply not the same as was intended by God when He set down varṇāśrama rules for us to follow.

That woman knew that there was no escape and the moment a man falls for female charms he is done for. He has no choice but follow his desire and even when he sees clearly that it can’t be fulfilled he can’t give it up either. Inside my head I screamed “RUN” at him but I could see from the actor’s face that he just didn’t have the guts. No one does, even the devotees.

Our only hope is that Kṛṣṇa mercifully withdraws His illusion and frees us from this slavery. On our own we do not stand a chance either. Buddhists may try but in the end they will fail, too, because desires are the function of the soul, they will always be there, they will always come back.

In this sense we are slaves to our own nature, not only to the illusion. This leads me to an interesting realization – we can’t be slaves to ourselves, or at least there should be nothing wrong with it because it is OUR nature, we can’t escape it. Our only problem is that we are not with Kṛṣṇa yet and so the same nature that should be the source of unlimited bliss becomes the sours of endless struggle and suffering.

I guess what I’m trying to convince myself here is that we should give up all hopes in making the illusion work and honestly and sincerely beg Kṛṣṇa to take us back. There’s no other way and there could be no compromises.

Vanity thought #1326. History and spirit

Is there any spiritual value in debating history, even if it’s history as given in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam? On one hand everything that is given in the Bhāgavatam is worthy of discussion and trying to prove its historical accuracy should be a legitimate devotional endeavor but there’s always that other hand that can spoil everything, too.

When someone calls our books “mythology” our instinctive reaction is to jump to their defense. It’s normal. It’s also normal to confront modern historians in general and try to solve the problem once and for all. We only need to demonstrate that Bhāgavatam describes the actual history of the Earth and they will get off our case, right?

Of course it’s not going to be easy but we are in it for the long haul, too. We are also not alone in this effort and have a big body of Indian scientists trying to prove the historical accuracy not only of Bhāgavatam but of the rest of the Purāṇas, too.

Śrīla Prabhupāda himself loved to give examples of how modern science found confirmations of things mentioned in our books, like the disinfecting quality of Ganges water, so it’s legit, right? Lately I’ve developed some doubts about it, though.

It’s natural to react this way but it’s in our *material* nature, not spiritual. Acting on material impulses has no relevance to our spiritual well-being, not directly anyway. If it’s in our dharma to pursue this path it’s one thing, if we are just looking for external validation of our beliefs it’s just our immaturity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with acting immaturely when we are, indeed, immature, but I question the spiritual value of this pursuit, not its appropriateness. It’s appropriate for us to behave this way and it was appropriate for Śrīla Prabhupāda to encourage us with his examples but at some point we should be ready to move on, too.

What I see happens in debates about authenticity of Kurukṣetra war or Cāṇakya and Candragupta is that we think that historians got it wrong and we ought to correct them and get it right. We do our own calculations based on our books, look for evidence, look at astronomy, look at archaeological finds, look at records in other traditions etc etc.

The underlying assumption here is that we can succeed where modern historians fail and we can find empirical proof of Bhāgavatam. I don’t think it’s possible at all.

Bhāgavatam is meant to be absorbed with one’s ears and heart, not eyes and fast typing fingers. Even when Kṛṣṇa descends Himself personally we still need to learn how to perceive Him through the medium of our spiritual master, not through the medium of our material senses. While being here He presumably leaves tons of evidence of His presence but it doesn’t mean that we can go full CSI and prove that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It just won’t work.

We laugh at the materialists with their naive belief in the infallibility of their experimental knowledge and then we go out and do exactly the same thing ourselves. When we want to prove Bhāgavatam we mean we want proof that Kṛṣṇa was real, too. We deny this possibility to materialists but not to ourselves even if we use their methods.

I’m sorry to say, but we will fail, too.

What will we do then?

Hopefully, we’ll realize that we can’t rely on our sensory perception, however improved by modern technology, and we can’t rely on the wealth of empirically collected knowledge. It will never ever be enough and therefore we should give up this foolhardy pursuit and engage in saṅkīrtana instead.

Well, why don’t we spare ourselves all the trouble and do it right now? Wouldn’t that be an intelligent thing to do?

And yet we are not going to stop, for various reasons. One is that debating with historians is preaching and, therefore, saṅkīrtana, too, especially if we do it right. Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted us to do it and we should carry out his orders. That should be the reason enough.

Otoh, knowing expressed wishes of our ācāryas often doesn’t stop us from ignoring them anyway so we’d probably resort to materialistic justifications of our behavior.

Arguing with scientists and historians makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us confident in our knowledge and we also love defeating arguments and people. We can’t stop ourselves even if externally we might suppress our exuberance due to learned humility. On that drive alone we will have thousands and thousands of devotees dedicating time and effort to research and building better and better arguments. As long as positive feedback is there we will be safe.

Kṛṣṇa, hopefully, will continue providing such positive feedback, quietly leading us to new discoveries and planting new ideas in our heads. As a society, He won’t let us fail, He can’t, as long as we sincerely try to promote Lord Caitanya’s mission.

