Vanity thought #1785. Pioneering value

This whole series of posts about pioneering came out backwards. At first I wanted to write something about a conversation on the value of these memories but then realized that retelling the memories themselves would be useful, too, so that’s what I have been doing for over a week now.

Once a had a chance to talk to one of ISKCON’s traveling sannyasis and initiating gurus. It was a little weird because I was sitting next to him while his disciples came in and offered full obeisances. It was some sort of a spiritual fair where ISKCON got a booth so I thought it would be okay if I don’t offer obeisances on seeing a sannyasi for the first time during the day, which is the rule best followed inside temples or dhamas, I think.

Because it was a fair I remembered Kirtiraja’s story of Moscow International Book Fair of 1979, which I covered here in one of the previous posts. I showed up there on a weekday, which was slow, and so there were only few devotees there, hardly any visitors, and there was no prasadam. The plan was to bring prasadam for distribution on weekend.

One story led to another and pretty soon I told maharaja everything I ever heard of those days, though sometimes he’d say “Oh, yes, this was told by Bhakti Vaibhava Svami” so I didn’t repeat that which he already knew. I genuinely thought he’d be impressed but all he said afterwards was “That was pioneering days, now our mission is different”. This has struck me.

At first I tried to argue: “But there are no official ISKCON temples in China, isn’t preaching there pioneering, too? – I’ve been going there for thirty years,” maharaja replied. Okay, what about this country and that? “Been going there for twenty years.” Okay, but China is such a large country, how many places have you visited? “About a hundred.” It was impenetrable so I had to think about this back at home.

Is there a value in these memories when tasks and goals of our society have changed? I’m not sure we are doing very well with nurturing existing devotees but that is also beside the point – what is the current value of our old preaching efforts?

I realize that people reading this blog might be bored to death with stories about Russia and sankirtana devotees they’ve never met and whose names I didn’t disclose on purpose. It’s not something I think about day and night either. Should I just let it go and concentrate on our current lives instead, talk about something relevant to people of this day and age?

I don’t think I will ever abandon my memories, or even memories I received from other people and which I cherish as if they were my own. There are two ways I justify this attachment.

One is that these pastimes are as transcendental as those of Lord Caitanya and His associates, and later of their followers. Someone might find it somewhat blasphemous but that’s how Lord Caitanya’s mercy has been manifested before my eyes and so to me it feels even more transcendental than pastimes from several hundred years ago I can’t easily relate to.

Anything related to spreading Lord Caitanya’s mission and attracting people to Krishna is legitimately transcendental. I didn’t see much of it this way when I lived through it myself but appreciation has been growing gradually over the years. It might be the case of me romanticizing my past but I think it’s a wrong way to look at it.

When we romanticize the past we assume that there’s past as it really happened and past as it has been reconstructed. What “really happened”, however, does not exist as objective reality. We are still talking about personal perceptions, either as they are remembered or recalled by others and stored as memories. When we access them now we decode meanings that exist either in these memories or existed at the time of the events themselves and this process is subjective, too, and the perceptions we recreate now are as real as any other. It’s these current perceptions that carry value to us which we want to share, not the events themselves.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what “real past” was, what matters is whether we are able to see it as transcendental now and whether we can share these realizations in the present, whether we can make them inspirational. The ability to inspire others depends not only on us but on their reception, too. If we are making stuff up and others clearly see that we are exaggerating than we can’t expect them to be inspired, so memories need to have firm foundation in actual events. It’s complex theory of how much you can get away with and you can spot it in some storytelling about Krishna or some other well known events. I swear my stories are all true, however.

Another way I see value in these “pioneering memories” is because they make an excellent object for meditation and, all said and done, I don’t mind being reborn in the same position of service to sankirtana again. I hope next time I’ll appreciate it even more.

It’s a pet theory of mine – do we really expect to become closer to Lord Caitanya after death? What about our gurus and all the acaryas between us? Are we going to become closer to the Lord than them? Isn’t our position in hierarchy of Lord Caitanya’s army permanently fixed? If these were just temporary roles of no significance then positions could be changed but does anyone see Srila Prabhupada’s position as temporary, for example? I hope not.

In retrospect, I see those days as the best service of my life, I haven’t done even remotely close to that since. How can it ever lose value then? It’s unthinkable to me. Maharaja that made me think about all this is busy spreading Krishna consciousness despite his advanced age but I’m not as lucky or as pure. He is like Uddhava who was with Krishna until the very end and I’m like.. Wait, this comparison is inappropriate. What I wanted to say is that there were plenty of devotees who had only a few moments of service to the Lord, both in Krishna and in Caitanya lila, and recollecting these moments for the rest of their lives is a perfect meditation. We are even taught that such meditation in separation is more intense than when being in Lord’s presence. Which is another argument why recalling these memories might feel sweeter than living through them in real time.

As I was typing this my blood test came in – all clear, I’ll have another round of chemo soon and on that my treatment should be over. I expect full recovery, that is recovery from chemo and all related side effects, to be complete by March. Whether I’ll have my old energy levels back or not I don’t know. I’ve been out of it for so long I don’t envision my new healthy life yet.

Vanity thought #1783. Pioneering success

Yesterday I wrote about Kīrtirāja’s Prabhu efforts to penetrate behind the Iron Curtain and place our books into the hands of Russian (Soviet) people. One event that was truly seminal in nature in this regard was Moscow book fair of 1979 and it deserves its own mention.

First Moscow International Book Fair was held in 1977 and Gopāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmī went there on behalf of Indian BBT. It was the first time for everyone and so no one had a clear idea how to extract most benefits out of it. I mean even the potential buyers didn’t know how it would all work. In retrospective it could be said that all Gopāla Kṛṣṇa (not Svāmī yet) got was a certificate of participation, which he presented to Śrīla Prabhupāda, but the real benefit was in laying preparation for the next visit. That’s where Kīrtirāja came in.

Second fair was in 1979 and he was representing Indian BBT again so as not to look like spreading American propaganda. He also knew the rules and how to use them to full advantage. One such rule was that publishers couldn’t sell books at the fair but the workaround was that they could take orders so Kīrtirāja had BBT supply him with order forms with prices printed in roubles. During the fair he would collect the money and BBT filled this orders later, totally legally. Hundreds of books were sent into USSR that way.

Another rule was that there had to be an official interpreter but Kīrtirāja protested that our books contain so many technical terms that an ordinary interpreter wouldn’t be able to translate them correctly. He persuaded the organizers that his own interpreter, Ananta Śānti, was already perfect and their official interpreter can take a break. It worked.

Ananta Śānti brought half a dozen devotees to help him and it’s them who did most of the talking. They were preaching there non-stop even if they hadn’t read the books themselves yet.

