Vanity thought #240. Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji Part 7.

Did I ever mention how uncompromising Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji was? He was very uncompromising, to the absolute degree. There was absolutely no way anyone could sneak any hidden desires past him, only pure, unalloyed devotion to Krishna would deserve his recognition. And herein lies the problem.

The other side of this strict avoidance of materialistic people is that no one could ever qualify to receive his grace, everybody failed at one point or another. His official biography has numerous anecdotes of this or that swami, baba, or an aspiring devotee falling from the path of service to the Lord, it seems no one stood a chance. And what’s more, not a single story had a happy ending or any chance of eventual redemption. Once doomed one was doomed for the rest of his life.

Maharaja once invited him to his house, if he was really sincere about vaishnava association, Srila Gaurakishora replied, he should have come to live with him in his hut instead. The other day I mentioned this story and there was a lesson there I liked at the moment but look at it form maharaja’s POV – you either renounce the world and become a babaji or you can forget about Srila Gaurakishora’s blessings and rot in your material life forever.

And if you think that moving to live as a renunciate would solve all your problems you are mistaken, too. Your problems would only start there and it would probably fasten your doom. I say this because there are way too many stories of devotees falling in their vows to have any reasonable chance of surviving.

There was once a dude who was doing very well, living in a hut, chanting his rounds and doing sankirtana with Srila Gaurkishora and others and still he had fallen, miserably. It started with him picking up karatals himself and singing in a new tune. That was it, that was enough.

Of course that was only an external manifestation of the materialistic desires that were hiding in his heart. He picked up the tune while secretly visiting his home where he couldn’t give up association of pretenders. Then he was caught singing songs glorifying real vaishnavas in their company and that’s when the verdict was cast – he was not fit for Srila Gaurakishora’s association anymore, he had to go. That devotee soon left on his own accord without even telling Srila Gaurakishora about his plans. He went to Puri, became a babaji, and came back telling the stories of his service to Haridasa Thakura. He became a babaji resident in Navadvipa and lots of people came to worship him.

Srila Gaurakishora lamented about his departure and blamed it on maya, he was sad that he couldn’t be saved, that his heart wasn’t pure. That devotee couldn’t give up the association of the pretenders and he became a pretender himself, nothing could stop him, Srila Gaurakishora signed that off as independent will of the living entity.

There was another devotee who took shelter of Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji but still couldn’t give up association of pseudo-vaishnavas. Eventually he fell sick and had a woman to come and take care of him. After that he just left for Vrindavana where he admitted to another devotee that he had illicit sex. To atone for this sin he had taken a mortal dose of opium and thus killed himself. The devotee he confessed to came to Navadvipa and he too became sick and had female association. Srila Gaurakishora explained that previously he had given shelter to yet another devotee who had illicit sex and that devotee was brutally tortured and killed by some dacoits for his sins so Srila Gaurakishora didn’t want to have anything to do with these people. It sounds like a royal mess, the only thing clear from this is that there’s no atonement for illicit sexual relationships, only death. That’s a bummer.

Then there was a devotee who once came to Srila Gaurakishora (and he is introduced as “dear associate” in the biography), so that devotee came to complain about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, there’s no name given but from the story it appears that it was Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura himself. The accusation was that “Prabhu” was exhibiting symptoms of a sense enjoyer, and that was enough. Srila Gaurakishora gave a big lecture on the status of the exalted devotees and ended it with “I shall never again look upon the face of that atheistic person who has commited this great offense.” I bet that devotee thought to himself that he should have never opened his mouth or shouldn’t have tried to judge vaishnavas’ behavior in the first place.

Another unfortunate soul ran his mouth about Vaikuntha like opulence of newly established worship in Sri Mayapura, in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s math. That was a fatal error of judgment and he was banished from Navadvipa forever. He ended up scoring chicks by dressing as a babaji.

As you can see, there are too many pitfalls to navigate safely, one little error here or there and you are finished. There’s not a single story of redemption, though it’s probably the result of slightly biased selection of anecdotes.

I often think to myself what I would say if I met this or that person in real life. What would I report to Srila Prabhupada about my service, or what would I tell my guru if he caught me in the middle of my day, so there’s no wonder I once thought of a possibility of having a conversation with Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. I still think about it, occasionally, though in much more depressing manner.

I’ve never been too successful in my silent conversations with anybody but I somehow managed to pacify my counterparts in my mind, not so with Srila Gaurakishora, I see absolutely no way of earning his mercy, I would fail on each and every test and would be banished for life for each and every secret thought, sometimes not so secret.

Just today I wanted to catch up on things with devotees who have left ISKCON for Radha Kunda, I can offer some justifications for their abandonment of the shelter of Srila Prabhupada but I bet Srila Gaurakishora would have none of it and would curse me to my spiritual death for not giving up my attachment to them completely.

Or what about seeing faults in senior devotees? What about associating with people who love to seek faults in other vaishnavas? What about my own desire to chomp on each and every ISKCON related gossip? Why do I need to know how each and every famous guru fell in their service? Why?

Why do I feel I can keep my cleanliness by reading books translated by those who have left their spiritual masters? In some cases books explicitly prohibited by Srila Prabhupada.

None of this would pass by Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji, at the very least he wouldn’t accept anyone living in the wider, materialistic society as a devotee. I simply have no chance. As things stand now I’m not even supposed to desire to renounce the world and move to Vrindavana or Navadvipa. I know I’m not ready but it would be wrong even if I was. What am I to do?

It also appears that as long as materialistic desires live in my heart I have a very real danger of falling very, very deep into the darkest regions of materialistic hell, for not giving them up completely. How is it possible for me to survive?

That’s why I never had any success in my mental conversations with Srila Gaurakishora and that’s why I will never have a chance of a real one with devotees of his caliber – too close to the fire. Icarus once tried to fly to the Sun with his artificial wings and got badly burned. That’s what’s going to happen to me if I somehow imagine that I deserve better association in my life.

Hmm, this kinda nullifies the merciful effort of Lord Chaitanya to save all fallen souls. The mercy is there but I can’t take it, too hot to handle. The more I try the more offences I commit, the deeper I fall.

Also that part about independent will of the living entity scares the hell out of me. In the official biography there’s also the mention of the previous karma being somehow responsible. I know my independent desires and I know my previous karma – I stand a snowball’s chance in hell to succeed.

Perhaps the train of Lord Chaitanya’s mercy has sailed for good and I have totally missed it. What was that about “I preserve what they have and give them what they need”? This is my only hope, and I suspect it’s not going to happen until the next life. Does it mean that I’m essentially free to sin since nothing good is going to happen until I die anyway? Tempting, tempting…

Vanity thought #210. Krishna’s appearance.

Bhagavat Gita 4.9:

One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.

I don’t get it – what’s not to understand?

