Vanity thought #1642. Zooming out

According to my last post, the current turmoil in Māyāpura is caused by differences in our bodies and in our bodily perceptions. These differences didn’t appear magically but they have been governing our behavior our entire lives and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

White devotees will remain white and they will always consider themselves superior to Indians by the dint of being from the first world. Indians have their own take on the situation and see themselves as superior to white devotees because ISKCON in the West is in decline. White devotees might appear as being from the first world to them but in real life they have only advertising value when Indians come to other Indians to collect donations. “Look how cute they are, don’t you want to sponsor training them yourself? It’s our duty as Indians to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness and we in ISKCON are very successful at it, so give us the money.”

Of course I’m overly cynical here and I hope none of our Indian devotees would ever actually say such things in public but that’s how it looks from their material perspective and that’s the vision our sponsor can share, too. Westerners import Indians to server as pūjārīs, as I said, but Indians import westerners to collect donations for their training, like an expensive breed of dogs. It’s just what often happens whether we talk about it or not.

At this point it’s very important to avoid the temptation and criticize any of the sides to this conflict. This dynamic in the relationships is not caused by anyone in particular, nor even by ISKCON, it’s only a local manifestation of a deeper, long festering discord sowed in the society by Kali yuga.

We did not invent the first world – third world dichotomy. Devotees from former USSR used to be lumped with third world when they came to Māyāpura festivals and where offered special prices but I don’t think this policy is still in place. This discrimination only reflects the material differences across the globe. White people have more money and they can, therefore, consume more services. Even Prabhupāda acknowledged this special power of his western disciples, thought he obviously used this for their spiritual advantage.

Since the 70s, however, the material world has changed. There’s still the division into first world and developing countries but the differences are becoming blurred and supremacy of the western civilization often openly challenged. Muslims with their ISIS is probably the prime example but China and Russia are losing their respect for the West, too. They have seen it, tasted it, and found their own way better.

I think India is on the way to the same discovery, too, even if they still consider British and Americans to be inherently superior. Some people there are more advanced than others but even those who do not realize how utterly corrupt western societies are can listen to Americans glorifying themselves only for so long before the resentment settles in.

Iraq war was probably the biggest turning point that destroyed West’s moral authority but it was only a one step in the long journey. Feminism and emancipation have run into pushbacks and gay rights even more so. The media might report on progress and westerners might give out Nobel prizes to girls like Malala but there’s a large segment of third world population that is having none of it, it’s just no one ever speaks for them in the media.

There’s pushback in the West itself, too – just look at success of Donald Trump or rising nationalistic movements in Europe. The days of unrestrained “progress” are almost over and the utopia that has been sold to the public for half a century is getting stale. European Union’s very existence is under real stress and American Dream is getting further and further from the reality.

Trump might be seen very negatively by the progressives but the fact is that Democrat’s possible contender for the presidential post, Hillary Clinton, is very unlikable, too. She has many detractors who see her as lying, unprincipled politician who cannot be trusted, and many of these detractors are themselves progressives, too!

Hillary Clinton in many ways exemplifies the brand of progress that has been pushed on the society for decades now. By typical progressive standards she says all the right things and supports all the right values but there’s a loss of faith in this model of progress itself and it’s not only Americans who have noticed it.

There’s also the perception that current US president is weak and lacks a backbone. He shies away from confrontations and countries all around the world are taking advantage of it. Russians took Crimea, for example, while Chinese are taking over contested islands in the South China sea. Turks are attacking Kurds despite American objections. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are both sponsoring ISIS. Israeli Prime Minister openly snubbed Obama and went to speak in front of Republican dominated Congress instead. Egypt had an outright military coup where the army deposed a democratically elected leader and slaughtered over a thousand of his supporters and the US eventually accepted it just fine.

In this atmosphere white people lecturing others on how to live their lives are not viewed very favorably. Hardly anyone takes their talk about democracy and human rights at the face value, it’s not the 90s anymore. One look at the US presidential campaign and people think that Americans have gone total nuts, and everyone is aware of the possibility of American sponsored “regime changes” for those who don’t toe the line.

My point is that being white used to be an advantage but not anymore, the world is more nuanced now. White people should be very aware of what they say and to who, they have billions of potential enemies who would snatch any opportunity to put self-righteous to the point of being obnoxious white men in their place. Some would chop their heads off, some would take their money, but everyone would use their available means.

It’s the side-effect of promoting democracy and rights – you can’t mistreat those who you preach to, they will use these same rights to push you back.

So the point today is that our little conflict in Māyāpura plays out according to general plan set for the Kali yuga, it’s not this or that person’s fault, it’s not even the fault of devotees from this or that country, it’s the Earth-wide natural animosity. We are being driven to fight with each other by hundreds of years of history so we shouldn’t take it seriously but rather tolerate it like we should tolerate changing seasons. It’s not who we are and it has nothing to do with us and our spiritual lives.

Advertisements

Vanity thought #1536. Cycle of violence

I usually ignore popular tragedies such as the latest terror attacks in Paris, precisely because they are popular. For a few days it becomes fashionable to express solidarity with the victims regardless of how one feels and politicians, the heartless creatures without a shadow of empathy, come forward and offer fake condolences. I prefer to tune out.

There are plenty of ordinary people who do sincerely feel the tragedy, of course, but all I notice about them is spamming twitter and news feeds with endless RIPs, which becomes a meaningless information. What do they think they contribute? Do they think at all? Nope, they just want to see their name and avatar up there with everyone else.

This time, however, I want to say something about this terror and get it off my chest. I would probably lack empathy here myself, I haven’t read the detailed accounts of the tragedy yet, I don’t feel it, it’s still only news to me. TBH, I hope the news cycle moves onto something else before I realize the full horror of this experience for someone who went through it. It would be unsettling, the mind would go crazy and would be impossible to control, and I don’t want that.

Does it make me insensitive? Probably, but I’d rather stick with our ācāryas then join in mass psychosis. People, however, expect us to put our religion aside for a while and get serious. Of course “serious” is what they feel, they don’t care how it feels to devotees, or to any rational, level-headed person out there.

