Vanity thought #1576. And so it is Christmas

I just realized that it’s one of John Lennon’s songs, not the elevator musak they play around this time of year. Either way, Christmas is impossible to avoid and so are Christians. I don’t know of a good strategy that works on them, I know lots that don’t. Perhaps reflecting on our experiences with them we can come to a better understanding of what Christianity is and how can we penetrate its defensive shields.

Off the bat, there’s a famous assertion by Śrīla Prabhupāda that Christ is a corrupted version of “Son of Kṛṣṇa”, which is often taken by devotees to mean that Christ and Kṛṣṇa are the same. I don’t know any Christian who has ever been impressed by this argument so it’s not for them, for others it’s mildly amusing and the result depends on whether they like this kind of outrageous ideas or become deeply suspicious of anyone advancing them.

The fact that Prabhpāda was most likely right doesn’t matter, the idea is outrageous by modern standards and modern knowledge of Christianity. We can also site supporting arguments about Christ being in India, none of them are accepted by Christians either. At best they’d note it as something to check back with their pastor and we can be sure they’ll hear nothing good about us there.

We can impress people with our knowledge of Christianity until we run into a proper authority, if we think that we somehow can defeat thousands years of Christian science and convince them they are all wrong we are delusional. It won’t happen if only for a reason that people won’t give up their long held beliefs regardless of the evidence, and even our “evidence” is shaky.

I know of a devotee who learned all the Ten Commandments by heart, which is very unusual even for the practicing Christians, and he used it to impress upon others that when he says Christianity and Kṛṣṇa consciousness is compatible he is speaking as a Christian authority. It works on some, until they get in touch with real Christian authorities, and then they feel cheated and their trust abused. There’s just no good way to make Christianity and Kṛṣṇa consciousness work on this level.

There’s a devotee, won’t mention his name because he is still around, a prominent member of ISKCON, who spend years if not decades researching reincarnation and vegetarianism in early Christianity and other ancient cultures. It was all very impressive and I myself was totally convinced, until he went to debate his findings with real Christian scholars. They shredded his theory to pieces. I don’t think he deserved this and their arguments were spurious but that’s what happened. You just can’t fight with pigs and not get dirtied.

If “Christian scholars” were any intelligent they would have accepted the message of Lord Caitanya a long time ago or at least had given up meat eating. Their intelligence, however, is good for reading books but useless for controlling mind and senses. All they do is selfishly justify themselves, there’s no true spiritual inquiry there whatsoever. There probably are some scholars who would be receptive to our philosophy and still stay with Christ but they are not the ones called to put those impudent Hare Kṛṣṇas in place. You can’t win against the people they bring forward for this particular task.

Say we mention Jesus’ time in India. There’s a legend that after ascension he went to Kashmir and died there, this time for good, and there’s even a tomb. It’s a nice story but most likely a total fraud invented by western “travelers”. Any Christian with a mobile phone can debunk it in seconds. The story is plausible but only until you hear the other side version of it. The truth doesn’t matter here, it’s what people know, what they think and how they react. It might work on some but then their reaction later on when they discover the “real” facts about it in their churches is unpredictable, probably extremely negative, and they’ll tell everyone they know about it, too.

We can also site apocryphal gospels as proof of this or that but the key word here is apocryphal – they are not accepted by the Church, if we rely on them then all we do is dupe people into believing conspiracy theories. Doesn’t matter whether they contain truth or not, it’s a political battle for hearts and minds and if we take on the Church head on we will probably lose. Politics and accompanying duplicity should have no place in real saṅkīrtana, it’s a crutch for those who can’t and a staple for those who won’t give up their material attachments.

Duplicity is one of the anarthas, we can’t keep it. If we see a not very sophisticated opponent and bring an argument that we know doesn’t work on anyone with actual knowledge then what it is if not duplicity?

Hmm, if only it was that easy, because a real saṅkīrtana devotee doesn’t care for such mundane norms and won’t hesitate to lie if it helps the person to penetrate layers of illusion coving his soul, like his mind and his intelligence. What these layers think about the lie is immaterial, they are just matter acting under the guṇas and orders of the Lord, we have no quarrel and form no relationships with them. To succeed in this endeavor has to see the soul, though, not material forms grown around it. A real saṅkīrtana devotee can pull it off but imitators will be severely punished.

