Vanity thought #1760. VC – mode interactions

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology“.

Last time I got questions regarding free will. A comment to yesterday’s post offers some suggestions, they look familiar but not satisfactory in light of what is said in the book. First idea was that whenever a possibility remains open and there are no living entities to fulfill them the Lord Himself steps in. Okay, He can certainly do that, but that should be an exception rather than a rule and it doesn’t make sense from the standpoint of Sankhya, too. The Lord isn’t an enjoyer of our fields, He delegates this role to those who are into this kind of pleasure – living entities. Why would He step in into our shoes? Would the universe break if no one wants to be a goalkeeper? That would be a serious design flaw. Consider it from another angle – the amount of choices is always far greater than there are souls because each soul is constantly presented with many choices and the possibilities presented by time and karma are going to pile up exponentially with each step. Who’s going to fulfill them all?

The second proposed answer was that our free will is limited. We don’t choose but rather have the ability to reject and most people, unless they are skilled yogis, don’t exercise even that. This is close to the usual ISKCON position where we can choose only between maya and Krishna and not anything among the choices presented by maya – that would be imposed on us automatically. This contradicts the theory offered in the book where choices are being made constantly.

Allow me to recapitulate – the description of objects is incomplete because it doesn’t explain forces, and so it is dependent on descriptions of prana. Prana can move things around but it needs to know which way to go and so it is dependent on choices. Choices can be made only when there are possibilities so they depend on karma, and karma can’t manifest anything unless it is prodded by time. We cannot skip choices in this sequence without breaking the chain. The author attributes choices to free will here and it’s understandable – we are active living beings, it’s natural for us to be attracted and try to satisfy our quest for pleasure.

There’s another obvious solution, though – choices are made by gunas. This theoretical chain has integrated concepts of gross and subtle bodies, time, and karma, but no description of the material world would be complete without mentioning of gunas, and they have been left out so far. We don’t need free will when we have gunas pushing us towards one thing or another. At best we can resist the temptations, as was proposed in the comment, but for us it usually means going with another guna rather than the one we were initially attracted to. We might resist one particular temptation but we can’t stop acting altogether – we aren’t accomplished yogis yet.

Last week I mentioned the story of Buridan’s ass from the book and how it couldn’t decide whether to eat or to drink first. The answer was that we are ananda seeking entities by design and we don’t need reasons to be attracted to things. The ass was weighing options such as the distance to food and drink to decide which way to go but our desire does not depend on external causes – it comes from within us. If we introduce gunas into the picture the problem with the ass becomes even easier – gunas are never in balance in this world and one option will always be more attractive than the other, so let’s see what these gunas are and how they work.

First, the chapter highlights circular reasoning inbuilt in modern science. They describe laws of interactions based on properties of objects but these properties are defined by effects of interactions themselves. The law of gravity, for example, depends on mass but mass is defined by applying law of gravity. Without gravity mass doesn’t exist, so to speak, and without mass there would be no gravity. What is real then? Mass or gravity? Or neither?

Sankhya avoids circular co-dependency between laws and properties by stating that there are only three properties in nature, three gunas, and nothing else. Interaction between these gunas creates new objects on the tree of the universe, all arranged in hierarchical order. The combination of the modes does not need a law to describe its effects, like interaction of properties in material science does, it just produces a new tree to branch out further. The way new branch is produced is fixed and depends on the relative quantity of the gunas being mixed. The predominating node becomes the abstract and two subservient nodes instantiate and refine it. What we call interaction in the material world is a work of prana anyway.

The author uses a production of a black shirt as an example of how two different properties are never equal and one must become an abstract and the other the description of a particular case. First, therefore, you need an idea of a shirt, and then you refine this idea by making it black. In real life you’d also include fabric, style, size etc because all these details are needed when someone orders a shirt and they are all subordinate to this overarching shirt concept. They are never equal to it.

If the modes were in equal proportion then semantic hierarchy couldn’t be constructed and there’d be no universe – which is the state of matter known as pradhana when the modes are in perfect balance. The Lord’s glance agitates this pradhana and immediately modes start fighting with each other for dominance, which produces the hierarchy which produces the tree of the universe. Somewhere way down the chain gunas instantiate sense objects and that’s where our scientists wake up and that’s what they declare as “universe”, so cute in their blissful ignorance.

In whatever is produced here all three gunas are always present but only one of them predominates and the other two refine the concept. If we want to be truthful, for example, then this desire is a sign of sattva and the other two gunas might urge us to hold telling the truth back but they won’t turn us into outright liars. If, on the other hand, tamas predominates then we’ll be liars and sattva will manifest by making our lies consistent with each other. This consistency will be true but it would come as subservient to the desire to lie, probably making our lies even worse.

The predominating mode is “more” of this guna and this “more” means bigger space and time (not sure what kind of space is meant here). As time passes, however, another guna might come to the fore and reach a tipping point where master-slave relationship is reversed. I guess that’s when a new node is added to the tree because here we will have a new predominating abstract refined by two now dominated gunas. It’s not the same object as existed before.

Another important aspect described in this chapter is that we can consider objects and even living entities as types with functions. The type would be defined by the higher node on the tree, like “shirt” is semantically more important than “black”, and lower nodes branching out, the subdivisions, will be various functions. The number of subdivisions is fixed, according to the book, and is a property of each particular universe. These functions are not overlapping and this makes them orthogonal to each other, like XYZ axes in mathematics. More or less of one function will not perform anything done by any of the others. Each function can be subdivided further and there it takes the role of the whole itself. Because functions are not overlapping the only possible relationships on the tree are slave and master because functions do not interact with each other but only with their wholes.

The author says that this description of the semantic tree of the universe opens doors to creating a new mathematical theory of space and time based on Sankhya but it’s beyond the scope of the book and is a target for some future endeavors. I’ll stop here and pick up with the next chapter tomorrow. Sorry for no diacritics today, I don’t have them on this machine.

Vanity thought #1759. VC – processes and systems

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

The rest of the chapter on time and karma compares Sāṅkhya and modern science in yet another way. Following the framework presented in the chapter it talks about processes, descriptions, and uniting them into systems. Yesterday I got stuck on one of the sentences there but let’s move on and try to make sense of the rest of it. I’ll try to give the background in my own words first.

