Vanity thought #1361. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 14

I left the story about Haridāsa Ṭhākura debating degraded brāhmaṇa before it even started – on discussing that brāhmaṇa’s motives. They weren’t pure, he was driven by envy of vaiṣṇavas and by materialistic pride. It wasn’t a spiritual debate that was meant to produce any meaningful result even if the brāhmaṇa tried to frame it that way.

The “debate” went roughly like this:

– The injunction is to chant in one’s mind, who told you to chant loudly?

– You all know the glories of the holy name, I can only repeat what I head from you – loud chanting is hundred times better

– How is it one hundred times better?

– There are these verses in the śāstra, plus loud chanting delivers all living organisms that hear it. One delivers only himself, another delivers thousands who hear him? Who is better among the two?

– Oh God, now even this ex-Muslim is a philosopher, who gave him the right? It’s Kali Yuga in action – outcasts teaching Vedas.

Then there was a concluding pledge – if what Haridāsa said wasn’t true the brāhmaṇa would personally cut off his nose and ears. I don’t get this part – what is so brāhmaṇical about this cruel and unusual punishment? Who was he – a brāhmaṇa or a butcher?

Haridāsa Ṭhākura didn’t say anything in return, just smiled and left, probably not wishing to keep the company of the offender. He was also constantly chanting the names of Lord Hari very loudly, as if to insist on his point. Then came the natural conclusion: “Within a few days, that wretched brāhmaṇa was attacked by smallpox and as a result his nose melted away and fell off.”

Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī made a lot of comments on the proceedings and these are the lessons we should take away from this episode, but let’s start with verses Haridāda Ṭhākura quoted in his support.

First was this unattributed quote: “uccaiḥ śata-guṇaṁ bhavet”. It means that if one loudly chants the holy names of the Lord he obtains one hundred times more benefit. The brāhmaṇa didn’t challenge Haridāsa for source but asked for supporting evidence to this statement. I don’t think he accepted it as a direct quote but rather as a verdict.

In reply Śrīla Haridāsa quoted last four lines of this full verse (SB 10.34.17):

    brahma-daṇḍād vimukto ’haṁ
     sadyas te ’cyuta darśanāt
    yan-nāma gṛhṇann akhilān
     śrotṝn ātmānam eva ca
    sadyaḥ punāti kiṁ bhūyas
     tasya spṛṣṭaḥ padā hi te

“O infallible one, I was immediately freed from the brāhmaṇas’ punishment simply by seeing You. Anyone who chants Your name purifies all who hear his chanting, as well as himself. How much more beneficial, then, is the touch of Your lotus feet?” This verse was spoken by a snake who tried to swallow Mahārāja Nanda but was liberated by the touch of Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta examines this verse very closely and he exposes several valuable facts about chanting of the holy name. He translates part of that śloka as follows: “By once chanting the holy names of the Lord a person purifies himself and others”. Here “once chanting” shows that one does not need to have prior faith for the holy names to bring effect, it will work anyway. He sees it as a refutation of an understanding that until knowledge of one’s relationship with the Lord based on faith is awakened, there is no need to chant the holy names. On the contrary, “One can and should chant the names of the Lord while avoiding the ten offenses even during the four faithless situations of saṅketa (indirectly), parihāsa (jokingly), stobha (as musical entertainment), or hela (neglectfully).

This seems a bit contradictory to me – avoid ten offenses when saying the name neglectfully? The first three are okay – we often mention Kṛṣṇa’s names indirectly, ie while talking about something else. We can use them while joking, too, and certainly during kīrtanas. In all these cases we can and should avoid ten offenses, but the last one, neglectful chanting, escapes me. Maybe because inattentive chanting is not actually on the list of offenses, even if it causes most of them to happen as a result. It’s a separate topic I’d rather avoid here.

Next, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta says that the verb gṛhṇan is used in present tense, “while chanting”, and it means that the names do not have to be even completed. Half the name would already brings effects while being chanted. In his words: “This means that one can and should chant the names of the Lord, even unclearly, improperly, and incompletely or partially.” I don’t think we should read it as an encouragement but rather as a warning that we should not dismiss such chanting as ineffectual, especially when judging others.

Next word is akhilān, “to all” in our Bhāgavatam translation, and it means that one’s chanting should not depend on his qualifications as they are required for activities like sacrifices or worshiping the deities. One can and should chant for the benefit of all immediately, no admittance tests necessary, and it will still work.

The use of the word sadyaḥ refutes the argument that chanting should depend on time. Sadyaḥ means immediately. Whenever one chants, it works.

The word śrotṛn, “the hearers”, indicates that the audience should hear the names, ie the chanting should be loud. The words eva ca here mean that both the chanter and the hearers will be purified by the name just as they are purified by the touch of Lord’s lotus feet.

Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī attributes this analysis to Śrī Sanātana and Śrī Jīva Gosvāmīs.

Haridāsa Ṭhākura then talked about benefits for birds, animals and insects – living beings who cannot chant themselves and therefore can only be saved by the mercy of others – an important consideration I never thought of before. They can’t chant themselves even if they wanted, their only chance is if I chant for them, and as spirit souls they are non-different from people I can engage in a discussion with, and they are probably less atheistic and less envious.

Then Haridāsa Ṭhākura gave a verse from Nāradīya Puraṇa:

    japato hari-nāmāni
    sthāne śata-guṇādhikaḥ
    ātmānam ca punāty uccair
    japan śrotṛn punāti ca

“One who loudly chants the holy names of the Lord is a hundred times greater than one who silently chants, because those who chant silently purify only themselves, while those who chant loudly purify themselves as well as those who hear them.”

Śata here means a hundred, the previously quoted verse didn’t mention the number.

Then Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura proceeded with explanations and reasons I mentioned in the outline – how one who saves more living entities is better than one who saves only himself, to which brāhmaṇa replied that Haridāsa was not in the position to teach Vedas, as I said before.

Both Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī objected to this very strongly, probably because it was an important issue in those days. It’s not so important to us, though. The argument could still come up if we were to lecture real brāhmaṇas, which probably won’t happen. I’m sorry, but for me it’s the reason to turn by brains off and simply accept the conclusion – we should not accept that one is a brāhmaṇa simply on his seminal qualifications. One should undergo proper saṁskāras, of which in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism there are twenty, five more than brāhmaṇas in south India. It’s all very technical for us, westerners, and we shouldn’t worry about that – who is a brāhmaṇa and who is not, or how to count our saṁskāras. We should be above such materialistic hierarchy and engage ourselves in humble chanting just like Haridāsa Ṭhākura did.

Important part that Haridāsa Ṭhākura simply presented his view and didn’t engage in tit-for-tat arguments with a person who was offensive towards the holy name and wasn’t going to change his stance. Our mission is not argue and quarrel but to chant and let others hear it.


Vanity thought #1354. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 12

The second story involving a snake is very different and it’s the kind that could be rejected by non-believers outright – it’s a story of possession and the snake speaking through the human medium. In not so ancient India it was a common thing, though – devotees being used by their worshipable gods to channel their wishes.

In Christianity this kind of thing is a big no no and they would call for exorcism rather than taking lessons. Two thousand years later and public pressure weeded out such mediums altogether even as a concept. I guess burning people as witches in medieval ages taught everyone that it’s a dangerous practice and so it was quietly forgotten. Elsewhere, however, the practice lives on.

In India and Malaysia there’s still a bloody festival called Taipusam (too lazy to google and check) where devotees fall into trance and become possessed by their iṣṭa-devatas. They become impervious to pain and whip and torture themselves only to emerge unscathed and unscarred once their meditation is over. There’s a similar festival in Buddhist Thailand where they worship Chinese gods instead and it shows that the principle is the same and works across different cultures.

