Vanity thought #1538. Evernow

Saw this word on TV, it’s about some video game and I don’t think it means anything special there. For us, however, “evernow” is an interesting concept.

I don’t know much about Buddhism but I like their understanding of reality as illusion. It might not be a correct representation of Buddhism but that doesn’t matter, it works equally well across all platforms. The future is not real because it hasn’t happened yet, the past is not real because it’s already gone, the only reality is the present moment but even our present is made of connections to either the past or the future. We need to strip the present of these connections to appreciate its true value and see it for what it is.

Things we see around us are results of previous activities, they were made some time ago, given color and shape, and they constantly change, even if changes are imperceptible. Whatever we observe is, therefore, not the reality as it is but reality as it was and that reality doesn’t exist anymore. This means that relying on our senses to interact with “reality” is a delusion and nothing exists objectively.

Making plans is illusory, too, because plans are driven by desire to enjoy things that don’t exist yet. We think we can shape the reality in a way that pleases us but that pleasure doesn’t exist yet. It might come out satisfactory or it might be disappointing. Chasing it is not the reality.

The only reality, as I said, is now, our current state stripped of references to the past and projections into the future. I’m sure there’s a lot more to Buddhism explanations of this than that but it’s enough of a starting point for me.

There could be a big discussion whether what we feel now is real or illusory. Buddhists and advaitins would say that feelings are not real, we would say that feelings and their corresponding senses exist but they are not ours, and, furthermore, we also have our own eternal spiritual senses which are waiting to be engaged and experienced in service to Kṛṣṇa. The point where we could agree on is the importance of now.

When under the influence of the mode of passion we direct our consciousness into the future and make plans. Future doesn’t exist yet and when it comes it will happen according to the plans of the Lord, not ours, so hoping to extract pleasure from it is like a lottery. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but we get enough small victories to get hooked up and keep buying tickets. We think that we can become richer that way, that our lives will become fulfilled and that we’ll have enough memories to die in knowing we didn’t live in vain.

It might work – if we ignore the elephant in the room, the death itself, which is like the moment when you get thrown out of the casino. Yes, you might have good times there before that happens and even win something but in the end you always run out of credit and lose. “I’m going to gamble away all my money but I’ll have fun while doing it” is not a particularly clever life plan.

So, making our own plans for something that is going to happen according to somebody else’s will is gambling and it will end the same, in a big loss. That’s for placing our faith in the future.

Dwelling in the past is more of a mode of ignorance thing. It doesn’t lead even to creating future karma and earning future brownies. People in this state only try to relive their past moments again and again. As time passes by their memories fade and then they’d have good memories of the time when their memories were good. “I remember thinking about my wife made me feel warm but now I don’t even remember her name” – that type of thing. These days conversations like this are more likely revolve around “remember that time we got high and …”

People try to replay those old feelings and experiences even though they can’t actually feel them anymore and they can’t get off their asses to do anything about it. That’s dwelling in the past and it’s a very subpar way of enjoying your life even by materialistic standards.

Now is governed by the mode of goodness. One sign of it is knowledge – only people in full knowledge can let go off the past and stop worrying about the future. Why make plans when Kṛṣṇa has already made them? His plans are perfect and they have been put into practice an infinite number of times in the infinite number of universes. Trying to improve on them, which is what materialistic planners are doing, is futile. Even trying to predict them is pointless because things will happen anyway and in their own time and we can’t stop them from happening, nor can we protect ourselves.

That’s what trusting Kṛṣṇa means – we can finally stop planning our own lives and surrender to His superior will. It doesn’t mean that our minds stop working. Universe will keep on rolling and our minds will roll with it. Heart will continue pumping blood, lungs will continue inhaling and exhaling, hair and nails will continue growing. People in full knowledge don’t worry about that.

Kṛṣṇa also has His own cunning way to place us under the illusion any time He wants so that we continue acting out His plans. That won’t be the same kind of illusion that covers ordinary living entities, though, it won’t be controlled by cold karma but administered by Kṛṣṇa Himself, and sometimes He’d do it for His personal enjoyment, too, like He does with devotees in Vṛndāvana. I mean we shouldn’t worry that if we surrender to Kṛṣṇa our lives will suddenly stop. They won’t.

What should happen when we disassociate ourselves from both the past and the future, though? Will we cease to exist, in the Buddhist sense of the word? Maybe, I’ll tell you if it ever happens to me, but for now the best engagement I can think of is chanting the Holy Name.

Most of the time we chant while still thinking of either past or the future, mulling over things we said and done, dreaming up alternative scenarios, role playing future conversations to get ourselves ready, or feverishly exploring new ideas and inventions. All these things distract us from listening and add colors of passion and ignorance to the pristine form of the pure name. We’ll never hear the name as it is as long as we divert our consciousness away like that.

