Vanity thought #1584. Advaya jnana

I’ve mentioned this term once when talking about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s last public address but I didn’t do it full justice and want to come back to this topic again.

HH Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī gives the following definition in the glossary to his Srī Bhaktisiddhānta Vaibhava biography:

  • Advaya-jñāna—(1) knowledge that there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and His names, forms, qualities, weapons, and so on, and that anything pertaining to Him is of the same spiritual nature; (2) the object of that knowledge, who is nondifferent from it, namely Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This meaning is often conveyed by the term advaya-jñāna-tattva (see SB 1.2.11).

The Bhāgavatam verse referred to in this definition is the famous:

vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam
brahmeti paramātmeti
bhagavān iti śabdyate

vadanti — they say; tat — that; tattva-vidaḥ — the learned souls; tattvam — the Absolute Truth; yat — which; jñānam — knowledge; advayam — nondual; brahma iti — known as Brahman; paramātmā iti — known as Paramātmā; bhagavān iti — known as Bhagavān; śabdyate — it so sounded.

Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān.

Advaya jñāna is not the part we usually discuss there, though, and it’s not mentioned once in the purport, so it’s new. OTOH, there’s nothing conceptually new about it either – it’s the “nondual substance” in our translation, we just normally gloss over the term. If we look into word-for-word translation there’s no “substance” there, there’s only jñāna, knowledge, which could be a source of confusion.

In our default understanding knowledge and the object of knowledge are different so we can easily understand what “know the substance” means but when we talk about “nondual” then the difference between the act [or state] of knowing and the object of knowledge disappears. We can’t “know the Brahman” in the normal sense. On the platform of advaya-jñāna the difference between “know” and “Brahman” disappears, and I would argue that the “I” that supposedly “knows the Brahman” disappears, too.

This might sound impersonalist but it isn’t – our “I” is a product of a false ego, it doesn’t exist in the Absolute Realm and it ceases to exists when we attain advaya-jñāna. Impersonalists are our fellow transcendentalists and they speak the truth in this regard, the only part they miss is that even despite dissolution of our material identity we can revive our original spiritual one and thus get a new “I”, which, unlike the present one, will be “nondual” – qualitatively non-different form the Lord/Brahman. It won’t have material duality but it will be spiritually differentiated from the Lord.

Out of all schools of dvaita we with our bhedābheda are actually the closest to advaitins but at the same time we are their most outspoken opponents. Go figure. The difference is relatively small and unnoticeable on the material platform but it makes or breaks out future spiritual lives – denying existence of the transcendental form of the Lord, which we can’t even see, is our doom as devotees. As future devotees, I might add, for now we are only candidates with limited training.

Somehow the decision we make here now affects our future spiritual karma and we are warned with all seriousness and heft of our guru and predecessor ācāryas to make the right one. They must know and see something we don’t. Perhaps our human form of life IS very special and we should not trifle with our choices. They might appear innocent but they will have far reaching consequences.

Our reaction to hearing these warnings is to increase the level of hostility towards māyāvādīs and convince ourselves that we are nothing like them. It helps to stay the course but whether it’s factually true or not is a matter of dispute. The more we learn about impersonalism the more we notice it in ourselves. We notice impersonalism in our relationships with others, we notice our attraction to impersonalism we observe in the materialistic society, we notice impersonalism in our whimsical interpretations of śāstra or Prabhupāda’s instructions, it can be found everywhere, we just have to look hard enough.

Technically, every time we do not see something as manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s energy is a sign of impersonalism. Anything we see as NOT Kṛṣṇa’s property is due to our impersonalism, too. Any place where we do not see Kṛṣṇa’s personal presence is impersonalism. There’s a lot of it to find in our lives. Most of the time we don’t even bother to look, which is another symptom of impersonalism – as if Kṛṣṇa wasn’t there.

Here how we can connect this Bhāgavatam definition with the one given in the glossary, which, I presume, was taken from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s usage. Advaya-jñāna is “knowledge that there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and His names, forms..” When we say the word “Kṛṣṇa” and we do not see His personal presence and His direct control over everything else present in our view we are being impersonal and we do not possess advaya-jñāna. Once again – advaya-jñāna and advaita are actually opposite. On the advaya-jñāna platform we must see the Lord, on advaita we can’t.

All this talk about definitions and I didn’t even get to the heart of the matter, to why this concept of advaya-jñāna was so important to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta – it was one of his go to terms when talking about goals of devotional service. My excuse is that I’ve lost the sense of urgency myself in the time between conceiving this post and sitting down to actually type it. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to invoke it artificially and just go with what I have now.

Let’s take how the term was used in Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s last speech:

    All should remain united in following the āśraya-vigraha, for the sake of serving the advaya-jñāna.

Āśraya-vigraha here can be understood as either the guru (Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī himself) or Śrī Rādhā, doesn’t really matter, but look at “for the sake of serving the advaya-jñāna“. Here the term is non-different from Kṛṣṇa Himself. We should follow our ācāryas, all the way up to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, for the sake of serving Kṛṣṇa. See how the meaning of advaya-jñāna is different here from our default interpretation as “knowledge of non-dual substance”. We still see “Kṛṣṇa” and “knowledge” as different and we certainly use these two words differently in our everyday lives, even in conversations on spiritual topics, but this difference is illusory.

The point is that we should strive to achieve the real advaya-jñāna platform where this duality disappears. Unfortunately, we can’t take our opponents with us, we must leave our battles with them behind, they are not real, they are a product of illusion and we shouldn’t be attached. Arguing with atheists, with people from other Vedic schools, with fellow devotees – it’s all illusory, a product of a dual vision. It doesn’t matter, we need to know Kṛṣṇa first, then we can continue our arguments from a proper platform and illuminate these souls with proper advaya-jñāna.

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Vanity thought #1309. Proof of concept

I was wondering if it’s possible to prove that impersonal aspect of Kṛṣṇa exists. Actually, it should be no-brainer but it isn’t, I haven’t seen anyone done it successfully, or rather any atheists accepting the result. Maybe it’s because it has hardly been tried on a large scale.

By “proof” I mean empirical proof, the one that atheists put so much value on. Something they can do without building up faith, which is a whole different matter. In my experience, most people don’t see the difference and those who do don’t go around educating people. I mean the difference between bhakti, which doesn’t exist without faith, and other Hindu schools that can get by without faith just fine. For ordinary folks it’s all lumped under “religion”.

I assume that atheists don’t want to worship God in any shape or form, can’t stand the idea of God, won’t discuss the possibility unless there’s empiric proof. Empiric proof of Kṛṣṇa’s existence, however, is impossible. He can appear before our material senses, no problem, but it wouldn’t become proof because perceiving “God” is a matter of relationship, which does not exist in atheist hearts. They don’t have premāñjana, salve of love, which is necessary to see God. The way they cast their glance on objects of their perception is opposite to how we should look at God, so they won’t see Him, they would only see a material form and nothing else. Therefore any appeals to God or God’s authority should be excluded from the conversation.

