Gurus and expectations

Last weekend our regular program class was on the section in the Nectar of Devotion which deals with not accepting unfit disciples, not constructing too many temples etc. It’s a pretty straightforward topic – one should not initiate too many disciples, certainly not with the idea to increase his own prestige. Śrīla Prabhupāda also discusses the obvious statement that one should not initiate those who are unfit – how sometimes it’s necessary for propagation of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. Nothing we haven’t heard of before.

What spiked my interest, however, was looking at the sources for this section. In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu there’s a line by Rūpa Goswāmī stating these three rules (we’ll talk only about guru-disciples one here) and then he gives a supporting verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.13.8). The way Śrīla Prabhupāda translated that verse later on, when he got to the Seventh Canto, is somewhat different from how he talked about it in NOD:

    A sannyāsī must not present allurements of material benefits to gather many disciples…

See how it’s not about them being unfit or about extracting material benefits yourself (by guru). This is something else entirely – do not make any promises. This has not been mentioned in the class and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone explaining the rule this way. Once I spotted it, however, it downed on me that it’s what the very first line in NOD says as well:

    … a person may have many disciples, but he should not act in such a way that he will be obliged to any of them for some particular action or some favor…

That is a development on the initial thought, which is based on one word in that Bhāgavatam verse – anubadhnīta, which in word-for-word given as “one should induce for material benefit”. This word is repeated in Rūpa Goswāmī’s own line as well, in fact it’s the only meaningful word for this rule, the other two are “no” and “disciple”. Then in both SB and NOD we see Śrīla Prabhupāda explaining various implications of that word. In SB purport it’s all about not making alluring promises and nothing about “unfit” or “for your own prestige”:

    So-called svāmīs and yogīs generally make disciples by alluring them with material benefits. There are many so-called gurus who attract disciples by promising to cure their diseases or increase their material opulence by manufacturing gold. These are lucrative allurements for unintelligent men. A sannyāsī is prohibited from making disciples through such material allurements.

It’s pretty straightforward here, too, but let’s discuss implications of this rule most of us overlook when it comes up in NOD or when it’s buried deep somewhere in the Seventh Canto. I mean this rule is evoked quite often but is somehow never put this way. When we were reading it last week in class it went straight over our heads, too.

In NOD Śrīla Prabhupāda actually gives an explanation why attracting disciples with materialistic promises is dangerous – it makes guru obliged, ie conditioned and bound up by karma. Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t even say what promises are forbidden, he says one should not act in such a way that he becomes obliged. Stated like this it casts a very wide net – any time one feels a guru is obliged to do something for him the rule has possibly been broken.

A disciple might have his own expectations, of course, it doesn’t mean his guru actually promised anything, but I can think of several examples where two hands must have been clapping, and they are not very comfortable topics to discuss. Still, let me try, I only try to understand the issue here, not cast any doubts on anyone’s spiritual purity.

A typical ISKCON disciple expects that initiation will bring him recognition, that he would leave his current social strata of uninitiated “friends of Krishna” and enter into an exclusive club of ISKCON members for real. It’s a huge step up, nowadays it’s somehow even harder to make, but it’s a topic for another discussion. Offering initiation so that one becomes a fully fledged member of community has been done since forever, including by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. In NOD he explains why sometimes this rule has to be broken but in the absence of emergency there’s no justification for this.

When most of our devotees lived in the temples initiated disciples expected a place to live and engagement in service. When I grew up it was practically a demand – every temple resident must be given service, and not just any service but the one suitable to his nature. There were tons of seminars on how to achieve this and they were given by gurus who actually felt that it was their obligation. These days devotees live mostly outside but temple management or project management is a big big thing, gurus might not be directly involved but that’s only because there are too many people to manage so they delegate these responsibilities. The point is that our spiritual leadership obviously feels obliged to provide comfortable situation for our devotees. It would be an anathema to reject this responsibility, it’s unthinkable – we spent so many decades indoctrinating our entire society it’s not even an option anymore.

No one can stand up and say “I’m not making any promises. You might have service or you might not have service. You might get living quarters, food, and clothing, or might not – nothing to do with me.” And yet this is exactly what Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Bhakti Rasāmṛita Sindhu, and Nectar of Devotion tell us – do not make promises.

For non-temple devotees getting guru’s blessings for any project is a must. They open a restaurant – it must be under auspices of a guru, you set up a publishing company – it must publish books by spiritual leaders, you start a farming project – it must be associated with a big name, too. In all these cases devotees expect their projects to succeed. I don’t know how much of an obligation it is for the spiritual masters themselves, I hope they don’t get caught up and do not make any promises.

Varṇāśrama is, perhaps, the most controversial topic here of all. The very meaning of varṇāśrama is to produce tangible material benefits. It must produce food – milk and grains, and some even talk about allowing polygamy. If our varṇāśrama projects do not provide sense gratification they are considered a failure. Of course we all say that varṇāśrama is needed for practicing devotional service but it’s just our code word for “comfortable material situation”, let’s not pretend otherwise. The full sentence should read “comfortable material situation is needed for practicing devotional service”.

When we look at varṇāśrama this way it’s hard to justify our gurus and even Śrīla Prabhupāda himself pushing for it and not breaking “do not make promises” rule. I mean we generally think that by following Prabhupāda’s specific instruction on varṇāśrama we can obtain satisfactory sense gratification, be it marital advice or gurukula advice or farming advice, or advice on making your own toothpaste. We treat this advice as promises, and as the most solid promises ever. It. Should. Work.

Why? Did Śrīla Prabhupāda consider that advice as his solid promises? I don’t think so. Did he use it to attract people? Generally – no, but sometimes devotees were inspired to get closer to him by engaging in those projects, succeeding, and then claiming their rightful spots in his entourage, like on morning walks. When a spiritual leader starts any such project now it does attract devotees and disciples. The word in SB and BRS is śiṣya, btw – any kind of disciple, not only initiated ones. Projects do attract following, that’s a fact of life, and so if someone talks these projects up to recruit people then he creates an obligation, and that would be against the rule.

The tough part is that managing ISKCON is impossible without making promises and luring people in. One of our senior leaders lured devotees through their wives, for example. Ever so subtle but the message was “you do this and your marital happiness is assured”. It’s just how the world works, so what can we do? Here’s a radical solution – stay out of it. ISKCON is a preaching movement meant to attract more and more people but the rules for them are not the same as rules for making personal spiritual advancement. Personally, we should not fall for the same type of propaganda we are forced to produce when we reach out to non-devotees.

