Vanity thought #1124. Indifference

I think indifference is a better word for detachment. As I explained yesterday, detachment is often associated with renunciation but renunciation of material world is not our goal.

We would say that instead of renouncing the world we want to engage everything in Kṛṣṇa’s service but most of the time it’s beyond our capacity, we can hardly engage ourselves, what to speak of the rest of the world. This leaves us with interest in affairs around us but with no proper engagement and that leads us to undesirable outcomes.

I think our error lies at the beginning here – we mask our attachment to sense enjoyment by pretending we are doing it for Kṛṣṇa, that we are connecting material energy with Kṛṣṇa, that we are doing the world a favor. We subconsciously assume that interactions between our senses and their sense objects are somehow important to the Lord, that He watches these interactions with genuine passion growing into genuine concern when things are not going so well. That’s a delusion, of course, the Lord indifferent.

He sits in our hearts and He has zero interest in what’s going on with our senses, so the moment we tell ourselves that because we are devotees we must engage our senses in sense gratification for the Lord’s pleasure He simply tunes out. It’s like with a girl who can’t stop talking – we can’t start listening, we genuinely can’t, we can’t bring ourselves to participating in her fantasy world. Unlike the Lord, we always have the option to leave, imagine how He must be bored with our self-absorbed tales.

Anyway, where was I? Right – renunciation, detachment, and indifference. Well, renunciation is out, for conditioned souls like us it’s phalgu vairāgya all the way. Detachment is our friend but, as the opposite of attachment, it’s still defined in reference to the material energy. Like Lord Śiva who is permanently marked with association with material universe. However pure He is, this “stain” will always remain on His reputation.

Yesterday I also suggested a way to indirectly cultivate detachment. Even though it should be impossible, its innate connection with attachment can be exploited – by curbing growth of our attachments detachment would naturally follow.

There might be another, more direct way to cultivate detachment – by acquiring knowledge. When we learn true value of material things we tend to lose interest in them. Same often happens when we figure out how things work. We study something, solve all the related mysteries, and lose interest. This brings detachment even without transcendental knowledge per se.

In this sense its akin to overindulgence that leads to senses becoming numb to this particular pleasure, which leads to detachment. I don’t remember where but Nārada Muni once spoke about this method with an air of legitimacy.

It’s easy to see, however, that the path to detachment here lies through taking our attachments to the extreme. Even when we contemplate our attachments theoretically, ie defeat them solely with knowledge, the same principle is still at work, it’s just that instead of exhausting our capacity for sense gratification we exhaust our capacity to understand the world.

There’s nothing more to learn here, we tell ourselves. Learning and understanding, however, are just subtler forms of sense gratification. Māyā means to measure, among other things – desire to understand, estimate, and classify. When we want to know the world we are in māyā.

Indifference, otoh, is absolutely pure. It has no connection with material world whatsoever. We wouldn’t even know what is it that we are indifferent to. With detachment we always know the object, with indifference we are in complete ignorance.

We can’t cultivate indifference, directly or indirectly, it’s either there or it isn’t. It exists only as by product of devotion, it has no other causes and no connections to anything.

With detachment we always know detachment from what. We can always say things like “I’m attracted to serving guru and Kṛṣṇa and that made me detached from eating meat, drinking, gambling, and even sex.” “How about mundane entertainment?” – “I’m detached from most of it”. “How about news?” – “There’s still some work to do”

With indifference we wouldn’t even know what questions to ask. We are not aware of it until someone shoves something into our faces and forces us to express an opinion about it. “I don’t have an opinion, I don’t want to form an opinion on this subject, I don’t even want to know this subject exists.”

Good news is that we are already indifferent to so many things in the world we don’t even know the extent of our fortune. Most of it is based on ignorance, however – not exactly our goal. Our goal is to develop attraction to Kṛṣṇa which would simply squeeze out all existing interests in our lives, the ones we are fully aware of, and pretty soon we’ll become indifferent to them.

There’s an obvious problem with developing attraction to Kṛṣṇa – this attraction, bhakti, is the most treasured thing in all of creations, material and spiritual, it doesn’t come to us very often.