This time they might break out of the mold but typically what happens next is this – people unite in grief, they select an icon, maybe a song or a “Je suis Charlie” slogan, they march around, display their unity, and then slowly resume their lives. Experience changes them but nothing useful comes out of it, especially from Kṛṣṇa consciousness POV.

So far it goes according to the plan, at least on the politicians’ side. Three days of mourning have been declared, ISIS has been blamed, fight has been declared, and world leaders sent condolences and messages of outrage. Next should be marching and uniting around something symbolic. “Friday the 13th” is probably not the best choice, though.

They might have the biggest march in Paris ever, the Americans will probably send someone important for a change, and they might even let Putin walk along for a while, but then what? It hasn’t been a year since the last march, what’s the point of all this walking?

“Unity”, they say, that will show them. That will show them what? They have seen it all already, not impressed. I think they have these marches to convince themselves rather than send a message to terrorists. Terrorists have already got it, big march means they need a bigger response, because marching crowds are not very good listeners.

Unity means lack of diversity and intolerance of other ideas. It would be impossible to talk about these attacks with an attitude different from the one adopted by the marching society, just as it’s impossible to talk about 9/11 in the US without expressing pain for the innocent victims. The discussion on why Al-Qaeda didn’t think they were innocent but legitimate targets is impossible unless one takes a firm position that they were innocent first. Same is happening in France now and same thing happened in Charlie Hebdo attacks, too.

Unity means it’s “you either with us or against us” moment, and they don’t pause for a second to realize that it makes them look just like the Bush they love to hate so much. When Bush said it he was reckless and stupid, when they say it you’d better toe the line and do it quick, no hesitation allowed.

Logic, reason, cool head – those things get forgotten, they remember them only when it’s time to bash religionists. Oh well, human nature is prone to such mistakes, can’t blame them, but then they wake up next day and start droning how their “scientific method” has eliminated human subjectivity.

When they were walking around with “Je suis Charlie” they didn’t want to hear how their enemies will not take it gladly and will retaliate with great force, now that time has come, it happened, and they are going for exactly the same response hoping that this time the result will be different. It won’t, it would only escalate because they haven’t addressed the root causes of their problems.

It’s Kali yuga, people can’t control their senses, they want things beyond what is ordained by their karma, they want more than the Lord has provided, and so there’s a great imbalance in the world between resources and demands. Then they naturally clash because resources are limited and their demands overlap. Islamists have big appetites, too, everyone is affected. They want to live in Europe and enjoy European standards of living and when they don’t get them they lash out at their hosts, and they don’t even treat them as hosts anymore but as service providers.

French and other Europeans, for their part, invented this multicultural, democratic utopia that doesn’t exist. They do not realize that the whole world can’t live like them. They built their empires on the backs of Africans, Arabs, and Indians so that they get to enjoy fruits of labor provided by black and brown skinned people. I don’t have numbers for Europe but it is often said that Americans have only 5% of world population and consume 25% of world’s resources. It is obviously impossible for the other 95% to have the same level of consumption, and yet this is what “democracy” and “multiculturalism” implies. Nope, only selected few can afford to live like that, the rest must be excluded. Of course “multiculturalism” is not about economics per se but its underlying assumption is that they can provide same economic benefits to all regardless of their cultures.

Or we can look at immediate causes of these attacks – revenge for bombing ISIS in Syria. And how did this ISIS become so big that it’s necessary to bomb them? Because French (and Americans, of course) wanted to overthrow the SECULAR regime of Bashar al Assad there and got regional Arabs to sponsor anti-Assad forces, which they did – by inviting all kinds of jihadists and arming them to the teeth. French were cheering this war all along, on the jihadist side, and now it turned back on them just like Bin Laden did to Americans. The history only repeats itself with minor variations.

And now they report that the symbol has been chosen – an Eiffel Tower fashioned as a peace sign. I wonder if they’ll be ready to march by Sunday.

Hmm, they are dong stupid things and harm themselves in the long term but they really really want it – that’s how karma works, and there’s no escape.

There’s no solution to this crisis, both sides are intent on consuming the whole world and it’s simply impossible, and they are not going to curb their appetites either.

Vanity thought #1243. On the future

Weekends are days when I’m so engrossed with mundane matters that I can’t honestly speak on things related to Kṛṣṇa, I probably shouldn’t even try. First reaction to this is instead write about something else and then find a way to somehow turn it towards Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Is it a cheap, insincere trick? Not really, I do try to see outside world form Kṛṣṇa conscious POV, I hope that whatever I do notice does come from something related to the Lord. Since I spent much of the past week discussing geopolitics, I couldn’t help but notice how geopolitics could help us understand the world around us and, especially, our future.

Generally, we shouldn’t worry too much about it. Things will happen on their own terms, we are just powerless observers and at best we could hope to be used as Kṛṣṇa’s tools. If that happens to be the case we should appreciate Kṛṣṇa’s energy working for His pleasure, otherwise she can do whatever she wants, it has nothing to do with us. There’s a nexus, however, between our spiritual duties and natural course of events. We want to be active ingredients, we want to leave our mark on the world, we want to shape events, we commit ourselves, we invest our energy, focus our consciousness. Do we create new karma in the process? Quite possibly.

Actions in Kṛṣṇa consciousness should not result in karmic reactions but that depends on purity of our intentions. If we want to control the world, we are bound to experience the results. Dhruva Mahārāja was successful in his search for the Lord but his initial intentions caused him to be stuck without Lord’s association for thousands of years. We can guess why the Lord imposed such conditions on him but in any case we should be careful with our material desires, the Lord might compel us to see them fulfilled instead of taking us back home.

So, we want to establish worldwide varṇāśrama. We are ready to commit ourselves, we take is as our mission, we tell ourselves that establishing varṇāśrama was half of Prabhupāda’s work and so we need to continue with it. Some are not so enthusiastic about it and we view them as not respecting Prabhupāda’s wishes and lacking faith in the words of our ācāryas. Whatever pure devotee wants, Kṛṣṇa will see it happen, we say. Our choice is to be a part of it or to stand by the side and miss all the mercy.

