Vanity thought #1608. Bane of our existence.

A few times here I mentioned how internet is not conducive to devotional progress. One could argue that it’s just a tool and when engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service it’s beneficial, just like everything else, but we live in the material world where everything is colored by the modes of nature and some corners of it are more conducive to devotional service than others. Different places attract different people and satisfy different aspirations, internet is just one of those. What, or rather who we find here are not people seeking spiritual enlightenment, we do not expect to find them in slaughterhouses, brothels, and casinos either.

On the other hand, everybody is on the internet, it doesn’t not attract malcontents exclusively, and a lot of people come here to find new information. They are open to new ideas and as perceptive to our preaching as people on the streets and so they are the ones we need to talk to, but the thing is that we are usually too late.

A couple of months ago there was an announcement of a new project designed to improve our presence on the internet, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it and so I won’t give a link to my old post about it. I’ll just say that these devotees realized that we are losing the battle for the internet and people seeking information about Hare Kṛṣṇas are very likely to come across all kinds of deviants first. They gave a couple of example to illustrate the point – searching for “Srila Prabhupada” on youtube gives a link to a video of his final moments, which at one time in our society wasn’t shown to uninitiated devotees, and it was coming from the camp convinced that Prabhupāda was poisoned.

I must say that current search produces completely different results but what they were saying was true at the time, I checked. Maybe that project is showing results already.

Anyway, the point is that we were too late and not very skillful and the stage was taken by our various critics instead. They figured our early on how to manipulate google search and get themselves to the top of the result pages. This is ABC of internet PR management but we somehow missed it, but I don’t want to talk about our mistakes, I want to talk about our opponents and how they give Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism a bad name.

Their message is very simple – Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism is a beautiful and gentle religious movement that was hijacked and misrepresented by fanatical ISKCONites. They would pounce on every negative perception of Hare Kṛṣṇas and argue that real Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism is not at all bad and that people should give it another chance – to the real Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism that is, not to ISKCON.

People would come up with some gripes – sexual abuse in Hare Kṛṣṇa schools, guru falldowns, cult like fanaticism, aggressive attitude while preaching, etc etc and our opponents would capitalize on that, give them a shoulder to cry on, pacify them, agree with everything they say, and tell them that ISKCON is Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism black sheep, a one idiot in the family, and that they are also ashamed of us.

When I say it that way it looks like they are doing public a favor and keeping people in touch with Kṛṣṇa despite their negative experiences. That might be true and if they are really doing that we must begrudgingly admit that it’s a useful service and be thankful to those who clean up after our mistakes. Most of the time, however, they plant these negative perceptions themselves. People might have heard something here and there but our opponents give their vague memories solid shapes, fan their half-doubts into flames of war and convince them that we are a spawn of Satan. That’s not public service at all.

Whatever the means, they manage to take control of the conversation and start promoting their own agenda, which is still about Kṛṣṇa’s service so it isn’t all bad but any perceptive person can see through their charade and dismiss us, and I mean the entire Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism, as a sham.

The fundamental problem is that our opponents are not promoting devotional service, they are promoting service to one’s ego and their attitudes are atheistic despite externally professing allegiance to God. Perceptive people can smell this a mile away, they can see absence of humility, they can see mental gymnastics even without understanding the details, and nothing can cover this stink completely, no matter how much they dress it up as genuine service. People sense when they are being used and abused and they sense lack of sincerity, they also see personal aspirations and it turns them off – if they were seeking genuine religion, that is.

That’s why when I was talking about saṅkīrtana last month I stressed again and again that preaching must come from a pure heart, everything else people can find elsewhere if they want to. When they sense that they are being used for one’s personal agenda they realize that they have intrinsic value and they exploit it like cheap prostitutes. With this attitude even talking about Kṛṣṇa becomes useless because it’s the opposite of surrender, everybody keeps exploiting each other and saṅkīrtana does not take place.

If this becomes people’s experience with Hare Kṛṣṇas it becomes so much harder for us to get their attention for the third time. First time was when they learned about our existence and second time is when they become victims of our critics preaching. It isn’t an insurmountable obstacle but it would take exceptional effort and purity for our saṅkīrtana devotees to reach their hearts in the limited time they have when they meet people on the streets. After all, saṅkīrtana is about seeking favorable audience, if a devotee can’t find anyone supportive he would just move along to the next place rather than try to correct misconceptions created by our critics from the comfort of their computers.

Saṅkīrtana devotees can’t afford to spend time arguing, it would only make people more defensive and they would gather all their energy and intellect to try and prove us wrong and themselves right, and by “themselves” I mean our critics who planted these devious ideas into their heads. It is very hard to overturn one’s emotional allegiance to somebody and most of the time it can’t be done by arguments alone. Time is usually too short for that kind of sober analysis and people would rather go with what feels good than what is right.

That’s for the general mass, but we should also be concerned with genuine seekers of the Absolute Truth. They won’t find what they are looking for in conversations with our critics and move on. Their numbers might not be great but they are out there, joining Islam in record numbers because there’s a lot less BS there. When I first saw these western converts myself I was very surprised but it made sense immediately – they went for honesty, you can’t substitute it with nice words and fake sincerity. People do want to surrender to God, they do want the company of similarly devoted people, they do want mutual trust, and Islam easily provides all that. I mean real Islam, not that caricature image presented in the media.

I’m not going to pull statistics but, despite universally bad publicity, Islam is probably the fastest growing religion. There might be some others with a higher rate of growth but they also have a much smaller base. For them even a hundred new adherents might be statistically significant.

Well, I wasn’t planning to end this post by talking about Islam but somehow it happened. It does attract a fair number of nutcases but it’s the loss of sincere souls that should worry us. Why do they go to them and not to us? Part of the blame lies with us, part of it lies with our critics. We should not have allowed them to hijack the conversaton but it happened. Correcting it will never be too late, though, so nothing is lost forever. We just have to oppose their misrepresentation of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavims whenever we see it and do not let sully the pristine image our sampradāya with their mental concoctions.

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Vanity thought #1536. Cycle of violence

I usually ignore popular tragedies such as the latest terror attacks in Paris, precisely because they are popular. For a few days it becomes fashionable to express solidarity with the victims regardless of how one feels and politicians, the heartless creatures without a shadow of empathy, come forward and offer fake condolences. I prefer to tune out.

There are plenty of ordinary people who do sincerely feel the tragedy, of course, but all I notice about them is spamming twitter and news feeds with endless RIPs, which becomes a meaningless information. What do they think they contribute? Do they think at all? Nope, they just want to see their name and avatar up there with everyone else.

This time, however, I want to say something about this terror and get it off my chest. I would probably lack empathy here myself, I haven’t read the detailed accounts of the tragedy yet, I don’t feel it, it’s still only news to me. TBH, I hope the news cycle moves onto something else before I realize the full horror of this experience for someone who went through it. It would be unsettling, the mind would go crazy and would be impossible to control, and I don’t want that.

Does it make me insensitive? Probably, but I’d rather stick with our ācāryas then join in mass psychosis. People, however, expect us to put our religion aside for a while and get serious. Of course “serious” is what they feel, they don’t care how it feels to devotees, or to any rational, level-headed person out there.