First question – why bother? If we don’t talk about God then what’s the point of talking at all? Just to please ourselves with our own brilliance? Score some easy victories over atheists? Win some hard battles that we can remember forever? Life is short to waste it on such selfish pursuits, we need every minute, every second, and every breath to work on developing bhakti, the day will definitely come when we’ll regret all the wasted time.

The operative answer is that realizing impersonal aspect of the Absolute is a great achievement in itself and a necessary step towards being attracted to God. Or I could recall that dreaded compassion – impersonal realization equals liberation, if we bring people to it they’d be very very grateful. Perhaps the best effect, however, would be that all those atheists would shut up and realize they are talking nonsense.

Their propaganda is very widespread and very powerful. They are naturally smug about themselves and, like it or not, the aura of success attracts people like nothing else. Basically, they challenge religions not so much by arguments but by demonstrating how good atheism makes them feel. Arguments come and go, most don’t keep them in their heads, but everyone wants the taste of the same smug superiority and, as people’s intelligence is generally very weak in Kali Yuga, taste always wins.

If we accept that this is where real danger lies then winning the argument won’t probably matter. Despite their bold proclamations, atheists are not rational in their beliefs, at best the arguments can somewhat undermine their self-righteousness, but that would be a great achievement already – they surely won’t be talking as much as they do now, and if they actually take to the path of impersonalism they’ll keep quiet as part of their practice, we can’t lose here. Unless we lose the argument, of course.

So, how would one go about proving impersonal aspect of the Absolute? The easiest way, as far as I can see, is to refer them to Buddhists. Śankarācārya was supposed to beat them long long time ago but from what I see his teachings have been completely discredited while Buddhism still lives on, albeit it’s getting harder and harder to find serious practitioners. I blame this on that Ramakrishna dude and his followers.

If Śankarācārya’s mission was to bewilder the people of Kali Yuga, Ramakrsihna finally made it happen. Whatever good there was in advaita philosophy has been completely expunged by Ramakrishna who left only degraded demoniac mentality and nothing else. There was impersonalism before Śankara, of course, but his is the only school that survived through time and was flourishing even when Lord Caitanya was present, but not anymore, it has been overtaken by Ramakrishna inspired impostors.

I guess it’s possible to still find true followers of Śankarāchārya but they are extremely rare and by the nature of their practice would necessarily excuse themselves from being present on the Internet, so there’s nothing there to refer our atheists to. Any other kind of Hindu spirituality would be tainted by Ramakrishnaism of some kind and we’d be forced to explain why it has to be rejected.

Yoga is another path towards realization of the Absolute that could be useful to our argument but finding a real yogi is even harder than finding a real sanyāsī, claims about yogis sound too far fetched and require about as much faith as belief in God Himself.

Situation in Buddhism is somewhat better, not because there are more Buddhists around or that modern Buddhists are more presentable than modern impersonalists but because there are less windbags in that tradition, there are less obvious frauds and, I believe, there are more success stories there.

I’m not saying that Buddhism is better than advaita but it’s a fact that there are several Buddhist countries in the world and some of them take their religion very seriously while India is overrun by secularism and worship of all things western with their inherent hedonism, and therefore does not promote necessary level of austerity to achieve success on a noticeable scale.

In Thailand, for example, it’s not unusual to walk on a body of a monk that doesn’t decay after his death, lots of temples, often no-name ones, have relics like that and even more temples have stories like that to tell. I believe they call them “arahants”, the perfect ones, the ones who have attained nirvanna and will not take another birth after leaving this body. There are difference in interpretations between various schools but for our purposes we can assume they have achieved liberation.

In Bhutan the number of monks and their austerity is astonishing, simply out of this world, and while they and other Mahayana schools might set “bodhisattvas” as their ideal, plenty among them would look like Theravadan arahants to lay people like us. A while ago I wrote several posts on a Buryat monk who is claimed to be still alive after 170 years.

Stories like that won’t surprise anyone in India but casual researcher will most likely to run into a fraud there because everyone claims superpowers there and literally no one can be trusted. I mean their best examples are running around naked at Kumba Melas, who would take them seriously? Posers, the whole lot of them.

Okay, say we find some good examples among Buddhists or elsewhere, would that be enough to convince the atheists? I was just getting to that but that should probably be left for another day. As usual, the introduction seems to take more time and space than the argument itself.

I don’t think it’s a fault, btw, I believe that most questions arise because of a lack of foundation, once we understand where we are coming from most questions somehow answer themselves or simply disappear, and therefore I do not consider it as a waste of time.

Vanity thought #1308. Second look

The lecture I was talking about day before yesterday didn’t end with eulogizing compassion, there was more to it and it was a good stuff. I didn’t like it, personally, but that’s just my reaction to this particular style of dramatics.

I love a good story as much as anyone else and probably even more because I once had professional interest in story telling. I love dramatic effects, I love artistic license, it’s a true art. Art, however, is subjective. This particular style sounds way over the top for me and it grinds my ears. Why? I have a foggy image of an explanation that I think is more objective than simply blaming it on my personal tastes.

There are things we grow out of. We know how exciting they might still be to other people, especially children, but they just don’t touch our hearts anymore. I love cats but I avoid cat videos with their “aww” moments. Just the other day a neighborhood cat dragged a piece of a freshly slain bird across my porch and I watched it tearing into it like a little tiger. I’m sure that back home he is as lovely as he can be and everyone strokes him and cuddles him and everything, but what I saw was the reality of animal existence – it’s all about killing and enjoying power.

I, for some reason, don’t like baby videos either just as everyone else around me is an avid fan of some two year old internet sensation. “Grow out of it, will you!” I want to scream but no one would listen. The new season of a popular TV singing contest The Voice is in full swing but I don’t understand what is so fascinating about it. I’ve watched a couple of presentations, they all feel so staged with “artists” deliberately playing underdogs to the audience and begging to pity them for their sob stories. They are not “artists”, they are people who sing and that’s all, they can’t write any songs themselves. Similarly, no one calls nameless Chinese dudes who churned out thousands of copies of famous paintings sold by devotees as “artists”, that’s not what “art” means, but I digress.

My point was that dramatic effects look like very cheap tricks when they don’t work and leave a very bad aftertaste that can spoil the entire presentation, which would be a shame if it was a story about the Lord or His devotees. In this case it was.

Stories from Śrīmad Bhagavatam are full of transcendental nectar that doesn’t need any embellishments. We want to “improve” them only because we can’t taste the real thing, can’t transmit the nectar to the listeners, and so decide to decorate them with unnecessary details that we think would better suit particular conditioning of our audience instead.

