Vanity thought #1667. Groundhog Day

There was an iconic movie with this name some twenty years ago. The protagonist goes to some little provincial town to report on an arcane ritual where locals predict the weather for the rest of the year from a choice of food made by a groundhog on what is known as “Groundhog Day”. What happens is that when the protagonists wakes up the following morning it turns out that the time stuck and it’s Groundhog Day all over again. At first he is surprised but when this phenomenon repeats unfailingly again and again he gets the hang of it, learns every little details of what is going to happen, uses it to his advantage first but eventually he realizes the futility of worrying about trivial stuff. He starts seeking the deeper meaning of life and tries to live this day as perfectly as possible. I don’t remember how the movie ends but that part of the plot is enough for today’s post.

What if our lives here are just like this Groundhog Day and we get to relive them again and again until we realize the value of spiritual side of it? Being in ISKCON we are quite advanced already but clearly have a long way to go to perfection, too.

As I argued yesterday, in order to qualify for this repetitive lives we need to become liberated first, which practically means we need Lord Caitanya to personally extend His mercy to us and take us under His wing. If we are already in ISKCON than this is no problem, we got it covered, and so we need to concentrate on getting our lives right.

Unlike with materialists devoid of Lord Caitanya’s mercy our progress isn’t going to happen in huge steps – one life here on Earth, next life possibly on heavenly planets or, more likely, down in hell, then animal birth here again, and so on. Each new life and the assigned body is going to be very different from the previous one, but not for us. We get to stay and repeat the same mission over and over and over again until we get it right, or possibly forever. Our consciousness will become clarified incrementally and as soon as material body catches up, ie learns to walk and talk, we’ll be right where we left at the previous attempt.

Unlike the movie, however, we are not going to recognize our “new” life right away, it would take a certain level of maturity to see beyond the trivialities of every day life and recognize familiar patterns. They might still look differently but we’ll know that it’s the same experiences and same interactions repeating themselves. Falling in love is the same, getting out of bed and going to work is the same, raising children is the same, food is the same, entertainment is the same. When we are young we feel that we are special and that we have our own, unique experiences never seen in history before but that exultation is repetitive, too.

What we need to finally learn is the appreciation for chanting of the holy name, appreciation for saṅkīrtana. We sort of know it’s important already but we still behave as if we don’t, as if it’s only an add-on or one of many other equally important activities we can’t skip.

There’s one big difference between that Groundhog day and our groundhog lives, and actually any other time tweaking story – they use this opportunity to change history while we don’t. Materialists do not have a spiritual dimension to their lives and so they are not interested in spiritual progress, which is transcendental to material happenings. They want to improve the material life instead.

Given the chance they might go back and kill Hitler, for example, or save Kennedy, or prevent any other catastrophes and disasters. They want to bring modern inventions to help people of old, or they want to bring future inventions into the present. They want past and future to be interactive, hoping to improve things for everybody involved. This, of course, is not going to happen and it will always remain a fantasy.

We, the tiny little jīvas, are not in control of this world and we don’t make changes here, nor can we turn back the time because time works under the orders of the Supreme, not ours, and for us it’s irreversible. The Groundhog Day phenomenon in our lives might become possible only if we are outside of the influence of time, ie liberated, just as I said earlier, or if it happens in different universes which are at different stages of material development but always see Lord Caitanya visiting them anyway.

As spiritual beings we can make spiritual progress but it will remain imperceptible because spiritual matters are transcendental. There are, of course, external symptoms to recognize devotees but I could argue that plenty of ISKCON members qualify for being potentially pure devotees already. They all chant, they all follow regulative principles, they all serve the mission of Lord Caitanya, they all surrender their lives to their gurus, and differences in the amount of visible service are trivial, they don’t mean much. It is possible to become a pure devotee and still do the same things in exactly the same way.

Life of a pure devotee does not depend on external happenings, his body reacts to hot and cold, it needs food and shelter, but it doesn’t break his constant concentration on Kṛṣṇa even if his mind apparently interacts with material objects. Mind is a material element, it will keep doing whatever it is doing according to the laws of the universe.

Pure or not, but, as Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna in Bhagavad Gītā, we all have to perform our assigned duties. Arjuna had to fight, we have to go and vote, for example, and we might also need to explain our voting choices if someone asks. That would all be done by the mind but our spiritual lives underneath the material coverings are not going to be disturbed. In fact, at the stage of perfection we’ll see each and every movement in the material world as an interaction with Kṛṣṇa himself where right not we still see illusion.