Okay, I might return to that, but let’s look at the world around us and see where it is going and whether we have a real chance to take over.

Recently I saw a panel of pundits discussing post Charlie Hebdo situation, they raised important questions and they were cautious enough with sweeping answers, which drew my attention. However, they obviously didn’t look at it form a “geopolitical” point of view. I’ve used that word so many times it already annoys me but I haven’t fount any better yet.

So, the Muslim problem. It practically doesn’t exist in the US but causes so much trouble in France. Why? Obama, in his recent meeting with British Prime Minister, rightly stirred the debate towards the question of nationalism. American Muslims, he said, are American. French Muslims, OTOH, are not French. This puzzled the panel a bit but the answer was so painfully near I would have phoned the studio if I was into that kind of political enthusiasm.

From European point of view, which gave us the rise of nation states, the US isn’t truly a nation. European national identity is a product of geography, culture, and history. The US is just over two hundred years old but even that history is restricted to the original WASP population. Blacks have become part of that history a hundred and fifty years ago, through the civil war, and immigrants were joining in as they arrived. Great Depression, WWII, civil rights movement – save for the very recent arrivals, there’s something that can unite everybody, but not around national identity, around abstract, ethnically agnostic values. Apart from freedoms, American Dream is open to everybody, and they call it a melting pot for a reason.

French history, OTOH, goes back thousands of years. The current core values were forged around the time of the US war for independence but, unlike the US, there was no equivalent of Martin Luther King to contribute anything significant in the very recent past. If you weren’t around at the end of the 18th century you missed everything that really matters. Muslim immigrants, comprising ten percent of the population now, weren’t there. They weren’t there for the world wars either. They have no history of any significance to share, they can’t become French in true sense of French national identity. Christians, who sacrificed so much during the revolution, made their uneasy peace with secular society, Muslims didn’t have time yet.

Or look at the UK – Muslims arrived there around the same time as they did in France, the are all post-colonial immigrants. They do not share in legends of the King Arthur, Magna Carta means nothing to them, and neither does eternal rivalry with Germany or suspicion of everything continental. British national identity is shaped by victories in wars that Muslims didn’t fight in. Even if they happily identify themselves as British Muslims, terms like “English Muslim” or “Scottish Muslims” are unthinkable. Good thing that the UK is a union, French are not so lucky.

Now take Germany – they national history also goes back at least a thousand years but recently their national identity has been influenced not by victories but by defeats. They were forced to redefine themselves around values brought to them by winners. Victorious nations like US and UK could say “whatever we do, is right, just, and moral” while Germans were forced to think “whatever we did was wrong, whatever we want to do, we should run it by Americans first”. When Muslims arrived in Germany during this period of soul searching they joined in almost immediately, it has become part of the shared history and part of their national identity as “German Muslims”.

I am not sure about numbers but what I heard on TV is that 60% of German Muslims consent to gay marriage vs 0% of Muslims in the UK. I hope these numbers are right and so perfectly illustrate power of history and geography over people’s thinking. If they are wrong, I’ve seen some others that might not be as striking but confirm the same point in a slightly different way – differences between Muslim opinions in Europe follow differences between white people opinions. They do not live in isolation, the world around them influences them perhaps more than their interpretations of Koran.

The same is true about us, too. We want varṇāśrama, right? Well, there would be no gay marriage and women’s rights there. Our proposals would be completely unacceptable to the modern society. What will happen then? Does anyone really think we’ll have it easier than Muslims? Does anyone think we will be allowed to build our own communities based around traditional “subjugation” of women? If we do manage to create some sort of a country or a real political entity with our cow based economy, it wouldn’t be allowed to survive. It wouldn’t be allowed to be born in the first place.

First thing that would happen is that atheists would start practicing their freedoms – half naked, bra-less women frolicking the streets, unrestricted, in your face criticism of the devotees and the scriptures, and lots of other things that would not allow vaiṣṇava culture to survive on any scale.

What would happed if we insist on enforcing our rules? War. Forcing us to accept their ways and forcing them to accept ours will quickly escalate into violent confrontation – just look at what happens to Muslims, it’s a perfect blueprint for trying to establish our own way of life.

Fact of the matter is, varṇāśrama is impossible in the current, west dominated world. Perhaps Muslims should slug it out first, let them and the atheists destroy each other, perhaps the world would emerge far more tolerant after that. Then we might have a real chance.

Luckily, our own numbers are so small that we can fly under the radar for a long time to come, and our numbers are probably big enough to sustain ourselves. It means that all my speculations about future do not change anything, except, perhaps, subdue our appetite for worldwide varṇāśrama revolution. Let’s start small first.

Vanity thought #1235. Implications

So yesterday I tried to show how success and even the very existence of our GBC is owed to Kali Yuga progressing faster and in a different way in the West. To recap – Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī thought (allegedly) that his spiritual organization needed modern management structure and he used Indian Railways as a blueprint. Perhaps there were other British run companies in India that provided a model of management by committee, I heard only about railways. Unfortunately, it didn’t work in India itself, the culture and expectations were too different, but western based ISKCON embraced the idea and eventually made it work.

Let’s think what it means to us, what are the implications of GBC being a geopolitical necessity. To begin with, GBC is a spiritually empowered organization that can’t do anything wrong by definition. Had it been an appointed ācārya we would have accepted this fact as we accepted infallibility of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Perhaps some would have questioned the qualifications of the successor ācārya, these days people openly examine, question, and reject their gurus, nothing is sacred, but, in general, we would have some sort of a Hare Kṛṣṇa Pope.

When we have committee, however, infallibility is harder to accept. Committees make rational decisions based on knowledge and experience and so as long as we have a compelling argument we feel it’s our right to demand the committee to consider and act on it. Our relationships with a committee are not the same as with a single, obviously senior person in charge.

Committees are by definition open to participation, everyone has a chance to get elected, it’s considered a birth right by any westerner. Once we hear there’s a committee we assume that we can work hard, become members, and influence its decisions. On that last point – we expect to have influence over committee’s decisions even when we are not members, we expect committee members to be our representatives. When a committee sits down we cheer for representatives from our zone, it’s natural for us to see it that way.

