Vanity thought #1495. Heavy duty

Continuing with yesterday’s battery analogy, we all consider our application as heavy duty and mission critical. We cannot fail, we must be one hundred percent reliable and our service must be uninterrupted.

We leave space for our own leisure, though. Whenever we don’t feel like working we convince ourselves that we deserve a break, but if someone else comes along and tells us that our service is not needed anymore, for real, we find this unacceptable. We think we deserve breaks because of how important and valuable our service is, not because its worthless. If our lives are, indeed, worthless then we don’t deserve any pleasure whatsoever. Feeling unneeded is devastating and unbearable and free time must not be simply pleasant, it must be deserved, too. After all, we judge other people’s value and social standing by the quality of their leisure – by vacations they can afford, cars they drive, boats, and maybe even personal planes. Someone who can afford to live a life of luxury must be a very important person, we assume, without even knowing in what field.

I’m trying to resolve an apparent contradiction between people’s love of leisure with their commitment to their work and their estimate of their importance to the society. Work and service always, always come first, even for the laziest of us. Our really big attachment is to work, not to pleasure. Of course our tongues are attached to food and genitals are attached to sex but that’s not what I meant, those are simple animal urges, most people are able to restrain them for the sake of their work.

This should be obvious, btw – no one takes a day off or calls in and says he’d be late because he feels he needs to masturbate, or eat, for that matter. Our priorities here are self-evident. Work hard, then maybe play hard. “Work” here, btw, is a placeholder for any kind of duty or obligation we have. Could be taking care of the family, could be raising kids, could be helping someone in need, any situation when we are ready to put our obligations above our immediate concerns.

My point is, if someone comes along and tells us, for real, that we don’t have to do these things anymore, we won’t accept it. It won’t compute in our heads, it’s unthinkable. “What do you mean I don’t have to help children, old people, or puppies? What do you mean my mother does not need my Christmas cards? What do you mean my child doesn’t need care and attention? What do you mean my boss and my company do not require my services?” Sometimes it would appear absurd, sometimes unbelievable, sometimes possible but not applicable to us.

These things are somewhat fluid and not everyone’s life and responsibilities are the same. If at some point parents should learn to let their children go it means their duty is fulfilled, not that it was never necessary in the first place. I’m talking about OUR specific duties, they would very from person to person but I’m talking about duties applicable to each and everyone of us individually. They are sacred to us, but should they be from the perspective of Kṛṣṇa consciousness?

When one first declares himself a devotee and behaves as if he has accomplished his sarva-dharmān parityajya people do not take it very seriously. “You are too young to make such bold proclamations,” people think, “wait until you get children.” Most of the time they turn out to be right and we are unable to sustain our initial enthusiasm.

As we gradually mature in our service another realization comes along – we see our duties as given to us by guru and Kṛṣṇa, and so we justify their sanctity on the basis of our philosophy. Maybe we are right, maybe we aren’t, but everyone else around us also takes his duties very seriously, as I explained in the beginning, we are not unique here. In fact, lots of people take their duties far more seriously than us, whatever their justification is, so we won’t impress anyone at this point either. Some might say “Your Kṛṣṇa is probably not very important to you, considering how lightly you treat your service,” and they might be right.

If at this point Kṛṣṇa sent His messengers to take us back home, back to Godhead, we might suddenly realize that our commitments here are not Kṛṣṇa conscious at all and we’d give plenty of reasons why we are not ready to leave just yet and want to stay just to tie up some loose ends. It’s inconceivable to us that Kṛṣṇa might not care about all the things we consider as important and needing closure.

“I cannot die before my parents, my mother needs my help,” or “I cannot leave my children, they are dependent on me, they are not ready to be left without a parent,” or “but I’ve been working on this thing for months, how can I leave it half complete?” Excuse after excuse after excuse. Where is our Kṛṣṇa consciousness?

We could pretend not to care about all these things but whoever Kṛṣṇa sends for us will see it right through, and the worst part is lying to ourselves, so let’s try to avoid that.

Then, after many many years of practice, we should start to realize that all those things are unimportant indeed, that the world will go on without us just fine. It would partly be because of our growing spiritual knowledge, partly because of growing humility, partly because burden of our duties becomes lighter and lighter with each passing decade. Then we will start to seriously pay attention to the holy name. We’ll realize that our chanting before that was simply begging the Lord for help in our materialistic pursuits, our “sarva-dharmān”. That’s when we might seriously start to consider surrendering for real.

