Vanity thought #1620. Adharma

It’s not only the materialists who concern themselves with upholding justice, even Kṛṣṇa descends from time to time to uphold dharma and punish miscreants (BG 4.8). Adharma is also quite a popular word in our books so the fight is legit, right? Not so fast, I think.

There’s fundamental difference between Kṛṣṇa’s concern for dharma and atheistic quest for justice. It’s more or less the same as with sex – when connected with Kṛṣṇa it’s the highest form of devotion, when disconnected from Him it becomes a soul degrading lust. If we take this analogy further – we must free ourselves from desire for justice just as we must free ourselves from lust to make any advancement in spiritual progress.

There are religious systems of justice, most notably Islamic sharia law, but they are all ultimately atheistic because none of their practitioners have actual realization of God and so they are forced to interpret even God given laws according to their “God does not exist” perception of reality. They, and most of us, for that matter, do not see God and so can’t escape acting as if He doesn’t exist. We are all in illusion and all illusion is atheistic.

Besides, sharia law is not the most popular system of justice in the modern world to say the least. The fact of the matter is that all modern societies are forced to submit themselves to international norms of behavior which, despite their name, are set by western secularists in an explicit attempt to create power structures completely free from any notion of God.

It might not have started that way and it took secularism a few centuries to assert itself but it’s finally there, overriding any God given laws it wants even in outwardly religious countries like the US. Same sex marriage is one obvious example. They wants it, they gets it, Bible is not an obstacle.

Obviously, we should not have a horse in this race, it’s all adharma – all their laws, all their legislature, all their courts, all their judges, all their “public opinions”. They all serve the Devil, so to speak, there are no sides in their battles we could unreservedly take. Not Republicans, not Democrats, not liberals, not conservatives, not Christian Democrats, not Labour, not nationalists, not Greens, nobody.

The problem for us is how to manage our innate atheistic desire to control the world and express opinions on how it should be run. Our first outlet is to apply laws we learn from our books. “According to Vedic culture”, we say, or “according to laws of Manu”, or even “according to Bhāgavatam and Bhagavad Gītā”. The attempt is noble, the execution, however, is far from perfect.

The ability to quote does not make us śāstra-cakṣu, no more than parrots can claim to understand humans. Śāstra, especially the kind we profess to speak for, is beyond perception of our senses. It’s not just words on paper that we can translate with dictionaries – Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is non-different from Kṛṣṇa Himself and so is Gītā. We cannot honestly claim to speak through the eyes of śāstra unless we see Kṛṣṇa Himself appearing on its pages.

Still under the spell of the illusion we are doing what the rest of the world is doing, too – express our own desire for power and control, we just enlist Kṛṣṇa related books as our help while they enlist their logic and rationality. The goal is still the same, though our means should gradually purify and liberate us from this illusion. Until that happens – it’s all adharma. I would say that very few of our interactions on this subject are done with the unalloyed desire to please guru and Kṛṣṇa, we always want to see ourselves being right first.

Now, the argument can be turned around and the opposite conclusion drawn out – that everything is dharma and adharma does not exist.

The key lies in certain assumptions about our definitions. The Bhāgavatam is a commentary on Vedānta sutras which start with athāto brahma jijñāsā, that the meaning of our lives is to understand God. That’s our starting point and we judge everything according to this principle – does it improve our understanding of Brahman? If not then its adharma, very simple.

Otherwise, dharma is not just law but it’s the very nature of everything and no one can go against nature, therefore adharma is impossible. When we act against prescriptions of the śāstra we simply give in to our lower nature, take shelter in the material energy, and forgo our athāto brahma jijñāsa commitment.

It is natural for a young woman or a man to feel attracted to each other. Their bodies naturally produce necessary hormones and naturally develop sexual organs specifically designed to interact with their counterparts. We cannot say that it’s unnatural and therefore adharmic for them to engage in sex.

What we do say at the very beginning is that we are not our bodies but spirit souls and for spirit souls materially expressed sex IS unnatural and, therefore, is adharma.

Likewise, it’s natural for us to want food or oxygen, it’s our dharma to walk on two legs and not swing from trees. Even if we do desire to live like monkeys this desire does not come from anywhere else but our nature, it’s just that it’s somewhat different from other people around us.

Dharma, therefore, is an expression of karma and it is equally unavoidable. And if we remember that the entire material world and every little movement of karma is meant for our gradual self-realization then there cannot be adharma here by definition. That’s how the world is seen by paramahaṁsas – for them everybody is already a perfect servant of Kṛṣṇa, it’s just that their relationships can see some improvements, but all in good time when both parties are ready.

The argument can be turned once again, however. The above picture is somewhat impersonal because it does not take into account living entities own desires and their own commitments. We want to understand Brahman, for example. We might not understand what it is and how to acquire that knowledge but the desire is still there or we wouldn’t be in this movement. This desire might be innate, because jīvera ‘svarūpa’ haya — kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa’, but it is planted into our hearts by guru and vaiṣṇavas and we are not free to pursue it on our own, we must always confer with others in the spirit of dāsadāsānudāsa and so they MUST correct our behavior when necessary – therefore some of what we do must be adharma.

After all, we want to develop Kṛṣṇa consciousness, not our consciousness. What is dharma for us might not be dharma for Kṛṣṇa and this is especially true in the conditioned state.

