Vanity thought #1686. Not a duck

Returning to a post from day before yesterday – why is it that we are so different from all other students of Vedic literature?

Yesterday I talked about Sankaracarya’s translation of a controversial verse and how vaishnava acaryas don’t agree on its details either. At the end of the day everyone interpreted to fit with his own preconceived doctrine, so what makes us so different?

It was a typical example of dissecting Sanskrit verses and using grammar and dictionaries to extract a meaning, everyone did it regardless of the tradition. Results were different, of course, but the approach wasn’t. So, if we all use the same method, all use the same grammar rules, all use the same strategy of trying to fit whatever is said into an existing doctrine, what makes us in “not ducks”?

I think that it’s one of those cases where external activities of devotees are indistinguishable from non-devotees. Usually we take it to mean that devotees go to work just the same, take the money just the same, support their families just the same, but in this case the concept needs to be extended to studying shastra, too, which is somewhat unexpected.

In reality, however, it’s unavoidable. The books are the same, the grammar is the same, the goal is the same, so we can’t really do it any differently. I mean if we want to produce a commentary in support of a certain idea and we want this commentary to be accepted by others then we have to follow the rules. We have to resort to grammar and logic, we have to follow the format, we have to present it in the same way – written down in a decipherable form, there really isn’t any other option.

If we wanted to reach out to devotees and share our appreciation for the Lord then we would ditch grammar discussion, we would ditch alternative non-devotional readings so that we don’t have to refute them, we would ditch logic and rationality and simply talk about the Lord. The resulting work would not be acceptable to non-devotees, of course, and it would not be satisfying for devotees seeking solid arguments in defense of our siddhanta either.

Srila Prabhupada used both approaches. His Bhagavad Gita As It Is was a book meant for the masses, as an appeal to a neutral reader. His Srimad Bhagavatam was meant for devotees but it was still full of lessons on the superiority of the Vedic way of life. We take lots of arguments against atheists from there. Caitanya Caritamrita, otoh, was strictly a devotional literature without any appeals to doubting outsiders.

Srimad Bhagavatam is, of course, an amala purana dedicated solely to glorifying the Lord but Srila Prabhupada wanted to present it to a wider audience and he really wanted to convert westerners to its superior message, so there had to be a degree of logic and rationality. Even when he was writing for our own education he still had to talk in our language, gradually convincing us to accept each and every aspect of daivi varnasrama.  He couldn’t afford to simply share the taste for Lord’s nectarian pastimes. There’s still a lot it there, though, more than we can possibly appreciate, but the point stands – when we have any other goal rather than glorifying the Lord we have to follow rules other than simply chanting the names and reciting pastimes. It was for our spiritual benefit and it was a perfect sankirtana but it is an explanation of why it had to contain a certain amount of philosophy, too.

Caitanya Caritamrita was largely free of these constraints. It didn’t argue for anything but simply told us the siddhanta, and once the Adi lila was over it was all only about pastimes of Lord Caitanya. Even Mahaprabhu’s teachings delivered to Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami, even the arguments presented to Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya were full of sweetness and nectar and didn’t entertain even a shred of doubt in Lord’s message. I mean, unlike the verse from Gita I talked about yesterday, there is nothing to argue with Caitanya Caritamrita at all. There are no different interpretations, no arguments meant for outsiders, it’s all more like “if anyone has any doubt in Lord Nityananda I will personally kick them in the head” line from Caitanya Bhagavata, and that’s all the author had to say about opposition.

So, how should we treat other books that are written by devotees but otherwise follow non-devotional norms? If it’s written by a bona fide acarya we simply accept it as siddhanta but we can’t use this argument when talking to atheists of mayavadis. We need to prove that acarya’s opinions are correct and so we need to resort to the same grammar and logic as atheists.

There are also cases when we have disagreements among ourselves, like with Flat Earth theory or female diksha gurus or falldown from Vaikuntha. We all read exactly the same books, have the same respect for our acaryas, and still we can’t agree on our interpretations. What do we do then? Resort to grammar and logic just like the atheists, sadly.

The argument is often put this way – this or that acarya was certainly authorized by Krishna to spread the glory of the holy name but it doesn’t mean he was omniscient and on certain matters he could have made mistakes. Insisting on acaryas being always correct is foolish and go against all evidence. Prabhupada had to be taught how to use the dictaphone, for example, and on the subject of the structure of the universe he sought help from the outsiders or referred people to Bhagavatam instead of clearly explaining it in his own words.

The other side says that treating acaryas as fallible is a great offense and their every word should be taken literally as the Absolute Truth. It’s all confusing and I think it puts us into a wrong framework where we discuss irrelevant things.

The gift of a guru is transcendental realization of the Lord. We are supposed to receive direct spiritual knowledge and free ourselves from shackles of the material nature so why are we still arguing how these things appear to those in spiritual ignorance? Why do we still care for logic and grammar and things being right and wrong?

If we do our job right we should be elevated above such petty arguments. We should not be interested in reliving experiences of conditioned beings and solving their silly right-wrong puzzles just as we are not interested in sorting out who was right and wrong in a kindergarten sandbox fights. That’s all what these debates should be for grown up  devotees – little kids taking themselves way too seriously.

When an adult steps into a kindergarten dispute he would speak the language understandable to kids and appeal to their level of logic but it doesn’t mean he follows their train of thought, he only appears to be talking on their level. He might talk and walk like a duck but he isn’t a duck and neither are devotee commentators on Vedic literature. They speak from the position of knowledge of the Absolute Truth, not from the position of ignorance and using faulty brains to arrive at meanings.



Vanity thought #1601. Speaking with knowledge

There’s one prominent feature in various ex-ISKCON circles – they seem to know everything better than us and they certainly know more than us in other areas of Hinduism. Sometimes, if we are not familiar with the topic and do not have time to research it, they can plant seeds of doubt in our minds. How do we deal with this? Here are some thoughts.

First the problem – we have our books and we constantly discuss their content in our classes but only very few of us can truly be called knowledgeable of the scriptures. Most us know only the conclusions and straightforward explanations as given to us by Prabhupāda or other devotees. The truth is that we never take a “critical” look at our books, we never even admit the possibility that they might be wrong and there could be different interpretations that are at least just as valid.

One can pick up any controversial topic to see examples of this in action. Take female gurus, for example – there are books written in support of it, all with quotes and explanations, both from Prabhupāda and previous ācāryas and even from earlier Vedic literature. It looks pretty convincing and yet it’s all hogwash, we know it but we can’t be bothered even to read that book let alone write a thorough critique of it, and hardly anyone can produce opposing quotes and expose propagandist nature of such publications on the spot. It’s just too much for our little brains.