Ironically, as the material value of our duties starts to fade away we’d come to realize that doing these things out of duty for guru and Kṛṣṇa is actually pretty sweet. This time around we’d see it for real – we need to do these things for our own purification and enlightenment. Every little thing we do leads us to better and better service to Kṛṣṇa, and so our duties become sacrosanct again, but now legitimately so.

This will also be the time when we realize that if Kṛṣṇa doesn’t need us to do these things anymore then we can easily and happily give them up and do something else. If He wants to us to die we would die, no questions asked. Last time around we’d have declined the offer because we saw material value in our lives but now it would be gone and the only value left in our duties is the one assigned by Kṛṣṇa. If He says it’s not important then it isn’t, as simple as that, no personal attachments in play whatsoever.

And then, just to confuse us even further, Kṛṣṇa might ask us one last thing to do: “How do you feel about liberating some of those unfortunate souls, too? You don’t have to, but I’d really appreciate if you volunteered.” Assuming we still had our wits with us it would be impolite to decline, but fear not, only very few very rare souls take Kṛṣṇa up on it, statistically we should be safe, but I’m not sure how saying no would feel in this situation. Are we going to stand there hoping Kṛṣṇa won’t ask?

Bottom line, we have tons of obligations here for all kinds of reasons, some are legitimate, some are not, and, in fact, it’s only a question of our consciousness, our progress in devotional service. Whenever questions like “should I” or “do I have to” rise in our minds we should look at them from a bigger picture and not as a life and death situation. It never is, even though it usually feels like we absolutely must find the answer right this minute.

Vanity thought #868. Reconnection

If we were to see material energy as Krishna’s agent we would certainly have to rethink our relationship with it. One of the first thing we learn in Krishna consciousness is that our material interests are impermanent and unimportant while our real duties and obligations lie in our relationships with guru and Krishna.

This is how we’ve been trained – spiritual life comes first, material duties can be practically forsaken.

Of course we have the entire Bhagavad Gita dedicated to convincing Arjuna to perform his varnashrama obligation to fight and we never forget to mention it when challenged about being disconnected from the world but our practical application has been mostly about giving up all our dharmas, shaving our heads, and joining the temple. That’s how we interpret the last instruction of the Gita, sarva dharman parityajya, and make no mistake, it’s the most important one and it doesn’t lose its value even for fully liberated paramahamsas but the application should most probably be somewhat different.

I mean that a paramahamsa does not even see any other varieties of religion, he sees Krishna everywhere and not just symbolically but in His two armed form of Syamasundara. Or rather everywhere he looks he sees Syamasundara first and foremost, in the heart of his heart, and then the external world as His extension, I guess. I don’t know how exactly yo mam pasyati sarvatra sarvam ca mayi pasyati works (BG 6.30). Point is – he can’t see any separation from Krishna so for him there’s nothing to renounce.

It could also be that he can see and understand all kinds of material dharmas but he sees their connection to Krishna and so in every duty he sees Krishna’s hand and Krishna’s orders, so following them does not break mām ekaḿ śaraṇaḿ vraja principle.

If we were to try and treat the world in this way it would mean reconnection with our previously abandoned duties. We thought that our obligations to our families needed to be renounced in favor of surrendering to Krishna but if we saw our family duties as imposed by Krishna Himself we would happily return home and take care of whatever and whoever needs to be taken care of there. I guess simply being there would give so much pleasure and satisfaction to our mothers and fathers that it could be considered a duty. They have brought us into this world with certain expectations and these expectations could be considered our duties, right?

Similarly, the whole society invested quite a lot in our training and education and it expects us to be productive members in return even though these days it means simply being faithful customers. One day, however, a country might mobilize its citizens for a war and we would be expected to fulfill our duties in this regard, too.

Right now we do not see ourselves as being obliged to fight for “freedom” or “democracy” or whatever nonsense politicians think up to justify their greedy adventures but if we were put in World War II times somewhere in Europe we could be facing the battle for the very survival of the society that has made us into citizens, hence the call to arms would have been justified.

Can we see it as coming from Krishna Himself? No, of course not, but a paramahamsa would, so theoretically we should always keep that option open. I think.

The maturing into that paramahamsa stage would be most welcome by all – everyone would enjoy the return of the prodigal son and everyone would have their smug “I told you so” look on their faces and we should be prepared for that.

From outsider pov we would finally admit the value of their value structure. That it’s important to be a son, a citizen, a consumer, a member of the society, the member of the human species. We can give up these aspirations out of youthful foolishness and our return is a sign of validation for them.