Still, what is adharma for us might not necessarily be adharma for others, we don’t know what commitments they have made and we are not their accepted authorities to pass judgments. We can take notes for ourselves but we should be very careful with disturbing others. Rules of saṅkīrtana must apply – voluntarily, congregational glorification of God.

Vanity thought #1619. Man made law

In modern society justice and rule of law are inseparable, you can’t have one without the other. Exact relationships between them should probably be left to philosophers, I just want to look at it from the Vedic perspective. It’s interesting how both justice and law has been discussed throughout western history, ever since Plato, and there are countless theories about it, but they all miss simple points brought to us by Śrīla Prabhupāda.

They can argue all they want about natural law or retributive justice, all it ultimately does is enriches the lawyers – because the more learned they appear they more they charge for their services. There’s also the illusion of justice being done to justify our spending on it but, ultimately, there’s only karma and dharma. Everything else is just pointless fluff distracting us from pursuing the goal of human life.

Why can’t we just live with karma? It is perfectly just as it is, why do we want to improve on it and offer our own ideas what results should come for what actions? Materialists don’t believe in karma and so their position is understandable but what about us, the aspiring devotees? I think it’s a manifestation of our still atheistic mentality.

One obvious hurdle is reincarnation. Without rebirth karma makes no sense, and we don’t see people being reincarnated, for us it’s a matter of belief, not experience. Consequently we believe in karma but we don’t experience it to the degree required to erase all doubts. We just don’t live long enough to see every action maturing into a reaction and even when we think we see karma working we can’t be sure of the connection between activities and their results. Who knows, maybe getting a good job now is the result of our trying hard in the previous life and not studying hard in this one? It looks like people’s jobs are directly related to their studies but how can you be sure it’s not something they deserved in their previous birth? There’s no way of knowing.

Vedic sages could see past, present, and future but even they could not understand karma in full, even they had to rely on the belief that karma is always right. I mean you can’t make a statement that karma works in each and every case unless you can check each and every case directly. It’s like saying that there are no people with blue skin. All the people we’ve seen so far haven’t been blue. We obviously haven’t met Kṛṣṇa, Viṣṇu or Śiva, or even Uddhava whose body resembled Kṛṣṇa’s in every way.

I guess this approach – believing that karma is always right, will always end in confusion. In Kṛṣṇa consciousness we offer a different solution instead – karma relates to the movements of dead matter and therefore it is not important. We can’t know it, we can’t control it, and we are not interested. What we are concerned with is dharma.

If karma can be compared to justice dharma can be compared to law, ie it’s not about punishments but about prescriptions. Transgressions against dharma is a different matter, we just want to know what it is and follow it as best as we can. We are not concerned with offenders and their fate, we are concerned with what we will get out of following our path. The only way offenders could matter is if they show an alternative method of achieving the same thing. If we don’t care what they offer then their very existence should be irrelevant to us.

In real life, however, we are concerned because we are not sure we ourselves are doing the right thing. What if it’s possible to achieve bhakti by not following a guru and by concocting our own mantras? What if it’s possible to please our guru and Śrīla Prabhupāda by not cooperating with GBC and even openly denying its authority? What if those people really learn their siddha-svarūpa from bābājīs who can really see it? What if there’s spiritual life outside ISKCON? What if we want to try all those alternatives?

Christians used to burn their heretics but our GBC does not prescribe any punishment for all these transgressions. Their only prescriptions is to cut off association with those people. We are not suing them for perversion of dharma and we are not seeking karmic retribution for distracting our devotees, which costs us manpower and therefore money. It’s because, as I said, we are concerned with following our dharma, not with the karma of other people, or any karma at all.

Of course if we want to achieve some other results like building temples and communities then we must have some sort of laws to govern our relationships and some system of punishments when these laws are broken. We can’t have someone stealing funds and say “it’s not our concern, it’s just karma, we should be above it.” Spiritually speaking – yes, but if we are building a temple then funds should be used only for this purpose, not for anyone else’s sense gratification.

So, we do need man made laws to live in a man made world. It doesn’t mean that our laws substitute karma, though, ie if we have laws and enforce them than law karma gets suspended. It means that our institutions become channels for karma to manifest itself. No one in the universe get punished twice for the same sin – first by government and then by karma. Rather all forms of punishment – judge’s sentencing, social sanction, loss of job, family break up etc, are different aspects of the same karma in action.

If we think about it this way there are no man made laws at all, it’s all karma, we just claim our ownership of it. We do the same thing when we think we are our bodies, too. Nope, it’s just material elements interacting with each other under control of the Supreme. They are not alive, they are not conscious, they are not causes of action either. They are moved by time and guṇas but we imagine that it’s us who move things and cause things to happen. It satisfies our desire to be controllers but it’s an illusion, we are never in control of anything here, not even our desires.

That’s why, once again, we should only concern ourselves with our dharma and pursue our goal without worrying about karma. We need to become Kṛṣṇa’s devotees and start serving the Lord, what everybody else is doing and whether they get rewarded or punished for their actions is not our business at all.

Vanity thought #1089. Essential cheating, three to five.

Yesterday I tried to “scientifically” describe essential principles of irreligion. Just like every activity in this world is influenced by a combination of the three modes of nature, every irreligious undertaking must be influenced by a particular combination of five irreligious forces.

