Vanity thought #1506. “Decline”

“Good times with Lord Nityānanda” were almost as good as when Lord Caitanya started the saṅkīrtana movement in Navadvīpa. I say almost as good because not everyone accepted Lord Nityānanda’s pastimes as genuine, as evident from curses thrown their way by Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura in Caitanya Bhāgavata.

I don’t think it should be surprising. Lord Caitanya was very sensitive to people’s perceptions of Him. When He realized not everyone was accepting His authority He took sannyāsa. When He took sannyāsa He made sure His behavior was spotless and no one, absolutely no one could find blemishes in His character and behavior. Lord Nityānanda, otoh, couldn’t care less what people thought of Him, He’d simply melt their hearts with love of God. It worked, but there are always holdouts who might accept phenomena like saṅkīrtana as a new normal but they won’t stop grumbling about this “progress” and seek every reason to criticize it. Lord Nityānanda gave them plenty. All they had to do was to outlast the Lord and then start picking on less than absolutely perfect followers. I’m not saying this is what happened but it sounds plausible to me.

Another speculative reason for apparent decline in saṅkīrtana in Bengal was sex. It doesn’t affect Lord Nityānanda, of course, but it affects everyone of us. Unless absolutely pure we can’t think of somebody’s marriage without at least imagining if we could try it ourselves, and that’s how it gets in.

Generally, all Lord Nityānanda’s associates were married. They were cowherd boys descended from Goloka so it didn’t affect them, it was not a problem and no one thought about it twice, it wasn’t an impediment to their saṅkīrtana. Once they all departed, however, ordinary conditioned souls were left with an impossible standard to maintain and a natural desire to be married.

Lord Nityānanda Himself, ostensibly a sannyāsī, got married and He even got TWO wives, not just one. He wasn’t bound by His sannyāsa vows and was renouncing renunciation. Some devotees in our movement tried that, too, with disastrous results. We can’t imitate the Lord, and we are not even doing it right.

In case of Lord Nityānanda the order to marry came from Lord Caitanya Himself. I don’t remember it being mentioned in Caitanya Caritāmṛta but it stated explicitly in Nityānanda Caritāmṛta by Vṛndāvana Dāsā Ṭhākura. I don’t know why this book is not as popular as his Caitanya Bhāgavata but it exists and there Mahāprabhu gives the order to Lord Nityānanda not only to preach but also to start a household life. There are two chapters dedicated to Lord Nityānanda’s marriage there, and I think it’s covered in other books, too.

Elsewhere I heard that when Lord Caitanya was told of Lord Nityānanda’s marriage people were expected to see His surprise but instead He said that as far as He is concerned, Lord Nityānanda could marry a Muslim girl and it wouldn’t affect Mahāprabhu’s opinion of Him in the slightest. It’s in line with “if you see Nityānanda going into a liquor shop you have to assume He goes there to preach” dictum.

Anyway, Lord Nityānanda married two sisters, one was the famous Jāhnava Mātā who, by all accounts, wasn’t an ordinary woman and we have no evidence to suggest the Lord ever engaged in sexual relations with her, at least she didn’t have any children. Marriage to the second sister was “accidental”. Once she was serving prasādam to the Lord and the piece of sari covering her head fell off. She immediately manifested two extra hands and pulled her sari back up, and that’s how Lord Nityānanda recognized His other eternal consort.

It’s this second wife, Vasudhā, who gave Lord Nityānanda a son, the famous Vīracandra who everyone thought was just like Lord Caitanya Himself.

Whatever we think about marriage now (or rather thought about it in the early days of our movement), it was a necessary institution for preaching to Bengali villagers back then. Somehow it wasn’t so important in Vṛndāvana but we should remember that Vṛndāvana is a small place compared to Bengal, and it was very sparsely populated back then. Whoever went there afterwards went for pure devotion, there’s a kind of entrance price to pay there, but Bengal was open for everyone and it was probably the most populated part of India at the time. People there needed to be converted, not admitted after a thorough background check. Ordinary people won’t go for sannyāsa lifestyle, it wasn’t a thing in the times of Mahāprabhu and it was even less of a thing after His disappearance.

Somehow or other householder followers of Lord Nityānanda and Advaita Ācārya held the fort there for hundreds of years. I heard there was a blessing that Advaita Ācārya’s line would hold for thirteen generations, they are on the fourteenth now but we also offer people other outlets to connect to Lord Caitanya nowadays so everyone who wanted genuine devotion has always been covered.

We can say that general level of devotion deteriorated and Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism was overrun by apa-sampradāyas but we should still remember that this marriage business started on the order of Mahāprabhu and He must have had known how it would turn out later on.

Another case was that of Śrīnivāsa Ācārya who was one the most prominent devotees of his generation. His birth was blessed by Mahāprabhu Himself and He got association of most exalted devotees while growing up. He was initiated by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī and then trained by Jīva Gosvāmī. He was supposed to be a renunciate even though Bhakti Ratnākara doesn’t mention sannyāsa per se.

When Śrīnivāsa Ācāyra eventually returned to Bengal he stopped in his birthplace and met with his seniors there. At the time Śrīnivāsa was devastated after disappearance of Lord Caitanya and all of His immediate associates. He cried profusely in separation and it was at this moment that Advaita Ācārya appeared to him a dream and ordered him to get married. Later on Narahari Ṭhākura. who was an undisputed authority for Śrīnivāsa since his very birth, suggested the same thing, too.

I doubt they would have done so if Śrīnivāsa still stayed in Vṛndāvana rather then visiting his birthplace with all associated memories. One more reason that one should never ever step a foot outside of Vṛndāvana, the world will somehow get you.

Anyway, first there were orders from the seniors and then the marriage was arranged. It’s not like Śrīnivāsa woke up one day and thought that renunciation wasn’t for him anymore, as it often happens to our devotees. Perhaps household life is a natural coping mechanism in physical separation from the source of our spiritual strength. It doesn’t mean a falldown per se, but physical presence of our guru means physical and emotional engagement for our bodies. In guru’s absence it must be filled by something else because physical attachment in Kali yuga is unavoidable. We can’t go on on the holy spirit alone, to borrow from our Christian friends, it’s not possible for our bodies just as it’s not possible to sustain them without food.

A sidenote here – in Satya yuga prāṇa was attached to bones so as long as bones were there it was possible to maintain life. In Kali yuga prāṇa is dependent on soft tissues and, therefore, proper nourishment and food. I speculate here that the emotional dependency is similarly necessary, so if there’s no guru then there must be a wife.