Another rule was set by Kīrtirāja himself and it was that their booth should always have prasādam to distribute. He told the devotees to prepare “simply wonderfuls” and they rolled them day and night in shifts. Somehow they rolled them into small balls the size of M&Ms, they would wake up before sunrise, roll the sweets, and bring them to the fair with their hands covered in blisters.

Kīrtirāja’s rule was that there was only one ball per person and when they run out of sweets and new trays weren’t in yet he’d collect crumbs on small pieces of paper and people would eat them with a great deal of respect. To fully appreciate the kind of impact it had consider this – by Kīrtirāja’s own calculations they had distributed 26,000 thousand sweetballs. Twenty six thousand, roughly four-five thousand per day. Can you imagine what king of buzz was going on around their booth?

It certainly attracted organizers attention – so many people and instead of one official interpreter there were half a dozen Russian speakers. To smooth things out Kīrtirāja gave the boss a gift of Bhagavad Gītā. At that time they only had English books and this Bhagavad Gītā came from a special pack Kīrtirāja brought with him which will feature in the story a little bit later.

Another rule was that all the books presented at the fair had to be either taken back out of the country of given to some official Soviet charity. None of the devotees knew of any charity that would take a set of English books so it was a kind of a problem – Kīrtirāja didn’t want to go back, well, full-handed. Towards the end of the fair, however, a shy but inquisitive woman showed up, asking about this and that but never stating her purpose. Turned out she was a representative for Lenin’s Library, which was like a Library of Congress for the Soviet Union. They certainly had the means to purchase the books but she wanted to get them for free as charity.

Once Kīrtirāja realized what was going on he thought that it was a perfect charity placement of all – in the biggest library of the entire Soviet Union and they quickly organized the official transfer. There was only a small matter of that pack of Bhagavad Gītās, originally there were twelve there but now there were eleven, and Kīrtirāja was not in the mood to take them back either. They were specifically meant for distribution among the devotees, translation etc.

He and Ananta Śānti came up with a plan.

On the day of leaving they went to the airport together with Bhagavad Gītās packed in a separate bag. Ananta Śānti took a strategic position in a cafeteria right outside customs and Kīrtirāja went to the farthest custom officer and tried to make himself noticeable.

He had custom’s declaration with a set of BBT books and so he had to produce his charity paperwork and explain everything that happened. His customs form also had twelve Gītās on it but there were only eleven left so Kīrtirāja had to plea with customs agent that it was a gift to the fair organizer, there was nothing sinister about it etc etc. It worked.

As soon as Kīrtirāja passed the customs and got his stamp he quickly ran around the row of customs booths towards the end of it that was next to the cafeteria and begged the guard there to let him out because he was so thirsty and his papers were already in order and he loved Russian tea and that worked to.

When he entered the cafeteria he left his book bag at the table and went to get his drink. Ananta Śānti picked it up and hurried outside, just like in spy novels. Kīrtirāja waited until Ananta Śānti was in the taxi and taxi left the airport and returned to the custom agent who checked him in only a few minutes ago. “You again!” he exclaimed, and Kīrtirāja gave him the same excise about tea and the officer couldn’t be bothered to go and check with the guard on the other end whether Kīrtirāja had his bag when he was going out for tea or not. Everything worked perfectly.

That fair marked exponential growth in Soviet community. Before that visiting devotees had programs with less than ten people attending but after the fair, on their next visit, they were already hundreds, but that is a story for another day.

Vanity thought #1607. History recycled

They say that history repeats itself and Vedas agree. Of course Vedas talk about cycles lasting millions of years while they talk about modern recorded history which is only a couple of thousand years old. Their observation of historical cycles therefore has nothing to do with Vedic chronology of the universe, and they are nobodies for the Vedas to serve as a supporting argument. Our knowledge is eternal, whether they agree with it or not is immaterial, but we can easily fall into the trap of using Vedas to confirm modern scientific observations, we shouldn’t do that.

Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not about proving them right or wrong, they can go to hell if they so desire, Kṛṣṇa consciousness is about restoring our loving devotional service to the Lord. “They” matter to us only in as much as they are useful to Kṛṣṇa. If we can make them glorify Him then great but if not then Kṛṣṇa is not interested in anything they have to say. Hmm, it’s seems a catch 22 situation for them – they either serve the Lord and so agree with us, or we are not interested in their opinions. We give them no choice. In practice, however, we can tolerate a certain degree of deviations and the more advanced we are the higher the threshold of tolerance. Those who have even once sincerely tried to surrender deserve being offered obeisances, though often not for all the stuff they had done since. Kṛṣṇa won’t disown then completely and neither should we, but it might take hundreds of lifetimes to rectify certain kind of offenses – like rejecting one’s guru.

At the first glance such punishment might appear unnecessarily harsh but nothing is unjust in Kṛṣṇa’s universe – by accepting a guru the soul develops humility and patience and for such a soul time flies faster than for others, so a several hundred lifetimes delay in returning to the path is tolerable, probably just the right amount to teach the soul an important lesson. This shouldn’t be our concern, we can’t apply our human time scale to relationship with Kṛṣṇa. Time has no influence over His decisions because it exists only on the material platform, and so we can’t bind Him by some time related rules. There could be no “too long” or “too short” there.

So, history… A hundred and fifty years ago Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura lamented the state of contemporary Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism. Since then we had a revival and unprecedented spread all around the world but things might be coming back the full circle and the word “Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇava” might become a joke again. Some of it is our fault – we do a fair amount of pandering and if we allow women to initiate freely we might be dismissed as a tool of western materialism and its love of rights and freedoms.

That won’t be a big sin comparing to what was done in the name of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism in the 19th century. I once read a vivid description of it by a perceptive Britisher, it was from around the turn of the century and he wasn’t into “Indians are primitive, Christianity is great” propaganda, he really tried to discover true spirituality as much as he understood it. He looked at how Guaḍiyā vaiṣṇavism was organized, how it functioned, what kind of relationships people had with their gurus, what kind of services gurus rendered to the population and so on. What he found was appalling.

Bengal was separated into fiefdoms which were inherited and no guru could step outside his zone or there would be war. Gurus spent their time traveling from one disciple’s house to another but their visits weren’t about disseminating spiritual knowledge but collecting dakṣiṇā. They had staff hired to calculate how much everybody owes and to make sure nobody was left out of the itinerary. Gurus expected to be treated like gods and often used female members of the families to serve them sexually, sometimes even tasting brides before their marriages. It was all a sham. I wish I could remember the name of that author or the book itself, I tried to find it again but couldn’t.

Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was no less blunt in his assessment. He lived in the time of Indian revival when people were seeking their roots and tried to present a worthy opposition to Christian philosophy. Bengal led that intellectual effort but vaiṣṇavas were not only missing but any association with them was seen as a permanent disqualification. They were all seen as frauds leaching off the less intelligent section of the society. They embodied everything western intelligentsia found disgusting in religion – hypocrisy, greed, deprivation, etc.

We are nowhere near that level of bad, not even the worst of us, and I don’t mean only ISKCON but the rest of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism, too. What is still true is that no one takes us seriously. However, who is that “no one” and why should we care about his opinions? It’s not like India or the rest of the world is brimming with religious aspirations and people are clamoring for restoration of religons’ rightful place in the society. What do we care what they think? It’s not that they are wrong but they are not even trying to be right.

Motivations of modern day opinion makers are centered around gross materialism and their patriotism is of chauvinist, not enlightened nature, too. 19th century revival brought about Brahma-samaj, an imperonalist but still a spiritual movement, now they have Bollywood and middle classes marching against corruption. 19th century produced a challenge to the western views, nowadays they embrace them wholeheartedly and the only backlash is led by Hindutva fanatics.

Still, there are plenty of people who are not satisfied with the way Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism is developing. Some think it’s too progressive, others think it’s not progressive enough. Some think we don’t preach enough, others say that these critics with their poisonous attitude are the obstacle to preaching themselves. I don’t want to judge who is right and who is wrong but I would say this – discontent is a sign of not performing our saṅkīrtana as well as we expected by the Lord.

Luckily, our internal discontent is not that serious and those who have left our movement are not going to find peace anyway so their gripes can’t be taken as a serious barometer of our health. We are nowhere near collapse, ISKCON might not be as influential in the West as we expected in the early days of our movement but in India it’s undeniably big. No one can ignore us there and no one has offered any alternatives for spiritual advancement in this age.

If we look at the internet, however, the picture is different and there’s another, rather loud group of people who give Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism a bad name. Not as bad as a hundred years ago but still. I guess I’d have to continue with concrete examples another time, sorry.

Vanity thought #1467. Brainwashed

We don’t get to see this term very often nowadays but there are some holdouts who still think Hare Kṛṣṇa is a cult and its members been brainwashed into it. Personally, I think we need to brainwash our new devotees a bit more so that we stay faithful to our mission but, OTOH, I sometimes admire our new bhaktas and the level of their general knowledge. Lots of things that took me years to realize are being taught and officially propagated through various seminars and bhakta programs to every newcomer right from the start. Of course, I’ve always been a bit slow on the uptake so my experience is not a tool to measure others.

There was a time when we were actually proud of being brainwashed – brainwashed by Kṛṣṇa. I don’t know the history of the term but if we were to construct its literal meaning than washing and brains are two good things, and cleansing the brains of all negative and degrading thoughts and concepts should actually be an achievement, not a tragedy.

It takes just a little experience of simple, pure living and a little exposure to Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy to realize how inadequate our brains are, how many disgusting habits we carry, and how small minded most of our motivations are. Cleansing ourselves from all this contamination is a huge undertaking and very few of us can claim to have completed it to the level where spiritual reality can finally become visible. It takes decades of dedicated practice to wash our brains and cleanse our hearts, all the while being chased by the barking dogs of the general atheistic public.

And then they say we imagine things. No we don’t imagine things, our vision and values come as a result of years of hard work and keeping ourselves clean, they are welcome to try it themselves, otherwise their judgments have no value and go straight past, ideally we shouldn’t be even in their company to hear their accusations.

Still, that’s not the kind of brainwashing I want to discuss today. I want to reflect on the brainwashing I’ve willfully undergone when I discovered the internet all those years ago, but let’s start even earlier, with Hitler.

A while ago, when talking about Greek crisis, I half-jokingly attributed it to Hitler (here) and today I will continue in the same vein – blaming Germany’s loss in WWII for lots of subsequent troubles.

Disclaimer: the world wouldn’t have been a better place had the Germans won but I can see very different scenarios had the WWII been avoided altogether.

Europe is a cradle of western civilization, we all know that, but Europe we know now is very different from Europe of the age when it still mattered. Back then, from 15-16th centuries onward and all the way up to disasters of the 20th, it was a shining light and a birth place of enlightenment, it was bubbling with all sorts of fascinating ideas. Napoleon once called Britain a nation of shopkeepers, referring to the small-mindedness of their population. France was the nation of philosophers, artists, and thinkers by comparison, in Napoleon’s view, and Germans weren’t very far behind.

I guess France was to Britain what Apple was to Microsoft during height of Steve Jobs’ creativity. It was just better in every respect, more cultured, more civilized etc etc. Brits, however, pulled away in the 19th century by taking full advantage of industrialization. They build a bigger empire and got incredibly rich and powerful for the country of its size but were still far from convincing continentals of their superiority. French clearly would never agree to such a proposition, and Germans were too busy building their own engineering and industrial base to worry about English.

German philosophy might have been lacking sophistication of the French but it went deeper and wider and didn’t pause to admire its own beauty. When Brits were busy denigrating Vedic literature to validate their own religion, Germans hit the Upaniṣads with all their vigor. I’m not going to argue about impact of these studies on general German way of thinking and attitudes to life, but they have produced some fine minds, very close to realizing nondual nature of the Absolute Truth. Brits gave us Adam Smith and economics instead.

I’m exaggerating things here, btw, I just want to make a point about relatively higher aspirations of Germans and French. I’m not going to argue if someone insists that it’s not how things actually went down in history of philosophical thought, but these are visible milestones, Kant and Schopenhauer for Germans and Adam Smith for Brits.

Anyway, Adam Smith’s theory proved to be more economically advantageous than fascination with Nietzsche and eventually it showed, Germans lost two world wars, and if they lost them to Brits and Russians it would only have been half bad, but they lost the entire Europe to Americans, and those were the people absolutely stripped of any higher philosophical aspirations. Their only philosophy was money. They also talked about democracy and freedom, but it was freedom to make money, and that’s what they forced Europe to adopt after the war.

To be fair, it didn’t require a lot of forcing, they were the victors, they were open and friendly, they were rich, and they always had lots of new and exciting stuff to sell, which everybody liked. In their quest for profits they learned how to sell ideas, like Coca-Cola for example. It’s just a fuzzy sugary drink but consuming it gave people a sense of being better, a sense of belonging to a superior culture, it was something to be bragged about, and Europe fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.

Another thing they gave to the world is computers. These are rather useless devices because, unlike Coke, we don’t have suitable sense organs to consume and enjoy them, but they established the value of efficiency for its own sake. They helped to produce all the other stuff better, cheaper, and faster, and that has become a mantra on its own.

