Vanity thought #1417. Gift of food 3

If Prahlad Jani’s example shows us that eating is not necessary for devotees, why do we still do it? Our standard answer is that rejecting food is a false renunciation that denies the Lord our service (of offering and honoring prasādam). Is that all there’s to it, though?

The argument against false renunciation is solid, of course, but we also know that we get to eat even when we don’t offer food to the Lord. I know a local vegetarian eatery, for example, that is a great place to accidentally meet devotees. They won’t be wearing tilakas but they’d still be instantly recognizable, sometimes fresh off the plane from India after Mayapur festival.

Eating commercial food prepared by non-devotees is not a service to anyone but our senses, so why do we do it? Why doesn’t Kṛṣṇa switch off our need to eat, our hunger? Is it to test us? Should we understand that if we really really surrender we CAN survive only on prasādam in any and all circumstances?

Personally, I’ve never got a chance to ask Russian devotees who were put in prison in Soviet Union about their diet, it just seemed as an inappropriate question to ask unless one becomes a close friend. My understanding is that they ate only vegetarian food, probably bread and potatoes, but I’m not sure if they offered it. One devotee died while in prison, partially out of hunger, because he refused non-vegetarian food they served there and they didn’t give him plain vegetables. Did he refuse bread, too? Possibly.

I only know that he left his body in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness, chanting or at least holding his beads in his fingers until the last moment. Technically, one might raise a question about Kṛṣṇa’s protection in this case because He did allow His devotee to die but we should also remember what victory and protection really means – leaving our bodies in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and returning back to the Lord. How and when is determined by our karma, Kṛṣṇa does not change that, only that our karma stops affecting our consciousness.

I explain it to myself that Kṛṣṇa offers protection to the soul, not necessarily to the body, so while the body might externally perish, the soul won’t. Even so, given the situation that Russian devotee was in, it was probably better for him to leave his body in prison than to continue suffering there for years, so in this sense Kṛṣṇa had actually saved him even from the POV of bodily comfort. Of course one could then say that Kṛṣṇa would have saved him even better if He let him out of jail miraculously or never put him there at all. That’s not how karma and Kṛṣṇa consciousness usually works, though. We become Kṛṣṇa conscious not by changing our fate by accepting it and dealing with it in a Kṛṣṇa conscious manner, with Kṛṣṇa’s help.

Also that devotee was probably Armenian, not Russian, but in those days ethnicity didn’t matter as much as it does now.

Anyway, why do we still eat even when we don’t offer our food? Why doesn’t Kṛṣṇa help us overcome our hunger? I don’t think it’s simply a question of testing our resolve. We aren’t even required to make a vow of eating only prasādam. In the company of devotees it’s very easy and if one has a proper household it’s also easy there, but there are many situations in our lives when prasādam is not easily available, like when travelling, for example. I was introduced to commercially sold food in India by Indian devotees and by managers of the project that engaged my services there.

I didn’t like it but there was no choice and I didn’t see anyone in our group rebelling against our leaders taking us to a restaurant for lunch. It was probably Sikh and if it wasn’t it was surely below our standard of accepting food only cooked and offered by twice initiated vaiṣṇavas. I’m not even sure they didn’t serve other, non-vegetarian items on the menu. We didn’t see any there but our group was relatively large so we didn’t see what other customers were served at all, and everything in that place was written in Hindi so I couldn’t tell. All of us explicitly accepted arrangement by our authorities and no one wanted to start an argument, our managers clearly had no other choice. We’ve also honored halava at that main Sikh temple in Amritsar, without questions, as I remember, it would have been rather rude to reject it as they treated us as guests.

My point is that Kṛṣṇa doesn’t seem to take this stuff very seriously. Lord Caitanya personally went after his wayward servant and dragged him by his hair from the gypsies, and, I suppose, one can easily remember a few cases when he has been personally protected from temptations we meet in course of our lives, but, in my limited experience, food, as long as it’s vegetarian, is no big deal.

