Vanity thought #470. The wrap up

It’s the last day of Kartika and my attempt at remembering Krishna Damodara every day is coming to an end. There are other important events to celebrate this month, too, and I think I’ve covered the most important ones.

Let’s see how much I remember without checking back – Damodara lila, of course, then Govardhana puja, then the story of Dhruva Maharaja, and one thing I left out – Bali Maharaja surrender to Lord Vamanadev.

One thing I still don’t understand is how any of this relates to Srimati Radharani, why do we have deities called Radha-Damodara, for example? I don’t want to talk about pastimes not mentioned in our books – if Srila Prabhupada didn’t share them with us then we have no business celebrating them publicly. I’d be very skeptical about personal realizations, too, but those are personal, let’s not pass judgments on that.

From Damodara pastime of the Lord the most memorable lesson is the two fingers rule – in order to achieve success in anything, even in devotional service, one must fully apply himself and one needs the mercy of the Lord. If applied to everyday life it sounds very depressing – do I really have to bother about money, family, success, legacy and all that other crap that is expected of life? Or am I genuinely lazy, with no idea of what sacrifice really is?

I’ve never lifted a finger for anything or anyone else, and the most I’ve done for Krishna is chant a few rounds when I feel like it. I look at some devotees who make big commitments and sacrifice everything to succeed in their service and I feel totally inadequate. I feel inadequate even when I look at some parents and how they have dedicated their lives to their dharma as they know it.

If I were in Mother Yashoda’s shoes (which is funny, since she probably didn’t wear shoes inside the house), would I even bother to tie Krishna up, or would I just sit there and watch, like some stoner who still lives off his mom?

What is the point of remembering Lord Damodara if it doesn’t inspire one to sacrifice his life to the mission of Lord Chaitanya?

Interestingly, while I might not know why we have Radha Damodara I do know that it was the first and best known sankirtana party in our movement. Somehow the connection worked.

And from Dhruva Maharaja I’ve learned about the danger of carrying material desires. Even if Krishna bestows His mercy He might force one to endure the fulfillment of his hankerings. Thirty six thousand years for Dhruva, maybe millions of years for us.

From Govardhana pastime I remembered Indra’s mistake – it’s nice to be on the Brijabasis’ side but to get there one must have his ego destroyed first, i.e. play Indra’s role. Then, when one’s pride is shattered to pieces, he might earn the privilege of taking Krishna’s shelter along with residents of Vrindavana. We can’t cheer for them simply because we know they will win, we must become just like them, simple and single-minded in their lives, thinking only about satisfaction of Krishna and not caring about the rest of the society and its norms.

If we keep any self-interest in our hearts taking shelter under Govardhana Hill is not for us. Let’s be humble and go through heart purification process first, never mind how it might appear to fellow devotees who expect us to always be the best and the purest. I mean we always try to present the best side of us – how we are bathing in the ocean of nectar, by guru and Krishna’s grace, and if something is offered to us we blush for a moment – “Oh now, I couldn’t possibly”, but within our hearts we know we deserved this and more.

How often do we publicly admit that we are wretched souls unworthy even a particle of dust from devotees’ lotus feet and really mean it? Not just as a polite thing to say but really really see ourselves as wretched and undeserving?

I think I’m getting off-topic here, that’s what happens when I don’t prepare myself, don’t exert enough effort, and Krishna consequently leaves me battle my articles alone.

From this pov my “vrata” failed on this last day. God, it was so close!

Better luck next time.

Vanity thought #467. Tribute to Dhruva

There is a couple of Krishna’s pastimes to fill these last few days of Kartika and the story of Dhruva Maharaja should be right at the top of the list, for Kartika was the month he obtained audience of Lord Vishnu. It also happened in Vrindavana and Madhuvana forest is now the first stop on the Vraja mandala parikrama.

To be honest, I’ve never appreciated this story even though it was one of Lord Chaitanya’s favorites. To my immature, materialistic vision it appears somewhat problematic, mostly because it’s about attaining Lord’s mercy while in pursuit of worldly affairs.

On one hand it should fill us with hope that even if we approach Krishna with impure motives He could still bestow His mercy which, in turn, would cleanse our hearts completely, on the other hand we shouldn’t be looking for excuses not to remove our anarthas before approaching the Lord.

In fact the general idea is that we can’t obtain Krishna’s darshan precisely because of our anarthas, it’s practically the one and only thing that prevents us from tasting the nectar of the Holy Name, but Dhruva Maharaja’s story tells us not to pay attention to them at all.

What we can learn from it is that desire to see the Lord trumps any other cards, and it’s a fair argument, but it would also appear that the strength of this desire depends on the strength of our material attachments.

In our situation it is useless to profess unmotivated service but still our attachments is something we are advised to abandon. Dhruva’s story, however, teaches us to properly leverage them instead.

