Vanity thought #1287. For crying outloud

They can say whatever they want about BBT being unqualified to edit Prabhupāda’s books and about refusing to recognize the last two and a half cantos of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as genuine translation but there’s at least one passage there that has proved itself time and time again. It works, critics can go home.

The part I’m talking about is not even a translation or the purport but comes from summary of the 28th chapter of the 11th Canto (SB 11.28). This technically means that it’s not even Śrīmad Bhāgavatam itself, it’s a paraphrase by, most likely, HH Srīla Hrdayānanda Dāsa Gosvami who critics written off long time ago:

    The prescribed remedies for lust and the other enemies of the mind are meditation on the Supreme Lord and saṅkīrtana, the loud chanting of His names.

It refers to the verse #40 in that chapter which isn’t as straightforward but the purport relies on the comments by Śrīla Srīdhara Svāmī. When I first took notice of that sentence all I saw is “lust” and “loud chanting”. If you have a bout of lust, chant loudly. That’s all I noticed there. When I got down to the verse itself the meaning got somewhat diluted so all I retained in my memory was that passage from chapter summary, that’s how I find it when I need it again.

It works.

About a week ago I had my “period”, that time of the month when the body demands release of the sexual tension but I immediately remembered that advice. Personally, I have a four-pronged approach to cases like that and loud chanting is one of the main parts.

First, I try to avoid all topics, thoughts, or images with sexual subtext. Just don’t feed the mind, he is such a slut for these things. Well, the mind is not a “he”, it’s a dead material element that follows simple laws of nature, like iron attracted to the magnet. Magnet in this case being images and memories of sexual nature. I, as a spirit soul, do not control content of my memory and I do not control what I see around me, and I do not control what mind gets attracted to specifically, so this attempt to reign it in is artificial.

Being in illusion I assume that I’m the controller of my mind and, if such assumption has already been made, it won’t hurt to direct the mind away from inauspicious thoughts. Ultimately, it’s just a cheap trick that my intelligence, another piece of dead matter, picked up somewhere else. Technically, I do not control my intelligence either.

Second prong in my strategy is patience. Lust is the symptom of the mode of passion and one good thing about the modes is that they always change, one just have to wait them out. No matter how strong, no matter how unbearable, eventually they go away. We are being instructed to tolerate them like one tolerates changes of the season. We need to learn titikṣasva (BG 2.14).

This means that, apart from avoiding provocative thoughts, one must be determined not to act on them under any circumstances. Just don’t do it and it will go away. Now, a week later, I can’t even remember how lustful I was, the modes have changed, and after such changes one might not even recognize himself. I know it will come back eventually but for now it’s not something that I experience anymore, forgotten like a dream.

The first two methods are mechanical, even when trying to tolerate things one must still assume he is in the position of control. The last two methods address that deficiency.

First thing one notices when battling lust is that it is exceptionally strong and compelling. One can try to beat it with sheer willpower but truth is that one can never overcome illusory potency of the Lord on his own. Occasional victories only further deepen his illusion, they are traps meant to lure the deluded soul. For one thing, willpower is addictive and one always wants more and more of it, and the illusion of having willpower is still an illusion.

A devotee should, and this has somehow become controversial in light of self-help seminars popular in ISKCON nowadays, but a devotee should fully depend on the Lord in every aspect of his life. We cannot do anything ourselves, we need Lord’s help in every little thing. Sometimes we are given an illusion of power, we exercise it, and declare that we don’t really need Kṛṣṇa’s help anymore, we can manage on our own.

Well, a devotee should have zero interest in managing anything without Kṛṣṇa. If Kṛṣṇa is excluded from some activity then it’s simply not worth doing. And we shouldn’t imitate nitya-siddha devotees of the Lord who sometimes appear to serve the Lord independently. They do so under the spell of yogamāyā and would never fall into illusion. We are not them, we never ever leave the illusion and so trying to manage on our own should be unacceptable.

Practically, it means that when faced with problem like lust a devotee should pray to the Lord for deliverance. It must be said that praying for deliverance from material afflictions is not pure devotional service, it’s service heavily tinged with desire for liberation, but if we feel afflicted then it’s not the time to pretend we are purer than we really are – akāmaḥ sarva-kāmo vā mokṣa-kāma udāra-dhīḥ (SB 2.3.10).

    A person who has broader intelligence, whether he be full of all material desire, without any material desire, or desiring liberation, must by all means worship the supreme whole, the Personality of Godhead.

So, the third part of the solution to problem of lust is to pray to the Lord. Nothing else will help, really. It’s only between us and the Lord, the material energy is just an agent to channel our desires, she is not there to destroy our spiritual life, and she is Lord’s energy anyway.

Oh, and it’s obviously NOT between us and whatever females that appear as objects of our desire (or males, or whatever sex one is attracted to). This last point is important – other people cannot get in between us and the Lord, they cannot harm us, they are simply agents of māyā, it’s māyā who keeps us lusty, not our wives or husbands or girls next door or whatever. The point is to forget everything and everybody and pray to the Lord.

