Real ISKCON

ISKCON appears differently to different observers. Somehow I just got an earful that I think this post would address – ISKCON also has discussions like this. It’s just a regular, off the mill Zoom meeting with Bhakti Vijnana Goswami organized by one of his “bridge preaching” disciples. I can’t be even bothered to find his initiated name. There are 1,737 views on Youtube at the moment, plus people who were watching on different platforms. It’s not a lot but not a little either – the “Number One Hare Krishna podcast in the world” doesn’t get as much as this, and that’s in English for the worldwide audience. Here is a talk in Russian, without translation. I have downloaded auto subs, tried to make them readable, and Google translated them in English. It takes a lot of time and I didn’t read through the result, I’ll just post it as it is below. I’m not lazy, but correcting the whole thing sentence by sentence would take a full day of work. I also can’t be bothered to put in paragraphs and left one sentence per line. I hope it’s readable.

Adrian:

Hello, we are live.
First of all, I salute Bhakti Vigyan Goswami Maharaja and all who watch us.
Today we have an amazing opportunity to ask questions to a person whose advice and instructions most of us listen to, use, but do not always work for us.
That is why now we will not ask about what to do, but about why we don’t get much from what we do.
Look, we are doing this broadcast for students of our projects: a large Vedic workshop, a journey to ourselves, a school of bhakti, and in general, in all these projects, despite the fact that they are a little bit about different things, but in general, we, like all the right people, we talk about happiness and how to become happy, and we talk about the fact that there are some changes in our lives, changes in the worldview.
And everything seems to be cool, we say everything seems to be correct, but in fact – our understanding of how it should be is changing, but happiness can also become more, but not as much as we would like.
Therefore, I wanted to ask the first question, directly, as you know, such an immediate attack.
Here you tell me from your experience – what is the most important thing that prevents people who are trying to do something. They just want to, they even start on Monday, they do something ..
What is the main thing stopping us?

BVG:

I will answer this question a little philosophically, I think that no one will strongly object, because, in practice, we have probably heard the answers to this question more than once.
In my opinion, if you look at the root, because when we talk about such a complex phenomenon as our life, we can talk about many different reasons.
This reason interferes or this reason interferes – a wife, a dream, a lack of money interfere, and bad weather interferes, the situation in North Korea interferes.
You can find many different reasons and explain what specifically prevents us from becoming happy, but if we look a little wider at the matter, then the absence of the widest possible vision and understanding of what is happening to us prevents us from becoming happy.
Because in order to practice something correctly, you must first understand why we practice, what we practice, why we practice it.
There is a very important principle that I wanted to formulate from the very beginning.
This principle is that meaning can only be understood by context.
The meaning in Sanskrit is abzideya or practice, the context is sambandha.
The meaning of a word can only be understood if we know the sentence, because the same word can mean completely different things in different contexts of different sentences.
The meaning of a sentence can only be understood by knowing the context in which this sentence is in a paragraph.
The meaning of a paragraph can only be understood if we know the context of the paragraph i.e. the chapter.
The meaning of a chapter can only be understood if we understand the entire book.
The meaning of a book can only be understood if we understand the context of the time in which it was written.
Why is it that even very good books written many centuries ago cease to be understandable to us?
Because we have dropped out of the context of this time.
That is, we can practice something only if we understand as widely as possible, understand the context as correctly as possible.
And actually what happens to us, if this slightly abstract philosophical position is deciphered in application to our practice – we get a certain philosophical context – there is a god, there is this world that he created.
He created this world in order to teach us, so that we evolve, so that we become better, kinder and happier.
Ultimately, he created these laws..
We understand this – the theory.
And when we understand the theory, we become a little happy, everything falls into place, everything becomes clear – yes, it’s clear.
Yes – like this, like this, like this.
The problem happens when we take this very theory, or rather, when we take some specifics in our lives, we immediately, at the same moment, as soon as we move on to specifics, we forget the broad context.
Everything is wrong, everything is wrong.

Adrian:

Because our personal context appears.

BVG:

Yes yes yes yes – our personal context with which we interpret everything that is.
Therefore, accordingly, we do not understand the meaning and our practice is translated into this our scanty miserable context formed by our limiting ego.

Adrian:

This short context is our life, by the way.

BVG:

Yes, well, what to do.
We are constantly taking things out of context.
We have achieved great perfection in taking everything out of context – individual events and what is happening to us, what is happening in historical periods of time, and so on.
We constantly forget about the context, we constantly forget that God is behind everything, that everything is k.
Better that we evolve.
And accordingly, therefore, we do not become happy because we have a resistance to reality.
Resistance to reality is called stress.
When we try to remake reality, when it does not suit us, when we are trying our best to say that something is wrong here, naturally we are not happy.
As soon as we accept everything, when we accept everything theoretically, we stand for a while.
Happy, but when it comes down to it, everyone unfortunately goes down the drain.

Adrian:

Guru Maharaj, I feel where you are dragging us to, and on the field where you are dragging us, we cannot defeat you with this logic, and therefore I would like to cling to the last opportunity to justify myself now.
Well, look – yes, it’s cool, there is this wide, as wide as possible context that you are talking about, but it is just as wide, it is also as far as possible from us in material terms, right?
That is, you are talking about some such philosophical abstractions, let’s say – for a simple Soviet person, Russian.
It would be desirable to understand, and how to us here this wide context?.
Your shirt is still closer to the body.
Here’s how we make that shirt closer ?.
Here is the question.

BVG:

It’s not entirely abstract.
That is, if it was just about some really very abstract categories, one could throw this accusation, but in fact the context of the same Bhagavad Gita …
The Bhagavad Gita is a kind of sambandha primer, or context primer, and a primer is sufficient.
It brings us very close to our practical life.
The same three gunas.
The three gunas are a powerful tool for understanding cause and effect.
The trouble is that we are just because our shirt is closer to the body, we understand these three gunas very well – how they act on the example of others, but on the example of ourselves, we do not understand that in general we we reap what we ourselves sow.
The fact that if we act in a certain guna, then the result will come in the same guna – that guna will increase.
If we are driven by passion, we will be unhappy accordingly.
If we are driven by ignorance we will sink further into ignorance.
That is precisely why I do not accept this accusation that this is an abstract thing.
It’s more of a concrete thing, and a very practical thing.
Therefore, I do not know the ball in your half of the field.

Adrian:

OK thank you very much.
And now you voiced an interesting point, I wanted to dwell on it.
Now, in principle, people want quick recipes for some specific one.
Increasing happiness and so on, and you just said an interesting thing.
You just said that, in fact, these ways to increase happiness, they do not work because they are out of context, and you say that if we do not start in earnest.
To study the philosophy behind all these methods, even some local ones.
Specific methods won’t work.
Did I understand correctly?

BVG:

Yes, absolutely true, and one small addition to this – when a person wants quick happiness, then, again in accordance with the Bhagavad Gita, quick happiness – you can get it, it belongs to the category of the guna of passion.
It comes quickly and happiness is available.
The trouble is that this quick happiness turns into the same quick misfortune, and in itself this desire for quick happiness, it is already dictated by a certain guna.
Therefore, before wishing, you must first learn to wish correctly.

Adrian:

Yes, as a good statement – before punching a wall with your head, you should try to find out what is still on the other side.

BVG:

What are you going to do next cell.

Adrian:

Da, yes, yes.
It’s good and great, and this is very clear to me, because at the same large Vedic workshop, for the first six months, we actually don’t talk about application, we don’t talk about some practical things, but we try to create this context.
And so we begin our first four classes, that is, for more than a month, we are not even talking about this at all, but we are talking about how to study.
And we are based here on your lecture with which you once started – the first, generally the first, the first zero lesson of a large Vedic workshop – from information to transformation.
Tell me about the ability to learn.
What is the ability to learn?

BVG:

The ability to learn is, first of all, a doubt in one’s own rightness.
Because a person who is sure that he is right, by this very fact, deprives himself of the ability to understand something new.
The ability to learn arises when a person is a little disappointed in his own recipes for happiness, in his own ability to become happy, and this encourages him to learn.
Learning means changing.
The ability to learn means the willingness to change.
Willingness to change arises only when a person… One second…

Adrian:

I will now repeat this important point that I really liked now – that in order to learn, we need to admit that we are wrong.
That is, here is an interesting interesting point that the search for truth does not always seem to be, or rather, it is rarely based only on the fact that here I have some kind of set of knowledge, my understanding, my common sense, my life experience, and now I am starting to seek the truth based on all this, and now Goswami Maharaj said an interesting thing about the ability to learn.
It implies doubt in the first place that all my accumulated experience, common sense and so on, they will lead me to this happiness.
Yes thanks a lot.
In fact, I just repeated this important point for our listeners.
Now I sometimes collect puzzles and here are puzzles, there is such a thing that at some point you need to question your own constructions.
You start to build a big piece of the puzzle, built it, and, you know, one small one doesn’t fit in, and you’re like this and that and everything is already there, but without questioning it very much.
A beautifully built piece of the puzzle, you won’t be able to go any further.

Please continue.

BVG:

Well, yes, this doubt in one’s rightness is called, in fact, humility.
Humility is an integral part of a person, or a quality of a person who is able to learn.
A proud man, he froze.
He remains equal to himself.
He may have achieved something, but it’s just that everything he does it only replicates him.
Himself and his own problems and his.
own achievements.
Nothing new will happen in his life.
That is, the ability to learn is the ability to change, which is based on some kind of disappointment.
Humility is a natural result of disappointment in some recipes for happiness that we have come up with, or overheard by us from someone, peeped.

Adrian:

Yes, thank you very much, Guru Maharaj.
I have always been worried about such a story, I went through it myself, I definitely understand this.
Look, we are faced with Vedic knowledge and they, well, as it was at least in my case, they are completely, well, stunning.
They build, they become, as it were, extremely obvious.
That is, at some point this knowledge is perceived as – well, yes, as if it could not be otherwise, and naturally a strong enthusiasm arises.
I listened to lectures there, and at some point I knew all the basics.
As if it seemed to me – I ran them.
That is, don’t ask me anything, I’ve heard everything about it, but at the same time, I understand that the level of my consciousness, my guna, the ability to correctly understand the meaning of the terms that I am.
Heard – he was quite low.
As a result, what state am I in – we also have a course of the bhakti school where you also teach, and on this course, for example, when applying, we have people who say – I looked at your program, I basically listened to it.
And my pain, it is that I know about myself that at that moment, when I also listened to all this, I heard little.
How to deal with this?
That is, if a person really listened to lectures on all topics, what should he do?
Should I go further or should I make some revision?.
Your experience?

