Vanity thought #1100. Spiraling down

This post’s number is unique, it will surely never happen again, but, seriously, we all look at orderly occurrences of some digits as having special significance. There are nutcases who link them to the end of the world but ordinary people mostly think of some special luck, which is never identified anyway. Two ones and two zeroes – wow, must be something really special about it.

There’s this latest craze going on, “ice bucket challenge”, where people dump a bucked of ice water on their heads and invite three others to join in and spread the message. This is the way they are soliciting donations for battling some disease. They’ve raised millions already and will probably raise some more before this fad subsides.

What they are really spreading, however, is sheer lunacy and herd thinking. Refusing the invitation is considered bad sport, it’s a “challenge”, after all, and so we see endless stream of celebrities and CEOs dutifully joining in to appear hip and in touch.

There has been several similar fads in the past couple of years, like planking and that twitchy dance I can’t remember the name already. Also, at the same time, a stupid video of some Korean fat dude doing a horse dance has become the most watched on youtube ever, reaching well over a billion views.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with people doing silly things for fun but lately they have started taking all theses games too seriously – in this latest ice bucket challenge they actually pressure others to join or face being publicly ostracized.

It must be some kind of quirk in the mode of ignorance that pushes people to do these stupid things. Will it become dangerous? Not at first, but this herd mentality might come very useful for the next genocide or something – successfully gaining control over what people think is essential in democracies.

Come to think of it, the west has been obsessed with demonizing Russia and Putin for about a year now, economic sanctions are in the third or fourth round and no one knows where all that will end. Another Cold War, perhaps? The world is not ready for it, people and countries are too interdependent to go for a second round of that, and for what? There’s no communism threat anymore, it makes no economic sense whatsoever, unless it’s some nefarious American plan to keep their military industry going on at the time when no one wants wars anymore. But I digress.

The fads like ice bucked challenge are extremely short lived, a few months at best, and that is only because they have to spread over the entire world. In each locality they last maybe a week. Then, after a while, people start craving for the next “big thing”, and then the next, and the next. I guess it’s a law of supply and demand, and once the current demand for short-lived highs is satisfied they would move onto something else.

I don’t want to even try to predict what it could be but it would probably be more degrading than the present. There’s no way out of this downward spiral of ignorance, except at some point even the lowest of humans must suddenly realize that their lives are meant for something better.

We found our purpose when we met with Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We struggle with it, we can’t find a proper way up, we get frustrated, we seek compromises, but we always remember that at the end of the day only serving Kṛṣṇa matters, everything else is just to fill the time allotted to us in this world.

We don’t know how to please Kṛṣṇa, nothing we do seems to work, but we also know that this is the only way, He is all-attractive, after all, we can’t avoid trying to please Him again and again against all our bitter experience.

One might object that we do get a real taste from our service, we wouldn’t be doing this for decades if there was no “payback” for it, if it wasn’t real. I would answer that we could simply become acculturated and so the pleasure we derive from our service is no different from the pleasure other people derive from being part of their cultural group, like Americans with democracy or Russians with vodka and Mother Russia.

Being satisfied in our situation is the symptom of māyā, it’s one of her primary functions. We don’t need to become pure devotees to be happy with our lives, māyā would make sure of that on her own, so there’s a danger of mistaking our happiness with being devotees for the sign of actual spiritual progress, and that brings me to the second argument.

If we were really making spiritual progress we would have passed the stage of anartha nivṛtti long long time ago and be on our way to bhāva. In reality, however, we aren’t even devotees – devotional service starts only after liberation, when our hearts become absolutely pure and free from all material contamination. Until then we serve not Kṛṣṇa but our own interests – everyone under the influence of his false ego must work for his own, selfish causes.

Still, we have been told what the purpose of our life is and we cannot forget it anymore. Clumsily, committing offenses at every step, we are trying to fulfill it. People tell us we are crazy, and that’s just devotees, materialists don’t understand us at all. People expect and pressure us to behave in their prescribed ways – go to work, enjoy our lives, be “normal” – yet we don’t give up, we persevere and hope that one day, before we die, we will be able to fully surrender and Kṛṣṇa will appreciate our efforts.