I’m not saying that not offering food is not a big deal for us as devotees, I’m saying that Kṛṣṇa doesn’t seem to take this particular transgression seriously enough to personally intervene and drop some “nectar” directly into our mouths as Goddess Amba does with Prahlad Jani. I tend to think that Kṛṣṇa considers His job done when we get food, whether we offer it or not is our choice, not His responsibility.

We eat because consuming food is part of our relationship with the Absolute Truth. We tend to think of this relationship only as service to Kṛṣṇa but, fact is, we always relate to the Absolute and the Absolute always relate to us regardless of whether it qualifies as devotional service or not.

We can say that when we eat unoffered food we serve our senses and consume only sin but that’s not the whole story. When we eat for our own pleasure (even if it’s prasādam) we relate to the Absolute as if we were enjoyers and the Absolute was our servant to be enjoyed. We see controlling and enjoying the matter as the Absolute Truth, that’s the degree of our real realization of it, not withstanding empty philosophical statements about Kṛṣṇa being the Supreme. I say empty because we just don’t see it. We can repeat it numerous times but it doesn’t subside our hunger and it doesn’t make us detest eating for our pleasure.

This is our reality and we can’t go against it. Kṛṣṇa consciousness offers us direct experience of Kṛṣṇa and if we don’t have it, we aren’t Kṛṣṇa conscious, as simple as that. Enjoying unoffered food is unthinkable in Kṛṣṇa’s presence, just as lust and all other material desires dissipate from the heart visited by the Lord. Ācāryas’ sentiments like “I spit when I think of sex” aren’t just empty proclamations, it’s their reality as they see the world with Kṛṣṇa being at its center.

In our lives, however, Kṛṣṇa plays only a marginal role but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get to relate to other, inferior aspects of the Absolute Truth, and for us it appears in the form of matter we can enjoy ourselves. It’s not Kṛṣṇa but it’s the best we know. It’s true not only for us, of course, but for all manners of atheists or even animals, for that matter.

In Prahlad Jani’s case, his relationships with his worshipable deity excluded offering food, it was clear right from the start, and it excluded enjoying his own senses, too, so his world is arranged in such a way that it doesn’t include anything to do with food.

We get to eat because Kṛṣṇa, through His separated material energy, wants us to have these perverted relationships with Him where we get to enjoy His services. Most people don’t even know they are dealing with Kṛṣṇa and, in a sense, they aren’t because Kṛṣṇa means all-attractive, meaning everyone is attracted to serving and pleasing Him, and most people do not even think of the Absolute this way. For them Kṛṣṇa appears as māyā and so they have plenty of other names and words to describe their relationships with the Absolute.

As aspiring devotees, however, we know that all food comes from Kṛṣṇa and we should always remember that, so even when we are enjoying eating we understand that it’s the service lovingly provided by our Lord and therefore we can’t refuse it.

If one day He stops feeding us it should be because we get to have a better quality relationship with Him, the one where we aren’t concerned with the state of our bellies whatsoever because we would be busy doing something else, like chanting the Pure Name, for example.

We can’t upgrade our relationships with Kṛṣṇa at will, however, we have to wait for His kind invitation and be ready for it. Until then, food is given to us because it’s the only thing we know and appreciate. Ideally, we should be ashamed of ourselves and beg for the higher taste, but that’s our real situation and so, instead of higher taste, we should start with contemplating our deeply fallen condition and beg for realization of tṛnād api su-nīcena verse first.

Vanity thought #1416. Gift of food 2

Yesterday I talked about an Indian ascetic, Prahlad Jani, who doesn’t eat or drink and his life is sustained by Goddess Amba, who arranged for small drops of “nectar” falling through a hole in his palate. Yesterday I discussed public reaction to this phenomenon, today let’s talk about what it means for us as aspiring devotees.

Amba is a form of Durgā, basically it means “mother”. That area of Gujarat has a famous Ambaji temple with millions of pilgrims visiting each year. Interestingly, there’s no deity there, and Amba is worshiped in the form of yantra, which isn’t even visible to a naked eye. The story goes that it’s the place where Satī’s heart fell when her half burned body was carried away by Lord Śīva after that fateful Dakṣa yajña.

