Vanity thought #1609. Sophisticated rascaldom

We learned a lot about “rascals” from Śrīla Prabhupāda, from atheists to māyāvādīs, and we think we got it all covered. The world of rascaldom, however, does not stay in place and evolve with times. We need to keep up, too.

These days it’s not enough to know how to spot māyāvādīs and I think they are not the worst danger that awaits bewildered souls of the modern age. I’m not quite clear myself on the contemporary classification and I hesitate to lump all deviants together under the same label, especially when it comes to those who look like vaiṣṇavas.

Even in Prabhupāda’s time many of our devotees realized that those darned māyāvādīs are actually ourselves, that Prabhupāda was railing against tendencies prevailing in our own hearts, and that’s why it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between somewhat erroneous devotees and impersonalists.

Why do we need labels anyway? It’s like using “Hitler” brush to paint anyone we don’t like. Hitler was bad, some of our contemporaries might be similarly genocidal, too, but we can call them out for their exact crimes, not for comparisons with Nazi Germany. Trying to fit everyone under one giant label is a propaganda trick, we don’t need this unless we are trying to rally less-discerning masses to our cause. So far I’m talking about clearing our own hearts, not about leading others, which is a political process that plays by its own rules.

So, we know about māyāvādīs, we know about their new-agey followers, too. Most of us can spot them a mile away by their wishy washy attitude and love of all things “spiritual” without any discrimination. They can sing Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra right before they switch to singing for Gaṇeśa, it’s all the same to them. Sometimes our devotees invite them to our own functions and they are being called out for improper association. There’s danger in that but I think we’ve got it covered, the rest is up to our political leadership, it’s not our job to correct our seniors directly.

Another big and loud group is ex-ISKCON devotees who still claim to be Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavas and insist on judging us by their standards. Historically, it happened like this – devotees accompanied Prabhupāda to India and came across different sādhus there. Some decided to hedge their bets and take initiation from them just in case things didn’t work out with Śrīla Prabhupāda. It was a foolish decision, no doubt about that, but these devotees didn’t see it that way and still don’t see it that way. They and those who followed their path think rather the opposite – leaving ISKCON was the best thing that ever happened to them. When they meet our devotees they pity us: “Oh, you are still there? When will you finally realize and get out?”

In some places being out of ISKCON is a new normal, especially on the internet where a few people of similar persuasion can meet each other and present themselves as a solid community even if they are separated by thousands miles. With proliferation of discussion boards and then later blogs and other social media building your own community is relatively easy. If you can’t create one you can certainly find one to join, all it takes is a google search and a few clicks. I don’t think I’d be far off if I say that in Vṛndāvana there are more ex-ISKCON devotees than those who are still in our movement, but Vṛndāvana is unique in that sense. Still, it’s a place where they can feel at home and where they can be a community and support each other. They are all in the same boat, all facing the same dangers, and they have no choice but to stay united. This might shaken our resolve, too, because we are human and humans are social animals, we love to follow the crowds and we love to belong somewhere. Some might argue that spiritual monogamy is unnatural, too.

The other big group are those who left for Gauḍiyā Maṭha, they also love to tell how they represent the real Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism as opposed to immature ISKCON fanatics. Unlike Vṛndāvana bābājīs with their questionable behavior GM is a bona fide institution following bona fide philosophy. They know what’s right and what’s wrong, they know the value of preaching, too, and some of these renegades have built themselves a following and initiated their own disciples, something that has not yet happen to our fake “brijabasis”.

At this point we should be fair and accept that universal laws apply universally and that any service to Kṛṣṇa is accepted regardless of other transgressions. That’s one possible reaction to their success but we should not get confused even for a moment that there’s spiritual progress outside the shelter of our guru and Śrīla Prabhupāda. This is the most fundamental law of any spirituality – yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto ‘pi – without the mercy of the guru there’s no possibility of any progress whatsoever.

The mitigating part for those who left for GM is that they accept shelter of their newly found gurus there and if they follow orders they must achieve some sort of success, the universe can’t deny them that. The part that should be clear to us, however, is that we are not looking for this kind of rewards and should not be swayed by them. Some brainless celebrity can have a thousand times more followers than all our renegades combined, that does not mean much. We need to follow our guru no matter what. Some other guru having more followers is not a reason for us to doubt ours, and ISKCON is never going to be in danger of losing anyone numerically anyway.

What we need to know is that we can’t make any progress if we deviate even a little from serving our guru. We can see how others make progress elsewhere but that’s them, not us. They can learn to chant, worship the deity, and read books but they will never ever receive the mercy of Śrīla Prabhupāda and advaya-jñāna will never blossom in their hearts. You can see it for yourself if you ever come across them – all they do is talk philosophy and scriptures, accumulation of such mundane knowledge is their substitute for bhakti. The number of disillusioned GM devotees is also relatively high and many of these self-proclaimed real Guaḍiyās have left service to Kṛṣṇa altogether, their offenses have finally caught up to them and no amount of academic knowledge could protect them.

