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.

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Vanity thought #1311. Pure devotees

After talking about liberated souls who realize the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth I should say something about devotees, too, otherwise what’s the point? It might also appear that impersonalism or Buddhism are okay because they seem to satisfy our desire for liberation so it is necessary to describe superior situation of a pure devotee next.

When Uddhava asked Kṛṣṇa about the symptoms of conditioned and liberated souls he got what he wanted but Kṛṣṇa also spent most of the chapter talking about His devotees. The pursuit of liberation is incomplete until one directs all his energy to devotional service, and not just incomplete but useless (SB 11.11.18):

    If through meticulous study one becomes expert in reading Vedic literature but makes no endeavor to fix one’s mind on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then one’s endeavor is certainly like that of a man who works very hard to take care of a cow that gives no milk. In other words, the fruit of one’s laborious study of Vedic knowledge will simply be the labor itself. There will be no other tangible result.

Note that it’s a śloka #18 in a 49 verse chapter. All talking about conditioning and liberation is done, from here on it’s all about devotion. If liberation does not lead to devotion than it’s like a caring for a cow that does not give milk. It would be labor for the sake of labor without any other tangible benefits.

From the memory, liberated person is always equipoised and his consciousness is not affected neither by suffering nor pleasure, he has no material desires, doesn’t strive for anything, and spends his life simply observing the rest of his karma working itself out. He also doesn’t care what everybody else thinks or does one way or another. He is free from duality of seeing things as good or bad and always detached. Okay, that about covers it.

Kṛṣṇa says a lot more about devotees and offers a list of twenty eight qualities (SB 11.11.29-32):

    ..a saintly person is merciful and never injures others. Even if others are aggressive he is tolerant and forgiving toward all living entities. His strength and meaning in life come from the truth itself, he is free from all envy and jealousy, and his mind is equal in material happiness and distress. Thus, he dedicates his time to work for the welfare of all others. His intelligence is never bewildered by material desires, and he has controlled his senses. His behavior is always pleasing, never harsh and always exemplary, and he is free from possessiveness. He never endeavors in ordinary, worldly activities, and he strictly controls his eating. He therefore always remains peaceful and steady. A saintly person is thoughtful and accepts Me as his only shelter. Such a person is very cautious in the execution of his duties and is never subject to superficial transformations, because he is steady and noble, even in a distressing situation. He has conquered over the six material qualities — namely hunger, thirst, lamentation, illusion, old age and death. He is free from all desire for prestige and offers honor to others. He is expert in reviving the Kṛṣṇa consciousness of others and therefore never cheats anyone. Rather, he is a well-wishing friend to all, being most merciful. Such a saintly person must be considered the most learned of men. He perfectly understands that the ordinary religious duties prescribed by Me in various Vedic scriptures possess favorable qualities that purify the performer, and he knows that neglect of such duties constitutes a discrepancy in one’s life. Having taken complete shelter at My lotus feet, however, a saintly person ultimately renounces such ordinary religious duties and worships Me alone. He is thus considered to be the best among all living entities.

The purport goes over the list in some detail, too. Note that Kṛṣṇa here doesn’t say anything about devotional service itself, all these qualities are “objective” and visible even to those without a clue about transcendental relationship between the devotee and the Lord. Later on Kṛṣṇa describes various aṅgas but doesn’t say anything about rasas or the bliss that executing them brings both to the Lord and to the devotee. He doesn’t say anything about things like taste at all.

Anyway, the list is long and there are many interesting things there to discuss. Let’s see what comes to mind first.

A saintly person never injures others. Hmm, and yet there was Arjuna. How can we reconcile this? One way would be to talk about what “injure” means. We immediately assume that it relates to inflicting damage to someone’s body but what if a devotee sees only damage to one’s relationship with Kṛṣṇa and ignores everything else? That’s the only thing that ultimately matters. Or we could say that Kṛṣṇa was speaking about the kind of renunciates that Arjuna wanted to become in the beginning of the Gīta but acting on personal orders of the Lord is better than that.

Then there are some qualities common with non-devotional liberation – freedom from envy and jealousy, which is on the list of Buddhist perfections, too, btw, seeing equally happiness and distress, but then Kṛṣṇa says, according to translation, it leads to work for the welfare of others.

Can we read it as “devotee doesn’t care about personal experience of duality but strives to promote only good things in the lives of others”? I don’t think so, it doesn’t make any sense. Why would he promote appreciation for good things if he doesn’t have it himself, strives to purge remaining traces of it from his own life, and sees it as a cause of suffering? There goes the material concept of compassion – a devotee doesn’t have it. Welfare of others is not material but spiritual welfare – devotees preach, not primp. I wish Kṛṣṇa elucidated the difference but he didn’t. The purport, however, makes it clear:

    Foolish persons under the influence of false egotism, considering themselves to be the ultimate well-wishers of others, execute superficial materialistic activities rather than attending to the eternal happiness of others.

Perhaps Kṛṣṇa didn’t see the need to explain this because of the particular word He used – sarvopakāraka, which is parāpakara, supreme benefit of others, preceded by sarva, everyone. In our tradition parāpakara means bringing people to Kṛṣṇa and engaging them in service, there’s nothing better than that. Para means ultimate, it can’t be just giving people food or fixing their medical problems.

“Foolish persons under the influence of false egotism, considering themselves to be the ultimate well-wishers of others” is a pretty damning verdict. People who fall for this are not only foolish but they also imitate Kṛṣṇa, specifically His position as a well-wisher of every living being.