Apparently it is a big deal – understand it and go back to Godhead, don’t understand it and stay here but I still don’t see what’s so important about it. What could it mean – not understand Krishna’s appearance? How can one not understand it?

Is my confusion related to what we’ve learned about Krishna’s appearance from Prabhupada? Does it apply to all the people who learned about Krishna in less authoritative ways?

For us it’s really simple – Krishna’s body is transcendental even if He appears as an ordinary human being. Perhaps for His contemporaries, for Arjuna’s contemporaries, there was a lot of confusion about Krishna’s real nature. That is understandable, does it mean that this verse was spoken particularly for their benefit?

They have seen Krishna face to face, they have seen Krishna get hungry and angry like any other human, they have seen Him exhibiting emotions and they have been spared doubts about all this being just a collection of myths. Krishna was very real for them – you could go and touch Him and you could sit down for a chat or, maybe, for a game of chess or whatever they did in those days to entertain themselves.

From this perspective it’s easy to understand that many couldn’t accept Krishna’s absolutely superior nature. He looked way too normal and human for them. I bet there were many people who thought they were better than Him in every way. Actually there were people who thought they were better, like Paundraka, for example, but I mean among Krishna’s friends and acquaintances there must have been some who thought they were more skillful at chess or archery or chatting up girls.

I guess it would have been difficult for them to accept Krishna’s supremacy and so they needed to realize His transcendental nature if they wanted to achieve liberation.

The problem is, though, is that they were already liberated simply by the dint of having personal relationships with Krishna. Arjuna himself had no idea who Krishna was, does it mean he was an ordinary conditioned soul? Of course not.

I still think, though, that out of thousands of people who have met Krishna in their lives there were plenty who didn’t fully used their chance to develop love of God, or hate of God, as did Kamsa and others. Without total absorption in the Lord and with remaining material attachments and big plans for the future it is probably impossible to reach Krishna’s abode despite meeting Him face to face on Earth.

What are they supposed to do once they reach the spiritual world if their interests still lie here? This should be a fair warning to us as well – if we don’t develop devotion there’s nothing for us to do there, too.

Anyway, that’s them, what about us? What problems do we face in understanding Krishna’s appearance?

The main one, I think, is that we simply don’t believe in it. With our background, I’m not talking about Indians here, stories about any God, Christ or Krishna, is a matter of faith and it goes against all factual evidence by definition. When we take to Krishna consciousness we go against everything we had been taught about God and his existence and that’s why I believe this old habit of ours is very difficult to overcome. We don’t admit it consciously but this is the root of all our behavior, all our thoughts and actions.

Krishna consciousness is supposed to replace these thoughts and attitudes and purify our hearts and minds but it’s a process, we’ll never see the end of it.

So, for people who lived five thousand years ago it was difficult to accept Krishna’s transcendental position, for us the position is given but it’s difficult to accept His very existence instead. We don’t know Krishna as anything else but the Supreme God, if He actually existed, of course.

Come to think of it, all evidence of His existence I have ever seen is a large grindstone allegedly pulled by baby Krishna during His famous deliverance of Nalakuvara and Manigriva, and remnants of the pillars of the temple built by Vajranabha, Krishna’s great grandson. Not much of an evidence, if you ask a skeptic within me. I can easily imagine a scenario where these stones were labeled as Krishna related just to please the devotees searching for proof.

There’s also a question of Krishna’s miracles, like that same grindstone – it’s too big and heavy for any one person to move. Would the people of that age have been doubtful of Krishna’s nature because they didn’t believe He could really pull it off? Not really, I think, Mahabharata is full of extraordinary feats. Some of the stories might appear as grossly exaggerated for us but by Vedic standards they were quite alright. Perhaps people didn’t believe in Krishna’s divinity because one doesn’t have to be God to suck life out of woman’s breast or kill an elephant with his bare hands.

Anyway, the difference in the nature of the doubts between us and Krishna’s contemporaries is not absolute, just look at the life of Lord Chaitanya. There’s no doubt He existed as real, historical personality. He wasn’t our contemporary but our authorities on the subject, historians and scientists, do not dispute His existence per se.

What we might doubt about Lord Chaitanya is His status as God Himself, pretty much as Kauravas might have doubted Krishna’s status as God. It’s easier for us to believe because we don’t know Lord Chaitanya as anything else but Krishna appearing as Radharani, thanks to the deficiency in our prior education. People who knew about Lord Chaitanya before reading Prabhupada’s version might have bigger problems with accepting His divine nature, and that brings me back to my original point – how anyone learning about Krishna from Srila Prabhupada not understand His appearance and pastimes? We are truly blessed this way.

Still, I think we tacitly accept stories from Bhagavatam as mythology that has some spiritual streak to them that is enough to sustain our faith and not much more. I’m speaking for myself here but I doubt I’m all that original in this regard.

With doubts like this – not about Krishna’s Supremacy but about His actual appearance on Earth, it doesn’t make any difference if He was actually born here or not. I have similar faith in Lord Ramachandra and His life story has no historical evidence whatsoever. It was so long ago that it’s impossible to accept it as real other than on faith.

What I mean to say is that I would believe in Krishna or Rama even if they didn’t actually appear here, even if there was no such place as Vrindavana, for example. Dvaraka has disappeared and people can only speculate where it once was but it doesn’t make it any less real for me, I believe in its existence equally.

Or even Vrindavan itself – I can’t see spiritual form of that place, it stays hidden from my materialistic eyes. I can see lots of temples and devotees and it certainly helps but if it turns out that actual locations of Krishna’s pastimes were some hundred kilometers to the east or to the west it wouldn’t make any difference to me, honestly, I won’t lose anything.

What really matters, at the end of the day, is how I can’t offer Krishna any birthday presents on this occasion. Janmashtami is marked in our calendars as a holiday and we subconsciously treat it as such, but it’s Krishna’s holiday, it’s not there for our pleasure, it’s for Krishna’s, and, sadly, I have nothing to offer, no birthday presents at all. It’s always me, me, me. “What can He do for me?” – that’s all I’m interested about.

I guess this demonstrates my misunderstanding of Krishna’s appearance – I believe He came down here to serve me better.

The really sad part is that if I had any actual devotion for Krishna then He, through His agencies, would have supplied me with ample opportunities to serve Him on this glorious day. I don’t deserve even that. Total waste of human form of life.

Oh well, I still have six rounds to chant today, I better use this last opportunity to the full, it’s all I can do and I should try to make it count.

Vanity thought #170. Body of proof.

Following a rather uneventful Monday I’m left wondering if chanting so much is working for me at all. I need proof. Or maybe I don’t.

It is kind of frustrating to look at my current state of consciousness and see no improvements at all, that’s not what I was expecting. A couple of months ago I was so excited about an opportunity to chant so many rounds, I cleared my schedule in advance, I was really looking forward to it, I was full of anticipation.