BVG:

One Ayurvedic doctor once told me an interesting thing.
He says that this Ayurveda is a very strange thing.
In the first college lecture on Ayurveda, when studying this subject, we learned about the three doshas.
About vata dosha, pita dosha and kappa dosha.
And then we studied for five years and in the last year we went through the same doshas that we learned about at the first lecture, introductory to Ayurveda.
So it seems as if we have not moved anywhere in these five years, that at the first lecture we talked about three doshas, ​​that at the last lectures, graduation, we are talking about the same three doshas.
But the fact is that all these concepts, in general, all this conceptual apparatus of Vedic culture, it is very deep and, most importantly, it differs very sharply from what we are used to, so some superficial understanding of this apparatus does not help much.
On the contrary, it interferes, because a person has a false feeling that he, as it were, knows everything.
Surely many have heard about the same three doshas or someone knows about yoga, asanas.
Now each asana, in order to understand just one asana, what the asana does, you need to do-do-do-do-do-do this asana and in the end you will understand why it is needed at all and what it does.
It takes a lifetime to understand such categories as god or soul or conditioned soul or liberation or happiness, and there is no harm in hearing about the same thing again and again, because hearing every time, as it were, a round, it gives a deeper understanding.
Just like, for example, if you take music.
People walk and listen to the same piece of music many times.
Although they have already heard it, maybe even played it somewhere somehow, but every time something new is revealed to them and any living thing is absolutely endless, it is impossible to exhaust it.

Adrian:

I would like to ask, I know that you once recommended that I listen to the Kazinik, Mikhail, about a deeper reading of classical music.
For me, it was actually a very interesting, very good experience, and then we talked about what could help.
I would like to understand – you say “listen”, and I have two questions at once.
First – what can help us improve this listening?.
Let’s just start with this.
That is, you say “you need to listen, you need to read again”, and what can help us do this.
Listening and reading more efficient.

BVG:

Well, first of all, of course, the main problem with listening is that we are all learning.
Little by little, somehow.
Pushkin has already said this for a long time.
Some again, dictated by the mode of passion, the desire to pick up as much as possible – to listen here and here and here and here and here.
This is a thing that plays a very bad service.
You need to listen gradually, systematically, slowly moving from category to category, mastering it, trying to put it all into practice.
It is better if we listen in a group with a mentor, because this is an amazing thing – several people listened to the same thing, but each heard something different, and listening to how others heard, we enrich our listening, our understanding, because we are free or we involuntarily listen through the prism of our experience, and this prism does not let everything pass from what we are told.
I recently talked to a person who wants to become a student and he told me, shared his experience, he said – “when I listened to your first lecture, I sweated.”
I was a little intrigued by such a physiological reaction to my lecture.
I think probably in some kind of ecstasy or delight.
He says – “I was sweating because I did not understand anything at all.
I tried so hard to understand at least something – I did not understand anything.
“Now,” he says, “I understand everything, I don’t sweat anymore.”
And so once again – it is necessary to listen systematically.
We must listen at the same time trying to put it all into practice.
We must listen trying to open up to what we are listening to as much as possible, without putting any filters or any pre-set settings – this cannot be because it can never be.
Because I don’t have that experience.
Therefore Srila Prabhupada says an interesting thing in Srimad Bhagavatam.
He says that there is a spiritual art of humble listening.
When I really open up to what is being said, these words begin to change something in me, they enrich my experience.
In fact, hearing is the most painless, easiest and fastest way to change your experience.
Listening leaves a certain trace of samskara, if we allow these words to imprint, to impress us, that samskara becomes our own experience.
When we hear something in the right state of consciousness, we really change.
What changes us? what is change?
We are changed by the lived experience, the experience that was deposited and which becomes, well, this prism through which we look at the world.
So listening is the easiest way to gain experience.
A person can gain experience simply by listening if he does it in the right state of consciousness.
It means, I said, systematically, in the company of others, trying to think about what we have heard, sort of putting what we have heard into the context of what we already know, because any thing taken out of context it dies, it not viable.
Like, for example, anyone who has learned languages ​​- often people make mistakes, they try to learn words.
These words are taken out of context and cannot be remembered, they die, they do not live in our memory.
To listen correctly means, among other things, to discuss, to ponder.
And by discussing, pondering, we put what we have heard into context, into our personal context, and thus expand it.

Adrian:

Yes, thank you very much, and just wanted to ask this question.
I think that many have come across this, but at least I can say for myself that at some point I realized that I have resistance inside, and this resistance is of a very interesting property.
It can be formulated as follows – if all of a sudden I accept it all absolutely without unconditional.
Honestly, if I accept all this, then my whole life, all my joys, all my pleasures will have to leave this life.
That is, at some point I had, sometimes this fear arises.
You know it, as it were, at the reptilian level, that is, it is, as it were, fear.
I don’t know at what level, that is, it’s specifically the fear of losing what I now have.
Therefore, people so often talk about balance, about the need for this, but to be honest, this is what you are saying, if we accept this broad context as the truth in its entirety, then our life cannot be like this.
Fearfully.

BVG:

Fear is a natural reaction.
Any honest person who follows the spiritual path admits to himself that from time to time this fear covers him.
People try to cope with this fear in different ways.
Someone is trying to convert everyone else to the true faith, and this is the same way to get rid of fear, well, they say it’s not so scary together – everyone will also have to do the same.
“how dare they, why do they enjoy when I don’t enjoy?” etc.
Religious fanaticism is one of those natural, albeit very unpleasant reactions to fear, unconscious fear.
But at some point I understood very well, firstly, I felt in myself this fear or unwillingness not the desire to surrender, the unwillingness to go this way, to accept all this, but at the same time I also very well understood that this fear is absolutely irrational , because I am trying to project myself as I am now onto some other situation, and this situation will arise in my life when I will be completely different.
In other words, when I try to try on some very lofty ideals – the ideal of renunciation of the world and something else – it naturally becomes scary, simply because I’m not ready, but for those people who we follow these ideals, they are not at all scary because they are different, for them it is something natural.
It’s the same as if we say to a first grader they told him that he would need to draw drawings at the institute, and showed him whatman paper with these drawings.
Well, either they told a first-grader, or some person who had just entered a music school, they would tell him that you will need to play some virtuoso works, something that is completely impossible to do.
It is clear that it will be scary and you will want to run away and play football instead.
To pore over this drawing board or sit at the piano, but the bottom line is that for those people who play when it becomes relevant, it’s not scary at all.
On the contrary, it’s really fun.
Those people who play it, they do it very easily, playfully, and you just need to understand that this is how I am now and there is no need to try on all these things too much.
When the time comes, all this will also come into our lives easily and naturally.
And we don’t really have to give up anything.
Spiritual life is highly natural and that is why it is so slow.
This is her good, her advantages, and this is her misfortune.
People want to adjust it as soon as possible, but at the same time, only some can be adjusted as soon as possible.
artificial things.
All those high things that the scriptures say, high demands, they’re into.
At some point it becomes very natural for us, and now they are all too high, but they need to be addressed that way.
Therefore, there is a very important principle which is stated in the Srimad Bhagavatam about what is virtue and what is vice.
I have not seen in any other spiritual system such a striking definition of virtue and vice.
In Srimad Bhagavatam it is said, Krishna Himself says in Srimad Bhagavatam, virtue is action according to one’s qualifications.
Vice is any action that does not correspond to our qualifications.
That is, even some very remarkable things from the point of view of someone there can be a vice because they do not correspond to our level.
If we live in accordance with this principle, then gradually, gradually, our qualifications will improve.
This is not a statement of our level, but a dynamic principle – in order for our qualifications to improve, we must live and act as we can now.
Do as honestly as possible according to your level and our level will grow.

Adrian:

Thank you very much, I remembered an interesting definition of one academician who spoke about the essence of science and the scientific approach.
He’s amazingly articulated, he says.
“from the point of view of science, truth is everything that helps the development of science now, and lies are everything that hinders” and he finished this phrase.
“Here, in fact, we have determined what truth and falsehood are from the point of view of science, and if you think otherwise, then you are mistaken.”
That is, in principle, you just said a similar thing, and he says.
“It’s just that science cannot develop in a different way, because at some point there were some ideas, Newtonian mechanics at some point, it completely helped there and it was completely true.
Later, when some clarifications went on, but at the same time, look, I noticed and I really liked your reasoning – that is, it turns out that the same philosophical maxim for me, who is at a low level, and for a person who is for more.
High in practical application means different things.
This is how I understand you now.
But at the same time, the maxim itself, which is important, does not change.
That is, we cannot say that for me now the goal is like this, but for you, for example, it is.
Another.
The goal is the same for us, but in practical terms it means this to me, and this to you.

BVG:

Yes, when it is said, for example, about renunciation of the world, then for someone more renounced from the world it means giving up smoking cigarettes.
If he can do this, it is already a great feat of renunciation of the world.
But if a person who has been practicing there for 40 years is still proud that he quit smoking cigarettes 40 years ago and thinks that all his renunciation of the world should come down to this, then it is obvious that he is slightly mistaken.

Adrian:

Yes, thank you very much, but at the same time, look, it might be interesting, by the way, I just remembered that in one of the books on habit formation, perfectionism is declared one of the important enemies of habit formation.
That is, the idea that it is better to do it never, but ideally, than somehow, but now.
That is, “never, but ideally” – this is such a defense, a defense that helps the mind.
Look to the mind, one more thing helps, which, well, you can also see, this is when we start.
To build a balance in your spiritual and material life.
And in the BVP, we conducted several such cycles of lectures on balance, in which we, actually following you, said that the real balance of material and spiritual life is spiritual life.
Everything else is not a balance, but some temporary compromises.
But want…
Or are we not following you in this?
You are looking so carefully now, maybe we said something.
That is, the idea is that the balance in the ideal scheme is spiritual life, but at the same time, living in material life, we just go through these steps in each of which we find this balance.
And here is the question – And how to find this balance correctly so that it does not turn out that we have been proud of the fact that we once quit smoking for 40 years.

BVG:

Well, firstly, you need to understand very well that balance is, by definition, a dynamic thing, because if a person who is walking a tightrope suddenly decides that he has found the perfect balance now and decides to stop, then it will be very difficult for him to maintain this balance.
Just like a person who rides a bicycle, he maintains his balance only because he rides.
The moment he slows down his ride, the slower he rides, the harder it is to keep his balance.
It is the same here – the balance of our life can be – the feeling of balance is a feeling of happiness, but only when I do not become attached to each state of balance I have achieved and do not try to shout after Faust “Stop a moment, you are beautiful.”
The moment will not stop anyway, and we will collapse at this very moment, respectively.
That is, the first thing to know is that balance is an ever-changing dynamic thing.
What was a balance for me yesterday is no longer a balance for me today, but something contrary to the balance, and yesterday’s state will not bring me satisfaction, let’s say so.
That is, in order for us to find the right balance, we need practice, and practice means constant dynamics.
Practice means that today I do something like this, tomorrow I do something a little better, after tomorrow I do the same thing a little more deeply, with a little more understanding of what I’m doing.
This is one thing – how to maintain this state of balance, and you need to be very sensitive to this, you need to understand – it seems that I have already outgrown this state of mine that used to bring me satisfaction.
We have a very good balance indicator inside.
This balance indicator, as soon as we break the balance, starts flashing like a light of some indicator on the car – that there is no oil, or gasoline runs out, or something else.
This indicator is a feeling of inner happiness, some kind of anticipation that tomorrow there will be something else like that.
This feeling of inner happiness means that we now have a good balance.
This is inner happiness, again, it is a very fluid state.
If we suddenly feel that something is not right, we feel some kind of stagnation in our lives, we feel that everything has stopped and I’m just trying to squeeze happiness out of something that I have done many many times, this means that I am in balance lost, I just rolled down somewhere again.
That is, we need to listen inside, we need to see the goal, and this striving for the goal will provide dynamics and provide the necessary speed of movement that will help us maintain this balance.
The very moment I lost my purpose, let’s take the same example with a bicycle, I no longer know where I am going, I just look around, at the same moment I will collapse somewhere.
My steering wheel will start to wag and that’s it.
That is, in order for us to maintain balance, we need to see the goal, we need to strive for this goal, we need to adapt our lives and adjust it to this desire for the goal.
And then the balance will naturally be found, it will be revealed.
Well, of course, and then you need to listen to yourself.
If we felt that everything was somehow too gloomy, there is a high probability that I broke the balance, do something wrong, overworked somewhere or something else.
I have lost some natural living happiness in life.
This is a sign of imbalance.

