Vanity thought #1725. God learns about his own powers

The “Story of God with Morgan Freeman” is coming to an end and the last episode in the series is about the power of miracles. Clearly a topic that could not have been avoided in Judaeo-Christian view of religion. They need God’s physical presence in their lives and miracles provide it, otherwise it’s just “I believe that..” or “I have faith that..” Surely God reveals Himself to them according to their worship, which is a universal principle independent of their denominations, but with their sinful lives He is not going to reveal much, hence the need to complement their realizations with “miracles”.

Freeman starts with a personal story of a recovering from a disease and then jumps to a story of New York window washer who survived a fall from the top of 47 story building. Both could be considered miracles by people looking for those but otherwise the window washer was simply left puzzled by what happened and decided to move on with his life without finding all the answers. He visibly tried to explain it as a miracle and as God’s intervention but he didn’t look convinced, and then there was a question of his brother who died in the same fall and wasn’t saved by God. “Why me and not him?” is a tough question to answer for simple window washer so he just moved on without confusing himself any further.

In Freeman’s own case he concluded with “some say God saved me”, which isn’t much. What he astutely observed, however, is that believers need miracles as a proof of God, which I say is a proof that they do not have any actual realization of the Supreme, thanks to their degraded lifestyles. Otherwise Christianity has plenty to offer to its followers, people KNOW that Christ is real, they just can’t hang on to it and lose it with every bite of animal flesh or a sip of wine.

This was obvious from Freeman’s next visit, which was to a celebration of Passover with a Jewish family, and featured a rare female rabbi to provide explanations. Jewish diet, as any other cuisine in the region, isn’t heavily dependent on meat. I’ve heard that people might be genuinely surprised when someone adopts vegetarianism and can’t understand how it could be possible but when pointed out that most of their everyday dishes are already meat free they suddenly realize that it is actually true. There’s a lot of vegetables, bread, cheese, and chickpeas, all smothered in healthy olive oil, and meat is actually a treat, not a staple food.

I can’t say what they were eating at that dinner for sure, I bet vegetarians could have survived it, but they all clearly drank wine, except for children, of course. Wine featured prominently as part of the ritual, too. The point of this Passover dinner was to go through the story of Jews being saved from Egyptians and commemorate it with consuming relevant foods. The “Passover” itself refers to Jews smearing thresholds of their homes with blood as a sign to the angel of death who brought plague to the Egyptians to pass over houses of God’s chosen people. There were lots of other miracles as well, Moses parting the sea and then closing it after Jews have passed through etc etc. What I liked about this ritual is that Jews remember not only their own role in the story but also the role of Egyptians, God’s “other children”, who got all sacrificed to clear the way for Israel to rise.

What’s the spiritual significance of the story? I don’t know, intoxicated mind cannot perceive God in any way, and at one point someone said there that Bible stories are not literal but only the ideas to learn lessons from. Actually, it was the rabbi herself. I understand how to this female posing as a priest and enjoying a glass of wine Bible might appear only as a collection of myths, God isn’t going to actually reveal Himself to such a person.

Then there was a short talk with Vatican priest about miracles in Catholic church. All we learned from it was that the Church investigates these miracles very seriously, sometimes spending decades to confirm them. The most obvious question of whether Catholic criteria would satisfy scientists and doctors and whether there are other, non-miraculous explanations wasn’t even raised. Most of it revolves around people getting healed after praying to departed personalities. Two healings and such a person is considered for sainthood. In contrast with Jewish female rabbi the priest said that belief in Christ performing miracles, such as walking on water, is central to understanding Christianity. To Catholics those were not metaphors, not myths, not ideas, those were actual miracles.

On the science side of things we were presented with trivial facts about probabilities. Any combination of six cards coming in a particular succession has one in fourteen billion chance, meaning any draw of six cards is a “miracle”. He could have added that after a succession of, say, six tails, the chance of the next coin flip being a tail again is still one in two. It’s counter-intuitive, sure, but it doesn’t say anything about miracles.

Then the producers gently bent the narrative towards Eastern concept of karma and inter-connectedness of everything. They started with Romans who augmented their prayers to Gods for wins in gambling on horses with outright cheating. Once again – realization of God does not go well with gambling, whatever miracles happen their they won’t be proof of anything, no matter how much they pray for them.

Next we jumped to Daoist fortune teller and in their philosophy there are no miracles, just connections we can’t see. They do leave room for free will and divine interventions, however.

Then we had a story of a Christian dude who got cured from incurable cancer. Interestingly, it’s not the prayers that cured him but rather, as a result of community prayers, the God actually spoke to him and told him now it was the time to go to the hospital where chemotherapy miraculously dissolved all his cancer tissue, and his tumors were the size of apples, as he said himself. From the video they looked like the size of watermelons, though. I’d say it was clearly a miracle, a divine intervention (in the form of Supersoul, most likely), but the actual healing itself was unusual only from the POV of modern medicine. I mean it was as connected to God as any other process we observe, it’s just that most of the time, due to our upbringing, we do not see the universe as acting according to the will of God and imagine other driving forces instead. We think that if medicine can explain it then it’s not God whereas it’s God’s will all the way and nothing else.

To cement this point Freeman went to Gaya to talk to a Buddhist monk (of western extraction). The thrust of that conversation was that miracles are nothing, with proper training of the mind anybody can do them (or be born as a bird if he really wants to fly), and we’d rather should focus on God who resides within our hearts. Find a connection to this God and you can perform miracles, but that’s not what the world needs – healing, reconciliation etc. Levitating with your butt three inches off the ground might be a miracle but it’s stupid and it doesn’t help anyone.

Funny thing, when transcribing the video for subtitles people working on it produced this: “So then if you’re being inspired by your inner god, Buddha, Christ, you know, Christian or whatever”, but the monk actually said “Krishna, whatever”.

