Vanity thought #1109. What if I told you..?

A couple of months ago Louis CK had an episode on his show dedicated to God. A large part of his monologue was straight about God and the rest was even more about God than his direct words.

In his speech he didn’t say anything profoundly meaningful, just general banter about God and heaven and people’s expectations. I don’t know why people keep talking about this, the concept is so hopelessly outdated that Christians should issue a new vision of the future, the current legacy version with Saint Peter sitting at the gates checking credentials can’t be taken seriously anymore. There are so many jokes about it no one knows how to perceive it as a real thing.

Louie has made a few pertinent observations, though, like when he asked the audience who there hopes to go to heaven and picked on a young man:

    – You’re 28 and already you’re a lock for heaven. You’ve done enough good in your ten adult years
    that you couldn’t possibly make a mistake..

Aren’t we the same? Don’t we take reaching Kṛṣṇa for granted in our first years, no, days in Kṛṣṇa consciousness? It takes a while to realize that we actually never been in Kṛṣṇa consciousness yet, that real devotional service is still ahead of us, so far we have no idea when it’s going to start. Probably not in this lifetime.

I mean pure devotional service that starts only after liberation. Until then it’s just serving our false ego albeit by enlisting Kṛṣṇa’s help. If we look at ourselves honestly, it’s not even us trying to help Kṛṣṇa, we want Him to help us in whatever it is we decide to do.

And as time goes by we inevitably make embarrassing mistakes, too, which we forgive ourselves by citing api cet su durācāro verse (BG 9.30).

The possibility of Kṛṣṇa forgiving us shouldn’t even arise – our errors are not made in relationships with Him, it’s just us serving our material bodies. He doesn’t care enough about that to be offended. We do not have personal relationships with Him yet so there’s no possibility of offense and so no questions of forgiveness.

Of course we have relationships with the Holy Name and the Deities and our spiritual master and we can offend them easily but there’s a question of how big percentage of these relationships is actually with Kṛṣṇa rather than some other aspect of Absolute Truth. I’d say it’s zero, our realization is not advanced enough to be connected to Him directly. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Next Louie questions the existence of Heaven itself. He says that we expect too much of God – He created this whole amazing universe for us and then we want yet another, even more awesome place for the whole eternity? Is there an end to our greed?

Then Louie addressed people who claim that there’s no God – how can they be so sure? How can they argue with others’ beliefs? “I believe in God – No, you don’t – Yes, I do” What is the meaning of this argument? It’s senseless. Even when atheists claim that they don’t believe in God – how do they know? Their eyes can see only for a hundred yards while God might be standing right behind them all the time.

That argument is straight from our books – our senses are too limited to declare anything with any certainty, and God IS the closest person to us, standing right within our hearts, and we can’t see Him.

Louie also said he envied people who have faith. They wake up every morning and feel God in their lives while he feels nothing and it makes his life empty. Good point, too.

And then he went off a tangent – if God is our father and we are His children? Where is our mother? What has He done to her? There’s no good answer to that, forget Louie’s attempts at being funny about it. We ourselves would have to think twice before answering that question.

Kṛṣṇa is the seed giving father and we are His children but who is our mother? Material nature? That’s not a satisfying answer – we do not seek maternal relationships with material world, those who worship Durgā do. Are we, as devotees, supposed to be motherless?

Funny how “maternal” and “material” are so close as if talking about the same thing.

I think this whole “Kṛṣṇa is our father” analogy is made for the western audience, it doesn’t exist in our literature, afaik, Kṛṣṇa’s actual children in Dvārakā notwithstanding. We relate to Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu as our master and we see ourselves as His servants. Our actual father and mother are different devotees who have their own relationships with Him.

Anyway, what I found remarkable about that episode is not what Louie said about God but what he said about women.

When I was doing reviews of Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson I came to think of him as a worshiper of the Absolute Truth in the form of the universe. For him there’s no higher reality, no higher object, no higher substance, and no higher truth than the universe. Universe is his equivalent of God.

For Louie, God is women. He doesn’t know any higher aspect of the Absolute than women, the opposite sex. It might be not as exalted as seeing universe as God but it’s legitimate in its own right – Kṛṣṇa is the pure sex life. “According to regulative principles”, we always add, but I don’t think we actually add anything by saying this, only rob the concept of its beauty by diverting the discussion into arguments about rules.

Pure sex is Kṛṣṇa – it’s all attractive, after all, the most potent attractive force in the whole world. It’s definitely Kṛṣṇa, as far as we know. Its attraction is stronger than our interest in a blue boy we see in the pictures, we can’t give it up no matter what we try. That’s a different topic, though, let’s leave it for now.

Anyway, for Louie, pure, selfless, spontaneous attraction to women is the highest truth in this world. When he falls in love his entire life, entire being changes. He suddenly has purpose and energy and hopes. Love brings every best quality there is in his entire being – how can we say it’s not Kṛṣṇa?

In this episode he just got off a relationship and was heartbroken. Nothing went wrong, it’s just that his woman had to leave the country. Louie went to talk to a very strange shrink who happens to live in this building and they had the most interesting conversation ever.

    – So you took a chance on being happy, even though you knew that later on you would be sad.

    – Yeah.

    – And now… you’re sad.

    – Yeah.

    – So..? What, what, what’s the problem?

    – I’m too sad. Look, I liked the feeling of being in love with her, I liked it. But now she’s gone and I miss her and it sucks. And I didn’t think it was gonna be this bad, and I feel like, why even be happy, if it’s just gonna lead to this? It wasn’t worth it.

    – You know, I’m not entirely sure what your name is, but you are a classic idiot. You think spending time with her, kissing her, having fun with her, you think that’s what it was all about That was love?

