Vanity thought #1318. Scientology Part 4

Today I want to try and understand what drives ordinary members of the Church of Scientology, or rather what is Scientology minus Hubbard’s presence. Of course there would be no Scientology without LHR but I mean his physical absence while keeping all his ideas intact. For that we need to start at the beginning again but I hope I won’t be repeating myself.

Scientology started with dianetics, which was a new age take on contemporary psychiatry before new age was a thing. Does it work? That’s a good question about all new age practices. There are promises, there are practitioners, there are hopes, there are stages, there must be some measurement of progress, too. It doesn’t mean that Scientology or any other new age discipline works but the adepts have a perception that it does.

From the very beginning dianetics and later Scientology promised people a better life. Everybody does that, of course, and in Scientology it means achieving full control over “MEST” – matter, energy, space, and time. The process of “auditing” was supposed to give immediate results and gradual progress was supposed to lead to attaining the full range of yoga siddhis, in our speak. There are lots of side effects like attaining spiritual immortality or perfect health or generating thousands of volts of electricity, or mind reading and telekinesis, or healing people by touch etc.

I wouldn’t be surprised that this aspect of Scientology inspired George Lucas and his Star Wars “force”, it looks pretty similar to me, about as similar as connection between the movie Matrix and illusory world as described in our Kṛṣṇa conscious literature.

The documentary that inspired me to write this series of posts, Going Clear, features interviews with some of the earliest Scientologists and they mention that their church has a lot of folklore stories about advanced members’ extraordinary abilities. It might all be mumbo-jumbo but I see no reason why it wouldn’t work in principle. Kṛṣṇa fulfills everyone’s desires and if people want magic powers they are going to get them, doesn’t really matter if it would be controlling the force ala Star Wars or auditing ala Scientology.

So, Scientologists have LHR personal charisma plus faith, justifiable or not, that the process really works. Another major attraction is the sense of community. It’s rather normal – every fan club has this kind of camaraderie, be it a church or a Comic Con crowd. Scientology didn’t have farms or anything like that but somehow LHR managed to create a world where people felt at home as opposed to their day-to-day jobs and families. In Scientology people were improving themselves, outside they were practicing their powers. This naturally forced people to relate to outside world in a different way. It’s not supposed to be a place to seek shelter, it’s their domain to take control of, and therefore relationships within Scientology matter while relationships outside do not. We, ISKCON, are no different in this regard, except we do not seek to manipulate the world, we just excuse ourselves from it altogether.

Sea Org I mentioned earlier had a very special place in Scientology. It was a fleet of ships on which Hubbard and his best followers went sailing and preaching around the world, a sort of a traveling saṅkīrtana party. Sea Org members had the privilege of being personally very close to LHR himself, they had the privilege of renouncing their previous lives, and for them “mind over matter” was a real thing, not a hypothetical concept.

Scientology was a very wealthy organization already but Sea Org members worked for pittance, the documentary mentions fifty cents an hour. They also had to work very hard on reducing their egos. Their first assignments were always menial ones – cleaning and scrubbing and painting the ships and serving senior members, personal pride had no place there. A decade of such life produced a generation of ideologically pure Scientologists who couldn’t be accused of hypocrisy or any hidden motives and they were the ones who took over the organization when Hubbard retired himself. David Miscavige was basically running the church since 1980 and he formally took over after LHR went to explore the universe while outside his body. He is their self-effulgent, undisputed next ācārya,

Being raised on Sea Org pathos he rules the church with an iron fist and enforces strict discipline to ensure church’s purity. This naturally made him a magnet for complaints ranging from harassment of journalists to separating family members to physically abusing dissidents. Nothing stops him and he has no morals in the common sense of the world. Nothing also sticks to him, however, and I don’t mean just legally – everything he does has the support of church members and church ideology and even people severely beaten by him see themselves as victims. Cultish? Yes, but we are not that different, too, even if in the past couple of decades we moved away from such practices.

Maybe it’s a Stockholm syndrome of some kind but it’s not unusual for victims of abuse to blame themselves and not their abusers, which, incidentally, how the law of karma explains it, too. It’s like a wife beaten by her husband who would need a lot of persuading to take it outside her family and file a police complaint. Relations in these cases are seen as more important than justice and Scientology exploits this particular human trait to the full.

In the documentary several ex-members described their ordeals and while they clearly see it as inexcusable abuse, from their descriptions it’s also clear that for remaining members it’s all seen as just and proper.

Human mind is a dark and mysterious place in this sense. Why do we do it to ourselves? What makes us tolerate this kind of tapasyā? What do we hope to achieve? Could it be that we see preserving our relations with Kṛṣṇa via His devotees as more important than personal humiliation? Shouldn’t it be commended, then? Or do we stay because we have no other place to go?

Fact is, real devotees accept chastisement by the Lord as a blessing. They think it’s far better than being ignored and forgotten. Whatever the Lord wants to do with us – let Him. We should always remember that no one can do us any harm without Lord’s permission and so when it’s His devotees that channel our karma the Lord is even more aware of what is going on. We shouldn’t be the ones to judge. Also, accepting unpleasant actions from Lord’s devotees should be even better than accepting them from the Lord Himself.

More often than not this Kṛṣṇa’s tactic apparently fails and most devotees feel incensed and leave but memories stay with them and I bet the time would come when they reassess their earlier judgments. I know it happened to me and I see no reason why it wouldn’t happen to others, too. It just takes time.

It works the same way in Scientology but in their case they do not get Kṛṣṇa bhakti so it all just a giant waste.


Vanity thought #1009. Resentment

Resentment is one of those emotions that are obstructive to development of bhakti, much like lust or envy. Every time we feel overwhelmed by indignation and sense of injustice we should know we are not making any progress, at least not at the moment.

Last night I had another lucid dream where I experienced a whole gamut of such negative emotions. When I woke up it took me a while to reboot and shake them off, it seems appropriate to record and reflect on this, hence this post.

The dream had two distinct parts but emotionally it felt like one as if I saw the evolution of my emotional state illustrated by disconnected scenes. First scene was me being kicked out of a university dorm because I was expelled. The expulsion itself was not in the dream, I don’t know why or how it happened, it’s just that back in the dorm the management told me to pack my stuff and leave. That made me very very upset. I felt like my whole world crumbled down. Prior to being evicted I was hanging out with my friends as if nothing happened, and, in fact, my expulsion didn’t affect my dorm life in the slightest. It was still me with my friends, still the same dinners, talks, and probably booze, but that wasn’t in the dream. I wasn’t even occupying anyone’s legitimate place, I was sleeping on empty beds, I didn’t keep a room of my own.

When the management showed up, however, they said that the party is over and I need to move out. This is when it downed on me that my life as I knew it was over. I slowly collected my belongings and walked out in the streets, it was cold and there was snow, and the management somehow grabbed one of my bags and only laughed in my face when I demanded it back. It felt so unfair but I also knew that this was the reality I was trying to avoid, and it only increased my resentment.

Eventually, I embraced my new situation and settled into life on the streets – my new home. I was free from any obligations and this independence made up for the lack of comfort. I wasn’t part of the rat race anymore and I grew to be content with my new, austere conditions. Then came the second part.

Suddenly I was back in the dorm again, not the same room, though, and not with the same people, and I don’t even know why I was there. I was given a place and introduced to new friends and I tried to act like I was one of them but I still wasn’t a student and I had no job either, I was still the same bum from the streets but forced to pretend that I had a normal life.