The difficulty is this – they are ostensibly vaiṣṇavas, they chant the holy name, they know the philosophy, the know intricacies of Rādhā-Kṛṣna līlā but they preach to everyone that leaving the guru is acceptable and even desirable, and they call it “real” Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism.

What label to put on them? “Imersonalists”? “Māyāvādīs”? Some form of apa-siddhānta? Which one? Sometimes, if we don’t have the ready label, we might think it’s rather innocent but there’s nothing innocent about disobeying orders of your guru. We can pull up generic quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda but this won’t impress them, no more than aforementioned yasyāpradādān na gatiḥ kutl ‘pi.

In a way they are like that Russian professor of Hindu studies who, when Prabhupāda asked him what happens after death, replied that there’s nothing. People like him know Bhagavad Gītā and can talk about it for hours but they don’t *know* even the most basic spiritual facts, it goes straight past them. What is the value of academic knowledge like that? What is the value of knowing all about Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa līlā if you don’t know you have to serve your guru no matter what?

This rant is not over.

Vanity thought #1393. Gaudiya tree

Officially, our ISKCON is a branch on the Lord Caitanya’s tree of Gauḍīya vaṣṇavism and we are generally happy with this description. “Tree” is a nice analogy but what about the reality? What this “tree” really is at the present moment? What is its position in the universe?

I don’t know the real answers to these questions, they can only be seen by someone with the perfect vision, someone who can see the universe as described in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, for example. The rest of us can only speculate by looking at thin slices of reality through our illusion covered glasses. Since we all see the world subjectively we will never agree on any controversial subject. It’s just not how different people see it and nothing can be done about that, short of changing people’s subjective experiences.

That’s what we do when we preach, btw. We don’t tell people what they already know, we add to their knowledge or we force them to assign different priorities so that they come to new and unexpected for them conclusions. Debating, much less preaching, is not about reconciling divergent views, it’s about attaining a new, superior vision where divergence doesn’t exist in the first place.

There are no such contradictions for Kṛṣṇa Himself, we just have learn to see the world through His eyes and teach others, too. If they refuse this proposal there’s nothing more to talk about. The only thing that matters is how willing they are to accept Kṛṣṇa consciousness, everything else is not only secondary but will follow automatically.

Imagine they have heard a particular argument or a śloka that seemingly goes against our conclusions. This argument can obviously be answered by Kṛṣṇa if they are willing to hear it. If they are, Kṛṣṇa’s material energy will arrange for it. The answer could be manifested in our brains as we struggle to find it or the answer could be manifested in their own hearts and they’ll drop the matter as insignificant. If, however, they insist on rejecting Kṛṣṇa’s message and remain attached to their illusionary view of the world, the illusion will be all they see and no answer will ever register even if it hit them on the head.

It doesn’t mean our preaching efforts are useless and we can safely give them up as soon as going gets tough because everything is pre-determined already. Our preaching is our service and our duty, it should not be contingent on results and we should keep going whether people listen or not. It doesn’t mean we should keep arguing, however. Our service is performed within our hearts, what we do externally is directed by the Supersoul, if He tells us to shut up and move on that’s what we should do, perhaps our services are needed elsewhere or we need some preparation to do.

Where was I, however? It’s not what I was going to write about today.

Ah, yes, the Gauḍīya tree and it’s true position in the world. We don’t know what it is and so I’m prepared to adjust my views in light of any new information. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now and can’t shake off the thought that outside of ISKCON the tree is dead. Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī spent several chapters in Caitanya Caritāmṛta describing this tree and it looked huge, how come I think only ISKCON is still alive?

My argument is two-fold. First, the reality – we don’t know where all these other branches are anymore. Surely Bengal must still have members of the original parivāras but they have utterly discredited themselves more than a hundred years ago. They might pass down initiations but as far as spiritual potency and carrying out the mission of Lord Caitanya is concerned they are invisible and, therefore, non-existent in my view.

I’ve also heard the prophesy that Advaita Ācārya’s branch will remain potent only for the first thirteen generations. That limit has been reached and currently they are in the fourteenth.

What about Gauḍīya Maṭhas? They are still around, why discount them? I’ve even heard them saying that GM now has more temples than under Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī.

Yeah, that may be so, but they are all filled with ex-ISKCON devotees who rejected their gurus and the shelter of the person who saved them all – Śrīla Prabhupāda. That’s where GM’s new numbers and new temples come from, not from peaching by bona fide GM followers.