Even more radical solution – ISKCON is not meant for our own comfort. We cannot expect or demand it to serve our material needs. It is not meant to provide us with pensions or provide emotional support or business opportunities or food or shelter – nothing, really. Only when we want to serve it without any such expectations, not even waiting for a thank you, we can start making actual progress the way Rūpa Goswāmī has meant it. When all these egotisitical interests are absent from our relationships with our guru we can start to appreciate him for what he really does for us – saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka trāṇāya kāruṇya-ghanāghanatvam…

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Vanity thought #1751. Ways to hear

Continuing from yesterday, someone asked a question after class about how to stay faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda. The answer was to read his books, and I expanded on that in the previous post. The follow up question was how to develop taste to read the books. I think it’s a very important question that many of us prefer not to deal in real life.

It takes some honesty to admit that we don’t have the taste for reading. Many would protest this assessment, too, but it’s not different from the second sloka of Lord Caitanya’s Śikṣāṣṭaka which ends with “I have not taste for the Holy Name.” It doesn’t mean that we might not have the taste for chanting but might have a taste for reading instead. On the spiritual level both these activities are equal. Externally we might prefer kīrtana to japa or reading to kīrtana but these are only external considerations. Most likely what we really prefer is the beating of drums or self-confidence of accomplished yogis absorbed in meditation on the Holy Name, or we simply like to sit alone and read, doesn’t really matter what.

Not having taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books is a default state of a conditioned living entity. There are many times when we do like to read or chant or sing, of course, but those are displays of the Lord’s mercy when He tries to attract us despite our stubborn absorption in materialistic enjoyment. We should clam no personal credit for this.

So, having admitted that we’d often rather do something else then to read, how do we develop the taste for reading? The answer given after class was that there are many forms of reading and that listening to Bhāgavatam lecture can be counted towards one’s daily requirement of one or two hours with Prabhupāda’s books. Listening to Prabhupāda’s tapes (lectures, not bhajans) can also be counted as reading, and we can do that everywhere. The speaker said that he, personally, listens to tapes every day while doing various household chores. In this connection I heard that Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmi famously listened to tapes while in the bathroom. Or maybe it wasn’t him, I don’t remember exactly.

There’s nothing wrong with this answer – if we don’t like reading we can take our daily doze of philosophy in other forms, too. I see some other considerations that, I hope, could expand our understanding of what is actually going on here.

First, the philosophy. We read, and we were instructed to read by Prabhupāda himself, so that we become strong in our understanding of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and gain the ability to refute any objections. This is important, or rather WAS important, because these days hardly anyone is concerned with philosophical arguments when we preach, and even if they do they quickly become defensive about their own, highly cherished understanding, and no amount of solid arguments can change their minds. It’s the sign of our times – people are very proud of their own intellectual achievements, however meager they are, and anyone else with any other ideas is seen as an enemy rather than as a source of possible enlightenment. Point is, knowing philosophy is important but relatively less so when we preach. For many of us most of our preaching is to ourselves anyway and we read Prabhupāda’s books to stay in personal spiritual shape rather than to convert the rest of the world.

There’s also a point that after so many years we know our philosophy inside out, so much that we think we can forget some minor details or ślokas because keeping them all in memory is not as important as seeing philosophical principles manifest themselves in real life around us. We definitely know all that we can possibly need to explain things on the streets and much more. Reading for knowledge, therefore, is not a consideration, maybe for those who are only beginning their path to Kṛṣṇa. The devotee asking that question looked like he already knew what an average devotee is expected to know.

What we really read books for is for Prabhupāda’s association. We absorb his attitudes, follow the train of his thought, appreciate the turn of phrase and construction of arguments not to learn something new but to be with him in our minds if not in our hearts. The opposite of this kind of reading would be searching Vedabase or Folio for specific information we need in our own mental battles with someone. We might find it and it might turn useful, or we might misconstrue the meanings as I discussed yesterday, but what we won’t get is Prabhupāda’s association.

The association of a pure devotees is extremely important, no one would argue with that, but it does not always bring material results in the form of winning arguments. It has value that often has no value in the material world and we won’t gain any visible benefits, but those who got it won’t exchange it for all the wealth of the universe.

The next point to consider is how to develop taste for Prabhupāda’s association, because that is not automatically given, as I explained earlier. The answer about listening to tapes is fine, but it’s given from the position of Prabhupāda’s disciple. Second and third generation devotees should rather find this taste in the words of their own gurus rather than try to approach Prabhupāda personally.

Different Prabhupāda disciples see him differently. Take the incident with canopy over Rādhā-Londonīśvara deities during their installation, for example. The design had it rested on four columns but columns themselves were not fixed in any way. During the ārati one of the columns gave in and Prabhupāda had to personally step in and hold it in place. The class speaker told this story but he probably wasn’t there personally and heard it many times from devotees who were present (because he joined in London, too). Yamunā Mātājī was there and she remembered Prabhupāda’s uncommon agility and how he was faster than lightning to jump up and catch that falling column. She suddenly saw that the Deities were not marble statues for him and he cared about them as one would care for his own child.

Mukunda Gosvāmi noticed the speed, too, but he also thought that Prabhupāda stepping on the altar itself was unusual and he saw it as a necessary infringement on deity worshiping rules. He also remembered how angry Prabhupāda was and how he ordered to take that canopy away immediately. There was no place for it, though, and so Mukunda had to get help and carry it out on the street through the room packed with visitors. Some even thought it was a part of the ritual.

Śyāmasundara Prabhu probably has his own take on this story because he was the one who designed the altar and the whole temple room, too. It was a very complicated design that made the room look like inside of an upside down wooden ship. It was very intricate work and many had doubts it was necessary and that Śyāmasundara could pull it off, even Prabhupāda was skeptical. He did pull it off but the column incident was certainly an unfortunate oversight.

I’m using this as an example how disciples of different gurus can find different appreciations for Prabhupāda, and one’s own guru take on these stories should serve as primary input. In igniting interest in spiritual matters our own guru’s mercy is primary so it’s the surest way to gain appreciation for Prabhupāda, too. Then we can enrich our taste by taking in stories told by other people but we should never forget whose input is the source of all our understanding.

My suggestion here is that if we don’t feel the taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books we should fix the problem with hearing our own guru first. If we do that right then interest in listening to Prabhupāda will appear naturally. Then we can read or hear his tapes and we’ll take Prabhupāda’s association through the medium of our spiritual master and it all will become perfect.

Vanity thought #1677. Frailty

These days we can read a lot about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life, often including minute details in a diary like format. We often have several devotees remembering exactly the same events and conversations and Prabhupāda’s participation in them, too. All of this adds volume and depth to the standard story of his life but it also makes him human, which is not always a good thing.

