Vanity thought #431. Impersonalism and Christianity

When devotees read some passages from teachings of Jesus Christ they often see him preaching pure bhakti, but when they talk to Christians themselves those impressions quickly disappear and so devotees think they understand Jesus better than his own followers. Why is that?

Let’s start with the basics. Generally we have to understand the relationships between three things – God, jiva souls, and the material energy. These three subjects have been extensively covered in the Vedic literature and the truth was largely established even before the appearance of Lord Chaitanya.

Impersonalism, which obscures the eternal relationships between jivas and the Lord, has been solidly defeated, thanks to the works of Madhvacharya. We also had Srimad Bhagavatam as a natural commentary on Vedanta Sutra so Lord Chaitanya had it relatively easy. When the time came to expand His mission He relied on none other than Lord Nityananda and Advaita Acharya, and He entrusted setting forth our complete siddhanta to six goswamis of Vrindavana who are eternal, incorruptible servants of Krishna.

Christ, on the other hand, had nothing. He was the first messenger of God so before him the world had only Greek philosophical speculators, and without personal intervention of God they had a natural ceiling to their efforts – impersonalism, the vague understanding of some eternal reality beyond our senses. So Jesus had no foundation and no scriptures to preach from. His disciples also were somewhat of a letdown.

Lord Chaitanya didn’t have to send His representatives to preach to mayavadis on their home turf in places like Benares, which would have been futile, He covered Bengal and Orissa instead, and established a completely new community in Vrindavana. Early Christians had no such luxury, they had to preach in the land of Greeks, they had no other place to go.

HG Prithu Prabhu did extensive research on early Christianity and came to a conclusion that deviations started with Paul but Christians themselves vehemently disagree. Regardless, when Christians went to preach to the lands still in awe of the classical Greek culture they chose to speak the language of their hosts and rely on their hosts’ philosophy. Perhaps in the beginning they thought of it as a necessary compromise but they couldn’t maintain their purity and by the time Christianity finally established itself and formulated a clear doctrine it was firmly impersonal in nature.

While Jesus most definitely was a a jiva soul Christians equated him with God and came up with the idea of Holy Trinity. This non-difference between the jiva and God the Father (and the Holy Spirit) is the first sign of impersonalism. One could say that this non-difference does not extend to ordinary humans but there are other misconceptions as well.

By insisting on resurrection of Jesus they completely screwed the second side of God-jiva-matter triangle – God-matter (there’s their mayavada tendency), and by insisting that Christians themselves are going to rise from their graves and ascend to heaven they destroyed any difference between jiva souls and their material bodies, too.

To further complicate things for themselves they treat their relationships with Jesus in a very impersonal way – he is a savior, a liberator, and once you got salvation he is of no practical use, up there, in heaven, it’s democracy all around and they expect to reunite with their families instead. While this vision has many parallels in various Hindu schools and especially in modern mayavada, in Gaudiya vaishnavism our relationships with our gurus are eternal and continue in the spiritual world. We never become equal to anybody there, we will always remain dasadasanudasa, not direct associates of Krishna.

This is a crucial point – there’s no devotion without accepting our eternally subservient position to other devotees of the Lord, and without devotion we end up with impersonalism – denying those relationships, and we deny the nourishment of our souls, too.

Whatever bhakti was there in the teachings of Christ, it eventually got corrupted by accepting and enforcing these impersonal aspects of official Christian doctrine. This severely obstructed the flow of devotion, and without devotion people couldn’t get any real spiritual taste. With the idea that their bodies will be taken to heaven they naturally assumed that taking good care of them was the right thing to do and they discovered that sense gratification feels good, too.

This is how materialism was born in the West – through the lack of spiritual nourishment and through the lack of knowledge of the difference between the soul and the body.

When I went to school materialism was taught as self-evident while religious experiences as extraneous and unreal, a matter of belief. I think I will bear this particular “cross” until the end of my life. However, contrary to what I was taught when growing up, the spiritual side of life was actually real for hundreds and thousands of years even in the West. I was taught Newton’s mechanics but not that vast majority of his writings were on the nature of God. I was taught Darwinism but not that Darwin was a deeply religious man.

Meanwhile, over in India, the sweetness of the Holy Name was as self-evident as non-existence of God to me. I still can’t believe it but for the self realized soul, and we had thousands of those in our tradition, the reality is spiritual and material perception is illusory. They perceived the reality with their spiritual senses and paid no attention to their material ones.

I’m still on the stage where I have no idea if Krishna actually exists or not, I have no direct experience of Him, either in the form of Paramatma or the guru, I have only material perception of their external forms. I always assumed that it’s the norm but, as it turns out, it’s the result of Christianity’s failure to introduce real spiritual life in the society I was born into. Materialism that I was taught at school wasn’t born by itself, it is the product of frustration with impersonalism that penetrated Christian religion.

Come to think of it – no one is born a materialist, the Lord usually makes sure that every society has some kind of religious knowledge. They turn materialistic only because of the decline of their religion, and religions wither because they fail to cultivate devotional service, and that happens because of the spread of impersonalism in one way or another.

This is why we have to be very careful to avoid any tinge of mayavada in our lives, it is offensive to the Lord and it deprives us of spiritual connection to Him and, ultimately, leads to gross materialism. Christians learned it the hard way, we shouldn’t repeat their mistakes.

Vanity thought #430. Evolution of impersonalism

Two days ago I wrote about “evolution” of our knowledge of bhakti, a superficial process that makes our appearances incommensurable with our actual progress, because everyone can talk about very exalted topics and easily convince others of their advancement.

The danger of it is that once we consider someone to be in a superior position we tend to accept and follow whatever they do, as Krishna wisely observed in Bhagavad Gita -“Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow.” (3.21).

We tend to give any exalted devotee a position of an acharya, meaning letting them modify our devotional practices or introduce new ones, like offering clam sauce to the deities, for example.