This time they might break out of the mold but typically what happens next is this – people unite in grief, they select an icon, maybe a song or a “Je suis Charlie” slogan, they march around, display their unity, and then slowly resume their lives. Experience changes them but nothing useful comes out of it, especially from Kṛṣṇa consciousness POV.

So far it goes according to the plan, at least on the politicians’ side. Three days of mourning have been declared, ISIS has been blamed, fight has been declared, and world leaders sent condolences and messages of outrage. Next should be marching and uniting around something symbolic. “Friday the 13th” is probably not the best choice, though.

They might have the biggest march in Paris ever, the Americans will probably send someone important for a change, and they might even let Putin walk along for a while, but then what? It hasn’t been a year since the last march, what’s the point of all this walking?

“Unity”, they say, that will show them. That will show them what? They have seen it all already, not impressed. I think they have these marches to convince themselves rather than send a message to terrorists. Terrorists have already got it, big march means they need a bigger response, because marching crowds are not very good listeners.

Unity means lack of diversity and intolerance of other ideas. It would be impossible to talk about these attacks with an attitude different from the one adopted by the marching society, just as it’s impossible to talk about 9/11 in the US without expressing pain for the innocent victims. The discussion on why Al-Qaeda didn’t think they were innocent but legitimate targets is impossible unless one takes a firm position that they were innocent first. Same is happening in France now and same thing happened in Charlie Hebdo attacks, too.

Unity means it’s “you either with us or against us” moment, and they don’t pause for a second to realize that it makes them look just like the Bush they love to hate so much. When Bush said it he was reckless and stupid, when they say it you’d better toe the line and do it quick, no hesitation allowed.

Logic, reason, cool head – those things get forgotten, they remember them only when it’s time to bash religionists. Oh well, human nature is prone to such mistakes, can’t blame them, but then they wake up next day and start droning how their “scientific method” has eliminated human subjectivity.

When they were walking around with “Je suis Charlie” they didn’t want to hear how their enemies will not take it gladly and will retaliate with great force, now that time has come, it happened, and they are going for exactly the same response hoping that this time the result will be different. It won’t, it would only escalate because they haven’t addressed the root causes of their problems.

It’s Kali yuga, people can’t control their senses, they want things beyond what is ordained by their karma, they want more than the Lord has provided, and so there’s a great imbalance in the world between resources and demands. Then they naturally clash because resources are limited and their demands overlap. Islamists have big appetites, too, everyone is affected. They want to live in Europe and enjoy European standards of living and when they don’t get them they lash out at their hosts, and they don’t even treat them as hosts anymore but as service providers.

French and other Europeans, for their part, invented this multicultural, democratic utopia that doesn’t exist. They do not realize that the whole world can’t live like them. They built their empires on the backs of Africans, Arabs, and Indians so that they get to enjoy fruits of labor provided by black and brown skinned people. I don’t have numbers for Europe but it is often said that Americans have only 5% of world population and consume 25% of world’s resources. It is obviously impossible for the other 95% to have the same level of consumption, and yet this is what “democracy” and “multiculturalism” implies. Nope, only selected few can afford to live like that, the rest must be excluded. Of course “multiculturalism” is not about economics per se but its underlying assumption is that they can provide same economic benefits to all regardless of their cultures.

Or we can look at immediate causes of these attacks – revenge for bombing ISIS in Syria. And how did this ISIS become so big that it’s necessary to bomb them? Because French (and Americans, of course) wanted to overthrow the SECULAR regime of Bashar al Assad there and got regional Arabs to sponsor anti-Assad forces, which they did – by inviting all kinds of jihadists and arming them to the teeth. French were cheering this war all along, on the jihadist side, and now it turned back on them just like Bin Laden did to Americans. The history only repeats itself with minor variations.

And now they report that the symbol has been chosen – an Eiffel Tower fashioned as a peace sign. I wonder if they’ll be ready to march by Sunday.

Hmm, they are dong stupid things and harm themselves in the long term but they really really want it – that’s how karma works, and there’s no escape.

There’s no solution to this crisis, both sides are intent on consuming the whole world and it’s simply impossible, and they are not going to curb their appetites either.

Vanity thought #1483. Proselytism

Preaching is one of the most striking similarities between Christianity and ISKCON but we don’t usually discuss why it is so, or maybe I have missed these discussions. We do analyze behavior and development of various religious groups, we have friendly visits to see how others manage, we engage in interfaith movement, but I don’t remember ever hearing about preaching. Perhaps it’s one of the topics that is politely avoided in our dialogue, and one can easily imagine why – we preach completely opposite things, on the face of it, and so there’s no space for a joint stand without stepping on each other’s toes.

For Christians preaching is imploring others to accept JC as their only light and savior and it goes right to the heart of their religion. There’s no space there to allow “let them to their thing, they might be right in their own ways” thinking. As soon as we approach there they see us as completely bewildered by the devil, worshipers of a false god, and a black one at that. If we ever going to agree on something it’s on instilling good morals and feeding people, not on preaching.

Of course one could say they preach, we preach, sure there’s something common in our experience, and be totally right, but from their POV, I’m afraid, our “preaching” is as much preaching as Satan spreading his corruption. Fine, we don’t have to talk about it with them, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t raise interest among ourselves. There’s still so much we don’t understand about it that any effort should be welcome.

On the surface it’s easy – maddened by spiritual ecstasy that comes from chanting Mahāmantra we cannot contain ourselves and naturally want to share it with the whole world. Or we can also say that we are doing it on the order of the spiritual master, if Prabhupāda said “print books” we print them and if he said “distribute books” we distribute them. Questions, however, still remain.

One could say “What is the use of talking about it and discussing questions if all we have to do is just do it?” Right, but what if we are not doing it and can’t find strength or opportunities to do it even if we seem to be solid on the philosophy and all other doctrinal points? What is missing? Why haven’t we internalize the need to preach? Why don’t we accept it like we “accept” the need to eat? Why is it not equally obvious and irresistible? Why it was felt at some point in our lives but not anymore? Is it a regression?

What is the scriptural basis for preaching, for example? We have plenty of examples of devotees who achieved perfection without doing any significant preaching? Why is it not listed among nine, or even sixty-four limbs of devotional service? Maybe some of those limbs could be explained as to include preaching but none does so directly, afaik.

What is the difference between proselytism and preaching? Is it important? If it is, should we avoid one while engaging in the other?

Usually, proselytism means converting others to one’s own faith. Prabhupāda went to a Christian country and converted thousands to Hinduism, it could be argued. We don’t, however, accept this argument. Prabhupāda took people who were completely disenchanted with Christianity and even the general western way of life. He didn’t convert good, wholesome Christian boys and girls, he took the dregs of the society (pretty much like Jesus did).

Nothing Prabhupāda had ever said about Christianity would justify conversion. If they want to join ISKCON – fine, but our first message to them is to strengthen their own Christianity and follow their own commandments. Prabhupāda was preaching spiritual science that works in whatever religion one wants to apply it.

He similarly was against converting Muslims – let them worship their God, but just do it properly, with love and devotion, and in knowledge of their constitutional position as tiny spirit souls who are thrown in the ocean of birth and death. They, and Christians, too, might reject reincarnation, but if JC is able to deliver them at the end of this one life then reincarnation is besides the point.

