Vanity thought #1468. Anticipation

And so it has been another year and it’s Kṛṣṇa’s appearance day again. Will He or won’t He? That is the question. In the aprakaṭa-līlā He will, of course, but in our current perception of Him?

Well, actually in His unmanifested pastimes it’s only His birthday, He appears there only once and then they celebrate His birthdays with their version of a cake and the birthday song, so it’s not “appearance day” per se, save for those devotees in vātsalya mood who relive His actual appearance over and over again. And it’s not a real “appearance day” for us either, it’s an anniversary of one, save for those of us who will be graced by His actual appearance in their hearts. That’s the anticipation I’m talking about – will He or won’t He?

It’s a safe bet that Kṛṣṇa won’t be making a personal entrance today yet but His appearance has degrees. He appears as His Holy Name, for example, or as a Deity form, and so what we are really talking about is the change in our perception of Him. If we are lucky we just might have a sudden surge in realization, which will be practically like an actual appearance.

Will His Holy Name dance on our tongues today? Will memories of Him melt our hearts? Will His Deity smile at us in a special way that would take away our breath for a second? Everything is possible and on His birthday the probability of this special mercy is a tad higher than usual. It could happen, if we do it right, for it’s always a two way street.

We say that Kṛṣṇa’s mercy is causeless, which means independent, but it’s a mercy of engaging us in a relationship, which means two hands need to make a clap, not one. Our hearts must be ready and eager to appreciate and reciprocate, we must deserve to be noticed even if we can’t force Kṛṣṇa’s hand. We will never actually deserve it but we still must try our best, and if we are not trying than it makes His mercy highly unlikely and a matter of fate, which itself depends on preciously accumulated good fortune.

In any case, we must develop bhakti in our hearts, whether it will be enough for Kṛṣṇa to accept our service or not is secondary, because bhakti is not only the goal but also the process AND the reward, too. Our lives are not about making Kṛṣṇa notice us but about making Him pleased with our devotional service regardless of how He chooses to react.

That’s a rather long introduction, our concern today should be about making that special effort, just because it’s Kṛṣṇa’s birthday. If we fail today there’s always tomorrow because it will be Śrīla Prabhupāda’s appearance day and he might plead a special case on our behalf, too.

Since it’s Kṛṣṇa’s appearance in Vṛndāvana it’s natural to dedicate this day to remembering His pastimes there. We might read something from Kṛṣṇa Book or Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but I’ve decided to have a look at actual Vṛndāvana since internet makes it so easy. Youtube is filled with videos of practically every aspect of Vṛndāvana’s life. Whatever comes to your mind, youtube has got it. Janmāṣṭamī in Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Mandira? They’ve got. Videos of parikramā, they’ve got it. Temples of Vṛndāvana, they’ve got it. Sounds of Vṛndāvana, they’ve got it. Sights of Vṛndāvana? They’ve got it. Govardhana, Varṣaṇa, they’ve got it all. Will it make any difference, though?

It’s obvious that this is engaging stuff, not as good as actual visits but still very potent. Most videos have got music for soundtrack but you get to see life in Vṛndāvana pretty much as it is, exactly the same things you’d notice, look at, and remember if you were actually there, but will it be enough?

It’s an interesting question because when I look at these images I have a suspicion that they are missing the point. Temples and deities are okay, I guess, but filming people of Vṛndāvana is a less certain affair. Let me explain what I mean.

We accept that residents of Vṛndāvana are special souls, Vrajavāsīs, they are not of this world even if they still live here. They are one or two steps away from being personally with Kṛṣṇa, they are His family already, they love Him very dearly and material world for them is not an illusion anymore but a medium for their eternal service.

With this understanding we think that looking and associating with Vrajavāsīs is purely spiritual. We are taught to always treat them with utmost respect, no matter what, and for this reason we are taught not to freely mingle because familiarity brings contempt and all that. Gawking at them is okay, though, and so is filming them.

Well, not everybody who we see or who we film is an actual factual Vrajavāsī. Many are pilgrims just like us, many are recent economic migrants attracted by the boom brought by the increase in visitors, and they bring their children with them, too, so not every kid is the Vrajavāsī of the kind we expect. They are all blessed, don’t get me wrong, but buying a condo in Vṛndāvana doesn’t automatically make one a resident and building that condo doesn’t do so either.

Then we have videos of legitimate Vrajavāsīs going about their daily lives – tending the cows, selling stuff, shopkeepers, pūjārīs etc. Absorbing their mood is beneficial no matter what but what we need to absorb is their internal mood, their external appearance is not nearly as important. I can compare it to watching your guru brush his teeth, blow his nose, and maybe even burp. On some higher level those are all spiritual activities but clearly not as beneficial as sitting at his feet, listening to him preaching and talking about Kṛṣṇa, and asking questions. That’s the kind of association we should seek from Vrajāvāsīs, too, but it’s nearly impossible to obtain.