It’s all speculative, though, might have zero actual substance behind it.

So far I’ve covered two out of five principles. First is vidharma, which means activities obstructing one’s real dharma, or, as Prabhupāda once said, anti-dharma. Is there a contradiction between these two definitions? Only on the surface. “Anti-dharma” would appear something like breaking regulative principles while obstruction of real dharma would be something relatively innocent as staying in bed late on Sunday.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, explains it like this:

    In whichever position you may be, if you try to satisfy Kṛṣṇa according to your capacity, sva-dharmācaraṇa śaktyā, here it is said. Sva-dharmācaraṇaṁ śaktyā vidharmāc ca nivartanam. Vidharma…., vidharma means anti, anti-occupational duty. Ultimately our occupational duty is to serve Kṛṣṇa. Anything which does not help me in serving Kṛṣṇa, if we give it up, and anything which helps me to serve Kṛṣṇa, if we accept, in that way if we live,

Here he mentions SB 3.28.2 where vidharma is translated as “unauthorized duties” or “duties not alloted to him”. Ultimately every duty except pure devotional service is unauthorized and not alloted, it doesn’t have to be specifically forbidden, like meat eating.

In that sense everything we do in the material world qualifies as vidharma, practically speaking, which is fine – we are talking about essential aspects of irreligion that should be present everywhere just like all three modes of nature.

So, the first principle is that irreligion is not spiritual, which sounds too obvious but must be said anyway.

Second principle is paradharma, activities imposed by others. I’d say that the idea behind it is what is good for them might be above our own level and so should not be imitated. It does not specify that the activity itself is harmful, just that it’s not suitable for us.

The key here is that it comes from others, not form one’s guru. Only a guru can give a real dharma, everyone else will mislead us (unless they are guru in their own sense)

The third principle is upadharma. There are several definitions again. First, it’s introduced as upamā, “principles that appear religious but are not”, which in full translation becomes “analogical religion” (SB 7.5.12). In the next verse it’s “concocted religious principles” which becomes “A new type of religion created by one who is falsely proud and who opposes the principles of the Vedas” (SB 7.5.13).

The purport to that second verse starts with “To create a new type of dharma has become fashionable in this age” – this is promising and apparently follows the definition from the translation, but then it continues: “So-called svāmīs and yogīs support that one may follow any type of religious system, according to one’s own choice, because all systems are ultimately the same. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, however, such fashionable ideas are called vidharma“. So we are none the wiser.

Let me try to distill the essence of upadharma the other way. The clue is given in the first definition from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam – it’s upamā, which means “similar”. Now we can see how it can become “analogical” and then “concocted” and then “created by those who…”

The idea is that it looks genuine but it isn’t. Even its proponents and inventors think it is genuine. Take Rāmakṛṣṇa, for example – he must have believed in this own BS about yata mata tata patha method, which means “every method is okay”. It sounds reasonable, considering proliferation of different religious schools in the world, but it’s still BS. There’s only one way and it must be acceptable by God, we don’t get to choose ourselves, as Rāmakṛṣṇa implied.

How do such seemingly solid ideas come about? They are created by people who perceive themselves as ācāryas, become falsely proud, and somehow believe their own inventions even if they oppose genuine principles presented in the Vedas.

In short upadharma looks genuine, propagated by people who think it’s genuine, but it isn’t, it’s just an imitation of real religion.

The fourth cheating principle is chala-dharma, “cheating religion”, or “interpretation by one’s jugglery of words”. This one is specifically explained in the purport:

    When Kṛṣṇa directly says something and some rascal interprets it to mean something different, this is chala-dharma — a religious system of cheating — or śabda-bhit, a jugglery of words.

The difference from upadharma would be that it is intentionally misleading. Proponents of chala-dharma know they are wrong but they imply various methods to justify themselves anyway. If upadharma is the product of sincere ignorance, chala-dharma is produced by con-men.

We can easily spot this in our lives when we try to invent excuses for ourselves. We can also easily spot this in the public discourse – when devotees propose something that doesn’t sound right and then plow through our books for quotes to justify it anyway, like female dīkṣā gurus, or when one wants to justify his criticism of vaiṣṇavas. I would say all our debates on all controversial issues are examples of chala-dharma. First one concocts some nonsense and then tries to make it sound legitimate.

The difference from upadharma is not only in that one knows he is wrong but also in the method one applies to legitimize it – word jugglery.

Finally, the fifth principle – ābhāsa, “pretentious religious principles” which also becomes “dim reflection” in SB 7.5.14. “Pretentious”, however, is mentioned three times while “dim reflection” only once.

These two meanings are somewhat contradictory because pretentious means “exaggerated”, which the opposite of “dim”. How come? I think we should consider the dynamics here. “Dim reflection” is meant to appear in comparison with a real religion while “pretentious” is how it’s supposed to appear before ordinary men.

This approach defines ābhāsa not in absolute terms, not for what it is, but by how it is made to look – like a real thing. It’s like a fake Rolex watch that is presented with the air of awe and reverence built around venerable brand. It doesn’t testify to the quality of the watch itself, which might be perfectly acceptable for everyday use, but it’s about asking people to value it by evoking the real thing.