We have object description, process description, choice description and time description. In this order they are subordinate to the next. Time manifests possibilities of karma, mind makes choices, choices put prāṇa in motion, and prāṇa manifests physical reality where objects interact with each other. Time isn’t the same for individual observers and the universe itself. We cannot affect the universal time and our personal time leads us through our personal choices. On this I would suggests that universal time isn’t “objective” either but reflects choices of the universal observer, which is the Lord. He is present within each universe and in His other form He observes all the universes at once. If He desires to hold His breath, for example, the material manifestation will last longer and the time inside each universe needs to be stretched or more cycles added. I suppose that decision is left to in-universe observer form of the Lord.

The book then switches to materialistic view which reverses the order from the start – physical objects are primary, they are moved around by forces, and this interaction gives rise to mind and consciousness. The author gnotes three oversimplifications present in this view. The role of the universal time is ignored and so it appears that universal fate is decided by OUR choices, not by what is manifested to us by the universe which follows its own trajectory independently of our decisions. Secondly, our choices are reduced to forces, which makes us look as we are machines walking around without consciousness and therefore are not responsible for our actions. Finally, the forces are reduced to properties of objects, which makes objects appear as the only reality and everything else – aggregation of objects into systems, processes running in these systems, choices made by the systems, and, ultimately, the fate of the universe become the “epiphenomena” of objects.

Each of these oversimplifications ignores some aspects of reality and therefore produce various forms of indeterminism and incompleteness in scientific predictions. Vedic system is more generic here and modern science is a specific application of it with imposed constraints described in the previous paragraph. Vedic theory, therefore, is a superset of modern materialism when all the constraints are removed. It doesn’t mean that this specific case is untrue but it reveals truth only partially, which is enough to keep scientists excited. It works within their constraints and it explains enough phenomena they accept for consideration in their theories, and they always work on unifying these theories, which gives them hope but is impossible in principle due to the initial oversimplifications.

The author also talks about Sāṅkhya here as Vedic materialism. Maybe it’s because our interactions within this framework do not require God and deal only with gross and subtle matter – prāṇa, mind, karma, and time are attributes of the material world. Most of non-Bhāgavatam Sāṅkhya is atheistic, too, and doesn’t require God. I wonder how they explain the origin of puruṣa who kicked off the creation but after that it’s matter all the way indeed. The author says that even this Vedic materialism is superior to modern science and it’s also compatible with existence of God and souls.

For one thing, material objects are inert. It might appear ridiculous to anyone who looks outside the window but this is what they are on the quantum level – quantum particles do not change their state unless hit by photons or something. How and why quantum objects emit energy cannot be explained – it just happens and science talks about probabilities of outcomes instead, which is one form of indeterminism mentioned earlier. This is why “process description” must be superior to “object description”, like in Sāṅkhya, because processes puts objects in motion (and create objects, too) leaving no space to indeterminism.

“Mental description” is superior to “process description” because our choices put processes in motion. Karma description is superior to our choices because it controls the possibilities and keeps record of previous choices, and time description is superior to karma because it makes possibilities manifest according to evolution of the universe. Looking at it another way, each of these stages is incomplete and requires information provided by the superior stage. Can’t move unless there’s process, can’t start a process unless there’s a choice, can’t make a choice unless there are possibilities and karma, can’t show karma unless time turns around and manifests it.

Last paragraph in this chapter talks about “bodies”. In Sāṅkhya the object description and process description are merged into a “body”, but this body, unlike science, includes not only objects we can see, taste, smell etc but also senses by which we can perceive these objects, the qualities experienced in perception, and the force that moves the body. Altogether it’s more complex and subtle than the body in science.

In Vedic cosmology this merging of object and process description creates a horizontal, two dimensional domain which is referred to as loka in our literature. It is not like a two dimensional plane in space because dimensions are different, they are not physical X and Y but “what is” and “how it works”. Mapping this concept of loka into our three dimensional space is done in a later chapter, but don’t raise your hopes up yet – it’s not easy to comprehend and I have doubts about this mapping myself.

Another thing that bothers me in this chapter is the relationship between individual possibilities presented to us and how they relate to the evolution of the universe. Some of these possibilities are selected by us but somehow it doesn’t affect the flow of the universe at all. The author doesn’t acknowledge this and we are left to speculate how it can be resolved on our own. There are later chapters where he deals with the subject of universal and individual times but they come nearly at the end of the book and don’t provide clear answers either, as far as I remember.

Perhaps, there are enough potential observers, jīvas, to select all manifested possibilities and so the choice is which role we decide to play and if we don’t like this one in particular it would be selected by someone else. This explanation doesn’t remove indeterminism, however – what if there’s really no one to play the role of the villain? We can also speculate that choices are driven by guṇa and karma but that would remove the agency of free will. The author will not concede free will, that much is clear. There could be some other explanation where it doesn’t matter for the universe whether all possibilities play out or not but that would be counterintuitive and require a radically different explanation of how the world works that I haven’t grasped yet. Maybe it still remains hidden from me and I understood all this material through my own goggles, not noticing the forest for the trees.

Possible explanation for this is that selecting certain possibilities make them real for us – make them into our individual experiences, but from the POV of the universe they are equally real whether we participate in them or not. In what sense they are real for the universe, however?

It would all be much easier if we ditched free will in material world altogether and confined it to a simple choice – to serve Kṛṣṇa or not. Whatever happens here, whatever choices are made between wearing a blue or green t-shirt, are not ours. We can only choose to depend on Kṛṣṇa or to remain “observers” and “doers” and “seers” of the material field. This position makes more sense to me and is in line with our general understanding of free will but, as I said, the author is not going to concede it. Free might still be required for our personal selections to make the universe work. The subject will come up again so we shall see if free will is really a necessity in Sāṅkhya.

Vanity thought #1616. The illusion of choice

In the material sense choice is accepted as a good thing, one must always have choice, that’s what separates us from the dictatorships. In dictatorships people cannot choose their leaders and, consequently, their lives become so bad that they can’t choose what they read, watch, wear, and even eat. The state strips them off their choices and controls every aspect of their lives. Choice and personal freedom are the first things that impress these people if they ever make it to the free and democratic societies.

On a personal level we need choice to properly enjoy ourselves. Our tastes are different so we need a variety of sense objects and if we can’t choose what we want our senses remain unsatisfied. The easiest way to experience this unhappiness is when our favorite brands are our of stock or when our favorite TV shows are in the midseason and we have no choice but to watch reruns or inferior shows we don’t like.