This brings me to todays’ subject – the story that was told in that class had more layers underneath it that left me wondering. It was about Devānanda Paṇḍita (short version here – CC Adi 10.77) and it was brought in to illustrate the devastating power of offenses against devotees, iirc. Devānanda Paṇḍita once offended Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura and therefore didn’t get Kṛṣṇa premā when Lord Caitanya was freely distributing it to everyone. Eventually he got to serve Vakreśvara Paṇḍita and Lord Caitanya has forgiven him. The speaker, however, spend ten minutes on a prelude that had nothing to do with Devānanda and created so much drama out of it I could hardly listen, but back to my second thoughts on the story itself.

Devanānda is described as a learned and austere brāhmaṇa without any interests in material life. He spent his days reciting Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but his interpretations were impersonal, Lord Caitanya didn’t like it at all and once wanted to grab Devanānda’s Bhāgavatam and tear it apart. One time He ran into Devanānda and recollected the offense against Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura.

What happened was that Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura visited Devanānda’s lecture and listening to Bhāgavatam made him cry and faint. Devanānda’s disciples couldn’t understand the emotions of a pure devotee and unceremoniously carried him out of the house and into the street. I’ll get back to this a bit later.

My first “second thought” here was “Wait, how could Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura relish impersonal presentation of the Bhāgavatam?” In these situations we are told to close our ears and run away precisely for the reason we might like māyāvādī explanations. Here, however, Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura completely ignored Devanānda’s interpretation and heard only praises to the Lord and to pure devotional service that weren’t even in the lecture itself.

From this episode it appears that it is possible to hear nectar coming from māyāvādīs lips even if the danger is still there. A real devotee listening to Bhāgavatam won’t even notice misrepresentations of it, he’d be too focused on its real content to pay attention to anything else. That is a sign of a true paramahaṁsa who can’t see anything but the Lord everywhere around him and distills pure nectar from unlikeliest of places.

When Lord Caitanya harshly rebuked Devanānda, however, he took it very seriously, like a real brāhmaṇa, and he worked very hard to rectify his behavior. Eventually he got a chance to serve Vakreśvara Paṇḍita and he took it. Vakreśvara once led a very sweet and ecstatic kīrtana that attracted a lot of people and he was so absorbed in it that he didn’t see the danger of the crowd pushing and closing in on him. That’s when Devanānda got a stick and drove the crowd back, to keep the safe space around Vakreśvara.

Later, when Lord Caitanya stopped in Kuliyā, he saw Devanānda again and praised him for his service to Vakreśvara. This service canceled his previous offense against Śrīvāsa and Devanānda finally received the mercy of Mahāprabhu.

Here’s my second “second thought” – “How come Devanānda offended one devotee but was forgiven for serving somebody else?” This is not how we are told to deal with our offenses. It’s not like Devanānda couldn’t find Śrīvāsa and beg forgiveness from him directly. Just think about it – somebody offends you then sucks up to another devotee and doesn’t feel he owes you anything. That’s not how it’s supposed to work, at least in our understanding of what offense and forgiveness means. It worked with Devanānda, however. Why?

Maybe because his offense wasn’t against Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura personally. It wasn’t him who threw Śrīvāsa out of the assembly, his fault was that he didn’t stopped it. Perhaps he didn’t even know it was Śrīvāsa and so his offense was against manifestation of devotion in general. When he saw bhakti manifest in Vakreśvara he understood its value and served it, thus rectifying his offense.

Maybe there’s another explanation, but in any case, when delivering Devanānda Lord Caitanya gave important instructions on how one can rectify his aparādhas:

    If a person who unwittingly commits blasphemy stops blaspheming others and instead praises Lord Vishnu and the Vaishnavas, then that person will destroy all his sins. That is the right way to destroy them.

This translation is awful but I can’t find any better, sorry. It doesn’t mean that one doesn’t have to seek forgiveness of a particular devotee but it provides a way out for numerous offenses we commit unknowingly. If we don’t know what we did wrong we are not condemned forever, we just have to increase our service to the Lord and His devotees and hope that our greater appreciation will destroy our sins. I don’t think we can take it as a substitute for an apology we KNOW we should be offering.

Finally, with all these troubles falling on Devanānda Paṇḍita’s head and especially his impersonal interpretation of the Bhāgavatam I was surprised to learn that he is actually an eternally liberated soul and eternal Kṛṣṇa’s associate, even His senior. In Kṛṣṇa līlā he was one of the brāhmaṇas who recited Vedic literatures in Nanda Mahārāja’s house. Go figure – impersonalists in Goloka, who would have thought?

I guess the lesson we can extract from this is that in Kṛṣṇa’s kingdom there’s a place for everyone. We, however, as followers of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, should stick to the norms set by our ācāryas. We are not servants of everybody there, we are servants of our particular group of Kṛṣṇa’s devotees and if our predecessors found impersonalism unacceptable then so should we, come hell of high water. A drop of mercy from our guru cannot be substituted by an ocean of blessings from everyone else.

Vanity thought #1148. Seeking connections

Impersonalism is one of our favorite topics and one of our favorite responses to it is that everyone in this world seeks personal connections with each other. That’s why we have a billion user Facebook which we religiously check every five minutes to quench our thirst for hearing something personal and touching from our friends and sometimes even strangers.

The world itself has grown to be quite faceless and cold. We go through the motions day in and day out pretending to be perfect employees or friends or polite gentlemen. Fact is, no one cares, it’s just the rules.

When we ask each other “How are you” we do not expect answers. This irritates some people but, frankly, no one expects honest answers in public. Our public sphere is deeply impersonal, there are roles to play and feelings must be hidden. We are being rewarded for our ability to conceal our humanity – “businesslike” has become an acceptable synonym for “impersonal” in our dictionaries.

We can’t leave home for work and be ourselves. We must project images people want to see and they will pay us for it. It’s just how it is. Days of life long employment based on personal trust and responsibility for each other are long gone, people still feel sad if someone gets an unfair treatment in a work place but they get over it rather quickly.

“It’s just business, nothing personal” has been the mantra for decades now. Maybe it was shocking at first but no one expects anything else anymore. When they first introduced credit cards to the public bank officers signing up new clients couldn’t dare to ask the question about applicant’s income, it was considered hugely impolite. Nowadays its completely opposite, of course, notions of dignity and respect have been legally purged from our public sphere.

Well, that is not entirely true but these values are attached to numbers on paper, not faces in front of you. If your numbers are okay you’ll get respect, if they aren’t they won’t even talk to you.

That’s why you see people absorbed in their phones all the time, texting their actual feelings, updating their real life statuses, sending images of themselves to anyone who’d care like SOS bottles from uninhabited islands.

Of course they can’t escape impersonalism on Facebook either. Your friends on it might be real but everything else, the website between you and them, has been treating us all as digital slaves to be traded with advertisers. There’s a lot of truth behind the saying that if the service is free then YOU are the product. Facebook, Google, Apple – they all are making money from our desperate need to connect to real people and share our real emotions.