Of course this “rule” is not absolute but it explains why devotees in constant contact and constant service to their gurus do not generally even think of marriage but as soon as they are left alone they transfer their affection to their partners. It doesn’t mean that our relationships with the guru are sexual in nature but guru does provide companionship and emotional anchor without which we are lost.

When sex gets into the picture we all get affected. Lord Nityānanda wasn’t, Śrīnivāsa wasn’t, but when the rest of us follow their footsteps we are bound to get attached. Maybe it doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things and doesn’t affect Lord Caitanya’s promise to take us back to Godhead at the end of our lives, but the external manifestation of our devotion is bound to suffer and go into “decline”.

So, the point is that it happens, and it’s still probably the best way to maintain the movement in the absence of super powerful ācāryas. It doesn’t mean any actual deficiency and it doesn’t mean Lord Caitanya’s plan is not working and we are ruining His mission. We can’t ruin His mission, we are too small and insignificant, so we better learn to see it as perfect as it is and learn to appreciate His mercy even when by some other standards it might appear as lacking.

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Vanity thought #1290. Gauranga grief

Thinking about somewhat mundane aspect of Lord Caitanya’s appearance reminded me about grief He gave to His wives. Of course there’s nothing mundane about Lord’s pastimes but let me explain what I mean.

We can celebrate Lord’s birthday as the appearance of our savior but we can also look at it in the context of His pre-conversion Navadvīpa pastimes. He was a channa avatāra, hidden from view of everyone, including His closest future devotees, for many many years. They all saw Him, they all knew Him, yet no one suspected He was a devotee, let alone the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself.

First, He was an ordinary boy, and quite naughty at that. After His father’s disappearance He became even more “difficult”, one day practically destroying His house out of anger. Then He became a proud scholar, trolling everyone for a fight about Sanskrit grammar. Then He got married and, after losing His first wife, He got married again. Interestingly, He spend several months working closely with his future spiritual master, Īśvara Purī, on editing his book but didn’t display any visible signs of future surrender.

So it’s this context that I called “mundane”, because it doesn’t explicitly manifest Lord Caitanya’s own nature and the purpose of His appearance. It doesn’t mean that it was actually mundane, it only appeared so externally. Demigods knew what was going on and showed up at important junctions in Lord’s life dressed as ordinary people, and there were cases when the Lord ‘s identity was revealed privately but under strict non-disclosure agreements. Spiritually, Lord’s association was just as beneficial to those around Him even if they didn’t know about it. People were constantly induced to chant the names of Hari even if only to pacify the Lord in moments of His apparent distress. More or less, it was just like with Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana where no one knew His actual position but loved Him unconditionally anyway.

We have no problems with discussing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes on this external level, keeping in mind that He was not simply a little boy and that all His devotees were perfect in their love even if they didn’t know He was God. I suppose we can discuss Lord Caitanya’s pastimes in the similar vein, too.

So, the grief.

The Lord appeared as an ordinary boy and lived an ordinary life. Everybody was happy when He was born and everybody was happy when He got married. There was nothing unusual about that. But, Lord’s principal reason for appearance was preaching the Holy Name and immersing Himself into the ocean of unalloyed bhakti. Marriage had no place in this plan so Lord’s wives got probably the worst of it, not to take anything away from pain caused to Mother Śacī. In fact, the Lord had to adjust His post-renunciation life to somewhat relieve the suffering He caused to His family, which at that time had only two defenseless women. The Lord left no children to take care of them, His father had passed away long time ago, there was no one to look after His aging mother, and His young wife who was condemned to a life time of being a widow.

Just think about it – a twenty year old woman who could never had sex for the rest of her life. Who would agree to it in this day and age? Whose heart won’t turn against the Lord for causing such suffering? It’s like taking away the very purpose of woman’s life. Not just sex, obviously, but children, too.

I don’t know who got it worse, Śrī Viṣṇupriyā, His second wife, or Śrī Lakṣmīdevī who left her body in pain of separation.

Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta doesn’t shed much light on the nature of these two personalities. There’s more in Caitanya Bhāgavata but their spiritual position is not immediately clear. In Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā it is said that Lakṣmīpriyā was previously Rukmiṇī while Viṣṇupryā was Bhū-śakti, which is another to say “mother of the entire universe”.

It is natural to expect Lord’s wives from the previous incarnations to join Him in His pastimes as Gaurasundara, too. How could they not? Everybody else went, Kṛṣṇa’s friends, parents, even gopīs. Gopīs, however, wisely appeared in male forms so that their association with the Lord wouldn’t be interrupted. Still, someone had to appear as Lord’s wives, and so Rukmiṇī obliged, and then the Lord left her.

In Lakṣmīdevī’s case the Lord went on a tour of East Bengal and was gone only for a couple of months but Lakṣmīdevī took it very seriously. Her usual service to the Lord was absolutely remarkable. She had absolutely no other interests or hobbies but to serve the Lord and Lord’s mother. She cooked and cleaned, and when the Lord came home she would massage His feet and just be there in complete silence and deference.

Lord Caitanya didn’t lead what is usually accepted as a model household life. He had no interest in any kind of material pleasures, save for trouncing His opponents in grammar debates. When I said that Lakṣmīdevī cooked I didn’t mean she cooked for three people only – the Lord, His mother, and herself. She cooked for all the guests Lord Caitanya would constantly invite to his home, regardless of how much foodstuff was there.

In that sense He was a model householder. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s father was the same way, always inviting various sādhus and feeding them. Sometimes the order to prepare food for a dozen or so people would come completely unexpected and there was no stuff to cook. It must have been unbelieveably annoying. Somehow or other, by His mystic potency, the Lord always arranged someone to drop by and bring ingredients but if one wanted to be in control and plan the feasts himself he was going to be disappointed. I wouldn’t last a week under such conditions.

When not cooking, Śrī Lakṣmīdevī was busy attending to the family shrine, decorating the temple room, cleaning the paraphernalia and so on. There was no entertainment whatsoever, there was no shopping, there was no traveling, no honeymoon, nothing, just cooking, cleaning, decorating, and massaging Lord’s lotus feet. I don’t even think they had proper sex, the śāstra doesn’t say but they were both young and healthy, they must have had conceived if they did.

So, considering such dedication to nothing but thankless service to the Lord, Śrī Lakṣmīpriyā couldn’t survive the separation from the object of her worship. Traditionally, when husband leaves on a trip his wife should wear plain clothes and stop putting makeup on her face but Śrī Lakṣmīdevī went a step further – she stopped eating. There was no point in sustaining her life if her body wasn’t used in Lord’s service. There was no point in living her life at all, and so she left this world while meditating on the banks of the Ganga.