The whole market economy is then built around satisfying our choices. They don’t want to leave people unhappy and unfulfilled in their sense gratification, they strive to fulfill every our desire and, generally, we can rely on markets and democracy to do their jobs.

Another kind of unhappiness results from us not knowing what we really want in the first place. That’s the angst of the teenage years when people are simply not ready to enjoy their destinies. They have too much stuff interfering and demanding their attention and it all looks very attractive and overwhelming. There are also restrictions on what they can actually enjoy so lots of their temptations can’t be fulfilled and it frustrates them to no end, often leading to a deeply philosophical view of life.

Fortunately or unfortunately it doesn’t last very long, novelty wears off, the avalanche of temptations stops, they try enough things not to ask for them anymore, and they are left with a manageable amount of choices that they can actually take. Philosophy then takes a back seat to sense enjoyment.

This, btw, is another proof that karma and jñāna are two sides of the same coin – when one is happy in his sense gratification he becomes karmī and when bad karma comes along he becomes jñānī. Jñāna is theoretically better because it leads to realization that the world is full of suffering and we need a radical solution, not scratching the itches which brings only a temporary relief before coming back even stronger. So it’s good for teenagers to become philosophers but it’s usually not enough to take them all the way and they find balance between karma and jñana in becoming “mature and responsible” adults.

In Kali yuga becoming mature and responsible is nowhere near enough to save one from hell, however. It’s these “mature and responsible” people who start devastating wars or commit despicable acts of terror in the name of a higher cause (like spreading democracy or Islam). They build slaughterhouses and choose atheism over religion, they gamble and drink, and they become slaves to their sexual desire. The fact that they do it in moderation, as opposed to alcoholics or compulsive gamblers, does not save them from their sinful reactions, they just get slightly less of them and go through a slightly better version of hellish life.

Back to the topic of choice – it’s not markets and democracy that provide it but our karma. The purpose of the material world is largely to fulfill desires of the living entities trapped inside it. Whatever we want, the universe provides. It doesn’t happen instantaneously and we have to work hard to get desired results and at any given moment everyone is at a different stage in the circle of karma. Some people’s desires are about to be fulfilled and others destiny is not yet manifest.

From the perspective of the first group they have choice but it only means their karma is just about to bring results, they fully earned it already. From the perspective of the second group they are still not clear what they want and what they are going to enjoy in the future. The fruit of their karma is only ripening and they can’t predict its taste yet.

To them it looks like they do not have the opportunities to enjoy the world in the same way as the first group does. They know possibilities exists but they can’t access them. It might manifest as a lack of money or some other physical limitation like being born in a wrong country where they can see good life in the movies but can’t experience it where they live. Do they have a choice? Yes, the “free world” would tell them – set your goals, work hard, be smart, and you can immigrate to America or Europe, or you can move to California, or you can get into that prestigious college, of you can get that coveted job.

If you think about it, it’s not really a matter of choice, though. They just say the obvious thing that people in those positions have a greater range of sense gratification but there’s no choice in how to get there. You have to work hard as prescribed by the authorities and you have to satisfy the authorities to earn your promotion or earn sufficient funds to make your move. It’s not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of surrender and service, which are quite the opposite of what people have in mind when they speak about choices.

Once your karma is earned in full and becomes ready to fructify your desires come very close to their fulfillment which to you looks like a “choice”. I mean to qualify as a choice in this sense you have to have a very short time between realizing what you want and getting the result and results have to be pleasant. If there’s no immediacy and by the time you get to enjoy your fruits you forget that you wanted them the illusion of choice disappears.

If you open your fridge and realize you don’t want to eat anything that’s in there you don’t think about it as a “choice” anymore and you’d rather want something else from the supermarket. At this point the availability of “choice” depends on whether you have money and time or a car to get you there. Maybe you’d have to wait for the weekend to make a trip to the farmer’s market or to some specialty store. Maybe you’ll have to wait for your paycheck, maybe you’ll have to wait for a promotion to be able to afford things that you want.

In the meantime the current content of your fridge is the reflection of the state of your desires at some point in the past. Everything that’s in there was once desirable and was chosen over a myriad of other supermarket options. When you were picking these things off the shelf you thought you were exercising your choice but because there was a time lapse between this choice and actual sense gratification it didn’t work out as expected.

What I’m saying is that “choice” is an illusion, a mental image that appears when we look at the world from a conditioned entity perspective. The law of karma does not allow for choices and there’s no randomness in the universe to provide any possibility of a choice. We are not the controllers here but rather controlled so we don’t make choices, only the Lord does because He can tweak the universe to suit His will at any moment.

And if the counter argument is that we can choose our desires then that is also an illusion. Our senses become attracted to sense objects automatically and the control we can exercise in directing our desires is done by another material element, intelligence, which is shaped by external factors like society, educational system, and previous experiences. Contrary to our illusion we’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to make certain choices and are totally predictable in our behavior in front of that supermarket shell – whether it’s avoiding sugar, carbs, fat, gluten etc.

Our relationships with the Lord are a slightly different matter and I don’t want to start discussing the role of choice there today, time to wrap it up.

Vanity thought #1452. Pseudochoice

We think that we are torn by choices and that we can make rational, guru and śāstra based decisions about our spiritual life. We can decide which service to take, whether to become preachers or pūjārīs, whether to marry or stay celibate, whether to stay loyal to ISKCON or seek spiritual advice elsewhere. One can open any book about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life and find countless examples of such freedom where he as a guru gave this freedom to decide to his disciples, and he even occasionally allowed them to override his advice on these matters. Even atheists observe that making choices is the foundation of our lives, that our choices define us.

We also know that we are simply tossed around by waves raised by the modes of nature and possess only an illusion of free will. To that we say that only devotional service brings freedom and so devotees can make free choices while everybody else can’t.

Earlier this week I’ve argued that even the heads of our society, the sannyāsīs, are not as free to choose how to lead their devotional lives, that they are forced to accept roles of kings and renounce renunciation by the demands of our preaching mission. I won’t go as far as to cynically claim that they took the roles of leaders because that’s what they actually wanted, to rule and control, renunciation rhetoric notwithstanding. There could be some truth in this claim but we’d rather not think of our best devotees in such an unflattering way.

