Vanity thought #1602. Problem with proof

It’s all nice to talk about how superior our path is but we also need to show something for it, at least to ourselves. Knowing that we are doing the right thing would go a long way in convincing innocent people but I suspect our critics still won’t be impressed. Why?

Those who criticize us the most are also the ones who know us best. They know our philosophy, they know our culture, they know our way of thinking, they know our conditioning, they know how we react to this or that, they know what arguments we use and so on. They achieve this level of familiarity usually by being in ISKCON for quite some time. In come countries our opponents also studied us professionally, like deprogrammers in the West or Russian Christians. Most of the time it’s ex-ISKCON, however, so let’s focus on this group of devotees.

Yes, they are devotees even if they rejected either ISKCON, GBC or even Śrīla Prabhupāda. Some reject the devotional path altogether and go into sister schools in Hinduism. Even if that happens they are still devotees, just currently unable to accept that Kṛṣṇa is our eternal master and we can’t hide from Him so we might just as well start serving Him right now even if with clenched teeth. Sometimes the desire to enjoy is just too strong, not everybody is born into equally favorable conditions.

Some want gross material sense gratification that goes against our regulative principles so they have no choice but to leave our association. They might have done it in shame but over the time they probably grown to accept their condition and rather blamed us for being unreasonably strict. They can then find supporting arguments in either śāstra or history. India has seen everything so they can always find meat eaters or some schools where sex is not seen as a sinful activity. Some look for old drawings of Indians where their women were walking around bare chested and they cite those as proof that we are excessively puritan.

There are traces of this mentality in ISKCON, too. Devotees might cite example of objective analysis of various kinds of meat in aurveda, for example, or countless examples of fishermen and hunters in our books, or eating habits of various Vedic personalities like Bhīma. I don’t know exactly why they keep these things in mind, I suspect as a fallback option for when they can’t follow the regs and can cite historical precedents in their defense. Of course it won’t work on our authorities but they hope it would clear their own consciousness. Ex-ISKCON devotees use the same reasoning, I suppose, they just have actually implemented it in real life.

I don’t know why I am even talking about this, I was meaning to talk about their estimates of our progress or rather the lack of it. Somehow they think we are not making any and remain eternal neophytes. They can give reasons why it is so – some are connected with our personal conduct, some with our relationships with their newly found gurus from GM or Vṛndāvana, some, sad to admit, with Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. “Why” is not so important, the first question should be why they can’t see our progress in the first place, subsequent justifications are easy.

There are two ways why they fail to notice our spiritual advancement, or maybe even three. First is that we have a clear description of symptoms of higher stages of bhakti in our literature and none of us manifest them. Our voices don’t tremble, we don’t have goosebumps when chanting and so on. At least we should have tears but we don’t display even that. Well, the answer to this is that it’s impossible to expect these emotions manifesting in every ISKCON devotee in every non-devotional situation. They are not going to manifest when talking to serial offenders at all, that’s simply impossible, but if you look carefully at the devotees around you during deity greetings you will surely notice that some of them are experiencing very deep emotions. Maybe not everyday and certainly not in everyone but you’d see enough to dispel all your doubts that our process works.

Secondly, our critics often use wrong criteria of progress. Yesterday I talked about gross misunderstanding of what spiritual knowledge is and the same blindness is displayed when judging levels of devotion, too. Forget tears and goosebumps, if someone gets up at four in the morning to stand in front of the deties and sing about their spiritual master with deeply felt conviction everyday for years and years then it’s devotion pure and simple. If someone consistently submits himself to the orders of his guru even when they go against his basic self interests it’s devotion, too. If someone keeps chanting the mantra despite ever achieving anything substantial in his devotional life it’s still bhakti. Why would these people do these things if they do not feel any spiritual feedback? If they were truly in illusion they would have slept in, went to work, and watched TV instead. Of course one could say that this is what most of our non-temple devotees do all the time and that would be a fair objection.