Of course they’d be totally wrong about the reasons for our newly found appreciation and their smugness would be very short lived because if we serve in our materially designated roles only as servants of Krishna then people who expected to accept this service as their own would be educated about their real position of being only Krishna’s agents and greatly humbled by the experience.

That’s how paramahamsas turn everyone into Krishna’s devotee, how they act as magic touchstones and convert everyone simply by their presence. This is a deeply profound experience, for everyone gets to see himself as connected to the Lord of their hearts, whatever their version might be, simply through a brief association with a devotee. They immediately forget that they wanted to be our fathers for their own pleasure, for example, they see that their parental duties are their service to Krishna, and that feeling simply melts the hearts of materialists.

We say that preaching requires stepping down to madhyama level but it is not entirely correct – associating with perfect devotees is always supremely beneficial even if they don’t try to teach us anything in particular. Simply being in their presence opens up our hearts to service to Krishna, one single moment of their association transforms our relationships with the entire world.

Practical example – when they meet a sankirtana devotee on the street they immediately form some kind of relationship with him. It’s a stranger selling some stuff, or it’s one of those Hare Krishnas, or it’s a nice young man, or it’s an annoying young man, or it’s a useless young man – one look is usually enough to establish the basis of the relationship. When this person hears devotee speak, however, that relationship suddenly transforms into being put in touch with Krishna Himself. You can see it on their faces, how one moment they think their are talking to a young man and the next moment they realize God’s presence in their heart. Nothing has changed externally but the heart has been melted.

This should form the essence of our return to the world, the essence of our reconnection with it. We don’t come back to be sons or fathers or employees or consumers, that’s only the first impression, but our return should inspire people to serve Krishna. At first they might think “my value system has been validated” but their next thought should be “forget it, I want Krishna!”

That’s how being lower than the blade of grass makes one the greatest personality ever. To carry Krishna in one’s heart we should become humblest of the humble but when we give Krishna to others they see it as greatest of the greatest. We’d be foolish to claim this greatness to ourselves and we’d be foolish to think of being humble as means of achieving greatness and so we might not be ready yet, but that is the paramahamsa way, we should always keep it in mind even as a theory.

Vanity thought #782. Japa debts

There are two kinds of japa debts. First is the obvious and most important – you haven’t finished your rounds and need to catch up the next day. This has to be repaid as soon as possible, it cannot be postponed because chanting our daily rounds is the only thing that separates us from non-devotees.

During initiation this is the only promise we make in terms of service. The four regs is not service per se, it’s a promise NOT to do things, but in terms of what we are going to do for Krishna chanting sixteen rounds daily is all. We don’t promise to attend temple programs, we don’t promise to worship the Deity, we don’t promise to read books, we don’t promise to distribute books, the only thing we promise is to chant our rounds. We cannot fail at that.

Material world has a mind of its own, sometimes we are put in positions favorable to all those other activities, sometimes it becomes impossible, and if we rely on Krishna to arrange things for us then we should not expect more than our arrangement – we promised to chant, He will provide us the opportunity.

We should structure our entire life around our chanting, everything else is secondary, icing on a cake, and though it might be difficult at first eventually Krishna comes through – He gives us the opportunity and He does not to take it away as long as we keep our promise. That’s why slippage is a sign of a very serious underlying problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

When new devotees ask questions about how it is possible to chant all the rounds everyday and what to do if you don’t have time we tell them to have patience and determination. When they realize that the only goal in their lives is to finish sixteen rounds everyday it eventually happens. When the Lord provides ability to complete your rounds it is a sure sign of His favor.

If someone rolls back on his chanting it means he is not keeping his end of the bargain and the Lord is turning back away from him, too. It’s an SOS kind of situation.

Anyway, sometimes it happens and we have a clear instruction that we should chant our missing rounds the next day. Personally I like it very much, the more debt rounds the merrier. Crazy but true.

Apart from chanting we have plenty of other obligations that we cannot ignore. Some of them are devotional, some of them towards our families, some of them towards our bodies, and we have absolutely no excuse to abandon them, except when we have to chant. Chanting tramps everything, however, once you done your sixteen rounds you have to attend to whatever comes next on the list.

If you have leftover rounds from the previous day, however, you can blissfully abandon all the other engagements, you’ve got the right to ignore them. That’s why I also like ekadashi – we can chant more without any kind of guilt attached to it. Those are the only times we can lawfully imitate Haridasa Thakura, to a degree, of course. Normally we are forbidden to do so, we must attend to all other duties first, but not on ekadashi or when you have rounds from yesterday.

