Vanity thought #375. Being happy

There are two contradictory views on enjoying happiness in Krishna consciousness. One says that we shouldn’t accept Krishna’s service and so we shouldn’t pray for it and enjoy the results. The other view says that Krishna wants us to be happy so we should enjoy our happiness without any second thoughts. I am torn somewhere in between.

On one hand we are Krishna’s servants, not the other way around. He can serve us, if He wants to, and that would certainly make us feel good, but that is not our goal. We cannot accept any service from our gurus, for example, and guru is Krishna’s direct representative.

On the other hand we are beings constitutionally wired to search for happiness. If we don’t enjoy it in Krishna consciousness we will surely start looking for it elsewhere. Our relationships with Krishna are based on eternal bliss, how can we deny it?

On the third hand, if we are on the material platform and perceive happiness with our material senses, we don’t really need Krishna for that. He made an entire universe for us to engage in sense gratification. Even on the spiritual platform – He is the supreme enjoyer, we can try His enjoying shoes only to a small degree. It would surely be blissful but it’s nothing comparing to the bliss derived from serving Him.

But then the question is – what if our happiness comes from Krishna’s enjoyment, not from ours? Shouldn’t it be totally legitimate then?

The counterargument is – how do we know if our happiness is legit, and even if it is, what should we do about it? Should we enjoy it? Can we get attached to it? What happens if we get it wrong?

One just have to remember about sahajiya class of devotees – they are the supreme enjoyers of spiritual bliss among us but they are also branded as deviants by our acharyas.

We know of some symptoms of spiritual ecstasy – romancha kampashru etc. Are they legitimate? If one ever experience them, should he get attached to them, seeking them everywhere?

Personally I think that one doesn’t have to cultivate attachment to spiritual bliss artificially, if it’s a legitimate thing than one will be drawn to it naturally and irresistibly. Symptoms like tears or goosebumps, however, are not intrinsically spiritual, one can experience them in many other ways. Even the word ecstasy doesn’t have any spiritual meaning for the vast majority of the population, everyone knows what it is without ever thinking of Krishna or God.

We can develop attachment to the feelings and we can seek those feelings, trying to recreate situations that provoke them. There’s a reason some movies are called “tearjerkers”, they work very well on your average Joe.

So there’s a danger in misdirecting our efforts to material enjoyment, but what about purely spiritual rewards for our service? What should we do about them?

One important thing is that we should accept them with deep respect and gratitude, they are not meant to be enjoyed cheaply, and we shouldn’t accept them as something we totally deserved – they are causeless mercy of the Lord. We can humbly wait for it and, perhaps, the litmus test should be the degree of our patience. Like faithful dogs we should be prepared to sit and wait in total concentration, never letting our minds to wonder off anywhere else.

On that level the question “Can we enjoy happiness or not?” should totally disappear, it should be considered as something frivolous and distracting, it shouldn’t enter the mind of a devotee patiently and in deep concentration waiting for Lord’s mercy.

So I guess this is my answer. All my present concerns are, well, just noise. Eventually they will go away by themselves, assuming I will ever make progress.

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Vanity thought #285. Surfing the waves.

Recently I’ve tried to develop better tolerance in face of daily troubles – stress at work, family disagreements, body ailments etc. I told myself that I should treat happiness and distress as waves, they come and go in due time and instead of panicking about it and thinking of the ways out I should just soldier on and wait until relief comes naturally.

It works magic. Surely it sometimes tests the limits of my patience but, generally speaking, the relief comes without me having to wait for it for too long, and every time I feel satisfaction when it does. Mostly it’s the satisfaction with myself for sticking around with my rule of ignoring my personal discomforts.

It’s only in the past couple of days that I realized that this much awaited relief and the sense of satisfaction is actually me falling head over heels with maya, with the illusion that I’m this body. Suddenly I remembered that it is actually maya’s first business to make me feel welcome and comfortable in my life.

It appears that when I ride the wave of distress and await the lull in suffering I’m actually waiting for the maya to embrace me and show me her good side and I buy her proposition hook, line and sinker.

All the while I thought I was developing my Krishna consciousness but it was actually quite the opposite. So what IS Krishna consciousness? Negation of suffering is not it. Attraction to happiness is not it either, but avoiding those too feelings and getting some sweet spot of temporary equilibrium is also not the answer.