It’s impossible for us to accept that a committee like GBC is a representative of Prabhupāda and Kṛṣṇa, not the common ISKCON members. We can accept that one particular person gets authorized by the Lord and by previous ācāryas but the whole committee? Our GBC has even rotating policy where every member gets to be the chairman for at least a year, and there are new GBC members appointed all the time. On merit, we understand, not on mercy. A guru might appoint one disciple as his successor or as his envoy and that would be guru’s special mercy. Qualifications are also important but ultimately it’s guru’s call, he sees merits better than us. Not so with GBC – we all get to see and judge the candidates, we all know the criteria, mercy has nothing to do with it, it has to be logical. Well, we might offer a customary “by Kṛṣṇa’s arrangement” but it’s the same luck and fate as we see in the material world, it’s not really that special.

My point is that the very existence of GBC turns spiritual progress on its head. It makes us believe that we, by our actions, can achieve everything ourselves. We just need to show a bit more dedication than the devotee next to us, a bit more determination, a bit more discipline, and we can get what we want. I don’t think this approach to devotional service is described anywhere in our literature, it’s the opposite of amāninā māna-dena instruction by Lord Caitanya.

Really, in our institution there’s no position higher than a GBC, and not just as managerial authority but as spiritual authority, too. Now, as a spiritual authority, GBC is infallible, as I said earlier. As long as they follow Śrīla Prabhupāda they must be considered infallible, just like our gurus. Criticism will always be there, little mistakes will always be there, but as long as GBC is committed to carrying out the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda the whole committee is given special authority from Kṛṣṇa Himself and, just like Kṛṣṇa, they become the standard of what is right and what is wrong.

I can repeat this again – this infallibility is nearly impossible for westerners to accept. Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t let his real devotees do these or those things, we think, so they must be acting on their own without any real authority. Nope, GBC has eternal blessings, as long as they stay the course Kṛṣṇa will guide them. It all looked close to collapse in the zonal ācārya days but GBC pulled through and survived. I seriously doubt things will ever get that bad again, it’s unthinkable, but even if that happens, the Supersoul will always put GBC straight – dadāmi buddhi-yogam taṃ (BG 10.10).

So here we are, caught between the rock and the hard place – our western upbringing that makes us incompatible with unconditionally accepting committee’s authority, and that same upbringing making committees work where everything else fails. We will never really escape this predicament, we need to transcend it.

Things would have been so much easier if we had a self-effulgent successor to Śrīla Prabhupāda whose authority we would acccept unconditionally, but it’s not happening. Maybe because Kali Yuga is too strong for any one individual to carry this much responsibility. Ācāryas of such stature come once in hundreds of years, and we already had two – Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarswatī and Śrīla Prabhupāda. Not to take anything away from ācāryas who came before them but no one displayed such organizational and leadership skills as these two extraordinary devotees. I’m afraid we’ll have to live with GBC for the foreseeable future.

This means we have to accept apparent faults, we have to accept GBC having Prabhupāda and Kṛṣṇa’s blessings that otherwise not available for us, mere humans. We have to purge our demoniac mentality that makes us think that becoming a GBC is a result of our actions and that GBCs are “just like us”. They aren’t, in the same way that our guru isn’t an ordinary human. He might look ordinary for everybody else but for disciples he is as good as God, and so should be our attitude towards GBC.

I know there are thousands and thousands of devotees who would refuse to look at GBC this way and their criticism might even be justified but it’s the only way to make spiritual progress. Or we can choose to be “right”.

How does that verse go? “Import of Vedic knowledge is revealed only to those who have implicit faith in guru and śāstra”? It’s not revealed to those who strive to be “right”. Let them, if they want it so much, devotion to the Lord is far too important to exchange for this dubious righteousness and rationality.

Those who develop bhakti have neither the time nor inclination to criticize their authorities. That’s just childish – if you want to legitimately correct other people, become a guru yourself, become a leader of a spiritual organizations with thousands and thousands of devotees depending on you, take full responsibility for their spiritual health, and then let’s see if you are still interested in dispersing unsolicited advice to those caught in a similar predicament.

On a positive note, seeing GBC as a product of geopolitics should make us less inclined to judge them and should help us to overcome our critical attitude. We don’t criticize tigers for wanting meat, we don’t criticize bladders for wanting to urinate, and so GBC in many ways simply follows the circumstances – the way it’s selected, the way it operates, the way it’s accepted by the subordinates, and so on. GBC is also the only available option and the only authorized body to represent Śrīla Prabhupāda, so accepting its authority is similar to accepting inevitability of death. It’s just how things are.

At this point our western minds would rebel against accepting things and would demand change but what has it got to do with devotional service? If we follow our minds it won’t get us anywhere. Kṛṣṇa is the one responsible for changes, not us. We can only propose but never demand, and we should accept that Kṛṣṇa always knows better.

Our western minds belong to a rubbish bin, and on that note I would like to stop. I don’t want to deal with the question why the same western minds seem to be perfectly suitable for managing ISKCON right now.

Vanity thought #1234. Round Table

Continuing on geopolitics. Yesterday I said that we can easily connect, say Russian situation to our immediate problems and that might have seemed like a stretch. It isn’t, and I’m planning of filling the gap today.

First of all, by “Russian situation” I mean geopolitics in general. If it works in Russia, it works elsewhere, if it works elsewhere, we can choose a relevant place and connect it to ourselves. Ukrainians are the prime example as, I believe, everyone there is affected by geopolitics now. Baltic countries are also caught between the EU and Russia. Geographically, their economies tend to gravitate towards huge Russian market a short distance away even if politically they want to trade with western Europe. Last year, btw, despite being in de facto state of war with Russia, Ukraine still traded with Russians more than with any other country and managed to run up a trade deficit, too. In the middle of the war they bought more stuff from Russia then sold back.