Now I do it everyday and it’s become a rather dull affair. I can’t deny looking forward to lunch and then the evening with the family, I can’t deny that I’m glad I have chores to do so that I can take my mind off chanting for a bit and work with my hands. The worst part is that while I’m dusting the shelves or sweeping the floor I’m still counting my beads. The worst part is that I consciously move chanting to the back of my mind because I’m so sick of it, I guess.

So is it working?

A while ago I was absolutely sure that it was and, on some level, I’m still sure it does but I doubt it’s the progress in the right direction. I need real proof but all I got is transformations happening with my body and mind – the body of proof it isn’t.

Take speed – if one repeats the same tongue twister again and again he would eventually master it and can dazzle his friends with his new skill. If I manage to chant my rounds faster it’s the same effect, there’s nothing spiritual about it, it doesn’t count. I still marvel at how other devotees, notably maharajas on my downloaded recordings, seem to take each mantra, each Name so seriously. They are really meditating on Krishna there. I’m just mumbling something to myself while looking for excuses to think of something else.

There were also a few “special” realizations, like that time I really felt I wasn’t my body. Two things to bring me down from that high horse. First, I don’t see myself as such anymore, it just doesn’t come back. Second, it might not have had anything to do with spiritual progress at all. Yes, even namabhasa brings liberation and liberation means not seeing himself as a material body but I bet there are plenty of other, mundane techniques to achieve the same effect, too, like transcendental meditation or something.

Hare Krishna mantra is a very powerful tool, it can grant all kinds of things – remove anxieties, bring peace, it can excite and it can provide any kind of sensual enjoyment possible, it can bring yoga siddhis, it can bring liberation, it can do everything, and most of these things could be disruptive on the path of developing devotional service. So what if one can see himself as not the body, it has absolutely no value on its own. The only thing that matters is seeing oneself as a servant of Krishna and vaishnavas and I didn’t see that. So there – useless.

Also the fact that this particular realization doesn’t come back anymore might be a sign that it was just one of my mood swings, nothing more. Our real progress in our real devotional lives cannot just disappear. We can become rich or poor and the next moment we can become ill or famous – all these things come and go like the waves in the sea. One day we are extremely intelligent and perceptive, another day we are dumb and demented, one day we hover above the floor like Maharishi Mahesh yogi, next day we hover above a pile of dung as flies. None of it matters.

If, on the other hand, we manage to get accepted as Krishna’s servants we will never ever go back. Maybe we’ll have temporary setbacks due to the influence of the material nature and our impure hearts but that achievement is impossible to compromise. Krishna will always preserve it for us, He promised.

So, when I look at the signs of my real progress I can’t see any at all. I haven’t become more absorbed in Krishna, I haven’t developed the taste for chanting or for service, I haven’t gained any acceptance – I got nothing.

I probably have to admit that I was driven by the mode of passion, I didn’t care for the process at all, I wanted quick results, and now, when I’m not getting any, I’m naturally losing interest.

This coming Saturday I think I’ll get a chance to chant three lakhs of names, three sets of sixty-four rounds, and I can’t help but notice the difference in anticipation levels now and two-three months ago.

Okay, I know what happened, there’s an explanation, the real question is how to move forward now, when the passion has gone? What should I do?

Ideally I should elevate myself to the level of goodness and enjoy every step of the way but I can’t get there artificially. If I don’t like getting up early in the morning I can’t fake it.

Am I caught in the gap where passion has already worn off but the goodness hasn’t kicked in yet? Afaik, sacrifices in the mode of goodness do not feel great in the beginning but once one acquires taste for it one feels extremely satisfied without even caring for the results. I was hoping that the push of passion would help get past that initial aversion. Apparently it wasn’t enough.

Should I cheer myself up with some new, temporary and illusory visions of success and hope they will carry me to the point where I won’t need them anymore to chant? Sounds great but there are dangers in stocking passion, too. Those fires might die out in one place but the heart will still want the rush and so will look for them elsewhere.

This is what is happening to me now – since I’m no more excited about chanting I’m starting to get excited about all kinds of other things, I’m actually looking to get excited, I’ll take anything.

I know that it won’t bring me any satisfaction, like scratching an insect bite but, just like an itchy bite, it’s impossible to stop oneself.

In this situation it is probably better to get excited about something at least related to Krishna, and that brings me to the possibility of me giving up the chanting and taking up some other service instead, a service that fully occupies my hands and my mind. If I’m doing my extra rounds thinking about what to do with myself I’m not doing it right.

Does that signal the end of my experiment? Maybe, but I’m not going to give up so easily.

The Name itself is perfectly capable of solving all these problems for me. All I have to do is to keep chanting and never miss a chance to be sincere about it.

Actually, I do not need any proof that it works, I just have to keep going at it on faith alone, maybe even against all evidence to the contrary. That kind of strong faith should separate the logical path of my self-benefit and the selfless and causeless devotion.

Yeah, devotion is causeless, isn’t it? Its benefits can’t be rationally explained to other people, if you being totally honest about it in your presentation they are not going to accept it, not unless you are a pure devotee yourself.

Here’s a possible topic for tomorrow – what’s in it for myself?

Vanity thought #164. Sweet surrender.

Bhakti Tirtha Maharaj held numerous workshops on various aspects of leadership and devotional service. Once he asked people to write down their fears and one devotee wrote that he was afraid that the Lord would force him into displeasing situations or force him act against his will.

Not an uncommon worry by any means but more on that later.

What is it exactly that we are afraid of here? We know it all comes from our minds and the lack of faith but the fear itself is the fear of God, of God’s enormous power. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – we realize that God is unlimited and far far greater than us, it’s a good start, I guess. Next step should be surrendering to His will but it does not happen.

We are afraid that God will force us to suffer and act against our will instead. Why?

First of all, it’s because we still identify with our bodies and not only that, we actually love being these bodies even after all the philosophy, kirtans and prasadam we have taken in.

Philosophy might actually make it worse – we know for sure that our bodies, so dear to us, are worthless to God. He values our souls but not our possessions (love me love my dog apparently applies only one way). We want these bodies to be happy, successful and pain free, with large tilaka marks and rows of kantimalas and bean bags it should be guaranteed. Except deep down we know that this display is just a show to misdirect God’s attention when He is striking down the infidels.

Deep down we know that tilakas won’t save us from death or suffering, we decorate our bodies the best way we can but they can’t be saved. Thanks to our philosophy we know that it’s an exercise in futility, but these bodies is all we got, really, so we hang on to them as if there were our dear lives.

No wonder we are afraid of what Krishna might do to them in order to save our souls.

Then there’s the problem with surrendering to Lord’s will. Theoretically it sounds nice and safe but when you get your own little project going with your own little dreams relying on God becomes a very risky proposition. He is not going to support our little schemes, is He?