Typically, we seek such deeper, more intimate understanding of our guru, or any other authority, for that matter. We want to be close to them, we want to feel what they feel, we want to know what they know, but I’m afraid these desires are not legitimate manifestation of devotion.

For a conditioned soul knowledge is power and possessing such intimate knowledge gives one unprecedented leverage over his peers. Regardless of how it’s used, a person who is known to be close to a guru, or Śrīla Prabhupāda in this case, is going to command a great deal of respect and his words would carry enormous weight in our community. Avoiding this power is impossible and power is the enemy of devotion, generally speaking.

Of course there are devotees who cannot be swayed and there are devotees who are put in the position of power to carry out the mission of Lord Caitanya but we if go through the list of those who once yielded it we can’t help but notice that close association with Śrīla Prabhupāda was not a guarantee of staying. These devotees will eventually reunite with their master, of that there’s no doubt, but while we are still here, struggling with out anarthas, we should note that power of association is not the same as staying power, which is the first sign of maturing devotion – niṣṭhā.

This is a really simple bottom line – if one forfeits his service to the Lord then he doesn’t have niṣṭha and all his previous achievements have not yet born the fruit of bhakti. It’s not a condemnation, it’s not a test that one has to pass, it’s just an observation. Devotees with niṣṭhā have Lord’s energy arranging their lives in such a way that they never spend a moment without service to the Lord. You can’t imitate it, it’s either there or it is not, cheating won’t help.

The first reaction would be; “Oh look, he’s blooped, let’s write him off as a neophyte.” Technically it might be correct but since niṣṭha or falldowns are both arrangements of the Lord blaming the devotee himself is doubly wrong. First, because he is not the cause of actions by the material nature, and secondly because blaming him means actually blaming the Lord. Nothing good will come out of it and this in itself is a sign of our immaturity.

When such thoughts enter our heads we should know them to be simply perturbations of the mind serving the false ego. The ego wants glory and recognition and even if we might accept that we are not perfect in our service we still go for the pleasure of being better than someone else. “Kṛṣṇa,” we mean to say, “I know I’m fallen, but at least not as low as him. You know that I’m actually a better devotee, right?”

What can we do? Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī recommended beating such a mind with a shoe. What was it – with the shoe in the morning and with a broomstick before going to bed? During the day the mind must be engaged and therefore always under control but when we sleep the mind has total freedom to dream whatever it wants. That’s why it must be beaten in advance, before bed, and on waking up to shake off its impure thoughts, too. That was Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s personal method, btw, our minds can’t be controlled by beating alone. In his waking hours he was totally engaged in service but we can’t master even that, what to speak of controlling our dreams.

Can we speed up the process? Possibly, but we should be clear in our motivation – if we want to become better devotees meaning better than someone else then our rush to perfection will be useless. We should become sensitive to our desires and spot the selfish ones as soon as possible. If we fail to do that then we’d naturally enjoy “making progress” and that would lead to our falldown.

How many times have we been caught indulging in selfish thoughts like that? Should be a lot, and if one denies ever having them he is still in deep illusion. That’s the feature of growing bhakti – it should make us look worse and worse in our own eyes. If the opposite is happening then we are doing something wrong. Real bhakti would never ever let us feel good about ourselves or take credit for our success.

So, instead of rushing it, we should gradually develop indifference to waves of fame and infamy and to successes and failures. These things come and go and only time separates a devotee from perfection anyway, so if he looks like a neophyte today just wait it out and Kṛṣṇa will eventually shine through him tomorrow, or next year, or next decade. Once you are sure it will happen you’ll stop looking at him as imperfect now, too.

Think of King’s child, everyone knows that he is special and great things await him so they don’t see him as on ordinary baby soiling his diapers. Same should be with devotees – forget what they look like now and appreciate their eternal connection with guru and Kṛṣṇa.

About frailty – unless our minds are ready for it, I think we should avoid seeing humanity in Prabhupāda’s life. It’s easy to see him as human, one just have to get close enough for it, either personally or through reading personal accounts. It’s far more difficult to see him as an external manifestation of the Lord.

It’s one thing to worship him from afar where we can imagine him to be whatever we want him to be, even God himself, as history shows, it’s another thing to see him as God’s representative when you are up close and personal. We were never meant to be in his entourage but, thanks to all the written diaries, we can take a mental place alongside individuals selected by the Lord as Prabhupāda’s personal servants, cooks, and secretaries. These are not the positions we were born for, we should always remember that. It’s not the kind of knowledge of Prabhupāda we should be seeking but we should rather try to pick the devotional mood of his servants, that’s the only thing that matters at the end of the day, not the amount of “once Prabhupāda said that..” quotes we can carry in our brains.

Our nascent personal service to Prabhupāda is frail and we should treat it with great care, always remembering all the devotees in between who make it possible. By personal service I mean simple stuff like offering praṇāma mantras and reading books, not anything special, like looking after his mūrti in the temple. We should always remember that this personal service is enabled by our guru and everyone else who helps. And we should also be sensitive in the service to our guru, too – nothing can be taken for granted in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and everything must be treated with great care, as if it was the most precious thing in the world.

Vanity thought #1663. Ante nārāyaṇa-smṛtiḥ

In the past couple of days I often mentioned the difference in goals between us and the rest of the materialistic society. This is obvious, of course, but our exact goals are much less clear. What do we want from Kṛṣṇa? What do we expect? What can we reasonably expect?

Devotional literature in our sampradāya offers a wide range of achievements from the highest goal of developing Kṛṣṇa premā down but we also know that most of it is closed for us and we’ll never be able to experience it while in our present bodies. We know that eventually, by the grace of our predecessor ācāryas, we will attain Kṛṣṇa’s company but how we will get there is less clear. Will it be another birth in this world but in Kṛṣṇa’s presence? Or will we taken straight to the spiritual world? There are good arguments for both outcomes, plus Śrīla Prabhupāda promised return back to Godhead from the very beginning.

It would require a little word jugglery to accommodate that promise with another birth in Kṛṣṇa’s presence but I bet we are up for it because, while technically incorrect, being in Kṛṣṇa’s company is not the same as being in the material world due to one’s karma, it’s not a return to the world of the repeated birth and death.

The argument goes that we get to train ourselves for direct participation in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes just like those unnamed gopīs who couldn’t participate in rasa dance. They were with Kṛṣṇa but not quite there yet. They were technically born inside of the universe but they weren’t a part of it either. They had to die like ordinary people do but they didn’t suffer from birth, death, old age and disease because they were liberated.