The fourth part of the solution is saṅkīrtana, loud chanting. Simply sitting there and thinking to yourself might not be enough, when we saw “pray” we mean chant the Holy Names, chant the mahāmantra, it’s the best prayer there is. One can certainly construct some heartfelt plea to the Lord and there’s nothing wrong with that, but try repeating that plea a thousand times, the meaning will most certainly wash off. For comparison, we chant the mahāmantra over one thousand seven hundred times daily and it’s possible to make is sound fresh every time.

The chanting should also be loud, Bhāgavatam is specific about saṅkīrtana (though “constant thinking” is also mentioned). It means it shouldn’t be japa in the traditional sense, ie silent whispering. We might call chanting our rounds japa, too, but technically it isn’t. Ideally, saṅkīrtana should also be a congregational affair. The other meaning, pure chanting, is not applicable for those afflicted with lust. It might be impossible to find a kīrtana group every time when one is sexually agitated so loud chanting is all that is easily available.

I’m also not sure about horny people joining in chanting, if you give them the microphone they might just as well pollute everybody else, these things need to be managed carefully.

Loudly chanting to yourself, however, works. When everything else fails it’s our only resort, our desperate attempt to drown out our minds. When Kṛṣṇa sees that we give our everything to keep our vows and we do not seek help anywhere else He will surely interfere, He won’t leave us alone. That will probably be the sweetest moment of the whole thing, the moment when we realize that Kṛṣṇa is on our side and our prayers have been answered.

There could be other things I missed but the point is to try everything possible. If we have the illusion of control, use that control to battle lust. If we desperately desire liberation from material suffering, use that desperation to pray to the Lord. If we pray to the Lord but can’t think of anything, just chant and chant and chant, as loudly as possible.

Lust is one of those things that should not be tolerated. We cannot allow ourselves to give in to it, it will kill all our devotion, all our taste, all our chances to realize anything spiritual. It’s too degrading and if we fail we’ll have to live with aftereffects for a long time. It comes to take away Kṛṣṇa and we should not allow it.

It’s a battle worth fighting no matter how weak we appear to be.

Another thing, everything I said about praying to Kṛṣṇa here is also applicable to taking shelter at the lotus feet of our guru. Realizing that it works just the same is even sweeter than accepting help from Kṛṣṇa Himself (presumably). This realization is even better – everybody knows that Kṛṣṇa is all powerful but for many of us there will always be somebody who would doubt spiritual potency of our particular guru. Realizing that they are fools who know nothing about the glories of our guru’s lotus feet is especially sweet in this light.

Vanity thought #974. Flooding the gates

Nārada Muni’s advice on conquering lust is too controversial to just let it go, there needs to be an attempt at reconciliation with our later ācāryas, so here it is.

Let’s start with quoting those verses again (SB 7.11.33-34) together with a short purport:

    My dear King, if an agricultural field is cultivated again and again, the power of its production decreases, and whatever seeds are sown there are lost. Just as drops of ghee on a fire never extinguish the fire but a flood of ghee will, similarly, overindulgence in lusty desires mitigates such desires entirely.

    PURPORT

    If one continuously sprinkles drops of ghee on a fire, the fire will not be extinguished, but if one suddenly puts a lump of ghee on a fire, the fire may possibly be extinguished entirely. Similarly, those who are too sinful and have thus been born in the lower classes are allowed to enjoy sinful activities fully, for thus there is a chance that these activities will become detestful to them, and they will get the opportunity to be purified.

The fact that the purport is so short and that in half of it Śrila Prabhupāda simply repeats Nārada Muni’s suggestion doesn’t make it easy. I certainly can’t think of any similar ideas expressed elsewhere in our books. There’s a verse in Bhagavad Gītā (2.59) but the purport there is similarly short and doesn’t directly prescribe Nārada Muni’s method, offering developing higher taste through bhakti instead:

    The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.

    PURPORT

    Unless one is transcendentally situated, it is not possible to cease from sense enjoyment. The process of restriction from sense enjoyment by rules and regulations is something like restricting a diseased person from certain types of eatables. The patient, however, neither likes such restrictions nor loses his taste for eatables. Similarly, sense restriction by some spiritual process like aṣṭāńga-yoga, in the matter of yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, etc., is recommended for less intelligent persons who have no better knowledge. But one who has tasted the beauty of the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa, in the course of his advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, no longer has a taste for dead, material things. Therefore, restrictions are there for the less intelligent neophytes in the spiritual advancement of life, but such restrictions are only good until one actually has a taste for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. When one is actually Kṛṣṇa conscious, he automatically loses his taste for pale things.

In fact, here it appears that Nārada Muni’s method shouldn’t work at all – “Unless one is transcendentally situated, it is not possible to cease from sense enjoyment.”

So, does Nārada Muni contradict Kṛṣṇa? Or Śrila Prabhupāda contradicts Nārada? Neither of those, of course, it just gives us a bit of a headache to explain it away.

Both methods should work in the manner intended by the speaking authority, contradictions arise when we try to generalize too much and apply these methods outside of intended sphere. Context, therefore, is very important, as well as exact subject and exact expected results.