I don’t think “snake of separation” mentioned in Caitanya Caritāmṛita should be taken as a literal, physical snake. He body wasn’t material, she was non-different from the Lord, and no material snake could have killed her.

The story of her life is remarkable. Modern women won’t even think about following her footsteps and even some of our female devotees would demand a better treatment and equal rights. No one would, of course, declare to be ready to follow her example, but at least we should know the standard of dedication displayed by Lakṣmīdevī. That’s what we all should aspire to, and it has nothing to do with our gender. I don’t mean to use it as an example for our marital relationships only. Her devotion transcends such mundane interests.

Still, Her path might be difficult to follow but it also has amazing clarity and simplicity about it. In that sense women’s dharma appears to be very straightforward, one only has to have devotion and dedication. Men, otoh, are always torn between different choices and, invariably, always make the wrong ones. When entering household life we ought to act as controllers and enjoyers and providers and protectors – all the things that lead us into deep illusion, and that’s what we HAVE TO do, forget about developing attachment for sex. It’s what we must do when on our best behavior. How can we develop the service attitude under such conditions? In this sense women have it much easier.

Anyway, my point was that, externally, Lord’s pastimes were not always ecstatic and there was plenty of unbearable suffering to go around, too. Real devotees, however, should not focus on that but rather direct their consciousness only towards the service of the Lord, considering pain and separation as punishment for their identification with their material bodies.

After all, renunciation is our only treasure in this world which is appreciated by Lord Caitanya (Kṛṣṇa premā does not count, it’s purely spiritual). The more we externally suffer in our service the more it pleases the Lord and that alone should be enough to keep us always happy and enthusiastic, no matter how life feels for our false egos.

PS. If one brings a familiar argument like “you wish your wife was like that while you…” I would immediately cut it off with “I wish *I* was a wife like that”.

Vanity thought #1210. Deadly sins – greed

The sixth episode in the series was dedicated to greed, no doubt one of the deadliest sins ever. Greed is one of the fundamental drivers of human society, especially in the present day, we are all driven by greed as much as we are driven by lust, so dealing with it is extremely important.

As usual, stories chosen for this episode do not deal with greed directly and it seems the producers are consciously avoiding illustrating sins in our everyday life, they concentrate on outlying freaks instead, which makes people think that greed, for example, is bad, but it has nothing to do with me personally, it’s applicable only to those strange people on TV, I’m not affected. Some, of course, will notice signs of greed in their own lives, and stories chosen r this episode are thought provoking in their own way but I wonder how many viewers won’t bother thinking beyond what they directly see on their screens.

The first segment was about a dating site. What has it got to do with greed? Not much, except this site is looking to match young pretty women with potential sugar daddies. Instead of matching personal characters and temperaments people concentrate on required financial assistance and ability to provide it. The most important thing, the owner admitted, is that girls shouldn’t expect more than their sugar daddies can afford or relationship will end in disaster.

We get to see both sugar daddies and sugar babies and listen to their sides of the story. They are both degraded, of course, but in that they fully deserve each other, and maybe it’s a good thing. Their purity is gone, that is given, but their honestly still seems to be intact. They are not cheating each other, they are both very upfront about their demands and expectations. These women aren’t gold diggers in a traditional sense, they do not have any hidden motives, they do not pretend to be something they are not, which is a good question in itself – just who ARE these people?

A couple of times comparison with prostitution came up, and it’s a fair one. How’s that different from prostitution? Sexual services are rendered, among other things, like accompanying men on trips and dinner engagements. The website owner explained it rather nicely – yes, sex and money is involved here but that doesn’t make into prostitution just like money and sex involved in marriage do not make wives into prostitutes.

On one hand it’s a solid logic but the answer to it is that modern marriage is no different from prostitution, too, we just don’t call it that. As was said, money and sex are involved in both, and so is mutual attraction. Most prostitutes are not some sexual slaves forced to provide services against their will, they all AGREE to associate with their clients and in this case girls signing up for the website DO have attraction for older men. Modern marriage and prostitution differ only in relative degrees, not in any absolute sense.

Yeah, people still talk about love but with serial monogamy it steps back and becomes just one of the ingredients, it’s no more than a glorified lust that grows into a deep attachment, rarely life long in this age. The website owner dropped another pearl of wisdom on this subject – he said that love was invented by poor people who couldn’t afford proper romance. However outrageous, there’s a certain degree of truth in this statement.

Commercialization of romance has gradually made it into a an expensive hobby. A bedroom decorated with thousands of rose petals doesn’t come cheap, or a band of troubadours singing underneath the window, or a nice dinner in a pricey restaurant on top of the tallest building overlooking the city, or sunsets in Maldives. Sure there are cheaper ways to show one’s romantic side but very few people are gifted with this level of creativity, mostly men just pay for it, and it works just fine.

Any way you look at it, modern marriage has a lot more in common with prostitution than with actual institution of marriage as given to us by God. Gays have really forced the courts to reflect on what marriage actually is but even in this case the departure is obvious.

Lack of commitment is the first thing we should notice. In modern marriage people are committed only as long as they feel attraction, once that gone marriage is as good as over. Some stay together for the sake of kids or maybe for the sake of managing mutual properties but in any case they know that marriage part of their relationship is not there anymore. Even if they are forced to stay together due to circumstances they consider it marriage only as long as there’s possibility of sex. If they find some new object of passion they do not think twice, they consider it their god given right if their nominal spouses do not provide sexual services anymore. “Yes, we are still together, but it’s not really a marriage”, they say.

Should we say, then, that marriage equals commitment? Not really. Vedic marriage within the frame of varnāśrama is not eternal either. Sexual commitment is expected only from women, men are given permission to marry several wives, while commitment in general is expected only as long as there are no children to pass responsibility onto. Men are supposed to give up their commitment to marriage and renounce the world, especially in our sampradāya.

So what makes marriage into marriage? Service to Kṛṣṇa. Entering into relationship for any other purpose is prostitution, exchange of sexual services for various forms of payments. Service to Kṛṣṇa is unconditional and therefore can’t be compared to any material contract. There’s no any other kind of unconditional service either. Service to Kṛṣṇa is based on one’s constitutional position while any other relationship is based on one’s false ego and false ego can’t be selfless by definition.

When service to Kṛṣṇa is the main and only cause, everything else falls into place – sex, commitment, renunciation, support, responsibility, raising children, everything. Everything will be perfect even if it might not look so by materials standards – the principle which is true for any kind of service to Kṛṣṇa, not just marriage.

The goal, therefore, is to convert our less than spiritual motivations into pure service to the Lord. I don’t think I should be talking about it today, though, it’s a separate topic.