Now, in the name of efficiency, lunch has become time to refuel oneself rather than a meal to savor. For the sake of efficiency people are meant to work, not to enjoy life. Things like siestas and naps have lost their values, sitting around and contemplating the world has become laziness, and high philosophy simply has lost its place and appreciation. Philosophers and thinkers do not make money, and writers have to shamelessly monetize their skill rather than endlessly search for a sparkle of artistic truth.

Art itself has become a profession, not a calling, and so did education. They have standardized everything so that it has become easy to replicate and mass produce at the cheapest price possible, uniformity has become a norm and personal expression has become a luxury. These days it’s all about personalisation, of course, but what it actually means is that the provider of a service must program for a huge variety of choices and let them all be processed smoothly, without the user even noticing that his “personality” has been reduced to mundane entry in the database.

Amazon and eBay are great at it, they make you feel like you are dealing with a very nice human, but actually you are not. Their computers can, however, predict how you would react to certain things and they’d build their presentation and communication around these predictions, and as long as you go with the flow the experience will be flawless and seen as highly engaged and personal.

All of this is pretty obvious, but it has a big impact on us as devotees as well, and discussing it is something I will have to postpone for another day, sorry.

Vanity thought #1326. History and spirit

Is there any spiritual value in debating history, even if it’s history as given in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam? On one hand everything that is given in the Bhāgavatam is worthy of discussion and trying to prove its historical accuracy should be a legitimate devotional endeavor but there’s always that other hand that can spoil everything, too.

When someone calls our books “mythology” our instinctive reaction is to jump to their defense. It’s normal. It’s also normal to confront modern historians in general and try to solve the problem once and for all. We only need to demonstrate that Bhāgavatam describes the actual history of the Earth and they will get off our case, right?

Of course it’s not going to be easy but we are in it for the long haul, too. We are also not alone in this effort and have a big body of Indian scientists trying to prove the historical accuracy not only of Bhāgavatam but of the rest of the Purāṇas, too.

Śrīla Prabhupāda himself loved to give examples of how modern science found confirmations of things mentioned in our books, like the disinfecting quality of Ganges water, so it’s legit, right? Lately I’ve developed some doubts about it, though.

It’s natural to react this way but it’s in our *material* nature, not spiritual. Acting on material impulses has no relevance to our spiritual well-being, not directly anyway. If it’s in our dharma to pursue this path it’s one thing, if we are just looking for external validation of our beliefs it’s just our immaturity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with acting immaturely when we are, indeed, immature, but I question the spiritual value of this pursuit, not its appropriateness. It’s appropriate for us to behave this way and it was appropriate for Śrīla Prabhupāda to encourage us with his examples but at some point we should be ready to move on, too.

What I see happens in debates about authenticity of Kurukṣetra war or Cāṇakya and Candragupta is that we think that historians got it wrong and we ought to correct them and get it right. We do our own calculations based on our books, look for evidence, look at astronomy, look at archaeological finds, look at records in other traditions etc etc.

The underlying assumption here is that we can succeed where modern historians fail and we can find empirical proof of Bhāgavatam. I don’t think it’s possible at all.

Bhāgavatam is meant to be absorbed with one’s ears and heart, not eyes and fast typing fingers. Even when Kṛṣṇa descends Himself personally we still need to learn how to perceive Him through the medium of our spiritual master, not through the medium of our material senses. While being here He presumably leaves tons of evidence of His presence but it doesn’t mean that we can go full CSI and prove that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It just won’t work.

We laugh at the materialists with their naive belief in the infallibility of their experimental knowledge and then we go out and do exactly the same thing ourselves. When we want to prove Bhāgavatam we mean we want proof that Kṛṣṇa was real, too. We deny this possibility to materialists but not to ourselves even if we use their methods.

I’m sorry to say, but we will fail, too.

What will we do then?

Hopefully, we’ll realize that we can’t rely on our sensory perception, however improved by modern technology, and we can’t rely on the wealth of empirically collected knowledge. It will never ever be enough and therefore we should give up this foolhardy pursuit and engage in saṅkīrtana instead.

Well, why don’t we spare ourselves all the trouble and do it right now? Wouldn’t that be an intelligent thing to do?

And yet we are not going to stop, for various reasons. One is that debating with historians is preaching and, therefore, saṅkīrtana, too, especially if we do it right. Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted us to do it and we should carry out his orders. That should be the reason enough.

Otoh, knowing expressed wishes of our ācāryas often doesn’t stop us from ignoring them anyway so we’d probably resort to materialistic justifications of our behavior.

Arguing with scientists and historians makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us confident in our knowledge and we also love defeating arguments and people. We can’t stop ourselves even if externally we might suppress our exuberance due to learned humility. On that drive alone we will have thousands and thousands of devotees dedicating time and effort to research and building better and better arguments. As long as positive feedback is there we will be safe.

Kṛṣṇa, hopefully, will continue providing such positive feedback, quietly leading us to new discoveries and planting new ideas in our heads. As a society, He won’t let us fail, He can’t, as long as we sincerely try to promote Lord Caitanya’s mission.

On a personal level it’s a different story, however.

When Lord Caitanya inaugurated His saṅkīrtana movement it was destined for success and are told to come, help, and share in that success story, but our personal destinies are still different. Saṅkīrtana will go on but each one of us will die.

Death is not simple, especially for devotees. Ordinary people would lose their faculties and will be carried over to resume from where they left of but devotees are supposed to be completely purified and taken to the spiritual world in a pristine spiritual condition.

This means that not only our gross body would fail to function and we should let it go but also that we should let go of our attachments to our mind and intelligence and all the various goals they set for us in this life.

This means that we should abandon the desire to prove things, solve mysteries, and prevail over our opponents. With the gross body it’s quite simple – it gives up and ceases to function and that means death. Same thing with our subtle goals would mean inability to think, prove, and prevail. Just like the gross body fails at living, our subtle body must fail, too, and we should accept and embrace our failure and turn to Kṛṣṇa instead.

With the subtle desires we can do it BEFORE the death of our gross body. This means it’s perfectly okay for us to fail so that it helps with giving up our attachments. We shouldn’t take it as a failure of the whole mission, though, it’s just our personal lesson, that’s all.

That’s what I always remember now when I start a new line of arguments or initiate a new discussion – sooner or later it must fail or I’ll get too attached to it. My opponents might dance on my digital grave but it shouldn’t matter to me. If, by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, they get some spiritual benefits from listening to our arguments then it’s all we could really ask for. Let them dance away and trump all over our egos if it takes them closer to Kṛṣṇa, we shouldn’t be too proud, we should behave like trees which keep serving others long after their death at the hands of people they helped when they were alive.