Well, we are not alone in advancing bhakti further than we can actually comprehend, the same kind of evolution happened in mayavadi camp, too.

Buddhism has some very complicated philosophy and so when Shankaracharya blew them away with his Shariraka Bhashya commentary on Vedanta Sutra he became the king of logic. He introduced a very sophisticated school based on deep knowledge of shastra and requiring years and years of dedicated study to master.

In order to become proficient in their practice one needed to spend so much time and effort that sannyasis of their school were immediately given all respect as the most learned, most austere and dedicated men. That was probably one of the reasons Lord Chaitanya took sannyasa in that order Himself – it impressed the public much much more.

So it stayed like that for over a thousand years but in the time of instant gratification, in order to keep up with British Joneses, impersonalism needed to be adjusted to easily attract large swathes of population. Ramananda Roy started his Brahma Samaj movement, serving impersonalism in easily digested, modern form, and in the Indian west there was their own, Arya Samaj movement, too. Then came Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and finally the recipe for success was found.

According to Bhagavad Gita one needed to practice jnana yoga in order to achieve perfection in realizing Brahman and it is very very difficult. So the reformers threw away studying Vedanta and philosophy in general and went straight for the distributing the results.

Impersonalism leads one to understanding their spiritual quality as part of Brahman. It’s an ascending process and once you get to the top you a) feel yourself way ahead of all others and b) experience relief from daily tribulations which feels as some sort of bliss.

So, an accomplished impersonalist feels eternal, all-pervading love, and feels generous towards the lesser men, so he speaks a lot about mercy and compassion and spreading that love around.

With eyes set on that goal they only needed an easier process, and that’s where they chose bhakti over jnana. It made a perfect fit – no studying, practice love to achieve love, and you can start right away.

This is not what they practice in the monasteries established by Shankaracharya and it has nothing to do with his original ideas, but then Shankarites don’t get to fly all over the world and screw blond women, so who wants to follow them?

Another prominent feature of impersonalism is also very convenient – becoming one with God, or Absolute Truth, or Divinity, or Brahman, or Universal Love, whatever they call it – means you don’t need a guru anymore and you can start teaching everyone else yourself.

Notice how all prominent new age mayavadis do not talk about following their gurus much but guru worship in general is a very big part of their “bhakti”. If they ever mention their own gurus is when they talk about the source of their enlightenment, not as their eternal masters, life after life and in the spiritual world, too.

“I met my guru, I learned about mercy and compassion from him, I got enlightened, and now I’m traveling the world spreading that love around” – that’s their typical presentation. There’s no such thing as parampara or knowledge passing down or orders or mission to carry your whole life. Just “I got this, and now I’m giving it to you.”

This is how they turned austere book-worms of Shankara extraction into globe-trotting super compassionate mayavadis of the modern day. But does it work? How?

Well, they DO practice some form of a bhakti, they DO worship Krishna, among others, and if they take their practice seriously the Universe is bound to thrown them some bones. The Lord fulfills desires of all living entities, if they want some bliss thrown their way and they work hard for it they can surely get it. Nothing wonderful about it.

Can they obtain real devotional service? No way, not unless they drop their manufactured ideas and take full shelter at the feet of a real vaishnava.

What about the mayvada part of it? Impersonalists don’t call themselves that, they consider it a derogatory term, it’s used mostly by vaishnavas. Devotees call them that because that’s what they do to the Lord, who is most dear to vaishnavas. Devotees don’t care about their realization of the Brahman or about their faulty logic, we pick on them because they think that when the Lord appears in the material world He comes under the influence of maya, that He transforms His body, that He is not in His real form.

That’s part of their saguna-brahman understanding – they think that form and name of the Lord in this world is not truly spiritual, that it only represents some higher reality. That leads impersonalists to pancopasana worship of five Gods and the concept of ishta-devata.

The idea is that since all gods are just representations of the higher truth it doesn’t matter which one you worship, you select your ishta-devata yourself, no matter who, and you get exactly the same results.

You want to practice bhakti and become a devotee of Krishna – fine, they will cheer you on. You want to become a devotee of Hanuman – all the best to you, learn bhakti from his devotion to Lord Rama. You want to worship Durga – great, the Universal Mother will surely grant you all your wishes. Yata mata tata patha in action.

This has become their trademark feature – they approve of everything, everything is equally good to them, there’s no difference – nirvishesa. This is also one of the reasons they will never make any progress as equating Vishnu with other gods is an offense.

Another feature of the modern day mayavada is that they don’t talk about their ishta-devata himself, only about what they get from their worship. As their selected god doesn’t really exist and it’s only a means, not the goal of their practice, they concentrate on practice itself.

“I don’t know about the reality of Krishna and his names, but singing them surely feels good, so that’s what we are going to do” – that’s they typical attitude. Discussing Krishna’s own interests is out of the question. That is another reason why they will never become devotees – they do not accept that Krishna is the enjoyer and we are only objects of His enjoyment, they do not offer any service, they just leach off of His power and opulences.

Yet another distinguishing feature of easy-to-use mayavada is that all the love happens in the heart. You look into your heart, you cleanse your heart, you feel love in your heart, and your compassion flows from your heart, too. They cannot fathom the existence of the Absolute Truth in this world, anything not in their hearts is considered an illusion, therefore Deities or the Holy Name can’t be the source of love. Forget about seeing the Lord in the mission of the guru, serving that mission would never feel better than nurturing love “in your heart”.

It is true that our hearts are the seats of both the soul and Paramatma and it is true that real spiritual feelings happen in the heart, not in the minds or senses, but, in our present condition, our service that hopefully pleases the guru and the Lord happens in the material world, by applying our consciousness to the objects of this world, not by withdrawing it and hiding it inside.