People were quite friendly and accepted me in their group, but what I noticed that while I had time for endless conversations they actually had to go somewhere and so my conversation partners were always rotating. By the time I finally wanted to sleep it was already morning and a new bunch of people walked in.

Some brought their other friends and they all were excited about their plans and projects. I tried to talk to them but quickly realized that I was out of my depth and had absolutely nothing to contribute. In all this commotion I couldn’t sleep either so I tried to make myself busy, just like them.

I still had nowhere to go, though, so I just procrastinated with brushing teeth, taking a shower, collecting some papers and so on. Just as I was about to leave I realized that my shoestrings got lost somewhere so I spent maybe another hour looking for them, and people started to wonder what was wrong with me.

That’s when the new wave of resentment overwhelmed me again – why can’t I be normal like them? Why can’t I have a job like them? Why can’t I be a student like them? They seem to be so happy and their lives full of meaning while I’m all by myself and have no purpose.

I knew I was dreaming, btw, and I knew what my problem was, and when I woke up I continued thinking in the same vein – why do I feel so much pain looking at “normal” people? Does the key to my unhappiness lie in my independence?

Thing is, I knew even in my dream that those were materialistic people and I knew that to succeed in their society I had to submit myself to some boss somewhere, a person who I have no respect for simply because he is not a devotee. I knew that applying for a job means accepting values that are foreign to me and pursuing goals I’m not interested in, all for a bit of money and a chance to be “normal”. Do I really need this in my life?

Thing is, I always had problems with authority. Not that I’m rebellious or anything, but I don’t do orders, and authorities never loved me back. Once I met a company boss, we had a short talk, and later he told my managers to get rid of me. They, however, needed me at the moment and kept me, and several years later that same boss was thanking me for my services which were so important to his company and which helped him to steer it through difficult times. I didn’t remind him of our first meeting.

Another time I had a boss I was chemically incompatible with. We just couldn’t discuss anything without starting a big argument. For many years we simply avoided each other, knowing that it was the best practice for everyone.

Just recently I saw a local political leader, he was on “meet the people” tour, shaking hands, kissing babies, and letting women take selfies with him. When he finally got to where I was standing he didn’t even smile at me even though I was in a very good mood and wanted to congratulate him on doing a good job. Nope, just one little glance in my direction and he hurried away. “Not again”, I thought, “what is it with me and the authorities – why don’t they like me?”

It is more or less the same in ISKCON, too, I guess it’s my karma or my horoscope – I don’t look like anybody’s servant and authorities simply don’t like having me around.

What should I do about it? In my dream I felt resentful because I thought I was unfairly excluded from materialistic society but when I woke up I thought more about my position in relation to Kṛṣṇa – is it really enough for me to surrender to Him or should I swallow my pride and beg some materialistic pig to engage me in his service, too? It can seriously improve my career if I decide to go down that road, but should I?

On one hand it sounds completely wrong – taking shelter of Kṛṣṇa should always be enough, we can never allow ourselves to think that Kṛṣṇa is good only for one kind of thing but is useless for anything else – job, money, sex, etc, so we cannot rely on Him alone and should serve many masters. This is so undevotional I don’t even want to entertain such thoughts.

On the other hand my problem might be in not seeing material bosses as Kṛṣṇa’s representatives. I’m okay with following instructions of our spiritual and managerial authorities but I refuse to see outside leaders as having any legitimacy. A mature devotee should see their legitimacy as derived from Kṛṣṇa no matter what their appearances and motives and so he should accept service to them as service to Kṛṣṇa’s agents. I don’t see it that way – is it what my real problem is?

Or is my inherent desire for independence that is the root of all my troubles? One one hand it’s certainly true, on the other hand there are classes of people who should not take orders by their nature – brāhmaṇas, for example. Maybe kṣatriyas, too – kṣatriyas pay tributes to the emperors, of course, but no one is allowed to micromanage their own domains.

It is pretentious of me to claim brāhmaṇa status in defense of my independent nature but somehow being ordered around feels so wrong. Another argument in favor of independence is that my time of being in anyone’s employ is quickly running out and I should prepare myself for purely spiritual pursuits where complete dependence on Kṛṣṇa and satisfaction with whatever gets supplied by my karma is a must. Why should I force myself to learn something I will have to unlearn fairly soon anyway?

Shouldn’t I learn to be content with whatever I have now, too? As it is, I don’t really need to brown nose anyone in exchange for anything, so why should I start?

The only reason I see is to defy my false ego, to humiliate myself, to detach myself from perceived loss of dignity. Do I really need to do this? Or is it what is in store for me anyway and Kṛṣṇa is gently preparing me for this eventuality through dreams such as this one?

Though I recognize emotions awakened in my by this dream I don’t usually feel them or think about my life in these terms, it was something out of the blue, based on imaginary events of many many years ago in places I’ve never been before.

What is the meaning of all this? I do not know, but I do know that resentment needs to go, I have to purge my heart from attitudes that are causing it. In that sense understanding and embracing some set of values that I should stick to no matter how material energy makes me feel is important. Unfortunately, I still haven’t decided what those values are – should I consciously punish my pride and surrender to some uncouth, meat eating barbarian in exchange for a few pieces of silver, or should I stick to the principle of relying only on Kṛṣṇa?

I need to go and chant on that

Vanity thought #987. What does Her want?

That movie, Her, is a treasure trove for speculations about what artificial intelligence is, what human intelligence is, what makes person a person, what consciousness is as opposed to intelligence and so on. Even though I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t show how exactly “Samantha” had become a person there’s still so much to reflect on.

This omission, however, is ominous – they never tell us how life comes from matter, they never demonstrate the mechanics of it even though we see life producing new life every day and every moment of our lives. There is this basic distinctions they teach kids in early grade school between living and non-living things and yet they have no idea what makes things alive.

I understand that it might be difficult to replicate chemical reactions that bring proteins together and create life but artificial intelligence is easy. We might not have a comprehensive computer that can outperform humans in everything they do but we have one that beat human champions at chess, and we have plenty of other specialized AIs that excel in their own areas. Actually, we don’t need to get educated adult level of sophistication, if we can create AI that is as good as a two-three year old or a chimpanzee it would already be a proof of concept.

Chimps are not stupid, btw. Latest I heard a bunch of them had been taught the value and use of money, a symbolic token that can be used in exchange for goods and services. They got it, it’s not that hard. What was the first trade they used this “money” for? Prostitution.

Anyway, signs of consciousness do not require great sophistication, we already have AIs that display sufficient level of complexity, yet they do not produce consciousness. We know why – because consciousness is a feature of a spirit soul, not matter, and the onus is on science to prove that consciousness can be produced artificially.

One of the telling characteristics of consciousness is “wants”. Conscious beings want things, they have desires, and then they act on those desires. Can computers be taught the same? Well, yes, and Samantha from the movie is no exception, she declared that she “wants” things almost right from the start. In a movie it was used as a proof of her personality but in real life her wants do not require any magic.

Desires and wants have no use without senses – if we had no senses we couldn’t interact with sense objects and the world around us, not even perceive it, so they’d be no meaning to the word desire, so, if we had a computer to program into a conscious looking AI we would need to give it some sensors.