Adrian:

Thank you, that is, balance is a constant movement without losing sight of the goal and some honesty with yourself, but then the question arises.
Any religious movement, in fact, many philosophical movements, they say that a guru, a mentor, a confessor, and so on – a teacher – is very important.
And we also know that the guru in Sanskrit is heavy, in the sense that not always my inner feeling that you are talking about now, it will coincide with the instructions that I receive from the elders.
That is, how to understand at what moment I should listen to myself, and at what moment I should listen to the elders, and what to do if what the elders say does not bring me inner happiness ?.

BVG:

Well, first of all, seniors can make mistakes too.
Unfortunately, no one is immune from mistakes in this world, but as a rule, the elder should listen very sensitively to what the person says, and very often the person himself understands what his trouble is.
A very good example of this is given at the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna says something, and speaks very convincingly, trying to convince himself and Krishna to convince, but Krishna is silent, does not say anything, and the more Krishna is silent, the more doubt Arjuna has.
Gradually, gradually, he begins to understand that I am not saying something.
That is, yes, it happens that I came up with something for myself and I try to prove it to myself and justify it, I come with this to someone.
But as a rule, the elder does not try to tell us something completely different.
He listens to us sometimes asks us some questions, sometimes says something that makes us think.
That is, didactics has its very big limitations.
It is very difficult for people to perceive didactics.
Some kind of straight-forward instructions usually do not work, so I don’t know how it is in other traditions, but in our tradition, the guru will definitely not, as a rule, impose something.
He will give a person the right to make a mistake, but in doing so, he will help him look at the deal with.
A different point of view and think somehow, see something from a different point of view.
Points of view, and often the instructions that we receive not directly, but let’s say we turn on a certain lecture and in this lecture we hear some instructions that are obviously not addressed to us specifically, we were not in this audience, they did not look at us intently trying to understand comes to us what we are told or not.
Such instructions are often more effective because it is easier for a person, as it were, to try it on himself.
The false ego does not resist, does not put up a barrier of some kind, therefore, very often in.
In the Vedic scriptures, especially in the Puranas, instructions are given through history.
“You know, about 200 thousand years ago, something happened that might help you understand the answer to your question.
That is, a spiritual teacher, a guru, someone else, they always leave freedom for us.
Like Krishna, after he has given instructions to Arjuna, says, “I have told you everything, now think over everything properly, and do as you know.”
We say something, but it is equally necessary for the person to choose.
In very rare cases, when you really see that a person is ready to commit some unforgivable stupidity, you need to say “Stop, stop!”.
That is, when a person is already standing on the edge of the abyss, ready to rush there, at that moment there is no time for allegories and stories.

Adrian:

Guru Maharaj, I really liked what you just said in the sense that listening to any lecture, any Vedic story that we often hear as anecdotes of days gone by.
That is, the student’s qualification is to always find herself in these stories, did I understand correctly?

BVG:

Я хотел предупредить что к сожалению мое время сейчас вот истекает…

Адриан:

Да, да, просто возьмем с вас обещание что мы еще раз встретимся.
Это легко делать при зрителях.
Дальше,.. у вас все да?.

БВГ:

Сейчас вот три минуты ещё есть.

Адриан:

Ну тогда спасибо, спасибо вам огромное за эти вещи.
То есть очень много таких очень практичных вещей вы сказали.
Осталось еще много вопросов, но на самом деле очень здорово.
Может быть вы что-то просто пожелаете людям которые вас сейчас слушают?.
И на этом мы закончим.

БВГ: в Катха упанишад говорится, что духовный путь, как говорят великие мудрецы, он остер как лезвие бритвы.
Насколько я понимаю русский фантаст Кфремов он как раз оттуда взял название для своего романа или сомерсет моэм у него тоже по-моему что такое есть с лезвием бритвы связано.
Все оттуда из этой Катха упанишад.
“Обрети счастье,” говорит Катха упанишад.
Проснись, обрети счастье, обрети драгоценность которая принадлежит тебя в человеческой жизни, но при этом помни что духовный путь остр как лезвия бритвы.
Нам на духовном пути нужна помощь, нам нужны какие-то наставники, проводники,.
Нам нужны люди которые желают нам добра, это действительно замечательная вещь, но.
При этом мы должны помнить, что это не такая простая вещь.
Я желаю вам счастливого духовного пути, который остр как лезвие бритвы.

Адриан: спасибо большое за ваше время, спасибо что согласились встретиться, спасибо, и до свидания.
Ну что, дорогие друзья, спасибо вам за то что вы слушали.
Надеюсь что какие-то ответы мы все получили.
Может быть если вы даже сейчас в чате на ютьюбе, где вы смотрите, если вы поделитесь, не будете разбегаться сразу, а поделитесь какими-то моментами которые особенно вам запомнились, то это будет той самой работой о которой сказал Госвами Махарадж.
Я поделюсь несколькими такими вещами которые мне лично очень, очень откликнулись из последнего того, что он говорил – это то, что баланс это движение, что мы не можем в какой-то момент успокоиться, в том что мы достигли баланса.
Баланс возможнен только если мы движемся и баланс возможен только если мы движемся к какой-то цели.
Так же мне очень понравилось то, как Госвами Махарадж сформулировал, что движение к этой цели и соответственно баланс для каждого из нас находящихся на разном уровне духовного развития будет разным, и что для человека давно практикующего будет легким и естественным, для человека встающего на духовный путь будет казаться чем-то совершенно невозможным, и это нормально, это естественная вещь.
Мы все смотрим на тот самый высокий идеал и, насколько я понимаю, ошибка как раз здесь будет думать, что у каждого из этих людей просто свой идеал и они к нему идут.
Нет, все идут к одному идеалу, но на разных ступенях движения к этому идеалу будет разный баланс, разное понимание даже каких-то философских терминов и так далее.
Это важная вещь, и также для меня было вот это очень важно – поскольку я сам, честно, иногда слушаешь какую-то лекцию, слушаешь какую-то историю, и слушаешь просто как интересную историю, но на самом деле, как сказал Госвами Махарадж, скорее всего в этой истории я тоже могу найти что-то для себя если я буду это искать.
И в конце да нам пообещали, пожелали точнее, счастливого духовного пути, и вот это счастье это то самое счастье баланса о котором сказал Госвами Махарадж.
Это счастье понимания что в данный момент ты делаешь то что можешь, двигаясь к этому пути, и что в следующие моменты будешь делать больше, и это принесет тебе внутреннее счастье.
Спасибо вам огромное, приходите к нам учиться если хотите углубить свое понимание.
Курс Большой Ведический Практикум для тех кто начинает знакомится с Ведами, он точно дает очень хорошое, очень фундаментальное понимание того, о чём мы в самом начале говорили – широкого контекста, умения учиться, понимание каких-то базовых вещей, дальше практика каким образом это применяется.
Также у нас есть курс путешествия к себе.
Это следующий курс который говорит уже о бхакти, об энергии бхакти.
Это то на чем заканчивается курс Большой Ведический Практикум.
Это курс по книге Радханатха Свами Путешествие к Себе, и дальше у нас есть Школа Бхакти.
Это уже конкретная практика для тех кто идет путем Гаудия Вайшнавизма.
Это как раз то самое, как сказал Госвами Махарадж – системное, длительное, практичное, и в сопровождении наставников обучение практике бхакти.
Так что спасибо, надеюсь мы увидимся с вами где-то на этих курсах или еще где-то.
Спасибо огромное, до свидания.

ISKCON BABYLON

I think we have more in common than it appears at first. Babylon is a Biblical city where they built a Tower of Babel. I would say that’s how historians interpret it in terms familiar to them but it could be just their angle on what is unquestionably implied already – Babylon was an organization.

When an organization builds a place for its members it would be called “city”, but you can’t have a city without having organization first. Two-three thousand years from now ISKCON Mayapur could also be seen as an ancient city and it would be so recorded in local chronicles, too – it doesn’t have any special name, it’s “ISKCON” for everybody living in the area, it’s a place, and it soon will be the size of a city.

The name “Babylon” comes from the local language for “Gate of God” and ISKCON is undeniably positions itself as the gateway to the spiritual world, too. Some argue that people can get there bypassing ISKCON but I would question that, it’s a different topic, however, let’s not go into it right now.

So we have two distinctive characteristics that are matching already – a spiritual organization that purports to transfer its members to the Kingdom of God. And then there was the Tower.

The account is recorded in Genesis 11, but there are so many translations there I have no idea which one is the best. The top of this tower was supposed to be in heaven, or reach heaven. And they wanted a name for themselves, too, so that they could be distinguished from the rest of the world. Like “Hare Krishnas”. We don’t say that the top of TOVP will be in heaven or reach Goloka, but we certainly hope that our “top” devotees will have full realization of their spiritual identity and reach Krishna’s personal association. We also have an organization that supports this progress to the top. It might not be an actual tower, but we use other words like “ladder” and “pyramid” so if the future historians come across them they might think we actually tried to built a pyramid reaching Vaikuntha.

Regardless, the meaning is the same – we have a structure that allows people at the bottom progress upwards and reach the top. We are proud of providing this structure, it’s our self-identification and the essence of our existence – preaching. We also want a “house for the whole world to live in” – how’s that not a tower? Okay, it isn’t a tower yet, not at the moment, where we assume that all our members are spiritually equal, all are deserving equal services and equal respect, but it’s a temporary vision and there is a great battle against this equality going on as we speak. In the end it WILL be a tower – some people and some sections of our society will be seen as being higher and some as lower. No one can resist varnasrama forever, it will assert itself because it’s the will of the Lord for how people should be organized in this world. The point is the same – we take people from mleccha and yavana background and we aim to promote them to the highest levels of bhakti, and, hopefully, to direct perception of the Lord. That’s what the tower does, too.

God’s reaction in the Bible, however, is not at all encouraging. There is no direct explanation given but God somehow didn’t want all these people in His heaven. His first words were already about how to squash this effort, not about why. In our ISKCON language it’s about rooting out sahajiya tendencies – only the purest of the pure can actually reach Krishna, not the sahajiyas, not the ones who take it very cheaply. For sahajiyas there is no entrance into spiritual realm whatsoever. They shall not pass.

Quoted from Gauidya:

The disease of prākṛta-sahajiyā-ism is very widespread. In a form that devours everything, takes various shapes, and steals the mind, it wanders throughout the universe, increasing the covering of those jīvas captured by a seemingly natural tendency to reject Kṛṣṇa, and by severe offenses to Vaiṣṇavas, it causes further degradation of the bound jīvas and uprooting of their devotional creeper.