Devoid of that we settle on watching them haggle over prices, or watching monkeys playing with each other, or watching peacocks etc. The real benefit of going to the dhāma is taking the association of the sādhus living there, staring at the monkeys in hope that something might just down on us is a waste of time and opportunity by comparison.

Here’s another thing I’ve noticed about Vrajavāsīs – they never really engage with you, even when they talk and look at you or look in the camera, they are not really there, their eyes never really open windows into their souls. It’s not a bad thing, as we would ordinarily think, it’s simply our lack of readiness to see what’s in the window. It’s not that they don’t show it, we are just not qualified to see.

When they do engage with us they do it out of their mercy and they try to do it by our rules, not by theirs. They try to deal with us on our level and our level is pretty low so possible benefits are lower, too. Most of the time our communication with Vrajavāsīs is about material things – prices, features, quality etc. We are interested in that and they are happy to oblige. We get some benefit but clearly not that much. Getting them to express their inner world of love for Kṛṣṇa is nearly impossible for outsiders like us.

So, if we want to put ourselves in the best position to prepare for Kṛṣṇa’s mercy today we should seek sādhus, not sights. We should seek devotees talking about Kṛṣṇa, devotees talking about parikramā, devotees talking about temples etc.

OTOH, today is the special day so anything can happen in most unexpected of places, we just don’t know how Kṛṣṇa might manifest His mercy and through what or who, so it’s okay to try everything as long as we are honest. At the end of all arguments we should take shelter in the Holy Name and trust that everything will be arranged, and keep a lookout in eager anticipation.

Vanity thought #1098. Happy Birthday

Today is what is supposed to be our biggest celebration of the year – Kṛṣṇa janmāṣṭamī. Unfortunately, or maybe it’s actually the plan, Kṛṣṇa appeared at midnight and so the real party has to wait until only His most devotees are still up.

General guests are entertained as usual, of course, but we ourselves are not striving for that kind of entertainment, we want to catch the actual moment of Kṛṣṇa coming into our lives in the company of actual devotees. Concerts and food are only distractions there while fasting and servicing guests are our best friends.

If we are physically exhausted from the lack of food and sleep, if we are overworked and tired, if we gave Kṛṣṇa everything we could on this day, and we just humbly wait for His appearance, that’s the best celebration for us ever.

Just like Mother Yaśodā was too tired to remember whether she gave birth to a boy or a girl and totally missed Kṛṣṇa’s entrance so we don’t need to jump up and down whole night and stuff ourselves up to the neck with holiday prasāda, we only need to feel Kṛṣṇa’s warm presence, that’s the best reward we can obtain.

Kṛṣṇa’s first hours on Earth were very quiet, maybe it was time for the demigods to offer their salutations, people’s turn would be in the morning – it’s a special day in our calendar, Nandotsava, which we don’t celebrate separately because it’s also Prabhupāda’s appearance day.

Frankly, after Janmāṣṭamī’s full day fast and service, we aren’t usually in the mood to celebrate the next day either, maybe only the youngest and strongest of us, or those who are fully transcendental to the state of their bodies.

Kṛṣṇa’s quiet night doesn’t mean that He had a quiet entrance, though, quite the opposite. There was a lot of drama in Vasudava’s house where he was jailed (house arrest or real jail? I don’t know). Kaṃsa broke in and tried to kill Yogamāyā, Viṣṇu made a grand entrance and had to be asked to tone it down for His devotees, Kṛṣṇa had to be carried across the river during the storm – it was quite an eventful night. Our janmāṣṭamī troubles are nothing in comparison.

Apart from a nice story – what’s in it for us? Why should janmāṣṭamī even matter? If there are subtle changes in the universe, reverberations of Kṛṣṇa’s real entrance five thousand years ago, we are too thick skinned to feel them, the cover of dirt and illusion on our hearts is too thick to notice anything spiritual. Janmāṣṭamī for us is just a festival, one of many to enjoy.

Should we enjoy it, however? If Kṛṣṇa lived on our block and had a birthday, what kind of party would it be? Would there be clowns, piñyatas, cake, and the whole program? Probably yes, and a lot more. Modern birthday celebrations are elaborate affairs prepared long in advance, with guest lists, invitations, and a lot of planning. Presents and blowing candles are important but it wouldn’t be a real party if guests were not fully satisfied, it’s about pleasing them as much as about anything else. Your birthday party has to be the talk of the town and a standard for all other birthdays parties in the neighborhood, and for that you really need to be nice to your guests.

Should we, as devotees, emulate that?