Then we have even the higher gift of service when Kṛṣṇa asks His devotees to come back to the material world to reclaim fallen souls because they are very very good at it. I seriously doubt anyone ever says no to such a request and I’ve heard that in one of his books Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī said that these requests are very common. Will we be asked the same? Quite possible.

Right now for many of us it seems like a waste of time because we are largely useless of the preaching mission but it’s one thing to try and take it up from our present condition and quite another to come back empowered by the Lord Himself. With His blessings everything will become possible, no excuses.

Then there’s a “minor” matter of us being saved by Lord Caitanya. He taught us to serve Kṛṣṇa, of course, but I don’t see how this bond between us can ever be broken. We will always be His servants and this means we will always be concerned with spiritual welfare of the conditioned souls. Just like each incarnation of the Lord has its own faithful following we will always be in Lord Caitanya’s posse. For us this will be preferable even to eternal pastimes with Kṛṣṇa Himself because that is our natural position. We will never be excluded from Vṛndāvana either so we’ll have the best of both worlds.

Does it mean that we all will stay in this world indefinitely to serve Lord Caitanya’s mission in one universe after another? Quite possible, but hardly any one of us mentally prepares himself for such an outcome. We are just not up to it, only the best of us, devotees who already act on a liberated platform, can consider it seriously.

So, what’s left for the rest of us? The fact that we have been plucked out of completely materialistic surroundings means that outcome of our current attempts at service will be far more modest. Kṛṣṇa premā, eternal preaching service, milking surabhi cows – that’s not for us, not in the immediate future and so we should not get carried away.

Take Mahārāja Parīkṣit, for example. He was descendant of the Pāṇdavas and therefore related to Kṛṣṇa Himself. He was saved by the Lord in the womb of his mother, he was a pure devotee from his very birth, he was the original recipient of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, who are we compared to Him? Nobodies. So, what was HIS goal of life, as explained by Śukadeva Gosvāmī?

It was his direct question right in the beginning, when Śrīla Śukadeva first made his entrance (SB 1.19.37-38):

    You are the spiritual master of great saints and devotees. I am therefore begging you to show the way of perfection for all persons, and especially for one who is about to die. Please let me know what a man should hear, chant, remember and worship, and also what he should not do. Please explain all this to me.

And what did Śukadeva Gosvāmī answer? Premā-pumartho-mahān? No. He declared the following (SB 2.1.6):

    The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by practice of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of occupational duty, is to remember the Personality of Godhead at the end of life.

Ante nārāyaṇa-smṛtiḥ – at the end we should remember Nārāyaṇa. That’s it, nothing fancy. There are plenty of quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda telling us the same thing, before we get carried away with all the other delicious prospects. Chant sixteen rounds without fail, follow the regulative principles, and that should enable us to remember Kṛṣṇa at the moment of death. That’s all we have been promised, that’s our contract with our guru.

We can dream of this and prepare for that but all we really need to do is to remember Kṛṣṇa at the end of our lives. Many devotees prepare themselves for entrance into Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. They read up on them and try to develop attachment to hearing about them, they retell these stories to one another, they hope that it would help relieve them from sexual attraction, yet the goal of all this hearing and reading is still far more modest – remember Kṛṣṇa at the end of life. In our current state everything else is pure speculation.

Of course even if some devotees do all those things for a wrong reason it still helps them to think of Kṛṣṇa on their deathbed so there’s no loss. Still, we should be realistic with our expectations and there are other ways for these unauthorized discussions to impede us in our service. We think that remembering Kṛṣṇa would be OUR action, that it would be OUR choice, but no, it’s more likely that we won’t be able to think straight and make any decisions whatsoever. The ability to think of Kṛṣṇa would be due to blessings of our guru which come in reciprocation for the lifetime of service. If we spend our lives doing something else then blessings might not be there even if we ostensibly engaged ourselves in discussing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.

Kṛṣṇa’s appearance in our mind would be Kṛṣṇa’s, it won’t come as a result of our own attempts, and Kṛṣṇa comes only by the mercy of the guru no matter what we read or discuss. If guru’s mercy is not there then there won’t be Kṛṣṇa either. The point is – we should be very careful with inventing our own ways to render service, it should be done on guru’s terms, not ours.

Vanity thought #1609. Sophisticated rascaldom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This rant is not over.

Vanity thought #1539. Rascaldom

I occasionally check Hinduism subreddit. Usually these places are overrun by māyāvādīs and devotees appearing there are immediately insulted and chased off but this one maintains a modicum of civility. It doesn’t mean it’s not completely off the chart when it comes to philosophy, though, and it’s this part that is truly scary.

Just on this last visit I saw at least three postings that make me lose hope in humanity. One was made by a devotee, btw. He happens to be a disciple of one ex-ISKCON swami, won’t mention any names but it’s the one whose disciples are into research and making their own minds as they read Vedic literature. Nominally in GM, he himself diverts greatly from them on jīva falldown issue, for example, because he’s read Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa and so has an informed opinion on this (as opposed to “lesser” ācāryas in both GM and ISKCON?).

Anyway, this particular devotee digs up rare books on all sorts of issues, I’m not sure how much he retains but if you want to check on dvaita schools in Kashmiri Śaivism he’s got you covered. This time he asked about vaiṣṇava dvaita, though, and wanted to see their teachings on free will. Speaking for Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism he said that Baladeva took a compatibilist position on this and provided helpful links to Stanford’s overview of philosophy explaining what compatibilism is.

He was immediately corrected because in our tradition we don’t take Western philosophical positions, we don’t have freedom to take any positions other than the ones given by our guru. Being a devotee he agreed, and yet this small episode betrays the dangerous attitude common to all of us.

We still approach our books as wannabe philosophers. We read stuff, try to understand it, and then form the conclusions. If we are lucky these conclusions are in line with Śrīla Prabhupāda but even this luck is limited in its power because these are still OUR conclusions, it’s what WE think Kṛṣṇa consciousness is, it’s a product of OUR minds.

Real knowledge, on the contrary is what Kṛṣṇa REVEALS about Himself. If He hasn’t done so then we don’t have it and whatever we do have is useless, it’s just a concoction of one’s mind with his memories as ingredients and guṇas as a cook.

Kṛṣṇa, however, reveals this knowledge gradually, so sometimes it’s hard to tell our own speculations from realizations provided by Him from within our hearts. I think a sure way not to make this mistake is not speculate in the first place, just accept what Prabhupāda says and try to realize it through service. Of course analyzing guru’s teachings is a service, too, and so next one should see a difference between philosophical and mental speculations and between trying to come to our own conclusions and comprehending conclusions offered by ācāryas.

That’s why our path is not easy even though it’s relatively simple. If only we could surrender unconditionally.., but even that ability is granted by the Lord. Therefore we depend on Him and our guru in all respects – the fact that we often forget.