We can say the knowledge of reincarnation is important when they curse others to eternal damnation but the truth is that they are still not very far off – the amount of sins we commit in this day and age does warrant near eternal residence in hell.

So, if they follow Christ correctly then reincarnation doesn’t really matter, and if they do not follow him correctly then it matters only if we push their doctrine to its limits while in the foreseeable future it still holds.

The point is, we don’t covert people from one religion to another, as long as they are worshiping God. As long as they want to attain loving devotion to transcendent Lord we should have no principal objections (SB 1.2.6).

There are, however, “lesser” religions and they are a fair game. Vedic literature, however, does not talk about religions but about dharmas, and there are plenty of those. They are all meant for gradual elevation of the soul but at this point in history things are going to get so much worse before they turn for the better in four hundred plus thousand years so it is going to be “gradual” in extreme. When westerners talk about religions they talk about a special kind of dharmas but these days they are totally confused about where to draw the line.

In the US they have freedom of religion but no clear constitutional definition of what religion is. Ron Hubbard found this loophole and realized that the only legal opinion that matters is that of the IRS, and so if he could convince the IRS to stop taxing him then it doesn’t matter whether any one else accepts Scientology as a real religion or not.

These days it goes like this – religions are based on faith, so if you can choose a set of things to believe in regardless of any evidence you’ll have yourself your own religion. They can cite vague benefits of having such blind faith, or they can do it just for fun, like pastafarians, but, basically, religion means pretty much whatever you want it to mean.

Should these fools be spared from proselytism on the same grounds Christians and Muslims are? Of course not, they are idiots. Should Buddhists be spared? I don’t think so, though we do not get much traction in Buddhist countries anyway, and in some of them proselytism is probably illegal.

In some sense proselytism is not even a thing in our vocabulary – because there’s only one true religion, the one that teaches loving devotion to the transcendent Lord, so there’s no question of conversion but only of acquiring it. If you don’t have it you don’t have a religion, in the sense the word religion means to us.

There’s also a “scientific” fact that once someone knows his actual position then loving devotion to the transcendent Lord becomes an obvious and natural consequence, not really a choice. I put scientific in quotes because I meant it the way Prabhupāda used, not the way science means to infidels. There’s a choice in which God to worship but this differentiation is superficial. We say we worship Kṛṣṇa but we really don’t, most of the time we deal with more or less the same aspects of the Absolute Truth as Christians or Muslims. Service to “Kṛṣṇa” becomes truly meaningful only after liberation and until then we all try to serve the all knowing and all powerful creator and maintainer of the universe. I could say that Christians focus relatively more on the “provider” part but we are not immune from begging the Lord to fulfill our desires, too.

Next up – why do we need to preach? What is the basis for it? Is it the same across all religions?

Vanity thought #1366. Original Sin 2

I got interested in the topic of the Original Sin as an exercise in how different religions view inherent corruption in the nature of men. In Kṛṣṇa consciousness we do not see it in the exactly same way and we certainly don’t link it to the fault of one man (and one woman) as Christians do, but we all, regardless of our religions, have to deal with the results. Even atheists have to do something about it.

Our “original sin” is the moment the spirit soul turns away from the Lord and decides to take a tour of material world. This is debated by “no fall” vādīs but I won’t get into that now. We decided to have a different kind of relationship with the Lord, not the one based on service but the one based on pretending He does not exist and we’d better live our lives without Him.

Since the Absolute Truth is all-inclusive we can’t avoid dealing with the Lord, however, and, for our convenience, He created an inferior energy we can pretend to play with, and He placed us under the illusion that this energy is disconnected from Him. We wouldn’t call it a rasa but since the Lord is engaged supporting our decision it must bring Him at least some kind of pleasure, we are His children, after all. He literally can’t let us go, probably because there are no places outside of the Absolute Truth to go to.

Nevertheless, the original rejection of our existing relationships with Him must have been painful. We are certainly made to suffer, and so the cause of this suffering is our “original sin”.

There’s another force at play here, however – Kali Yuga. For us it’s only a harsher form of punishment, more ignorance and less goodness, but for other contemporary religions it is the only thing they have ever known. Perhaps only Judaism has a memory of what life was like before Kali took over but it certainly not the first thing one learns about that religion.

Introduction of Kali, and specifically increase in passion and ignorance, makes our sins two-layered. Some are due to our original rebellion and some are due to temporary waves of Kali Yuga overwhelming our consciousness. The original sin is eternal, the effects of Kali are not. I think it’s quite possible that when Christians or Muslims battle their sins they mean only sinful desires imposed on them by Kali Yuga, ones that come and go all the time and can be resisted by sticking to rules and regulations.

Seven deadly sins, for example, fall into this category. We are never lusty, greedy, or gluttonous all the time. We can easily figure out that these urges are temporary. We can learn to avoid them and we can learn to suppress them, they are more or less manageable, and so we see them as extraneous even if we attribute them to our sinful nature.

What I’m not so sure of is that battling this kind of sins helps people in other traditions realize the presence of the original offense towards the Lord in their hearts. Everything we do in this world is founded on that original rejection of Lord’s service, even at our best moments we are guided by the desire to avoid Him.

Of course, when we turn to religion we somewhat correct our mistake but this layer of grime on our hearts never goes away completely until we are safe and sound back in the spiritual world in the Lord’s company and in our fully spiritual bodies. Will Christians or Muslims get there, too? I think it’s very unlikely because their knowledge of the spiritual world is non-existent and if they don’t know where they are going it’s not likely they will ever get there. This is the stuff they’ll have to learn in the afterlife, though the same can be said about devotees, too – we are not likely to learn our spiritual position in Kṛṣṇa līlā in this life time, only general information about our destination.

This is an important point to remember – the process of anartha nivṛtti will continue until we reach Vṛndāvana in our spiritual bodies. Even being born in the Earthly manifestation of Vraja is not enough, as seen from the examples of gopīs who couldn’t join the rasa dance. What we are doing now is the major clean up that should allow us to acquire taste for bhakti, what we will do at the next step is being purified enough to eventually attain bhāva and then premā, which is theoretically possible while in our material bodies, but some anarthas will still be with us, that’s just the way it is.

So, I’m not sure if Christians and Muslims, or Jews, realize how deep our aversion to Lord’s service is seated within our hearts. It’s not just propensity to sin, if we are battling with four regs it’s still nothing, spiritually speaking. When those other religions recommend following certain rules as a way to counteract our inherently sinful nature it’s also still nothing, spiritually speaking – it’s just and introduction to vaidhī, regulations. Vaidhī does not equal to spontaneous devotion which alone can sufficiently purify our hearts.

Vaidhi-bhakti is performed for materialistic reasons – if spontaneous devotion is not there what other reasons can we possibly have? Some engage in following rules and regulations to make their lives better, more comfortable and more pleasurable. Some want release from suffering without any clear idea what comes next, but in any case path of vaidhi is a reaction to what happens to us in the material world.

Spontaneous devotion, otoh, is fully independent and completely self-sufficient, it like like that from material pov where the Lord is still invisible. It has no external reasons and it does not lead to any external goals, and it cannot be checked by any external means. It’s between the soul and the Lord and the material nature can’t get inside of that.