    – Yeah.

    This is love, missing her. Because she’s gone, wanting to die, you’re… so lucky.

    – Don’t you see, this is the good part. This is what you’ve been digging for all this time. Now you finally have it in your hand, this sweet nugget of love, sweet, sad love and you wanna throw it away. You’ve got it all wrong.

    – I thought this was the bad part.

    – No! The bad part is when you forget her. When you don’t care about her. When you don’t
    care about anything. The bad part is coming so enjoy the heartbreak while you can, for God sakes.

I mean there’s so much in there that we can relate to. If we replace “her” with “Kṛṣṇa” it would appear as coming straight from our books, and not the introductory stuff but discussions on the highest rasa.

I’ve done this once already, two years ago – substituted women in Louie’s monologue with Kṛṣṇa and it came out embarrassingly private (here).

I’m not in the mood today to translate this dialogue into devotees’ feelings for Kṛṣṇa, you do it on your own, my words are not grave enough to discuss this subject.

What I want to say instead is that this highest rasa of love in separation can exist even with a lesser aspect of the Absolute than Kṛṣṇa Himself.

Now, think of our own lives – are we always as emotionally charged about our service as Louie was about that woman? No way, maybe it happens every now and then but it’s certainly not our normal state of mind.

The other possibility that opens here is even more mind-blowing – what if I told you that our understanding of the Absolute is similarly incomplete and so where Louie has relationships with women, devotees have relationships with Kṛṣna, Neil deGrasse Tyson has relationships with the universe, we have relationships with something else?

What is *our* highest realization of the Supreme? Obviously it’s not Kṛṣṇa Himself – that’s an ideal level, our goal, but not our current stage. Is it our guru? For some – probably, for many not.

I’m afraid I’m not ready to discuss the answers today, my mind needs settling into this idea and thinking it through. The complications and possibilities are are innumerable, and then it needs to be “realized” in one way or another. Certainly a job for another day.

Vanity thought #643. Chemistry lesson

Today I fell in love in a dream. I’ve met a girl and we had what they call “chemistry”. It wasn’t about lust, well, not entirely, because lust is not one of those things that can be absent from man-woman relationships, it was about chemistry.

This is what I’m afraid of now – falling in love. You know that warm fuzzy feeling that makes your legs soft and resistance futile, when you are overwhelmingly drawn to the object of your affection, when no matter what you do or think it always ends up as a step on the way to your “soulmate”. Lust can be beaten back, and we have marriages to placate it, but nothing protects us from falling head over heels over some girl for no particular reason.

The lesson I learned, however, was about something bigger.

Anyway, even in a dream where I didn’t recognize any surroundings or any people I had a presence of mind to declare myself unavailable, which is a flashback from my real life, and I also had a presence of mind to think to myself that this is all wrong, that it’s ruinous to my Krishna consciousness.

As soon as I woke up I tried to shake that lovesick feeling, I went to the bathroom to splash some water on my face and I tried to calm my nerves, it’s not real, I told to myself. And then I realized – what is real anyway?

All my life I’ve been trying to maintain some sort of equilibrium, keep my wits about me, not panic and generally be cool. Why? Why is it any more real than the topsy turvy ride of my dream? Why is it so important to keep myself always in check?

I’ve noticed we all do it at all times. Lose a job – what will happen to me? Lose a wife or a girlfriend – what will happen to me? My life has ended, it makes no sense now.

When we are in our “normal” state we figure everything out – this is what I do for Krishna, these is what I have to do, this is what I will never do, this is what I want to do, and it all fits perfectly, by Krishna’s mercy, we think, and so we become protective about our status just as anyone else.

Krishna consciousness, however, is parallel to all our mental tribulations. We know we can be Krishna conscious when we are out of work, or when we are left by our family members. We know we can be Krishna conscious even when we lose our arm or a leg, so why can’t we be Krishna conscious when we lose our minds?

Clearly it’s because we are being on a mental platform. We think that we can serve Krishna only when we have all our screws tight in our heads and we don’t do anything stupid.

Well, Alzheimer’s is always around the corner, or we can fall in love with about the same effect on our mental faculties. It’s all still external. Chemistry does not affect the soul, it only affects our minds, even though it goes very very deep into the very essence of our being.

I was pleased to discover that it can’t go deeper than Krishna consciousness. Maybe not in my case yet but now I know that love is external. Irresistible for the body but still external. Krishna is above and beyond it, or to the side, if it makes more spatial sense.

It sucks to have your mind and intelligence affected by chemistry, or by Alzheimer’s, or by some hungry ghosts, but it’s external, Krishna can still be remembered and one day I hope I’ll discover that heart of hearts where He resides blissful and detached from all the tribulations of my material existence. This is where I want to be, too, and I can be there even if my mind is completely gone and all “reality” is completely screwed up.

Btw, about dreams, I once heard that for devotees dreams could be a way to discharge accumulated karma. I don’t know if it’s true but every time I have a bad one, about falling down, being chased, or being trapped, I look at it as a better way to relieve my accumulated reactions that having to go through it for real. Dreams about love used to be considered as pleasant but now I’m afraid of them just the same – it all has to go, better at night when I’m sleeping and there’s no danger of ruining my family.

On the other hand – what does it matter? What is real anyway?

Krishna lives elsewhere.

Vanity thought #594. Skin, flesh, blood, muscle, fat, marrow, bone, stool, urine and pus

Not very attractive when you describe a body that way, is it? We are reminded of this reality over and over again in our books but it never truly sticks. Why is it so?