No one is stopping us from chanting more, of course, we promise to chant at least sixteen rounds, not only sixteen rounds, but that extra chanting must come in free time, after all other active duties have been attended to.

There’s a science behind that – we cannot chant properly unless our hearts are pure, unless we have removed our anarthas, and performing our external duties is the way we do that. These duties are not really external – they correspond to our internal desires, how we want to manifest ourselves in this world, how we want to control it, how we want to enjoy. We do not get any duties that we not assigned to us by our karma, by our nature, and so Krishna tells us in Bhagavad Gita that we should act according to our nature and even failing at that is better than doing something else perfectly.

That’s why we can’t say no to our work, we can’t say no to maintaining our families, we can’t say no to maintaining our bodies. Normally these engagements are supposed to be purifying but they are also the reason for our imprisonment here and they are the reason for us taking birth again and again, and there’s simply no bliss in it comparing to the bliss we can derive from chanting, and that’s why I long for days when I can put them away and do some extra rounds.

Sometimes I think being put in jail would be perfect, especially some sort of solitary confinement, because that would give me all the time in the world for chanting. Unfortunately, I’m not qualified for this kind of detachment yet, and so that’s why I’m not in jail, not because the government has no reasons to put me there. If it was so easy one could just rob a bank or something but the fact is that I still need to have my senses engaged and calls of my nature answered, I’m not ready for renunciation yet, neither in jail nor in Holy Dham.

The other kind of japa debt is reflection on our performance. It’s not a very serious issue but it still is an important part of our chanting. We should always strive to make it better, if we just finish our rounds and forget about it we are not doing it right, we should always think of ways to improve our service, and chanting should be the first thing we direct our attention to.

In the beginning days of this blog I spent quite a lot of time reflecting on my chanting and I thought that it would be one of the main, recurring topics for it but as time went by I started to forget about it. First it was weekly reports to myself, then monthly, and now I don’t remember when was the last time I dedicated a post to the quality of my japa. This makes me feel indebted.

There’s also a good excuse for it, though – I don’t know who is reading it. Originally this blog was like my personal diary but when I started getting feedback I realized that I should be careful about what I put out there for everyone to see. Some things must not be shared publicly, especially if I know that persons inimical to devotional service read it in search of reasons for criticism. I realized that if I wanted to share my experiences with chanting it should be done in a certain foolproof way, and it’s not always easy even when I have something to say.

Still, I have been slacking, no excuses for that, and that’s why I feel I’m still in debt.

Vanity thought #282. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Choosing a guru.

Today I had a worrying idea that I stopped writing about Bhaktivinoda Thakur because I have committed an aparadha towards him. I don’t know what it is, if I have time I might go back and look closely at my last posts about him, the possibility itself is unsettling. I’m pretty sure I’d want to edit parts of my previous posts on the second reading regardless of any offenses so it’s not a quick and easy fix, it will take time and effort.

Prior to this thought I explained my inaction over the past few days by being absorbed in flood preparations, and they are absorbing. The situation is easing off a little but I’m still effectively cut off the outside world – the nearest place I can get fresh vegetables to cook is probably one or two hours away if I get lucky, and I’m not sure they still have vegetables. Grocery stores nearby have not been stocked for weeks now, the shelves are empty.

It’s not a total isolation and our area itself is almost dry but the flood has moved on and cut off the small car traffic coming our way, there are very few taxis, not only because they are afraid to get stuck in the water but because gas stations have been left without gas for a week, too. There are still plenty of trucks running around but one must rely on hitch-hiking rather than on schedules.

Anyway, I returned to reading Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s biography by Mataji Nalini Kanta today. At first I thought I would just write about the next couple of years of his life after Puri but I don’t want to go back and refresh myself on all the details. Basically it goes like this – his daughter came out of age and he needed to find her a husband. For one reason or another he wasn’t going to look for one in Orissa and so he returned to Calcutta area. Everything was successfully arranged but the net result was that he got a job in a place called Narail which is located in present day Bangladesh.

There was only one potentially offensive thing I was going to mention in this regard – he thought that marrying off his daughter was more important than staying in Puri and taking association of great vaishnavas. Without trying to pass judgment I think we should rather learn from these priorities – duties come first and one should not shun them no matter what. If the Lord arranges for some respite and awards one with an opportunity to stay close to His temple and His devotees it’s a bonus, not an excuse to give up one’s varnashrama obligations. Of course it’s not an iron clad rule, I’m sure Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur prayed for Lord’s guidance when making this decision and he probably was assured by the Lord in his heart that no trouble would come to him and he won’t pick up any undesirable habits, in fact it was quite opposite.