In this sense it’s very close to chala-dharma, religion presented by con-men. Abhasa would be the “con” part of it while chala would be the cheating itself.

I don’t know if the list has become comprehensive yet but I think I’ve got enough to try and summarize all five features of irreligious activities.

First, they all obstruct our real service.

Second, they are presented by anyone but not a real ācārya.

Third is that they looks similar to a real thing but they aren’t.

Fourth is that they are meant to fool people.

Fifth is that they appeal to our existing respect for a real religion.

Sounds comprehensive, too early to say if there is anything missing, but, most importantly, it all sounds self-evident, much better than when I noticed this the first time, so some progress has been made.

And on that note I beg to retire for the day.

Vanity thought #1085. Five ways to unlock your potential and fail

Discovering your inner strength is a popular topic in self-improvement circles. Kids go through it at the age of ten, I guess, but some return later on and hang out by self-help section in bookstores forever. Audio versions of the same motivational material are popular, too, people listen to them in cars as they travel to work to become empowered.

Does it ever work?

I don’t think so, but that is just me. I remember one devotee who left the temple and joined some marketing pyramid scheme to support himself. Suddenly he started talking in power-speak. He donned a suit and whenever he saw anything he would exclaim “And it’s less than ten dollars!” That price somehow has become his threshold of value.

A generic pen – “And it’s less than ten dollars!” A slice of pizza in a temple’s food shop – “And it’s less than ten dollars!” A picture frame someone used for the photo of his guru – “And it’s less than ten dollars!”

It was understood that he was training himself to aim big, to talk really valuable things, to expect everything in his life to be very, very expensive, to project a powerful personality. Didn’t really work in a temple community but some brahmacārīs took notice. The attitude is extremely polluting, of course. As devotees we should value simplicity and we shouldn’t use money as a criterion. Things have value due to their nature and their connection to Kṛṣṇa, price alone doesn’t tell us anything useful.

Still, that devotee was doing what he thought was right, and he was also doing what he was taught in his marketing scheme seminars. He had to support himself and we can’t judge how people earn their living, it’s between them and their karma, with Kṛṣṇa’s help.

Living in the material world we have lots of various duties, we have different aspects of our nature that we cannot neglect either. Our job is not to become sannyāsī renunciates and gurus of the whole world but purify our given nature in whatever position we find ourselves at the moment.

The auxiliary of this principle is that all dharmas are fundamentally good, they are given to us for our purification. Unless we fulfill our obligations we cannot jump to the next step so whatever we are forced to do now is absolutely necessary.

The downside of this is that we immediately run into a host of problems associated with following duties other than selflessly serving the Lord. Our path, the path of Bhagavatam is dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavo ‘tra – Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated (SB 1.1.2), accepting any other duties goes against this principle, just as it goes against sarva-dharmān parityajya of Bhagavad Gīta.

We can, of course, look at all our obligations in their relation to our ultimate goal but sometimes that might be difficult for beginners like us. Understanding how exactly we deviate from the path of pure devotion should be easier, and just as helpful as well.

In the Seventh Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam Nārada Muni taught Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira the duties of the civilized beings and the subject of adharma naturally came up, too, in three verses begining with SB 7.15.12. Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t elaborate a lot on practical examples so, I believe, we have some freedom to interpret the modern applications.

The first verse lists:

    There are five branches of irreligion, appropriately known as irreligion [vidharma], religious principles for which one is unfit [para-dharma], pretentious religion [ābhāsa], analogical religion [upadharma] and cheating religion [chala-dharma].

In subsequent verses these five deviations are defined and in the purports Śrīla Prabhupāda explains what they are.

Vidharma, for example, is religious duties that obstruct one’s own religion. Śrīla Prabhupāda gives examples of concocted religious paths, probably like Rāmakṛṣṇa’s nonsense, and says that following those distracts one from surrendering to Kṛṣṇa according to His instructions.

What would it mean for us? Probably inventing new roles and rules according to time, place and circumstances but which do not have sanctions of the ācāryas and go against principles of varnāśrama. An example could be redefining our family duties towards our children, parents, and partners, too. Modern serial monogamy is one such invention. Introduction of divorce into vaiṣṇava culture is another.

Maybe they are legitimate reactions to modern life, maybe not, but they have nothing to do with serving Kṛṣṇa, they prevent us from following genuine varṇāśrama, and so we should not take them seriously.

Para-dharma is, apparently, when these new rules are given to us by others. When we feel we have to do something and it goes against true dharma is one thing. When we take others’ advice is another. What might be good for them is not necessarily good for us. Vidharma might look close enough but following others is probably a bit more dangerous for our spiritual life. Our own feelings can be corrected by the Supersoul, if we are sincere enough our inner voice could be easily corrected by Him, but when we follow someone else we place our faith into something completely unreliable and outside our control. In this case our inner voice must be consciously ignored.

Ābhāsa is a pretentious religion. Śrīla Prabhupāda gives example of brāhmaṇas who are not fit for their position, a hot topic for the Gauḍīyā Maṭha in its early days but those of us living in the west have probably never met such people. For us it’s pretentious TV evangelists or all kinds near ISKCON quacks professing deep Vedic knowledge in astrology or ayrveda, or self-important “reformers” who assume they are spiritually advanced enough to tell ISKCON and GBC how do their service. They look devoted and knowledgeable but we should be skeptical. Authors of self-help books should fall into this category, too.