When we look at our own bodies we know what they are made of and very few of us are proud of what we got. Sometimes we look into mirrors and like what we see but it requires an effort and a mirror. On our own we might like our skin but we get enough zits and blisters over the course of our life to know that even the most beautiful skin is not what it seems. Several times a day we get calls of nature and we don’t like what comes out of our bodies at all. Everybody also knows what pus is, it’s not pretty, and if we forget what pus feels like, everyday we have the smell of sweat that we can’t fully hide from ourselves.

In short – we’ve been grossed out by our bodies often enough to be aware of their nature. Why do we assume that other bodies are any better just because they belong to the opposite sex?

In fact, I’ve met several women who were very aware of natural shortcomings of their bodies and who couldn’t truly understand why men find them so attractive. Not that it stopped them from manipulating their prey.

On the surface it seems very easy – you know what the body is made of, it’s not attractive, so stop being attracted to it. It’s unnatural to be attracted to urine and pus and all the other things so stop it.

Never works.

When we are attracted to the opposite sex we don’t see the grossness of their bodies at all, it goes straight past us and disappears totally unnoticed. We do not get attracted to bones, marrow and fat, we get attracted to some idea in our heads that has little to do with reality. How to stop that from happening? This idea is not related to bones either, it comes from somewhere else.

If you tell someone who is smitten by a girl that her shit stinks they wouldn’t even hear you. You can preach all you want about the reality, they become transcendental to it. You can preach all you want to yourself, too, it won’t stop you from being in love.

It’s not the lack of knowledge that causes us to fall in love, it’s something else. Perhaps instead of trying to see the body for what it is we should study love and infatuation and how they work to put us under their spell.

Sometimes they say it’s just lust. Not true, imo. Lust plays its part and it might be at the core of our existence but people in love are not particularly lascivious, not in the beginning, in fact they feel some sort of a barrier to expressing their feelings physically, they feel that sex is inadequate to express their love, they feel it’s much more than just physical actions. Eventually it goes away but in the beginning it’s definitely there.

Science has a pretty convincing explanation how hormones work and it might help us to see things more clearly when we feel attraction to opposite sex but what we need as devotees is the shastric version and, afaik, it doesn’t exist. We have this description of a human body and so far I’ve traced it to the teachings of some king AFTER he got dumped. My point is that we need different lessons when we fall in love and when we suffer from break ups, “pus lesson” is for break ups, we needs lessons for falling in love.

The only way that I know from our books is staying away from the opposite sex altogether. Of course these days everybody gets married so people might say that staying away doesn’t work, but it’s the injunction for married men, too. We should stay away from all temptations with all females. Anyone who could remind us of association with women should be outside our circles. No movies, not popular culture, no female “friends”, nothing. What more, we should not associate even with men who are attracted to women, so no male friends either.

Senses cannot be pacified by bringing them in contact with their objects, only by withdrawing them. There’s no such thing as “little harmless sense gratification”. It all starts with very little and then it grows and this growth can’t be checked, you’ll just see yourself rolling with it until you hit a wall.

So what about our wives then? I don’t know. Approaching them only for procreation should help but no one does that these days so there’s no way to confirm it. In the entire ISKCON there are probably only a handful of couples who stay with their grihastha vows like brahmachari stay with theirs, and I don’t know their names and no one is sure how long they can keep doing this. The situation appears to be completely hopeless.

So yeah, not very inspirational, I know, but that’s the reality of it.

Vanity thought #405. Elvis curse

I had an unexpected dream last night – I was attending some preaching program by my old temple community and noticed that there was one attractive female there organizing the whole thing. Within minutes of talking to her I realized that was becoming hopelessly attracted.

The problem is that it wasn’t a sexual attraction, it was rather like a burning need to feel and to know the person. I started asking her where she grew up, where she met devotees, tried to picture the place on the map and the more I talked the more obvious it became – I had a crush.

The problem with this is that unlike gross sexual desire that is nothing but an itch and can be dealt with, the “crush” is something that runs much much deeper and is practically incurable. That’s why I remembered Elvis with his “Can’t help falling in love with you” song. It hooks you up by your innards, your stomach drops, you start floating and your feet have no ground to stand on.

The problem is the sense of total helplessness, there’s nothing left in this body that is not affected in one way or another, no safe place, no shelter, and whatever you do or think becomes tinted with the ointment of irresistible attraction.

The problem is that there’s nothing in this body that could be similarly attracted to Krishna – it’s not its function, it’s not meant to have a crush on Krishna, that is a function of a soul but I have no awareness of myself as a soul yet, only as a body, and this body is falling in love like there’s no tomorrow.

In the Twilight series of vampire stories there were werewolves that were susceptible to “imprints” – once they met their soul mate they lost all freedom of choice, they were irresistibly attracted for life. Good for the society that values loyalty, an absolute nightmare for devotees who seek liberation from the bondage of their desires.

Perhaps this falling in love is the other side of coin of death – you know that you, as a soul, are not affected by it but you get to fight the full strength of your connection to your body. Death is unpleasant while falling in love is the sweetest thing that can happen to you but they are both illustrate the same materialistic bond.

Anyway, I was glad it happened in my dream and I was glad I realized how unfortunate such an incident could be. I’m too old to fall in love for reals, it doesn’t befit my status anymore, and it would be an earth shattering experience for my family life. Who needs this?

I don’t, but the curse of falling in love is that you can’t help it and you can’t even choose who to fall in love with. I guess it’s also similar to people who wake up one day and realize they are gay – they can fight it for a while but this genie is not going back into a bottle.