There’s little surprise, therefore, that the place has her special followers and she bestows a special mercy on them. There should be a big surprise for those who think it’s all just a superstition and some drawings on the ground can’t possibly have any spiritual potency. Even devotees can have doubts here because these things aren’t supposed to work in this degraded age, no one is supposed to be pure enough to draw real yantras, but here it is.

I guess we can say that this particular yantra was drawn long time ago, when Nagar Brahmins, mentioned in Skanda Puraṇa, had all the necessary power and purity. They build a temple, btw, the yantra could have been drawn even earlier.

There might be no qualified people born to create such a yantra now but since the Goddess is already there, she must be accompanied by her devotees, who then can continuously take birth in the area, and she can impart these devotees with all the necessary powers. We would be fools to dismiss them as hacks and frauds just as we would be fools to criticize fish eating Sabars serving Lord Jagannātha.

So, when one of these servant was still a very young boy Amba, or three Goddesses together (all manifestations of Durgā anyway), appeared before him and asked for his surrender and worship. I suppose he didn’t have time to think it through and expressed the first worry that was on his mind – if he were to become a renunciate devotee, what was he supposed to eat? No worries, said the Goddess(es) and granted him this boon of not needing any external food.

It appears that he does still need external sources of energy, the doctors, for example, believe that he gets it from gazing at the Sun, though it’s not the only theory, I suppose. When confined in the room Prahlad loses weight but quickly gains it when “exposed to the elements” outside. He needs fresh air, he needs sunlight, and he needs to walk barefoot on the actual ground. This direct connection of our bodies to nature must be sufficient. The energy then transforms from subtle to gross and drops as a lump of “nectar” from the hole in Prahlad’s palate. Sticking your finger in his mouth and feeling it up is gross indeed. I wonder if doctors ever got a hold of it and tested the substance, haven’t seen any mention of it anywhere.

It’s of no particular importance to us but Prahlad sees himself as a female servant of Amba, he dresses in female like clothes, wears jewelry, and paints his nails. He is also officially addressed as mātājī. It doesn’t mean this image affects his mundane sexuality, afaik. It would be unthinkable to the westerners but ascetics like Prahlad have no interest in mundane sex whatsoever and their spiritual self-identification has no bearing on their external sexual conduct towards other people. Of course even Amba herself is a temporary form so it’s not strictly speaking spiritual self-identification but it’s still far out of the grasp of modern materialists.

Now, the first and the most important lesson we should learn here is that Kṛṣṇa can easily sustain our lives in absolutely any conditions, ma śucaḥ – don’t worry. If Goddess Amba can provide food transformed from sunlight and inserted directly into one’s mouth for the duration of one’s life, Kṛṣṇa can surely do even better.

This should end the questions of what we, as vegetarians, would eat if we were stranded on a deserted island with no plants and only fish for food, or if we were survivors of that Chilean airplane that fell in the mountains and people had to eat flesh of their less fortunate companions.

We don’t need to eat. Period.

We assume that there are certain bodily functions that must be provided for regardless of our Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and food is one of them. Passing the food out of the other end of our bodies is another. Prahlad’s case shows that both of these functions don’t need actual food to be grown, gathered, cooked, and eaten, it can be easily arranged, if necessary.

We also know that yogīs can survive for thousands of years simply by occasionally breathing and balancing the energy of air in their bodies practically indefinitely. We know it’s possible with enough practice and supportive environment (in caves, no in Kali Yuga cities), but Prahlad’s case shows that being a highly trained yogī is not necessary, too. One little boon from the higher powers can provide what no men in this age can achieve for themselves.

The key point here is that it can easily happen by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, if necessary, it doesn’t mean we can do it on our own. If Kṛṣṇa doesn’t feed and maintain us we won’t survive. We can’t become His protected devotees simply by declaring ourselves as such even if we have all the necessary qualifications. It must always be a reciprocal relationship. We become devotees only when Kṛṣṇa relates to us in this way and engages in some sort of an exchange. Without His actual presence in our lives we can only be candidates, hoping and waiting that one day He’ll take interest in us and decides to reach out.