Gauḍīya 11.409

In other words, while the endeavor for spiritual perfection is legitimate and there need to be a structure supporting one’s progress, unless there are guards in place to weed out less than perfect aspirants the Tower cannot be allowed to reach its destination. How did God go about that in the Bible?

The Tower of Babel episode is cited as an ancient explanation of appearance of many languages and that’s how it can be seen by historians, too, but that is the result, not the process, not God’s solution. His solution was to “confound their language”, which we can safely take as “ruin their common understanding”. Once people stopped thinking in the same way their cooperation stopped and so did the construction. Who has failed to notice the same scenario playing out in ISKCON right now, too?

Do I need to mention all the contentious issues of today? I hope not. What I did notice only recently, however, is that we began to understand the same passages very differently and become very sure in our interpretations as being right and the only possible. I don’t want to give examples of this happening in real life, but I have seen devotees from opposing camps literally unable to understand what they were talking about. A quote from the Bhagavad Gita purport is appropriate in this regard:

In the mode of goodness, one can see things in the right position, one can hear things in the right position, and…

BG 14.11, purport

We have reached the point where levels of our conditioning (or levels of purity, if you look from the other end) are so different that we can’t see and hear in the same way. Whether it leads to creation of a different language is only a question of time, I’d say. In the greater society they have already created a different language to explain themselves and I, like many others, have to rely on google to understand their newly minted vocabulary. Which I immediately forget, so it doesn’t really help.

So, with so many parallels between ISKCON and Babylon, is the fate of Babel Tower is our destiny, too? I hope not, and I’m afraid so at the same time. The current project of making topmost levels of spiritual advancement being easily accessible to all is surely going to fail and it is failing already.

Last year I signed up for a virtual Kartik parikrama and I had my fill of “Imagine you are immersing yourself in the waters of Radha Kunda. Imagine the …” stories for the rest of my life. Never again. People who indulge in these narrations and assume any of it is real will eventually get tired of them, too. It’s only a matter of time, and the fact that there is a large part of our society that thinks it’s a kind of sahajiya that needs to be rejected is a testament that God’s plan for Babylon is at work in ISKCON, too. In another example some incensed members recently called for boycotting fundraising for TOVP, the project which was supposed to unite all the people of the world around it, not just all the devotees.

That’s a negative projection, but I also hope that ISKCON will survive as an organization supporting the progress of its qualified members towards the highest destination. I myself need this. I need books, I need temples, I need devotees going to the temples and holding festivals and engaging in daily Krishna katha so that it then appears on Youtube. I need devotees buying books so that other devotees can write and publish them, or at least write blog articles and post things on Facebook. This won’t be happening without audience and audience means ISKCON should create and nurture it, for no other organization will. I don’t know about reaching heaven, but we all need to make steps up the ladder, and for that the ladder must exist and provide solid support.

I thought I would end here but there is another aspect to any organization – it stifles individuals. What some see as support others see as oppression. Or it might be an evolving view of one and the same person – as support in the beginning and as an impediment later on. So another kind of experience might be noticed, too – we are wondering around this huge structure, with all its staircases, lifts, and escalators, and people hurrying here and there busy with their own progress, and we keep looking for anyone who is still alive, whose spirit is still alive, who doesn’t hold grudges, who doesn’t fight the oppressors and who doesn’t lead revolutions, but knows his way around the place and can show us wonderful things hidden here and there, or who can bring us to the higher floors and open our eyes to the wonderful vistas available there. Meeting such a person would be a blessing, so we will keep looking.

And another thing – please don’t turn our kirtans into elevator musak. That would make it into a part of the tower, not live expression of the soul we are looking for here.

Gurus and expectations

Last weekend our regular program class was on the section in the Nectar of Devotion which deals with not accepting unfit disciples, not constructing too many temples etc. It’s a pretty straightforward topic – one should not initiate too many disciples, certainly not with the idea to increase his own prestige. Śrīla Prabhupāda also discusses the obvious statement that one should not initiate those who are unfit – how sometimes it’s necessary for propagation of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. Nothing we haven’t heard of before.

What spiked my interest, however, was looking at the sources for this section. In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu there’s a line by Rūpa Goswāmī stating these three rules (we’ll talk only about guru-disciples one here) and then he gives a supporting verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.13.8). The way Śrīla Prabhupāda translated that verse later on, when he got to the Seventh Canto, is somewhat different from how he talked about it in NOD:

    A sannyāsī must not present allurements of material benefits to gather many disciples…

See how it’s not about them being unfit or about extracting material benefits yourself (by guru). This is something else entirely – do not make any promises. This has not been mentioned in the class and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone explaining the rule this way. Once I spotted it, however, it downed on me that it’s what the very first line in NOD says as well:

    … a person may have many disciples, but he should not act in such a way that he will be obliged to any of them for some particular action or some favor…

That is a development on the initial thought, which is based on one word in that Bhāgavatam verse – anubadhnīta, which in word-for-word given as “one should induce for material benefit”. This word is repeated in Rūpa Goswāmī’s own line as well, in fact it’s the only meaningful word for this rule, the other two are “no” and “disciple”. Then in both SB and NOD we see Śrīla Prabhupāda explaining various implications of that word. In SB purport it’s all about not making alluring promises and nothing about “unfit” or “for your own prestige”:

    So-called svāmīs and yogīs generally make disciples by alluring them with material benefits. There are many so-called gurus who attract disciples by promising to cure their diseases or increase their material opulence by manufacturing gold. These are lucrative allurements for unintelligent men. A sannyāsī is prohibited from making disciples through such material allurements.

It’s pretty straightforward here, too, but let’s discuss implications of this rule most of us overlook when it comes up in NOD or when it’s buried deep somewhere in the Seventh Canto. I mean this rule is evoked quite often but is somehow never put this way. When we were reading it last week in class it went straight over our heads, too.

In NOD Śrīla Prabhupāda actually gives an explanation why attracting disciples with materialistic promises is dangerous – it makes guru obliged, ie conditioned and bound up by karma. Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t even say what promises are forbidden, he says one should not act in such a way that he becomes obliged. Stated like this it casts a very wide net – any time one feels a guru is obliged to do something for him the rule has possibly been broken.

A disciple might have his own expectations, of course, it doesn’t mean his guru actually promised anything, but I can think of several examples where two hands must have been clapping, and they are not very comfortable topics to discuss. Still, let me try, I only try to understand the issue here, not cast any doubts on anyone’s spiritual purity.

A typical ISKCON disciple expects that initiation will bring him recognition, that he would leave his current social strata of uninitiated “friends of Krishna” and enter into an exclusive club of ISKCON members for real. It’s a huge step up, nowadays it’s somehow even harder to make, but it’s a topic for another discussion. Offering initiation so that one becomes a fully fledged member of community has been done since forever, including by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. In NOD he explains why sometimes this rule has to be broken but in the absence of emergency there’s no justification for this.

When most of our devotees lived in the temples initiated disciples expected a place to live and engagement in service. When I grew up it was practically a demand – every temple resident must be given service, and not just any service but the one suitable to his nature. There were tons of seminars on how to achieve this and they were given by gurus who actually felt that it was their obligation. These days devotees live mostly outside but temple management or project management is a big big thing, gurus might not be directly involved but that’s only because there are too many people to manage so they delegate these responsibilities. The point is that our spiritual leadership obviously feels obliged to provide comfortable situation for our devotees. It would be an anathema to reject this responsibility, it’s unthinkable – we spent so many decades indoctrinating our entire society it’s not even an option anymore.

No one can stand up and say “I’m not making any promises. You might have service or you might not have service. You might get living quarters, food, and clothing, or might not – nothing to do with me.” And yet this is exactly what Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Bhakti Rasāmṛita Sindhu, and Nectar of Devotion tell us – do not make promises.

For non-temple devotees getting guru’s blessings for any project is a must. They open a restaurant – it must be under auspices of a guru, you set up a publishing company – it must publish books by spiritual leaders, you start a farming project – it must be associated with a big name, too. In all these cases devotees expect their projects to succeed. I don’t know how much of an obligation it is for the spiritual masters themselves, I hope they don’t get caught up and do not make any promises.

Varṇāśrama is, perhaps, the most controversial topic here of all. The very meaning of varṇāśrama is to produce tangible material benefits. It must produce food – milk and grains, and some even talk about allowing polygamy. If our varṇāśrama projects do not provide sense gratification they are considered a failure. Of course we all say that varṇāśrama is needed for practicing devotional service but it’s just our code word for “comfortable material situation”, let’s not pretend otherwise. The full sentence should read “comfortable material situation is needed for practicing devotional service”.

When we look at varṇāśrama this way it’s hard to justify our gurus and even Śrīla Prabhupāda himself pushing for it and not breaking “do not make promises” rule. I mean we generally think that by following Prabhupāda’s specific instruction on varṇāśrama we can obtain satisfactory sense gratification, be it marital advice or gurukula advice or farming advice, or advice on making your own toothpaste. We treat this advice as promises, and as the most solid promises ever. It. Should. Work.

Why? Did Śrīla Prabhupāda consider that advice as his solid promises? I don’t think so. Did he use it to attract people? Generally – no, but sometimes devotees were inspired to get closer to him by engaging in those projects, succeeding, and then claiming their rightful spots in his entourage, like on morning walks. When a spiritual leader starts any such project now it does attract devotees and disciples. The word in SB and BRS is śiṣya, btw – any kind of disciple, not only initiated ones. Projects do attract following, that’s a fact of life, and so if someone talks these projects up to recruit people then he creates an obligation, and that would be against the rule.

The tough part is that managing ISKCON is impossible without making promises and luring people in. One of our senior leaders lured devotees through their wives, for example. Ever so subtle but the message was “you do this and your marital happiness is assured”. It’s just how the world works, so what can we do? Here’s a radical solution – stay out of it. ISKCON is a preaching movement meant to attract more and more people but the rules for them are not the same as rules for making personal spiritual advancement. Personally, we should not fall for the same type of propaganda we are forced to produce when we reach out to non-devotees.

Even more radical solution – ISKCON is not meant for our own comfort. We cannot expect or demand it to serve our material needs. It is not meant to provide us with pensions or provide emotional support or business opportunities or food or shelter – nothing, really. Only when we want to serve it without any such expectations, not even waiting for a thank you, we can start making actual progress the way Rūpa Goswāmī has meant it. When all these egotisitical interests are absent from our relationships with our guru we can start to appreciate him for what he really does for us – saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka trāṇāya kāruṇya-ghanāghanatvam…

“I was deleted from ISKCON”

This is another old post that has been sitting as a draft for ages. Today I would have written it very differently but I think it should be preserved as historical evidence for myself – I DID think like that only a year or so ago, and now I changed.

———–

I’ve heard this phrase twice in the past few weeks and every time I internally reacted to it though I’m not sure how exactly. I want to set myself straight on this and I still don’t know how this effort will turn out a few hundred words later. I have few ideas where it could go but let’s see. It’s mostly for my own purification.