What about greed? The only connection I see here is young women sacrificing their chastity for perfume and purses. There’s a lot more in the second segment of the episode, though, and it deserves a separate post tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1066. Case study in inequality

I don’t mean inequality in wealth, that’s boring and probably have nothing to with Kṛṣṇa consciousness. I mean inequality in customs and cultures that affects how we tell our devotees to live their lives.

A couple of months ago one respected devotee wrote an article about divorce in ISKCON. Another respected devotee replied, with references to śāstra and Prabhupāda, that our approach should be different. The first devotee defended his position, some supported him, some disagreed, he defended himself some more and probably made himself a few more enemies, too.

I don’t want to go into specifics of that argument and I don’t want to take sides, I just want to understand why people do or say those things and what we can learn from this whole episode.

Initial argument was about the problem of divorce, as I said. First question – why is it a problem? I mean it’s obviously better for spiritual progress to stay with one partner and treat marriage as a service, ie you don’t give up on it, it’s not for your pleasure, it’s your duty. On the other hand we have plenty of devotees who went through divorces and it didn’t affect them to the degree that every observer should swear not to do it themselves.

Ironically, the author of the article in on his third marriage himself. His divorces don’t seem to bother him, not a big deal.

Anyway, he said that divorce rate in ISKCON is higher than in the rest of the world so there’s something seriously wrong with our marriage and our devotees need attitude adjustments. Immediately people questioned his numbers. He said that they came from gṛhastha counseling seminar and all questions should be directed to the presenter there. It’s not how people usually respond to queries like that but let’s not dwell on it for a moment, though it’s a good point to return to later on.

Thing is, question of divorce rates in ISKCON doesn’t have a single answer. Think about the source of this statement. It’s most likely came from observation of divorce rates among our married couple from seventies, eighties, and nineties.

In the seventies it was too much even for Prabhupāda who simply washed his hands off all this marriage business. People just couldn’t stay together and he didn’t have time to deal with it. Who could blame them, really? They simply weren’t mature enough in the material sense to manage families, and whatever experience of navigating marital problems they had from before ISKCON was overwritten by stuff they *heard* was in the Bhagavatam (most of our devotees didn’t read it yet).

Then in the eighties we went through a massive zonal ācārya crisis when we lost too many men to count. Should we use divorce rates among them as part of ISKCON average? Did devotees who compiled such statistics, or even estimated them from their experience, count all ex-ISKCON couples? In my opinion – very likely, so I don’t think it truly represents divorce rates for strict ISKCON devotees.

Even if not, eighties were also the time when our devotees found the way to live their lives in the material world. It was the time when spiritual standards of purity dropped all across the board. People got jobs, started going out, watching movies, shopping, eating pre-cooked food and so on. We were not fanatical anymore. We tried to ape the material culture around us but stay true to our spiritual principles. I’m not saying it was a wrong thing to do, I’m saying that divorce rates from those kind of marriages should not be blamed on ISKCON only. Sitting on two chairs always creates problems.

Then came the nineties and with them an explosion of Hare Kṛṣṇa’s in the former USSR. When those devotees got married it was like seventies all over again, they had no experience, gṛhastha counseling wasn’t a thing yet then, they had no training and they got married because they were overpowered by lust. Marriages based on lust are doomed to fail, and so we can’t blame high divorce rates among that wave of devotees on ISKCON. Well, yes, in a way ISKCON should have prevented it but it’s a question of management, not of philosophy and proper attitudes.

Nineties was also the time when even more devotees left, some went to Gauḍīyā Maṭhas, some to bābājīs, some to ṛtviks. They were still our devotees, though, if they got divorced it was probably counted towards “ISKCON”, too.

On one hand it’s okay to count them as ours, it helps in addressing problems that affect us equally no matter where we are, on the other hand those aren’t ISKCON divorces, “real” ISKCON devotees probably had slightly different reasons for separation and they definitely had less reasons for separation due to their ongoing spiritual commitment rather than spreading their allegiances all over the map at will.

Then, in the first decade of this century, things started to change. There appeared a large number of devotees who wanted to stay true to Prabhupāda’s teachings and who haven’t had the baggage of the first generation. They tried to do everything right, they had better training, they were better prepared, they kept their noses clean from all that ṛtvik/māyāvāda/GM propaganda, their consciousness was cleaner, their knowledge more solid, and now they are the ones who dispute high divorce claims.

Divorce is not what happens among them, and it’s not what they expect to happen to them. They intend to keep their marriages together no matter what. It might not work out in the future but for now they reject divorce as an option.

Another major development is an explosion of Indian devotees and it happened all over the world, not just in India. Those people do not know what a divorce is, it’s not a problem for them, and they make up a very large portion of our congregation. They don’t need an attitude adjustment and probably shouldn’t even hear about other people separating and remarrying at will and then justifying it one way or another (it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is in the end, it’s the acceptance of separation that is important).

So, there you have it. We have two-three different groups of devotees with different experiences and different attitudes to marriage and divorce. Obviously, discussion on this matter should be conducted differently as well, and I think this is what everyone missed in the debate. First devotee didn’t realize that in his audience there were people who had every reason to disagree, while those who objected didn’t realize that there are lots of people who could find this advice useful.

Now the really complicated part is whether we should have different marriage rules for different devotees. Should people with a western background be allowed to divorce if the circumstances are right? Or should they be retrained the way Indians are, or the way “traditionalists” are? Or is it too late to change their nature?

Should we have different “marriage manuals”? Or should we try to train everyone in exactly the same way? Would it work?

I don’t know the answers, I think we should have a lot of leeway in this matter (don’t forget gays, too). but we should also be clear about what is ideal and what is a concession so that people do not make claims unsuitable to their status. Those who can’t follow the fourth reg strictly should not expect to be treated the same was as those who do. Those who divorce should not demand same respect as those who stay married, and so on.

I don’t know how to implement it, though, we need extra rungs on our devotional ladder, our hierarchy is not big and not flexible enough to accommodate such diversity, and I believe it should.

Vanity thought #989. Her World Is Our World, Too

Enough of AI stuff already, there’s one other aspect of the movie Her that I found fascinating – the society itself.

Maybe it the genre and there are plenty of movies like that but this one didn’t have a happy ending and it didn’t inspire any hope in humanity, that should be unusual. It also feels and looks real – sad little people trying to find happiness in a cold, cruel world. Sure, sometimes we do feel happiness and we always have reasons to have hope but the sober among us know that it’s just an illusion to help us cope with reality that is nothing but.