Only then we can hope to sincerely beg forgiveness for our original rejection of the Lord. Only spontaneous devotion can convince the Lord to give us another chance. Only then our original sin will get discarded.

Do Christians, Muslims, Jews, whoever, attain this stage? Perhaps only in the most confidential parts of their teachings, in the writings of the saints. It’s certainly not their required reading like our Caitanya Caritāmṛta or Nectar of Devotion. In my experience, vast majority of the regular believers have no idea.

We, as devotees, also should never forget that as long as we are in our material bodies we are bound to act out of selfish interests. By guru and Lord’s mercy we can be engaged in their service but it’s not an excuse for us to claim that we are not acting selfishly anymore. Our motives should never be presumed as pure. The fact that we must treat other devotees as spotless and unassailable in this regard should not give us any funny ideas about ourselves.

We are never really worthy the opportunity to serve, it’s not our divine right, not as long as we are in the material world. The engagements that we do have should be seen as causeless mercy from our guru, not even the Lord Himself. Causeless means we have not deserved it while mercy means that it’s sacred and must be cherished and protected. In this multi-party relationships between us, the material nature, the guru, and the Lord, only our motives are always impure and we should acknowledge that at all times.

There’s no place for vanity in spiritual life.

Vanity thought #1365. Original Sin

We all know the idea – first created people ate an apple against God’s injunction and were cast out of heaven. How and why it affects every human being born thousands and thousands of years after that episode is a mystery with many explanations.

To us, as devotees, it makes no sense whatsoever. Christians can’t say it makes no sense and would argue that it’s no mystery at all, but then many of them disagree on the answers, meaning they don’t know, meaning it’s still a mystery. The concept came into being only after Christ and does not exist in Judaism.

One of its corollaries is that since all men are born into total depravity they don’t have free will. We are all not simply inclined to sin but enslaved by our sinful desires. Then comes the Christ and saves us by his grace, whether it’s through baptism of something similar. The problem with this is the same as with Christianity itself – people were saved before, people who never heard of Christ were saved after, too.

It’s a little contradiction that arises more from missionary zealotry rather then from the idea itself. We ARE “slaves to sin”, slaves to the three guṇas, but we still possess free will, which is manifested in our attitude to God. Everything else is mechanically carried out by the material nature and so we are always enslaved in that sense – we never have control over what material nature does, we only hope she cooperates with our desire to serve the Lord.

As an aside, check how Christians, starting from Paul, dealt with this contradiction. In Paul’s letters to Romans (10.8-9) he quotes the Old Testament:

    But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

The problem here is that Old Testament didn’t need Jesus at the time, the words were spoken by Moses and he didn’t ask anyone to wait for Paul’s message (Deuteronomy 30:14):

    But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

The bold part, boldly telling people to save themselves now, without waiting for future Jesus, was omitted by Paul. They didn’t really need Christ then.

That is not to say that people aren’t perceived as depraved in Judaism, it’s just that they don’t accept JC as the only way. There’s this instruction from God to Cain in Genesis 4.6-7, for example:

    Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Afaik, in Judaism there are injunctions for men to urinate without using hands because of the fear of accidental arousal – can’t trust the human nature. Check out Halacha 23 on this page for more details.

One more curiosity – our classification of suffering into three categories, adhyātmika, adhidaivika and adhibhautika, apparently exist in at least some Jewish schools (source), too:

    ..Maimonides and other rationalists, and even the poet Yehudah Halevi, explain that what we consider evil has one of three sources, although Halevi divides the three into several more. Many painful situations are the result of what people do to themselves, such as stepping out in the cold without wearing adequate clothing or failing to study and then being unable to find a job. The second is when someone else causes the person pain, such as when Hitler decided to expand Germany by killing millions or when a neighbor cuts down a tree and it falls on the house next door. The third is the laws of nature, which, as previously stated, is good for the world as a whole but can hurt individuals, such as a heavy rain or winds that clean the earth, but kills people.

The main difference is that ādhyātmika miseries are those that arise from one’s body and mind, not exactly results of personal karma as presented in this quote.

Anyway, Judaism rejects the idea of Original Sin in the context of its effect on every human and proposed salvation but it does not object that sin exists originally in every man. In Judaism propensity to sin is individual’s responsibility, ever present and always to be fought off. Purity is possible through following the scripture, JC or no JC.

Interestingly, having the scripture and having its injunctions explained to you must already be some form of the grace. Jesus himself would be just one of the instances of such grace. Of course it’s Christians right to have a special place for him in their hearts but we aren’t similarly obliged, and Christianity does not break universal principles of religion. We just happen to get them in a fuller form, and, thanks to Lord Caitanya, completely transcend the inherently selfish interest in the problem of evil and suffering.

It’s not that we, Hare Kṛṣṇas, can explain it better, we just don’t care. We are not concerned with liberation from suffering, we are interested in what happens after it and how our liberated lives can be of any use to the Lord.

Original sin is not accepted by Muslims either, certainly not in the way Christians interpret it, but human weakness is inbuilt in Islam, too (source).

    And Allah wants to lighten for you [your difficulties]; and mankind was created weak.

Islam also has a fallen angel, Iblis, a carrier of pride, whose job is it whisper in people’s ears and urge them to sin. It’s a kind of equivalent of the force that modes of material nature exert on people in our tradition. The explanation is completely different, of course, but to people on the receiving end it doesn’t really matter where this force comes from, we can’t see its origin anyway and we have to resist it regardless.

One interesting aspect of Islamic worldview is that they do not separate good from evil in principle and strive to see both phenomena as manifestation of God’s will. Very mature understanding even from our position, and the one conspicuously absent from current discussion on Islam spurred by terrorism. Could it be a Christian knee-jerk reaction where they always separate the world into “us” and “them”? “Us” are always good and morally right and “them” are always barbaric and in need of purification. Even atheists can’t shake off this Christian legacy of trying to set the world right according to their beliefs, but more on the problem of original sin in atheism next time.

Vanity thought #1350. PENalizing a trophy

While discussing Garland shootings I feel I must also mention recent American PEN award (PEN is the biggest writers association) for courage given to the editors of Charlie Hebdo magazine. Every major news outlet did, after all, so it must be important.

The main story is very simple – Charlie Hebdo staff paid the ultimate price for freedom of speech, those who took their torch from their hands didn’t deviate from the course, and so Charlie Hebdo label has become synonymous with courage in journalism. Millions of people marched across the world in support of Charlie Hebdo, and many protested against it, too, but not in the West, so why would American writers, of all places, refuse to recognize this award, boycott the award gala, and issue a public statement about it?

This kind of thing is exactly what I meant the other day when I said that regarding Charlie Hebdo people only agree on that they shouldn’t have been killed but beyond that there’s no unified reaction. Over two hundred writers, some apparently big names in the literary world, expressed their opposition to rewarding Charlie Hebdo and that came as a bit of a shock to libertarians everywhere. They did not see that coming.

Here you can read their open letter. Note that it’s Greenwald’s site, who is the journalist who broke out Edward Snowden story. He is also gay with all that follows, in case devotees would want to count him among our allies. Sometimes we can have strange bedfellows, pardon the pun.