I guess it could be considered as an early example of yukta vairagya – engaging everything in service of the Lord, as opposed to phalgu vairagya of renunciation simply for the sake of it.

Hmm, maybe that’s why Lord Chaitanya loved this story so much – from the pov of bhakti there’s no distinction between right and wrong, only distinction between whether it’s connected to Krishna or not.

Yet we also have four regs and a bunch of other rules as a precondition for engaging in Krishna consciousness.

That’s what I find confusing – in our lives four regs and other material attachments are considered absolutely negative, in the story of Dhruva Maharaja they are not. If one’s bruised ego is killing him he is advised to be more tolerant than a tree but the lesson from Dhruva Maharaja’s story is to seek blessings for revenge from Krishna Himself.

Imagine a devotee being upset with his authorities not appreciating his service, no one would ever advise him to take severe penances in order to make Krishna prove to everyone his real worth. If we had such a desire ourselves we would probably be ashamed of it but in Dhruva Maharaja’s case it was the main driving force in his progress towards the Lord.

We would try to abandon this desire but example of Dhruva Maharaja teaches us quite the opposite – we should take full advantage of having it because it might deliver us to Krishna.

Taking a little offense at being unappreciated is worse than taking a big offense at the same thing as long as we seek judgment from the Lord.

Strangely, it does make sense, but if we take this as a guiding principle, shouldn’t we reconsider some of the basic rules of our lives and our society, too?

One thing is clear – Damodara lila is far less complicated. Dhruva lila, otoh, has practical lessons for our own service we can’t easily extract from reflecting on Lord Damodara.

The remaining confusion is, perhaps, a sign that I haven’t achieved Lord’s mercy on this topic yet. Maybe some other day.

Vanity thought #456. Subterfuge

On this day of Govardhana puja I think it’s important to stress where our priorities lie and what we might need to sacrifice if we want to be accepted as Krishna’s devotees.

The Indra puja came hot on the heels of the episode with brahmanas refusing to give food to Krishna and His friends. Perhaps it happened in the beginning of the Kartika month, we don’t know, but Krishna still remembered it and when He saw His father preparing for another big puja for demigods He thought He could teach them all a lesson.

The lesson was that we should abandon all our other duties and surrender solely to Him. People have been worshiping all kinds of gods according to Vedic prescriptions sincetime immemorial, and the authority of the Vedas is unquestionable, yet we are told to give it all up. This is a tough decision to make, especially for those born into this culture.

Indians all around the world just celebrated Divali but actually it’s just one of the holidays we, as Krishna’s devotees, are supposed to give a quiet pass. It’s tough for them to abandon Divali, or Durga Puja, or Holi. It’s even more difficult if they can connect these holidays to Lord Vishnu.

I suppose Indra puja was just as big for agricultural communities five thousand years back. Their whole lives depended on rain more than on anything else. One year of drought and many of them wouldn’t have survived. What other puja can compare in its significance to placating Lord Indra?

Yet Krishna told them to forget it. He told them to stop the sacrifice. How many people do you think would follow if someone says to stop the annual Durga puja? Well, in Vrindavana they loved Krishna so much that they did whatever He wanted, nevermind Indra with his rains and potential loss of crops.

That’s why they live in Vrindavana and we live down here.

We still can’t accept parting with our old ways, we do not appreciate the subterfuge of Krishna consciousness. Actually, Krishna means serious business when He tells us to abandon everything else.

On the surface we might appear to be ready and swear in our devotion but quite often we simply don’t realize how expansive this “everything else” list is.

It means we don’t give a hoot about what all the people around us hold very dear. We don’t give a hoot about their Christmases and their nine-elevens, we don’t give a hoot about their New Year countdowns, we don’t give a hoot about their governments and their dedication to democracy and freedom, we don’t give a hoot about their customs and their morality. They take pride in their strong sense of right and wrong but we don’t give a hoot about that either.

They try to salvage institution of their families but we don’t give a hoot. They try to educate their children to become responsible global citizens but we don’t give a hoot. They try to develop their talents and succeed in life but we don’t give a hoot. They unquestionably accept the importance of going to work but we don’t give a hoot. They expect everyone to strive for chill-out time but we don’t give a hoot. They expect everyone act on self-preservation instincts but we don’t give a hoot to that one either. They universally accept that enjoyment and comfort is good but we don’t give a hoot. There’s not a single value dear to them that we care about in the slightest way.

Now, to be honest, we do care about all those things, some less than others, but that is also why we continue to live down here and not with Krishna. Unfortunately, this is the choice we make many many times each day without even realizing it.

That’s why we also don’t realize how subversive Krishna consciousness really is. Prabhupada said that if they knew what he was preaching they wouldn’t have let him in.

If we publicly declare that we intend to completely uproot their cultures and outlaw their attitudes they won’t let us register our society and, perhaps, put us in jails, if it comes to that. It actually already happened in the former Soviet Union.