Okay, that kind of connections might be easy to demonstrate. Americans, Chinese, Brits, Canadians, Australians, Japanese etc all play their respective roles in the world order that was shaped largely by geography. The world is all interconnected now and so these links are more prominent than ever, easy to see, easy to test. What has it got to do with us as devotees?

Devotees, by definition, should be above politics and ISKCON takes great care not to take sides. Shouldn’t we be exempt from geopolitical rules? We have a uniform society and every ISKCON temple feels like home, like a familiar place. Shouldn’t we be above geography?

Well, as I said earlier, geopolitics helped us a lot in the beginning and then again in Russia, and then again in India, even though I can only speculate why ISKCON suddenly got so popular there. The speculation is, however, mouth watering, maybe I’ll save it for another day.

There’s another link that usually goes unnoticed by devotees but which, in a way, is even more important to understanding our society than history of hippie movement in the US. It’s also a factor that influences every each one of us in every part of the world, so there – from geopolitics to personal politics in one decisive step – I mean our GBC.

Our main governing organ is a product of geopolitics, and I can’t think of any other ways to see it.

First, a bit of history. Ours was certainly not the first movement that had to deal with departure of charismatic, larger than life founder-ācārya. In our vaiṣṇava history we can point to several such cases, we can even include Lord Buddha and Śaṅkarācārya. I don’t think any of such big personalities had ever left a recognized and fully authorized head of the mission. No one is ever remembered as fully filling founder’s shoes (not sure if three f-words fit here, but they are fun).

Śaṅkara probably did the smartest thing – he set up four maṭhas in four different parts of India and so diluted the power of any particular successor. Tibetan Buddhists follow ritual procedures where successors to their departed lamas are found among newly born children, which also solves the immediate problem of followers not living up to standards – by the time these kids grow up no one would remember the standards anymore.

Lord Caitanya didn’t leave any appointed successors either. One could say that He sent Six Gosvāmīs to Vṛndāvana and call it a precursor to our GBC but it wasn’t anything like that. He also sent Lord Nityānanda to act on His behalf in Bengal and Bengal was filled with devotees senior to Six Gosvāmīs already, not to mention Advaita Ācārya who, in the end, had as big of a following as Lord Nityānanda.

In Vṛndāvana itself there were *six* Gosvāmīs but two most senior ones were brothers – Rūpa and Sanātana, they were practically one person and we still don’t know who should be awarded seniority between them. By age Sanātana was older but we also call Rūpa as our true spiritual father. Among the rest, two Goswāmīs, Jīva and Raghunātha Dāsa were clearly juniors and so there was no collective decision making there at all. It wasn’t a GBC.

Term “GBC” first appeared on vaiṣṇava scene in Gauḍīyā Maṭha where Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī ordered his disciples to manage the society collectively. They failed to cooperate, of course, but the second attempt to establish GBC, by Śrīla Prabhupāda, worked. As an institution it survived through the most difficult first years and now we can be certain it’s not going away, not until the emergence of the next self-effulgent ācārya.

Now the best part – GBC as a governing organ was modeled after management structure of Indian Railways, which were at the time run by Brits. There were several railway companies, geographically separated, and their success was undisputed. Railroads were a real proof of British supremacy. It wasn’t just talk and guns, they could really cover the whole country with thousands and thousands of miles of rail tracks and build connections that were unimaginable before. And it wasn’t just big centers like Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi or Madras that got trains, the network was really comprehensive. We can still read in Caitanya Caritāmṛta about far out places of pilgrimage with Śrīla Prabhupāda diligently giving directions to reach them by train. And it’s always by train – “Use that line, go to that station, and from there it’s …”

Railways were run by committees. There were representatives from various stakeholders and they took all decisions collectively. Brits could do it, Indians couldn’t – the culture is completely different. Westerners in ISCKON could do it, too, but some Indians on GBC had a very hard time.

In India, and actually pretty much the rest of the world before it was overrun by democracy, there always had to be one decision maker, “the king”. Others could offer advice and express opinions but the final word always belonged to one person. GBC changed all that and so senior Indian devotees (no names) couldn’t understand their role there. They expected to be decision makers, that all those young westerners would discuss things between themselves and then ask for the final word, but GBC doesn’t work that way. No wonder it didn’t work seventy years ago in India.

Collective decision making is a western idea and GBC goes back to the Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table and Magna Carta.

Arthur was, for all intents and purposes, a mythical personality. We don’t know how his table came about and how it worked, we only have idealized descriptions of it along with tales of his chivalry. We don’t know if Arthur really lived as a historical person and we have no idea if he lived up to his later glory.

Generally, however, it’s accepted that he invented a concept of round table – where everyone looks equal, as an answer to unending feuds between his knights. They just wouldn’t agree on order of seniority. Same happened with Magna Carta – it was a failed peace treaty between a weak king and rebellious barons, it wasn’t born out of wisdom and some universal urge for democracy, it was a concessions to powerful barons and the negotiations had a lot to do with writing off their debts and dealing with various other property rights. I bet not one of the signatories would be accepted as any kind of moral authority had he lived these days but, over time, Magna Carta had become idealized just as Arthur’s Round Table.

Anyway, even though the initial idea behind governing by committee wasn’t as noble as it is presumed now, the outcome has proven useful – in absence of Supreme Ruler people’s inevitable differences are best settled through negotiations. That way they have no one else to blame for the outcome and have no choice but to accept and get along with it. In proper kingdoms compliance was assured by the king but since that’s not on the cards now, negotiated agreements with verbal promises to follow are the next best thing, I suppose.

This is getting long but I think I’ve made my point – ISKCON owes its governance structure to geopolitics of medieval England. Implications of this fact are better left for another day.

Vanity thought #1233. Geopolitics cont’d

Now I remember what I was obsessed with before New Year struck – geopolitics and its influence on devotees. Last time I got to the point of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s success in the US and there was more to come.

What reminded me of this topic was another Stratfor article on Geopolitics of Russia. It’s been written in the last decade, when Russia was seen as a promising part of the world community, but maybe it’s a good thing to compare their current situation with how geopolitics described it back then.