This quality also nicely complements the first one on the list – kṛpālu, which is literally compassion. Here’s an example how this kṛpālu/compassion is used elsewhere in Bhāgavatam (SB 4.25.3):

    the great saint Nārada, master and teacher of all spiritual life, became very compassionate upon the King and decided to instruct him about spiritual life.

There are other uses, too, however. Take one from the story of King Citraketu – Aṅgira Ṛṣi, out of compassion, granted him a son. Material compassion, right? Yet the son was pretty soon poisoned by envious wives, King Citraketu was inconsolable, and that’s when Aṅgira Ṛṣi and Nārada Muni gave him spiritual instructions he wasn’t very interested in when he asked for the mercy initially. Four Kumāras, who cursed Jaya and Vijaya to be born in the material world, are also described as compassionate – because they assured Jaya and Vijaya that they would return to Vaikuṇṭha after only three birhts.

Most often, however, kṛpālu is used to describe Lord Caitanya and there was not even a tinge of material compassion in His person, we all know that. His compassion means granting bhakti and nothing less.

I think it’s enough for today, will continue next time.

Vanity thought #1310. Proof of concept cont’d

Continuing from yesterday – is it possible to prove that non-empiric reality exists? It might not be possible to prove it empirically but I only need a proof of concept for now. Let the atheists agree to the strong possibility that it exists and that there are methods of attaining it. It all has to be done on the examples of impersonalists because we can’t bring God into the picture, so vaiṣṇavism is out.

So far I enlisted help of Buddhists here in favor of advaitins for a number of practical reasons. The downside of using them is that I don’t know much about Buddhist doctrine and so can only loosely translate it into ours or into language accessible to the atheists. I don’t think it’s a big problem, though – we need to find a cross-cultural language anyway if we want to talk to people outside of our tradition.

The next step is this. Let’s say Buddhists achieve their nirvana, is it possible to prove that it is real? The main problem is that it is still a transcendental state that cannot be registered empirically so atheists would never be fully satisfied no matter what. Next best thing is to show connection between transcendental and empirical reality, the one that has always been there in our tradition but got lost as influence of Kali Yuga got stronger. There are external symptoms of a person who has achieved liberation and they must be uniform across all religious traditions.

At this point I must admit I can’t just recite a verse enumerating them one by one. There are several ślokas in Bhagavad Gīta that would fit, and there’s a whole chapter in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.11), so let’s start from there, these verses repeat what had been said in Bhagavad Gīta anyway.

It’s part of a conversation between Kṛṣṇa and Uddhava appropriately called Uddhava Gīta. Kṛṣṇa answers Uddhava’s questions and this chapter answers the one that I’m looking for (SB 11.10.37):

    Please explain to me the symptoms by which one can tell the difference between a living entity who is eternally liberated and one who is eternally conditioned. In what various ways would they remain situated, enjoy life, eat, evacuate, lie down, sit or move about?

Note how the last sentence repeats Arjuna’s question (BG 2.54) almost word for word. In fact, Kṛṣṇa’s answers are also very similar. Come to think of it, Bhagavad Gīta’s version is even better and more to the point. Uddhava Gīta, otoh, has a bit more verses and a few more details. We, as devotees, need to remember, though, that liberation is only a preliminary stage and Kṛṣṇa spends half of the chapter describing what one should do AFTER he has become liberated, how one absolutely must engage in devotional service.

In both cases, first symptom is that liberated soul gives up all material desires. He simply observes interactions between his senses and their objects but takes no interest in them.

Afaik, that’s very similar to Buddhism – those who have attained nirvana still need to live out their karma first. That’s the stage we can use as practical examples. I believe there plenty of Buddhist monks who have visibly extinguished their material desires. The problem with them is that they also withdraw themselves from the world and those desires would come back as strong as ever if they were placed in our situation, in the midst of the civilization.

Atheists can certainly pick up on that and answering them is not going to be easy. A liberated person performs all kinds of ordinary activities but he does not see himself as a doer and he does not engage in actions because he wants something. I don’t know how we can demonstrate that, it’s just something one must experience himself. Even seeing a liberated person with one’s own eyes might not be enough because people ascribe all kinds of motivations to others and get them wrong all the time. “He does this but he doesn’t really want to” is not a kind of explanation that will go down easily.

Another symptom of a liberated soul is that he is exceptionally tolerant and undisturbed by hunger or pain, nor does he react to pleasure or worship (SB 11.11.15):

    Sometimes for no apparent reason one’s body is attacked by cruel people or violent animals. At other times and in other places, one will suddenly be offered great respect or worship. One who becomes neither angry when attacked nor satisfied when worshiped is actually intelligent.

I think even fully liberated persons would visibly react when attacked by vicious animals, these are bodily reactions done on a subconscious level, no one can stop them, but a liberated person’s consciousness won’t be affected. He won’t become angry or protective, he won’t desire revenge, he won’t ask for help either.

Problem is, it’s hard to find examples of such behavior and it can be explained differently, too. Drugs make people feel impervious to pain, or extreme fear, or excitement. The key here is mental equilibrium which is not present in all these other cases, and to notice that one must observe the person very closely.

One more important symptom of a liberated soul is that he doesn’t judge things as good or bad and sees everyone equally. We always pass judgments on things that happen to us and we always pass judgments on people. Sages don’t. They are not outraged by injustice and they do not celebrate correcting it either. They have no morals, practically speaking. They refuse to condemn and they do not offer praise.

