Vanity thought #1665. For historical accuracy

Today is Gaura Pūrṇimā and it’s impossible to write about anything else but the appearance of Lord Caitanya. I’m also aware that I can’t possibly do justice to this occasion and I don’t want to add artificial sweeteners to go with it.

Lord Caitanya is our life and soul, as simple as that. We know that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and we know that Vṛndāvana is every jīva’s spiritual home but we were drafted into this movement by Lord Caitanya who has a unique and distinct personality. Our bond to Him is never going to break, we are never going to be relieved of service to His feet and to His mission, we are never going to graduate to something better.

Nominally, however, He told us to worship Kṛṣṇa and we have examples of the Six Gosvāmīs who took this order and perfected it, informing us of every detail of our possible future service. They didn’t write of their relationships with Lord Caitanya stretching into spiritual reality, it was something they had here while in their meditation they were exclusively with Kṛṣṇa.

Afaik, they haven’t written similar books about Lord Caitanya and His spiritual realm, it’s not described even in Caitanya Caritāmṛta which deals exclusively with Lord’s manifested pastimes here. It was Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura who informed us of the glories of Navadvīpa and, I believe, it was through him that we got to know of our possible spiritual reunion with Mahāprabhu. I must admit I don’t know any details of that for certain, only general ideas picked up here and there.

While Vṛndāvana is our spiritual home and it’s where Śrīla Prabhupāda chose to retire from his mission in the material world, our society is headquartered in Māyāpura. In my own not so humble opinion, those who imagine themselves to be devotees of Vṛndāvana without taking full shelter of the mercy of Māyāpura are very much mistaken.

Surely Vṛndāvana has plenty of its own servants who are eternally connected to it but it’s not us, we are Gauḍīya vaiṣṇavas, we are spiritual children of Lord Caitanya and we will always remain that way. How other people reach Vṛndāvana is not our concern, what we should remember is that we can’t get there in any other way but by worshiping Gaurāṇga. We will always be known there as “those brought in by Lord Caitanya” and it’s as honorable position as anyone else’s there.

In this regard I always remember the departure of Aindra Prabhu who, for all practical intents and purposes, was a Vrajavāsī with no other goal but serving the feet of Rāḍha and Kṛṣṇa but when time called he embraced the feet of Lord Nityānanda’s deity and that’s how he left his body. Not even Lord Caitanya’s, please note that. We, the Gauḍīyas, do not approach any exalted personalities directly but only through the mercy of guru, then predecessor ācāryas, then Advaita Ācārya who brings us to the feet of Lord Nityānanda, then by the mercy of Lord Nityānanda we get the recognition of Mahāprabhu Himself.

Whatever’s next is up to Him, we are totally dependent on His mercy there and no one else can help us. All the links in the chain leading to His lotus feet are obliged to serve Him and have no choice but to pass us up along and then the buck stops there. It’s Lord Caitanya who decides whether we are qualified for receiving pure bhakti or not. Of course we can get rejected somewhere alone the way for various transgressions but I mean that by following our paramparā we won’t end up in service to Lord Rāma, for example. Even Lord Caitanya is not likely to place us in Lord Rāmacandra’s service though He did not mind when one of His devotees was clearly attached to serving Lord Rāma.

Unlike the Vṛndāvana school, devotees in Bengal were always servants of Lord Caitanya first with possibility of serving Rāḍha and Kṛṣṇa being secondary. They were too attached to Mahāprabhu to desire anything else even if technically service to Rāḍha-Kṛṣṇa could be considered higher.

I’m not saying that Six Gosvāmīs abandoned worship of Lord Caitanya but they were admitted in service to Rāḍha-Kṛṣṇa directly while most Bengalis knew only Lord Caitanya and everything else was theoretical. When young Siddhānta Sarasvatī approached Guarakiśora Dāsa Bābājī for initiation the answer was “let me ask Mahāprabhu and see what He says”, not “let me ask Śrī Rāḍhīka”. Once again, I hope I’ll never graduate from service to Lord Caitanya and check Him off the list of my achievements, assuming I’ll ever make it to the spiritual world. I hope it’s not going to be like “oh yeah, first you have to do this, then you have to get that, then you have to get initiated, then you have to serve Lord Caitanya for a while, and then you get into your real spiritual position”.

