The meaning of humility

There’s one elusive quote from Śrīla Prabhupāda. Elusive in the sense I don’t see it explained anywhere else in his books. I’ve seen is supported in the statements of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī but can’t find them at the moment. The latest I’ve seen it is in this image on facebook but originally it’s from Harivilasa Prabhu’s memories on Following Srila Prabhupada DVD 5 (source):

Humility means that you are convinced beyond any doubt that there is nothing in this world, absolutely nothing in this world, not your money, not your family, not your fame, not your gun, not your education, nothing that will save you except the mercy of Krishna. When you are convinced like this, then you are humble.

It’s obviously quite different from a dictionary definition of humility or from how we talk about what it means to be humble or from Bhāgavatam examples of humility, and even from tṛṇad api sunīcena verse in Śikṣaṣṭaka. In fact, it is so different it doesn’t make sense at all. We can’t disagree with the requirement to see Kṛṣṇa’s mercy as absolute but why is it called “humility” here? I’m not entirely sure but I do have an idea and I do consider this definition of humility as a new standard. It doesn’t apply everywhere, obviously, but it’s what humility means in the ultimate sense.

To start with we need to look at general meaning of humility – it’s an attitude displayed in relation to others, though one can be humble in the face of events and impersonal forces as well. In any case, to speak of humility you need to accept the worldview where there is you and there are other people and things, and you all relate to each other in terms of “bigger” and “smaller” and “weaker” and “stronger” etc. You need to see your own power and the power of your counterpart and conclude that one power is greater than the other. Then you can start thinking about displaying humility. It would not make sense to talk about humility is these basic distinctions aren’t there.

In the quote Śrīla Prabhupāda gives us a few examples of distinct entities – family, guns, education etc. They are not our counterparts, however, but they are sources of one’s own strength when we compare it to that of “others” whose existence is indicated by mention of “save you” – there’s someone or something to be saved from. So we have three parts to consider – me, others, and sources of my strength.

Now let’s see what these parts mean in terms of Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy. “Me” could be me as the soul or it could be me as an embodied entity, forced by māyā to identify with material form. “Others” can be divided similarly into spirit souls and forms created by material nature. As we shall see later it doesn’t really matter, and the answer was given to a person still identifying himself with the body in the context of relating to material objects, not relations in the spiritual world.

So now we have “me” foolishly thinking that I’m am my body even if I do theoretically know that I’m not, so I have to elevate my current understanding of humility to that suitable to my real nature – jīva trying to free itself from clutches of māyā. That’s why the definition was given in the first place – to improve our current understanding. Then we have “others” who are not actually “who” but are “what” – forms created by the illusory energy. Jīvas behind these forms are similarly illusioned and have no control of what the forms do or how they appear because forms are products of universal guṇa and karma.

This basic understanding is actually quite revolutionary – we are not dealing with other jīvas, we are dealing with products of guṇa and karma, and even more to the point – with OUR guṇa and karma. Because we can’t perceive guṇa and karma of others and because we can’t perceive anything but what is allotted to us anyway. Nobody can do anything to you that is not in your karma. They can’t harm you and they can’t give you pleasure either. All that we experience is OUR guṇa-karma.

This means that we have a misconception about our real identity, we are aware it exists but it’s very persistent and we need to overcome it, and we are dealing with results of our karma which we perceive as “others”. We intend to counteract these results with our own powers which we draw from the sources mentioned in the quote – education, means knowledge, means we think we know what to do. Family provides emotional support, guns provide physical safety, wealth provides resources and so on. From Kṛṣṇa conscious point of view all these are illusory and unreliable. They are also in the same category as threats – they are both provided by karma. We have no more control over our gun as over a home intruder. It is the same karma that dictates that the gun is locked and you have no time to load the ammo and protect your family. It might work or it might not just as the intruder might attack you or might decide to flee.

What Śrīla Prabhupada is saying here is that actual knowledge means that in our interactions with illusory energy we can rely only on Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. Because He is in control of the illusion and because He can free us from our karma as well. Actual knowledge means all we are ever dealing with is Kṛṣṇa’s energies. There’s one energy to create our perception of the world and another energy to counteract that perception if necessary. Both are strictly controlled by Him and both work for our ultimate benefit.

It’s this vision – that there’s absolutely nothing but Kṛṣṇa everywhere, which brings humility. When death is coming it’s Kṛṣṇa who wants to kill me and when I’m saved it’s Kṛṣṇa who saves me as well. When Kṛṣṇa presents danger with one hand we can take shelter of His other hand, there’s nothing else to it. In this state we realize that we don’t have any powers ourselves but are absolutely helpless in the face of Krṣṇa’s all-powerful energies. Of course it brings humility.

If, by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, we become freed from the illusion and we see actual spirit souls then the attitude of enjoyment and dominance disappears. We become servant of the servant of the servant, we stop competing with others’ powers but rather want to help them and serve them to please Kṛṣṇa better. That is the state of our constitutional humility which should be thought of in spiritual terms, not through comparisons to our mundane definitions.

Anyway, realization of humility as explained in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s quote means we realize we never deal with other people or forces but only with ourselves (and Kṛṣṇa, of course). All the phenomena we perceive as “outside” are actually products of our own hearts and our own illusion. They don’t objectively exist. Just like in quantum mechanics – if you don’t look the particles aren’t “there”, they exist only as possibilities. These possibilities are converted into observations by guṇa-karma. If we take shelter of the material energy She would show us all kinds of things. If we don’t look all these things will disappear.

Humility means we don’t compete with creations of our own illusion but take shelter of Kṛṣṇa, or if we do decide to compete due to our lack of knowledge it’s only Kṛṣṇa who can counteract them anyway. The deep seated illusion that we do have some independent sources of power goes away, we sort of become stripped of our powers, and this realization brings humility.

This realization will not come about as a result of observing material nature – we have to stop looking at it and concentrate our consciousness on Kṛṣṇa instead. This means that my explanation isn’t really necessary – one can just absorb himself in chanting the Holy Name and the humility will appear naturally. It doesn’t need to be explained, it will become a self-evident, undeniable truth.

PS. One corollary of this is that when people get into fights and try to prove something to somebody or rage against something somebody has done they are actually dealing with themselves. The solution to fixing their perceived problems is not fixing the world but fixing their own hearts. In my experience people do not normally accept this suggestion but it’s the truth. All we need is to become Kṛṣṇa conscious and all the “problems” will be solved, which is what Śrīla Prabhupāda says in the quote – we need to attain Kṛṣṇa’s mercy (and then we can call the result “humility” as well).

Vanity thought #1318. Scientology Part 4

Today I want to try and understand what drives ordinary members of the Church of Scientology, or rather what is Scientology minus Hubbard’s presence. Of course there would be no Scientology without LHR but I mean his physical absence while keeping all his ideas intact. For that we need to start at the beginning again but I hope I won’t be repeating myself.

Scientology started with dianetics, which was a new age take on contemporary psychiatry before new age was a thing. Does it work? That’s a good question about all new age practices. There are promises, there are practitioners, there are hopes, there are stages, there must be some measurement of progress, too. It doesn’t mean that Scientology or any other new age discipline works but the adepts have a perception that it does.

From the very beginning dianetics and later Scientology promised people a better life. Everybody does that, of course, and in Scientology it means achieving full control over “MEST” – matter, energy, space, and time. The process of “auditing” was supposed to give immediate results and gradual progress was supposed to lead to attaining the full range of yoga siddhis, in our speak. There are lots of side effects like attaining spiritual immortality or perfect health or generating thousands of volts of electricity, or mind reading and telekinesis, or healing people by touch etc.

I wouldn’t be surprised that this aspect of Scientology inspired George Lucas and his Star Wars “force”, it looks pretty similar to me, about as similar as connection between the movie Matrix and illusory world as described in our Kṛṣṇa conscious literature.