It makes sense to us but I’m not sure if atheists would be as agreeable. Morals are important to them, justice is important to them, I don’t think they expect a spiritual person to be indifferent.

Perhaps that could be played to our advantage, though – if we show this as evolution of consciousness rather than people being sociopaths from birth. For an ordinary man outrage over rape of a little girl is unavoidable, for a liberated person it’s nothing to be worried about, it’s just karma, same thing for everyone, the differences are relative.

I don’t see atheists accepting this attitude, though, it’s just cold blooded and heartless and won’t attract anyone. I wouldn’t personally mention it unless I’m absolutely sure the person on the other end is capable of understanding it.

Taken one by one, none of the above arguments would appear to be conclusive, but taken as a sum and coupled with unmistakable absence of personal desires and aspirations we might just establish a foothold.

The next step is crucial, everything depends on it – a liberated person must inspire trust in his words. If he says that the world is an illusion and there’s a higher reality then we must believe him even if we can’t share the vision ourselves. It’s at this point that possible misinterpretations of the earlier symptoms should not get in the way of establishing credibility.

Imagine a dude living in the mountains, eating and sleeping very little, undisturbed by the weather and lack of comfort, equipoised in all circumstances and without any personal desires and aspirations. Why would he lie? Why would he lie to you and why would he lie to himself?

It should be clear that he is not performing austerities in order to achieve something and then he’ll stop. It should be clear that it’s how he prefers to live his life, day in and day out, year after year, decade after decade, and he would never initiate any changes himself.

If we can demonstrate that then we might have a shot. It all depends on establishing credibility, and that’s a major point going for Buddhists because Indian gurus have very little.

Maybe I should give it a try on some public forum, see how it goes.

PS. Forgot to insert sense control somewhere there but it’s such an obvious point we should not need a special reminder.

Vanity thought #897. Astucious atheists

Just who are these atheists we keep hearing about so much? There’s a tricky logical proposition that disproves their very existence and it’s deceptively simple:

“There are no atheists because to be an atheist one first has to have conception of God, and if he has conception of God then he is not an atheist.”

It’s like there’s no meaning to Antichrist without Christ, no anti-communism without existence of communism and so on, down to “no darkness without existence of light”, because darkness means absence of light and so you can’t define it if light didn’t exist at all.

Atheists are not having this, of course, and they enthusiastically attack this logic from each and every angle, convincing themselves of easy victory but, to my knowledge, there are no easy answers to this problem.

One easy refutation goes like this – I have a concept of unicorns but that doesn’t prove they exist, so I might have a concept of God but it doesn’t mean God exist, and so I can remain an atheist. This can be modified to disprove existence of Santa Claus, tooth fairies, and Pokemons, too.

Problem with this explanation is that it assumes that concept of God and concept of unicorns are interchangeable in this construction but they aren’t. To be fair, however, to atheists they are, they think they are both imaginary and so if you can think up something in your mind, like God or a unicorn, it doesn’t make it exist in reality.

This seems solid but even that logic can be challenged, and it has been challenged, by so called “ontological argument” that seeks to prove, using definitions of God, that if you can think of Him in your mind that He must exist for real. There are many variations of this argument but the basic logic goes something like this:

That which exist in reality is greater than that which exists only in the mind and so if God is greater than everything than He is greater than what we can possibly imagine and He can top our imagination only by being real, and we can’t top that in return.

Modern atheist think that this kind of logic is easy to defeat but it puzzled greatest thinkers for hundreds and hundreds of years and big names like Descartes or Leibniz elaborated and solidified it. It wasn’t until Kant that ontological argument has been defeated conclusively, but, interestingly, only within Kant’s own elaborate framework. If you don’t accept it, ontological argument still stands.

There has been no philosophical movement on it since Kant and propagandists like Dawkins simply do not engage with it, preferring to reject it out of hand instead.

So, it is possible to argue that God exists simply because you can have a concept of Him in your mind but ontological argument is not the only way to puzzle atheists here.

Concept of God does not have to be imaginary at all. We can think up unicorns or any other weird creature and so we can imagine God sitting in the clouds and casting bolts of lightning but we don’t have to. In Vedic philosophy no imagination is required at all.

We define God as the cause of all causes, for example, which is not an imaginary concept. Good luck trying to prove that cause of all causes does not exist and if it does – there’s your God.

I guess one could argue that cause of all causes does not exist just like there is no such thing as the smallest number, because you can always divide it by 2 and get something even smaller. Likewise there is no such thing as the greatest number because you can always add 1 and get something greater.

Yet we do have concepts of infinity and if infinity exists so should things like “cause of all causes”.

Or we can define God as absolutely independent being, which is a similar quality to “cause of all causes”. What it practically means is that God is not obliged to follow laws of nature and therefore His existence cannot be proven, because “proof” for us means getting response from the object, be it light reflected of its surface or quarks generated from its bombardment with other particles. Absolutely independent entity is not obliged to react to anything and so it’s impossible to prove its existence in conventional way.

Alternatively, we define God as being inconceivable and beyond perception, which is a direct consequence of being the cause of all causes or being absolutely independent. This, of course, makes people like Dawkins into fools because when they ask for proof of God they don’t even notice that anything that can be “proven” in the way acceptable to them can’t be God by definition. Usually they travel around and agitate ex-Christians but I wonder how they’d do against Islamic scholars whose concept of God is very similar in this regard – Allah can’t be felt, seen or perceived so what Dawkins is asking for is nonsense.