So, there was this snake charmer who was bitten by a non-poisonous snake and thus came to channel the snake deity, Vāsuki. Under the influence of the deity and the mantras he chanted, the charmer began to dance. At that time Haridāsa Ṭhākura also came to see what was going on. The snake charmer happened to sing the story of Kāliya and of Kṛṣṇa dancing on his heads, which was appropriate for the occasion. Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura specifically mentions that the snake charmer was dancing happily and singing loudly and sweetly. I don’t know and don’t care if Christians would call it a possession by a devil but it looks nothing like it. Why would a devil sing glories of the Supreme Lord?

This is the thing with snakes – they are universally hated, even in India, and yet the best of their species can teach lots of humans a lesson or two. I remember reading that even Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī said snakes should be killed on the spot and I’ve seen people do it in Vṛndāvana, there’s no mercy towards them, and yet we have Lord Ananta Śeṣa who is practically the very first expansion of Kṛṣṇa.

How come? Why does this great lineage doesn’t help snake image at all? Afaik, in every culture snakes are also the carriers of wisdom but when it comes to real animals, they are seen as manifestations of envy. Why is this duality in their nature?

Sometimes I think that Lord Balarāma is the source of these contradictions. He is the source of Ananta Śeṣa and He does not always behave as expected. During Kurukṣetra war, for example, He was seen as favorable to Kauravas, excused Himself from taking sides, and went on a pilgrimage instead. It seems He ignored all the moral teachings delivered to Arjuna, or by Bhīṣma to Yuidhiṣṭhira. He was above mundane morality. Then He descended as Nityānanda avadhūta and ignored some more rules and regulations. He was sannyasī who didn’t follow any particular order and then got married.

None of it can touch the Lord, of course, who is always above and beyond the law of karma, but it looks like He could be the inspiration for conditioned living beings’ wayward behavior. He has not a whiff of envy in His personality but those who imitate Him here, the snakes, might become envy personified. And at the same time they carry His wisdom. Go figure.

Anyway, when Haridāsa Ṭhākura heard the pastime of Kṛṣṇa subduing Kāliya he started dancing himself, his body manifested all transcendental ecstatic transformations and eventually he fell unconscious. Seeing this, the snake charmer stood aside and observed in silence, his hands folded in a show of respect.

The crowd cheered Haridāsa and took the dust off his body and his lotus feet, and then one brāhmaṇa, who Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta called a hypocritical, deceitful, cheating, artificial, imitative prākṛta-sahajiyā and the lowest of brāhmaṇas, decided to show that he deserved people’s adoration even more because he was born into a high caste family rather than being an ex-Muslim mendicant.

He also fell on the ground and started rolling in the dust but instead of adoration he was severely beaten with a stick by the snake charmer until he gave up his pretense and run away screaming.

As you can gather already, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī didn’t have any love for that brāhmaṇa’s behavior and condemned such imitation in strongest words possible. Prākṛta-sahajiyās were all the rage at that time so the lesson was very relevant. These days – not so much. Prākṛta-sahajiyā evolved beyond such simple shows and is a lot more sophisticated now. They impress people by talking big topics rather than by external displays of emotions. I don’t know if it’s a progress but in my mind I attribute it to strong preaching by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta. Just like “witches” are afraid to practice their skills, prākṛta-sahajiyās have become afraid, too. Otoh, subtle corruption is more difficult to notice and more difficult to fight. In the end, we must be better off, however, or otherwise all that preaching would have gone to waste, which is impossible.

People were surprised by snake charmer’s behavior. Why did he reward Haridāsa with respect but punished that squib of a brāhmaṇa? Hearing their concerns the snake charmer channeled the king of the snakes and through his human mouth dropped some supreme serpent wisdom.

His explanation was a perfect example that snakes are not simple-minded creatures, at least their leaders know perfectly well who Kṛṣṇa is, what the illusion is, what our position is, what they know the value of the devotees, too. He praised Śrīla Haridāda Ṭhākura in best possible words.

Some key points from his speech – to develop devotion for Kṛṣṇa one must be free from all duplicity. Duplicity was, of course, that brāhmaṇa’s chief sin. We should never ever imitate levels of devotion we haven’t achieved ourselves. We should never pretend to be more advanced than we are or we stand absolutely no chance of developing bhakti.

One might ask here – how do we know our real position so that we do not act above it? Hmm, when we act with duplicity we should see it in our hearts, we should be sufficiently purified to see it. That’s the main point. Once we purge as much of it as we can, we will act according to our actual level. It doesn’t matter what that level is, important part is to reject duplicity. Whatever duplicity still remains – well, that’s part of our level, too. People will see it, we might not, and it’s for our own good, too – we should not try to fool anybody, let them know our weaknesses as well as our strengths.

Another point was about insignificance of one’s birth into a particular caste or family – devotion to the Lord purifies all, while those devoid of it have no redeeming features no matter how high up they are on the social ladder. This should be encouraging for us – by chanting the holy name and by following our ācāryas we can transgress our unfortunate births and develop bhakti, otherwise it wouldn’t be possible.

Sometimes our ISCKON devotees feel hopeless, as their material conditioning seem to prevent them from following our path. Regulative principles, controlling one’s anger, controlling one’s pride, controlling one’s attachment to all kinds of comfort – all these things seem to be insurmountable, and yet we shouldn’t despair. We WILL overcome them if we follow the program.

Some say that if we act according to our sinful nature it’s not really a big sin but that’s not the lesson we should learn here. Haridāsa Ṭhākura might have been born a Muslim but he is glorified for transcending his conditioning, not for following it. He didn’t settle on eating beef just because he was born into such a family. He became an exemplary devotee instead, behaving better than any brāhmaṇa ever.

The snake charmer said many other things in glorification of Haridāsa but that was the gist of it, and his speech satisfied the public completely.

Vanity thought #1353. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 11

Let’s talk about snakes. There are two episodes with snakes among the stories about Haridāsa Ṭhākura, both described in Caitanya Bhāgavata but not in Caitanya Caritāmṛta.

It’s not clear if these two events happened in sequence or if they were separated by many years. Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura simply said “listen to another wonderful incidence involving king of snakes”. It could have happened at any time, therefore, even before marketplace beatings. The first one, however, was just after Haridāsa was released by Muslims and found himself a cave on the bank of Ganges.

Now, I can’t imagine how he could find such a place. Nothing in the present day topography of Phuliyā suggests presence of the caves. There aren’t any mountains of even hills in that area, it’s all flat and probably flooded from time to time. How could there be a cave there “on the bank of Ganges”. Look at this Panoramio photo that shows how Phuliyā looks from the Ganges itself:

Perhaps they means something else, not a cave in a traditional sense, perhaps it’s just a washed away hollow in an otherwise sandy bank. Perhaps the land around it is supported by root systems of big trees rather than by rocks. Must ask devotees who actually live there, they might have a better explanation.

Anyway, Haridāsa Ṭhākura moved into such a cave but it already had an occupant – a giant poisonous snake. No one had seen it, however. The snake exuded overwhelming, choking, eye-irritating gas that everyone complained about. People just couldn’t stay there, it was a local physician who, listening to the symptoms, suggested that the presence of the snake somewhere deep in the cave.

It was all water of the duck’s back for Śrīla Haridāsa, didn’t bother him at all. Yet, seeing people complaining about it and realizing that no one would come to visit and hear him chanting if he didn’t do something about it, he agreed to move. Chanting in a cave is a practice of nirjana-bhajana and the way it’s ordinary understood it’s not meant to be disturbed by ordinary people. There was a devotee in Prabhupāda’s time who chanted half of Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s daily limit. He got himself a hut in Māyāpura and he complained to Prabhupāda of being disturbed by others all the time. Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura was not that kind of bhajanānandi, he was not an ordinary bhajanānandi at all, he enjoyed preaching, not personal bhajana.