Somehow they all, both original GM and ex-ISKCON members think that rejecting your guru and going against his orders is a trivial thing to do, and at the same time they pretend to know Gauḍīya siddhānta better than us. Fools, all of them who think this way. I already mentioned it the other day, but a soul who rejects a guru sent by Kṛṣṇa will be cast into guruless wilderness for seven hundred lives. Maybe this number is exaggerated and it’s only ten lives – still about seven hundred years, welcome to hell.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s position is cemented in history, anyone who rejects him or openly disobeys his orders cancels out any opportunity for further spiritual progress (Kṛṣṇa doesn’t take away what has already been achieved). Those who accept association of these people contaminate their own consciousness as well, there’s no getting around this inconvenient fact. This means that whatever spiritual potency that was there in GM stemming from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī is destroyed.

At the end of the day – look at their preaching efforts, whatever momentum they carried over from their ISKCON days is all gone. I just checked activities of the biggest of GM branches and all their news and announcements are about their weekend temple programs and hardly any temple has a website. The place is dead, they can’t and they won’t preach, they’ve become spiritually impotent.

Not all ISKCON devotees leave for GM, for course, in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s days going to “traditional Gauḍīyas” was popular, too, particularly to the brother of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī who was still present then. Over the years these devotees built up significant following but the leaders there got mired in drug use and outright sahajiism, with sex orgies and all. About a decade ago a brilliant scholar rose among them with extensive knowledge of both Gauḍīya texts and Gauḍīya history but then he left for Buddhism, “knowing” siddhānta didn’t save him from losing any taste for devotional service he might acquired in his ISKCON days. In any case, these people can’t even organize and name themselves, to consider them a “branch” would be too generous, nevermind the offense of leaving Śrīla Prabhupāda.

And then there are Vṛindāvana bābājīs who take a considerable amount of ex-ISKCON devotees on a ongoing basis. I don’t know what their service to Lord Caitanya is to begin with. Of course there are several important temples to maintain there but bābājīs are not engaged in that, and beyond that there’s nothing. They are devotees of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇi, they claim. Okay, but what is their service to Lord Caitanya? All I can think of is giving shelter to those who blooped in ISKCON. It’s important, of course, but not nearly as important as establishing yuga dharma for the benefit of the entire world, which is also the service to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇi as well, and they are not doing it. As branches of Gauḍīya tree they are also dead.

And then there are couple of devotees who were never formally in ISKCON and grew influential by themselves. They belong to “traditional” lineage and their personal behavior is exemplary so we cannot say that they are corrupted. The problem with them is that we don’t know how much of their knowledge is taken from their gurus and how much they speculated up themselves by studying śāstras. “Traditional” gurus have not left any records of their teachings or of their understanding of the siddhānta, so we cannot check if their claimed followers are actually following or creating their own tune.

These devotees claim to learn siddhānta straight from the Six Gosvāmīs, or rather from their books. That’s not how paramparā works and so if we come to any disagreement with living representatives of the sampradāya their conclusions should be rejected as lacking guru and sādhu confirmation.

I haven’t even gotten to my second argument, maybe tomorrow, but the conclusion is already obvious – there’s no spiritual progress outside of ISKCON, I just didn’t explain why.

Vanity thought #1225. Geo-devotees

Yesterday I talked about geopolitics, how countries external and internal policies are literally, not just metaphorically, guided by their geography. I don’t think my evidence and arguments were exhaustive and comprehensive but that’ll do for now, someone could write a book on this subject and it would still not be enough. Today I want to get to the meat of the issue – how geography affects devotees.

On one hand, devotees are transcendental by definition. We can also say that because of our residential impurities we might succumb to the control of māyā from time to time and we would see it as inconsequential personal failures. What I’m saying, however, is that we are guided by geography even in our best, most authoritative efforts. I’d be careful to interpret it as if our society is ALWAYS in māyā, I’d say that it’s guided by Lord’s internal potency BUT through the medium of mundane geography.

Well, not only geography, of course, also history and economics and a host of other aspects that define societies and cultures, I mean that quintessentially we, as a society, are guided by material nature, albeit acting on Lord’s orders. Understanding this point should lead, in my opinion, to better understanding of what is more important to our spiritual lives and what is less important, and to better understanding of reasons for our behavior, and to better understanding of who should get the blame, if anyone at all, when things go wrong.

I’ve not discovered anything new, haven’t invented any new arguments either, my conclusion is based entirely on what I have heard from our authorities. We all heard that, I’m just trying to put it into different context and draw attention to, perhaps, unnoticed consequences.

It is possible that logic fails me somewhere or that I missed something equally important but so far it looks good to me, corrections are welcome.

