Vanity thought #272. On transcendence and altruism.

Continuing with materialistic things that got my attention.

Actually, first I should reflect on the value of this practice in general – spot something interesting and then try to find a connection to Krishna. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with this. On one hand it’s okay to see Krishna in everything, on the other hand I am fooling no one but myself when I turn on TV, jonessing for the latest political or celebrity gossip or a TV show, and then try to justify it by my imaginary search for Krishna. To avoid this dilemma I will post only about things that have actually reminded me of some Krishna conscious topics and the rest dismiss as nothing more than a gross material distraction.

So, two things genuinely caught my attention last week, apart from the hypocrisy surrounding Gaddafi. First is the latest episode of the TV show House M.D. which I mentioned here at least once. I think House deserves a lot more attention but he is a really tough nut to crack, our usual KC angles don’t work on him, he digs up bullet proof arguments for his materialistic views and he is very clever at defending them. I bet he would see right through any regular devotee and find a million reasons why the said devotee is on the wrong path. Of course it’s not Dr House himself, it’s the writers behind the screen who create all the magic.

What happens regularly is that episodes of these series have such complex twists that I simply can’t find proper comebacks, not even after sitting on them for days and this week installment wasn’t any different, except I thought the main topic deserves consideration on its own, regardless of what House thought of it himself.

It was about an billionaire who wished to remain anonymous and who went everywhere undercover giving things away in charity. He got into a hospital after he collapsed on the street and a woman from a job skills clinic which he had just given a million dollars spotted him falling. Dr House takes on his case hoping that he would too get some of the easy money. He promptly secures finding for his team and there’s a little morality tussle about the issue when another doctor first tells House that it’s unethical but then jumps on the patient himself when he hears about a possible kidney donation.

This is an interesting turn – how morality is very relative to our own benefits. Even the most moral among men have their price, and it’s this price that is really the heart of the case – how much self interest we should actually allow in ourselves.

Some members of the House’ team think that the man is simply an altruist and there’s nothing wrong with him except possible dehydration. House argues that altruism itself is sickness that needs to be cured.

So it all boils down to this – how much can a man give in charity before the society declares him abnormal and in need of treatment? Apparently the line depends on whether the judge is a charity beneficiary himself but eventually people can look beyond that limitation, too, and still wonder how much is enough. In this case the line was when the billionaire decided to let himself die so that the hospital could harness all his healthy organs, he pledged to give away both of his kidneys to different people and thought – what the hell, let’s donate my entire body. That’s when the hospital administration decided something was seriously wrong. Bloodsuckers.

Anyway, the cause of this unusual condition was a little nodule on one of his thyroid gland that was pumping hormones a bit over the normal level and caused personality change. I don’t know how plausible it is medically in context of that story but the existence of the gland itself and its ability to regulate one’s generosity seems to be undisputed, strange but possible, according to real doctors’ dissection of the episode.

What interested me in this regard is how much generosity is actually possible for a human being and for a devotee. If we talk about normal humans then this story is probably not crossing any lines – everyone would agree that the man was sick, but if we talk about devotees we are facing a major difference – none of the charitable causes in this story are considered worthy, none of them have anything to do with Krishna.

If we are talking about sacrifices made in the name of Krishna then there’s really no limit. Giving up the body is perfectly natural, for example. It’s not that Krishna wants our bodies dead, it means we forfeit all self interests and allow Krishna to take full control of our bodies, whether he prefers them young and healthy or old and sick, whether he wants them to live in comfort or in abject poverty – it doesn’t matter to the owner anymore. A devotee does not see *his* body as actually his, he sees it as Krishna’s property.

Can any of us actually pull it off? That’s the question. We should assume that normal charitable disposition is regulated by some hormone, sometimes we want to sacrifice more of our time and energy, sometimes less. It’s not even about the cause, the cause is only an excuse to satisfy our own, chemically induced desire to give things away. If we are lucky we might give away something to Krishna or his representatives but at what point does it turn into an actual surrender?

At what point can we actually say we are doing things for Krishna and not because there’s a spike in chemical composition in our brains? Tough question. And what of people who have hormonal deficiency and appear to be stingy – can they make any progress on devotional path? How often do we judge other people’s devotion by looking at the results of chemical interactions in their blood? Is there any correlation between the level of that hormone and the level of devotion?

I can’t figure it out. On one hand our regulated practice is supposed to produce actual results but is it going to happen in one magic jump or can that jump be spread and monitored through blood tests?