Therefore, he proclaimed that it the snake doesn’t leave by next morning he would leave himself. I’m just trying to picture how it looked. Haridāsa said that he had no idea there was a snake inside and while everyone’s eyes, throats, and noses burned he didn’t feel anything. At this point, however, was he talking to the yet unseen snake? It looks this way, he probably meant the snake to hear his promise/threat.

Or maybe he was talking to the Lord, not to the snake. He saw some people complaining and threatening never to come to hear the holy name and engage in spiritual discussions and he appealed to the Lord, or to the holy name, seeing them as non-different. If the obstacle, the “snake”, or whatever it was that prevented his visitors from engaging in saṅkīrtana, doesn’t clear out by tomorrow, then Haridāsa would have to search for a new place for their gatherings. He didn’t see it as “his” place, he saw it as a place for preaching.

For me, I would talk to the invisible snake, I see it as a separate object I can try to establish relationship with and, with the magic of the Holy Name, find a way to have influence over. Haridāsa Ṭhākura, however, most likely didn’t see the “snake” as a separate phenomenon, just a fluke in the force, something in the illusion that wasn’t conducive to devotional service, so he talked directly to the Lord.

If this is true then it’s an important lesson. We should not treat external phenomena as having any life on their own, in the vision of a parahaṁsa there are only three entities – living entity, the Lord, and the external energy acting under Lord’s direction. Every relationship he has is a relationship with the Lord and never with external phenomena.

Does he have relationships with other living entities? I don’t think so, only in as much as they both can relate to the Lord at the same time. We don’t talk to sleeping people, we understand that they don’t hear us, and for the parahaṁsa everybody “living” under illusion appears as sleeping, too. We can see people dreaming and being very absorbed in their imagination but we don’t try to reason with them about what they see, perhaps wake them up and tell that it was just a dream, nothing to worry about. Similarly, a paramahaṁsa might shake us up a little and tell us that all our troubles are just an illusion while we want help with the villains chasing us in our nightmares.

We can adjust a sleeping man’s pillow or cover him with a blanket, we can turn off the lights, open or close windows etc. We can do all kinds of things that will hardly be even noticed but we know they are for that man’s ultimate benefit and he’d be thankful for that in the morning. Similarly, a paramahaṁsa is only concerned with the ultimate benefit of the conditioned souls who might not even notice his help in their illusion.

Hmm, it makes sense now that Haridāsa Ṭhākura wasn’t addressing the snake, the way charlatans pretending to be mediums and seers do, or even the way we might address a kid who is hiding somewhere around. He talked to the Lord directly, asking Him to do whatever is necessary for the benefit of the conditioned souls who came to complain to him about their nightmares about some snake.

As soon as he said this, the snake appeared from insides of the cave and slithered out in everybody’s view. Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura specifically mentioned that it was early evening and everybody saw that snake, it wasn’t imaginary. It was large, fearsome, but also wonderful and beautiful – in Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura’s words. It was colored yellow, blue, and white and had a brilliant jewel adorning its head, which somehow reminded everybody about Kṛṣṇa.

Everybody felt relieved and developed great faith in Haridāsa Ṭhākura but the book says that for Haridāsa himself the episode was nothing special.

As for the identity of that snake – we will never know, but the second snake episode tells us to have some respect for the best of their species, I’ll discuss that next time.

Vanity thought #1352. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 10

I think it’s time to resume writing about Haridāsa Ṭhākura. Yesterday’s post could, perhaps, be expanded if I listened more to that seminar about ISKCON Online but I’m afraid it’s only going to give me grief. I’ve seen things there that I’m not comfortable with even if in general I agree with these devotees and I think all this had to be done a decade ago.

I left the story of Haridāsa Ṭhākura when he explained the reason for his punishment at the hand of the Muslims as a reaction to listening to the blasphemy of the Lord. There could be other explanations and they could be equally correct and mutually complementing but that’s what Haridāsa Ṭhākura thought of the matter himself.

There’s still a good chunk of that 16th Chapter of Caitanya Bhāgavata Adi Līlā left and it includes several more pastimes but before we move on I should say that we already have “Teachings of Haridāsa Ṭhākura” in a form of a book, it’s called Harināma Cintāmaṇi by Śrila Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.

As far as I read into it, however, it talks about teachings regarding the glory of the Holy Name while I’m trying to screw out all kinds of lessons from Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s life. In that sense I’m not talking about his teachings per se but more about lessons we can learn from him.

In the introduction to that book Śrīla Bhaktivinoda gives a brief biography of Śrīla Haridāsa and it doesn’t quite match with what I knew about it from Caitanya Bhāgavata. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda read many more books on the matter and he carefully selected only those that looked authoritative. His timeline of Haridāsa’s life, therefore, is based on much broader factual knowledge and I think we should simply take his word for it even if it appears to differ from Caitanya Bhāgavata in some details.

I’ll just copy paste it here instead of retelling the story in my own words, it’s not that long:

    Authoritative biographies affirm that Haridāsa Ṭhākura was born in a Muslim family. This we know for certain. Haridāsa was born in a rural village named Burana. Because of his previous pious deeds he soon became attracted to the worship of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Leaving home, and fashioning a small cottage in the forest of Benāpula, he passed his days chanting and remembering Lord Kṛṣṇa’s holy names. Harassed by nondevotees, he left and made a home by the Gaṅgā’s bank. Some wicked men sent a prostitute to corrupt him. Hearing Lord Kṛṣṇa’s holy names from Haridāsa’s mouth, the prostitute became a saintly devotee. Offering his small cottage in Benāpula to the new devotee, Haridāsa left that province. Singing and singing Lord Kṛṣṇa’s holy names, he crossed the Gaṅgā, came to Saptagrāma, and stayed in the home of Śrīla Yadunandana Ācārya. Accompanied by Yadunandana Ācārya, again and again he attended meetings hosted by the rentcollectors Śrī Hiraṇya and Govardhana. At one of those meetings he debated the glories of the holy name with a brahma-bandhu named Gopāla Cakravartī. Hiraṇya and Govardhana fired that brāhmaṇa from his job, and because of his offense to a Vaiṣṇava, the brāhmaṇa developed leprosy. At that time Govardhana’s small son, Raghunātha dāsa, became attracted to Vaiṣṇavism by Haridāsa s mercy. Sad at heart
    by hearing of Gopāla Cakravartī’s sufferings, Haridāsa left that place, took shelter of Advaita Prabhu in Phuliyā-grāma, made his home in a cave by the Gaṅgā’s bank, and engaged in nirjana-bhajana (solitary worship of the Lord). Thinking his personal fame and glory unimportant, a devotee may leave the association of the people in general and live like a hermit, but the glory of a devotee can never really be hidden. In this way Haridāsa s fame and glory became widespread. Hearing of it, the Muslims became angry. The Muslim king of that place had Haridāsa arrested and made to suffer. Haridāsa was filled with mercy to every living being. Not considering others’ faults, he gave blessings to everyone. Leaving that place, he returned to his cave. A few days later Lord Caitanya came to that place. In Lord Advaita’s company, Haridasa met Lord Caitanya and took shelter of His feet.

The part about Haridāsa practically initiating future Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī into chanting of the Holy Name is interesting. Raghunātha Dāsa had a vaiṣṇava guru already but it’s by Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s mercy that he got the association of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. I guess this is all taken straight from Caitanya Caritāmṛta (CC Antya 3). That chapter contains pastimes not included in Caitanya Bhāgavata and I planned on addressing them later.

What doesn’t quite match between the two books and everything else we know is the dates. From that chapter in Caitanya Caritāmṛta it’s clear that the episode with meeting Raghunātha Dāsa was just before Śrīla Haridāsa arriving to Phuliyā and meeting with Advaita Ācārya. At that time both of them prayed for the advent of Lord Caitanya, yet Raghunātha Dāsa was born AFTER the Lord, in 1494 whereas Lord Caitanya appeared in 1486. Can we say that Advaita Ācārya did not know that the Lord was already there? Possibly. We can say that he prayed for the Lord manifesting His mercy rather than pretending to be a grammarian. Or there’s something really wrong with the dates.