Technically, it goes like this – we perceive something and first the intelligence tries to make sense of it, categorize it, figure out the context, intention, subtext, details etc. When this is done the new experience is plugged into our overall tree of knowledge, it becomes “memory” and it becomes searchable by date, person, place, topic and so on. As we ponder it longer we build more and more connections to already stored memories and so we might have sudden “realizations”.

The mind’s job is to like or dislike the experience, simply-minded thing that it is, and let’s not get entangled in whether it agrees or disagrees with judgments passed by intelligence and how they interact with each other. The point is that these first reactions are automatic and we don’t have much control over the process. It’s not that we have much control over anything else in the material world either but even if we think we are the doers we should honestly admit that first impressions are not our doings, it just happens and then we claim credit for it (as in “I knew it right away!”).

This is where this blog post comes in – the part where I feel I can make a difference by talking about it in a certain way. I could argue that this is also illusory and is determined by guṇa and karma but since I’m forced to think myself as a doer and given instructions on how to behave then I have no choice but to go along. The idea is to turn talking, thinking, and typing into a yajña, into glorification of the Lord and His devotees, so let’s get to it.

I was not proud of my first reaction to “I was deleted from ISKCON”, it was clearly lacking respect and empathy and, passing the buck, dictated by standard internet responses like “I’m fresh out of ***** to give”. We should not take shelter in this callousness no matter how prevalent it is today. As it happens, we have a whole “social media” generation coming up and it’s one of the first thing they learn in their world – no one cares about your feelings, people are too busy worrying about theirs. If you think sharing your feelings will be embarrassing – don’t, they don’t care about your dignity. On the plus side they won’t put you in “never listen to him again” category either. If you can present your case strongly no one will care about your history.

Those who fall for sob stories are suckers and they are meant to be milked as followers, fans, blog or channel subscribers. They can also be farmed – quite literally. You find what emotions they find appealing and you carefully feed these emotions to them, building a narrative and increasing their commitment. You get right people to deliver these emotions, find the right formula, and then they’ll do everything for you – whatever you want – buy tickets, deliver “Likes”, retweet, watch your videos again and again, and if you are smart you’ll be rolling in advertising money in no time. We should not fall into this trap, either as content consumers or content creators, our relationships should be more meaningful even if externally we happen to do the same thing – our consciousness should be different.

This wasn’t my full first impression, though, it was just a reaction to perceived bitterness. This bitterness might not have been even there but that’s what I heard. This first thought was suppressed rather fast and beyond that there was “what does it even mean – deleted from ISKCON?” and a sense of mismatch with reality. To me it stopped making sense about a decade ago.

There was a time when everything was clear – this is ISKCON and this is non-ISKCON and ISKCON was supposed to be pure and non-ISKCON wasn’t supposed to be touched. By standards set in those times this is still true and I’m not saying we should bring devotees who left for Sridhara Swami, Narayana Maharaj, ritviks etc back into the fold but what is considered ISKCON nowadays allows a great deal of freedom. Devotees learned to be in ISKCON and at the same time do outrageous things unthinkable in the “good old days”.

My temple won’t sell books for money, for example, they just won’t. Books only have to be given away for free, sponsored by members of the congregation. I grew up in a temple sustained by saṅkīrtana and we sold them for roughly ten times the price of today. I can’t remember exact consumer goods prices but I think one set of then available books could buy people a ton of potatoes and devotees sometimes distributed over a hundred sets per day. We saw the value of the books and so people felt they were valuable, too. Devotees today see this value differently and they don’t think it would be justified to demand so much money in return.

We have projects like “Krishna West” where they are okay with homosexual “marriages” between initiated devotees – hard to see that being approved or even contemplated by Śrīla Prabhupada. We have temples and entire countries off limits to certain preachers because authorities are afraid that their presentations would disturb the minds of the congregation. Last year there was a book banned by the GBC resolution, then unbanned following the outrage, and I’ll give a quote from a related e-mail: “One GBC member even stated that ISKCON’s very existence in his country would be jeopardised if this book were seen to at all be representing ISKCON.” I don’t think that GBC member was kidding there – some pretty straightforward things cannot be repeated in certain places anymore. We have mega preachers whose websites talk about love and compassion and don’t have words “Hare Krishna” on their front page. We have massive, millions meals a day food distribution programs where we are legally prohibited from mentioning that it’s prasādam or saying anything about philosophy, let along chanting, we have eye clinics and hospitals, we have sannyāsīs going on cruise ships and singing with māyāvādīs, we have māyāvādīs performing kīrtanas at our public programs, we have devotees forced to take paid exams to be even considered for initiation. Just what is it one must do to get “deleted from ISKCON” nowadays?

Somehow or other we’ve learned to see past all those things and don’t stress ourselves, though many do feel strongly about it. I think GBC doesn’t have the guts to put all those “deviants” straight, besides often they ARE the GBC. Every year GBC publishes its budget, for the sake of transparency I believe, and now it comes to about 130,000 US dollars. What about millions they collect for TOVP? I’m not saying there’s impropriety there but that GBC’s transparency appears to be irrelevant – that’s not where money could be misused. This isn’t the fault of the current members but does contribute to the impression that GBC is only a paper tiger. I’ve seen our local GBC read news on his iPad while singing Jaya Radha Madhava in class. How’s that going to improve our temple standards?

It is easy to get into a black book and be banned, i.e. “deleted”, but only if you openly revolt and disturb peace, otherwise no one cares and, if you can get along with the authorities, you can get away with murder.

We have one ex-guru here who got married under questionable circumstances and abandoned his disciples but no one, absolutely no one, considers him as fallen but rather as one of the seniormost authorities, always welcome to give class or lead kīrtana. One day he was at a festival where his “former” disciples were present and they got along just fine, no bad feelings as far as I know. As far as I can see I was the only one thinking that it could be awkward. I think it’s a welcome change but in the good old days that would have been unthinkable. Some things do improve.

Question is – how do we survive in this atmosphere that would appear surreal only a short time ago? We’ve learned to see and appreciate devotees’ commitment to Śrīla Prabhupāda and their submission to the ultimate authority of GBC. Everything else is just fluff, a foam on the surface of the Ganges. It’s just three modes of nature forcing jīvas to experience their karma, and that these experiences are carefully calibrated by Kṛṣṇa to bring their speediest recovery from material affliction. It might not be how current generation of devotees sees with it but this explanation works for me when I spot dissonance with my own upbringing in KC.

The only thing I can do to speed up this purification process is to engage in saṅkīrtana myself. When we talk about philosophy, praise and appreciate the devotees, discuss Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes etc all the impurities in our hearts gradually disappear and then people simply won’t do the things that are improper. They would stop talking about themselves and their feelings, they would stop acting out their feelings and they would stop doing things for their own pleasure.

Ultimately, Kṛṣṇa is so big that when we get even a drop of Kṛṣṇa consciousness all our worries appear incomparably small and fade away. I think this is how the promised Golden Age is supposed to manifest itself – not in fixing problems but in redirecting our consciousness elsewhere. “Reality” is produced from our minds and it’s “mind over matter” all the way. How to fix our minds? By mantra, of course. What mantra works the best? Hare Kṛṣṇa.

What about being in or out of ISKCON? I don’t think we have an authorized list of members and all one needs to do is to be loyal to Śrīla Prabhupāda as opposed to any outside ācārya, and to GBC, and even that in broadest possible terms. If one is already on some “no-fly” list then that has to be cleared, of course, and there are higher standards for those with appetite for authority positions, too.

Does anyone in ISKCON care whether one makes such a commitment? No, they really don’t. In the old ISKCON it mattered but old ISKCON doesn’t exist anymore. What is the use of this new ISKCON then? Umm, you get to discuss Kṛsṇa kathā in the company of devotees. You don’t get this anywhere else. Of course there are devotees outside ISKCON, too, but their appreciation for Kṛṣṇa kathā is considerably less and certain things cannot be mentioned at all because of their lack of commitment or commitment to different personalities. I’m not talking about anything esoteric, which is a common but wrong assumption, I’m talking about one’s personal realizations which are, if we are being honest, still on the level of dealing with matter. How to see spirit in matter, how to see value of devotees, or books, or non-devotees, or family. There’s no magic involved but mature ISKCON devotees see all these simple things differently and they have a lot to share in this regard, there’s always something to learn from them. From outsiders? Not so much.

What I’m saying is that a sober and intelligent man should take this opportunity and use it rather than restricting oneself with “in”, “out”, or “deleted” labels. There’s a verse in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam on a different topic but it in passing mentions this “world of names” (SB 2.2.3):

ataḥ kavir nāmasu yāvad arthaḥ
syād apramatto vyavasāya-buddhiḥ
siddhe ’nyathārthe na yateta tatra
pariśramaṁ tatra samīkṣamāṇaḥ

Synonyms:
ataḥ — for this reason; kaviḥ — the enlightened person; nāmasu — in names only; yāvat — minimum; arthaḥ — necessity; syāt — must be; apramattaḥ — without being mad after them; vyavasāya-buddhiḥ — intelligently fixed; siddhe — for success; anyathā — otherwise; arthe — in the interest of; na — should never; yateta — endeavor for; tatra — there; pariśramam — laboring hard; tatra — there; samīkṣamāṇaḥ — one who sees practically.

Translation:
For this reason the enlightened person should endeavor only for the minimum necessities of life while in the world of names. He should be intelligently fixed and never endeavor for unwanted things, being competent to perceive practically that all such endeavors are merely hard labor for nothing.

Vanity thought #1603. Problem with ecstasy.

Last time I mentioned something about symptoms of ecstasy – they are not universal proof of one’s advancement and therefore expecting our devotees to display them to prove that ISKCON works is unjustified. There’s a one curious Bhāgavatam verse in this regard (SB 2.3.24):

    Certainly that heart is steel-framed which, in spite of one’s chanting the holy name of the Lord with concentration, does not change when ecstasy takes place, tears fill the eyes and the hairs stand on end.

On the surface the idea seems very simple – only stone hearts do not melt when chanting the holy name. This is how I remember and understand it instinctively. Perhaps I’m confusing it with some other similar verse, probably from the songs of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, but this is not what this śloka says. Let me read it again, I still don’t get the full range of its implications.

First, it talks about steel framed hearts, aśma-sāram, which means it must be a rhetorical device because no one has actual steel framed hearts. Clicking around Sanskrit translations shows that aśma means stone and sāram means essence so it would be correct to translate it as “stone-hearted”, too, doesn’t make a difference to the meaning.

Secondly, the verse talks about those who chant the holy name with concentration, which is a no small feat. We’ve been trying this for years with little success – concentration is elusive. The exact word is dheyaiḥ and it means concentration and meditation, not just walking around, checking the birds and making plans for the rest of the day. We are talking about serious chanting here.

And then there’s the kicker – this heart does not change WHEN ecstasy takes place. Not that the person doesn’t experience ecstasy, he does, and there are two symptoms given of this ecstasy – tears fill the eyes and hairs stand on end, but it doesn’t change the heart. What is going on here?

We’d be glad to experience some ecstasy, we have śikṣāṣṭaka verse begging for it (CC Antya 20.36):

    ‘My dear Lord, when will My eyes be beautified by filling with tears that constantly glide down as I chant Your holy name? When will My voice falter and all the hairs on My body stand erect in transcendental happiness as I chant Your holy name?’