The reactions to it that I’ve read so far kind of misread the argument, took only a part of it and diverted it onto a familiar track – Muslims should not be given a special position and special protection, and also free speech, end of story. This debate is boring and unproductive and it misses a chance to think outside the box here.

The PEN dissenters do not assault freedom of speech, they are all for it, what they say, however, is that respecting freedom of speech and validating hate speech are not the same, and therefore Charlie Hebdo shouldn’t be rewarded for what they did to Muslims. They wanted clarity on what Charlie Hebdo is being glorified for – for their courage or for their attacks on Islam.

They also say that in Europe Muslims are a disenfranchised minority that can’t really stand up for itself and attacking them therefore is just mean, it’s bullying. Perhaps western audiences are led to believe that Muslims run the show there and sharia law has taken over Europe but that’s not how Muslims there see themselves. They do not have economical, political, or cultural clout, they are poor and unemployed, they live in practically ghettos, and therefore they deserve protection from the media instead of making them a target.

That’s an interesting take on the situation and it goes to the root of the role the media should play in a society, according to western ideas. Media was supposed to be the tool for little men standing up to big men and it should level the field. Media is supposed to keep powers that be in check, not go after ordinary, voiceless people. PEN dissenters said that attacking Muslims is big men punching little men down and therefore it shouldn’t rewarded.

This reminds me of an article I read in the wake of Charlie Hebdo shootings by a British satirist who was at a loss of words. Should Muslims be a legitimate object of satire? The traditional definition is that satire should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted but in case of European Muslims it does exactly the opposite. And if it does so, should it be still called satire? Or is it plain bullying?

Note that all these arguments come from western platform itself, the one that values freedom of speech above all, but then it runs into a dead end because this freedom runs counteractive to what it was supposed to achieve in the first place – protection for the minorities. This baby Frankenstein has all grown up and is ready to consume its creators now.

What started as a legitimate struggle for justice and fairness, the only remaining virtue in Kali Yuga, got corrupted and subjugated and looks nothing but fair. It started with protecting everyone’s rights against unjust oppression but ended with forcing minority to abandon its beliefs. Muslims have to be exactly like westerners now and they have no right to practice their religion in peace anymore, they are forced to contend with perpetual insults and abuse.

When the struggle for fairness fails it no longer works as protecting dharma and therefore it won’t bring auspicious karma. In the last couple of hundred years since Enlightenment this struggle for justice has brought visible dividends in the form of material progress – following dharma always pays – but if honesty and truthfulness are no longer there then good karma will stop coming and Kali will completely take over. Honesty is the last pillar of dharma, after all.

Another interesting observation about satire directed at Muslims is that it doesn’t elicit laughs. When someone draws a greedy politician then everyone knows that greed is bad and if it’s also funny people will appreciate it. When westerners attack Muslim prophet they do it on basis of values not shared by Muslims themselves. Westerners can still laugh, of course, but it goes straight past the intended target. Corrupt politicians understand what corruption is and they understand satire against it, probably even agree with it, especially in principle, but Muslims do not share in “everyone is equal, no one is above others, and so everyone could be subjected to ridicule” idea. Not when it comes to their prophet who is beyond reproach.

Westerners have their own taboos in the same category, too. Imagine someone comes up to you says “let’s make jokes your mother’s sexual appetite”. We don’t do that, so “let’s not, why would you even think it would be funny or appropriate? Are you nuts?”

Satirizing Muslims, therefore, is not as straightforward as satirizing politicians, or even Christians. Christians used to rule the world and set the tone for public discussion, they set the morals, they still preach the morals, so catching them on deviating from their own preaching is acceptable. They would understand that, even if jokes about altar boys are getting a bit long in the tooth now. “Yes, we did that and we shouldn’t have, so it’s a fair game” – that’s their typical attitude, but it doesn’t work on Muslims.

Muslims never said “our prophet is only a human, with all kinds of human faults, and so he should be treated like one of us”. If they did and then put Muhammad on a pedestal then criticism could be warranted, otherwise it is not.

That’s why they consider it a hate speech while westerners insist it’s satire – two groups have vastly different backgrounds and vastly different values. Both are right in their own way, as westerners do not mean to hate neither Muhammad nor Muslims in general, but it still perceived as abusive and insulting.

The world is a very complicated place, very diverse, so instead of taking sides and assigning blame it would serve us well to see how everyone simply acts according to his own conditioning. No one is guilty of anything, it’s just modes of nature having fun with us all. Well, we could say that we all are guilty of turning away from Kṛṣṇa but that’s about it, after that the material nature takes over, we just sit and watch.

Vanity thought #1349. Marketplace of ideas

In the wake of Garland shootings everyone tried to find some explanations to it and I’m no different. At first I thought it would be fairly easy but on a close inspection the issue is far more complex then I expected. Everyone is pushing his own opinion and they all seem perfectly reasonable. Can the “market” sort it out? I don’t think so.

I thought of looking at it as a marketplace because that’s what it really is – people trying to sell their views to the highest number of customers. They rationalize them, dress them up nicely, present them in a positive light, compare them favorably with the competition, and withhold crucial information when necessary. Everybody hopes to win.

Some want total market domination, some want a healthy competition, some want to carve out a niche, some want to hold on to their existing base. No one thinks of God, however.

Since the shootings happened in the US every discussion on the issue involves inviolable principle of free speech. No matter what else people want to know or discover about Muslims, moderate or extremists, free speech is untouchable. After centuries of indoctrination it has become a state religion, along with democracy or the right to carry a gun. Cannot be questioned. And yet it must be questioned, though probably not in this post.

Over in Europe free speech is not nearly as sacred. They jail people for tweets, for example, and they have laws against hate speech. American Muslims also want such a law to protect themselves but not an overwhelming majority of them. So, Europeans are somewhat indifferent to the “free speech” argument and have no problems with restricting it for the public good. Their reaction to Islamic outrage over cartoons is different, and historically so.

Muslims started coming to Europe from 60s onward, as European empires crumbled and people started to leave former colonies for the “mother ship”. No one drew offensive cartoons back then, no one cared to offend them, it was all kind of cool. This particular problem started with the second generation that was supposed to be fully integrated but it wasn’t. This batch of Muslims was expected to completely blend in and melt away but they didn’t. Europe promoted multiculturalism instead. It’s a project with mixed results but what is relevant here is mainstream reaction to the internalizing millions of Muslims.

When they became “one of us” they also became a member of the family, and in European families they do things in a certain way. Satire and criticism is a must, for example. Guests could be spared but second generation Muslims weren’t guests anymore, they were supposed to take insults on the chin just like Christians did before them, just like politicians get it all the time. In Europe it’s not only a fair game but also a sign of acceptance and an expression of love, however weird.

They don’t do these things to strangers, especially with the rise of the liberalism where all minorities must be protected and promoted and white men must always express guilt for sins of their fathers, but Muslims have lost their special status. Liberals there are caught at crossroads – speak against insulting Muslims and they’d undermine their commitment to freedom. Speak for freedom and they’d undermine their commitment to protecting minorities.

No wonder they haven’t got a united response. Everybody condemns Charlie Hebdo killings but that is as far as their unity goes.