As devotees we noticed this basic human need long long time ago. There are many techniques for preaching and book distribution and trying to find a personal connection with people underlines practically all of them. We want to show people that Kṛṣṇa cares, that we are all spiritual souls seeking spiritual connections in the cold and indifferent world. We offer them those connections with the greatest person of all – God.

One of my most memorable quotes I heard from a senior preacher was that we, as devotees, must show people that we really really care for their wellbeing. In exchange for that they will give Kṛṣṇa their lives and souls. They don’t get that kind of attention anywhere else, they’ll give an arm and leg for just a moment of such association. He was, perhaps, the most “personal” man I have ever known.

As years went by, however, I started to reassess this kind of reasoning. There’s a lot of truth in it still but not quite the kind I was expecting in the beginning.

Yes, people still seek personal connections but it’s not simply because they seek God. They don’t. The kind of social support they are seeking is something they had earlier in their lives, when they were children growing up with their seemingly perfect families. They didn’t need God back then, they don’t need Him now either.

The world was a lot more personal even half a century ago but there was still nothing spiritual about it. It is relatively more degraded now and people long for “good old days” but those days weren’t filled with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, they just had a relatively higher level of sense gratification back then.

When they seek these personal connections they seek connections pleasing their false egos, not their souls. When they want to share their feelings they talk about sharing lust, greed, and envy, they need others to appreciate their emotions that otherwise have no value whatsoever.

Personal or not, their whole lives are based on trying to become God and enjoy like little gods they are. If they succeed they boast about their victories and if they fail they demand what is “rightfully” theirs. They still don’t care about anyone else, just themselves.

That’s why we go to Facebook seeking understanding but come away feeling more stressful than before, our souls eaten away by envy of the perfect lives presented there by others. That is a measurable phenomenon – the more time people spend on Facebook the unhappier they become.

That is the real price of these supposedly personal relationships.

When we get together we need to spend time glorifying Kṛṣṇa, not scrutinizing our own little pathetic lives. Without saṅkīrtana this kind of association won’t work. Just like with everything else in the world we’ll go there seeking pleasure and come back feeling cheated.

I dread to ask anyone about how they actually feel – they’ll serve a bucketful to sh*t in return, they’ll dump everything on you and try to convince you that it all really matters, which it isn’t. This is not the kind of association we should seek in the name of “personal touch”.

Relationships based on our false identities are all different but nevertheless the same – as controllers and enjoyers of the material world, and are all doomed to fail. There’s nothing for us to appreciate there and I don’t think we should relate to people on that level at all.

The fact of material life is that Kṛṣṇa is impersonal, too. He doesn’t care about goings on in the material world. He doesn’t build personal relationships on the basis of people’s material bodies. The verse itself escapes me now but He said it Himself – He has zero interest in people’s lives and only cares about His devotees.

Why should we care about non-devotees and their problems? They want to abuse us and Kṛṣṇa Himself in the name of their sense gratification, why should we go along with their nefarious plans?

Our worship of Kṛṣṇa is impersonal, too – we don’t see Him as a person yet. We just follow the orders our guru. Guru is a person, one might say, but look at Śrīla Prabhupāda – he had very little “personal” relationships with his guru, and none whatsoever when it mattered most – when he arrived in America.

He simply followed his guru’s order and that was enough. What kind of personal relationship can you have with an order issued decades ago? Spiritually personal, of course, but that’s not the kind non-devotees seek in their “personal” relationships.

That’s why I don’t place much value on “connecting with people”. First we need to connect with guru and Kṛṣṇa on the spiritual level ourselves. Without it all we can offer others is the same thing they can find on a Facebook.

When we understand and value our nascent spiritual connection with the Divine we can try to share it with others. They’ll appreciate it, too, and, hopefully, better than their other, useless friendships and relationships.

That is not to say that we should stop preaching until we realize the Absolute Truth ourselves. This kind of preaching might be imperfect but it’s better than nothing, better than sitting alone and muttering our japa. Who needs to hear that? What good is it to anyone? Do we really think that Kṛṣṇa enjoys it?

That is why book distribution is so perfect – we might leverage our own conditioning to attract people initially but when we give them a book we are letting Śrīla Prabhupāda talk straight to their hearts, and he does it perfectly, like no one else. Our contribution here is not very spiritual but it’s nevertheless important. Someone needs to come out there and put books in people’s hands.

We can’t offer people real spiritual connections ourselves yet but we can take them to Śrīla Prabhupāda. We don’t need to be perfect for that, we can do that in whatever state we are currently in, there’s no shame in that.

Even Lord Caitanya did that – He didn’t go from person to person saying “Please, listen to me”. He implored everyone to listen to Kṛṣṇa’s message in Bhagavad Gīta and Śrīmad Bhagavatam, and as a Holy Name. Even Lord Himself didn’t claim any spiritual powers in His preaching. He didn’t put much value in His “personal” appearances and relations based on them either. He shaved His beautiful hair and took sannnyasa to appeal to a wider range of people.

He didn’t think “I’m spiritual enough, have a body full of bliss, people should listen to me, it’s all they ever need.” That would have been technically correct but that is not the kind of body based relationship the Lord has been offering people. He offered them Kṛṣṇa, not Himself, and so should we as His followers.

We can utilize our external appearances and relationships following from them but we shouldn’t assign them any value. They are just tools, it’s business, nothing personal. Real value and real relationships come from Kṛṣṇa, and we should realize that for many many years this value will remain under-appreciated but the relationships must be established no matter what, eventually they WILL bring fruit.

Hmm, this post is getting too long. I think I’ve said all I wanted to say already, probably too much for one day anyway.

Vanity thought #902. Cool shade of Brahman

Impersonal Brahman realization is a big no no in our society and māyāvādīs are our sworn enemies so today’s topic might be slightly controversial.

I think I’m graduating from complaining about “bad” ISKCON news to all Kṛṣṇa conscious news altogether, even if completely kosher. Increasingly, I notice materialistic undercurrents even when devotees talk about purely Kṛṣṇa conscious matters. There’s nothing wrong with it, that’s the point of discussing these topics in the first place – to cleanse our material aspirations through talking about Kṛṣṇa so I have no valid reasons to complain and I won’t, but it’s not something I want to read most of the time.

Quite often these articles are written in the form of answering questions even when they are not in Q&A format per se. There are some devotees whose writing I can spot simply by the number of questions in their opening paragraphs and they keep piling up as we read along. I like this format myself, it allegedly stimulates open thought process in the mind of a reader who is then not simply consumes answers in easy to digest form but compares them with his own ideas and reads the text critically, which supposedly deepens his understanding of the subject even if he does not agree with the author. “Critically” here does not mean criticizing, it means “involving skillful judgment”, so no offenses are being made.