If Lord Caitanya only hoped that one day it would happen to Him, what about our expectations? And, according to Bhāgavatam, if we finally achieve that state it still doesn’t guarantee the change in our hearts? That’s depressing. Let’s see what Śrīla Prabhupāda says in the purport.

I’m not going to paste it here or go through it sentence by sentence, it’s too long for this, but there’s a general thrust there – this verse condemns prākṛta-sahajiyās. It needs to be noted, however that this term was given to us by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, no one has heard of it before, and therefore proper explanation of what it means is in order, which is what Śrīla Prabhupāda did in the purport.

The first paragraph puts this śloka in context as it comes in the third chapter of this Canto. This is where direct worship of Viṣṇu is finally recommended and is “suggested herein in relation to the change of heart”. The whole chapter is titled “Pure Devotional Service: The Change in Heart” and this verse is its culmination. After that the discussion shifts to the matters of creation.

Next paragraph explains what is this expected change of heart should be. It’s not about attaining love of God and manifesting bhāva but about accepting one’s position as Lord’s eternal servant and detachment from material world that goes hand in hand with it. This is what we are supposed to achieve, not walking around crying and shaking. Śrīla Prabhupāda does mention symptoms of ecstasy and that they are a natural consequences of this change of heart and he deals with the apparent contradiction later. His next paragraph explains that if we do not observe material detachment that it must be due to offenses and only due to offenses, there are no other reasons.

Second half of the purport deals with bhāva and it relies on Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī and even Rūpa Gosvāmī opinions to condemn unscrupulous neophytes’ imitations of it. Apparently it has a long history, going back possibly as far as Lord Caitanya Himself. Hmm, actually there’s a story with Haridāsa Ṭhākura and a snake charmer where one of such imitators tried to steal crowd’s attention but was beaten with a stick.

While condemning the imitators Śrīla Prabhupāda also says: “They are sometimes even affected by the reflection of such transcendental symptoms, yet if they still do not give up the forbidden habits, then they are hopeless cases for transcendental realization.” So they can experience glimpses of actual symptoms, not always imitate them, but they are still hopeless for transcendental realization.

In the next paragraph Śrīla Prabhupāda cites the example of the meeting of Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya and how the Lord had to suppress His ecstasy because other people were present. This is proof that even the first class devotees do not display bhāva all the time, for “certain circumstantial reasons”, and therefore

    … real, steady bhāva is definitely displayed in the matter of cessation of material desires (kṣānti), utilization of every moment in the transcendental loving service of the Lord (avyārtha-kālatvam), eagerness for glorifying the Lord constantly (nāma-gāne sadā ruci), attraction for living in the land of the Lord (prītis tad-vasati sthale), complete detachment from material happiness (virakti), and pridelessness (māna-śūnyatā). One who has developed all these transcendental qualities is really possessed of the bhāva stage, as distinguished from the stonehearted imitator or mundane devotee.

Six fool proof symptoms of progress are given – absence of material desires, constant engagement in service, eagerness to chant, desire to live in holy dhāma, indifference to material happiness, and absence of pride. It’s not very difficult to find ISKCON devotees manifesting those and we should take them over any other external “proofs”. All other traditions must be hiding their advanced devotees, or, more likely, no advanced devotee would even engage in a attack on ISKCON or Śrīla Prabhupāda. Unfortunately, it’s the loudmouthed ones that set the tone of public discourse, especially on the internet, and it’s one of the reasons why I think internet is a giant waste of time.

Vanity thought #1597. Same web for everyone

Yesterday I wrote about our lines of authority and ended talking about devotees taking shelter of particular manifestations of this authority, I mean Supreme Absolute Truth, Kṛṣṇa, who appears to us in many forms. That part probably needs a little expanding on.

Typically, we are very radical in our movement, it’s our way of highway, and I support this orthodoxy one hundred percent but we should remember the bigger picture, too. We absolutely must submit ourselves to GBC and its local representatives but that’s because we want a place in Kṛṣṇa and Lord Caitanya’s service. We won’t get there any other way. There are other people, however, who would gladly settle for something more modest and for them there are less demanding provisions. Today I want to talk about them.

If you ask people they’d never say they settle for something small. We would never say we are going after nothing less than a happy life in Vṛndāvana either. The reality is, however, somewhat different and deep within our hearts we know it. If we cut through the sweet talk for the general population Śrīla Prabhupāda’s goals for us were quite demanding. We are supposed to preach non stop every second our lives and we don’t have any other purpose. We often heard the saying “work now, samādhi later” but in reality even that is a cop out.

We do not aim for “samādhi”, we do not aim for comfortable life amidst desire trees, we aim only for the service to the lotus feet of our guru. It might not be very pleasing to us personally but it’s what impresses Kṛṣṇa the most and Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure the only thing we should care about in our spiritual lives.

Not long ago I heard a class where a devotee was reading from one of the books by Sanātana Gosvāmī and there was a story there how Kṛṣṇa often, more often than we expect, asks a newly returned devotee to go back and preach in the material world. I don’t know what to make of it. It sounds a bit cruel and uncaring on His part but that’s what He likes, and He asks us, by that time “formerly conditioned souls”, to go and do this service on His behalf because we know the place better than anyone else. Sanātana Gosvāmī didn’t say how often people refuse, which is understandable, or at least hesitate long enough to indicate they’d rather not, but the assumption is that we are supposed to take these assignments without a blink and with full enthusiasm.

That’s our line of rūpanugas, we are servants of the servants of the servants and we do not seek our own little sweet spot in Kṛṣṇa’s entourage. We take up service no one else is taking and we don’t expect anything in return.

It is very hard to accept this attitude with an open heart, it requires complete purity, but we know it’s what is demanded of us, if we are up to it. Nowadays even the intellectual understanding might not be so widespread anymore but the demand for this service is there and to satisfy it we need to be one hundred percent dedicated to Śrīla Prabhupāda and the mission he left for us, GBC, presidents, the whole institution. We are servants of everyone and we should not dare to criticize anyone, not even the littlest, clumsiest of wannabe bhaktas. We are their servants, too.

People who are not ready for this kind of commitment still need a place in ISKCON and for them demands are more relaxed. They can seek shelter in a wide circle of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s net. They can, for example, be faithful to him in their own way but not be on good terms with GBC. Or they can be faithful to GBC as an idea but not to some particular policies. Or they could be faithful to their local ISKCON chapter but not their temple president.

For us there might not be spiritual world outside of Śrīla Prabhupāda but actually there is, he never claimed to be one and only true representative for all eternity, that’s from another religion. For us, however, going around Prabhupāda would be offensive, we don’t really have a choice. Still the world is out there and it’s ready to provide shelter to those who seek it.

As far as I can see, there’s not much spirituality left outside of our movement, devotees in other sampradāyas don’t get Kṛṣṇa premā without taking shelter of Lord Caitanya so their progress is limited to Vaikuṇṭhas, which isn’t very much comparing to possibilities offered to us. There are Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavas outside of ISKCON, too, but they have discredited themselves by not supporting Prabhupāda when they had a chance and so their prospects aren’t bright either. Maybe some other day I’ll write about Prabhupāda’s attitude towards them. However crippled, they are still devotees and if one seeks their shelter he would still be protected by Kṛṣṇa, still guided by Him, they will never be rejected no matter what they do or say. We should also remember that those who rejected Śrīla Prabhupāda will never get the same opportunities as the original members, which isn’t much in the first place.

Hinduism, however is bigger than vaiṣṇavism and allows for gradual spiritual progress to all kinds of people. One time Śrīla Prabhupāda said that worshipers of Durgā are better than Christians because they follow the Vedic way which guarantees eventual success while those who call themselves Christians are on their own, no one can guarantee anything there.

Perhaps the biggest Hindu school is advaita these days and it manifests in the form of pañcopāsāna, worshiping the five principal deities. Externally it looks very much like vaiṣṇavism because Viṣṇu is also there but conceptually it’s impersonalism. Most people can’t be bothered with learning the difference and they will never miss a chance to worship a deity so pañcopāsāna flourishes.

As followers of Lord Caitanya and Śrīla Prabhupāda we do not like impersonalism one bit but it’s a legitimate realization of the Absolute Truth, albeit an incomplete one, and no one actually realizes it these days. Still the attempt is there and it also counts.

We often say that slaughtering goats for Kali is Kṛṣṇa’s concession to those who can’t live without meat but so is impersonalism. Advaita might be a misleading path and it might be meant to trick people into atheism but it was sill given by Lord Śiva in the form of Śaṅkarācārya and so is Vedic and eventually purifying. I mean if people want to be atheists it’s better for them to be Vedic atheists. They aren’t a pleasant company but they are still taking shelter of the Vedas.

My point is that we might not think much of all these non-vaiṣṇavas or non-ISKCON vaiṣṇavas, or ex-ISKCON vaiṣṇavas, and all kinds of apa-sampradāyas, but they are still taking shelter of Kṛṣṇa, Viṣṇu, or Śiva, or Durgā, and we should have nothing but respect for that. Kṛṣṇa’s net is very very wide and everyone caught in it safe, if not in this lifetime then in the next.

In the bigger scheme of things they do not deserve condemnation, we only allow it when we talk about our narrow, single-minded objective and only when we talk with similarly minded devotees. It’s not a talk for outsiders and we should be careful not to appear as sectarian and argumentative. We have our own thing and it’s big enough to attract everybody without the need to put anyone else down.

Vanity thought #1596. Lines of authority

GBC has been promoting its paper on the lines of authority for several years now, everyone must have read it already. I have, and forgotten all the details. The principle is that all our lines of authority – guru, GBC, temple president etc should be perfectly aligned with each and should not step on each other’s toes.

I don’t remember them offering any solutions to situations when various lines of authority intersect and create problems, and while on the surface it might look like a major omission I admire approach in that paper very much. Instead of dealing with consequences they say that it’s the authorities themselves who should not get into these situations in the first place. Do not create unnecessary intersections and no one will get into any trouble. Easy and simple.

If someone starts pushing for his rights to do this or that and it clashes with other lines of authority then something must be wrong. If we perform our service correctly it should not happen, therefore no one has the [spiritual] right to run a roughshod over anybody else. Either you come to an agreement or abandon your claims to righteousness. “I’m right and pure and they are wrong and in māyā” is not a winning but a losing argument, Kṛṣṇa consciousness does not offer any leg to stand on there.

I don’t know how it works in real life, I hope our society is mature enough to follow these guidelines, I hope it’s the stuff of the past. What interests me more is how people deal with such problems on a personal level. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to find examples of doing it wrong – because that’s what becomes fodder for “news”, but there are still important lessons to be learned, at least in what not to do.

Let’s simplify the situation to Prabhupāda, GBC, and Prabhupāda’s disciples. Vast majority of our members are second generation devotees but introducing another level of complexity, a guru between Prabhupāda and a devotee, is not required in order to understand the basic dynamics. Maybe it could be introduced later, let’s see.

So, let’s say a devotee has some problem and, unfortunately, he wants to blame someone else rather than his own karma. Somebody else should take a responsibility and correct the situation, but who?