Perhaps at this point mayvadis would say that we are not advanced enough yet but eventually we will find the peace in our hearts, not in our external service. Maybe so, but we also know that once we reach that level of advancement we will also see Govinda in each and every object, filling the entire universe. Mayavadis don’t see that and so their “perfection” is bogus.

And that is another reason why we should not give any consideration to their ideas of love in the heart and all that fluffy crap. They will never get to see Govinda everywhere, and neither will we if we give any credence to their ideas.

This article is turning way longer than I originally thought it would be but I think I got it covered pretty well. The point was in showing how the original, tough process of impersonal realization according to Shankaracharya evolved into easy-to-use new age mayavada of the present day. How it preserved the necessary components and accepted some new ones, how it preserved its essense, and how, despite practicing “bhakti”, it still has absolutely nothing to do with devotional service.

Vanity thought #398. Squeezing the essense of impersonalism

Anyone who’s read our books knows that Srila Prabhupada had a “soft spot” for impersonalists. Even his pranama mantra mentions his fight against nirvisesha and sunyavada, impersonalism and voidism. It is also customary for us not to hunt real life impersonalists but rather identify and rectify our own contaminated traits.

The reasons for this are simple – impersonalism is really really offensive to Krishna and his bona fide devotees, and we don’t know too many mayavadis in the West, where ISKCON was born, so we think we ourselves are doing something wrong.

The idea of impersonalism is all-pervasive, just like the desire to enjoy the material energy, and so it manifests itself in great many forms that are very difficult to identify. Just like it takes a devotee to understand another devotee, it takes an impersonalist to spot a fellow offender. And, of course, a devotee would smell them a mile away.

That’s how we learned of our own deficiencies in this regard – advanced devotees have pointed them out.

There’s nothing to fret about here, it’s just contamination, everybody is contaminated in this world. There’s nothing surprising to learn that we are doing something terribly wrong. I mean we don’t see Krishna face to face – that’s a dead giveaway that as devotees we still suck, so our goal should be not to hide our corruption but to find and cure ourselves from it.

One famous Russian dramatist, Anton Chekhov, once wrote about the search for freedom – one has to squeeze “the slave’s blood out of himself until he wakes one day to find the blood of a real human being–not a slave’s–coursing through his veins.” Well, he couldn’t have been more wrong about the real nature of slavery and freedom but the concept itself still stands true – we should actively seek and purify all impersonal traits in our souls until one day we wake up as real devotees.

So today’s target fault – real life mayavadis spend a lot of time glorifying Krishna yet it doesn’t get them anywhere. Anyone who’s been to India must have seen hundreds of temples where they would be very happy to know that you are from ISKCON and they would show you all their Krishna deities and praise devotion to Him better than we do it ourselves. They might temporarily win us over but not Krishna, if they are, indeed, hidden mayavadis.

For mayavadis worship of Krishna is one of the best ways towards self-realization, they need the whole shebang – bhakti, surrender, Krishna katha, service to devotees – anything to earn their status as equal to God. They approach devotion as a business transaction, as a price to pay, a service to render in order to get what they want for themselves.

Personally, I never feel qualified to judge people’s inner motives in these situations but there’s another sign of impersonalism here, much easier to notice – they don’t treat Krishna as real. They think that His form in this world is only a shade of the real Divinity. The Holy Name only a reminder of the real Divinity, the Deity is only an image meant to help the less advanced among us.

That is actually the philosophical crux of the matter – they believe that when Absolute Truth appears in this world in the form of an avatar or the Holy Name or a Deity it undergoes transformation of Its original, purely spiritual energy.

Otherwise they agree with us on everything else – we are spirit souls living under the spell of illusion and trying to restore our original nature, and cultivation of bhakti and sankirtana is the best way in our age to achieve that.

What really distinguishes them from devotees is that they think Krishna does not really appear in this world, what we see here is just a shadow or a clutch, a helping hand.

This is the attitude that is also really easy to spot within ourselves, too, to separate us from real devotees – if we slide into thinking that Krishna appears here in various forms in order to help us on the path of our progress, that we use these various forms only until we become truly advanced and transcend neophyte practices like worshiping the Deities or offering dandavats to the pictures of our spiritual masters.

On that level we’ll start seeing Krishna everywhere and so there’s no need to bow down to any of His particular forms if we don’t feel like it. There’s no need to offer specific prayers because our entire existence has become one long, uninterrupted prayer. There’s no need to chant a fixed number of rounds because the Holy Name will be permanently fixed on the throne of our hearts. Isn’t it what the advanced devotees do and feel?

Maybe so, but if we fail to offer respect and full service even to one aspect of Krishna’s form in this world than we are being impersonalists, not devotees. This shows that we fail to see Krishna Himself, we see only something employed to serve us, something given to help us, something not having real value on its own after we used it for our own progress.

That is the essence of mayavada – thinking the Lord’s forms in this world are not real and are separate from His true spiritual identity and so they need to be “transcended” on the way to our eternal bliss and happiness.

I wish I had expressed this in a more concise manner but such mastery requires actual realization that I don’t have yet. Maybe next time.

Vanity thought #267. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Career.

During Kedar’s last years of education in Calcutta death was still following him but he still behaved like a young, irresponsible boy. First his sister died, about a year or two after returning to Ula after her wedding, I guess she was one of the first victims of the cholera epidemic there. To escape the epidemic Kedar brought his remaining family to stay in Calcutta but they didn’t have any money left while everyone around him thought they were still rich.

Kedar tried to study for his exams but he got sick himself and had to be treated with quinine. He got better but he still didn’t have enough power to continue studying. He was sick and penniless while his women were looking up to him and his heart was in pain. He had no friends who he could confide in, though he still kept talking in his usual circles on usual topics, mainly to divert his mind from his internal sufferings. There was no concept of praying to Krishna at that time yet. He had interest in bhakti but then popular Brahmos didn’t allow for it and Kedar somehow didn’t want to convert to Christianity.