Speaking of material energy – we must acknowledge that the entire western civilization is a result of JC’s preaching, a testament to his spiritual weight and power. This can be explained in many ways, let’s say that uncompromising logic of science is possible only because scientists, who were all Christians then, wouldn’t allow any compromises in their search for truth. The pathos of an ideal scientist is that of an absolutely honest person – a religious principle, the last one still surviving in this age.

This means that when we rely on comforts provided by the civilization we must acknowledge the role of JC in starting it and millions of people who followed him and in the course of their search created so many wonderful things. We can’t say that we don’t care about JC because we are Hare Kṛṣṇas. How about hot water in the middle of the winter? Why can’t we be grateful about that?

What I’m driving at is that we should not artificially distance ourselves from Christianity and juxtapose it with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and then try to prove that Christ and Kṛṣṇa are the same. People can smell this duplicity even without realizing it, there’s something just off about this attitude, it won’t work.

I think the ideal option is to take a straw in our mouths and humbly beg Christians to improve in their own faith. Kṛṣṇa consciousness would be a real upgrade there but we need humility first and we need to see Christians for who they are, which isn’t easy either. I think I’ll write more about it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1482. Christian hangups

Thinking about the sermon I’ve been discussing for a couple of days made me look at Christianity again and wonder what the differences and similarities between us and them are. I won’t go as far as to suggest that we can learn something useful from them, though we probably can, but I’d rather focus on hangups that are holding us (and them) back.

Two thirds through this Rhesa Storms’ sermon and there’s relatively little I can find in common with her. Sure, we all live in the same world and can relate to the topics and examples she raised, but then she, as a New Yorker, thinks she is special. We are not special, it’s the first thing we realize in Kṛṣṇa consciousness – because spiritual life begins with humility. When I listen to Rhesa I do not see a spiritual person on a quest for God, I see a woman who wants to make something out of her life and it just so happens that her Christian God has got to play a big role in her plans.

She talks, for example, how she one day realized that running around everywhere, angling for the best spot in front of the queue when waiting for the green light and checking Instagram when there were five seconds left on the countdown clock, is not the attitude most conductive to spirituality. Great, but we, in ISKCON, are being told that this is just stupid from day one. It’s rajas and tamas, it’s being in māyā, if we catch ourselves doing this we immediately think “Oh, shit, I’ve done it again.”, and when we shake it off we don’t go “Wow, I’ve never experienced this before, it’s really cool.” Instead we fill ourselves with guilt and remorse and lament slipping up. Well, maybe not so dramatic and maybe this isn’t the best reaction but the point is that it’s not a “discovery”, it’s pretty much the bog standard ideal for every bhakta.

Does it mean that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is superior? Umm, yes, it does. Let me approach this from another angle.

We talk about sanātana dharma, for example, an eternal nature of every living being. It’s not about being a Christian or a Hindu or a Hare Kṛṣṇa. Every living entity possesses it constitutionally, so we all are capable of manifesting it. The difference is only in the degrees of purity. Excuse me for generalizing, but Christianity is an upa-dharma for the less advanced class of men, in the same way as karma-kāṇḍa or jñāna kāṇḍa are objectively inferior to bhakti.

Christianity doesn’t translate directly into any of those lesser Vedic schools because it is about bhakti and loving God with all your heart but their problem is contamination, their miśra. They might get the main idea right but the execution holds them back just as anarthas are holding our progress towards pure devotion. We, however, have relatively few of those.

Christianity is for meat eaters and drinkers and woman chasers and sinners of all kinds, they openly admit so themselves, and that means that when they run into obstacles they have to deal with problems we, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, have left behind a long time ago. Not completely, of course, but on a doctrinal level we are solid. They, otoh, are wondering if they could have practicing gay priests. Practicing the gay part, I mean.

In Rhesa’s case and her vision of Christianity it’s about God helping us with our lives. Not us helping Him with His, as is the case in our philosophy. At one point she actually gets pretty close to an acceptable ideal, when she expands on that “Be still and know that I am God” psalm. Rise above the busyness of your life and seek solitude with God, realize that this busyness is not meant for us, it’s alien to our nature, it’s alien to spirituality.