The documentary that inspired me to write this series of posts, Going Clear, features interviews with some of the earliest Scientologists and they mention that their church has a lot of folklore stories about advanced members’ extraordinary abilities. It might all be mumbo-jumbo but I see no reason why it wouldn’t work in principle. Kṛṣṇa fulfills everyone’s desires and if people want magic powers they are going to get them, doesn’t really matter if it would be controlling the force ala Star Wars or auditing ala Scientology.

So, Scientologists have LHR personal charisma plus faith, justifiable or not, that the process really works. Another major attraction is the sense of community. It’s rather normal – every fan club has this kind of camaraderie, be it a church or a Comic Con crowd. Scientology didn’t have farms or anything like that but somehow LHR managed to create a world where people felt at home as opposed to their day-to-day jobs and families. In Scientology people were improving themselves, outside they were practicing their powers. This naturally forced people to relate to outside world in a different way. It’s not supposed to be a place to seek shelter, it’s their domain to take control of, and therefore relationships within Scientology matter while relationships outside do not. We, ISKCON, are no different in this regard, except we do not seek to manipulate the world, we just excuse ourselves from it altogether.

Sea Org I mentioned earlier had a very special place in Scientology. It was a fleet of ships on which Hubbard and his best followers went sailing and preaching around the world, a sort of a traveling saṅkīrtana party. Sea Org members had the privilege of being personally very close to LHR himself, they had the privilege of renouncing their previous lives, and for them “mind over matter” was a real thing, not a hypothetical concept.

Scientology was a very wealthy organization already but Sea Org members worked for pittance, the documentary mentions fifty cents an hour. They also had to work very hard on reducing their egos. Their first assignments were always menial ones – cleaning and scrubbing and painting the ships and serving senior members, personal pride had no place there. A decade of such life produced a generation of ideologically pure Scientologists who couldn’t be accused of hypocrisy or any hidden motives and they were the ones who took over the organization when Hubbard retired himself. David Miscavige was basically running the church since 1980 and he formally took over after LHR went to explore the universe while outside his body. He is their self-effulgent, undisputed next ācārya,

Being raised on Sea Org pathos he rules the church with an iron fist and enforces strict discipline to ensure church’s purity. This naturally made him a magnet for complaints ranging from harassment of journalists to separating family members to physically abusing dissidents. Nothing stops him and he has no morals in the common sense of the world. Nothing also sticks to him, however, and I don’t mean just legally – everything he does has the support of church members and church ideology and even people severely beaten by him see themselves as victims. Cultish? Yes, but we are not that different, too, even if in the past couple of decades we moved away from such practices.

Maybe it’s a Stockholm syndrome of some kind but it’s not unusual for victims of abuse to blame themselves and not their abusers, which, incidentally, how the law of karma explains it, too. It’s like a wife beaten by her husband who would need a lot of persuading to take it outside her family and file a police complaint. Relations in these cases are seen as more important than justice and Scientology exploits this particular human trait to the full.

In the documentary several ex-members described their ordeals and while they clearly see it as inexcusable abuse, from their descriptions it’s also clear that for remaining members it’s all seen as just and proper.

Human mind is a dark and mysterious place in this sense. Why do we do it to ourselves? What makes us tolerate this kind of tapasyā? What do we hope to achieve? Could it be that we see preserving our relations with Kṛṣṇa via His devotees as more important than personal humiliation? Shouldn’t it be commended, then? Or do we stay because we have no other place to go?

Fact is, real devotees accept chastisement by the Lord as a blessing. They think it’s far better than being ignored and forgotten. Whatever the Lord wants to do with us – let Him. We should always remember that no one can do us any harm without Lord’s permission and so when it’s His devotees that channel our karma the Lord is even more aware of what is going on. We shouldn’t be the ones to judge. Also, accepting unpleasant actions from Lord’s devotees should be even better than accepting them from the Lord Himself.

More often than not this Kṛṣṇa’s tactic apparently fails and most devotees feel incensed and leave but memories stay with them and I bet the time would come when they reassess their earlier judgments. I know it happened to me and I see no reason why it wouldn’t happen to others, too. It just takes time.

It works the same way in Scientology but in their case they do not get Kṛṣṇa bhakti so it all just a giant waste.

Vanity thought #1281. Infinitesimal to infinity

Last week there was a bit of a sad news – Jñānagamya Prabhu has left his body in Māyāpura. I’ve never met him but I somehow knew the name, so I checked with the recordings I listened to and there it was – he a regular Bhāgavatam speaker in Māyāpura itself. The class I have downloaded is from October last year and there was no indication he suffered any debilitating illness.

There are no reports of what was actually wrong with him, except the usual ISKCON haters who declare him a pseudo-devotee guilty of child abuse and several attempted murders, but, I mean I don’t know what was wrong with his body. It was a quick turn for the worst, just in a few months he was gone. I liked his own attitude towards it – don’t take me to hospitals, leave me in a dhama, chant and wait until I become cold and smell worse than usual, the cremate and toss me into the Ganges. I have no doubt he absolutely meant it.

I don’t know his history but as far as his classes are concerned – they were perfect. Not in a sense of Prabhupāda level perfect but in the sense of brutal honesty about him. When his material conditioning showed through (he was unashamedly American) it was also easy to dismiss because it looked so simple and innocent. He couldn’t help it but he also clearly knew his conditioning and Kṛṣṇa consciousness were a separate matter. Well, I should probably listen to more of his lectures but that was the impression I got, the memory I have.

This last class I have is remarkable in another way – he spoke about his utter inability to manage his own spiritual life. He said he had trouble with getting up for maṇgala-ārati and he prayed to the Lord to force his body to be engaged in Lord’s service. He spoke quite a lot about it, describing his condition, his prayers, how he went about it, and about their results. His attitude was very different from self-help gurus who urge us to take charge of own progress. Maybe he was wrong, or not quite right, but now he is with Kṛṣṇa already while I, if I followed self-help advice, would still be forcing my body to comply with my superior will-power.

Actually, I still do, and still without much success. A while ago I wrote about this little trick I’ve been using – to forcefully direct my mind to listening to every syllable of the mahā-mantra on my last round. Later I expanded it to the last two of my daily rounds. It worked in the beginning and I can’t say the efforts were in vain, but lately I started noticing that this exercise of mental power destroys whatever attitude of devotion and humility I might have, too. It turns me from a beggar into a conqueror. I master my chanting, I force the Holy Name to be heard, I control my mind, I have power of control, all the doors must open to me now. It doesn’t feel right but, sometimes, if the proper attitude is not there to begin with, it’s a step in the right direction – the Name must be attentively listened to, after all, can’t go wrong with that, but I digress.

There are compelling arguments, backed with compelling quotes, that we should take charge and responsibility for our spiritual health. We must take vows and follow them, beginning with initiation. Some things we just have to put our foot down and not budge, no matter what happens. Otoh, there’s no argument against a devotee feeling utterly helpless in the face of the Lord’s external energy and her dangers, and Jñānagamya Prabhu expressed this point very nicely in that class.

He might not have cited śāstric support, didn’t give quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda, but he spoke from a platform of utmost humility and his heart appeared clear of all traces of duplicity. These are the qualities that surely attract the Lord, and the Lord took him already. Isn’t that nice? Even if he was still alive, his simplicity was disarming, I can’t argue against that.

His example illustrated our approach to the Absolute. We don’t know how big Kṛṣṇa is, we have no idea how big the universe is and He is much bigger than that. Kṛṣṇa is infinite in every respect. The moment He decides to manifest Himself in whatever form, the sense of His greatness would be the first thing to notice, it should be the first step in realization of the Supreme – it’s called Supreme for a reason, after all.

So, unless Kṛṣṇa shows up, we have no idea how great He is, but what we can realize now is how small we are ourselves. Whatever we know about Kṛṣṇa, the smaller we become, the greater He would look to us. I suppose that would be the actual first step in self-realization – realizing our own size, that we are infinitesimal comparing to the Lord.