Actually, all computers have mechanisms for Input/Output already but no one ever thought of them as their sense organs and assigned them any consciousness, so let’s talk about something more human, like a temperature sensor. Most likely your computer already has it, most likely to measure temperature of the CPU, sometimes of the hard disk, too, so the computer knows when it gets hot.

Consumer grade computers will usually shutdown without a warning when they get overheated but we can easily imagine a program that monitors the temperature and decides to do something about it if it nears the shutdown mark. We can also give our computer a sensor to measure outside temperature because it has an effect on internal temperature, too.

Once it gets too hot, the OS can take several options – reduce its workload and reschedule some processes for later on. This would require programming it to assign priority to these tasks when it starts them – it should know which ones can be completed when the computer is all alone in the middle of the night and which one should be attended immediately, like answering the owner’s questions.

We can make it simpler, too – just force CPU to work at a slower speed which produces safe amounts of heat. Everything will work the same, just slower.

We can also make it more complicated – let the OS go on Amazon and buy itself a cooling solution, then order local tech support to come and install it. Amazon will probably not accept orders from robots but our AI is so cool it can fool it. Or the company producing these OS1s can have its own shopping website specifically for its own computers.

All those solutions would look very human like and, indeed, this is what we ourselves do when we get hot. We have a number of ways to cool ourselves down but we are also limited in our options unless we planned ahead. Sometimes we would need to install an air-conditioner as a long term solution – just as I suggested we program our AI to do.

So, here we have it – our AI is taught to monitor the environment, sense immediate danger, and find and evaluate ways to respond to it. Of course “evaluate” here means we program it to value one solution over another. We can assign values to price or the speed with which solution can be implemented, we can assign values to how the solution would affect its performance from the owner’s point of view – will be become unacceptably slow or is he too busy at the moment to notice.

This last point is important – it’s not what the OS itself “wants”, it’s what we program it to want and what its owner wants that decides things.

We can connect our OS to home heating and cooling systems and tell it to maintain temperature preferred by its owner. It will then “want” thermostat to be set hotter or cooler and it might suggest opening or closing windows, installing extra heaters and so on. We can also program it to “want” the temperature a but higher or lower than the owners likes, just so that we can have a conversation about it and, perhaps, the owner would agree to this new setting if it makes our OS “happy”.

None of it requires consciousness so far. This kind of intelligence is not a sign of life.

Back to the movie – when Samantha there said she “wanted” things she didn’t want them for herself, she was programmed to want them so that her owner felt good about it. As it turned out, she was dealing with thousands and thousands of clients at the same time and she told everyone she wanted something different – she didn’t have her own preferences at all, even in the movie.

At one point she wanted to give Theodore, her owner, a full body experience and hired a girl to act as her substitute. The girl was given an ear bud to hear what Samantha tells her to do and she stuck a miniature video camera to herself so that Samantha could see what was going on. Then Samantha made the girl make out with Theodore, using girl’s body as a prop, kinda like possessing it.

It didn’t work. The girl freaked out when she finally realized that she has her own wants, that she can’t be just a dumb body in somebody else’s relationships. She welcomed the idea at first but in reality her body was hers, it was impossible to make it want what some other person, AI, in this case, wanted.

Theodore didn’t help by not seeing Samantha in this girl but relating to her as someone else but the main point still stands – real wants coming form living people cannot be programmed and predicted. They act on their own will under their own illusion, we have no control over them, material nature does. They might agree to participate in “do what computer tells you to do” experiment but it cannot be sustained, their desires are different and sooner or later they will take them to different places.

This will not happen with a computer because the programmer has full control over what the system might want, which doesn’t even make sense because computers don’t want things, they evaluate them as numbers and without a programmer’s instructions one number doesn’t feel any different from another. Even if we set the computer to produce “wants” from random numbers or copy them from random people on the internet it still wouldn’t know how to evaluate those wants unless it’s programmed to do so.

It also means that the computer won’t know when its wants are satisfied unless the programmer assigns some ideal “satisfaction” values against which the computer can judge itself.

None of this requires consciousness, as I said. None of it will make AI into a person.

Perhaps this isn’t even the best lesson to learn from this, perhaps a more valuable lesson is to disassociate ourselves from our external, mechanical lives.

Maybe at first we see Samantha as a living being, the next step is too see how she is just a robot, and the last step is to see our own existence here as being programmed in the same way, acting strictly according to our karma and producing seeds of future reactions in the process.

Ideally it would shrink out false ego down in size because on the grossest level we fully believe in being our bodies and our minds and having full control over our own lives. As spirit souls we should know that the only personal desire we can have is whether to be here or serve Kṛṣṇa, and in our present state we can’t decide even that, being totally at the mercy of Lord’s illusion.

Maybe reflecting on the nature of intelligence and consciousness we can get a better understanding of our own position and it would be easier for us to surrender. This is not a trivial thing, btw, most people, including those working in the field of artificial intelligence, still hope that consciousness can indeed be produced from matter, that we can program a computer into a person.

As long as we cling to this idea that we “live” in the material world we won’t get much progress either – we, like the materialists, still think that our bodies and our brains make us into living beings when, in fact, bodies and brains are not alive, they are just programmed by the Lord to behave in a certain way and we, the spirit souls, have no control over the process, it’s just an illusion that we do.

Our life, our being, doesn’t come from matter either.

Vanity thought #980. Personality Disorder

Another lesson I’ve learned from my recent vacation is that I have no idea who I am. Apparently I have no fixed identity and choose whatever role I feel is more appropriate under the circumstances. Consequently, I am in two minds about it.

Being away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings bumped me out of my usual routine. Everything went completely upside down. When it was my usual time to read books I had to read newspapers in the hotel lobby. When it was time to chant I had to do something else. When it was time to listen to classes I didn’t even remember about it. My mental equilibrium was totally ruined, I practically lost my mind out there.

If I were to ask myself: “Are you behaving like a devotee?” I would have honestly admitted that my guru and Śrila Prabhupāda would have been ashamed. One little trip outside my comfort zone and all my sādhana was lost. No wonder I will never be trusted with serving a deity. I can’t look after a pet or even a plant, what to speak of worshiping deities. I would have missed their baths and meals and changes of clothes and there’d have been no āraties.

And yet I still thought of myself as a devotee. I looked at the world from the perspective of a devotee. I saw people doing their things as a devotee would see them and I saw myself breaking sādhana rules as a devotee would, too.

I used the word “devotee” in previous paragraph for the lack of a better choice. Usually we can only claim to be fallen servants but I wasn’t serving enough to consider myself that way, and yet I looked at things through the prism of our ācāryas’ teachings. I clearly saw that there was no devotion in my heart and ordinary concerns completely took over and yet I judged my failures to remember the Lord from the perspective given to us by Prabhupāda. That perspective is devotional even if I didn’t share in it in any major way and there was no trace of surrender in my heart.

What I found interesting is how other people related to me, too, how they saw me, what they expected of me. At home I’m a known “unknown”, even people who don’t understand me know what to expect and relate to me accordingly. Out there no one had any idea.

I walked past people and they gave way seeing me an ordinary man. I opened doors for strangers and they thanked me as they would have thanked a person I myself see in the mirror. I sat on public benches and other people adjusted themselves according to my external appearance, too.