That was one and only mention of Kṛṣṇa, nice that they eventually did it, but they have also completely missed it, just like lots of topics discussed in this show missed the point and presented over-simplified materialistic or māyāvāda interpretations instead.

Vanity thought #1724. God learns about evil

The problem of evil is one of those Christian hangups that can confuse anybody. First they posit that evil exists and then go on speculating about its source and why God allows it and all that follows. Untangling this knot becomes nearly impossible because they force us to use their framework to explain it to them. I mean it’s pretty much like atheists demanding physical proof of God when God is beyond physical perception by definition. They will have no proof of God as long as they remain atheists. Similarly, Christians can’t solve their problem of evil as long as they stay Christians (in the current understanding of their philosophy).

The fifth episode of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman begins with meeting “evil personified”, a prisoner who raped more than two dozen women and murdered three of them, not to mention other “minor” crimes like burglary and robbery. He is serving life sentence, of which thirty years have already passed, IIRC.

Freeman gets a sitdown with him in the company of a psychologist who studies criminal brains for a living. As I said in the beginning, Christians believe that evil is a thing but when Freeman talked to this man evil seemed to be absent. The man confessed to all his crimes and when Freeman asked him why he did it he simply said he felt an irresistible impulse, plus other things fell into place so committing his crimes was practically unavoidable. When Freeman asked him if he wanted to be released he, as a matter-of-factly, replied that if he was released back into the society he would most likely commit more crimes because he is not like other people.

That’s where the psychiatrist agreed with him – this man is a certified sociopath even in the company of other sociopaths. His brain is physically different from other people. They’ve mentioned 99th percentile, whatever that means.

The discussion then shifted to the possibility of identifying such people early on, when they are still children, to better accommodate their growth and prevent them from committing crimes they seem to be wired to do. This was the point when Freeman should have questioned the existence of evil as a phenomenon. That, statistically speaking, it’s just a physical deviation from the norm. He wisely surmised that there’s a bit evil in all of us but didn’t go much further.

The Egyptian leg of his tour wasn’t very informative, though bright colors of Egyptian murals were amazing. The mural itself demonstrated how a person was judged for his good and bad deeds after his death. No biggy. A quip about heavy heart stopping one from a lift-off to heaven was witty but that’s about it.

The story of Zoroastrians wasn’t particularly enlightening either but what I liked about it is how they openly talked about influence of Zoroastrianism on early Judaism. We don’t normally hear that concept of evil, devil, Satan, etc was brought into Abrahamic religions from Zoroastrians, so that was a revelation.

What we didn’t hear is that Zoroastrianism is Hinduism gone wrong, that it has clear Vedic origins. It’s just that Zarathustra picked up a different side in the battle of [demi]gods and turned it into an existential good vs evil war. Maybe it was existential to him, as he broke the ranks with Vedic orthodoxy and naturally needed to justify his decision, but in the big scheme of things battles between demigods or even between suras and asuras are inconsequential and God is impartial to both of them. It’s uncanny how a minor squabble in Vedic pantheon led to modern absolutism of us vs them and language like “axis of evil”.

Another interesting thing about Zoroastrians is their motto – “Good thought, good words, good deeds”, in precisely that sequence. They, unlike atheists, understand that physical phenomena come from subtle reality and not the other way around. First we desire, then we think, then we talk, then we make things happen. If your mind is corrupted or out of control then nothing good will come out of it.

Indian leg of the tour was disappointing again because all they did was visit an exorcist temple. There’s one piśāca who got saved by the grace of Lord Śiva and who was ordered to protect people from other evil spirits in the vicinity. It all makes Hinduism look like some kind of idolatry because no one talked about underlying philosophy. Evil there was attributed to spirits of ancestors who needed to be pacified as a solution.

Come to think about it, there’s no such thing as “evil” in our philosophy. There are evil things and evil spirits, sure, but not “evil” as a category. All the phenomena in this world are manifested by three gunas and “evil” simply shows predominance of ignorance. Likewise, ignorance of the reality is the source of all “evil”, which becomes simply an unforeseen consequence. To the perpetrator it’s the same sense gratification as usual and, blinded by desires, he does not realize that it might create rather unpleasant reactions for his victims and for himself in the future.

Any spiritual progress begins with rising above concepts of good and evil and seeing them as perturbations of the material energy. They always follow one another and most of the time “evil” is a matter of perspective. Kin Jong-un, for example, is evil to the West but North Koreans do not see him that way at all. There are cultures in Asia where Rāvaṇa was as much a hero of Rāmāyaṇa as Lord Rāma himself. Lanka absolutely prospered under his rule and to its citizen there was nothing evil about that. People who get trapped into this dual mentality are not spiritualists, according to our philosophy, but it’s different in Christianity.

Freeman talked to a guy who grew up as a Neo-Nazi skinhead who hurt a lot of people during his “career” but when he got married and fathered a son it all changed. First he had an inner transformation and later his lifestyle and appearance followed. He removed all his facial tattoos, for example. To Christians it looks like a transformation from good to evil under the power of God but it’s just a change in predominating gunas and it was his karma all the way. He discovered that being with a woman and raising a child was a better quality sense enjoyment, that’s all. The underlying dharmic nature of his choice played its role, too, but it was still a selfish move and Christian God was there to justify it. I mean people taking up their varnasrama duties is not much of a spiritual progress.

All in all, I think Freeman has got it – evil is a part of our nature, can’t live with it, can’t live without it, but liberation as a solution hasn’t downed on him yet, let along taking up service to the Supreme, which is transcendental to all these illusory tribulations.

Vanity thought #1723. God learns about what he had done

For some reason “Creation” episode is not on National Geographic site but you can still “explore” it’s content. I don’t know if anyone bothers to click on all the sliding tabs that appear there but there are links to full sized articles on each particular topic which sometimes contain more information than was presented in the show itself. “Creation Myths From Around the World”, for example, includes Chinese version that wasn’t mentioned by Morgan Freeman himself. Maybe I should also “explore” each episode but there’s enough material in the videos as it is.