In Narail his literary career as vaishnava writer finally took off. He published Krishna Samhita and Kalyana Kalpataru, books that got noticed in wider, educated circles, and he got initiated.

It’s this part – the initiation, that needs a bit more reflection. In Svalikhita Jivani he writes that he was waiting for a guru for a long time and his prayers were answered in a dream. A few days later “Gurudeva wrote to me saying, “I will come quickly and give you diksha.”

I don’t know what to make of it. It sounds as if they had previous correspondence and, perhaps, Kedarnath asked for initiation earlier but there’s nothing about it in the both books – Svalikhita Jivani and Seventh Goswami. Perhaps Prabhu (Lord Chaitanya, I understand) appeared not only in Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s dream but in Vipina Vihari Goswami’s dream, too. Perhaps we could dismiss this episode for the lack of details but I think this intervention by Lord Chaitanya Himself should be remembered as the basis of their relationship and whatever came next must be viewed in this light – it was arranged by Mahaprabhu Himself.

And there was a lot of stuff that came next but first I want to mention Kalyana Kalpataru again. According to Seventh Goswami this book was describing devotee’s progress from hearing the Lord’s name for the first time until he is introduced into Lord’s personal lilas and association. One of the passages in this book is cited as a proof of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s spiritual identity, he disclosed his own relationship with Krishna.

This does not make much sense. It can be massaged to make sense but then his life would lose all exemplary power – no one can follow his footsteps, he jumped from initiation to meeting Krishna in a year tops. Maybe it is possible, but we also have our Srila Prabhupada citing his life as a standard for grihasthas, how he managed to work as an important government servant, maintain his family (he had ten children altogether), and write upto a hundred vaishnava books, too.

Of course no one can imitate him but one could always say that since he was able to approach Krishna Himself in his bhajan then whatever he had to do in his earthly incarnation was not even a piece of cake for him, it was completely non-essential, unlike our struggles with our senses, especially in household lives. If he saw Krishna face to face a couple of times per day then he must have had very different relationships with his material body and everything related to it, meaning that his motivations, logic and reasoning in making his life choices were completely unlike our own and thus of no practical importance.

I’d rather think that his description of intimate pastimes with Krishna were written by following books by Six Goswamis and other vaishnava acharyas, and, of course, quietly supervised by Krishna so they didn’t come out wrong. It doesn’t mean he had actually had Krishna’s personal association in his fully spiritual form. He could have but I think he was still a few good years away from it. He just got initiated, after all.

And if one says that his spiritual master was such a potent soul that he immediately elevated Kedarnath to maha-bhagavata paramahamsa level, I’d say wait until he meets Srila Jagannatha Dasa Babaji, because that’s what came next.

In 1881, about three-four years after leaving Puri and eventually settling in Narail, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur went on his second trip to Vrindavana. Whatever I said about his ability to communicate with Krishna must also be reconsidered in the light of the deals he made with Him in regard to this journey. On the way Bhaktivinoda Thakur got seriously ill. When he came to Vrindavana he prayed that the Lord gave him just enough health to receive all the spiritual benefits there and then he would continue with the illness, and it happened exactly like that, and it wasn’t the only case of Krishna answering his prayers, in fact resorting to deals like that had become a routine in Bhaktivinoda’s life. If there was any difficulty he would just pray to Krishna for guidance and everything was resolved.

While in Vrindavan he helped to clear the area of the band of dacoits (love the word, always wondered when I could use it in a sentence) that robbed pilgrims visiting the holy dham, it took quite a lot of time and effort but in Svalikhita Jivani he gives it only half a sentence. More important for him was meeting Srila Jagannatha Dasa Babaji who was the head of the vaishnava community at that time. Jagannatha Babaji made such a deep impression on Kedarnath (he wasn’t awarded Bhaktivinoda title yet) that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati drew our parampara line through him and not through Vipina Vihari Goswami, who I just assumed introduced Bhaktivinoda Thakura to his spiritual form.

In later years Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s relationship with his diksha guru, Vipina Vihari Goswami changed for the worse, to the point that some say he rejected him. Nalini Kanta use the word “neglected” which is not as strong but still points to some sort of a disagreement.

I’ll look into the nature and possible implications of that disagreement next time. There’s a lot of history and politics involved in interpretation of what had happened, I don’t think I can untangle that knot but I need some clarity at least for myself.

Vanity thought #255. Asura Varnashrama.