So, this is one feature of atheism – they imagine their own concept of God and then vigorously try to prove that it doesn’t exist. In this sense they aren’t really atheists, just fools, and so the original puzzle still stands.

Another way to explain it is to point out that atheists only reject God’s authority over their own lives, which they can do, but they can’t prove God’s non-existence to the believers nor can they deny God’s authority over those who surrender to Him. In this sense atheism doesn’t exist either just as darkness does not exist on itself, it’s just a localized absence of light. So what atheists actually say is that in their locality God does not manifest Himself but by saying so they admit that He exists elsewhere.

Well, we shouldn’t get fooled by their arguments, they appear clever only on the surface and being atheists is their God given right so we can leave them practice it to their hearts’ content.

As for ourselves – we should build realistic understanding of the Absolute Truth, not something that we imagine in our minds. It’s a bit difficult because we’ve been given so much information about Krishna’s personal qualities and we can easily imagine Him walking in Vrindavana and playing games with His friends but actual realization of this reality must go through the generic stages – liberation, Brahman, and then Bhagavan.

I mean liberation is not just a word we throw around, absolutely meaningless to our lives because, as we’ve been told, devotees are liberated already and mokṣa herself waits to serve us with folded hands but we aren’t devotees yet, just trying, and to attain that status we need to reach actual liberation first.

So, even if all of the above sounds like pseudo-intellectual mambo jumbo, which it probably is, we still can contemplate building our relationship with the “cause of all causes”, īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ.

Best way, as they say, is to listen to the sound of His name.

Vanity thought #803. Unplugged

The term has become popular some thirty years ago when UK musicians started performing their hits on acoustic instruments for the public. The idea was to hear the songs as they are, without the help of amplifiers, reverberators, and all the gadgetry like the latest scourge of youtube – autotune. Use of electronics was believed to cover and obscure the original, pure, raw talent.

In the Internet era unplugged refers to disconnecting yourself from the digital universe, a sort of digital detox. Latest joke is about living through a blackout: “Internet was down, mobile run out of battery, had to talk to the family for a while – they seem like nice people.”

As devotees we should be totally unplugged from the society in all its aspects. Why? For one thing Krishna’s instruction is sarva dharman parityajya, and it’s not only about religions, dharma means so much more. Everything you feel you are obliged to do because of your position or your nature is your dharma, and you have to give it all up.

Another point is sarvopadhi vinirmuktam – devotional service must be free from all kinds of material designations. Whatever you think of yourself in relation to the society – get rid of it.

It’s not as simple as it sounds. Humans are social animals, we need other people around us for all kinds of support and this association provides comfort and safety to our existence while we are in the conditioned stage. Just making a list of all such support might take days, weeks, or even months as we discover more and more about ourselves.

A while ago I mentioned spotting feeling of anticipation when I pop some food into a microwave. Here is a device made by other people that makes my life so much easier, I feel comforted by their help and that makes me indebted to the society that looks after me so well. Give it up.

Today is Monday, everyone has the right to make a gloomy Monday jokes and everyone who works for a living would appreciate it. Well, don’t, as devotees we shouldn’t feel anything special about Mondays. Neither we can share the joy of TGIF. No matter how much we want to share these feelings, they are upadhis – external designations. We can’t hope to attain bhakti if we still wait for the weekend when we can unwind like everybody else.

I’m not even sure about Sunday feasts, all devotees come to love them dearly and wait for them just as 9-5 slaves wait for their brunches or something. Srila Prabhupada instituted this custom for the benefits of our guests and as a tribute to our conditioned nature but we can’t hang on to it if we ever hope to attain devotion.

Speaking of unwinding – we don’t get to come home in the evening, collapse on the sofa and take comfort in feeling of freedom and opportunity to relax. We don’t get to relax, ever, service to Krishna must be uninterrupted – nityam bhagavata sevaya. For everyone else this down time is well deserved and everyone expects us to appreciate it just like them but we are not part of this society, we don’t share in it.

If we work for a living everyone would assume that we deserve rest just like them but we don’t and we should banish the idea that we deserve anything from our minds forever. This is even more prominent on paydays – we are given money just like everybody else and this money is assumed to be ours to spend for our own pleasure, or at least the part of it not confiscated by our wives. As devotees we should never see any money as ours, we cannot allow ourselves to be tricked into the illusion of having power and opportunity to enjoy material nature.

Try to excuse yourself from having that feeling and see how difficult it is. Impossible would be a better word.

Somehow or other we always have at least some money just like we always have at least some food and so when we walk into a shopping mall we naturally assume the position of a shopper. Everything and everybody we see treats us like that and everybody reassures us that spending money and getting served is our purpose in life. No, that’s one of those dharmas we are supposed to give up. We cannot allow ourselves to become shoppers if we want to be devotees.

Or imagine driving or walking down a dark street and you see a collection of lights up ahead. People are there, there are shops, restaurants, cafes – there are people and, contrasting with the darkness around us it looks and sounds very enticing. Forget it, we are not part of that crowd even if we look like one of them – two legs, two arms, mouth to stuff. We cannot allow ourselves to be attracted by community of sense enjoyers.

Or take driving itself – as soon as we sit behind the wheel we assume identity of a driver, a responsible member of a driving community who follows all the rules and avoids causing problems to anyone. It’s like taking on a new body, it’s a particularly dense concentration of upadhis. Of course we can’t drive anywhere we like, off road or through traffic lights, but why can’t we? It’s one of those dharmas that need to be abandoned for the sake of Krishna’s service, too.