The marketplace beatings happened shortly after that, and immediately after the beatings “Lord Caitanya came to that place”, as Śrīla Bhaktivinoda says in the introduction to Harināma Cintāmaṇi, and He came as the Lord already. How come? I don’t know. Perhaps chanting in the cave lasted for many many years before Muslims came after Haridāsa.

Otoh, there’s a clear verse in Caitanya Bhāgavata, Adi 251, where it says that “Haridāsa Thakura passed his days in this way, before Gaurachandra manifested His devotional feelings.” It comes after the story with the snake charmer speaking in voices, which was after the marketplace beatings. Why does Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura say that Lord Caitanya came to visit him only a few days later? I don’t know, it’s all very confusing.

Some stories are so close to each other they appear duplicated. There was a prostitute sent to seduce Śrīla Haridāsa, for example, and then there was Māyā-devī herself who came to do exactly the same thing, and it’s all in the same chapter in Caitanya Caritāmṛta. There were a couple of public debates on the power of the holy name, one with Gopāla Cakravartī mentioned earlier, and another with some brāhmaṇa in a different village, but the end was exactly the same – both brāhmaṇas contracted leprosy and their noses fell off.

Was it a coincidence? Was it a law of nature? Was it just an add on to the narration to illustrate to the doubting public that offending vaiṣṇavas leads to severe punishment? Is is possible that either Vṛndāvana Dāsa or Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja included these endings as a decorative, not a factual element? Will I go to hell for considering such possibility? I don’t know the answers.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry myself with such trivialities and focus on Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s actual teachings. It’s the teachings that will save us from illusion, not arguments for and against nose falling off some brāhmaṇa five hundred years ago.

Vanity thought #1341. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 9

In his parting comments to Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura the Muslim king said: “You are equal to everyone – both friend and enemy – but there is no one in the three worlds who can understand you.” That was a telling testimony – we think we know and understand Haridāsa’s status as a pure devotee but without having seen it with our own eyes our knowledge must be shallow.

Vast majority of our ISKCON members have never seen a certified pure devotee and since the 90s we’ve been taught that the current crop of our gurus are not there yet. Maybe it’s true, in general, and it means that we imagine pure devotees through the lens of our material experiences. If we actually seen someone truly equal to all living entities we’d probably reject such a person outright.

We expect devotees to behave in a certain way and value certain things over others and we can’t imagine it being any other way. When these values are challenged we protest, very loudly, and quickly identify our enemies. It’s not a bad thing to do, it’s how we are supposed to behave on our level, but it’s also not the stage of perfection yet. We have no mercy for meat-eaters and for some even milk-drinkers. We hate māyāvādīs and impersonalists of all persuasions. Some can’t stand the idea of female gurus, and others can’t stand patriarchal traditionalists in return. Strong opinions are everywhere and we all refer to the same authority – Prabhupāda.

If someone is non-committal to any of those issues we brand them as ignorant offenders and accuse them of not having “real humility”, which nowadays means going after your enemies with everything you got. Indifference is offensive, of course, but it’s not equal to equanimity, and that’s why I think a real well-wisher of everyone would have a hard time in our society if he decided to propagate his views.

Having observed Haridāsa Ṭhākura rise from the dead one would expect the king to praise a miracle but that was not what impressed Nawab the most – he was impressed by Haridāsa’s attitude throughout the whole ordeal. Having no such experience we can’t understand how impressive equanimity really is. We can’t imagine how anything could be more impressive than a dead person rising up and continuing chanting. I can’t explain it to myself, even when I heard about people’s impressions of Śrīla Prabhupāda I didn’t understand what the big deal was, and many didn’t see him that way either because externally Śrīla Prabhupāda appeared as very opinionated and always ready for a fight.

Well, I can’t talk about something I have no experience of, so let’s move on.

The king gave Haridāsa Ṭhākura a free pass anywhere in his kingdom and Haridāsa immediately went to Phuliyā and entered into an assembly of the brāhmaṇas. It was unusual in that Haridāsa was still a Muslim by birth and thus association with brāhmaṇas was forbidden but after his miraculous resurrection even proud seminal brāhmaṇas had to admit that Haridāsa was special. Everybody started chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and Haridāsa swam in the ocean of bliss, or, practically speaking, fell on the ground unconscious. Caitanya Bhāgavata says that at this point, seeing Haridāsa’s transformations, it was the brāhmaṇas who felt transcendental bliss. I suppose ordinarily a short kīrtana wouldn’t produce such an effect in those who were raised in pride but seeing Haridāsa Ṭhākura with their own eyes brāhmaṇas’ hardened hearts melt.

After a while Haridāsa came back to his senses and addressed brāhmaṇas concern. “Please do not feel sorry for me,” he asked, “I’ve committed a great offense by hearing blasphemy of the Lord and for it I got only a token punishment. I was supposed to go to hell, to Kumbhīpāka, but by Lord’s grace I was spared so that I may not commit such a sin again”.

Of all the explanations of what had happened to him this is the last one that would come to our minds. We consider Haridāsa sinless, he wasn’t supposed to go to any hell, and he didn’t receive a “token” punishment, he was beaten like no other devotee in our memory. Yet that’s how Haridāsa saw what happened himself and we can learn quite a bit from this.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatī offered lengthy comments on each verse in Haridāsa’s explanations. Mostly they were directed against prākṛta-sahajiyā sampradāya. We don’t know it even still exists, though it does and one of the first ISKCON detractors from Prabhupāda’s time eventually joined it, no need to mention names. Does it mean that it is the only target group and everyone else is spared? I think not.

I think Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī singled them out because they were prominent in those days and were the visible carriers of the offensive attitude described by Śrīla Haridāsa. These days they are nowhere to be seen but it doesn’t mean the offensive attitude disappeared with them. Being product of the illusion it affects every conditioned living entity equally. We all have to go through it from time to time.

The main charge by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was that we discount hearing blasphemy of the Lord on account of ‘Vaiṣṇava etiquette’ and this happens because we try to imitate tolerance and vision of a mahā-bhāgavata devotee like Haridāsa Ṭhākura. Imitation is sahajiyā’s trademark, of course.

    Those who even after hearing the blasphemy of Viṣṇu and the Vaiṣṇavas display their ‘cleverness’ by posing as advanced and liberal on the pretext of artificial gentleness or tolerance without understanding the real purport of taror api sahiṣṇu – “more tolerant than a tree” are understood to be enjoying the results of their grave offenses.

We’ve seen it many times when devotees engage atheists and pretend to be unaffected by all the cruel words atheists say about God. We need to be ‘open-minded’ and, yes, ‘liberal’, if we want to reach to those people. Like hell we don’t.

Furthermore, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī paraphrases Śrīla Haridāsa as follows:

    As a Vaiṣṇava, I will never again hear blasphemy against Viṣṇu and the Vaiṣṇavas under the shelter of tṛṇād api sunīcatā or on the pretext of taror api sahiṣṇutā. I have had a sufficient lesson this time. The Lord is most merciful; He taught me by awarding a token punishment for a grave offense.

Can we finally take a lesson from this? I know it’s hard for me to avoid making this mistake again and again, on the excuse of ‘preaching’. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t pain me very much and I think I should tolerate these offenses anyway because my ‘liberalism’ would somehow attract and convince atheists just like Haridāsa won over Muslims. In the meantime I also know that I’m not prepared to take any personal pain like Haridāsa did. I know it would affect me very much and I won’t consider it a “token punishment”.

Isn’t it duplicity? I want to have the cake and eat it, too, or I want to stand in the kitchen but I’m not prepared to take the heat.