Fascinating topic, can’t let go off it. Yesterday my main premise was that varnashrama exists in our degraded society in its own, however perverted form, and we don’t need to re-invent it. We might introduce something more traditional on a small scale, as a seed, and hope it will grow and attract more and more followers but it seems a huge impact from that is very unlikely at the moment.

We might have to wait until the current system collapses, oil runs out, electric cars won’t take off, nuclear energy will become too deadly and solar panels and wind mills fail to provide for our energy needs. Or we might wait for the financial system meltdown that would drastically redraw the landscape – industries, banks, services, modern agriculture, all of it will suddenly stop working and people would look for alternatives. It might happen but it’s unlikely, IMO.

What I propose is that we shouldn’t wait for the golden opportunity to present itself, we should strive to bring people to Krishna now, in whatever state they are in at the moment. There’s nothing radical about it, ISKCON has been focusing on community development for ages, our society is not made of fired up brahmacharies any more, most of our devotees do not live in the temples, that period has passed, we are reaching out now. This is good but it is still only about taking care of our own, not about changing the world.

We can try and bring this model to the society at large but they will just say that we maintain ourselves by working in their world, that we can’t sustain ourselves without getting their money and doing the jobs they tell us to do, that they let us do whatever we want in our free time but we are in no position to tell them how to live their lives.

In this way they make Hare Krishnas no different from other weirdos who believe in God and need half a day off on Sundays to attend to their “spiritual needs”. They can graciously give us that time to replenish our energy and come back on Monday to slave for another week. Why not, if our singing and eating makes us better workers? It’s better than binge drinking, right?

The problem, however, is that they lose any faith that Krishna/God is real. We agree to live on their terms and their terms mean that we accept they are our providers and sustainers, not God. God is there only for entertainment purposes and we play religion only on Sundays. We don’t go to Krishna when we need a new car or a house, He can’t help, instead we take more responsibilities and hope for promotions just like everybody else.

In a way we have become integrated in the society but it comes at a huge cost to our own spiritual health as we are forced to maintain undesirable association, and it also undermines our preaching mission. Something must be done about it. I don’t know what yet but I want to start with studying the enemy first.

We are gradually earning respect among the traditional religionists, at least in India. Our temples and our worship have gone mainstream there, very few people don’t trust us because ISKCON is run by westerners. Our relative purity, dedication to preaching and gorgeous temples prove to them that we are sincere followers of the same path. Most of them don’t realize what our real path is but in context of the traditional demigod worship we are doing fine, even impersonalists won’t object to that.

When we enter the demoniac Western society, however, things are completely different. Their value structure is completely different and we just don’t fit in. On our side we don’t look at them as following any religious principles at all, and in a way it is true, but I want to stress that they are not following the principles developed by demigod worshipers, those are indeed alien to them. I use “demigod worshipers” because I can’t think of a suitable Sanskrit term at the moment, asuric sounds okay but suric doesn’t.

When demigod worshipers want something they pray, they believe that if they perform their religious duties right the demigods will bestow all kinds of blessings and benedictions. In the West they pray to God but they are after the same thing as vedic karmis – their own material development. This business of propitiating the gods shaped the whole society, people’s duties and social norms, and that has come to be known as varnashrama dharma, maybe not daivi varnashrama that we are after but the varnashrama as most Hindus understand it.

Asuras don’t do anything like that. When they want something they work, they don’t pray. They don’t need faith to achieve results, they need to utilize their brains and work harder and smarter and they get their results just the same. I know only one thing about asuric planets – they get better life than the demigods, and now that culture is coming to Earh. Yay!

What this life means is that they have developed their own ethics and their own rules and procedures and they force them on their followers just as demigod worshipers force people to visit temples or give donations. They develop their own daily sadhana and they develop their own separation of labor and responsibilities and their own conceptions of what people should do at different stages of their lives. In short, they have their own varnashrama, and it’s not really that different from ours.

Young people are supposed to study, then they supposed to work, then they retire. They do not care for the next life so retirement plans are naturally different but up until then they go through ashramas just as we do. Their understanding of how the society works best when arranged in terms of kshatriyas, vaishnyas and shudras is a lot deeper than ours. We only talk about assigning varnas according to qualifications, they nailed the qualification process down, separating kids in their early teenage years and preparing them for their individual futures, and they don’t even need to do it personally, it’s all done by computers assessing standardized tests.

Once people enter the work force they constantly monitor their performance and natural strengths and move them around for better efficiency. They know art of motivation far better than we do, too. They know how to make people to perform to the top of their abilities and they know how to enforce their rules.