So, we will relive our groundhog lives over and over again but the difference would be in our appreciation of Kṛṣṇa’s role in it which we don’t have yet at the moment. We would still chant the same sixteen rounds but with each new life we’d ignore our minds better and better. We’d also have more and more appreciation for whatever little service that is given to us where now we see it as insignificant and inconsequential and not really worth mentioning because we think it’s OUR service that WE deserved ourselves. Right now we might still desire big things for us but that should go away, and even if we happen to come across big service opportunities we’d credit our guru and fellow devotees, not ourselves.

I don’t know how many lives we need to start seeing it as Kṛṣṇa’s service arranged by His representatives for His pleasure, and it’s our presence there that is inconsequential instead. I hope not too many, this selfishness is boring and tiring.

Vanity thought #1141. And let’s not forget food

All this talk about groundhog day for a brāhmaṇa from Lord Caitanya’s pastimes should not overshadow straightforward messages from that pastime. Śrīla Prabhupāda never missed them but I have a tendency to concentrate on speculative stuff everywhere I go. Perhaps it’s my way of avoiding the important lessons. This story is actually about food and offering it to the Lord.

Yesterday I talked about possible imperfections in that brāhmaṇa’s behavior, which is a very dangerous topic – we should not see imperfections in devotees, especially in those who the Lord personally revealed Himself to. I only did it as a guide to what not to do with our material bodies, I didn’t mean to denigrate that brāhmaṇa’s devotion.

He might remain nameless and less celebrated that other associates of Lord Caitanya but he also was the first one to see Lord’s true nature, years before the Lord showed it to anyone else. That ought to count for something. Even if he didn’t stick around long enough to see the Lord start saṅkīrtana mission in earnest we should probably look at it as a testament to the weakness of the material nature rather than as a lack of bhakti.

Material mind has its own things to do according to the nature of the senses, karma, influences of the stars etc. Even pure devotees must give it some space to express itself and satisfy its senses. For them this satisfaction usually comes from the contact with the Lord but that is mercry, not a rule. As a rule, material senses seek contact with material sense objects, spiritual component does not register with them at all.

I’ve just read a newsletter from my local ISKCON temple and I couldn’t help but notice how our devotees engage their minds and energy in.. Well, they just want to do things, luckily for them they get to do things for Kṛṣṇa, which is fine, but they also do them as a tribute to their minds.

Or, to put it another way, they can’t stop doing them and relish pure spiritual life instead. That’s why Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted us to be active – we are not ready to simply chant and probably never will be, not in this life not in this age.

We naturally want to do things, control things, achieve results, enjoy our power, appreciate our intellect, have our egos stroked by others. In that we are no different from any one else, what makes us special is that we do these things in connection with Kṛṣṇa and that means we gradually purify ourselves from our propensity to enjoy and control.

A big part of our lives is connected to food. Or rather should be connected to food because in pursuit of wealth and careers we have our priorities screwed. Maintaining a family is a legitimate dharma, too, but its only purpose is to engage our sexual organs, otherwise there’s nothing particularly spiritual about it.

I mean if one gives up sex, what is then left for him to worry about? Only food.

Of course we also need shelter and clothes but those things tend to last. You arrange it once and they’ll last for years. We can’t do that with food, we can’t eat like camels or pythons once in every blue moon, we need to eat everyday. We also need to breath and go to the toilet but those things do not demand much effort. Food is where everything is at.

If we have a job or a big service as a part of a society food tends to be taken care of itself but once we give up sex we give up the society and its support, too. We just quietly fall out. Society means massive sense gratification, people form themselves into groups to make sense gratification easier, plus there’s pride of belonging to the group, too.

Society members feel entitled to certain things, like relaxation, wealth, love, food, of course, etc etc. In some groups everyone must have a house and a car, in some groups also a business, in some groups access to easy credit is a given, in some groups everyone should be married, in some groups everyone should have sex free from commitment and so on.

I have a friend who spent a few months in Singapore and all he talks about now is early retirement and plans to rent a house in Italy for a two week vacation. These things never come up in our usual circle but for Singaporeans those are trade mark dreams.

A devotee should naturally lose interest in those kind of desires and that means slipping off the social radar. What is left then? Not much, only food.