So, we should stop doing it, let it go, drop the plans, stop thinking about revenge and injustice, and simply concentrate on the name. Let the name speak to us instead of us shouting at it with angst or begging it to fulfill our desires. These desires aren’t even ours, they are born out of the false ego and directed by the material modes.

One could say that as eternal souls we can’t stop our desires but our real, spiritual desires will not manifest without the Lord revealing Himself first. We can’t have them without connection to the Lord, without the Lord being present, either personally or in the name, so we must learn to hear the name first and wait until it reveals itself. All desires manifesting before that happened are material and worthless, we should led them go.

Then we can discover the bliss of living in the eternal “evernow”.

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Vanity thought #1276. Willful ignorance

They say that ignorance is bliss and they don’t mean it in a positive way. I think the phrase might be right and they might be wrong if ignorance is managed properly, though in that case it won’t be ignorance anymore because management means knowledge and awareness.

Yesterday I talked about some minor complaints about Śrīmad Bhāgavatam classes but I didn’t say a word about how to deal with them. Generally, I think we should close our eyes and practice a kid of “conscious” ignorance. There might be other ideas but nothing good comes to mind.

One way would be for us to try and convince ourselves that black is white because everything is good in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Another way would be to reject improper behavior altogether and avoid the offenders. I don’t like either of these solutions and I see both of them as impractical.

Let’s take the case of gurukula teachers treating audience as six-year olds. It’s slightly annoying but totally understandable. What can they do? It’s their conditioning, I might just as well complain about their accents. We all are bound to speak from our experience and much of it hasn’t been purely transcendental. For the vast majority of devotees their basic education was materialistic and that will always show in how they construct their arguments, form their sentences, or the words they choose. Some have learned English only through ISKCON and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books but their native language would still carry traces of their formative years.

If someone’s public speaking involves talking to six-year olds for five-six hours everyday then there’s no surprise they continue what they think works in Bhāgavatam classes. Sure, we should be aware of our conditioning and clean up our language of swear words, for example, but it would always be a matter of degree. Speaking in English itself means corruption of the original message of the Bhāgavatam.

They say that Chinese language doesn’t have the word for “God” but I’m sure Chinese have a way to refer to either Christ or Allah. What they mean is that culturally it doesn’t carry the same meaning and significance, but this is exactly the argument that can be used against our attempts to translate Bhāgavatam into English. This is also the argument māyāvadīs use against existence of the eternal form of Godhead. Everything expressed through mundane terms must carry mundane contamination and once you strip transcendence of all of it there would be nothing left, they say.

On our level it’s simply unrealistic to expect fully transcendental presentation of the Bhāgavatam from our fellow devotees. Even if someone managed to do so we would have no facilities to perceive it as such, we would always filter it through our mundane lenses and designate mundane labels to purely spiritual concepts. “Prasādam is food” is one such label, for example.

What I’m saying is that trying to completely avoid mundane influences in our speakers is impractical. We would be throwing a lot of babies with such bath water. To deny existence of these influences is not a right way to go either because what is born out of desire to enjoy and control the material world is unfavorable to Kṛṣṇa consciousness and should be rejected, not embraced. Once again – our language is born of the desire to control the world, to measure, classify, and understand it. It’s māyā by definition. Sanskrit is different, of course, and even if can also be corrupted its original meanings are fully transcendental and meant for glorification of the Lord, starting with Oṁ and other bīja words.

If one says that Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke English so it’s good enough I would point to the fact that many of his lectures are often incomprehensible to young, modern speakers, mostly due to his pronunciation. They make a lot more sense with subtitles and simply sitting and listening to them requires a great deal of familiarity with his language.

Another example of this is our choice of musical instruments, like guitars, either acoustic or electrical. In both cases guitar comes loaded with baggage. We just have one look at it and we know what it means, and not just as an instrument but how it was used before, what sounds it used to make, what emotions it used to convey. Electric guitars might remind us of rock music while acoustic might be viewed as intimately romantic. There are certain common chords that elicit certain human emotions, and devotees are not shy to use these chords to assist in their singing even if they sing the mahāmantra or other bhajanas. This way expressions of our devotion get colored in mundane emotions. Sadness, happiness, longing, joy, domination, submission – guitars are very versatile in that sense, but all these emotions are still human and therefore not transcendental, they only cover, nor reveal the Holy Name.

This is where I can’t think of anything better than simply filtering it all out and seeking only the core message of either the Bhāgavatam or the Holy Name. In case of the mahāmantra it’s just the name, no extraneous messages. It can’t be even properly translated, what we have are only hints at what it means originally, and there’s still no definitive answer to who exactly we are calling for when we say “Hare”.

With Bhāgavatam we more or less know what the message is, we know the philosophy, and so that’s what we should look for. It might not be easy to listen to the same call to surrender to the Lord over and over again but that’s what we should learn to do. The spiritual meaning of it is forever young and it always nourishes the soul, just like repeating Hare Kṛṣṇa thousands of times every day. The good news is that once we learn to appreciate the simplest expressions of devotion it would become a lot easier to overlook any particular speaker idiosynchrasies.