In the absence of genuine bhakti we always find some substitutes and holding onto them will lead us to serious problems, that’s how Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism was overrun by apa-sampradāyas in the time of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. In our case it might lead to the problem I stated in the beginning of this post – we foolishly assign spiritual value to our material interests in this world.

This might also lead to a false assumption that if we like things related to Kṛṣṇa then we are spiritually alright. Food, Deities, clothes, decorations, culture, history, philosophy, stories, songs, music, kīrtans, bhajanas, classes, friends – we can have fully material attachments to all those things and indulge ourselves in gratifying our senses and there will be precious little spirituality in our pursuits.

Simple example – everybody in India knows Kṛṣṇa and “loves” Him but devotees are still very rare and difficult to find. It’s of course better to like stories about Kṛṣṇa than stories about Snow White or Cinderella but it’s not enough to develop genuine devotion. At some point our attachment to materially imagined Kṛṣṇa’s forms will hold us back.

What I’m saying is that sometimes we can be indifferent to this folklore, too. What if someone says “I cannot be indifferent to our Deities, they are the most beautiful Deities in the world!” To this I can reply by asking if this person attachment to Kṛṣṇa extends to all the not-so-beautiful Deities, too. Genuinely spiritual attraction would manifest equally to all deity forms, and if we feel indifferent to some of them then we can feel indifferent to all of them, too, we just need the right circumstances to notice our lack of interest.

That is to say – when we fail to see Kṛṣṇa we can become indifferent, too, it would be more honest of us.

Same is true for all other external manifestations of divinity. We can see devotees as our friends, not as Kṛṣṇa’s servants. We can see our guru as our manager, not as our eternal master and the only connection to the Lord. We can treat kīrtans as good music, prasāda as good food, etc etc.

It’s okay to be indifferent to the beauty of the Deities, to the bank of knowledge of our guru, to the friendliness of the devotees, to the pleasant sound of the kīrtan, to the taste of prasāda – all those things are material anyway. Spiritually speaking, poorly decorated deities are as attractive as the best dressed ones, uneducated guru is as good as a top class brāhmaṇa, grumpy devotees are as good as friendly ones, unsalted prasāda is as tasty as the most delicious one and so on.

We shouldn’t waste our time on cultivating these false material attachments and pretend we will be okay. We should become indifferent instead.


Vanity thought #860. JIT verse

JIT, Just In Time, is a computer programming (and also business) term that refers to feeding code to the machine exactly when it’s needed as opposed to compiling all the code prior to program execution, AOT, Ahead Of Time. Roughly speaking, if you are using a mobile phone than Ahead Of Time execution will mean a few second lag between touching a button and an app doing something in response, in this case it would need to prepare code for execution of all possible scenarios before finally getting processor to work. With JIT the phone will start showing something first and figure out the rest as you watch and interact with the app further.

Problem with JIT is what to do if it guesses wrong and the code it prepared to execute doesn’t match with what is actually needed, because a lot of JIT are predictions of how various “if” statements will branch out. In case of a wrong guess it all has to be flushed and new code prepared from scratch. The more code you prepare the more you risk to discard, the more code you need to recompile and that would take more time, making JIT ineffective.

About ten years ago Intel figured out how to better predict next batch of code and also found a sweet spot where they prepare enough JIT code to feed the processor without breaks yet don’t slow down the system in case they have to flush it all. That gave them a big advantage over rival AMD, which hasn’t been able to recover since.

Point is – getting JIT right is very very important. Our brains are not unlike computers, we have long term memory, we have short term memory, we process information, we pass data back and forth, taking more from memory or committing new information to storage. We have exactly the same natural limits and in some cases even more.

Our long term memory is not nearly as reliable as what is stored on hard disks. With AOT approach a computer might spend more time preparing to work but at least it won’t forget what it has to do. Our brains can’t think that far ahead and even when they do they forget the plan. Try to predict next five-six moves in chess and you’ll see the problem first hand – it’s too much to process and too much to remember even if you think you figured out the position completely.

Luckly, dadami buddhi yogam tam, Krishna gives us intelligence and Krishna manages our limited resources, feeding us right information just as we need it and in the amounts that we can actually process. He is much better at it than Intel.