This, btw, is a known propaganda technique, or a lawyer technique – swamp the opposition with largely irrelevant stuff and force it to wade through tons of garbage. Many would give up and accept your argument just to save their time and energy. I’m not saying that authors of our books did this knowingly, too, I don’t believe they are that cunning but it happens anyway.

When it comes to ex-ISKCON devotees we can take the jīva fall issue where they argue from books most of us never even heard of and give quotes from ācāryas we never knew existed. How can you answer that on the spot? Most of us can’t, but we know it’s hogwash, too.

Even outside these well-discussed topics there’s plenty material for them to challenge us with. It’s not that we don’t know our books at all but they approach them with critical mind and therefore are ready to exploit the possibilities that won’t even occur to us no matter how many times we read. Our reading is different from theirs, it’s all in the attitude.

We read to get association and appreciation of Śrīla Prabhupāda, hoping that some of his devotion eventually rubs off on us, too. The content is a secondary consideration for us, we just want to see the śāstra through his eyes. We know that he gives us the right understanding and that by doubting or questioning him we deprive ourselves of his mercy. No superficial knowledge is worth it, we just can’t read his books in such a mode. They can, and so they see a lot of stuff that we overlook, and overlook intentionally.

They also explore Hinduism at large. We go by what Prabhupāda told us but they read books from other traditions and so claim to know them better than our cookie cut answers. We know Śaṅkarācārya, for example, but we’ve never read any of his works ourselves. They did, and they can also say that Abhinavagupta was just as influential but Prabhupāda never mentioned that name at all. When they throw these things at us we can’t argue with them until we familiarize ourselves with the same sources, and who’s got time for that?

In my limited experience, checking their claims always proves that Prabhupāda was right and they are wrong, without fail, on any topic. Pretty soon I’ll lose all desire to argue with them. Partly because it always ends the same, partly because they never accept their mistakes as a matter of principle. They set out to read those books to prove Prabhupāda wrong, no amount of arguments is going to change that bias, it’s a waste of time.

Still, when they present these challenges in public we can’t just shy away, we need to come up with an adequate response. Adequate for our goals, not necessarily adequate by their standards. As I said, they will fight tooth and nail to prove themselves right, they have their own psychological reasons for it.

What we can easily challenge them back is their understanding of what knowledge is. They don’t have any, not if they continue criticize and diminish ISKCON. When they speak to us and to the public they imply that knowledge is familiarity and understanding of books and teachings and everybody tacitly agrees with this definition but it’s wrong, totally wrong. Here’s how Kṛṣṇa defines knowledge instead (BG 13.8-12):

    Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity; approaching a bona fide spiritual master; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratification; absence of false ego; the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease; detachment; freedom from entanglement with children, wife, home and the rest; even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me; aspiring to live in a solitary place; detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realization; and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth – all these I declare to be knowledge, and besides this whatever there may be is ignorance.

There’s not a word there about knowing stuff, facts, quotes, theories etc. Kṛṣṇa explicitly calls all of that “ignorance”. It is easy to understand why – we are talking about transcendental knowledge arising in the soul and how it manifests itself externally, they are talking about records in their material brains which will get erased with each new birth. All these facts, dates, quotes, names, arguments, all of it will disappear in due course of time. Either Alzheimer’s will get it or death will. It can’t possibly last.

Once we ourselves understand this point about what constitutes knowledge we can easily counter all claims by our opponents as coming from ignorance and done in pursuit of ignorance. They are all irrelevant to the path of the religion. The truth is that ex-ISKCON devotees have given up that path and so they survive on rotting leftovers like jackals or hyenas. Unable to serve guru they serve their pride instead. Unable to extract real, soul nourishing advaya-jñāna they settle on memorizing names and quotes. Unable to follow the path they argue about directions.

All their arguments are basically about coming back to square one, making a different choice, and hoping it would turn out better. That’s all they ever tell us – forget what we know, start from scratch, fill our brains with teachings by assorted scholars, pretend that we figured it out all by ourselves, and make a knowledgeable decision. We are half way through already, why would we ever go back and start all over? Their chosen method does not even remotely look like development of transcendental knowledge, we get that they are attached to it but there’s nothing in it for us to consider seriously.

The argument could be made that their studying falls under “philosophical search for the Absolute Truth” but that’s not what they are doing. Philosophical search would be trying to understand the words of our guru, theirs is mental speculation. They are not trying to understand the truth, they just take whatever pops up in their minds and put a label “tattva” on it. Of course on some very basic level they are searching for the Absolute but it’s not the level we should be interested in, we must be so far past that already. Not in terms of how much we know, I would remind again, but in terms of how much o fwhat Kṛṣṇa put in his definition we try to practice with all our energy. Can they say the same for themselves? No, end of conversation.

Vanity thought #1539. Rascaldom

I occasionally check Hinduism subreddit. Usually these places are overrun by māyāvādīs and devotees appearing there are immediately insulted and chased off but this one maintains a modicum of civility. It doesn’t mean it’s not completely off the chart when it comes to philosophy, though, and it’s this part that is truly scary.

Just on this last visit I saw at least three postings that make me lose hope in humanity. One was made by a devotee, btw. He happens to be a disciple of one ex-ISKCON swami, won’t mention any names but it’s the one whose disciples are into research and making their own minds as they read Vedic literature. Nominally in GM, he himself diverts greatly from them on jīva falldown issue, for example, because he’s read Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa and so has an informed opinion on this (as opposed to “lesser” ācāryas in both GM and ISKCON?).

Anyway, this particular devotee digs up rare books on all sorts of issues, I’m not sure how much he retains but if you want to check on dvaita schools in Kashmiri Śaivism he’s got you covered. This time he asked about vaiṣṇava dvaita, though, and wanted to see their teachings on free will. Speaking for Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism he said that Baladeva took a compatibilist position on this and provided helpful links to Stanford’s overview of philosophy explaining what compatibilism is.

He was immediately corrected because in our tradition we don’t take Western philosophical positions, we don’t have freedom to take any positions other than the ones given by our guru. Being a devotee he agreed, and yet this small episode betrays the dangerous attitude common to all of us.

We still approach our books as wannabe philosophers. We read stuff, try to understand it, and then form the conclusions. If we are lucky these conclusions are in line with Śrīla Prabhupāda but even this luck is limited in its power because these are still OUR conclusions, it’s what WE think Kṛṣṇa consciousness is, it’s a product of OUR minds.

Real knowledge, on the contrary is what Kṛṣṇa REVEALS about Himself. If He hasn’t done so then we don’t have it and whatever we do have is useless, it’s just a concoction of one’s mind with his memories as ingredients and guṇas as a cook.

Kṛṣṇa, however, reveals this knowledge gradually, so sometimes it’s hard to tell our own speculations from realizations provided by Him from within our hearts. I think a sure way not to make this mistake is not speculate in the first place, just accept what Prabhupāda says and try to realize it through service. Of course analyzing guru’s teachings is a service, too, and so next one should see a difference between philosophical and mental speculations and between trying to come to our own conclusions and comprehending conclusions offered by ācāryas.