It is said that impersonalists have to give up all their interests in comings and goings of this world in exchange for nothing whereas Krishna’s devotees replace those interests with interests in Krishna and His service. Fine, but the fact is that I’m not aware of any of my spiritual senses that I can engage in service anyway, so there’s not much practical difference with impersonalism.

When I strike out time when I feel happy, distressed and all the other feelings in between, there’s absolutely nothing left. I can experience feelings when tasting prasadam or looking at the Deities or reading books but those manifest in my material body. They are pleasant but there are many other things that could be pleasant in exactly the same way.

I’m afraid I do not have an easy answer to this problem. I’m afraid that all my Krishna consciousness can be tested by what I feel when I say or hear Krishna’s Name without trying very hard to pretend I like it. What I feel is indifference, but that is good indifference, it’s indifference of my material senses, material mind and material emotions. Somewhere behind this indifference lies my dormant Krishna Consciousness.

Another test is how much aware I’m of Krishna during my deep sleep. Not much, but I’m going to look for that little part of my soul that never really sleeps. Until I find it all I have to go on is Krishna’s manifestation on the external platform – Deities, books, devotees etc. That’s how He keeps His connection with me and should hang on to it at any cost.

Well, this post grew longer than I originally planned but, perhaps, it’s a good thing. I could have been typing away on local politics, Facebook IPO, Apple’s evil plans or something, that would have been an enormous waste of time, it always is.

Vanity thought #238. Core illusions.

As I celebrate the end of the extended weekend I have nothing else to pontificate on but various lessons I’ve learned from popular entertainment. Generally it has been uninspiring though there was one thing that attracted my attention – religiosity.

There was a movie where the lead character was wondering if God really exists, it was an existential background for all the killings and revenge and quest for justice that made the actual story. Somehow his search for God appeared honest and that earned some respect from me until it was ruined by the whole purpose of the search – he prayed to God so he could ask Him for a nice, happy life for himself.

We have learned this about Christianity from the very first days in Krishna consciousness but it still surprises me how naturally people take to asking God to do things for them. “Prove that there’s God because I have a long list of things He has to do for me.” They don’t think about it twice, not a pause, not a question about God’s own existence. They naturally assume that if God exists then the purpose of His existence is to serve the men, mainly by taking them up to heaven and until He arranges that He should be running all kinds of errands to prove His usefulness.

This attitude is so natural that I don’t think it has anything to do with religion per se, I think it stems from the core illusions of the conditioned souls. Basically, we want to be happy. That’s all we are looking for – happiness. In Krishna consciousness we have our own ways to talk about happiness – it is not available in the material world, it’s only a temporary illusion, eternal happiness exists only in the spiritual world, everybody is searching for happiness because it’s in our nature as part of sat-chit-ananda composition of spiritual energy, and we can find this happiness by serving the Supreme.

These things can fly off our tongues in our sleep and I think they have become too familiar and have started losing deeper shades of meaning. I can’t claim to restore the washed out shades but looking at happiness from the POV of materialistic persons I think I can see slightly more of the picture than our memorized template and I think I also spot some of our own misconceptions that crept into our otherwise transcendental society.

What does happiness mean to people? Depending on the predominant modes of nature the definition varies, of course, but people still can understand each other’s thirst for happiness even if they might not feel it’s exactly like theirs.

Happiness in the mode of goodness lies in being content and free from troubles. They think that having a stable, harmonious family is a big part of it, having a satisfying and fulfilling career that does not distract them from being with their loved ones is also a big part of it. Having enough wealth not to worry about the future and not forcefully restrict their own desires is yet another component. Being in love is also mighty important.

When talking about humanity in general they think of justice and fairness and support for the weaker members, they think about respect, appreciation and unity in diversity, they talk about god given rights and personal liberties. Freedom, especially freedom from all kinds of oppression is also a must. Consequently they stress the loving, caring and inclusive side of the religions, they see humans as children of God and for them God’s expresses Himself mostly through love that we should all feel and appreciate.

People in the mode of passion want results, they want the chase, the rush, the feeling of being alive. Having worthy goals and working hard to achieve them is what they need most, they want everybody to have the opportunities. For them it’s not freedom from oppression, it’s freedom to do things that matters more. When they turn to God they want help in reaching their goals, they want God to empower them, they Him to arrange for success in each and every of their endeavors. Just half an hour ago I saw a footballer on TV praying to God after a lousy free kick. He genuinely thought that God’s main business is to watch over his precious feet.

Yes, we know they do that, but what strikes me here is that these are the exactly the same things that define happiness for the atheists! Freedom, justice, fulfillment, success, prosperity – you don’t need to be religious to appreciate those and you don’t need to be religious to achieve a reasonable degree of success.