Do we really have learn this lesson through our own misfortune? I bet Kṛṣṇa Himself is at a loss what to do about us. How to teach us not to do it again without subjecting us to necessary pain? Why can’t we help Him by simply taking it on faith from the mouth of our ācāryas?

Oh, sometimes we are such slow learners.

Vanity thought #1340. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 8

So, severely beating Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura wasn’t enough. He wouldn’t stop chanting and wouldn’t particularly care. The only thing that distracted Haridāsa’s concentration on the Holy Names was the fate of his executioners. He prayed to the Lord to spare them from reactions for their sins.

Did he really care about their karma? No, I think not. What he cared about was that their sins could prevent them from engaging in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. They heard they Holy Name, they saw a devotee, it would be a real shame if this association, however unpleasant, didn’t lead them to turning to Kṛṣṇa. Some could say Haridāsa cared for their future pain but I think ascribing such materialistic vision to a pure devotee is short-sighted.

Haridāsa Ṭhākura didn’t descend on this planet, in the association of Lord Caitanya, to relieve the alleged material suffering of the people of Bengal. It was a really wealthy province, perfectly situated in a good climate and on rich agricultural land. Life there was far far better than in any of European countries of the time, even if they didn’t have big show off buildings. There was no material suffering to speak of and people were averse to devotional service precisely because life seemed perfect without it.

Advaita Ācārya and devotees in his circle couldn’t find a way to distract people from their material enjoyment and ignite their interest in Kṛṣṇa’s service, how can we assume that Haridāsa Ṭhākura cared about alleged material suffering of Muslim rulers? They were the ones who had it really really good then, collecting good taxes and having a good life.

Those who tortured Haridāsa would have suffered bad karma, no doubt about that, but they were also only executing their duties, they were doing their job. They also had religious justification for it – Haridāsa needed to be punished to prevent fellow Muslims from abandoning their faith. Of course Haridāsa knew all that and it wasn’t their karma that concerned him but effect of their sins on their availability for Lord’s service. To me, it’s the only explanation that makes sense, as we’ll see just a bit later.

So, when they couldn’t kill Haridāsa they begged him to die because failure at their job was punishable. They were afraid that the angry Kazi would kill them instead. Haridāsa understood their predicament and said that if him being alive creates problems for others he’d gladly give up his body. Of course he didn’t actually do that, he just went into a deep samādhi.

That was his trick with death. Normally, devotees don’t use their siddhis but this was a special occasion. Even Lord Caitanya didn’t seem to have control over His powers, His samādhis would catch Him and His servants completely unaware. He’d break out of a locked room and drown in the sea and wouldn’t remember anything, for example. Here, however, Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura displayed his transcendental powers at will.

We know that pure devotees swim in the ocean of transcendental bliss and their bodies exhibit various symptoms of that. From our own experience we also know that glimpses of such bliss are completely uncontrollable. They might overwhelm us for a split second only to disappear for a really really long time, leaving us with nothing but vague memories.

Even Nārada Muni didn’t have control over it in his previous life as a boy blessed by traveling vaiṣṇavas. He was completely detached from the world, roaming the planet without any particular purpose, and Kṛṣṇa appeared to Him only once. One thing the Lord said was that Nārada wouldn’t be able to contact Him again for the rest of His life (SB 1.6.21):

    O Nārada, I regret that during this lifetime you will not be able to see Me anymore. Those who are incomplete in service and who are not completely free from all material taints can hardly see Me.

First, Nārada Muni saw the Lord in meditation, then the Lord disappeared, Nārada tried and tried to find Him again but in vain. That’s when the Lord spoke to Him, while still remaining unseen.

So, even Nārada Muni couldn’t get Lord’s audience at will. How glorious does that make Haridāsa Ṭhākura? He just said “sure” and was gone, his consciousness completely withdrawn from this world.

His breathing stopped and there were no signs of life in his body. His torturers were relieved, the king accepted that job was well done, and that was the end of it. Luckily, Kazi then intervened and demanded that Haridāsa’s body was thrown into the river because cremating him would take him to a higher destination, according to Muslim faith. The king didn’t mind Haridāsa’s body being honored by cremating him according to the tradition but went with Kazi’s advice again, and it was a good decision because otherwise Haridāsa Ṭhākura wouldn’t have had the body to return to from his samādhi.

Even throwing his body into the Ganges was a problem because he suddenly became very very heavy – one of the standard siddhis, garima, becoming heavier than the heaviest. Caitanya Bhāgavata speaks of Lord Viśvambhara entering his body. Lord Viśvambhara carries the weight of the whole universe, who can lift him? It was a struggle but somehow the guards managed.

Haridāsa Ṭhākura, meanwhile, was completely absorbed in meditation on the lotus feet of the Lord and was unaware of the surroundings. I just described how Nārada Muni in his previous life couldn’t do that but Caitanya Bhāgavata gives an example of Prahlāda Mahārāja, of whom Śrīmad Bhāgavatam says the following (SB 7.4.38):

    ..being always embraced by the Lord, he did not know how his bodily necessities, such as sitting, walking, eating, lying down, drinking and talking, were being automatically performed.

I think it would be extremely cool to achieve that kind of perfection. Sitting, walking, eating, drinking, talking being automatically performed without needing any attention from our consciousness? Is it even possible? I always thought that things like talking needed our attention but apparently it does not. Apparently a pure devotee can do all those things and more without actually doing them – they are carried out by the material nature and they don’t need our input. We think it’s impossible, from our experience we are convinced that this is impossible, but apparently it is.

That’s one more reason not to even try to judge activities of the devotees. Even when they are somewhat materialistic their actions are still carried out by the material nature, which in turn acts under the direction of the Lord. Blaming devotees then is not only an offense against vaiṣṇavas but also against Lord’s own supervision of their lives, which is, of course, perfect regardless of how it looks to our eyes. We need to learn freedom from such envy, it doesn’t do anyone any good.

Anyway, after floating in the river for a while Haridāsa Ṭhākura returned to his external consciousness and came ashore. Everybody was astonished to see that. I’m sure everybody thought he was gone for good, killed by Muslims despite taking shelter of the Holy Name, but there he was, as alive as ever, and he still continued chanting.

The king had no choice but to accept making a mistake and begged Haridāsa for forgiveness. Other Muslims forgot their envy, too, and offered him obeisances. Happy ending, right? Not so fast.

Two dozen ślokas later Caitanya Bhāgavata informs us that Muslims who had beaten Haridasa, as well as their families, were all destroyed within a few days. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatī comments that they were destroyed by severe diseases like cholera or smallpox, which was the go to punishment for offending devotees in those days.

Did it really happen? We have no reason to doubt that it did, but we need to reconcile this with Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s concern for their well-being, too. That’s why I earlier said that his blessings must have been strictly spiritual so that they could have contracted smallpox and at the same time still could take shelter of the Holy Name just like Haridāsa Himself. Otherwise what would have been the use of them coming in close contact with a devotee? It always works out of the best, spiritual best, that is, and given how concerned Haridāsa was for them they surely must have escaped the real sin of never being able to surrender to Kṛṣṇa.

Next up – Haridāsa’s own perspective on what had happened to him.

Vanity thought #1339. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 7

So, the beatings, the most juicy part of Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s story. If it wasn’t for the beatings we wouldn’t be so much impressed by his achievements. It’s an unfortunate fact but it is true.

We are rascals, we don’t just believe things, we expect them to produce results that we can relate to and appreciate. When one first approaches his potential guru questioning is a must but after taking shelter of his lotus feet there should be no doubt at all, ideally. We are still not impressed, though, we need more miracles. We want Kṛṣṇa shine through our material senses, we can’t rely only on “unsubstantiated rumors”. As much as we trust our authorities, we also need to see or imagine something for ourselves.

To our credit, we accept the divinity of Lord Caitanya on faith. I don’t think cutting out one of the manifestations of His powers would affect our opinion. I bet many of us can’t even remember all the cases where the Lord displayed His divine nature. He was God, we accept that.