So, before tucking into a mountain of halwa we should remember what is it we are giving up first. There will be no higher taste found in this halwa if we keep our attachments and respect for external values and idols.

It is all the more difficult in light of other prescriptions found all over the Vedic literature. Sometimes I think even the rules in Hari Bhakti Vilasa must be considered only secondary to our main premise – Krishna is fully present in His name and we will achieve all perfection simply by chanting.

I can take it even a bit further – should we be skeptical about our Govardhana Puja feast where everyone comes to stuff themselves first and foremost? Do we really get into the mood of Brijavasis when we partake in in it? Aren’t we betraying Krishna’s lesson when we decide that filling our bellies is our proper reward for a bit of fasting?

Well, such is the life of a conditioned being. We can’t stop our bellies form being hungry, but it doesn’t mean we should ignore the underlying principle – we intend to completely give up all the interests in our material life, that we eat because we want to give up eating.

Well, I hope Sri Damodara won’t punish me for venturing into another topic during this month. The Govardhana pastime happened quite a few years later but it’s still the same Lord with the same devotees, having good, spiritual fun in the same month of Kartika.

Vanity thought #455. Kartika vrata

Finally someone asked a question after a lecture – if Damodara lila happened during one day, why do we talk about it for a whole month? The answer was “we’ve been told to, that’s why.” I don’t know if it satisfies everyone, there’s a pressure to dedicate a whole month to remembrance of one pastime only. People get bored and restless, I guess, they need compelling reasons.

I don’t know if there are any, besides “we’ve been told to.” Our tradition goes up to Srila Sanatana Goswami who was instructed by Lord Chaitanya Himself to compile a set of vaishnava achara rules. That’s how we got Hari Bhakti Vilasa where there’s a whole chapter dedicated to the month of Kartika but there’s nothing there to directly instruct us in retelling Damodara Lila.

We also have another book by Sanatana Goswami – Dig Darshini Tika, which is a commentary on Damodarashtaka prayers. I’ll get to that book in greater detail some other time but for now I’ll just say that it doesn’t recommend spending an entire month reciting Damodarashtaka either.

What we have instead is Hari Bhakti Vilasa instruction for the month of Kartika to glorify Sri Radhika as companion of Sri Damodara and that means we describe the Damodara lila, too. Kind of roundabout way but since it has become our tradition there’s no reason to doubt it. There are plenty of other instructions to always chant the Names and pastimes of Krishna during Kartika so we can’t go wrong.

If we are getting bored, however, there are other stories that are suitable for this month and they all can be part of our Kartika vrata. It’s the vrata itself, the promise to do something for the Lord during this month, that is important.

Hari Bhakti Vilasa describes many special ways to worship Krishna during the month of Kartika and issues a lot of blessing and warnings. The warnings sound pretty serious so we better do something, pick one or two ideas from the list. Offering a deepa is one of the most popular ones, for example, but one could also donate cows, wake up three hours before sunrise, chant japa and so on. There are some weird ones, too – like not eating from a middle of a leaf of Brahma tree, whatever it is.

As usual with Hari Bhakti Vilasa it’s impossible to figure out on our own what exactly we are expected to do. HBV is basically a collection of quotes from about a hundred of scriptures organized by topics, I suppose we should keep in mind all of them at the same time but if we are looking for clear instructions on what to do exactly than HBV is not our book, to make sense out of it we need acharyas.

Sanatana Goswami was an acharya but we can’t really follow his personal example, can we? Our present day life is mostly governed by prescriptions of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. He was the one to completely overhaul vaishnava practices about a hundred years ago. Our Srila Prabhupada made some changes, too, but those are more practical than principal. We might do little things in a slightly different way but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati introduced second initiation and sannyasa, and living in the temples and preaching as the main service.

Anyway, apart from daily chanting Damorashtakam we can stay in Vrindavana, it’s a legitimate Kartika vrata. If we want some more stories then tomorrow is Govardhana puja, a big big festival, during this month we can also talk about Bali Maharaja and Vamanadev, and we can retell the story of Dhruva Mahahaja who attained Lord Vishnu during Kartika. We can also talk about liberation of the elephant Gajendra – this story is mentioned in Hari Bhakti Vilasa chapter on Kartika, too.

Or we can stick with Damodara lila, take it as a vrata, bored or not, recite the prayers everyday. I don’t think I can write about it every day for a month but that might not be necessary to fulfill the vrata.

Important thing is to pick some extra service and stick to it until the Kartika is over. In a way Kartika is like an ekadashi but longer, and we can eat grains.

What I really want to know, however, is why Damodara is mentioned in relation to Srimati Radharani. She wasn’t there, and He was too young to meet Her. Maybe I will find the answer before the month is over but for now it’s a mystery to me.