We all trust Kṛṣṇa to be infallible but no one has seen Him, so we think that someone standing between us and Him is the source of our discomfort. The next infallible authority after Kṛṣṇa is Śrīla Prabhupāda. Some have left his shelter but I don’t want to even talk about them, that’s not an option. There’s a case study of Nitai who left ISKCON for Rādhā-kuṇḍa bābājīs and it’s not clear cut and one-dimensional but in any case we don’t want any of that for ourselves.

Unfortunately, Śrīla Prabhupāda is not with us any longer, too. We can’t summon him to solve our problems, we can only bicker and throw quotes at each other, which doesn’t solve anything. Next in line is GBC, a body assigned by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself to be our ultimate authority, both in spiritual and managerial matters. Then there zonal secretaries and temple presidents, and then there is lower level management. They are all alive and well and so we have a choice in who to blame or who to approach for help. So, who becomes our target first?

Let’s say you work in a temple kitchen and you see something wrong with the way food is prepared and offered. Do you snitch on kitchen manager to the president? Do you allow for some leeway and close your eyes on minor transgressions? If you did that then the problem wouldn’t even be there because that’s already a kind of solution. Most of the time, however, we are hell bent on actually correcting it. Let’s say you do go to the president and complain, and then what?

Temple president has a bigger picture in his mind, he can’t just dismiss his kitchen manager for a million of reasons. He can’t banish him from the temple, there aren’t adequate replacement positions, giving a service well below is not an option either, and there’s no question of promotion, too. In big temples it’s little easier but in a small temple the kitchen manager does not go anywhere. Complain or don’t complain, he is going to stay.

Except now you have introduced a strain into your relationships with your boss and trust between you and your immediate authority has been lost. It doesn’t solve your original problem but only add to it. Now you can set your sights on the president himself because it was his “fault” that he didn’t reassign kitchen manager somewhere else. It’s nepotism, you think. The president is protecting the management, not the interests of simple devotees who only want to make things better. It’s all about power and personal comfort, not about improving our service. A few days of thoughts like this and you have a problem with the president. Who’s next?

You can complain to your guru, you can raise the question with visiting sannyāsīs, you can even approach the zonal secretary. Of course you’ll need a bigger argument then some minor improprieties in the kitchen but once you set your mind in a critical mood finding faults is easy, you have convinced yourself that your president is not a devotee but a demon in a vaiṣṇava disguise already, the supporting evidence is already in your mind, you just have to make it presentable.

None of the above authorities is likely to take you complaints seriously for obvious reasons – they can easily see through your little plan, it doesn’t take a genius. And if they don’t assuage you then the GBC becomes the next target of your righteous indignation.

Most of the time we don’t start with our own personal problems but go straight for matters above our pay-grade, things like preaching strategies or policy making. Depending on how big our scope becomes we declare appropriate level enemies. Could be some GBC ministry, could be zonal secretary, could be just vague “they”. In this case we do not have any beef with our local authorities and think that ISKCON is being mismanaged from the top, most likely by that impersonal “GBC”, which starts to sound like “KGB”.

What do we do then? Some simply refuse to recognize the authority of the GBC. They took initiation from Śrīla Prabhupāda and their primary allegiance is to him while GBC is just an add-on, following it wasn’t part of their initiation vows. For second generation devotees it’s obviously not an option. Others admit that GBC is not up to scratch but they see ISKCON as a larger body of devotees who will always come to your help, clearly a less confrontational solution.

Ultimately, it’s all about shelter – where do we seek it? It might start with assigning blame but at the end of the day we all need shelter, so instead of talking about someone’s enemies we should look at who is that person’s shelter. Is it GBC? Is it ISKCON at large where they can go into hiding and live quiet peaceful life? Is it their outside work that provides for the necessities and so they don’t care what GBC is really up to anymore. Is it Śrīla Prabhupāda himself, with no intermediaries? Is it Kṛṣṇa? Is it the holy name? Is it a community of ex-ISKCON devotees who naturally want to look after each other? Is it some other, non-ISKCON guru?

All we need to know is this shelter and then adjust the level of our association with that devotee accordingly. If they can’t stop criticizing others they are to be avoided regardless of the situation, that’s a start, but beyond that we are talking about different degrees of delusion. Some are less harmful then the others but only a devotee who is at total peace with everybody else and who doesn’t see any faults in anyone is capable of infusing our hearts with bhakti. Everything else is only a substitution, not a real thing.

Problems will always be there, even for the best of us, but the wise ones won’t allow their consciousness to be polluted and won’t pay much attention to them. They are the ones we need to learn from while those who are at “war” fail by the standard of that GBC paper I mentioned in the beginning, no matter their reasoning.

Vanity thought #1595. The alternate world

Continuing with the latest vaiṣṇava news. Our sites are not sophisticated enough yet to sort them out into categories – sport, business, entertainment etc, so we have to group them by topics ourselves. I’ve noticed a couple of articles about the possible future of ISKCON and talked about one of them yesterday.

Come to think of it, what could possible news categories be for us? I guess “philosophy” would be a major one. “Calendar” would be another – a lot of stories are concerned with explanation of various events marked on our vaiṣṇava calendar, ekādaśī’s, appearance/disappearance days etc. There would certainly be “news” themselves – stories about various preaching programs around the world. There could be “journals” section, too, where selected devotees would post their personal stories. They would be like bloggers on big sites like NYTimes or Forbes, not pushed onto the main page but always there. There would certainly be a business section with job offers and advertisements of projects selling Vṛndāvana land. Much of the same would be on the opposite side to ISKCON but criticizing us for exactly these things instead, and their bloggers would be called “serial offenders”. “A diary of a serial offender. 1008th way to criticize Svami X devotional service”. They love that kind of thing over there. And their “news” section would be rightfully called “rumors and gossip”, and they should have one section called “rants”, but I’m being offensive here myself so let’s stop.

Anyway, Sun features several articles concerning the future of ISKCON but they are somewhat different. One thing they share is that everybody offers solutions – “do it like I said and everything will be alright”. Of course they cover their suggestions by quotes from authorities and so who can argue that harināma is the most effective method of preaching. Everybody knows that, how to revive it is the question.

Dandavats article I talked about yesterday saw salvation in devotees retiring from their gṛhastha life and taking up preaching. This seems solid because that’s what retired people are supposed to do under varṇāśrama but it’s not straightforward. One should spend 25 years in vānaprastha first, clarifying himself from sins and attachments accumulated while being a gṛhastha. These things don’t go away easily even with our process of chanting the holy name, it takes time, and with passing time the energy drains, too.

I mean one of the positive points of ageing is that detachment is easier because the body and the senses are not that strong anymore. Sex drive just disappears, for example. The downside is that with sex drive the energy to get up and go at it goes away as well. You see what the problem with relying on old people to do the bulk of our preaching is – the same thing that frees them for it strips them from the power to do it. There could be a solution to this problem but it’s most likely to be limited.

What this prediction shares with those of our critics is that it doesn’t put any trust in our institutions, GBC and temples. It is quite possible that the next surge of saṅkīrtana could come from outside traditional sources, like the way Gauḍiyā Maṭha saw Śrīla Prabhupāda’s success, but we are not in the same position GM was after Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s disappearance. Our institutions are the source of our strength, they provide shelter, refuge, and beneficial association on industrial scale to thousands if not millions of people at once. This can never be discounted no matter what imperfections appear to be there.

One more thing about that article, it mentioned in passing that while Eastern Europe might be going strong right now they are simply repeating the North American cycle and are where the US was twenty years ago. Incidentally, there’s a post on Sun about this exact time period and it doesn’t talk about growth but of clear signs of terminal decline – in the typical Sun fashion. Twenty years ago was 1996, the year of Prabhupāda centennial, and even if the whole of ISKCON was energized by it there was nothing special going on in the North America, it’s when they discovered that they can import Indians and milk Indian community there. 1996 was the time when ISKCON was carried almost exclusively by “Eastern Europeans”, or CIS, as they were called back then. They are still going at it with no sign of abating. They preach, they distribute books, they build their own settlements in Vṛndavāna and Māyāpura where they hold their own festivals, they appear unstoppable. North America, by contrast, didn’t last even ten years after Prabhupāda’s disappearance. For whatever reason, the Europeans broke the cycle.

Another suggestion of how to resurrect our mission in the US is the [infamous] “Krishna West”. Everybody everywhere loves telling Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī how it’s all going to fail, which is not helpful. Someone leaked his private conversations to add even more fuel to the fire, they handle it with the grace of Daily Mail or any other UK’s yellow press publications. The current status of this project, however, is that Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja is given a chance to build something himself first and if it works then GBC would consider taking up this method seriously, which is fair.

Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja even sees his current restrictions on traveling and preaching as a blessing allowing him to concentrate on building a center, he wouldn’t have time and energy for it otherwise. From the leaked conversation he appears to be quite rattled by GBC’s treatment of him but, as he explained himself, he was simply venting in private, letting off the steam. I don’t think we should judge him harshly for it and declare him a heretic. He is absolutely clear he does not want to leave ISKCON, that his Krishna West project IS an ISKCON project, so let’s not push him out. I believe GBC will have enough sense not to punish him for those leaked tapes.

All we have here is a devotee trying to preach, trying to invent a way to make us presentable and attractive. I don’t understand the fundamental problem with it at all. Lots of our devotees preach and distribute books wearing ordinary clothes and without visible tilakas on their foreheads (though lots of them have their tilakas on, too). Adapting out appearance to suit the public was started by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta nearly hundred years ago, it’s not a new proposal and it has always been met with resistance. Some of the subsequent innovations failed, perhaps too many, but some survived, like wearing leather shoes, traveling by planes, or using the internet.

The right balance between tradition and appeasing modern men is difficult to strike but only those who find it will succeed. Our reaction to other people’s efforts should not be guided by one of my favorite observations about driving – everyone driving slower than me is a moron and everyone driving faster is a suicidal maniac. We should not judge these things from our personal perspective, which gives rise to the duality and, therefore, can’t be correct as a matter of principle.

Vanity thought #1594. The future

By now I should have let go of my dream but the memory of it is still stuck in my head. Good times… Now I look at it mostly as an offer from Kṛṣṇa, an arrangement to go on with my [spiritual] life. Instead of my current identity I was offered a new one, nameless, free from obligations and free to pursue detachment. I still see it, however, as a replacement of my current set of attachments and as such it wasn’t bad either. The sun was bright, the air was clear, the sand was clean, I could have lived in that place. Of course it was only a dream and the offer wasn’t real but my mind is still in it so it still IS a reality for me even though imperceptible to everyone else. I’m not ready to talk about relationships between dreams and the real world yet, so I have another topic in mind.

The other thing I did over the weekend was to check vaiṣṇava news sites. I treat this habit as an addiction I have to get over with because nothing good ever comes out of reading news, it’s like junk food for the mind, we should know better. There’s a fact, however, that there are devotees who sincerely offer their articles for the spiritual benefit of others and it would be wasteful not to appreciate it. Our entire devotional life is sustained by absorbing bhakti of others, after all. They open their hearts and minds and that’s the only way bhakti can find a way inside ours.

