Vanity thought #1767. VC – Vedic Justice

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Yesterday the book dropped a justice bomb that crime committed with full knowledge must incur less karma than a crime committed out of ignorance. This is not how modern justice works and is counterintuitive. Sāṅkhya’s explanation for this is easy – karma comes from acting in ignorance and is meant to complete our knowledge, so the more we know the less lessons we have to learn. This doesn’t explain our sense of justice, however, and in the rest of the chapter the author gives examples to show that our current understanding contradicts Vedic history.

He starts with Rāvana and Hiraṇyakaśipu, two demons with exceptional knowledge of dharma and how the world works, and yet they committed crimes like kidnapping, rape, or attempted murder of Hiraṇyakaśipu’s own son. In our justice they’d both get either life in prison or capital punishment (if they were in the US). In Vedic history they both were killed by the Lord Himself but they didn’t go to hell and achieved liberation instead. I’m not sure it’s a valid example because both these demons were “imported” directly from Vaikuṇṭha as Jaya and Vijaya for a preset number of appearances so they were going back regardless of what they did here.

Next the author gives an example of animals and our immediate reaction would be that animals don’t accumulate karma the way humans do – tigers are not punished for eating meat. On one hand it’s true, on the other hand it is also undeniable that animals have a very long road to full knowledge ahead of them and it’s this distance to perfection that is measured by karma, not the immediate punishment or even next life after the reincarnation.

Then we have an example of demigods who also make mistakes but there’s no question of them being sent to hell, which makes sense if we consider only the path from their level of ignorance when they commit mistakes to the full knowledge of God. It clearly does go through hell.

Other examples could include traditional systems of justice where person’s punishment depended not only on the nature of the crime but on his position. The higher it is, meaning signifying greater knowledge, the less punishment is there. I don’t think brahmanas were punished at all, except maybe for really heavy crimes.

From democracy point of view everybody must be seen as equal and different degrees of punishment for the same crime are seen as a form of abuse rather than actual justice. In democracy’s defense we can admit that in Kali yuga people get to occupy their position with little regard to their actual advancement so abuse is inevitable, but the principle still stands. Equality or not, but people of higher status will always get milder punishment, in part because we can’t inflict karma greater than they deserve and partly because even democratic justice system takes into account person’s previous acts. There’s a legal difference between a first time offender and a person with multiple convictions.

Another aspect is that crimes committed out of negligence should not be always ascribed to a single perpetrator. Let’s say you accidentally push someone into the street and he gets hit by a bus. You did not kill that person personally so if you get charged with manslaughter instead of murder it would not be due to your ignorance of that person’s presence but due to shared responsibility between you, the bus driver, the authorities responsible for the flow of traffic and adequate protection of the public in case of accidents. In short, it’s not as bad as outright murdering someone even if the outcome is the same.

The author traces this inverted assigning of punishment to Christianity. This means that, perhaps, JC was wrong or we misunderstood him – I don’t want to judge anyone here and don’t want to investigate this matter any further. Regardless of the source, this relaxed attitude affects science as well – since not knowing things is easily pardonable then science does not feel the urgency of discovering the truth. This manifests in a complete lack of moral responsibility for accepting a method that leads to perpetual ignorance – the acceptance that all our theories will always be incomplete.

Some of us hope that one day science will discover the theory of everything but that outcome looks impossible on philosophical grounds because our idea of what reality is and how it can be known rules out having complete knowledge as a principle. Without final goal in sight scientists aren’t in any hurry and they don’t realize that staying in ignorance is already punishable. To remedy this situation ignorance should be considered a crime.

The book then offers other arguments in support – people who repent and acknowledge their crime have their punishment shortened while those who still don’t realize their responsibility stay the full term. Modern legal systems contradict themselves here by seeking heavier punishment to those who are aware of their crimes before sentencing but then reducing sentences afterwards for gaining exact same knowledge. I guess they could say that repentance is not the same as awareness but we are talking about full knowledge, not just awareness. Complete knowledge should include not only awareness of the act itself but also of its effects and consequences for everyone involved. Stabbing with a knife leads not only to a loss of blood and victim’s death but also to a loss of a father, a husband etc. etc.

Karma should not be reduced to a mere punishment either – it isn’t a moral judgement on the part of God but an impartial measurement between person’s status and status of full knowledge. Karma is indifferent whether path to knowledge lies through hell or heaven. It’s us who value these paths differently, not karma. The author talks about karma as a gap between the reality and our perception of it. This gap is never infinite and, therefore, there cannot be eternal damnation. I don’t know where Christians got that idea either.

The law of karma is that this gap becomes new experiences in which our ignorance will be reduced. If we learn about God then we reduce this gap faster that if we learn some mundane lessons and so we “suffer” less. It’s like a school, the author says – people can learn faster or slower but upon graduation they all attain the same level of knowledge and “graduate” from material experiences. If we are too slow we have to repeat our classes and this repetition can be called transmigration of souls. That last step is a metaphor only, of course.

This completes the chapter on the theory of karma.

Vanity thought #1766. VC – illusion, effects, consequences, and karma

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

It’s possible that today I’ll cover more than one chapter for a change. Or it might not happen because the following two chapters reveal surprising ideas that I’ve never seen before even considering all we’ve heard about karma in Kṛṣṇa Consciousness, and yet they make total sense from the position of Sāṅkhya.

We, despite our long exposure to the philosophy, treat the law of karma as that of cause and effect. The author, however, also brings in consequences, which are a different category.

First, our illusion rises from interaction between our ideas and the world. It’s not quite the same as mind-body dualism of western thought because in Sāṅkhya our bodies are also ideas. That perception of dualism leads to many confusing things in modern worldviews but is automatically resolved in Sāṅkhya. Illusion is also far more than a philosophical consideration – it’s a moral one, too. Philosophical speculations are largely harmless in themselves but illusion as a product of choice of some axioms over others must lead to real life consequences. It’s here that consequences are separated from effects.

Effect of acting on selected set of axioms (meaning morals) is illusion. A consequence is a creation of a new event that might correct the illusion by making us to reconsider our choice of morals. Cause-effect relationships terminates after the interaction. Consequence creates a new event in the future, meaning another cause-effect interaction. The author uses an example of mixing sugar and water. After you’ve done mixing it’s over, the effect of having sweet water is there and the interaction is terminated. However, the consequence of this interaction is yet to manifest – will you drink it or will you give it to someone else? By simply observing the cause and effect we are unable to predict the next event, for that we need consequences. Science deals only with causes and effects and therefore can’t predict next events. Of course, science is known for it’s ability to predict but I suppose the author means here the most fundamental level of it – quantum behavior, which is just as famously unpredictable.