Here’s the tricky part, though – even if we are asked to abandon our dharmas we are also told to follow them to the best of our abilities. We still have to spend our money and eat our feasts and we still have to drive on the right side of the road, which could be left, depending on the country, but at no time we should allow to identify ourselves with any of those designations and we should never accept rewards for our compliance as ours.

We cannot allow ourselves to think “I deserved this” or “I deserved that” even if the whole society insists that we do so. We should completely unplug ourselves from them like sociopaths who can’t physically feel any empathy, which doesn’t stop them from appearing totally normal because they are very adept at faking human emotions.

This what sarva dharman parityajya also means – don’t take anything here personally, don’t cry for baby seals, don’t get swayed by pain and suffering caused by material nature, don’t get attracted by joy and happiness either. Charity and outwardly compassion are domains of impersonalists who don’t want to find relationships with the Lord and so try to fix the material world instead.

It’s unfixable and it doesn’t need fixing, we should not confuse liberation with creature comforts and once we achieve liberation we should strive to bring other people into Krishna’s service, not try to tell Maya Devi how to do her service. She can manage very well without our advice, thank you very much.

But first we need to do is to unplug ourselves, we don’t get to help a lot of people by staying materially conditioned forever.

Vanity thought #770. Indifference

I’m afraid this is the first symptom of liberation and it’s also the one that is very hard to deal with.

Are we supposed to be indifferent? No one would object to being indifferent to our own pain or pleasure but if we become indifferent to suffering of others there will be no kind words for us ever.

G.B. Show called it the essence of inhumanity:

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity

Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel similarly called indifference evil:

Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.

You get the drift.

Not all is lost, however, as French poet Anatole France said:

I prefer the folly of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom.

That’s a very helpful observation – linking indifference with wisdom. We want that kind exactly, not the kind that is born of self-absorption where you don’t care because you don’t notice that there’s a problem.

Indifference born of wisdom means you do know there’s a problem and you do know there are solutions but the solutions might not be very obvious to a casual observer who doesn’t know neither the root of the problem nor the correct medicine.

People who achieve preliminary stages of self-realization, where they are driven mostly by the mode of goodness and where they realize that they are bigger than their bodies, can’t help but feel for the world and try to do good in it. According to their level of realization they identify themselves not with their physical bodies but with their society or even humanity as a whole. Some would then try to convert the rest of the world to democracy or Christianity or Islam, others would concentrate on building wells and delivering medicine.

Their rationalization is very simple – I felt pain myself, then I grew up spiritually and overcame it, then I noticed that other people are still suffering, and now I feel bad for them and feel compelled to help.

It’s at this stage that they say “indifference is inhuman”, for they imagine themselves to be top human beings ever, as we all do from time to time.

It’s hard to argue with them about futility of their endeavors because that’s the maximum they can comprehend on their level of spiritual realization. They simply can’t take more until they accept that spirit and matter are fundamentally different and fixing material side of things does not address actual problems with humanity.

We shouldn’t be bedazzled by their dedication to the welfare of others. They might seem like great philanthropists now but in Vedic times it was a duty of all higher varnas without exception, nothing to be proud of, just doing your job.

Indifference that comes from progressing towards liberation is of a different nature altogether. Not just that it comes from wisdom but it also signify taking a different turn at the biggest fork on the path of every human life ever – becoming a servant of God instead of ourselves.

Philanthropists still view the world as the object of their enjoyment and their gift giving is nothing but sharing the spoils. They do not accept that everything in this world belongs to God and is meant for His pleasure, not ours. Despite being such exemplary human specimen they still live on the platform of animals – the world is mine, I’m the enjoyer, and the goal of life is to make me feel good.

Well, they feel good by feeding others, that’s all the difference.

As devotees we completely abandon their attitude and that’s what worries them – they need a validation that their path is the correct one but we ignore it wish such indifference it drives them nuts. They want us to confirm that enjoyment is still the most important goal ever. When they don’t get this from us they declare us dead to their world. It’s easier for them to ignore our existence than to let a suspicion that serving God is better than serving themselves creep into their little lives. It would completely ruin their illusion, wouldn’t it?

So I kind of agree with this other quote from Elie Wiesel:

Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.

So true, but not in the way Wiesel intended – we die to the world he wants to live in.

Even Paul of the Gospels said something similar:

The world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world

But what about suffering? Can’t we feel it? Doesn’t it make our hearts twist with pain, like ordinary people? Of course it does, only our reactions are different – we see the root of this suffering and we want to treat that instead. Shouldn’t we worry about immediate symptoms, too? We do but only to the degree it helps removing the underlying cause and doesn’t interfere with the main treatment.

We also understand the value of tolerance, often times people exaggerate their pain an we shouldn’t go alone with their hypocrisy.

Bottom line, though – we should have faith in Krishna, that He won’t let those who depend on Him down, that He would always come to help when pain becomes truly unbearable and detrimental to their spiritual progress.

That is the corner stone of our philosophy – that by surrendering to Krishna all problems will be resolved and people will become truly happy.

It might take a while to build faith in this statement for ourselves and that’s why the best preaching for us is to let people hear it from Srila Prabhupada through our books.

We can’t promise people that Krishna will take care of them ourselves, we aren’t qualified to make such promises and so we should always defer to our guru, no matter how advanced we might appear to be.