I had lots of other ideas and lessons to take from Prahlad’s phenomenon but they all seem to have escaped my mind. Never mind, this last point, about our devotion needing validation only from Kṛṣṇa and no one else to be recognized as such is important enough to leave as the end of this post. There’s a lot to digest about it as it is.

Vanity thought #981. Food me once

Science, tech, and all kinds of nerdiness are at the top of their game now. While in popular culture finding a geek who can break into CIA mainframe from a cellphone is as easy as making a phone call, actual geeks are hard to find. Jobs in technology are always short of qualified candidates, one can casually dismiss programmers as useful idiots but hiring a qualified programmer is a tough job and they cost a lot. They don’t *look* expensive but their time is really really valuable simply because such raw brainpower is rare.

Most people do not realize this and expect geeks to work for a simple thank you and acknowledgement. Actual costs aside, they expect geeks to explain complex things in a simple way so that they can feel themselves smart and intelligent because now they understand them.

Translating geek speak into simple English, therefore, is very popular. We have tons of articles in the media which are meant to make hard things look easy. Two weeks ago everyone was writing about Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL, for example. Completely ignorant persons were giving solid sounding opinions to impress general public but were making fools of themselves to anyone who actually understood what happened and how.

It was a simple programming mistake, btw. They were asking for certain things to check input data but forgot to do the checking itself. It took two years to spot the loophole and only a few lines of code to close it. Look here – that’s the fix right here:

    /* Read type and payload length first */
    if (1 + 2 + 16 > s->s3->rrec.length)
    return 0; /* silently discard */
    hbtype = *p++;
    n2s(p, payload);
    if (1 + 2 + payload + 16 > s->s3->rrec.length)
    return 0; /* silently discard per RFC 6520 sec. 4 */
    pl = p;

The first line is a comment, disregard it, and that leaves seven lines of code of the fix itself. I wish it was as easy to plug all those running mouths all over media.

Never mind. I am actually ranting about a couple of easy to read “scientific” articles that spout absolute nonsense because people writing them had no geeks to translate them into English properly. One was about consciousness being a state of matter. That would pique interest of any devotee, of course, but it turned out to be a dud. One guy with German sounding name postulated that matter organized in a certain way would produce consciousness. He didn’t know what that way was, he just thought it would be possible.

He hopes that consciousness is a function of complexity and thought it would be nice to quantify that complexity by how much consciousness it produces. This is a fine point – he has no idea about level of complexity itself, he simply says that if organism shows certain level of consciousness then it should be assigned a grade of complexity, and he even thought up a stupid name for it. It takes us not even one tiny step closer to producing consciousness from matter or even explaining how it could happen, it simply says that if humans are at the top of the pyramid than they should be given five stars of complexity.

Total waste of time reading that.

Then there was another article about freezing light for up to a minute. That was an actual experiment, very successful, but it has nothing to do with freezing light, of course. No more than shutting a fridge door which captures the light inside and then releases it when the door is open again.

It wasn’t about freezing light in a sense of stopping it either. Light can’t be stopped, period, so it’s not what happened. Theoretically it was nothing, no new insights were gained, but it was a successful practical application of well known principles. “Freezing light” was just a very bad headline and the explanation was not much better, too.

AFAIK, all it had to do was with controlling how matter absorbs light. Some crystals’ transparency can be affected by shining lasers of certain wavelength at them. So this one controlling laser fires to turn the crystal transparency on and off. Another laser, carrying sample code, modified condition of crystal’s electrons in another way. When transparency was off these electrons couldn’t revert to their natural state so they kept the modifications from the code carrying laser until transparency was turned back on again.

After that they jumped back into their original states releasing a bunch of photons that exactly replicated the ones that came from a code carrying laser. This shutdown period was as long as one minute and that’s what they meant by “freezing light”. They didn’t freeze the actual light but they managed to keep electrons in new positions for a minute before they released light received earlier.

I hope that explains it, though I won’t be able to describe practical implications of this method in full. Internet might become a million times faster, that should be enough.

One article, however, turned out to be very relevant to our lives as aspiring devotees. It was about food and diets.