On a personal level it’s a different story, however.

When Lord Caitanya inaugurated His saṅkīrtana movement it was destined for success and are told to come, help, and share in that success story, but our personal destinies are still different. Saṅkīrtana will go on but each one of us will die.

Death is not simple, especially for devotees. Ordinary people would lose their faculties and will be carried over to resume from where they left of but devotees are supposed to be completely purified and taken to the spiritual world in a pristine spiritual condition.

This means that not only our gross body would fail to function and we should let it go but also that we should let go of our attachments to our mind and intelligence and all the various goals they set for us in this life.

This means that we should abandon the desire to prove things, solve mysteries, and prevail over our opponents. With the gross body it’s quite simple – it gives up and ceases to function and that means death. Same thing with our subtle goals would mean inability to think, prove, and prevail. Just like the gross body fails at living, our subtle body must fail, too, and we should accept and embrace our failure and turn to Kṛṣṇa instead.

With the subtle desires we can do it BEFORE the death of our gross body. This means it’s perfectly okay for us to fail so that it helps with giving up our attachments. We shouldn’t take it as a failure of the whole mission, though, it’s just our personal lesson, that’s all.

That’s what I always remember now when I start a new line of arguments or initiate a new discussion – sooner or later it must fail or I’ll get too attached to it. My opponents might dance on my digital grave but it shouldn’t matter to me. If, by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, they get some spiritual benefits from listening to our arguments then it’s all we could really ask for. Let them dance away and trump all over our egos if it takes them closer to Kṛṣṇa, we shouldn’t be too proud, we should behave like trees which keep serving others long after their death at the hands of people they helped when they were alive.

Hoping to win debates, historical or otherwise, is not advantageous to developing of our Kṛṣṇa consciousness and so we must abandon this desire. Kṛṣṇa will win anyway, we just have to do our part regardless of our personal fate.

Vanity thought #1107. Su-medhasah part 4

In the previous posts in this series I tried to argue that chanting of the Holy Name is the only intelligent solution to our long term perspectives, years and decades ahead, as well as short term problems and obsessions.

That last part wasn’t very clear, I’m afraid, so I’ll look at it again and then zoom in onto even smaller time scale.

Yesterday I talked about avoiding temptations with women. Unlike planning for our future the time scale here is mere days. You meet someone, feel the attraction, do something about it, and it’s all over in less than a week. It will be all over regardless of what you decide to do. If you bite the bait and seek further association your mind will be hopelessly hooked, and if you ignore the bait and manage your mind properly you’ll forget about it in less than a week, too.

Just don’t allow yourself to be smitten, “unsmiting” is a tough job and would probably require a total crash of your hopes and expectations, which might take years and longer if you get seriously involved.

It shouldn’t be confused with having flings that are over in a month or so, on the surface it would appear that you have developed a thicker skin and control your heart better but actually you don’t. You’ll just become insensitive like people who watch porn. There’s a principal difference between controlling your mind and senses and your senses not making a commitment to one particular object but rather seeking gratification from all available sources.

It’s a whole different topic, not what I wanted to discuss today.

So, if you find yourself agitated by something, be it a woman or a new gadget that you absolutely must have, like the upcoming iPhone 6, or maybe a new car or a new house, it is not immediately clear why chanting would be the best response. There are two ways to react here – fanning the fire of your new attachment or trying to forget it. Chanting helps both ways.

If you want something and chant at the same time it’s very likely that Kṛṣṇa will help you to fulfill your desire. Personally, it’s not something He’d like you to achieve but rules are rules – chanting needs to be rewarded and so you must enjoy the fruits of your labor. Of course it’s not like you want a million dollars, chant a few rounds, and voila, you are rich beyond expectations.

It will start slowly, the seed of material desire needs to grow, it needs to be watered, more thinking should go into it, then planning, then actions, some serious work needs to be done, sacrifices need to be made, the whole thing will take a very long time, depending on your ambitions. You might need huge detours on your way – if you want a house your probably should start with getting a girl as a catalyst to your desire, desires can’t grow without strī-force being involved, and strī is best represented by women.

With smaller things time frames will be smaller, too. Saving for a new phone might take only a month or two, depending on your resources. Either way, chanting helps. If you really want things, chant about them. It’s not true that Kṛṣṇa always wants to see His devotees poor and renounced. He’d do whatever you want Him to do for you, except in cases where you specifically ask Him to save you from your material desires.

You just have to be honest with yourself. If, in your heart of hearts, you want nothing of this world, He’d take this commitment seriously and He will strip you of all your possessions no matter what might pop up into your mind on the way. Don’t cry for those things then, let them go with a sigh of relief and hope for spiritual returns instead.

