Vanity thought #1475. Sexism?

Yesterday I mentioned that sometimes Prabhupāda appeared as sexist, when he was apparently prejudiced against a female reporter. This is somehow a big issue for our detractors – sexism, and so they dig up and trot out various quotes from Prabhupāda to justify their accusations of misogyny. I don’t think I’m willing to answer them point by point, it would be a waste of time because they won’t listen and I don’t need convincing myself, so just a few thoughts that come to mind.

First, the reporter – Prabhupāda simply made a prediction based on previous experience. Female reporters usually beat about the bush and ask irrelevant questions. As I said yesterday, they see it as their job, and actually this is exactly what this particular woman said (here the transcript and the audio as well). Prabhupāda wasn’t having it – job or not job, all human beings must ask pertinent questions about their nature and the nature of the world around them.

A week before this interview Prabhupāda talked to another female reporter and questions were about meeting political leaders, devotees wearing wigs, alleged relocation of Dallas gurukula etc. News, basically, not spiritual truth and not Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

A year earlier another woman was pestering Prabhupāda about when he realized the “highest truth” himself, I think I mentioned it about a month ago. On that occasion Prabhupāda seemed to be ignoring her for a while after patiently explaining the difference between men and women. That was also the time when he mentioned difference in brain weight and he got it wrong, now we know. He got his numbers either from the news or from his college days, however, and the reporter didn’t know the correct data herself so everybody let it pass.

Female brains are, indeed, smaller, but not by as much as Prabhupāda claimed, and they have other features in which they appear to be superior to men, but none of that was known at that time. Prabhupāda never claimed Vedic sources for this anyway, just passed along whatever he knew about science.

He also had to answer questions like “What do you do for fun?”, which he simply didn’t. There was also that famous conversation where they discussed why women bare their legs while devotees bare their heads. The point is that there were a lot of previous experiences to teach Prabhupāda not to expect much from female interviewers. And, just to confirm, the next interview (after the first I mentioned), on the same day, was with a man who jumped straight to the point.

“Yes, I know your books.” “How did you start your movement, with no money?” “Did you really just sit and chant in the park?” “What did you have to offer?” “How is the spiritual dimension of life realized?” “Is this internal process or external?” “What is the ultimate knowledge?” – Do you see the difference? Prabhupāda was very, very satisfied with that interview. Why couldn’t women ask similar questions? Beats me, technically they can, but it’s perfectly normal not to expect them to, and there’s nothing sexist about that, just recognizing patterns in human nature.

There was a time when ISKCON brahmacārīs suddenly realized that women pose danger to their spiritual health. Trouble was brewing all over the society, letters were written, pressure was applied to GBC, temple presidents, in turn, were becoming antagonistic towards travelling saṅkīrtana parties, which were all men. It wasn’t such a big deal in the early days but then suddenly it was. I don’t know why, it just happened. Some say that things changed after devotees went to India and had to adjust to local customs there, which didn’t favor gender equality at all. I can see that, but there must have been other reasons, too. Sometimes it clearly went over the top.

ISKCON had an “official” photographer, for example, Viśākha mātājī, and, as a photographer, she had to get close to Prabhupāda when others had to sit in their assigned places. Once she was trying to take a picture with Prabhupāda’s eyes open and, preferably, with a smile, but Prabhupāda was singing Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava and his eyes were closed. Viśākha patiently waited, with camera ready, but that meant she was standing in front of all the sannyāsīs sitting in the front row. One of them prodded her in the behind with his daṇḍa. Somehow Prabhupāda caught this exact moment and his eyes nearly shot a lightning at that man, but Viśākha got her kind glance and a smile. One simple moment, no one noticed it, but it’s still memorable and rather telling. No one should interfere with devotee’s service even if she is a woman.

On another occasion devotees accompanied Prabhupāda on a morning walk and all the way they were bitching about women not covering their heads, dancing “provocatively”, and how women are the bondage than keeps men in illusion and so on. They were clearly baiting Prabhupāda to put those women in place but he just wouldn’t give in.

When they returned and entered the temple room there were plenty of women there, preparing the place for the program ahead. As soon as Prabhupāda stepped in they all dropped on the floor in obeisances and started chanting his praṇāma mantra. Finally, Prabhupāda turned to the brahmacārīs accompanying him and said: “But if you associate with THESE women you will go back to Godhead.”

What more do we need to know about our female devotees? We need their mercy just as we need the mercy of the men, they are all vaiṣṇavas, there’s no difference. Yeah, sure, we have to behave differently around them but we still absolutely need to serve them and hope for their devotion to rob off on us, too. Their feet are as lotus as anybody else’s (meaning devotees, of course). We should think that it’s better to die serving a devotee woman than to die in the company of someone who doesn’t appreciate their exalted spiritual position.

Of course serving means doing whatever it is we are supposed to do. A husband serves his wife as a husband, as a protector and a provider, not as a menial servant, though a bit of menial service never hurt anybody either. It might not be appropriate to offer obeisances to female devotees in public just because we feel they deserve them, or to one’s wife, but nothing should stop us from doing it in our hearts and minds. Just as guru’s service is still service – one does not become a master by becoming a guru.

Frankly, if we develop this kind of appreciation for our female devotees then all the talk about sexism, misogyny, etc, would go straight pass us as it comes from people who haven’t got a clue. Maybe sometimes somebody has to respond to them, just not me and not today.

Vanity thought #1343. Dreamy reality

A few days ago I was very tired and didn’t wake up at the usual time. I hit snooze on my alarm a few times, still didn’t feel rested enough to get up. Moved the alarm an hour later, hit snooze again, then turned it off altogether and decided to sleep in, even if with somewhat guilty consciousness.

Just as I decided to abandon my plans and I sleep until I wake up on my own I had a powerful, vivid dream unlike any I’ve had in a long time. The best part about it was it featured devotees and so when I finally woke up I felt my self-indulgence was justified.

The most important component of a dream is often the impression it leaves in the mind. The content might be unremarkable, even in cases when guru or the Lord make an appearance they are unlikely to say anything we haven’t heard before, unless giving very specific instructions. It’s just when these same words appear in a context of a vivid dream they impress us so much more.