We do our jobs or our service, we get some payment in return, but we have no interest in spending it on ourselves. If we are set with shelter and have clothes to wear we have absolutely nothing to live for. The only problem, as I said, is food.

In the company of devotees we get prasādam, there’s always something to eat there, but in the company of karmīs situation is different. At best we can count on finding vegetarian food but cooking and offering is out of the question. If we have a family then we can have someone else to cook for us so we can take lunch from home but if you give up sex life (and family, too), you are on your own.

Cooking for yourself is tough. I’ve never mastered it. I was taught to cook for about half a dozen people, I don’t know how to cook for more and I don’t know how to cook for less. It’s half a cup of rice, half potato, half tomato, a pinch of spices – I just don’t feel comfortable with this. Too much work for little outcome, and then you have to do it twice a day? Forget it. And messing with chapatis? Who needs this aggravation?

I’d rather cook a lot, put food in a fridge, and microwave it as necessary, which is against the rules but I have no power to change this habit. At least I know it’s a problem so maybe in the future I’ll work on solving it.

That brāhmaṇa, however, cooked every day and only ate what was offered to Kṛṣṇa. If he couldn’t offer food he wouldn’t eat it. That was a very easy way for him to find out what was allotted to him by the Lord. If it’s not prasādam then it’s not meant to be eaten, it’s not “food”. Try to do it when you have a fridge full of stuff including leftover prasādam from three days ago.

If you have to eat unoffered food outside then it’s even more difficult to determine what is your allotted share. Nothing at all? That seems too radical. Every living being has its allotted share regardless of whether he offers it to the Lord or not. Taking that share is our duty, taking more is sin, refusing it is false renunciation. Offering it to the Lord is best but it’s not always possible.

Eventually, as this pastime with the brāhmaṇa shows, a devotee must reduce his food intake only to what he cooks and offers to the Lord, plus occasional prasādam prepared by others. If we do that, however, it would take most of our time. That brāhmaṇa was a mendicant, he probably begged for food most of his days, as did the Six Gosvāmīs, then cooked and offered it. Sometimes he was invited in people’s houses and cooked there. If one depends on others in this way without being part of the society is must be really tough.

People do not feel obliged to give charity to outsiders, that’s just a fact of life. I don’t have any personal experience but I believe beggars always appeal to some common ground (war veteran, lost house to a bank, lost job in recession etc), and I’ve never seen foreign beggars anywhere.

I don’t know how relying solely on Kṛṣṇa in that sense can even work – I think one must expect Kṛṣṇa to act through his own social group members, either by getting a job or by begging. Hmm, interesting point – does it prove once again that we cannot be Kṛṣṇa’s devotees but must serve His representatives? In the material world it makes total sense but I think I need to consider it closely, hopefully tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1140. Groundhog day, loose ends

The example of that brāhmaṇa who unknowingly cooked for Lord Caitanya leaves quite a few questions hanging (details and sources here). How relevant it is to us exactly? Was he a nitya-siddha associate of the Lord? Can we follow his footsteps or should we separate some aspects of his behavior that do not look as fully devotional? Can we even talk like that about a person who attained the mercy of the Lord?

Well, there were associates of Lord Caitanya who were not accepted by the body of His devotees, like Vallabha Bhaṭṭācārya who dared to criticize saṅkīrtana. Even Gadādhara Paṇḍita was ostracized for associating with him. It all worked out in the end but we certainly shouldn’t follow Vallabhācārya’s teachings blindly, only when they are explicitly approved by our sampradāya.

If there’s something not quite right about behavior of that brāhmaṇa we should be cautious about him, too. Even if he is nittya siddha devotee we cannot imitate all aspects of his behavior, what is acceptable for liberated associates of the Lord should not be automatically accepted for us.

I think this allows me to analyze his behavior in terms of suitability for us, not as criticism of him.

To start with – his traveling to holy places. Lord Balarāma traveled to holy places, too, as did Lord Nityānanda, but it’s not prescribed for us. Devotees must reside in dhāmas associated with Kṛṣṇa or Lord Caitanya, seeking blessings elsewhere shows a lack of faith and is offensive. Our surrender must be to our Lord alone, we can’t be seen wandering elsewhere begging for mercy from anyone else.

At the end of the story with offering food to Bāla Gopāla but seeing it eaten by Śrī Gaurasundara the brāhmaṇa realized who His worshipable Lord is and he stayed in Navadvīpa for a while and came to see the Lord Gaurāṅga daily but eventually he left. Where? No one knows. No one even knows his name and I don’t think he was mentioned in Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā either.