This kind of eternal bond comes with its own conditions, however. It’s nice and easy to be picked up from the crowds, dusted off, dressed in vaiṣṇava clothes, put into saṅkīrtana service and then, at the moment of death, be taken to Vṛndāvana but I suspect this is not what is happening to us here. Let me explain.

Lord Caitanya’s mercy is universal, that is granted, but we can’t deny that some sort of qualification must be there, too. Some people might stumble onto it accidentally but most of us have been destined to be in ISKCON and we “reserved” our positions here in previous lives. What it might mean is that we are fixed here eternally, lifetime after lifetime, with no chance of moving up the chain.

I mean our guru is eternal, the guru of our guru is eternal, and so we can’t become our guru’s godbrothers let along his seniors, which what would naturally happen if we were to progress closer and close to Lord Caitanya with each birth. That’s why I think our relative position might be permanently fixed. Up in the spiritual world it wouldn’t matter but if we were to take birth here we’d be literally stuck, replaying the same life over and over again in the universe after universe. The historical accuracy of our current relationship with Lord Caitanya would never be broken.

It means we get to bathe His deity, perhaps visit Māyāpura on His birthday, but never come in actual contact with Him, not on the material platform. This kind of contact was available to His contemporaries but not to us.

There’s nothing spiritually deficient about this, someone needs to be born at this time in Kali yuga and serve the mission in these conditions, which are not suitable for Lord Caitanya’s personal associates. If we were asked whether we’d like to continue serving the mission after our death we’d serve the same one.

The point of this is to realize that we’d better appreciate what we already have and find full spiritual value of our present day service. The desire for something more glorious, something better, something with more impact is a material one. On the spiritual platform there’s no such envy and every service is appreciated in full no matter how “small” it is. There’s no such thing as a “small service” in the spiritual world anyway. We don’t necessarily need bigger service, we have to become perfect at executing one that is already given, which means that we should be content with sitting at a computer screen thousands of miles away from happy crowd celebrating Gaura Pūrṇimā in Māyāpura. We just have to learn to do it for Lord Caitanya’s pleasure and give our best.


Vanity thought #1641. Victims of circumstance

The turmoil in Māyāpura still hasn’t been resolved but there’s a lot of good stuff going on their right now so the conflict between TOVP fund raisers looks like an unwelcome distraction. There are more letters and opinions coming out but I don’t want to keep up with the news, let’s talk the bigger picture instead.

While on the surface it appears that it’s one devotee’s ego clashing with another’s but that’s just a symptom, not the disease. It’s not about only one man getting what is perceived as an unfair treatment but a lot of other grievances that have been collected over a long time. One way to look at it is as if it was a conflict between Bengalis and Americans in our movement, and not only Bengalis but Indians in general, too.

ISKCON is undeniably an American import, it’s been built by American and other western devotees, it captured the hearts of Americans and other westerners and only then was brought to India, its spiritual home. In the 70s it looked like a CIA project to some, as “dancing white elephants” to others, yet others thought it was only “cute”, and there were also those who saw an opportunity for personal advancement. I’m not talking the spiritual component yet, just the materialistic perception.

It was white people showing Indians how to do Kṛṣṇa consciousness right and building huge temples with white people’s money. In the 70s Indian devotees were still scarce and haven’t contributed anything substantial yet. Over the years, however, Indians have proven themselves just as capable and in many areas even better than westerners. Since the 90s ISKCON India has been growing exponentially and what is even more important it’s been doing so entirely on its own, without any western input.

Now it’s Indians who built temples with funds collected in India while westerners import pūjārīs because they have no one to worship the deities, and if there’s any success still left in the West it’s on the back of Indian community. At this point Indians have taken ownership of their mission. They might not have been there in Prabhupāda’s time but they have two generations of devotees who’ve managed entirely on their own and do not feel obliged to westerners in any way.

In places like Delhi and Mumbai westerners have no say whatsoever but in Māyāpura it’s different because it’s our HQ and our GBC is still mostly white. To our western devotees Māyāpura is “theirs”. They have been here from the start when there were no Indians yet, the temple was built on donations collected by westerners, they’ve been coming there every year for the festivals, they have a western money behind TOVP, too. They feel like they own the place, they feel entitled.