I’m not sure I can convey the vividity of this one in mere words. It felt more real than my usual reality. Maybe it’s because in the dream I was traveling and so had new, unfamiliar experiences.

I stayed in a big posh hotel with two non-nondescript friends whose names I don’t remember and probably didn’t know even in the dream itself. We were on some kind of vacation, probably something like in Hangover movies except there was no drinking or any kind of debauchery at all, we were out to explore new land – it was somewhere in Eastern Ukraine where there’s a war going on. There was no war in a dream, though, we just wanted to take in the natural beauty of the place.

I’ve never been there and from looking at the photos on the Internet I don’t see how it could be reasonably described as beautiful but there was this amazing lake, big, busy, the center of attraction. I remember walking along the embankment and watching men, women, kids, and entire families swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing. The water was dark and I wondered if it was salty, like in the sea, or fresh. The lake was very long but not very wide and big ships and small boats were passing not very far from the shore in both directions. The atmosphere was electrified with business, hope, relaxation, and a general feeling that karma had something big prepared for this place.

This was the part that caught my attention. Next I woke up in the hotel room, high above the lake, opened heavy curtains and took the whole view in again. It was really amazing. The hotel itself was designed with the idea of luxury from Soviet times, I guess. Big heavy furniture, high ceilings etc.

Next part was in a hotel restaurant. Me and my friends were sitting in the row of tables facing the stage. Waiters filled our glasses with cool water, we unfolded crisp napkins and waited for the vegetarian part of the set dinner. That’s when I noticed a devotee woman a few tables over. I walked up, sat in front of her and introduced myself. She was genuinely glad to see me and we both were very excited. She chatted with me like I was an old friend and even asked me how I manage to control my sex life.

I thought she was asking for my view on sex within marriage but I replied that I feel old enough to simply wait it out and give up sex altogether. She didn’t like this answer at all, it was not what she expected. There was also a moment when she asked me look inside her mouth and check if her tongue had excessive coating, which would indicate potential health problems.

Her tongue was clean, I said, and noticed that her mouth was unusually big, like a cave, but everything was very neat inside it, all the teeth were white and healthy looking, there was no odor. That’s a perfectly good mouth to belt out Holy Name with, I thought. Only devotees have those. Still, I had an uncomfortable feeling that her next request would be even more awkward.

Luckily, the subject quickly changed when she brought in her two kids, two twin brothers, dressed in while kurtas and dhotis, both lively, curious, and clearly healthy eaters. Devotees’ kids are remarkable, I thought to myself as we exchanged small talk. I also thought that Kṛṣṇa must surely like these two little boys and considers them His cherished treasure.

Then it turned out that there were plenty more devotees around. Suddenly they got up on stage and started chanting while others were walking among the guests with karatālas and little gongs. They were all dressed in vaiṣṇava clothes, nice white dhotis with elaborate embroidery, exquisite kurtas, and women were wearing beautiful saris, too. They were really a pleasure to look at and their singing was attractive but not overwhelming. I remember them singing Dāmodarāṣṭaka prayers accompanied by a harmonium.

One of them was playing karatālas with chopstics, ie they were not tied up together with string but he inserted chopsticks where the string should go and controlled them like that. He gave them to me but I had no idea how to hold them. After a while he took them back, when he saw that I was a crappy player.

There’s one important thing I noticed during this part – devotees loved showing off themselves and acted like little stars, expecting everyone to like and adore them just because they where there and made claims to everyone’s attention. This kind of pride is based on Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, I thought, not on personal ego. They do not attribute their attractiveness to themselves, I thought, but it still felt a bit off.

When kīrtana was over another group gathered around me and I found out that they were from Kazakhstan, some where from Siberia, and some where from Russia’s Volga region. I desperately tried to remember one single name but I don’t know anyone from those parts of the world.

Then I remembered a temple president I knew in the 90s and turned out they knew him, too. I was so caught up in the moment to establish good rapport with them that I implied that we were very close but the truth is that we weren’t friends in any sense, he was older than me and in every way my senior, and I seriously doubt he remembered me at all. I’ve never been to his temple either, we met elsewhere.

That’s when I caught myself completely off track. I was trying to make a positive impression, score some brownies, and misrepresented myself. It felt like lying and being caught in the lie but there was no time nor opportunity to correct myself, nor did I want to upset the devotees who were sincerely happy to meet such a “distinguished” devotee, a personal friend of one of the pillars of their Russian community.

I woke up before I could do anything about it.

Tbh, I didn’t like this encounter at all and if I had a choice to view this dream again would have probably preferred to stay hidden. They had a strong sense of community I didn’t want to be a part of, and not just because they are Russians but because they represent a new ISKCON I’m not familiar with. They have different values, present themselves differently, and I’m just too old for these new tricks.

I have no doubt Kṛṣṇa is very pleased with them and supports them in every way but it’s just not for me, not in my present body and my present conditioning.

Was this dream my subconscious telling me what I generally do not dare to think in awakened state? I’ve never had these feelings in association of real devotees but, perhaps, I actually never admitted to myself that it was exactly how I felt.

What I appreciated in my attitude that it wasn’t in any way offensive. I just accepted that Kṛṣṇa likes these devotees as they are even if I don’t. I also didn’t feel like I was missing anything by not subscribing to this “we know a better way to live” attitude. It’s better, true, but it’s still materialistic in its outlook, Kṛṣṇa engages and purifies them and it’s good but I sense He has different plans for me. Maybe I will be elevated to their position in the next life, they are practically His gotra now but I’m still not, still an outsider hoping for acceptance, and not acceptance in the material world either.

But if it’s necessary I would have not take birth again. So be it.

Vanity thought #1314. Pure devotees – to the end

There are five qualities left out of twenty-eight and I hope to finish them today (SB 11.11.29-32). I think it’s a very good, solid list and there are interesting ways to apply it in our society.

The first two are the same as in Śikṣāṣṭaka – amānī and māna-da. A devotee has no desire for prestige and if fame comes he doesn’t take it seriously, he is far more interested in showing respect to others. The last one looks very common among a certain type of materialists, the ones with “service attitude”, but for them it is nothing but cheap flattery. They only want you to feel good about yourself so that you kindly grant them their wishes, which reminds me of compassion again – they want you to feel superior and compassionate so that you foolishly give them your money or whatever favors they might want from you.