Thus garden variety faithful are just as materialistic as followers of Richard Dawkings, QED.

And this is where it closely relates to our society, too, because these are exactly the same things we promise to people when we present our philosophy. We just say they are trying to achieve them in the wrong way. This is exactly the argument that both religionists and atheists throw at each other, too. We all want the same thing and we are all convinced in the superiority of our methods. That means that we are just as materialistic as them, too.

We also know, of course, that the eternal quality of the spirit soul is to be Krishna’s servant, meaning we are not interested in our own happiness but in Krishna’s. When Krishna happy, we are happy, but how often do we remember that when we have to deal with realities of this world, when we have to arrange all the justice and the fairness ourselves? We talk about varnashrama and leadership and caring and providing and we have numerous seminars on these topics as if it’s really what we want.

Even in our spiritual practices we talk about material criteria for success – how do we feel, how enthusiastic we are, how much mode of goodness we carry around. My inbox is filling up with advice on proper leadership and tips on better chanting, better reading and better everything. It all makes sense, there’s no denying it, but what makes me slightly uncomfortable is that it makes as lot of sense for materialistic people, too. There must be something wrong here if we indeed come to share the same goals and values.

After reading up on Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and Srila Vamsidasa Babaji I can’t help but notice how little any of those things meant for them. For Vamsidasa they were practically non-existent, he was incapable of maintaining a conversation let along dispensing advice on how to achieve happiness.

Of course we shouldn’t imitate them and so behave like normal humans while we are still on the normal human platform but I’m afraid we might also lose the sight of the priorities while engaged in this normal human behavior.

Crucial point – we still think of happiness in terms of what it means for us, not what it means for Krishna. We actually have no clue how to make Him happy, we only know that pleasing His dearmost devotees should be pleasing to Him also but that’s only because we assume that they know better. More often than not they are in the same situation as us, however, and as it comes down the chain the original values structure might get skewered. What is means practically is that we are on our own, we have instructions and we know our gurus’ tastes but it’s up to us to separate what is really pleasing to Krishna from what is also pleasing us as materialistic, conditioned souls.

Preparing tasty prasadam is one such thing, scrutinizing seven habits of successful people is another. Taking everything that comes our way and engaging it in Krishna’s service is what’s officially prescribed for us but it’s the second part – engaging it in Krishna’s service that can make of break our devotional progress. If, or rather when, we are not engaging things in an absolutely selfless manner we only fool ourselves, prolong our own suffering, and postpone our reunion with Krishna. We might even deserve a “promotion” to heavenly planets! Why not, if we are really obsessed with doing things right rather than doing things for Krishna?

What is the solution for navigating this mess and how does preaching fit with all of this is a thought for another day.

Vanity thought #180. The elusive happiness.

What is happiness? Am I happy? Am I a happy person? A happy devotee? Am I unhappy?

Just as I was contemplating this topic yet another “chanting doesn’t make me happy” question popped up in my twitter stream.

The answer was that we are unhappy because we are trying to be enjoyers and that we can experience genuine happiness only when we understand that Krishna is the actual enjoyer and so we chant and do everything for his pleasure. When Krishna is pleased with our chanting we will become happy, too.

Nice and to the point, subtly suggesting a problem in our own consciousness before blaming our unhappiness on Krishna. I wonder, though, if it makes any immediate practical impact. It’s not like we can turn our devotion on demand. In fact, according to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s comments on Siskashtaka and Sanmodana Bhashyam, a conditioned soul is so covered with anarthas and desires for karma, enjoyment, or jnana, renunciation, that he is incapable of rendering any devotional service at all.

So it’s not that I can start chanting for Krishna’s pleasure at will. It’s more like I have no such capacity at all, but let’s go back to happiness for a moment.

Am I happy? Well, it depends on how happiness is defined, doesn’t it?

Pardon me, but for some happiness is one never ending orgasm. Am I happy? Huh? No, far from it, and, judging by my age, never will be. However ridiculous, but this definition has its merits.

Others might think that happiness is an ever expanding world of opportunities. Younger people certainly get a buzz from these kinds of visions – career, girls, perks, traveling around the world, it’s all yours and the world’s your oyster. Am I happy in this sense? Hmm, no, and I don’t really care for any of those things, they don’t excite me anymore.

Contrary to the youth, older people might describe happiness as being content. I can relate to that, and it has a certain sattvic ring to it. So, am I content? Well, it depends.