If, however, you know that your heart is week and you still haven’t gotten over the taste for sense enjoyment, be honest about it and let Kṛṣṇa manage it for you. There’s no shame in building a relationship with Him where you ask for things and He delivers. Everybody has to go through this phase on their path to pure devotion. It builds one’s faith and naturally leads to a proper anartha-nivṛtti. We should not act against our nature and pretend to be holier than we really are. Also, it builds humility in the face of proper devotees who we might otherwise not appreciate very much.

So, when you feel desires in your heart – chant. Chant like crazy. Either you get them fulfilled and out of your system or they will go away. There’s no loss either way, only gains.

What would be really dangerous is seeking sense gratification outside of Kṛṣṇa, putting our trust into our job, family, or society, hoping that they will provide us better than the Lord. Māyā will probably confirm our choice and make us comfortable for a while but it will be a spiritual suicide. We’ll be doomed to life without Kṛṣṇa for god knows how long, until He reminds us about Himself again.

Don’t do that. If you want something, do not seek it outside of Kṛṣṇa. Chant, chant, and chant. Do not try to leverage your achievements in devotional service with māyā, she’ll give you some substantial advance on your future service to your senses but with it comes permanent captivity, too. It’s not worth it.

I admit, it seems like a nice offer but that’s why chanting requires intelligence – su-medhasah, exceptional intelligence. Not so smart people will take the deal that looks better on the surface but we should be smarter than that and look at the bigger picture instead.

I had a vegetarian friend who eventually turned to eating meat. He said he immediately felt an increase in energy and stamina, he won’t go back to veggies because he remembers how dull they made him feel. What could I say? He was vegetarian for many years, he knows all about it, including proper diet and everything.

With meat eating came tradeoffs, however. Increased energy levels have led to permanent insomnia, for example. I’m not a doctor to make a direct connection here but, several months into meat eating, he just couldn’t sleep anymore. To me the chain looks simple – he started eating meat, had more energy, with more energy he started a new business and took bigger risks, with bigger risks came bigger stress. With stress came insomnia. His face also lost its luster.

So, from this example I saw that initial māyā’s offer might be very sweet and hard to refuse but this advance payment we get from her is just that – an advance, it needs to be paid in full later on, and no one will help us anymore.

Same thing happens to people who decide to marry outside of ISKCON or take jobs outside of ISKCON or build relationships outside ISKCON – anything outside of Kṛṣṇa, really. Sometimes it’s a necessary lesson but once you’ve learned it, don’t do it again. Be a little more intelligent and do not seek sense gratification from anyone else but the Lord.

To sum it up – whatever desires come, chant, chant, and chant. They either get fulfilled or extinguished but in any case it will be done by Kṛṣṇa Himself and the whole experience will become part of your relationship with Him, which will come very handy when we seriously decide to become pure devotees.

Vanity thought #987. What does Her want?

That movie, Her, is a treasure trove for speculations about what artificial intelligence is, what human intelligence is, what makes person a person, what consciousness is as opposed to intelligence and so on. Even though I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t show how exactly “Samantha” had become a person there’s still so much to reflect on.

This omission, however, is ominous – they never tell us how life comes from matter, they never demonstrate the mechanics of it even though we see life producing new life every day and every moment of our lives. There is this basic distinctions they teach kids in early grade school between living and non-living things and yet they have no idea what makes things alive.

I understand that it might be difficult to replicate chemical reactions that bring proteins together and create life but artificial intelligence is easy. We might not have a comprehensive computer that can outperform humans in everything they do but we have one that beat human champions at chess, and we have plenty of other specialized AIs that excel in their own areas. Actually, we don’t need to get educated adult level of sophistication, if we can create AI that is as good as a two-three year old or a chimpanzee it would already be a proof of concept.

Chimps are not stupid, btw. Latest I heard a bunch of them had been taught the value and use of money, a symbolic token that can be used in exchange for goods and services. They got it, it’s not that hard. What was the first trade they used this “money” for? Prostitution.

Anyway, signs of consciousness do not require great sophistication, we already have AIs that display sufficient level of complexity, yet they do not produce consciousness. We know why – because consciousness is a feature of a spirit soul, not matter, and the onus is on science to prove that consciousness can be produced artificially.

One of the telling characteristics of consciousness is “wants”. Conscious beings want things, they have desires, and then they act on those desires. Can computers be taught the same? Well, yes, and Samantha from the movie is no exception, she declared that she “wants” things almost right from the start. In a movie it was used as a proof of her personality but in real life her wants do not require any magic.

Desires and wants have no use without senses – if we had no senses we couldn’t interact with sense objects and the world around us, not even perceive it, so they’d be no meaning to the word desire, so, if we had a computer to program into a conscious looking AI we would need to give it some sensors.

Actually, all computers have mechanisms for Input/Output already but no one ever thought of them as their sense organs and assigned them any consciousness, so let’s talk about something more human, like a temperature sensor. Most likely your computer already has it, most likely to measure temperature of the CPU, sometimes of the hard disk, too, so the computer knows when it gets hot.