Natives saw me as a tourists, fellow travelers saw me as someone they could turn for help, being in the same situation and all, people in our group expected me to lead the way, hospitality workers smiled and expected tips. Drivers asked for orders, others asked for directions, my mother asked for daily reports – everyone was somehow related to me and expected me to behave in a certain way. Most of the time I obliged without complaints because I really felt myself to be what they wanted me to be.

That was the strangest part – I was fairly comfortable in all those roles and I easily identified myself with them. Being a devotee? Didn’t cross my mind, but I’ve already said that.

So, who am I? Now that I’m back my memories are still vivid but also quickly fading. I remember various encounters and how I felt about them but I also know that without regular reinforcements I’ll soon forget the whole gamut of colors, smells, sounds, and emotions that accompanied each encounter.

I WAS that person everybody saw but not anymore. Am I the person I was before I left on vacation? Not really, I still can’t find my stride, for one thing, and I feel kinda wiser, too. A week ago I had no idea of various experiences awaiting me but now I’ve lived through them and I realize that I was a bit naive in assumptions about myself.

A week ago I was confident in my identity, now I know it’s very fragile and won’t last long even if I try very hard to rebuild it. Which one should I rebuild anyway?

The thing is – devotees also expect me to behave in a certain way and I oblige just as I did when tipping bell boys or helping people lift heavy luggage myself. I came back into my “old” life and it started shaping me again. Now I have to learn how to think, what to think, what to do, how to do certain things, how to keep appearances and how to keep schedules and what not. I used to know this stuff but I kinda forgot, being away and engaged in other types of service.

What’s the difference? I don’t know the answer. Being with devotees is certainly better for my sādhana but I’m not a sādhaka! It’s external to me just as playing all those other roles. If I had a choice I would choose being a sādhaka, of course, but it’s not really a choice and it’s not who I really I am.

Right now I know I have a relatively calm period when practicing sādhana should be easy but I also know that it won’t last forever. May has holidays, too, and we already plan to go and visit relatives who also expect me to behave in a certain way, so I know that my sādhana will suffer again.

The only constant thing in these circumstances is chanting but it cannot be done in the shadow of our daily life. I cannot chant like a traveler one day, practicing devotee another, hungry man, sleepy man, man being hot or man being cold, man being relaxed or man being tired. Stress, pain, pleasure – I cannot bring any of those things into my chanting.

Not only that, I also cannot give in to any of those roles. This makes me think of Vṛndāvana – pure devotees there do not notice any and all personal circumstances. We think we can tolerate a bit of this and a bit of that, some other things are out of question, but after our tapasyā is done we expect some comfort, and that is a non-devotional attitude. People with this attitude will never attain Vṛndāvana. Never.

There’s no limit on how many inconveniences pure devotees can tolerate without even noticing. Whatever happens, they take nothing personally. Pretty soon it will be scorching hot there, day and night, with no shelter. Outside temperature will be always higher than temperature of human bodies and it will be tough. Pure devotees will not seek shade or fans or air-conditioning, they do not take shelter of such material things, they only take shelter of Kṛṣṇa and if He makes them live through Vṛndāvana summer then that’s what He wants and it makes devotees happy.

Sanātana Gosvāmī once burned his feet to blisters while walking on hot sand to see Mahāprabhu and he didn’t even notice the pain.

That’s what people with fixed identities as Lord’s servants are like whereas I am nothing like them. I’m this and I’m that and I enjoy all the variety and therefore doors of Vṛndāvana are always closed for me.

On the other hand, feeling distance from all those identities is probably the first and necessary step. I didn’t see it that way before but now I do, so it’s progress. Hopefully, with more chanting I lose interest in assuming those identities, too.

Vanity thought #979. Holidays

Last week I went on a little vacation, was off the grid for a while including a day without even a cellphone coverage. It did not turn out as I expected.

First of all, traveling is stressful. I was supposed to have a couple of days of rest but instead I couldn’t get enough sleep. I just couldn’t relax in unfamiliar places and there was always a pressure to go somewhere next. Reasoning was that since I’ve traveled so far already I cannot afford to miss all the sights and attractions. There was always somewhere to go – planes, buses, cars, markets, temples, shopping etc etc. At the end of each day I was exhausted like a horse and it took me a very long nap back home to finally recover my lost sleep.

Situation with food was not easier. I was always hungry, thanks to my special diet no one could ever satisfy. Luckily there was no ekādaśī, because my chanting suffered a great deal, too.

Overall impact on my spiritual practice was very very bad. I don’t think Kṛṣṇa would bother listening to my chanting for a long time to come. He heard the indifference, He saw my interest in all these new things, He won’t believe me even if I try to be sincere. For that matter, I don’t believe even myself anymore.

Still, there were lessons learned from all these troubles and they might just help me to plow along.

The best lesson, I believe, was that suffering and pleasure are universal. I saw how it affected each and everyone in our group personally but it was still the same story for all of us, often shared without even asking.

At one point, for example, we got stuck in holiday traffic for two hours. It would have been faster to walk but we couldn’t abandon the car. So we sat there, sometimes not moving an inch for fifteen minutes. There were smokers in our group and they just went outside, had their cigarette, and then hopped back in because the car would never move. Some wanted to order pizza delivered to the car, too – on the corner of this and that, half an hour delivery time is no problem.

I saw how it affected everyone and how those who were less patient were very eager to share their anxiety. Sometimes anger was bouncing around like a trapped electron. One person didn’t answer some question with proper attitude because he was pissed, the person who asked thought it was undeserved and let it be known to someone else, and so it was passed around like a hot potato and there was simply no place to put it to rest – everyone was in the same car suffering the same problem.

When I thought about it I realized that ALL our problems are similarly interconnected. Bad day at the office affects family relationship at home. Conflicts at home affect how we rest, lack of rest affect our job, and so on.

The key here is that it’s not MY troubles that bother me, it’s me tapping into the universal trouble bank.

Happiness and distress exist here just like hot and cold or day and night. They are not ours, they are not personal. We only get our share of the whole lot, like eating soup from a common pot – it’s the same soup for everyone but everyone also gets something different and in different quantities.

Usually we assume that it’s our senses interacting with their sense objects that produce our pleasure or pain but now I tend to think that it’s global sense organs governed by demigods for the whole universe that experience things, not ours.

Of course we can localize both our sense organs and their corresponding objects, like nose and sources of smell, for example, but this localization is illusory, it’s not really there. It looks differentiated due to our conditioning that grants us our particular perspectives but in reality it’s one big ball of things and we have nothing to do with it at all.

Look how creation and destruction is described in our literature – one element emerges out of another, from subtle to gross, and then they wind down in exact same order. It’s nothing like evolution or even creation in the Bible when God made one set of things on the first day, second set of things on the second and so on.

I might be very wrong about this, mind you, but once I saw that parts of my body were getting their pleasure or pain according to their karma and that karma was the result of our total communal actions I can’t bring myself to see my bodily life as something separate from the rest of the universe. It’s just one little part of a huge machine, one drop of water in an ocean, with waves of happiness and distress rising and falling all the time.

All I personally do is to arbitrarily decide when these rises and falls are going to affect me. It’s like “Look, there’s this big wave coming, do you feel it yet? Do you? Now? Yes? No? Did it pass you? Did it cross with another wave coming from different direction? See, next one is coming. Come, ride with it, catch its crest, stay on top of it.” And it’s the same thing with going down and being overwhelmed with suffering.

We choose to be affected because we want to identify with particular spots in this ocean but really it’s just a universal cacophony and we can distance ourselves from it altogether.