With Haridāsa Ṭhākura it’s somewhat different. He was one of us and he achieved spiritual perfection through chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. Lord Caitanya was God and He could do everything. Haridāsa Ṭhākura is one of our own, we can’t do anything, but he could, and we need proof of that.

He was chanting three hundred thousand names every day. We can’t do that but we know it’s possible. What we also know that if we chanted as much it wouldn’t have the same effect on our lives, at least not immediately. So, how could we believe that Haridāsa Ṭhākura achieved perfection when replicating his activities generally doesn’t bring the same result? That’s where miracles come handy. Off the top of my head there were three – driving the snake out of the cave, withstanding māyā’s temptation in the form of a prostitute, and beatings.

Snake is the least impressive of those, could have happened for all sorts of reasons, normally, we wouldn’t even consider it as a genuine problem. Prostitute was cool, we can’t do that, but many saintly people in history have learned to withstand sex desires so it’s not really that big of a deal. We are all expected to pass this test sooner or later and we all know how close or how far we are from passing it. When we are fully engaged in service it appears to be super easy, won’t even enter our minds, now we have to learn how to do it when we are alone with a horny woman sitting in our room for hours. Not easy but doable.

Beatings, however, no one can do that. If you are meant to be beaten to death you will die. To survive this ordeal one must be personally protected by the Lord, there’s no other way. If it ever happens to us we hope the Lord would interfere, too, but it is not guaranteed, sadly. Initially we all expect full protection from Kṛṣṇa but at some point we all have to realize that Kṛṣṇa consciousness means consciousness, not bodily comfort. Kṛṣṇa will protect us spiritually and He guarantees our return back to Godhead but not freedom from pain and certainly not freedom from death.

One could say that being killed for one’s faith reflects badly on the Lord, too. After all, even the Bengali king wanted Haridāsa’s survival as proof, but throughout history many torturers converted by seeing faith of their victims even if victims did not survive. These converts then were killed themselves.

I see no reasons why any of us would have to survive beatings and torture, except some special circumstances. Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s mission had hardly even begun and he had a big role to play in pastimes of Lord Caitanya. Do we have a similar important task ahead? Can’t somebody else do it if we die? We are not THAT important.

It’s not the death or the pain or what happens to our body that should concern us, it’s our ability to focus on Kṛṣṇa and whether Kṛṣṇa would help us in that or not. He promised He would protect His devotees but to get this protection we first have to surrender, unconditionally, which isn’t that easy. Half surrender might not work. Secondly, we have to expect protection in areas that matter – in our consciousness, not in our bodies, and this isn’t easy either.

Once such protection is given, however, we will be free from pain, death, bodily harm, or any other kind of miseries. It’s not that our bodies would be free from harm, it’s our consciousness that won’t be affected. If we are still attached to our bodies we might be greatly disappointed in such protection but that is due to our foolishness.

When beaten in the market places Haridāsa Ṭhākura didn’t feel any pain. Not because his body was unaffected, it was, but he did not feel it as related to him at all. We don’t feel for the punching bags in boxing gyms and similarly Haridāsa Ṭhākura didn’t feel for what we think was “his own body”.

There’s also an explanation that Lord Caitanya extended His own transcendental body to cover Haridāsa’s so that lashes didn’t touch Haridāsa’s skin at all and wounds were left on the back of Lord Caitanya. I don’t know where this version comes from, however. Does it mean that kazi’s executioners hit Haridāsa with canes and didn’t see their blows leaving any marks? Caitanya Bhāgavata says nothing about this, though Lord Caitanya’s explanation might be recorded in some other place.

And it wasn’t only the torturers – beatings were done in market places and everybody felt Haridāsa’s pain. They couldn’t watch it and there were murmurs in the crowd that torturing a vaiṣṇava like that would bring misfortune on the whole kingdom, some cursed the king, trouble was brewing.

Or, perhaps, they could see the wounds but those wounds were actually on the otherwise invisible body of Lord Caitanya while people thought it was on Haridāsa’s. When we invoke transcendental miracles like that everything can be explained away. Personally, I’d rather stick to the version from Caitanya Bhāgavata and if Lord Caitanya ever showed Haridāsa marks on His own body they could have been inflicted by Lord’s own agony of seeing His devotee suffer that way. None of them actually felt the pain but marks were registered on their bodies anyway. It’s just mind tricks one might see at various shows.

The movie about Haridāsa also shows a “normal” beating and no magic. Haridāsa just chanted his way through the ordeal, that’s all.

I wish I could find the origin of the “wounds on Mahāprabhu’s back” story but it would take time I don’t have right now.

Next up is Haridāsa’s “death”, pretty amazing trick, too.

Vanity thought #1338. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 6

So they’ve decided to beat Haridāsa Ṭhākura into submission and either force him to recite Koran instead of Hare Kṛṣṇa or die. There was a condition, however – if Haridāsa survived the beatings the Muslim king would accept Haridāsa as a saint.

In one of the purports to Caitanya Bhāgavata Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati doesn’t spare words of condemnation for this king but we can see that in some ways he was more advanced than many of our present rulers. He agreed to listen to Haridāsa’s explanation first. These days people make up their minds according to their ideology and do not listen, maybe only to immediately discredit their opponents. Space that is supposed to be used for exchange of opinion, the media, has been taken over by governments to blast their propaganda.

One could say that in the west governments do not own the media but it’s only partially correct. Corporations that own media also own politicians. Media control largely follows political divide and so the current mantra is to pump out as much propaganda as possible and let the viewer decide, meaning there won’t be an exchange and careful consideration of opinions in public. The “truth” needs to be established in the mind of each viewer personally and it’s actually much easier because general public does not have neither time nor necessary knowledge to carefully consider issues, they just go with whatever attracts their attention, not with arguments.

So the media has been dumbed down, overloaded with emotionally strong news, like violence, and it catches people by anything else BUT honest debates. This leads to an interesting question – does the ability to produce “professional” new programs indicates God’s blessings behind it?

A while ago I argued that because ISIS got control over their territory they consider it as recognition by Allah himself. Muslims who oppose ISIS got nothing to show for it, they are just servants of the atheists who’d say anything for the merciful glance from their masters.

Can this argument be applied to something like MSNBC and Fox News? If they manage to attract large numbers of viewers, wouldn’t it mean there’s some real power backing them up? All power in this world originates in Kṛṣṇa, even demons draw their strength from Him. Would it mean that because Fox is bigger it is closer to the “truth”?

Of course not, but the reason for this answer isn’t so clear. I think it’s because neither media nor demons are actually after the truth, not ISIS is after Allah’s recognition. They all have much more mundane, materialistic goals. Getting hands on land means they want to control the land. Getting big audience means they want big audience. Once we see that the desire is strong enough we can be sure that the material nature is about to arrange for its fulfillment. “Truth” has nothing to do with it.

These people foolishly think that truth or Allah’s mercy can be obtained by material means, that if they get the land they’d surely get the mercy, but that’s not how it works. The Lord does not manifest Himself to those who approach Him with ulterior motives, He is conquered only by pure, unadulterated bhakti. Allah’s mercy is not some material quality and neither is the truth.

Real knowledge is part of the Absolute, too. Whatever MSNBC thinks is only an illusion. They might very well believe that their knowledge is real truth but it isn’t. They can’t possibly see the world for what it is and see people’s motivations as driven by the modes of nature according to the direction of their karma and, ultimately, the Supreme Lord.

The Lord lies down the rules for us to follow, ie varṇāśrama, but we can do so only when we know our actual situation. These days no one does and everyone acts out of ignorance. Ignorance can be bought with money, no problem, so when MSNBC and Fox News slug it out the prize is delusion and the result is leading their viewers to ruin. Good luck to them.