Upadharma is outright concoction, same as vidharma but with a focus on doing wrong things rather than not doing the right ones. I guess Kṛṣṇa West could be put into this category if it is ever declared legitimately bogus, which I, personally, don’t think it is. Veganism could be called upadharma, too, chanting only Pañca tattva mantra instead of Hare Kṛṣṇa and ritvikism are perfect candidates as well.

Finally, chala-dharma looks like twisting the śāstra to suit one’s own needs. “Eating mushrooms is okay as long as you don’t offer them to deities” kind of of thing. “I need to read books by Jīva Gosvāmī because Prabhupāda said so in the very first verse of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam” is another example. In material life such “exceptions” are too numerous to count. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” “We all need to pay our taxes but…” Our life is full of excuses like that. They sound okay but they aren’t, they are chala dharma

Every time are need to do something we can look at the nature of our new duty – is it detrimental to executing our existing ones? Is it forced on us by others? Is it done to appear better than we really are? Is it just an obvious concoction? Is it a shameful and hypocritical abuse of the rules? It’s not very difficult to see where it’s coming from.

I haven’t yet tried this classification in real life but I hope it works, it was given by Nārada Muni himself, after all. Would this knowledge stop us from doing the wrong things? Maybe not, but at least it would stop us from accepting these cheating dharmas as a real.

Vanity thought #286. Pregnant with thoughts.

It’s actually not so easy to have a thought a day, not worth posting publicly anyway, thoughts need time to mature and ripen, so as I’m thinking of reviving putting something up on the internet daily, again, I find my head pretty empty. There’s something brewing up there but it needs time to take shape.

On average I think the idea needs three days from first popping up to the being ready for a post, so today’s stuff will be ready by Wednesday.

In the meantime I’ll use something that appeared important to me a short while ago.

It was a Bhagavatam class and the speaker described various expansions of Krishna. Balarama is the first, then there’s the quadruple expansion of Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Vasudeva and Sankarshana. In the scriptures all these expansions are assigned various responsibilities and at the end of the class someone asked – if Aniruddha is the presiding deity of the mind, shouldn’t we pray to Him when we want to control our minds and direct them towards Krishna?

I don’t remember what the answer was, perhaps it was totally satisfactory, but my first thought was – we are followers of Lord Chaitanya and so He provides us with everything we need to succeed in devotional service including mind control. Moreover, He provides us with all our material needs, too – He is also a yuga avatara who established yuga dharma. Some people are not as fortunate as to try to give up all their material ambitions and strive to become pure devotees yet even for them chanting of the Holy Name is still the best method of fulfilling all their desires.

From this standpoint to go and pray to someone else for what is already given to us by Lord Chaitanya amounts to a betrayal.

I can’t put it any other way.

In fact I think out bond with Lord Chaitanya will never ever be broken, not even if we deserve the right to enter into Krishna’s pastimes. I think our spiritual home will still be Navadvipa.

Not to mean any disrespect to Lord Aniruddha but we already have our Lord and Master and we don’t need any others.

Vanity thought #211. Duty vs. Devotion.

Rather belatedly but I finally read the “karmi husband” article on iskcon.com and the heated discussion around it. It can be found here. There’s also a response by Grihastha Vision Team but I’ll get to it later.

The original article was calling on women to serve their husbands, even non-devotee ones, to the best of one’s ability and without any complaints. Serve even meat and alcohol if required.

The reasoning went along these lines – women should act according to their stri-dharma, treating their husbands as manifestation of Krishna in the same way brahmacharies treat their gurus. As brahmacharies receive their initiations and become dvija, twice born, so women become dvija on the day of their wedding. Husbands, like gurus, according to the article, are sent by Krishna Himself so abandoning them is equal to abandoning one’s service to the spiritual master.

It doesn’t really matter whether husbands commit mistakes or not – their faults should be dealt with by their peers and superiors, not by wives, it’s not woman’s place to correct her master, her job is to serve and that’s it. Rebelling against even a wayward husband is a gravest offence.

In support of this position the author mentioned Bhagavat Gita, verses 3.8, 3.9, and 18.47.

Perform your prescribed duty, for doing so is better than not working. One cannot even maintain one’s physical body without work.

Work done as a sacrifice for Viṣṇu has to be performed, otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kuntī, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.

It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.

There were verses from Bhagavatam, too, but they were definitions of stri-dharma itself, not arguments in its favor.

There is also an example of Prahlada Maharaj who has never ever abandoned his super demoniac father and never ever showed him any disrespect, even after his father tried to kill him in every possible way.

We are relieved of our given duties by Krishna, we can’t go AWOL, the argument goes.

There is also an example of Srila Prabhupada’s sister, Pisima, who had a drunk, philandering meat-eater as a husband but she never gave up serving him the best she could. When she asked Prabhupada for advice he recommended that she prayed to their old family deities, Sri Sri Radha Govinda, who will arrange everything. In the meantime, he said, she should do what her mother taught her about serving a man.

I think it’s a very strong, sound position to take. Then other devotees tore it to shreds.