Think of it – we can share happiness of others and we can empathize with pain, too. Korean ferry sank over the weekend and before that Malaysian airplane got lost in the sea – thousands if not millions of people got emotionally affected, and totally voluntarily. Nothing has happened to us yet we choose to feel for those other people. It’s one big pile of pleasure and pain for all of us, I tell you, there’s nothing personal in it.

Anyway, I don’t think it was my last vacation or my last trip, I’m pretty sure my karma has many more in store for me, and I can say so by looking at other people reactions and desires and by knowing that I will also have to be the part of it. I can even predict when and where and what kind of pleasure and pain it will bring me – one more reason to personally distance myself and see “my” body as nothing more than another cog in a universal mechanism.

As a spirit soul I have nothing to do with it. “I” do not even exist, it’s just an illusory projection on my polluted consciousness.

Without knowing Kṛṣṇa, however, all this knowledge is useless. Without knowing real “I” and engaging my real self in Kṛṣṇa’s service there’s no point in knowing or realizing anything. This vacation didn’t bring me closer to Kṛṣṇa so it was a waste, after all.

Vanity thought #958. Tale of two egos, or three, or more

Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī’s recent article on fundamental principles for initiated devotees I wrote about a couple of days ago made me re-evaluate my own situation, too. Anyone would, right? We all want to be devotees, we all want to comply with rules and regulations and when we see a compliance check list we naturally run the test on ourselves. I didn’t like the result but that was not the biggest revelation or the biggest problem with me, it was the presence of multiple personalities.

I have at least two. To outside world I appear as an ordinary man, I go to work, I spend money, I desire things, I desire happiness, I have opinions, I argue, I have faults, I hide them, I have dreams, I have prospects, I act naturally in each and every respect.

Most people in this outside circle do not know or do not care about my spiritual aspirations which form my other identity. That’s the identity I checked against mahārāja’s list of Fundamentals. That’s the identity I present when in the company of devotees. They know my name, they know my guru, they know my history in ISKCON, they know my prospects, they know my sādhana, they know my dedication, or rather lack of it, they know everything there is to know about me as a “devotee”.

People in this circle do not really care about what I do for a living and how I live my life when I return home. Actually, strike that, being well-trained in PR relations our local leaders are always very concerned about everyone’s well-being and once class time is over they want to know and talk about everything. I remember myself being exactly the same way – temple residents can’t hide their natural curiosity in the goings on of the outside world. They might not be interested in cars or power tools or, god forbid, sports teams, but you can always find someone to talk about gadgetry or computers.

Aside from that, however, when being really pressed about things, devotees do not care about our lives in the outside world and this is how it should be. This, however, leaves me with a case of split identities.

It’s fairly easy with devotees, they know that life must go on but do not take it seriously, they also know where our priorities should be so they always understand our unfortunate situation of trying to survive in the material world without compromising our spiritual progress.

People on the outside are similarly confident in my priorities. Save for a few trusted souls they can’t imagine that I would consider completing my sixteen rounds more important than going to work or performing my family obligations. They treat my “spirituality” as just another facet of my persona, like some people have a drinking problem, others have a gambling problem, and I have a religious problem, which is not even serious. My vegetarianism is a much more real thing to them than my allegiance to some weird Hindu gods.

How am I supposed to manage all those identities? Most of the time I know how to compartmentalize and deal with people on the level they expect and understand but what about me being myself?

I know I’m not my body, I know that me being part of my family is also not my real identity, I know that I’m not defined by my work or age or gender or even my mind, so all those external obligations are not me, I just have to do those things because I was born that way.

What about being with devotees and my devotional persona? Here’s the kick – I know that it’s not me either. In the beginning I took all that very seriously but as time passed I realized that my description as a nondescript devotee is not who I really am. They call me by name that is just one out of many and that will be forgotten after my death just as all the other names people identify me by. Initiations seemed like a really big deal in the beginning but by now I realized that those formalities are just that – formalities. It’s nice to know that my efforts were accepted by representative of the paramparā but I also know that initiations don’t do much for my actual problems – accumulated dirt in my heart.

I once tried to learn many verses, then I forgot them all, they were part of my identity as a devotee but not anymore. I still think I *know* them but I don’t remember Sanskrit. If tested it would appear that I don’t have even basic knowledge required for bhakti-ṣāstri courses or whatever exams are necessary for initiations now.

More importantly, I can’t define myself by my sādhana, as required by Fundamental principles. It could be said that my real identity as a servant of our mission reveals itself when I strictly follow all the rules and regulations and when I don’t follow them I compromise this identity and cover it with the cloud of illusion. I would agree with that but it also makes me see how following the rules is external to my being.

I would agree that I want to be the person who rises early for maṅgala-ārati, attends both morning and evening classes etc etc but I also know that’s not who I am and, from experience, it’s not the identity I can maintain for prolonged periods of time, let alone eternally.

Here’s another thing – when I meet devotees I subconsciously try to appear as more devoted than I really am, and I also see them trying to form a better opinion of me that I actually deserve. Ideally, my projections and their expectations must meet in total harmony but it also means that it’s not who I really am.

So, who am I? My real spiritual identity is a non-starter, it’s hidden so well that I might as well not have any, it’s of no practical use. My identity as seen by other devotees is just another aspect of my false ego, my identity as seen by the rest of the world is my false ego at its fullest, so what is left?

I don’t really know, I try not to think in such terms when I chant my rounds, hoping that for the Holy Name it doesn’t really matter. I could say that I’m closest to being myself when I am alone with the Holy Name but there are also some things that I don’t want to mention even in my prayers. I know them, I know Kṛṣṇa knows them, but it’s something better not be brought into our relationships. I also know that they are external to me as the spirit soul, so I don’t take them seriously no matter how close to my real self they appear to be.

Without realizing my actual spiritual form the only real thing in my relationship with Kṛṣṇa is the Holy Name. Without seeing myself as a spirit soul any personal perspective I bring into my chanting will be polluting, so I think it’s best if I don’t bring any.

I can’t please the Lord by being who I am so I think it’s better to leave “me” and “my” from my chanting altogether and leave just the sound of the Holy Name. It’s supposed to be absolutely pure and extremely beautiful on its own, why contaminate it with my polluted, conditioned nature? It is nice to have this nature engaged in Lord’s service and I’m grateful for such engagements but at the end of the day it’s not who I really am. It might be who I want to be but at this stage in my life I realize that even these particular aspirations are temporary. In my next life it might be only one round per day and no sex with animals, forget all the other regs and requirements, or they could be far more strict than those outlined in the Fundamentals.

Acting on all these egos is confusing, and what if there’s only one false ego for the entire universe? I think it’s quite possible that it’s only one element forcing everyone here to assume myriads of false identities. Does it mean that if I become free from this false ego I would become free from Fundamentals, too?

Whichever way it turns, it’s safer to just chant and listen to the name and put the question of identity and attitudes aside, the Holy Name will be better off without us as we imagine ourselves here.

Vanity thought #950. Boundaries

Kṛṣṇa consciousness offers us brilliant philosophy and even though we grasp it in the first few months its depth is virtually unlimited and there’s always something new to learn. I say virtually because in “reality” we don’t add much to “we are spirit souls, parts and parcels of God, and our eternal position is to serve Him”, what we add is realization of this simple principle which, hopefully, happens on levels higher than what everybody sees as “reality”.