Respect shown by devotees is nothing like that at all, there’s not a hint of selfish motives behind it. It exists in the material world, too, but is much much rarer. Used to be common but not for the upcoming Gen X,Y, millennials, of whatever they are called. We can appreciate this kind of respect only because we know about it and recognize it in devotees, and same is true for all the other qualities on the list, but I’ll get to that later.

Then there’s this curious kalya – a devotee is expert in making people understand the truth of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. I don’t know where this translation comes from, the only other version I could find says it means “invigorates” while Sanskrit dictionary has one of the meanings for this adjective as “instructive”. Perhaps we can combine these two meanings together and then see how imparting Kṛṣṇa consciousness invigorates people. Then there are meanings like “healthy” and “good wishes”, but also “death and dumb”. My favorite one, however, has got to be “spirituous liquor” – you drink it and you become intoxicated with spiritual knowledge. Maybe we should understand it as devotees are spiritually nourishing to others. It goes nicely with “giving respect” and the next one, too.

Maitra. A devotee does not cheat anyone by encouraging them in the bodily concept of life; rather, by his missionary work a devotee is the true friend of everyone.” That’s straight from the purport. The word itself is a common one and it means “friend” or “friendly” but the translators felt the need to add “no cheating” even to word-for-word. It makes sense, though, because that’s what true friendship means. We should understand that Kṛṣṇa is not talking about general friendship here and so distinction must be made.

Ordinary friends will always have you back and what they want is for you to be happy, but that means material happiness and a devotee would never be interested in offering that. He would not encourage sense gratification and that’s what the purport called cheating. Our definition is not what being friendly means in common language at all. Friends get invited to parties, watching sports games etc and no one would invite a devotee to any of that. He is not a friend material in that sense. He is needed only when people get serious about their lives, he will be the one they turn to because his association is spiritually nourishing, kalya, as described above.

Next is kāruṇika, a devotee is merciful, he is compassionate, and he does that by relieving people of the cause of their suffering. He keeps people sane, as they say in the purport, which is a very apt observation. People are generally crazy, pramatta, this was covered yesterday, and that causes all their problems. Restoring their sanity, which means making them see themselves as Kṛṣṇa’s servants, is the ultimate act of compassion. Lighting their pot pipe is not it. Giving them money is not it, even giving them food is not it, only prasādam helps. Poor sods generally think that their material needs need to be addressed first and expect devotees to shower them with material benefits but that’s also a sign of their insanity. A devotee is able to relieve them from it. We might want to and try to, too, but without genuine devotion we will not succeed.

Final quality is kavi, which means “learned” or even “poet”. The purport explains that a devotee is expert in reconciling various contradictory qualities in Kṛṣṇa, he is never confused by apparent contradictions and therefore he is called learned. Fair enough, but then Lord Caitanya warned us about attachment to sundarīṁ kavitāṁ, sometimes translated together and sometimes separately. In either case, it’s about beautiful poetry. We should not become literature lovers and while we might appreciate a clever turn of phrase we shouldn’t not give it any value unless it makes Kṛṣṇa look better.

I mentioned this about story telling a while ago – if there’s no deep, underlying lesson behind it then all the drama is just a waste of time. Beauty must come from within, so to speak, from ultimate and intimate connection with Kṛṣṇa. The speakers voice should tremble because he describes Kṛṣṇa’s qualities, not storms or ghosts or whatever. It should not be done artificially. If we don’t feel Kṛṣṇa in our stories we should not pretend we do and we should not substitute our lack of appreciation with decorative elements either.

The last śloka in the series gives a general advice regarding ordinary religious duties but the best part of it is that a devotee should be considered the best among all living entities.

Here’s the main point I got into this devotee features business at all – we can find people like that all around ISKCON and they MUST be considered saintly and, therefore, above all criticism. We can still find faults in their behavior but in general they are undoubtedly pure. We can go through the list one by one again and easily find practical examples from the lives of devotees around us, it’s not that difficult, what is described in these verses is the norm in our society, not just some unattainable standard from days long gone. The beauty of these qualities is that we can see them in ordinary people around us and see how they develop in devotees to the full extent, there’s no magic to it.

Our critics demand way more, however, they demand people being able to personally go into Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and report directly from Goloka, otherwise they are not fit to be gurus. That’s just nonsense, sheer nonsense. Everybody who sticks with Kṛṣṇa consciousness long enough becomes automatically qualified, in as far as Kṛṣṇa’s grace is automatic and the above qualities develop naturally. Not only that, these people must be considered as liberated even though their external bodies seem to still act under the laws of material nature. It comes straight from Kṛṣṇa’s mouth and I don’t care what critics say.

Anyone who has surrendered himself to the Lord becomes liberated on the spot. His body continues to live out his karma but it is done under Kṛṣṇa’s direct supervision, he is not in māyā’s clutches anymore. From this point on even māyā works for Kṛṣṇa, making us into tools for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. Her job is tough and she has to ease us into the new role but we can forget about things like hell and cold impersonalism of “karma is a b*tch”. No, for us it isn’t, not anymore. Karma is our best friend and best medicine, which explains why it sometimes tastes bitter.

Yeah, we don’t get to see Kṛṣṇa personally and we don’t even get to swim in the ocean of Brahman realization but these things will come in due time, it hardly ever happens before we leave our bodies. Liberated jñāna yogis are supposed to wander about like retards (SB 11.11.17) but devotees should be always engaged in service instead, and as far as I can see everyone in ISKCON does that, so they are perfect.

Vanity thought #1313. Pure devotees, more features

My progress through verses (SB 11.11.29-32) describing qualities of pure devotees might be slow but I see absolutely no harm in dwelling on the issue. It’s not like I am meditating on people’s attachments, among all topics to consider at length devotees are the best. Kṛṣṇa likes it even more than talking about Him. So far I got through nine out of twenty eight. What’s next?