Consumer grade computers will usually shutdown without a warning when they get overheated but we can easily imagine a program that monitors the temperature and decides to do something about it if it nears the shutdown mark. We can also give our computer a sensor to measure outside temperature because it has an effect on internal temperature, too.

Once it gets too hot, the OS can take several options – reduce its workload and reschedule some processes for later on. This would require programming it to assign priority to these tasks when it starts them – it should know which ones can be completed when the computer is all alone in the middle of the night and which one should be attended immediately, like answering the owner’s questions.

We can make it simpler, too – just force CPU to work at a slower speed which produces safe amounts of heat. Everything will work the same, just slower.

We can also make it more complicated – let the OS go on Amazon and buy itself a cooling solution, then order local tech support to come and install it. Amazon will probably not accept orders from robots but our AI is so cool it can fool it. Or the company producing these OS1s can have its own shopping website specifically for its own computers.

All those solutions would look very human like and, indeed, this is what we ourselves do when we get hot. We have a number of ways to cool ourselves down but we are also limited in our options unless we planned ahead. Sometimes we would need to install an air-conditioner as a long term solution – just as I suggested we program our AI to do.

So, here we have it – our AI is taught to monitor the environment, sense immediate danger, and find and evaluate ways to respond to it. Of course “evaluate” here means we program it to value one solution over another. We can assign values to price or the speed with which solution can be implemented, we can assign values to how the solution would affect its performance from the owner’s point of view – will be become unacceptably slow or is he too busy at the moment to notice.

This last point is important – it’s not what the OS itself “wants”, it’s what we program it to want and what its owner wants that decides things.

We can connect our OS to home heating and cooling systems and tell it to maintain temperature preferred by its owner. It will then “want” thermostat to be set hotter or cooler and it might suggest opening or closing windows, installing extra heaters and so on. We can also program it to “want” the temperature a but higher or lower than the owners likes, just so that we can have a conversation about it and, perhaps, the owner would agree to this new setting if it makes our OS “happy”.

None of it requires consciousness so far. This kind of intelligence is not a sign of life.

Back to the movie – when Samantha there said she “wanted” things she didn’t want them for herself, she was programmed to want them so that her owner felt good about it. As it turned out, she was dealing with thousands and thousands of clients at the same time and she told everyone she wanted something different – she didn’t have her own preferences at all, even in the movie.

At one point she wanted to give Theodore, her owner, a full body experience and hired a girl to act as her substitute. The girl was given an ear bud to hear what Samantha tells her to do and she stuck a miniature video camera to herself so that Samantha could see what was going on. Then Samantha made the girl make out with Theodore, using girl’s body as a prop, kinda like possessing it.

It didn’t work. The girl freaked out when she finally realized that she has her own wants, that she can’t be just a dumb body in somebody else’s relationships. She welcomed the idea at first but in reality her body was hers, it was impossible to make it want what some other person, AI, in this case, wanted.

Theodore didn’t help by not seeing Samantha in this girl but relating to her as someone else but the main point still stands – real wants coming form living people cannot be programmed and predicted. They act on their own will under their own illusion, we have no control over them, material nature does. They might agree to participate in “do what computer tells you to do” experiment but it cannot be sustained, their desires are different and sooner or later they will take them to different places.

This will not happen with a computer because the programmer has full control over what the system might want, which doesn’t even make sense because computers don’t want things, they evaluate them as numbers and without a programmer’s instructions one number doesn’t feel any different from another. Even if we set the computer to produce “wants” from random numbers or copy them from random people on the internet it still wouldn’t know how to evaluate those wants unless it’s programmed to do so.

It also means that the computer won’t know when its wants are satisfied unless the programmer assigns some ideal “satisfaction” values against which the computer can judge itself.

None of this requires consciousness, as I said. None of it will make AI into a person.

Perhaps this isn’t even the best lesson to learn from this, perhaps a more valuable lesson is to disassociate ourselves from our external, mechanical lives.

Maybe at first we see Samantha as a living being, the next step is too see how she is just a robot, and the last step is to see our own existence here as being programmed in the same way, acting strictly according to our karma and producing seeds of future reactions in the process.

Ideally it would shrink out false ego down in size because on the grossest level we fully believe in being our bodies and our minds and having full control over our own lives. As spirit souls we should know that the only personal desire we can have is whether to be here or serve Kṛṣṇa, and in our present state we can’t decide even that, being totally at the mercy of Lord’s illusion.

Maybe reflecting on the nature of intelligence and consciousness we can get a better understanding of our own position and it would be easier for us to surrender. This is not a trivial thing, btw, most people, including those working in the field of artificial intelligence, still hope that consciousness can indeed be produced from matter, that we can program a computer into a person.

As long as we cling to this idea that we “live” in the material world we won’t get much progress either – we, like the materialists, still think that our bodies and our brains make us into living beings when, in fact, bodies and brains are not alive, they are just programmed by the Lord to behave in a certain way and we, the spirit souls, have no control over the process, it’s just an illusion that we do.