In Bhagavad Gītā Krṣṇa is speaking about all conditioned souls in general, dehinaḥ, and He is also the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself so His words should be taken in a more general, absolute sense. Taste for material life does not disappear unless one develops taste for serving the Lord in devotional service. Even liberated souls do not lose that taste forever and occasionally slip back down to conditioned state and let’s not forget that even liberated souls who do not for a moment experience attraction to material enjoyment are nevertheless attracted by the Lord – the famous ātmārāma verse (SB 1.7.10).

There are other conditions that attract an embodied soul to devotional service – “four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me — the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute” which were also described by Kṛṣṇa (BG 7.16). Notice that he doesn’t mention those who have completely exhausted their sense organs as suggested by Nārada Muni.

Let’s look closely at Nārada’s advice. It comes almost at the end of the chapter, previous verses dealt with duties of brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, wives etc. This turn to overindulgence in lusty desires came in rather unexpectedly, though a śloka dealing with mixed classes was inserted three verses earlier (SB 7.11.30). That verse simply mentioned that lower classes have their hereditary customs, nothing else. In the purport Śrila Prabhupāda said that for members of some of those castes intermarriage and drinking is allowed because they do not consider it sinful themselves.

In the next verse Nārada doesn’t say anything about sin but Śrila Prabhupāda continues on the same topic in the purport:

    In Bhagavad-gītā (3.35) it is said, śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt svanuṣṭhitāt: “It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though they may be faulty, than another’s duties.” The antyajas, the men of the lower classes, are accustomed to stealing, drinking and illicit sex, but that is not considered sinful. For example, if a tiger kills a man, this is not sinful but if a man kills another man, this is considered sinful, and the killer is hanged. What is a daily affair among the animals is a sinful act in human society. Thus according to the symptoms of higher and lower sections of society, there are different varieties of occupational duties. According to the experts in Vedic knowledge, these duties are prescribed in terms of the age concerned.

This is very interesting in itself because in our preaching we insist on absolute nature of sinful activities such as drinking and illicit sex. Śrila Prabhupāda doesn’t mention meat eating here but I think it would be fair to assume that killing cows is indeed absolutely sinful while smaller animals, like chicken or fish, can fall under customs of each particular caste. Come to think of it, ritual slaughter of the cows and bulls in corrida traditions of Spanish speaking world should also fall under particular customs of certain people living in a certain age. We don’t usually allows for such relativity, maybe we should.

So, for several ślokas in a row Nārada Muni was talking about duties of people of lower classes and while he doesn’t specify who exactly he had in mind in verses 33 and 34 he must have meant those who fall outside general varṇāśrama. He was also talking about gradual elevation through the ranks, especially in immediately preceding verse 32:

    If one acts in his profession according to his position in the modes of nature and gradually gives up these activities, he attains the niṣkāma stage.

Notice that in this verse he specifically says “gradually gives up these activities”, overindulgence of the verse 34 comes later and should be considered in that context.

Now we can piece it altogether – lower classes of people have their own customs and they should follow those, which is not considered sinful. By doing so they will gradually lose their interests in these activities. How? By indulging in what is allowed in full.

As long as they do not step outside their natural boundaries they can engage their senses as much as they want, it’s beneficial for them, and flooding their senses will satisfy their most base desires, prompting interest in a more subtle and sophisticated enjoyment that will be available in next lives in higher castes.

This is how Vedic way of gradual elevation is supposed to work anyway, the only thing unusual here is that restrictions must be in the form of boundaries, not quantities of sense enjoyment.

Can we apply this method in our own lives? Yes, of course, but we should determine our positions first. As devotees we have our own boundaries and our own rules, part of which is making voluntary sacrifices for the Lord. If we cannot qualify as that kind of devotees we should not pretend to be on that level, and if we are on that level we should not do certain things that are allowed for everybody else.

In practical terms it means no illicit sex, for example, and even if we approach our partners for procreation we should not do so more often than once a month. There’s no restriction on a number of children and no restrictions on how long we can try – this month, next month, month after that and so on.

If we can’t follow – we are not there yet and so we should live by our own prescribed standards, not demanding any initiation rights or recognition as devotees in good standing.

As far as gays are concerned – if they feel like “gay marriage” is a right step for them there’s no reason to deny them this right but if they feel like they can’t live without casual sex with multiple partners – let them do it with whatever rules apply for this kind of “dating”.

Can we “bless” their relationships? Yes, why not, but claiming a right to be initiated is probably beyond their level yet.

At the end of the day – we are saved through chanting of the Holy Name and the Holy Name doesn’t ask us for vows, it’s there free for everybody who has ever met a devotee or read Prabhupāda’s book. Holy Name also works on the absolute level so if we don’t qualify for initiation in this life it doesn’t really matter, we’ll get there eventually. Perhaps our envy of those who appear as better devotees than us is a much bigger problem than our own lack of advancement – we should concentrate solely on our own relationship with the Lord and treat everybody else’s with utmost respect – amāninā mānadena. Then kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ.

We we get that we can’t ask for anything more.