Basically, once you step into the system your duties and responsibilities are all laid out for decades ahead, they even have contingency plans for middle age crises when people get funny ideas in their heads. And their system works. We might argue that it’s unsustainable in the long run and it doesn’t make people happy but they account for that, too. Clumsily and slowly but they are getting around the idea of long term sustainability, as much as their long term interests that are naturally curtailed by the mode of passion allow. And they account for happiness, too, they promote love and social interactions and they provide counseling and what not. If they sense a problem, they tackle it.

They also reap rewards for putting in all these efforts. So much rewards that traditional religionists abandon their deities and duties and learn to follow new varnashrama instead.

So it is not fair to say that their lives are uncultured and unsystematic and will lead to their demise. Maybe eventually it will come to head to head confrontation with demigods again but asuras always win those battles, only Vishnu can manage to trick them into defeat. Apart from that they always have a very bright future ahead of them, rumors of their imminent death are greatly exaggerated.

This understanding of how asuric varnashrama works has serious implications on how we should behave within it but I’ll leave that for another day.

Vanity thought #254. Doing Krishna’s job.

This is rather radical – Krishna has already created the varnashrama, why do we have to go and reinvent it again? Certainly the modern society doesn’t look anything like varnashrama of the vedic times but it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Perhaps we assume that when Krishna said in Bhagavad Gita 4.13 that he created varnashrama he meant the idyllic agriculture based society and nothing else. When I read our literature produced on the subject I see that none of what I personally think is revolutionary, but somehow everyone ends up with advocating the vedic version and discards everything else. I’m sure it’s because that was what Srila Prabhupada wanted – small scale, oxen-driven farming and all that follows. Impossible to argue with this but it’s also impossible to ignore the fact that at this time it’s hardly helping anybody, too.

Sure, in the future, when the world around us implodes under environmental and industrial pressure those farms will come very very handy and might actually form the basis of the ten thousand years of Golden Age in the middle of Kali Yuga but that is surely some decades away at the very least and not many people will live long enough to see it.

For now, however, it’s main importance is in preparing for that glorious future, not for the benefit of the seven billion people currently munching away at our planet with ever increasing speed. Maybe they can’t be saved and should be chalked up as losses – they have the books, they’ve heard of Hare Krishnas, they had been given a chance, too bad they didn’t take it. Still a bit cruel though, if you ask me, they need to be saved, too, and now.

So my starting point is that “proper” varnashrama at this point is useless, we need a different approach. First of all, the divisions of society in varnas and ashramas as created by Krishna exists at all times, we just need to see it better. The thinkers, the rulers and protectors, and business people and the servants are all there, they haven’t gone away. It is all mixed and degraded but it’s not like things were absolutely perfect before either. There always have been brahmanas making money of their trade and there always have been kshatriyas abusing their power, just not to the same degree.

Maybe we should pay more attention to the guna-karma part of the verse – “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them…” One meaning of this is that varsnashrama manifests according to the prevailing modes of the material nature, it’s just the symptom, we can’t treat the symptoms without addressing the underlying cause and we can’t change varnashrama according to our own will. If the codes of nature dictate an industry and service based society than there’s nothing we can do about that. Small scale farming will not reappear on its own, without underlying increase in the mode of goodness and that is not going to happen anytime soon.

I even suspect it’s not going to happen in Kali Yuga at all, it’s not the right age for increase in goodness. The Golden Age predicted due to the appearance of Lord Chaitanya might not come as a result of sudden increase of mode of goodness but rather as a result of people propagating His sankirtana movement that is transcendental to all the gunas, remember?

What we need to do is to add Krishna consciousness to whatever ugly and dysfunctional system is already there, not invent something entirely alien to the prevailing conditions.

At the present moment the world is controlled by the asuras, all the old vestiges of demigod power are being systematically dismantled and purged from the public consciousness. We don’t rely on gods to provide us with anything anymore, it’s all about realizing human potential and man made progress. Churches and religion in general are anachronisms and most of it was overrun but asuric attitudes already. We don’t pray for daily bread, we work for it, and we don’t rely on mystic powers, like Sanjaya of the Bhagavad Gita, to connect to the rest of the world. Our achievement in replicating vedic miracles might still be crude but we are getting there.

We have also successfully dismantled the institution of monarchy, our last physical connection to the Indra’s hierarchy. A few years ago I spent considerable time trying to defend the monarchy system of government but it’s just going against the grain, in principle it is always superior to anything else but at this point in time it just fails. Perhaps the reason is not deterioration in the quality of the present day monarchs but in Indra slacking off himself, his power just doesn’t trickle down in sufficient quantity even to those who try very hard.