Hoping to win debates, historical or otherwise, is not advantageous to developing of our Kṛṣṇa consciousness and so we must abandon this desire. Kṛṣṇa will win anyway, we just have to do our part regardless of our personal fate.

Vanity thought #1326. More on confusing history

The story about real Lord Buddha, historical Buddha, Candragupta, Candragupta Maurya, and Aśoka is very confusing, to say the least. Until the “real Lord Buddha appeared around 1800 BC” revelation it was pretty straightforward but now everything comes into question, contradictions are everywhere, and possible explanations dare us to defy Occam’s razor rule at every step.

As it stands now, we have real Lord Buddha, then real Candragupta Maurya two hundred years later, then his grandson Asoka who converted to Buddhism and expanded the empire. Then we have historical Buddha a thousand years later, another Candragupta who wasn’t Maurya and possibly another person who is assumed to be historical Asoka who converted to historical Buddhism. Then we also have two Candraguptas of the Gupta empire which took over India some five hundred years after historical Aśoka, one of them could have possibly been Candragupta that lived before historical Aśoka and by now it’s just one royal mess.

Can it be straightened out? I don’t think so but let’s try anyway.

First of all, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam makes no connection between Lord Buddha and Cāṇakya, Candragupta, and Candragupta’s grandson Aśokavardhana whatsoever and so neither should we. The connection that firmly exists in public consciousness should be simply ignored, it has no basis in scripture.

What causes all the confusion is identification of “Sandracottus” in Greek records with Candragupta Maurya and the existence of a large number of stone inscriptions which are attributed to Aśoka.

Let’s talk about these inscriptions, known as Aśoka edicts. There are 33 of them and they are found all around India, and I mean “around” literally – it looks as if they are planted on the outposts of the empire. Some of them are engraved on the huge pillars cut of monolith rock, some are on boulders, some are on cave walls etc. Over the time they, including the pillars, have been moved around but, I think, generally we should have no reason not to trust this map:

They represent the first tangible evidence of the existence of Buddhism, wikipedia says. Okay.

Most of them are in Brahmi script, a pre-Devanāgāri writing system, and they are composed in Prakrit, not Sanskrit. More on this “pre” part some other time. These edicts are also the earliest examples of Brahmi, so it’s a double first.

Could they have been written 1500 BC or whereabouts? Very unlikely, because at least one of the edicts, located in Afghanistan, is written in Aramaic and Greek. In 1500 BC it would not have been possible, certainly not as far form Greece as Afghanistan.

This means they couldn’t have been written by Aśokavardhana of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

The edicts tell the story of a king who is called “Devanampiyadasi”, the Beloved of the Gods, with a few slightly different spellings. No one knew who he was and Brahmi itself was deciphered only in the mid-19th century and so no one could read it. Then, in 1915, someone discovered a new rock which used “Aśoka” in the edicts, and then another one like that on the other side of the country. Thus the modern history of Asoka was born.

It must be said that these inscriptions are not only first evidence of Buddhism but that many of them are not corroborated by any other Buddhist sources, too (there is, however, a much later Buddhist book called Ashokavadana that apparently speaks of the same king, apparently being the key word, and it’s full of stuff that makes it hard to believe anyway). The edicts mention wars and events, most likely exaggerated, that have no records anywhere else, so take it or leave it.

Buddhists could count the date of the Buddha himself from the date of these edicts and their “Aśoka”, so it’s not a small thing. The edicts tell how many years have passed since Buddha until Aśoka’s coronation and they tell how many years passed since Aśoka’s conversion to Buddhism, it’s important math for that religion. There’s a major problem with the math, however, because of the tie to historical “Candragupta” there appears to be a gap of sixty years there between various “known” events. In Buddhism it is known as “long” and “corrected long” chronology, as the gap has been found and explained away almost two hundred years ago based on other Buddhist texts even before they knew of Aśoka’s edicts.

Recently, however, other, shorter chronologies have been gaining followers in Buddhist academia and they move Buddha’s death closer and closer to us and closer to closer to their Aśoka. They have lots of old Buddhist books to argue about there but they don’t even touch on discrepancy with the edicts. They all take dates of Aśoka’s rule as cast in stone, relative to Candragupta who they don’t touch. The dates mentioned in the content that is actually cast in stone is another matter.

As I said earlier, the easiest way for us is to simply dismiss this historical Aśoka as a different person from Aśokavardhana of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, in fact, he shouldn’t even be called that at all. I still use this name simply out of habit. Whoever was behind “Devanampiyadasi” deserves his credits on his own strength, there’s no need to link him to the character from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

Historical Buddhism as we know it has nothing to do with real Lord Buddha either so we have no reason to argue about their history and their teachings. We should just beg them to leave Candragupta and Aśokavardhana alone.

Or we could recalculate OUR timing of Candragupta to make him fit with historical Buddhism and historical Aśoka, that would solve us many of our problems, too. However, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is apparently very clear about dates and timings of the involved dynasties so there’s little leeway here left, certainly no enough to stretch the timeline by 1200 years.

There’s no easy solution here. What is easy for us would be outright rejected by everyone else and what is easy for them is unacceptable for us. There’s also the point that it’s highly unlikely that we will ever be able to convince our opponents, we should rather build our own support base instead.

History is written by the victors, they say, and there are no reasons this maxim shouldn’t be applied to this situation, too. Whoever gets more followers will get to write it. We might not hope for victory per se but simply being recognized as a contested party would be a huge recognition of our position already.

Once again, the spiritual side of this argument didn’t have time to be reflected here and I’m sorry about that.

Vanity thought #1325. History dilemma

Sometimes history is favorable to our narrative and sometimes it isn’t. Should we embrace every finding that goes our way or should we stay out of this business altogether? Or should we find some balanced approach?

Yesterday a very respected devotee included me in his e-mail blast and I got a link to an old article promoting the idea that modern history got some Bhāgavatam dates completely wrong.

I remember writing about it a while ago but here’s the recap – modern dating of Buddha refers to some particularly enlightened person and not the Lord Buddha who lived over a thousand years earlier.

This fact is not very well known even in the vaiṣṇava community and Śrīla Prabhupāda himself was apparently unaware of it. There’s a quote from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and an explanation from one of GM authorities that these two are indeed different persons and the confusion was started by Śaṅkarācāyrya himself. It wouldn’t the first one by him but we accept it as necessary to satisfy demoniac people of Kali Yuga.

This time it’s the timing of Cāṇakya Paṇḍita, who appears in SB 12.1.11, and then Candragupta and Aśoka who are explicitly mentioned in the next verse. All three are historically well known personalities and this time we are not saying they are “impostors”, as the historical “Buddha” is, but real character intersection between both Purāṇic and modern history. That’s where the danger lies.