Unlike comparing ourselves to Kṛṣṇa Himself, who we don’t know, we can always compare ourselves to the world around us, which we can see. If we are deluded by the illusion of our power the world would appear small and manageable. Our abilities might extend quite far and if we look at other people we might aspire to lay stake to even larger slices of the cosmic pie. The movie director Jame Cameroon has been to Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. Google founders are avid sky-divers. The world is always your oyster if you play your cards right.

Devotees, however, do not see it that way. It’s not there to be conquered, it’s not there to be submitted to our will, it’s not there to be manipulated or even understood. Our bodies are not ours and we are not their controllers. As conditioned souls we definitely see them as our fields and ourselves as knowers of these fields but what do we really know about them? I think this point was raised in Jñānagamya’s lecture, too. We don’t know what’s going on inside us, we don’t know our blood pressure or the heart rate or the load on our liver or the acidity in our stomachs. We can surely feel it when something goes wrong but until it does it’s like Apple – “it just works”.

Devotees do not have the illusion of control over their fields and they are not in the least excited by their ability to control them. They know that trying to do so only strengthens the illusion. “I can raise my hand, I can move my fingers and count the beads, I can move my tongue and lips and chant japa – I can do so many things, I must be the controller.” Well, we aren’t. Kṛṣṇa makes it all possible through His external energy.

When devotees see the world around them in this light they immediately feel helpless and they immediately seek Kṛṣṇa’s shelter, and they get it. Kṛṣṇa is not going to take in someone who thinks he can stand for himself, who does not think of himself as infinitesimal as he really is. Kṛṣṇa does not take those who want to exercise control over matter, He’d just keep us down here to fulfill this wish until we finally give up.

That’s what I heard, anyway. The sad fact is, we can’t imitate this realization, we can’t simply talk ourselves down, we must learn to really see the world this way, and this knowledge comes from actual progress in our service, it’s our “reward”, so to speak. We cannot replace this genuine Kṛṣṇa’s gift with mere mental constructions.

Either way – whether Kṛṣṇa shows up and we see ourselves as infinitesimal comparing to His greatness, or Kṛṣṇa grants us actual knowledge and we see ourselves infinitesimal comparing to the usual world around us, the realization must come by the Lord’s mercy, we can’t claim it ourselves. So, whatever we do, we must keep doing it, an patiently wait our turn, It will come, and in that sense Jñānagamya Prabhu was a great inspiration.

Vanity thought #1261. Ego problem

Ego always gets in the way of our service. Perhaps our biggest problem is that we try to become Lord’s servants from the position of our false ego – as we imagine ourselves in our material forms. We want the glory of pure devotion to be bestowed on our material bodies, on our false perception of who we are. We want to become devotees without relinquishing our attachment to our present incarnations.

Basically, we want the best of both worlds – spiritual life in the material world. Maybe it was possible for direct associates of Lord Caitanya, I’m not going to discuss the exact nature of their bodies, but I’m pretty sure we, souls trapped in the 21st century, can forget about it.

Our bodies have their own priorities, they want to eat, sleep, mate, and defend themselves. Perhaps we can eventually learn to appreciate them as parts of Lord’s energy but even in that case they would be parts of the inferior energy, the one that doesn’t serve the Lord directly, the goal we hope to achieve. We can’t drag them into the spiritual realm, they need to be left behind.

So, problem is we want to keep them, can’t imagine ourselves without them, and we invest all our time and energy in making them perfect tools in Kṛṣṇa’s service, or at least that’s how we justify our efforts to ourselves.

I’m afraid it won’t work, false ego needs to go.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s lecture I mentioned yesterday gives us a few pointers to look for in this regard.

He started with the words of his guru asking people to collectively serve the Lord. That’s one easy standard to check our egos against.

    Many persons egotistically profess, “I am Bhagavan’s exclusive servant” or “I have been selected to perform a particular service to Him because no one else is qualified to do it.” But Srila Gurudeva’s words issue from a heart melted with loving compassion: “Come! Let us forget our tendency to block each other’s spiritual progress; this is violence. Service to Bhagavan is superior to all else.”

I don’t think I’m alone in this, every conditioned soul wants special recognition. Everyone needs an assurance that he is doing an important job and that he is irreplaceable. This attitude naturally leads to fighting for our imagined place in Kṛṣṇa’s service, we want what is ours and we become very protective. Quite often we fight for what we think should be ours, too, and we do so by blocking other devotees’ attempts at securing that particular service. Not to mention an ordinary, mundane desire to be the best of the best even if it comes at the expense of others.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī says here that this tendency to block each other’s progress is violence. It’s not the first time I’ve seen him use this word but it might look out of place for those who are not familiar with his vocabulary. Violence to him means anything that hinders souls service to the Lord. It’s not violence in the material sense, it has nothing to do with any danger to our bodies whatsoever, he means violence to our souls, which is the only violence that matters. Or it could be turned around to mean violence to Kṛṣṇa Himself – by depriving Him of souls’ potential service we deprive Him of His pleasure He is fully entitled to. The last sentence in that quote emphasizes this point particularly.

Service to the Lord is superior or all else. Kṛṣṇa should not be deprived of any kind of service, however insignificant. We can’t place our own interests above His pleasure, however small in our eyes. We can’t deprive Him from enjoying our service in the name of our vanity, of our perverted desire to be better, more glorious servants than others.

    By saying “superior to all else” he is not implying, “No one can do this service but me; I will not allow anyone else to do it.” My Srila Gurupadapadma’s nature contains no such violence.

Therefore, we absolutely need humility to succeed in pleasing the Lord.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta then describes how humility must be present in saṇkīrtana, too.

    Sri Gaurasundara explained that to genuinely call out for Bhagavan, one has to more humble than a blade of grass (trnad api sunicena). We cannot cry out for someone until we have accepted our own insignificance in relation to that person. We beg for assistance when we are forced to acknowledge our helplessness.

So far so good but there’s a big “however” here:

    However if I cry out to Him with the intention of involving Him in service to me, or if I petition Him for the purpose of accomplishing any task, my cries lack the real humility of trnad api sunicena. Real humility is never found in an external show of humility, which is actually mere duplicity. Calling out to Bhagavan in the mood of being His master, expecting Him to obey like a servant, is ineffective. He does not hear such a call because He is supremely independent and fully conscious. Consequently, He is not controlled by anyone. Until a person’s egoism establishes roots in sincere, non-duplicitous humility, his prayers will not reach Bhagavan, who is fully independent.

This is what I meant when I said that trying to serve the Lord from the position of our false ego is useless. False ego forces us to accomplish tasks meant for our own enjoyment and if we appealed to the Lord from that position we would be trying to enlist His help in service to our own interests. It won’t work. We need sincere, non-duplicitous humility.

Another check of our qualification for chanting the Holy Name is our patience.

    A person who is more humble than a blade of grass may cry out to Bhagavan, but unless he is endowed with the qualities of patience and tolerance, his calling out will still not bear fruit. If we show impatience by hankering after our own interests, our behaviour is in direct opposition to the mood of trnad api sunicena.

So impatience is a sign of opposition to the required attitude. If we sense it in ourselves it means we are not yet ready to properly call for the Lord. This is explained further:

    If we are fully confident that Bhagavan is the Complete Being, and that our calling out to Him will never result in scarcity, we will not experience any dearth of patience.

Patience here is declared a function of faith. Complete faith in the Lord results in complete patience in waiting out for His mercy. Very simple and yet very profound. Success will come, if we know it with all heart and full confidence we won’t mind waiting for it for as long as it takes. After all, no amount of waiting or suffering can counterweight even the smallest drop of devotion. When we know what awaits as at the end of our road we will naturally get unlimited patience.

Finally, there’s this quick check, too:

    Often, I think that I am obliging Him by my prayers, and therefore I engage in other activities in which I don’t need to ask for His help. This mentality also indicates the absence of tolerance.