In the US the same dilemma manifests differently. There they talk about double standards where it’s okay to insult Christians but not okay to have a “Draw Muhammad” competitions. They’ve done some pretty offensive things towards Christians. There was one exhibition where they had a small crucifix with Jesus submerged in a glass of urine, for example. Another artist had a painting of Virgin Mary smeared with elephant dung, and these exhibitions were sponsored by tax payer dollars, “Piss Christ” even won a prize.

Christians protested against those, of course, and someone broke the glass protecting the virgin painting but there was no violence against artists, afaik. There were death threats, there were curses, there were repercussions, but no one died. Why can’t Muslims react in a similarly civilized manner, atheists ask? But, more importantly, why is it considered free speech and artistic freedom but not if it’s directed towards Islam? Why there’s a chorus of condemnation against organizers of Garland event?

I don’t have an answer to that, but that’s because I think these questions are irrelevant. They do not address any of our needs just like vast majority of the merchandise out on the market is practically useless.

People pushing variations of free speech argument offer a familiar product but, perhaps, the one that is at the end of its life cycle. It certainly is in Europe and many Americans are fed up with constant barrage of insults thrown in each every way in politics without any signs of eventual reconciliation. Everyone is tired of political partisanship but they haven’t connected the dots yet.

There are those who don’t argue against free speech but are genuinely puzzled by the need to draw Muhammad at all? Why? What for? Free speech is just an excuse to say something and it’s that “something” that interests them.

Some draw Muhammad just because they can, or to prove that they can, but that is just a teenage style rebellion. They haven’t understood even their own motives yet. “Freedom of speech” is not a motive, it’s an excuse for not admitting one.

Some get it, but don’t realize the significance of it. Satire is meant to force people to look at familiar objects from a different perspective and thus provoke thinking and re-thinking their paradigms, they say. Fine, but in practice it means trying to convert Muslims away from their beliefs, challenge them and force them to see their religion in a different light, not from the position of respect but from the position of atheists.

Next argument in this line is that if people’s beliefs can’t withstand a little laugh then they are not deep enough. Okay, that’s a fair point, but every religious person is aware of his weaknesses already and they structure their lives in such a way as not to push their buttons.

A comparison could be made with Alcoholic Anonymous here – yes, their commitment to sobriety is weak and they fall of the wagon all the time, but it’s not an excuse for someone to tempt these people by offering them free drinks. Some would withstand and some would not. I bet there could be a statistically proven formula that predicts the number of those who fail depending on the time spent in AA, strength of the ties with their sponsors, frequency of attending and sharing in the meetings etc.

Temptation chips away at faith of even the strongest ones, as mere consideration of the possibility pollutes one’s mind, and it does most of the damage on the fringes of the community where faith is not yet strong enough. It’s community leaders’ responsibility to protect their brothers and that’s how it works with atheists, too – people willingly sign away their rights, trusting the society to act for their own benefit even if it goes against their will. Laws against underage drinking are a good example.

Not disclosing this hidden motive – to change how Muslims view their religion and their prophets, and to bring them in line with the secular mainstream, is such a typical marketing gimmick, the tiny fine print about side effects that makes all the difference when there’s trouble with the product. The don’t mention it when they urge you to buy this argument.

I also disagree with “Christians can take insults in stride” argument. Their acceptance of attacks on Christ is offensive towards their own religion and they suffer for it by losing their faith and losing their numbers. When faith is not there they are forced to explain themselves in totally irrational ways and that brings even more damage to Christianity. Insults DO have their effect even if one doesn’t react to them.

And then there’s “insults are taken, not given” crowd. They say that a truly rational being would ignore any kind of insults unless it brings physical harm. Words can’t hurt them, they say, they are not sticks and stones that can break your bones. It’s an old school of thought and it has its use in teaching kids to deal with bullying, or to promote free exchange of ideas, but not in this situation.

The problem is that such a truly rational being doesn’t exist. These people might say that they don’t care about insults but only as long as they are in situations where they don’t care about the target. As soon as “I care about this” realization steps in, the principle goes out of the window. That’s what makes people human – they have desires and “irrational” attachments. They are compelled by the modes of nature and they can’t escape it. Any attachment eventually leads to anger and anger leads to actions.

I think this phenomenon deserves a closer look, though, and not today.

Vanity thought #1348. The reaction

Yesterday I talked about that “Draw Muhammad” contest and a message these little pictures send to Islamic community. I think there’s a lot more to say about this, starting from infamous Danish cartoons and all the way up to Charlie Hebdo. The puzzlement among westerners and especially atheists is genuine, they really have to idea why would anybody react to some drawings so violently. And they don’t understand it when people try to explain, it just doesn’t register.

I think I’d better do it some other day, though. Today let’s talk about reactions to this unfortunate contest.

It happened in Texas, which offers a rich background to anything that would happen next. I mean it’s probably one of the most religious places in the entire West, not just America, and yet they went along with it like the worst of the atheists. Just because their Christian fundamentalism makes Muslims their sworn enemies.

Religion is good only for hatred with that lot. Normally, when we hear about a debate between Christians and atheists we sympathize with those who believe in God in whatever shape or form. We might disagree with Christians and Muslims, sometimes very strongly, but in the face of the common enemy we, I mean devotees, tend to offer support. Worship of the Lord, however imperfect in our eyes, is still better than atheism. Not for fundamentalists, though. As long as atheists were attacking Muslims they felt fine about it.

Insulting God or His prophets is an offense that should be felt by all believers regardless of their religion, and if we ignore it we invite severe reactions on ourselves, most probably losing the taste for our own service.

Hmm, perhaps there’s really not much difference between those two groups in America. They all come from the same stock anyway, both born out of the evolution of Christianity, both share the same history even if they look at it differently.

Btw, I saw an interesting argument about secularism recently. Atheists consider US constitution and its separation of religion and state as direct evidence that religion should only be a private matter for retarded individuals. The state, the real life with economy, education, taxes, laws etc should never ever be touched by those religious nuts. The counterargument goes is that separation of state and church wasn’t written in the constitution to protect government from religion, it was the other way around – to protect church from the government.

It makes sense if we consider that practically the entire population of the US at that time were people running away from state persecution for their beliefs in the Old World. The founding fathers didn’t want to see repeat of that in their new country. The state, however, has grown very big since then and laid claims to areas of public life that were traditionally in the domain of the church, things like education and weddings, for example. While the separation still exists on paper in practice the state has infringed on churches rights to promote their religion in any way they see fit. Children born to Christians belong to the state now. When they go to school it’s the state, not the church who gets to decide how they are going to be educated.

Hmm, it really does make sense. Just a different angle on what secularism means and we have an effect opposite to the intended. Why didn’t they foresee it? Because atheism wasn’t a thing then, no one could have predicted how atheists would take secularism and where they would run with it. And because atheists have a completely different mindset they took in a completely different direction.

Anyway, shame on Texas Christians who didn’t protest against the contest seen by everyone as provocative and offending towards their fellow believers.

“Official” Muslim community acted very mature in this regard. First thing that must be noted is that the whole affair was completely unrelated to them. The organizers weren’t local, the guest speakers weren’t local, most of the contest participants weren’t local, and the shooters weren’t local, too, they came from as far away as Phoenix. And ISIS, which took credit for the shootings, weren’t from Garland either.