It’s not something we would ever say in public or even admit thinking but it’s how our material egos see the situation, we can’t change it, we can only try to keep these thoughts out of our consciousness. I don’t mean myself as part of “we” that owns the Māyāpura but all of us stuck in the material world with bodily conception of life, because Indians have their own “we” and their own rival claims and also feel entitled.

White devotees might feel entitled due to history, which they think they inherited, but it was the Bengalis who have been managing the temple for a long long time now, especially disciples of Jayapatāka Svāmī. They feel they inherited their master’s life project and they feel fully invested in it, too. If recent fund raising claims are true they, the Indians, have been huge contributors to TOVP as well, even if they have been collecting in the west (probably in Indian communities anyway). They feel ownership of Māyāpura by the dint of being Bengalis, too – Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism is a sort of their birth right.

White people, on the other hand, don’t even know their names, they still behave like sahibs from colonial times, just slightly more respectful of dark skinned servants who make things happen for them. There’s a perception of racism and disdain there, even if totally unjustified.

Take the Navadvīpa parikramā, for example. Most of the devotees taking part in it are white, all the speakers are speaking in English with translations in other white people’s languages. Many of the speakers are Indian but there’s a clear distinction between their celebrity status and unnamed, faceless Bengalis who cook food, arrange accommodations and facilities, transport luggage, and generally make parikramā a well organized, flawless experience. Visiting western devotees come in contact with them only when they are receiving service, that’s the sole basis of their interactions, all through the annual Māyāpura festival, year after year after year.

Well, for these Bengalis ISKCON Māyāpura is their life and soul, they know nothing else, and western devotees are guests, however distinguished. “We” come to “their” place, that’s how it’s seen from their perspective, and if we come with the sense of entitlement and if some of us behave like Bengalis are there only to serve then sooner or later clashes of egos will be there.

Philosophical differences on the role of women and varṇāśrama in general are not helping either. Indians are not going to accept being seen as culturally backward or spiritually immature, which is how traditionalists are described by our liberals. If Indian devotees rally behind varṇāśrama and proper strī dharma in particular then outright ban on Women: Masters or Mothers is not going to be seen favorably but as a sign of corruption. If devotees issuing such bans are seen as snubbing Indians in India itself there’s little surprise that Indians demand resignations.

I’m not saying that this one book is the straw that broke the camel’s back but there must have been tons of similar contributions we’ve never heard of. It’s the attitude that rubs them the wrong way, it’s not important how exactly and where it manifests itself.

Our only hope is that our spiritual training, both for Indians and for westerners, will prevent us from making serious mistakes and acting on our materialistic impulses. If we keep to our sādhana, which includes proper relationships with fellow vaiṣṇavas, then this little corruption can surely be overcome just as we overcome all other defects brought by Kali yuga. It would also help if we all saw ourselves as unworthy servants of Lord Caitanya, eternally in debt to all the devotees in our lives regardless of their bodily origin. If this realization is not there yet then our hope is sādhana and mind control, nothing else.

Vanity thought #1639. Nowhere is safe

This week had brought as a great deal of turmoil in the unlikeliest of places – Māyāpura itself. I won’t even pretend I know what’s going on there, all I have is what was released on hostile news sites. Our trusted Dandavats decided not to report anything. I don’t know if it’s a wise decision in the long run but not agitating devotees who are far away from the problem seems like a good idea when tensions are still high.

Details are scarce, all we know is that one Indian devotee was in charge of collecting funds for TOVP and now he isn’t, though there also was an announcement that it’s his “adversary” who is out and the Indian devotee got a promotion for his troubles. At this point I don’t know what the facts are and how to separate them from rumors. There are letters presenting each side of the story but I’m not sure we can trust anything even it’s got a letterhead on, not after that NA GBC letter on banning Bhakti Vikāsa Svami’s book.

Access to official stationery gives one appearance of power and authority but it’s just an appearance until all the facts are in and judgement has been passed. This gives people a window of opportunity to push their own agenda under official cover and hope that when dust settles no one would care very much about misuse of letterheads and stamps. Politically it’s a shrewd move but why should we care about politics unless it’s our duty? If someone gets this apparently unfair advantage why should we be envious? Kṛṣṇa fulfills all desires, especially for those who are dear to Him, so no one would be able to actually abuse his position without Kṛṣṇa’s permission. Somehow or other the Lord lets it happen, who are we to demand amendments or justice? Law of karma is just enough, we can’t improve on it.