In fact, we are absolutely sure God is out to wreck our lives for His own satisfaction, because He doesn’t want whatever we are prepared to offer, He only accepts what He asked for, via our gurus, for example.

Even when Krishna says “whatever you offer – lead, flower, fruit or water, I’ll accept it” we know He doesn’t really mean it. We’ve been taught that we don’t offer anything to Him directly, only through a guru, and He only accepts our service if we strictly follow the desires of our spiritual masters.

So when we, of little faith, make our own little arrangements and we add some Krishna service to our lives we are afraid that it won’t be accepted, that if Krishna really took our service He’d rearrange everything, break our families and kick us out of our houses and onto the streets to preach. Thoughts like this are a bit too much to bear for great many people.

What to do about these fears?

I haven’t overcome them personally so I can’t give any advice.

When I thought about it myself I noted that in a couple of cases I, indeed, left it all to Krishna’s arrangements. I give up making plans. Superficially my mind certainly keeps planning and scheming and wishing and dreaming but I don’t take it too seriously. I’m preparing myself for the day when Krishna shows His hand and I’ll have to accept it.

Another explanation is that I’m just lazy to take charge myself. I’ve been given these facilities – body, intelligence, experience, skills and so on to use in Krishna’s service and solve all kinds of problems but instead I’m sitting on my ass waiting for Krishna to do all the job Himself.

To ease this guilt I occasionally make half hearted attempts at this and that and give up at the first hurdle, telling myself that I don’t think or feel Krishna actually wants me to proceed in this direction.

So I prefer to sit and wait and save my energy for when Krishna really needs me to show it.

Yet there are other areas where I’m still dead scared of what Krishna has in store for me. It’s been almost half a year and I still haven’t tried to go public with this blog, for example. I’m afraid devotees, or rather Krishna speaking through them, would prescribe too many alterations and change its course completely. It won’t be my blog anymore, it will be Krishna’s, for His pleasure.

Funny, but that was the original idea, btw.

Will Krishna accept this blog as it is? I don’t think so, I know He won’t. It comes from contaminated heart and what I’m actually afraid of is that Krishna will prescribe changes to my heart, inflict deep cuts straight through it, and it’s the only heart I’ve got.

Also it won’t be me anymore, after the operation. My heart is dirty and stinky, that’s the way I like it, and if Krishna takes it for purification He’ll return it glossy and squeaky clean, I won’t recognize it anymore.

Hmm, all I need is to trust Him but that’s not an easy thing to do.

Srila Prabupada once was talking about surrendering – it’s like a wayward son returning to His father. Father is forgiving and accepting, just come and ask, what’s the difficulty? What’s the difficulty in coming to Krishna, apologizing, bowing down to His feet and getting forgiveness, acceptance, and eternal happiness?

Well, not all fathers are the same and not all fathers offer the same quick forgiveness.

In Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s books he often puts mother in this position – forgiving and accepting and nurturing figure you can trust completely. Well, I trust my mother has my best interests at heart but I’ve been living by myself since I was sixteen and crying for my mother’s help seems awkward now. Her recent concerns about me are mostly annoying, to be honest.

It’s not only the absence of good role models, it’s fear of rejection, mostly. Like young people are afraid to open their hearts and get burned even when they feel they are in love. Old people opening their hears? Forget it, no one wants to even look in there, it’s gross.

With Krishna it’s guaranteed He is not going to accept us as we are, as we think we are – our false egos et al. First thing He’ll do is to change everything – cut, cut, cut, pain, pain, pain.

Unfortunately there’s no other way.

He gives us just enough spark so that we voluntarily change our bad habits, just like boys in love do.

Unfortunately even boys in love have their boundaries while Krishna doesn’t allow for any, we must give up all and everything.

Oh well, there’s really no other way, just keep them sparks coming.

Then we can finally surrender and fully taste the sweetness of Krishna’s protection but until that happens we just put on more elaborate tilakas to postpone this grand day as long as possible.

– I’ve given up newspapers, is it enough, Krishna?
– Not yet.
– I’ve given up internet, is it enough? Can you leave me alone and well protected now, Krishna?
– Umm, no, here’s a bit of sugar but you are doing it all wrong and for all the wrong reasons.

And on and on it goes. I guess this stuff can drag on life after life.

This time I’m determined to end it, though – I will be chanting as much as I can until I’m free from anarthas and until I can actually chant Krishna’s names out of pure devotion.

Unfortunately, He might not accept this sacrifice until it has full approval and blessings of all the authorities.

He is picky that way, and they ask us why we are afraid of Him…

Vanity thought #142. I hate Mondays.

It never changes, does it? When I had a job I hated going there on Mondays and now when all I do is chant Hare Krishna all day long I hate starting it on Monday morning, too. Is there any real difference?

A while ago I speculated about chanting being the recommended sacrifice for Kali Yuga, here, here and here. If people used to offer horses to achieve all kinds of success before, can chanting Hare Krishna mantra bring the same results now? I still think the answer is “why not?”

From that perspective chanting my rounds is no different from any other job. I do it to get some benefits, just like I go (went) to work to get salary. Moreover, isn’t chanting Hare Krishna compared to watering the roots of a tree? Isn’t going to work is like pouring water on the branches instead?

Shouldn’t I get the same benefits and much more from chanting Hare Krishna?

The downside of this logic is that it induces me to put lots of conditions on chanting. I calculate how much I would chant and how much I expect to get in return.

I felt this attitude very clearly this morning and it made me very sad. Suddenly the pride of chanting ten hours a day was replaced by realization that I spent fourteen hours on myself and I don’t think it’s enough.

It’s not how much we give to Krishna that stops us, it’s how much we hold back, right?

Well, I physically felt the attachment to *my* fourteen hours today, I was very much against giving them up.

Actually it’s more than fourteen hours. I found the new cruising speed – one round in five minutes, twelve rounds in one hour, hundred rounds in eight hours and twenty minutes. That leaves fifteen hours and forty minutes for myself. I felt like I’m finally getting something out of this – more free time to goof off.

Just like with work, after a while you learn the ropes and find an easy way to accomplish the same tasks that leaves more time to yourself, same thing is happening with chanting.

Is there any difference again?

I thought chanting faster would be good. I didn’t try to achieve it, it just happened. Three months ago I noticed I could chant faster than six minutes, I timed myself, I could chant even faster if I sat down, concentrated and controlled my breathing. Same thing happened over this weekend, except the times are about one minute better.

Back then I thought of trying to chant three hundred thousand names in one day. Actually it’s one hundred and ninety two rounds according to our tradition. Eventually I pulled it off.

Those were the days. Speed really mattered. Now I’m thinking speed is good because it gives me more time for myself. What a rascal!