The third reason our critics miss the point is that they expect high standards from common rank and file devotees. To check whether the method works they should look at the best examples – devotees who stay in the temples, devotees who do not abuse their gṛhastha status, devotees who’d rather stay poor but in ISKCON then get a job outside, devotees who do wake up for maṅgala-ārati every day for decades, devotees who have been known to display transcendental emotions and so on. I won’t give any names now but they do exist, some are very well known, too. So what if it doesn’t work for me or for most devotees I know, it works for our role models, it works for those who matter to us.

That’s the thing about every method – to achieve success you have to follow it to the “t” and you can’t judge its effectiveness by easily explained failures among general population. Truth is, no other tradition elevates people to following ISKCON level of sādhana bhakti, not even GM. If someone says that sādhana is inferior the answer is that you can’t follow it for a long period of time if you don’t have underlying rāgānugā. It doesn’t matter if you can’t see it right away – consistent following of sādhana is proof that rāgānugā is there.

All of the above is about externally observable symptoms, btw, we have to remember that our critics, due to their assumed position, are unable to see the spiritual side of things at all. It’s not like we can perceive it all the time either but when we get that lava-mātra moment in the company of advanced devotees we know advaya-jñāna is real, it’s presence become undeniable and this impression lasts forever. Therefore we can’t take accusations that our process does not work seriously, both for external and for internally felt reasons. And I also want to say something else about symptoms of devotion but I’ll leave it for another day.

Vanity thought #1601. Speaking with knowledge

There’s one prominent feature in various ex-ISKCON circles – they seem to know everything better than us and they certainly know more than us in other areas of Hinduism. Sometimes, if we are not familiar with the topic and do not have time to research it, they can plant seeds of doubt in our minds. How do we deal with this? Here are some thoughts.

First the problem – we have our books and we constantly discuss their content in our classes but only very few of us can truly be called knowledgeable of the scriptures. Most us know only the conclusions and straightforward explanations as given to us by Prabhupāda or other devotees. The truth is that we never take a “critical” look at our books, we never even admit the possibility that they might be wrong and there could be different interpretations that are at least just as valid.

One can pick up any controversial topic to see examples of this in action. Take female gurus, for example – there are books written in support of it, all with quotes and explanations, both from Prabhupāda and previous ācāryas and even from earlier Vedic literature. It looks pretty convincing and yet it’s all hogwash, we know it but we can’t be bothered even to read that book let alone write a thorough critique of it, and hardly anyone can produce opposing quotes and expose propagandist nature of such publications on the spot. It’s just too much for our little brains.

This, btw, is a known propaganda technique, or a lawyer technique – swamp the opposition with largely irrelevant stuff and force it to wade through tons of garbage. Many would give up and accept your argument just to save their time and energy. I’m not saying that authors of our books did this knowingly, too, I don’t believe they are that cunning but it happens anyway.

When it comes to ex-ISKCON devotees we can take the jīva fall issue where they argue from books most of us never even heard of and give quotes from ācāryas we never knew existed. How can you answer that on the spot? Most of us can’t, but we know it’s hogwash, too.

Even outside these well-discussed topics there’s plenty material for them to challenge us with. It’s not that we don’t know our books at all but they approach them with critical mind and therefore are ready to exploit the possibilities that won’t even occur to us no matter how many times we read. Our reading is different from theirs, it’s all in the attitude.

We read to get association and appreciation of Śrīla Prabhupāda, hoping that some of his devotion eventually rubs off on us, too. The content is a secondary consideration for us, we just want to see the śāstra through his eyes. We know that he gives us the right understanding and that by doubting or questioning him we deprive ourselves of his mercy. No superficial knowledge is worth it, we just can’t read his books in such a mode. They can, and so they see a lot of stuff that we overlook, and overlook intentionally.

They also explore Hinduism at large. We go by what Prabhupāda told us but they read books from other traditions and so claim to know them better than our cookie cut answers. We know Śaṅkarācārya, for example, but we’ve never read any of his works ourselves. They did, and they can also say that Abhinavagupta was just as influential but Prabhupāda never mentioned that name at all. When they throw these things at us we can’t argue with them until we familiarize ourselves with the same sources, and who’s got time for that?