If freedom of our heads is doubtful, what is the freedom of our tails, the “hoi polloi” torn between urges to eat and steal glances at our female population? None whatsoever, rhetorically speaking. It’s all just karma and illusion.

Our managers are trained to engage us according to our nature, to put right people in the right places. Where is our freedom in that? We can only voice reactions to their decision, which are actually reactions of our minds. They don’t even need to be verbal as pleasure or disagreement can be expressed perfectly by bleating, grunting, or mooing. “Oh, he doesn’t like that,” the manager can see right away and give us some other engagement.

Of course we can also take initiative and offer suggestions about what we really want and what engagements agree with our nature, but is there freedom in that? We don’t get to decide what our nature is and what feels good to our minds. Sometimes we might not be very clear about what we want but that’s not freedom, it’s just confusion caused by contradictory urges, which we still can’t control.

Even when talking to our authorities we aren’t free in our expression, we must follow the protocol and there are limits to what we can admit in public, including things we don’t admit even to ourselves. Sometimes we are truly sincere but quite often both sides know that there are certain things better left unsaid no matter the sincerity, and most of the time it’s a negotiation, meaning one hopes to get a better value out of the agreement than the other side suspects, that both sides come with hidden motives they don’t disclose on purpose so as not to be taken advantage of.

Skillful negotiators know it very well – how to find a weak spot and gain leverage, whether it’s a secret one would make big concessions to keep or whether it’s an irresistible attachment he’d give an arm and a leg to maintain. Our ISKCON managers can be master manipulators this way, too.

The easiest way to control your men is by exposing them to women. Once they are sold on the prospect of interacting with females they’d take whatever position that would keep them closer to that alien species. When they come to complain about this or that later on you can always bring “but you wanted to be here” card and remind them that their women are still attainable. They’d do anything for that hope of association and would go away with “I suppose you are right, this service is what I really want” admission of defeat.

Who thinks these poor sods have any freedom? Let THEM think that, but the bosses know better.

Devotees who are already in relationships are a lost cause in terms of seeking freedom. They must work to maintain their families and children, money is an external object to them, they must get it from someone else and that someone will always dictate what needs to be done in exchange. Our “freedom” here is only to seek a more benevolent dictator but even then our choices and abilities to approach them are limited. Regardless, family is practically a life long commitment and commitment means loss of freedom even in the conventional sense. We must work, there’s no choice.

And then there’s this self-fulfillment cause. We must find ourselves and live to our full potential. Who told us we need that? Why do we accept this mantra unchallenged? People can offer an easy explanation why self-fulfillment is necessary – “you must find yourself because..” Wait a minute, as soon as “because” gets involved you have forfeited your freedom, your actions become conditional on whatever comes after that “because”.

At the end all this self-fulfillment business comes to seeking pleasure, it just feels better to live this way, and we are pleasure seeking entities by our constitution, it’s just what we do and there’s no freedom in that. We can’t deny our nature, we’ll always seek pleasure no matter what.

And so we will act to find that pleasure in all circumstances, as men we would seek women, as women we would seek men, and there’s a much greater gradation to how we want to control the world, whether we want to build stuff, control what other people think, or destroy stuff built by someone else that yet another else decides to be illegal. Some of this is available in ISKCON, some cravings can be successfully substituted, but if one has a calling to be a butcher or a fisherman then there’s nothing we can do about that.

Spiritually speaking, that’s not who we are, those are just false identities that have taken over our lives and dictate our wants and needs. We might fulfill them, we might not, spiritually speaking it makes no difference. Self-fulfillment is a long term project, what we haven’t finished in one life will be continued in the next, and we have such a variety of desires that some of them will remain unsatisfied.

In fact, we are caught in this endless, externally imposed dissatisfaction loop as there’s a big delay between forming the desire and it bringing karmic results. Quite often we don’t even want the fulfillment anymore when our karma finally fructifies. Well, that’s because we’ve already been overwhelmed by new desires that contradict our earlier ones and this brings us pain. “That’s not what I wanted” and “I never wanted that” are our go to excuses, which are simply our short memory and pathological lying to ourselves.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven and the message from our ācāryas, from Prahlāda Mahārāja to Bhagavad Gīta to Śrīla Prabhupāda, is simple – endeavoring for happiness in the material world is unnecessary, it will come on its own just as distress comes uninvited in due time. We don’t have to make any efforts to find it, it will find us. Intelligent people take to chanting of the holy name instead because this endeavor is the most profitable in every respect. It might not always feel this way in the beginning, but neither do decades of training to achieve success in any other field. It’s always a sacrifice, for everybody, we just have to pray to the Lord that He keeps us interested, keeps us going. In my experience He always delivers.

Vanity thought #1248. Rationality explained

Yesterday I got to yet another uncompromising assertion by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī – spiritual realm is ready to be revealed to anyone who actually listens. We’ve heard this from Śrīla Prabhupāda, too, but I don’t remember it ever being presented without some sort of a disclaimer.

A typical example is that of a tree. We embrace a tree trunk and beg for māyā to let us go but the tree is not holding us and neither does māyā, we hold onto it ourselves. Despite our loud proclamations we still want to live in the illusion. The implication being that slipping out of māyā’s control is easy.

Well, it is not, and I don’t remember anyone practically demonstrating how it could be done. Some devotees would give inspirational speeches on the subject but when the push comes to shove, no one is really liberated, meaning everyone is still holding onto the illusion and not letting it go, no matter how many times they declare that it’s an extremely easy thing to do.

Some devotees are honest in this regard and so they present disclaimers. We can’t let it go because of this or because of that. We have history, we have habits, we have material bodies, we commit offenses, we need to purify our consciousness through engagement, devotees are not renunciates so instead of seeking liberation we can happily engage in service from the position of our false ego, real devotees do not care for the liberation, they spit on it. Tons of excuses why we are still attached to the illusions and tons of reasons why we should continue in this vein.