Fifteen years ago some researchers worked with people with short term amnesia, the ones that can’t remember anything that happened to them just a minute ago. They offered them a meal, waited until they forgot about eating it, offered another meal, waited until they forgot about it, too, offered a third meal, and so on.

Some said it was cruel and I tend to agree but what this “research” showed was that we do not eat with our stomachs but with our minds. These poor people couldn’t remember having a meal just a few minutes ago and they couldn’t read signals from their stomachs telling them that they were full.

This is a very profound discovery. It means that our dependence on food is mostly in our brains. Sure, we do need some nutrients to survive but we don’t *need* to eat the way we feel this need now. We decide when, what, and how much to eat based on calculations in our brains, based on certain rules we set for ourselves – three meals a day, for example.

We think these rules are real but they are not. It’s all in our minds. That’s why Six Gosvāmīs could survive on very little food, in some cases only on buttermilk which is not even solid food but a drink, and they lived on such diet for fifty-sixty years. All left their bodies when there were over seventy, which was a very long life by medieval standards.

There are many other studies that show how our understanding of what should our diet be and how much we should eat has very little to do with reality. Nice smell in movie theaters make people eat more popcorn and drink more soda, for example. Low ambient lights also make people eat more and for longer times. Healthy items on the menu also help people order more high calorie, greasy stuff because they don’t feel guilty about it anymore – they are dining in a healthy food establishment.

I guess I could compare this with devotees living in the temples or in holy dhamas. They might fall into the trap of thinking they don’t need to watch their sādhana as closely as those householders in the wild, they are in a safe place already. It’s a trap nevertheless and it’s only natural for us, humans, to lower our guard and think we can afford to relax our rules.

And those rules themselves aren’t real, remember, it’s just something we make up for ourselves to give us some sort of a system. Rules do not make devotion, following them because our guru said so does, that’s their only value.

If we try to judge ourselves by those rules we will make serious errors in our judgment, that’s how our minds work, and if we try to judge others we might ruin our spiritual lives forever. All it matters is if the guru appreciates our efforts.

Sometimes we take our lives here too seriously, we want them to make sense but they are not worth it, it’s all just an illusion.


Vanity thought #527. A square meal

What is the most important meal of the day? Breakfast, of course. We’ve learned this in our childhood from our mothers who would not let us out without a huge pile of pancakes or whatever, and later, if we were lucky enough to live in a temple, the tradition continued.

Actually, the wisdom at the time was that we shouldn’t eat too much and we shouldn’t sit down after breakfast but go straight out to distribute books or do other service, the idea was that the sitting down to digest a large meal would drain our energy and make us lazy. So lunch was arguably bigger.

Sankirtana devotees, however, often didn’t have time to return for lunch and they ate in their vans so lunches weren’t particularly big for them. It probably wasn’t the best practice for one’s health but it prevented slipping into siesta mood and kept us on our feet for the rest of the day.

There were no dinners and that was unusual for me but I got used to it. The reason given was that the going to bed with a full stomach led to oversleeping and a host of other problems. Later I saw Indian devotees often having a meal at night but my metabolism was nowhere near theirs.

Anyway, what I’m leading to is that this two-three meal a day schedule is not as natural as we assume. In fact modern science recommends eating even more often but in smaller quantities as not to overload our stomachs. It makes sense but, I’m afraid, it goes against tradition.

In Brihad Bhagavatamrita there’s a description of Krishna’s dinner: “He ate very sweet warm milk mixed with sugar and ghee, jallebis, pupa cakes, phecika sweets, capatis, many other delicious foods cooked in ghee, and many sweets made of milk and yogurt, in the middle He ate many exquisite, sweet, warm, fragrant, soft foods, vataka cakes, parpata cakes, soup, spinach, other vegetables, many milk preparations of the sweet and bitter kinds, and many other spicy, bitter, and salty foods, at the end He ate curds with sugar, many kinds of curd and yogurt preparations, and buttermilk with hing”, and that was only “in the beginning” as gopis fed Him even more stuff later on.