Vanity thought #793. Enemy that never sleeps

Lust is probably our most well known enemy, mostly because it always threatens our vows to our guru, but it has its weaknesses, too.

Firstly, it manifests itself as a physiological phenomenon depending on certain combination or imbalance of hormones and so it can be placated by chemicals, too, not just sex. I don’t know if there could be dopamine treatment for bouts of lust but, luckily, dopamine could be produced by the body itself. Sexual agitation can also be reduced by mechanical methods – washing your face, talking to your mother and so on. Of course it never goes away completely but it’s fairly manageable.

Much more welcome is the fact that these lust inducing hormones affect us only at certain age and with ever increasing longevity we are looking at half of our lives being practically free from sexual urges. Of course modern men not only live longer but also try to be sexually active in their seventies but this requires quite an effort on their part, I’m sure if we apply efforts in the opposite direction, trying to subdue our sexual urges, we’d be far more successful than them. After fifty it should become a breeze.

But today I want to talk about the enemy that never sleeps – anger. It affects everyone all the way from cradle to the grave but because being angry doesn’t break vows we don’t treat it very seriously. We should.

Anger is an external symptom of the same underlying problem – lust, but the kind of lust that goes much deeper than usual sexual desire, the kind of lust that binds us to the world with all its attractions, not just with opposite sex.

It’s much more difficult to conquer, too, it never goes away, and it drives us in all our non-devotional endeavors. When we don’t get what we are lasting for, we get angry. Next step pramada, madness, because when we give in to anger we tend to do and say stupid things, and that creates very unpleasant karmic reactions.

Normally anger subsides very fast but that is only the most acute attacks, the underlying desire and dissatisfaction can linger on for days and practically eat you inside. It’s not unusual to find oneself caught up in trying to right the world’s wrongs for a very long time – weeks, days, and months – just look at politics or any other hot issue of the day.

I have people in my tweet feed that are permanently glued to their fights and never talk about anything else. I know people who are always on a verge of going into a rage if you bring certain issues in the conversations. Anger becomes the raison d’etre for their entire lives.

The best example is probably Gollum from Lord Of The Rings fantasy. He was totally consumed by his lust for the ring and he completely forgot that once he had had a different name and a different life. His first act of love for the ring was killing his friend in a fight for the possession, and that was just the start.

What I’m trying to say is that while anger seems like a relatively innocuous emotion, if it comes it means you are already too far gone in your cravings. Just think what exactly makes you angry and you’ll quickly discover some very unpalatable truths about yourself and about your conditioning. Once you realize the extent of the problem anger would become the least of your problems.

Not to fret, however, anger has its own weaknesses and so can be dealt with. The best solution is to become angry in the service of the Lord, that would keep you free from entanglement no matter what you do or say. The downside is that you can’t fool the Lord in passing your own obsessions for His service. You can’t imitate being such a devotee.

Next best thing is just to sit and wait, take a couple of deep breaths, or force your mind to stop obsessing with the “source” of your troubles. Just stop thinking about it. It won’t solve the problem but it would alleviate the anger issue and protect you from doing something stupid.

Eventually we’ll learn to see ourselves as separate entities and anger as an external issue affecting certain areas of our minds. It doesn’t stop the anger from coming but it makes it easier to ignore it and just get on with our lives. We’ll learn to see our attachments as real causes of our anger and stop blaming external triggers, which is a very important spiritual realization.

Modern psychology is quite successful in managing anger, there’s no reason not to take a few lessons from them, we just have to keep our eyes on the ball – anger is a symptom, anger can cause serious complications if it goes out of control, the only way to avoid it altogether is to become detached and liberated, and it’s actually quite an easy way to show us the difference between ourselves and our minds.

If we always remember these simple facts we can happily go on engaging ourselves in Krishna’s service regardless of various material impediments like anger or lust.

Vanity thought #792. Major missing point

I can’t believe I forgot the most pertinent reason for our inability to comprehend Vedic approach to sex – contraceptives. Invention of a pill has truly changed women’s lives and with it the sexual attitudes of the entire humanity.

It has completely divorced sex life from procreation and turned it into recreation. Prior to that every sexual congress could always produce children and both participants were fully aware of it. It was impossible to separate sex from reproduction and so if it was in marriage it was always “licit”, and just as enjoyable.

Every marriage was expected to bear fruit as soon as possible and marriage was practically synonymous with breeding – men and women getting together meant children first and foremost while any romantic involvement was simply icing on the cake. Success in marriage was determined by the number of children, the more the merrier.

Of course one reason for judging marriage by the amount and quality of progeny was economics of a farm life – more children, more farm hands, better security and bigger incomes, but this excuse doesn’t change the underlying principle – sex as procreation is godly, just as it’s said in Bhagavad Gita (7.11) – kamo ‘smi, “I am sex life which is not contrary to religious principles”.

Of course some wannabe Sanskritologists might object that kamah in this verse is not “sex according to regulative principles” but just “kama”, but there’s dharma-aviruddhaḥ — “not against religious principles” in the verse and this translation with commentaries of other vaishnava acharyas carry the same meaning. In fact, over there kama is translated as energy for procreation, not just sex as in Kama Sutra, a book that has nothing to do with procreation at all.