Turns out, it was all totally predictable – the annexation of Crimea, the Donbass situation, even the Eurasian Union that just added Armenia to the list. This amazing accuracy made me appreciate geopolitics even more, it’s nice to have an accurate tool to see in the future, though probably not for the same reasons it’s usually assumed.

People are always fascinated with predictions – astrology, palmistry, even casual remarks by strangers. Anything to do with one’s future is bound to arouse that person’s attention. On the second thought many would say they do not really want to know their coming fate but the initial interest is always there.

I do not advocate pandering to these interests. Knowing the future is useful only as much as it takes away out obsession with it, and with our present by extension. Then, I hope, we will be able to chant in peace instead of sitting on the edge. One comedian on TV made a point how on he was only on his first day of work of this New Year but the media was already bombarding the public with what’s going to happen in 2016 (there will be presidential elections in the US). That’s precisely the kind of worries that knowing the future should help us to avoid.

What will happen to us? What will happen to our jobs and economy? What will happen to our families? What will happen to our countries? Over at BBC they had a series of articles dedicated solely to predictions, I read one from 1930s, some of that stuff they got right but what hasn’t changed is the tone the Brits use to pontificate about the future. There will be this and there will be that, and there will be robots to do all kinds of things for us. Eighty years on and the continue in exactly the same vein.

If, however, we know how the world works we would know what is supposed to happen and so nothing comes unexpectedly. “Ah, that..,” would be all we’ll ever have to say about practically anything. Revolutions, regime changes, coups, wars, terrorism, epidemics – nothing would surprise us.

One could say that lots of people do not pay any interest to these news as it is so what’s the advantage? The answer is that if we understand the subject right, it would scale down to our level of worries very nicely. Sometimes devotees look completely blissful and worry free but if you look closely, everyone’s life is full of problems (or they are not living it right), and dealing with these problems requires knowledge that gradually expands to include geopolitics as well. It’s nice to be a simple minded devotee but those are really rare. Simple minded and small minded are not the same, btw.

“Small minded” sounded like an insult but I didn’t mean it that way. Some people move mountains, some only talk about moving mountains, some don’t think beyond their immediate surroundings – everyone is different and every service is valuable but mountains or not, everyone should develop sufficient knowledge to understand his own situation and his own impediments to progress. If this required knowledge is confined to inter-family relations rather than international relations then so be it.

OTOH, we have Śrīmad Bhāgavatam talking about affairs of the entire universe or Mahābhārata dealing with entire history of India, so dabbing in big scale knowledge is not foreign to us.

Anyway, about Russia – its heart lies in a relatively small territory surrounding present day Moscow. That kingdom’s early history was life under Mongol occupation and once they shook it off, they took to defending themselves seriously. Their geopolitical problem was, and still is, is that they do not have natural boundaries they can use as defense lines.

So the first thing they did was to expand their territory until they reached a comfortable anchoring point. In the East it was Ural mountains, in the South it was Black and Caspian seas, and in the West it was Poland.

Ukraine had to be incorporated to set Russian Empire frontiers at Carpathian mountains (even though it wasn’t an empire then yet). Caucasus needed to be conquered to guard against invaders from the direction of Turkey and Iran. Siberia was taken because no one was there and it’s a special case – no one really wants it, even Chinese are not excited about governing such a large and inhospitable mass.

Poland happened to sit on the narrowest stretch of flat lands from Carpathian mountains in the South to the Baltic Sea in the North. Setting defenses to the East of that line would require covering a lot more land, and that was also the case for moving borders beyond Poland.

Having country’s core, Moscow, so far away from its desirable frontiers also determined how the empire was governed – through strong vertical bureaucracy. Russians couldn’t afford countries and nations on the periphery to grow independent and pursue their own interest. Russians needed them as buffers against invaders while these countries didn’t want to see themselves sacrificed for the great Russian cause.

The empire just wasn’t made for democracy – its constituents would never agree on anything, they had too many different interests pulling in all sorts of directions.

Another important factor in determining Russian fate is the sheer size of the place and the fact that most food grows pretty far away from Moscow. There need to be strict control over food growing regions (sorry, Ukraine), and there need to be strict control over food distribution – because transporting food for hundreds and thousands kilometers away doesn’t make sense economically.

This food problem manifested in another way, too – Russia proper could probably still feed itself but its countryside couldn’t support urbanization. People still had to live close to food or at least food routes, there’s just not enough stuff to support massive urban populations many kilometers away.

One outcome of that is that while Russians have a proud tradition of local intelligentsia, the bulk of the population is still essentially rural and therefore conservative in outlook.

There you go – it’s easy to understand why Russians are so sensitive about Ukraine, or why they fought tooth and nail for Chechnya (historically their first outpost in Caucasus). It’s also easy to understand why they so desperately need to surround themselves by satellite states like Kazakhstan and why they want to develop friendly relationships with China.

And here we are being fed largely irrelevant narrative about despotic Putin squashing democratic revolution in Ukraine, and even devotees got caught up in it, as I remember there was an official GBC warning to devotees to stay clear off politics there. Many of our temples were, of course, affected, many devotees evacuated, HH Nirañjana Swami posted several updates on the situation there.

It’s all just geography, and completely irrelevant to our literature. At best we can say that Russia’s south-eastern frontier (in Central Asia) is set at the other side of Himalayas. Still, once we learn the geography, everything follows and nothing becomes new and unexpected.

The only reason it should matter, as I said, is that now some of us can now chant in peace. Even if Ukraine’s fate never worried you, it’s just an example how everything in this world is only a small cog that fits perfectly with everything else, and I bet one can always find a connection between his own problems and the problems manifestin in Ukraine in just a few short steps.

Vanity thought #1225. Geo-devotees part 2

Yesterday I talked about geopolitics negatively affecting spread of Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West in the days of Gauḍīyā Maṭha and how geopolitics were favorable in the days of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Time was right, Śrīla Prabhupāda was the right person, and necessary lessons had been learned. The most important lesson from that speculation, however, was probably my realization that so called failure of the first devotees who went to England was unavoidable and almost necessary, so whatever negative effects it had on their spiritual health should be seen in light of that necessity. I hope Kṛṣṇa has not taken their offense too seriously and neither should we. That is not to say that offenses in general could be acceptable, that is to say that blaming devotees for committing them is not.