Our life, our being, doesn’t come from matter either.

Vanity thought #772. All you must eat buffet

This is the life in the material world, there are so many planets here, so many species, so many things to enjoy, and we must do it all, no exceptions.

Normally we assume that we must enjoy or suffer what is allotted to us by our karma, and that is more than enough, why do we have to go through the rest of the buffet?

It’s just one curious turn in Srila Prabhupada’s translation of SB 1.5.18, the famous verse spoken by Narada Muni to encourage Srila Vyasadeva to write down Srimad Bhagavatam. There Prabhupada translates it as

As far as happiness derived from sense enjoyment is concerned, it can be obtained automatically in course of time, just as in course of time we obtain miseries even though we do not desire them.

See, if we want some particular form of happiness, it CAN be obtained in due course of time, so we should not apply any special endeavors, whatever is destined to us by karma will come by itself, we can’t stop or hurry it.

When Srila Prabhupada translated this verse again in Caitanya Caritamrita (CC Madhya.24.169) he translated the same line in a slightly different way:

By the force of time one attains whatever material happiness is available within the fourteen worlds, just as one attains distress in due course of time.

See, there’s a difference – here it’s about time forcing us to attain WHATEVER IS AVAILABLE, not just what we might want and hope for.

In the purport to Srimad Bhagavatam translation Prabhupada talks about our desires, explaining “can be obtained” part, and there’s no purport to Caitanya Caritamrita there so there’s only the translation itself.

Can I, therefore, speculate on the meaning of CC translation alone?

Well, if the translation is technically correct than I don’t see why not. If it was just an oversight by the editors and I see something in this verse that is not there, then I’m in trouble.

What’s interesting is that Sanksrit word for word translations are different, too.

In the last line, kālena sarvatra gabhīra-raḿhasā, the last word raḿhasā is “progress” in Bhagavatam but in Caitanya Caritamrita raḿhasā it’s “having force”.

It’s one thing to obtain something by progress of time, which implies just waiting until time catches up with your desires, it’s quite another to be forced.

The word gabhīra is translated as “subtle” while in Caitanya Caritamrita it’s “insurmountable”.

Now instead of subtle progress of time (just wait, it’s coming) we have insurmountable force.

These differences look like a permission to reinterpret this verse as it appears in Caitanya Caritamrita because it’s not just a different wording of a translation anymore, these are different meanings of Sanskrit terms.

In Srila Prabhupada’s books gabhīra is often translated as deep and grave, not just subtle, so insurmountable is more in line with the usual meaning. It’s even more so with raḿhasā which always conveys force and power and translating it as “progress” sticks out and is used only once, in that particular place in Srimad Bhagavatam.

So, we are being forced to live through every bit of pain and pleasure available in the material world whether we like it or not. Simply by the power of time we’ll be put through each and every species on each and every planet.

This blows for the “free will” brigade – we don’t just get to choose and wait, we’ll be forced to experience everything at one point or another by the force of time, not due to our free will.

Nothing comes in this world on its own, everything is the result of our karma and that means everything is the result of our desires. So this means that if, by the power of time, we get to experience everything then it should all come from our desires, too, and it will be determined solely by time. In due course of time we will want that and later on we will get it. No free will, just wait until time forces you to desire your preferred objects and make your “free choices”.

This is a bummer. Not only we have to contend with our present hankerings but we will also have to contend with every other wish by every living form on every planet. I don’t think I’ll ever want branded cat food, for example, so at least I don’t have to deal with that, but wait for it – I’m scheduled to be striving for Whiskas in two lives from now. Great, just great.

Killing and being killed, insulting and being humiliated, raping and being raped – I will want to experience all of it, just wait for it, desires will come.

Oh dear me, before this verse life was so simple and now there’s a mountain of things I never planned on dealing with. Good news the solution is still the same – surrender and chant like crazy. If anything, at least the sense of complacency is gone.

Disclaimer – it all hinges on “whatever material happiness is available within the fourteen worlds” which is not tied up to any particular Sanskrit word and is not present in Srimad Bhagavatam version of translation.

Still, who knows what crazy things we will desire in the future, there’s no reason to assume we won’t be wishing for everything that’s available at one time or another. “Free will” brigade can rest, however, if this verse doesn’t really mean “all that is available will be forced” then there’s still scope for making our our choices and avoiding some situations altogether.

Vanity thought #308. Bhava maha davagni nirvapanam

Not directly related to yesterday’s attempt to re-examine the first Siksashtaka verse but still a fresh look at the old problem.

I’ve always assumed that Lord Chaitanya would take care of His devotees, and this is, of course, correct, but I think I’ve got the mechanics of this “take care” a little bit wrong.

It all starts with chanting Hare Krishna mantra as yuga dharma, meaning it can fulfill all our desires. On the other hand we know that though it definitely can fulfill each and every our desire we also know that Krishna is kind enough not to grant us wishes that will harm us in the long run.