I think I will start chanting one hundred and eight rounds from tomorrow. Interestingly, a hundred and eight is a very special number in our tradition but it doesn’t fit with our sixteen round counters. Our counters go ninety six then hundred and twelve. Never mind, 108 is still good.

One advantage of speed is the demand for concentration. As soon as I lose it I start mispronouncing the names, chanting faster keeps me on my toes all the time. I suppose after a while my mouth will get used to it and I would need to increase speed again.

Today I came across another argument against any special status for chanting the Holy Names. A few weeks ago BBC aired a documentary on the power of super brands, I finally watched the first part, technology, today at lunch. This is from their preview:

The scenes I witnessed at the opening of the new Apple store in London’s Covent Garden were more like an evangelical prayer meeting than a chance to buy a phone or a laptop. The strangeness began a couple of hours before the doors opened to the public. Inside the store, glassy-eyed staff were whipped up into a frenzy of excitement, jumping up and down, clapping and shouting.

Today I saw it on TV myself, there’s no exaggeration here. The shop staff were really whipping themselves up before going out to greet the customers, and the customers were no better, too. There was this dude who traveled all the way from California to witness opening of an Apple store, there were guys from China and Russia, too, and there was a local guy who has been to his thirtieth store opening himself.

Apple fanboys were really made look like a pseudo-religious cult there, but that’s not what is really interesting, it’s the claim made in the documentary that MRI scans of the brains show that Apple fans have exactly the same physiological response to Apple products as real religious people have to images of their objects of worship.

It’s fine to joke about Apple cult but are we any different? That same MRI guy admitted that he is thinking about Apple and its products twenty four hours a day, just like we do about Krishna, and he gets the same effects, feels the same emotions.

Can we replace Krishna with Apple and feel no different? Hmm, I could even say that Apple is more real – you buy the stuff, you use it, you enjoy it. I chant the Holy Names I don’t feel anything, just the sense of unavoidable duty. Sure we have many things to enjoy about Krishna – prasadam, really nice deities, sweet kirtans, but don’t we create all these things ourselves for our own amusement? Yes, they are transcendental and absolute but very few of us can’t tell the difference between tasty and average prasadam or between good and bad singing.

Until we reach the certain stage, ruci, if I am not mistaken, we still see those transcendental things with material eyes and Apple has an advantage here – you worship it and it gives you real, tangible things and benefits that cannot be mistaken for anything else. We have to tell ourselves that Krishna’s mercy is present in this rice, we can’t tell the difference otherwise.

Having said that, there’s a loophole in that MRI argument. First I heard of these experiments about five years ago and it was obvious then – they asked people to try and remember their most profound religious experiences. That is just nonsense – you can’t reproduce these things at will. You might try to reproduce the feelings they elicited but that is just pretending and it is rejected in our tradition.

If you are fooling yourself that you are seeing Krishna face to face the feelings you produce have nothing to do with actual spiritual experiences, you are just being phony. So that’s what worshiping Apple feels like, too?

Monday is finally over, worrisome but just as expected. I’ve been there before, gloom and doubts come and go, the important thing I lived through without dropping a round, there’s just one or two more days before I start feeling good again.

Vanity thought #107. Origin debate – the end.

I’ve looked through the quotes that are supposed to prove that ISKCON is wrong and everybody else is right. First impressions – this, the “proof” that ISKCON is wrong, is the only purpose of the whole debate itself, not the mystery of how we came into the material world.

Once that is clear the need for counterarguments disappears – it’s an entirely different game in a different ball park.

Maybe my impression is wrong and I sincerely apologize, but it’s very difficult to avoid this conclusion when reading accompanying comments. It’s one of those topics where I totally fail to see the best in every living being.

If someone wants to prove that our founder acharya was wrong we can only beg them not to step on this dangerous path, we can’t convince them of anything else. The Supersoul in their heart will provide them with perfect arguments that would justify their crusade no matter what we say.

If that’s what they want to believe, Krishna will provide. What has it got to do with us? For our own health we should stay our of their way.

As far as doubts in our ISKCON devotees are concerned, our GBC presentation of a decade ago is more than enough. It perfectly reconciles all contentious points and simply understanding our position should be enough to clear our minds.

There’s not much in the quotes by our self appointed “opponents” that really goes against our position. It’s all left to interpretation, context, and benefit of doubt.

I put “opponents” in quotation marks because they are picking a fight where there isn’t any. All their quotes of previous acharyas have been known for ages and they’ve never been seen as contradictory, certainly not contradictory enough to polarize the entire Gaudia Vaishnava community they way our “opponents” are trying to do. The “origin of the soul” has never been a problem until they made it so, and it wasn’t started by Srila Prabupada as for every his “wrong” quote we can easily present a mountain of supporting shastric evidence.

It appears contradictory only to the eyes looking for contradiction, and this is not the attitude we approve of and we shouldn’t imitate devotees who pick it up no matter how great and knowledgeable they are.

I totally agree with the title of the book that started it all – no one ever falls from Vaikuntha. We leave it on our own accord, we have not been forced, we made our own choices. What we do immediately afterwards is not important. We might spend a lot of time in the body of Maha Vishnu, or in brahmajyoti, or in tatastha region – the details don’t matter now.

If the point is that it’s impossible to willingly turn away from Krishna then I admit we don’t know how and why it happens exactly but even books quoted by our opponents imply that we HAD experience and knowledge of the spiritual world sometimes before we made our fatal choice. That is just generally assumed all throughout as without it the whole “choice” is rendered meaningless. It is also stressed all throughout that we possess the free will which means the capacity to make that choice consciously.

If the point is that there are different kinds of jivas, some are made entirely of internal potency and thus are incapable of falling down while the others, like us, can swing both ways – that doesn’t prove anything. If that is true it still means we are capable for making a choice and suffering its consequences.

Whatever it is, with clever interpretations it’s possible to argue that black is white and white is black. That’s not how we approach the scriptures, we approach from the assumption that all scriptures ultimately lead to worshiping Krishna as the Supreme Lord and thus all contradictions are temporary and reconcilable.

We avoid discovering disagreements between acharyas that never came up while they were here and who are not currently present to clarify these apparent disagreements.

And that’s all I can say on the matter.

The End.

Vanity thought #106. The origin of the soul.

Can’t escape this big old controversy. It popped up everywhere I looked in the past couple of weeks, particularly in the story of Kala Krishnadasa I mentioned a few days ago.

The starting point is that Srila Prabhupada’s opinion is clear on this – we are capable of turning away from Krishna and this is the reason we are here. That’s what I am going to stick with no matter what other views are there, that would be a wise thing to do since our goal is to escape from this world and we achieve that by staying with Prabhupada.

I don’t know what happens with people who choose to leave his shelter and I don’t want to find out myself. It’s too risky.