Birth, death, old age and disease are always lurking but even without them the world is a cold, cold place, and the modern society has not made it any better. We’ve made great technological advances and we shaped the world just the way we like it but we also lost ourselves in the process and this movie is a testament to that. Something about it just feels wrong no matter what we do, there’s always some internal conflict eating us away.

In this particular movie it was exposed as an irreconcilable contradiction between pursuit of our own happiness and seeking happiness in relationship with other people at the same time. Every character in this movie ran into this wall, everybody was in love or sought love and everybody lost it because it just doesn’t work that way. Love and selfishness are mutually exclusive but no one seems to realize it, just silently suffer and try to make it work until it results in frustration.

In the space of two hours we witnessed three attempts at love and three breakups, three for three, perfect score. First it was Theodore’s only real friends who were together for several years but couldn’t last it through the movie, then Theodore’s own break up with his wife, and, finally, Samantha leaving Theodore, too.

No one was happy about it, everyone was visibly suffering, and yet they couldn’t stay together in “happily ever after” mood and were forced to accept the reality that every relationship breaks. Why? Only a hundred years ago life long marriage was a pleonasm, a redundancy – marriage meant life long relationship but now it has become an impossibility. What changed? Atheism, science, and rationality – the three pillars of modern civilization that also ripped right through society’s fabric.

Everyone in this movie and, to be honest, practically everyone I know in the real world, assumes that he has a god given right to pursuit of his own happiness. Everyone is ought to put his own interests above anyone else’s. Everyone must do everything possible to become rich and successful, build a career and fulfill all his desires and nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of this dream. Some would call it American dream but it’s an international aspiration that each and every society has fully appropriated for itself.

Typical example – long distance relationships. Millions of people every year fall in love but then forced to live in separation because seeking their own happiness means living in different places. The idea that a wife should follow her husband to the end of the world is something I grew up with but is totally foreign to modern population. Job offers or even educational opportunities trump love and families.

When young people fall in love they feel it the strongest, totally swept of their feet, but it is also assumed to the most worthless kind of love that should not be given any chance to interfere with any of their other interests. Puppy love is one moniker for it. It’s the experience everyone must live through and everyone must see it brutally destroyed, it’s what separates teenagers from adults – [mature] ability to sacrifice their love to their careers and education. They should lose their virginity and become ready for a lifetime of meaningless relationships followed by carefully staged breakups.

So, a typical person lives through at least three-four major loves in his life – first as a teenager, then as a young parent, from mid-twenties to forties, then, as relationship runs its course and children grow older, as a step parent to their new partners. That’s three “marriages” before fifty and there’s still some twenty years of life left to go.

Love, therefore, becomes meaningless, just a feeling that needs to be satisfied, pretty much like hunger and lust. Isn’t it wonderful, though? Doesn’t it lead to detachment and renunciation? Not at all, no more than taking LSD means spirituality.

Falling in love is just a feeling indeed and as such it quickly passes, but love itself means commitment and surrender which is much much more than just a feeling. Detachment from love, therefore, becomes refusal to surrender and serve, and I doubt that it takes anyone closer to God in any way, rather the opposite.

That’s why traditionally marriage is a pact made in heaven and God is a necessary ingredient in it. Our marriages, our love, is supposed to be as eternal as our relationships with God, even for those who don’t believe in reincarnation.

A spouse, therefore, is like a guru – our spiritual progress depends on our full, life long commitment and service. To this day I meet some people, usually women, who still consider their first husbands to be the only real ones and, despite everything bad that happened, feel an eternal connection to them. They won’t get back together, of course, but they still feel and acknowledge their invisible power over their lives.

They won’t feel any obligations but they consider their very first marriage vows to be the only real ones and others that followed simply a custom or, sometimes, their personal commitment, but not the vows that are true in the eyes of God.

At the bottom of their hearts they know that they should have stayed in their first marriage no matter what and that everything else they did with their lives was just managing this failure.

Why should any of this matter to us as devotees? What value any of this holds in the face of advanced spiritual science of Kṛṣṇa consciousness? Should we be far above any of those mundane considerations? Shouldn’t freedom from family attachments be our ultimate goal instead?

I’m afraid we are getting too far ahead of ourselves. Śrila Prabhupāda might have taught us the advanced stuff but externally we are still in the spiritual kindergarten. That’s why he was so amazed that devotees couldn’t stay together and flooded him with letters of their marital problems.

Everyone was easily giving up eating meat, drinking, and gambling and everyone was eager to enter into a spiritual marriage, blessed by the guru and the deities, but no one had any guts to commit him- or herself to it.

That’s the story of our surrender. We want it, we declare ourselves ready, but we can’t stand even the simplest test of strength. Some took sannyāsa to avoid their marital responsibilities and this was caught very early on, even in Prabhupāda’s time, but no one was able to stop it. Today we are more mature about it and failure in marriage is seen as failure, not as sign of renunciation, and no one is poaching struggling gṛhasthas into the sannyāsa āśrama, but that doesn’t say much and it doesn’t stop us from failing again and again.

Perhaps it’s our own contamination with the idea of pursuit of happiness that stops us from surrendering to God approved partners and sacrificing our own interests for the sake of a relationship. We just don’t see such sacrifice as valuable anymore, no different from materialists around us even though our reasons might have spiritual undertones. That’s why our divorce rates are reportedly the same or even higher than the rest of the society.

We think surrender means praying and chanting and serving guru’s mission, far above a petty task of maintaining a family which we see as a material bond. Maybe we are fundamentally wrong and reject God manifesting Himself through our spouse for the sake of some imaginary concept we can interpret any way we like.

So when God comes in the form we can see and interact and have a relationship with, we reject it and pursue God of our dreams instead. Effectively, we surrender to our dreams instead of God. Isn’t it familiar – “This person can’t be a pure devotee, he can’t be a guru, one should surrender only to Prabhupāda”, and “You can’t seriously suggest I should see my husband as a master, guru, God, and everything in between. Have you met my husband? You can’t ask me to surrender to a lowly conditioned soul like him. He is totally not worth it.”

Well, this external, material energy is simultaneously one and different from Kṛṣṇa. Those who see it as separated live in perpetual illusion and those who see it as divine live in perpetual service and surrender. It’s the same energy, yet materialists deny its divinity while devotees see Kṛṣṇa behind each and every atom of it, however ugly and unpleasant.

When we refuse to surrender to our God given partners we act purely out of self-interest. We might not admit it but it means we tell Kṛṣṇa we can manage our spiritual progress better than Him, it means we still want to be in control. Surrender means surrender, surrender means surrendering control, and we are not ready for it. Even worse, sometimes we insist on our God given right to control whatever is it we want to control.