Anyway, it appears that it was a clash of two egos, each devotee thinking that he does a great service for Lord Caitanya and Prabhupāda, certainly greater than “that other guy”. When devotees openly try to cut down each other’s egos it’s a sad sight and an argument no one can ever win, no matter the outcome. Then other people got involved and it was all downhill from there.

Apparently one female devotee felt strongly about injustice, got a stick in her hand and set out for the temple. By the time she arrived she cooled off and posed no threats to anyone whatsoever, she just went inside and did her worship. Those who have heard of her approach, however, were already out looking for blood, or to defend what is right – depending on your perspective.

A large crowd gathered, people were giving angry speeches, some devotees needed to be whisked away for safety, some were rough handed, no one was injured, though. Temple security was there, then the police showed up, and that’s when we should all realize that we screwed up and put shame on Prabhupāda’s legacy – in the spiritual heart of our movement we need outside police to come and separate feuding parties. Have we forgotten how to behave like vaiṣṇavas?

One could say that it’s Kṛṣṇa līlā, that He did a similar thing with his own Yadu dynasty. Maybe so, but Yadus were completely wiped out and Dvārakā sank to the bottom of the ocean – we are not ready to go down that road yet, our TOVP is not even finished.

So far the only reasonable explanation I have is that it’s Kali Yuga (duh!). What’s unusual about it is that Māyāpura is supposed to be safe with all the chanting that goes on there but turns out that it isn’t and the influence of Kali penetrated it just fine.

Instead of talking about people and events we can contemplate the background situation and how it eventually allowed for lower guṇas to spill out. It’s my personal opinion that does not do justice to the entire Māyāpur project but I think it captures at least some of its aspects that we can try to avoid in our own lives.

Māyāpuya has become too big and too comfortable for its own good. For decades devotees flocked there not so much in search of peaceful chanting but to prove that they “made it”. Earning yourself a place there is a major devotional achievement, a sign of recognition by higher powers, it doesn’t come easy and people would make huge sacrifices to secure themselves a position there.

Our management got ideas from materialists and their business practices and made everyone in Māyāpura earn their own upkeep. On one hand it was a right idea – Māyāpura is not meant for idling about and we had no shortage of wannabe renunciates who’d be very happy to avoid any service AND live in the holy dhāma. They should have been weeded out, no doubt about that. The downside was that people could only stay if they made money. No money, no honey.

The whole project was compartmentalized and each department had to prove its own worth. If they couldn’t they were out. They could collect donations, they could provide services, they could sell stuff, they could charge for match making and horoscopes, they could develop real estate, but if they didn’t make money no one was gong to maintain them. It did wonders for the bottom lines and made the entire temple very very rich but it also made people invest too much sweat into building their nests and when their income comes under threat they are not going to take it with humility. We just can’t expect them to be aloof and detached after all they had to do and with all their responsibilities. Their egos grow proportionally, too.

The devotee in the center of the scandal claims to have collected tens of millions of dollars for Māyāpura. We are not talking rice and dhotis here, we are talking serious business. It would have been nice if he and everyone who depended on him took it in stride but we can’t really expect that to happen.

Sad to say, but Māyāpura has become too materially advanced for letting things go, it’s not for simple living and high thinking anymore. Should it even be? With TOVP we are not even aiming for simple living, we want to impress the hell out of everyone who goes there. It’s the eternal problem with preaching – devotees have to walk the edge, constantly under threat of developing attachments for the things that are meant only to impress others. It’s not an easy job and someone has to do it, so what if they fail? We should appreciate the effort instead.

Having said that, I don’t want this particular kind of aggravation in my life, I’m more into simple living right now. Maybe I’m misusing my body but I just don’t feel capable of getting too closely involved with things that bring temptations. Other people’s situations are different, to each his own.

Vanity thought #1294. Alone in the crowd

Māyāpura part of our annual shindig is over and the first reports are coming in. The one that caught my attention was about a devotee feeling disconnected from the celebrations and totally alone among ecstatic crowds. It was met with “OMG, we have to do something about it” reaction followed by the usual talk about developing interpersonal relationships, taking our vaiṣṇava support ministries seriously, reaching out, touching souls, keeping track etc etc. Some really took it to the heart and thought it was a big institutional failure, perhaps tears were shed, too.