Btw, people’s desire to cast us as normal is driven by their own insecurity. They need to know that what they are doing is right by God, too. Their faith depends on their confidence and we shouldn’t undermine it for their own sake.

They have their own version of “dharma” – you should do this and that and then you deserve a break and an assent to heaven when you die. Their entire world view would collapse if we insist that their meat-eating guarantees their advance to hell, and so does their drinking and out of wedlock sex. That would be too much for them to bear and so they don’t want to see devotees leading pure lifestyles and setting much higher standards.

It’s not a reasonable response, of course, but it’s an understandable one, and over the time we have learned how to preach to them without freaking them out.

Anyway, I’m starting to lose the sense of time. I remember when two years meant an era, I couldn’t have possibly planned my life so far, and yet now I can’t believe some things happened five years ago already because they still feel fresh as if it was yesterday. My time seems to stand still while the rest of the world is speeding up.

Maybe it’s just me, or rather it’s a general change in perception of time as people grow older, but, I believe, a big part of it is a change of pace of the modern society, too. Everything happens so fast now, we forget things before we actually learn them, and this can’t be good for the future of the humanity.

Hmm, Kali yuga seems to make faster progress than the promised Golden Age, or, perhaps, it’s “things will get worse before they get better” principle at work – people must become frustrated with their material lives before they turn their attention to God. The illusion of happiness must disappear first. That fundamental rule will always, always hold true.

Hopefully, this is what it is and Golden Age, which for us should mean the world full of Kṛṣṇa’s devotees, is still on schedule.

Vanity thought #637. Golden age – who needs it?

Returning back to the subject I covered last October – do we really need this Golden Age? Just a couple of days ago I saw a devotee talking about signs of the coming Golden Age and I thought to myself – why are we so enthusiastic about it in the first place?

We have no idea what it will be like. Our lore tells us about Satya yuga like conditions and the spread of sankirtana but scriptural support for our speculations is surprisingly thin. We only have unauthorized and poorly translated Brahma Vaivarta Purana to go on and nothing in the works of our acharyas.

Even so – who among us would want to live in Satya yuga? There were no cities there, no internet, no creature comforts, no pleasures of any kind. People just sat down and meditated all the time, their minds were peaceful and free from all hankering.

We, on the other hand, are always trying to improve our material conditions, we want to be better managers, we want to be healthier so we dabble in hatha yoga, we watch our diets and we take supplementary pills. We can’t live without our phones or without Facebook. We won’t sit still in Satya youga conditions even for a minute.

I’m sure if Satya yuga like Golden Age started tomorrow we’d run away like cockroaches. It’s not for us.

Another feature of the Golden Age is sankirtana. That sounds totally kosher but it doesn’t mean any change to our material conditions. It might actually hurt like hell, we might always be sick and poor, but we would always chant the Holy Names. Actually, suffering is our best motivation so the whole world might plunge in an unprecedented wave of pain and that would finally turn people to the Holy Name.

Not exactly as we expect, is it? We want “gold” in Golden, don’t we? But that is no guarantee at all, and gold is the refuge of Kali himself so our hopes might be all in vain.

I suspect our real motivation is the same PVME – we got a little taste of goodness, we find it fairly pleasant, and we want to hold on to it. We tell ourselves that we can reach transcendental platform only through the mode of goodness, so in mode of goodness we must reside. Do we admit to ourselves that we have become attached to it? No. Are we ready to let it go for the sake of service? No, not anymore.

Preaching is hard, and it’s hardly ever happens in sattvic conditions, rather the opposite. We have to get our hands dirty, associate with repulsive people and go to abominable places, it destroys our goodness, no doubt about it. Our attachment to sattva guna is what stops us from going out and reaching to ordinary, tamasic people. And we hope this attitude will take us to the transcendental platform?

We are only fooling ourselves.

Now some of us are talking about taking over the government with the goal of teaching people how to lead pious and prosperous lives and re-establish the Vedic culture.