The Muslim king from Caitanya Bhāgavata, otoh, was ready to learn the truth, the actual truth. He didn’t exclude the possibility that Haridāsa Ṭhākura was a real saint and really carried with him the mercy of the Supreme Lord, who certainly must be the same for both Hindus and Muslims.

When it was all over and Haridāsa survived the ordeal the king changed his mind and bowed down to Haridāsa’s lotus feet. Originally, I planned to talk about the beatings themselves but I got caught up in the perspective of the king, sorry.

What the king also said was: “All the so-called yogis and jñānīs simply speak big words, but you have actually attained perfection”. This is significant and the same reasoning applies to modern day, too. Everybody speaks a lot and everybody makes or at least implies big claims, ISKCON not excluded. What people, honest people, want to see, however, is actual perfection.

We can look at ISKCON critics and easily conclude that all they have is big mouths. They go to great lengths to discredit BBT edits in Prabhupāda’s books but finding faults in others is easy. When they try to distribute their “original” Gītas they can’t. Simply can’t. ISKCON devotees with our allegedly “inferior” Gītas distribute hundreds or thousands books per day and attract hundreds of thousands devotees. “Purists” can only show a few hundred clicks on their next installment of “How BBT got it all wrong” articles.

Ṛtviks got something to show – big temples, awesome full-length animated films about Kṛṣṇa, now they are planning to build a huge skyscraping tower in Vṛndāvana. Does it mean they have Lord’s mercy behind them? In as much as collecting donations and completing big projects go – yes. In terms of making devotees and changing people’s lives – not so much. Outside of Bangalore ṛtvikism is nearly dead, and that Bangalore leader behaves in a highly inimical matter towards devotees, which means he got only some temporary powers but his heart still has a long way to go towards attaining devotion.

Within ISKCON we can also easily find examples of unsubstantiated claims. We talk about pure love of God, relationships with Kṛṣṇa, “real” structure of the universe etc. but the fact is none of us knows anything about any of these things first hand. Or those who do do not speak of them in public and do not rally the troops. We go on strictly on the faith in our ācāryas. We have Haridāsa Ṭhākura, for example, as proof of the potency of the Holy Name.

It doesn’t mean we don’t have any realizations whatsoever but ours are much more modest in size compared to what is disclosed in our literature, and I’m not sure how confidently we can speak of what we think we know personally. Haridāsa Ṭhākura could state with absolute certainty that he was acting on the inspiration of the Supreme Lord because that’s how he saw his life. We can only repeat these lines like parrots and, at our best times, realize that we are acting under the influence of the modes of nature and then try to extract ourselves from their influence, as we very well should.

The difference with Haridāsa Ṭhākura, however, is that he didn’t see activities of Lord’s external energy as needing any improvement. He neither fell of the illusion nor rejected it. He just saw it for what it was – Lord’s faithful servant acting on Lord’s orders. We still see it as separate and even as our enemy.

Do we need a living example of spiritual perfection like Haridāsa Ṭhākura was, or like Śrīla Prabhupāda? It would be nice for preaching, of course, but there’s also an argument that we have enough information to develop strong faith as it is, our problems are not in the lack of proof but in our inability to accept it. We don’t really need the “special” mercy if we can’t deal with the regular one, which is already pretty great and more than enough for our immediate goals.

Vanity thought #1338. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 5

“The Supreme Lord accepts the devotion of everyone, but if anyone is envious of His children, then He retaliates”, said Haridāsa Ṭhākura, and I’ve covered the first part of this statement as best as I could. Second part, about retaliation, is no less interesting because it shows Lord’s involvement in our lives. He doesn’t only accept our service, He also punishes us when we do something wrong.

Usually, punishment is reserved for the law of karma but here Haridāsa Ṭhākura ascribed it to the Lord Himself. How’s that possible? Why would the Lord abandon His impartiality? If He is personally involved, why would we need a law of karma at all? The Lord doesn’t follow our laws and when He decides to punish or favor any one of us He is not going to do so according to karma but according to His own judgment.

Perhaps the confusion is due to translation. The other version floating around the internet goes completely differently: “Anyone who attacks others attacks God Himself.” Nothing about retaliation, nothing about Lord’s personal involvement. In this version karma still rules and punishes us according to our actions, not according to Lord’s desires. It makes more sense to me.

There’s yet one more translation: “However, if one living entity feels hatred or envy toward another, he ultimately reflects those emotions in his relationship with the Lord.” Once again, nothing about Lord’s retaliation, only that our envy reflects in our relationships. Nothing controversial.

I think I’d better leave it at that – unclear translation, possibly confusing.

Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s next statement is no less puzzling:

  • Therefore I am only acting under the inspiration of the Supreme Lord.
  • I follow whatever orders God has given in my heart.
  • Whatever you see of me and my activities are direct manifestations of the Lord Who guides me from within.

Take your pick. In all cases Haridāsa makes a claim that none of us would dare to. None of us would say “I’m acting on Lord’s orders”. We can say this about other people but we would never claim it for ourselves. If we did, it would go against the principle of humility. We are servants of the servants of the servants, the Lord doesn’t talk to us, we get our orders from guru and appointed authorities, and most of the time we actually follow our restless minds.

Why did Haridāsa said such a thing? Was he not humble?

I don’t know what actually happened there but there are at least two good explanations for this. The first one comes from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatīs’ purport to the verse: “For this reason I am engaged in the service of the Lord according to the inspiration that He has given me.”

Nothing personal, no claims of grandeur, just a statement of a fact which is true for absolutely every living entity. As such it’s one of the best displays of humility possible – Haridāsa was only concerned with the Lord and His laws, not anything related to himself.

Second explanation is speculative but entirely possible, too – Haridāsa Ṭhākura was really getting orders directly from the Lord. It’s impossible for us but it could have been natural for him. It’s not the first indication of his exalted position, nor it is the last.

If he got the orders from the Lord and stated it there’s no transgression of humility principle either. Whatever we might think of ourselves, Lord’s involvement overrides everything. We should not minimize Lord’s glory for the sake of appearing humble. If the Lord manifests Himself and does something wonderful we cannot deny it happened just because we think that it should have been impossible according to our “humble” perception of the world. Denying Lord His glory would be a false humility here.

That was basically the end of Haridāsa’s presentation to the court. He only added that according to the same principle a Hindu might become encouraged to act as a Muslim and there’s nothing we could do about it because no one can go against his karma and the Lord.

All present Muslims, including the king, were satisfied, only the kazi, due to his sins, couldn’t let his envy go and advised the king to punish Haridāsa. His explanation was actually reasonable – if they didn’t stop Haridāsa more and more Muslims could have converted to Hinduism and allowing that was inconceivable. The king had a long standing commitment to propagating Islam and he couldn’t abandon it just because of Haridāsa’s eloquence.

The solution was reasonable, too – Haridāsa was to stop chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and recite verses from Koran instead. If there’s only one God shouldn’t matter, right?

Haridāsa was unmoved. He said that he couldn’t go against Lord’s inspiration within his heart and that he had to follow it even if his body was cut to pieces.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta offered another explanation, too – the Holy Name is fully spiritual and therefore serving it transcends whatever happens to the material body. Chanting the Holy Name is a function of the soul and therefore it cannot be stopped by material means. Also Haridāsa wasn’t going to accept some temporary code of conduct instead of the eternal obligation of the soul.

In other words, “no can do”.

The king said that if that was Haridāsa’s decision then it was out of his hands and he left it to Kazi. Kazi, not being spiritually advanced, thought that physical torture could overwrite Haridāsa’s conviction and by beating him publicly in marketplaces it would send a message loud and clear to any Muslim contemplating taking up hari-nāma. If everybody saw Haridāsa abandoning his faith they would certainly stop following him, Kazi thought. Somehow he didn’t think what message would be sent if he was unable to break Haridāsa despite all the beatings. He thought that in that case killing him would be enough. He miscalculated, of course.