I don’t think Śrīla Prabhupāda meant it this way. He asked people to serve the Lord, chant the Holy Names, and that was already above liberation. Later he saw that ISKCON devotees weren’t as transcendental as he hoped and asked us to deal with problems at hand first. That’s why we need the varṇāśrama, for example – according to the famous conversation where he says that chanting is not possible for an ordinary man and asks “Who will chant? Who’ll chant?” He then continues lamenting how people cannot take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness without undergoing varṇāśrama training first.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī left no room for compromises, though, and presented the subject as a matter of fact – what one needs to do to attain the spiritual realm and how one must go about it. I believe if we analyze his proposed method we’ll find no room for compromise, too, except that we’ll have to discount our own prospects of success, which aren’t very bright, just as Śrīla Prabhupāda observed in that conversation.

So, the failure to attain spiritual realm is only due deliberate withholding of our attention, as was quoted yesterday. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta continues:

    It is in ones power to correct this error of method when it is pointed out by the sadhu. In proportion as the receptive attentive hearing is perfected, the true import of the words of the sadhu manifests itself to the soul of the hearer. It is necessary to offer this form of service by way of the preliminary on the threshold of the realm of the divinity by all those who really want to enter there.

Actually, there’s room for compromise here – he talks about degrees of receptive hearing corresponding to degrees of realization. He discounts this stage as only preliminary, though. That’s what we should do to get to the threshold – try to develop receptive hearing, and not just develop, we need to perfect it. How?

    The pilgrim is required to give up his preference for pseudo-knowledge if he is to be benefited by his pilgrimage of the divine realm under the guidance of the sadhu who has a natural and exclusive attachment for the real truth. The guidance of the sadhu is necessary for enabling him to lend his full attention to his words by discarding all explicit or latent partiality for untruth.

Highlighted words tell us what we need to do. We need to give up all pseudo-knowledge and all our interests in pursuing it, both explicit and latent. Explicit interests are easy to see in others but probably not very easy to notice in ourselves. There’s also the need to understand what this pseudo-knowledge is. It’s not just the materialistic philosophy, we can deny and defeat it with full conviction, pseudo-knowledge goes much deeper than that.

We don’t need philosophy or big brains to know that eating would satisfy our hunger or sex would satisfy our lust, but that is a pseudo-knowledge. Love, family, relationships, entertainment, jokes, work, kids – extracting hope and satisfaction from any of those things is pseudo-knowledge. We know it by heart and we act on it without thinking. Our instinct of self-preservation is pseudo-knowledge, too. We can talk big words but the real test is very simple – do we instinctively reach for food? Do we instinctively try to protect ourselves from danger? These are acts based on pseudo-knowledge and, unlike Kṛṣṇa consciousness, this pseudo-knowledge is actually realized. It’s what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta called “latent partiality for the untruth”. It needs to go.

    The function of the cognitive faculty is to be relieved from the consequences of its willful and perpetual attraction towards untruth.

We should use our intelligence to free ourselves from this latent attraction. It means we should identify our weaknesses and convince ourselves that they are not worth hanging on to. This is easy to understand – anartha-nivṛtti, right? Another point we should take away from this sentence is that this anartha-nivṛtti is declared the purpose of having the brain. This is the only thing it is useful for, as will be explained later, along with answering concerns about our freedom:

    Guidance for such an end is not any curtailment of ones freedom of rational choice. The rational faculty is only then true to itself when it submits to be guided by a competent person in the quest of the truth which is located beyond his reach.

Atheists, and most educated modern people, for that matter, would immediately object to the stated need to follow a guru. They cherish their freedom too much to become someone’s intellectual slave. They say it’s irrational, that people who act on faith, both in God and in their guru, are irrational. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta answers both of these questions.

No, following the sādhu does not deprive one of his freedom and it is not irrational. Rationality is true to itself only when it is used for discovering the Absolute Truth and so it is practiced only when one submits to the sādhu. Contrary to what atheists assume, search for the Absolute Truth is rational, everything else is not.

    Neither the end nor the method indicated above proposes any form of mechanical subordination to an external agency which is being always enforced without any protest on the part of the conditioned soul by his material environment.

Submitting oneself to the words of the guru is not the same as mechanical subordination to an “external agency”. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta is telling us here that people are always forced to do that, forced to follow dictates of the material nature but they don’t even notice it and therefore never protest.

What people call “rationality” is simply following the prevailing ways of thinking and applying them to externally imposed fund of knowledge. We aren’t free to think any differently from how we’ve been taught. Westerners are very proud of being “open minded” and “free thinking” but actually we are not, our mode of thinking is totally predictable. We cannot think like Chinese, we would always think like westerners. Or we can train ourselves to think like Chinese and see the world from their POV but that would still be mechanical subordination to the forces of nature because even the choice to train to think like a Chinese would be forced on us and then rationalized. When we rationalize our choices we, in effect, strip ourselves of the free will – we ought to choose this or that because…

There’s no freedom here, only following the laws of nature. Learn to think in a certain way, see the input, process it, and produce an output. It’s not freedom, it’s subordination to the material energy, and it’s an irrational choice for anyone aware of the existence of the Absolute Truth.

    Unless we are prepared to adopt the only rational course that is open to us, the attainment of the knowledge of the absolute truth in the form of willing submission for receiving Him from His agents we really abdicate our rational function by preferring to follow the irrational alternative.

Irrational alternative here is trying to find happiness in the material world while rational function is seeking the Absolute Truth. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta concludes the paragraph with the following:

    We are of course free to go astray. We are also free to maintain that such irrational course is rational. But such sophistry will not enable us to avoid the logical consequences of such a procedure in the shape of losing sight of the truth altogether.

Basically, he says that we are not free to invent our own truth. If we decide to pursue our own course of action and call it rational, the truth will never reveal itself to us. There are lots of people, many among devotees, too, who convince themselves that they are doing the right thing. However, convincing oneself and even creating a following will not have any actual, spiritual effect. It won’t take us closer to the truth and it might force us to lose sight of the truth altogether.

The only rational choice is to submit to the authority of the sādhu, all other paths are misleading and go against our real self-interest, they only feed our pride and ego.

Article Source – navigate to p 34.

Vanity thought #975. Born To Be Free

Free will is one of those regular topics that comes round and round, never seems to be enough. Do we have any? Is it all just an illusion? What does śāstra say? What does it mean when śāstra says this or that? What did Kṛṣṇa say? What did our ācāryas say? What did they mean? In what context?

I know my position on this – there’s no free will, it’s an illusion, we have absolutely no influence over anything happening in this world. We are only free to surrender to the Lord and that’s the extent of it. His energies carry out the rest. Up in the spiritual world it might be different but down here we, as spirit souls, can’t express ourselves in any other way.