Where to start? Maybe at the beginning. Our ISKCON starts with Śrīla Prabhupāda. Śrīla Prabhupāda started as a son of a merchant from Calcutta. Should we take that into account when talking about spiritual impact of his life? Bear with me. First of all, being born in Calcutta he necessarily grew close to British colonial culture because Calcutta was the capital of British India at that time. Being born into a fairly wealthy family allowed him to receive British education in a British run school. That was important for several reasons.

Not everybody spoke fluent English and among those who did, not many were raised on “British” values and literature. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was one such man and his exposure to western thought and philosophy played a major part in him being able to accomplish what he did. We know him as a topmost devotee, of course, but we should also acknowledge that his career in government service made him a very authoritative figure able to grab attention of highest levels of Hindu society. Had he been a coolie no one would ever listen to him, he wouldn’t be able to write and publish books and so on. His familiarity with western philosophy and ability to transcend it and show how Bhāgavatam would always remain superior also earned him a lot of street cred among Hindus who at the time didn’t know how to respond to overwhelming superiority of the Brits.

For Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, it was his English literary ability that was more important for success of his spiritual mission. He could write and he appreciated books more than anything else, and that was apparently a rare quality among thousands of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī followers. He also spent decades of his life in business and that earned him street smarts that were helpful in running our society later in his life, and also made him realize that the world has changed, find where the winds were blowing, and go with the flow.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī sent his disciples to preach in England and Germany, Brits being the colonial master and the ruler of the world for the past two hundred years, and Germany being very interested in India, Sanskrit, and all things Aryan. Largely, these efforts failed, and for several totally natural reasons. Masters are not keen to be lectured by their subjects and wherever Bhaktisiddhānta’s ambassadors went, they were seen as inherently inferior, as monkeys who’d been taught to mimic people, or as savages who’d been taught some manners. Indians were meant to be servants, not teachers. It was simply impossible to overcome this attitude on a mass scale.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, went to America. By that time it was obvious where the future of the world was and that British Empire was in a steep and irreversible decline. British establishment had nothing to offer to the world but attempts at preserving old traditions and old imperial attitudes. The way forward lied elsewhere. After the World War II it was also very obvious who the winner was. English might have tasted victory but it was the US that emerged incomparably stronger and more powerful in every aspect. Americans controlled the future, and to control the world one must have learned to control Americans.

Śrīla Prabhupāda saw this, no one else in Gauḍīyā Maṭha did, and they were concerned with things other than preaching at that time, what to speak of conquering the whole world. Could they have seen it earlier, when Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was still around? They could, but there were geopolitical reasons why it didn’t happen then.

America was already incredibly strong but had very little interest in India, comparatively speaking, and Indians had very little exposure to the US. Indian political discourse was dominated by their relations to Britain, Britain was their chief adversary, they simply didn’t see anything else and they thought that Britain needed to be conquered first.

I guess it was possible for them to predict that Indians would never be able to convince British of superiority of Gauḍīyā Vaiṣṇavism on any scale but they HAD TO try first, there needed be a failed mission to England just to be sure.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, when his time came, had all this experience before him already. It wasn’t just failure, or rather modest success of the previous mission, but the whole experience, all kinds of issues and impediments that became clearly visible to him but were concealed from devotees who tried it first.

Money wasn’t the issue, for example, but adopting local culture and rituals was. Devotees sent by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta tried to fit in to, presumably, gain the trust of their hosts, and it didn’t work. Perhaps they thought that they were impervious to contamination but they were wrong. Of course we know that one must always maintain utmost humility and never think he can withstand material temptations on his own, but it’s quite another thing to learn this humility first hand, from actual failures.

Śrīla Prabhupāda saw it with his own eyes, devotees who trail-blazed it before him went down in flames. In retrospect, their sacrifice was necessary, I’m sure Kṛṣṇa has forgiven them and accepted their sacrifice even if it didn’t go as well as expected. Yes, hearts were affected, offenses were made, lots of other inauspicious things followed, but they tried it for Kṛṣṇa, for Lord Caitanya’s glory. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Lord had no grudge whatsoever and saw unfortunate consequences as an extraneous and unavoidable outcome. We need to know that Kṛṣṇa consciousness couldn’t be spread by fork wielding, tux wearing devotees speaking with posh accent. That was not so obvious then, someone had to volunteer and fail.

I think that’s enough for today, it’s a big topic, and I haven’t even gotten to Prabhupāda’s arrival in the West yet.

Vanity thought #919. Disappearance day

Today is the disappearance day of three prominent vaiṣṇavas – Śri Puruṣottama Dāsa Ṭhākura, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, and Gour Govinda Svāmī. It’s not usual for me to write about vaiṣṇava holidays like that but these devotees were truly special.