Not really. Our parties are about pleasing Kṛṣṇa, if we want to have fun ourselves we probably shouldn’t even be there – hence midnight appearance to wait until all hangers-on give up and go to sleep. When Kṛṣṇa comes, only His dearmost devotees should be there, only those who do not have any selfish desires and who are not waiting for the cake.

Typically, our public programs are all done by the time devotees get to celebrate themselves, and I think it makes janmāṣṭamī really special, it makes it the biggest public holiday that is also the most private one. Well, Ratha yātrās are usually bigger but still.

Having done a day of honest service isn’t enough by itself. In order to really have Kṛṣṇa come into our lives we need to prepare our hearts. He won’t appear there if our hearts are full of grime and dirt.

Look how He managed His appearance on Earth – first He chose His pure devotees to act as His father and mother. Vasudeva and Devakī have been playing these roles since time immemorial. We will surely fail at this very step – we are not good enough for Kṛṣṇa to personally step into our lives.

Even with Devakī, Kṛṣṇa had to purify her body first, I heard. The first seven children that were killed by Kaṃsa were personifications of sin – lust, anger, greed etc. I’m not saying that Devakī’s body was contaminated with those but for Kṛṣṇa purging of all traces of any impurities is a must even for His best devotees.

In this regard, we are not any better, we are not special, we have to undergo same purification if want Kṛṣṇa to step into our lives. It doesn’t matter that we are not going to give birth, Kṛṣṇa’s appearance has nothing to do with any bodily functions. Our hearts need to be pure all the same.

Perhaps it also means that parting with those anarthas should be as painful as losing one’s children. Imagine that.

What if the pain of losing the anarthas should really be comparable to the pain of losing one’s child? What if it’s not a metaphor? What if the hooks anarthas planted in our hearts are just as deep? They might be little things, completely invisible to outsiders and ourselves, but plucking them out and dismissing them is never easy. It’s like losing a part of oneself, which it actually is – we are stripping ourselves of our false ego, we really can’t imagine life without it or without some of its aspects.

Our problem is that we do not want our false ego to go, we want to accommodate it in our service, we need to justify and rationalize it, we want Kṛṣṇa accept it, too. He, of course, won’t, and so He doesn’t appear to us but to Vasudeva and Devakī instead.

As much as we like that story we should also realize that we must become part of it, too. Kṛṣṇa should appear for us just as He does for all His other devotees or our life would be a giant waste of time, and not just this life, all the lives that follow but do not bring Kṛṣna would be a waste, too.

We can’t compel Him to show us any favors but at least we should prepare ourselves just in case. That’s what tṛṇād api su-nīcena verse tells us to do – humbly wait for all eternity – kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ.

If we fail on this janmāṣṭamī, there will always be the next one, and the next one, and the next one. If we have any intelligence, we would always be waiting, nothing else in this life is important, everything else is just a distraction.

Hopefully, Kṛṣṇa is waiting for us to become ready, too. He is never complete without His devotees and we are part of that group even if currently covered by illusion. Us coming back to the shelter of His lotus feet is what Kṛṣṇa wants, too. After all, His appearance is not about Himself but about reuniting with all His devotees.

So, maybe not this janmāṣṭamī but there’s always hope. He WILL come, it’s inevitable, we just have to be patient enough to wait for Him with rapt attention, for all eternity, if needed.

Vanity thought #742. Janmashtami festival?

For about a week now every ISKCON temple and community has been sending out invitations for Janmashtami celebrations. Every leaflet, every webpage promises music, shows, abhisheka, kirtans and, of course, a sumptuous feast.

Should we be holding these festivals at all, though? Janmashtami is a day of fasting after all, not stuffing ourselves.

If we observe the fast we shouldn’t be in the position to enjoy food or pretty much anything by the time we can break the fast – after midnight. We should be weak and exhausted and our stomachs not in the mood for digestion.

Festivals are needed for out guests, of course, it would inappropriate to preach about Krishna and then leave people hanging on His appearance day. What kind of God is that, they would think.

For aspiring devotees, however, it’s the day of service, and a very selfless service at that. Feast needs to be prepared, guests need to be taken care of, entertained and fed, and there are so many of them that there isn’t really time left for ourselves. Let our guests enjoy the performances, our job is to sing and cook and serve, and if we have spare time – read more about Krishna. There’s, of course, extra rounds to chant, too.

If Janmashtami is a festival we should be on the other side of it, making it happen but not touching anything for ourselves.

I can’t help but remember how Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji decided to hold a festival once. Immediately everybody in his company started making grand plans, what to cook, where to find the money etc. etc. Srila Gaurakishora, however, cut them short – we will the fast whole day and we will chant and read from books, it will be the best festival ever, who said anything about food?

Our “celebration” is even more difficult than that – we must organize food and entertainment but we can’t enjoy it.