It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around this one. “If I engage in activities where I don’t feel like I need Lord’s help it displays lack of tolerance” – how? Why?

Perhaps the clue lies here:

    ..if I remain adamant that I will accomplish my task on the strength of my own ability and competence, I will not be able to call out to Bhagavan in the true sense.

“My task” here, however, does not appear to be the same activity mentioned in the previous quote. Activities are activities, they go on with or without our participation, we don’t need to consider them as *our* tasks. An easy example would be breathing or digesting food – we don’t really put our hearts and minds into those. Perhaps we should, perhaps we should realize that we cannot and should not think of these activities as easy to do on our own.

This part is a bit confusing. Should we pray to the Lord so that He enables our life sustenance? Or should we consider such prayers as inherently selfish? What does me successfully digesting food have to do with Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure? I don’t think I can answer this question at the moment, perhaps it’s enough for today and I’ll see a better picture tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1260. Looking at devotees

A week or so ago I checked for vaiṣṇava news on Sampradaya Sun and among the usual there was this little gem – a lecture by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī delivered in 1931, apparently on the day of his guru pūjā. It was announced as “excerpts” and the longer text is available on the site of Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja’s followers, which still isn’t a full class, but the devotee who posted it on Sampradaya Sun got the best parts anyway. Sources at the bottom.

It was actually ironic to see such an article appear on that site where there’s always room to express the attitudes Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was speaking against. I don’t want to rant against their editorial policies, however, for that would also be against our ācāryas’ advice.

Somewhere in the middle of the lecture Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta relayed his answer to a question posed to him by one of his Maṭha’s devotees. In the beginning everything looked perfect there, the devotee said, everyone was visibly attached to their service and everyone’s character was an inspiration. As time went by, however, devotees started to drift away, returned to their families or got married. The standard is not the same anymore. What to do?

It’s a rather typical situation and we’ve heard various explanations for this. Mostly they address the issue of beginner’s enthusiasm and how we should not be fooled by it. Another approach is to consider side effects of our close association with devotees, which breeds familiarity which breed contempt which breeds offenses which leads to the loss of taste. So it’s either their fault or it’s our fault or a combination of both.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta offers a completely different perspective. First of all, he refuses to acknowledge slipping standards of devotion. Something that becomes obvious to us is rejected out of hand.

    I cannot say that they have left hari-bhajana just because they have returned to their homes. In fact I see each and every one of those brahmacaris as amazing Vaisnavas and that their Vaisnava qualities and devotion for the Lord have increased manifold.

Come to think of it, I’ve heard this before, but the point this argument was driving at was recognition of wayward practices as genuine service. It was argued taht just because devotees do not follow sādhana as strictly as before and are engaged in what appears as mundane activities doesn’t mean there’s any deficiency in their service and therefore their behavior must be held as exemplary.

This is not the point Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was making. He wasn’t about to pass judgment on others and he wasn’t about to justify any nonsensical things others do either, he was leading us away from “objective” view of the devotees and towards a proper *subjective* perspective. Forget about how it looks, concentrate on how YOU should look at it.

    What a wicked atheist I used to be, but my wickedness substantially abated in their association. I see that I am averse to Bhagavan, but they all are engaged in hari-bhajana.

See how he changed the subject completely. Instead of looking at possible faults he implores us to consider our personal progress and attribute it to the influence of the devotees. That way we will feel grateful, not judgmental.

It sounds reasonable – if we see faults in others we should undergo our own attitude adjustment first. What is necessary for the success here, however, is humility and sober assessment of our own position. “I’m averse to Bhagavan,” he says. That should be our starting point – we see others’ service as deficient only if we compare them to ourselves.

We might think that we are trying to be objective and cite various scriptural references but we should remember that there’s variety in devotees’ service, some look good and some look better, there’s always a hierarchy. Deficiency comes into the picture only when we think that devotees fall below OUR standard. Anything better than us is good, anything lower is not and needs improvement.

To avoid this attitude, therefore, we should place ourselves as lower than the lowest, lower than the blade of grass. Incidentally, this subject was illuminated in the first part of the lecture that didn’t appear on Sampradaya Sun but we should be familiar with it already.

    From my perspective, everybody is advancing in hari-bhajana, and this universe, which was created by Bhagavan, is prospering in every respect. Everyone except me is receiving spiritual benefit.

This needs some time to be properly digested. “Everyone except me is receiving spiritual benefit” – that’s how we should see others.

You’d also think Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was lecturing a neophyte devotee but he wasn’t. He was actually extolling devotion of the person who asked the question:

    ..because you are intensely eager to serve Bhagavan you want the devotees who left to also be increasingly keen to engage in hari-bhajana. They are, however, engaged in hari-bhajana. Still you are dissatisfied and want their exuberance to serve their beloved Lord to increase a million-fold.

That’s another lesson for me. Usually, when we hear criticism of devotees we either agree or we treat the source as an offender. Here Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta neither agrees nor rejects the criticism, he sees the underlying desire to server the Lord better and better instead, and he immediately compares it to his own lack of devotion:

    My heart, on the contrary, is meager and unable to accommodate the magnitude of their bhajana of Sri Hari. They exemplified living according to an astonishingly high ideal. The only person who is incapable of performing hari-bhajana is me..

To be honest, it’s not very clear here if by “me” Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī means himself or if he speaks from the perspective of the inquiring devotee because the rest of the sentence seem to apply to the person asking the question – “because I busy myself with finding faults in others.”

I tend to think that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta here meant himself, he was speaking about his own propensity to find faults in others. It seems incongruous with his position and his behavior but if he genuinely saw himself as devoid of propensity of “hari-bhajana” then finding faults in others should have been seen as replacing it.

The less devotion one sees in one’s own heart the more faults he finds there, and seeking faults in others is one of the anarthas that should become clearly visible even if “objectively” the person might not exhibit such behavior at all.

It must be noted that “objectivity” is not applicable here at all. We should not take devotee’s expression of humility and disgust with himself as real. That’s the problem with those who advocate acceptance of questionable acts – they display only half of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s attitude – reverence for other devotees but no the underlying humility without which such reverence becomes artificial and insincere.

We shouldn’t talk nonsensical things up – we should talk our own position down.

Perhaps there’s a need for a close look at how we should develop proper “tṛṇad api su-nīcena” attitude, there’s plenty of advice in the first half of this same lecture. Not today, though.

Sources: Sampradaya Sun, Pure Bhakti

Vanity thought #1256. A few missing words

So, while talking about Kholāvecā Śrīdhara a few important points got left out. Let’s see if I can express them today. Third time’s a charm, as they say.

First, the history – I can’t seem to find the originals for most of our Śrīdhara folklore. Caitanya Caritāmṛta mentions him only once, as part of Lord Caitanya’s tree, and that’s all. Śrīla Prabhupāda gives a brief outline of his personality there and uses words like “Most probably he had a banana-tree garden and…”

If even that is under question, what can we know for sure about him at all? Śrīla Prabhupāda mentions several episodes from after Lord Caitanya conversion but those are rarely spoken about in our classes, they are less fertile than his pre-conversion pastimes. He gave a squash to Mother Sacī to cook or danced in jubilation during Lord Caitanya’s visit to Kazi, or regularly went to Jagannātha Purī. The story about Lord Caitanya drinking from his water pot is more instructive but we don’t talk about it as much as about his poverty and his spending fifty percent of income on worshiping the Ganges and about his conversations with the Lord regarding regularly supplying Him with banana products.

Besides Caitanya Caritāmṛta we have very few authoritative sources. There’s Caitanya Bhāgavata, of course, and then Caitanya Maṇgala and that’s all. As far as I can search, Kholāveca Śrīdhara is not mentioned there at all, so it’s only Caitanya Bhāgavata left. That’s where I got the story about him submitting himself to the demands of an arrogant and possibly dangerous brāhmaṇa, as Lord Caitanya looked the part then.