One giant waste of time, a life in giant pretense. We should let it go and trust Kṛṣṇa instead, in whatever form He accepts our surrender – through an “unqualified” guru or through a philandering husband. I don’t know how but I know this is what we need to learn

Vanity thought #935. Emotional devotion

The other day I caught Śrīmad Bhāgavatam lecture streaming online and the class was given by some mātājī. She was very female about it, that is – very emotional. It kind of turned me off but as I continued listening I reassessed by initial impression.

Personally, I don’t consider myself an emotional person. It’s not that I don’t understand emotions or don’t feel things, it’s just that I don’t get very excited about feelings. Sad, happy, surprised – I know what it means and how it feels but I don’t think it’s worth experiencing.

To give an example – I don’t understand people who start to dance every time they hear music. Most of the time this music is really crappy but if they are invited on their feet they embrace this opportunity and start moving and swaying and five minutes later they look like they are having the time of their lives. To this music? Seriously? They just like how dancing makes them feel, they squeeze out every drop of potential emotion and try to experience every last bit of it. Why? It really isn’t that great.

Or take karaoke parties, if we are talking about music. People choose songs that are very meaningful to them, that move their hearts, make them especially sad or elated, and then they butcher them just because they want to relive those emotions. Why? They aren’t that great and even when emotions totally overwhelm you they don’t last that long.

This great attachment to emotional upheavals leads people to recreate circumstances where they lived through these experiences in hope that they will come back and touch their hearts again. To me it looks pathetic and totally not worth it.

On the other hand, our attachment to Kṛṣṇa works more or less the same way. We engage ourselves in pretend devotion in the form of sādhana bhakti, hoping to reproduce spiritual emotions that are absent from our lives. Isn’t this also pathetic? Of course it isn’t. To mature devotees it looks as worth of all respect and appreciation, and perhaps even as cute as a baby trying to walk or talk. So, perhaps my reassessment of that mātājī’s class was caused by the Lord teaching me a lesson. Every devotee’s service and dedication should be respected no matter how we might feel about their efforts. That was, incidentally, one of the major points of her lecture.

What initially turned me off was her stress on that Śrila Prabhupāda wanted to build a house for everyone to live in. That may be true, but it is also true that Śrila Prabhupāda didn’t come here to make our stay in the material world pleasurable, rather the opposite. We don’t want to live in this world no matter how nice the house is.

Then she went on about glories of the gṛhastha āśrama, how important it is, how good it is, how it develops all the nice qualities etc. That may be true, but family life still leads to the dark well of material existence. Gṛhastha āśrama is still a concession, a license for some enjoyment. Maybe not for pure devotees like Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura but for the rest of us – we wouldn’t become gṛhasthas if it wasn’t about sex.

People who grow up in western societies do not understand sex for procreation anymore, we are brainwashed from our childhood that it is an activity for pleasure and seeking this pleasure is a fundamental human right. It helps to learn proper attitude toward sex from our books but I don’t think our fundamental, acculturated attitude will ever go away. In short – we are not meant for gṛhastha āśrama, we are gṛhamedhis, no amount of talk about gṛhasthas will change our nature so I don’t usually buy it.

This mātājī, btw, herself had ten children and her husband had another nine children with some other wom(a/e)n. They are all devotees, I understand, and she comes from a big family herself. Now this is what sex for procreation should be like. Couples with only one or two children are not doing it right, that’s just not natural. Nineteen children is more like it. Respect.

Anyway, this mātājī was talking about her appreciation for Śrila Prabhupāda and how he changed everyone’s life and how he’d be very pleased to see thousands and thousands of new devotees from all over the world, how he’d be pleased to see our temples, our book distribution, our massive festivals etc. But then she said that there are things that would made Prabhupāda’s heart heavy, too.

This I don’t like at all. As Prabhupāda’s disciple she has the right to speak on his behalf but most of the time people referring to how Śrila Prabhupāda would feel about this or that are simply trying to give extra weight to their own arguments, they are using Prabhupāda’s name to advance their own agenda.

In this case it was about mistreatment of women. Big thing, we have a special ministry in ISKCON dedicated to taking care of women and correcting past mistakes. What I, personally, don’t like about it is that they somehow forget that we all, including women, are suffering results of our own karma. We all, including our women and even children, fully deserve whatever happens to us. There’s no injustice in this world however awful it sometimes look.

This does not mean that our authorities should not be corrected or even punished but we should never forget that they are not the causes of our suffering. I think I’ve seen my share of mistreatment but I, for some reason, never blamed my authorities. I did blame some devotees once and I’m sorry about that, but I’ve never seen my authorities being genuinely responsible for whatever I felt about their actions – it was my pain, no one else’s, they were just doing their service in their best possible ways.

So, at this point my impression of that class was pretty low. And then this mātājī mentioned something simple but also most sincere and amazing – Śrila Prabhupāda felt the need to fan even a slightest spark of interest in serving Kṛṣṇa. Whoever has this spark – it’s the most precious thing in the entire universe and we all should feel naturally eager to help that person develop it into real devotion.

At this point mātājī cried, she couldn’t stop herself, she was truly overwhelmed by appreciation for devotion to Kṛṣṇa and by Śrila Prabhupāda’s unlimited compassion. Just think of it – people go through thousands and thousands of lives and in this incarnation they go through years and decades of tribulations, lost in the forest of material life, but then they discover that little spark of devotion for the Lord and it’s the most rare, most beautiful thing that can ever happen to them. This one little spark of devotion outweighs everything they have experienced in this universe, ever.

I can’t convey it but mātājī’s appreciation was very persuasive. Emotional? Yes, but at that point I thought – does it really matter? If anyone expresses appreciation for devotional service or for their guru, does it really matter how they do it? I wouldn’t do it this way, I couldn’t do it this way, but it doesn’t mean her expression is any less legitimate.

Emotions for Kṛṣṇa are beautiful. They might be shallow, ie don’t extend beyond abilities of our current bodies, but they are still real. This mātājī CAN engage feelings in her heart, of which she has many, in service of the Lord. What’s the problem?

So, I listened to this lecture once again, from start to finish, and, luckily, my condescending attitude was gone.

Turns out, she had a special story – her mother with all their family was driven out of their temple and when they arrived to a new place no one wanted to accept them, knowing them as troublemakers. It was more than just a coincidence that Śrila Prabhupāda was visiting the very next day. They had written to him before and he knew who they were and he saw that spark of devotion. He immediately initiated all of them, four or five people at once, forgoing the usual process of getting recommendations and going through a trial period.