Our job is to keep working, we outsource what we can’t do to the Lord but we should never miss His hints and timely interventions.

I’m not saying that Krishna personally monitors and controls my thought process but way too often I’m given little clues to help me better understand the situation. It can’t be a coincidence, though I’m open to alternative explanations.

Yesterday I complained about not being inspired by recent stream of vaishnava news. Then, almost immediately, a verse (BG 2.52) came to my attention:

When your intelligence has passed out of the dense forest of delusion, you shall become indifferent to all that has been heard and all that is to be heard.

Indifference to everything people say or will say is a natural step on the path of self-realization. I’m not out of the dense forest of delusion yet but if I ever have moments of clarity than indifference towards affairs of the world will be a prominent feature, I should not be worried about that.

In the purport Srila Prabhupada talks about indifference towards Vedic rites and rituals but the verse is surely not confined only to that. On this page various acharyas explained other aspects of this indifference. Sridhara Swami, for example, writes:

    The desire to inquire about temporal things will cease as it will be perceived that only existing temporarily they are not worth pursuing.

This is a very broad application and I don’t see any reasons to disagree with it. Ramanuja acharya writes about “fruitiveness of actions” – a lot of what passes as news is fruitive in nature – people say things to make a difference, for the better, they hope. Doesn’t matter how it turns out in the end as long as fruitive desire is there it can be ignored.

Madhvacharya makes an important point – Krishna talks about nirvedam here, callousness in our translation or indifference in theirs, but it is not renunciation. We are not supposed to renounce things, just become indifferent to them. Means I should not shun news sites altogether nor should I shun participating in debates when I feel the urge to, but I should become indifferent to these activities, my consciousness should always be somewhat aloof even in the heat of a discussion.

Well, what was it if not a very timely resolution to my dilemma?

I don’t keep track of such interventions but sometimes they come in the form of verses, sometimes these bits of wisdom come from elsewhere, even non-devotee sources. Krishna is a wonderful JIT manager, and this gives me a great peace of mind, practically indifference to everything else that is going on, just like the verse says.

Vanity thought #770. Indifference

I’m afraid this is the first symptom of liberation and it’s also the one that is very hard to deal with.

Are we supposed to be indifferent? No one would object to being indifferent to our own pain or pleasure but if we become indifferent to suffering of others there will be no kind words for us ever.

G.B. Show called it the essence of inhumanity:

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity

Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel similarly called indifference evil:

Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.

You get the drift.

Not all is lost, however, as French poet Anatole France said:

I prefer the folly of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom.

That’s a very helpful observation – linking indifference with wisdom. We want that kind exactly, not the kind that is born of self-absorption where you don’t care because you don’t notice that there’s a problem.

Indifference born of wisdom means you do know there’s a problem and you do know there are solutions but the solutions might not be very obvious to a casual observer who doesn’t know neither the root of the problem nor the correct medicine.

People who achieve preliminary stages of self-realization, where they are driven mostly by the mode of goodness and where they realize that they are bigger than their bodies, can’t help but feel for the world and try to do good in it. According to their level of realization they identify themselves not with their physical bodies but with their society or even humanity as a whole. Some would then try to convert the rest of the world to democracy or Christianity or Islam, others would concentrate on building wells and delivering medicine.

Their rationalization is very simple – I felt pain myself, then I grew up spiritually and overcame it, then I noticed that other people are still suffering, and now I feel bad for them and feel compelled to help.

It’s at this stage that they say “indifference is inhuman”, for they imagine themselves to be top human beings ever, as we all do from time to time.

It’s hard to argue with them about futility of their endeavors because that’s the maximum they can comprehend on their level of spiritual realization. They simply can’t take more until they accept that spirit and matter are fundamentally different and fixing material side of things does not address actual problems with humanity.

We shouldn’t be bedazzled by their dedication to the welfare of others. They might seem like great philanthropists now but in Vedic times it was a duty of all higher varnas without exception, nothing to be proud of, just doing your job.

Indifference that comes from progressing towards liberation is of a different nature altogether. Not just that it comes from wisdom but it also signify taking a different turn at the biggest fork on the path of every human life ever – becoming a servant of God instead of ourselves.