Mṛdu – a devotee is soft and gentle and without “harsh mentality”. The purport explains it nicely – devotees always feel protected by the Supreme Lord, they are not afraid of anyone, and therefore they do not see enemies. When you see no enemies you have no reason to be harsh towards anyone. Materialistic people, otoh, always feel threatened and therefore are always ready to repel the expected aggression and subdue their enemies, very often preventively, just to show they should not be messed with.

Other two qualities in the same line are śuci and akiñcana. Śuci means clean and pure – that’s what constant association with Kṛṣṇa brings about naturally. Devotees are sticklers for cleanliness. Usually it is thought that women are naturally clean but even the best of them have nothing on devotees. I always admire how devotees cook, they always leave the kitchen cleaner when they first walked in. Internally, devotees stay clear of impure thoughts and that shows, too.

Akiñcana means without material motives or possessions. This also comes naturally – Kṛṣṇa personally takes those away. What’s more, when other people lament their losses devotees treasure losing their attachments instead. Renunciation is their only wealth and it’s greatly appreciated by the Lord. Artificial renunciation is a no go, of course, because it is done out of impure motives, in pursuit of fame, for example, and having these impure motives is the opposite of akiñcana.

Can these three qualities be seen in impersonalists? Maybe, but for impersonalists they are means to an end while for devotees they are fruits of their devotion. A fully liberated soul would not care if his body, with which he no longer associates with anyway, is harsh towards anyone, clean, or has no possessions. All these virtues are helpful but in the end need to be abandoned. A devotee, however, displays these qualities in full AFTER the liberation as he continues to engage with the material world in the spirit of service to the Lord.

The next three are common for both impersonalists and devotees: anīho mita-bhuk śāntaḥ, which means freedom from material desires, eating very little, and of peaceful mind. These are just signs of liberation. Śānti, peacefulness, being the result of having no material desires. Even Buddhists know that – desires bring troubles regardless of whether they are fulfilled or not. No desires, no trouble. Oṃ śāntī śāntī śānti is one of the best known mantras both in Hinduism and Buddhism. When I hear it I wonder why can’t these people simply surrender to Kṛṣṇa if they want peace and protection from troubles or from their own minds? It’s a cry of desperation that should naturally lead to devotion.

Then we have sthira, mat-śarana, and muni. Sthira means steadiness, which again comes naturally by Kṛṣṇa’s grace because He protects us from anything that can lead as away. It’s tempting to think that it’s our own quality but Kṛṣṇa’s energies are infinitely strong and can bewilder us and make us do all kinds of crazy things (remember the story of Tulasī?). We don’t do them because Kṛṣṇa would rather see us steady in our service, that’s all that keeps us together so He carefully calibrates the amount of māyā around us.

Mat-śaranam is exclusive only to devotees. They always take shelter of the Lord, pretty obvious, I don’t even know why Kṛṣṇa mentioned that because that’s like saying that water is watery.

Muni is translated as thoughtful but there are plenty of munis in our literature that tend to overthink things. It’s not really a compliment but it’s still a valid observation – devotees are thoughtful, their minds are always somewhere else, thinking of Kṛṣṇa and devising new ways to praise Him and His service.

In the next line we have a similar quality – gabhīrātmā – a devotee is deep. In this verse it’s translated as “not superficial, and thus unchanging” but it’s easy to see how it relates to depth – waves are found only on the surface of the ocean but deep inside everything is unchanging. Devotees are deep in their thoughts of Kṛṣṇa and they are undisturbed by trivialities of the material world. Everything here is in constant motion, devotees don’t have neither time nor inclination to react to those happenings. From devotees’ perspective the more things change the more they stay the same – waves are only waves even though each wave is distinctly different. Paying attention to these things can make one crazy, and there’s a special quality just to describe that.

Apramatta – not mad. Pramattaḥ means mad after material attachments. In this sense everyone in the material world is insane, we chase impossible dreams and hurt ourselves at every step, nor do we have any sense of reality, all we see is the illusion. Lots of people would agree that in this world everyone is insane even though for different reasons. Just look around the Internet to see tons of constantly updated, fresh examples of insanity, or look how psychiatry makes everyone appear mentally ill in one way or another. It’s only for practical reasons that they don’t call everyone sick, instead they single out those who significantly deviate from the general norm of crazy.

Next quality is interesting, dhṛtimān, which literally means of stable mind but is translated as “not weak or miserable even in distressing circumstances”. I don’t know how translators justified introduction of misery and distressing circumstances but it’s just another way to explain what “steady mind” is. It’s relatively easy to be steady when nothing goes on but the real test comes when the world turns against you. Can you maintain your composure then? Devotees can. As I explained earlier, Kṛṣṇa can make anyone to lose His mind so it’s not an absolute quality but it’s still incomparable to the fickle-mindedness of the ordinary people. They lose their marbles for the tiniest of reasons whereas devotees can be bewildered only by Kṛṣṇa personally.

This particular translation brings another dimension, too – devotees are not miserable when in distress. Even if they still possess material bodies and bodies react materially, devotees are not affected. They might react instinctively and their minds might register instinctive thoughts but their consciousness is undisturbed. Misery does not affect them because their consciousness is always with Kṛṣṇa and there’s no misery in Him, not of the material kind anyway.

Let’s stop on jita-ṣaḍ-guṇa, which literally means “conquering six material qualities, namely hunger, thirst, lamentation, illusion, old age and death”. There’s not much to be said here, that’s what liberation means – freedom from material influences. I don’t really understand how it happens, though – freedom from thirst and hunger, for example. Devotees, even the best ones, get hungry and thirsty, they also need to breath. That part of life never stops so what is meant by freedom here? Only yogis and those in deep meditation that looks like coma can be said to be free from hunger and thirst. Perhaps devotees are free in a sense they can always wait for the Lord to satisfy their bodily cravings. They know that the Lord will always provide so even if they are hungry they do not worry about maintaining their bodies. And if the Lord withholds nourishment, as when one is about to die, devotees accept it as the final relief. In this sense they are free not because they don’t need it but because they know they will always be provided.

I don’t know what “freedom from old age” means, though. Can’t even speculate on that. If I have some new thoughts about it I will surely type them down.