Next objection would be the existence of the Kama Sutra itself – it was a book describing how to enjoy sex, not how to make it more effective in terms of procreation.

Fine, not everyone in Vedic ages was living to the same standards of purity as expected of vaishnavas, there were hunters and fishermen, too, doesn’t change the fact that brahmanas were supposed to be vegetarians, and vaishnavas always supposed to be the best of the best.

Even in Srimad Bhagavatam we have stories of kings who overindulged in sex life and clearly broke the fourth so it was always possible but it was still not recommended, those were kings who suffered for it, and attachment to sex life is universally condemned there, even to “licit” one.

I am not talking about such exceptions here, I’m talking about general attitude – sex meant procreation and it was all good and even prescribed as one’s duty.

Somehow I don’t think that introduction of contraceptives has made sex any more objectively pleasant or any more frequent just as invention of processed food hasn’t made it any tastier or healthier, there are too many variables that could influence the outcome if we judge success in sex life purely by the amount of pleasure.

It’s obvious that couples who are trying for a child are far more fulfilled in their lives than those who treat their unions more like one night stands, it just doesn’t compare, and, more importantly for us, it doesn’t make them break the principles but rather carries with it guru and Krishna’s blessings.

Another objection could be that child bearing takes too much time and leaves husbands hang out to dry, so to speak, but a man emotionally and spiritually involved in this endeavor naturally loses his sexual appetite, so it’s not a big problem at all. It becomes a problem if he lives in a sex obsessed society that puts him under undue expectations but if he stays with this family he should be pretty immune to such external pressures.

Funny thing, I can’t think of any cultural references that could vividly describe this kind of sex life even if it was traditional only fifty years ago. It’s gone, completely, purged from public consciousness, and even among devotees no one is surprised if a newly wed couple doesn’t produce a child in nine months.

In our defense – it’s not that we don’t want children or we want sex as recreation, in the modern society children are a big burden, a big financial commitment, and, as birth rates are plummeting, it becomes impossible to keep up with Joneses who pour all their considerable resources in this one little brat.

We can counter Joneses with six kids of our own but when we divide our meager income among them we would be lucky if they all got socks on at the same time, and we can forget about decent colleges. Education is another problem – gurukulas are nice but we haven’t got enough of them for all our devotees.

Perhaps what holds us back from engaging in “licit” sex is not our unstoppable lust but our external circumstances. We’d love to have sex for procreation every time we feel the physical need but modern life has made it impossible. Or maybe it’s our lack of faith that Krishna will provide. Or maybe it’s the sense of responsibility that if we can’t guarantee proper care we shouldn’t go near our wives.

Life in Kali yuga is very tough, there is no doubt about it, but it’s still not the reason to abandon our principles, we should just soldier on to the best of our abilities and always keep our eyes on the target – Krishna. Remembering Him at all times is the most important principle of all, this will never change.

Vanity thought #791. Archenemy

Misconceptions about proper, Vedic attitudes towards sex are slowly spreading through our society and it makes us bleed. Drop by drop we lose our purity and become anemic because without purity we don’t have mercy of Lord Chaitanya and without His mercy we can’t change anyone’s heart. Soon enough we’ll become just an empty shell like any other religious society with numbers and traditions but no connection to God. We were supposed to reform them, not to become one of them. It would be such a waste of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s efforts.

The reason for the rise of these misconceptions is, of course, unconquerable lust. We try to be celibate, we fail, we see other people fail, too, and then we conclude that guru and shastra must be wrong. We often tell other people that the proof is in the pudding, so why not take this advice ourselves – illicit sex rule doesn’t work so it needs to be rejected or amended?

This is talking from the position of a person affected by lust, however, and in that position it’s impossible to comprehend the wisdom of Vedic injunctions even in better times, what to speak of Kali yuga.

We cannot make sadhana changing decisions in such a state, no matter how much we are tempted to. Some people drink in exasperation and make all kinds of life changing promises only to regret them the following morning. We shouldn’t follow their example and try to adjust our system while in agitated state of mind.

The importance of no illicit sex is pretty clear when we are under the influence of the mode of goodness but what bothers us is our inability to stay that way forever, we know that sooner or later passion would come to claim its toll and our vows would become impossible to keep.

By amending “no illicit sex” to “no sex outside of marriage” we are basically hedging our bets in case the weather turns bad and we get caught up in a storm of sexual agitation. Clever move, but it’s not our decision to make – we should follow the path of mahajanas, the rules given by our acharyas. Obviously, we need another way to deal with it.

First of all, we should remember that lust is temporary just like any other kind of happiness and distress, it comes and goes, and our instructions are to tolerate such disturbances. According to Bhagavad Gita a perfect sage is not the one who doesn’t experience pain inflicted by material nature but one who is not disturbed by it. Therefore the easiest answer to lust problems is to do nothing about it, it would go away on its own.

Secondly, we should try to avoid putting ourselves in harms way, and therefore we should avoid associating with lusty persons, we should avoid mundane entertainment and we should not hang out with people who think enjoying sex is their god given right.