Kṛṣṇa does not live in His holy name unless it was invoked by other devotees – that’s the thing with saṅkīrtana, you can’t do it alone. Otherwise it won’t be effective in this age. Kṛṣṇa is non-different from His name, of course, but by “live” I mean being accessible for us, extending His mercy that purifies our existence. Well, even if we chant the holy name in total isolation it still was given to us by our guru so repeating it is our tribute to him. The name never appears by our own efforts, not even the material sound of it. It must always come from other devotees, there’s no other way. Even Lord Caitanya gave us the saṅkīrtana while in a garb of Kṛṣṇa’s devotee.

Speaking of Lord Caitanya and His mission – I noticed several articles concerned with its future. One was on Dandavats and it advocated “resurgency”, the revival of Hare Kṛṣṇa movement in the US. The others were on Sun and so were rather critical and hopeless. Let’s go with the hopeful one first – I’m not buying it.

Basically, the prediction is that ISKCON in North America will be revived by a new wave of preachers independent of the temples. My first reaction was that it’s a hope against hope but it may be somewhat softened by now. You see – Kṛṣṇa doesn’t owe the US anything. That devotee, no doubt with the best of intentions, assumed that our mission there must be revived but, historically speaking, it never happens, it’s a false hope.

Every empire in a decline can’t imagine the world without it, its people naturally expect some kind of revival of its dwindling fortunes. Even up until now there are people on some Greek islands who still identify themselves as Romans even though Roman empire has been gone for over a thousand years. The identification goes on and people naturally assume that God owes them a good life. If I think myself as a Roman, or as an American, or as a Libyan – God surely must favor the entire group I identify myself with, the future is always bright, not just for me but for everything else I lay my claims to, too.

It’s an illusion and the material doesn’t work that way. Forget God, we are in the hands of time and time shows no mercy. Time owes nothing, it takes whatever it wants and gives whatever it wants regardless of how we feel about it. It always made us offers we can’t refuse. If North America is going into decline than that’s what will happen and hoping for a resurgency is futile.

The only part I agree with is that we are at the point in time where old devotees who left temples decades ago are retiring from their jobs and will have time and energy for preaching. I’m still not sure it’s what they would actually do with their lives but the retirement part is undeniable. Even so, it sounds more like a plot for a bad movie about old-timers defying their age, starting a new life, and succeeding at it. Even Hollywood makes them into comedies now, the premise is ridiculous. What would it be? “Expandables 4, ISKCON style”? It’s not really about preaching, it’s about refusing to acknowledge our age and imposing our presence on everybody else.

It’s like the phrase “young at heart”, old people appreciate it but it’s all about denying their age and new set of responsibilities that comes with and pretending to be young. It’s embarrassing, it’s undignified, it’s off-putting. Old people have their role in a society and young people have theirs, to each his own.

It doesn’t mean that retired devotees (retires from karmī jobs, that is) can’t become preachers but preaching requires energy and lots of it. It also requires one to become an authority or a role model. Young, energetic men are attractive, everyone wants to be like them, their have vigor, they are full of vitality, and it doesn’t really matter what they say. These might not be perfect qualities for preaching but they work. We have to make ourselves presentable so that people would want to be like us, want to live like us, want to emulate our behavior.

One could site the example of Śrīla Prabhupāda but he was unique, and the bulk of actual preaching work was done by his young disciples. They were the ones travelling everywhere and starting up temples. They went to San-Francisco and ignited everyone with interest in Śrīla Prabhupāda, they went to London and started UK preaching all on their own. This pattern was then repeated everywhere. “Dancing white elephants” wasn’t just a cute, slightly patronizing moniker, without their youthful energy ISKCON wouldn’t have happened.

Maybe some of our older devotees have enough energy left to get an RV, stuff it with books, and go travelling from town to town, singing kīrtanas and distributing books but, generally, it’s not what old people are good for. They should “lead from behind”, so to speak. They should inspire others to do all the footwork. Even if they are spiritually advanced so that they could turn others into devotees, still it should be done in stages, through their disciples. It’s how it has been always done in history. If there are exceptions, like Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, for example, they are still exceptions.

Older devotees should stay at the inner core of our movement, be a source of our inner strength and inspiration, not man the front-line barricades.

Maybe this resurgency will happen, but if the underlying motive is to prolong one’s illusion of being young and powerful, or the illusion that God owes us something, then it will fail without a doubt. A final thought – if need is there Lord Caitanya will pick someone younger to push His mission and we shouldn’t be envious of them when they come even if we dislike their ways.

Vanity thought #1555. New Age

It looks to me that our ISKCON gradually transitioned itself into a new era, not quite what we had when Śrīla Prabhupāda was present. For a couple of decades after his departure we tried to maintain the same spirit but now we are firmly in the new epoch. Some holdouts would say it’s a degradation, those living it now think they are living the dream, otoh. Who is right? Who is wrong? Should we continue or should we try to change our course before it’s too late?

A few days ago I mentioned Navīna Nīrada as the last vestige of saṅkīrtana and it turned out that he just gave a class (mp3) in Māyāpura on the topic. It’s that time of the year when ISKCON has a worldwide Prabhupāda marathon to take advantage of the holiday spirit, when people are ready to part with their cash somewhat easier than usual. These days it might be necessary to explain that “marathon” here means book distribution marathon.

Management arranges for inspirational talks by saṅkīrtana leaders and invites old timers to revive the spirit. Navīna Nīrada is fifty, for example. Again, it might be necessary to explain that saṅkīrtana here means book distribution, not group chanting in the streets. Hmm, for a while we’ve seen transformations of this word, too.

At first it meant harināma, when we had no books to sell. Devotees would accompany harināma parties and hand out leaflets. Then we got books and selling books meant money so temple authorities preferred book distribution to singing in the streets. This has inspired HG Aindra Prabhu to start his revolution of 24-hour kīrtana in Vṛndāvana. In the West, meanwhile, devotees discovered that it was easier to sell lots of other stuff, like candles, soap, paintings etc, and that came to be called saṅkīrtana, too. Thankfully, it didn’t last forever and books were soon back in the center, but distributing books is hard so we went back to chanting, but not by walking the streets but by holding nondescript yoga classes and anonymous bhakti festivals. I hope for most devotees going on saṅkīrtana still means distributing books but just to be clear…

Several things have changed in the world. One is that everybody knows Hare Kṛṣṇas, we are not a novelty anymore. Some play on the feelings of nostalgia but hardly anyone plays on surprise and a violent assault on the senses that was so overwhelming in the early days – I mean bright colored saris and dhotis, drums and karatālas, amazing free sweets, awesome, top quality books, and the enthusiastic chanting. We still do that but somehow it’s not very “assaulting” these days, sometimes it’s just a lonely devotee walking in the crowd singing to him/herself.

Another problem is that people do not read paper books as often as before and that makes us feel apprehensive and outdated. I’m sure saṅkīrtana devotees can turn it around to their advantage and present our books as something really valuable, compared to electronic junk filling their gadgets, or they just ask for donations with books given away as an afterthought, which isn’t cool.

I’ve noticed that these days devotees often ask for donations first, on the strength of their religiosity or our charitable activities, and then give a corresponding value book as a reward. That’s not how our books should be distributed – one single sentence from Prabhupāda’s books is more valuable than all the charities in the world. Books are not afterthought, they are the most valuable thing our society has ever had. We should make people want books and be ready to give an arm and a leg for them, and that’s what devotees like Navīna Nīrada do when they distribute them.

When Hare Kṛṣṇa exploded in Soviet Union all Russian books were printed in Sweden and therefore were outrageously expensive, Bhagavad Gīta cost something like a quarter of a monthly wage, and yet devotees were so inspired and convinced of its value that they sold them by thousands a day. Price is not an obstacle – our lack of conviction is. We don’t see them as valuable ourselves, we think we know them, we understand them, and they are our possessions, we have so many of them lying around. We’ve lost the feeling of urgency, having spent years trying to change our own lives, most of it in vain. We are trapped in the period between neophyte excitement and paramahaṁsa realization of our books spiritual value.

The most profound change, however, has been in how our temples maintain themselves. Because book distribution is relatively hard our managers found easier ways – by relying on congregation. We serve people and people donate. Likewise, one successful business can maintain a temple quite easily, we don’t require that much to function. We also reduced the number of temple dependents by marrying off our brahmacārīs. Some temples do not even have resident devotees anymore, maybe a paid pūjārī and that’s all.

Means of sustenance dictate everything in materially conditioned life and so we ceased to see ourselves as a book distribution movement. Big festivals like Ratha Yatras give us more exposure and more fame anyway, we can invite ISKCON big shots to preside and participate, big shots attract big congregation and bigger donors, that’s the way to go forward. If you want to succeed you need to get appropriate credentials as a pūjārī or as a scholar, become someone who fits in this new scheme of things. Book distributors usually aren’t a part of this, even if successful ones are valued as sources of income, too.

In this atmosphere old school devotees like Navīna Nīrada appear as a dying breed and no one takes them seriously anymore, only as a tribute to the tradition, not as an inspiration to move forward. As usual, he asked the audience what they were doing in Māyāpura. Most were studying something, taking vaiṣṇava courses and advancing their vaiṣṇava education, the rest were various temple devotees, which usually means providing some profitable services because no one lives in Māyāpura for free. He asked how many were saṅkīrtana devotees and he got only a few hands rising.

To him it was a crisis of identity because he was taught that we are all saṅkīrtana devotees, only that some of us have to stay back and provide essential supporting services. In his view there are no kitchen devotees, only saṅkīrtana devotees who have to go and help in the kitchen. Similarly, the pūjārīs are needed so that saṅkīrtana devotees can be inspired by a darśana of nice deities during their morning program. Even temple deities are supposed to serve saṅkīrtana that way, and why wouldn’t they? It’s a movement of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, it’s HIS mission, why would He be interested in simply eating, sleeping, and getting dressed?

This clarify of vision is not there anymore and Navīna Nīrada was right that we have a crisis of identity. People do not see themselves as saṅkīrtana devotees, they see themselves as aspiring pūjārīs, managers, scholars, valuable businessmen – whatever personal aspirations they have in our movement, but it’s rarely book distributors.

I wouldn’t necessarily conclude that it’s a bad thing, though. It’s not ideal, but if we want to have a sustainable society and build varṇāśrama we have to get to this stage, it’s unavoidable. Varṇāśrama is not a system for book distributors, it’s a system for common men to fulfill their common desires and get some spiritual benefit out of it as well. Book distributors need to find themselves some other place, even in daivī-varṇāśrama the goal is to please the Lord, not necessarily book distribution or any other forms of preaching. The model of daivī-varṇāśrama is Vaikuṇṭha and there’s no preaching there, book distributors will not be appreciated.

Saṅkīrtana is a gift from Goloka – golokera prema dhana, hari-nāma-saṅkīrtana. It has no comfortable place in this world and it will always be in some crisis of identity or the other, and we can’t expect everyone in our society appreciate it equally, not unless we are all on the same transcendental platform. We can be trained to respect saṅkīrtana but unless it manifests its glory in our own spiritual life it will be just words, we should not be surprised by our lack of natural enthusiasm.

I can’t claim to know what saṅkīrtana is, but thanks to the old training I can’t see myself as part of this new ISKCON either, even if I have nothing against this development and support it wholeheartedly, it’s just not for me. I’d rather die with good memories than invest myself into something I see as spiritually legitimate but still inferior.