To incorporate consequences into science we must also include the observer, the conscious choice, and moral responsibility for these choices. I’ve never seen favorable reactions to the suggestion of introducing morality into science. Perhaps, we need a better word that doesn’t evoke images of an angry God casting everyone to hell.

In Sāṅkhya these consequences are called karma. That’s the word we know, but we never thought of it as being anything other than effects. It makes sense and describes the same thing so the word itself is not important. It would be nice to know Sāṅkhya’s term for effects, though. Not offered here.

The author then presents karma in a somewhat different way. All choices create consequences if they are based on incomplete knowledge of reality. This means that if there are four moral principles but we choose to act only on one, unaware of three others, then that would be incomplete knowledge and it would create karma. To know all moral principles is the same as to know Kṛṣṇa, and so only one who acts in complete knowledge of the Lord is free from karmic reactions. This conclusion is not different from what we already know but it’s expressed from a different perspective. Acting on the orders of the Lord means that our actions are based on Lord’s complete knowledge and so they don’t create karma either – also fits. Go Sāṅkhya.

There’s a tiny little thing called a nuance here, though. In modern view crime done in full knowledge of it is considered as more severe while in Sāṅkhya it’s the opposite – the more you know the less guilty you are! How so? When we look at the world and we discuss justice we go by the same modern understanding of it – ignorance is generally an excuse. “Forgive them, Lord, for they don’t know what they are doing” – the quote the author brings in as well. Lack of knowledge and intent can reduce murder to manslaughter, for example. How could it be different from the Vedic perspective?

Very simple, actually. Karma is meant to correct our misunderstandings about nature and one who already knows the law needs a shorter lesson.

A devotee already possesses the ultimate knowledge of the Absolute Truth and so his misdeeds must be overlooked – according to api cet su-durācāro verse from Gītā (BG 9.30). It’s often the tough one to accept in real life but it’s there and it has been there all along. Sāṅkhya now explains why it is true whether Kṣṇa said it or not. In the commentary Śrīla Prabhupāda gives another quote from Nṛsiṁha Purāṇa, and in the book the author quotes Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (SB 5.26.3):

    If one acts in the mode of ignorance because of madness, his resulting misery is the least severe. One who acts impiously but knows the distinction between pious and impious activities is placed in a hell of intermediate severity. And for one who acts impiously and ignorantly because of atheism, the resultant hellish life is the worst.

I must say that this is only a part of translation and it doesn’t follow word-for-word strictly. There appear only two cases of acting in ignorance in Sanskrit but in the translation there are three, and it appears that one who acts in ignorance is punished less than one who acts in lust, meaning despite knowledge. However, this is how Prabhupāda chose to translate this verse and I’m not going to argue against his translation. There’s not purport there to help either. Perhaps it’s a good reason to contact copyrights@bbti.org and ask them for clarification. If the request is reasonable they’ll contact Sanskrit editors and some explanation will be offered. For the Fifth Canto they must have both tapes and transcriptions, and editorial notes, too. The author quotes a selected part of this verse and he surely must have noticed if there was some inconsistency with Sanskrit but he doesn’t say anything.

Even if we go with Prabhupāda’s translation the gradation of punishment is not clear. We have those acting due to madness, those knowing the difference between right and wrong, and atheists. Madness is punished less but knowledge of piety is punished more severely – shouldn’t it be the opposite? It would make sense if madness was a temporary condition like in api cet su-durācāro. And then we have atheism, which means no knowledge of God, which is less knowledge than that of pious people, and it’s punished by worst hell possible. Modern atheism, however, is different because these people often know common piety better than believers and so have more knowledge, they might even know more about God than believers. Believers, however know God, not “about” God. In short, application of this verse to modern society is tricky.

Anyway, we have Gītā support for this idea so in itself it’s not in question. The chapter then proceeds arguing for this point – committing sins in knowledge is better than committing them in ignorance, and we’ll discuss this tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1764. VC – traveling as gain and loss

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Next chapter is called ¨Atoms and Macroscopic Objects” and after reading it the full impact of what it was supposed to convey might not be immediately felt. I don’t think I can cover it in one day and by tomorrow it might become clearer. The explanation of transfer of information that begins this chapter deserves a separate book on its own.

Usually, we assume that we have a perception such as sight or color because light travels from distant objects and we happen to be in its path when it hits our eyes. This is an illusion and it’s not what happens according to Sāṅkhya. The version presented in this book isn’t Sāṅkhya as it appears in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but adaptation of Śāṅkhya to modern ear so it uses words like information loss and gain first, before tying it to familiar concepts of time and karma.

Instead of light travel there’s a gain of information in the observer and this gain is correlated to the loss of information in another object. This experience of gain and loss is due to karma and so we are talking about correlation of loss and gain in space-time, not about actual transport of information by some material vehicle, like light or a flash drive.

In Sāṅkhya the appearance (gain) and disappearance (loss) of information is not due to information transfer but due to information becoming manifest or unmanifest. Information becomes manifested or unmanifested by karma, which is actualized by time. This is why we have different stages of karma and talk about “manifest karma” elsewhere in our literature.

The rest of that paragraph has an important footnote to it and, taken together, it relays more or less this – the universe as a whole is being created at each instance in time because individual states are determined by the state of the universe and not the other way around as in modern science where “big” things are defined as a collection of “small” things. The unmanifested possibilities of the universe lie in the ocean of Garbhodaka and time brings them out. Everything within the universe, every event is then made to fit its overall state. In this sense events are chosen BEFORE the observers who can only decide whether to participate in them or not – more in line with our usual understanding of free will then with how it was presented in previous chapters. Willing participation in these events makes us responsible for them even though we are not the ones choosing them – universe does. There was a paragraph somewhere earlier that I skipped then and it talked about effects of changing the state of the universe on its constituents as coordinate shift for each one of them. It makes sense now – when the universe changes everything on the universal tree shifts a little, too.

The paragraph continues to state that appearance and disappearance of information depends on the change in the state of the universe and not on information transfer between objects, which is an illusion but an understandable one. Scientists link this gain and loss together and treat as one being the cause of another and talk about it as information exchange. Sāṅkhya, on the other hand, teaches us to see gain and loss as connected to the universe, which is connected to God, and not as relationships between ourselves which are God-less. So, we don’t talk to other people, we rather talk to God and He then talks to them. Everyone is related to each other through God only and there are no direct connections between us. Nice, huh? Now we have a scientific explanation for a vision of a paramahaṁsa.

Back to the book – there’s no information transfer but the next state of the universe has more information in one place and less information in the other, that’s all. Not to forget the mechanics of it – next state of the universe determines guṇa and karma and by guṇa and karma actual experiences are created (via prāṇa and senses, I suppose).