It’s nice to praise brahmacharies who can be steady in their determination even when they are forced to mingle with women and it’s easy to blame brahmacharies who fall to “innocent” lady charms but the rule is – no association, none at all, and this rule is there for a reason. No one in his right mind should try to tempt the brahmacharies, no one should try to play the role of Satan in the desert, and it’s shameful to gloat at other people’s failures after they have been deliberately set up.

Stay away from such people, too.

There’s also the fact that austerity is actually quite pleasant and fulfilling when done in the right way – under the mode of goodness, so keeping our vows is not all pain and no gain. After a while everybody who learns to keep his vows comes to realize that happiness derived from purity is better than happiness derived from sense enjoyment and this kind of realization never goes away, even in worst possible situations, it’s like alcoholic’s knowledge that sobriety is always better. They drink but they know it’s wrong and they think of the ways to overcome their affliction.

People who argue that “no illicit sex” rule should be relaxed are like drunks who don’t value sobriety at all. We shouldn’t keep their company just as relapsed alcoholics should seek company of their sober AA sponsors and not bar regulars who think they can drink and have it all, too.

What to do if lust has come to your door? There’s an interesting twist here – on one hand we are told that chanting solves all problems, on the other hand we are told that we shouldn’t imitate Haridasa Thakura because in our polluted state we’d only be thinking about sex.

Srila Prabhupada wanted us to be engaged in active service instead of trying to chant all day long. Why? Because it purifies our nature better than nirjana bhajana imitation. Chanting improves everything and so if we chant with material desires in our minds those desires will become stronger, too. We could see this paradox as offensive chanting and offensive chanting produces unfavorable results, at least in the short term.

Two lessons should be learned from this – we should be very careful about our sixteen rounds, we should try to find the best time and we should avoid all disturbances when we do our japa, and we should engage ourselves in other, more appropriate ways when we are not chanting on beads.

Lust can easily overtake our minds when we are all alone with our bead bags but I don’t know anyone who could become horny during Deity greetings, for example. It’s the same Lord, same Holy Name, but one kind of service is susceptible to lust attacks and the other is totally immune.

I don’t know how one can become horny when doing street harinama, or when giving a class, or when listening to a class, or when dancing in front of the Deities, or during guru puja, or when taking prasadam. Actually, our cure for effects of Kali yuga is sankirtana, which is congregational chanting, and, come to think of it – the best way to lose one’s sexual agitation is to have public contact with just about anyone, even answering a phone call or a text can totally purge lusty thoughts from your mind while it’s nearly impossible to achieve this effect while being alone in private.

Practically, it means that we can postpone doing our japa if we feel that we are being overcome by lust and do something else instead – call somebody, check the news, reset our minds one way or another, and then we can continue. It’s better than chanting offensively and it’s only sixteen rounds, might take half an hour longer, not the end of the world and certainly not a failure in our chanting vows.

Ultimately, however, it’s the association of devotees, proper association, that will keep us immune from modes of passion and ignorance. Stay with them, engage in glorifying the Lord, and nothing will even touch you. This is another reason why we can’t hope to get saved on our own – we’d be eaten alive by lust.

Vanity thought #180. The elusive happiness.

What is happiness? Am I happy? Am I a happy person? A happy devotee? Am I unhappy?

Just as I was contemplating this topic yet another “chanting doesn’t make me happy” question popped up in my twitter stream.

The answer was that we are unhappy because we are trying to be enjoyers and that we can experience genuine happiness only when we understand that Krishna is the actual enjoyer and so we chant and do everything for his pleasure. When Krishna is pleased with our chanting we will become happy, too.

Nice and to the point, subtly suggesting a problem in our own consciousness before blaming our unhappiness on Krishna. I wonder, though, if it makes any immediate practical impact. It’s not like we can turn our devotion on demand. In fact, according to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s comments on Siskashtaka and Sanmodana Bhashyam, a conditioned soul is so covered with anarthas and desires for karma, enjoyment, or jnana, renunciation, that he is incapable of rendering any devotional service at all.

So it’s not that I can start chanting for Krishna’s pleasure at will. It’s more like I have no such capacity at all, but let’s go back to happiness for a moment.

Am I happy? Well, it depends on how happiness is defined, doesn’t it?

Pardon me, but for some happiness is one never ending orgasm. Am I happy? Huh? No, far from it, and, judging by my age, never will be. However ridiculous, but this definition has its merits.

Others might think that happiness is an ever expanding world of opportunities. Younger people certainly get a buzz from these kinds of visions – career, girls, perks, traveling around the world, it’s all yours and the world’s your oyster. Am I happy in this sense? Hmm, no, and I don’t really care for any of those things, they don’t excite me anymore.

Contrary to the youth, older people might describe happiness as being content. I can relate to that, and it has a certain sattvic ring to it. So, am I content? Well, it depends.

I am generally content now, but if I expand the scope of my time reference – I’m in a hurry to finish this post, I’m worried that I’ll have to postpone it and will lose my train of thought. If I expand my scope a bit further I’d say I’m content with having the opportunity to chant so many rounds a day.