While giving in to the overwhelming attraction we also realize that the world as we knew it has ended, nothing will be same in our lives anymore. How can one continue with his sadhana under these circumstances? All our perception of ourselves as devotees doing certain things as our service turns upside down.

Glad I just had a dream about it. I secretly believe that Krishna plays out such dangerous situations in our dreams on purpose, so that we don’t have to deal with them in real life. That would be a huge relief.

I hope there’s nothing more to it but I’m thinking of a contingency plan just in case, meanwhile I was also glad I have “Govindam Adi Purusham” as my alarm ringtone, that shakes off all bad dreams in an instant.

Vanity thought #195. Missing Link.

I don’t mean the link scientists are looking for when they try to prove we all came from monkeys, though it’s a very interesting topic.

A few days ago Chinese made waves in paleontology when they reclassified some half bird half dinosaur. Now the entire path form dinos to birds need to be re-charted. It won’t affect the conclusion in the least but paleontologists world over have a lot of homework on their hands.

At least with dinosaurs they have plenty of material to work with, it seems everywhere you dig you are bound to find some wishbones lying around.

The entire human evolution, on the other hand, has produced only over a hundred human fossils. That’s for millions and millions of years. On average they have one or two human skeletons per hundred thousand years, for the entire planet, and they call it proof.

Our entire recorded history is only about five thousand years yet they have only a handful of bones to “prove” evolution over some five million years back. This is just ridiculous, just like the fact that we are soon going to celebrate fiftieth anniversary of Moon landing with the US not having a single spacecraft able to even leave the Earth! I’m sure they’ll find something, they still have eight years to go.

Half a century ago when people used dial phones and computers were the size of small buildings, in eight years they build not only the rocket to fly to the Moon, they also build a Moon lander, and not once that thing malfunctioned in a dozen or so missions. That just doesn’t compute, but I digress – that’s not what I was planning to write about.

The missing link I had in mind is the connection between people, living and recently died.

I don’t think I have it and that’s why I call it missing.

I seriously consider diagnosing myself as a misanthropist and a psychopath.

I wasn’t always this way. I remember I had plenty of friends in school, I had crashes going back to kindergarten and definitely the first grade. I remember in high school one girl told me she was amazed that I turn out so open and welcoming person despite my usual grumpy appearance.

At the last job I had people were really commenting on my grumpiness, it didn’t go well with the image we were trying to project. Eventually they got round and accepted me, however.

About ten years ago I had so many friends and acquaintances I was caught not remembering names of people and blaming it on new glasses or something.

Then the things have turned, gradually, day by day, year by year, I lost touch with all of them. Sometimes it worries me – it’s not normal, and today is one of those days.

This week my partner’s cousin has died and I totally forgot about it. This week my partner herself was late from work three times, and on Friday instead of having a big meeting with her boss about “margins” or something I saw her being in another part of town, in a residential neighborhood. You can see these things with Google Latitude on modern mobile phones.

That should have made me worried by I felt a cause for celebration instead – I was finally going to be free from the last of my obligations. Turned out it was a business dinner/party and there were pictures of it all over Facebook. What a letdown!

To be clear – I’m not totally immune to human emotions, and I have shed a tear or two in recent years but it’s demanding increasing efforts with each time.

Today, as Saturdays usually go, I watched something on TV and it was a touching story about death. A wooman was having such a strong connection that each day, around the same time, she had a physical need to hear the voice of her beloved. When one half of such relationship dies the remaining person really sees no reason to live and all the things that remind about the missing link bring out tears and drain out the life force.

I honestly don’t think I can experience these emotions anymore, not to the expected degree anyway.

On the other hand there are things that people love and want to have and they would do anything to establish some new links.

How does that work? What exactly is the nature of these attachments? Why do they affect different people in different ways? What is my situation in this regard? What am I supposed to do?

Suddenly I saw two distinct parts to this. First is the attraction to the object of one’s affection. That can’t be helped. I have been smitten quite a few times in my life. Senses are like magnets this way, they can’t be stopped.

Relinquishing all attachments doesn’t mean that eyes are not attracted to beautiful things and the entire body, gross and subtle, becomes indifferent towards the closest person. That aspect cannot be stopped. That is also the reason why we can always slip back into maya on every step from here to the highest stages of devotion. As long as we have our bodies they will be attracted to things, attraction will never go away.

Another aspect is the desire of attraction itself. We are dying to love and be loved. We want to be attracted to things, if we aren’t we think something is seriously wrong with us.

Right at this moment we have probably billions of people desperately searching for love, for their Mr or Ms Right, for a phone call from their children, or for a pair of shoes that would knock them off their feet, or maybe of a Saturday night fling, or for any validation of one’s attractiveness.

From this angle, it’s not the objects that people are attracted to, it’s the state of being attracted itself, and that, I believe, is our conscious choice, t least to the degree we have a free will.

This is not something that just comes over us, like love at first sight, this is our conscious decision and hard work to become entangled, and this is something we, as devotees, should be avoiding at all costs, and I think it’s doable.

There’s no need to go look out for trouble in this world, trouble will always find you.

When the thought of my partner having an affair appeared in my head I was clearly in two minds about it – I could indulge and suffer the consequences of being cheated, or I could celebrate the happy loss and spend my time in anticipation of Krishna’s next move. He made quite a few in this past year and I’d be very glad to know I’m ready for the next step.

Maybe I am turning into a misanthropist and sociopath incapable of experiencing the depth of human emotions, but I want to do it by choice, I just don’t feel like playing family or divorce or falling in love right now. Those are exciting games and they will surely take me for a spin but they have an end and they have a lot of unhappiness mixed in, too.