She gives examples from JC’s own life, how he lived under considerable pressure himself. His ministry was short but an eventful one. Someone always was asking him to do this or do that, save this soul, cure that disease, do a miracle here, preach there, and he had his own GBC to manage, too, and they were equally clueless. In the midst of all this, just like Prabhupāda, Jesus found time to be alone with God and pray. Prabhupāda, of course, used that alone time to write books, which meant write down Kṛṣṇa’s dictation.

Jesus needed that down time alone with God to renew himself and prepare himself to withstand crazy demands of his mission. I think we can say that Prabhupāda used his connection with Kṛṣṇa to prepare for whatever challenges were facing him when the rest of ISKCON woke up and started pestering him for help, too.

So far so good, but then she reduced JC’s ministry to giving rest to weary people. Yes, Lord Caitanya does that, too, but we don’t stop on solving our own problems, it’s not bhakti, it’s not devotion, we aspire for something more, a lot more actually – serving guru and the Lord with all our hearts.

Here’s another thing that we have in common but which is holding us back – we want God to go along with our desires, want the same things that we do, so that when our wishes are fulfilled God is happy, too. Very few Christians realize that it’s still selfishness, just as very few of us realize that this is not an actual bhakti yet.

Bhakti starts when we want the same things as the Lord, not the other way around, when we fulfill His desires, often against our apparent self-interest. It’s not a one time sacrifice either, not one episode from our lives for the history books, but it should be our way of life, 24/7, nityam bhāgavata sevayā.

Again, philosophically we are solid on that but in practice very few of us can honestly say that we are are simply doing what guru and Kṛṣṇa want. Most of us are doing what WE want, but ostensibly for Kṛṣṇa. Getting ourselves into a situation where we go along with Kṛṣṇa’s flow is a rare privilege achieved only by the best of us, and, as far as I can tell, it happens only when preaching.

We can stay still and know that Kṛṣṇa is God and trust Him in every respect, He has enough power and supplies to look after us for the rest of our lives, but doing what HE wants means preaching, if we aren’t constantly engaged in preaching we are wasting His time.

Just think about it – Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was an illustrious ācārya, a preacher of the highest standard, but among thousands of his disciples only Śrīla Prabhupāda can be said to have fulfilled his desire and got himself engaged in a worthwhile preaching mission. The ratio among Prabhupāda’s disciples is definitely better but if we ourselves are not included then generalizing won’t help.

I honestly don’t know how to earn this privilege, not for myself, not for anybody else. Perhaps it’s only by causeless mercy, but not the kind we usually reserve for saving our sorry asses from material troubles, we need the grant of love of God, that’s the only platform from which we can preach for real.

Preaching, btw, is another common area between us and Christians, but it’s a big topic I don’t want to start now.

Vanity thought #906. Ham’s circle

This could be the last post on Bill Nye vs Ken Ham debate that I have been preoccupied with this week (links to: part 1 and part 2). My memory of the details is fading, I can’t stand their voices anymore to watch replays and I think I said almost all I had to say anyway.

There was one part of Ken Ham’s presentation that made me appreciate the overall Bible story more than ever. Of course it won’t make me into a Christian and most of it is just silly – God created the universe with all life in it in six days, the snake and the apple, original sin, Christ as the only savior and resurrection of the dead bodies is just too much to swallow or even take seriously. Ham, however, takes it all rather literally, the story of the flood, the building of the Ark, and 6,000 year old universe, all of it.

Bill Nye repeatedly told him that there are millions of Christians out there who do not believe in YEC, Young Earth Creation, but it didn’t stop Ham even for a second. He wasn’t afraid to bring it out in the open – they might call themselves Christians but if they don’t believe the word of the Bible it’s a question of their faith, not of his theory. I quite like his honesty here. Instead of defending fellow believers he defended the word of God.

Anyway, this the story of creation as presented by Ken Ham:

circleOfLifeExplained

This might be too “complete” to comprehend, with a typical mnemonic “Seven Cs” title that is supposed to make it easier to remember and big arrows showing correlations that might be fascinating to Christians but of not much importance to us. Here’s the simpler version:

circleOfLife

Let’s walk through it as it might overlay Vedic explanation of what has really happened.