That’s why our path is not easy even though it’s relatively simple. If only we could surrender unconditionally.., but even that ability is granted by the Lord. Therefore we depend on Him and our guru in all respects – the fact that we often forget.

Two other requests were from non-devotees reading our Bhagavad Gītā As It Is and asking for better translations. What do you say to that? They’ve read Prabhupāda’s books and purports and weren’t impressed. I don’t know if we have a protocol for dealing with this, I thought we should just sigh and move on, some people are hell bent on going to hell, that’s what Kali yuga is for, and we should just let them. Time spent with Prabhupāda’s purports will not go in vain anyway, they’ll be back.

The problem here, however, is that it’s a public forum and so if people start saying that our Gītā sucks everyone else would notice and it would undermine our otherwise spotless authority. Of course hardly anyone would agree that ISKCON is spotless but we maintain that our process is – read the books and bhakti would naturally grow, it works all the time, except when it doesn’t, sadly.

The only solution I see so far is that these people aren’t after God or bhakti, one wanted to read up on the war and the other wanted the text itself, without purports. I think that if we can highlight this point then we can explain why our Gītā didn’t satisfy their interests. Still, the problem remains – our Gītā should satisfy all desires because it gives one Kṛṣṇa Himself.

Obviously, these particular readers didn’t get enough of Kṛṣṇa consciousness to forget whatever they wanted in the beginning, and it’s not supposed to happen. Or, perhaps, atheism is particularly strong in them and they are hell bent on avoiding surrendering to the Lord or accepting Śrīla Prabhupāda as an authority. Perhaps they want to use both Kṛṣṇa and Prabhupāda for their own ends and so it might take a long time before they realize that they might have missed the real treasure in our books.

I mean there’s a lot of people out there who think Bhagavad Gītā is just a collection of words and it’s up to us to construct a meaning from them, not that these words convey existing meaning already. They still think that if they translate the words differently the meaning would change.

Concepts like disciplic succession and guru mean nothing to them, guru is just a teacher, as in “paid service provider”, and these days teachers tell students to question everything, including themselves. So guru is needed to gain the ability to question his authority.

In these people’s view to become a guru one only needs to gain followers, no other qualification is important. It’s not gaining trust from your predecessors but the ability to dupe the ignorants. No wonder that all these gurus must be questioned and rejected in the end – they are frauds.

And so people are left in this self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance and rascaldom. They can’t take to bhakti because of their arrogance and pride and bhakti is the only way out. What can we do? Nothing short of a miracle.

We need to give people actual realization, compared to which all these mental speculations will appear as worthless waste of time. That’s all people will respond to in the end – rasa, the taste of the Absolute Truth, we are all after this ānanda – ānanda mayo ‘bhyāsāt. Can we give it to them ourselves? Obviously not, and if they can’t get it from Prabhupāda then what?

I have a couple of ideas but I don’t want to start a new topic today.

Vanity thought #1538. Evernow

Saw this word on TV, it’s about some video game and I don’t think it means anything special there. For us, however, “evernow” is an interesting concept.

I don’t know much about Buddhism but I like their understanding of reality as illusion. It might not be a correct representation of Buddhism but that doesn’t matter, it works equally well across all platforms. The future is not real because it hasn’t happened yet, the past is not real because it’s already gone, the only reality is the present moment but even our present is made of connections to either the past or the future. We need to strip the present of these connections to appreciate its true value and see it for what it is.

Things we see around us are results of previous activities, they were made some time ago, given color and shape, and they constantly change, even if changes are imperceptible. Whatever we observe is, therefore, not the reality as it is but reality as it was and that reality doesn’t exist anymore. This means that relying on our senses to interact with “reality” is a delusion and nothing exists objectively.

Making plans is illusory, too, because plans are driven by desire to enjoy things that don’t exist yet. We think we can shape the reality in a way that pleases us but that pleasure doesn’t exist yet. It might come out satisfactory or it might be disappointing. Chasing it is not the reality.

The only reality, as I said, is now, our current state stripped of references to the past and projections into the future. I’m sure there’s a lot more to Buddhism explanations of this than that but it’s enough of a starting point for me.

There could be a big discussion whether what we feel now is real or illusory. Buddhists and advaitins would say that feelings are not real, we would say that feelings and their corresponding senses exist but they are not ours, and, furthermore, we also have our own eternal spiritual senses which are waiting to be engaged and experienced in service to Kṛṣṇa. The point where we could agree on is the importance of now.

When under the influence of the mode of passion we direct our consciousness into the future and make plans. Future doesn’t exist yet and when it comes it will happen according to the plans of the Lord, not ours, so hoping to extract pleasure from it is like a lottery. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but we get enough small victories to get hooked up and keep buying tickets. We think that we can become richer that way, that our lives will become fulfilled and that we’ll have enough memories to die in knowing we didn’t live in vain.

It might work – if we ignore the elephant in the room, the death itself, which is like the moment when you get thrown out of the casino. Yes, you might have good times there before that happens and even win something but in the end you always run out of credit and lose. “I’m going to gamble away all my money but I’ll have fun while doing it” is not a particularly clever life plan.

So, making our own plans for something that is going to happen according to somebody else’s will is gambling and it will end the same, in a big loss. That’s for placing our faith in the future.

Dwelling in the past is more of a mode of ignorance thing. It doesn’t lead even to creating future karma and earning future brownies. People in this state only try to relive their past moments again and again. As time passes by their memories fade and then they’d have good memories of the time when their memories were good. “I remember thinking about my wife made me feel warm but now I don’t even remember her name” – that type of thing. These days conversations like this are more likely revolve around “remember that time we got high and …”

People try to replay those old feelings and experiences even though they can’t actually feel them anymore and they can’t get off their asses to do anything about it. That’s dwelling in the past and it’s a very subpar way of enjoying your life even by materialistic standards.

Now is governed by the mode of goodness. One sign of it is knowledge – only people in full knowledge can let go off the past and stop worrying about the future. Why make plans when Kṛṣṇa has already made them? His plans are perfect and they have been put into practice an infinite number of times in the infinite number of universes. Trying to improve on them, which is what materialistic planners are doing, is futile. Even trying to predict them is pointless because things will happen anyway and in their own time and we can’t stop them from happening, nor can we protect ourselves.

That’s what trusting Kṛṣṇa means – we can finally stop planning our own lives and surrender to His superior will. It doesn’t mean that our minds stop working. Universe will keep on rolling and our minds will roll with it. Heart will continue pumping blood, lungs will continue inhaling and exhaling, hair and nails will continue growing. People in full knowledge don’t worry about that.