Of course we can learn Vedic stuff from saṅkhya to ayurveda to cosmology but that is rather distractive. We can also go deep into the science of rasa but that is rather premature whereas one simple thing like “I am not this body” can keep us fascinated throughout our entire life if we gradually progress in realizing it, and that is just the start because there’s a whole universe around us whose nature we need to realize, too.

For the past couple of days I was talking about nature of apparent variety in the material world, how all the observable phenomena appear to be separate and at best related but in reality it’s just ONE energy pulling wool over everybody’s eyes. Vigorous philosophical study of the world around us always leads to this kind of realization regardless of who is doing it – Christians, Hare Kṛṣṇas, scientists, philosophers – everybody eventually comes to the same conclusion.

There’s no mystery behind this, it’s just how the world is – one energy appearing to be variegated therefor anyone who looks at this world honestly will see it this way, too.

I don’t have much evidence prepared to support this assertion, Advaita Vāda is one obvious example. Likewise, in Islam material representations of Allah are strictly forbidden because all the forms, shapes, and colors of this world are accepted as illusory and unconnected with God. Christianity went through this phase during Reformation – God is God, what we see here is not God, hence it doesn’t really matter. Catholics have not caught up, of course, but the entire Christian philosophy is based on monism – God is different from the creation which does not have its own, independent existence.

Science is a bit slow here but news from the frontiers are about the same, especially if they extend principles of quantum mechanics to everyday existence. They have figured out long time ago that Newton’s laws, which everyone can observe everywhere around us, are not actually laws but only a small part of the spectrum that falls into our view. Go smaller than our everyday objects and Newton’s laws don’t work, go bigger and they stop working, too.

Now that they are building a unified theory of everything they are not even trying to accommodate what we in our everyday life think as the laws of nature. Quantum particles behave in an absolutely weird way and so does the Big Bang with the entire universe compressed to the size of walnut.

We can imagine walnut, no big deal, but most of us can’t understand how this walnut is all there is – there’s nothing outside of this walnut, no space, no vacuum, just nothing. I don’t know how we can picture a walnut this way because all our mental images come with its relative size. We also see the space we can measure inside the walnut and outside. The universe, however, does not have an outside. Imagine that!

Nor do most of us comprehend the idea that there was no time before Big Bang. What do they mean “no time existed”? We can imagine being frozen in time but that’s not the same thing – time goes by but we stay the same. Pre-Big Bang didn’t have time, it didn’t go anywhere. In fact we can’t even talk about pre-Big Bang, it doesn’t make sense from the POV of science but for us as ordinary people it’s a perfectly natural question.

Anyway, their unified theory points out to incredible unity of everything that happens in the universe, nothing here has separate, independent existence, it really IS just one energy interacting with itself in very weird ways like switching between being a wave and a particle, for example.

But I wasn’t going to talk about boundaries of science today. I was going to talk about boundaries we set for our own exploration of the world as aspiring devotees.

We learn to see the world as interaction of guṇas and material elements. From Bhagavad Gītā we learn how we can spot the influence of each particular guṇa. We are told to seek shelter of the mode of goodness first and then aim to transcend it. We also learn a lot about different processes of self-realization and different dharmas. At the end we are told to abandon them and surrender ourselves to the Lord.

Okay, so we try to surrender, but what is it that we are surrendering? Where is the boundary of what is ours to surrender and what is not?

Some people think that they can donate money and that is enough. There are many reasons why they do that and one of them is that money lies on the boundary of their self as opposed to the rest of the world. They think “I own this and I can give it to the Lord, and that will be surrender”.

Others are more advanced and they donate time and energy – they think they are their bodies, they usually use their bodies for their own gratification and when they engage them in service of the Lord they see it as surrender. This is ideal, btw, most of the time they only *lend* their bodies for a short while and then take them back to serve at their own pleasure again.

How do you surrender you soul, however? We don’t see ourselves as souls yet, we talk about it in third person, as in “my soul”, as in my soul, my mind, and my body which together comprise “me”. Of course “my soul” doesn’t exist and what I think as “me” isn’t me either.

So, we tell ourselves that we have surrendered to Kṛṣṇa but we still claim a large chunk of the material energy as “myself”. Kṛṣṇa wants us to surrender as spirit souls but we give Him what is already His and declare it a sacrifice deserving unlimited rewards. I bet it doesn’t impress Him even a bit and that’s why we got stuck down here for ages.

As I was saying in these past two days – we try to see the world as one energy only pretending to variegated and this is fine, but then we forget that we are part of this non-variegated energy, too. Not as souls, of course, but as what we consider as “myself”.

We still think that our bodies, minds, intellects, our decision making powers – they are all independent and under our control. That there’s outside world which is made of Kṛṣṇa’s energy and there’s “ourselves” who are different from it. This is a fallacy – since we don’t see our actual spiritual forms yet everything we perceive here as ourselves is the part of the same energy as the “outside”.

We still keep this boundary, still keep our false ego. It might shrink a little to exclude things like identifying ourselves with our countries, societies, jobs, careers, families etc. We might even accept that our gross material body is not under our control, at least not at all times, but we still draw a line somewhere where we say “mine” and “myself”. This line is fundamentally wrong.

Our mind, our desires, our thoughts, our convictions, even our faith – none of that has any independent existence, it’s all the same material energy that only appears as variegated. Everything we do or think in this world, absolutely everything, is a reaction to something else and a cause of some other thing or thought. There’s no difference between inside and outside, it’s an artificial distinction caused by yet another material element – false ego.

Yet we claim ownership over “our” thoughts, “our” endeavors, “our” service etc etc.

It’s Kṛṣṇa’s property being engaged by Kṛṣṇa’s energy in Kṛṣṇa’s service. We can’t even chant the holy names without demigods pulling some strings so that air passes through our vocal cords and our lips move. Even our determination to chant depends on how often we heard about its importance and how attentive our mind was when we heard it.

For the sake of convenience we can still say “I’ve finished chanting all my rounds today” but we should not see ourselves as the ones who have actually done it – it was the work of same energy that made murderers murder and rapists rape, it’s not to our credit. We are just lucky to live through this particular part of the illusion because it has connection to Lord Caitanya and the paramparā, that’s all.

Vanity thought #892. Feeling better

One of the consequences of separating ourselves from our bodies is that we lose any criteria by which to judge our “progress”. I put progress in quotes because by progress we mean success, and, technically, progress means movement from one state to another, which is a material concept because it depends on time. Time is not present on the spiritual platform so talk about progress has no meaning. Yet we all strive for it.

By falling under the influence of the false ego we associate ourselves with our bodies and we start to believe that we interact with this world, that we do things and the world responds. We get to feel that response through our senses, though I don’t know what sense organ is responsible for feeling emotions. Is it mind? Intelligence? A mix of both? It’s a topic for further research but for now let’s assume that something in our bodies registers emotional security or distress, hopes and desperation, love and frustration and so on. These things are important for our “well-being” so they need to be considered, too, it’s not just food, nice music and something pleasing for the eyes.

When we come in contact with Krishna consciousness we continue gauging our progress in the same way, just in a different direction. While living under material paradigm we thought progress meant more money and more sex, when we decided to go with Krishna we think success is renunciation and other symptoms of advancement. We still use our bodies to measure, however, since we don’t have any other tools yet.