Leaving Navadvīpa for any other place at that point was just unfortunate. It was still many years until inauguration of saṅkīrtana movement and so it’s understandable but missing it while being so favored by the Lord is just sad.

When the Lord revealed His form to that brāhmaṇa He specifically asked him to hang around as there would be many saṅkīrtana pastimes in the future but the wait was apparently too long. We can easily imagine how it went – the brāhmaṇa couldn’t of course forget what happened to him that night but coming to see the Lord day after day didn’t reveal any additional miracles. Eventually he got bored of waiting and his mind took him someplace else.

It was said that he traveled in search of Kṛṣṇa, then he found Him, and then left?

Should we follow this kind of behavior? Absolutely not.

In the beginning that brāhmaṇa was introduced as always chanting his Bāla Gopāla mantra and always relishing love for Govinda. That deserves attention, too.

There are many devotees who constantly chant the Holy Name but that alone is not enough for us – such chanting must be pure and offenseless, and the devotee must follow the orders of a bona fide guru who is fully dedicated to saṅkīrtana mission. Chanting for the sake of chanting is not enough, it must be done as a service to the paramparā not for one’s own enjoyment, either material or spiritual.

One could say that only pure devotees could chant the Holy Name constantly but that is not entirely true. There are many reasons people do things, not all of them acceptable. Chanting is the yuga dharma for this age, no one is excluded and so it means that people are allowed to chant regardless of their level of purity. Even demons can chant the Holy Name for their own selfish ends – that’s probably why we still keep doing it, too.

I guess the only reason to be unable to chant is extreme envy towards Kṛṣṇa Himself. Demons might not care enough about Him personally and so could be allowed to chant as much as they want.

Then it would depend on one’s determination and one’s faith in the power of the Holy Name. People who grew up in the west have lots of alternatives but for Indians five hundred years ago worshiping the Lord was probably the best and only way to get what they wanted. Chanting, therefore, could have been not a symptom of love of God but a symptom of one’s dedication to his other goals. As long as they were met or expected to be met, chanting continued.

In case of this brāhmaṇa, we don’t know what he ultimately wanted but he left Lord Gaurāṅga’s company, meaning he wanted something else. So what if he continued chanting his mantra? What good it is if it drives one away from participating in saṅkīrtana līlā?

Therefore I am a but skeptical about the claim that just because someone chants a lot and looks like he relishes internal love for Govinda then it’s exactly what’s going on there. That is not a behavior that should be imitated either.

Chanting is not absolute in this sense, I’m afraid to say. It only works if it pleases guru and Kṛṣṇa, if we chant for any other purpose it’s a waste of time, and if we chant to weasel our way out of following guru’s orders we are most unfortunate indeed.

Of course the only way to cure us of our stupidity is to chant and hope that the Holy Name eventually purifies us enough to see the error of our ways and the value of following guru’s orders, so ultimately chanting IS absolute, but we could save so much time if we just did it properly from the start.

Offensive chanting can go on for hundreds of lifetimes, it’s not a trivial.

There is another argument against purity of that brāhmaṇa’s chanting – he observed the Lord every day and he must have seen how Jagannātha Miśra and Mother Śacī loved their boy and he must have heard them chanting the names of Hari to pacify Śrī Gaurasundara but he didn’t appreciate neither their devotion nor their chanting. What was good enough for Gaurāṅga was not good enough for this brāhmaṇa. Not a good example to follow either.

My point is that there was a lot of room for improvement in that brāhmaṇa’s service, he was born again and again to participate in Lord’s pastimes but he didn’t seem to appreciate them in full. Maybe that’s why he was born again and again in the material world – to perfect himself.

So groundhog day is real.

Yet we can also see his life in a different way – his perfection came the moment he saw the Lord reveal Himself in front of him. Everything else I described as imperfect is non-essential. We all must be born here, we all must have karma to drive us through our lives. We all must eat, sleep, and defend ourselves. We all have restless minds to take us here and there. A lot of it will look imperfect no matter what and therefore there’s little point in trying to improve it.