Kṛṣṇa also has His own cunning way to place us under the illusion any time He wants so that we continue acting out His plans. That won’t be the same kind of illusion that covers ordinary living entities, though, it won’t be controlled by cold karma but administered by Kṛṣṇa Himself, and sometimes He’d do it for His personal enjoyment, too, like He does with devotees in Vṛndāvana. I mean we shouldn’t worry that if we surrender to Kṛṣṇa our lives will suddenly stop. They won’t.

What should happen when we disassociate ourselves from both the past and the future, though? Will we cease to exist, in the Buddhist sense of the word? Maybe, I’ll tell you if it ever happens to me, but for now the best engagement I can think of is chanting the Holy Name.

Most of the time we chant while still thinking of either past or the future, mulling over things we said and done, dreaming up alternative scenarios, role playing future conversations to get ourselves ready, or feverishly exploring new ideas and inventions. All these things distract us from listening and add colors of passion and ignorance to the pristine form of the pure name. We’ll never hear the name as it is as long as we divert our consciousness away like that.

So, we should stop doing it, let it go, drop the plans, stop thinking about revenge and injustice, and simply concentrate on the name. Let the name speak to us instead of us shouting at it with angst or begging it to fulfill our desires. These desires aren’t even ours, they are born out of the false ego and directed by the material modes.

One could say that as eternal souls we can’t stop our desires but our real, spiritual desires will not manifest without the Lord revealing Himself first. We can’t have them without connection to the Lord, without the Lord being present, either personally or in the name, so we must learn to hear the name first and wait until it reveals itself. All desires manifesting before that happened are material and worthless, we should led them go.

Then we can discover the bliss of living in the eternal “evernow”.

Vanity thought #1443. Reading curse

While “researching” that new twist to jiva origin topic I had to read a lot of stuff posted by adherents of no-fall-vāda, and this made me think – what is the actual value of reading in devotional service. Coming off this binge I declare “None whatsoever!”

Maybe I’m being overly dramatic and I’m prepared to modify that statement a little bit, but not its essence. Our ācāryas might have spat on thoughts of sex, I’m far from that realization, but I’m getting close to spitting on thoughts of reading.

What about reading devotional literature? Aren’t we supposed to read one or two hours a day? Important question but my answer to this is simple – it’s not really reading, it’s taking association of Śrīla Prabhupāda through books. It’s not the knowledge and the ideas that we should be seeking when we do our daily “reading” routine, we seek Prabhupāda’s attitude to them, it doesn’t even matter which ideas in particular, any would do.

When reading Prabhupāda’s books we should be perfectly content with going over the same old passages over and over again and it shouldn’t matter if we might come across the same facts and solutions. Intellectually, we might not add anything to our bank of knowledge anymore but spiritually we hope that Prabhupāda’s pure devotional approach might rub off on us, too.

We shouldn’t read to improve our memories, we shouldn’t read to memorize ślokas, we shouldn’t read to improve our self-image of learned scholars, we shouldn’t be proud if we can manage two hours daily, not any more than we should be proud of completing sixteen rounds of japa.

All these things are unavoidable but they are anarthas, we should eventually let them go, they have no value.

What about dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ promise given by Kṛṣṇa (BG 10.10)? Well, what about it? Prabhupāda’s translation and purport make it unambiguous – the knowledge will be given so that one can come back to Him, not for any other purpose, and it will be given, not developed through analyzing reading material.

Whatever we need to know for our devotional progress will be illuminated from within without any efforts to obtain this knowledge on our part. The conditions Kṛṣṇa places are also unambiguous – constantly devoted to serving Me with love. Satisfying our egotistic thirst for knowledge is not “serving with love and devotion”, it will be responded to as any other karmic activity – by further entrapping us in this world and by strengthening our taste for enjoyment, which in this case would come in the form of academic pride, for example.

We’d better hope Kṛṣṇa does not take these attempts seriously and carefully guides us to eventual realization that they are materialistic in nature, just as we hope He does with all our other anarthas.

We can approach this subject from another angle, too – desire to know things is a contamination by jñāna and as such it won’t lead to devotion but to impersonalism, which in our age would probably manifest as dreaded māyāvāda rather then innocence of the Kumāras.

To me it seems like a straighforward argument not opened to interpretations because it goes to the heart of devotional process – it should be jñāna karmādy-anāvṛtam, free from karma and jñāna, can’t get any more basic than that, there are no shortcuts and no ways go around this injunction.

There’s a way to question classifying reading devotional literature or devotional discourse as jñāna, however. Śrīla Prabhupāda translated jñāna in this verse as it appears in Caitanya Caritāmṛita (CC Madhya 19.67) as “knowledge of the philosophy of the monist Māyāvādīs” – I hope none of us ever reads māyāvādī books, so it doesn’t apply. Elsewhere, however, Prabhupāda rendered jñāna in this verse as mental speculations, empirical speculations, speculative knowledge, and even philosophical speculations, which I’m still very found of, I must admit. Checking if our reading material is speculative in nature is very easy.

On the surface the discourse might revolve solely around Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy and all of the participants would strongly disagree if accused of expounding māyāvāda inducing impersonalism, what would I answer to that?

Well, māyāvādīs are also very fond of Kṛṣṇa, we’ve been told, they are not averse to describing His glories and activities, but their attitudes are fundamentally wrong and their glorification only causes pain to the Lord and to pure devotees who happen to hear it. This is an often repeated theme that I don’t need to find supporting quotes for, I hope. What I want to say is that our “devotional” discourses can be exactly the same – overtly about Kṛṣṇa but completely devoid of devotional substance.

Take this passage I had a misfortune to recently read, for example:

    It seems that you believe that Srila Sridhar Maharaj, BVT etc should not be challenged. But if that is so, then you will have to relinquish the claim that Gaudiya Vedanta tradition is scientific. Rather it is dogmatic. Dogmas cannot be challenged, science can be challenged. I acknowledge the great contribution of BVT and Shridhar Maharaj and they are truly heroes. But that dosen’t mean that whatever they said should be cast in stone. If ideas no longer make sense, they should be revised. And the idea proposed by BVT has logical flaws as is being pointed out by many people here, hence it needs to be revised.

The worst part is that this outrageous view wasn’t challenged, unlike all other “misconceptions” pounced on in that community, the person who commented on it actually supported the general thrust of the rest of that posting.

This cavalier attitude to our ācāryas (Śrīla Prabhupāda and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura) is evident from another quote from that community:

    I hope we are not stuck with SP’s interpretation for eternity and reject BVT’s interpretation. Is SP the end of thought? Who knows what SP would have done in today’s time?

When accused of disrespecting Śrīla Prabhupāda the poster defended himself and even his guru didn’t see anything problematic with it:

    My disciples may have any number of opinions, as long as they can support them reasonably with sastra or the writings of previous and present acaryas. None of them disrespect SP.