Then his maternal grandfather became very ill, he was the family patriarch and it’s due to his position people thought Kedar and his family were rich. But, instead of attending to his dying grandfather, Kedar decided to go on a trip with his friends. All Bhaktivinoda Thakur said about that trip is that their association wasn’t very good. When he returned his grandfather was already gone but at least he was able to catch funeral rights on the banks of the Ganges. This is awful even by modern day standards but Kedar was largely forgiven given his young age. From then on, however, he was the sole provider and had to start working.

His first jobs were as a private tutor and they were low paying but he also sold “Poriyed”, which I guess was some sort of a poetry book. He even published a second volume. Still, that wasn’t enough. Once Kedar was helping a merchant to procure sugar and accidentally he got more than he paid for. He noticed the discrepancy, thought it was dishonest to keep it, and told the merchant about it. The merchant replied that it didn’t look like Kedar Nath was suitable for business and that he should probably stick to teaching instead.

At that time his paternal grandfather was preparing to leave this world and he called Kedar to come and see him before his death. Calcutta wasn’t promising anymore and so they decided to move the whole family to Orissa where grandfather lived. That grandfather was a peculiar person, Bhaktivinoda Thakur described him as kali-siddha, whatever that means, and as a very strong man who didn’t eat anything during the day and only chanted japa, he would eat only at night and only the food he prepared himself, which was too spicy for Kedar. This grandfather predicted that Kedar Nath’ fortune will arrive at the age of twenty six or twenty seven.

In the meantime Kedar secured himself an employment as a teacher in a school in Kendra, not far from his grandfather’s place, I understand. He got some good recommendations form some locals there and caught attention of Inspector of South West Bengal schools, Dr Raer Saheb, an Englishman, I suppose, though the title Saheb at that time could be used with prominent native personalities, too. Good doctor recommended Kedar to take a teaching examination in Puri and if he passed it he’d be qualified for much better positions and higher salary.

While Kedar was preparing for the exams his grandfather called on him because he was about to leave his body. When Kedar arrived to see him he didn’t noticed any illness or anything, grandpa was still smoking his tobacco and chanting japa. He never smoked ganja, which is a good thing, I guess, but we don’t know whose names he was chanting in his japa. He again told Kedar that from the age of twenty seven he would achieve success and that he would become a great vaishnava. Hooray! No one told young Kedar that he was destined to become a vaishnava before. Right after saying these words the grandpa left his body and that was it. Remaining fortune was deposited with the relative in Calcutta, Kasi Babu, it was in his house that Bhaktivinoda stayed when he studied there.

Twenty seven was still quite a few years ahead and Kedar put his energy into his career. He passed the exam and got the teacher certificate. A few months later he got a job as a teacher in Cuttack and he relocated there. His input on newly established educational policies earned him the appreciation of one of Cuttack’s big shots, another Englishmen, and pretty soon Kedar had become a headmaster of his own school in Bhadra and more than doubled his income. Things were looking up and up.

His wife finally came out of age and become pregnant with the first child. I should note here that the age difference between Kedar and his wife was too big, about seven years, to accommodate their developing sexuality. I think Kedar had reached puberty about five years before he could touch his wife. Was it normal? I don’t know and the autobiography doesn’t say. Kedar didn’t live as a brahmachari in a guru’s ashram, he was a householder maintaining his family, he lived with his wife for quite a few years already. Was he supposed to practice celibacy? I don’t think so. Mochi gurudev I mentioned yesterday, the follower of Lord Chaitanya, told him that having sex is okay if not more often than once a month, which means he wasn’t telling him to abstain altogether. I think it’s a curious complication from the “arranged early marriage” practice that I will surely remember the next time this subject comes up.

Also at that time Bhaktivinoda Thakur wrote a book, Maths of Orissa. I don’t know what to make of it. At a first glance it would appear that he meant maths as short for mathematics, he couldn’t be talking about maths as in Gaudiya Maths. On the other hand, the book was really about his visits to various temples in monasteries in Orissa. Perhaps he wasn’t telling it all in his autobiography, at this point there’s nothing there to indicate his interest in studying Orissa religious culture.

Soon he received yet another promotion to a school in Midnapur, again on a request of an Englishman who required Kedar Nath’s services. Over in Midnaput Kedar Nath got himself in a bit of trouble because local educated community was split between Hindus and Brahmos. Kedar was asked to take sides but because he didn’t really like Brahmos and preferred Christian devotion to Jesus. Once again, to those who argue that Bhaktivinoda Thakur was an impersonalist – he wasn’t, far from it, he consistently shunned those views throughout his life. So Kedar organized his own group instead and that made a few people into his enemies.

While dealing with differences in opinion in Midnapur community Kedar Nath was called to pass a judgement on an accusation against some vaishnavas that they shouldn’t eat fish. Kedar Nath studied the subject for a while and concluded that it was indeed wrong. Eating fish was okay for shaktas, followers of Kali or Durga but vaishnavas were supposed to be transcendental and pure. That discovery aroused his interest.

He wanted to learn about bhakti for a long, long time but never had a chance. He read so many books from so many libraries but bhakti was nowhere to be found. He discussed the value of pure bhakti with educated Englishmen but never had a chance to put it in practice. Now, however, he heard from a fish eating vaishnava, I suspect, about Chaitanya Charitamrita. The problem was – the book was unobtainable, no one has ever seen a copy of it.

I’ve heard about the decline of Lord Chaitanya’s mission over the years but it never occurred to me it was so bad. I’m sure there were plenty of followers left in Orissa practicing all kinds of things but if they’ve never read Chaitanya Charitamrita then it’s very very unlikely they kept the tradition pure. When Bhaktivinoda Thakur took on all the apa-sampradayas there one could argue that he was an outsider who had no right to dictate what was correct practice and what wasn’t but if none of those followers had ever heard of Chaitanya Charitamrita then the argument loses its strength, for without foundation in the shastra any religion is nothing but a sentiment and is bound to be corrupted by the material nature.