That leaves us in constant prayers to the Lord as the best way to alleviate others’ suffering.

Let the Lord, by the mercy of the guru, hear our pleas and wake those other living beings to His service and accept their efforts, and that would finally cure them of all their diseases.

We aren’t being indifferent, we are just going about sufferings the correct way – through guru and Krishna.

Vanity thought #768. Liberation expectations

No matter what we say in public prayers and even what we say to ourselves in private, the embodied living entity is forced to desire sense gratification and, realizing futility of those endeavors, it cherishes hopes for liberation.

As devotees we’ve been taught not to value mukti very highly, if at all, but at this stage liberation is just a word, we have no idea what is it that we swear having no attraction to.

If we look at our lives honestly, however, we’d notice that we wish for mukti just as often as we wish for bhukti, we are just aren’t always aware of it.

We don’t think twice about taking medicine, for example, or withdrawing our hand from hot objects like pans and pots. If we talk business or marriage we naturally assume that it has to be set as profitable or happy. If something goes wrong we don’t think twice about fixing things, it would be weird not to.

These assumptions, however, are based entirely on the desire for liberation, which for us means liberation from suffering.

That’s how we see it in the future, too – that, as we progress towards liberation, we will experience steady cessation of suffering until it goes away completely. Alternatively, we think that being liberated means having freedom to do whatever we want without any painful consequences.

We have Bhagavad Gita to back it up, after all. Actions performed in Krishna consciousness do not bear fruits, and also Krishna promised to take care of all our sinful reactions, ma suchaha.

Thinking this through, however, would lead us to absurd conclusions that our bodies will stop aching and our hands will not burn when holding hot objects. That is obviously not going to happen. What will?

If, while doing a pujari service, your arm gets tired of waving a massive ghee lamp – what do you do?

Do you clench your jaws and continue through pain? Do you pray for Krishna to give you strength because His service is not supposed to be this painful? Do you hit the gym and start lifting weights to be ready next time?

None of those actions befit a liberated person and it that what worries you than you are obviously not there yet.

Liberation does not stop suffering. It stops associating oneself with it.

If your marriage is falling apart and you can’t stand the voice of your beloved wife – what would a liberated person feel? Exactly the same things, but he wouldn’t take them personally. These same reactions would manifest themselves in his mind, expect he wouldn’t see it as his mind anymore.

I guess we can imagine how it would work if we reflect upon less deep examples. We get liberated from various sufferings all the time, just not so close to “home”. Thanks to the interconnected world it’s very easy to put yourself in a middle of some injustice of universal proportions, like famine in Sudan or NASDAC outage in New York. We have twitter to bring all those gruesome events to the forefront of our consciousness.

Then, two days later, we forget all about it and though we know we could elicit the same emotions again if we start reading up on the news, we also know that if we just ignore it we would save ourselves a lot of aggravation. There it is – we’ve become liberated.

Divorce and moving on is a similar experience – we know that if we return to our exes we can easily relive all our suffering, it’s still there, but now we’ve managed to set ourselves free and don’t care anymore.

There are a lot of situations where we either consciously choose not put ourselves in to avoid emotional upheavals, or we choose to forget and purge from memory. That is liberation of sorts, and maybe that’s why we have a phrase “liberating experience”.

Most of these things are far removed from our core bondage to our bodies but the principle is the same. Liberation also comes in stages, from giving up identification with larger societies, then families, then gross bodies, then mind and intelligence and so on.

I, for example, can’t find any resonance with patriotism speeches on TV – my false ego does not spread that far anymore, it doesn’t cover the entire country. If I sat and listened to those speeches carefully and thought about the prosperity of my country and the debts I owe it, it might start worrying me again. Actually, it would sure start worrying me again, but atm I choose not to let myself to be bound by such designations and I am glad they are not forced on me against my will.

So I hope that one day I would similarly withdraw myself from my gross bodily and mental platforms as well. It won’t stop my mind from working and my body from digesting food but I wouldn’t take it personally anymore and would turn into a simple observer, just as I do with country’s politics right now.

I hope I would be dispassionate about it – if my mind does this, it would lead to pleasure, if it does that, it would lead to pain, if it does the other thing it would bring good results in the future, and yet another course of actions would save me from highly probably accidents, but I don’t care, let it choose whatever it wants.

More importantly, I hope I wouldn’t equally care whether my mind screams in pain or dies of embarrassment. That would be really liberating.

Vanity thought #442. Renouncing liberation

Usually we have no problem with renouncing liberation and praying only for devotion to the Lord. We know very well that liberation is not worth bothering, that it is automatically included in the “welcome” bag for every devotee already.

We also know that liberation is the greatest enemy of bhakti (I mean impersonal kinds of liberation here). Why would anyone pray for liberation? Why would anyone desire liberation? Why would anyone pay any attention to liberation?

Well, this is in theory, in practice, however, we might seriously underestimate our core motivations. We might not acknowledge them but Krishna, or Paramatma within our hearts, can see them very clearly.

One could easily test his desire for liberation by remembering or even imagining himself in a difficult situation. We don’t feel we need liberation when life is comfortable, bellies are full of food and internet is fast, but what if we get struck by a terrible, painful disease?

If we are lucky we might go into a shock and lose consciousness, but what if pain is never strong enough for automatic body shutdown and we get to vividly experience every shade of torture? Can anyone say that he would be completely uninterested in the offered painkillers? Because that what liberation would look like to a sick person.