There is a couple of problems with this approach. First is that readers are lazy. If questions are not engaging then they won’t read past that first paragraph, which happens to me all the time. Second is that questions might be simply inappropriate and should be discarded out of hand.

These two are somewhat related but the second reason is special in that if the author sets the wrong mood and asks wrong questions then we simply take his unwanted association. Truth is, not all our questions are about Kṛṣṇa, quite often we want to address problems of our own sense gratification, gross or subtle, like when we want to “understand” something, ie improve problem solving power of our minds rather than learn something about God. This happens subconsciously and the author himself doesn’t see it as non-devotional but the danger of passing the wrong mood is still there and should be avoided, ie the answer should be mu – question needs to be unasked and its premise rejected.

Let me give an example. It’s not the worst example in any sense and it doesn’t deserve any kind of criticism, I’m just being nitpicky here, on any other day I’d even praise it, but there’s a point to be made about it still.

HG Chaitanaya Charan Prabhu was once asked why Lord Rāmacandra killed Vali and he gave a comprehensive and clear answer, straight from Rāmāyaṇa itself. First, Lord Rāmā explained that Vali was not fair to his younger brother so he wasn’t innocent, then He said that He was entrusted by King Bharata to punish evildoers, and, finally, that Vali was a monkey and hunters can kill animals from any hiding place.

There’s a long background to this story, Lord Rāmā killed Vali while hiding behind a tree, which is against principles of fair kṣatriya battle, which is why Vali complained in the first place, but the reasons for animosity between Vali and Sugriva are too long to describe here and are irrelevant.

Speaking of the answer itself – it’s not as solid as it appears because the reasons given by Lord Rāmā are contradictory. First, he treats Vali as a wrongdoer and applies dharmic principles suitable for men, which qualifies Vali to be punished but then He treats Vali as a monkey.

If Vali needed to be punished he should have been challenged in an open battle and could not be shot from a hiding place, and if Vali was a monkey than why did the Lord apply human dharma to him at all? He clearly didn’t see Vali as simply an animal, why mention it then, even if in theory?

So, is the answer satisfactory? It depends, as devotees we accept whatever Lord Rāmā did as perfect and His explanations as complete, but as sticklers for the rules the answers appear to be evasive. This killing of Vali was later used as a criticism against Lord Rāmacandra just as His treatment of Sītā after defeat of Rāvaṇa. We don’t accept this criticism as justified but others do and they can point to the śāstric rules and regulations. Personally, I’m perfectly okay with Chaitanya Charan Prabhu’s explanation but I have a problem with the question instead.

This is a materialistic approach to the sacred story, the question arises only from the point of view of dry rulebooks, judging Lord’s behavior by common standards, devotees should never do that. This is the subtle contamination I was complaining about above – question should be unasked and proper attitude established first. We shouldn’t see the Lord through the eyes of materialists and absorb their doubts. It’s impossible to completely avoid such questions while living inside our bodies but I’m speaking of pure, fully liberated devotees.

Just think of it – if we didn’t treat Rāmāyaṇa as a collection of interesting stories and great plot twists but actually saw Lord Rāmacandra in its pages we would never ever ask questions like that. We’d be in a state of complete shock, samādhi, and our material minds would have been turned off. This is not happening now because we still treat the book as mundane and we still don’t have the vision of actual Lord.

Our understanding of it is materialistic and I propose that it should be rejected. If we don’t feel Lord’s presence we should discard our own imaginative interpretations of His pastimes, ie treat them as material, just as impersonalists do. It would look exactly like what they say about devotees – we are sentimental people who need sentimental stories that are not on the real spiritual platform, like Brahma sūtras. I concur.

All these materialistic interpretations obscure the beauty of the Holy Name when it manifests itself either as a book or as our mantras. This imperfect thinking about Lord’s pastimes distracts us from the Lord Himself and should be stopped. We know that personal realization of the Lord is greater than realization of Brahman but Brahman is still greater than our materialistic vision. Brahman is cool, once we learn to discard our mental worries we would learn to appreciate the beauty of stillness of the mind. It would be exactly like bhava-mahā-dāvāgni-nirvāpaṇaḿ Lord Caitanya mentioned in Śikṣāṣṭaka.

Am I advancing impersonalism here? Not at all. Even if I advocate seemingly impersonal solution it should come from chanting of the Holy Name and should be only a temporary step while we wait for the Lord to reveal His personal form.

This isn’t a post about news or questions or writing styles, it’s a post about japa and how it’s better than engaging our minds in flights of fantasy. What I say is stop thinking, start listening, ignore the mind, hear the Name. Even if our appreciation for the Name is very very faint the Name still has more power than all the attractions in the entire universe. It’s not a theoretical exercise, it is perfectly possible to catch those rare moments when all inferior concerns even about legitimate subjects fade away and all we yearn to hear is only the sound of the Name, nothing else.

It’s not realization of the personal aspect of the Absolute yet, it’s approaching perception of the Brahman, but nevertheless it’s cool, can’t have enough of it.

This is not bragging either – I’m just trying to distill the essence of what keeps us engaged in our service. It’s not the external factors, it’s our attraction to the Name, I’m just applying neti-neti approach to discard all alien matter.

Vanity thought #866. Case study in liberalism

Yesterday’s speculations need examples to see if they make sense in real life. Pretty much everything could be considered but I thought it’s better to start with some contentious issues of the day, of which we have way to many. FDG has been my favorite for some time but I’ve grown tired of it. Among other issues there aren’t clear favorites and I decided to start with “ISKCON infestation by kirtaniyas” that I haven’t considered before.

There are, as usual, two sides to the story. To my knowledge, “pro-kirtaniyas” never engage in any public debates and I’ve never discussed this issue personally with any of the proponents, just heard a few excuses here and there and tried to fill the gaps.

The main argument is that these kirtan singers bring in the crowds, people who otherwise would never have come to ISKCON chant the Holy Names, and really, what other arguments are needed?

Fair enough. Now, the opponents, who are disproportionally vocal – they charge that this kind of kirtan is polluted, that there’s too much association with neo-mayavadis, that in Prabhupada’s time being on the same stage with hardcore impersonalists would have been unthinkable, as was inviting impersonalists to sing at our festivals.

Hearing Holy Name from the lips of mayavadis is poisonous, there are examples from Chaitanya Charitamrita if Srila Prabhupada’s own instructions are not enough. Associating with mayavadis is prohibited, too. All valid arguments that have no retorts, afaik.

How to be liberal about this then?

Let’s just step back a little and determine the context. Liberalism requires looking at a bigger picture, then what is unacceptable in one situation for a certain kind of devotees starts to look quite okay elsewhere for a different group of people.