Kṛṣṇa has His own reasons for putting His devotees through these troubles and He takes personal care that their spiritual progress is put back on track. We all fail from time to time and we all have residual envy towards Kṛṣṇa and guru, sometimes it spills out and everybody notices it, but isn’t it a good thing? Isn’t it better than envy still lurking deep inside our hearts where we don’t notice it and naively believe that we have become free? How can we deal with anarthas that we don’t even realize are there?

Never mind that, geopolitics hasn’t stopped working with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure, actually it was just starting to affect our future movement most directly. Śrīla Prabhupāda was hoping that his translation of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam would attract attention of the cream of American society and that with their help he’d be able to convert the rest of the country to the cult of pure bhakti of Lord Caitanya. He created the cult alright but not the kind he had in mind.

Brāhmaṇas getting the ear of kṣatriyas is how things have always been done in India. The entire Bhāgavatam is about kṣatriyas, after all, starting with Mahārāja Parīkṣit as the recipient. It was natural for Prabhupāda to expect that mission of Lord Caitanya would be spread in a similar way but it wasn’t to be – the world has changed, politics have changed.

The US was a democracy and in democratic countries one person doesn’t make that much of a difference. For one reason or another, Kṛṣṇa has arranged for people of Kali yuga to make all major decisions collectively rather than putting their trust into any single person. There are obvious disadvantages to this system but that’s how the world *is* nowadays and even an absolutely transcendental movement like that of Lord Caitanya has to follow conventions. If we could overwrite geopolitics, Kṛṣṇa hasn’t given us this ability or maybe severely restricted it.

Btw, to affect change in a democratic society one must create a narrative appealing to a sufficient number of relevant people. One could go either through masses and hope that general mood would eventually affect actual decision makers, or one can appeal to decision makers first and hope that masses don’t object. Either way, one needs to create a message designed to work on a certain class of people, not single individuals. Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t know that yet and he relied only on Kṛṣṇa to guide him from within. That would also work, of course.

Prabhupāda spent some time in that small place in Pennsylvania and rightly concluded that he won’t be able to change the world from there, so he went to New York, the real place that mattered. Nothing happened at first, he had to learn the place, get the feel of it, get to know the people, his own position, and explore his options. Any idea why he didn’t start his harināmas in Thompson park in the middle of winter? Rhetorical question, of course. He started when weather cooperated and, incidentally, he was ready, too.

I’m not aware that he had a plan B and, perhaps, he abandoned the idea of converting New York VIPs altogether. Instead he got surrounded by hippies. A lot has been said about that hippie generation and why they took to Kṛṣṇa consciousness so enthusiastically. In the context of this topic I would stress that had Prabhupāda arrived ten years earlier his audience wouldn’t have been ready and had he arrived ten years later they would have been hopelessly spoiled. He got them just at the right time.

People who lived through the war were too invested in status quo, they couldn’t imagine rebelling against the country they helped to win. There was a need for a new generation that took that victory for granted and were not prepared to overlook post-war excesses just because America had won something. In fact, most of what they saw in their lives was not heroism but the kind of life that is now used to illustrate backwardness and hypocrisy of American society. In public government talked freedom but there was also anti-communist witch hunt. Government talked equality but not when it came to women and blacks. Government talked opportunities but people were expected to know their place and follow norms. Rebellion was inevitable and Śrīla Prabhupāda came just in time.

Ten years later this drive for better and more honest life was defeated by addiction to drugs and unrestrained sex. In the sixties people still had guts, though. They still measured themselves by the heroism of the previous generations and were more than ready to completely change their lives for something bigger and better. In the seventies it was all over, drugs got better of them, and the establishment found the ways to subvert the revolution so we got disco.

There was another period in a different part of the world where geopolitics helped our movement immensely – I mean Soviet Union under Gorbachev. Repressive Soviet establishment collapsed, Soviet values and ideology were destroyed, there was an enormous gap left in people’s hearts and they were looking to anchor themselves to something else. Enter Hare Kṛṣṇas. Devotees have been active there for well over a decade but when geopolitics were not right, success was elusive. As soon as atmosphere changed everything fell into place and our preaching grew by leaps and bounds.

I wish I could explain the explosion currently happening in India but I just don’t know situation there very well. Doesn’t matter, I think these two examples – the US and the SU – look convincing enough for me to say that geopolitics matter quite a lot even for devotees. Maybe not on a level of someone’s personal consciousness and personal progress but as a society we happen to live by the same rules as everybody else. Sometimes we grow and sometimes we stall and it largely depends on external circumstances, we just have to be patient and have faith in Kṛṣṇa and Lord Caitanya.

We are not independent and we can’t do anything without their mercy, we know that, but, perhaps, we should also realize that their mercy is absolute in a sense that even if it’s not visible at the time it still works outside of our vision and prepares the world for its full manifestation. Take the Internet, for example – we’ve been trying to utilize it for preaching but nothing happened yet. Maybe the situation is just not right yet, maybe we need to wait for emergence of a more receptive generation or more effective technologies to really reach out to people. That’s a whole different topic, though, so I’ll stop here and continue tomorrow.

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 #1224. Geopolitics

Up until very recently I though of geopolitics as an extension of “real politics”, ie politicians acting out of self interest as members of their societies. I mean people elected someone to be a mayor but when a big real estate guy comes knocking on you door with campaign contribution promises you got to give his desires a bit more consideration than to a vote cast by an average nobody two years ago. With geopolitics, I thought, it’s just like this but on a bigger scale.

Then I read an article by George Friedman of Stratfor, the founder of a think tank that has been producing top notch analyses for almost two decades. This dude is all into strategic forecasting and he figured that real geopolitics defines the future better than anything else. By geopolitics he means countries interests based on their geographical locations. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Initially.

I mean, what is so special about US geography that makes it try to police the rest of the world? What makes China so special that makes it quietly buy half of Africa? What makes Russia so special to challenge US desire for global hegemony, which in itself doesn’t have obvious geographical roots.