It’s possible to calculate the date of their birth from the time of the Kurukṣetra war, adding up all the intermediate kings and durations of their reigns. This gives us about 1500 BC, 1200 years earlier than what is taught in every history book. That’s what the problem is.

This devotee explained it by blaming everything on certain William Jones, a British scholar who tried to fit Purāṇic history into Biblical timeframe and so needed to put our events as close to modernity as possible. Cāṅakya and Candragupta provided a convenient “linch pin” tying them to Alexander The Great who went to India roughly 300 BC. At around that time Greeks also sent their ambassador to India, Megastenes, who left extensive notes describing Indian kings and dynasties, among other things. This is the time from which we count everything else backwards and forwards.

If Candragupta and then Aśoka lived 1200 earlier than that then the entire history of India as it is known today goes to dogs, and it would confirm that historical Buddha was not the real Buddha, too, because Aśoka was the one who promoted Buddhism far and wide. Candragupta himself tuned Jain so that tradition and its founder, Mahāvīra, need to be moved by over a thousand years back, too.

The stakes are incredibly high. If it all goes south our credibility would be at stake, too. So far no one paid any attention to appearances of Cāṅakya, Candragupta, and Aśoka in the Bhāgavatam but if we go public with it then we’d have one big inconsistency on our hands. People can actually calculate the time of Kurukṣetra war back from Candragupta and tell us that we are totally wrong and Kṛṣṇa didn’t live 5000 years ago. What will we say then?

If we insist that Candragupta lived in 1500 BC they’d accuse of basing our faith on bad science. Nothing good will come out of it unless we can prove it beyond any doubt.

That’s where the problem lies. Megastenes was sent to the court of king “Sandrocottus”. which is as close as Greeks could be to Candragupta. Our version here is that it was a different Candragupta, not Candragupta Maurya.

It would be easy to argue this if modern history didn’t move forward from the days of William Jones but it did. Nowadays there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it was really Candragupta Maurya and not the other Candragupta that lived during the time of Alexander the Great. To make it more complicated, most of the evidence can be interpreted in different ways and so we still have a shot but at this time it looks very unlikely that we are right and they are wrong.

Aśoka wasn’t mentioned in Greek records, good, but there’s one Aśokan edict that tells the names of four contemporary kings: “param ca tena Atiyokena cature rajani Turamaye nama Antikini nama Maka nama Alikasudaro nama” (“And beyond Antiochus, four kings by the name of Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander”). This is not the same Alexander but there was a Greek king by that name who ruled until 240 BC. Maybe it wasn’t him and there was another Alexander who lived sometime around 1400 BC but the onus to prove it is on us, and I don’t think we are up to the task, and there would still be three others to repeat the procedure on – Antigonos, Magas, and “Turamaye”, for whatever reason translated as Ptolemy, who lived way after Aśoka himself.

But then there is nothing in Greek sources about Buddhism, too, and both Aśoka and Buddhism were a really big thing back then. Aśoka’s empire was even bigger than Candragupta’s. To counter this historians cite Greek knowledge of “Sramanas”, a tradition they identify as Buddhist in this case. I don’t know why, perhaps we can counter them on that.

Once, already around the time of Christ, Indians sent a party of these Śramaṇas to Athens with a message tattooed on one of the emissaries’ skin. By Greek standards they were naked, wearing only a “girdle”, which is probably how the Greeks saw kaupīnas. They also brought very strange gifts – an armless man, a long snake, a big tortoise and a partridge larger than a vulture. What was the significance of that is unknown.

What put these guys in history books is that their chief Zarmanochegas, possibly “Śramaṇācārya”, self immolated himself before Athenian public to “demonstrate the strength of his faith”. Greeks saw them as barbarians, not as renounced ascetics of the highest order as they were perceived in India. I think self-immolation was a Śramaṇa’s reaction to the scenes of the Greek life around him. Ordinarily one would have to jump into Ganges if he saw degradation like that and short of that killing yourself was probably the second best option.

Why they made this Śramaṇa a Buddhist is beyond me. Some interpret his full name, as recorded by Greeks, Zarmanochēgas indos apo Bargosēs, as that he was a disciple of Bhṛgu Muni. Śramaṇa was an old, certainly pre-Buddhist tradition of complete renunciation. The word appears quite a few times in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and once Śrīla Prabhupāda translated it simply as a vānprastha. It was prominent among Buddhists and Buddha (the historical one) was a śramaṇa himself, but that is not enough to use presence of a śramaṇa as proof of Greek familiarity with Buddhism, meaning their Candragupta wasn’t Candragupta Maurya and they really knew nothing of Aśoka who actually lived over a thousand years earlier.

Here’s a story of Alexander the Great’s encounter with a group of śramaṇas (source):

    He (Alexander) captured ten of the Gymnosophists who had done most to get Sabbas to revolt, and had made the most trouble for the Macedonians. These philosophers were reputed to be clever and concise in answering questions, and Alexander therefore put difficult questions to them, declaring that he would put to death him who first made an incorrect answer, and then the rest, in an order determined in like manner; and he commanded one of them, the oldest, to be the judge in the contest. The first one, accordingly, being asked which, in his opinion, were more numerous, the living or the dead, said that the living were, since the dead no longer existed. The second, being asked whether the earth or the sea produced larger animals, said the earth did, since the sea was but a part of the earth. The third, being asked what animal was the most cunning, said: “That which up to this time man has not discovered.” The fourth, when asked why he had induced Sabbas to revolt, replied: “Because I wished him either to live nobly or to die nobly.” The fifth, being asked which, in his opinion, was older, day or night, replied: “Day, by one day”; and he added, upon the king expressing amazement, that hard questions must have hard answers. Passing on, then, to the sixth, Alexander asked how a man could be most loved; “If,” said the philosopher, “he is most powerful, and yet does not inspire fear.” Of the three remaining, he who was asked how one might become a god instead of man, replied: “By doing something which a man cannot do”; the one who was asked which was the stronger, life or death, answered: “Life, since it supports so many ills.” And the last, asked how long it were well for a man to live, answered: “Until he does not regard death as better than life.” So, then, turning to the judge, Alexander bade him give his opinion. The judge declared that they had answered one worse than another. “Well, then,” said Alexander, “thou shalt die first for giving such a verdict.” “That cannot be, O King,” said the judge, “unless thou falsely saidst that thou wouldst put to death first him who answered worst.” These philosophers, then, he dismissed with gifts…

Isn’t this fascinating? It also proves nothing about śramaṇas being Buddhist at that time.

This is getting too long and my thoughts are scattered, time to put the subject to rest for a while.