Some reports say that there are as many as 200,000 Muslims in Texas. That’s a huge number, maybe not percentage wise but it’s twice the population of Garland itself, and none of them had anything to do with what outsiders brought on their community. When we speak about Muslim reaction we should first look at them, not at the shooters, not at ISIS, not at stereotypes of Islamic extremists or terrorists.

All those things exist but on a global level, in the virtual world where two people can hog all the news and two hundred thousand be ignored.

Yes, the event was provocative and inflaming but actual factual Muslims on the ground took it in stride and didn’t give in to the provocation. Two radicalized ones from a thousand miles away spoiled it all for everybody else, though, giving black eye to the entire Muslim community.

Typical reaction to the shootings – those Muslims are killing people over cartoons again. But they aren’t. Muslims, as a population, keep their anger in check and deal with it in a mature way, issuing public statements and protecting each other’s faith. They are not being radicalized by this experience but I’m sure the trust they have in the non-Muslim society that brought this trouble into their community and blamed it on them, is diminishing.

From their pov it’s a good thing. I’m sure they all struggle between two different identities, between their loyalties to God and their loyalties to the material world. I’m sure all of them realize that they can’t stand with their feet planted in two different worlds and sooner or later they must make a choice. Cases like this might make this choice so much easier.

They won’t go out with a bang, they won’t blow up buildings and shoot people, they probably won’t even protest. Just like devotees they would probably realize that their future lies not in improving this world but in preparing themselves for the next. Jihad for them is a spiritual struggle, not an external one, and they do it as a community, by staying disciplined and organized.

As devotees we should probably learn from their behavior, too. When trouble comes to our door it’s best to put our faith in the Lord and concentrate on our own spiritual progress, not give in to our base instincts and behave just like atheists want us to do so that they can make fools of us in public.

I’m pretty sure that if something like this happens to devotees there will be some wannabe kṣatriyas who would take it in their heads that it’s their job to protect devotees from insults and they will end up like those two dead shooters, condemned by everybody and their behavior rejected by their community as well.

Let Kṛṣṇa protect us when necessary, why can’t we have trust in Him? Devotees in Navadvīpa didn’t lash out at non-believers making fun of them. They were unhappy, they lamented the situation, but even Advaita Ācārya who could theoretically destroy the entire universe only prayed for the advent of the Lord Caitanya, who didn’t dish revenge either.

Kṛṣṇa said to us all – you surrender, I’ll protect you. That’s the deal and we better honor it. If protection isn’t coming it’s probably not the time, and not an excuse for us to do Kṛṣṇa’s job.

Vanity thought #1347. Draw Muhammad

Don’t, just don’t. A couple of days ago anti-Islamic groups in the US held the first annual “Draw Muhammad” contest, two local Muslims thought it was a perfect time for jihad, went there, shot at a guard, and got killed. The contest went ahead anyway and organizers said they would do it again.

It’s a big, multi-faceted story. There’s freedom of speech issue there, there’s hate speech issue there, there’s jihadism, there’s Muslim community, there’s anti-Islamic movement, there’s general Texan attitude, there’s connection to ISIS, there are so many things to talk about and they all seem to be important in their own right.

But let’s talk about the contest itself. It’s not the first of its kind, there was a similar event five years ago in reaction to Muslims’ reaction to Danish drawings, and also to the Muslim reaction to South Park portrayal of Muhammad. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of attacks and counter-attacks and it’s not going to stop any time soon, there’s over four hundred years of Kali yuga to go.

Anti-Islamists chose to use drawings in their offensive, and for a good reason – drawings are harmless, all religions but Islam allow depictions of their saints and prophets and God Himself. Of all exercises of free speech drawing is probably the most primal one – we all learn to draw, however badly, before we learn to write. Restricting people’s ability to draw seems absurd to a modern man and so it’s a perfect example why Muslims are irrational and barbaric.

Drawings are also language agnostic. They don’t need to be translated and they are understood in a split second. Not many people can express themselves in words as precisely as a good artist can. One stroke of a pencil can convey a whole range of emotions, evoke a whole bank of memories, and, as in many cases in art, talking about it us like explaining a joke, words take away that special effect.

That’s why they probably decided to have a contest – to find the most expressive drawing, the one that would truly be worth a thousand words. That original “everybody draw Muhammad” day produced tons of interesting but largely unremarkable doodles but this time the organizers went for the most impact. The winner got a ten thousand dollar prize and the picture was immediately splashed all over the internet:

Let’s talk about this piece of art from an Islamic pov, as best as I can understand it. Actual Muslims reactions might be different but more on that later.

Muhammand in this picture looks like Wolverine, a popular comic book and movie character. The beard, the facial expression, the raised eyebrows, even the shape of the turban follows Wolverine’s hair do. Even the raised sword is a mirror of this familiar poster:

Another character it reminds me of is an Arab villain from Indiana Jones movies.

This is significant because despite waving an enormous scimitar he was killed unceremoniously.

What it doesn’t remind me of is actual Muhammad. If not for the context I would never have guessed that it’s the prophet himself. Am I alone in referencing this picture to memorable images from popular culture? I don’t think so. I think that’s how the artist (an ex-Muslim turned into a critic of Islam) thought it up, too.

Herein lies the main problem with drawings of the prophet – it’s not Muhammad, it’s a product of our own imagination. I don’t know if Muhammad has an eternal spiritual form in Islam. In our tradition not only Kṛṣṇa but vaiṣṇavas do, too. When drawn or cast properly the form of an ācārya is as spiritually potent as the person himself, and even more so with deities.

The point is that we can’t draw them according to our imagination, we have to represent them by faithfully following authorized descriptions. We can have a debate about Advaita Ācārya having a beard, for example, but on both sides of that argument there are references to authority, not to our own perception what would be better.

The person depicted in this image, however, is not Muhammad, not unless there’s a specific description of him looking this way and brandishing a sword. This image is anthropomorphic and Islam eschews anthropomorphism in any shape or form. Muslims can’t draw neither God nor prophet because human attempts will always be inadequate and will never be able to convey full spiritual beauty of the real thing. If people get attracted to such imperfect images they will get attracted to material things they signify, not qualities of the Lord or Muhammad.

Some might like the naked aggression just as they like the hard to control anger of Wolverine. Some people might like the beard, some people might like the clothes, some people might like the sword, and this is in a picture that doesn’t even try to portray Muhammad’s alleged best qualities. I say alleged because we can’t really represent them properly unless we on that same level ourselves.

What happens next is that people follow images in their heads – Muhammad was angry at the infidels and wanted to chop their heads off so if I feel the same way it’s okay, too. Others might look at different drawings of Muhammad and see him as an ordinary human being with ordinary weaknesses and then allow these weaknesses in themselves.

In any case, they would be worshiping not Muhammad but their own idols, and there’s only one true God, indivisible and without a second, and worshiping anyone else is punishable according to laws.

On our side it’s as if someone would draw Haridāsa Ṭhākura dozing off while chanting japa. Okay, maybe not dozing off, but talking to others while doing his rounds. If some new bhakta saw such a picture he’d assume it’s legitimate.

Anyway, whoever was drawn in that picture was not real Muhammad.