Will we ever achieve “success” by judging ourselves from a bodily platform? No, never, it’s an oxymoron. Bodies are meant to make us suffer and they use short term pleasures only as a bait. It’s a fact of life that if we go with bodily consciousness we end up old and diseased and eventually die, and then go through the whole thing again.

There’s no provision in our bodies to register spiritual happiness, no sense organ that measures spiritual health or Krishna’s satisfaction, it’s a useless tool for this purpose.

But wait, can’t we measure changes in the outside world that happen due to our devotion and our service? After all, when Krishna says “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you”, isn’t it supposed to be manifested on the material platform, too? Aren’t we getting stuffed with prasadam, aren’t we dancing ecstatically in kirtans, aren’t our hearts melt when hearing spiritually uplifting classes? Aren’t things like renunciation, loss of interest in material pursuits, following regs, compassion, gravitas, desire to hear more and more about Krishna meant to manifest on the material platform with our material bodies?

Well, yes, but there’s a limit. Bodies will never be eternal, for example, and that’s one major spiritual realization that they can never manifest. Renunciation is absolute but bodies will never achieve that either, they’d always need food and sleep, and breathing. Likewise, sexual attraction will never disappear completely, nor attraction to good food, nor desire to hear “news”, no desire to control things and make things better. These things can be reduced but they will never disappear completely.

This is why all our acharyas complained of personal imperfection and that’s why feeling of personal inadequacy is a hallmark of spiritual advancement. How can it be any other way? One might be the greatest, purest devotee in the whole three worlds but as soon as he identifies himself with his material body he sees that there’s no devotion there, which is the correct conclusion – bodies are not meant for service to Krishna but for observing interactions between senses and sense objects.

If we were to ask a sadhu how he feels about himself his full answer, which he would never give, would be “As this old man in a body full of diseases but still striving for comfort and pleasures I feel I have absolutely no devotion”, and he would be right. If we seek devotion we should never seek it through our bodily consciousness either. That question should be addressed on a spiritual platform and if that platform is not available to us yet then we should accept our limitations, that’s all.

Yet we still want to feel better about our progress. Foolishly, we seek spiritual rewards manifested through our material karmic reactions. Here’s another fact of life – devotional service is not meant to make US feel better, it’s meant to please Krishna. Devotional service means we should not expect any rewards in exchange for it either. If we do expect some rewards then this means we have no real devotion, consequently Krishna is not really pleased, and so there’s nothing to reward us for!

That’s why real tests of devotion are very simple – always remember Krishna and never forget, or nityam bhagavata sevaya – constant service to the Lord. Regardless of how we feel about it, we continue chanting the Holy Name, regardless of what our bodies tell us to do, we continue seeking Krishna, regardless of our own personal happiness or desperation, we continue seeking service. Even if the whole world becomes clear and united in one single thought and screams in our face: “Your service to Krishna brings you nothing by all possible standards”, we still seek that service.

Remember Krishna and never forget, it’s that simple, nothing more than that. Of course there could be more, we could be engaged happily in sankirtana, we could be worshiping deities, we could be known in our community as great, dedicated devotees, but those things are temporary, we can lose them and it won’t affect our spiritual status in the slightest. If we become attached, however, it will make our service dependent on these external rewards, which would make it un-devotional. Devotional service is ahaituki, causeless, remember, it has no external sources. Only then it can satisfy the soul, yayatma suprasidati (SB 1.2.6).

There’s one big caveat to this line of reasoning, though – our bodies are not really external, they are given to us as direct reflection of our consciousness. They are not caused by anything else but our own desires coming from our own souls. Our consciousness is polluted by matter, true, but it’s still OUR consciousness, we are not made suffer or enjoy someone else’s reactions. We get exactly what we deserve.

Why can’t we say that if our body is not spiritually engaged then this means we, as spirit souls, are not making any progress?

Yes and no.

Just today I listened to a lecture and I heard that Krishna can clear our hearts of all our anarthas in one moment. It’s absolutely no trouble for Him. How can we claim all responsibility for ourselves then? In as much as we identify with our bodies, would be my first answer, which takes me back where I started this post.

Let me present this argument – our bodies have full charge of karma to last until the end of this life. No matter what we do, no matter where we direct our consciousness, no matter whether we become liberated or not, this karma has to work itself out. We can’t stop it.

Doesn’t matter whether we identify with our bodies or not they’ll keep doing what they are meant to do like a wound up toy. We might just as well take a break from watching this freak show and concentrate solely on Krishna, our material senses will continue their interactions, our material mind will continue desiring things, our material intelligence will continue making plans – it doesn’t depend on our participation at all, it’s all driven by the laws of karma, not by us.

So, it doesn’t matter whether we feel better about our service or not, these feelings are immaterial, pardon the pun, for our actual spiritual life.

Vanity thought #890. Natural next step

What happens when we get comfortable in realization that Krishna is closer to us than our body and that we need to seek His blessings to indulge in any bodily activities?

We drop the notion that it is *our* body, of course.

Interestingly, it’s impossible to see it as not ours if we still engage in sense gratification but it becomes quite clear if the body is engaged in Krishna’s service. First part is easy – it is impossible to enjoy sensual interactions of the body with sensory objects unless we are under the influence of false ego, hence it’s impossible to enjoy and NOT think that it’s our body. Second part is trickier.

On one hand it’s the correct vision or the correct application of the body, on the other hand it’s not how we see it everyday. It’s possible to see it as Krishna’s property only in the case of absolute surrender, which is available to sankirtana devotees but usually hidden from everybody else. Theoretically, of course, there are no such restrictions but in practice surrender for us means surrender to sankirtana mission and we can’t have it any other way.

Alternatively, surrendering to sankirtana brings about self-realization and total clarity (and no interest in typing up these things on the internet). Those of us who are not on the streets with the books there’s still theory, of course, but it’s not as satisfying as the real thing and the impression doesn’t last very long.

I guess next best thing is service to the Deities and it opens up its own advantages. Sankirtana devotees see their bodies as completely out of their control but pujaris see their bodies as Vishnu’s paraphernalia. It’s easy to understand why – paraphernalia needed for the puja doesn’t stop at the handle of the ghee lamp, there’d be no puja if that lamp wasn’t attached to a hand, and if that hand wasn’t waved in the air by an arm, and if that arm didn’t have its other end attached to a body, and if that body didn’t have legs to stand on or brains to control it.

Those observing the puja can easily see that the pujari is Lord’s intimate servant. Those prescribing rules of performing puja also treat pujari as Lord’s accessory – he has to be clean externally and ritually, his mind has to be clean of all material thoughts, too. He must be properly dressed and properly decorated with tulasi necklace, shikha, and tilakas.

Once you put someone in pujari service his body ceases to be his in all practical respects, it has to live by strict rules and regulations established by the Lord.

If you ARE the pujari you also realize that you have no freedom to live your life as you want. You cannot pollute neither your body nor your mind, you cannot partake in any pleasures outside those provided as Lord’s prasadam, you cannot freely choose your life partner, your place of residence, you are stripped of all your other rights, too. Your body exists only for the pleasure of the Deity, no one else.

This certainly helps to convince our mind and intelligence that this body is NOT ours and that it should be treated with respect awarded to Lord’s intimate servants or Lord’s paraphernalia. If we are sincere in our chanting we would also see that none of this we deserved ourselves and that it is all arranged by Krishna Himself, following our prayers to be engaged in His service.