Unfortunately, I can’t just call it a day and throw the toys out of a pram. As long as I have the body I will experience strong attractions or dislikes, and I will experience the urge to have new experiences. Each of these two calamities has its own set of tricks to mitigate them but ultimately it’s only devotion to the Lord that can cool down this blazing fire of material existence.

Unfortunately, simply denying myself my indulgence or denying desire for indulgence is not going to cause devotion. Whatever I do to navigate this ocean is immaterial, no matter how good I get it’s only the matter of time before waves and currents get me.

On the other hand, it’s very important to stay afloat until the boat of the Holy Names anchors in my heart, yet the boat won’t come just because I’m such a good swimmer. Still, because I have one hand on the rope already, it would be a shame to get eaten by sharks now, so I better watch out and kick hard.

If there are any missing links between me and the sharks in the ocean of maya – so be it, I’m actually glad, I’m not going to actively seek re-connection.

Vanity thought #189. Infatuation.

Continuing on the subject of love, actually on the subject of falling in love – how does that work?

We have experience, wisdom of the ages, science and religion all giving somewhat contradictory answers.

Anyone who have ever fallen in love at first sight knows the feeling. It hits you like a ton of bricks, it’s completely out of control. You can somewhat control symptoms and your behavior but you can’t lie to your heart. There’s certain inevitability and finality to it – resistance is futile.

I guess in this aspect it’s the same as young people first realizing they are gay – one would never find inner peace until he accepts the fact that he is in love, or gay. It’s something that can’t be swept under the rug or washed with bleach.

How one would act on such impulses is a totally different subject I’m not going to touch on today, though.

As love grows we learn more about it and we can observe it and discuss it and ponder and pontificate. That’s when wisdom of ages comes very handy. Love has been defined in great many ways but one striking feature of it that persists is selflessness. It’s especially prominent in eastern religions with their promotion of universal love and kindness. Personally I could never relate to that, I still have no idea what they are talking about. Lucky me – their love is the epitome of impersonalism and that would be a suicide according to our philosophy.

In the west, on the other hand, various definitions of love grow out of observing interpersonal relationships. I don’t recall anyone giving any praise to loving the universe but everyone knows about Romeo and Juliet. Love, especially between men and women, is given such a prominent stage that the sheer amount of examples makes it incomprehensible, I bet an average person on the street would give some cliche definitions like “Love is all you need” that don’t make much sense anymore.

Interestingly, defining love is easier if we start talking about what it is not – we describe love in relations to other feelings. There’s less sexual element than in lust, more attraction than in like and so on.

And then there’s science. Scientifically speaking, all of the above is absolute nonsense. From the traditional biology’s POV “love” consists of three stages characterized by release of certain kind of chemicals in the brain.

First there’s lust, testosterone/estrogen driven, it transforms into an attraction with its own set of chemicals. At this point people develop deeper, “romantic” kind of feelings for each other. Finally there’s attachment – sex drive is gone, romantic interests is gone, people stay with each other out of habit.

Evolutionary speaking, each stage plays its own role. Testosterone driven stage is for attracting best females, romantic dopamine stage is for securing services of a single, dedicated partner, and oxytocin influenced attachment is needed for raising children until they reach independence.

It sounds about right and I agree with this model but it totally misses some very important features of love like selflessness and sacrifice and unconditional desire to please the object of your affection.

The omission is even more striking if you consider that biology leaves no place for love between friends, or between family members or between servants and masters of various kinds. In all our human history love has always been bigger than the need to safely procreate.

Then there’s psychological explanation of love, but psychology is not science, strictly speaking. It can’t be successfully reduced to interactions between atoms and molecules and various formulas and equations.

Then there’s neuroscience that studies our brains and monitors our brains’ activities and responses in various situations. Their findings are incorporated into the biological model but they’ve made quite a few observations in the past decade that deserve special attention. It was them who discovered the release of certain chemicals in the brain at various stages of love and it was them who discovered that same areas of the brain are engaged in processing some aspects of love and religious devotion.

Then scientists looked at the DNA and found love and religion genes. Not religion genes per se, yet, but the genes responsible for our capacity of attachment and morality, for example.

Their findings led them to believe that religion is nothing but another manifestation of our desire to love and be loved. Great, I’ve learned the same thing at, probably, my first lecture on Krishna consciousness when MRA scanners hadn’t even been invented yet.

At this point scientists declare victory while we can congratulate them on catching pretty fast, but they still have a whole lot to learn.

My first argument against their narrative is that they can’t establish for sure whether chemicals cause love or love causes these chemicals to be released in the system.

They, of course, have been feeding people hormones for ages to “correct” their bodies’ sexual behavior, and there’s viagra, of course, but I haven’t heard of a single case where pills actually caused anyone to fall in love. Hold on, I take it back, it happens all the time but not in the sense scientists would want to.

Imagine they found chemicals that cause the feeling of being full, in a sense of being not hungry, and they also found how to stimulate certain areas in the brain that cause the person to feel as if he is enjoying great food. Imagine they applied both of these to simulate a dinner.

Would it recreate the symptoms? Sure it would, but would it substitute eating? Unless they supply the actual nutrients all those symptoms won’t be able to sustain the body.

Similarly, what makes them think that running electrical currents through certain areas of the brain would make person to love God? At best they would recreate a symptom and it would only be a temporary solution. Imagine they create a God pill like that – you take it and you feel as if you are in heaven. Hold on, they had pills like that fifty years ago already, didn’t work out very well, did it?

There’s another major problem with scientific approach – even if, or when, they find how to reproduce religious feelings in people’s brains they would still need to provide external stimuli to make it work while people’s actual devotion is causeless.