That’s what I mean by willful ignorance, and ignorance here would stem from the word “ignore”, I don’t mean “absence of knowledge”. We just have to learn to overlook people’s tributes to their conditioning. It’s not as hard as it sounds because we already do a lot of overlooking, we just don’t pay much attention to it. We don’t mind devotees taking breaths, for example. We don’t mind devotees sipping water either, or burping, for that matter.

None of it can affect the message we come to hear unless we ourselves decide to become affected. It is our choice to notice, concentrate, and then dwell on these things, and nothing good will come out of it.

I should also say that it’s not the same thing as ignoring willful misinterpretation of our philosophy. Filtering out guitar chords is one thing but if the speaker insists that these chords are carriers of actual devotion then it’s another matter altogether. Taking shelter in mundane emotions is not the same as manifesting one’s devotion.

One could say that playing guitar IS manifesting one’s devotion and, therefore, is transcendental, but not if it’s expressing our devotion from the false position, from the position of identifying ourselves with our bodies. We just love our bodies and so when we decide to become devotees we want to be “body-devotees”, we want to keep our attachments and preferences just the way we are, we are not prepared to let them go. Well, some bundles of matter are closely engaged in Lord’s service and some just aren’t. We aren’t paramahaṁsas yet to see material energy as intimately connected with Kṛṣṇa, we still see it as separated, so there’s no justification for our attachment to it.

It is true that a pure devotee can speak in any language and play any instrument and it will always be purely transcendental and pleasing to the Lord but that’s why they are called ācāryas, a position we should never feel qualified for ourselves.

I better stop before I drift even further. In short, foam exists not only on the surface of the Ganges, we should learn to see beyond it and don’t become dogs. When dogs enter a new place they immediately start looking for smell of dog urine or excrements, cleanliness does not exist for them, they just don’t see it and they can’t appreciate it. We shouldn’t be like them.

Vanity thought #592. Past, present, and future

I was listening to a lecture by His Holiness Bhakti Vidyapurna Swami and he mentioned one very interesting concept. When we dwell in our past and lament all the things that have happened we take shelter of the mode of ignorance. When we dream about our future and imagine all the wonderful things that can happen we take shelter of the mode of passion, and only being in the present is governed by the mode of goodness.

It’s a very Buddhist approach to life, to live in the moment, but it has a solid foundation in shastra. Just look at descriptions of the modes of nature in Bhagavad Gita or elsewhere and it becomes very clear. Those who can’t let go of the past are unable to move on, they become lazy and inert. Their consciousness becomes filled with sorrow and regrets and their life becomes one long, uninterrupted suffering. I don’t know about people who dwell on happy memories, I guess their spell of ignorance is marginally better but because they still cannot move forward it would ultimately turn to suffering that even happy memories cannot diminish.

Those dreaming of their future are clearly guided by passion, there’s no need to explain it. It’s better than ignorance but because they put higher priority on things that don’t yet exist they tend to dismiss blessings they have in the present or offend somebody due to inattention. Like ignorance, passion blinds us to real life and so leads to suffering.

Now for the goodness – it implies having clear knowledge and awareness of the world around us, about mistakes of our past and about dangers of indulging our senses in dreams about future. People living in the present are not irresponsible towards their future, they know what they have to do to ensure their wellbeing but they are patient and they wait for the appropriate time to act. When that time comes they are not lazy either, they perform their duties and feel very good about it. People under passion or ignorance always do something either too early or too late, never what they actually have to be doing.

What about Krishna consciousness, can we do one better over Buddhists? We sure can. Under the influence of vishuddha sattva, transcendental goodness we are aware not only of our place and duties in this world, we are aware of our spiritual position and spiritual responsibilities, too. In fact we stop caring about the fate of our bodies here and fully absorb ourselves in devotional service.

We do not dwell in the past, we do not dream of the future, and we hardly care about present, too. We know that the Supersoul and the material nature will take care of everything, and we know that our material lives ultimately have no value whatsoever, whether they bring happiness or distress.

People in the mode of goodness are still concerned with being happy here, devotees, on the other hand are only aware of Krishna’s happiness. They outsource knowledge to those who have to act on it – the material nature and the Supersoul. Think of it – why should we be aware of everything around us, physically and on the time line? We can perfectly act on a need to know basis and rely on Krishna completely – that would be a sign of mature faith.

The practical application of this is self-evident – do not give in to urges to dream or to replay past events over and over. Even on a conditional platform we should always seek shelter of goodness, we can’t go wrong there. Eventually we might also learn to rely on Krishna to provide us with everything we need to know, we don’t have to make separate efforts. He, after all, has promised to supply us with intelligence already, we just have to learn to trust Him.

Then our human form of life would bring ultimate perfection.