Creation in that picture is our Vaikuṇṭha – life was perfect, there was no suffering, and even animals were vegetarians (big point, will address later).

Corruption is biting an apple in their version and we don’t have an exact equivalent of it because in our “origin of jīva” issue exact circumstances still remain a mystery, not to mention that some believe there was no falldown at all.

Catastrophe is their flood, some kind of punishment for whatever reasons that doesn’t really make sense. We have periodical destructions between yugas and mahā yugas so that flood is probably a real thing without any particular significance and we wouldn’t have put it on our version of this chart.

Confusion is their pre-Christ period when slowly but steadily humanity degraded and lost the way. For us it’s probably Kali Yuga and the time when India was overrun by Buddhists and Vedas lost their position as the only source of spiritual knowledge. Even impersonalists followers of Śańkara didn’t add much clarity.

Christ is Christ, the only opportunity of redemption and salvation. We have Lord Caitanya but really any guru in the proper paramparā is your personal Christ, besides, we don’t need a single point of salvation, our spiritual progress is spread over millions and millions of lifetimes, we are not tied to one particular point in history, we just get placed wherever we are supposed to be.

Cross is redemption itself, conveniently carried out by Son of God on behalf of the entire humanity for thousands years to come. That’s just initiation and surrender, ahaḿ tvāḿ sarva-pāpebhyo moment. Important but, again, not a singular point for everyone for all times. Maybe we can compare it to the appearance of Lord Caitanya but Holy Name was as no less powerful before Him either, Kṛṣṇa has never left a single conditioned soul without means of attaining Him, even if with slower methods like performing our varṇāśrama duties.

Human birth as a follower of Lord Caitanya is extremely beneficial but that doesn’t mean everyone else before Him went to hell forever and ever, that’s just absurdity of Christian world view that will always puzzle us. Bill Nye pointed it out, too – what of people who lived their lives, were religious according to their traditions, but died without ever hearing about Jesus? Why do they have to go to hell for all eternity? Why don’t they get a chance of salvation?

Consummation is our return to the spiritual world, happens after we die, though we can achieve liberation and direct service to Kṛṣṇa even while in our present bodies, no need to explain a lot here.

Now, I titled this article “Ham’s circle” – it isn’t a circle, it’s a semi-circle, a one time deviation forced on all human beings and poor animals, too, for the crime committed by Adam and Eve, the original sin. Even arrows in the complete version of the same diagram go in one direction. It isn’t a circle in our model either, we reach the abode from where we do not have to return, yad gatvā na nivartante (BG 15.6), so why circle?

Because our independence is eternal and so potential for turning away from the Lord and seeking independent enjoyment is always there. We did it once, we might do it again. We don’t have to, we will not be forced to – a point that followers of “no falldown” theory can’t seem to comprehend. Considering eternity of our souls we should make innumerable number of trips down here, get saved by the Lord, say sorry, and then do it again, quite a familiar pattern of behavior in this world as it is.

So, their map of history is not that far from ours and this suggests that we all receive the same spiritual knowledge from the same source but details are slightly different. It wouldn’t be very difficult to straighten up Christianity and bring it in total agreement with the Vedas if we wanted to. Śrila Prabhupāda explained how we are not that different and gave us pointers how our views can be reconciled but Christians are not that interested in reconciliation. Their loss, we tried, they aren’t forgotten by the Lord anyway, they’ll get more births and get saved in the end if that’s what they want, or they might get stuck here forever trying to find a perfect equilibrium between sense enjoyment and religiosity like what happens with the demigods.

The driving force, or rather driving forces, and general vectors of our spiritual progress are perfectly compatible, something I didn’t think too much of before but thanks to Ken Ham I see Christians in a more favorable way now.

Well, I thought it would be the last post on this debate but there are some interesting points still left on my list and I’ll have to address them later. This will do for today.

Vanity thought #865. Bridging broadmindedness

Spiritual progress towards the stage of paramahamsa is accompanied by changes in attitudes and behavior which sometimes are difficult to understand and difficult to appreciate even for devotees, what to speak of materialists. Compassion seems to diminish, as I talked about yesterday.