Anyway, despite this discovery of vaishnavism Bhaktivinoda Thakur wasn’t twenty seven yet, there were quite a few obstacles to overcome on the path to becoming a vaishnava but I’m getting close.

Vanity thought #260. More crumbs.

I think I’ve put Steve Jobs issue to rest, including their grand visions of robotic society. There are more issues that need mopping up and today is the day. Some of them are strangely related.

Let’s start with radical solipsism. “Eric” has replied to my comment and he appreciated the questions but their scope is a bit overwhelming, there’s nothing he can do right away in this regard. He also gave me a list of names to define his own stand on the “self” issue. I’ve never heard any of them. So what now?

I can look those guys up on wikipedia but I know for a fact that I can’t possibly maintain conversation on his level, or rather on his grounds. In fact, introducing those names is a gentle invitation for me to disclose my background, too. I, of course, know my background, but I also think I know how the conversation would proceed afterwards. Today I will try to gather my wits and, perhaps, see the best way out.

We, Hare Krishnas, are not big on philosophy. Many of us think we are and many are attracted by unassailable arguments in Prabupada’s books. Perhaps many have thought that it was tough reading at times and if they got through it they can consider themselves philosophers. It’s all just plain naive as far as modern philosophy is concerned. Of course there are some of us who know the scriptures inside out and can quote lines from Upanishads or Puranas to support our arguments but it still accounts for very little in the Western world.

First of all, we learn all our arguments from our acharyas, as we should, but our acharyas fought their battles in a different ballpark. They could cite slokas and consider it sufficient proof because all their opponents considered Vedas as sacred, too. Despite all our differences we all have the same faith in shastras, shruti and smriti. These words alone would probably send Eric to wikipedia, they are not considered as any kind of proof neither for him nor for any Western philosopher.

Whatever arguments we have learned from the acharyas would not be convincing unless we trace them back to some common ground with Western logic. I can’t do that, not unless I speak the same language as Eric and translate our arguments into something he can agree with, too.

Prabhupada was very clever in cutting straight to the truth with his explanations that life comes from life and many other “scientific” topics. Can we do the same? Well, there are two approaches here, too.

Do I want to make Eric a devotee or do I want to defeat his philosophy? These are two different things. People can become devotees simply by tasting prasadam or hearing just one sweet kirtan, they get attracted by purity and then devotion enters straight into their hearts, bypassing all logic and other material coverings. I don’t believe I’m capable of doing that but, theoretically, by Lord Chaitanya’s grace, it’s possible.

If that is achieved then Eric would himself find arguments to justify his newly found revelation, he would defeat his philosophy himself, at least as far as his own convictions are concerned. Still, I think in many cases this never actually happens, we just dismiss most of our previous beliefs and fight them only until we achieve our own peace of mind, we don’t pursue them until they are totally defeated. We can’t usually convert our family members, for example. Arguments that work on us do not equally work on them so I think I can state that we have never actually defeated Western or any other philosophy as a principle, which is fine – their faith in their knowledge is also personal and that knowledge does not have objective basis, it’s a product of illusion, they will never see the world as it is unless they become devotees.

Hmm, it seems that the only real debate is over Eric’s own soul. On the other hand Srila Prabhupada always encouraged his disciples to take the debate to the science itself. He might have thought of the possible domino effect if we make them to concede Darwinism or “life comes from matter” positions, or maybe there’s intrinsic value in scientific progress, it makes people learn about the world and eventually to the realization that it’s all an illusion. They won’t become devotees but they have a chance at reaching the stage of impersonalism and from there it’s just one step away to being attracted by God’s personal features.

I should mention here that I don’t consider myself as being past impersonal realization of Godhead already, I do not see any of Krishna’s transcendental features, I can only say that I’m occasionally attracted by their material manifestations just as I’m attracted by everything shiny.

The truly conscious choice of whether to surrender to Krishna or bask in the rays of brahmajyoti where I don’t have to serve anyone. that choice is, perhaps, lifetimes away from where I am now, and I’m not entirely sure what I would choose when I reach the stage of real liberation. It can go both ways, I don’t like serving and bowing down to anybody, that’s what probably brought me here in the first place and it might not change when I get back to making that choice.

Anyway, so there actually are benefits in pursuing philosophical debate with Eric, I might not achieve much, maybe just chip away at the monolith of Western philosophical knowledge. Maybe Eric would just pause for a second and think that I actually made sense and thus I would plant a doubt in what until now he accepted as fundamental truths.

What if once at a family, or even faculty dinner Eric says something like “Well, you know, perhaps what we think as ourselves is actually an illusion and we really have no idea who we are, and, more importantly, we have no instruments to discover our real nature unless we turn to transcendental knowledge, to faith.” Wouldn’t that be groundbreaking? Wouldn’t that be a philosophical admission that faith and science study different things?

Every religious person knows that already but I’m talking about philosophy realizing its own limitations. But is it possible? Is it possible for philosophy to defeat itself? Well, it happened in the Vedic tradition. We might not know much about arguments pertaining to radical solipsism but that’s because we are at the top of the vedic food chain, we don’t feed on inferior stuff like that. That battle was probably fought between sankhya and vedanta schools thousands of years ago with vedanta emerging the winner, and we are the winners among various interpretations within vedanta, if we assume that mayavada has been defeated.

So this is what I know – radical solipsism as modern philosophy posits it is an erroneous proposition, they can still try to disprove it just for the fun of it but ultimately they will have to admit that what they perceive as “self” and “own” stream of experience is part of the reality they perceive as external, which among other things, means dead. Then they would have to search for new definitions of what life is because simple “I think therefore I am” will not be enough, they would have to rethink the “I” that is doing the thinking.