There’s nothing unusual about that, Krishna is the only Enjoyer, if we want to enjoy along with Him we are worshiping the wrong God. We’d be better off with Vishnu or Narayana, with Krishna there’s only selfless service.

Even when Krishna appeared it was anything but a festival. Nanda Maharaja had to walk from Vrindavan to Mathura in the middle of the night, in the rain, so he could pull a switcheroo con on Kamsa. When he finally got back he was too exhausted to celebrate anything and Mother Yashoda was so tired she couldn’t remember if she had a boy or a girl.

Sounds like our devotees at the end of Janmashtami.

There’s this description of Krishna’s face in Srimad Bhagavatam (SB.9.24.65): nitya-utsavam — whenever one sees Him, one feels festive. Well, today is not the day, after this long fast nothing makes me feel festive, let along somebody else’s face.

The reason if very simple – my body is material, it has no attraction to Krishna whatsoever and it only sees material form of the Lord or the Deities, and between hunger and observing material forms the mind’s choice is very predictable – food! Moreover, if instead of food it’s offered to look at things it feels rebellious, thinking that its distress is caused by the instructions of the guru and shastra and that Srimad Bhagavatam is lying.

Krishna’s face makes one festive, of course, if we get to see it, but for that we need to be on the purely spiritual platform. Krishna doesn’t step out for Vrindavana and we can’t approach Him there with our material mind and senses, so we need to search of another reality and not fool ourselves that a bit of music and nicely decorated Deities will make us forget hunger.

Sometimes we do forget our own bodily inconveniences but let’s be honest – we are just distracting our minds with something else, ie we are too excited about the festivities to remember our stomachs. That’s not the same as having spiritual experience. This kind of distractions can be caused by purely material things, too, like traffic accidents or big fires.

Anyway, today is not the day to celebrate, today is the day to serve. Nanda Maharaja celebrated Krishna’s appearance the following morning and so should we. We, of course, will also have Prabhupada’s vyasapuja.

Vanity thought #361. Real appearance day

While Krishna’s birthday was yesterday it wasn’t a real appearance day – according to my weird idea. The real appearance day is today.

Consider this – on Janmashtami Krishna appeared as Vishnu with four arms and all the paraphernalia, that’s how Vasudeva and Devaki saw Him first and they offered their prayers to Him as the Supreme Lord. They addressed Him as Vishnu and Madhusudana, which is actually Lord Vishnu’s pastime, not Krishna’s.

Then Krishna changed to the form of a newly born baby and Vasudeva took Him across the river to Vrindavan where Mother Yashoda was also having birth but was too tired to check whether she had a boy or a girl.

The first time anyone saw Krishna in Vrindavan was this morning – that’s when He really appeared as Krishna to His devotees and no one thought of Him as God, they just loved the baby Krishna as it was, Vrindavan style.

Today is also the anniversary of that first celebration of a new born Krishna in Vrindavan.

So, technically, He was born last night, but that was in the form of Vishnu and also in Mathura. Krishna as He is known in Vrindavan appeared today.

Hmm, not so weird after all.

Vanity thought #360. Janmashtami

Another year has passed but I hope there’s a big change from now on – I decided to give up on celebrations. Sure I do all the extra chanting and fasting and reading and listening but that’s not what I’m going to give up.

For many years I tried to make sense of celebratory spirit but it never worked for me, not from my very first days in ISKCON. Today I think I know why – I always assumed that Krishna would appear and solve all my problems, that He is Govinda – one who satisfies all the senses. Paritranaya sadhunam vinashaya ca dushkritam and so on. God descends on this earth to please His devotees. This is not entirely correct.

It’s not my holiday, it’s His. It’s not my celebration, it’s His. He appears not to satisfy my senses, He appears to give me a chance to satisfy His.

It’s a silly realization but I’ve been stuck on it for so long I don’t know where to begin trying to make Him happy on His birthday, and it’s too late to start. The only thing I can think of is trying to help other devotees because they know how to make Krishna happy while I have no clue.

I don’t know if He appreciates my fasting, or my extra rounds, or my reading from Krishna book or my listening to devotees telling about His pastimes. I don’t think it gives Him any particular satisfaction. I think all these activities are useful as long as they make other devotees appreciate Him a little bit more, they are the only true channel from us to God.

Personally I’m going to be excused, first time it didn’t go as well as I hoped. Better luck next year.

Actually, externally I’m as morose as ever on Janmashtami. The only thing that changed is that today I’m morose for a different reason. Well different reason means different course of actions.

I hope next Janmashtami I will be ready.

In the meantime there’s about an hour and a half left before Krishna’s appearance in India, Mayapur TV is surely online, maybe they also have live broadcast from Vrindavan. I’ll go have a look at how to celebrate Krishna’s birthday properly instead of babbling about myself.