Two other requests were from non-devotees reading our Bhagavad Gītā As It Is and asking for better translations. What do you say to that? They’ve read Prabhupāda’s books and purports and weren’t impressed. I don’t know if we have a protocol for dealing with this, I thought we should just sigh and move on, some people are hell bent on going to hell, that’s what Kali yuga is for, and we should just let them. Time spent with Prabhupāda’s purports will not go in vain anyway, they’ll be back.

The problem here, however, is that it’s a public forum and so if people start saying that our Gītā sucks everyone else would notice and it would undermine our otherwise spotless authority. Of course hardly anyone would agree that ISKCON is spotless but we maintain that our process is – read the books and bhakti would naturally grow, it works all the time, except when it doesn’t, sadly.

The only solution I see so far is that these people aren’t after God or bhakti, one wanted to read up on the war and the other wanted the text itself, without purports. I think that if we can highlight this point then we can explain why our Gītā didn’t satisfy their interests. Still, the problem remains – our Gītā should satisfy all desires because it gives one Kṛṣṇa Himself.

Obviously, these particular readers didn’t get enough of Kṛṣṇa consciousness to forget whatever they wanted in the beginning, and it’s not supposed to happen. Or, perhaps, atheism is particularly strong in them and they are hell bent on avoiding surrendering to the Lord or accepting Śrīla Prabhupāda as an authority. Perhaps they want to use both Kṛṣṇa and Prabhupāda for their own ends and so it might take a long time before they realize that they might have missed the real treasure in our books.

I mean there’s a lot of people out there who think Bhagavad Gītā is just a collection of words and it’s up to us to construct a meaning from them, not that these words convey existing meaning already. They still think that if they translate the words differently the meaning would change.

Concepts like disciplic succession and guru mean nothing to them, guru is just a teacher, as in “paid service provider”, and these days teachers tell students to question everything, including themselves. So guru is needed to gain the ability to question his authority.

In these people’s view to become a guru one only needs to gain followers, no other qualification is important. It’s not gaining trust from your predecessors but the ability to dupe the ignorants. No wonder that all these gurus must be questioned and rejected in the end – they are frauds.

And so people are left in this self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance and rascaldom. They can’t take to bhakti because of their arrogance and pride and bhakti is the only way out. What can we do? Nothing short of a miracle.

We need to give people actual realization, compared to which all these mental speculations will appear as worthless waste of time. That’s all people will respond to in the end – rasa, the taste of the Absolute Truth, we are all after this ānanda – ānanda mayo ‘bhyāsāt. Can we give it to them ourselves? Obviously not, and if they can’t get it from Prabhupāda then what?

I have a couple of ideas but I don’t want to start a new topic today.

Vanity thought #1473. Two steps away – how far is it?

While watching all these devotees share their memories of Śrīla Prabhupāda a question must naturally arise – what has it got to do with us exactly. Are we permanently excluded? Are we permanently in? Should we try to replicate them with our gurus? Are they the standard by which to judge relationships with our gurus, too? What is the right attitude to have here?

First of all, when we hear stories, any kind of stories, we always immerse ourselves in them as if we were there. We might identify with protagonists, for example, or we might imagine ourselves as mere observers, but in any case we must identify with some aspects of it to have any impact on ourselves, to empathize. We must have “I know how it feels” moment for any story to register in our hearts, and this means “I know what it’s actually like to be there, to be the part of it.” I think it’s unavoidable in our material condition, and might be even spiritually.

This is no problem if we are talking about mundane work of fiction, it’s perfectly okay to pull underwear over your pants and imagine you are a Superman and then go to Comic Con dressed like this, or feel yourself like Neo from the Matrix and never admit in public, or imagine yourself in any other shoes and replay their pastimes in your head.

The problem here is that we cannot imagine ourselves on par with Prabhupāda’s disciples, they are our spiritual fathers, not equals. We will never become like them just as we can’t replay our fathers’ romantic relationships with our mothers, the mere thought of it grosses people out. The similarity here is not in the nature of relationships but in their value. For a disciple the most intimate one is with his guru, for an ordinary man it’s with this wife. We can’t step into either of those.

This point, btw, is important in itself – guru and Kṛṣṇa are closer for devotees than their wives or husbands or even children. Materialists can’t comprehend it and would immediately reject us and our philosophy if they hear about it. We can imagine any kind of God we want, they generously allow, but we cannot, under any circumstances, treat our bodily relationships as inferior to our religion. Family ties are real, God is not, and this is where they draw the line for our “rights”. We should have no right to place God above our wives, let along children. Children are sacred, God is not. Well, their version of God isn’t, it’s just a plaything for them, not a reality. For devotees, however, guru and Kṛṣṇa are real and are closer than their families. Not for everyone, of course, but eventually we should all achieve this realization because they ARE real, after all.

So, where was I? Ah, yes, we can’t put ourselves in our guru’s shoes and imagine how it feels there. We will never become part of Prabhupāda’s pastimes with his disciples, that’s also the reality, we will always be a step away, or two steps from Prabhupāda himself, because our gurus can’t put themselves in Prabhupāda’s shoes either.

Where does it leave us? Is our position inherently inferior then?

Not at all, it’s absolutely perfect for us. This is our place in devotional hierarchy and this is what it means for us to be a servant of a servant of a servant. Our gurus are two steps away from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, and Śrīla Prabhupāda was two steps away from Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī. Everybody is always two steps away from someone just like everybody has grandparents and doesn’t feel he needs to become his own father in order to appreciate them fully. It’s just silly to think like that but when we come to ISKCON it happens. This is all new to us and if we come from a culture where everybody can become a president then we naturally think that we can also become our gurus and approach Śrīla Prabhupāda ourselves. We do not see him as a grandparent yet, it hasn’t sunk in.

There’s a little story to illustrate in this regard. Śrīla Prabhupāda had a servant named Kartikeya, it was in the very early days, when devotees were still calling him svāmījī. Once, in Hawaii, Kartikeya wanted to present Prabhupāda with halava made from wheat germ rather than usual suji, semolina. Wheat germ is the most vitamin and mineral rich part of the wheat kernel and was/is considered a specialty, Kartikeya thought his guru deserved that.

It happened to be a rainy day and it was a bit cold, so Śrīla Prabhupāda called for halava, which he liked on cold days. Kartikeya cooked a pot and presented Śrīla Prabhupāda with a nice, steaming hot bowl of wheat germ halava. Prabhupāda had a one look at it and dismissed it right away, with his left hand, which is the most offensive way to dismiss someone in Indian culture. I don’t know if Kartikeya was aware of that but he was heart-broken just the same. He ran downstairs to the temple room and let his tears flow. He sat in front of the picture of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and explained the situation: “All I wanted was to please my guru, your disciple, it was my only intention, but now it turned out all wrong and I was rejected.”