Bhakti does not depend on such external perfection and such “imperfect” behavior is necessary for Lord’s pastimes, too, if only to provide contrast. I mean Six Gosvāmīs were perfect but only if we compare them with the rest of the devotees. Someone must have slept more than two hours a day and chanted less than three lākhs of rounds to make Six Gosvāmīs appear so good, so even imperfection has its place in Lord’s līlā. We shouldn’t judge devotees by it.

What we should definitely take away from that particular pastime is the value of a single moment of association with the Lord even if it looked as not fully appreciated. We should also understand the value of patience in waiting for the Lord to manifest His līlā even if that particular devotee couldn’t wait for saṅkīrtana to start in earnest. We should also not take apparent ecstasy very seriously, success in chanting takes time and a lot of patience, we shouldn’t judge it by material side effects and we should discount material motivations to chant as irrelevant and distracting.

Might sound hard but it will be worth it.

Vanity thought #1139. Groundhog day – fooled by the Lord

Let’s finally talk about a story that could be taken as evidence of devotees living through the same kind of life again and again rather than traveling all throughout the universe like ordinary souls.

Śrila Prabhupāda describes it in the purport to one of the verses in Caitanya Caritāmṛta (CC Adi 14.37). There are more details in Caitanya Bhāgavata (Adi 5), there’s a pdf version floating around with Bengali and purports by Śrīla Bhakitisiddhānta Sarasvatī, or without Bengali (here), or another, unattributed translation found, for example, here. The gist of all versions is the same and if there are differences they are insignificant and not particularly important for the purpose of philosophical speculation.

There was once a mendicant brāhmaṇa who was a worshiper of Kṛṣṇa in the form of Bāla Gopāla. That form, Bāla Gopāla, historically is the most ancient known form of Kṛṣṇa, which means nothing compared to evidence of the śāstra but I thought it would be appropriate to mention. Tht brāhmaṇa was properly initiated into this cult as he had a special dedicated mantra that Śrīla Bhrakisiddhānta Sarasvatī couldn’t even write down for the public despite describing its content in full. We can’t repeat it without proper authorization.

This brāhmaṇa was constantly chanting his mantra but somehow that wasn’t enough as he was always traveling to the places of pilgrimage, as if it’s a good thing. I mean if we think about it – there’s only one place in the whole universe that is connected to Bāla Gopāla pastimes – Vṛṇdavāna, why would anyone go seek blessings anywhere else? Indians are generally big on pilgrimages but devotees see no benefit to ever leaving Vṛṇdavāna dhama, and if one has a mantra to worship Kṛṣṇa then there’s no reason for him to go or stay anywhere in particular as Vṛṇdavāna is always with him already.

Of course while in the material world one needs to eat, sleep, and do something all the time so evidence of such bodily activities cannot in itself be taken as imperfection in one’s service but, for speculative purposes, I’d argue that desire to travel and seek benefit from various places of worship is the sign of incomplete surrender, having the mantra not-withstanding.

This argument cannot be conclusive for other reasons, too – what if brāhmaṇa’s traveling was only for the benefit of ordinary people? What if he did it as preaching? Or what about Gopa Kumāra who had his mantra but traveled through the universe up to Brahmaloka in search of His worshipable Lord?

That case actually supports my point – it’s a sign of imperfection and Gopa Kumāra was very much like the brāhmaṇa from this story. He had the mantra but not full realization of it. He didn’t even understand it philosophically, he had no idea why it has such power over him. He didn’t even know Kṛṣṇa exist.

We also chant Hare Kṛṣṇa without realizing its actual value, we chant on faith. The value that we afford to our mantra is determined by our philosophical understanding and attitudes absorbed from others, we don’t yet get to realize its true spiritual reality.

Same was probably true about this brāhmaṇa – his eyes were always half closed and internally he relished ecstatic love for Govinda but he didn’t actually see the spiritual form of the Lord in his heart. Just like Gopa Kumāra, just like many of our devotees, just like many devotees found in India. It’s certainly better than not to chant and not to “relish ecstatic love” but I want to establish that there was a room for perfecting his chanting, not to argue that he was a neophyte of some kind.

So, he came to the house of Jagannātha Miṣra and, describing his traveling, he said that he just follows his restless mind. Hmm, so much for constantly chanting. There was definitely some room for improvement.

Then there’s the story itself, how this brāhmaṇa cooked food using ingredients provided by Jagannātha Miśra and how, just as he was offering it to Kṛṣṇa, young Lord Gaurāṅga appeared there and grabbed a bite for himself. This repeated three times in a row. They even locked Śrī Gaurasundara in a separate house but He still managed to sneak away. First time He appeared naked and all covered in dust after playing around, just like Bāla Gopāla would, but the brāhmaṇa didn’t recognize Him.