That is actually the end of the debate. There’s nothing more to argue, the decision has been made and it’s irreversible.

Having said that – the question still bothers many devotees and many of them (us) need confirmation that Prabhupada indeed wasn’t wrong. He was sure of it but we need to prove it to ourselves, too.

I don’t know why. Will it make our faith stronger? It’s a double edged sword, I warn you. Once you get yourself dragged into this argument sooner or later doubts will start creeping in your mind. Sooner or later you will feel the weight of counterarguments, sooner or later you will be forced to at least admit their plausibility.

I don’t know what they will be and on what exact points but it is bound to happen, it’s the nature of the debate, it’s the nature of this world. Perhaps at first we thought that observing it for a while won’t harm us in any way since Krishna’s existence is indisputable so a little curiosity about how jivas actually live here appeared innocent enough, and then curiosity killed the cat.

Perhaps at first we were strong, dedicated, fired up brahmacharies, then we thought that to become complete and rounded in our knowledge we need to know how women live in this world, too,  and observing them for a little while won’t do us any harm. We all know what happened next.

This is not a misogynistic proposition – I’m simply stating a fact that we tend to overestimate ourselves and we set us arbitrary, if not outright wrong objectives, and we pay dearly for that.

I see the same attitude in trying to solve the origin of the soul riddle, too.

Still, it needs to be addressed since it’s not possible to stop people from taking interest in it. We just need a better approach. For example, any argument that even hints at Prabhupada’s mistakes is to be avoided at all costs. We just cannot afford listening to that.

In Lord Chaitanya’s time there was a very, very strict rule about listening to mayavada philosophy. We don’t get as much exposure to straight up mayavada now but listening to anyone trying to prove that our founder acharya was mistaken is just as dangerous and, perhaps, should serve as a litmus test for us just as mayavadic ideas were a litmus test five hundred years ago.

Second, we should avoid positioning any arguments and especially acharya’s quotes in this debate as pro and anti. We’d better try to find an explanation that accommodates both. We should avoid “this clearly proves that the other side is wrong” conclusions. There are no winners and losers in a debate with attitudes like this, only losers, nobody wins.

When these ground rules are laid the scope for the debate doesn’t really allow any debate at all, at least not with the views usually presented to us as the challenge. I’m afraid all we can debate safely is how both contradictory explanations can be reconciled.

Now that I have made it clear I’ve lost most of my interest in going our on the Internet and reading up on what exactly wrong with our view that we actually CAN come here from the spiritual world on a personal business.

I always assumed that this is the principle of our independence – we are free to choose, free to turn away from the Lord and try other options. I don’t know what will happen to all our philosophy if we take that option away from us. What will be left of our personalities? Do we even have personalities? Say we come from tatastha region, never been anywhere before, never engaged in any personal relationships, then we come down here, still no clue as to our real nature and for the vast majority of us no prospect of returning home in the foreseeable future.

Even the word “returning” would not be applicable. The name of this blog would make no sense, and neither would be the name of Prabhupada’s original magazine – Back to Godhead.

God knows how many implications that would bring. Can we forge any spiritual identity we want for our future life with Krishna? Is there any range of options in that regard? Any at all?

How do we know which rasa we should pay more attention to? Not pointing any fingers but it’s hard to avoid the choice presented to us in this regard.

And what about responsibility? If we have never been to the spiritual world we are here effectively against our own will. I mean if we had no knowledge or experience of both options, was it really a fair choice? Given how so many souls really, really suffer under the influence of their false ego it brings up the old Christian “how God can do this to the people” accusation. I thought we were past that from day one in Krishna Consciousness. Now it’s back on again?

What is that we disagree exactly with here in regards to our origins? Surely it can’t be basic things such as above. Do we disagree that we came from tatastha shakti? I don’t think we state otherwise, we belong to tatastha shakti after all. Is there some area where we were sitting for a while until we came down here? I don’t see why not. Perhaps we were put there on probation, to cool off and make a rational choice, and then we did. We can’t deny that some souls here look extremely happy, if only for short periods of time.

Perhaps there’s no shastric reference for this course of events but we don’t have much of shastric reference for any goings on in the spiritual world in general. We do have descriptions of gopis becoming proud of their position and Krishna disappearing on them. To me, this is a clear propensity to fault. Earlier I was saying we tend to overestimate ourselves and it could be said that we tend to do this in the material world only but here is the example of gopis thinking themselves to be the best women in the world, which they are, but it still cost them losing Krishna’s direct association.

Then there’s our qualitative similarity with Krishna, meaning we share at least some of His traits, even if to a minute degree. What if one of this traits is the desire to manipulate things? Desire to enjoy whatever little control that we have? It’s far better applied here than there. Here we can build entire universes as Brahmas, can’t do that in the spiritual world, can we?

This proposition – material world can offer something that can’t be realized in the spiritual world, is very interesting. I don’t think it can’t be proven wrong in every aspect.

We are here because we can’t do these things there, that’s enough proof already.

Anyway, this post is getting too long for one day. Maybe I will continue on this subject tomorrow, maybe not.

I really don’t want to get bogged down in “he said – she said” type of arguments but I need to read up on what proponents of infallibility say exactly. Let’s see how it goes, perhaps I’ll wash my hands off the whole idea.

Vanity thought #99. It’s All His Fault.

I’ve seen a little Q&A recently, the question was about sahajiyas and why Krishna disclosed His intimate pastimes that started that deviation. I will not mention any names since I’m not competing with the provided answer.

The answer was along the lines that Krishna had to present His full personality, including His intimate pastimes, so we could know Him in full. Without it we would see Him as incomplete and ultimately impersonal.

That sounds nice but there’s a counterargument to that, too – nobody had any idea of those ultimate pastimes for millions of years and they survived, what’s the rush now? We, meaning the movement started by Lord Chaitanya merely five hundred years ago, are not the first devotees ever. There’s some scent of Christianity’s special privilege in this – no one before Christ, or Lord Chaitanya, could have been saved or rendered unalloyed devotional service. I hope we are not as proud as Christians, so I think there’s a need for a better explanation.

I don’t know the answer but thinking about Lord’s pastimes is not a bad thing to do anyway, so why not speculate a little?

The best answer I’ve ever heard so far was from HG Ravindra Swarupa Prabhu – every endeavor in the material world is covered by imperfections, even if initiated by the Lord Himself. It’s good that Lord Chaitanya gave us this secret knowledge but the downside is that after five hundred years of Kali Yuga it has been tinted with sahajiyism, if there is such a word.

We can take it even further – in Bhagavat Gita Krishna says that He establishes principles of religion but eventually they get lost and He has to come here again and explain them all over.

Look what we have done with sacrifices (we, the conditioned souls). Once it was the primary method of worshiping God but in the end it was just mass cow killing business and the whole Vedas needed to be rejected (by Lord Buddha) in order to stop it.