They gave other quotes from Prabhupada that were clear as day – fallen husbands should be abandoned. There were quotes from the purport to Srimad Bhagavatam, 7.11.28

It is recommended, therefore, that a chaste wife not associate with a fallen husband. A fallen husband is one who is addicted to the four principles of sinful activity — namely illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling and intoxication. Specifically, if one is not a soul surrendered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is understood to be contaminated. Thus a chaste woman is advised not to agree to serve such a husband.

There was also a quote from Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 15.264

Inform my daughter Ṣāṭhī to abandon her relationship with her husband because he has fallen down. When the husband falls down, it is the wife’s duty to relinquish the relationship.

On the face of, the arguments against serving a non-devotee husband are stronger because they were given specifically to address our situation as followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and ISKCON.

With strong arguments came strong words, from both sides. The author somehow managed to mention ISKCON ministries dealing with women in less than favorable way, and also those who turn to these ministries for help instead of sticking it out.

In turn she was called naive and immature and ignorant of the shastras and dangers of living a sinful life and values of devotion.

Still, there are many holes in both lines of attack. Some started talking about husbands, for example, but their responsibilities and failures are clearly irrelevant to the discussion, they just lead the debate astray. And attacking feminism in ISKCON is also counterproductive – some women really suffer in their marriages and they deserve all the help they can get, from feminists or not.

There are so many aspects to this issue that it’s impossible to lay down a clear cut solution for each and every case out there. There was a ray of hope, however, and it came from a devotee attacking the article:

Pisima was not in danger of falling down due to her husband’s bad association; she was trained from earliest childhood in both the principles of stri-dharma, and Vaisnavism. A weaker woman would almost certainly succumb to her husband’s bad influence. If we have Pisima’s devotion and spiritual strength, maybe then we can imitate her chastity. Otherwise, it’s risky. The first principle is to save yourself.
The issue is not whether a husband is a devotee, it’s whether one’s husband or wife is an impediment to one’s Krishna consciousness.

I think the nail has had his head hit here – it’s our devotion that really matters. It’s not the question whether husbands are pure or fallen, it’s the effect of serving them on women’s consciousness that is important.

Some female devotees are so strong in their faith and determination that even cooking meat for their husbands doesn’t affect them. Some are not so strong and might suffer from bad association.

That answers it – we should pray to Krishna and we should firmly believe that our fate is only in His hands and nothing could happen to us without His sanction and everything that happens to us is for our ultimate benefit.

Someone reminded in this connection:

Whatever happened to:

sarva-dharman parityajya
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah
Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.

Indeed.

Maybe Krishna will arrange a Women Protection Ministry or whatever they are called to find and save an unfortunate devotee from her predicament, maybe husband will be so impressed by his wife’s humility and devotion that he will abandon his evil ways and become a devotee, too. That’s what happened to Pisima’s husband, apparently.

Having said that, not everybody is strong enough and devotees with less faith should not be abandoned. For them Krishna provides the chance to escape themselves. Maybe they will live with the guilt of abandoning their post for the rest of their lives, maybe not. At the end of the day even this guilt is beneficial, it gives strength and intelligence for the next test.

Running away from one’s duties is not recommended but not if one clearly lacks spiritual strength to perform them in full Krishna consciousness, and we can’t stop women from leaving their husbands anyway but I don’t think we should encourage this behavior either.

There’s one very important point in Prabhupada’s advice from Srimad Bhagavatam – the woman should not remarry! If she leaves her husband that’s it, no more family life for her, it’s like taking sannyasa.

Of course if one doesn’t have strength to stay with her husband then it’s natural to expect there will be no strength to resist marrying someone else either.

Urghhh, I think it’s impossible to stop people from making big mistakes in Kali Yuga, I think we should focus on what we can instead of what we can’t. I’m also very impressed with Krishna for being able to keep track of all this crap and perfectly arrange everyone’s path in life according to what he or she deserves and what is best for their devotional progress.

Finally, the response by Grihastha Vision Team was a bit disappointing to me. It was vague and elusive and contained an unhealthy doze of self-promotion. It reminded me of a pest control websites I’ve seen recently where the worst thing that could possibly happen in life is if one tries to catch a mouse himself – it is a job solely for the highly trained professionals with decades of experience and latest and most expensive equipment.

Still, I don’t think this kind of decisions were taken without any consultation with seniors even in Vedic times, we surely need someone to serve in this role now and if they are organized into some sort of a ministry than it’s great, and maybe there’s benefit in slowing things down and talking about everything and nothing at the same time if it diffuses the situation and allows people to think clearly and prevents them from making any haste decisions.

Following our duties is nice, no doubt about that, but developing one’s devotion is even higher. We can fail in performing our duties and go up and down through all the planets in universe but devotion only accumulates, we should remember that, too.

At the end of the day, devotion is the only thing we should really count, the rest is temporary, illusory, and immaterial.

Vanity thought #129. Krishna Unhinged Part II

Picking up from where I left off yesterday – I think I figured why Krishna appeared so unappealing in Buddhist Ghata Jataka, and structural failure of our perception of dharma.

First, it could be discounted as simple ignorance. People who compiled that version of the story presumed that Krishna was just a village ruffian on his first trip to the city, that His behavior was in no way justified. Ignorance is probably the best excuse, if they knew the background and intentionally didn’t tell us it would be just sinister.