The next part is not obvious as it states that while locations of gain and loss are fixed by the universe the participant objects aren’t. Gain and loss are two separate events while the objects involved are trajectories that connect these events. This looks like yet another two-dimensional way to describe Vedic space-time where we have events and trajectories to describe what happens. I sense that it is become too abstract for me to follow. Trajectories will come back big time in the later chapters. Why trajectories are needed here is not clear but, perhaps, the clue lies in the last sentence which implies that trajectories are formed by observers – we know what will happen but we don’t know who will take part in it and who will fill the roles and therefore we need selection of observers – trajectories. This brings us back to free will – do we really get to choose or can we only say “no”?

Science, under the illusion of information exchange, attributes it to existence of “particles” which travel from one object to another. Particles is in quotes here because most of the time they are waves creating fields rather than small physical objects. One object thus emits light in the form of a photon, the photon travels in space, and then another object absorbs it. Because this model is based on illusion science can’t predict when and why a photon would be emitted, where it would go, and what will it hit in the end. They talk about probabilities to solve this but actually it only hides the incompleteness of quantum theory.

In Sāṅkhya this incompleteness is avoided because there are two agencies responsible for these decisions – karma and time. Time has an active role in Sāṅkhya because it picks which karma to manifest but in science time is passive, it just flows. Unmanifested karma can’t be perceived by senses so it doesn’t exist from the scientific point of view. Too bad for them, but that’s what happens when you purposefully restrict reality to that which can be perceived by senses. Your theories then become incomplete.

I’ll continue with this chapter tomorrow – I haven’t gotten anywhere near the significance of difference between atoms and macroscopic objects today.

Vanity thought #1759. VC – processes and systems

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

The rest of the chapter on time and karma compares Sāṅkhya and modern science in yet another way. Following the framework presented in the chapter it talks about processes, descriptions, and uniting them into systems. Yesterday I got stuck on one of the sentences there but let’s move on and try to make sense of the rest of it. I’ll try to give the background in my own words first.

We have object description, process description, choice description and time description. In this order they are subordinate to the next. Time manifests possibilities of karma, mind makes choices, choices put prāṇa in motion, and prāṇa manifests physical reality where objects interact with each other. Time isn’t the same for individual observers and the universe itself. We cannot affect the universal time and our personal time leads us through our personal choices. On this I would suggests that universal time isn’t “objective” either but reflects choices of the universal observer, which is the Lord. He is present within each universe and in His other form He observes all the universes at once. If He desires to hold His breath, for example, the material manifestation will last longer and the time inside each universe needs to be stretched or more cycles added. I suppose that decision is left to in-universe observer form of the Lord.

The book then switches to materialistic view which reverses the order from the start – physical objects are primary, they are moved around by forces, and this interaction gives rise to mind and consciousness. The author gnotes three oversimplifications present in this view. The role of the universal time is ignored and so it appears that universal fate is decided by OUR choices, not by what is manifested to us by the universe which follows its own trajectory independently of our decisions. Secondly, our choices are reduced to forces, which makes us look as we are machines walking around without consciousness and therefore are not responsible for our actions. Finally, the forces are reduced to properties of objects, which makes objects appear as the only reality and everything else – aggregation of objects into systems, processes running in these systems, choices made by the systems, and, ultimately, the fate of the universe become the “epiphenomena” of objects.

Each of these oversimplifications ignores some aspects of reality and therefore produce various forms of indeterminism and incompleteness in scientific predictions. Vedic system is more generic here and modern science is a specific application of it with imposed constraints described in the previous paragraph. Vedic theory, therefore, is a superset of modern materialism when all the constraints are removed. It doesn’t mean that this specific case is untrue but it reveals truth only partially, which is enough to keep scientists excited. It works within their constraints and it explains enough phenomena they accept for consideration in their theories, and they always work on unifying these theories, which gives them hope but is impossible in principle due to the initial oversimplifications.

The author also talks about Sāṅkhya here as Vedic materialism. Maybe it’s because our interactions within this framework do not require God and deal only with gross and subtle matter – prāṇa, mind, karma, and time are attributes of the material world. Most of non-Bhāgavatam Sāṅkhya is atheistic, too, and doesn’t require God. I wonder how they explain the origin of puruṣa who kicked off the creation but after that it’s matter all the way indeed. The author says that even this Vedic materialism is superior to modern science and it’s also compatible with existence of God and souls.

For one thing, material objects are inert. It might appear ridiculous to anyone who looks outside the window but this is what they are on the quantum level – quantum particles do not change their state unless hit by photons or something. How and why quantum objects emit energy cannot be explained – it just happens and science talks about probabilities of outcomes instead, which is one form of indeterminism mentioned earlier. This is why “process description” must be superior to “object description”, like in Sāṅkhya, because processes puts objects in motion (and create objects, too) leaving no space to indeterminism.

“Mental description” is superior to “process description” because our choices put processes in motion. Karma description is superior to our choices because it controls the possibilities and keeps record of previous choices, and time description is superior to karma because it makes possibilities manifest according to evolution of the universe. Looking at it another way, each of these stages is incomplete and requires information provided by the superior stage. Can’t move unless there’s process, can’t start a process unless there’s a choice, can’t make a choice unless there are possibilities and karma, can’t show karma unless time turns around and manifests it.

Last paragraph in this chapter talks about “bodies”. In Sāṅkhya the object description and process description are merged into a “body”, but this body, unlike science, includes not only objects we can see, taste, smell etc but also senses by which we can perceive these objects, the qualities experienced in perception, and the force that moves the body. Altogether it’s more complex and subtle than the body in science.

In Vedic cosmology this merging of object and process description creates a horizontal, two dimensional domain which is referred to as loka in our literature. It is not like a two dimensional plane in space because dimensions are different, they are not physical X and Y but “what is” and “how it works”. Mapping this concept of loka into our three dimensional space is done in a later chapter, but don’t raise your hopes up yet – it’s not easy to comprehend and I have doubts about this mapping myself.

Another thing that bothers me in this chapter is the relationship between individual possibilities presented to us and how they relate to the evolution of the universe. Some of these possibilities are selected by us but somehow it doesn’t affect the flow of the universe at all. The author doesn’t acknowledge this and we are left to speculate how it can be resolved on our own. There are later chapters where he deals with the subject of universal and individual times but they come nearly at the end of the book and don’t provide clear answers either, as far as I remember.