For example, taking vegetarian non-prasadam is a no-no for temple devotees but for those outside it’s often a matter of necessity, and for non-devotees it’s certainly a progress towards a cleaner life. Veganism is certainly better than meat-eating but if someone has been coming to a temple for a while and still hasn’t given up his vegan ideas about milk then progress is not being made.

What we need to see is a vector – where the person had started and where he arrived. If a temple pujari eats a non-offered pizza on ekadashi he is going down, if a meat-eating karmi decides to have veggy pizza on the same day he is going up.

For devotees of Lord Chaitanya associating with mayavadis, listening to their kirtans or reading their literature is a spiritual suicide but I know devotees who were very well read in all kinds of impersonalism before taking up Srila Prabhupada’s books. Whether we like it or not, impersonalism is a natural and even necessary stage before becoming a devotee.

Some get causeless mercy, that’s true, but most living beings purify themselves through thousands and thousands of lives before coming in contact with devotees. Impersonalism is unavoidable.

How can we say with absolute certainty that it is dangerous and undesirable in such non-compromising terms?

Where opponents see mission drift, dilution of our philosophy and spreading the poison, we could try and see thousands and thousands of people coming to hear the sound of the Holy Name. Why would we turn them away unless they read up on philosophy? What do they know about drinking poisonous milk and how would they learn about it if they never come to our programs?

Being liberal in this case is looking at the issue from a different perspective. There are thousands and thousands of vaishnavas who look at “pure” ISKCON and think we are deviating and poisoning people, too. This kind of perception is not absolute, it’s never absolute.

The only real standard is the view of our guru and that’s what we should embrace in the face of all criticism but it’s a standard for US, not for our critics. They’ve never signed up for our program and we don’t expect them to gain mercy of Srila Prabhupada either. We can say that they are missing so much and wasting their lives on worthless pursuits but it’s their lives and their choices. Even as preachers we should not be trying to convert everybody, we should only look for people favorable to our ideas, so we can leave our critics alone and don’t worry too much about them.

So, the critics of “kirtaniya infestation” must be wrong then? No, not at all. We can look at them and see their genuine strive for the purity of our mission and preserving the legacy of our founder acharya. We might dismiss their criticism or decide to take it seriously and reform ourselves but that is not important atm. What is important is to see their sincerity even if their efforts might bring undesirable results, like vaishnava aparadha. Every effort in this world brings about undesirable results anyway, we can’t waste our lives focusing on those.

If we were to ask a paramahamsa which side to take in this dispute he’d tell us exactly the same things – both sides are doing their best for Krishna, and that would overwhelm him with respect and appreciation. He wouldn’t take sides at all and he’d be seen as a well-wisher of all living beings, in short, as paramahamsa.

Is it really that hard to theoretically visualize this kind of response? I don’t think so, it’s very simple, actually. Maybe I need a better case or maybe I’m missing something important, either way, not too bad for the first try, I think.

Vanity thought #817. Rock, paper, scissors

In a hypothetical contest between impersonalism and sahajiya, which one would win? Actually, it’s not entirely hypothetical because as long as we remain under the influence of illusion we will be firmly in the grasp of one or the other.

A conditioned living entity either enjoys the material world or suffers here. Consequently, it embraces either a materially pleasing philosophy or a negative one. Usually it’s the contest between karma khanda and jnana kanda – karma kandis believe that the world can be successfully enjoyed and work towards extracting that enjoyment, jnana kandis believe that as all pleasure is accompanied by an equal or even bigger amount of suffering, seeking happiness in material sense gratification is a dumb idea and renouncing the world altogether is a better way.

I’m not talking about some actual karma and jnana kandis here, we all assume these roles every moment of our lives. When we are full of optimism we are karmis, when we are deeply pessimistic about material happiness, we are jnanis. In the dualistic material world these are our only two, binary options, we either like our experience here or we don’t, there’s no third choice to steal our attention, that is until we meet devotees and learn about Krishna, of course.

Still, our conditioned nature plays out its role and even while ostensibly being devotees we continue our love-hate relationship with the world, with minor modifications – gross sense gratification becomes replaced by sahajiya, and renunciation, well, it’s still as impersonalistic as ever. We renounce the world but we don’t know what or who for, we just renounce it because it sucks, that’s all.

So, now that I established that sahajiya and impersonalism are unavoidable ingredients of our lives here – which one is better?

Here is where it turns into to a rock-paper-scissors game. In some areas sahajiya is better, so paper beats rock, for example, but if impersonalism answers with scissors instead, sahajiya goes home. If next time impersonalism offers the same scissors but sahajiya offers rock instead of paper, impersonalism loses.

Sahajiyas, even ones pretending to be Krishna, are still vaishnavas. Most of them are not so obvious, I understand, they just believe that there’s a way to spiritual progress that lies through manipulation of our senses. Sex is big spiritual experience in their circles at all times but pretending to be in a rasa dance is rare. Still, they are vaishnavas and they should be shown respect accordingly.

Our own sahajiya tendencies are not as bad as that but are also far more common. It’s saying that Sunday feast halava is pure spiritual nectar and enjoying it until it comes out of our ears. Krishna hears it, of course, but maybe what He wants to tell us is that if you want pure spiritual nectar you should go and serve this halava to that devotee at the end of the line, not stuff yourself with it like a pig. We don’t listen, we believe in our own direct experience of gustatory pleasure and we call it spiritual, so if we want to fool ourselves like that, Krishna let’s us.

It’s nothing, this fascination with food or good music or beautiful Deities will eventually go away, it doesn’t ruin our devotional progress, so sahajiya must be better than impersonalism, right?

Wrong.

What we call impersonalism is an offensive kind of denial of Krishna’s spiritual identity, mayavada, but it’s not all that there’s to impersonalism. Strictly speaking, it’s realization of the Brahman aspect of the Absolute and it’s miles ahead of being a conditioned living being as we all still are at the moment.

Four Kumaras, the founders of Kumara sampradaya, were impersonalists. Sukadeva Goswami was an impersonalist until he recited Srimad Bhagavatam, we would be lucky to reach their level of realization while everybody can sit down for Sunday feast and call it a spiritual experience.

Impersonalists are not vaishnavas, per se, but neither are we. Devotee means serving Krishna, we haven’t even started, we are still serving our senses and we need Krishna to help us in this endeavor. Devotion starts only after liberation, which means after we achieve impersonal realization of the Supreme, so impersonalism is better.

But if impersonalism plays mayavada card, sahajiya would obviously beat it because there’s no cure from mayavada. Reaching liberation leaves us with only one step towards realization of Krishna and our relationships with Him, taking to mayavada removes us from His good list forever. Same thing, impersonalism, but completely different destinations.

So, with all this in mind, I think it becomes clearer how we should navigate the treacherous waters of the ocean of illusion. It’s not perfect to try and renounce the world but it’s better than pretending to be spiritualists while enjoying gross sense gratification. And it’s better to let our senses be satisfied by Krishna’s prasadam than rejecting it because we are against sense gratification in principle.