Let’s imagine how it all looked from Kamsa minions side of the story. As a faithful subject/henchman, one would never admit to any of Kamsa’s wrongdoings which included murdering hundreds if not thousands of infants, some of them personally, just crashing the tiny newborn babies against the walls and pillars, maybe stomping on them or suffocating them. There was also a matter of sending countless demons and rakshasas to kill Krishna Himself.

So, pretending that none of this had ever happened, some imaginary Kamsa’s lawyer would attack Krishna for what He has done in response and holding Him to some lofty standards. “How dared He to enter Mathura uninvited”, for example. “How dared He to take garments meant for Kamsa, the king!” Suddenly it all becomes about rules and civility, forget that Kamsa set the wrestling match specifically to kill Krishna and Balarama. Actually, no, they never forget it, they just pretend Kamsa was an innocent victim there.

Next step would be to demand a full trial, the higher the court the better, and with jury, of course. There should be plenty of options to appeal, too, and there should be bail. The purpose, of course, is to keep Kamsa free to do whatever he wants including hutching new plans to assassinate Krishna. The general public, however, must be made to believe that all Kamsa wants is justice and fairness.

And it’s from this point of view, the position of the cheated public, that Krishna is described as an ungrateful villain in the Buddhist version.

I wonder if all our modern claims of justice are following the same path, too. Our “heroes” kill whoever they want under flimsiest pretenses yet to the world the preach complete faith in justice and fairness. Presumption of innocence is not applied to their enemies at all. A month ago they killed Osama Bin Laden without any trial, not even an attempt, not even a chance to present his version of what has happened with 9/11.

Surely, it looks as if Bin Laden had fully deserved his fate, but what do we really know about his involvement? Could it be that he just claimed the glory for himself, being appointed a symbol of terrorism/resistance? Could it be that he had no personal involvement with planning and execution at all? No one stopped to ask, and no one even pausing to ask now. There are some muted opinion pieces in non-US media about potential dangers of targeted assassinations but no one takes them seriously. It’s a good think they killed Osama, the common wisdom goes.

A few days ago they captured another mass murderer, Serbian Ratko Mladic. That guy was responsible for the worst case of genocide in Europe since World War II. Fifteen years he has been in hiding and now he is about to be brought to trial. Good.

Except people who are going to try him have been complicit in the genocide themselves. They just set back and watched and when shit hit the fan they feigned ignorance and lack of resources. In on account they even turned down the bombing mission against Ratko Mladic forces because paperwork hasn’t been filed properly. The planes just flew several circles above the troops slaughtering civilian men, women and children, and then turned back.

Now they are going to put it all on one man.

Some justice indeed.

Oh, even more, the whole hunt for Osama Bin Laden was illegal from the start to the finish. They got their first clue by torturing terrorist suspects in secret prisons outside of the US and outside US laws, and hidden from the public of the host countries, too. Then they set up surveillance in Pakistan without local authorities knowledge, and finally they executed the raid which was a straightforward challeng to Pakistani sovereignty, and they are saying they would do it again, laws be damned.

Though no, not actually, the laws will be praised and “upheld” – for public consumption, while the might makes right and people with power can abuse laws in any way they like.

So, I no longer wonder how it came to be that ordinary people might try to judge Krishna by these modern standards.

I also find it ridiculous that justice should be blind. The only thing it’s blind to is people with power to subvert it. That is the reality, the slogans for the rest of us are just that – slogans.

When Krishna came to restore dharma He most certainly didn’t mean our modern interpretation. I’m sure it counted as adharma in His view.

Actually the only acceptable dharma is to serve God. There’s no such thing as “blind” justice at all. Blind justice denies the supremacy of the God by definition, it might be the only way a demoniac society can function but for people who believe in God there should be no blindness at all.

As I said yesterday – in a demoniac society everyone looks for equality because they all want to be equal – equal to God. Everybody deserves the same rights and freedoms because everybody’s born equal – equal to God.

We, as devotees, should always remember this fundamental flaw in modern interpretation of justice and fairness when we try to explain why Krishna did this and that.

How did Buddhist got caught up in this, too? I can only speculate, but, let’s not forget – they don’t have any special position for God, too. They are all equal in their impersonal understanding of the world and the creation. Everybody can become Buddha, and Buddha wasn’t God, He was just one of us who advanced further than anyone else.

I can see how their denial of the existence of the Supreme Autocrat can lead to blaming Krishna for what He did to Kamsa, and, ultimately, how that kind of philosophy can lead the rest of us to the travesty of justice that passes off as law in our days.

God, it looks like I can’t finish this story today, too.

Vanity thought #127. Krishna lila.

What’s the first answer that comes to your head when you are asked about Krishna lila? What is it?

I bet everyone and his dog would start talking about Vrindavan and gopis and cows and rasa dance and Srimati Radharani. But is it?

I suspect Krishna appeared on this Earth for a different purpose, you know the eighth incarnation in dasa avatara, had different ideas about what He should do here.

Sure, growing up in Vrindavan gave us a glimpse of what Krishna does in His own abode but Vrindavan is not part of this Earth, is it? When Krishna was growing up in Vrindavan He wasn’t really on Earth, doing His avatara duties, He was just being Himself.

I’d posit that Krishna lila was everything before and after the Vrindavan period, and it was for the benefit of all conditioned souls, not just Krishna’s own pleasure.