Perhaps, there are enough potential observers, jīvas, to select all manifested possibilities and so the choice is which role we decide to play and if we don’t like this one in particular it would be selected by someone else. This explanation doesn’t remove indeterminism, however – what if there’s really no one to play the role of the villain? We can also speculate that choices are driven by guṇa and karma but that would remove the agency of free will. The author will not concede free will, that much is clear. There could be some other explanation where it doesn’t matter for the universe whether all possibilities play out or not but that would be counterintuitive and require a radically different explanation of how the world works that I haven’t grasped yet. Maybe it still remains hidden from me and I understood all this material through my own goggles, not noticing the forest for the trees.

Possible explanation for this is that selecting certain possibilities make them real for us – make them into our individual experiences, but from the POV of the universe they are equally real whether we participate in them or not. In what sense they are real for the universe, however?

It would all be much easier if we ditched free will in material world altogether and confined it to a simple choice – to serve Kṛṣṇa or not. Whatever happens here, whatever choices are made between wearing a blue or green t-shirt, are not ours. We can only choose to depend on Kṛṣṇa or to remain “observers” and “doers” and “seers” of the material field. This position makes more sense to me and is in line with our general understanding of free will but, as I said, the author is not going to concede it. Free might still be required for our personal selections to make the universe work. The subject will come up again so we shall see if free will is really a necessity in Sāṅkhya.

Vanity thought #1758. VC – time and karma

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Next chapter in the book is called “Prāṇa and Time” and it introduces two additional concepts to the discussion on Sāṅkhya – time and karma. The book is really packed with information and sometimes I feel like I got it, that I organized it in my head and can present it from the abstract to details, like Sāṅkhya itself would have wanted, but when I re-read some of the chapters I get thrown back as I come across concepts I’ve completely forgotten. This is one of those chpaters.

The reason for this, I think, is that there are many valid ways to describe reality, some will be more complete than others. When we talked about prāṇa, for example, we didn’t change the way the world looks but offered an alternative explanation of why it works this way.

I should pause here and admit that at this point what I read in the book is still accepted as an alternative to science but it should be the other way around – with science providing an alternative to Vedas. I suppose this change from what is considered a primary theory to what is considered an alternative will take some time and effort. We need to internalize the knowledge given in the scriptures and learn to see the world through their eyes. Then science will become an alternative, and a poor one at that.

On the plus side, when I think about Vedic cosmos I don’t care what science thinks anymore, which might lead to problems when talking to those unfamiliar with Vedic universe. Materialists want to see a Vedic explanation of THEIR cosmos but in Vedic view it’s not the topic of interest at all. They build their theories on their sensual perceptions and perceptions are created to satisfy their desires. There’s no objectively existing material universe which would create perceptions. Perceptions are created from the mind according to guṇa and karma and that’s what should draw our interest, not irrelevant arguments over the shape of black holes or something. Plus their theories are created according to their desires, guṇa, and karma as well. We should look into the source of it instead and hope that one day we’ll actually see the Lord behind everything.

By the way, on the subject of prāṇa as it was discussed yesterday – there’s a story of Pracetās in the Fourth Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam who once burned all the trees (SB 4.30). In modern terms we would describe it as a destruction of an ecosystem and it turned out there WAS someone who felt responsible for it – there was a mind and a jīva behind it who wanted to preserve it. That someone is not mentioned in Bhāgavatam explicitly but he apparently appealed to Lord Brahmā who pacified the Pracetās and negotiated a deal where they get the daughter of the forest in return for stopping burning the trees (SB 4.30.47).

Anyway, in this chapter the author proposes another short description of how the universe works and I admit it makes as much sense as any other, though with less detail. First, the author discusses karma and he introduces it as possibilities of experience presented by time. The consequences, for which we know karma for, are the result of incomplete knowledge of reality when we make choices among these possibilities. Karma then comes back to correct our misunderstandings. All the stimuli from the world are produced by karma and by responding to them and making choices we produce more karma, and that’s why the author talks about karma as possibility of experiences.

These possibilities exist individually for us and ours are a subset of all the possibilities in the universe, and I mean all of them for all times. These possibilities constitute the realm of Garbhodaka and are manifested from it by time. That’s when possibilities become real for us and for everybody else and before that they lie unmanifested. Cosmic possibilities are manifested by cosmic time and our possibilities are manifested by our individual times. This relation between different times is discussed later in the book and I’m not clear on this yet.

Individual events in our lives depend on our responses and constitute our individual karma, which manifest our individual experiences, which are still subsets of all the possibilities in the universe. There are times when nothing in the world is manifested and the scriptures talk about these times as when the world is submerged into Garbhodaka, which makes total sense now – the possibilities become unmanifested and so there’s no “reality” for us to observe and act upon.

This is where the author presents another theory of life. The description of processes in the body is subordinated to description of karma, which is subordinated to time. Going the other way – time selects the possibilities which create particular karma which then creates a particular process which then gets converted into physical objects by prāṇa. This time-karma-prāṇa sequence describes our entire lives but not in great detail, as I mentioned earlier.

To add more details – the pre-eminent role of time means that the universe creates events independently of the observers who participate in these events, which means we can’t change the destiny of the universe. When presented with choices we can, however, create our own sequence of observable events and this means we are responsible for our choices.

I can’t make sense of the next sentence. Give it a try yourself:

    The role of prāna entails that choices can be abstracted from a process description and a material system can appear to work automatically due to ‘forces’ and without conscious intervention,..

The sentence continues but it switches to the view of the materialists and doesn’t clarify the quoted part. I don’t get “abstracted from a process description” at all. When we talk about abstracts we are supposed to move UP the semantic tree but here “abstracted” means creating contingent phenomena further DOWN. Perhaps in a sense that once the phenomena is manifested it becomes an abstract, a symbol for the next step. How that leads to perception of independent “forces” is unclear, but we do see forces acting out without our participation all the time.

Maybe the author means that we do not see the “abstraction” process of converting karma and choices associated with it into reality, which is done by prāṇa, which is the actual reason for the appearance of “forces”. It would sort of make sense – what we see as a “force” is actually someone’s desire to maintain his system or to project his desires into the world. We can’t perceive neither praṇa nor karma and to us “forces” simply exist and we need another explanation for them.

The rest of the chapter deals with the differences between Sāṅkhya and materialism in this area and I will try to make more sense of it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1666. Devilish thoughts

My last speculation about the Lord keeping historical accuracy of our relationships with him birth after birth might go against some most basic principles of spiritual progress. Given the 666 in the number of today’s post, however, some devilish entertainment is only natural so let me indulge for the moment, something good might come out of it anyway.

The idea is that we were not randomly plucked out of a crowd of faceless materialists but were placed in our current position according to our previous karma and, more importantly, our previous service to the Lord. In this case to Lord Caitanya. Considering how little progress we make in our present life it’s not such an outrageous idea. With all our chanting we should have made giant strides but it doesn’t happen. Why? Maybe we expect progress in the wrong area.