What is so good about that Vedic culture anyway? Lord Chaitanya appeared right in the middle of it and told us to forget about it and take to the chanting only.

Why are we so fixated on reaching happiness and prosperity the Vedic way rather than taking Lord Chaitanya’s advice to our hearts?

I think that is duplicity leaking out from our hearts. We still want to enjoy the material world, we are not ready to give up our material attachments and aspirations, and we are searching for compromise, we want the cake and we want to eat it, too.

Very disappointing.

Vanity thought #420. The elusive Golden Age

Just as the exact nature of the Golden Age that is supposed to come in the middle of the Kali yuga has been mentioned a couple of times in the blog and comments, someone posted a link to a five year old article on the subject that really muddles things up.

Before you go and check that link I must warn you that it’s an editorial on a website that dedicates itself to blaspheming sincere followers of Srila Prabhupada. It’s not as bad as prabhupadanugas, they just insist on reading only “original” versions of Prabhupada’s books, but in the process they discredit GBC, BBT, and ISKCON, and claim the sole right to represent Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and legacy.

Sampradaya Sun, they call themselves, without a shred of modesty.

So, be very very careful reading anything there, their attitude towards devotees is poisonous and might lead you to being trapped in the offensive stage forever. Actually, it’s a warning to myself, too.

Besides that, the article presents some very valuable research on the subject of “Golden Age” and so far it checks out.

In short – Srila Prabhupada never wrote or talked about it, just mentioned it in passing without giving any details or sources. Apparently he talked about it to his disciples in the early days of the movement but it wasn’t recorded and the source was misattributed to Padma Purana and Srimad Bhagavatam.

According to the article devotees, in Gaudiya Math don’t know much about it either and some even have different interpretations of what it is and when it started.

The only shastric source is Brahma Vaivarta Purana and there are two slightly different translations of the relevant passage, one is discussed in the article and the other one can be found here.

Variation is significant as there are several interpretations of the time line and they differ by thousands of years. One is often attributed to Srila Prabhupada and it starts Golden Age with the advent of Lord Chaitanya, the other points to the first ten thousand years of Kali Yuga. There’s another interpretation that starts this Golden Age with appearance of Srila Prabhupada himself.

There’s also a question about reliability of the Brahma Vaivarta Purana itself. Apparently the only surviving versions of it were printed by Brits two hundred of years ago and there are suspicions that they tweaked it to make Christianity a bit more appealing to Hindus. It was in the days when Rammohan Roy published completely bogus “scripture” of his own imagination to serve his political ideology – suggesting that publishing standards were not very high at that time.

Apparently, our earlier acharyas have never mentioned this prediction and never did Lord Chaitanya talk about disappearance of the Ganges, too.

All of this makes any talk about real nature of the Golden Age highly hypothetical. Usually, when talking about “golden age”, Srila Prabhupada mean Satya yuga and “golden” meant “pure”, meaning purity of the population, not the wealth or comforts. It is quite possible that if we were suddenly transferred to Satya yuga we would have found that civilization unappealing, much less golden. People might enjoy lives on the heavenly planets but Satya yuga was the time for ascetism and meditation, not for indulgence or extravagance that come with the idea of “gold” in our days.

It is also possible that “golden” here mainly means golden opportunity for spiritual advancement, as in “from those who He really favors, Krishna takes away everything” opportunities, ie devotees will be leading impoverished lives with their service as their only reward in life.

If that’s the price we need to pay to obtain this service, we should pay it without hesitation, but I also think that many of us wouldn’t qualify and we need some creature comforts, too.

It is quite possible that we are looking forward to this golden age with a view of some sense gratification, I know I am. When you think of it like that, it’s probably a good thing Krishna is not in a hurry to manifest this golden age in full, if He ever meant it like that.

As far as the time line goes – it has no practical relevance to our lives. Five thousand this way, five thousand that way – we are not going to live long enough to see any major changes in this world, we have our work cut out for us already whether this age comes or not or has been with us for thousands of years already. Our lifespans are simply too short to notice any major transitions.