Vanity thought #297. Vedavyasa Press

Generally devotees are told that Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas etc were compiled by Srila Vyasadeva who was born some five thousand years ago. Then the historians tell us that the earliest scripture, Rig Veda, was written about 1,500 BC and our primary texts like Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam were written much much later, less than a thousand years ago.

Our response to this is simple – historians are just wrong and should be ignored. I’m not sure this is the right approach because by this denial we are simply pushing our doubts deeper into our brains and one day they might come out and pose a serious challenge to our nascent faith.

I think there are three main approaches to the truth here. First is what really happened – how, when and in what sequence. I don’t think anyone but God knows all of that in full. Then there’s what the scriptures choose to tell us themselves, and then there’s scientific process of figuring it out.

Neither of the last two versions is complete as they are meant for conditioned living entities with our limited understanding, not to mention the influence of Kali Yuga.

What Vyasadeva choose to tell us through the scriptures and subsequently our acharyas is enough for our spiritual progress. I don’t think we really need anything else but sometimes we need to reconcile this with what is discovered by the science.

Let’s look at the situation with sober minds. The fact that Srila Vyasadeva is an empowered incarnation of God does not mean that he can just snap his fingers and all the Vedas and Vedic scriptures would suddenly appear out of thin air, this is not how it happened.

Given that Vyasadeva is one of the seven chiranjivas who are going to live here for hundreds of thousands of years we should assume that his time scale is probably very different from ours, a hundred or even a thousand years for him is nothing and even snapping of fingers might take several years of our time. Not that he is slow, but he takes time to think about it in his meditation, choose an appropriate moment and so on.

So, when the historians tell us that it was about a thousand and a half years between Krishna’s disappearance and the earliest, Rig Veda, it’s not that big of a gap in Vyasadeva’s terms. He could have taken sweet five hundred years simply to observe the decline of knowledge and degradation of human race before he decided to compile the Vedas to help our memories.

What he did next sounds completely reasonable. Naturally he had to prioritize what knowledge should be given to the people immediately and what knowledge can be left for later. Not surprisingly he chose to compile series of hymns used for performing yajnas first. After all correct pronunciation of those hymns is absolutely necessary for success of any sacrifice.

Now what do you had happen next? He passed this first, Rig Veda to his disciples to take it to the masses and for further development. They learned the hymns, committed them to memory, put them on paper, copied them and taken them down to the rivers and valleys where people lived. Thus Vedavyasa Press was born.

It could have easily taken another five hundred years for the hymns to propagate throughout India and get registered in the media that modern science can extract and put a date on.

But, in fact, they don’t even have that, they mostly approximate the rate of language change in observable history and then extrapolate it back. I’m not sure they are doing it right, though. Imagine the evolution of the Internet, for example, and try to extrapolate its rate of development two-three hundred years back. You see how totally inadequate this method could be.

So there’s absolutely nothing in the findings of modern history that could completely rule out Vedic version of events and the appearance of the Vedas.

Will continue tomorrow.

Vanity thought #210. Krishna’s appearance.

Bhagavat Gita 4.9:

One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.

I don’t get it – what’s not to understand?

Apparently it is a big deal – understand it and go back to Godhead, don’t understand it and stay here but I still don’t see what’s so important about it. What could it mean – not understand Krishna’s appearance? How can one not understand it?

Is my confusion related to what we’ve learned about Krishna’s appearance from Prabhupada? Does it apply to all the people who learned about Krishna in less authoritative ways?

For us it’s really simple – Krishna’s body is transcendental even if He appears as an ordinary human being. Perhaps for His contemporaries, for Arjuna’s contemporaries, there was a lot of confusion about Krishna’s real nature. That is understandable, does it mean that this verse was spoken particularly for their benefit?

They have seen Krishna face to face, they have seen Krishna get hungry and angry like any other human, they have seen Him exhibiting emotions and they have been spared doubts about all this being just a collection of myths. Krishna was very real for them – you could go and touch Him and you could sit down for a chat or, maybe, for a game of chess or whatever they did in those days to entertain themselves.

From this perspective it’s easy to understand that many couldn’t accept Krishna’s absolutely superior nature. He looked way too normal and human for them. I bet there were many people who thought they were better than Him in every way. Actually there were people who thought they were better, like Paundraka, for example, but I mean among Krishna’s friends and acquaintances there must have been some who thought they were more skillful at chess or archery or chatting up girls.

I guess it would have been difficult for them to accept Krishna’s supremacy and so they needed to realize His transcendental nature if they wanted to achieve liberation.

The problem is, though, is that they were already liberated simply by the dint of having personal relationships with Krishna. Arjuna himself had no idea who Krishna was, does it mean he was an ordinary conditioned soul? Of course not.

I still think, though, that out of thousands of people who have met Krishna in their lives there were plenty who didn’t fully used their chance to develop love of God, or hate of God, as did Kamsa and others. Without total absorption in the Lord and with remaining material attachments and big plans for the future it is probably impossible to reach Krishna’s abode despite meeting Him face to face on Earth.

What are they supposed to do once they reach the spiritual world if their interests still lie here? This should be a fair warning to us as well – if we don’t develop devotion there’s nothing for us to do there, too.

Anyway, that’s them, what about us? What problems do we face in understanding Krishna’s appearance?

The main one, I think, is that we simply don’t believe in it. With our background, I’m not talking about Indians here, stories about any God, Christ or Krishna, is a matter of faith and it goes against all factual evidence by definition. When we take to Krishna consciousness we go against everything we had been taught about God and his existence and that’s why I believe this old habit of ours is very difficult to overcome. We don’t admit it consciously but this is the root of all our behavior, all our thoughts and actions.

Krishna consciousness is supposed to replace these thoughts and attitudes and purify our hearts and minds but it’s a process, we’ll never see the end of it.

So, for people who lived five thousand years ago it was difficult to accept Krishna’s transcendental position, for us the position is given but it’s difficult to accept His very existence instead. We don’t know Krishna as anything else but the Supreme God, if He actually existed, of course.

Come to think of it, all evidence of His existence I have ever seen is a large grindstone allegedly pulled by baby Krishna during His famous deliverance of Nalakuvara and Manigriva, and remnants of the pillars of the temple built by Vajranabha, Krishna’s great grandson. Not much of an evidence, if you ask a skeptic within me. I can easily imagine a scenario where these stones were labeled as Krishna related just to please the devotees searching for proof.