For a materialist traveling through eight million species of life each new birth is progress, it gives him new abilities, new opportunities, new modes of sense enjoyment, everything looks new and improved. This is the kind of progress we expect from our spiritual life, too – we want to perceive the holy name better or see the deities as God and not as brass dolls on the altar, for example. And I mean actually see the Lord standing there because our eyes only perceive inanimate matter when we look. We might also expect penetrating insights into the workings of material energy, the ability to see past, present, and future, the ability to immediately judge one’s spiritual position and give appropriate advice etc. That last one is what happens to our gurus in ISKCON, we assume. They start off as fresh bhaktas, get shaved up, taught to chant and preach, get initiated, and then voila – ten-twenty years later they are promoted to sannyāsa and allowed to initiate. These days it’s not so easy but that was the general path for Prabhupāda disciples. We assume that because of their guru status they possess some superhuman powers, at least in spiritual matters. Our gurvaṣṭaka prayers are pretty explicit about out assumptions of what to expect from our guru, too, so no one can really blame us.

This kind of progress is still materialistic because it’s materially visible and materially measurable. We can’t see how the guru is serving the feet of Rāḍha and Kṛṣṇa in private groves of Vṛndāvana but we can see that he was declared a guru so it must be there – there’s still a materially perceptible designation to make him qualified. When we define our spiritual progress in such terms we can easily imagine what kind of birth would be a step up in the next life. We also have Kṛṣṇa’s assurances in Bhagavad Gītā that even if we fail to return to Him at the end of this life we’ll be placed in favorable conditions in the next and those conditions are defined materially – a family of a brāhmaṇa, for example.

So, how can I propose anything different? Because chanting of the holy name already granted us liberation even if it might not look so to our material eyes. We still suffer and enjoy and our minds are still attracted to material objects and they are still very very hard to control, where is liberation here? To counter this I’d say that we are liberated from the clutches of material energy and everything that happens to us now is lovingly controlled by the Lord Himself. But what about material desires? He recognizes our material desires and He arranges for their fulfillment in the most spiritually harmless way, it is not dictated by cold karma anymore. There’s another discussion to be had on whether law of karma is actually cold and impersonal but let’s leave it for now.

The point is that we are fully in the hands of the Lord, in every conceivable aspect of our lives, and if we don’t see unicorns and rainbows that’s because we don’t love Him in return yet, we are just coming around to realization that it would be a great idea but we are still attached to our “freedom”.

And that is why might need to disassociate our expectations of progress from materialistic perspective. We don’t need to get a better birth, we are perfectly capable of chanting where we are now. There might be relatively more or less material obstacles but they cannot override the irrevocable fact – we’ve been given the holy name and we can chant it. If it’s more difficult than for others then it could be so that we appreciate it more. One name uttered in the state of helplessness could be more spiritually valuable than sixty four rounds chanted in comfort of our home, who knows?

Material obstacles can’t hinder our spiritual progress but they might encourage us to give up our attachments to safety and comfort. We might think that in the next life we need better arrangements for our chanting but do we really? What’s stopping us from achieving perfection in chanting right where we are now? It’s the desire for better arrangements, that’s what. One split second of perfect association can grant us full spiritual perfection and it’s freely available, what better arrangements do we need? So what if we might spend years waiting for this moment to finally come? Kṛṣṇa, or rather Lord Caitanya, who is in charge of our progress, sees the bigger picture and He is infinitely patient. Waiting is not a problem for Him and it shouldn’t be a problem for us either. The state of kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ is tested precisely by the ability to chant patiently regardless of all kinds of obstacles and the desire to remove those obstacles goes against this principle. When we want better conditions in the next life, even if ostensibly for chanting, it means we still have material hankerings.

How will the Lord deal with them? I’d say He doesn’t need to place us into these better conditions. Judging by the state of our knowledge of philosophy and currently present spiritual opportunities we should be ready to achieve perfection right where we are, we just need more practice in service and detachment.

There’s also the issue of yukta-vairāgya where we must learn to engage everything we see in the service of the Lord. In this spirit we shouldn’t be asking for more stuff when we can’t deal with what we already have. Why would we need a “better” birth when we can’t fully utilize the present one? I’d say that it’s far better to discover connection to Kṛṣṇa where we don’t see it yet rather than demand advancement to the next level.

That’s why we might be born again and again precisely in these conditions, five hundred years after the appearance of Lord Caitanya. We still have plenty of spiritual progress to make here and this work shouldn’t be visible to the materialistic eyes anyway because they can’t see devotion and devotion does not have to manifest externally either.

But what about visible spiritual progress of the kind we can see in our ISKCON? What about it? I’d say it’s no different from a baby learning to walk and talk. We can replay it life after life, this external recognition of our externally visible efforts doesn’t matter, it’s just striving for fame and glory and it would eventually go away once we lived this life a few times.

It’s a fascinating topic, maybe I’ll continue it later.

Vanity thought #1664. Artificial Intuition

For the past couple of weeks internet has been abuzz with news of the computer beating a human champion at Go. Everyone says that Go is more complex than chess because it has far more possible moves, more than the atoms in the universe, the story goes, so beating human at this game was unexpected. Go players can’t possibly calculate all the moves themselves and rely on intuition and it’s this part that offered them an advantage over computers until this latest match. Does it mean that computers cracked the intuition puzzle? Not really.

First of all, we don’t know what intuition is and how it works, and how exactly it differs from instinct. Instincts are a sort of hard wired memories that work outside of our conscious control, they are glorified reflexes. We can try and suppress them but we can’t stop them from being triggered. Instincts can be explained by evolution, intuition, however remains elusive. It isn’t genetic and the best we can come up with is that it taps into memories we don’t realize are there.

That’s not a perfect answer, IMO. In Go, for example, a person can’t possibly collect enough memories and yet every serious Go player relies on intuition as a matter of habit. Intuition requires a certain mastery of the skill but can’t be a result of simple exposure. One should know HOW the thing works, not simply collect an inhuman number of possibilities and let his subconscious mind do the brute force calculations. Maybe there’s a better explanation but I haven’t heard it yet.

This makes intuition into one of those areas of science where everyone knows it’s true but no one can explain it in mechanical terms and no one talks about it. Unlike the origin of life it’s not being widely discussed, just ignored by the militant evolutionists.

In our philosophy intuition is not defined either but we usually explain it as an intervention from the Supersoul. It could be an intervention from presiding deities of the particular activity, too. Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke of intuition as a sign that there’s a living soul within the body (CC Ādi 6.14-15), capitalizing on atheists’ inability to explain it scientifically. Either way, its origin lies outside of gross matter observable by science.