What if we were stranded in a desert and run out of water? We can survive a day or two, maybe less if it gets very very hot, and just when we are about to give up struggle to survive someone offers us cool shade and a bottle of water – will we be in a position to have absolutely no interest in taking it?

Most likely we will grab at this offer of liberation with both hands and will never let go.

To fully renounce liberation we have to develop extraordinary levels of tolerance, taror iva sahishnuna, like a withering tree about to be cut down but still offering shade and whatever remaining fruit is there to its own murderer.

Actually, we might need to be a lot more tolerant than a tree because we don’t know how the tree feels, we can only observe how it acts. Maybe the tree is agonizing beyond relief inside but has no power to protest externally. That consciousness won’t get us anywhere, we should fully embrace our fate if we are to request the gift of devotion and chanting of the Holy Name.

We should be really indifferent to whatever levels of pain and pleasure material nature throws at us. On that note – I believe there’s no limit of pain the material illusion can inflict on us. Which leads me to the next step – it’s impossible to achieve this stage by our own efforts.

We might learn to tolerate moderate amounts of pain, we might learn to tolerate occasional insults thrown at us in the comment section on some Apple-Android article, we might tolerate people forgetting our birthdays and anniversaries, we might tolerate mild headaches, but that is all only relative – what we have to learn to tolerate is infinity, and by that measure all our mundane achievements in tolerance are utterly insignificant.

Basically, we should try our best but remember that our best will never be good enough to earn devotional service to Krishna. We can’t afford to show any slack either.

As for liberation – yes, we should reject it, but remember that our inner motives will not withstand any real tests and most of what we are saying now is just talk. Luckily, Lord Chaitanya only talked about dhanam, janam, and sundarim kavitam – things we can easily relate to. If He included mukti in His Siksashtaka we might have to gloss over it as we gloss over yugaitam nimishena verse because we can’t fully grasp its meaning yet.

Vanity thought #313. Pain

Pain pain, go away please come back another day…

I was visited by a bout of pain I had never seen before. My body is starting to age and every couple of years I occasionally feel my joints reacting to a change in the weather or something but never before it was so severe. Not only I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t even stay in bed and had to pace up and down the room trying to distract my mind from the pain in my shoulder.

And I still haven’t figured out how to deal with it. Pain is not an activity, I have no idea how it could be offered to Krishna for His satisfaction, so what to do about it? Tolerate it?

Somehow I don’t think that being more tolerant than a tree means having a high threshold for pain. The capacity to tolerate pain is a quality of the material body, some have more of it some have less and some can be trained to withstand even torture. Wasn’t Karna once called out when he pretended to be a brahmana pupil of Parashurama but could tolerate agonizing pain without twitching a muscle in his body?

Somehow I also had enough wits about me to remember that praying to Krishna to relieve one of his suffering is unbecoming any aspiring devotee, it’s totally materialistic and bounds one to his bodily consciousness.

It is possible to ignore pain by directing consciousness to something else, that’s what I did by walking around and chanting japa, but I also have to admit that any other activity that distracts the mind works just as well. Of course it’s more beneficial to distract oneself with the Holy Name or reading Srimad Bhagavatam but it’s still a material distraction for the material mind.

A liberated person simply does not associate the pain of his body with himself, an advanced devotee can even subject his body to pain if it’s pleasing Krishna in any way, but none of that had ever happened to me, I was still fully on the material platform.

I also remembered that Bhaktivinoda Thakura had quite a fragile health and a significant part of his autobiography describes his dealings with various illnesses. That side of his life was running in parallel with his preaching and writing, sometimes he couldn’t even complete his books because of pain and still Krishna didn’t relieve him of it.

Comparing to that I shouldn’t even hope that Krishna will magically make my pain disappear because of some unseen importance of whatever it is I am doing.

I remembered that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati never took any medicine, completely relying on Krsihna and Lord Chaitanya instead. I considered it for a moment but then I thought that providing me with medicine is also the most likely way for Krishna to take care of my pain – it’s still manipulating the matter – the interaction between pain sensors and external objects activating them.

In the end I decided to let the nature take its course and continued with my japa, then went to the pharmacy at the earliest chance and stuffed myself with ibuprofen and I don’t feel particularly guilty about it.

Pain does pose some difficulties in executing regulated devotional service and I can see how people in hell don’t have energy to cultivate their Krishna consciousness but real devotional service and whatever is happening in the material world are two completely different things, they run parallel to each other and don’t ever intersect. The body (and mind and intelligence, too) will always try to seek relief, the soul should always try to seek service.

Vanity thought #217. The bane of impersonalism.

While considering the proper stance regarding religious pluralism it’s impossible to ignore the question of impersonalism. We’ve been told to fight it from the very beginning but if we talk about co-existence of religions we need to modify out stance without compromising our own values at the same time.

What is exactly our issue with impersonalism? Why do we have to fight it so much?

In the beginning we just patiently listened to Prabhupada chastising impersonalists left and right. I bet, though, that no one had seen a real one at that time yet. Prabhupada was preparing us for debates with unknown, invisible enemies and, in a sense, we still haven’t found them yet.

What we found, however, is the traces of impersonalist philosophy all around us and the more advanced among us realized that WE are impersonalists ourselves, too.

The crux of the matter is the nature of the material world – is it false or is it real? Mayavadis, another word for impersonalists, claims that it is false. Prabhupada taught us that it is real.

Their perception of the world is, however, not much different than ours. They feel pain and pleasure just the same. What is all the fight about, then?