It must be said that most of that story has been known to us from the time immemorial – from before we had Caitanya Bhāgavata translated and widely read. So what’s our source?

Śrīla Prabhupāda, of course, but when he himself starts with “most probably” we need to pay attention to various interpolations we produce from there as if they are a real thing. Sure, we need to extract useful lessons, and those lessons are true regardless of whether they are based on facts or common folklore, but we should also be aware that we might be using Kholāvecā Śrīdhara’s name as a label for our own imagination.

Fifty percent spent on worshiping the Ganges is not mentioned there, for example. It’s in Prabhupādaś purpot in Caitanya Caritāmṛta so that’s good enough for us but it’s probably something we shouldn’t really insist on in case there are arguments about the exact number. The business plans offered to Śrīdhara are not mentioned there at all. Where do they come from? I don’t know. Caitanya Bhagavāta spends two dozen verses describing his banana conversation with Lord Caitanya but that’s all. It happened in his house, once, and there’s nothing about Lord Caitanya regularly hassling him at the market for a better price. The idea that worshiping Caṇḍī makes people rich is there but not as any kind of actual business proposition. No taking a year off, no hiring other people, nothing. Where did that come from? I don’t know.

Anyway, the episode with Lord Caitanya making impossible demands and Kholāvecā agreeing to them is there, so it’s legit, and that’s something that needs a little clarification.

As I said day before yesterday, Śrīdhara considered that giving away his products to impudent brāhmaṇa was in his best long term interest even if it happened by trickery or threat of force. He just wasn’t that attached to his income, whoever laid claim on it, it seems, had a very good chance of getting it.

We can say that it was Lord Caitanya’s time, things were different then, but that is not a good excuse. This attitude is described in the purport by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī in more detail than in the text itself. What it means is that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta considered it important and quite relevant less than a hundred years ago when brāhmaṇas were not in very high regard already.

I mean Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta spend decades fighting over the position of brāhmaṇas in the society, they nearly killed him for that, and here he is suggesting that people should give brāhmaṇas everything they ask for even if they cheat you out of it. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta considered even vaiṣṇava brāhmaṇas and guru bogus, he had no problems with reinitiating their disciples and he certainly had no problems with his own disciples not giving them any money, he had his Gauḍīyā Maṭhas for that.

The way I see it, it wasn’t a commentary on social customs of half a millennium ago and even a hundred years ago these customs were unacceptable, but still Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta thought it’s important enough to mention – in relation to describing a character of a devotee. What he rejected himself for general public was considered extremely pure and attractive when displayed by devotees like Kholāvecā Śrīdhara.

Perhaps that’s how we should apply it to our lives, too. Submission to our authorities should become unconditional as we progress in our devotion. Nothing would be able to touch us then. In our current, state, however, we should naturally consider whether our authorities behave appropriately and whether their demands are reasonable.

I’m not about to start a revolution for total submission to GBC and I’m not about to argue for one. Yes, it would be better for everyone involved but if it’s a behavior displayed by pure souls of Śrīdhara’s caliber then we can’t demand it from everyone. I mean if becoming a pure devotee is a prerequisite then, if we got that, why would we worry about little things like dealing with GBC resolutions? I mean if we got a society full of pure devotees these matters would disappear from our minds completely anyway, it’s something we preoccupy ourselves only due to our impurities.

Another point about this episode is a lesson on blasphemy. After securing His banana supplies Lord Caitanya jokingly asked Śrīdhara what he thought about Him. “Tumi vipra, viṣṇu aṃśa,” Śrīdhara replied. “You are a brāhmaṇa and a portion of Lord Viṣṇu.” Lord Caitanya, however, told him that actually He wasn’t a son of a brāhmaṇa but a son of a gopā, a cowherd man. Śrīdhara just smiled, not being able to understand how true these words were.

Then Lord Caitanya said that actually He is the source of the glories of the Ganges, the object of Śrīdhara’a daily worship, according to our folklore. I think it would have been considered fairly blasphemous if said somewhere outside. I think quite a few Muslims would be rightfully upset if someone says he is the source of the sanctity of Mecca. It’s not a direct comparison, though, and Lord Caitanya didn’t make these claims in public, but still.

What did Śrīdhara answer? “Aren’t you afraid of insulting Ganga this way?” He then added that people supposed to grow up and mature but Lord Caitanya’s restlessness only doubled, and that was it. In short, he considered it a childish talk not worthy of actually replying to.

Imagine, though, for a moment, someone making similar claims publicly in the present day. We’d dismiss that person as another lunatic impostor, another self-declared incarnation. I’m not sure we would take offense at such nonsense and I’m not sure Muslims would react angrily, too. Some things are just too outrageous and too improbable to affect one’s faith so they will not cause anger.

This is another point – people get angry about things they are afraid might be true, things they do not want to admit the possibility of to themselves, and when it’s forced on them they become defensive. When westerners tell Muslims to take Muhammad cartoons easy they imply that their faith shouldn’t be affected by such silly things. There’s a grain of truth in this advice but also a heap of arrogance. Only atheists would consider pushing religious buttons until they find people’s weak spots and then capitalize on weaknesses. It’s just not cool. Our creeper of devotion needs to be protected, not trampled upon in jubilation.

But blasphemy aside – it only increases renunciation of Kholāvecā Śrīdhara who decided to give a major part of his income away to someone insulting his dear object of worship, just because he asked and because brāhmaṇas constitutionally are a “part of Viṣṇu”. Pure devotion does wonderful things to people, and probably looks like total madness to outsiders.

Or we could consider the whole episode as a pastime forced by Lord illusory energy and so it would have been impossible between Kholāvecā Śrīdhara and anybody else. If we take that as an explanation, though, the value of whatever lessons we can learn from it would greatly decreases, so, personally, I’m not in favor of it.

Vanity thought #1254. Vaishnava way

For a while now I’ve been stressing the need to accept our authorities for the sake of our own spiritual progress and I might have become repetitive in that. I notice it myself when my mind goes off on that quest again and so I sometimes restrain myself. I don’t want this message to become worn and dry, you can listen to exactly same words only so many times, after all. Having said that, today’s story deserves full consideration and it shows us something we don’t normally see in our conversation on the role of authorities.

It’s about Kholāvecā Śrīdhara, the famous banana trader who conquered the heart of Lord Caitanya with his unassuming devotion. His story is quite long and multifaceted one and can illustrate many devotional points so I don’t know where to start.

Well, he was very poor, that’s probably the main context to everything else that happened with him. He was a banana trader, that is he used to collect bananas, banana tree leaves, make cups from them, collect banana flowers, cut up banana tree trunks and, as usual in India, utilize every part of the tree. He also ate a lot of bananas, some say jokingly. Bananas are not a rare commodity in India and so Kholāvecā’s business didn’t have any particular selling points, he was just one dude out of many sitting at the local market.

He made no profit from his business whatsoever. His clothes were torn and the roof of his house had holes in it. “So what, the roof still keeps most of the water out”, he would reply. Lord Caitanya would tease him about his poverty but Śrīdhara would answer philosophically that time passes equally for everyone, kings in palaces and birds in trees. He had his food and some clothes to cover his body and so all his needs were looked after.

Half of his income he would spend on worshiping the Ganges. Some devotees tell a story how people would give him great financial advice to suspend his pūjā and invest profits in growing his business, hire a couple of guys to process more bananas and sell them for him. That way, after a year, he would have sufficient income to resume his Ganga offerings and would actually offer a lot more that he was offering now. He would reply that no one knows the future and so there’s no guarantee that he would resume his pūjā or that he would become sufficiently wealthy. I don’t want to talk about how we should donate money to the temples, not my point today.

Lord Caitanya offered another advice – stop worshiping Viṣṇu and start offering prayers to Caṇḍī, which is another name for Durgā. She was guaranteed to supply him with all wealth he desired while Viṣṇu was indifferent to his prayers.