What is happening with sahajiyas is not even half as bad. Though their attitude of enjoyment can lead one off the proper devotional path it’s still incomparable to animal slaughter, is it?

This brings an obvious question – how bad sahajiyism really is? How does it balance against all the positive results of presenting Krishna’s intimate pastimes?

Let’s look at the downside itself – Krishna is presented as a lusty young man and so He is not taken seriously, His character questioned, and His authority to set a course of dharma for the rest of us is in doubt. Our service to the Lord goes way way back and even now it still doesn’t include any of Krishna established precedents in our daily practice.

Lord Ramachandra set an example – He came in a human form and He behaved like a human and He taught us how to be human – he taught responsibilities of the kings, wives, servants etc etc. What can we learn from Krishna’s example?

People are inspired to follow Lord Rama’s footsteps, people are prohibited from following Krishna’s. That’s an obvious problem.

Then came Lord Chaitanya and again He set a perfect example of executing devotional service in this world. He was married, He took sannyasa, He served devotees, He served prasadam, cleaned temples – we are inspired to follow Him in all regards, at least since He started chanting the Holy Names.

Krishna is definitely an exception here. To his credit He wasn’t responsible for broadcasting His intimate pastimes, they stayed well hidden for thousands of years, as I said. It was Lord Chaitanya’s decision, not Krishna’s.

So, did Lord Chaitanya do the right thing?

I don’t know. Very few of us gain any visible benefits from Krishna’s intimate relationships with the gopis. In fact we are discouraged from dabbling in them at all. But then again – there’s no principal difference between, say, rasa dance and enjoying being spanked by Mother Yashoda. They all are intimate exchanges between Krishna and His devotees who didn’t even know He is God – that’s a principal difference from pastimes of Lord Ramachandra or Lord Nrisimha, for example.

This is mighty confusing – we do not worship the Lord in any of those exalted rasas, we worship Him as the Lord, as our Supreme Master, so why do we need to know about them at all? As soon as we look at Krishna as our possible friend, son, or husband we are doomed – that’s a very dangerous knowledge to carry around, especially in our age when ALL our authorities have been brought down to ordinary man’s level and forced to be equal.

I cannot speak for other devotees but personally I’ve never been comfortable with surrendering to anyone. It’s not true that everybody is equally proud – there are plenty of people who don’t question the authorities an actually prefer to simply follow and depend. I’m one of those who doesn’t. Tell me that I can treat God as a friend, too, and I will not be able to stop my mind from indulging, God or no God. Luckily, as a male, I can’t quite imagine myself as a gopi lusting for Krishna so there are some benefits to my current  conditioning.

Or, perhaps, this kind of approach to Krishna is not as bad as it seems and it doesn’t necessarily lead to spiritual suicide. Perhaps it leads to purification instead, just like any other contact with the Lord. Even without knowledge of Krishna’s intimate pastimes we approach Him with other inferior motives. Due to our imperfection we ask him to provide us with mundane sense enjoyment in one way or another, all our efforts are imperfect in this way. What we hope for is that by keeping in contact with Krishna even in this inferior way our hearts will be purified.

Maybe the same principle works with Krishna’s intimate pastimes. Maybe it’s okay to look at Him as a young playful boy, or a cute little baby, or even as a possible romantic interest as long as it keeps us engaged in thinking about Him, one way or another.

If it’s not okay – it’s all His fault.

He shouldn’t have told us about Himself then. As soon as He is presented in some personal form we can’t stop ourselves from evaluating and classifying Him by our material standards, it’s impossible not to, and it’s impossible to always approve of His behavior on the basis of our standards only.

Perhaps the answer is simple – I, and I suspect a lot of other people, too, would have been bored out of our wits if all we had to go on was the image of and old bearded man on a cloud.

Perhaps Krishna was simply trying new marketing strategies when people lost the interest in the old methods and, well, not everybody likes it and considers it infantile and debasing.

At least for those who do like it, it works rather well.

A small group of deviants who take it too far does not outweigh the benefits and the problem with sahajyism is not as acute as it was a hundred years ago, thanks to Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati – the Lord corrected the problem via their hands.

Our job is to raise this new marketing to professional level so it appeals to everyone.

Vanity thought #96. And then there is life.

Following up on yesterday’s thoughts I checked out how things are going on for people who decided to stick with their gurus no matter what. With limited time I looked up one prominent guru who left ISKCON about ten years ago. There’s no way I can learn all about their lives in one day but there are few things that are impossible to ignore.

I am in no position to judge any of them so I’ll try to avoid any accusations.

Main thing that separates them from me or from their godbrothers is that they have decided that their love and devotion for their guru is bigger than what they thought they knew about Krishna. Meaning bigger than what they think they owe to Prabhupada and the rest of the ISKCON.

I guess they can cite two reasons – all they knew about Krishna and Prabhupada they had learned from their guru. Thus they couldn’t put themselves above their spiritual master when he changed his mind about certain things.

Second reason is that they saw their guru as a person, not a position. Yesterday I argued that, basically, guru is a position – anyone can fill it as long as they carry with them the power of Lord Nityananda who is the adi-guru in our Chaitanya’s movement. I find it hard to argue against it when we have shiksha, diksha, mantra, sannyasa and probably a few more legitimate gurus and each of them is perfectly capable of granting us love and devotion.

On the other hand this guru as a position principle has its own danger of falling into impersonalism – “I don’t care who you are as long as you read from Prabhupada’s books.” As soon as we start to care about other devotees as persons and realize that they are dear to Krishna at all times regardless whether they’ve been put on vyasasana today or not, things start getting murky.

It’s easy to check whether one strictly follows Prabhupada’s books and interpretations and it’s easy to accept or reject any idea on that basis only, but, the whole concept of living gurus, possibly developing into living acharyas, is that they also have the right and capacity, granted to them by Krishna, to change and add to the teachings coming down the parampara according to time and circumstances.

Now it becomes the question of following the spirit and it’s not easy to judge anyone’s purity here. It’s far easier to imagine a couple of situations where there are clashes between different people judgments. By the very nature of the process some innovations will be found unacceptable. Unacceptable to who or what? Who can honestly say that these innovations are absolutely harmful?

As ISKCON devotees we follow directions of GBC, that’s our choice and our path. If it’s unacceptable to GBC we reject it, too.

But then there’s life outside of ISKCON.

I won’t go as far as to boldly declare than anyone trying to reach Krishna outside of our society is doomed to fail. I am doomed to fail outside the shelter of Srila Prabhupada and his movement but I can’t speak for other people. If they continue worshiping Krishna it’s between them and the Lord. They wouldn’t have left without His sanction and I don’t even want to think that they are so low and fallen that Krishna doesn’t care about their spiritual health anymore.