Philanthropists still view the world as the object of their enjoyment and their gift giving is nothing but sharing the spoils. They do not accept that everything in this world belongs to God and is meant for His pleasure, not ours. Despite being such exemplary human specimen they still live on the platform of animals – the world is mine, I’m the enjoyer, and the goal of life is to make me feel good.

Well, they feel good by feeding others, that’s all the difference.

As devotees we completely abandon their attitude and that’s what worries them – they need a validation that their path is the correct one but we ignore it wish such indifference it drives them nuts. They want us to confirm that enjoyment is still the most important goal ever. When they don’t get this from us they declare us dead to their world. It’s easier for them to ignore our existence than to let a suspicion that serving God is better than serving themselves creep into their little lives. It would completely ruin their illusion, wouldn’t it?

So I kind of agree with this other quote from Elie Wiesel:

Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.

So true, but not in the way Wiesel intended – we die to the world he wants to live in.

Even Paul of the Gospels said something similar:

The world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world

But what about suffering? Can’t we feel it? Doesn’t it make our hearts twist with pain, like ordinary people? Of course it does, only our reactions are different – we see the root of this suffering and we want to treat that instead. Shouldn’t we worry about immediate symptoms, too? We do but only to the degree it helps removing the underlying cause and doesn’t interfere with the main treatment.

We also understand the value of tolerance, often times people exaggerate their pain an we shouldn’t go alone with their hypocrisy.

Bottom line, though – we should have faith in Krishna, that He won’t let those who depend on Him down, that He would always come to help when pain becomes truly unbearable and detrimental to their spiritual progress.

That is the corner stone of our philosophy – that by surrendering to Krishna all problems will be resolved and people will become truly happy.

It might take a while to build faith in this statement for ourselves and that’s why the best preaching for us is to let people hear it from Srila Prabhupada through our books.

We can’t promise people that Krishna will take care of them ourselves, we aren’t qualified to make such promises and so we should always defer to our guru, no matter how advanced we might appear to be.

That leaves us in constant prayers to the Lord as the best way to alleviate others’ suffering.

Let the Lord, by the mercy of the guru, hear our pleas and wake those other living beings to His service and accept their efforts, and that would finally cure them of all their diseases.

We aren’t being indifferent, we are just going about sufferings the correct way – through guru and Krishna.

Vanity thought #222. Japa report.

At the end of the workweek I used to assess my japa performance, things that improved, problems and overall development. The fact is that japa never stays the same and it always needs attention.

This week saw some big changes, profound even, as I think about the future.

First – this blog itself. After being pressed to come up with something to keep it going I got a lot more than I bargained for. I got myself engaged in some lively discussions and they kept me very busy.

Typing up my daily entries took along took me two hours everyday. Research took another hour or two, and participating in the actual discussions took some time, too. All in all I had a three-four hour hit on my japa time everyday and it reflected on the number of hours I could chant.

Two-three weeks ago I was doing three lakhs on some days, I was really going to make it a norm, and two lakhs was practically a must. Then last week I had a lot of outside engagements and this week I had these debates. Now I don’t even remember when I did two lakhs last time, and I have no idea if I’ll ever do three again.

These are the obvious changes but there are underlying tides behind them that sometimes make me worry. I worry that I stopped chanting a lot because I’ve lost interest, everything else is secondary. The Supersoul saw that I’d rather be doing something else and responded. Do I dare admit it to myself?

I’ve never let this thought materialize in my brain, if the desire was there I suppressed it. It probably manifested through different channels, though. I had an unstoppable itch to fix technical problems for a week or two, for example. I decided that I would chant through anyway but the desire to do something else was there, that’s undeniable. I thought I would ignore it and insist on chanting regardless but, perhaps, the Supersoul saw a different solution.

I wanted my brain to be engaged and I got it, and, luckily, it was engaged in Krishna conscious matters. I was chanting and thinking about Krishna related problems instead of software glitches. That’s a progress, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no. It could be considered as progress in terms of how much I think of Krishna overall when taken week on week but comparing to a month ago I saw my determination to chant as much as possible slowly disappear, so month on month I don’t think I’m doing well.