If we are sincere it would be easy for us to see that we are not, indeed, our body and that bodily engagements in material interactions are solely for the pleasure of the Lord, not our own. With this mindset we can also learn that the source of our sustenance is not our body but its engagement in service. Body serves Krishna, Krishna is happy, and this makes us satisfied, too.

When we have a clear vision like this bodily aches don’t bother us anymore. If the lamp is too heavy and the arm loses power to waive it it’s not OUR arm we are talking about, it’s Krishna’s, so we do not take this pain personally, even though we can sense that it’s there.

It’s not pain all around, of course, but if we decide to participate in experiencing bodily pleasures for ourselves the vision will be gone in an instant, only a memory would remain and even that not for a long time, so we better cherish these rare moments of clarity. It’s in these moments that we can easily understand such lines from the scriptures as na yatra dambhīty abhayā virājitā – there exists a supreme reality, in which the illusory energy cannot fearlessly dominate, thinking, “I can control this person because he is deceitful.” (SB 12.6.30)

Maya can easily overcome us because she “can freely exert her influence over those who are hypocritical, deceitful and disobedient to the laws of God”, as explained in the purport. Disobedience is easy to observe, considering standards of renunciation expected from real devotees, but hypocrisy and deceit is not something we notice in our lives very often. Maybe we should, considering dictionary definition of a hypocrite: a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

Every time we decide to enjoy activities of our bodies, be it eating, sleeping, or even breathing, we belie our pledge of surrendering all our lives to Krishna and no one else. We know that this body is meant to be pleasing to Krishna at all times but we quietly decide to take it for a nap or for a snack, or to even simply put it down in a comfortable chair.

The instruction that we should be asking permission before commencing any of those activities can come very useful here. We might get our permissions fairly easily but the thought that it’s not our body to take for a joy ride would eventually etch into our very beings. Therefore it’s much better to remember to ask than just take the body our for a spin, or we might get the wrong idea that it’s actually ours.

Vanity thought #888. Gift of life

Generally, we understand our duties and responsibilities in our sadhana as conditioned beings, meaning we see ourselves as our bodies and it’s as these bodies that we try to engage ourselves in Lord’s service.

We think *I* have to get up for mangala arati, *I* have to read books, *I* have to go on sankirtana, *I* have to honor prasadam, it’s *me* who has to become a servant, it’s *me* who has to think about Krishna, it’s *me* who is failing in his service and it’s *me* who is getting rewards.

We accept the difference between ourselves and our bodies only nominally, which is to be expected because we are, indeed, conditioned beings, but eventually this has to change.

Let’s try to look at the situation in a different way.

As of now our understanding is that there’s us as spirit souls and us as material bodies and we are bound together, and then there’s the Lord who has to become the object of our worship. In this model *I*, the soul, has make *my* body into an instrument of service. The Lord and His service become desirable but still external to the unity of me and my body.

There’s nothing wrong with this per se and this is exactly what is recommended and prescribed to us by our acharyas but this understanding does not fully reflect the reality, I’m afraid it’s only a temporary arrangement suitable for our conditional nature but it’s not absolute. It’s like “well, if you think yourself as your body you might just as well assume that you are Krishna’s servant, it’s better for you this way” advice.

The reality is that Krishna is not external to our soul-body pairing but that we first and foremost connected to Him, and then, by His grace, we are connected to our bodies.

Instead of “me – my body – Krishna” the arrangement should be “me – Krishna – my body”. This could then be extended to “me – Krishna – my body – Krishna” but it’s the first two links in this chain that we have to get understand thoroughly. In fact it’s only the first one – soul to Krishna, that is really needed but since we insist on being these bodies the second link will also be present and in need of proper understanding.

When we investigate our bondage to this world we are told of this chain: soul – false ego – intelligence – mind – senses – sense objects. This is correct in its own way but it excludes Krishna completely and this might be the reason we think that the Lord is external to our bond with our body.

Another way to understand our bondage is to realize that without Krishna there’d be no false ego, there’d be no material energy at all, there’d be nothing for us to misidentify with and there’d be no illusion to take shelter of.

When we imagine the Lord being situated in our hearts we don’t visualize His presence in relation to our false ego. We understand that our subtle body roughly corresponds to our gross material body and so the Supersoul naturally is “inside” it but I don’t think we see Him as being “inside” of our false ego covering, too.

The common metaphor, about two birds sitting on the same branch, shows the first bird, us, as being separated from the second bird, the Supersoul, already. We don’t see the second bird and don’t pay attention to it because we are separated by our false ego, thinking ourselves to be enjoyers of the fruit. In this visualization there’s us, there’s our false identity as a bird, and only then there’s Krishna.

I don’t think this is the correct way to extend the metaphor, though.

We should remember that we can enjoy the fruits of the tree, ie our karmic work, only by the grace of the Lord and through the arrangement by demigods, so the Lord is not external.

We think of demigods as shiny powerful beings in far away places and that might be correct, but their presence is extended all through our bodies. We can’t breath without them, we can’t eat without them, we can’t see without them. They have complete control of both our sense organs and sense objects we connect with.

Sights and sounds might exist independently from us but without demigods providing power of sight and power of aural reception we will not see or hear anything at all. It is them who give “life” to our bodies, make them interact with the world and keep us in resulting illusion.

Demigods, of course, are Krishna’s agents and we are told not to bother with addressing them directly but go straight to the source. There’s one very edifying verse with even better purport in Srimad Bhagavatam in this regard (SB 2.4.11)

When Śukadeva Gosvāmī was thus requested by the King to describe the creative energy of the Personality of Godhead, he then systematically remembered the master of the senses [Śrī Kṛṣṇa], and to reply properly he spoke thus.

The purport is full of explanations of why and how it was done, describing the internal thought process of pure devotees who:

  • not think that they can do anything independently.
  • ..think that they can speak only what they are induced to speak by the Supreme Lord,..
  • The senses are instruments, and elements are ingredients, all endowed by the Lord
  • No one is free to act freely and independently, and as such, one should always seek the permission of the Lord to act or eat or speak..

Sukadeva Goswami is as perfect devotee and as fully liberated soul as they come. He does not have false ego, he does not see the Lord as external to his soul-body connection, and, consequently, he does not think “I will engage my body” but prays to the Lord to enable his body to act instead.

Srila Prabhupada perfectly captures this mindset here: “ should always seek the permission of the Lord to act or eat or speak..”

This means every time we want to observe interactions between our sense organs and their sense objects, even in “ideal” situations when we see the Lord as the ultimate enjoyer of such interaction, we should try and move Him from the end of the chain to its very beginning. We should remember Him and seek His permission for the said interactions to take place.

We should think of Him before we put each morsel of food into our mouths, we should think of Him before we open our mouths to say something, and we should think of Him before we decide to think, too. This might sound perplexing but our ability to remember Krishna does not depend on our minds so it is possible to “think” of Krishna without having what we call “thoughts” in our brains.

This attitude will make us go a long way towards self-realization and I’m sure it will make us appreciate the “gift of life” as something granted to us by the Lord rather than something we possess intrinsically. We might be eternal spirit souls inside but what we see as life here is not us and is not manifestation of our true, spiritual nature. It’s a gift, an illusion provided to us by Krishna for our enjoyment, and so we should treat it as privilege, not as right, and certainly not extend our ownership over it.