Some time at the beginning of my acquaintance with Krishna Consciousness I heard that medical doctors are the hardest to preach to. I wasn’t given the reason why, I suspect it’s because they can actually present material proof for every change we consider transcendental, and now I tend to think that it might be actually true – the material and spiritual side of our nature could in fact be inseparable. It’s all under Krishna’s control anyway, just different kinds of energy.

Perhaps there’s really no independence between what is happening to us in our material lives and our spiritual progress but it’s our measurements of what is induced by material interactions and what is a sign of devotional progress are wrong.

Or they could be totally separated and we will eventually see it that way, when we are able to participate in Krishna’s pastimes in our original spiritual form and let the body do whatever it needs to do.

I can’t imagine how it works, however. When I resume Bhaktivinoda Thakur series I’ll look into how it was possible for him, if it was possible at all, and whether we just arbitrarily assign transcendentalism where there’s little.

Or maybe these questions disappear on its own when I actually gain a bit of transcendental knowledge, in the meantime, I better sleep on it.

Vanity thought #67. Intoxicating new world.

Nurse Jackie is back, in case you don’t know, it’s a TV show about a nurse working at some New York hospital named Jackie. Jackie has worked there for twenty years and has an impeccable reputation of the most dedicated professional who saves countless of lives everyday and who is worshiped as a living angel by some newer staff.

What they don’t know is that Jackie is actually a drug addict who supports her addiction by having sex with hospital pharmacist, what they also don’t know that she is also “happily” married with two kids.

Really troubling character – that Jackie.

The most worrying part of the story is that she is the heroine, that in this new world people are ready to accept deeply flawed personalities as role models. The rest of the characters are slightly better than her but only because they don’t do much yet.

The overall message is that if you want to achieve anything in this world you are bound to break many rules and giving in to the most shameful sides of your character is an inevitable trade off.

Jakie is trying to be good, she really does, but her back is killing her and so drugs are indispensable, and they have a nasty side effect of being addictive. She loves her husband but she likes to have sex with the pharmacist, too, though only for fun and the poor sod has no idea she has a family and believes he has a future with Jackie. She can’t care less in return and is somewhat happy that at least that embarrassing addiction is over.

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for her attempts to be good, but, as I said, there’s simply no escape for Jackie and millions of people like her.

I’m in two minds about this show – on one hand it is a brutal portrayal of reality behind the illusion of this world, on the other hand is entices people to settle for this new low. In the olden days stories like this inspired people to be better, now it’s pure nihilism. Which is better? Which is worse?

I’d say inspiration without turning to God leads to deeper, tighter bondage but people understand this very well and don’t expect much from cheap happy endings anyway. Nihilism, on the other hand, is healthy for spiritual life but if it leads to settling for prescription drugs and and normalcy of extra-marital sex then why bother?

Another show with a similar effect is House MD. Gregory House is also a brilliant doctor with unmatched track record and he is also a drug addict who can’t make any sense out of life. He knows all the usual human stuff inside out and realizes the futility of it all but he can’t find any working solutions. His attempt at building a family failed miserably and he wasn’t surprised by it. For people of his stature religion is long dead, too. So what is left? Nothing. He just tries to fill the void in his life with little everyday pleasures and saving lives.

In his case there’s the nagging feeling that there really is something more to life than that but he can’t quite put his finger on it. I bet off the screen his character prays a lot but has no words to put it out publicly.

Endless search for happiness in a place where there isn’t any.

These are examples of gifted people with the ability to see beyond the welcome smile of this world, people who actually see very sharp teeth behind it and the hopelessness of fooling themselves. In short, prime candidates for surrendering to the Lord.

In reality they resort to intoxication which, in a sense, is a form of suicide. The world has this effect on people – once you get to know it better you can’t stand it anymore, you wish you didn’t know it, didn’t know anyone, didn’t have any awareness of it, didn’t have any consciousness.

Why am I wasting time on this entertainment? Well, if it helps me to shed MY illusions regarding MY material prospects, it is time well spent, isn’t it? These are very valuable lessons for the occasions when I get too excited about this or that – don’t. It is not going to work, I’m just fooling myself. This world does not deserve too much attention and certainly none of the excitement.

The only valuable thing about it is the opportunity to chant the Holy Names, nothing else matters at all. Apart from that unique opportunity the world is only a giant distraction.