Morgan Freeman begins the episode by dropping some wisdom that we need to know creation stories in order to understand ourselves. Well, he precluded that by saying that we won’t understand who Morgan Freeman is unless we understand Mississippi, his birthplace. It’s natural for him as an actor to assume that everyone wants to understand him but I, honestly, couldn’t care less.

Christian story of Genesis is a well known one but Freeman found a twist – Adam could have been buried underneath Golgotha so that JC’s blood could trickle down and sanctify his body. It seems Christians here want to have their cake and eat it, too, because they didn’t offer any reasonable explanation why Eden would be in Jerusalem and not in Eden itself, which they believe is somewhere in Mesopotamia.

Freeman then got onto his favorite horse of trying to prove that religion is a matter of evolution. He wanted confirmation that believe in God was related to the birth of farming. His trip to one of the oldest discovered settlements, in Turkey, was fruitless, however. The entire segment looked like a giant speculation and trying to see things that might simply not be there.

He put the question interestingly – did religion give rise to communities (and farming) or did farming give rise to religion?It’s not easy to decide which but the question itself is wrong because it takes religion out of hands of God and makes it a product of evolution. It might be helpful in evolution of human species, if it brought us farming, but still it’s a product of evolution, not God.

Islamic story of creation appeared as the most reasonable one – comparing to what we know from our literature. First there was smoke that later formed into the Earth, which was later populated. It would probably make sense from scientific POV as well. We could say that they are talking about Lord’s glance agitating pradhāna which could be described as smoke, if they wish. Still, where did this smoke come from? That remained unasked.

Christian Genesis, btw, is right that everything began with the word. They are talking about Aum, of course, but then it veers off into six days of creation, God needing rest, the story with the snake and the apple and so on, and it all happened five thousand years ago.

Then we had a couple of stories from less developed cultures – Australian aboriginals and American Maya. They can be augmented by the Chinese story of creation that is in the “explore” section of the episode but not in the video itself. All these stories might be interesting as folklore, and there might be some truth behind them, too, but they are clearly talking about local creation, the birth of these particular tribes. I expected better of Chinese but this might be the fault of National Geographic researchers.

They did a terrible job with Hindu creation, for example – because we know how it really happened from our scriptures while the woman they talked to in Varanasi either had no clue or didn’t tell them anything. She gave the age of the universe at 8.6 billion years while first look at wikipedia gives some 150 trillion intstead (51st year of Lord Brahmā).

The website mentions Puruṣa sūkta from Ṛg veda and I wish I listened carefully to its story when I had a chance but I’m pretty sure that we, vaiṣṇavas, have a very different take on what actually described there. In any case, Puruṣa Sūkta is not the story of the primary creation because gods were already there ready to conduct a sacrifice.

Lady from Varanasi did tell Freeman a story of Ganges but she again missed the most important part – that it entered the universe after Lord Vāmana pierced its covering with his toe. In her story Ganges were already flowing through Brahmāloka and then was released down to Earth where she landed on Śiva’s head. Lord Śiva accepted her only because its waters washed the feet of Lord Viṣṇu as Vāmana and this part remained untold. Maybe in māyāvādī circles these facts are not mentioned at all and so we cannot blame the poor woman, but her blunder with the age of the universe is unforgivable, it seems she was woefully unprepared.

Freeman was visibly taken the worship of Ganges, however, and he admitted at the end of the episode that Hindu idea of creation was appealing to him, even if he didn’t get full information about it. He liked that in the beginning there were no gods at all, there was neither existence nor non-existence, as he quoted from Ṛg veda, but most of all he liked that creation is beyond human understanding so we just have to accept it and move on with our duties.

On the science front we were presented with a short discussion on Big Bang with a Catholic scientist in Vatican. I quite like Catholics for their adherence to the tradition but they no longer take Genesis story literally, they believe in evolution, and so there are Christians out there who appear to be more Catholic than the Pope. We call them fundamentalists and it’s hard to take them seriously but they are just stuck between the rock and the hard place – the Bible and modern science. They try to make them compatible even when they are clearly miles apart. Catholics try to make them compatible, too, but they all try to achieve it on the level of sensual perception and it will never work. We can’t see things as they are with our senses, we see according to our conditioning and our karma, but it’s a big topic for another day.

Vanity thought #1722. God learns about himself

In the third episode of “The story of God with Morgan Freeman” the actor, who played God himself on a couple of occasions, sets out to discover who God really is. For some reason National Geographic channel requires a subscription to view this episode online but it can be “explored” here.

Freeman starts with a visit to a jazz club (or was it Blues?) and says that the way people play music there can be called a religious experience. This might score him some brownies with people who care about jazz (or blues) but otherwise it’s a pretty tall claim that springs out of “whatever I like is good and godly” rather than any serious search for God.

From there he jumps to a māyāvādī den that is Varanasi and gets brainwashed into a version of Hinduism that we see as atheistic and that we made our mission to fight. The woman who acted as Freeman’s guide convinced him that there’s no personal God in Hinduism and there’s no monotheism there. Hello, what about us? What about all the vaiṣṇavas in India who reject the notion that Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu magically appear out of impersonal Brahman? So this poor “god” just went out and increased his ignorance.

They didn’t mention Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa in any way and thus implied that they are no different from millions of other Hindu gods. Most of those gods, except Śiva and Durga, are jīva tattva, the same as we are, just happen to be in a position of higher authority in universal order. This inability to differentiate between gods of the material world and God the Vaikuṇṭhas was displayed in this episode again and again in connection to other religions traditions.

As a good atheist would do, Freeman then went to England, to the Stonehenge, calling it the first evidence of people worshiping the Sun as the main god and thus a precursor to monotheism. England’s climate wasn’t very kind so people had to rely on Sun to control the weather and that elevated Sun god above any others. He then talks to a couple of guys doing a research into buried parts of Stonehenge but it leads nowhere. The point still remains – Freeman fully buys into atheistic theory that people invented Gods as they evolved from monkeys and had to deal with their challenges.