So, did this computer, Google’s AlphaGo, crack the intuition? It wasn’t programmed to channel presiding deity of the Go, and I suppose there’s one there. Brute force attack might be beyond computers abilities but it shouldn’t be a problem for demigods who do know possible outcomes of every move. It’s not a problem for Kṛṣṇa, too.

When these entities interfere in our games they are not trying to win themselves but they are trying to award us the results of our karma. If we are destined to celebrate the victory they offer help and if we are destined to lose they cloud our judgement and force us to make mistakes. In these cases we are amused by “how” but for the demigods it’s “what for” that is more important. We are playing a game of Go but they are enforcing laws of karma by any means necessary.

Could they have interfered with the computer? Possibly but unlikely because we know how AlphaGo works, we know how it’s programmed and we know what data it processes. There’s a little mystery left in this case, however.

AlphaGo is programmed to avoid resorting to brute force calculations by collecting a large number of Go situations and adapting solutions already thought up by human players. It outsources thinking instead of doing it itself. As the match against its human opponent progressed the computer was allowed to go on the internet and search for suitable plays if it couldn’t find ones in its memory. On one level it could be considered cheating because human players aren’t allowed to consult anyone during the game but everyone let this one go on this occasion. It was the handicap they were willing to afford to the computer.

What surprised everyone in this match was that on some occasions the computer chose inexplicable solutions. Human observers didn’t understand the moves and computer programmers haven’t had the chance to trace computer’s decisions either. Maybe in the next few weeks or months they will come up with exact explanation where and how the computer found these particular moves but so far it’s a mystery. At the moment no one can explain why these moves even worked and so the possibility of divine intervention is still there.

Why would a demigod help a computer? Well, it didn’t, it awarded victory to humans who created and programmed it and, like with intuition, they don’t really know how it happened to them, it just did.

There’s a question about the use of intuition by human players, too. Go has a very large board with an impossible number of moves but key battles happen in very small areas with possibilities only in single digits. Of course with moves and counter moves the number of possibilities still increases exponentially but it is possible for humans to calculate them with brute force. Intuition comes in play when outcomes of these little battles are placed in a greater picture, how these small losses or victories affect other areas of the board. This is where brute force fails and humans can only estimate the outcome, and that’s what they call the intuition. “It doesn’t look right”, that’s all they know at this point, and they can’t possibly explain how and why except in very broad terms, and there’s no rule book for them to refer to.

Is it intuition as an insight provided by gods or is it simply inability to verbalize all their thoughts that flash in their minds in a split second? Lots of professionals can’t be bothered either if someone bugs them with detailed explanation of every step they make in the course of their job. I don’t think it’s intuition per se, they just literally can’t be bothered but could explain it if it comes to that.

Take the example of driving – there are great many factors involved in each particular decision on the road. People estimate how other cars would move depending not only on their speed but also on their make, appearance, position on the road, perhaps a short history of observing their behavior etc etc. Sometimes it’s entirely cultural and a person from another city would not be able to read the situation in the same way. Google has a driverless car, of course, and so far it’s doing an amazing job, but most of us can drive practically on autopilot without giving it any conscious thought. Is it intuition? I don’t think so. Does it mean that our brains have this hidden capacity to perform as well as Google Car’s computer? Possibly. Or maybe it’s just our karma that forces us to turn or hit the brakes.

We, again, are interested in “how” but for the karma it’s “what for” that’s important in these cases. For the law of karma every movement of every atom is known precisely and calculated for the duration of the universe, it doesn’t need to replicate these calculations through our brains, just manifest them in our minds.

Anyway, without clear explanations in out literature it’s all only speculative but it feels like it helps me understand the workings of the material nature better, so it’s not all in vain.

Vanity thought #1662. A touch of envy

Maybe my memory is very selective but I can’t remember if there’s a simple answer to a question why modern civilization is so successful at what it does. We can easily dismiss this success as heading in the wrong direction, we can blast it for not paying any attention to the spiritual side of life, but we don’t have an answer to why it works at what it does when, in Kali yuga, it should fail miserably instead.

Well, Kali yuga isn’t over yet and current period of prosperity is still only a short blip on Kali’s five thousand year history, but still – why are these atheistic materialists so successful? It’s this success that lets them declare that they don’t need God anymore and they’ve been on this godless path for about a hundred years now and are still going strong. What’s the matter?

My answer is that their atheism is phony. They might declare that there’s no God but they still vehemently defend God’s laws. Things have changed since approximately the turn of the century and the millennials are not sticklers for the rules anymore but then the millennials haven’t produced anything of notice so far and probably never will. It’s the old school science that still carries the burden and they know the difference between right and wrong better than anyone else, sometimes even better than us – as in cases when we in ISKCON failed by their standards in areas like child or women protection.

These days there’s a serious push for alternative, non-religion based morality but all they are doing is offering non-religious justification for the same rules, they are not inventing anything new. There are cases now where they use a completely new rule book, like sexual relationships, but so far they have nothing to show for it and they can’t built a sustainable society that generates enough new members with the way they practice sex now. Everything else, as I said, is just another justification for the old, God given rules of no kill and no steal.

As I said yesterday, from the point of view of the universe and the law of karma acknowledgement of God is not necessary for the kind of results they need, simply following the rules would be enough. They are not going to discover God or attain self-realization but they are not aiming for those goals so it’s not considered a failure in their view. They can completely detach the rules from God and the rules would still work because the universe is self-sustaining that way, it has everything it needs to maintain its human population without drawing on Kṛṣṇa’s resources – pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate – it’s complete.

We, as devotees, should know this as we should know that these rules work precisely because they are originally God given, no matter what the atheists say. Kṛṣṇa personally set up the varṇāśrama system, He said so in Bhagavad Gītā (BG 4.13). Outside of India it’s not called varṇāśrama, of course, but the human societies all over the world naturally divide themselves into four varṇas and aśramas.

There are students, there are householders, there are retired people, and there’s no sannyāsa because no one in Kali yuga is capable of following it. There are rulers, there are businessmen, there is labor, and there are academics and consultants. Soviets tried to create a classless society but they still had their workers and farmers and their intelligentsia, and they also had their untouchable ruling class and plenty of ideologists to oversee every section of the society. Soviet Union collapsed anyway and with it their classless experiment.

In any society there are clear traditional rules for everyone to follow. Everyone knows who to seek safety and protection from and who to give protection to. Everyone knows when to get up and what to do during the day, everyone knows when it’s time to work and when it’s time to relax. Everyone knows the duties of the fathers, mothers, husbands, sons etc, and they are remarkably similar all across the world. Farmers everywhere get up before sunrise, for example, while the rulers tend to overindulge in sense gratification and sleep late, while teachers and academics are natural moral examples for everyone else to follow.