There a great point here – the fact was that Lord Caitanya, just an impudent young scholar then, didn’t go to Śrīdhara to make jokes and hassle over bananas, He went there, almost everyday, because Kholāvecā Śrīdhara possessed devotion to the Lord which was far greater than all the material wealth in the world. In the face of all opulence of Navadvīpa Kholāvecā Śrīdhara had something no one else had and he wouldn’t exchange it for any amount of money. He had the unique comfort of not having any material desires and relishing only in the chanting of the Holy Name.

While people around him were agitated that he didn’t share in the same values as them and didn’t even try to lead “normal” life Śrīdhara was fully satisfied with just chanting and worshiping the Ganges. When he was offered various business plans he didn’t know he needed them or their results. He was probably simply inconvenienced by all these well-wishers and waited until he could get rid of them and resume his worship.

This is something we all need to learn, eventually, but it’s still not the point I have in mind today.

Lord Caitanya never gave him any respite and harassed him over his bananas at every opportunity, probably just to test the depth of his devotion. At what point would Śrīdhara start talking money instead of philosophy? Lord Caitanya never found out. He would come to Śrīdhara and demand whatever he wanted at half price, accusing Śrīdhara of running a racket there.

One time Lord Caitanya when to Śrīdhara’s house instead of the market and demanded a donation. He said that because Śrīdhara always appeared calm and satisfied he must have some hidden treasure somewhere, which was devotion, but at that time Lord Caitanya pretended not to value it. Anyway, when Śrīdhara said that all he has is some banana leaf cups there wasn’t anything worthy of giving Lord Caitanya. That didn’t go down very well with the Lord.

“Give me your cups and your leaves and your bananas and banana stalks – the whole lot!” Śrīdhara thought that young brāhmaṇa was very aggressive and unreasonable but here’s what he thought, according to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī:

“Prabu has a very arrogant nature and it looks like he can even beat me up if I don’t give him what he wants. I don’t have anything valuable and even what I have has to be spent on worshiping the Ganges so I can’t give him anything free of cost.” That was his dilemma, and he solved in exemplary vaiṣṇava way:

“A brāhmaṇa is a representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, if I can help him it might awaken my good fortune. Therefore, even if he takes my stuff by trickery or by force, if it gives him benefit in some way I should consider it a success. He can come and take whatever he wants everyday for the rest of my life.”

Just think of it – he considered the situation of being abused by his authority and still reasoned that if he can bring some benefit to his superior then it would be his good fortune.

And he wasn’t talking about his spiritual authority, just a random brāhmaṇa off the street. As a representative of the Supreme Lord, Lord Caitanya sucked, he never offended devotees but he never seriously considered becoming a devotee himself either. As a brāhmaṇa he was unbearable. Actually, at that time devotees used to avoid him due to his arrogance and incessant challenges for debates. Did it stop Kholāvecā Śrīdhara from making a life long commitment to supply Lord Caitanya with all banana products he needed? Not at all. I stopped capitalizing “he” when referring to Lord Caitanya on purpose – he made a point not to behave like a Lord then.

So, vaiṣṇava should have no material interests whatsoever and always, always put his duties towards others above his own comfort. I could say that vaiṣṇava always relies on the Supreme Lord for his daily sustenance but it isn’t totally correct – he just doesn’t care about his sustenance, it’s not something that visits his mind at all. He is too busy worshiping that Lord to think about his own life, and there’s no amount of obligations that would force him to become egotistic again. He considers all these obligations as his service to the Lord and therefore they are all welcome. He doesn’t think “if I take this much I’ll be swamped”, it just doesn’t concern him.

I don’t know how to follow Kholāvecā Śrīdhara’s footsteps, he cannot be imitated, but I hope that by reflecting on his attitude some of it might penetrate my own heart, too.

At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to chanting. We must develop sufficient taste for chanting to completely forget all other considerations like Śrīdhara did. All his exemplary qualities were simply side-effects of his love for Kṛṣṇa, the Holy Name, and the Ganges.

Vanity thought #1195. Lord Caitanya to the rescue

To be honest, my latest posts were all gloomy, doubting prospects of our reunion with Kṛṣṇa. I still stand by them and consider them factually correct, we just have to approach this problem from a different angle.

First, there’s always the possibility that whatever we did to cause our departure from the spiritual world is all forgotten and does not go on our permanent record there. This means our return won’t be saddled by the need for explanations and clarifications, we’ll just get back into the service and that will be the end of it.

Secondly, our CURRENT prospects of reuniting with Kṛṣṇa should indeed be non-existent – we are still conditioned, firmly in the grasp of the illusion. We do not see our original selves yet, only our false egos, and our false identity is unsuitable for pure devotional service. Fact is, no matter how hard I might look in the mirror I will always see only something totally worthless to Kṛṣṇa – my material body. Why should I be surprised that this honest self-assessment concludes that I have no prospects whatsoever? Let’s talk again when our hearts are pure and we see reflections of our original spiritual identities.

Then there’s service in the material world. There’s nothing wrong with it if we are not ready for anything better. There’s a LOT we can do here to make Kṛṣṇa happy, especially if we engage in saṅkīrtana. Don’t we have examples of ācāryas praying for a chance to be born as a fly in a house of a vaiṣṇava? I can’t find the exact quote at the moment, haven’t heard it in a long time, but there is definitely a school of humble thought that being born in the material world for a chance of even the most insignificant service is a glorious birth.

Even if we do deserve “better” conditions – whatever Kṛṣṇa and His agents want us to do should be taken with great enthusiasm and appreciation. Remember that famous story about devotees being asked to donate foot dust to relieve Kṛṣṇa’s headache? Everybody refused, His queens, Akrūra, everybody in Dvārāka. They argued that giving foot dust to their husband, master, and God Himself would be against the rules and they would go to hell. Only gopīs volunteered their foot dust without any hesitation. When Kṛṣṇa is in pain a pure devotee has no concerns about his personal sins and possibility of going to hell.

The story usually stops there but do you ever wonder what happened to the gopīs in the end? Did they really go to hell? Obviously not, Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t allow it, but this answer is incomplete. He wouldn’t allow going to hell, okay, but what if karmic reactions for helping Kṛṣṇa weren’t so severe, wouldn’t they manifest for the gopīs? What if they were asked to do jumping jacks for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure? Wouldn’t their heart rate go up? Wouldn’t they be tired and sweaty? Yes? So karma still comes, right?

So, what if karma for giving Kṛṣṇa foot dust or some similar request leads devotees to be born in the material world, in the movement of Lord Caitanya? It is surely somewhere in between getting sweaty and going to hell, so why not? Aren’t these differences immaterial for pure devotees who are eternally liberated anyway?

I’m saying that our imminent return to the material world can be attributed not only to our impurities but to our sacrifices for Kṛṣṇa, too. Next time we are supposed to be born during Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in one of the material universes – is it a reward or a punishment? Wrong question – pure hearted devotees do not see any difference and are not concerned with how each particular birth feels or how it is judged by our standards. It’s only us down here who want liberation and dream of pleasures of Vṛndāvana.

Apart from all the possibilities above, we are saved by Lord Caitanya. Whatever we had done to deserve our material existence becomes irrelevant when He extends us shelter of His lotus feet. We might have been imperfect servants back there but with Lord Caitanya we get a new spiritual birth. His mercy is unlimited, He holds no grudges, He brings everyone to Kṛṣṇa’s service.

So what if we are not qualified to serve in Vṛndāvana itself – serving lotus feet of Lord Caitanya is perfectly enough.

One could argue that we cannot enjoy any rasas but servitorship with Lord Caitanya but that is not entirely correct – by His mercy we can love Kṛṣṇa in ANY rasa through chanting of the Holy Names. When we with Him, we can do anything and everything for Kṛṣṇa, there are no limits.

One could say that we might not get Kṛṣṇa’s personal association but that is also not entirely correct – we get something even better – service in separation. Lord Caitanya Himself taught us that it is far superior and far more intense kind of love than enjoying Kṛṣṇa’s company. And it’s perfect for rejected rascals like us, too!