Our business is quite simple and independent of that golden age – chant, read books, preach, and hope to remember Krishna at the time of death, and not waste time discussing hypothetical situations we can’t support with shastra or parampara.

Vanity thought #254. Doing Krishna’s job.

This is rather radical – Krishna has already created the varnashrama, why do we have to go and reinvent it again? Certainly the modern society doesn’t look anything like varnashrama of the vedic times but it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Perhaps we assume that when Krishna said in Bhagavad Gita 4.13 that he created varnashrama he meant the idyllic agriculture based society and nothing else. When I read our literature produced on the subject I see that none of what I personally think is revolutionary, but somehow everyone ends up with advocating the vedic version and discards everything else. I’m sure it’s because that was what Srila Prabhupada wanted – small scale, oxen-driven farming and all that follows. Impossible to argue with this but it’s also impossible to ignore the fact that at this time it’s hardly helping anybody, too.

Sure, in the future, when the world around us implodes under environmental and industrial pressure those farms will come very very handy and might actually form the basis of the ten thousand years of Golden Age in the middle of Kali Yuga but that is surely some decades away at the very least and not many people will live long enough to see it.

For now, however, it’s main importance is in preparing for that glorious future, not for the benefit of the seven billion people currently munching away at our planet with ever increasing speed. Maybe they can’t be saved and should be chalked up as losses – they have the books, they’ve heard of Hare Krishnas, they had been given a chance, too bad they didn’t take it. Still a bit cruel though, if you ask me, they need to be saved, too, and now.

So my starting point is that “proper” varnashrama at this point is useless, we need a different approach. First of all, the divisions of society in varnas and ashramas as created by Krishna exists at all times, we just need to see it better. The thinkers, the rulers and protectors, and business people and the servants are all there, they haven’t gone away. It is all mixed and degraded but it’s not like things were absolutely perfect before either. There always have been brahmanas making money of their trade and there always have been kshatriyas abusing their power, just not to the same degree.

Maybe we should pay more attention to the guna-karma part of the verse – “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them…” One meaning of this is that varsnashrama manifests according to the prevailing modes of the material nature, it’s just the symptom, we can’t treat the symptoms without addressing the underlying cause and we can’t change varnashrama according to our own will. If the codes of nature dictate an industry and service based society than there’s nothing we can do about that. Small scale farming will not reappear on its own, without underlying increase in the mode of goodness and that is not going to happen anytime soon.

I even suspect it’s not going to happen in Kali Yuga at all, it’s not the right age for increase in goodness. The Golden Age predicted due to the appearance of Lord Chaitanya might not come as a result of sudden increase of mode of goodness but rather as a result of people propagating His sankirtana movement that is transcendental to all the gunas, remember?

What we need to do is to add Krishna consciousness to whatever ugly and dysfunctional system is already there, not invent something entirely alien to the prevailing conditions.

At the present moment the world is controlled by the asuras, all the old vestiges of demigod power are being systematically dismantled and purged from the public consciousness. We don’t rely on gods to provide us with anything anymore, it’s all about realizing human potential and man made progress. Churches and religion in general are anachronisms and most of it was overrun but asuric attitudes already. We don’t pray for daily bread, we work for it, and we don’t rely on mystic powers, like Sanjaya of the Bhagavad Gita, to connect to the rest of the world. Our achievement in replicating vedic miracles might still be crude but we are getting there.

We have also successfully dismantled the institution of monarchy, our last physical connection to the Indra’s hierarchy. A few years ago I spent considerable time trying to defend the monarchy system of government but it’s just going against the grain, in principle it is always superior to anything else but at this point in time it just fails. Perhaps the reason is not deterioration in the quality of the present day monarchs but in Indra slacking off himself, his power just doesn’t trickle down in sufficient quantity even to those who try very hard.

Also, from the first days of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching in the west Krishna was the star attraction among the asuric beings – hippies, not among the church goers, and it hasn’t changed much since. ISKCON attracts people disillusioned with the old style, demigod based religions, and we are not putting those people back on track either, in fact we most brazenly ignore demigods existence, we jump over their heads and approach Krishna directly.