If I expand even further I might start to worry what is going to happen to me in the medium term, when the money will start running out and nothing continues to come in, it would create a certain pressure, so I’m not content.

Expanding further I believe Krishna will somehow or other arrange everything and all astrological predictions put a better future in front of me, I’m *only* six or seven years away from the best period of my life, so I’m full of hope and content.

On the other hand, there are certain changes happening with my body, the old age is not very far away, I’ve lost a spring from my step and it’s not coming back and much bigger problems are awaiting me very soon. Does that make me content? Of course not.

I also know that despite all my problems it’s very unlikely that Krishna will abandon me forever, I can always count on His mercy and protection, that’s the ultimate contentment, right?

Well, yes, when I remember about it.

It appears the feeling of happiness very much depends on my current perspective, and my perspectives change and fluctuate in a matter of minutes if not seconds. With a bit of practice I’ve learned how to keep myself in a permanent happy mood, ignoring some aspects of my life and concentrating on others instead, but is it a sign of happiness or just cheating?

Perhaps “Why am I not happy despite my chanting?” question is wrong and misleading in itself, and that’s why I’ve never seen anyone getting a truly satisfactory answer to it, however correct and well meaning.

My concern with my happiness has no relation to my chanting and pleasing Krishna. Happiness and distress come and go according to my karma and the laws of nature, and they will come and go no matter how far advanced I might become in my Krishna consciousness. Practically it means it’s wrong to expect chanting to have any effect on feelings of happiness and distress.

Sure, Hare Krishna mantra is absolute and can grant any kind of benedictions but a) it is not obliged to do so, as Krishna is also absolutely independent, He is not some kind of demigod who must respond to performance of sacrifices, and b) that’s not what we are asking for, is it? When we chant we are asking for devotion, asking to engage us in devotional service, and that has nothing to do with the happiness or distress experienced by our bodies.

What we should be concerned with, instead, is whether we are giving any pleasure to Krishna at all. It’s safe to assume that our chanting itself, being impure and mixed with all kind of anarthas, is not much fun for Him to listen to, but the efforts to purify ourselves and become ready recipients for the boon of devotion might please Him very much.

Again, it is not wise to expect Krishna’s feedback on our efforts to manifest itself as feeling of happiness. As long as we identify ourselves with our bodies all our happiness will be temporary anyway.

Thinking about it this way made me realize the value of my efforts. If I can’t chant Krishna’s names with devotion all that is left for me is to try, and that has led me to some interesting thoughts – is Krishna helping me in my attempts?

He knows the value of efforts better than me, so, is He making various arrangements to make me try more often and with more sincerity?

Let me see, is He making me think about sex because it easily reminds me to concentrate on Holy Names instead. This kind of thoughts are too provocative to simply ignore, they require an all out effort to listen to the mantra, currently I don’t know a better way.

Is Krishna consciously allows lust to enter my mind? Absurd, huh? Well, He regularly sends all kinds of troubles and tribulations to His devotees so that they come to Him for shelter, it’s a well known and time tested trick, ever since Pandavas stories.

I can easily think up a couple of cases from my own life that would follow the same pattern but they are quite large in scope, affecting my life for several months or years. If the scope itself is not important why not imagine that Krishna sends me little troubling thoughts every few minutes so that I can take shelter of the Hare Krishna mantra? It’s not such an outrageous idea, is it?

I would even say that lust attacks serve this purpose better than diverting my mind to possible topics for this blog or various other Krishna related arguments. Those kind of things can occupy my mind and keep me from listening to the mantra for hours, why wouldn’t Krishna send some female images to my brain instead to remind me of my precarious position and run back to the sturdy boat of the Holy Names?

Well, it seems like a nice cope out – blame my lust problems on Krishna, but it makes me try and that’s the only thing that matters, right?

Also, this explanation is guaranteed to purge any thoughts of achieving jata-rati stage of chanting anytime soon – my chanting is not born of attraction to Krishna, it’s born of Him prodding me with blasts of lust.

Should work miracles for my over-inflated ego.

There’s still a lot of stuff to say about the pursuit of happiness, though, will do it tomorrow or at the earliest possible opportunity.

Vanity thought #139. Week in review.

Five day japa marathon is finally over, time to count the chickens.

Can’t string my thoughts into any coherent narrative, so, in no particular order.

My life does not belong to me, my time does not belong to me either. I promised to chant sixteen rounds a day and that’s all I can claim for myself. Beyond that I’m at the mercy of the elements. If elements combine themselves into a shape and that shape picks up the phone and says “There’s something I need you to do..” then I must oblige because my body has responsibilities.

It’s because of the Kali yuga – there’s no sannyasa, no renunciation, one must live in his household life and perform his household duties. No one can sit down in meditation and tell the rest of the world to get lost.

Also, this is not the kind of yoga that we practice. Before Kali yuga meditation was the norm and no one could ever disturb a meditating yogi or rishi. First of all it was simply not done, there was no higher duty than meditation, second – it was plain dangerous. Wasn’t it Kardama Muni who was distracted from his samadhi and with one look of his eyes he burned sixty thousand princes with their armies to ashes? And he wasn’t even angry, they say. The offence was so great that those unfortunate souls got burned by their karma, not by Kardama Muni.