So what if we don’t deserve a place in Kṛṣṇa’s company for one reason or another? Under Lord Caitanya’s shelter we can still perfect our service and develop pure love for Kṛṣṇa, no matter how far we are removed from Him.

After all, all the above mentioned examples of devotional humility have been introduced to us by no one else but Lord Caitanya. Without Him we wouldn’t be able to appreciate them just as devotees of Dvārāka didn’t get the hint about foot dust.

In this sense Lord Caitanya’s mercy is multifaceted. He cleanses us from material contamination. He re-introduces us to Kṛṣṇa’s service and vouches for us. He gives us a place in His own entourage if we aren’t quite ready for Kṛṣṇa Himself. He teaches us value of love in separation and unparalleled sweetness of humility. He solves all our problems, all of them, real or imaginary, manifested or potential – His mercy is a perfect solution to everything. And He gives us pure love and devotion to Kṛṣṇa which is self-sufficient.

What more can we want? What have we got to worry about? What causes for pessimism we might have in our service? None whatsoever. Being picked up by Lord Caitanya is the best thing that can ever happen to conditioned souls like us.

For three days I’ve been painting gloomy scenarios and worrying about our return back to Kṛṣṇa, and those are legitimate concerns, but they are nothing when we have Lord Caitanya taking us under His wing. We are perfectly safe.

Pessimism about inadequacy of our own efforts dissipates under the light of Lord Caitanya’s mercy.

PS. I forgot about offenses in chanting the Holy Name – they do not count when we are doing it under Lord Caitanya’s supervision, so we are good there, too.

Vanity thought #954. Humble reality

It’s very easy to theorize how a devotee should live his life and what attitude he must develop but in real life things never work out the way they do in theories. I can talk about “real” humility all I want, we still need to see examples of real devotees showing us how to live our real lives.

Our problem is that we don’t know any “real” devotees anymore. When Śrila Prabhupāda was present he was the only example we knew and trusted, and I shouldn’t use “we” because I wasn’t there, but in his absence we got nothing. As second and third generation devotees we have our gurus but, truth be told, we also have our reservations because we know from experience that whatever we assume as pure and transcendental in their behavior might very well turn into a cause of their falldown.

It doesn’t seem to be wise to accept everything present day devotees do as vaiṣṇava standard. This problem is two faced.

On one hand we have to be careful with accepting everything at face value. There’s no shortage of complaints about our authorities, and some are very reasonable. With all due respect, and I don’t mean it lightly, some examples set by otherwise irreproachable devotees are not meant to be followed (Hare Kṛṣṇa Cruise, looking at you).

This isn’t an ideal situation, far from it. Lord Caitanya Himself took great care not to do anything that could damage His reputation. Our leaders do not seem to mind anymore and I understand devotees who are apprehensive about accepting their sometimes questionable practices as having the same level of purity we expect from Śrila Prabhupada, our predecessor ācāryas, and Lord Caitanya Himself.

We need faith in our authorities to make progress but, as things stand now, can’t wholeheartedly accept their authority without fully developed faith either. Catch 22.

If we had full faith that we wouldn’t doubt actions of our seniors at all, seeing them as merely tools in Kṛṣṇa’s hands. Without faith we do not see them as such and that’s actually our problem.

Here’s the other side of our doubts in our seniors – our own lack of faith and Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We are the ones who lack determination to surrender, who are holding back, doubting Kṛṣṇa’s power and Kṛṣṇa’s protection. We need guarantees and we need them manifested externally, on the material plane. We tell ourselves that we will surrender only if devotees can prove their divinity. That’s not what unconditional means, of course, and that’s why we never get anywhere spiritually.

Truth is, we are still holding back, negotiating the terms, waiting for a better deal, waiting for Kṛṣṇa to prove Himself. Actually, since we must surrender to a living breathing guru we are waiting for gurus to prove they are non-different from the Lord. Not in their powers, obviously, but in their purity.

This negotiated surrender is no surrender at all, it’s simply accepting defeat and trying to control the damage, it’s not done out of love and Kṛṣṇa doesn’t need it and has no interest in it. Sometimes we think that by accepting defeat at the hands of material energy and in face of Kṛṣṇa’s greatness gives us some kind of leverage and a leg up in attaining devotion. It doesn’t. We are just trying to outwit the Lord here.

We still see our relations with the material energy as that of a winner and a loser. Externally we might say “I lost” but our attitude is actually “I didn’t win” and it speaks a lot about our priorities and what we really want. We should be honest with ourselves, given a chance we’d jump on the opportunity to assert control over everything we see, become rich or learned or powerful or famous or postpone old age and death.

So, humility, it’s not in admitting our insignificance before the Lord and His energies, it should not depend on the state of the world around us in any way at all. Big, small, young, old, famous, infamous – we cannot even think in those terms and as long our consciousness depends on them real humility won’t manifest, we shouldn’t even seek it there.

Where do we find it, then? Who can provide us with examples? Śrila Prabhupāda, of course, but also devotees of bygone ages.

Take the case of Mahārāja Parīkṣit, for example. He was out hunting, got thirsty, saw a little hut, went in to ask for water but the resident ṛṣi, deep in mediation, didn’t even acknowledge his presence. Parīkṣit got angry and hang a dead snake on sage’s shoulders.

Was it an example of humility, patience, and tolerance on Mahārāja’s part? Obviously not. Yet when the sage came back to his senses he nevertheless praised Parīkṣit as a devotee (SB 1.18.48):

    The devotees of the Lord are so forbearing that even though they are defamed, cheated, cursed, disturbed, neglected or even killed, they are never inclined to avenge themselves.

Here we have it – just a few verses earlier Bhāgavatam spoke of Mahārāja Parīkṣit’s anger and envy but then declared him a great devotee and praised devotees’ forbearance and patience. How’s that possible?

Or take example of Jagadānanda Paṇḍita who was perpetually angry at Lord Caitanya for one thing or another. Sometimes Mahāprabhu even said He was afraid of Jagadānanda’s anger. One time he brought a pot of scented oil with him prepared by devotees in Bengal but the Lord refused to accept it. Angry Jagadānanda then threw the pot he carried hundreds of miles to Purī on the ground and broke it. Must have been quite a scene. Was it an example of humility, tolerance, and patience? Obviously not.

In both cases we are told that these devotees were acting under the direction of the Lord or that Jagadānanda’s anger was a manifestation of his deep love for the Lord, either way, their anger was not material. Fine, how do we know OUR anger is not caused by the Lord Himself, too? What about anger of our senior devotees, GBCs, and gurus? Why shouldn’t we accept that their “deviations” are not Lord’s pastimes, too?

After all, we know that Kṛṣṇa is fully in control of everything that happens with His devotees. We might still be attracted to His illusory energy but it doesn’t mean we are left on our own, He always watches over us and absolutely nothing can happen to us without His sanction.

How do we know what’s transcendental anger and what’s material anger then? In case of Mahārāja Parīkṣit there was also envy, matsarah, which, btw, Śrila Prabhupada once translated as “intolerance”. The thing with envy is that it cannot be engaged in devotional service, it doesn’t have any place in spiritual relationships. Anger is a legitimate rasa, not one of the five main mellows but still it’s legitimate. Jagadānanda’s anger at the Lord is therefore perfectly admissible, Parīkṣit’s envy, however, should not have happened at all.

Śrila Prabhupāda’s anger at some of the devotees is also perfectly legitimate, guru must show displeasure with his disciples when necessary, but Parīkṣit’s case is not like that at all, it was a temporary aberration caused by the Lord Himself to create a pretext for retelling Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

Mahārāja has proven himself later on when he refused to counteract the curse by ṛṣi’s son. When time was right he displayed that famous patience, tolerance, and absence of any desire for revenge – qualities that are so profoundly manifest in the devotees. He accepted his fate and he didn’t flinch when the snake came and bit him in the end. Instead Parīkṣit’s son, Janamejaya, got angry and started a big anti-snake sacrifice. And then Bṛhaspati, the guru of the demigods, showed up and asked Janamejaya to stop and Janamejaya complied with request of senior authority without any grudge, because he had genuine humility.