That’s what māyāvādī do, too – they do not count their attitude towards Kṛṣṇa as offensive, they just don’t see it that way.

Here devotees talk about our ācāryas as mere contributors to our pool of knowledge and put themselves in the pole position to decide what to accept and what to reject. They don’t need no illuminations from within and they reject illuminations from outside, too – guru does not provide spiritual illuminations but only suggestions they are free to reject at will.

With this attitude ANY spiritual illumination becomes closed to them and so all their discourse turns into worst kind of speculations that poisons everything. It will never ever lead to bhakti growing in their hearts, no more than it grows in the hearts of māyāvādīs, and it can externally grow pretty big there, so we shouldn’t be fooled. I mean they might become like mini-Ramakrishnas and impress everyone around them but in the eyes of our ācāryas this kind of “devotion” has no value whatsoever. Why our ācāryas say things like that against apparent evidence of advancement is a whole different topic, however.

Vanity thought #1431. Swing vote 4

Yesterday I talked about obstacles to our surrender caused by excessive material desires. Sometimes, despite having this blessed human form of life, we are just too full of them, like the demigods, and so even when we receive Lord’s mercy we still continue on the same trajectory. It’s a kind of demigod syndrome making human form of life more of a curse than a blessing. It’s not the only problem, of course, so let’s talk more about these unwelcome obstacles.

This demigod syndrome is not related to the demigod level of life per se, ie it’s not only for the rich, but I don’t think it applies to those used to poverty. Poverty is in a class of its own, more on it later. In order to be cursed like a demigod one needs to have a certain level of commitment to good life which can come only through experience, simply dreaming about it is not enough.

Our desires go through several stages as they eventually fructify. First it’s just a thought (that’s what poor people think about money), then we make efforts, then we get first results, then we get the taste, then we can’t have enough of that thing, and that’s when demigod syndrome manifests itself in full. We need to have invested too much to let go and even Kṛṣṇa doesn’t do anything about it but lets our karma run its course out first. Poor people don’t get to that state, they don’t have anything to invest to begin with, but more on it later, as I said.

Another class of unfortunate people are those who learn too much nonsense, or māyayāpahṛta-jñānā, as Kṛṣṇa defined them in Bhagavad Gīta. It might seem that I’m trying to provide a different list from that of Kṛṣṇa (grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons – BG 7.15) but my list is on a different topic. Kṛṣṇa spoke of those who do not surrender, I’m speaking of those who try to but are too limited by their conditioning. People I’m talking about are an addition to Kṛṣṇa’s list. Btw, the very existence of Kṛṣṇa’s list means that not all people are created equal, for some even a human form of life is not a guarantee of the possibility to surrender.

I saw somewhere a claim that 93% of scientists are atheists. If one grows up in such a family or makes a career in science then he would naturally have a great obstacle in exercising his free will. Everything he learns, everyone around him would scream that God does not exists, Kṛṣṇa is only a heart-warming myth, and there could be no such thing as spiritual reality. Trying to surrender under these conditions will go against literally everything one knows.

Doctors are part of the same club, too. They spend too much time studying how human body works to leave any space for the soul. In case someone thinks that if we learn as much about the human body as doctors our faith would also be shaken, the answer would be that they create a self-affirming bubble and filter out any alternative explanations. It’s like if we ask a sociologist to describe our movement he would present a compelling picture explaining every aspect of our lives but he would totally miss the spiritual part of it. We do not perform any miracles and every our action conforms to material laws of nature and so externally it would look like spirituality does not exist but as spirit souls, not sociologists, we have a very different experience of actually living with it. The deities, for example, in sociologist’s view would only be dolls for adults, never the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. Similarly, a doctor would see only the material part of our bodies and it would work according to material laws, and that would convince him that there’s no such thing as a soul. If he tried living as a soul and experiencing the world as a soul he would see bodies very differently, but then he wouldn’t be practicing medicine and wouldn’t be a doctor anymore. Part of being a doctor is denying spirituality and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Being forced in such a situation where one must see himself and the world around him as only matter is going to have an effect on our ability to reject this view and surrender to the Lord instead. As I said, it would go against everything one knows and his mind and intelligence won’t be very receptive to the idea.

On the other side of the spectrum would be an archetypal Vedic brāhmaṇa who might never see an atheist face in his life and never hear materialistic view of the world explained to him at all. His mind and intelligence would have no idea that alternatives to serving the Lord are even possible.

We are somewhere in between these two extremes and so we should try, if the opportunity arises, to structure our lives in such a way as to make the idea of surrendering to the Lord look very natural to our minds. A vaiṣṇava, after all, is a person who rejects everything unfavorable to the service of the Lord, and that means rejecting lifestyle that confuses our minds.

But let me get back to the “swing vote” for a moment. The idea is that our progress through material time does not have a very significant effect on our progress on the spiritual scale. Generally, even if one appears to possess a solid knowledge of spiritual basics, the Bhagavad Gīta, for example, or Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes as any Indian knows them, it doesn’t mean he won’t go through periods of total ignorance. He might be struck by Alzheimer’s, he might become a vegetable and slip into a coma, he will be born again and spend first years of his life in total ignorance, and yet the level of his spiritual realization would remain more or less the same.

It’s not like reading Gīta makes us see Kṛṣṇa any better than a toddler, and if we don’t see Him now we are not going to see Him when we lose all our mental faculties either. Hopefully, our spiritual trajectory is gradually ascending, life after life, but our ability to remember ślokas is only temporary and does not have a big effect on its own so we shouldn’t take it too seriously.

The “swing vote” in this context refers to the few years of our lives when we can really make a difference the way toddlers and senile people can’t. It refers to the peak of our abilities to influence our spiritual position for the better, the time when we can really exercise our free will despite limitations imposed on us by our materially contaminated mind and intelligence. We better not waste it on less productive pursuits, like memorizing ślokas instead of living them in our lives. Memories will be lost, attempts to serve our guru won’t, they will be counted and added to our spiritual balance while parroting Sanskrit verses will be erased.

I’m not saying that learning ślokas is totally useless but it’s not the cramming part of this process that is beneficial, it’s taking them to the heart and trying to act on them that is. One śloka learned this way is better than remembering the entire Gīta. That’s the kind of swing vote opportunity that we shouldn’t miss in our lives – act on our knowledge, not just acquire it for keeps. Our opportunities to act are far fewer than opportunities to learn, we shouldn’t waste them.

Here’s an example to clarify what I mean – Śrīla Prabhupāda had only a few minutes of association of his guru and received only one short instruction from him while he spent decades reading and learning, and yet dedicating his entire life to following that one order, a suggestion even, was far more important then everything else. Many of our devotees have similar experiences with their gurus, too, but even if they haven’t, we all can find one single thing that we can build our lives around, be it preaching or book distribution or Food For Life or chanting or kīrtana or serving the deities, we should hang onto that thing and never forget it, never ever let it go. We should then use it to swing our lives around, hopefully all the way back to Goloka.