At this point he heard loud calling “KARTIKEYA! KARTIKEYA!” coming from upstairs. He rushed there not knowing what to think but Śrīla Prabhupāda told him to bring back that halava and ate the entire bowl. He then asked for a refill and ate the entire bowl again, until he ate everything that was in the pot.

Anyone who doubts that there’s a real connection between us, our gurus, and the rest of the paramparā deserves his heart being turned into stone. They all are always there for us, the fact that we don’t see or don’t feel them at any particular moment doesn’t mean anything, the connection is always there.

We will never be Prabhupāda’s disciples, but our gurus will never be his spiritual grandsons either, and as such they are missing on a lot of nectar, too, because grandparents always have special love for their grandchildren. There’s always special sweetness that their own children sometimes feel they don’t get their fair share of.

I’m not saying we are entitled to it but with honesty and humility it should always be available. It also means that it should be a special treat and we should not burden Prabhupāda with silly requests and use him to get around our spiritual parents.

Vanity thought #1471. Literally his

One distinguishing feature of Prabhupāda’s disciples is their utmost, unreserved faith in his words. Factually, not everyone was affected by this condition equally and we’ve learned to deal with this but I’m not sure how much we benefited from this accommodation.

“Prabhupāda memories” series in a good case study into this phenomenon. In preparation for Śrīla Prabhupāda centennial devotees went all over the world looking for all inactive Prabhupāda disciples they could find and interviewed them. I think videos come from these interviews but even if they didn’t the effort was there, it was documented and statistically processed and the conclusion is permanently etched into our memory. I have no reason to suspect other devotees has heard different conclusions as it was gradually propagated all throughout ISKCON.

These disciples were obviously what we call “in māyā”, some had simply taken the time off of active service, some just couldn’t restrain urges unacceptable in our society, some had philosophical differences, some greatly resented GBC and ISKCON as an institution. That time, early to mid nineties, was probably the first outreach effort by ISKCON to bring our entire family together. I’m not sure it was entirely sincere because it was also the time when our leaders discovered profound truth in literature like Seven Habits of Highly Successful People and created our first PR departments to control how we project ourselves.

Problem with this adoption of foreign techniques is that one can smell them a mile away, and many of our early members came out of a hippy movement where they had decades of operating BS radars with or without ISKCON so they couldn’t be fooled, and those who discovered them before ISKCON in their workplaces couldn’t be fooled either. In a way it was similar to book distributors quoting science or some well known authorities as if they supported our philosophy. It sounds great on surface but anyone familiar with what we are talking about becomes utterly disgusted with us appropriating their authorities to fool their people while pretending to be their friends.

I guess this needs examples but I’m not in the mood of digging up documented stories. Our devotees sometimes sold books on all kinds of pretenses. Exact value of this kind of saṅkīrtana is debatable, but it would cast our book distributors in a negative light and that would bring no good to anybody. There are cases of people becoming devotees by finding our books in most unexpected places where the original buyer would have been a “victim” of “fraudulent” saṅkīrtana methods. What price are we going to put on their devotion? Who can say bringing them to Kṛṣṇa was not worth it?

Back to the point – I don’t know why our leadership went for outside help there. I suspect the excesses of the eighties put a heavy block on the path towards our own humility and with all this baggage we simply couldn’t express ourselves without taking shelter in “sādhana” of PR. Perhaps we thought that by doing it we would gradually develop the actual sincerity, just as we are asked to offer obeisances even when we don’t feel like doing so.

On that note, Satsvarūpa Dāsa Gosvāmī talked about probably the first obeisances in ISKCON, In New York. He had a heavy workload and couldn’t come to lunch on time so he asked Śrīla Prabhupāda to save him some food. When he finally arrived the lunch was already over and nothing was left but Prabhupāda told him to sit down and then brought his saved plate. It’s at this moment that “Steven”, who wasn’t even sure Prabhupāda remembered his name at the time, offered obeisances to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s feet, grateful for the food and care, as Prabhupāda was towering over him. It didn’t go down well with others and many have left right at that point – where people started to bow down to Prabhupāda’s feet. It wasn’t a natural thing to do for those early devotees but some of them got used to it and then became disciples and the movement was born.

Anyway, regardless of how our effort was accepted, old devotees answered and the conclusion was that their personal memories of Śrīla Prabhupāda were unblemished, statistically speaking. They had absolutely no doubt that he was their eternal well-wisher and that’s what the rest of us understood from that survey, too.

“What’s wrong with it?”, one might ask. Excellent question. Nothing inherently bad, but “well-wisher” is still below “unquestionable authority”.

We often quote a verse from Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad:

yasya deve parā bhaktir
 yathā deve tathā gurau
tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ
 prakāśante mahātmanaḥ

“Only unto one who has unflinching devotion to the Lord and to the spiritual master does transcendental knowledge become automatically revealed.” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.23) Often it’s translated as “implicit faith” but I like this translation better (SB 2.9.43).

What is required is not simply seeing one’s guru as a well-wisher but having unflinching/implicit faith in his words, and this level of understanding was not supported by that survey. To find it we need to take our lessons from real Prabhupāda men, devotees who would take a bullet for Śrīla Prabhupāda and consider it a blessing.

Over the time we can find spots even in the most pristine character and this history might spoil our appreciation for their devotion but it should not discourage us from seeking it. Various memoirs give us plenty of clues if we bother to look. Everything Prabhupāda said in those days was accepted as absolute, unchangeable truth.

It was much much later that doubts started arising over whether Prabhupāda really said this or that particular thing, we even had a website investigating various claims. We also got Folio, and now all Prabhupāda’s letters and conversations are online, so we can check and double check everything, find inconsistencies, reconcile them, and, generally, approach the matter with greater intelligence and understanding. Not with greater devotion, though.

Second guessing our authorities is an obstacle to our progress. We won’t get any further, as simple as that, because intelligence and understanding can take us only so far. Consider an example of a simple devotee who, upon hearing “Prabhupāda said” goes and does that thing without a second thought because it would please both his immediate authority and Śrīla Prabhupāda.

A highly knowledgeable, independent thinker in his place would check the internet first, check with sources, check with previous ācāryas and then, by a stroke of luck, he might actually agree to follow – because it’s a right thing to do, not because out of love and service attitude. If he refuses to follow he might also say that by correcting his authorities he is doing them a service.