To support this idea I’d point out that no one had any idea of Vrindavan pastimes for a long, long time, until Srila Vyasadev included them in Srimad Bhagavatam. Out of Vrindavan lila, on the other hand, was very well known even from Mahabharata. Furthermore, until Lord Chaitanya and six gosvamis revealed the glory of Vrindavan no one even knew where it was.

Vrindavan pastimes were a very well kept secret, only the highest of all devotees in the entire universe were in on it, nobody else, and even many of those who knew didn’t think it was a very big deal.

Thanks to Lord Chaitanya here, He really put the priorities in order and clearly established ultimate supremacy of Vrindavan and Krishna’s pastimes there for the entire human race, but, however important, it was only a small part of Krishna’s advent, the one that He, understandably, didn’t really want to advertise Himself.

Krishna’s official agenda was to relieve the Earth from the burden of excess of warriors and kshatriyas. That was the goal, the main purpose, in the context of earthly history, and sidetracking into cow tending and sneaking out with girls kind of takes away the focus.

From that point of view, I don’t think it’s very wise to ignore many of the wonderful pastimes Krishna displayed in pursuing this main goal of His incarnation. Everybody knows we have that tendency and some of us take it a little bit too far.

There’s nothing wrong with submerging oneself in Vrindavana katha but if it comes at the expense of the rest of Krishna’s adventures it is kind of ungrateful, I would say. Krishna spent over a hundred years fixing our problems and we go “pff, not important”.

I won’t mention certain trend in certain circles to concentrate on “higher” knowledge, on “post graduate” vaishnava education, but even within our ISKCON when we talk about translating more books into English it’s usually about works of the six gosvamis, not Mahabharata, for example.

I know it would be technically impossible for us to translate the entire Mahabharata at this point but bringing to the general devotee population stories directly connected with Krishna would serve so much good to our community.

It would also be less risky than publishing esoteric writings of the gosvamis, let’s face it – most of us are not qualified to dabble in most of that stuff.

On second thought, perhaps we are not ready for many of Krishna’s tricks from post Vrindavan pastimes, too.

I mean Krishna really redefined what dharma is. I wouldn’t recommend it as a reading in grade school where we are supposed to teach children about the importance of honesty, for example. Not many people can easily tie up those old school lessons with what Krishna did during the Battle of Kurukshetra.

At one point Krishna Himself admitted that they couldn’t have won the battle without cheating. It should be mentioned that the rule book was thrown out somewhere midway through the battle by Kauravas, they dropped it first, yet in our schools we teach children that cheating is never acceptable, even if the other side does it. We teach our children that justice will be eventually served anyway.

That’s an interesting point – everywhere in our popular culture justice ultimately prevails without breaking rules. The hero always overcomes serial killers and criminals without stooping to their level and every horror flick ends in the morning with massive police presence finally establishing their authority.

There are deviations, like the 24 series or Dr House and Nurse Jackie but rule bending heroes in those stories are presented as deeply troubled characters having a great difficulty reconciling the necessity with the moral values.

Krishna didn’t have those difficulties. He ordered Maharaja Yudhishthira to go and lie instead of doing it Himself, because, you know, no one would believe Krishna but Yudhishthira never told a lie in his life. Krishna advised Bhima to hit Duryodhana below the waist, too.

If it was Karate Kid movies Krishna would be the obnoxious dojo owner, not Mister Miyata.

So yeah, explaining these things away, and marrying sixteen thousands times, too, is not going to be easy. I don’t think we have a bullet proof explanation ourselves. We have a very thin thread that we have to follow precisely and if one really wants to confuse us with questions there it’s gonna be super easy.

Krishna appears to establish principles of dharma but much of what He was doing was kind of exactly the opposite. Lord Ramachandra had one wife, that was a perfect couple and a perfect example for everyone to follow. Can’t say the same for Krishna, can we? Certainly not in the marriage category.

I don’t think Lord Ramachandra has ever deviated from the path of dharma as the world knew it. His great strength was in surviving through all adversities and not flinching even a bit. Lord Lakshmana was, like, “Oh, come on, forget the rules, let’s go and bash their heads in or something” but Lord Rama had always stopped Him. “Not a good example” was His main argument.

Krishna Himself said that whatever an important person does, others naturally follow. Yet in quite a few cases we are warned not to imitate His own behavior.

Perhaps I could reconcile it as follows – the greatest dharma ever, the best among all other religious principles, is doing whatever Krishna wants. Not widely accepted ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

Perhaps the world is not ready to accept this highest religious principle of all but that is because we want to live by our own rules, and they have to be fair to every aspiring little god here. In a sense it’s “when someone’s playing God don’t spoil his game by doing things you don’t want to be done to yourself when it’s your turn to pretend.”

We live in a democracy here – everybody gets the same shot at being God, so we have to be accommodating to each other. No such problem with Krishna. He IS God, He doesn’t need to accommodate anyone else.

Giving Him whatever He wants is the highest, and the only religious duty of every other living being. There’s no question of “but will others think”, the others are supposed to help each other satisfy Krishna. Whoever can give the most is assisted by everybody else and if we don’t get enough resources to give we don’t take them from others, either.

I think we should investigate deeper how sixteen thousand wives could share one husband, I bet we can learn a lot from that accomplishment.