One way to explain it is that by claiming this world as false and only Brahman (in this blog I will use that word to describe the impersonal effulgence emanating from the body of Supreme Personality of Godhead) is real mayavadis deny the divinity of Krishna’s incarnations. They treat them as the same false material forms that we can see and experience everywhere. At best they are a bit closer to the Brahman than us but they do not have any existence beyond what is/was visible to us here.

They also deny any existence of God beyond this material world because, in their view, only Brahman really exists, there’s nothing else there.

Basically, they deny existence of Krishna and, naturally, devotees do not like that.

Another aspect of treating the world as false is that everybody becomes equal – equally false. All forms and shapes are products of an illusion, including that of Krishna in Dvaraka or Kurukshetra. While on the lower stages of spiritual development we see them as different and so we worship various gods but on higher stages we see every form, every body as equal, thus me and Krishna become the same. I am God and God is me, and everybody else, too.

Devotee, naturally, reject this attitude, but we live in a world full of other people and we have to co-exist, as I said. How?

Maybe we should realize the place of impersonalism in spiritual development even if we reject its conclusions.

Maybe we should isolate our conflict with impersonalism and keep it compartmentalized.

Maybe we should summon our anti-impersonalist arguments only when it’s appropriate.

Maybe we should realize that in terms of human development impersonalism is the greatest thing ever, that is the fact we should probably get used to.

Let’s start with this last one – the human race has inherent quest for knowledge of the world around us. We strive for knowledge and truth, we search of it everywhere and we try to separate what we believe is true from what we believe as false. We look for better things, better understanding, better insights, we look deeper in our history, farther in our universe and closer into our atoms.

We haven’t found God, but it’s not only us. Vedic scholars and philosophers came to the same conclusion – God does not exist in the observable world and all phenomena we have ever experienced in all our history have been the product of matter or illusion, but that has never stopped us in our quest.

We pushing further and further, to the time of the Big Bang and to the sparks of bosons flying at the speed of light. We want the truth and all our endeavors and achievements are measured by that yardstick – are we getting any closer? We push and push and push in every aspect of our lives, in literature, philosophy, science, social lives, we capitalize on every success and incorporate it into every other field.

We are moving forward, and that’s the only way we know and the only way that matters.

Now come devotees and they have figured it all out already. We take our understanding from them and treat it as a spiritual ABC.

From our position the search for truth can only reach the understanding that the truth cannot be found in this world of matter. The evolution of human thought cannot reach Krishna on its own and so it has a ceiling and that ceiling is impersonalism – the world is made of matter, it’s perishable and illusory, and beyond it we can perceive only Brahman.

So it’s not like these people are wasting their time, they ARE trying to find God, it’s just that God cannot be found, only his impersonal aspect is open to us at the end of our journey.

Should we blame people for staying on this path? It’s a legitimate path in every respect, as far as evolution is concerned. Once people reach that wall they will be given a chance to learn about the Personality of God that lies beyond the Brahman and at that point they can choose to serve Him or to simply bathe in the light emanating from His body.

We know it from the devotees but I’m not sure we made that choice ourselves yet. Unless we directly see God we are driven either by desire to enjoy the world or to reject it as illusory, real service begins after the liberation, when our hearts are completely pure of all material contamination, including rejecting this world as false, as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and other acharyas said. Until that moment we only experience the shadow of the service, shadow of the Holy Name.

What we do now as followers of Srila Prabhupada is extremely important, we will need the service we are doing now, however imperfect, to help us surrender to the Lord when our hearts will be pure. Maybe some of us will make a different choice, who knows, there’s free will after all.

Perhaps it’s this class of mayavadis we should avoid at all costs – people who made a clear choice, free from the influence of illusion, and chose enjoying their qualitative oneness with the Supreme Lord over rendering devotional service.

If some follower of Islam tells us that God has no personal characteristics we will simply dismiss him for the lack of knowledge, if a vedic philosopher dismisses the devotional service as only a temporary measure to achieve God like quality for himself we should really worry as most of us are nowhere near that level yet of knowledge yet.

We might beat them with quotes but it’s “I’ve been there, I tried both” attitude that is impossible to beat and that attitude could very easily contaminate our own consciousness. We better not hear about this option until we are firm in our devotion ourselves.

To sum it up – if an ordinary conditioned soul exhibits traits of impersonalism in his quest for truth we shouldn’t take it as an offense, it’s just normal pains of growing. We shouldn’t encourage it either but we should realize that everybody has to pass this stage during evolution of their consciousness. If a jnani on the threshold of liberation preaches the supremacy of being one with God it’s an entirely different matter and we should oppose it in every way we can. They should know better.

The difficulty lies in separating a sincere quest from the one subtly directed by hardcore impersonalists who made it their mission to deny existence of God.

There are, of course, hard core materialists who deny God, too, but only because they have no personal experience of Him. They just don’t yet realize they can’t reach Him following their methods. There are hard core materialists who deny God because they can’t stand being inferior to anyone, but that’s just material nature speaking, the greed, the lust, the pride etc. etc.

I think in these cases we should address the material contamination itself rather than its symptoms manifested as scientific arguments. I think we should work on purifying their hearts before we can start talking serious science with them.

As far as the current debate is concerned, the one I have been covering for the past couple of days – I’m still dancing around making a decision what stance to take. If I were to consider what to contribute to it in the public arena I still don’t know what to say. I hope tomorrow it will become clearer for me, now that I dealt with a couple of elephants in the room.