In my limited experience, checking their claims always proves that Prabhupāda was right and they are wrong, without fail, on any topic. Pretty soon I’ll lose all desire to argue with them. Partly because it always ends the same, partly because they never accept their mistakes as a matter of principle. They set out to read those books to prove Prabhupāda wrong, no amount of arguments is going to change that bias, it’s a waste of time.

Still, when they present these challenges in public we can’t just shy away, we need to come up with an adequate response. Adequate for our goals, not necessarily adequate by their standards. As I said, they will fight tooth and nail to prove themselves right, they have their own psychological reasons for it.

What we can easily challenge them back is their understanding of what knowledge is. They don’t have any, not if they continue criticize and diminish ISKCON. When they speak to us and to the public they imply that knowledge is familiarity and understanding of books and teachings and everybody tacitly agrees with this definition but it’s wrong, totally wrong. Here’s how Kṛṣṇa defines knowledge instead (BG 13.8-12):

    Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity; approaching a bona fide spiritual master; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratification; absence of false ego; the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease; detachment; freedom from entanglement with children, wife, home and the rest; even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me; aspiring to live in a solitary place; detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realization; and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth – all these I declare to be knowledge, and besides this whatever there may be is ignorance.

There’s not a word there about knowing stuff, facts, quotes, theories etc. Kṛṣṇa explicitly calls all of that “ignorance”. It is easy to understand why – we are talking about transcendental knowledge arising in the soul and how it manifests itself externally, they are talking about records in their material brains which will get erased with each new birth. All these facts, dates, quotes, names, arguments, all of it will disappear in due course of time. Either Alzheimer’s will get it or death will. It can’t possibly last.

Once we ourselves understand this point about what constitutes knowledge we can easily counter all claims by our opponents as coming from ignorance and done in pursuit of ignorance. They are all irrelevant to the path of the religion. The truth is that ex-ISKCON devotees have given up that path and so they survive on rotting leftovers like jackals or hyenas. Unable to serve guru they serve their pride instead. Unable to extract real, soul nourishing advaya-jñāna they settle on memorizing names and quotes. Unable to follow the path they argue about directions.

All their arguments are basically about coming back to square one, making a different choice, and hoping it would turn out better. That’s all they ever tell us – forget what we know, start from scratch, fill our brains with teachings by assorted scholars, pretend that we figured it out all by ourselves, and make a knowledgeable decision. We are half way through already, why would we ever go back and start all over? Their chosen method does not even remotely look like development of transcendental knowledge, we get that they are attached to it but there’s nothing in it for us to consider seriously.

The argument could be made that their studying falls under “philosophical search for the Absolute Truth” but that’s not what they are doing. Philosophical search would be trying to understand the words of our guru, theirs is mental speculation. They are not trying to understand the truth, they just take whatever pops up in their minds and put a label “tattva” on it. Of course on some very basic level they are searching for the Absolute but it’s not the level we should be interested in, we must be so far past that already. Not in terms of how much we know, I would remind again, but in terms of how much o fwhat Kṛṣṇa put in his definition we try to practice with all our energy. Can they say the same for themselves? No, end of conversation.

Vanity thought #1455. The vortex

Yesterday I wondered about this new brand of exes, their origins, their destination, their motivation, and why I never thought their existence would be possible. I’ve done some digging and trawling and it makes slightly more sense to me now. There’s nothing new under the sun and these people got caught up in a familiar vortex but it’s vortex 2.0 now, social media style.

I said vortex because it draws you down to dark regions of hell, which for us is atheism, and because you get there by going in circles. They regurgitate the same anti-ISKCON propaganda over and over again and to newly deprogrammed it looks as new and fresh and truth revealing even though it’s the same old hogwash that has been sloshing around for more than a hundred years.