Most of us need churches and temples and masses and lectures to evoke our religious feelings but true devotion doesn’t depend on any of that. In fact we reject devotion that depends on external stimuli altogether. It’s not real, it’s only a shadow of the real thing.

So again, when scientists are proud to announce the proof that external symptoms we experience from time to time during our religious practices are not real and don’t come from God, we can say to them: “Duh! Thanks, Captain Obvious, we knew all along, thanks for reminding us again”.

Sometimes their arguments like that are very convincingly presented in respectable publications and they might shake our faith.

Well, two things – they are specifically designed with a goal like that, just like advertising is designed to provoke attraction to a certain brand or product. Religion or not but as long as we have material bodies they will respond to these kind of arguments/propaganda.

Second thing to keep in mind – these arguments display certain known propaganda tricks to appear more convincing then they really are. Most often they defeat religion as they imagine it themselves – they are fighting battles with their own imagination and they, predictably, win.

I’ve seen a few articles like this and they all fail to address religion as practitioners see it themselves and they fail to consider religious explanations for their findings, too. They really are arguing with themselves there.

They might find DNA evidence for the propensity towards religion and they might explain it as another expression of evolutionary battle for survival of species but that would only explain desire to engage in bettering our karma. We don’t put much value on karmic aspirations and our ultimate goal, love of God, is completely anti-social and self-destructive, as far as evolution is concerned.

They’ve been studying alcoholism, drug abuse and addition for a lot longer than brain imaging and still they have absolutely no idea how to explain this desire for self-destruction in evolutionary terms. I don’t see them explaining the need for selfless, evolutionary unrewarded devotion any time soon.

Even if they do find the basic inclination for love of God in our DNA and learn how to simulate it artificially, the basic problem will still remain – true devotion is causeless, it doesn’t need any external resources, you don’t have to go to work whole week to get a devotional pill on Sunday.

True devotion is not only causeless, it’s also unstoppable, we can’t take a break from it and do something else, it’s simply not possible to turn it off.

In the biological model the first two stages of love are temporary, the second, romantic stage, usually last only a couple of years at most. That’s not what happens with Krishna prema.

In ISKCON we had an experience with drugs being used as a substitute for devotion once, it didn’t end very well at all, even if external symptoms were very convincing and probably genuinely felt.

Bottom line – all these studies and all my efforts to refute them focus on what love of God isn’t and they’re of limited help if I want to find what loving Krishna really is.

Luckily, I should be able to resume my chanting tomorrow, can’t wait to get back into that routine again.

Vanity thought #188. Love.

Here are a few heartfelt words which, I think, are suitable for this time of the day when everybody’s asleep and I’m alone with my blog.

Krishna, I’m in love with you.

Yeah, it’s that bad, You’re so beautiful to me. Every time I look at Your face or even remember it, it wrecks me. The way You are manifesting to me, sometimes You’re just fun, and sometimes You make me feel worthless and You even make fun of me but You’re real.

I don’t have enough time in any day to think about You enough. I feel like I’m going to live a thousand years if that’s how long it’s going to take me to think all my thoughts about You, to have even one thought about You, which is that I’m crazy about You, Krishna.

I don’t want to be with anybody else. I don’t, I really don’t. I don’t think about women anymore, I think about You. I had a dream the other night that You and I were on a train. We were on this train and You were holding my hand. That’s the whole dream – You were holding my hand. And I really felt You holding my hand. I woke up and I couldn’t believe it wasn’t real.

I’m sick in love with You, Krishna. It’s like a condition, it’s like polio. I feel like I’m going to die if I can’t be with You. And I can’t be with You, so I’m going to die and I don’t care because I was brought into existence to know You, and that’s enough.

The idea that You would want me back – it’s greedy, but is there any planet, any part of the world that You’d feel any of the same, is there even a shard of a fraction of the feelings that You have for me too?

….

This is taken almost word for word from the latest episode of TV show “Louie”, and it was addressed to a woman, not to Krishna, but is there any difference, really?

Louie C.K., the comedian who writes, produces, and acts in his own show, put a lot of effort in expressing this declaration of love and it’s perfect in every respect, except it’s not addressed to Krishna.

Let’s take it apart and see how it works. I separated it in paragraphs myself and substituted or added a few words here and there to make it more realistic as if someone was really talking to Krishna, not a woman but it follows Louie’s line of thought very closely.

The first paragraph is the admission of failure, failure to contain yourself. A few posts ago I mentioned that being in love is not cool in modern society so Louie starts with a sorry for falling into such a state.

We are supposed to be proud, strong and unmoved by emotions, we want to display total indifference to silly stuff like that, we want to be above it – we want to keep our wits and intelligence with us at all times but love is the thing that takes it away from us and forces even the strongest man on his knees. It’s an admission of being weak and that’s why his first words were “It’s bad, but I have to tell you this.”

The paragraph ends with very interesting statement – “You are real.” Louie admits that he is weak, admits that he can’t fight for his dignity, admits that he doesn’t mind being humiliated – all because the other person feels real to him. True enough – we are surrounded by fake people all the time – fake smiles, fake compassion, fake emotions, fake sympathy. People express them because they want to appear polite but all too often they don’t really give a damn. When someone addresses you from the heart it sinks and hooks you right away, even if the words are hurtful.

Ages ago I was told by a senior devotee that all people want from us is being real, being sincerely concerned with their lives. Only devotees can feel that because they don’t have any self-interest, only love and compassion. That devotee was very grave when he told me that because he knew that it gave him an enormous power over people and he was very conscious about it, very aware of the temptation. I lost track of him over the years but in those days he was known for always getting what was needed for Krishna’s service, he spoke from experience.