Vanity thought #1101. Timeless guidance

Putting us into the material world creates a fundamental problem for Kṛṣṇa – He can’t reach us! We are His counterparts as eternal spirit souls but when we accept temporary material identities He can’t relate to us in the natural way, He has to devise new methods to send us His messages.

It’s not only His problem, of course, we can’t reach Him, too. Even when we ostensibly decide to enlist into His service once again we can’t reach Him right away. The moment of surrender should be the moment our eternal relationship is promptly re-established but it proved to be practically impossible. We need to shake off the illusion first and until that happens we can’t reach Him. Liberation takes a lot longer than we estimate in the beginning, certainly not within this one lifetime, hopefully after death, but we can’t be totally sure either.

It’s not some design fault, of course, and it’s not a problem per se – it’s a process. We need to do our part and Kṛṣṇa does His, eventually the twain shall meet, we gradually cleanse our hearts and convert ourselves back to our true spiritual selves and Kṛṣṇa never runs out of options to contact us either, but He does that indirectly, via the medium of His external energy.

This method of reaching us might not be as fool proof as speaking to us personally but it does the job, and it also continuously tests our commitment as we have to make conscious, voluntary choices to accept His materially manifested messages. If we deal with them inappropriately and disrespectfully it shows to Kṛṣṇa that we are not ready for His own grand entrance yet. “Love me, ḷove my dog” kinda test.

For us it means that there’s persistent mismatch between Kṛṣṇa’s eternal nature and His external manifestations. Deities are not eternal, for example. We haven’t seen much of Deity disappearances yet but we all can observe the process of Deity creation. Hopefully, our Deities will last for our lifetime and so the question of losing the Deity will never arise but we can easily get separated from them – we need to live in close proximity to the temple to have a meaningful relationships with our Deity.

Sometimes temples relocate, sometimes we move to a new house, things happen. We can’t also rule out the possibility of a Aurangazeb like crackdown when our temples get outlawed and destroyed. Russians should always watch out for this, or Ukrainians who had to move our of the war zone. Sometimes there are earthquakes, like in New Zealand a few days ago.

The point is – we can always lose our Deity because we both operate in the material world where nothing is solid and everything is impermanent. We should value the fleeting moments of our association with our Deity, they are irreplaceable.

Another way for the Lord to reach us is śāstra. Traditionally, knowledge has always been the best way to realize God. Even deities are just dolls if we don’t have enough knowledge to treat them as direct manifestation of Godhead. Knowledge, Veda, is what always sets people free.

Knowledge, however, needs material carriers. Only very few realized souls can receive it through their hearts in meditation, the rest of us need to access it with our material senses. This means that knowledge need to be manifested through temporary, material forms. This means that sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not, and it can disappear at any moment.

This happens all the time, albeit mostly on the cosmic scale. Within our limited lifespans nothing major happens to the existing fund of knowledge, it’s not a big deal – we have libraries, we buy our own books, we have digital copies – once it’s there it’s going to be preserved one way or another. If we take a longer view, however, knowledge comes and goes all the time.

I remember some estimate that we have access to only 20% of all revealed scriptures. Maybe this number is wrong but it illustrates the point all the same. On the other hand, we also have a plethora of spurious texts purporting to be this and that and it’s hard to decide which of those we can trust, like Bhaviṣya Purāṇa. We love to quote from it but it was unknown to Six Gosvāmīs, they never referenced it in their writings, I guess it was considered extant at the time.

If we zoom out a little more we can see how Vedic knowledge came under serious threat in the beginning of the Kali yuga and Śrīla Vyāsadeva had to write it all down. It’s easy to imagine entire generations of people not having access to important portions of Vedas until Vyāsadeva’s work was complete.

And Śrīmad Bhāgavatam didn’t come out until the very end, and we know that all Vedic literature before that was dealing with a happy material life, traigunya viśaya veda, as Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna (BG 2.45). What was the point of learning all that if it didn’t lead to devotional service to the Lord? What was the fate of people living in pre-Bhāgavatam time?

We always make a point about Christians who claim there’s no salvation outside of Christ – why would God abandon billions of people who have never had an opportunity to meet a Christian? Not just abandon but condemn to eternity in hell. It just doesn’t make sense.

We, ourselves, have the same problem, however – what was people’s chance before Bhāgavatam was propagated?

Our answer is that we don’t know how exactly but Kṛṣṇa always provides necessary guidance to those who search for Him. Now it might come through Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books bought so many years ago and collecting dust on a bookshelf, we are sure there was a way for Him to reach people back then, too.

OTOH, both Advaita Ācārya and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura lamented the degraded state of human knowledge in their times. Advaita Ācārya tackled the problem in a God-like way – by summoning Kṛṣṇa Himself while Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura translated, wrote and published thousands and thousands of books for the benefit of the general public. Śrīla Prabhupāda did the same for the western audience, too. It’s all very nice, but what about people who died just before Prabhupāda came to America? What about those who died just before Lord Caitanya’s appearance? What about those who died before Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura? What was their chance?

We could say that those ready for spiritual knowledge were born in the appropriate places at appropriate times and those who didn’t have any access were not interested anyway, but that doesn’t quite fit with our narrative about people being saved from ignorance. It means people were destined to be saved the moment they were born, taking away credits from Śrīla Prabhupāda and his followers.

This is where it gets confusing – were we saved by luck or by design? Were we saved by mercy or we earned our right in our previous lives? Our teachings support both premises at the same time, which is fine, I guess, the only danger is minimizing our respect for the efforts of Śrīla Prabhupāda and our gurus.

Perhaps we have to learn to appreciate their mercy regardless of whether we were put in the position to receive it by chance or by lifetimes of accumulating ajñāta sukṛti. I think it would be worth the effort to see and appreciate the glorious spiritual component of our guru instead of tying him up to material circumstances.

Guru and time, btw, is still the subject I haven’t tackled yet even though I meant to a few days ago. Coming soon, I hope.

Vanity thought #879. Dharma kshetre kurukshetre

These are the opening lines of Bhagavad Gita and so in many cases this is what we start our spiritual education from. Soon enough we learn what our dharma is – forget all other duties and surrender to Krishna, the famous sarva dharman parityajya verse at the end of Bhagavad Gita. In between those verses, however, we learn a lot of stuff, too.

We don’t stop learning after sarva dharman parityajya either, in fact we pride ourselves on having access to the well of Vedic knowledge and having answers to all questions about life, universe, and everything, and we laugh at D. Adams’ suggestion of 42.