I don’t think I gave examples but for materialists compassion is about providing care for basic bodily necessities. Religious people sometimes overlook those in favor of saving souls – there are examples of outrageous behavior that results in death of their own children, when instead of taking them to a doctor they try to heal them with prayers. I suppose there’s a value in this kind of compassion even if the results could be unacceptable to materialists.

Compassion of advanced impersonalists, in Aurobindo-Chinmoy-Chopra range looks like no compassion at all as they aim at people who aren’t materially suffering in the first place. No money, no wisdom. Same holds for Buddhists – they simply avoid those deeply affected by misery, meditation etc is for those in the mode of goodness, otherwise it simply won’t work.

I guess their kind of compassion has its value, too, because “rich” people need spiritual knowledge more than anyone else – they have finally achieved a human stage of life where eating, sleeping, mating and defending are not a primary concern and it is time for athato brahma jijnasa.

Now devotees are not simply more advanced humans, they are not of this world at all, their compassion does not bring any material benefits whatsoever, they don’t promise health, wealth or peace of mind, they aim at pleasing the Lord instead. For someone afflicted with material suffering it makes no sense – “I am in pain here, why are you talking about well-being of your Krishna who is full of knowledge and bliss anyway?”

Paramahamsas don’t seem to notice any suffering at all, no pain inducing misbehavior – this we don’t understand. As aspiring madhyama adhikaris we spend all our time differentiating between good and bad and choosing correct paths and this means rejecting some ideas and fiercely defending others. We bring examples of Srila Prabhupada’s wrath towards mayavadis or scientists or feminists or any other concepts we choose to fight against. It seems legit.

Well, we place Srila Prabhupada above ordinary paramahamsas yet in these cases we choose to highlight relatively lower aspects of his behavior, aspects that are suitable for devotees on madhyama level who do most of the preaching in this world. We think that if Srila Prabhupada behaved like us, displaying attitudes that we can relate to ourselves, ie chastising rascals, it is the highest principle of all.

Not really, first there’s a stage of paramahamsa where all these complaints disappear, then there’s a voluntarily step backward because personal spiritual progress and well-being ceases to be a priority – a perfect devotee happily agrees to live in any conditions and behave in any way Krishna wants him to without care for what it would do to his spiritual health. It cannot be destroyed anyway, he is incorruptible.

If we say we shouldn’t imitate paramahamsas, why should we imitate Srila Prabhupada who is situated even higher than that? There’s a thin line between following and imitation here which is beyond the scope of this post.

Let’s talk about broadmindedness instead. How does that change as one progresses spiritually through the above mentioned stages?

Surprisingly, one of the synonyms for “broadminded” is “catholic”. No one has ever accused catholic of being liberal or tolerant but that’s what’s in the dictionary. What I see here is the gradual change in meaning of the term as we observe its movement across different levels, from gross materialism towards spiritual perfection, pretty much like it happens with compassion.

For materialists “broadminded” means sexually permissive. They might object to such simplification but it’s true – almost everything they feel broadminded about is of sexual nature. Porn, masturbation, feminism, homosexuality or plain old freedom to copulate with anyone you fancy – these are ABCs of broadmindedness. If you are still fixated about those things, you can’t hope to progress towards liberalism of “higher” nature, whatever it means for them.

Freedom from rules and repression starts with sex just as any kind of spiritual progress demands sex control first and foremost. Simple but true, sex is at the root of everything here.

In this sense “Is the Pope catholic” becomes more than a rhetorical question because liberalism in church means anything but sex. Even “Liberal Catholics” use this word in a different way from how Catholics define it for themselves.

They say they are liberal because they accept a common goal for every human being, because their salvation is for everyone, because they never turn away anyone who comes to Christ.

This meaning is almost the same as was used by Srila Prabhupada. It’s not the opposite of conservative, as is understood by materialists and as it is used in modern society. We, devotees, are most liberal because we accept every living being as Krishna’s servant. We do not talk about liberalism as acceptance of every living being’s right to enjoy material nature in any way they want.

Then there’s a stage of paramahamsa where devotees do not see living beings enjoying material nature at all. They do not see what we call material nature, they see it as Krishna’s energy and therefore they see conditioned living entities interacting with Krishna through a medium of prakriti.