One word answer – complexity. The world is not a simple, binary, black and white place. The currently observed interests might not display their geographical roots but they are there, one just have to trace them back to their origins. They are also very logical and very rational, almost inevitable, but more on that later.

Take France, for example. In the south it’s cut off from Spain by Pyrenees, in the west it’s separated from rest of Europe by Alps but there’s access to Italy along the coast and easy roll in to Germany, Belgium, and Holland from north-west. If you think about it, it all makes sense. Original western civilization spread from Italy so bottle-neck connection in the south and through Alps in the west means that once culture gets out into open, fertile planes it grows like crazy on it’s own with little feedback. If you think of modern, borderless politics then France, as a society and its culture, appears to be quite big and therefore influential in Europe but it’s always somewhat off center. French, therefore, are independent but also in tune with the rest of the continent, and, given the size of their country, comparable to their influence to Germany.

Friedman gave an example of Germany, btw, to show how geopolitics really work. Germany, being big and situated right in the middle of Europe, has to trade with everybody and keep balance between competing interests on all sides. Sometimes they might also get an idea that, given their central location, they are ought to control the rest of the continent, too. I mean that for Germans any particular interest, be it coming from French, British, or Russians, is of no paramount importance, it’s just one out of many they have to deal with everyday so they might feel they have the wherewithal to bring everyone together under one big German boot, sorry, roof.

Or take Britain. I’m not going to explain British empire but these days their interests and inspirations are purely geopolitical. They are in Europe but separated by the sea, which perfectly explains their love-hate affair with the rest of the continent. As soon as things go wrong they retreat, as soon as they want something they come back, and if things don’t go as they planned they can always fall back to their long time partner the US, which they never take seriously but always need anyway.

Russia’s situation is determined by geography as well. They want to be part of the West but western ideas take so long time to get to them that they always come down filtered, if not heavily censored, and always several steps too late. They also have absorbed large quantities of Asians of all stripes, which means they have to accept at least acceptance of Asian culture as part of their make up. They can’t say ideological no to Islam or Buddhism, they’ve got to find common values, share them, and live together.

This means that when westerners with their homogeneous experience come to lecture them Russians have to run their advice by their local Asians first and so they appear less than enthusiastic. There is also thousand and a half years split in Christian church that put Russians on the other side of ideological divide. They just can’t become European no matter what they try, geography and history works against them.

At this point I should point out that history is determined by geography, too, even more so than the present, so it all comes down to geopolitics in its true sense – policies guided by geography more than by anything else. George Friedman’s quote summarized it very well:

    ..there is no distinction between economic, political, military and technological affairs. They are convenient ways to organize departments, but in reality, they are simply a different and linked dimension of the nation-state and related socio-political activities.

It’s all very well, but my personal experience adds quite a bit, too. Over the time I noticed that the color of sand and dust collecting in my house is the same as the color of the soil outside. Duh! Obviously, but not in the bedroom, where dust is the color of discarded skin flakes.

First I noticed connection between the color of the soil and the colors used by people for pretty much everything was in Cambodia some fifteen years ago. I suddenly found myself in a place where everything was red,or at least had heavy red shades mixed to it. Sand was red, dust was red, roof top tiles were red, walls were painted orange, and clothes people wore had red and orange colors, too. All browns had the shades of red everywhere.

It was very different in the Northern Thailand, still in the same part of Asia but about a thousand kilometers to the north. Browns were gray and almost bluish there, just as was the soil, sand, and all the colors associated with their Lanna culture. To an average westerner all Asians have the same faces but you can’t mistake reddish brown Cambodians for blueish brown Lannanians. Well, people of Northern Thailand were not like Kṛṣṇa, their skin wasn’t blue, they were very white comparing to Cambodians, but this particular shade of brown was nevertheless everywhere you look.

Does it determine the way you behave? I don’t know how but Cambodians and Northern Thais are people of very different temperaments, too. Cambodians are people of tropical plains and forests, it always hot there, and so is the general temperament, while Northern Thais are people of the mountains. They don’t have snow there but at this time of the year they usually get frost and temperatures drop close to freezing point. In their behavior they are very different from Cambodians, they are sweet and reserved.

What does it have to do with my house? Nothing, it’s just that the color of outside dust reminded me of differences pronounced elsewhere. Friedman, at the time of writing of that article, was on his way to Moscow. Afterwards he wrote a report on his trip and he started it with describing how Moscow FEELS, which, according to him influences how people live.

Geography makes Russians resilient to pressure, they have to, they have no other choice. History makes them quite separate from the rest of the western civilization and unwelcome visits by Napoleon and Hitler make them feel defensive against intruders, too. When going gets tough, Russians get going, while in their normal state (three months of summer, I guess) they feel safe and under no threat, gathering strength to repel yet another assault by nature or by outsiders.

Friedman also noticed that being in trouble has become a default state of Russian psyche. Last decade of relative prosperity is viewed by them as an aberration, as a short summer, so they are fully prepared to tighten their belts and live through the winder of sanctions and dropping oil prices.

Okay, but what has it got to do with Kṛṣṇa consciousness? Quite a lot, actually, because most of the time we don’t notice our own conditioning nor the conditioning of others. We still think that people have their independence and act in the world as if they are in control of their actions. We, then, of course judge them for that, which leads to committing offenses, which leads to the lack of progress on devotional path.

What I mean to say is that we don’t see devotees doing things as not being responsible for their actions. We think they are to blame when, in fact, it is all guru’s mercy and just geography. This obviously needs examples or case studies but I don’t have time for that today, so maybe tomorrow.

Or let me put it this way – no one does things that don’t make sense to that person. Making sense, however, being logical and rational, by definition strips that person of independence. Rationality is not a personal subject, it’s absolute regardless of how you feel about it. Given same conditions and same background people of certain cultures will act in certain ways with little deviations, so it makes no sense to blame them for what they do naturally, according to their svabhāva, which is another misnomer because it’s imposed on people by material energy.

This means that we should just chant our lives away without being disturbed even by devotees doing apparently strange and unacceptable things.