Perhaps that “I” is only a super clever Personal Assistant, next generation Siri. In fact it is, it’s serving the needs of the living soul within, it is programmed by God, and it has its own backend servers to handle our requests – the Supersoul.

Hmm, that’s clever. I still don’t know what to answer Eric, however. Maybe I should leave him alone for a while, maybe I’ve already chipped his faith, maybe for now I should just swing back for another blow, simple pecking won’t be enough to make any difference, it’s just annoying.

Vanity thought #217. The bane of impersonalism.

While considering the proper stance regarding religious pluralism it’s impossible to ignore the question of impersonalism. We’ve been told to fight it from the very beginning but if we talk about co-existence of religions we need to modify out stance without compromising our own values at the same time.

What is exactly our issue with impersonalism? Why do we have to fight it so much?

In the beginning we just patiently listened to Prabhupada chastising impersonalists left and right. I bet, though, that no one had seen a real one at that time yet. Prabhupada was preparing us for debates with unknown, invisible enemies and, in a sense, we still haven’t found them yet.

What we found, however, is the traces of impersonalist philosophy all around us and the more advanced among us realized that WE are impersonalists ourselves, too.

The crux of the matter is the nature of the material world – is it false or is it real? Mayavadis, another word for impersonalists, claims that it is false. Prabhupada taught us that it is real.

Their perception of the world is, however, not much different than ours. They feel pain and pleasure just the same. What is all the fight about, then?

One way to explain it is that by claiming this world as false and only Brahman (in this blog I will use that word to describe the impersonal effulgence emanating from the body of Supreme Personality of Godhead) is real mayavadis deny the divinity of Krishna’s incarnations. They treat them as the same false material forms that we can see and experience everywhere. At best they are a bit closer to the Brahman than us but they do not have any existence beyond what is/was visible to us here.

They also deny any existence of God beyond this material world because, in their view, only Brahman really exists, there’s nothing else there.

Basically, they deny existence of Krishna and, naturally, devotees do not like that.

Another aspect of treating the world as false is that everybody becomes equal – equally false. All forms and shapes are products of an illusion, including that of Krishna in Dvaraka or Kurukshetra. While on the lower stages of spiritual development we see them as different and so we worship various gods but on higher stages we see every form, every body as equal, thus me and Krishna become the same. I am God and God is me, and everybody else, too.

Devotee, naturally, reject this attitude, but we live in a world full of other people and we have to co-exist, as I said. How?

Maybe we should realize the place of impersonalism in spiritual development even if we reject its conclusions.

Maybe we should isolate our conflict with impersonalism and keep it compartmentalized.

Maybe we should summon our anti-impersonalist arguments only when it’s appropriate.

Maybe we should realize that in terms of human development impersonalism is the greatest thing ever, that is the fact we should probably get used to.

Let’s start with this last one – the human race has inherent quest for knowledge of the world around us. We strive for knowledge and truth, we search of it everywhere and we try to separate what we believe is true from what we believe as false. We look for better things, better understanding, better insights, we look deeper in our history, farther in our universe and closer into our atoms.

We haven’t found God, but it’s not only us. Vedic scholars and philosophers came to the same conclusion – God does not exist in the observable world and all phenomena we have ever experienced in all our history have been the product of matter or illusion, but that has never stopped us in our quest.

We pushing further and further, to the time of the Big Bang and to the sparks of bosons flying at the speed of light. We want the truth and all our endeavors and achievements are measured by that yardstick – are we getting any closer? We push and push and push in every aspect of our lives, in literature, philosophy, science, social lives, we capitalize on every success and incorporate it into every other field.

We are moving forward, and that’s the only way we know and the only way that matters.

Now come devotees and they have figured it all out already. We take our understanding from them and treat it as a spiritual ABC.

From our position the search for truth can only reach the understanding that the truth cannot be found in this world of matter. The evolution of human thought cannot reach Krishna on its own and so it has a ceiling and that ceiling is impersonalism – the world is made of matter, it’s perishable and illusory, and beyond it we can perceive only Brahman.

So it’s not like these people are wasting their time, they ARE trying to find God, it’s just that God cannot be found, only his impersonal aspect is open to us at the end of our journey.

Should we blame people for staying on this path? It’s a legitimate path in every respect, as far as evolution is concerned. Once people reach that wall they will be given a chance to learn about the Personality of God that lies beyond the Brahman and at that point they can choose to serve Him or to simply bathe in the light emanating from His body.

We know it from the devotees but I’m not sure we made that choice ourselves yet. Unless we directly see God we are driven either by desire to enjoy the world or to reject it as illusory, real service begins after the liberation, when our hearts are completely pure of all material contamination, including rejecting this world as false, as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and other acharyas said. Until that moment we only experience the shadow of the service, shadow of the Holy Name.

What we do now as followers of Srila Prabhupada is extremely important, we will need the service we are doing now, however imperfect, to help us surrender to the Lord when our hearts will be pure. Maybe some of us will make a different choice, who knows, there’s free will after all.

Perhaps it’s this class of mayavadis we should avoid at all costs – people who made a clear choice, free from the influence of illusion, and chose enjoying their qualitative oneness with the Supreme Lord over rendering devotional service.

If some follower of Islam tells us that God has no personal characteristics we will simply dismiss him for the lack of knowledge, if a vedic philosopher dismisses the devotional service as only a temporary measure to achieve God like quality for himself we should really worry as most of us are nowhere near that level yet of knowledge yet.

We might beat them with quotes but it’s “I’ve been there, I tried both” attitude that is impossible to beat and that attitude could very easily contaminate our own consciousness. We better not hear about this option until we are firm in our devotion ourselves.

To sum it up – if an ordinary conditioned soul exhibits traits of impersonalism in his quest for truth we shouldn’t take it as an offense, it’s just normal pains of growing. We shouldn’t encourage it either but we should realize that everybody has to pass this stage during evolution of their consciousness. If a jnani on the threshold of liberation preaches the supremacy of being one with God it’s an entirely different matter and we should oppose it in every way we can. They should know better.