I am generally content now, but if I expand the scope of my time reference – I’m in a hurry to finish this post, I’m worried that I’ll have to postpone it and will lose my train of thought. If I expand my scope a bit further I’d say I’m content with having the opportunity to chant so many rounds a day.

If I expand even further I might start to worry what is going to happen to me in the medium term, when the money will start running out and nothing continues to come in, it would create a certain pressure, so I’m not content.

Expanding further I believe Krishna will somehow or other arrange everything and all astrological predictions put a better future in front of me, I’m *only* six or seven years away from the best period of my life, so I’m full of hope and content.

On the other hand, there are certain changes happening with my body, the old age is not very far away, I’ve lost a spring from my step and it’s not coming back and much bigger problems are awaiting me very soon. Does that make me content? Of course not.

I also know that despite all my problems it’s very unlikely that Krishna will abandon me forever, I can always count on His mercy and protection, that’s the ultimate contentment, right?

Well, yes, when I remember about it.

It appears the feeling of happiness very much depends on my current perspective, and my perspectives change and fluctuate in a matter of minutes if not seconds. With a bit of practice I’ve learned how to keep myself in a permanent happy mood, ignoring some aspects of my life and concentrating on others instead, but is it a sign of happiness or just cheating?

Perhaps “Why am I not happy despite my chanting?” question is wrong and misleading in itself, and that’s why I’ve never seen anyone getting a truly satisfactory answer to it, however correct and well meaning.

My concern with my happiness has no relation to my chanting and pleasing Krishna. Happiness and distress come and go according to my karma and the laws of nature, and they will come and go no matter how far advanced I might become in my Krishna consciousness. Practically it means it’s wrong to expect chanting to have any effect on feelings of happiness and distress.

Sure, Hare Krishna mantra is absolute and can grant any kind of benedictions but a) it is not obliged to do so, as Krishna is also absolutely independent, He is not some kind of demigod who must respond to performance of sacrifices, and b) that’s not what we are asking for, is it? When we chant we are asking for devotion, asking to engage us in devotional service, and that has nothing to do with the happiness or distress experienced by our bodies.

What we should be concerned with, instead, is whether we are giving any pleasure to Krishna at all. It’s safe to assume that our chanting itself, being impure and mixed with all kind of anarthas, is not much fun for Him to listen to, but the efforts to purify ourselves and become ready recipients for the boon of devotion might please Him very much.

Again, it is not wise to expect Krishna’s feedback on our efforts to manifest itself as feeling of happiness. As long as we identify ourselves with our bodies all our happiness will be temporary anyway.

Thinking about it this way made me realize the value of my efforts. If I can’t chant Krishna’s names with devotion all that is left for me is to try, and that has led me to some interesting thoughts – is Krishna helping me in my attempts?

He knows the value of efforts better than me, so, is He making various arrangements to make me try more often and with more sincerity?

Let me see, is He making me think about sex because it easily reminds me to concentrate on Holy Names instead. This kind of thoughts are too provocative to simply ignore, they require an all out effort to listen to the mantra, currently I don’t know a better way.

Is Krishna consciously allows lust to enter my mind? Absurd, huh? Well, He regularly sends all kinds of troubles and tribulations to His devotees so that they come to Him for shelter, it’s a well known and time tested trick, ever since Pandavas stories.

I can easily think up a couple of cases from my own life that would follow the same pattern but they are quite large in scope, affecting my life for several months or years. If the scope itself is not important why not imagine that Krishna sends me little troubling thoughts every few minutes so that I can take shelter of the Hare Krishna mantra? It’s not such an outrageous idea, is it?

I would even say that lust attacks serve this purpose better than diverting my mind to possible topics for this blog or various other Krishna related arguments. Those kind of things can occupy my mind and keep me from listening to the mantra for hours, why wouldn’t Krishna send some female images to my brain instead to remind me of my precarious position and run back to the sturdy boat of the Holy Names?

Well, it seems like a nice cope out – blame my lust problems on Krishna, but it makes me try and that’s the only thing that matters, right?

Also, this explanation is guaranteed to purge any thoughts of achieving jata-rati stage of chanting anytime soon – my chanting is not born of attraction to Krishna, it’s born of Him prodding me with blasts of lust.

Should work miracles for my over-inflated ego.

There’s still a lot of stuff to say about the pursuit of happiness, though, will do it tomorrow or at the earliest possible opportunity.