I could probably say I’m doing my best but it doesn’t appear to be good enough. I probably need to reassess my previous commitments and dismiss my initial enthusiasm as utsaha-mayi, based on insufficient realization. Just as a newly initiated brahmana might imagine himself as master of all the vedas so a neophyte devotee might think of himself as practically on the edge of perfection.

I knew there was something odd about my push to chant three lakhs a day but never could quite laid my hands on it. Now it’s becoming clearer and my actual commitment to chanting is being gradually scaled down to levels more appropriate for my actual readiness. If that was supposed to make me humble – I still do near a hundred rounds everyday so I’ll gladly settle even on this – it’s still six times more than a “regular” devotee.

I hope it doesn’t go into my head.

Numbers aside, there were qualitative changes to my chanting, too, and they were for the better.

When I was doing a lot of rounds I worried about my pronunciation – not anymore. I’m chanting much, much slower now. With weaker commitment I don’t feel the need to complete as many rounds as possible, just as many as I can do in comfort. With chanting less everyday my mouth started to forget its routine, too. All in all my speed dropped to a solid five minutes per round all day through, from morning to evening.

This is good, it feels, good, too. Now I can hear every word, every syllable very clearly, my mind is not covered by the rush to get through the rounds as fast as I can, and I’m actually starting to enjoy the experience.

The old feeling I thought had gone forever is coming back – with each mantra I’m actually trying to ask Krishna to engage me in His service. Not exactly like that but each and every Name in the mantra suddenly gained more weight and importance, I want to hear everything.

As far as praying is concerned it’s not like I put it in clear thoughts anymore, it’s more of an attitude I’m trying to maintain and develop, and, when I really think about it, I’m more concerned with how my chanting can bring pleasure to Krishna, I think this is the right question to ask.

I know that I pray mostly for my benefit, on the odd chance I’m not being materialistically selfish it’s still about MY spiritual benefits, I want to make progress, I want to obtain this and that and even love of God. I need Krishna to provide something for me, even if it’s a completely spiritual thing it’s still engaging Krishna in my service, not the other way around.

As walk to and fro and think about my life it’s becoming clear to me that I’m not in control in any way and if I worry about what’s going to happen once bla bla bla I’m wasting my time. What’s going to happen is going to happen and I can’t stop it. Even if I could it would be a waste of my time, my real engagement is with chanting Krishna’s names. Sometimes this attitude becomes quite clear in my head, sometimes it goes away, but when it stays it goes one step further – my real engagement is to try and make Krishna happy.

That’s when I start wondering if my chanting brings Him any pleasure at all. How should I change it to be pleasing to His ear? I have no idea.

I might be under the spell of utsaha-mayi but I also know that my salvation and elevation to the rank of Krishna’s associates and servants is practically guaranteed, I might have a few big, long falldowns on the way and it might take several lifetimes but I will get there.

Why don’t I do something for Krishna in the meantime? Why don’t I want to do something for Krishna in the meantime? Why am I planning to start devotional service AFTER I achieve liberation, whatever that means?

Here is the real danger, and I got it from reading Krishna book – what if I reach the liberation but won’t find any interest in serving Krishna at all? This kind of people, the impersonalist jnanis, are the most dangerous and vaishnavas should avoid their association like a plague. Why? Because it’s the ultimate offense for one thing. We are attracted to the opposite sex because of our material bodies but if we reach liberation, look and Krishna and go “meh” – there’s no greater offense towards Him than this indifference.

Another reason we should avoid this kind of impersonalists, I think, is because it’s very contagious – any conditioned soul, vaishnava or not, can fall prey to this temptation to flip the bird to God Himself.

What I actually fear is that I might fall prey myself. I don’t have any guarantees that I won’t, if I had a choice. When I catch myself chanting or looking at Krishna’s form with utmost indifference it scares me. My heart might change in the future but if I die right now and have to make a decision than I’m afraid I won’t be ready to be anybody’s servant yet.

If my renewed interest in listening to each Name attentively is due to this fear than it served me well this week.

I need to solve this “I don’t want to be a servant” problem as soon as I can, off to sleep I go, no time to waste.