Yeah, well, sometimes mistakes are obvious and we can offer a correction but those cases should be exceptionally rare. We, however, take second guessing as a norm, as our modus operandi, and this attitude is atheistic in nature because we think ourselves to be in charge of our fate and our intelligence to be our guiding light.

I hope after many years of trying and after gradual increase in our understanding we’ll come to realize that at the end of the day taking the words of our guru and authorities is more beneficial than doubting them. I hope we will realize that we can’t possibly see the full picture and all the pitfalls of our personal decisions, and the only guarantee is faithfully following the authorities as they pass the knowledge down from Lord Caitanya Himself. Everything, absolutely everything done with devotion and faith will eventually prove itself to be right and all our speculations will prove themselves to be wrong, no matter how correct they look at the moment.

One might say that blind faith lead people to many stupid and harmful decisions, but so do our speculations, which makes sense only in the short term. No matter how convincing they look at the moment they entangle us in the chain of karma and real consequences will manifest themselves much much later, unexpectedly, and there would be nothing we could do about it then.

Eventually we will learn all of that and eventually we will realize that śāstra was right all along, and then we might develop unflinching faith in our guru, and only then the actual, spiritual import of his words will automatically be revealed. Until then all our “spirituality” will remain a product of our imagination.

Or we could save ourselves the trouble and try the benefits of unflinching faith right now, and so we should literally become Prabhupāda’s or our guru’s men, not just see them as well-wishers who might sometimes be useful.

Vanity thought #1469. Memories of Srila Prabhupada

Just as Janmāṣṭamī is the day we are supposed to dedicate to remembering Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s appearance day is the day to immerse ourselves in memories of him. I don’t know if the fact that Śrīla Prabhupāda was born right after Janmāṣṭamī has any spiritual significance but it was a good strategy on Kṛṣṇa’s part.

Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are fascinating, if we watch the videos of Vṛndāvana or of devotees retelling them it naturally arises attachment in our hearts but, speaking for myself, it’s mostly a sentimental reaction. If we remember Śrīla Prabhupāda’s pastimes the next day we get a nice comparison that should help us check our pride and put us back on track. The spiritual components of both of these pastimes are non-different while external, not so important impacts, cancel each other out.

By listening to Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes we get attracted to Vṛndāvana and it makes us feel that nothing else matters, that simply continuing in this vein indefinitely is the real path to bhakti. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s pastimes, however, demand us being and serving now and here, work first, samādhi later. When the importance of this dictum finally enters our consciousness Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, so important just the day before, somehow fade away and seem like undeserved indulgence.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples shared plenty of memories, just type it into google and you are all set, not just for the day but probably for the rest of your life because by the time you take a second round of what is out there you’ll forget how it sounded the first time and it would seem as fresh as ever.

I spent the day looking at video testimonies recorded for Śrīla Prabhupāda centennial almost twenty years ago. You can find them on this Youtube channel and I don’t know how many of them are there, the stream seems endless. They have been uploaded only a couple of years ago but I believe they are DVD rips from “Prabhupada Memories” series sold on the internet. I think they are from the centennial celebrations because they feature devotees who long left this world since, and their words somehow seem more precious.

They all follow the same format, devotees sitting in front of the camera and speaking of their memories for a couple of minutes, not just general appreciation but something specific to them, often something no one has ever heard before, and so each recording is unique and heartfelt, and very personal, the most precious thing they are willing to share after all these years. I wanted to continue “all this years in the movement” but here’s the thing – many of these devotees have left ISKCON and some of them are quite inimical to us, and yet they all agreed to say something about Prabhupāda, who remains the patriarch of our sometimes feuding family.

Their names have become loaded and not all cognitive associations are beneficial for our spiritual progress. I don’t want people to think about pedophilia when hearing about certain persons, for example, so I’ll leave the names out, there’s a good reason not to dwell on negatives, as I’ve learned from one of the videos.

The “no more with ISKCON” devotees stand out as they look like they’ve just been dragged off the streets, drawn large tilakas on their foreheads, and put right in front of the camera. Some are openly gay, some came in drag, some look like new age massage gurus, you get everything. Sometimes their narratives are also out of sync with those who still stay and that sometimes unnerved me.

There was one devotee who denigrated Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s order to print books to a mere suggestion and turned Śrīla Prabhupāda’s success into mere choice to pick up one of such suggestions and run away with it. There’s this subtle implication that you can do whatever you want if you do it right and it’s really up to you. This means that you can’t judge anyone and all the paths lead to the same goal, and you are a master of your own success, guru is there only to provide help. There’s a GBC injunction to avoid association with this devotee, btw, and now I can see another reason why.

Another devotee in the series completely refuted this approach. He remembered how he and some other senior devotees went to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s room and caught him chanting japa while tears were flowing like rivers down his face. They were completely shocked that they walked onto a such intimate moment and they dropped on the floor in prostrated obeisances to make themselves invisible. When they finally got a chance to speak they were full of admiration and praise for Prabhupāda because they just saw that he was such a great devotee. Without even having time to think Śrīla Prabhupāda simply responded: “No, no, no, it’s all my guru mahārāja.”

We really have nothing but the mercy of our guru, no matter what success we think we achieved by a combination of external factors and our efforts.

This, btw, was delivered by a devotee who Śrīla Prabhupāda personally promised to come and save at the time of his death. He left the movement, engaged himself in most abominable activities, and when he was dying of AIDS one of his godbrothers went to find him in some slum, picked him up, put him in a rented apartment, and arranged with one of his godsisters who served with him in the early days to take care of him in this last stage of his life. He left this world in a very auspicious atmosphere and in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, which would have been impossible and unthinkable if he was left on his own. This story of his departure only confirms his testimony of Śrīla Prabhupāda – “It’s all by the mercy of my guru mahārāja.”

In another video an ISKCON devotee talked about one of his godbrothers who went into yoga and was still using ISKCON name to collect donations for his new, yogī guru. He thought Śrīla Prabhupāda would immediately disown him but, on the contrary, Prabhupāda said that “You have no idea of the extent of Lord Nityānanda’s mercy”. Soon enough that devotee was back in the fold, confirming that Lord Nityānanda has unlimited patience with our foolishness, not that we should exploit it or anything.

Once again, the common theme through all these testimonials is that Śrīla Prabhupāda engaged his disciples in whatever capacity they had. Maybe it was my biased selection but no one has ever said that Śrīla Prabhupāda thought their lives didn’t matter as long as they remembered Kṛṣṇa. No, he looked for and appreciated every bit of service they performed in their otherwise conditioned and illusioned state. Our guru is not just the “spritiual” master, no, he comes and saves our material form, too. We might not think much of our material activities but the guru comes and turns them into service, so they always matter even though we might think that chanting is our only real life.