Personally, I don’t understand the fuss.

I don’t know this particular devotee’s circumstances but I think I know enough about loneliness to make some generalizations. I have never been a people’s person and getting me to open up and relax was always a big achievement for various well-wishers around me. I think I know how it feels on both sides of introvert/extrovert divide. Contrary to common assumption, I don’t think one is fundamentally better than the other and I don’t think I ever miss seclusion when going along with the crowds, nor do I miss company when going alone with my thoughts.

What I have come to realize is that these two states of mind are products of karma and the influence of the modes of nature. Or, rather, both of these states can be experienced under different modes, too, just like Kṛṣṇa explains in Bhagavad Gīta how various activities can be conducted under goodness, passion, and ignorance.

There’s “brooding” in ignorance, there’s “brooding” in knowledge, too. There’s joining the crowds with passion, there’s sense of belonging in sattva, therefore we don’t have to fix the condition, we have to fix the consciousness. If someone feels disconnected from the community it doesn’t mean we have to quickly integrate them back, we have to help them to process their feelings with proper attitude.

To start with, we can trace the roots of our alienation and I bet most of the time it will be down to some mundane trivialities. Someone stole out shoes outside the temple. Someone cut in line for caraṇāmṛta. Someone didn’t listen to what we have to say. Someone passed us over when distributing prasādam. Someone didn’t show expected level of respect. Or that we don’t have as many friends as hoped, or that we don’t have enough money to buy all the stuff everyone else seems to be buying all the time, or we can’t digest festival food, or we can’t get used to the heat, or we can’t get used to the Indians outside, or bathing in the Ganges is not as pleasant as we hoped. There are so many little things that can go wrong and spoil our mood. We just have to acknowledge their existence and their power over our mental and emotional state.

Sometimes we could have genuine spiritual problems when we just lose taste and can’t acquire it again. It’s always down to some offenses we might not even remember and so can’t easily correct. Either way, it’s a temporary condition and all we have to do is persevere and hope that the Holy Name eventually straighten us out.

One thing we have to understand is that whether we are suffering from material afflictions or spiritual failures, the problem is always with us, not with anybody else. It’s not that Lord Caitanya doesn’t have enough mercy to overcome our moroseness. It might feel that way but we should be sober enough to reject this ridiculous conclusion outright. The auxiliary of this statement is that we can’t blame ISKCON, other devotees, or our guru either because it’s them who channel most of that mercy for us, we are not taking it directly from Kṛṣṇa in any significant quantities.

Another important thing to understand is that other people suffer from exactly the same afflictions, they just manifest them differently. I mean everyone is forced to act under the modes of nature and everyone is bound to act less than transcendentally from time to time. Perhaps Māyāpura festival is not the best time to expect everyone to be on their best behavior. For many, it’s our vacation time, time when we can unwind and do whatever we want, time when Lord Caitanya mercifully allows us to indulge at His expense, so we behave like kids in the candy store. In these circumstances it’s perfectly normal to be less considerate of others and a sober person shouldn’t be upset over these things. Let them have their fun, they deserved it and the Lord has allowed it. It’s not the time to spoil His mood with complaints either.

And let’s not forget the big picture – as followers of Lord Caitanya we should not expect feeling high all the time. Yes, He started His Śikṣāṣṭaka with describing the glories and joys of chanting of the Holy Name but that was also the last verse to ever mention it. We read it and we expect that there’s this ever expanding ocean of blissful transcendental life but that’s not what happens as we progress along Śikṣāṣṭaka, and that progression of verses should reflect evolution of our own spiritual life, too.

The second verse immediately acknowledges that despite of all the glories of saṅkīrtana we have no taste and we are “not feeling it”. The third verse implores us to chant with patience and humbleness and without any breaks, not because it feels so great but because we should even when we are not in the mood. Finally, Śikṣāṣṭaka arrives to the final three verses where the Lord openly laments feeling deprived of all mercy. At first He asks when the mercy will come, then he states that each moment without it feels like a millennium, and finally swears His undying love even when this absence of mercy is killing Him.