Moving on – lack of time, when we are in love we never have enough time to think about the object of our infatuation, be it a woman, a new tablet, or Krishna Himself. I changed it a little bit but Louie was saying that the single thought about his woman would need thousands of years to get properly expressed. That’s how Balarama feels about Krishna – He’s got the time and He’s got thousands of mouths, as Ananta Shesha, and He never stops talking about Krishna. That’s love.

Third paragraph – can’t think of anybody else and the train dream. Anybody who has ever been in love knows how it changes the perspective on all other men or women – they kind of fade away, zoom out and become insignificant and unnoticeable. They don’t attract us anymore and they don’t distract us either, we truly are indifferent to their existence. That’s love, too.

Train dream is also a clever way to express love. An utterly unremarkable surroundings – train, an insignificant gesture – holding hand, but they mean a whole world to the person in love. Nothing else matters anymore, perfection of life, true satisfaction has been achieved. Devotees hope they can get a hold of Krishna’s lotus feet, just a sight of Lord’s lotus feet, even a dream of Krishna’s lotus feet would do, I suppose. They said to have this unique cooling effect on the soul, I honestly wouldn’t know.

Next paragraph is a climax. Louie proclaims total selflessness in his love. He only wants to be able to love, he realized that had been the goal of his whole existence and he doesn’t want anything else. He also compared being in love to having a medical condition. Devotees know this very well, too. Lord Chaitanya famously talked about being struck in the heart by the arrow of love of God. It’s incurable and once you’ve been hit you wouldn’t want anything else in the whole three worlds.

Last paragraph, unfortunately, is where Louie is preparing to screw it up. After declaring undying, selfless love he started talking about reciprocation. The answer was “Hell, no” and all the love just swooshed out him like an air from a balloon.

Why does that happen? All the time, too. Why do non-devotees are capable of expressing such strong, deep feelings, such encompassing knowledge about love but can’t maintain it and give up at the first hurdle? It’s easy to say it’s because they choose wrong objects and only Krishna is worth such love and if they loved Krishna then their love would never die.

It’s easy to say that but the fact is that we don’t know anyone who is capable of expressing such love for Krishna, last vaishnava who was not ashamed of going public with it was Bhaktivinoda Thakura in his songs and books. Nowadays it’s simply not done. How can we tell people to love Krishna then?

Just direct your love to Krishna and everything will be okay. Yes, it will be okay, from Krishna’s POV, in the long run, but that’s not exactly what people expect. How many of us have stopped trying to love Krishna with all our hearts and all our powers of mind and body? How many of us slipped in the familiar routine of material sense gratification instead?

Loving Krishna is not a straightforward, easy affair, it’s so darn hard and nearly impossible to achieve. Who in this world has achieved it? Who has Krishna prema blossoming in their hearts? If there are such souls, they hide it pretty well.

Records from Lord Chaitanya’s time show that people really fell in love with Krishna, with all the symptoms of being in love – can’t think of anything else, don’t mind public humiliation, can’t look at other people or things, can’t hold your feelings – love just flows like a river out of your heart and you scream at the top of your lungs to the whole world to know about it. Why doesn’t it happen to us? To me?

I also can’t help but draw another parallel – it’s like being in an arranged marriage. Krishna has been chosen for us without asking, now we are forced to live together but love is not there, we are just trying to learn to co-exist, learn each other’s habits and learn not to step on each other toes all the time, but love is just not there. It might be beneficial in the long run but love is still not there.

Can it grow out of co-existence? Maybe, in the material world people can develop tolerance, attachment, even dependence, maybe even deep commitment and, if they stick together long enough, they might even call it a real love, but love is still not there. Not the kind of love Louie was talking about in that episode, not the kind of love that takes away your soul and turns your world upside down.

I can’t help but compare this cohabitation to love gopis have for their nominal husbands – serving them all their lives with faith and devotion, not the love that made them run away from home in the middle of the night to see Krishna.

Maybe we are doing it wrong but more likely we don’t have any other choice. If we can’t fall in love with Krishna we can’t fake it either, we’ll just have to work for it, like Krishna’s wives worked for lifetimes to get the opportunity to become His maidservants, as they told their stories in Srimad Bhagavatam.

Why does everybody have to be a gopi anyway? We are not Krishna’s eternal associates, we are not Lord Chaitanya’s eternal associates either, we are just ordinary fallen souls whose only known association with God is sleeping alongside Maha Vishnu or something, when the material world is non-manifest. Maybe we are not born to love at all, maybe our true spiritual rasa is neutrality, just hanging out on the same Vaikuntha.

I know it’s not much, even a curse in devotees’ eyes but maybe that’s all that we are ever going to get.

Or maybe sincerely chanting the Holy Names will, in fact, eventually wound my heart with all-powerful love for the Lord.

I’ll believe it when I see it, until then I have enough reasons to be skeptical.

Maybe next life.

Vanity thought #178. Reunion.

We are going through a Ratha Yatra season with many ISKCON centers holding their annual festivals in addition to the original one in Puri, this year it started on July 3. Festivities in Puri are already over but ISKCON’s events are still going in full swing. I don’t want to go into the dispute about arbitrary dates, different from Puri, it’s a giant waste of time, I believe.

It’s rather the significance of the trip itself that interests me today.

In Puri, Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra visit Gundici temple and then, on the way back, stop at their auntie’s temple where they spend a week before returning home. It’s all nice but I prefer the story about Krishna meeting gopis in Kurukshetra where they went to see the solar eclipse.

I don’t know the origin of this version, everybody knows it from the first days in ISKCON, though, so it must be true.