It’s unacceptable to listen to mayavada but it’s okay to dismiss whatever imperfections we see in other devotees because material world and their actions inside of it are illusory. It’s just an interaction of the modes of nature and material elements that serve as devotees’ bodies. Yet at the same time we cannot dismiss their service as illusory, for that would be mayavada.

It might seem a bit confusing but that’s because clear vision of these relationships between Krishna, living entities, and material nature is available only to paramahamsas. We cannot imitate it.

We should take our acharyas word for it, though, that would be the wise thing to do.

Vanity thought #816. Between rock and a hard place

Lately, while charting the way of our spiritual progress, I found myself navigating between two of our mortal danger enemies – sahajiya and impersonalism. Getting close to one in my speculative attempts causes me to bounce back and that makes me closer to the other.

Let’s look at sahajiya first. I don’t mean putting a feather in your hair and imitating Krishna, that’s just nonsense, I mean mistaking our material emotions for spiritual ones. The obvious example is discussing Krishna lila and assuming we can understand what’s going on there.

There’s a boy and a girl, they are in love, they engage in a variety of exchanges – what’s so complicated about that? If we read enough we develop a taste for it and that’s when we assume that our mental and emotional reactions are actually fully spiritual. We become rasikas.

My question to such practitioners – what is spiritual about it at all? You can substitute names for some Romeo and Juliet and it will be just as engaging. You don’t need any spirituality to emphasize with a couple of teenagers and you might just as well drool over some Japanese manga. This kind of idealized puppy love is not unique at all and everyone, literally everyone, can understand these feelings.

Even outside of rasika circles we can fall into the same danger if, for example, we accept our relationships with other devotees as purely spiritual. Every human being has friends, most animals have friends, too. The fact that association of a particular person makes us feel better than usual is not a sign of spirituality. The fact that we are drawn to devotees when facing a crowd of strangers is also not a sign of spirituality. Warm hugs and tears of joy are also not a sign of spirituality, people have this kind of reactions about their college friends, too. Sharing food, gifts, and intimate secrets is also nothing special. You can have this everywhere and most people do.

The fact is that most, if not all of us, are under the influence of the material nature, under the influence of our false egos, and so we are still selfish and our hearts are full of anarthas. This also means that we are attracted to each other on the strength of our material compatibility. Same tastes, same outlooks on the world, same level of intelligence, same level of emotional maturity, but not too similar. I bet there are astrological charts for this type of compatibility as well.

Okay, that’s about dangers of sahajiya and the solution I propose is to focus only on what is undeniably spiritual. In case of devotees – remembrance of Krishna when you see them. This can’t be faked, it can’t be polluted, in as much as Krishna means anything to you, devotees will remind you of that.

However, if we dismiss all out daily interactions as material they immediately lose their value and pretty soon we’ll be left with nothing. We don’t have any actual spiritual experiences, we do not see ourselves in our original spiritual forms, we do not see Krishna, we do not see other devotees in their original forms either, so we behave as if they (spiritual forms) don’t even exist.

Deities are not spared either. They are made of material elements, they are shaped into forms and when they deteriorate, like wooden bodies of Lord Jagannatha, they are discarded and merge into material elements again. When they are Deities they are fully spiritual but, more than anything else, it’s a matter of perception. Lots of people see Them as idols, we see them as Krishna with a sense of duty rather that with actual realization.

When we reach highest levels of advancement we will see Krishna everywhere, not just in the temple. We’ll see Him in the hearts of devotees first, then we’ll see Him in the hearts of every living being. At that point it would be impossible to point at something and say “Krishna is here but not there”. When Hiranyakashipu asked his son Prahlad “Where is your Vishu? Is he in this pillar?” Prahlad replied “Yes” and Lord Nrishimha jumped out of it. Prahlad Maharaj didn’t say “Oh, He is in the temple, you should go see Him there.”

So, it looks like manifestations of the Lord visible to our material senses are an artificial construct, we need them only while on the lower stage of advancement. Actual spiritual form of the Lord remains hidden from us and whatever spiritual feelings we might occasionally experience are of non-differentiated character. We don’t have any spiritual senses and we don’t see the Lord as having a spiritual form – it’s all very impersonal.

What’s even worse, it’s a sort of mayavada because we have plenty of temporary manifestations of the Lord that we treat as merely helpful but not as eternal. This is especially true of our interactions with devotees – they come into our lives, they stay with us for some time, and they move on. We assume that our relationships are eternal and that they will continue in the spiritual world or at least in the next life but we do not have direct experience of this, for us it’s still a matter of faith, not reality.

So, which one of these two extremes is more dangerous? The immediate response, if you put a question like that, would be “stay clear of both” in one hundred percent of cases, I guess. I, however, propose that mayavada is better and that it’s even necessary.

I base this proposal on the fact that Absolute Truth is realized in stages and that impersonal realization of God is a common step even for accomplished transcendentalists, and it’s even unavoidable.

Look at how we are supposed to chant the Holy Name – first there’s offensive chanting, namaparadha, then, as we cleanse our hearts of anarthas, we experience a shadow of the Holy Name, namabhasa. This stage grants liberation but not realization of the personal form of Krishna yet. This is where we become impersonalists, this is why impersonalism is unavoidable.

As we are being saved by the mercy of Lord Chaitanya I hope we won’t get stuck on that stage forever and we won’t become hard core mayavadis but quickly progress to the next step that would bring realization of our own spiritual form and our own relationships with Krishna. Quickly, however, is not how things have been going so far, so take that word with a pinch of salt.

This is also the reason why I tend to be skeptical about declarations of eternal devotion either to guru or Krishna. We are not in the position to make such promises until we reach the liberated stage, otherwise it’s just maya talking, and once we get to that stage there’s no guarantee that we won’t enjoy the eternity of it. It’s not ananda but it would certainly feel so much better than anything we have ever experienced here. Try that first, then make promises.

Actual devotion will start to grow only after we make a conscious choice to seek Krishna beyond the stage of liberation, until then it could be only a tool to get what we want – nice an comfortable living. We do that now – we pray for jobs, success, money, love, children, and those are goals of the lowest class of spiritualists, the karma kanda followers. Impersonal liberation is next, and we can’t even imagine how it would feel. We only know that it would be great. Who knows how long we would want to enjoy that?

Having said that – the necessity of passing impersonal liberation stage, I would stress the need to follow our acharyas, mahajano yena gatah sa panthah. They have been through this already and they laid out the best possible path for us to follow. We might speculate of how it would go exactly but if we stick to it we will be alright even if we don’t understand it completely.

This means that we shouldn’t worry about hitting either the rock or the hard place but rather about where footsteps of our acharyas are. Scenery is not important.

Vanity thought #600. Japa and impersonalism

The other day I had this realization while doing my rounds – to become devotees we need to become impersonalists first. Not text book impersonalists but purging all personal interests from our service.