Freeman then jets off to Egypt to hear about a pharaoh who declared himself to be the one and only God, God of the Sun as well, and how his cult unraveled very quickly after his death. What did Freeman learn from this story I don’t know, he jumped over to Moses who founded what Freeman thinks was the first true monotheistic religion.

This obsession with monotheism isn’t particularly healthy. Whether there’s one God to rule them all is not the problem, the fact that there are millions of other, lesser gods who are responsible for everyday minutia of our lives remains. They can’t be forgotten or disrespected and there’s nothing wrong with people worshiping them per se. It’s not very smart, as we learn from Bhagavad Gītā, but it is the reality – for vast majority of human population worshiping those “lesser” gods is the only religion they know. Freeman himself, with his atheistic worldview, doesn’t deserve even that so why does he go chasing the Supreme Lord of everything and everyone?

We can answer that in Kali yuga proper worship of demigods is impossible and so benefits from doing so are utterly insignificant. Comparing to pure bhakti they were insignificant in better ages but now it’s really near zero. Instead of wasting time on this one should appeal to the Supreme Lord directly and so that’s the kind of religion that the Lord gave to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Speaking of Judaism, there was a certain point in Jewish history when God told Abraham that worshiping all other gods from now on was unnecessary, as we learn from the scholar interviewed for this episode. Later on Jewish God has become really jealous and in Christianity and Islam worshiping others has become punishable by death. God would murder these deviants himself by millions, if we take stories in the Bible literally.

This is why Christians don’t take Egyptian gods seriously, or Stonehenge, or Hinduism, or any number of religious beliefs they’ve discovered in all parts of the world. This is also why they are completely disconnected from nature, seeing themselves as controllers rather than servants of those who actually control it. That’s where our atheism comes from.

Islam is somewhat different in this regard because, just like us, Muslims simply overlook intermediary deities and go straight to the source itself, which is Allah for them. They know they don’t control the world, Allah does, and in that way they are somewhat spiritually superior to Christians.

What is most interesting about Islam, however, is that God has become essentially non-different from His name, specifically from the call to prayer. I think this is what Muslims practically discovered for themselves and it’s proof that saṅkīrtana IS the yuga dharma for this age regardless of any particular religion. The conversation with imam in that episode was the best and most truthful part, in my view.

Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t end there and Freeman goes to Navajo country to witness a religious ritual of a girl being promoted to womanhood. Whatever superior force that participates in such rituals is not God but Freeman somehow misses it, unable to see the difference.

And then there’s a story of a doctor doing brain scans of people having supposedly religious experiences. Finding God inside your brain, as they called it. I don’t even want to comment on that stinking pile of ignorance. Freeman buys into that premise like an atheist would – that God is simply a product of our brain activity. The only good thing about that part was when the doctor admitted that when he scanned the brain of an atheist he found that the atheist was unable to activate certain parts of the brain to the degree that religious people did.

I mean they are measuring nonsense. All they can see is who is trying harder to concentrate on God rather than actual God’s presence or existence.

The final part of the episode was in some American megachurch and it was fairly inspirational – up to ten thousand people attended spirit raising service, sang about God, declared their faith in Him etc etc. It was still about “belief through faith”, though, not actual God realization. They just get carried away with whatever they choose to believe in today. God woke me up on time, God cleared traffic for me, God saved me a parking spot, God healed me etc etc. It’s all about me me me and the best version of me there can be, which is, incidentally, how Freeman summarized this episode. He literally said “The god in me is who I really am, at my core. The god in me is the best version of me.” What a delusion.

So, in the beginning of the episode this “god” poked his nose into Hinduism and was told he has no nose. At the end of the episode he concluded that he himself really is God, he just have to become good at it. What hope is left there for these people?

Vanity thought #1721. God learns about apocalypse.

Apocalypse is a big issue for Christians so it’s understandable why a show about God would cover the topic of the end of the world as well. It’s one of those Abrahamic hangups westerners have. There might be another episode about existence of Satan as well while I can’t figure out how to explain this “satan” phenomenon without sounding absurd.

Actually, the subject of apocalypse in the second episode of “The story of God with Morgan Freeman” was introduced rather nicely – when Freeman observed that people have been bitching about world going to dogs since forever. In his mind it was linked to the topic of apocalypse but it must be said that all our recorded history happened when Kali yuga was in full swing already so the world DOES deteriorate with each successive generation. Some of these complaints from elders might be subjective but some definitely have a solid ground under them. Just look how Christianity lost to atheism in just a hundred years.

I mean even Freeman himself should have noticed that things have, indeed, been changing lately at a very accelerated pace. Marriage between men is not only a thing now but questioning it has become publicly condemned. The latest controversy is about men using women’s bathrooms if they feel like women today. I’m not going to write a separate post about it so I’ll just say a few words now.

The war over public bathrooms is raging on and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history – transgender people should be able to use the restroom they want, not the restroom assigned according to genders on their birth certificate. I understand it as a gesture of acceptance of their transformation into a person of a different gsex but I understand the concerns of the opposition as well. I mean do transgender people have certificates themselves? What’s stopping any transvestite from walking into women’s room and claiming a right to use it? I don’t know how much privacy is there in public restrooms in question but if we are talking about things like showers and changing rooms then they might end up displaying their still male genitals to women and/or children. I mean we still have gender separation in restrooms for a reason and most women would freak out if a man took a shower next to them. The progressives tell us to get used to it because the world is “evolving”. Evolving back to cats and dogs more like it. Some parts of our bodies are meant to be private, that sense of shame is one of the things that separates us from animals. As devotees we reject communal baths and changing rooms even when they are gender separated, I mean that when taking a bath one should not display his private parts to anyone, even himself.