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 #1260. Looking at devotees

A week or so ago I checked for vaiṣṇava news on Sampradaya Sun and among the usual there was this little gem – a lecture by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī delivered in 1931, apparently on the day of his guru pūjā. It was announced as “excerpts” and the longer text is available on the site of Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja’s followers, which still isn’t a full class, but the devotee who posted it on Sampradaya Sun got the best parts anyway. Sources at the bottom.

It was actually ironic to see such an article appear on that site where there’s always room to express the attitudes Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was speaking against. I don’t want to rant against their editorial policies, however, for that would also be against our ācāryas’ advice.

Somewhere in the middle of the lecture Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta relayed his answer to a question posed to him by one of his Maṭha’s devotees. In the beginning everything looked perfect there, the devotee said, everyone was visibly attached to their service and everyone’s character was an inspiration. As time went by, however, devotees started to drift away, returned to their families or got married. The standard is not the same anymore. What to do?

It’s a rather typical situation and we’ve heard various explanations for this. Mostly they address the issue of beginner’s enthusiasm and how we should not be fooled by it. Another approach is to consider side effects of our close association with devotees, which breeds familiarity which breed contempt which breeds offenses which leads to the loss of taste. So it’s either their fault or it’s our fault or a combination of both.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta offers a completely different perspective. First of all, he refuses to acknowledge slipping standards of devotion. Something that becomes obvious to us is rejected out of hand.
“

    I cannot say that they have left hari-bhajana just because they have returned to their homes. In fact I see each and every one of those brahmacaris as amazing Vaisnavas and that their Vaisnava qualities and devotion for the Lord have increased manifold.

Come to think of it, I’ve heard this before, but the point this argument was driving at was recognition of wayward practices as genuine service. It was argued taht just because devotees do not follow sādhana as strictly as before and are engaged in what appears as mundane activities doesn’t mean there’s any deficiency in their service and therefore their behavior must be held as exemplary.

This is not the point Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was making. He wasn’t about to pass judgment on others and he wasn’t about to justify any nonsensical things others do either, he was leading us away from “objective” view of the devotees and towards a proper *subjective* perspective. Forget about how it looks, concentrate on how YOU should look at it.

    What a wicked atheist I used to be, but my wickedness substantially abated in their association. I see that I am averse to Bhagavan, but they all are engaged in hari-bhajana.

See how he changed the subject completely. Instead of looking at possible faults he implores us to consider our personal progress and attribute it to the influence of the devotees. That way we will feel grateful, not judgmental.

It sounds reasonable – if we see faults in others we should undergo our own attitude adjustment first. What is necessary for the success here, however, is humility and sober assessment of our own position. “I’m averse to Bhagavan,” he says. That should be our starting point – we see others’ service as deficient only if we compare them to ourselves.

We might think that we are trying to be objective and cite various scriptural references but we should remember that there’s variety in devotees’ service, some look good and some look better, there’s always a hierarchy. Deficiency comes into the picture only when we think that devotees fall below OUR standard. Anything better than us is good, anything lower is not and needs improvement.

To avoid this attitude, therefore, we should place ourselves as lower than the lowest, lower than the blade of grass. Incidentally, this subject was illuminated in the first part of the lecture that didn’t appear on Sampradaya Sun but we should be familiar with it already.

    From my perspective, everybody is advancing in hari-bhajana, and this universe, which was created by Bhagavan, is prospering in every respect. Everyone except me is receiving spiritual benefit.

This needs some time to be properly digested. “Everyone except me is receiving spiritual benefit” – that’s how we should see others.

You’d also think Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was lecturing a neophyte devotee but he wasn’t. He was actually extolling devotion of the person who asked the question:

    ..because you are intensely eager to serve Bhagavan you want the devotees who left to also be increasingly keen to engage in hari-bhajana. They are, however, engaged in hari-bhajana. Still you are dissatisfied and want their exuberance to serve their beloved Lord to increase a million-fold.

That’s another lesson for me. Usually, when we hear criticism of devotees we either agree or we treat the source as an offender. Here Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta neither agrees nor rejects the criticism, he sees the underlying desire to server the Lord better and better instead, and he immediately compares it to his own lack of devotion:

    My heart, on the contrary, is meager and unable to accommodate the magnitude of their bhajana of Sri Hari. They exemplified living according to an astonishingly high ideal. The only person who is incapable of performing hari-bhajana is me..

To be honest, it’s not very clear here if by “me” Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī means himself or if he speaks from the perspective of the inquiring devotee because the rest of the sentence seem to apply to the person asking the question – “because I busy myself with finding faults in others.”

I tend to think that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta here meant himself, he was speaking about his own propensity to find faults in others. It seems incongruous with his position and his behavior but if he genuinely saw himself as devoid of propensity of “hari-bhajana” then finding faults in others should have been seen as replacing it.

The less devotion one sees in one’s own heart the more faults he finds there, and seeking faults in others is one of the anarthas that should become clearly visible even if “objectively” the person might not exhibit such behavior at all.

It must be noted that “objectivity” is not applicable here at all. We should not take devotee’s expression of humility and disgust with himself as real. That’s the problem with those who advocate acceptance of questionable acts – they display only half of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s attitude – reverence for other devotees but no the underlying humility without which such reverence becomes artificial and insincere.

We shouldn’t talk nonsensical things up – we should talk our own position down.

Perhaps there’s a need for a close look at how we should develop proper “tṛṇad api su-nīcena” attitude, there’s plenty of advice in the first half of this same lecture. Not today, though.

Sources: Sampradaya Sun, Pure Bhakti

Vanity thought #815. Dream karma

Another semi-legitimate way to confirm existence of a Deity is to have it come to you in a dream. Never happened to me but there are historical examples even in Chaitanya Charitamrita. Pundarika Vidyanidhi got beaten up by Lord Jagannatha in his dream, and Rupa Goswami had Satyabhama appear before him and give him instructions on his writings.

Today I was just thinking how I haven’t seen a big, engaging dream in a long while and then I realized that actually today’s dream was pretty good in itself, and it was about Lord Jagannath to boot.

During the whole dream I was wondering what I understood to be Puri but there was very little spiritual about the place. It was more like a post urban landscape and the temple was on the beach, with it’s back in the water, and it was kind of small, and it hosted some other Deity, not Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra, but that didn’t bother me.