At that stage they become liberal in the modern sense of the world, too. Everything is permissible and deserving worship if it’s connected to Krishna, even when it looks like degraded sense enjoyment to us. There’s nothing degraded in relationship to the Lord. If we don’t see the connection it’s the fault of our perception only, it doesn’t mean that the connection isn’t there.

This is what happens with broadmindedness as one advances to a level of paramahamsa, one ceases to exclude or condemn anyone else.

We can’t imitate that and we shouldn’t imitate that because we have our own instructions to follow that say we should differentiate between spiritually favorable and unfavorable things but, philosophically speaking, we should never forget that nothing in this world really deserves condemnation, it’s only a temporary technique for us as neophytes in devotional service.

I think this needs lots of practical examples but I haven’t got any ready for today yet, so I’ll finish here.

Vanity thought #616. Lord Chaitanya and JC

I would be the last one to compare these two personalities, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Jesus Christ, allegedly son of God, and I have no intention of scrutinizing their teachings for similarities and differences but some devotees apparently find inspiration in the person of Jesus so it’s not exactly a trivial matter.

Well, for starters, Lord Chaitanya is Radhe-Krishna nahe anya, Jesus’ origins are rather murky. I’m quite skeptical about virgin birth and I don’t think I can accept him literally being “son of God”. In a sense we are all sons of God anyway.

As for the message – there are plenty of compelling passages in the gospels but they do not say anything about Krishna and serving Him and His servants. Even if we agree that Jesus propagated some form of bhakti it’s not very well defined, or rather not defined at all.

For someone struggling in this world Jesus’ teachings are mind and heart opening but we follow Rupa Goswami and aim for a bit higher goal. As long as we are down here we are not above practicing selflessness and compassion in the name of God in the same way Christians do but once we bring Christians in the picture it all goes south and becomes a waste of life.

There’s one thing that Christians have on us, though – the hope and faith in second coming. Never mind it’s all silly – Jesus coming down again and raising dead from graves who then fly to heaven in their decomposed corpses – a kind of zombie Apocalypse, but the spiritual significance of such hope cannot be discounted.

It’s the promise of reunification with their beloved object of worship. We do not have that, we are going to die just like everyone else and all our hopes are in the next world. The only thing we have here to wait for is death itself.

These days no one believe in second coming literally, too, but only little over a hundred or so years ago it was a certainty. Every round or significant date was projected as the coming of Jesus, the last one we had only a year ago. Sustaining this kind of irrational faith is difficult and over all I sympathize with those Christians who want to keep it against all odds.

Life is cruel, however, living in a fantasy world is not going to save us from clutches of maya. Lord Chaitanya isn’t coming, there’s nothing for us here, we do our business and we die and hope we’ll get a better opportunities of service in the next life. No candy, no sweeteners, just reality.

Of course we are quite capable of infusing our world with a bit of magic, too, after all material laws do not restrict our Lord, our Deities, the Holy Name and even our acharyas, but generally we put trust in developing our faith rather than in raising dead or healing sick or whatever the staple food of Christian miracle workers is.

We expect transcendental experiences as proof of our spiritual nature, not some unusual interaction of material components.

On the other hand our hearts melt when we hear about some Deity pastimes or some incredible sankirtana stories. Well, we might not have the second coming but we have plenty of those, builds our faith even better.

Vanity thought #150. Compassion

Every now and then I come across some prayers or writings extolling the virtue of compassion and sometimes it makes me uncomfortable.

I seem to have an issue with compassion as most people understand it.

I don’t have a problem with fully realized devotees who see Krishna inside the hearts of every living being, they have their special vision and I can only speculate about its real nature and what kind of compassion they exactly feel, but I tend to think it’s not what most people assume.

It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for other people’s suffering, I’m pretty normal in estimating how those people might feel, I just don’t go bananas over it and rush to fix the world. Maybe I should, a lot of what I read about compassion says that I should, but I have my own reasons.

By mid thirties practically all my hair had already turned gray, I assume I know a thing or two about hardships and suffering, there are few situations where I have absolutely no idea what it would feel like but the rest, the everyday problems, I got it, I think.

From what I know about suffering, there are no easy fixes, no magic, no “drop a hundred dollar bill in a hat and everything will become peachy” solutions.

When I see someone getting a wrong end of the deal I think I should help that person to live through his karma, not try to change it. We all get our hardships for a reason and we all have to patiently suffer all the way through until bad karma runs out, so I don’t want to be Santa Claus, I want the ability to convince people to fight on and keep their faith.