I don’t know anything about Puruṣottama Ṭhākura, apparently he was an associate of Lord Nityānanda and was one of twelve cowherd boys of Vṛndāvana but that’s all I know. Had I been a real member of Gauḍīyā family it would have made sense for me to learn the names of all the “relatives” but… they don’t know me, I don’t know them. In big picture view I’m one of those mlecchas saved by Śrīla Prabhupāda, a faceless name or a nameless face, one in the crowd. I wasn’t even saved by Prabhupāda but by his followers but that doesn’t really matter.

ISKCON is better defined by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, whose disappearance is also today. Why not Śrīla Prabhupāda? Isn’t he our founder ācārya? Isn’t it disrespectful to him? I hope not, not today. In a big family of Lord Caitanya we, ISKCON, take a very special place, not like any others, and it was Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta who was responsible for this differentiation. He was the one who established our understanding of siddhānta and our sādhana, Śrīla Prabhupāda just faithfully transplanted it to the West. There are only minor differences in rituals between us and Gaudīyā Maṭha but philosophically we are exactly the same, with same values and same moods in our service – preaching first, and nothing else is really important.

Of course modern day Gaudīyā Maṭha devotees might not look exactly like us but that’s the thing I wanted to talk about today – how and why they changed so much after Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s disappearance.

They had a troublesome history after him, much worse than anything that ever happened in ISKCON, and they didn’t survive. Well, of course they still have many temples but they are not united as an organization and they have long forgotten their preaching mission. Influx of ex-ISKCON devotees has livened up things a bit but after departure of Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja they’ve gone very quiet again, just as they were when Śrīla Prabhupāda brought his dancing white elephants from the West and turned Mayapur upside down.

Incidentally, in Transcendental Diaries Hari Śauri Prabhu describes how ISKCON devotees forgot to sent out invitations for Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s disappearance day and no one came, our big temple was practically empty save for the residents and visiting western devotees and Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t like that at all, of course. It was not how festivals were usually celebrated there even in those days. I hope there were plenty of people in our temple there today.

So, what happened to Gaudīyā Maṭha after Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s departure? How could they disintegrate from the most dynamic preaching movement in Indian history into a loose collection of unrelated and often hostile temples? The obvious answer, of course, is that they didn’t follow the order to establish a Governing Body Committee but rather tried to select a single successor ācārya. What happened is that if no one was really qualified they didn’t actually have an ācārya and without an ācārya to lead the way they quickly got lost.

Having your own understanding of devotional service and your own ideas how to serve the Lord, however solid, is not enough. One must follow the footsteps of a guru, that’s the only way we, conditioned souls, can do the right thing. No matter how much we know we won’t get anywhere on our own, and, conversely, no matter how inadequate a guru might appear, following him would bring us success. It’s a paradox that not many in our society are ready to admit.

One could object – but most Gaudīyā Maṭha devotees followed their guru(s) even after his departure! That’s not entirely true – they followed self-appointed ācāryas, and to the degree they accepted those ācāryas bogus authority they strayed from the path laid down by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta.

What concerns me more, however, is why it happened at all. There were problems while Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was still present and sometimes Śrīla Prabhupāda said that internal squabbles was one of the reasons for his guru’s early departure – he was only sixty-two years old, nothing by the standards set by devotees in our sampradāya, but his leading disciples were spotless according to all available evidence. Yet it was those exemplary devotees who strayed away from their guru’s orders. Why? What changed?

What is it in our psyche that suddenly gives in as soon as our immediate authority leaves? One minute they know everything, next minute they get carried away. And they really knew stuff, realized it rather than understood it on the mental level. Their love for their guru was real and their dedication to service was unquestionable. Even when Maṭha was falling apart they didn’t stop their service, even when they were ostracized and exiled from their community they still didn’t stop their service. Those were real devotees if not liberated souls already, yet they brought entire Gaudīyā Maṭha to its knees. That’s not what they ever wanted, not what they ever contemplated, not what they ever suspected they would do.

We must search our hearts deep and wide for these traces of betrayal, they are there, we aren’t special, but we must guard ourselves from ever letting them grow. Personally, I think the first sign is the belief that we can serve Kṛṣṇa on our own, that we’ve got all education from our guru we need and now can lead the way ourselves. That never happens, it’s only an illusion.

Our Śrīla Prabhupāda was undisputed leader of ISKCON with absolute authority in all matters but he never ever saw himself as independent of his guru’s orders in any possible way. He might not have said it every time he opened his mouth but we’d be foolish to think of him as a man who achieved his powerful position trough his own efforts, that he “deserved” his glory. We will never ever deserve anything in our devotional lives, and neither did Prabhupāda, guru’s mercy is causeless no matter how great we are, and once we get it, it still isn’t ours, it’s always our guru’s.