There’s also a question of Krishna’s miracles, like that same grindstone – it’s too big and heavy for any one person to move. Would the people of that age have been doubtful of Krishna’s nature because they didn’t believe He could really pull it off? Not really, I think, Mahabharata is full of extraordinary feats. Some of the stories might appear as grossly exaggerated for us but by Vedic standards they were quite alright. Perhaps people didn’t believe in Krishna’s divinity because one doesn’t have to be God to suck life out of woman’s breast or kill an elephant with his bare hands.

Anyway, the difference in the nature of the doubts between us and Krishna’s contemporaries is not absolute, just look at the life of Lord Chaitanya. There’s no doubt He existed as real, historical personality. He wasn’t our contemporary but our authorities on the subject, historians and scientists, do not dispute His existence per se.

What we might doubt about Lord Chaitanya is His status as God Himself, pretty much as Kauravas might have doubted Krishna’s status as God. It’s easier for us to believe because we don’t know Lord Chaitanya as anything else but Krishna appearing as Radharani, thanks to the deficiency in our prior education. People who knew about Lord Chaitanya before reading Prabhupada’s version might have bigger problems with accepting His divine nature, and that brings me back to my original point – how anyone learning about Krishna from Srila Prabhupada not understand His appearance and pastimes? We are truly blessed this way.

Still, I think we tacitly accept stories from Bhagavatam as mythology that has some spiritual streak to them that is enough to sustain our faith and not much more. I’m speaking for myself here but I doubt I’m all that original in this regard.

With doubts like this – not about Krishna’s Supremacy but about His actual appearance on Earth, it doesn’t make any difference if He was actually born here or not. I have similar faith in Lord Ramachandra and His life story has no historical evidence whatsoever. It was so long ago that it’s impossible to accept it as real other than on faith.

What I mean to say is that I would believe in Krishna or Rama even if they didn’t actually appear here, even if there was no such place as Vrindavana, for example. Dvaraka has disappeared and people can only speculate where it once was but it doesn’t make it any less real for me, I believe in its existence equally.

Or even Vrindavan itself – I can’t see spiritual form of that place, it stays hidden from my materialistic eyes. I can see lots of temples and devotees and it certainly helps but if it turns out that actual locations of Krishna’s pastimes were some hundred kilometers to the east or to the west it wouldn’t make any difference to me, honestly, I won’t lose anything.

What really matters, at the end of the day, is how I can’t offer Krishna any birthday presents on this occasion. Janmashtami is marked in our calendars as a holiday and we subconsciously treat it as such, but it’s Krishna’s holiday, it’s not there for our pleasure, it’s for Krishna’s, and, sadly, I have nothing to offer, no birthday presents at all. It’s always me, me, me. “What can He do for me?” – that’s all I’m interested about.

I guess this demonstrates my misunderstanding of Krishna’s appearance – I believe He came down here to serve me better.

The really sad part is that if I had any actual devotion for Krishna then He, through His agencies, would have supplied me with ample opportunities to serve Him on this glorious day. I don’t deserve even that. Total waste of human form of life.

Oh well, I still have six rounds to chant today, I better use this last opportunity to the full, it’s all I can do and I should try to make it count.

Vanity thought #96. And then there is life.

Following up on yesterday’s thoughts I checked out how things are going on for people who decided to stick with their gurus no matter what. With limited time I looked up one prominent guru who left ISKCON about ten years ago. There’s no way I can learn all about their lives in one day but there are few things that are impossible to ignore.

I am in no position to judge any of them so I’ll try to avoid any accusations.

Main thing that separates them from me or from their godbrothers is that they have decided that their love and devotion for their guru is bigger than what they thought they knew about Krishna. Meaning bigger than what they think they owe to Prabhupada and the rest of the ISKCON.

I guess they can cite two reasons – all they knew about Krishna and Prabhupada they had learned from their guru. Thus they couldn’t put themselves above their spiritual master when he changed his mind about certain things.

Second reason is that they saw their guru as a person, not a position. Yesterday I argued that, basically, guru is a position – anyone can fill it as long as they carry with them the power of Lord Nityananda who is the adi-guru in our Chaitanya’s movement. I find it hard to argue against it when we have shiksha, diksha, mantra, sannyasa and probably a few more legitimate gurus and each of them is perfectly capable of granting us love and devotion.

On the other hand this guru as a position principle has its own danger of falling into impersonalism – “I don’t care who you are as long as you read from Prabhupada’s books.” As soon as we start to care about other devotees as persons and realize that they are dear to Krishna at all times regardless whether they’ve been put on vyasasana today or not, things start getting murky.

It’s easy to check whether one strictly follows Prabhupada’s books and interpretations and it’s easy to accept or reject any idea on that basis only, but, the whole concept of living gurus, possibly developing into living acharyas, is that they also have the right and capacity, granted to them by Krishna, to change and add to the teachings coming down the parampara according to time and circumstances.

Now it becomes the question of following the spirit and it’s not easy to judge anyone’s purity here. It’s far easier to imagine a couple of situations where there are clashes between different people judgments. By the very nature of the process some innovations will be found unacceptable. Unacceptable to who or what? Who can honestly say that these innovations are absolutely harmful?

As ISKCON devotees we follow directions of GBC, that’s our choice and our path. If it’s unacceptable to GBC we reject it, too.

But then there’s life outside of ISKCON.

I won’t go as far as to boldly declare than anyone trying to reach Krishna outside of our society is doomed to fail. I am doomed to fail outside the shelter of Srila Prabhupada and his movement but I can’t speak for other people. If they continue worshiping Krishna it’s between them and the Lord. They wouldn’t have left without His sanction and I don’t even want to think that they are so low and fallen that Krishna doesn’t care about their spiritual health anymore.

At least some of these devotees must be extremely dear to Krishna. One of them, I learned, was unloading some truck when he saw his first book – Sri Isopanishad. When he saw picture of Srila Prabhupada on the back cover he fell to the ground and cried. I don’t know anyone else who had such reaction.

Some others went through jails and psychiatric clinics in Soviet Russia and I don’t know which was worse. I also learned that some of them firmly chanted their rounds even under heavy medication when they could barely walk. Others actually preached in prisons and had the entire ward sing Hare Krishna.

What honest devotee can say that they never had real devotion and Krishna is leading them down the false path now?

There is something else at work here, and I believe it’s called life.

In the end our devotion to Krishna and Srila Prabhupada will be judged by how we manage to live together. In this particular case, judging from online discussions, there’s still plenty of resentment on one side and very little desire to reconcile on the other.

Time heals all wounds, though. It drives us apart and it brings us together. I just wish we never say or do things we might regret later on.

Just to be clear – I firmly believe that following the path laid down by Srila Prabhupada, within ISKCON, is the fastest way back to Krishna, but it is also the most difficult, I just don’t want to judge people who move at their own speed. We’ll all get there eventually and then we will all be asking forgiveness from each other.