That was a sobering thought for me – we can’t rely on our inner spiritual beauty blossoming out of nowhere sometime in the future. Remembering Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes might indicate that this is what’s important, but the guru comes and reminds us that we need to purify our present, material consciousness, which is a real, not an illusory thing, and it’s this present consciousness that needs to be engaged as much as possible. We can’t just switch off and say “This is nothing, it’s what I do for my job, never mind that”. It’s not nothing, it’s time taken away from the service to our guru, as if we do not understand the value of guru’s mercy. It should mean everything to us and not a bit less.

Vanity thought #1445. In defense

I don’t think statements like “I hope we are not stuck with SP’s interpretation for eternity..” are defensible and I, personally, reject any attempts at explanations. We should never ever speak like this about our ācāryas, period.

However, experience shows that someone would always come out of leftfield and offer “no big deal, you thinking about it wrong” shoulder shrug that would leave me speechless for the moment. Am I? Or is this judgement itself is made on premises that are equally unacceptable? Or am I really that retarded and out of touch with time?

There was an episode long long time ago when I was doing some accounting for the temple and there was this young bhakta who hogged the computer playing games and fiddling with settings, like experimenting with BIOS password. I complained to a tech support guy who, instead of supporting me, fully stood behind him – because computers are meant to experiment and I, with my ancient accounting boredom, was stifling freedom and innovation.

I honestly thought that service must come first and personal growth later but not to these people. They were out to challenge the paradigms, start revolutions, overthrow oppression, and make the world a better place while they were at it. They couldn’t see it any other way and silently pitied me and my outdated outlook on life.

In my defense I understood where they were coming from as I had discovered wonders of Windows myself only a year earlier and similarly learned how to use computers by trial and error. I however, put a lid on it and learned discipline, too, the sheer excitement of finding BIOS password settings wasn’t enough for me to start playing pranks, so I thought I was on the right path and everyone who followed it should made the same choices, too, but I was wrong.

To this day I don’t know the answer. Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t have liked accounting, too, and would have laughed at pranks, so, perhaps, He was acting out through this young bhakta, using him to make jokes He Himself couldn’t because, well, He couldn’t leave the altar just like that.

This leads to another, much bigger dilemma – how much freedom can we really have? One school of thought is that Kṛṣṇa consciousness liberates people so that they can do practically everything, Kṛṣṇa will accept and there’s no question of punishment. I, however, am still stuck on restricting myself as much as possible because doing whatever I want to do is boring and of no interest to guru and Kṛṣṇa. I don’t think I’m ready to discuss it any further today, though.

In this case of looking for more than just Śrīla Prabhupāda’s interpretations the potential problem is that this devotee might have simply put into words what we all have been doing anyway. We think it’s acceptable for us but when someone calls it by what it is we take offense.

If that is indeed what happened then I have to either modify my behavior or defend it, it becomes a question of self-examination, a case where I might point a finger at someone but have three other fingers pointing back at me.

Is it okay for us in ISKCON to seek interpretations other than Śrīla Prabhupāda’s? Right in the beginning of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, in the purport to the very first verse, Śrīla Prabhupāda says the following (SB 1.1.1):

    Within the past five hundred years, many erudite scholars and ācāryas like Jīva Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, Viśvanātha Cakravartī, Vallabhācārya, and many other distinguished scholars even after the time of Lord Caitanya made elaborate commentaries on the Bhāgavatam. And the serious student would do well to attempt to go through them to better relish the transcendental messages.

At least we should attempt reading interpretations of other ācāryas, that’s practically a direct order and it goes against the school of thought that we should never read anything else but Prabhupāda’s own books. There are some devotees who do just that but there are many more who don’t.

Truth be told, we can’t run a society off Prabhupāda’s books only. Take the recent female guru issue – GBC had to form a committee which was tasked with looking through all available literature to shed more light on the topic. And they did the same thing with jiva origin and rittviks, too. Contentious issues WILL arise and they WILL require referring to authorities other than Prabhupāda, it’s just the fact of life.

Devotees who read those other books do not feel they are doing anything wrong, and they don’t have to be “liberal” to do that, too. One of our “Taliban like” traditionalists has no qualms reading and lecturing from commentaries by Viśvanātha Cakravartī, for example. Quoting Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura doesn’t raise any eyebrows anywhere, and referring to Jīva Gosvāmī’s sandarbhas to settle disputes is the most authoritative argument ever.

So, what exactly is wrong with seeking interpretations other than Prabhupāda’s? If we look for them we hope to find them, and if we hope to find them it means we hope we won’t get stuck with Prabhupāda’s – exactly what that devotee had said.

I admit that I feel all excited when I find new books that promise to cover new topics or provide new insights, and I do secretly hope that I’ll find something interesting there that I can’t find in Prabhupāda’s books. Why is it acceptable for me to feel this way but unacceptable for that devotee to put it in words? How am I going to defend myself?

Well, the problem isn’t with reading books and seeking new interpretations, the problem lies in the attitude to one’s guru. I know I read other books and I know I want to find something new in them, but what I really hope for is that by reading them I’ll understand Prabhupāda better and spiritual import of his words will be finally revealed to me. I hope these other works will illuminate not me personally but they will illuminate the words of my guru, who will always be the sole source of my deliverance.

I’m not seeking other gurus, I’m looking for help to understand mine.

Next argument could be that one can have many gurus, and, in fact, whenever one learns anything, like how to peel potatoes for the deity kitchen, he is accepting a new guru, too. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, but guru is one, he just manifests as many and acts through all kinds of personalities, each adding their flavor and each adding a permanent relationship that can’t be severed no matter what.

They all deliver the same message and there’s no divergence between them at all. They repeat Kṛṣṇa’s words and nothing else. Sometimes they might feel like attending to their own needs and excuse themselves from guru duty and as long as Kṛṣṇa is okay with it we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it either. Vartma-pradarśaka guru, the guru who shows the way, acts as a guru for one second of his life, for example, but he should be respected and worshiped forever for his role in helping Kṛṣṇa to bring us back home. Dīkṣā guru gives initiation and that’s it, there’s no use for him afterwards, technically speaking. For most of us he becomes a śikṣā guru so the relationship continues but it doesn’t have to and someone else might act as our instructing spiritual master. Most of the time someone else will, at some point in our lives. It’s not like we are going to be left without guidance when our initiating guru leaves this world.

Having many gurus is not as confusing as it sounds and we should look forward to new lessons all the time but not with “I hope I don’t get stuck with this one” attitude. It should be “I hope I understand and appreciate this guru better”.

I think I have exonerated myself here so my job for today is done.