Reading this one would think that eating at night was acceptable and maybe it was, for wealthy vaishya or kshatriya families. We should take our cues from sannyasis and renunciates who developed control of their tongues. Reading about their daily routing suggests that they ate only once a day.

Actually, it wasn’t only renunciates, a couple of months ago I saw an article of eating habits in ancient times all around the world and one meal a day was a norm. People woke up very early and went straight to work, animals and crops needed to be tended and there was not time for cooking.

Likewise, no one would cook in the evening because there was no electricity and so there were no dinners. The article documented how all the modern customs of lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper came into existence. What is important for us, however, is that traditionally people had only one big meal and maybe they had some snacks to keep them going through the day.

While in Vrindavana Krishna ate very sumptuously but when He moved to Dwaraka He stopped having breakfasts, as evidenced from His morning routine described in Srimad Bhagavatam and Krishna book (KB ch70). He meditated, He gave charity to brahmanas and everyone else, and then there was time to attend to His managing duties and His driver was already waiting. No time for morning meal.

Among our acharyas I think Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had all the meals customary for Bengali society of that time but Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji most certainly not. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati most likely followed the schedule he set for Gaudiya Math (probably very light breakfast and lunch but also supper), and our Srila Prabhupada set our schedule for us that we all know.

We obviously should follow it but we should also keep in mind that our “two meal plus milk” routine is meant for maintaining a busy life in active service and as we grow older and become useless we might reconsider it.

Look at the lives of Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and Vamshidasa Babaji – they went for bhiksha in the morning then cooked whatever they got, offered it to Krishna and that was it. I suspect that was the renunciates’ routine for thousands and thousands of years.

In addition, Srila Vamshidasa Babaji was so meticulous in his food preparation that just this one meal took most of his day. It’s not that he cooked something very exquisite but he selected only the best vegetables and best rice grains for his Deities and that took time.

From Chaitanya Charitamrita it would also appear that Lord Chaitanya and His associates also ate only once a day, even when they had huge feasts. Govinda would deliver maha prasadam to Haridas Thakur only once, and Raghunatha Dasa Goswami would famously collect rice rejected even by cows when it was already dark.

The main point is that one should not eat until he has finished his daily duties, be it collecting alms or chanting a large number of rounds, so no breakfast. This, of course, is not applicable to devotees actively engaged in a preaching mission who need a lot energy to convince the entire world to take to the message of Lord Chaitanya.

What about the rest of us, though? Why do we need to have a large breakfast? Just because we are hungry? That’s not a good reason, our feeling of hunger would eventually adjust to our new schedule, it’s a minor inconvenience only.

Sadly, we need big breakfasts to exert more energy in service to our employers who need our work for their superior sense gratification. If this is the way that we have to maintain our bodies we should accept it but with full knowledge that this is a far from perfect situation. Developing detachment to our jobs is beyond the scope of this post but developing detachment from our big meals is something we should seriously consider.

Simply eating prasadam is not enough to gain control over our tongues if it doesn’t lead to automatic reduction of our daily intake. Like with chanting, we need to consciously strive to overcome our anarthas, too. This desire comes naturally but we should also act on it, not just notice its presence.

After all, control over our tongues is absolutely necessary for our spiritual development, we should not neglect it. If we remain slaves to our bellies chances our we will be in slavery to our sexual desires, too, even if subtle ones.

This is something that must be done, there are no two ways about it.

Vanity thought #335. Annakuta

Annakuta ceremony is, of course, a famous feast offered to the Lord during Govardhana Puja festival, or, actually, any other really big offering. Nowadays we make entire replica of Govardhan out of food and then distribute it to all the quests. Serving huge quantities of glorious food is one of our trademarks.

In fact our entire Gaudiya tradition has an obsession with food. If one wants to learn about Bengali life five hundred years ago from Chaitanya Charitamrita the only subject that would be covered in its entirety is Bengali cuisine. We can learn that there were Muslims, land owners and toll collectors but the details are sketchy at best while one can publish something like “Bengali cuisine of 15th century” as a separate book, and it will be pretty thick.