I might not be well-informed on this issue of public restrooms, maybe they do have a provision to separate transgenders from transvestites and generic perverts, but if all you need to walk into a women’s bathroom is a desire and a dress then it sounds like a legitimate objection.

Back to apocalypse – I’ve learned that Jews are waiting for the advent of a Messiah, too, albeit their Messiah is going to be human, not God. There won’t be an apocalypse per se but this Messiah is going to rebuild the Temple, the central house of Hebrew worship destroyed shortly after Christ. Any attempt to rebuild this temple right now would be as bad as the apocalypse but the prophecy is that the Messiah is going to bring peace with the neighbors first, which is not going to happen in our lifetimes. I hope when the Jews do get the ability to demolish mosques and churches that stand in the way of their temple rebuilding efforts they’ll remember that they need to get both Christians and Muslims on board first.

I’m not sure there’s apocalypse in Islam but ISIS thinks there is going to be the last stand in some god forgotten village in Syria and, according to their interpretation of scripture, it’s coming very soon, in a matter of years rather than decades or centuries. Might very well turn true if international community finally gets on their case. In today’s news Russians declared that they’ve killed a third of combined ISIS and Al Nusra forces in Syria since they started their bombing campaign a few months ago. Over in Iraq government forces started an assault on Faluja and if that goes well Mosul will surely to follow. It all goes according to ISIS plan so far and I hope their last battle in Dabiq will end up like countless apocalypse predictions by doomsday cults in Christianity, ie nothing happens.

On the science side Freeman visited some researcher who studies pain. They give mild electric shocks to volunteers and measure their responses. What they found out is that people tolerate pain much better if they know exactly when it comes, eg at the end of the countdown. If the shock comes at any arbitrary time their bodies react to it stronger. This, in Freeman’s view, could be an explanation of “our” fascination with the apocalypse (we are not part of that group).

We can offer another explanation – people hope that apocalypse would bring them salvation so it’s a natural desire for liberation from suffering. A conditioned soul has two responses to everything that happens in the material world – like and dislike. Likes lead us to creating karma and dislikes make us strive from liberation from karma. Christians in the west are very much for sensual enjoyment – good food, good wine, warm families, which accounts for their “like” reactions to the world, and their express their dislikes by condemning atheists and expecting the apocalypse. Sometimes they accept some arbitrary date and pin all their hopes on it but nothing ever happens.

On the Indian leg of his tour Freeman did talk to Hindus about apocalypse and they told him that the world goes in circles for eternity. He also went to see a Buddhist llama and got the same answer there as well. While with Buddhists, he tried meditation, too, which was about letting go of the past, stopping worrying about the future, and concentrating in the moment. He says he liked it but maybe he was simply being polite.

The llama he chosen was relatively young, only about thirty years old, and, while Freeman was impressed with his humility, I thought he had unhealthy interest in the goings on of the material civilization. Due to his isolation he knows very little about what it actually is and to me he appeared curious in this “Morgan Freeman” person. To me this kind of curiosity looked un-Buddhist but what do I know. In places like Thailand computer malls are filled with Buddhist monks buying software and computer games, I presume. There’s also porn on offer but I hope they stay clear of it.

In Kṛṣṇa consciousness we learn how to live in the world without getting entangled in it but Buddhists do not have provisions for it, afaik. I don’t understand why this llama learned English, for example. Maybe his is a “political” post where he has to communicate with outsiders but I don’t see necessity of English for spiritual pursuits where his community provides all knowledge that he would ever need.

Personally, I would have chosen a bit more mature Buddhist teacher, one who has lived the world and outgrown it, or one who has never been exposed whatsoever. Good that Freeman didn’t go meet Dalai Lama who travels the world but doesn’t get “one with everything” pizza jokes. That kind of engagement is neither here nor there. He doesn’t know how people live and what they love in life, and he has no time for proper meditation either.

All in all, it was another western man filtering foreign cultures through his own lens. He wanted Buddhists to speak in terms familiar to him and he wanted science to explain people’s interest in apocalypse. I appreciate his interest but he still behaves like a frog in a well in a sense that he still measures everything by his own yardstick. That’s not a way to actually learn something new and change oneself in the process.

Vanity thought #1134. Hand of God – really?

I’m in two minds about God creeping into entertainment. On one hand it’s better to have shows about God than about anything else, on the other hand misrepresenting God is probably as dangerous as preaching atheism.

This summer there was a show about people who were left out after “rapture”, it had a very impressive start, imo, and I covered the first few episodes here but then it disintegrated into pursuing its mundane plot and I don’t even remember how it ended.

Its characters were focused on God all throughout but Christianity puts a limitation on how far they can actually go. After the first push they ran into a wall of selfishness. God as an order supplier can reveal Himself only so much, after that it’s dealing with your own life problems which aren’t interesting anymore.

How people feel about this, how they feel about that, what they are going to do about it all – I bet it’s not only me, God stopped watching it, too.

We aren’t any closer to God and we don’t have any higher realizations but we have an unbreakable connection to Him via our guru. Our critics can say whatever they want about quality of our guidance but the fact remains that paramparā is our link to Kṛṣṇa regardless of how it looks on the outside.

It would be wrong of us to expect progress in terms of acquiring some mystical powers and visions, I think everyone eventually realizes that, and with this hope gone all we have left is following the orders of our gurus. It might not look like much but it signals a change of direction – from pursuing razzledazzle of never ending bliss to quiet appreciation of every little crumb of devotion and mercy that comes out way.

Instead of prolonging the euphoria we cultivate patience and determination, and spiritual self-sufficiency – words of our critics don’t touch us anymore, we realize that one single word of our guru, one single moment of proper association is worth thousands and thousands of lifetimes, what to speak of critical articles on the internet.

We also get to realize that mercy is all around us if we are humble enough to admit it into our hearts and cherish it properly. We might not have anything to show for it but we also realize that devotional life is not for show, it’s for cleansing out own hearts and as long as it works we don’t care how it looks on the outside.