Many years later this mātājī met with the devotee who was responsible for driving them away from their original temple. He was very sorry for what he did and he said he’d take it all back if he could. “No, no, no,” mātājī protested, “I don’t want anything you’ve done to us taken away. If not for you we would have never left and never had a chance to see Prabhupāda and get initiated. Please don’t take it back.”

Well, Lord works in mysterious ways indeed.

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens here without a reason and nothing deserves any blame once we realize that reason and reap the benefits.

Vanity thought #810. Spreading blame

The story of Dina Sarana mataji doesn’t let go off my mind yet, I think it could be made into an educational case study in modern day varnashrama. I don’t know anyone involved in it and I don’t know any details but that is actually a good thing because now we can focus on driving principles and ideas rather than get boggled in the minutia and various “what ifs” of real life twists and turns.

As I said earlier, the fact that they had a forty year old marriage proves that Dina Sarana was more than qualified to serve as a wife and it couldn’t be her fault. Of course no one is absolutely faultless in this world but for practical purposes she is blameless.

Their marriage could have been imperfect, it could have been lacking this and that and lots of other things could have been done differently but forty years is a testament to endurance and dedication. It trumps all other considerations.

If Dina Sarana is not to blame, who is? The obvious choice is her husband, of course. I’m guessing he must be well in his sixties and it’s definitely not the time to start new relationship and break your old family. If he wasn’t satisfied in his marriage to Dina Sarana he should have tolerated it for just a few more years rather than ruin it completely.

At this ripe age he should be arranging for his complete retirement from sense gratification, not plunge head first into the dark well of family life. He should be ashamed of himself. Hmm, no. That’s an easy way out, the situation is a bit more complicated than that.

First of all, we can’t order our hearts who to love and when. It just strikes and overpowers us whenever it feels like doing it. We can’t order ourselves to stop being in love, we can only try to manage it.

Of course one could say “Don’t expose yourself to temptation and nothing will happen” but this rarely works in real life. Somehow or other love takes over our hearts and finds its way to unleash itself on our lives. Resistance is futile and it’s not even recommended.

Just think of it – if a twenty year old brahmachari falls in love we can give him some advice on how to shake it off and regain his strength but we know that as far as brahmacharya goes it’s a lost cause, it’s only a matter of time, not a matter of efforts to keep it under wraps.

One could say “But he is not twenty, he is sixty, his hormones are not as strong, he should be able to keep it under control.” Yes, this could be the case, but other factors play against this scenario.

Older people are acutely aware of losing their grip on life. They know that some things will never ever happen to them anymore. They will never run like in their youth, they will never jump, they will never be as strong and energetic, their eyesight isn’t coming back and every time they get pain somewhere in their bodies they are afraid that it might never go away until they die. “Bucket list” quickly becomes an essential part of their consciousness and their attitude towards their lives and the world around them.

With such a gloomy perspective on life every chance they get to feel young again looks like a golden opportunity that must not be missed and falling in love is the strongest motivator of all. We can say whatever we want about Krishna consciousness being superior to everything else, our bodies have their own minds and they demand their own tributes.

Aging bodies sensing a chance of a second life? You can’t stop that monster when it comes, you can only manage the damage.

So, what to be done if it happens? I’m afraid nothing out of the ordinary, varnashrama or not.

In Satya yuga everyone was a brahmana, happily absorbed in meditation on the Supreme. Then, as modes of passion and ignorance asserted their influence, people started to slip from their paths and other varnas gradually evolved to accommodate their less than purely spiritual interests.

I would say that any new varna and every new rule was invented to deal with unintended consequences of bad decisions. Polygamous marriage was invented to keep man with extra strong sexual appetite in check, for example. They wanted to have relationships with women other than their wives and it was accommodated. Similarly, new rules were invented for people who wanted to eat meat and drink liquor. The whole karma kanda section of the Vedas deals with regulating sense enjoyment that shouldn’t be there if not for the degradation brought about by time.

Taking these developments into consideration we would see that practice of serial monogamy is just a way to regulate what is not supposed to happen but it does and to a large number of people. It’s not Vedic but Vedic corpus has been fixed five thousand years ago while the degradation hasn’t stopped, in fact it really intensified. We can’t possibly expect Srila Vyasadeva to keep up with issuing authorized rules and it’s probably not even necessary, we have to manage ourselves.

By ourselves I don’t mean us as ISKCON, these things have been going on without our input whatsoever and it looks like the world has some inbuilt ways of regulating itself, or maybe it’s how the Lord maintains whatever is left of the principles of religion, without our help.

This means that when we talk about establishing varnashrama we should realize that it hasn’t been lost but it’s been degraded to suit the modern times. We don’t need to introduce it as something new, we need to elevate what we already have to its previous, pure state.

So, when an old man falls in love we don’t have any other choice but allow him to marry. Should he maintain two wives? That would be perfect. He doesn’t have to be polygamous but he has to make sure his first wife is well cared for in whatever arrangements are made for her. I have no idea what will happen with Dina Sarana mataji but I hope her husband feels responsibility for her well being, and that is all that should be expected of him.

Should we still be passing blame around? I don’t think so, things happen, as long as devotees are not making any serious offenses there should be no real reason for concern or for condemnation.

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 #789. Frogs and toads

Trying to comprehend the vast reservoir of Vedic knowledge with our limited abilities and then imagining ourselves to be in the position to correct previous acharyas is just one manifestation of frog like behavior. Another area where it has become quite prominent is re-evaluating gender relationships.

Sometimes we refer to it as feminism but that is really unfair to devotees because while feminist influences might be there we are far from being proper feminists, maybe only in some outlying cases. These outlying cases can stretch very far, however, all the way up to offering critique of Lord Ramachandra’s relationship with Sita Devi.

There are devotees who don’t feel there’s anything wrong with passing their own judgment on Lord Ramachandra’s behavior and finding Him lacking in qualities He is specifically praised as an incarnation of God in human form – maintaining social order and being exemplary king and husband. I’m not going to repeat it here but I’ve seen people passing hipster like comments about Him – He was okay but not to my high standards of coolness. And that’s coming from devotees. What is it if not projecting our frog like mentality on the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself?

Ordinarily, though, we don’t go that far. We can go after a few lines in Srila Prabhupada’s purports or something that Chanakya Pandit said, or the laws of Manu. They don’t make sense to us in our “enlightened” state therefore they must be wrong. Women must have the same freedom to conduct their lives as men. We can’t compromise on that no matter what shastra says. We cannot accept that women could be happy and fulfilled otherwise. It’s impossible because it doesn’t work in our own lives, or wells, to be correct, because I’m still talking about frogs in wells pontificating on the quality of the ocean.