Lord’s excuse was very simple – he called me, I came and ate his offering, I didn’t do anything wrong. Of course no one believed Him as no one knew His true nature but that’s what makes this mischievous pastime so cute. There was a scene of Jagannātha Miśra chasing the Lord with a stick in his hand, there was Lord’s elder brother Viśvarūpa impressing the brāhmaṇa with his unparalleled beauty and intelligence, it’s quite a long story, going for about hundred and fifty verses in the book.

Finally, the Lord revealed His spiritual form but by that time everyone else was sleeping already, only the brāhmaṇa saw it, and the Lord threatened to kill him if he’d said a word about his vision, so the secret stayed with him. How Vṛṇdavāna Dāsa Ṭhākura learned about it is not known.

The Lord appeared in eight-armed form, probably reflecting that brāhmaṇa’s mood of worship. There were four arms with items carried by Lord Viṣṇu and four arms characteristic of Kṛṣna – with pot of butter, and another pair playing a flute. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī explained that actually it was four hands at a time, replacing one set of items with another, as such eight arm combination does not exist in the spiritual world – Lord Nārāyaṇa does not carry a flute and does not exist in Vṛṇdavāna while Kṛṣṇa does not carry conch, club etc or possess four arms there.

Anyway, that’s when the brāhmaṇa fell down and lost consciousness in real spiritual ecstasy. I bet it was nothing like his chanting before. He was so overwhelmed that for a moment he couldn’t even follow Lord’s order to keep quiet.

That’s also when Lord Gaurasundara told him that this has happened before, that this same brāhmaṇa came to His house during His previous pastimes as Kṛṣṇa, cooked rice, and had it eaten by the Lord in exactly the same manner, and that this has been going on birth after birth.

That’s, right there, is out groundhog day. Life after life this spirit soul replays exactly the same pastime without apparently reaching perfection. Of if he does, he forgets about it. Of course, even if one is perfect he can still be easily fooled by the Lord in not recognizing Him but, as I said earlier, there are other areas for gradual advancement there.

Was his life successful simply because he saw the Lord? Well, not enough to be permanently transferred into the spiritual sky. What would he be doing there anyway? There are no places of pilgrimage on Kṛṣṇaloka, his service there must be different. It’s a pastime that makes sense only in the material world.

And so does our service in the saṅkīrtana movement of Lord Caitanya. There’s certainly chanting in the spiritual Navadvīpa but no non-believers to spread the message to. We are not as fortunate as that brāhmaṇa to meet the Lord face to face but our service is no less important and no less spiritual, and we also have a lot of room for improvement life after life.

It’s all speculative, of course, but, based on this case, I would argue that we are not going to get anything fundamentally different in our next incarnation, just work on perfecting our current service. We have no future to live for except service opportunities left in our current lifetime. This reorientation should have profound effect on how we treat our past and present – it’s not something that will be gone forever in pursuit of future happiness but our eternal reality meant to be relived life after life after life until we get it right. I think this change of attitude is extremely important but I have no time to explain it today.

Vanity thought #1138. Groundhog day – how it works

There’s a story from Lord Caitanya’s pastimes that illustrates how devotees live through their groundhog day life after life after life. Well, not exactly, of course – there was certainly no groundhogs there, but close enough to give me reasons to speculate.

To remind – as devotees of Lord Caitanya we need to obtain His mercy before we can approach Kṛṣṇa which means we have to achieve perfection in our service to Him, in His saṇkīrtana mission, which means under the guidance of our guru and as followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda. That might not happen within one lifetime and so we could be made to try again and again until our service is deemed satisfactory.

It’s not how our future is usually presented to us by the devotees but it’s a fairly reasonable assumption. First – we ARE servants of Lord Caitanya, nothing will even change that. When the Lord descended He came across devotees who had eternal relationships with other forms of Kṛṣṇa, notably Murāri Gupta, sometimes He infused them with love of Kṛṣṇa instead but with Murāri Gupta He left him to worship his beloved Lord Rāmacandra.

We aren’t anything like that. We do not have any relationship with Kṛṣṇa outside of Lord Caitanya, we have nothing else to cherish but Lord Caitanya’s mercy. We can’t become devotees of Lord Rāma or Lord Nṛsiṃha, our souls are eternally spoken for even though we might worship other forms of the Lord on our altars.