Christians and God seekers from The Leftovers had not internal goals to pursue, even the most dedicated ones. For them it was all about the rules and mechanics but we know that bhakti cannot be achieved by manipulating material energy – our bodies and world around us. That’s why they always end up in frustration – they tie up their spiritual progress to their external behavior, and Kali yuga always messes it up for everyone.

Austerities, temple worship, meditation – those things worked for us once, too, but in this age they are unreliable and time wasting. The only path to God lies through chanting and talking about Him, not through following external rules and obligations.

“What about four regs?” one might ask. What about them? If we chant sincerely following our regs comes naturally without extraneous effort, and if we don’t chant sincerely then forcing ourselves to behave won’t add anything to our spiritual advancement.

Having material attachments is not a sin, it’s holding onto them and hoping they would bring us happiness is what is offensive. We shouldn’t focus our attention on our external behavior, we have Holy Names to chant, that’s our only duty and our only service, everything else will fall in place automatically. That’s what faith is, from śraddhā to niṣṭhā.

Moving on.

Last month Amazon had a pilot of a show called “Hand of God”, the idea was… Wait, let’s start from the beginning. Amazon is a huge company with diverse interests, one of those is “in-house” entertainment. They are no longer content with selling content produced by others, which was originally limited to books, now they want vertical integration – their own entertainment sold through their own channel to people using their own devices.

They looked at success of Netflix original shows and thought they could do the same. This summer had seen the third round of such pilots, success is still eluding them but they are trying, throwing every idea at a wall and waiting for the one that sticks.

One of those ideas was a show about God. With their attitude in mind it was bound to be a cheap ride on a popular topic and that’s what they ended up with. It’s still not known if the pilot was received warmly enough to order a full season but that is not an important criterion of success for us anyway.

Was it really about God and His effect on our lives and our hearts? Or was it just a platform for miracles convenient for plot twists? They packed quite a lot in that pilot, trying to make it as shocking as possible. There was a judge who went off his rocker becoming born again Christian and we get to see and wonder if there’s any goodness and purity, and “hand of God” behind his madness.

Despite the name, God isn’t an attraction in this show, it’s what this super duper judge can do and how he can impress us, the mere hoi polloi, with his brilliant intelligence, high octane energy, wisdom etc. Once I realized that I lost all interest.

They again try to use God to make themselves look good. Humility is just not their strong suit. As soon as they get touched by this “hand of God” they use it to extend their powers and their control over material world. They never even think about becoming servants, only about masters of the universe, and they demand God’s blessings.

Is there any value in such utilization of God, as was my question in the beginning? I don’t know. God is absolute, everyone who remembers Him in any context purifies his existence but “God” isn’t the best name to remember so the effect is limited, and if one approaches God with the desire to take His powers and use them for his own pleasure then he kind of seals his own fate.

It’s what impersonalists do – they want to become God themselves, they don’t want to become servants. That’s what demons do, too – Viṣṇu is there to be equaled to and then possibly defeated. This attitude is decidedly undevotional.

Is it better than atheism, though? Not necessarily. First of all, they ARE atheists – they reject their relationships with God even if they accept His existence. They are even greedier than ordinary atheists who at least do not hanker after God’s powers to help them in their sense enjoyment.

We’ve also seen millions of atheists in former Soviet block countries becoming best of devotees. I think it was because their atheism wasn’t actually offensive towards God, they simply didn’t know anything about Him, and once they heard our message they immediately became receptive. It’s not the lack of knowledge, it’s the offensive attitudes in our hearts that make us into atheists.

I guess I should have clarified the meaning of “atheist” here first but it’s a big topic, even atheists themselves do not always agree on various aspects of this term.

And I still don’t know the answer if we should welcome using God for entertainment purposes. Certainly not for our own, of course, but for the rest of the population.

Vanity thought #1109. What if I told you..?

A couple of months ago Louis CK had an episode on his show dedicated to God. A large part of his monologue was straight about God and the rest was even more about God than his direct words.

In his speech he didn’t say anything profoundly meaningful, just general banter about God and heaven and people’s expectations. I don’t know why people keep talking about this, the concept is so hopelessly outdated that Christians should issue a new vision of the future, the current legacy version with Saint Peter sitting at the gates checking credentials can’t be taken seriously anymore. There are so many jokes about it no one knows how to perceive it as a real thing.

Louie has made a few pertinent observations, though, like when he asked the audience who there hopes to go to heaven and picked on a young man:

    – You’re 28 and already you’re a lock for heaven. You’ve done enough good in your ten adult years
    that you couldn’t possibly make a mistake..

Aren’t we the same? Don’t we take reaching Kṛṣṇa for granted in our first years, no, days in Kṛṣṇa consciousness? It takes a while to realize that we actually never been in Kṛṣṇa consciousness yet, that real devotional service is still ahead of us, so far we have no idea when it’s going to start. Probably not in this lifetime.

I mean pure devotional service that starts only after liberation. Until then it’s just serving our false ego albeit by enlisting Kṛṣṇa’s help. If we look at ourselves honestly, it’s not even us trying to help Kṛṣṇa, we want Him to help us in whatever it is we decide to do.

And as time goes by we inevitably make embarrassing mistakes, too, which we forgive ourselves by citing api cet su durācāro verse (BG 9.30).

The possibility of Kṛṣṇa forgiving us shouldn’t even arise – our errors are not made in relationships with Him, it’s just us serving our material bodies. He doesn’t care enough about that to be offended. We do not have personal relationships with Him yet so there’s no possibility of offense and so no questions of forgiveness.

Of course we have relationships with the Holy Name and the Deities and our spiritual master and we can offend them easily but there’s a question of how big percentage of these relationships is actually with Kṛṣṇa rather than some other aspect of Absolute Truth. I’d say it’s zero, our realization is not advanced enough to be connected to Him directly. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Next Louie questions the existence of Heaven itself. He says that we expect too much of God – He created this whole amazing universe for us and then we want yet another, even more awesome place for the whole eternity? Is there an end to our greed?