For people coming from Christian tradition compassion takes another flavor. They are particularly impressed by Jesus Christ sacrificing himself for the sake of all others and so they think they should try to emulate his heroic deed, it has become the standard approach to suffering – one should take as much as possible on his own shoulders so as to relieve others.

That’s where they lose me. If I wanted to relieve others I would relieve them of their pleasures, not their sufferings.

Suffering makes people turn to God, that’s spiritual ABC. I have never heard of anyone who turned to God because his pleasures were fulfilling.

Okay, some people get bored of enjoying themselves and turn to God for the higher taste but imagine an experiment. Two people take two different paths form the same place. One is being put through all kinds of troubles while the other is given unlimited access to any kind of sensual pleasures. Which one will start praying faster?

It’s fine if you meet someone already at the end of his sense gratification path but, generally speaking, there are very few fat cats like this in the world, ripe for the taking.

There’s a similar problem with suffering, mind you. Modern wisdom goes that suffering is proof of God’s non-existence. If you pray for a while and your problem does not go away it’s time to forget about God and take the matter in your own hands. That’s why if you see someone in trouble you don’t encourage them to turn to God, you blame God instead and show them your “compassion” by trying to help yourself.

I must admit this is a very persuasive argument, especially if these “helpers” manage to succeed.

This is not surprising, btw. Krishna helps people to achieve whatever they want. If they really really want to save others from suffering Krishna will strengthen their faith and provide the means.

But are you any better in the end? Any closer to God? Quite the opposite, I think. While they are celebrating the victory I would start mourning another lost chance, another lost soul.

Am I being compassionate in any other sense? I don’t think so. Not at the moment.

The reason is that my own troubles make my heart harder, not softer. I’m chanting too many rounds to feel all warm and soft inside. Everyday I’m engaged in a major battle with my mind and my body, everyday I’m doing this tapasya, forcing myself to listen to the Holy Names.

When I’m done with my rounds I can’t even allow myself a sigh of relief, that would be offensive to chanting.

So what happens if someone comes to me with his own gripes? “Welcome to the club”, I say.

I realize that this is a problem but I don’t know any way around it.

By its nature bhakti is supposed to make one’s heart soft, and by its nature tapasya makes one’s heart hard. That’s why austerities are not encouraged in our practice, we don’t fast just to make ourselves stronger, we don’t reject food, we don’t reject comforts, we practice yukta vairagya instead – never reject anything but utilize it in Krisna’s service.

Fine principle, perfect philosophy, but there are things that just fall outside it.

Take sex, for example. Restricting it only to procreation in this modern age is an unspeakable austerity, by modern standards. Don’t tell me that honestly trying to follow this regulative principle does not harden one’s heart.

My problem is different yet still a very legitimate case of necessary tapasya, I think. I’m trying to purify myself from committing nama aparadhas and the only way to achieve it is by conscientiously avoiding them, meaning forcefully restricting one’s mind.

Among the synonyms for the word conscientious there are scrupulous, meticulous, and painstaking. None of them is conducive to softening of one’s heart. I guess that’s the entrance fee, just like our regulative principles. It should get easier once I’m in.

So please pardon me for not going all soft and wobbly at the sight of someone’s sufferings. As much as I want to feel that way I just physically can’t, not until the real bhakti grows in my heart.

There’s another argument – yes, clearing up anarthas is a tough and painful process, and so is chanting a hundred rounds a day but we are not supposed to do it if it’s so hard. I agree, and I said many times that I’d be glad to be doing something else but there isn’t anything yet. Just hang around the house and chant.

To be honest, though, I’m scared of losing this opportunity, too. I’ve grown fond of my tapasya, but that is a concern for another day.

As for clearing anarthas, it’s supposed to be easier in association of inspiring devotees. I agree, but there are natural limits on that, too. Maybe devotees are not so inspiring, maybe there’s not enough association, but sooner or later one must confront his demons and try to develop pure chanting of the Holy Name, proper sankirtana. I’m afraid it’s unavoidable. It might be easier after death but I’m not betting on it.

I have a chance now and I can’t miss it, that’s all there is to it.