In the material world we always appear to have some position and some power to control things, that’s what being a conditioned soul means, and we can use this power for good, which is great, but as devotees we are always lowest of the lowest with infinitely small claims to anything. Once we forget that and confuse our spiritual position with our temporary material empowerment we are doomed.

That’s what I think happened to Gaudīyā Maṭha – they misunderstood their material relationships with the world around them for their true spiritual nature. They thought that if they had transferred temple properties and temple authority into their names they’d become owners, free to do whatever they want, blessed with spiritual powers. That’s how it works on the material level but not in our service to Kṛṣṇa, which is thankfully free from any such contaminations.

There’s not a shred of hypocrisy or selfishness in real devotees, otherwise guru and Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t be worthy of worship, they’d be just ordinary materialistic rulers no different from demigods or politicians. What I mean to say is that we can put a label “guru” or “Kṛṣṇa” on anything but it won’t make it spiritual, only selfless devotion would, and that’s how we can separate real bhakti from cheap imitations.

Anyway, today is also disappearance day of Gour Govinda Svāmī. I’ve never met him personally and I only vaguely remember half-listening to his lectures in Bhubaneshvar a couple of weeks before his departure. We left for Mayapur and he left for Vṛndāvana, so to speak. I still didn’t know what I missed. It’s not until his lectures became available on the Internet that I realized that I was in the presence of a pure devotee. Well, I could see him on the vyāsāsana even from very far away and he could have seen my face, so technically “in the presence”.

We never know the value of things given to us until they are taken away, and that is doubly true for vaiṣṇavas – we never appreciate true value of their association until it’s too late.

Oh well, life goes on, there are lessons to be learned and service to be served, we can express our deepest gratitude even when vaiṣṇavas are no longer present, just be careful about not missing the next chance.

Vanity thought #351. Firm faith or madness?

Recently I came across a biography of Ananta Vasudeva Prabhu (pdf). He was one of the leading disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati but later played a leading role in splitting Gaydia Math instead.

Contrary to the orders of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati he got voted as an acharya, the other group didn’t accept his win and the rest is history. Disregard for the orders of the guru is, of course, a serious offense and, perhaps, was a reason that a few years down the road Ananta Vasudeva Prabhu, at that time a sannyasi, apparently lost his direction and lost his taste for devotional service, too. Or so he said.

Publicly he laid all the blame on his guru, actually he declared that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was an impostor who had never been connected to the parampara and never had any spiritual power.

He then renounced his renunciation, got married and retired from managing “his” part of Gayudia Math. He spent last years of his life living in Vrindavan and translating works of the Six Goswamis. Our Srila Prabhupada, however, had forbidden us to read anything written by him, saying that his attitude towards his guru had poisoned everything that he wrote.

There’s even a famous conversation in which Srila Prabhupada described Ananta Vasudeva’s eventual death as less than flattering. I don’t know if that is what really happened. Prabhupada himself lived in Vrindavan in those days and I seriously doubt he made that story up. There’s no way to know for sure but, as his followers, we should take Prabhupada’s word as truth.

And this is why I find that biography so interesting. It was written by a disciple of Ananta Vasudeva and in it he completely ignores all the impropriety on behalf of his spiritual master. The fact of renouncing Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati is not mentioned at all as if it had never happened. Instead there’s a collection of quotes from Ananta Vasudeva displaying his deep faith and devotion to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.

Where people might call Ananta Vasudeva’s marriage a falldown, the disciple describes it as a “lila” and draws parallels with marriages of Lord Nityananda, Srinivasa Acharya and Raghunatha Puri, the latter one also apparently had given up his sannyasa vows despite being an eternal Krishna’s associate.

There’s no mention of any episodes with poison, of course.

All in all I’m left quite puzzled by all this. On one hand we have undeniable facts. On the other hand we have a disciple blissfully oblivious to the “truth” and glorifying his master in every way imaginable.

Is it madness or is it display of firm, unflinching faith in guru and Krishna?

On that note – what are we supposed to think about Moon landing controversy or, indeed, about Prabhupada’s version of Ananta Vasudeva’s death? Right now I’m inclined to stick with the words of the guru and let the rest of the world think whatever it wants.

Oh, and no matter what Ananta Vasudeva did or didn’t do we are in no position to criticize his personality. We can learn all the necessary lessons from his life without ever passing judgment. Which again leads me to think that the disciple’s view of his guru’s life was, indeed, correct.

Vanity thought #344. Reasons for a change – past and present

Continuing about inevitability of change – I think I see some emerging signs for it already. I think there are three major catalysts of change currently at work – complacency, untapped markets, and the general degradation.

Seventy-eighty years ago Gaudiya Math was unstoppable juggernaut rolling over the society. It was lead by an illustrious acharya, it was growing at tremendous speed and it was all over the place. They got complacent, they couldn’t imagine that eventually someone else would have to take over. I’m not saying they were proud, they simply couldn’t think about deterioration, in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s time it was unthinkable, he wouldn’t have let it happen.