Why should it be any different for us? We KNOW that vipralambha sevā is the highest mode of devotion, we can’t settle for anything less anymore. When we feel disconnected from this mercy and we long for it to come back into our lives this is exactly what we experience – Lord Caitanya’s mood in Śikṣāṣṭaka. We should embrace it instead of rejecting it or trying to fix it. There’s nothing wrong with missing the joys of our service to the Lord or the joy of serving devotees, it should be our most treasured emotion instead.

Besides, fixing it by external means, by reaching out to lonely devotees, will never really work. We can’t change their karma, which is controlled directly by the Lord, btw. And if they have committed some offenses we can’t give them the spiritual taste back unless they rectify them themselves. Only the Supersoul can help them with that, we usually don’t know what’s going on.

On the fundamental level, one feels a disconnect not because of lack of interpersonal relationships but because of disconnect with Kṛṣṇa. We can’t become someone’s friend without getting that person to connect to the Lord first. And when one does that everything and everyone will automatically appear as one and all feelings of loneliness will pass.

At the end of the day, we have to make peace with the Holy Name, it’s the only solution to all our problems, nothing else will ever work.

Vanity thought #1045. Temple of Doom

If I talked about doom of Māyāpura yesterday then it naturally follows that we are building a temple of doom there, too. That’s not a nice way to describe our rising Temple of Vedic Planetarium but, just like any other devotional practice, there’s a danger of misusing it, hence possibility of “doom”.

Of course no devotee will even be doomed in any sense by supporting, meditating, or simply marveling at TOVP but there will be some impact, and in the material world each impact has two sides, good and bad. That’s what duality here means. No matter what we do, it can always turn ugly.

One could say that with this approach nothing will ever satisfy me because it allows me to find legitimate faults in any activity, but that is just how it is – some things are favorable for devotional service and some are not. None of what happens to us is fatal, we just pause to gawk at the illusion, waste some time, nothing really serious.

The reality is also never black and white – a wise man can learn good lessons from bad things and a not so wise man will pick bad habits even from good lessons, and, to complicate it even more, no lesson is absolutely good or absolutely bad.

This allows us to see devotion everywhere, in everyone’s heart, it also allows us to criticize even the best of the devotees, and it also means that we will never fully agree on anything. It means that everything that happens in devotional service is full of shades and tastes and every time you think about it you find something new to appreciate. Or something new to criticize.

Back to the temple, however. I’ll try to extricate less favorable aspects for our progress so that the rest of our thoughts and attitudes remain pure and we can go on with our service.

Śrila Prabhupāda wanted this temple very badly, there’s no question of not building it, it’s our mission, well, part of it, but we can’t ignore Śrila Prabhupāda’s desires.

There’s also the prediction by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, or rather his vision of a huge temple rising in Māyāpura where people of all nationalities will come together to dance and chant Lord’s names. I don’t know about that. When Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī opened Yoga Pīṭha everyone thought that it was the temple envisioned by Bhaktivinoda.

I’m also not so sure that Śrila Bhaktivinoda had this vision in the house across the river to the south from our ISKCON temple. It’s what they tell us on parikramā but I suspect that in those days Śrila Bhaktivinoda lived across the river to the west from the future Yoga Pīṭha.

Still, new temple needs to be build. We need a proper place four our Pañca Tattva deities which are housed in a barn like temporary appendage to our main temple. They’ve been there for almost ten years, which is ten years too much, and they deserve a temple worthy of their stature – they are BIG.

On the other hand, it means they will be the main deities in the new temple and our Śrī Srī Rādhā-Mādhava and their sakhis will be demoted to stand on the side. Personally, I don’t like this demotion, there’s too much history there, but that’s how Śrila Prabhupāda wanted it so who am I to argue.

Then there’s planetarium fixture. Prabhupāda wanted it to show everyone that our Bhāgavatam model of the universe is legit. We should certainly respect his wishes but we should also remember that times have changed and it probably won’t have the same effect on the general public as Prabhupāda expected nearly fifty years ago.

We don’t need a gargantuan temple to show a model of the universe. There’s software to render such things these days, people at Google Chrome can make it work as a walk through in their browser with therm HTML5 magic. Navigate the Vedic universe with your mouse, or by tilting your Android phone – everything is possible and will reach far more people than a temple somewhere in India.

Indians have been to Māyāpura already, whatever spiritual impact we were supposed to make on their lives by attracting them there has already been made. When we finish TOVP they will, of course, come to visit again, but we can’t build a new temple every time we want to talk to people about Kṛṣṇa, it’s a huge waste of our resources.