Then Louie addressed people who claim that there’s no God – how can they be so sure? How can they argue with others’ beliefs? “I believe in God – No, you don’t – Yes, I do” What is the meaning of this argument? It’s senseless. Even when atheists claim that they don’t believe in God – how do they know? Their eyes can see only for a hundred yards while God might be standing right behind them all the time.

That argument is straight from our books – our senses are too limited to declare anything with any certainty, and God IS the closest person to us, standing right within our hearts, and we can’t see Him.

Louie also said he envied people who have faith. They wake up every morning and feel God in their lives while he feels nothing and it makes his life empty. Good point, too.

And then he went off a tangent – if God is our father and we are His children? Where is our mother? What has He done to her? There’s no good answer to that, forget Louie’s attempts at being funny about it. We ourselves would have to think twice before answering that question.

Kṛṣṇa is the seed giving father and we are His children but who is our mother? Material nature? That’s not a satisfying answer – we do not seek maternal relationships with material world, those who worship Durgā do. Are we, as devotees, supposed to be motherless?

Funny how “maternal” and “material” are so close as if talking about the same thing.

I think this whole “Kṛṣṇa is our father” analogy is made for the western audience, it doesn’t exist in our literature, afaik, Kṛṣṇa’s actual children in Dvārakā notwithstanding. We relate to Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu as our master and we see ourselves as His servants. Our actual father and mother are different devotees who have their own relationships with Him.

Anyway, what I found remarkable about that episode is not what Louie said about God but what he said about women.

When I was doing reviews of Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson I came to think of him as a worshiper of the Absolute Truth in the form of the universe. For him there’s no higher reality, no higher object, no higher substance, and no higher truth than the universe. Universe is his equivalent of God.

For Louie, God is women. He doesn’t know any higher aspect of the Absolute than women, the opposite sex. It might be not as exalted as seeing universe as God but it’s legitimate in its own right – Kṛṣṇa is the pure sex life. “According to regulative principles”, we always add, but I don’t think we actually add anything by saying this, only rob the concept of its beauty by diverting the discussion into arguments about rules.

Pure sex is Kṛṣṇa – it’s all attractive, after all, the most potent attractive force in the whole world. It’s definitely Kṛṣṇa, as far as we know. Its attraction is stronger than our interest in a blue boy we see in the pictures, we can’t give it up no matter what we try. That’s a different topic, though, let’s leave it for now.

Anyway, for Louie, pure, selfless, spontaneous attraction to women is the highest truth in this world. When he falls in love his entire life, entire being changes. He suddenly has purpose and energy and hopes. Love brings every best quality there is in his entire being – how can we say it’s not Kṛṣṇa?

In this episode he just got off a relationship and was heartbroken. Nothing went wrong, it’s just that his woman had to leave the country. Louie went to talk to a very strange shrink who happens to live in this building and they had the most interesting conversation ever.

    – So you took a chance on being happy, even though you knew that later on you would be sad.

    – Yeah.

    – And now… you’re sad.

    – Yeah.

    – So..? What, what, what’s the problem?

    – I’m too sad. Look, I liked the feeling of being in love with her, I liked it. But now she’s gone and I miss her and it sucks. And I didn’t think it was gonna be this bad, and I feel like, why even be happy, if it’s just gonna lead to this? It wasn’t worth it.

    – You know, I’m not entirely sure what your name is, but you are a classic idiot. You think spending time with her, kissing her, having fun with her, you think that’s what it was all about That was love?

    – Yeah.

    This is love, missing her. Because she’s gone, wanting to die, you’re… so lucky.

    – Don’t you see, this is the good part. This is what you’ve been digging for all this time. Now you finally have it in your hand, this sweet nugget of love, sweet, sad love and you wanna throw it away. You’ve got it all wrong.

    – I thought this was the bad part.

    – No! The bad part is when you forget her. When you don’t care about her. When you don’t
    care about anything. The bad part is coming so enjoy the heartbreak while you can, for God sakes.

I mean there’s so much in there that we can relate to. If we replace “her” with “Kṛṣṇa” it would appear as coming straight from our books, and not the introductory stuff but discussions on the highest rasa.

I’ve done this once already, two years ago – substituted women in Louie’s monologue with Kṛṣṇa and it came out embarrassingly private (here).

I’m not in the mood today to translate this dialogue into devotees’ feelings for Kṛṣṇa, you do it on your own, my words are not grave enough to discuss this subject.

What I want to say instead is that this highest rasa of love in separation can exist even with a lesser aspect of the Absolute than Kṛṣṇa Himself.

Now, think of our own lives – are we always as emotionally charged about our service as Louie was about that woman? No way, maybe it happens every now and then but it’s certainly not our normal state of mind.

The other possibility that opens here is even more mind-blowing – what if I told you that our understanding of the Absolute is similarly incomplete and so where Louie has relationships with women, devotees have relationships with Kṛṣna, Neil deGrasse Tyson has relationships with the universe, we have relationships with something else?

What is *our* highest realization of the Supreme? Obviously it’s not Kṛṣṇa Himself – that’s an ideal level, our goal, but not our current stage. Is it our guru? For some – probably, for many not.

I’m afraid I’m not ready to discuss the answers today, my mind needs settling into this idea and thinking it through. The complications and possibilities are are innumerable, and then it needs to be “realized” in one way or another. Certainly a job for another day.

Vanity thought #667. Krishna as God

Following from yesterday – does Krishna qualify to be called God in conversations with Christians and other “infidels”?

I mean we’ve been taught about qualities of Bhagavan right from the start – the six opulences and all. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada describes Krishna as the Supreme Absolute Truth in the purport to SB 1.1.1, the verse that famously starts with on namo bhagavate vasudevaya, so what’s there to argue about it?