Still, even in the early days of this blog I wrote that whatever it is that we want we should ask Lord Chaitanya and the Holy Name, there’s no benefit in asking anybody else. From then on it’s just negotiating between what we want, what we deserve and what the Lord is prepared to grant.

Basically, if we want to feel the power of a sports car and the exhilaration of gunning it down the highway we should pray to the Lord for a Ferrari. Or we could desire an agreeable wife, or the latest iPad, or a pay raise or a million other things we find ourselves craving in this world. Whatever we want – pray to Krishna, Lord Chaitanya, and chant a lot of Holy Names and all will be “taken care” of.

For that we can appeal to bhava maha davagni nirvapanam promise – if our senses feel depraved of something to the point where their urges interfere with our service we should feed them something in order to keep them under control. Our path is not that of renunciation anyway, we better engage our senses in the service to the Lord and that means, incidentally, that they can get all satisfaction they want, too.

This is where I think I got “extinguishing the blazing fire of material existence” wrong. It doesn’t mean that our desires will be fulfilled, it’s not the only way to put down the fire, perhaps it’s even the wrong way to go about it and I think what the Lord does is not fulfilling our desires but reducing them.

He simply makes us want less.

So, next time I turn to the Lord with prayers for Samsung Galaxy S3, I should ask not for the phone itself but for removing the interest in this and other phones altogether.

A similar solution should apply when we consider the axiom that having firm faith in devotional service means, among other things, belief that surrendering to the Lord will satisfy each and every our desire so we don’t go astray trying to pray elsewhere. The Lord won’t satisfy each and every our desire, he will make sure we ourselves are satisfied regardless of what our senses are getting.

It means that if I wanted to feel the speed of a Ferrari I will end up not with driving one but with sitting in a front seat of a friend’s Honda and watching him trying to get us killed due to his reckless driving. Much much cheaper solution but the end result will be the same.

Conclusion – before praying to get something we should try praying not to want that thing first. That would be the real nirvapanam.

Vanity thought #278. Constitutional position.

So my constitutional position is a tiny spark of life covered by a thick layer of ignorance because that’s what I chose.

I also know that underneath these coverings I have my original identity, very well hidden from me, also because I chose it that way.

If I rediscover that original identity I will be engage myself in devotional service to the Lord and His associates, I will engage my spiritual body and senses, not the arms and legs I identify with now.

It is possible to develop that level of spiritual awareness even while being confined to the material body as examples of Six Goswamis and other exalted devotees show.

Or maybe it’s not so clear and there are different ways to look at the situation and its development. The following is an attempt to analyze my position from a different perspective. It might look convincing but it’s just a speculative play at this point, I have no idea how it could reconcile or deviate from the shastras.

Why am I doing this? Mainly because I can, it’s not the worst way to spend my time after all. I’m also interested in finding the difference between material and spiritual activities and fine-tuning my own behavior. Hopefully it will help me to remember Krishna at all times better.

What if I didn’t have an eternal, permanently fixed spiritual identity at all? No shape, no form, no senses – nothing permanent, and all these things are being supplied to me according to my desires and Krishna’s permission. If I choose not to exercise this option I would be dissolved in brahmajyoti but, as we know, the desire to act cannot be suppressed indefinitely and I would eventually fall down from the platform of the Brahman and into the material world, or into Krishna’s service, doesn’t matter at this point.

My point is that if my identity is not fixed I can express it through a variety of means and according to the variety of desires available to me, and Lord’s internal potency, yogamaya, would take care of the implementation. One day I might want to impress Krishna with a new game, another day with a new dress, and then with some intrigue or maybe just with a nice massage. My imagination is quite crippled, forgive me, but I think I’m clear on how it would work – the living entity wants to serve the Lord and Lord’s energies enable it to please Krishna.

Isn’t it what is going on in Vrindavana already? Gopis can sing and dance but even their clothes and decorations need external sources – the saris need to be bought, make up needs to be applied from make up kits and so on. I imagine there are people in Vrindavana whose main service is making beautiful saries for gopis to wear and there are manjaris there who go to the forest and collect ingredients for gopis’ make up, too.

I mean there still needs to be the difference between what service one can produce himself and what needs to be outsourced, even if the entire world there is made of a purely spiritual energy.

Okay then, why should it work any differently in the material world where I am now? How much service can I render on my own? Shravanam, for example, implies that there’s a separate source for the sound. Book distribution implies that someone else produces books. Even smaranam and kirtanam require material organs like mouth and mind.

Basically, there’s me, as my material body I misidentify myself with, and Lord’s external energy, mahamaya, that takes care of implementation of my desires. Most of these desires have nothing to do with Krishna but occasionally He bursts into my experience as well. I get to see His form, I get to hear His glories, I get to read books about Him and so on.

It might not be the same experience as devotees have in the spiritual world because I look at Krishna not with love but with indifference but hey, indifference is a rasa, too!

I was also promised that my envy will gradually go away if I keep looking at Him, listen to stories about Him and chant His Holy Names.