So what happens is that we, as ordinary “serial monogamists”, give it our best shot, make sure we don’t overstretch ourselves, give up, and extrapolate our experience on the ideal society. We don’t even make hard efforts of trying to stay loyal and faithful to our partners, it is considered adharma to go against one’s self interests like that. If you happen to fancy another man or a woman you just have to have him or her, there’s no other way.

What is considered dharma is to enter into relationship being prepared to break it off at any minute, and divorce is not only an option, it’s an obligation! If you don’t divorce you’ll be torturing yourself and your partner and your children. In modern culture you MUST divorce a man or a woman you “don’t love” anymore.

This is the background that we think enables us to reassess the shastra. We can’t image marriage can be had any other way. From this position it’s understandable that arranged marriages are considered crimes against humanity. From this position it is also understandable that women need a high degree of independence, high degrees in education, and all kinds of vocational training. In our world, which is perverted, btw, a woman can’t survive without any of that.

Once we commit ourselves to this world view we become very defensive about it, just as we are very defensive about all our choices, and then comes criticism and denial of any alternatives.

What ocean? What arranged marriages? What chastity? What loyalty? What treatment of husband as your guru? None of that can’t possibly work because we don’t want to live that way ourselves.

It’s a sad, sad situation. Our lives might be screwed up but we shouldn’t project our failures on shastra, and what’s more important – we can’t demand keys to the Kingdom of God if we refuse to live by His laws and deny them in every possible way. We even go as far as deny their very existence, calling shastra and explanations by our acharyas as materially conditioned, like they do with Prabhupada’s comments on rape or racism.

Unless we give up this demoniac mentality we can’t have any hope of making actual spiritual progress. All what would happen is the show of being devotees without any substance, and it won’t satisfy our hearts.

The choice is ours.

Vanity thought #712. Modern marriage

Scouring my memory I curiously can’t find a proper definition of marriage and I don’t know where to seek one either. There are plenty of quotes about what marriage means but they all highlight only some particular aspects of it, not give a full, comprehensive definition the way Absolute Truth is defined in the first verse of Bhagavatam, for example.

The reason this has become important lately is the proliferation of gay marriage legislation all around the world. What should be our opinion on this? Where should it come from? What should it be based on?

We know that Srila Prabhupada would never have accepted it but we also need some shastric sources to justify his opinion to others.

Arguments for gay marriage are numerous and very compelling on their own and it appears the only reason to reject it is our fourth regulative principle, which we can’t force on the rest of the world. We can’t even force it on ourselves, after all. Yet we know that gay marriage is wrong regardless. Why?

In my view it all comes down to the definition, the very purpose of marriage. For us, followers of Srila Prabhupada, marriage is an institution for procreation. The rest of the world has never really thought about it and so when gays came out to claim their right there’s no straight answer for them.

A couple of months ago some gay marriage related case passed through the US Supreme Court and one of the dissenting judges mentioned difficulties arising from a lack of definition of marriage. Marriage has been an unquestionable tradition but now can be interpreted at will. When US Congress passed the original law less than twenty years ago marriage meant one thing but now the majority of US population wants it to be another, not to mention differences in legal interpretation between various US states.

In our tradition, in Krishna consciousness, there’s no such thing as “gay marriage”, it’s an oxymoron because gays can’t produce children, but for those who see marriage as a symbol of love and commitment being gay is not an obstacle.

This reflects gradual shift in understanding what sex is and what it is for. We stick to sex as means for procreation while the rest of the world wants sex as means of enjoyment. Procreation works only between a man and a woman while enjoyment can be had in almost everything.

Opponents of gay marriage are not the brightest bunch and they often get ridiculed. One guy said that once you accept same sex unions the next step would be mating with animals. He got a lot of flak for it but all I can see is that he was stating the truth.

Our local LGBT activist was quoted as saying that sexuality is fluid. No one had a problem with it but that goes so against the very premise of gay rights – that they were born that way. Not long ago an American organization that specialized in converting gays to straights had called it quits and everyone applauded their belated admission that it doesn’t work but here we have a gay leader herself saying that sexuality is fluid. I think I know where she is coming from – she has seen way too many convoluted, fleeting relationships in gay communities that she can’t honestly say that one’s sexuality is fixed at birth.

The only thing that is fixed is the presence of lust. How that lust manifests through one’s life is largely up to his or her association. As we move through life we learn to be attracted to available sexual targets. If that availability changes so will our preferences. I’ve never looked up statistics but it’s a common knowledge that men in prisons who have no other outlets learn to be attracted to men. Arabs and their goats is another example.

The body, of course, imposes its own limits, but only to a degree. No one is born to copulate with a goat, after all.

Recently I read a Buddhist scholar saying that in his religion there’s no requirement for procreation and so there are no restrictions on same sex unions, everything goes. Apparently among major religions only Muslims are holding out.

What is happening is that people who reject God’s laws start making their own, and that includes deciding what marriage is. If we engage in such debates we should remember that what marriage means to us is fundamentally different, if people don’t accept our position all further arguments will be futile. That’s why it’s important that sex for us means procreation, not enjoyment, and our definition of marriage rises from this.

There’s one more big difference – modern marriage implies “until death do us part” while our marriage ends when wife can be handed over to grown up children. It makes perfect sense to us – since there’s no more procreation and children can take care of themselves, there’s no need for the relationship. The opposite stance makes perfect sense to those who think marriage is meant for love and enjoyment, too – since there’s no time limit on how long it can last. They think they make a big sacrifice by staying with one person but that is only a preliminary stage on the path to renouncing sex for pleasure that is absolutely necessary for any kind of spiritual life.

Of course no one stays in marriage until death even where it’s considered ideal. Having accepted marriage as means of sense gratification one is practically obliged to divorce once his passion subsides or diverts to someone else. There’s a huge societal pressure to leave unhappy marriages while staying on despite all problems is considered practically sinful.

Finally, a perfect example of people inventing their own laws is latest statement from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the so called moral compass of South Africans and an icon for the rest of the world. He said that he is not going to worship a homophobic God and he is not going to enter heaven where same sex love is not accepted as natural.

Well, Desmond Tutu is such a big, honorable man that I’m sure God is already making adjustments in His kingdom, ready to serve Tutu’s preferences. Angels are busy writing pro-gay legislation and all the inhabitants are being lectured on how to behave once Tutu comes in.

The egoism and self-centeredness of these modern day Christians is beyond belief but it takes a while to observe it shine through. In the meantime we should stay clear of the marriage debate, listening to these arguments is very very polluting as they come from hearts of people who want to make God their servant.