Once we take to Krishna consciousness we become connected to the Absolute Truth, which is full of knowledge, among other things, so we feel justified in trying to figure out everything everywhere and proffer advice on any subject at any time.

Acquiring spiritual knowledge means asking questions of the spiritual master but we take it a lot further than that. Off the top of my head I can think of three websites dedicated to answering questions from curious public and this ability to explain everything has become the trademark of our pundits. This how we judge gurus, too – they must know everything and they must be able to answer every query.

Is it all justified, though?

There are two potential problem areas here.

First, desire to know stuff is the desire to control the world. Perfect knowledge is the property of the Absolute and if we try to imitate it we are usurping Lord’s powers. We might dress it up in devotional attitudes but if the driving force of our quest is the quest itself – to know and to understand everything, then there’s nothing devotional about it.

Animals have the same aspirations, too, like the cows I mentioned yesterday. We have a saying “curiosity killed the cat”, which means that desire to know stuff is not a symptom of devotion and not an distinguishing feature of religion.

We should be very careful and examine our motives at all times, this kind of subtle contamination is sometimes difficult to spot and even more difficult to eradicate, it forms the essential reason why we ended up in the material world in the first place – to compete with Krishna in power and knowledge.

Another problematic area is our inherent imperfections as conditioned beings. We *think* we figured out everything, with the help of our spiritual master and Srila Prabhupada’s books, but that is just an illusion. Our knowledge is not even a drop in the ocean, it is utterly insignificant and severely limited. There are billions of bacteria living in our bodies, for example, and we don’t know the first thing about them, it just doesn’t enter our minds.

We can say that knowledge about these bacteria is not terribly important and it has no effect on our problem solving skills but we aren’t as clever as we think even in that area.

Dharma kshetre kurukshetre, Bhagavad Gita starts, and Srila Prabhupada explains the background story and reasoning behind Arjuna’s hesitation and Krishna’s answers very clearly, and we think we get it.

This might not be the case.

Mahabharata is a book meant to explain laws of dharma in easy to understand language of stories and case studies and all Indians grow up acculturated on them, it comes practically with mother’s milk. As devotees we also get to know a lot through examples and explanations given by Srila Prabhupada who drew on Mahabharata and related sources himself.

We know that Duryodhana and Kauravas were bad and Pandavas were good and this is how we explain most of what has happened there. We use the same approach with Srimad Bhagavatam stories about Krishna’s life, too, but this is a very simplistic approach.

For those who were there it was never a black and white affair. Half the country was backing Kauravas, for example, and make no mistakes – there were many clever and knowledgeable people in their ranks who knew more about dharma than we can ever hope to learn.

We confidently explain this and that, referring to Vedic scriptures, but Maharaja Yudhishthira said that all those scriptures are inconclusive and so we should follow footsteps of mahajanas rather than our “understanding”. If Yudhishthira himself admitted not being able to figure it out, why do we behave like we already did? This kind of confidence is not very inspiring.

There are similar realizations among non-Vedic scholars, too – that the more you learn the more you realize how little you actually know.

Why did Bhishma deserve to die? Because of being present when Draupadi was dishonored by Duryodhana? But some claim that this didn’t happen in the way it’s depicted in our Srimad Bhagavatam, ie there was no episode with sari or something. We can stick to our version of events, and it’s a wise decision, but it’s not a very knowledgeable one. We just refuse to acknowledge opposing arguments.

Why did Dronacharya end up on the wrong side? I don’t think there’s a single answer there, and once we accept that we’ll have to realize that he possibly did something wrong even when he was behaving like a guru for Arjuna and others, we just don’t know what exactly.

We don’t acknowledge what happened to bodies of both Krishna and Lord Balarama after their departure. Bhagavatam is very clear about this, however (SB 11.31.20):

The wives of Lord Balarāma also entered the fire and embraced His body… And Rukmiṇī and the other wives of Lord Kṛṣṇa — whose hearts were completely absorbed in Him — entered His fire.

Do we ever pause to think what it means when we say that Krishna’s body is completely spiritual and how He, unlike us, is non-different from His body when there was clearly something left behind after His “death” and it was burned and His wives saw it as important enough to step into the fire, too?

We might be able to answer these questions to ourselves but what about our critics and detractors? They won’t buy our tales of devotion, our explanations would appear totally unreasonable to them, so what is the actual value of our confidence in our knowledge?

What will we say to mayavadis who preach the difference between Krishna as Brahman and His appearance in a human form? We only appear clever until we meet a knowledgeable opponent.

Not to say that we are wrong, our acharyas are wrong, Krishna is not God etc but we should be aware of limits of our knowledge and intelligence. Once we do that we’ll look at our debates and discussions in a totally different light and it might not be very flattering.

At the end of the day we should admit that the only thing we truly know about dharma and everything else is that we have to surrender to Krishna, beyond that nothing can be relied upon and everything is illusory, starting with our confidence.

Vanity thought #778. Best problem solving method

The best problem solving method is acquiring Krishna consciousness. It solves sufferings caused by the material nature, of course, but it also solves all disagreements and frictions we might have among ourselves.

Is the soul constitutionally ananda? Get liberated and engaged in Krishna’s service and you will know.

Have we really fallen from Vaikuntha? Get liberated, have a look at your browser history, and you will know.

Have Americans landed on the Moon? Get liberated, stop by the Moon on the way to the spiritual world and check for yourself, maybe interview some of the witnesses of human invasion there.

How is Vedic model of the universe possible? It doesn’t look anything like that from where we are now. Get liberated, have a look for yourself.

What exactly is Jambudvipa and are Americas a part of Bharata Varsha? Get liberated and find out.

Did they really have nuclear weapons and airplanes in Vedic times? Get liberated and have a look at what is available to people in other yugas.

Did Lord Ramachandra really live millions of years ago? Did Hanuman really jump to Lanca? Did he really fly around with a mountain in his hands? Get liberated and maybe take part in the lila yourself, possibly as a monkey soldier, I’m sure there are positions open.

Has Bhagavad Gita been corrupted over the ages or is still exactly the same as was spoken by Krishna? Or do we have a translation from Vedic Sanskrit to classic one? Get liberated, visit the battle of Kurikshetra and listen for yourself.

Actually that last one – does it even matter? English translation by Srila Prabhupada appears to be thousand times more powerful than plain Sanskrit text. So Srila Vyasadeva might have written it down in vernacular Sanskrit, the whole Mahabharata was written down in plain language so that people could learn about dharma without hacking through “real” shastras.

The truth is, unless we become real devotees on the liberated platform we will never fully understand the answers to all these problems. Sometimes we have words of our acharyas to accept as truth but that is not equal to seeing the truth for ourselves and at other times even acharyas didn’t say much.