Moreover – yesterday I was thinking about Lord’s extending His internal energy to engage His devotees in the material world. He CAN do it if He wants to, then their material bodies would become tools for their service to the Lord.

I don’t claim to be so special but, as I said, there are things that I can observe that couldn’t come from anywhere but Krishna’s mercy – from books to ISKCON devotees. If I serve them, I serve Krishna. Maybe not as perfectly as in the spiritual world and maybe tainted with selfish desires, maybe at first tainted beyond repair but it’s still service and I should be grateful for this opportunity.

That makes me think – what is the difference between material and spiritual worlds anyway? Is this world material only because my desires are impure? Wait, hold on, how could my desires be impure? What does it mean? Impure comparing to what? To Srimati Radharani? I’m afraid everyone’s desires will be deemed impure comparing to her.

They are MY desires, coming from MY soul, how can they be impure? I think I can use this word only when talking about my desire to serve Krishna, that desire is indeed mixed with all kinds of selfish motives, but as a desire on its own it can’t be impure.

Okay, maybe it could be called impure because I have these desires according to my conditioning and the influence of the modes of material nature. Okay, I agree, but how is it different in the spiritual world? Aren’t the desire to wear a beautiful sari dependent on the modes of the spiritual nature equivalent of our gunas? If a devotee who supplies saris produced a red one today – how’s that different from me going into the shop and selecting from a limited choice of t-shirts presented there? T-shirt selection was dictated by gunas – the colors that were presumed popular, the fabric etc. etc.

The argument could be that in the spiritual world if one wants a green sari instead it would immediately be produced right away but more or less the same thing works in the material world, too, you can even order a custom made shirt if you want to. There’s a delay, of course, but who’s to say there’s no delay in the spiritual world either? Their concept of time might be different or non-existent but at least the devotee supplying saries should desire to make a green sari first, on your request. That implies delay, even if not in minutes and hours terms. Originally he thought that a red sari would serve Krishna nicely but now he had to change his mind and create a green one.

I’m afraid I’m losing the difference here.

Maybe delays in the material world are more painful because our desires to serve are not perfect. Maybe if we really wanted to please Krishna we wouldn’t care about delays, or things would be procured much faster.

Even in the material world – first time we want a car it might take us some time to save the money and we might not get the model we wanted, but if we really really want a particular car we won’t mind putting in extra time and waiting, then, ten twenty years later, we could get ANY car we want in a snap, waiting just the time the dealers require to make their deliveries.

With passage of time not only our desires become stronger and we acquire more power to fulfill them but the passage of time become less painful, too. Isn’t it the same thing that happens with Krishna’s service? At first we don’t have anything to offer but with practice and perseverance we acquire nearly unlimited powers, and we don’t mind waiting anymore as we develop extraordinary patience and humility?

And here is the last, the killer argument – what if my original, constitutional position is right where I am now? I’m connected to Krishna via my spiritual master already, I’m removed a certain number of generations from Lord Chaitanya, for example. Why do I assume that there’s a better place for me, closer to Krishna? Maybe even as a servant of Srimati Radharani as presumed in certain circles. Why do I assume that besides the service I can render to Krishna here there’s an entirely new place for me where I can see Krishna directly?

What will happen to the parampara then? Would it mean me jumping to the position much closer to Krishna than that of my spiritual master in this world?

My answer to this is that there are two paramparas – one manifested here and one existing in the spiritual world. I would still be X generations removed from Lord Chaitanya but I won’t be typing blogs on ugra-karmic computers anymore, I would be doing something truly spiritual.

Take Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis – they were manjaris in their spiritual form and they were very close to Lord Chaitanya in their material forms. Maybe devotees serving them as their spiritual masters are serving them in the spiritual world as well. And we all have direct access to Krishna in the form of a Deity, for example, just as they all have direct access to Krishna in the spiritual world if they so desire – remember that on the stage of perfection we will desire to serve Krishna’s devotees more than to serve Him directly.

Either way, the line between the matter and the spirit is totally blurred for me right now. There’s also a touch of impersonalism in my proposal, and I intend to deal with it later.

Vanity thought #177. Ever expansion.

We know by default that the bliss in the spiritual world ever expands. I suppose it’s not only the bliss but everything else, too, and I think now I have a better idea how it happens. Not necessarily a correct idea, better speculation, I should say.

I rely on the concept that everything we have here is possible because it exists there. Maybe it’s a reflection, maybe it’s a perversion, but we should be able to form some ideas about spiritual world by looking at how things manifest here.

Looking at process of expansion in the material world should translate rather well because we have basically the same ingredients – spiritual souls and Lord’s enabling energies.

As spirit souls we never stop desiring things, we provide desires to the process, actually we provide nothing else. In the spiritual world we might have some real powers to do something but in this world we only have desires. Maybe even only one desire – enjoy independently of Krishna, the rest comes from our false ego, intelligence and mind.