Gopis, of course had lived in Vrindavana in separation from Krishna for many many years by then but they certainly couldn’t forget Him. According to Lord Chaitanya their love in separation is the highest possible form of devotion to Krishna. When Uddhava, Lord’s dearmost devotee in Dwaraka, visited Vrindavana to see the gopis he was humbled by their devotion – they were so intensely absorbed in thoughts of Krishna they talked to animals and insects about Him, they saw Him everywhere.

Krishna was their first and only love. Everyone knows about the power of first love. Some call it puppy love because it’s immature and eventually goes away but when it’s there it’s the most powerful, selfless feeling in the world.

Young people in love have absolutely no regard for their own self interest or self preservation. Romeo and Juliet, in fact, killed themselves when they realized they couldn’t be together, and theirs is not the only example.

Young people in love are known to do all kinds of crazy things – they elope, they sneak out of the house at night, they make unbelievable promises, they follow the objects of their adoration to the end of the world, they are completely blind to any faults and deficiencies of their lovers. We all know it.

What normally happens is that they have to be broken, like horses and circus animals. In fact, until a young boy or a girl has suffered his or her first real heartbreak no one takes them seriously. They need to learn cynicism. We laugh at their idealism because we know their will can and should be broken, “for their own good”.

The worst part of it is not the heartbreak itself, it’s the forceful surrender and inevitable compromise with the realities of their bodies. You can’t have your lover, it’s “for your own good”, but we also force you to “love” someone else. Give enough time and your hormones will assert their power. You might hate yourself for giving up on your first love but you WILL eventually want someone else and you WILL settle. No one can be allowed to remain pure and innocent.

I hope gopis had it easier then. They managed to remain pure and innocent and no other man had ever entered their hearts, and they suffered for it. They suffered immensely. I’m sure there was pressure on them to accept life with their regular husbands. The scriptures avoid that point but I can’t easily imagine a scenario where all the gopis were allowed to stay single forever, some of them had husbands even when Krishna was there.

This looks like a very very painful exercise – faithfully serve your given husband, provide him with all the comforts your body can provide, yet keep you heart pure for Krishna. I don’t know how it worked. Maybe they had some form of reprieve, or maybe they really didn’t think much about it – too busy thinking of Krishna.

I wish I could perform my material duties with similar detachment and unwavering concentration on Krishna. So far I fail miserably.

Anyway, many years have passed and gopis surely thought to themselves that they were going to die without seeing Krishna again, and then Nanda Maharaj announced a trip to Kurukshetra to see the solar eclipse and that Krishna was going to be there, too.

What a joy! What a reprieve! Gopis were surely losing their minds in ecstasy.

Finally they were there, Krishna was there, too, they caught a glimpse of Him as He talked to Nanda and Yashoda first. He was within their reach but they couldn’t say a word or make a move – they had social etiquette to observe. I’m sure they were just stunned and lost control of their senses, their bodies were trembling with anticipation. Anyone who has ever met the object of their intense love after a long separation knows the feeling, it’s overwhelming.

Lord Balarama quietly excused Himself and finally Krishna sneaked out to the private area for the meeting – that’s according to the Bhagavatam, and I don’t particularly like that version.

According to our Ratha Yatra story gopis tried to pull Krishna’s chariot back to Vrindavana and Krishna, suddenly remembering His first love and seeing gopis unprecedented devotion for Him fell into a trance, His limbs became shorter and went inside of His body and His eyes became wide and round and He lost consciousness.

This version is so touching that I bet everyone had goosebumps at least once when thinking about it. I’ve heard of simple Orissa man who had tears streaming down his face when he heard this story in an assembly. Of course he was born in the dhama and so is not your ordinary person but I doubt there’s any devotee anywhere whose heart is so stone cold that it hasn’t softened at least once.

Anyway, I have a little issue with Bhagavatam account of that meeting. It is definitely less romantic and cynical minds like mine see Krishna in a somewhat unfavorable light there.

Here how it goes according to my understanding. Krishna saw the gopis, had to go outside for a little meet, and He blew them off, mercilessly.

He gave them vedic version of the “don’t worry about your broken heart” talk. First He laughed. Yeah, seeing all these heartbroken girls who hadn’t still grown up was surely a lot of fun. He talked to them about laws of nature and karma, about clouds, blades of grass, wisps of cotton and particles of dust, and the will of the Supreme Lord. Anything but His own feelings and responsibility.

He basically told them that there are more important things to do than to wallow in teenage fantasies. There are enemies to kill and friends to protect, and, most importantly, there are thousands of women to marry and have children with. That’s real life, not your teenage romance, grow up, will you?

There’s no trance here, no wide eyes, no pulling chariots, just a vedic version of “why I didn’t call” excuses.

Gopis weren’t taking it seriously, too. According to comments by Srila Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura and Sridhara Swami that are quoted in the purports to our translation gopis playfully told Krishna that His excuses were ridiculous – He is the Supreme Lord and He Himself brings wisps of cotton and blades of grass together, and, moreover, all this “serious” talk is lost on devotees who don’t care a bit about all this knowledge, they just love Krishna no matter what.

Maybe that can be construed as another sign of gopis’ perfection – you can’t possibly blow them off and hurt their feelings. There’s absolutely no way you can make them un-love Krishna, no matter how rude and heartless He might appear.

Well, for Him it’s probably manifestation of His supreme renunciation but for us, aspiring devotees, it’s actually a very convenient way out – we don’t really need His mercy to be happy. In the matters of mercy and affection Krishna is not very reliable but if we learn to love Him we won’t care in the least whether He reciprocates or not. We get special kinds of hearts that just can’t be broken.

I need one of those for myself, pronto.