It’s the same with us, btw, as we follow the same old program of chanting, worshiping the deities, reading books, doing some service etc etc. The difference is that our vortex is elevating, it’s like a spiritual tornado sucking us out of this miserable world and transferring us to Vaikuṇṭha. Well, no one thinks of tornados as a good thing so this analogy is flawed, but it makes sense otherwise.

One could say that it’s presumptuous of me to claim that our detractors go to hell while we are going to heaven but in this case I won’t give them any benefit of doubt.

There are plenty of devotees who [foolishly] think that they can make better progress outside of ISKCON and they try themselves in Gauḍiyā Maṭhas or in Vṛṇdavana or simply in service to Prabhupāda but outside of GBC. I’m not going to argue about foolishness of this decision but at least they explicitly try, they are still on the spiritual path, just taking detours.

This bunch, however, have decided to break free from spirituality altogether, they are not making any claims and they wholeheartedly reject our entire path, the entire concept of bhakti and guru paramparā. Of course there are gradations and they range from rejecting Śrīla Prabhupāda and our lineage from Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura on to straight up atheism and accept people like Richard Dawkins as their prophets.

The woman I talked about yesterday was captivated by science, for example, by scientific method, experiments with reality, peer review – the whole shebang. Of course they can’t experiment on transcendental reality, scientific method claims monopoly on common sense, which it doesn’t have, and peer review is an old boys club where they scratch each others backs, not push frontiers of human discovery. I should probably talk about it some other time but I can’t miss the opportunity to mention one prank study where they got twelve published papers, changed authors’ names, and resubmitted them to the same journals. After “peer review” only three out of twelve noticed they’ve already published the submissions, and out of remaining nine eight rejected them for poor quality. Oh science – “It works, bitches!”

Anyway, following some of her “acolytes” I found their websites, mostly blogs, and then followed their Links sections or blogrolls. I think I got a good grasp of what is out there (not even a dozen of interlinked sites), what arguments they use and where they got them from. There’s surprisingly little even though they can get very wordy, which I think is due to their emotional trauma – they just can’t stop talking about it. A distressed mind can churn up mountains of complaints and just won’t shut up, we all must have observed this phenomenon in ourselves.

I was surprised that one of them found solace in Vivekananda but even if he himself was a spiritualist of sorts the inspiration this ex-devotee found in him looks decidedly atheistic to me. This is what she chose to quote, for example:

    Do not believe in a thing because you have read about it in a book. Do not believe in a thing because another man has said it was true. Do not believe in words because they are hallowed by tradition. Find out the truth for yourself. Reason it out. That is realization.

Take away “that is realization” and attribute this quote to Dawkins and no one would suspect a thing. As I said – these people are firmly on the path to atheism, which we can legitimately call “hell” in our tradition. A pure devotee would never protest against being cast into hellish planets if that is his karma and is sanctioned by Kṛṣṇa but he would never ever agree to losing his devotion and becoming an atheist.

There’s an interesting Indian website there that fights against Indian “superstitions” like Hanumān and all his heroic deeds or worship of Lord Jagannātha, I guess as long they also keep ISKCON in their sights they are good allies, heh. I have only one argument against it – it’s been designed in the nineties and uses tables and frames for one column page layout. Seriously, their HTML declaration is 4.0, which was superseded by 4.01 in 1999, and they are still using it even if their latest article is only from last week.

As far as “revelations” they share with each other and want to propagate to anyone who would listen, they are even older. On Prabhupāda they endlessly quote the same passages about women and blacks and conversations about killing atheists. It’s the same non-story that appears on each and every blog as if there’s a competition who can talk about it longer.

On Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura they site findings first spread by Nitai and Jagat which are sourced from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s brother who, unfortunately for us, hoped to become a flag bearer of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism but it didn’t happen, and now we have to deal with his parting shots which he delivered to a few ISKCON devotees he managed to attract by promising bābājī initiations and instant siddha-praṇālī.