The difficulty lies in separating a sincere quest from the one subtly directed by hardcore impersonalists who made it their mission to deny existence of God.

There are, of course, hard core materialists who deny God, too, but only because they have no personal experience of Him. They just don’t yet realize they can’t reach Him following their methods. There are hard core materialists who deny God because they can’t stand being inferior to anyone, but that’s just material nature speaking, the greed, the lust, the pride etc. etc.

I think in these cases we should address the material contamination itself rather than its symptoms manifested as scientific arguments. I think we should work on purifying their hearts before we can start talking serious science with them.

As far as the current debate is concerned, the one I have been covering for the past couple of days – I’m still dancing around making a decision what stance to take. If I were to consider what to contribute to it in the public arena I still don’t know what to say. I hope tomorrow it will become clearer for me, now that I dealt with a couple of elephants in the room.

Vanity thought #166. Formless.

Last night just before sleep I saw a stream of Deepak Chopra’s quotes in my tweeter timeline. They were all posted by the same guy who I know is a Buddhist.

One quote particularly caught my attention, it was about the formless being the source of everything. I immediately replied that Chopra is wrong and the “formless” has its own source, I used the simple argument – if the ultimate reality is “formless”, how come we all have forms? Seems that this version of ultimate is lacking something we all have.

That stopped the guy for a moment but in the end the most he conceded is that we all have transitory forms while the ultimate might, could possibly have some other kinds of forms, and he humored even that possibility.

Today I saw him posting even more quotes, including from Bhagavat Gita, all supporting that same “truth is formless and we are all the part of it” impersonalism.

Should I try and argue with him again?

One one hand we are supposed to confront the impersonalists and inform people about the supremacy of Lord Krishna, on the other hand there are rules of engagement. If I want to address his followers I need his permission, if he doesn’t retweet my arguments I won’t have an audience.

So if I want to reach people who came to listen to him I have to play by his rules, practically it means my arguments must appear attractive and amusing and worth repeating and it’s a lot easier said than done.

If I choose not to care about the audience I should consider the guy himself, how solid if his belief in impersonal nature of the absolute reality, is he open to suggestions, is he stubborn, defensive, reasonable, detached, entrenched? Is there a point even in trying to convince him otherwise?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. As a Buddhist he probably doesn’t care for Chopra much anyway, just glad that Chopra confirms his own ideas (sidenote – yes, Buddhism IS a covert impersonalism). When he didn’t have any more Chopra’s quotes to back it up yesterday he immediately resorted to Buddhist terminology, in his terms of reference those are unassailable concepts, there’s no room for interpretation.

This is also the reason I couldn’t just put up links to Srimad Bhagavatam – it’s not an authority for him, just one of many books with many conclusions. Once you get into the quote pissing contest it will never end, and here is why.

One of the things I wanted to say is that the Absolute Truth might appear impersonal because we can’t penetrate the level of Brahman on our own, only through devotion. So non-devotees are quite right in saying that there’s nothing above Brahman, as far as they are concerned it’s the end of the road, but if they can’t reach it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

The Absolute Truth is absolutely independent by definition, we might know nothing of it but it would still happily exist entirely on its own. That means we can’t perceive not only with our imperfect senses but also with our logic and arguments. We can argue until cows come home but it won’t get us any closer to Krishna.

This is why exchanging quotes and witty thoughts won’t change a thing. Krishna can reveal Himself only to those who inquire with devotion, even a tiniest bit of devotion. Devotion doesn’t come from arguments and I doubt it can ever be shared by trying to win a verbal fight.

Okay, so arguments can’t convert people, but are they entirely useless? No, impersonalism should be stopped regardless. If I put up a good fight they guy would think twice about picking it up again and spreading his “we are all God” propaganda. On the other hand twitter fights are voluntary, if you don’t like losing just ignore it, no one is forced to answer and there are no judges to award the points.

In the end I decided to leave it at that – sowing a tiniest bit of doubt in his convictions, maybe I’ll continue some other day. Just in this one little engagement I picked up three followers – clearly there are people who are interested.

And then the other day came – today. Around the same time came the same stream of quotes, even from Gita, as I said. My first, impulsive reaction was to post something from Gita, too, but while I was looking for the best one something happened and I got distracted. When I had more time I cooled off a bit and decided to do a bit more research first.

Well, BG 14.27 should be the one, it can’t get any clearer than that – I’m the source of impersonal Brahman, but that’s Prabhupada’s translation, I wanted to know how much weight it carries in other traditions. There’s this aggregation from four sampradayas, with Madhvacharya’s purport, not Prabhupada’s, and I don’t know who translated the verse to English.

This page would have been more acceptable in the public argument but it is largely disappointing. They all talk about bhakti, and it’s great, but they don’t stress superiority of the Lord’s personal form enough to convince impersonalists.

Sridhara Swami of Rudra sampradaya says that Krishna is the source of Brahman in the concentrated form just like sun is concentrated light, and it’s fine, but Madhvacharya says that Brahman means Sri Lakshmi here, if one attains Sri Lakshmi he attains the Lord. Well, yeah, that’s correct, but the message gets diluted when Brahman means so many things in just one verse. Ramanujacharya says that brahmano hi prastisthalam refers to the atma or realising the soul and in Kumara sampradaya they get back on the message that brahman is the effulgence of Krishna’s form but it’s too late already.

While I was reading all this the opportunity has passed and twitter chat has moved onto different topics. Maybe it was meant to be and Krishna will provide a better chance, it wasn’t in total waste anyway – I’ve learned the views of other vaishnavas and their priorities.

One thing is still clear, though – this preaching of the formless should not be allowed unchecked. If people want to commit their own spiritual suicide it’s fine, but they pollute other, fairly innocent minds, too.