Also, from the first days of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching in the west Krishna was the star attraction among the asuric beings – hippies, not among the church goers, and it hasn’t changed much since. ISKCON attracts people disillusioned with the old style, demigod based religions, and we are not putting those people back on track either, in fact we most brazenly ignore demigods existence, we jump over their heads and approach Krishna directly.

Our greatest enemies seem to be the ones coming from the entrenched religious traditions, from Christian anti-cultists to intolerable Islamic societies to caste Hindu brahmanas to Gaudiya gosai families to Radha Kund babajies.

We are, indeed, asuric rebels. It’s not that we don’t see the value of demigod tradition, we want to restore it ourselves, but we rebel against deterioration and trying to pass rotten tomatoes as the ripe fruit of vedic wisdom. We wouldn’t have the problem with aforementioned people if they actually did what they are supposed to do, we have a problem with their pretending to be holier than they really are, and in this regard the world is on our side, everybody and his dog is fed up with hypocrisy that is passed for religion nowadays.

Considering all this, why do we have to reject the existing, however perverted, varnashrama and try to force what our allies have developed natural aversion to? Why don’t we focus on undermining the current asuric varnashrama from within? Asuras can be devotees, too. Maybe in the next lives they get to be born as demigods as a reward but if that’s what it’s going to take then so be it. Do Prahlada Maharaj or Bali Maharah need to be reborn as demigods? I don’t think so but maybe we do, or maybe we are going to establish a new branch of asuras – deeply devoted to Krishna but dismissive of the demigods.

Maybe we should decouple ISKCON from “varnasrhama” altogether, it has been going on from the very beginning anyway – our sannyasis are nothing like traditional sannyasis, for example. Lord Chaitanya might have pulled it off but our sannyasis will never ever stand a chance of getting initiation in Shankara order. Their behavior and expectations are completely different, Shankarites want to renounce the world, ours want to embrace it and turn it to Krishna’s service.

In the last century it was all about printing books and flying around the world to meet preaching requirements, a big no no for “varnashrama” sannyasis, now we have television, movies and the internet, we just don’t have an acharya to show us how to best utilize those and if someone turns up we’ll embrace modern technology whole heartedly, just like we embrace selling books now.

So, what I mean by decoupling from varnashrama is to give up trying to live up to traditional expectations of what our sannyasis and brahmanas are supposed to do. In the outer world they might be doing the duties of kshatriays, vaishyas, shudras, and even brahmacharies and grihasthas but for us the only thing that matters is their dedication to service and detachment from the outer world. Obviously we are not going to give sannyasa to people living with their wives but if they engage in sexual relationships only for the procreation than they are as good as sannyasis anyway, we know that, we just can’t put sannyasi label on them.

Of course maintaining purity while operating in the material world full time is not an easy task and perhaps only few souls of the caliber of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Prabhupada can manage it successfully but it doesn’t mean that we should stop trying and do something else. That won’t be following their footsteps, would it?

If we are born in an asuric society and are given asuric duties to perform why should we try to evade those in favor of some artificial constructions like ISKCON run farms? We should provide all help to those devotees who have natural affinity for farm life but we shouldn’t force it on those who don’t, meaning we shouldn’t point at our farms as the best thing people ever going to achieve if they join up. That’s just a turn off for billions of people who might be otherwise interested in offering selfless service to God. Hardly anyone can offer truly selfless service anyway, we are all conditioned by our birth.

We might also reconsider the gender roles in our society. In this day the physical appearance and the actual body functions do not always match. Sure, men can’t make babies but beyond that the bodies are pretty much interchangeable and the trend to unisex is undeniable and possibly irreversible. We might think twice before telling our women what to do because we know what women did in the past, what they are capable of now is dictated not by the demigod set examples of yore but by what they do on the asuric planets, which might as well be fighting, leading and decision making. We don’t know what modern day females are best suited for, we should carefully study them first. That’s an innate paternalist in me speaking.

Now we are still in the transitional period from traditional suric or future asuric societies so we have a mix of both in every individual and therefore it’s twice as difficult to manage them but it’s the skill we need to acquire. Actually the skill is in figuring out how to engage them in Krishna’s service as they already exist rather than in changing their nature. That change will happen on its own and it might not turn out as we normally expect – a replica of a genuine vedic society, but as long as it’s pleasing to Krishna and everyone is happy it will be as good as any Golden Age before.