If we thought that they thoroughly discredited themselves by their subsequent behavior, we were wrong – there are always fools who would overlook all that ganja smoking and bona fide sahajiyā as long as the arguments support their newly found hatred. Or maybe these fools simply do not know where they take their wisdom from – as long as it’s on the Internet it can’t be wrong, right? I suspect that if presented with challenges to their authorities they would simply say that it’s not a sufficient reason to dispute their findings and even disgraced authorities could be right, as long as they go about their research the scientific way – not trusting anyone and using reason. Reason is common for everybody and so should work 100%, they’d say, overlooking the argument that human endeavors will always be faulty and therefore we, in ISKCON, trust our authorities on the basis of their spotless character as they hand down knowledge from one guru in the paramparā to the next, that’s the only way to assure quality of received truth.

We can’t hope to double check everything ourselves, not in the beginning, so trust must be there, and we should choose who to trust wisely. And if they are so fascinated by science here’s an argument to consider – we CAN double check all the claims in our tradition ourselves as we make spiritual progress but they will never ever be able to check if “witnesses” who never heard of Śrīla Bhaktisiddānta being initiated really existed or knew what they were being asked about by foreigners speaking broken Bengali, even if they existed they are long dead and we don’t even know their names. Point is – our claims are verifiable, theirs aren’t.

This is just another example of why truly intelligent persons in Kali Yuga take up chanting of the holy names while fools continue to trip over their own arguments for reason and science.

Vanity thought #1454. Horrible exes

This past week or so I happened to come across a slew of articles and videos by ex-Hare Kṛṣṇas and that was an eye opening experience I still can’t make heads or tails of. I certainly have opinions about things they say and how they do it but I admit they are quite far out of my mental picture of ex-ISKCON “community”. I don’t understand it but I’ll try.

I won’t give links to everything I saw and read but Youtube channel of this girl is a good place to start. There are comments and links to related websites run by these people and pretty soon you’ll have an earful of worst imagined aparādhas possible. Be warned and prepared if you ever want to check it out for yourself.

I thought I knew plenty of and about ex-ISKCON people but I’ve never expected this, it’s new. Up until now I believed that no Hare Kṛṣṇa would become an actual atheist simply on the strength of experience of the Holy Name, our books, our movement, and Śrīla Prabhupāda. Devotees leave all the time but I thought no one could take Hare Kṛṣṇa out of their lives, save for a few cases of extreme offenses.

Normally, devotees just fade away from public participation in our society and they do it quietly, sort of taking a break from spiritual duties. Personally, I never consider them as ex-devotees, they are just on vacation in my view. There are those whose split in acrimony and they have stories to tell and sometimes I feel sorry about their experiences, sometimes I feel their complaints are overblown and they have share as much blame for the situation as their authorities. It’s still something we can eventually get over with as time heals all wounds.

There are those who leave ISCKON in search of something better. They never stop being Hare Kṛṣṇas and see themselves as devotees, they just don’t want to be associated with ISKCON anymore. I think, and I would argue, that their decisions are foolish but they are still devotees, still the family, and at the end of every dispute we can always find something common, like the unquestionable superiority of the service to the lotus feet of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī.

There are those who have become extremely offensive in their anti-ISKCON rhetoric and it cost them their place in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava family altogether. They went on to become śaivas or śaktas or yogīs or Buddhists. But not atheists.

There are those who found Christ, too. They can be very very nasty towards ISKCON, Śrīla Prabhupāda, and Hinduism in general, but they are still not atheists. The ones I’ve interacted with still talk a lot more about Kṛṣṇa and what’s going on in ISKCON than about their newly found religion and I find it very telling but as long as they encourage others to surrender to God and accept Him in their hearts it’s not really that bad. I can’t find anything in common with them anymore but everyone has a place in Lord’s service, their choice is okay by me.

And then there’s this bunch, extremely hateful, determined in their attempts to discredit us and everything we stand for, and I’m not sure how to relate to them properly.