This sounds most unusual as the whole basis of our practice is that we have real, personal relationships with the Lord in whatever we do, when we offer food, for example, yet on another level these personal interactions need to be weeded out. Let me explain.

As embodied souls we are conditioned by material nature and since we were not born as Lord’s eternal associates or even as devotees our bodies are not meant for Lord’s service. We’ve got tongues that like to enjoy material tastes, or gab about our own interests. We’ve got ears that like to hear our own praise, too. We’ve got skin that likes to feel soft, comfortable things and don’t even start on genitals. The point is that everything we do in our bodily consciousness is anti-devotional by definition.

So, what happens when we start to chant is that we simply seek another source for our pleasure – Krishna. In our present state whatever we approach him for is not for His service, it’s for our own self-interests.

We do have personalities and we have our own, distinct minds and emotions but being different from one another doesn’t mean that we use our personalities in service to the Lord, it means we want to engage Him in our service in our own, unique ways.

Now, let’s look at the solution – we engage in the service of our guru, ie we look out for his interests, now ours. We take on his mood and we try to see the world through his eyes. That means that on some level we purge ourselves of our personal traits.

It can be argued that our personality would never completely go away but to that I can say it’s because our conditioning is never going to end, too. Our real, eternal personalities are completely unknown to us at the moment and so on practical level they are as good as non-existent.

Practically speaking, we do not exist as persons up until the moment we discover our real spiritual form.

It’s a simple, three step process – we have fake, materially conditioned personas, we strip ourselves from this misidentification, then our real selves become revealed. It’s on the step two when we reject our present conditioning and don’t know our real identity yet – this is the kind of impersonalism I’m talking about today.

It’s easier to comprehend this while chanting. We can offer food with our personal touch, we can go out to preach with our personal touch, we dress the Deities with our personal touch, but none of that exist when we are alone with the Holy Name. It’s just the sound, nothing personal, as they say in the movies. We just sit and listen and wait for the Name to reveal itself.

If we have thoughts coming into our heads we banish them, if we have some feelings rise in our hearts we ignore them – according to trinad api sunichena principle we should never assume that we have real, spiritual feelings, we should see ourselves as way too fallen for that. We do not pay attention to our own feelings, we try to purge that kind of selfishness – as devotees we should be concerned only with feelings of our guru and Krishna.

It doesn’t mean that there will be no place for personalism in our lives but this personalism is reserved only for our masters and other devotees, it’s not our own personalism.

The more I think about it the more I convince myself so it’s probably a good time to stop and consider this idea from some other angle. For today, however, impersonalism in my chanting is my goal.

Vanity thought #433. The end is nowhere near

I was hoping to put the issue of disturbing divergences from Srila Prabhupada to rest but somehow I landed on a website that I never read and will not recommend to anybody, and I discovered they’ve been on this case for years already.

Most of their earlier criticism is not fit for an aspiring devotee’s ears but the latest entries, in the past couple of months, have been very factual and well supported. Of course their innate prejudice to all things ISKCON is still shining through but, increasingly, they speak in the language of quotes and links and not judgments and opinions.

Leaving personalities aside, the main group of neo-mayavadis penetrating our ranks are followers of Neem Karoli Baba. I’m sure no one in India has ever heard about him and he passed away very long time ago – in 1973, but his legacy still lives on.

Neem Karoli Baba was an exemplary post-Ramakrishna mayavadi, he never read and scriptures, he never propagated any philosophy, he never talked about his connection to any parampara, he never accepted sannyasa or any rules and regulations and he lived his life as he pleased. No serious follower of Shankaracharya would give him any credit and neither should any serious follower of Gaudiya vaishnavism.

The fact that he talked a lot about devotion means nothing – that’s what all mayavadis do nowadays. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was pretty clear on this in his Jaiva Dharma:

Vijaya: Can Mayavadis also be called vaisnava-abhasa if they accept the symbols of a Vaisnava and chant sri-nama?

Babaji: No, they cannot even be called vaisnava-abhasa. They are simply offenders, so they are called vaisnava-aparadhi. In one sense, they might be called vaisnava-abhasa, because they have taken shelter of pratibimba-namabhasa and pratibimba-bhava-abhasa, but they are such great offenders that they are to be separated even from the name Vaisnava.

There’s also a story about Neem Karoli Baba sexual encounters with his female disciple that went on for two years. After his death his disciples organized a tantric sex club back in the US with hundreds of people attending their “functions” that were graphically described in their own books.

We should not judge them for what they did so many years ago but I think this needs to mentioned to dispel any notions that Neem Karoli Baba was a genuine guru teaching genuine devotional service.

Krishna Das, the famous kirtaniya getting traction in ISKCON circles, still does not believe in God and thinks that Holy Names are the names of his own true self, his own inner heart. That’s the apogee of impersonalism, can’t get any more offensive towards the Lord than that.

Once he said he was dismayed that “Hare Krishna” mantra was associated with ISKCON devotees, he probably doesn’t say such things now but he still says that he chants for his own pleasure, definitely not for Krishna’s enjoyment.

He’s been singing “kirtans” for decades now and there doesn’t seem to be any progress and, by all available evidence, he is not going to give up his impersonalist attitudes and become a devotee any time soon – preaching to him is useless.

Rather one should remember this verse from Padma Purana:

avaisnavo mukhod girnam putam hari-kathamitam
sravanam naiva kartavyam sapocchrista yatha payah

“If the nectarlike narration of the Supreme Lord is heard from the mouth of a nondevotee, the listener’s spiritual death becomes as sure as a person who dies after drinking milk contaminated by a poisonous snake.”

I don’t think this is an empty warning – if we listen to glorifications of Krishna by such people like Krishna Das or Jai Uttal our spiritual death is guaranteed.

Their spiritual mentor who introduced them to Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass, runs a number of charitable institutions and programs. Every time ISKCON devotees take part in them they are earning money for Ram Dass’ purposes. Mind boggles why our ISKCON gurus should help raise funds for cleaning the Gulf of Mexico, for example?

Ram Dass is not all about charity, however. There’s one curious anecdote where he was caught by a passersby while standing in line for a homosexual porn movie. The way Ram Dass tells it the joke was on a hippie who recognized him and no second thought is given to the first American “guru” watching porn.

The point is – we can’t seriously accept any of these guys as devotees of the Lord, they are offenders. One could say that we all are offenders of the Holy Name in one way or another but the difference between devotees and mayavadi “bhaktas” is that devotees sincerely repent and try to avoid committing any offenses whereas mayavadi commit themselves to committing more and more offenses every day and seek to derive pleasure from it.

I have a feeling that the killer argument against associating with mayavadis is still escaping me, I vaguely remember the spirit of the quote but don’t remember any actual words. If it comes to me I will sure continue in the same vein.