Another part of it is the way we are supposed to relate to the prophet in that image. He was reduced to a cartoon character totally at the mercy of the artist. If the artist wanted he could make Muhammad issue injunctions, if he wanted he could make Muhammad beg for his life, he could force this imaginary Muhammad to follow artist’s will in every respect. The reference to Indiana Jones episode killing that Arab fits here well. In this particular case the artist decided to openly rebel against prophet’s order, just to show that he could.

There’s an invitation to the viewer to do the same. It’s just a picture, you can do anything you want with it, you can make it into a joke, it’s not meant to be taken seriously as some sacred object.

That’s the message such drawings send to Muslim community. No wonder they are not received well there.

Remember how Haridāsa Ṭhākura explained his beatings in the marketplaces as the reaction to hearing blasphemy of Lord Viṣṇu? It works exactly the same way on Muslims, too. Atheists don’t see how it could possibly be true but anyone who has tried to maintain a certain level of purity would feel the cold shower of offensive attitude take over his soul in an instant.

They say Muslims overreact to these things. Well, our śāstric prescriptions is to kill the offender or die on the spot, too, with a few variations.

I hope to talk about Muslim reaction to this contest tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1286. Pseudo religion

For the past few days I’ve been writing about all the good things about ISIL, how they are honestly trying to do God’s work and everything, as if this outfit should somehow become acceptable. By the modern standards, however, their complete disregard for human lives and exceptional cruelty should rule out any compromises whatsoever. Should we care about modern standards? Not really, but that doesn’t mean that we should be any less critical about ISIL’s barbarism. Ideally, we should be able to disqualify them on religious grounds but that is not so easy.

Well meaning atheists and their supporters apply a very simple logic – ISIL kills a lot of innocent people and therefore it cannot represent religion. Those atheists who won’t give religion any credit would argue that ISIL is a perfect example that religions, and especially Islam, are evil. We, as devotees, need to find a better ground for our judgment than that, preferably with śāstric quotes, but we don’t have any about Islam.

If ISIL was an offshot of Hinduism we would have nailed them down a long time ago but ISIL are Muslims, we have no idea what goes on in that religion and how to tell its real and sincere followers from their “apa-sampradāyas”. Our basic test of sincerity, starting with four regs, is too high and so no Muslim would ever pass it. After what people like Aurangazeb did to Vṛndāvana we will never have a soft spot for that religion, too. For us his rule was like what ISIL is for Middle East now. Whatever religious arguments he might have had for his destruction of our temples we will never find them acceptable.

So, is there any real spiritual component to ISIL and their brand of “varṇāśrama”? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, they talk about God. They might not use the “best” aspects of Godhead, in a sense that their version of God is too vengeful and cold hearted, but they still talk about God. Their God’s name might not be authorized in our scriptures but they still mean the creator and the controller of the universe who is beyond the perception of the material senses and who should be the sole object of human devotion. However crippled their understanding might be, it’s still God. So, how could this God allow His followers to commit such atrocities in His name?

As I said, the common answer is that that they can’t be doing God’s work and their version of Islam is a gross deviation. When I read explanations why it’s a deviation, however, I wasn’t totally convinced. They seemed to argue about details, pretty much like we would argue about implementation of the laws of Manu. And, as I said, we don’t know Islam well enough to pass our own judgment on what is true and what is false there, so we need a different approach.

I have a little theory that all successful deviations must split from the main tree very close to the roots. I have no proof of that, it’s just a theory, it explains some cases better than alternatives and that’s all I have.

It goes like this – when a sincere follower starts to deviate from the path Kṛṣṇa, at first, doesn’t take his mistakes seriously. We all are bound to do some stupid things under the influence of the modes of nature, no big deal, api cet su-durācāro and all that (BG 9.30). When, however, the living entity expresses deeper commitment to the pursuit of deviating ideas Kṛṣṇa actually helps them deviate (BG 7.21):

    As soon as one desires to worship some demigod, I make his faith steady so that he can devote himself to that particular deity.

The verse says “demigod” but it’s the principle that matters. In the previous śloka Kṛṣṇa spoke about people who lost their knowledge because they have material desires, meaning deviants from the path of pure, selfless devotion. These people then surrender to other devatās, and that’s where “demigod” comes from in the just quoted verse.

The point is, when the living entity makes a conscious decision to pursue any other path but unadulterated devotion, Kṛṣṇa helps him to fulfill that desire. To succeed on that path takes time, karma doesn’t work instantly, so when we see a successful deviant we must keep that in mind. What we see at that moment is the fruit of his deviation, not its case, which we must trace further back in time, close to the roots.

Rittviks of Bangalore are now building the tallest temple in Vṛndāvana, for example (as far as I understand from the news). If their project is complete we might feel there’s something wrong with it but it won’t tell us what was wrong with rittviks in the first place. We could say “these dudes are so vain”, we could say “these dudes value money and material achievements over Vraja mood of devotion”, we could say so many things, but I bet we wouldn’t be able to figure out that they were actually rittviks just by looking at the temple.

I suppose we could conclude that vanity, pride, and desire to be better devotees than others is at the core of rittvikism and it would probably be correct because all these things are interconnected and feed off each other, it’s a chicken and egg dilemma, but my point is that to find the actual religious deviation we should look past the visible results and back into the history, close to the philosophical roots.

In case of ISIL, the success is obviously there because they achieved what no other Islamic group could achieve in hundreds and hundreds of years – start a caliphate. The last caliphate, Ottoman Empire, was a successor to the previous ones, they didn’t start it from scratch, so, perhaps, we are talking about something really unprecedented in history of modern Islam. The root of their deviation, however, is hidden from us and we don’t know Islam well enough to dig it up. I’m sure something went wrong, however.

One possible reason is that this group of Muslims is too concerned with ruling the actual world. They are too attached to varṇāśrama, so to speak, they see it as the ultimate goal rather than a first step which might not be even necessary. We have ideas like that in our movement, too, carried by the “fifty-percenters” – devotees who think that now, after building a world wide preaching movement, our next step should be building varṇāśrama, even though ideally it should be the other way around. The debate whether old rules like the ones found in laws of Manu should be followed or not, and if yes, then how, is also all too common.

There’s a similar split in the Islamic world, too, and that’s something I haven’t mentioned when I talked about recent Atlantic’s article about ISIL. Most salafist, the sect ISIL nominally belongs to, interpret Dar-al-Islam, the land of Islam, to mean spiritual place and spiritual practice, not necessarily an actual state enforcing paradise on Earth. They see the excesses of trying to establish control over the land and create this caliphate thing as being detrimental to their spiritual progress. They see this war and its associated killings as a loss of their spiritual purity, and that’s something they value more than transient control over a piece of land.

We can relate to this argument, too – we need to reject anything that is unfavorable to our service. I mean, varṇāśrama needs kṣatriyas and kṣatriyas have their own code of conduct that would be incompatible with ours. They are not vegetarians, they drink and gamble, too. We are not going to train our devotees to do any of that, no matter how dear and important varṇāśrama might appear to some of us.

So, if we were to pick up sides in this great inter-Islam struggle, we should, perhaps, pick those who say that all this brutal fighting over land and pride of being in the Caliphate are completely misplaced and detrimental to pursuit of actual spiritual progress. I could only add that it doesn’t mean siding with those who strive to make Islam compatible with comfortable lives in atheistic societies either, those Muslims are clearly wrong, too.