There was no discrimination of who can see the Deity whatsoever, the Pandas where too busy ushering the crowds past the altar, giving everyone a flower and a smudge on the forehead. It didn’t impress me at all, it wasn’t any kind of dream revelation, just another temple, nothing special. Right next to it, accessible from the beach with its back in the water, there was a temple of Kali and it was equally crowded but I gave it a pass.

The most interesting part of the dream was meeting a couple of devotees I knew many years ago a few hundred meters away from the temple. The first one was resting under a parasol, smiling the biggest smile one could imagine, and he didn’t age even a bit. I introduced myself and he remembered me but he wasn’t moved even a little, he just shrugged me off. “Yes, I know who you are, Hare Krishna and everything, but I don’t really care.”

I was a bit perplexed by such a cold reception but more on that later. The second devotee was also there but he was playing mridanga with a group of locals and I approached him as soon as he finished kirtan. He was a big mridanga player back in the day and even got himself a spot on Aindra Prabhu’s 24-hour kirtan team before Aindra was cool, as hipsters would say.

He didn’t even look at me. “Yes, I know who you are, but I’m kind of busy at the moment so if you just move over so that I can continue on my way somewhere really important.”

Once again, not the kind of reception I was hoping for but I wasn’t disappointed at all. I somehow knew that big reunions with hugs and tears are stuff for the books, I’m not Vidura and they are not Maitreya, we are not living in the past and we are all quite indifferent to it. Sentimentality has no value, living in the moment is real, but, most importantly, there’s nothing special to remember about me. No one would look at me and remember the best years of his life, showers of Lord Chaitanya’s mercy and Vaikuntha all around. It would be just “meh” and that’s what I got.

According to the dream, however, there was another reason for such detachment.

This dream was a continuation of another dream I saw many months ago. In that dream I was traveling to South India, from Puri all the way down to Singapore (screwed geography, I know), and when I was fed up and tired I would return home. Then, after a few months, I would become restless to go on the road again.

The consequence of all this traveling is that I didn’t have a home. Wherever I was, I was just visiting. I obviously wasn’t born in India and I was a guest there, and when at “home” I would imply that I’ve built myself a new life over there and that’s where I live now so I don’t need to stick with you people, I draw my strength, both spiritual and material, elsewhere.

So, in continuation of that dream, devotees that I met were on their annual pilgrimage to India, visiting Puri a week or two before going to Mayapur. For them I was nomad who betrayed their mission back at home, a person without roots, a dog without a master, so they didn’t care.

There’s a lot of truth to this attitude. On one hand we should welcome detachment from any particular place including place of one’s birth and putting down the roots is actually putting down the seeds of our new karma, prelude to having a next life. Nomads are good, they are almost like sannyasis, so why a cold shoulder?

Because as devotees we are always a part of a community and we are always a part of hierarchy. We do not exist in vacuum and our value as devotees lies in our superiors. As devotees we cannot live life of our own, we cannot be dogs without masters, we cannot be our own bosses. Living such an independent life is a falldown. Maybe not in terms of not following the regs or not chanting our rounds but in terms of following orders of our guru, which usually come to us through the chain of local authorities.

Without an order from his authority a devotee is nothing, not even a devotee. We are not nomads, we are servants of our superiors, if we don’t serve we are fallen.

One could say that this is a materialistic consideration, that on the spiritual level we would always be a part of a community regardless of how we live our lives here. We want to be a part of spiritual hierarchy in the spiritual world, we should not identify ourselves with our material bodies and their places in the society.

That’s true, but even as material bodies we do not exist in the vacuum, we were approached by devotees in their material bodies and we were saved by them and by our guru appearing before our material eyes. As we do not have any direct spiritual experience this is all we have for now and for the foreseeable future.

To become successful devotees we should engage our material bodies in service of our material looking authorities, there’s no other way.

That’s why if you are not engaged in such service other devotees are not very impressed, and in this dream it happened to me.

I wonder if there will be a third installment in this series. Somehow my dream mind builds itself an entirely new life with its own karma and then follows it.

If that was Krishna’s arrangement for me to exhaust my real karma so that I don’t have to go through this particular life experience for real, it would be awesome. I’ve never seen anything like that described in shastra but it’s a cool idea that makes total sense. I think Srila Prabhupada said something once along those lines, too.

Need to investigate further.

Vanity thought #814. Unbelievable Lord Chaitanya

Without actual experience of the Lord on a spiritual platform our minds are always open to doubts and sometimes it’s fun to entertain them just to re-examine our beliefs. Divinity of Lord Chaitanya is a prime example here.

How do we know that He was Krishna Himself?

Will the recommended reliance on guru, sadhu, and shastra help us prove it one way or another?

There’s a long list of quotations from various Vedic scriptures in support of His divinity that has been floating around the Internet since forever. It looks impressive but the trouble is that all those quotations can be interpreted differently. We see them as proof, others look at them and see something else. There’s no krishnas tu bhagavan svayam equivalent there and so devotees from other sampradayas have been having a field day disputing our conclusions.

One reason for this situation is that Lord Chaitanya was channa avatara, hidden incarnation. It explains a lot but doesn’t really help.

Okay, what about guru? I’m afraid there’s even less help there. Lord Chaitanya is a focal point of our branch of Madhva sampradaya, all our gurus are His followers, if they didn’t accept His divinity they wouldn’t have been included in the parampara. We call them gurus because they represent Lord Chaitanya as Krishna Himself.

Lord Chaitanya’s own guru didn’t declare Him to be God, afaik, but I might be wrong.

What about sadhu? Hmm, we don’t accept devotees from outside of our sampradaya as authorities on the subject and even if we asked the reality is undeniable – despite having huge respect and all, no one in the four vaishnava sampradayas embraces Lord Chaitanya as Krishna, even followers of Madhvacharya.

Another test would be phalena phala-kāraṇam anumīyate – judge the thing by result. Well, we don’t have much to show for it, if we were able to transcend the illusion and see Lord Chaitanya’s position for ourselves we wouldn’t be asking. If we talk in general terms about visible symptoms of developing devotion and say “it’s because Lord Chaitanya was God” it would be a non sequitur – devotion might just as well develop by the mercy of vaishnavas, it’s even more likely so.