We all are impersonalists by nature, by virtue of being born in the material world, so the impersonalist philosophy is something we all can find a soft spot in our hearts for, just like food and sex, but the grace of Lord Chaitanya and Srila Prabhupada is meant specifically for awakening our true nature as infinitesimal servants of the Lord and that is also something not one of us can deny – it’s our true, original identity, impersonalism is just Lord’s external potency playing tricks on us.

Here’s a thought – we can’t defeat Lord’s energy, we must beg Her to give us a pass to address the spirit souls within their bodies and our underlying message should be that of love and devotion to Krishna, even if dressed in logical arguments and backed up by materialistic references.

I didn’t feel it that way this evening when I was tempted to respond, maybe that’s why Krishna stopped me. Or maybe some people can’t be saved and should be allowed to fulfill their formless dreams and desires, it’s all Krishna’s arrangement anyway, who am I to argue?

Vanity thought #129. Krishna Unhinged Part II

Picking up from where I left off yesterday – I think I figured why Krishna appeared so unappealing in Buddhist Ghata Jataka, and structural failure of our perception of dharma.

First, it could be discounted as simple ignorance. People who compiled that version of the story presumed that Krishna was just a village ruffian on his first trip to the city, that His behavior was in no way justified. Ignorance is probably the best excuse, if they knew the background and intentionally didn’t tell us it would be just sinister.

Let’s imagine how it all looked from Kamsa minions side of the story. As a faithful subject/henchman, one would never admit to any of Kamsa’s wrongdoings which included murdering hundreds if not thousands of infants, some of them personally, just crashing the tiny newborn babies against the walls and pillars, maybe stomping on them or suffocating them. There was also a matter of sending countless demons and rakshasas to kill Krishna Himself.

So, pretending that none of this had ever happened, some imaginary Kamsa’s lawyer would attack Krishna for what He has done in response and holding Him to some lofty standards. “How dared He to enter Mathura uninvited”, for example. “How dared He to take garments meant for Kamsa, the king!” Suddenly it all becomes about rules and civility, forget that Kamsa set the wrestling match specifically to kill Krishna and Balarama. Actually, no, they never forget it, they just pretend Kamsa was an innocent victim there.

Next step would be to demand a full trial, the higher the court the better, and with jury, of course. There should be plenty of options to appeal, too, and there should be bail. The purpose, of course, is to keep Kamsa free to do whatever he wants including hutching new plans to assassinate Krishna. The general public, however, must be made to believe that all Kamsa wants is justice and fairness.

And it’s from this point of view, the position of the cheated public, that Krishna is described as an ungrateful villain in the Buddhist version.

I wonder if all our modern claims of justice are following the same path, too. Our “heroes” kill whoever they want under flimsiest pretenses yet to the world the preach complete faith in justice and fairness. Presumption of innocence is not applied to their enemies at all. A month ago they killed Osama Bin Laden without any trial, not even an attempt, not even a chance to present his version of what has happened with 9/11.

Surely, it looks as if Bin Laden had fully deserved his fate, but what do we really know about his involvement? Could it be that he just claimed the glory for himself, being appointed a symbol of terrorism/resistance? Could it be that he had no personal involvement with planning and execution at all? No one stopped to ask, and no one even pausing to ask now. There are some muted opinion pieces in non-US media about potential dangers of targeted assassinations but no one takes them seriously. It’s a good think they killed Osama, the common wisdom goes.

A few days ago they captured another mass murderer, Serbian Ratko Mladic. That guy was responsible for the worst case of genocide in Europe since World War II. Fifteen years he has been in hiding and now he is about to be brought to trial. Good.

Except people who are going to try him have been complicit in the genocide themselves. They just set back and watched and when shit hit the fan they feigned ignorance and lack of resources. In on account they even turned down the bombing mission against Ratko Mladic forces because paperwork hasn’t been filed properly. The planes just flew several circles above the troops slaughtering civilian men, women and children, and then turned back.

Now they are going to put it all on one man.

Some justice indeed.

Oh, even more, the whole hunt for Osama Bin Laden was illegal from the start to the finish. They got their first clue by torturing terrorist suspects in secret prisons outside of the US and outside US laws, and hidden from the public of the host countries, too. Then they set up surveillance in Pakistan without local authorities knowledge, and finally they executed the raid which was a straightforward challeng to Pakistani sovereignty, and they are saying they would do it again, laws be damned.

Though no, not actually, the laws will be praised and “upheld” – for public consumption, while the might makes right and people with power can abuse laws in any way they like.

So, I no longer wonder how it came to be that ordinary people might try to judge Krishna by these modern standards.

I also find it ridiculous that justice should be blind. The only thing it’s blind to is people with power to subvert it. That is the reality, the slogans for the rest of us are just that – slogans.

When Krishna came to restore dharma He most certainly didn’t mean our modern interpretation. I’m sure it counted as adharma in His view.

Actually the only acceptable dharma is to serve God. There’s no such thing as “blind” justice at all. Blind justice denies the supremacy of the God by definition, it might be the only way a demoniac society can function but for people who believe in God there should be no blindness at all.

As I said yesterday – in a demoniac society everyone looks for equality because they all want to be equal – equal to God. Everybody deserves the same rights and freedoms because everybody’s born equal – equal to God.

We, as devotees, should always remember this fundamental flaw in modern interpretation of justice and fairness when we try to explain why Krishna did this and that.

How did Buddhist got caught up in this, too? I can only speculate, but, let’s not forget – they don’t have any special position for God, too. They are all equal in their impersonal understanding of the world and the creation. Everybody can become Buddha, and Buddha wasn’t God, He was just one of us who advanced further than anyone else.

I can see how their denial of the existence of the Supreme Autocrat can lead to blaming Krishna for what He did to Kamsa, and, ultimately, how that kind of philosophy can lead the rest of us to the travesty of justice that passes off as law in our days.

God, it looks like I can’t finish this story today, too.