At least some of these devotees must be extremely dear to Krishna. One of them, I learned, was unloading some truck when he saw his first book – Sri Isopanishad. When he saw picture of Srila Prabhupada on the back cover he fell to the ground and cried. I don’t know anyone else who had such reaction.

Some others went through jails and psychiatric clinics in Soviet Russia and I don’t know which was worse. I also learned that some of them firmly chanted their rounds even under heavy medication when they could barely walk. Others actually preached in prisons and had the entire ward sing Hare Krishna.

What honest devotee can say that they never had real devotion and Krishna is leading them down the false path now?

There is something else at work here, and I believe it’s called life.

In the end our devotion to Krishna and Srila Prabhupada will be judged by how we manage to live together. In this particular case, judging from online discussions, there’s still plenty of resentment on one side and very little desire to reconcile on the other.

Time heals all wounds, though. It drives us apart and it brings us together. I just wish we never say or do things we might regret later on.

Just to be clear – I firmly believe that following the path laid down by Srila Prabhupada, within ISKCON, is the fastest way back to Krishna, but it is also the most difficult, I just don’t want to judge people who move at their own speed. We’ll all get there eventually and then we will all be asking forgiveness from each other.

Vanity thought #95. Asking for trouble.

Just heard this in one of the audio lectures I was listening while driving – guru’s purity and qualifications are not so important. This is a very dangerous ground – discussing qualifications of senior vaishnavas and gurus. One step to the side and I’m done for. Still, the topic is too important and thought provoking to pass.

In traditional vedic practice of performing sacrifices demigods are practically obliged to deliver the results, the whole karma-mimamsa philosophy is build on that – you do your thing and the universe will deliver, demigods are always at your service. If we look at the history there’s enough evidence to build a case for it. Ravana was doing his tapasya and Brahma had to deliver, for example.

There are ways to cheat demons out of their hard fought and deserved victories and benedictions, like stealing the nectar in churning the milk ocean story or entering the tongue of Kumbhakarna in Ramayana but these ways only underline the basic premise – sacrifices must be rewarded in one way or another, and, we know from Bhagavat Gita that these rewards are actually coming from Krishna, demigods have no say in the matter, even if we have no idea of Krishna supreme nature or even His existence.

We, on the other hand are dealing with Krishna directly, who is not a demigod and who is absolutely independent and thus can ignore all our sacrifices for thousands of years if he wants to. We can’t force Him to give us our rewards. In traditional practice the bigger the sacrifice the better – more ghee, more rice, more brahmanas, more severe and longer tapasyas – the results are directly proportional to the input, if you do it right, of course.

Not so with Krishna – He might bestow His full mercy in exchange for just a little leaf, a flower, and little water. Actually it’s in exchange for love and devotion, but you get the point.

So, how does it work when we follow the instructions of our spiritual master? What’s his role in delivering Krishna’s mercy and benedictions? Is he similar to demigods in a sense that if we do our part he will have to deliver? Just as with demigods, the actual benedictions come from Krishna as He is the source of all spiritual energies.

Or could we make the case for guru’s special position compared to demigods? Indeed Krishna’s mercy is contingent on guru’s blessings. No one approaches Krishna directly and the actual benediction is to be placed in eternal service to guru and vaishnavas, not Krishna per se. It could also be argued that since we are all spiritual personalities engaged in personal relationships of absolute nature then faceless, impersonal rules can’t be applied.

The guru is not obliged to bestow his blessings in exchange for chanting so many rounds and massage. He will most likely be very very merciful but he is not obliged. If we manage to displease or offend him in any way no amount of service is going to counteract that. He might forget, being human and all, but Krishna won’t.

There seems to enough ground to build the case that guru is in full and complete control of our progress. Or is he? Or to what extent?

It’s easy to talk in absolute categories, ie if our guru is a nittya siddha completely free from any influence of material energy, fully realized maha bhagavata. In real life, unfortunately, it would be safe to say that this won’t be the case.

That’s when the question of connection between guru’s own purity and our advancement becomes very important. It took ISKCON just a few years after Srila Prabhupada departure to realize that many of our gurus were not of the highest possible standard, and, as the society grows and new generations come in, this has become a standard perception and attitude.

Some asked the question very loudly – how much progress can we expect in this situation? Some went to search for better gurus elsewhere at the risk of offending their current spiritual masters and displeasing their godbrothers and other devotees. I don’t want to talk about them here, though, I’m looking at it from the perspective of devotees who choose to stay with ISKCON.

It’s from this perspective that the case for limited guru role in our progress becomes more prominent. It appears that we can indeed make progress even if our gurus are failing in their service themselves. If we are sincere in following their instructions that have been passed to us from previous acharyas than it doesn’t matter if our guru is secretly developing lust for young gurukulis, we still get our benefits. So the case can be made that the guru in his human, fallible form, is not in full control of our progress.

That makes sense if you consider that guru is an external manifestation of Paramatma within our hearts, or a manifestation of Lord Nityananda, the adi-guru, or Balarama –  doesn’t really matter. When the guru passes away the principle of giving us spiritual guidance does not cease to exist. At least we got the instructions that will stay with us forever.

What if the guru didn’t pass away but left our society and fallen off the path of devotional service? Does it mean we immediately get disconnected from the parampara and Krishna mercy? Silly thought, but all too real.

The reality could be that the guru falls of the devotional path several times a day, or even every couple of seconds – if his mind wanders away during japa, for example. Timescale and gravity is different, principle is still the same. It is perfectly natural for a living being in the material world to forget Krishna from time to time, we shouldn’t pay much attention to that, we should celebrate remembrance instead.

Situations like this are very very difficult to navigate if these “discoveries” suddenly blow into our faces and demand action on our behalf, but it only strengthens the argument that we should put a lot of personal effort to make guru “work”. If we leave no leeway for him to make mistakes we will eventually blame him for what happens to us.

Or we could decide that I will follow my guru one hundred percent no matter what he does. Such dedication sounds admirable but what if the guru really deviates from the path of devotional service and his disciples engage in activities that are not pleasing to Krishna anymore? I think in this case the disciple taking the absolute stand subtly asserts his own infallibility, too – there is no way I do anything that is not pleasing to Krishna. Then there’s the danger of getting attracted to non-Krishna conscious activities themselves, accepting them as a new standard and misleading future devotees.

So, at the end of the day I tend to think that while guru’s role in our progress is supreme we should also remember that a lot depends on our own efforts when the guru is not there or not in the position to appreciate them.

There is danger of impersonalism in both extremes – on one hand I might imagine that I don’t need a guru and thus deny the existence of spiritual relationships, on the other hand I might feel that devotional service to Krishna does not matter anymore and He will provide me with progress regardless, which the denial of our spiritual relationships, too.

Need a lot of skill and guidance from the heart and elsewhere to navigate these problems safely.