We don’t need Lord Chaitanya to be God to make spiritual progress.

We can say that He contributed unique knowledge of Krishna’s intimate pastimes but that also doesn’t require Him to be God because these pastimes go on with or without Lord Chaitanya’s appearance, it’s only a matter of disclosing them to the general public.

Okay, what about Lord Chaitanya revealing His form to His devotees? That happened a few times in Navadvipa and then again He revealed Himself to Ramananda Raya, but how do we know that it actually happened? From the books? Which books? We don’t read books where these pastimes are presented in any other way so what do we know?

Even in our authorized books there are signs that not everyone accepted this particular version of events. The episode with Ramananda Raya, for example, is described differently in some other books based on the same notes of Svarupa Damodara. I don’t remember the details but it’s quite possible that it was added by Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami while other contemporary devotees didn’t know or didn’t argue. He was writing this almost a hundred years after the event.

Divinity of Lord Nityananda is vigorously defended both by Krishnadas Kaviraj and by Vrindavana Das Thakur, author of Chaitanya Bhagavata. They both went out of their way to argue against people who doubted that Lord Nityananda was Balarama Himself. We don’t know who these people were but they definitely were there and they were a lot closer to historical Lord Nityananda than any of us.

How do we know that He was God? Because Lord Chatanya said so? Circular reasoning again.

And what about what Lord Chaitanya said about Himself? There are numerous occasions where He denied His superior position, in some cases devotees were even afraid to say something like this in His presence. Why don’t we believe Him there?

Krishnadas Kaviraja always stressed that even if the Lord appeared to be angry and refused to be treated as God He was still pleased internally. It’s an acceptable explanation but it isn’t proof, if you don’t accept His divinity it looks like an excuse and not a very good one, too.

I’m afraid we have to admit our total reliance on the devotees in this matter. We don’t know whether Lord Chaitanya was God, we have no way of knowing, but we have His devotees present before us and we take their word as supreme absolute truth, there’s no other way.

This is a very important realization – that Krishna is present in this world in the form of His devotees. Holy Name, Deities, shastra – they all are accepted as transcendental only because devotees have said so. The corollary of this realization is that we’d be foolish to try and establish relationship with Krishna on our own, bypassing His devotees that reveal Him to us in the first place.

We don’t have any hope of connecting with Krishna on our own, we can’t spite the hand that devotees stretch to us. Actually it’s Krishna’s own hand, He uses His devotees to reach to us, but we see it as imperfect and reject it. Such fools.

Why? Because something doesn’t click together in our feeble brains and we don’t understand the exalted position of Krishna’s devotees? Or because we cannot accept their exalted position, what with all their visible faults?

Nah, these external things don’t matter, they will pass like bubbles on the surface of the Ganges and if we keep our faith we will eventually become purified enough to know Krishna as He is. Refusing to take a bath is not an answer.

Vanity thought #813. Relatively speaking

If the most important part of our association with devotees is the split second you realize you are seeing a vaishnava and that reminds you of Krishna, then what is the value of the rest of what makes our relationships?

There are six legitimate “symptoms of love shared by one devotee and another”, after all, aren’t they also important?

Yes, relatively speaking.

There are two things to consider here – do we genuinely love devotees and do we build all our interactions on that principle? And how legitimate our association really is?

The first consideration is very important – the legitimate loving exchanges should be between devotees and being a devotee is not a cheap thing. In fact, until we achieve liberation we don’t actually qualify, we are just materialists trying to do the right thing. We might become devotees eventually if we follow the program but until then we don’t genuinely love anyone but our false egos. Even on the liberated stage we still don’t have love for Krishna yet, it comes later, and so we can’t honestly claim that we love devotees either.

It’s a bit like our chanting – there are sparks of sincerity here and there but unless we chant the pure Name we aren’t doing sankirtana, even namabhasa, which grants liberation, is not sankirthana yet. We might like it, Krishna might like it, but it’s not the real thing yet. It’s good but, relatively speaking, it’s far from perfect.

Second consideration is equally important if we ever want to progress towards becoming devotees. Here’s the list of what is prescribed by Rupa Goswami (NoI 4):

Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one’s mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasāda and offering prasāda..

There’s no “hanging out”, there’s no debating, there’s no arguing, there’s actually very little we can do, and there are great many ways we can distort these prescribed activities. Offering gifts, for example, must be done in the proper consciousness. We can’t just dump stuff we don’t really like or stuff we got bored off, or stuff that we have no use for anymore.

Devotees are not a replacement for Salvation Army, they are not beggars and they don’t depend on our help, they perfectly satisfied within themselves and they rely on Krishna if they ever interested in obtaining something.

We cannot offer gifts to devotees while thinking that I’m a giver and this person is a receiver of my mercy. It’s easier understand for Indians who are culturally accustomed to giving things to sadhus as a way to plead for mercy, not to show it. “I have the greatest opportunity of my life to give something to this devotee, I completely depend on his acceptance of this gift and it would be my greatest honor” – that’s the kind of sentiment we should be cultivating.

Similarly, we can’t accept gifts while thinking we deserve them. “Oh, this devotee has entrusted me this thing to engage it in Krishna’s service and it’s the greatest opportunity of my life. I better not screw it up and not betray this trust. It’s a very special thing, it’s directly connected to Krishna and now I’m responsible for maintaining it in His service.”

Accepting and offering prasada also requires great skill and genuine devotion. For starters we should learn to see food as prasada, which along might take lifetimes, otherwise we would be spreading our material disease: “I enjoyed this dish very much and I feel generous, so come and take some, too, doesn’t it feel so nice in your mouth?” Prasadam is not meant to be enjoyed, it’s meant to be served, and not in a sense of “serving food” but in a sense of being honored.

Then there’s the most common kind of interaction between devotees – verbal. Here we have to be very careful and there are too many rules to remember. There’s etiquette, there’s the need to discern between our relative levels of advancement, there’s definitely the need to establish seniority, there’s the choice of topics, there’s assessment of compliance with guru-sadhu-shastra, there’s all kinds of preconceived notions and probably many more other equally important considerations. Depending on each particular configuration of these parameters we should express ourselves differently and any deviation would be offensive.