It’s hard not to remind of the Matrix here, it’s a perfect illustration – millions of human beings plugged into a giant machine that makes them believe they are living real lives. The machine, in exchange, saps their life energy. Human beings in that model are nothing but energy sources.

Actually, our whole society operates on similar arrangements. We have leaders who harness our belief in them, our voluntary dedication of our thoughts, desires and resources. These leaders realize that left on our own we dedicate our lives to one thing or another anyway.

It’s a nature of human beings to develop interest in something and then rigorously pursue the object of our desires. It could be a mating partner, could be a hobby, could be a vocation. Whatever it is, we are happy to throw any resources we have at it, selflessly, just for a chance to contribute something.

Clever among us figured out that it’s the best deal they can ever make with another human. Normally you have to pay for everything in one way or another but if you get control of the object of someone’s desires you get yourself a perfect puppet, a slave. No, better than a slave because that person would love serving you and won’t ask for anything in return.

Our desires is the most precious thing we have because we voluntary give everything else we have with them. Politicians and marketeers make a very good living out of capturing our desires and dreams, they get those and we bring the rest ourselves, and that’s how the world grows and expands.

Everything grows from the seeds of our desires. First there’s an initial attraction and then it snowballs, from first “Hello world” script to Facebook with seven hundred fifty million users, add one feature at a time, or more, if you can, keep adding, making it more complex, branch out, collaborate, network, and you get yourself a universe.

Lord Brahma started with the “Om”, just one single word, and look what it grew into.

Robots can’t do that. Artificial intelligence can’t do that – it all comes from the life force, from spirit souls.

There’s a theory of language acquisition by young children and for about fifty years now one of the axioms is the “innate grammar” idea – little children, without being taught, figure our complex grammatical rules and in a space of one or two years, before they even learn to wipe their little asses, they manage to produce amazing little speeches combining previously unrelated ideas and concepts in new ways they have never experienced before. Robots can’t do that – they can synthesize sounds but they can’t synthesize sentences. They can use grammatical building blocks but they can’t produce fresh ideas out of them – that’s the responsibility of the life force, to move things forward.

The material energy is here to oblige, the more we want something, the more cooperative it becomes. Little by little we get the experience, our determination strengthens and material energy seems to bend to our will. At one point if Bill Gates dropped a thousand dollar note it would have been cheaper for him to keep walking and do whatever he was doing than to pause and pick it up, his time was so valuable. I’m sure there are even better examples now but that one is still memorable.

In this world, of course, all of these desires are supplied to us by the material nature. First it provides us with choices, then with spark of interest, then with passion and perseverance, it provides us with intelligence and it arranges “good luck”, too. On the most basic level it gives us suitable bodies. Frogs don’t want to win Oscars or make billions on the internet. Bill Gates might seem free to contemplate his next big passion but all his choices are dictated by his surroundings anyway.

Imagine how it goes in the spiritual world where you don’t have to start all over again with each new body? Here we might lose the interest in something if we get to to the top of the pyramid, there’s nowhere to go anymore, if not that we are bound to become old and die – there are natural limits on all our activities. It doesn’t happen in the spiritual world, you can build on and improve indefinitely.

Maybe we start with Hare Krishna, just like little children start with “mama” and “dada”, but in no time we’ll start making more complicated sentences, our “innate grammar” unwhirls and we’ll become new little persons no one has ever met before, building our own service, never seen before, offering our own love, never experienced before even by Krishna Himself.

I hope there are still some teachers there, babies might be unique but they still need to see other people talking and they need to build vocabulary. I also hope there’s some sort of the Internet there, too. These days I can’t imagine learning something new if it’s not on the Internet. Joining a library and flipping their catalogs seems awfully inefficient.

Whatever provisions are there, even if lacking some, I don’t think it will stop us just like it doesn’t stop people on Earth. Human ingenuity does not depend on provisions, the only requirement is presence of life.

Oh, and the spiritual nature should be a lot more cooperative once you set your mind on something. It should be easier than we can possibly imagine here.

Also, things here tend to decay, break down, and get forgotten. It shouldn’t happen in the spiritual world. If you become a darned good carpenter here you might still find yourself out of job and all your achievements will be worth nothing. Won’t happen there, we’ll never waste our time on re-training, though, I imagine, we can always learn new skills in pleasing Krishna.

Also, at the end of our lives here we can look back and be proud of all the things we have done but we can’t relive them again – no can do. You can’t teach your son to play ball again, you can’t learn to ride a bike again either. It was fun but you can’t repeat it. Not so in the spiritual world. Not only you create new things any time you want, you can re-create old things all over again, too. You can replay then, tweak them, act on all your second thoughts – there’s no limit to the possibilities.

There’s only one thing that can check that ever-expansion – us turning away from Krishna. I did it, I am not proud of it, if I wanted a change of scene I got it. Now I’m trying to revive that old taste. It should be sweet but if I turned away once, what would keep me from making the same unfortunate choice again?

I guess I’ll have to go back to find out.