When we talk about Bible based rules we instantly remember the ten commandments but these commandments do not explicitly describe how the society should function, I’m not even sure it’s possible to trace the duties of kings or farmers to Biblical origins. This gives an opening for the atheists to propose evolution as the root of our rules but every religious person unquestionably attributes them to God anyway, whether it’s actually said in the Bible or Koran to get up early or not. Procreation is a clear God given order, on the other hand, and so are other duties for the āśramas. We know varṇāśrama is God given, Muslims and Christians know it’s God given, so let’s not waste time on exploring the possibility that it’s the product of gene mutation and natural selection.

And here is the deal – people following their prescribed rules naturally please Viṣṇu and they know when Viṣṇu is pleased or not because Lord’s satisfaction registers deep in their hearts. Mothers know that raising their kids is ultimately satisfying even against all the arguments about lost sleep and missed career chances. Husbands providing for their families also know that it makes them happier than thoughts of running away from this unnecessary burden.

When it comes to their professional lives people also know that doing their jobs is what brings them the ultimate happiness, not their remuneration packages. Things gradually change, of course, but there are still billions of people in the world who would prefer to honestly do their jobs and would not sell out no matter what. People know when Viṣṇu is pleased and nothing can replace that odd feeling of deep satisfaction, they don’t need to know His name to feel it.

A coupe of days ago I argued that democracy as a system of government is a form of saṅkīrtana, too, because it’s congregational and it’s dedicated to perfecting God given rules for the society – if done with the attitude of jointly considering how to better implement Lord’s will.

These people aren’t nominally devotees but their engagement with the Lord through following His rules is to be admired, which we never do in our society. We never appreciate the kind of sacrifice these non-devotees perform and we do not acknowledge how it might actually please our Lord. We claim the Lord all to ourselves and we can’t accept the possibility that other people, especially our sworn enemies – atheists, might please Him, too.

We shoot for the stars, as I said yesterday, but we measure our progress on the material level by the same standards as atheists and this means that we must engage in the same type of sacrifice – strictly following God’s rules, which we don’t like to do because we consider ourselves very special. Or maybe we even hope to avoid honestly performing our duties because we expect the holy name to compensate for our shortcomings. Since we pursue the same materialistic goals – building big temples, collecting big money, and attracting a big number of followers, this attitude becomes offensive because it means we maintain our material attachments despite of chanting.

So, when atheists succeed in whatever endeavor our reaction has a mixture of it all – envy that the Lord favors them and not us, laziness to follow the same rules and procedures, and an offensive attitude of desiring the same success for ourselves. And what we don’t normally see is how this success is ultimately attributed to serving the Lord even if attained by avowed atheists.

Vanity thought #1661. Equal opportunity Lord

From the very first day we joined Hare Kṛṣṇas we’d heard how special our movement is, and all over our books there are innumerable quotes about exalted position of Kṛṣṇa’s devotees. It takes a long time to realize that all those advantages do not necessarily refer to us but to really pure souls. On the other hand, we ARE covered by Lord Caitanya’s mercy regardless of our advancement, thanks to the protection of Śrīla Prabhupāda and the entire paramparā.

This is a bit tricky, of course. We can’t say that we spit on thought of sex enjoyment because the bliss we find in chanting the holy name is so overwhelming. We can’t claim that liberation is standing there with folded hands in our presence. We can’t claim to have greater powers than yogīs and jñānīs. We can’t claim that we are above the modes of material nature. We are short of pure devotees mentioned in our literature in so many ways, and yet denying these advantages being given to us would be denying the power of paramparā.

We can’t say that Kṛṣṇa does not take personal interest in each and every one of us because that would cast doubts on the extent of His mercy or the extent of His power. We can’t say that Kṛṣṇa is too busy looking after the entire universe and all the real pure devotees in it so He can’t spare time for us – because that would imply Kṛṣṇa has limits and these limits would depend on our estimates of what is difficult and what is easy for Him. In this regard I think He’d reciprocate with our feelings and act as if it’s indeed too difficult for Him to engage with us directly. I don’t mean He would show Himself directly to our material senses but take direct interest in our well-being. For showing up personally the universe has a schedule, He won’t do it according to our will, or, rather, we won’t be able to express sufficient desire to cause Kṛṣṇa’s descent the way Advaita Ācārya did.

We should also remember that Kṛṣṇa sees the bigger picture and He knows past, present, and future. Our own estimates, however, are limited by our karma and we can’t see how all little pieces in our life must eventually come together and bring us to the sate of perfection. Kṛṣṇa gives us spiritual benedictions which we can’t perceive at the moment with material mind and senses and within material concept of time. It doesn’t mean that they are not there, however, and they all will be manifested at the appropriate moment, most likely at the moment of death. Until then our experience of life in this world is not much different from that of the atheists.

On the bodily platform we have no other stick to measure Kṛṣṇa’s mercy but material success, whether it’d be expressed in money, fame, good health, good character, the ability to convince others etc etc. These are the same qualities that are present in every other human being and even in animals but to different degrees. Experience shows that we hardly ever possess them in larger quantities than others, even atheists. We aren’t smarter, we aren’t more honest, we aren’t richer, we aren’t better in anything we can think of. Our lifestyle gives us a big leg up in the race for such material perfections but it’s not enough to actually win.

We can look at fellow religious groups and wonder why they can build much bigger temples than ours, or how they an attract a lot more followers, or how they can keep their congregation together, or how they can attain position of power. After fifty years all we can show is Tulsi Gabbard, for example, and she is not even from ISKCON per se. There was a time when we made a big splash but by now we are rather ordinary. For the larger society it’s not bad to have us around because we are essentially harmless, but we are not essential and if we suddenly dissolve ourselves hardly anyone would miss us or ever remember we existed.

Isn’t this proof that we are not God’s special people? Does it mean that we are crappy devotees and Kṛṣṇa doesn’t care much about us? No, it rather means that our Lord is impartial to everyone and He gives everyone an equal opportunity to succeed.

What we should not forget is that our deal is to chant everyday and follow four regs so that at the moment of death we don’t miss our biggest chance at spiritual success. Everything that happens before that can be safely discounted and forgotten. We are not here to compete in material success and if we still expect material proof that our Kṛṣṇa is the real God then our devotion is very immature and our desires are harmful to our own spiritual well-being and Kṛṣṇa won’t satisfy them for our own sake.

Material success is nothing, it’s the very first step in God realization and as such it’s available to everyone regardless. Remember that conversation between Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya where Lord Caitanya quickly dismissed following varṇāśrama? Varṇāśrama is what gives material benedictions and it’s the go to prescription in any religious system. Even the most uneducated and unenlightened men would be told to live according to God’s laws without bothering them with details. In fact, there aren’t any details to bother Christians and Muslims with – God’s own nature and own pastimes are not available there even to the most advanced practitioners. It’s all “just live according to God’s law, will you?”