What if he COULD break Haridāsa, though? We know it didn’t happen and we know it couldn’t have happened to a devotee of Haridāsa’s stature but similar challenges are presented to many of us with exactly the same goal – to show others that our faith is weak. Quite often we fail and people react to it differently.

Some conclude that we are only human and there’s nothing special about Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Actually, the majority thinks like that everywhere we did something wrong. We can overcome this perception if we persevere, though. If we do not give up our practice despite our falldowns people will take us seriously once again, they always do, it’s part of the public consciousness now – person’s worth is determined not by his failures but by his ability to come back.

From this perspective, our failures are immaterial and will be forgotten as long as we stay with our mission and what really hurts our image is not cases of abuse but devotees who give up and turn away. I’m sure they have their own valid reasons and they are guided by the Lord, too, but it still hurts us as a society. I’m sure for them it looks as if ISKCON fully deserves all the bad rap it gets, and on some level it is true, but, unfortunately for these people, they become not instruments for Kṛṣṇa’s service but instruments to obstruct Lord’s mission.

As a society we need obstacles to overcome just as Kṛṣṇa needs someone to play the role of the demons and fight Him, but for people put in this position it’s a loss of the opportunity to practice bhakti, which must be a favorable service. They simply won’t get the same rasa but something inferior.

That’s enough for today, tomorrow we’ll see how Haridāsa’s punishment played out.

Vanity thought #1337. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 4

Yesterday I stopped on, perhaps, the most important lesson taught by Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura – everyone IS a servant of the Supreme Lord and therefore no one has the right to interrupt other people’s service. Everyone’s service, not just service of those who we see as ISKCON devotees.

The tricky part, of course, is to recognize what is service and what is not. It is possible that everything a living entity does IS a service to the Lord but I do not see it like that yet so I seek differentiation. I can sort of accept it theoretically but then I could also refute it or propose other explanations. For example, paramahaṁsas see the Lord everywhere but they might see the Lord providing everything for the living entities, not being worshiped by them with their every selfish breath. Perhaps they see living entities’ selfishness as a legitimate relationship with the Lord, even if in perverted rasas, but it’s not service as we mean it here. It’s not bhakti.

Well, if I put it this way it becomes kinda obvious that paramahaṁsa vision or not, souls in the material world do not possess bhakti. Except we can also say that bhakti is in every soul’s nature and so inseparable from it, just covered or displayed in minute qualities. This apparent controversy was my point – unless we see it for ourselves we can only speculate. Each version makes sense and yesterday’s explanation I got from reading Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s purport was as good as any other, probably better because it was direct words of our ācārya.

“Lord Janārdana … is served by everyone according to their respective moods.” Seems clear enough – we all serve Him. “Janārdana” is translated in various ways by Śrīla Prabhupāda, from “killer of the enemies” to “maintainer of all living entities”. It’s probably this last meaning that is more applicable here – he accepts service and reciprocates with everyone. Not potentially everyone but literally everyone. Also, when we say that the Lord is the only enjoyer it might literally mean that He is the ONLY enjoyer. Whatever we do, He enjoys it, and He is also the only one who does so.

We think we enjoy this world but it’s an illusion, not a real thing. What we actually do is serve Lord’s eternal energy. Who enjoys this service? The Lord, not us. Somehow or other, He arranges for every interaction we have with the world and takes pleasure from it.

This is controversial – does he enjoy rape or clubbing baby seals? I can understand that there’s pleasure, however, sick, in perpetrating these actions, otherwise people would never even thought about it, but in these cases there are also victims – does the Lord enjoy suffering of others?

Umm, the obvious answer is no, of course, but how can He be an enjoyer in these cases? What if it’s tsunami, an act of nature – there are no agents who’d enjoy it, no perpetrators, only suffering. How could the Lord derive pleasure from it?

More importantly, in general, if there is suffering in the world – who feels it? If we can understand this question it might give us a clue how the Lord could be an enjoyer in absolutely all circumstances, all interactions in the material world.

First of all, what we see as suffering is an illusion. There’s no real connection between us and our suffering bodies. Bodies are dead, the can’t feel anything. There is a medical condition that make people insensitive to pain and children afflicted by it can easily burn off their fingers and not feel anything at all. Pain exists only in our minds, medically speaking. There’s only PERCEPTION of suffering and it afflicts only us. The Lord does NOT feel it because suffering does not objectively exists and He is not under the same illusion as we are.

From His pov there is only us and the material nature that fulfills our desires. She doesn’t do anything else. The Lord creates it for His own reasons and He enjoys her because He is the puruṣa and she is the prakṛti, there’s no other relationship between them, no other feelings. Well, there’s probably a whole range of feelings but they are all spiritual and pleasing to the Lord.

What about us, then? We are also there, we should also be a part to the equation. We are, we are part of the Lord’s reason to create the world – He interacts with us through it. We want it and the Lord provides, it’s integral part of our relationship and He is happy that we have it.

Why are we not equally happy with our experiences? That’s the tricky part, or rather a trick question. We ARE happy with our experiences with material nature, we just don’t realize what they are. We think it’s the feelings of pain or pleasure but what the māyā actually provides is illusion, misidentification with our material bodies. This service never fails, never disappoints, we just take it for granted, don’t notice it and don’t appreciate it.

We want to be in illusion and by Lord’s mercy we always are – how’s that unfair on the part of the Lord? So, when we feel pain we ask – how could the Lord allow it and how He could possibly enjoy it but what the Lord actually likes about the situation is that we still think that we are material bodies. “Wow”, He might think to Himself, “this illusion works so well, it’s perfect”. He knows that as spirit souls we are never in any actual danger, there’s no possibility of us ever being hurt at all, so that does not concern Him. He is only impressed with the ability to keep us thinking that we are little gods ourselves. It’s the service He provides, we appreciate it and treasure it at all times, and that’s what brings Him perpetual enjoyment, too.

When time comes and we feel that this “I’m the enjoyer” thing is not worth the trouble and seek freedom from the illusion the Lord immediately provides necessary knowledge, too. He is not keeping us here against our will, never. If we turn to serving Him with love and devotion He arranges that, too.

These are three kinds of our relationships with the Lord in this world – we want to be in illusion, we don’t want to be in illusion and become liberated, and we want to serve Him. He provides for all three, He reciprocates with all three, and He enjoys all three.

Our preoccupation with pain and pleasure is part of the first one, part of the illusion that we so desperately want. And, once again, pain and pleasure exist only in the mind, the soul is not affected by them. The soul is affected only by illusion.

The Lord has zero interest in what happens within the illusion. He reacts only to “I don’t wanna see you” tantrum of the spirit soul. THAT he provides, personally, and feels good about having the job done.

Anyway, I just wanted to understand how the Lord could be the only enjoyer even when we feel nothing but pain. I think I get it even if can’t express it in a perfect manner.

Another part of it is that we are always, always in service to the illusion. She sets the rules and we try to follow them, and I don’t mean the rules from scriptures, I mean the laws of nature we use for our own enjoyment. We never give up our quest for eating, sleeping, mating and defending – this is service and we offer it voluntarily. This is how we interact with the Lord – via medium of māyā, and this is how He accepts our service and appreciates our mood. He sets out rules (via māyā) and we try to follow them. We don’t even need a human form of life for this level of service, even a one-cell organism can provide it to the Lord. Even if the only thing it does is swim towards the light it’s already service.

As humans we can perform infinitely more and that’s why Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura said “The Supreme Lord accepts devotion of everyone”, as they were speaking about religious duties at that point. If we object to other’s devotion, however imperfect by our standards, we interrupt relationship between the Lord and the spirit soul and we shouldn’t do that.

Hmm, that’s exactly where I left yesterday, so no progress today. Except, perhaps, a deeper understanding of the same point.