Reading long, detailed descriptions of various feasts scattered throughout the book will make anyone drool over all the nice, delicious preparations – rice, vegetables, sweetmeats, milk, yogurt, honey, sugar and ghee mentioned in almost every sentence. It surely works on me and I don’t believe I’m special in this regard.

This reaction seems to be quite natural and I guess there’s nothing wrong with it but I can’t help but think of myself as enjoyer there. All this stuff was prepared for the pleasure of the Lord, after all. Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami surely didn’t write about it to play out his own food cravings, to suggest that he fantasized about tasting all those preparations himself would be a serious offense. But how do we really know what the proper attitude should be? We don’t get many examples, generally all the food mentioned in those feasts was eventually consumed by devotees who most definitely enjoyed it to the full.

There’s one exception, though – Srila Madhavendra Puri. When he found the deity of Gopal in the woods and brought Him to the Govardhan village annakuta was a big part of the installation ceremony. As usual, Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja goes into great details of what was offered there.

People brought all the supplies that they had, there was no “okay, let’s take that to cook at the festival and keep this for ourselves” attitude – everything had to be cooked and offered to Gopal. I guess it’s okay with things like milk and yogurt that are replenished daily but I don’t know how they managed to cook all the rice at once. Or maybe they just didn’t care about it and simply offered all they had to Gopal.

The feast was so big and people were so happy to serve Gopal that the next day their neighbors from another village took their turn to perform annakuta with all of their own supplies, and then they fed everybody.

Except Madhavendra Puri. He, after organizing this mass festival, took only a little bit of milk before sleep and that’s all.

This is the kind of attitude we should strive to develop when we talk feasts. Feasts are for the pleasure of the Lord and His devotees, not for ourselves. For ourselves we should take only what is necessary for body maintenance. We can appreciate the taste of the food by how much the Lord and His devotees enjoyed it, not through our own tongues and bellies.

Of course one shouldn’t imitate this kind of advancement but this is the goal. If we need to eat a ton of halava before we get there so be it but we should remember that this is only a temporary concession to the senses, eventually it must go away.

Vanity thought #249. Vamshidas Babaji Part 5.

All of the stories I mentioned so far are pretty innocent, even if some of them, or even most of them didn’t make it into HH Bhaktivikasa Swami’s “official” biography it doesn’t matter at all. There are stories that are tad more disturbing, though, and I want to try and deal with them today.

First, the deities. We know that Vamshidas had very intimate relationships with them and his whole life as an embodied soul revolved around feeding them and making garlands and talking to them. Normally I would capitalize pronouns referring to any form of God but when talking about Vamshidas it seems a bit out of place. From our position they should be capitalized without exceptions but from Vamshidas’ POV it would go against his own mood of communicating with them – sometimes he chastised and even punished them, for him they were his little children he had to take care of, capitalization was not on the books. More on that later.

There’s one apocryphal story that really tests the boundaries here. No one knows how it really went down and the only part that people could see for themselves was the end, no one knows how it started and what were the actual reasons. I still think there’s no big harm in telling it as long as we understand that it might all be just a concoction. I want to make a point that no one should try to judge a devotee like Vamshidas by looking at his external actions alone.

Anyway, Vamshidas was born in a fishing family and one time when he was residing in Navadvipa a woman selling fish passed by him and Vamshidas got attracted by the smell and he wanted to taste it too. When he realized what has happening to him he got really really pissed off. He didn’t give in to his weakness but he was very angry that he still had to experience the material attraction to eating corpses of dead animals. He thought it was the fault of his deities and he directed all his anger towards them and nobody else. His reasoning was that he surrendered his life and soul to them and they were supposed to protect him from all kinds of temptations but they failed, they left him all alone to face maya and her illusory attractions. It wasn’t a fair fight, no living entity should ever think of taking on maya all by himself, we can avoid her clutches only by Krishna’s mercy and in Vamshidasa’s view Krishna failed to keep his end of the bargain.

He grabbed his deities, tied a rope around them and threw them into the Ganges. He put his foot down on the end of the rope and didn’t let anyone come near. People gathered around him, everybody was agitated and they tried to pacify Vamshidas but he threw rocks at anyone who dared to come into his view with any questions.