Then there was a period of turmoil following his departure and we generally explain it by their failing to appoint a GBC but seemingly stalwart, highly dedicated, highly educated, highly experienced devotees showed signs of weakness, too. At the height of Gaudia Math glory they didn’t see it yet, in that sense they got complacent.

Are we in the same position? On one hand ISKCON managed to survive the years following Prabhupada’s departure, put that period behind us and move forward. Even without Prabhupada our society has grown in leaps and bounds, especially in India and former Soviet block countries.

We don’t face any serious challenges anymore, ISKCON downfall is simply unthinkable, and that’s what makes us complacent, too.

Maybe our Temple of Vedic Planetarium won’t become our Bag-Bazaar, let’s hope so, but there’s no rule that it couldn’t happen, either.

I’m not preaching doom and gloom, by change I mean someone else will come along and do things better than us – how’s that a bad thing?

Back in the last century Gaudiya Maths conquered India, more or less, there were probably pockets of resistance here and there but it was a matter of mopping up, simply applying the already proven model.

The West, by contrast, remained an enigma. First attempts at preaching there weren’t as successful and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was busy with other things so it basically fell off the map. It’s not like there were looking at this new, exciting market and had no idea what to do, they simply forgot about it. From pocket of resistance it turned into a blind spot.

Srila Prabhupada changed all that, of course.

Coming back to our time – do we have such blind spots ourselves? Well, if we could see them they wouldn’t be called blind spots, would they? There are areas where we haven’t made much progress and there are entire generations of people who don’t really know who we are anymore.

Many would probably disagree but here’s an interesting tool – a chart showing occurrences of word “Krishna” in books indexed by Google. There’s a sharp drop in the past twenty years and we are already below pre-Prabhupada levels.

Try it for yourself here

This is another example of our growing complacency. We clearly have millions and billions of people to preach to or at least to remind of our existence but somehow it doesn’t work. Why?

I think it’s because of the third reason – general degradation. Every generation refuses to admit it but the further Krishna Consciousness spreads, the worse the quality of its new converts. I refuse to agree that it’s worse in absolute terms, but from the previous generation point of view it’s clearly going downhill.

Two-three hundred years ago it was not unusual for devotees to directly enter Krishna’s pastimes. A hundred years ago Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati sill gave a few siddha-pranali initiations but that didn’t go anywhere. In ISKCON it’s simply unthinkable – see the trend?

A hundred years ago traditional brahmanas didn’t consider Gaudiya Math initiations as genuine and wouldn’t allow Gaudiyas anywhere near their own deities. At least they let them to enter the temples, but not us, westerners – see the trend?

Reading some of the comments and articles on ISKCON forums there’s a whole new slice of the population that is unacceptable by our standards and they shouldn’t be allowed in until they purify their existence. We think if we manage to follow our regulative principles we are already purified, but that’s by our standards, previous generations are still occasionally appalled at our behavior.

Similarly, when we look at the outsiders we can’t accept the possibility that they would become genuine devotees without giving up their bad habits, and that’s another sign that someone else would probably come and engage them in the mission of Lord Chaitanya and they will be as dear to Krishna as any of us or any of our predecessors.

To sum it up – the change is looming, and it’s going to be for the better, to bring Krishna Consciousness to even more people than at the present moment. We might get bypassed but it’s okay, we shouldn’t hoard all the glory to ourselves like pigs, we better be ready to help and to serve, and pray for the mercy of the new devotees so that we get a chance to help in spreading Lord Chaitanya’s mission, too.

He accepts anybody giving his life for him, pure or impure, perfect or imperfect, He is the most munificent avatar.

It would also be entirely Gaudiya, rupanuga spirit to step back and let Krishna enjoy accepting service from new devotees.

Vanity thought #228. Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji.

Yesterday I had to travel to the city and I came back later than usual, by the time I got to sit down and type this blog entry my head had simply shut down, as if it ran out of batteries, so I resume this the first thing in the morning.

Before leaving the house yesterday I prepared all the materials about Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji I could lay my hands on and I read about half of it, thus Gaurakishora’s pastimes were playing in my mind all the way through, until the hustle and bustle of the city took over. When I was back, finally, I felt drained of any spiritual enthusiasm and that was another reason I didn’t have the presence of mind to type this blog when it was due.

But here I am, ready to restore myself and record some of my thoughts on his amazing life.

First, let’s start with the sources – they are mostly anonymous, in a sense that “I heard it from the authorities such as my guru or senior devotees.” There’s, however, English translation of the official Gaudiya Math biography compiled by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s disciples in 1934 that was based on the series of articles written under the guidance of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati himself, those were published in 1919.