Our greatest enemies seem to be the ones coming from the entrenched religious traditions, from Christian anti-cultists to intolerable Islamic societies to caste Hindu brahmanas to Gaudiya gosai families to Radha Kund babajies.

We are, indeed, asuric rebels. It’s not that we don’t see the value of demigod tradition, we want to restore it ourselves, but we rebel against deterioration and trying to pass rotten tomatoes as the ripe fruit of vedic wisdom. We wouldn’t have the problem with aforementioned people if they actually did what they are supposed to do, we have a problem with their pretending to be holier than they really are, and in this regard the world is on our side, everybody and his dog is fed up with hypocrisy that is passed for religion nowadays.

Considering all this, why do we have to reject the existing, however perverted, varnashrama and try to force what our allies have developed natural aversion to? Why don’t we focus on undermining the current asuric varnashrama from within? Asuras can be devotees, too. Maybe in the next lives they get to be born as demigods as a reward but if that’s what it’s going to take then so be it. Do Prahlada Maharaj or Bali Maharah need to be reborn as demigods? I don’t think so but maybe we do, or maybe we are going to establish a new branch of asuras – deeply devoted to Krishna but dismissive of the demigods.

Maybe we should decouple ISKCON from “varnasrhama” altogether, it has been going on from the very beginning anyway – our sannyasis are nothing like traditional sannyasis, for example. Lord Chaitanya might have pulled it off but our sannyasis will never ever stand a chance of getting initiation in Shankara order. Their behavior and expectations are completely different, Shankarites want to renounce the world, ours want to embrace it and turn it to Krishna’s service.

In the last century it was all about printing books and flying around the world to meet preaching requirements, a big no no for “varnashrama” sannyasis, now we have television, movies and the internet, we just don’t have an acharya to show us how to best utilize those and if someone turns up we’ll embrace modern technology whole heartedly, just like we embrace selling books now.

So, what I mean by decoupling from varnashrama is to give up trying to live up to traditional expectations of what our sannyasis and brahmanas are supposed to do. In the outer world they might be doing the duties of kshatriays, vaishyas, shudras, and even brahmacharies and grihasthas but for us the only thing that matters is their dedication to service and detachment from the outer world. Obviously we are not going to give sannyasa to people living with their wives but if they engage in sexual relationships only for the procreation than they are as good as sannyasis anyway, we know that, we just can’t put sannyasi label on them.

Of course maintaining purity while operating in the material world full time is not an easy task and perhaps only few souls of the caliber of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Prabhupada can manage it successfully but it doesn’t mean that we should stop trying and do something else. That won’t be following their footsteps, would it?

If we are born in an asuric society and are given asuric duties to perform why should we try to evade those in favor of some artificial constructions like ISKCON run farms? We should provide all help to those devotees who have natural affinity for farm life but we shouldn’t force it on those who don’t, meaning we shouldn’t point at our farms as the best thing people ever going to achieve if they join up. That’s just a turn off for billions of people who might be otherwise interested in offering selfless service to God. Hardly anyone can offer truly selfless service anyway, we are all conditioned by our birth.

We might also reconsider the gender roles in our society. In this day the physical appearance and the actual body functions do not always match. Sure, men can’t make babies but beyond that the bodies are pretty much interchangeable and the trend to unisex is undeniable and possibly irreversible. We might think twice before telling our women what to do because we know what women did in the past, what they are capable of now is dictated not by the demigod set examples of yore but by what they do on the asuric planets, which might as well be fighting, leading and decision making. We don’t know what modern day females are best suited for, we should carefully study them first. That’s an innate paternalist in me speaking.

Now we are still in the transitional period from traditional suric or future asuric societies so we have a mix of both in every individual and therefore it’s twice as difficult to manage them but it’s the skill we need to acquire. Actually the skill is in figuring out how to engage them in Krishna’s service as they already exist rather than in changing their nature. That change will happen on its own and it might not turn out as we normally expect – a replica of a genuine vedic society, but as long as it’s pleasing to Krishna and everyone is happy it will be as good as any Golden Age before.