In one word – Krishna.

He is not Vasudeva, at home, in Vrindavana, He is known as song of Mother Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja. He becomes Vasudeva when He leaves the land of Vraja and goes to Mathura. In another sense, Vasudeva is an expansion of Balarama, who Himself is an expansion of Krishna, so we are talking about a different person here with different personality.

Does Krishna possess the ultimate strength? Not really, He can barely carry Nanda Maharaja’s slippers. He can also be bound with ropes fairly easily by Mother Yashoda. She had a little trouble with tying him up but that was because the rope was always too short, not because Krishna was very strong and she couldn’t restrain Him.

When Krishna plays with His friends they sometimes beat Him and He has to carry them on His back. Sometimes He displays supernatural strength, like when lifting Govardhana, but no one takes Him seriously. His friends even volunteered to hold it so He can take a rest. When He kills demons or knocks down huge trees no one understands how a little boy could have done that.

Does Krishna possess ultimate knowledge? Not really, He knows all about tending calves and charming ladies but when He leaves Vrindavana He has to study in gurukula just like everybody else.

Does Krishna possess ultimate wealth? Nah, He’s just a cowherd boy, He’s got some jewelry, earrings and anklets but that’s not real wealth.

Does Krishna possess ultimate fame? Not really, when He went to beg Brahmanas for some food they didn’t know who He was. He was surely the life and soul of everyone in Vraja but that doesn’t say much. He got really famous only after He left, became Vasudeva, and killed Kamsa.

Does Krishna posses ultimate beauty? Hmm, beauty is the matter of taste. Krishna is supremely attractive but that’s not the same thing. When He comes home in the evening, sweaty and all covered in dust, we are not talking about beauty anymore.

Does Krishna grant liberation? Not really. He certainly can, and He is known as Mukunda, but His best devotees never ask for it and never get it. Imagine yourself in Six Goswami’s shoes for a moment. Sleeping one hour a day, surviving on one unsalted chapati and morsel of rice, and you’d scream for liberation. Neither Krishna nor His devotees are concerned with it, however.

Krishna is the source of all opulences but He never displays them, and if He does it breaks all the mood. Mother Yashoda didn’t know what to think when she saw the universe in His mouth, His friends didn’t know what to think when they couldn’t hold Govardhan but He could. He can liberate all His devotees in a moment but He doesn’t do that because devotees like to serve Him in material world, that’s the only way they can preach.

All these opulences and powers carry no weight in Vrindavan, Krishna better hide them and hide them very well.

So, do we worship God then? I’m afraid not, not in the Christian sense, and not even in the sense of Bhagavan.

What Krishna has on those concepts is rasa. No one has better and deeper relationships with His devotees than Krishna, and reversely, no devotee can find better and richer rasa anywhere but in relationships with Krishna.

Devotees don’t care for all the external manifestations of Godhead – power, fame, opulence, beauty, renunciation, whatever. They care only about pleasing Him as friends, parents or girlfriends.

When talking with “infidels” we can’t say such things but we ourselves should never forget them. We want to be Krishna’s servants not because He is God with all accompanying powers but because we want rasa and we want to give it Him.

As followers of Srila Rupa Goswami we go even further – we serve those who please Krishna better than us. Our own rasa “sucks” so we make sure that gopis, who are best in the whole world, can please Krishna in full. Our own rasa, our own enjoyment can wait.

This is taking it too far, though, on the material platform we can’t even imagine how it feels in real life.

Vanity thought #339. Science strides

It’s been a long time since I looked at how Wikipedia treats historic origins of Krishna Himself and I was pleased to see that progress has been made.

It will never catch up with writings of Stephen Knapp but they are determined not to fall too far behind. As it stands now, even with atrocious editing, mentions of Krishna are traced as far back as Rig Veda, Chandogya Upanishad and Shatapatha Brahmana which makes Him a genuinely old and ingenious Vedic personality.

Other corroborating references show that stories from His life and His worship was known at least half a thousand years BC. They missed Baudhayana Dharma Sutra that prescribes worship of various demigods every evening, includes Vishnu, of course, and mentions familiar names like Keshava, Govinda and Damodara (BDS 2.5.9.10). That’s part of Yajur Veda.

They mention Panini’s Ashtadhyayi but not Bryant’s footnote in his Krishna Sourcebook, p17, that suggests Vasudeva was to be worshiped in the mood of bhakti.

There’s probably more in various other upanishads but as far as pushing Krishna’s worship back in time it’s already a good job.

On another front Stephen Hawking recently published a new book, boldly entitled “The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life”. I haven’t read it but, perhaps, his new answers are best encapsulated in this quote:

There is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality. Instead we will adopt a view that we will call model-dependent realism: the idea that a physical theory or world picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations.

I don’t know if it answers any of the Ultimate Questions of Life for anybody but the gist of it is that Hawking admits that we know nothing about the world around us and instead of knowledge we promote various theoretical models that describe it.

We just create theories, one after another, some of them fit better, some worse, but they are just our mental constructions.

What he calls models we call illusion. Every time we want to examine something Krishna’s energy presents us with a unique illusion, specifically for our bewilderment, and then we go around telling people that it’s the truth, until the next illusion strikes us (SB 11.14.9).

That’s a big admission on the part of the allegedly smartest man on the planet. This is not all he says in his book but this is his central tenet. The rest are his other illusions.

Of course not everyone would agree with this interpretation of Hawking’s latest mental achievement. Richard Dawkings, the allegedly most famous atheist, happily welcomes it:

Darwinism kicked God out of biology but physics remained more uncertain. Hawking is now administering the coup de grace.

Apparently he said that before the book hit the streets. I wonder what he’s thinking now, though he’d probably twist this “model-dependent realism” to argue that since they don’t include God in their models than He can’t possibly exist or something like that.

All in all – very encouraging developments. There’s bad news, too, but I’ll keep it for another day.