Now consider bhakti yoga. You might sit and think about Krishna’s pastimes all by yourself but if a vaishnava comes up to you and humbly begs for your help you drop everything you are doing and go out of your way to satisfy the devotee. That’s how our yoga works – we don’t do anything for ourselves, even our own advancement depends on serving others first.

Okay, looks like weekend will be lost on family and relatives but next Monday I’m planning on chanting at least a hundred rounds a day again.

What changes did this week bring?

First, my hand no longer cramps or sores, even the tip of the middle finger doesn’t bother me anymore, it’s a bit numb but at least there’s no pain. My legs are getting used to the routine, too. I still can’t sit for long periods of time but I figured – I’m not chanting so that I learn to sit quietly, if I need to walk I’ll walk – whatever works, sometimes I even lie on the bed and stretch myself. There’s no rule against it, it’s not traditional yoga.

I also learned a bit more about vocative case. We don’t have it in English but that would be something like “John, come here”, or just “John” when you call him. It took me a while to realize the obvious – we put so many different meanings in that simple call for John. It could be a threat, it could be a plea for help, it could be an invitation, it could be a tease – one simple word can carry so many emotions. Exactly the same thing happens with Hare, Krishna, and Rama.

We are not supposed to think about anything when we chant the mantra but we can still put a lot of different emotions in our calls for these names. We can sound content or frustration, or pleas for mercy, or even aggression (“I’m coming!”)

At one point during this week I got a knock on the head to tone it down a bit. It’s nice to express feelings towards the Lord but it’s better if the feelings come from a purified heart, and to purify my heart I have to listen to the Names themselves first, otherwise I just drown them with my own immature, material, contaminated emotions.

So for the last couple of days I’ve been learning to listen. It was unremarkable at first but today, during the last couple of hours, I really got used to it. Whatever thought comes up – discard it and just listen. Don’t beg, don’t cry, don’t gloat – just listen, but intently. It was not possible for me before but I see that it can be done now. I see no other reason than a lot of practice.

You could say it’s Krishna’s mercy, but I didn’t have this mercy until I chanted ten hours a day. For some people mercy is easy to come by but I’m not one of them. I could have chanted for months like this with no effect, too, but Krishna decided to show me some proof that it’s not all in vain. I’m truly thankful but also a bit jealous of my effort. If someone gets the same result for free I would consider it unfair – there’s still a lot of dirt in my heart.

Speaking of dirt – I’ve noticed that lust has become easier to manage. Just two days ago or so it required a gargantuan effort to divert my mind to something less agitating, today it was simply listening a bit more attentively. It came up more often but each attack was less severe. Don’t know whether it’s sustainable or it’s just a temporary reprieve, I’m glad it happened anyway.

Then there was something bizarre and unusual – couple of times my mouth went completely out of control. It happened in the morning so fatigue couldn’t be the reason. First I noticed that last “Hare Hare” were becoming unclear and I tried to correct my pronunciation. To my total amusement I suddenly lost the ability to pronounce anything! It was like a deaf person trying to speak – words coming out very slowly and at unusual pitch. I had a real trouble trying to say “K-r-i-sh-n-a”, after half a minute or so it was all back to normal.

Then, an hour later, it happened again. The tongue would just not budge. I had to pause, relax, and try to sing the Names instead. Push the reset button, so to speak.

Later in the day it happened again and again but not as severe. Luckily, it was always when my mind was drifting away and doing some thinking on the side. As soon as it was off, either last “Hare Hare” or the “Rama Rama” parts were all mingled.

At first, in the morning, I thought there’s something wrong with my brain, maybe I got a tumor or something, but in the afternoon it was really a boon – easy to notice that the mind is drifting, and easy to bring it back, by concentrating on pronouncing the mantra at the usual speed.

Amusing, to say the least.

Finally, a big discovery – I was reading HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s book to keep me going and one particular “meditation” reminded me the reason why I’m doing this.

I sort of accepted that I survive only by Krishna’s mercy. Okay, half the time I don’t even remember but that’s the situation as I understand it. Today, however, I realized that I should survive not by mercy but by my love. Like a mother, for example, who doesn’t stop and think about what mercy has been given to her so that she could continue caring for her child. She puts her love first and foremost, mercy and means might come or not, doesn’t hinder mother’s love for a second.

Practically it means that I must chant not because Krishna has given me a chance but because I love chanting and can’t live without it. I must try to chant with whatever minuscule powers I, as a jiva soul, possess, against all odds and regardless of Krishna’s provisions.

That’s a tall order, but it is also true. I sit and listen to myself and I wonder – where is this love? How can I put non existent attraction for the Names above all other interests? Sex and material love, for example, are very welcoming and promising and comforting, and they are very real. How can I even compare them with my taste for the Holy Names? How could this “taste” overcome sexual attraction, or hunger, or need for sleep?

No idea, but I better keep on chanting, because that’s the only way to develop it, and, there’s a chance Krishna might lend a helping hand, too.