After this episode Srila Bhaktisiddhanta forbade any of the brahmacharies in his ashram to go and visit Vamshidas again. He said that they couldn’t understand his bhava and so it would be better for them not see this kind of things.

That wasn’t the only time when Srila Bhaktisiddhanta gave such an order. Once a brahmachari who thought that Vamshidas was mistreating his deities secretly took Gaura Nitai to Gaudiya Math temple at yoga-pith. When Srila Bhaktisiddhanta saw it he immediately told the devotee to take the deities back before Vamshidas discovered that they were missing, before he unscrewed that brahmachari’s head or something.

This is an interesting point. On one hand I think anybody would agree that brahmachari was clearly wrong, that he didn’t understand special relationships Vamshidasa had with his deities. That is fine, but I also think that our own understanding might be far from perfect here and we might not be in the position to judge that brahmachari at all. Generally speaking, our ISKCON Deities are worshiped in the mood of Vaikuntha, with a lot of awe and reverence, not to mention opulence. That’s in the temples, what goes on in our own lives is a bit different. We have no problems with offering food in our minds or in less than perfect conditions, we don’t give much attention to the rules and regulations, thinking that simply chanting Hare Krishna is enough. If we are engaged in any kind of preaching than rules just go out of the window, Deities’ interests become subservient to the needs of the preaching mission, these are our priorities.

Eventually we develop a sense of familiarity, we think we understand Vamshidasa’s relationships with his deities pretty well, we get it. Well, to this I would say that what we get is how to play dolls with Krishna, nothing more. Anyone can play dolls, it’s not difficult to imagine having running conversations with little Gopal or with naughty Gauranga. I think that if we saw the deities for what or who they really are we would be struck speechless, no games, just dandavats and opulent offerings without raising our eyes above Lord’s lotus feet.

Our problem is that we don’t really understand the position of God and our own insignificance before Him and thus we don’t think it unacceptable to offer uncooked and unripe eggplants, for example, we think Krishna can’t tell the difference, it makes no difference to us anyway, as long as we claim the food is offered with devotion.

That unfortunate brahmachari, on the other hand, could have sensed God’s greatness and so he couldn’t bear anything disrespectful towards God’s manifestations as Deities. “What devotion! We are talking about serving GOD here, don’t you get it?” No, we don’t get it, it’s just a doll, we think, if you say you offer with devotion “it” will accept it, there’s nothing special here. Perhaps that brahmachari was miles ahead of us in God’s realization.

While I am on this rant, perhaps we read Krishna book and enjoy how Mother Yashoda was chasing baby Krishna for stealing butter and yogurt and we think – that’s exactly what I want, I want to be like her, I want to be greater that God. Well, here is the way – read more of these stories and chant the mantra and tell this to everybody you meet. I don’t know where it will lead us, however.

When people look at the history of our movement they immediately notice that many of our members come from disenfranchised classes, hippies and such. I myself wasn’t a top dog when I bought my first book. I can’t speak for everybody but would it be blasphemous to suggest that people who had nothing got attracted to Krishna because they saw the way to get everything? We might not have had any interest in what the society had to offer us at that time and we searched for better ways to express our greed. Working the socks off to become a boss of some dull, stuck up company wasn’t for us, but becoming the boss of God Himself – that was much more interesting, that got our attention.

Of course our hearts get cleansed during the process but if we still have this hidden desire to boss Krishna around we won’t get anywhere near Him. I, for one, sometimes have serious misgivings about my true motives. Maybe I don’t want to be the boss, maybe I can settle on being an equal, I’ll take it, as long as I don’t have to worship in reverence or anything like that. I can offer obeisances for a while, fine, but as soon as I get what I want Krishna can forget about it. I can’t deny I prefer offering Krishna food on my own plate to serving on a special set. I also prefer someone else doing cooking and offering, I’m fine with “respecting” only.

There, I said it. Now what? When will I ever get rid of this nonsense in my heart? I don’t know.

Tomorrow is another day.