Other sources of stories and facts from Gaurakishora’s life that are not mentioned in the official version could be memories of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati that didn’t make it to the publisher or maybe they were handed down by other people who knew Gaurakishora. They appear to be safe and reliable but we should be aware of the split in the Gaudiya Vaishnava community that was caused, let’s face it, by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati relentless preaching effort.

One way or another the “traditional” babaji communities in both Vrindavana and Mayapur felt as being under fire and they stroke back. Bhaktisiddhanta’s own brother, Lalita Prasad, split, too, and they left in transcendental acrimony, not to be comprehended by mere mortals like us but up to this day there are rumors based on Lalita Prasad’s evidence that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati wasn’t properly initiated by Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. That’s a whole another controversy that modern day cyber warriors are trying to flame, mostly to justify their leaving the shelter of Srila Prabhupada and getting initiated at Radha Kunda, I suppose.

Short clearance on the names – Srila Prabhupada means AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, not Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, not the way Gaudiya Math followers use this title. They have their rights, we have our own.

Full names of our acharyas are meant to inspire respect and devotion and so should not be shortened but they often break the flow of the story and so occasionally, as little as possible, I feel I have no better way than shorten them up to one word. Terribly sorry, no disrespect meant in any way. Maybe one day I will finally develop a different value system to judge my posts where I could dismiss all the bla bla bla and only count Krishna’s names in between, the system Srila Bhaktisiddhanta used when his disciples asked him to comment on their writings, but until that day comes I still think that the story should be readable and thoughts should not be broken, hence the name shortening, only when I feel it’s absolutely necessary.

Anyway, the babaji community has their own “rights” on Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji, he was one of them in every respect. If their modern day followers bring up some facts missed by Gaudiya Math they could be tainted with spite stemming from that hundred year old split but it seems that in this particular case this is not an issue. I should also mention that Navadwipa had it’s own set of babajis and traditional goswamis who had no love for Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and, at one point, even conspired to have him assassinated.

Some of them laid their claims to Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babajii’s body after he passed away and there’s a story of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati chasing them away with a stick. In another rendition he reminded them that any brahmana who had sex with a prostitute in the past twenty four hours should be considered unclean so those contaminated should step away. When they complied no one was left to argue any further. Modern day followers of those folks dispute this story, of course, and they also claim to have found the evidence that Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji had four disciples, including a married couple, but Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was not on the list.

I’m saying that there’s lots of stuff floating around that an objective researcher should give some weight. We are not objective, however, we are extremely partisan. Objectivity will not grant us the mercy of our acharyas and it will not grant us devotion to Krishna, partisanship will. Let’s also keep in mind that, in the end, partisanship will also clear up all our misgivings and doubts and let us see the events as they actually happened, without any controversies left. Objectivists hope they will reach that same vision by careful research, we will reach that vision by being steady in our devotion to the words of our gurus. As a bonus we will also develop love of God, what will they develop?

Also I should mention that the introduction to the official biography gave my mind a couple of reasons to think some parts of it were written as a snub to ISKCON devotees. Shame on my devious mind, it is clear from the site’s mission statement that they want to focus only on positive sides of Gaudiya Vaishnava legacy. Maybe the execution is not perfect yet, maybe it’s just my mind searching for conflicts where there aren’t any. Either way, what I’m trying to say is that there still exists a great deal of animosity between various branches of Lord Chaitanya’s tree. Some of it might be unjustified but we should always be aware of the potential contamination when we do any cross-readings, because much of the fighting has very solid reasons behind it.

I don’t believe in “kumbalaya”, all of us holding hands and singing. As much as it was Lord Chaitanya’s goal we should also be aware that there’s no equality in this world. Some people make more mistakes in their spiritual lives due to our different grades of material contamination and until we reach the stage of paramahamsas, the stage of not seeing any material inequalities at all, we shouldn’t try and imitate it.

Basically, we shouldn’t be chanting and glorifying the Holy Names or the memories of our acharyas, as is in this case, in a company of people who refuse to recognize their offences, we could do so only on the occasions when the sincere desire to purify ourselves is clear in the hearts of all participants. Anyone joining the kirtan with the attitude of moral and spiritual superiority is just wasting everybody’s time, such chanting is only for show, there’s no unity in pride, it won’t become a sankirthana, translated as either complete or as congregational chanting.

Perhaps we should take lessons on this from the life Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji himself who was often accompanied by less than honest, wannabe devotees pretending to be his close associates. He didn’t chase them away, he was mostly indifferent to their presence and didn’t display any enthusiasm for their association.

And just as I turned to the actual life of Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji I run our of space for my one day contributions. I will continue later on today, as this article was me paying my debt for the previous day.