Honestly, I can think of many cases where silence would have been truly golden and things said by some devotee better remain unheard.

Therefore, simply remembering Krishna when we see a devotee is perfect in every way. What happens next could very well be detrimental to our progress.

Still, we need to communicate, we are driven by our karma and by our desires, so we must find the best way to do it and here Rupa Goswami’s list comes very handy. If we were on the transcendental platform it would have been all the same but in the conditioned state some things are relatively better than others.

Once again, it’s similar to chanting. Strictly speaking we don’t need to utter any other sounds but Hare Krishna mantra. Unfortunately, we are incapable of such tapasya so we need to choose lesser ways to engage our speaking abilities. We know the gradation – Srimad Bhagavatam, discussions of Lord’s pastimes described in Srimad Bhagavatam, then confidential exchanges as per Rupa Goswami’s list, then small talk when we see people at the temple, then whatever we want to talk about our lives in ISKCON, then outright prajalpa. It’s all important but some topics are relatively better than others, even prajalpa, because it’s better to engage in it with devotees than with materialists.

And then there’s preaching. There are a lot of things we need to do to perform this service and they are all fully legitimate but to be fully transcendental they require absolute purity on our behalf, too. Ultimately, we should learn to see our entire life as preaching service, there’s no other purpose in living inside our bodies. Until we get there, however, we should learn to see the value of every interaction relative to this ultimate goal.

That’s why simply remembering Krishna when seeing a devotee is a perfection of one’s life. It’s pure, it’s fully spiritual, and it stops time itself, and then we plunge back into this illusion, thinking that things happening here are somehow important. They are, but only relatively so.

Vanity thought #812. Remembering devotees

About two weeks ago I wrote a post about desire tree aspect of devotees, how we expect them to grant us our wishes and why we expect them to be even more merciful than the Lord Himself. It might not be a legitimate reason – we hope they empathize with our material desires where the Lord doesn’t care or explicitly forbids us to enjoy. It’s like choosing your friends over your parents because they “get you”, they don’t enforce any rules and they don’t give any chores.

Eventually we’ll grow out of this childish attitude, I hope.

There’s more to devotees role in our lives, of course, and today I want to focus on positives. As we look at our post-Prabhupada society we will certainly see a great diversity, and not in a good sense. We have ritviks, we have people who just hate GBC, we have people who went over to the GM or babaji community, we have those who stay faithful to our mission and we have those who stay skeptical about it. We also have those who simply serve to Prabhupada’s representatives without giving too much thought how qualified these representatives are. They came from Krishna, they saved us, we don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Those are the best, but what about the rest?

If we judge by the Internet it’s very hard to find someone who is not engaged in some kind of fight or another. Astrology, female gurus, female dharma, mission drift, kirtaniya infestation, vegans, book changes, dubious behavior, falldowns and cover ups, marriage business, Hindu worship, jiva origin – the list is endless and quiet breaks are rare.

What about all these devotees? What good they are to our lives?

Not much, really. Among six exchanges among the devotees in Nectar of Instruction there’s no arguing or debating. It might look like we learn something from these discussions but it’s all only external knowledge, bhakti doesn’t grow there, it’s a giant waste of time.

It can’t be that bad, though, can it? Of course not, we just have to learn to see devotees in a different way. Not as fellow embodied souls with their claims to their own share of the pie but as vishnu tadiya, Vishnu’s accessories. We should learn to see their bodies moving around as we would see Vishnu’s swinging earrings. They don’t have any other purpose to existence but pleasing the Lord.

It might not look that way but it’s because of our own material perspective. With our envious eyes we would give even the Lord Himself a pass if He quietly appeared among us. We look at devotees and we see the reflection of our own anarthas, and our critical judgments of them are the testament to us seeing the world in terms of duality.

Whenever anything material makes any movement in this world it immediately produces reactions ranging from love to hate depending on the position of the observer. We might hate ritviks and they might hate us back but if we were born into their bodies our feelings would flip in a moment. This materially based perception in not absolute and one might find causes for criticism even in the best behaved devotees and otherwise spotless acharyas.

On the transcendental level, on the other hand, we are all Krishna’s dearmost associates, slightly bewildered and talking nonsense but that doesn’t affect our eternal relationships with Him, only temporarily cover them.

How to see that in devotees we meet in our everyday lives? How to separate it from our materialistic perceptions?

I think one fundamental, immutable quality is that devotees remind us of Krishna. Always. We just don’t notice it most of the time and we don’t think it’s important. Yet I would posit that this feature – reminding us of Krishna, is the only thing that really matters. Doesn’t matter what they say, doesn’t matter what they do, doesn’t matter what they look like, doesn’t matter whether we agree with them or not, doesn’t matter whether they are senior or junior, doesn’t matter whether they are our friends or enemies. They remind us of Krishna, instantly, and that’s the perfection of our lives and the perfection of their gifts.

If a white man goes to some third world country children would always shout “hello” to him because simply seeing a foreigner reminds them of English they have been taught at school or by their parents as something very important, so they say the only word they know to show their appreciation.

Same things with devotees, as soon as we see one, we remember Krishna, sometimes we say Hare Krishna, sometimes we don’t but we always remember Him when we see His devotees. Similar to the white man situation our actual communication might be awkward and irrelevant and sometimes we shouldn’t be even bothered but this initial remembrance of the Lord justifies everything else. It’s the most important rule, after all – always remember Krishna and never forget.

Therefore when I see devotees on a prowl and looking for trouble I don’t want to engage them because that would spoil the fact that I’ve seen devotees and I’ve been reminded of Krishna. Sometimes it’s for a good cause, misunderstandings need to be corrected, opinions exchanged, ahcaryas protected and so on, but if it makes me forget that I’m actually talking to Vishnu’s accessories it’s probably not worth it.

That should be our guiding principle in all interactions with all devotees and we should structure our interactions in such a way as to never undermine it. Easier said than done, I know, but at least the effort should be there. With time appreciation for this rule will come, I hope, and that will make our lives so much easier.