The girl I linked to earlier was born into a devotee family and her first video about her experiences was actually fairly neutral but the latest ones are simply inexcusable. She is not simply going after ISKCON anymore, she specifically targets Śrīla Prabhupāda, and if that wasn’t enough she got into ridiculing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and she didn’t spare Lord Nityānanda either.

And this after being a devotee for twenty four years?

There’s another woman there who joined in the late 80s and left twenty years later and she isn’t as bad but equally determined to destroy our “cult” to the best of her abilities. She actually attends conferences by anti-cult groups and tries to be active in the movement I thought died long time ago. Seriously, someone still wants to outlaw ISKCON for being a cult? In the UK where hundreds of thousands of Indians come to our temples?

This activism hasn’t gone unnoticed and if you find a video with comments enabled someone always comes along and notices that the authors sound far more dangerous in their bigotry than the alleged cult they are fighting against.

How ridiculous can it get? There was a bit about our daily routine, for example, how devotees wake up early in the morning, attend the morning program, chant japa and listen to a Bhāgavatam lecture. Totally cult-like behavior, unbelievable that it’s allowed in this day and age. Maybe she should look at people’s routine in Buddhists temples where they wake up just as early, don’t sing and dance, only pray, meditate and study, and don’t eat food after 12 PM. Maybe she should check out Christian monasteries, too. Or how about Muslims who have their call to prayer blasted over speakers in the “ungodly” hour for everyone within hearing distance, not only for monks (there are no monks in Islam at all, btw).

For self-proclaimed experts on Hinduism who know spirituality better than Hare Kṛṣṇas they can leave pearls like this “by 7AM deites have been bathed and dressed in a new set of clothes, and I’m talking about brass dolls not even one foot tall – imagine that, how weird!” – I’m paraphrasing.

There’s one long rant about boys and girls separated at school from the age of nine or ten – who does that? Middle ages. There’s no such thing as all-girls or all-boys schools anywhere in the civilized world. Oh wait…

In fact, I’m thinking about taking one of these videos and addressing all their allegations against us point by point, how they twist and exaggerate and declare absolutely normal things weird and unacceptable, like Prabhupāda’s comparison of men with butter that always melts in presence of fire, or women in this analogy. Yeah, that never happens, where did Prabhupāda see that? Where is his proof? Where is his logic?

While girls do the talking on Youtube and roll their eyes trying to be cute, men try to provide arguments and facts to support their case (no gender stereotypes among these enlightened beings, right?) This is where it all gets disappointing as they use old bad arguments that have been floating around since forever and are never taken seriously. Most of our devotees would go like “wait, what”?

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had never actually been initiated by Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī. Been there, discussed that, this has been around for at least half a century and it originated with Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s brother. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura rejected his initiating guru – same source. Madhvas do not accept Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism as part of their sampradāya (except the do, save for some outliers’ opinions). This same hogwash is being recycled again and again, as started by ex-ISCKON devotees like Nitai and Jagat and later picked up by Madhavānanda.

I don’t know what Nitai is up to now, Mādhavānanda left his followers, the “real” Gauḍīyas, and went into Buddhism, and Jagat is/was a full blown sahajiyā, trying to find truth about Lord Caitanya through ritual sex, which was after he tried achieve same realization through smoking ganja. Lately he’s been into silent yoga, I think. Nitai and Jagat are still technically devotees, however, even though Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta didn’t count sahajiyās as vaiṣṇavas, but their new brand of followers are even more Catholic than these two Popes. Actually, Jagat comes across as quite a humble fellow, maybe misguided by ISKCON standards but still sincere in his devotion to Śrīla Prabhupāda and his search for the truth, and for that he deserves eternal respect, plus we shouldn’t criticize Prabhupāda’s disciples anyway no matter what they do.

And that’s why I don’t really know how to react to Jagat’s “work” inspiring this new generation of ex-Hare Kṛṣṇas to turn to full blown atheism. Who is going to bear responsibility for that? And if their source is beyond reproach, should I take their offenses seriously? Or is it just pent up rage being let out and they don’t really mean what they say, it’s just hormones talking?

I need some time to come to terms with this.