In Kṛṣṇa consciousness it’s dismissed outright because we are being given access to the real nectar instead. We shouldn’t even be paying attention to perfecting varṇāśrama because our lives are short and we’d better try and achieve success in chanting. It would be foolish for us to seek parity with aforementioned Christians or Muslims. In fact, even atheists can implement perfect varṇāśrama and reap its material benefits. For material success it doesn’t matter whether they worship God or not as long as they follow the same prescriptions. In Vedic culture this was epitomized in philosophy of karma-mīmāṁsa and in modern society it’s epitomized by democracy.

This last point might need further elucidation but I’ll leave it for tomorrow. Suffice it to say that we should not be competing for this low hanging fruit at all, we’ve got better things to do with our lives.

Vanity thought #1645. Factually blameless

Okay, it’s the Kali yuga that forces us to act contrary to the principles of dharma. If we identify with our bodies and bodily activities we are going to take the reactions personally, too. If don’t identify with our bodies we won’t care for karma because we’d be liberated already. If we perform all our activities as a service to Kṛṣṇa then the Lord will be pleased regardless of our compliance with external dharma.

That last case is a special one, and the second case, that of a liberated person, is unattainable unless we become pure devotees. In real life we always have to deal with the first option – always think about finding and correcting faults and punishing perpetrators. It’s nice to talk about indifference to karma but that’s not our reality at the moment and just as we are forced to act according to material nature we are forced to analyze our actions and assign blame.

Still, there’s a good case against this practice and it’s made right in the beginning of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. It’s became customary for me to blame Kali yuga whenever anything goes wrong but blaming Kali is unsanctioned, too – we just have to look at the relevant chapter from the First Canto (SB 1.17), which is called “Punishment and Reward of Kali”.

Usually, by reward we mean the permission for Kali to reside in places where illicit activities take place, as well as in gold, but there’s more to this episode than that. The chapter starts with Mahārāja Parīkṣit coming across personified religion and personified earth in the forms of a bull and a cow who were severely beaten by personified Kali in the form of a śūdra dressed as a king. Personally, whenever I read it I spend all my mental energy on trying to memorize four principles of religion and corresponding regs that destroy them. It’s all in vain – I still don’t remember what destroys mercy, for example. Is it meat eating or gambling? Or maybe sex?

Just checked – mercy is destroyed by drinking. Who would have thought? Sex spoils cleanliness, pride spoils austerity, and cheating spoils truthfulness (SB 1.17.25 Purport). How to translate them into our four regs, though? Association with opposite sex destroys purity of the mind – it’s easy, but mercy is destroyed by intoxication and not by meat eating? Not what I expected. Gambling is probably connected to cheating, but what about pride? What regulative principle protects us from pride? In my memory all these four sets of principles, sins, and regs were perfectly mapped to each other but it appears to be more complicated than that.

Anyway, Mahārāja Parīkṣit stopped Kali from beating the bull and the cow and he asked the animals what they thought about the situation. He personally saw Kali beating them and still he repeatedly asked Dharma, the bull: “Who has cut off your three legs?” Mahārāja Parīkṣit really wanted to know who was responsible and he vowed to punish the perpetrator in the name of religion and everything that is holy.

The bull, however, was very very wise. He praised Parīkṣit for his determination to uphold the principles of religion, he flattered him by glorifying his connection to Pāḍṇavas and Kṛṣṇa Himself, but he was not going to play the blame game (SB 1.17.18): “… it is very difficult to ascertain the particular miscreant who has caused our sufferings, because we are bewildered by all the different opinions of theoretical philosophers.” In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda explains (emphasis mine):

    Although the bull, or the personality of religion, and the cow, the personality of the earth, knew perfectly well that the personality of Kali was the direct cause of their sufferings, still, as devotees of the Lord, they knew well also that without the sanction of the Lord no one could inflict trouble upon them. According to the Padma Purāṇa, our present trouble is due to the fructifying of seedling sins, but even those seedling sins also gradually fade away by execution of pure devotional service. Thus even if the devotees see the mischief-mongers, they do not accuse them for the sufferings inflicted. They take it for granted that the mischief-monger is made to act by some indirect cause, and therefore they tolerate the sufferings, thinking them to be God-given in small doses, for otherwise the sufferings should have been greater.

Even if we see the direct cause of our suffering, or any other suffering, for that matter, we should understand that suffering is a fruit of seeds planted a long time ago and the perpetrator is a Lord’s agent carrying out what is prescribed by our karma. As devotees we should also remember that our sufferings are carefully measured by the Lord Himself and no one can harm us against His will.

In the next two verses the bull explained various opinions proffered by theoretical philosophers. Some say that one’s self is responsible because without the self there’d be no activity at all. Material nature fulfills our desires, after all. If we didn’t want something we wouldn’t suffer from reactions.

This view is close to our understanding – we usually say that we suffer because we misuse our independence and if we engage in Kṛṣṇa’s service then all the suffering would go away. I don’t think it’s true, though – suffering won’t go away, we’d just become cool about it, which is not what people who ask us this question usually want to hear. I’m not sure we ourselves are prepared to accept suffering for eternity in exchange for service. It’s a touchy subject – we want eternal bliss, not eternal suffering. We want to escape the world of birth, death, old age and disease, but we also know that pure devotees accept being born here over and over again if it pleases the Lord and advances His mission.

Others say that karmic activities are responsible, meaning that the universe is obliged to provide us with results and God has not actual say in it. We don’t accept this explanation, of course, but it’s still true on many levels – that’s how modern materialists have been able to advance so far. The Lord is usually too far away to care what we do here and so we are left to deal with the impersonal law of karma by ourselves.

There are also others who blame superhuman powers – basically gods. That doesn’t seem right even though our karma IS enforced by higher beings. There are also outright materialists who do not believe in God at all. In this they are just like modern atheists but their understanding of how the material nature works is very different from modern science.

The bull also said that there are philosophers who say that no one can ascertain the true cause of one’s suffering and no one can express it through logic or verbal arguments. It’s beyond our human capacity.

So, when the Mahārāja Parīkṣit asked the bull who was responsible for his injuries the bull refused to blame anyone, including the very man who was standing there with the club and beating him as they were talking.

That’s a bit of wisdom for us – do not blame anyone and do not fall into an illusion that we know who is responsible for our karma even when direct cause of our suffering is present right there. Whenever we feel the urge to name and shame the perpetrators we should remember this lesson from the personality of religion himself.

I mean it impressed even Mahārāja Parīkṣit so we should definitely take notice, too.