So, it appears that as long as we live under the influence of the modes of nature it is not unusual to display undesirable qualities from time to time but, as devotees, we should quickly gather our senses and do what’s right ASAP. That would be humility. We should not try to justify our wrongful behavior and insist on continuing with it.

This is the lesson I learned from Bhāgavatam today.

Vanity thought #953. Humility for the enlightened

As I talked about yesterday, humility is our key to the kingdom of God. Unable to perceive our spiritual identity and disgusted with our selfish material covering we need to take shelter of the third verse of Śikṣāṣtaka as our siddha praṇāli mantra, and the key to realizing that verse is humility.

All lines and all words in that verse are based on being humble. That’s where readiness to offer respect to all others come from, that’s what rejecting all personal honor means, that’s where patience and tolerance come from, too.

Maybe these last two qualities need a little clarification. One can be patient without being humble, one can take personal inconvenience as a kind of sacrifice, a temporary condition, a necessary trade off for a big payoff. People are forced into this kind of humility all the time in course of their careers. Some cynics say that this is what careers are all about – brown-nosing bosses and then taking over their positions. I’m not as cynical but nevertheless the problem is widespread.

We reject this kind of humility, it’s demoniac in nature and it is based on ignorance, not knowledge, and as such it’s not conducive to spiritual development. One accepts temporary humiliation on the premise that this is not his real position and that actually he deserves greater respect and greater position. When one achieves it, his humility pays off. This, however, is illusion and has nothing to do with devotional service and seeking the truth about our actual situation, it doesn’t help in any way but rather impedes our attempts at attaining devotion, so such humility must be rejected.

Real humility comes from understanding our actual position as servants of the servants of the servants. Knowing this one’s humbleness becomes eternally fixed and attempts at gaining any respect become perceived as undevotional.

Patience, therefore, becomes not a process of waiting for something, as happens with those who practice false humility for material gains, but a natural state of mind. This is counterintuitive for us. “Be patient” always implies “just wait a little more, it will be okay” but vaiṣṇava patience doesn’t have an expiration date. In fact, it is not “patience” according to our definition at all.

Think of a dung beetle who spends his entire life rolling in feces. “Be patient”, we might say to him, “soon you’ll get a body where you could eat butter and honey”. Makes sense to us but butter and honey are unnatural for this beetle, he has no interest in eating that, he likes his feces very much, thank you. For him it’s not patience, it’s his natural position where he feels very much at ease.

Same happens to devotees, they are not waiting for material sufferings to pass, they are not waiting for material happiness to come and replace them, they are perfectly satisfied in their devotion to the Lord regardless of external circumstances. We might say to them: “Be patient, I’ll get you something to eat, soon your hunger will go away. Wait just a moment, I have this medicine that will make you pain go away, just be patient a little more.”

A devotee, however, does not wait for food and he does not wait for medicine, his patience is not connected with waiting in any way. It appears as patience to us but to him it’s just the way things are and he is fully satisfied with his situation.

Same goes for his tolerance – he does not tolerate discomfort or pain, he simply does not notice it because he does not identify himself with the object that perceives this pain – his body. It’s like Buddhists of Myanmar who do not feel any pain for Muslims slaughtered in their neighborhoods. They do not feel pain of children who lost their parents, wives who lost their husbands, they do not identify themselves with those Rohingya people. We do not aim to emulate those murderous Buddhists but absence of empathy is very helpful when dealing with discomfort. In our case we do not identify ourselves with our bodies and so bodily pain becomes irrelevant.

I guess it’s a controversial topic in light of fashionable concern of the wellbeing of this world but I don’t want to argue that now. I want to talk about humility.

Indians can be very humble, I can’t think of any other nation that produces such top quality servants. British make good butlers, too, but they carry themselves with dignity while Indians leave dignity at the door. They are not alone in that, of course, Asian hospitality is based on this all pervasive humility, but it’s the humility of the wrong kind, as I explained above.

Śrila Prabhupāda defined humility as follows (BG 13.8):

    Humility means that one should not be anxious to have the satisfaction of being honored by others. The material conception of life makes us very eager to receive honor from others, but from the point of view of a man in perfect knowledge — who knows that he is not this body — anything, honor or dishonor, pertaining to this body is useless. One should not be hankering after this material deception.

Since it’s in Bhagavad Gītā we learn this definition right in the beginning. Further elucidation on the meaning of humility defines it as fidelity to the truth, to the orders of one’s guru. It’s pretty straightforward connection because our humility is based on knowledge of our true identity – we are not these bodies, so maintaining this humility means never compromising on spiritual truth.

As material bodies we have all kinds of designations but our humility should be transcendent to those, therefore we are not trying to imagine ourselves as our bodies to be lower than grass but we see ourselves as lower than orders of our guru. If guru or Kṛṣṇa puts us into an elevated position we must accepts all the perks that come with it, too. If one becomes a guru on the orders of his spiritual master one must accept his feet being washed, for example.

This gave rise to devotees quick rejection of false humility of the kind of “pamho” and “imho” and “with all due respect”. One must be loyal to the truth, not outwardly inferior, they say. With that they give themselves an excuse to pursue any bone headed idea of their liking. “I am not going to give any credence to opposing opinions because that would be false humility”, they say.

Here one must see the difference between loyalty to the truth and desire to prove oneself right no matter what. It’s not very hard to do if one considers the source of their knowledge. Real truth is never in disagreement with our authorities save for a few slip ups here and there due to the influence of Kali Yuga.

These devotees consider themselves to be enlightened but they are not quite there yet. We need a better version of humility here, the one that does not drive people into a senseless fights with other vaiṣṇavas.

Thing is, we can’t emulate real humility without having realized knowledge about our situation in this world, we have to accept this limitation. We also have to accept that we might be completely wrong just about everything except chanting of the Holy Name.

Everything in this world is shaky and unreliable, only the Holy Name offers us a safe haven, therefore we can argue about philosophy, about practice, about preaching, about purity, about varṇāśrama and when we are done with that we will find yet more points of contention. We must be prepared to accept that in all those fights we are in the wrong. By definition only our guru is right, our own interpretations should always be suspect.

We should also accept that our self-realization will never be complete, so we would never be able to say “I have achieved necessary humility and tolerance”. We should never appear to ourselves as being humble, real humility unattainable no matter how much we try.

We should accept imperfections of our bodies, too, their tolerance is not unlimited, sometimes they WILL snap. Perfect tolerance, like perfect humility, is unattainable in this world. Our reaction to these failures should be swift and decisive, however. We cannot dwell on prayers to relieve us from pain or curses to restore justice, we know better than that.

I would even say that one’s success in humility and tolerance lies not so much in maintaining it but in restoring it after falldowns as quickly as possible. In fact, our whole life in Kali Yuga is not so much about being pure but about constant cleaning our sh*t. We cannot avoid making mistakes but we cannot accept living with mistakes either. This is what makes occasional mistakes into offenses against the Holy Name. “Oh, you know, it’s not so bad, I need some down time for myself, it’s not a big deal.” – that’s how we send a message to Kṛṣṇa that He can wait and our devotion can be postponed. We cannot allow that if we want to succeed in chanting.

This unfortunate situation where we should strive for humility and tolerance but can never achieve it is a trade off we have to accept for the sake of attaining devotion. If it were possible, material world wouldn’t be such a bad place, and if we understand how bad material world is, possibility of becoming perfectly humble and tolerant here would appear to us not as desirable but as a trap that needs to be avoided.

Basically, if we want to become devotees we should abandon all hope that we can achieve any kind of success down here, on the external level of our bodies.