I mean to say that we got to go with Lord Caitanya life after life until we receive His mercy, for us there’s no other way. Nor can we expect to reach Kṛṣṇa without going through Lord Caitanya, that would be even more foolish.

Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gīta that if we remember Him at the time of death we will reach His abode but we shouldn’t understand it as a shortcut bypassing Lord Caitanya or our guru. For one thing, without their mercy we won’t be able to remember Kṛṣṇa, and the whole thing about going to Kṛṣṇaloka without satisfying our guru first is just stupid.

Some devotees think they don’t need gurus anymore (they mean our second and third rate ISKCON gurus, of course), that simply reading books and praying to Śrīla Prabhupāda is enough. That’s like learning the price of a thing and instead of paying for it and settling it with the store owner we try to obtain it through a back door, maybe getting a knock off for a fraction of the price on a street corner, maybe trying to steal it when no one is looking, maybe trying to pay off an employee to steal it for us. It might work with fancy purses but not with Kṛṣṇa consciousness and bhakti.

Anyway, where was I?

So, if we fail to achieve perfection in this lifetime we get to try again and pick up from where we left off, which is also said in Bhagavad Gīta. For us it means continuing our service in Lord Caitanya’s saṇkīrtana and nothing else. Right now we might try some other methods – reading up on philosophy, living in Holy dhāma, absorbing ourselves in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, chanting our own mantras etc etc, but the only way for us to please Lord Caitanya is through saṇkīrtana, through preaching and congregational chanting. Nothing else will work.

The only way to succeed in saṇkīrtana is to serve under directions of Śrīla Prabhupāda and his followers, there’s no other way,too – Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t give us any other methods. We got to do what he told us – preach, distribute books, organize programs, prasādam distribution and so on.

You probably see where it’s all going – whatever we fail at in this life needs to be perfected in the next. If it’s book distribution that is bothering us we’ll have to learn to appreciate it. If we were given Deity service and we dropped it because we though learning Sanskrit would be better we’ll have to learn to serve the Deities again.

In the material world we can always change our occupation, especially in the western part of the world. Traditionally, if you were born a son of a cobbler that’s what you are expected to do when you grow up, too. With progress of civilization, however, we are free to pursue any career we fancy and we are free to change our careers, too.

That won’t work with bhakti. It won’t work with our material dharmas, too – as Kṛṣṇa said it’s better to fail in doing your own duty than become perfect in doing someone else’s. It all boils down to doing things we are told regardless of whether we like them or not, regardless of whether we can rationalize them or not, regardless of what everybody says about it, regardless of how we feel about it – service is precious, if we were given it we ought to carry it, we can’t be choosers.

“But but but – that order is so stupid, it surely came from a conditioned mind. Śrīla Prabhupāda would have never given it. He told us to exercise our intelligence, he told us …” – those are just excuses. If a person in authority tells us to do something we must remember that his authority comes from Kṛṣṇa. We can’t refuse it without simultaneously offending the Lord and His representative.

But what if we were told to do something really unacceptable, like serving seafood to the deities (which has happened)? Well, in these cases, and pretty much in all other cases, we got to know what it is that Kṛṣṇa really wants from us. Sometimes He might want us to follow the order unquestionably, sometimes He might want us to exercise discretion, sometime He might want us to offer advice to our superiors, too.

This leaves a lot of room for abuse, there’s no denying it, but if we do whatever it is we do with full trust in Kṛṣṇa we will be spared and protected from all bad reactions – that’s a fact, too. And if we act with full faith in the Lord and are about to do something stupid He will also find a way to stop us before we do irreparable damage.

This also means that even if we abuse our discretion we get to replay same situations again and again until we get them right. So what if we made a mistake? It will either be forgiven or we will be given a chance to correct it ourselves. As long as we sincerely want to act in Kṛṣṇa’s interests we will be taken care of one way or another.

So, groundhog day must be a reality for us. Life after life we get to perfect our service, correcting ourselves on each go, putting more and more trust in Kṛṣṇa, seeing things from increasingly Kṛṣṇa conscious perspective instead of materially motivated one, understanding His wishes and desires better and better and so on.

I’m afraid there’s no other way.

As for that devotee I wanted to write about today – it’s too late now, maybe next time.