There must be a very important footnote here – even if we did become liberated and learned all these things it doesn’t automatically follow that we would share answers with the world. Why? Because they would appear utterly insignificant and besides the point. It would be like Dhruva Maharaja calling his desire for the kingdom and happiness “pieces of broken glass” – forget you were ever interested.

Or consider this example – a young man or a woman falls in love and engages in sex for the first time. All young people are curious about sex and how it really works but after experiencing it for themselves they just can’t talk about it in the same way anymore, the experience is too overwhelming to focus on technicalities. Do they know the answers now? Yes, do they care? No, their minds are blown. Do they care to tell all their friends how it went? Hell no.

Another truth is that these are not the right questions to ask, both about the universe and spiritual world or about sex. In our present condition we just can’t believe they would become so unimportant and irrelevant.

And yet another fact is that we can’t find the answers any other way. We won’t find them by studying books or by building abstract models and speculating about them. That might look like a useful exercise for now – to prove how shastras and acharyas are correct, but that is only because we have restless minds that have to be engaged somehow or other. Real knowledge of spiritual truths doesn’t come from books, it only comes from realization, and yesterday’s verse only confirms it once again:

Lord Śiva said: I may know; Śukadeva Gosvāmī, the son of Vyāsadeva, may know; and Vyāsadeva may know or may not know Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. On the whole, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the spotless Purāṇa, can be learned only through devotional service, not by material intelligence, speculative methods or imaginary commentaries.

See, we can’t tackle it by applying our intelligence, trying to figure out how things work by our minds. Even if we comment on the verses, ṭīkayā, which seems like a legitimate activity, we can’t grasp or clarify the meanings unless we talk from the platform of devotion.

I suppose that extends to our Bhagavatam classes, too – we should only be speaking on the basis of devotion, not on the basis of mental processing of events, words or sentences. Once the devotion rises in our hearts, meanings become clear and alive, and all the mental concerns simply disappear like darkness disappears with the sunrise.

I mean really, what we think is important now is like children’s nighttime fear of the monsters. Seems real at the moment but totally dissipates when the morning comes.

So, do not give in to doubts and challenges and do not try to battle the monsters with your toy swords, that’s not going to help much, but instead pray for the sunrise of devotion in your heart, that’s the only way to resolve all our issues.

Vanity thought #738. Value of knowledge

Do we really need it? I grew up in an environment where the more stuff you know the better, and it hasn’t changed in ISKCON either, just the books changed.

And then there’s this prescription in Chaitanya Chariamrita (CC.Madhya.22.118):

One should not partially study many scriptures just to be able to give references and expand explanations

Looking at word for word translation it means exactly what it says, there’s no scope for interpretations. In the purport Srila Prabhupada clarifies how to apply this rule practically – just read four books – Gita, Bhagavatam, Chaitanya Charitamrita, and Nectar of Devotion (as we don’t have an authorized translation of Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu).

It all looks pretty straightforward and doesn’t require any commentary, but it also stresses that we (I) need a whole new approach to acquiring knowledge.

First of all, we’re talking about spiritual knowledge here, which means it has to be realized. Simply knowing stuff, philosophy, verses etc is useless, spiritual knowledge means it happens in the heart, not in the brains. It’s not enough to say to oneself “I got it, I’m not this body”, spiritual knowledge means attaining corresponding level of realization. With a simple “I’m not this body” this means liberation, and “Krishna is God” means establishing direct relations with Him.

To learn that spirit soul is sat-cit-ananda means experiencing yourself as such, with actual ananda, which is available only on the highest stages of bhava.

Obviously, reading as the only means is not going to help much, it has to be done as a service to our guru and this service needs to bear fruit, then we can start talking about “learning”.

Googling for slokas that support this or that argument in a debate is not learning and Lord Chaitanya says it has to be avoided, which means it cultivates ignorance. Who would have thought?

It makes sense, though – winning an argument is not a devotional activity, it’s rather the opposite as it convinces us in our superiority, convinces us that we are in the center of our existence and our knowledge is our power over unruly and ignorant world. Basically, it strengthens our illusion and usurps Krishna’s position.

But what about the description of an uttama adhikari devotee from a few verses earlier (CC.Madhya.22.65)?

One who is expert in logic, argument and the revealed scriptures and who has firm faith in Kṛṣṇa is classified as a topmost devotee. He can deliver the whole world.

What about it? It’s not a shortcut to becoming a maha-bhagavata, as with little perseverance anybody can learn to tackle practically any contentious topic. Rather, a devotee on the topmost platform knows the Absolute Truth and that knowledge cannot be overcome by mind tricks and rhetorical arguments.

In the presence of the Absolute Truth illusion of our fellow conditioned souls does not stand a chance – they can’t deny existence of God, for example, when you an actually see and relate to Him just as they make their ignorant proposition. They can’t see the Lord, you can, and you can see why they cannot experience the Lord and you know exactly how to correct their misunderstanding.

To achieve that level of realization studying the four above mentioned books is enough, there isn’t much left to learn after you practically realize conclusions of Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, and engage in Krishna’s service in accordance with your rasa as taught in Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu.

On the other hand, if we don’t have that level of realization then we need support of many books, we need books by all the previous acharyas, we need Sandarbhas, we need Jaiva Dharma, we need Gaudiya commentaries on Bhagavatam and Vedanta Sutra. We can learn all that stuff, it’s not easy but possible, but this learning alone won’t make us into better devotees and, when push comes to shove, it won’t convince anyone of anything because in the material world there are counterarguments to everything, you just have to dig deep enough.

Look at practical examples – has arguing and displaying superior knowledge ever enabled a political victory? Look at Egypt, for example – can you stop their madness by debates? Can you stop Syrian war? Can you make US Democrats and Republicans work together? Can you convert Tea Party enthusiasts into supporters of Obama? Can you settle the war between fans of Apple and Windows/Android?

Look at anti-ISKCON or anti-GBC sites and blogs – can you show a single example where anyone was able to convince our detractors to change their position? Has anyone ever out-argue a ritvik? It doesn’t happen, and it’s not due to our lack of scriptural support, it’s due to our lack of actual, spiritually realized knowledge.

About a year ago Rochana Prabhu compiled the best ever argument against ritvik-vada, illustrating their misconceptions step by step, both philosophically and how it happened in a real life, yet I haven’t heard of a single converted ritvik yet. This kind of arguments appeals to the brain while the reason for our illusion lies in our hearts. To reach people hearts, people’s souls, we need to be self-realized ourselves, and that is not a result of gathering shastric knowledge, it’s a result of serving guru.

Just as with the example of uttama adhikari – we can’t substitute spiritual realization with superficial knowledge of shastra and great debating skills. We can impress many people that way but we can’t touch anybody’s soul.

So, the process should be like this – service first, then by the mercy of guru and Krishna actual, spiritual knowledge is revealed in our hearts, then we can go out and preach and, as Nectar of Instruction says, can go and make disciples all over the world.