I’m also aware that our ācāryas always leave us some room for our own decisions, their orders are not cast in stone, for example, we can act on them or we can ignore them, it’s supposed to teach s the value of following guru. The free will appears to be there but I still think it’s just an illusion because all of that is still carried out by Lord’s energies – we don’t see neither ourselves nor our ācāryas nor our guru as spirit souls, we only see interactions of material elements that appear as saintly persons.

This can be discussed forever but today that’s not what interests, me. Turns out free will has been questioned by materialists themselves.

So far they don’t question the concept itself having no proper background knowledge about existence of spirit. I guess they could look at it philosophically and question the existence of living beings that are expected to have that free will but that’s a topic they’ll be avoiding for a long time.

Really, just think about it – it all comes down to “life comes from life” principle introduced to us by Śrila Prabhupāda. Without spirit souls or God as sources of life they have nothing to separate life from matter at all. They can’t pin life down to their chemicals. They have never seen it spring out of a bunch of stuff on its own, yet they know life exists. When does it start having free will then?

They promote their evolution through natural selection but that makes our choices only more mechanical. There’s no space for free will in evolution – some choices/mutations will persist no matter what just because physical laws make them more beneficial for survival while others will lead to extinction – like suicides or self-mutilation, I guess.

More importantly – until we come to humans free will doesn’t come into play at all – we don’t talk about free will in lower forms of life. So, it’s not just a jump from life to matter that cannot be explained through physics, it’s also the jump from apes to humans that is supposed to introduce free will. Then they say chimpanzees have consciousness of a four year old child. Do they have free will? Do children have free will?

What is free will anyway? We all need to agree on what it means first, both as devotees and as members of human species, the only carriers of intelligent life.

Anyway, those are tough questions, and some scientists started with baby steps, probed people’s opinions about free will, and tried to find correlations to other external factors. They were surprised.

There have been several studies on this subject with different groups of people using different setups but they all point to the same thing – what Nietzsche said over a hundred years ago. I must say he was one of my favorite authors before I turned to Śrila Prabhupada’s books. I don’t remember reading Twilight of the Idols but the attitude is certainly familiar: people want free will because they want to inflict punishment on others. Wherever there’s a call for responsibility there’s a desire to make someone suffer.

The typical setup for studies like that is this – they take a large group of students, break it into three groups, tell one group that someone had cheated and was punished, tell another group that someone had cheated but no one was caught yet, and tell the third group nothing. Then they asked everyone to grade their opinions on the free will.

That’s how they proved Nietzsche right – people want free will when they want blood, and not their own.

There’s also a worldwide survey that asks people to grade their perception of free will, it has a lot of data from over seventy countries, and while it’s too late to fine tune the questions to suit this particular research, it is possible to find correlation between degree of free will and other statistics.

In countries with high crime and homicide rates people think they have more free will, which again proves Nietzsche right – we want free will to punish other people.

As devotees, it shouldn’t surprise us at all – we want free will to imitate God and so the more free will we claim for ourselves, the more God like powers we want to project. In this case – we want to judge others and decide their fate. It’s a natural next step from trying to control our own lives an our own circumstances.

Now, as I said, on itself it doesn’t decide the debate of free will one way or another but it surely shows us how abuse of free will works. We want more of it to be more like God.

I guess we can take to the opposite end and say that as perfect servants we wouldn’t want any free will at all, seeing the Lord as the only doer and us only as objects of His enjoyment, but that runs into problems of independence we observe in the spiritual dealings between Kṛṣṇa and His perfect devotees. If free will exists there then there’s no absolute minimum to it at all.

I guess this can be resolved in a number of ways but my own view, just as I expressed it above, is that from absolute illusion with absolute confidence in existence of free will we go down to zero, the point where we realize that we have absolutely no control over our lives in this world, and then it continues to increase in negative values – the degrees of freedom we have as we progress spiritually.

Maybe the other way makes more sense, though. Let’s say the degree of our free will can be expressed as a number. In the spiritual world, as there’s no limit on our surrender and service to the Lord, this number is infinity. As we distance ourselves from the Lord that number gradually decreases – as there are limits on what devotees in lower rasas can do in their service.

In the state of impersonal liberation degree of free will is exactly zero. From that moment on it goes into a negative territory as we become conditioned by material illusion. As we go deeper and deeper into that illusion our number approaches negative infinity.

As an absolute value (ABS(-5) = 5 and is higher than ABS(-3)=3) it grows but it grows into a different direction so we think that we have more free will but its actual value is negative and is nothing like freedom of service we have in the spiritual world.

Hmm, I really like this scale. More illusion equals more free will but it’s useless, less illusion means less free will until we reach impersonal liberation where there’s nothing to ascribe free will to so it’s zero, and as we learn to serve the Lord in increasingly more intimate ways our freedom to do so increases, too.


Here’s the source I based this post on.

Vanity thought #760. Physics

Last time I discussed the power of mind reading and turns out that as far as that ability goes – there’s no free will. However, this ability itself has limits because due to our material nature we are imperfect in every endeavor and so we need to leave some space for errors, which means we can never totally rule out the possibility of having a minute free will as the cause of, say half of those errors.

Well, it’s okay to have natural limits to any particular method, it just means we have to approach the problem from another angle. It also means that the space where this free will can potentially manifest itself has become too small for any practical use, which is good enough for me.

Nevertheless, let’s use a different approach anyway. Let’s talk about physics.

So we have the spirit soul surrounded by a lump of dead matter and accompanied by the Supersoul who can, theoretically, mess up with material nature because He is the ultimate controller of everything. The Supersoul, however, has no interest in it, He is there just to observe and occasionally advice us to give up our interest, too.

In this model free will means the ability to direct the material body according to the desires of the soul, which means successfully interfering with the laws of material nature which, by themselves, don’t need soul’s input to keep the body going. We have our karma all laid our for us, our hearts keeps pumping blood, lungs keep breathing, and we keep producing waste, all without any conscious input.

Now, can our conscious input interfere with our lives? And can this input be attributed to the free will of the soul itself?

The answer to the first question is undoubtedly yes – that’s why we have free will dilemma in the first place. The answer to the second question is not so obvious.

First of all, all our stimuli are external. In the conditioned state we do not have any direct experiences on the spiritual level. We can’t perceive our own spiritual form and we can’t perceive the Supersoul either.

Material sense objects interact with our senses, this interaction causes feeling of pleasure or pain to arise in our minds. Our intelligence processes the input and suggests a certain course of action based on previous experiences. Mind sends signals to the working senses to affect change, gets feedback, sends it to the intelligence and the process repeats itself.

So far this model does not require any input from the soul – senses, memories, goals – they are all external, they can be measured and predicted because they follow law of cause and effect.

Now imagine the soul chips in with his own ideas, the alleged “free will”. First thing it would do is to break the laws of nature because it would add some input that can’t be accounted for by material means. The material objects (mind and intelligence) would change their states without having any material force or material energy applied to them.

Is it possible? Theoretically – yes. In practice – never ever happened in all scientific observations so far. The fundamental principle of preserving energy is fundamental because it always, always works. If we have been exercising our free will, no one has ever seen any evidence of it. No one has ever observed matter undergoing changes without any cause or reason, no one has ever needed transcendental input of the soul in any of the equations. That is the meaning of transcendental – it can’t blend with matter.

One could argue that science can’t explain life but that is a red herring because they don’t need “life” in their equations either. Material world works perfectly fine without “life” or “God” in it.

Through all its history science has been trying to find God. First they thought He was living in the clouds, then in heavens, then He was completely purged from the universe and as of now His realm is confined to pre Big Bang times at most.

They think it means triumph of science over religion but according to Vedic knowledge they’ve only been proving the starting point – Krishna is beyond the reach of material nature and material nature runs its own affairs independently.

What I’m trying to show today is that the quest for the free will does, in effect, equal to search for God’s minute transcendental counterparts – the spirit souls. They have never been found, their presence has never been registered, and science doesn’t need them to explain how material nature works.

The effects of soul’s hand (free will) are as elusive as effects of God’s hand and they will never be found by material science. If it happens all laws of physics will become broken and inapplicable.

So, in short – the proof of non-existence of free will is that laws of physics still work.

Vanity thought #757. Choices, choices…

It’s that free will again…

Let’s talk about choices. Our life consists of choices but most of them are so obvious we don’t pause to even think about that. Most of the time we are free to implement our will, too. Like if you want to go to the toilet no one usually stops you. Is this will free, though? Do you get to choose when your bladder tells you it’s time? No.

Some choices are more difficult and pose significant dilemmas. Should I do this or should I do that? Does free will work in those situations? I mean after we accept the fact that possibilities are limited, and not by us but by external forces, are we still free to choose from this limited set or not?

Most of us feel that we are, indeed, free to choose. Some of us make a living off that illusion. Mind reading and mentalism in general thrive on this assumption about our free will. A typical example would be “name a vegetable” trick. There’s no way you can predict what vegetable that person would choose, right? Wrong.

Give them a somewhat taxing exercise, like quickly doing some simple sums, and then pose your vegetable question without giving people time to gather their wits. Asked like this, out of the blue, 90% of the time they’d choose “carrot”, you can write it on the piece of paper before hand, put it on the table, and open it at the end of the trick to the surprise of the audience.

Another example like that is “orange kangaroo in Denmark” where you ask people do some little math, make sure that in the end they get to number 4 (don’t need to ask for the answer, just prepare the formula that always ends in 4), associate that number with a letter of the alphabet, in this case D (because you already know they got 4), and ask them to think of a country that begins with that letter. Most people would think of Denmark, alternatives are pretty rare.

They would feel it was their choice but in reality it isn’t, and you can take it even further – ask them to think of an animal that begins with the last letter of that country, and most people would choose kangaroo, then ask them to think of a color that begins with the last letter of that animal, and most people would choose orange (what else?). Then you can deliver your “What nonsense, there are no orange kangaroos in Denmark!”

The underlying principles of these tricks, and they can get very complicated, is knowing how people’s minds work better than they do themselves. Theoretically, there are other countries beginning with D and there are other animals beginning with K but if you play your audience right and don’t give them a chance to undermine your suggested train of thought you’d be right more than enough to make a living out of it.

What I am driving at is that the fact that we feel we have a free choice does not equal to the fact we actually have a free choice. It’s not obvious to us but it might be very obvious to someone skilled in this “mind reading”, and there’s no one better at that than the Supersoul within our hearts.

That’s why when Krishna says He knows past, present, and future, I don’t doubt that He knows the choices we will make, too.

But what if we dismiss such tricky situations and set up a pure mind experiment? Will it show a chance of free will?

That’s a thought for another day.

Vanity thought #756. Born in the wrong place

Having nothing better to do with my life I want to explore implications of “free to choose your next body” interpretation of how free will works.

So let’s say you have lived your life and then, just before dying, you happened to see a black man and you had a crazy idea. Boom, you are born as an African-American. Apart from that you also carry all your other interests from the previous life. How would that work out?

Let’s say you diligently go through the education system and grow up as an ordinary man, just that you are not white, and, as a black man, people don’t treat you quite the same. Police are a bit more suspicious, and so are some white neighbors, and in other neighborhoods you aren’t as welcome as you’d like. “What is all this?” you wonder. “I don’t deserve any of that.”

If the freedom of choice idea is true than you are right – you didn’t deserve any of that, this baggage that comes with the color of your skin isn’t yours, but since that’s what you thought at the end of your previous life you have got to experience it now, no escape.

Some would argue that it works both ways and you can leverage “white man’s guilt” to your advantage. Maybe it would make you life easier – but you didn’t deserve that either, right?

What if you were born as a Muslim? Some people would immediately assume you are a terrorist at heart. In India some would resent your very being for all the cruel stuff your ancestors did to Hindu worshipers five-six hundred years ago. How is it your fault now, however?

My point is that I just don’t see how your next life can be totally disconnected from your current one, just on the strength of a freaky mental image that flashed through your mind at the moment of death and you liked it. Was it your free will acting up? I highly doubt it.

As we are all born into some sort of society we carry that society’s karma on our shoulders. That’s a fact of life. Buddhists don’t believe in group karma but in everyday life it’s simply undeniable. A lot of your rights and opportunities are defined by your citizenship, for example. Or by your gender, or by your race. It’s not a matter of choice and so it shouldn’t be a consequence of free will either.

Speaking of gender – what to do with all those confused individuals who cannot determine their sexuality? Are they examples of free will gone bad – after years of preparing yourself for next life in a male body you are suddenly inserted into a female one.

Is “free will” a sound explanation of how you can wind up in a body that doesn’t suit your internal perception of yourself? Could be, but most likely it’s all nonsense and you were destined to suffer from indecision – male-female, actor-accountant, brahmachari-grihastha and so on.

Many people make such choices early on but there are some who are just in a perpetual state of flux, being torn between choices about this or about that. Maybe that’s their karma – inability to decide or inability to fit somewhere, the feeling that they don’t belong.

I realize that the examples above do not necessarily follow from “free to choose your next body” and so proving them wrong does not prove that the proposition is wrong, too, but they are interesting options to explore in themselves.

As far as our free choices go, I’d like to quote this verse spoken by Narada Muni in Srimad Bhagavatam (SB 4.29.65):

Therefore, my dear King, the living entity, who has a subtle mental covering, develops all kinds of thoughts and images because of his previous body. Take this from me as certain. There is no possibility of concocting anything mentally without having perceived it in the previous body.

We don’t get to choose our previous lives, so where would the freedom to imagine things that will determine our next life come from? Narada Muni is extra persistent here – there’s no possibility of such freedom.

One could argue that even if we have only two choices the freedom to choose is still ours. Okay, that’s the next level of understanding what “freedom” means, as in “you can choose any color you like as long as it’s black.”

I’ll talk about it later.

Vanity thought #755. Krishna knows… but how much?

A week or so ago I heard a lecture by one of our most respectable devotees and during the Q&A part he gave an answer that deserves careful consideration. Normally I’d disagree with it but it would be inappropriate to express such disagreement publicly and so I won’t give a name and instead try to reconcile his position with what I have learned myself.

It was an answer to a specific question from a specific individual, not a comprehensive, encyclopedia level statement. Hypothetically, if I were to present counter-arguments the answer could have been modified, we’ll never know, and this is what I’m going to speculate about today.

It’s that bothersome free will. Again.

I don’t remember the question exactly, it was something about Krishna knowing everything – past, present, and future, and our free will and independence.

The answer went like this: “Yes, Krishna knows everything but it means that if you want to worship demigods He knows what will happen to you. If you want to return to Him, He knows when and how you will reach Him. If you want to live your life in sin, He knows where you will be sent after death, too. Decisions are yours, they are independent, but Krishna knows what happens next, and it’s not magic – He simply knows the laws of universe.”

Does it mean we have some sort of free will here?

Let’s look at fundamentals first – “free” in free will means we make our own decisions and “will” means the universe follows our desires – we have the power to affect change. It doesn’t really matter who the actual agent of change is – Supersoul or our own powers, as long as the world bends to our will we can proudly talk about possessing this elusive “free will”.

Now let’s look how the answer above fits into this scheme. We obviously possess some degree of independence. I was told that it’s really minute – we can decide to surrender to the Lord or enjoy the illusion. Here, however, we’re apparently given independence to decide where our next life will be. We are free to choose whether to worship demigods, demons, or Krishna.

I find it hard to accept – we might want to worship demigods but how are you going to put it into practice if you were born in a Christian country where there are only churches and Jesus? In the US, for example, observers have noticed a serious lack of social mobility for some condemned sectors of society. They can’t even change their school district, what to speak of starting a demigod worship, a real move upwards from the dump you might have been born in. And in Muslim countries they’d throw you in jail for this idolatry.

It’s not as easy as just making a decision and then things magically happening. It looks like it might take you several lifetimes to be put in a position where you can really serve your preferred devata, probably in the next maha-yuga, too, or in a different universe. All along the way you’ll be seeing other attractions and might modify your original desire or even forget it altogether and go into yoga, or maybe find a way to worship top-notch asuras instead.

Looking at the circumstances of your birth and you association one can predict your aspirations with great accuracy, you don’t even need to be Krishna for that.

But let’s say there’s some independence involved – this would explain our discrete births in discrete bodies. Within one lifetime we transform from one bodily shape to another in an analog kind of way – like photos on film or music on vinyl. Birth and death, however, are like their digital equivalents – a series of separate, discrete data points, like pixels in a digital picture or bars making a sound wave in an mp3 file.

So here’s an idea – what if our bodies indeed follow the well determined trajectory and so if, by nature, your lifestyle will lead you to a birth as a pig then that’s what the next body after your body will follow, but as a soul you might get separated and inserted somewhere else, fulfilling some other body’s destiny that you, personally, didn’t make, didn’t live through, and didn’t determine.

What if we use this analogy – as a soul you are a spectator in a movie theater and let’s say it’s a “Star Wars” marathon there. After watching Episode IV there will be Episode V, but then, between showings, you changed your mind and went to the next theater where they are showing Batman. Star Wars have their storyline that follows form one movie to the next, and so does Batman, and that’s how we are supposed to get our new bodies, too, but if you suddenly change your mind and think of a different movie at the moment of death then Krishna will place you in a different theater or in different living conditions – that’s why our incarnations are so discrete – we have a chance to make major changes in our experience of the material world.

It’s an interesting idea but it has its own weaknesses. What happens to our karma, for example – if we go to a Batman movie and he gets a beating there – did we deserve this suffering? Batman did, but we weren’t there when he planted seeds of his future karma. Is it fair to us?

Actually, this is how we perceive our fate here – most of it doesn’t seem to have reasons that we can remember, as if we just came in from a different show.

Another weakness – how do we even know that there’s a Batman movie next door? In order to make this choice we must have information available to us that is not part of our present experience. Even if we heard of demigods we have no idea what exactly we are looking for there – executive powers of Indra or superior enjoyment of Indra’s children and associates.

The only way we might get extraneous information is if Krishna inserts Himself and tells us Bhagavad Gita while we are watching some historical war drama about ancient Indians. He won’t be telling us about Batman, though, He’d tell us to get out of the movies and get a real life instead.

Only He can make such an unscheduled appearance. And also there could be some subversive elements distributing literature about that “real life” while the theater attendants are not watching. That’s sankirtana for you.

Anyway, I was hoping this round of speculations would have come to some sort of conclusion but it didn’t happen. The “free will” model proposed by that devotee doesn’t really make sense, so I’ll leave it at that.