I mean to say that the preaching value of this temple is going to be limited. As for the model of the universe – we don’t have it yet, or at least it’s not ready to be made public. Maybe it’s Lord Caitanya’s plan to reveal it at the very last moment but then it means it has little preaching value, otherwise why wait?

So, we don’t really need another temple in Māyāpura, we don’t really need a planetarium, is there anything else we don’t need this temple for?

Umm, yes, for preaching in the West. People on the streets there can’t care less about our temples in India. Maybe we’ll make the news one day and all the media and everyone on twitter will talk about our temple but that will not last long, at best a week. Even if people would still remember it – what does it really matter when we try to awaken them to the truth about them being spirit souls? Not much, it’s not a magic pill and it’s not a substitute to surrender to the lotus feet of our guru and Lord Nityānanda.

If that’s what we hope the temple will do to us – to make selling books easier so that we don’t have to fully surrender, then it will truly be a temple of doom. Luckily, it will affect only those who harbor such thoughts, not everybody.

There’s also another aspect to the temple – we want it to be the center of our new, Vedic community there. If we are going to build a spiritual city in Māyāpura then we surely need a temple, but that’s a whole other can of worms. The way Māyāpura has been developing, it won’t be a showcase of anything anytime soon. The temple itself and other temple properties are fine but the rest is not how cities are build these days, it’s how they grew up like mushrooms in the industrial age – people just come and settle, and then look for non-existent jobs.

During industrial revolution farmers lost their land and sources of sustenance so they had to sell their labor, vaiśyas became śūdras, and were placed in horrible, horrible conditions. Still, they had no choice but to embrace their new situation and it took several hundred years for them, as a class, to attain a more or less comfortable lifestyles.

What will happen to all those who have come to Māyāpura? I don’t really know but I have a few ideas, which I will spare for another day

Vanity thought #1044. Doom of Mayapur

I don’t mean Māyāpura is doomed, I mean the doom it brings to visiting devotees. It’s not supposed to be understood this way but Māyāpura changes people, for good. Hopefully always for the better but maybe sometimes for the worse, too. In any case, once you have changed there’s no coming back. Things you were used to before will be gone forever, there’s no return, you are doomed.

Ultimately, everything that happens to us is for our benefit, even for ordinary materialists, so there’s nothing to worry about when we lose or gain something. In short and medium terms, however, some things are beneficial for our progress and some aren’t and we judge them accordingly. So, there could be situations where a visit to Māyāpura prevents a long term disaster but appears to damage our spiritual lives from a short term perspective.

I would even argue that this is a very common occurrence, we just don’t see it that way.

Originally, annual Māyāpura festivals were meant to recharge our spiritual batteries for a year-round preaching. That’s how Śrila Prabhupāda devised them – to let devotees get a taste of what is coming so that their faith becomes stronger and they see more compelling reasons to preach in cold and gloomy west. It certainly works for some but not for as many as we’d like.

What was true in Prabhupāda’s time might not be true anymore because devotees have changed, it’s been almost half a century, after all, which is a lot of time in the modern, Kali Yuga world. Just think about people back in the sixties and seventies, it was a height of the Cold War, hippie revolution, flowers, flying to the Moon and dreaming about the world of 2000.

We, the humanity, are a lot more cynical now. What was exciting fifty years ago only make us cringe t our naivety. Communism had become a huge disappointment, and then so did democracy. Flying cars haven’t been invented and no one flies to the Moon anymore, Americans don’t have a rocket to fly anywhere, period, they hitch rides on Russian rockets instead.

Social fabric has been completely torn apart, homosexuality and feminism have become a norm, and people go to concerts to take selfies, not to listen to ground breaking music.

ISCKON has also changed, devotees changed, tricks our managers used in Prabhupāda’s time do not work anymore, we’ve learned a lot of lessons and become very sensitive not to repeat them again. It’s not that we became more advanced, we rather became more sophisticated in our ignorance.

When devotees come to Māyāpura they certainly get a lot of inspiration but they do not apply it in the same way Śrila Prabhupāda had hoped all those years ago.

I suspect even in those days there were devotees who saw trips to Māyāpura as a validation of their progress or position in the society but let’s not dwell on the past, it’s not a problem anymore.

Everyone can go to Māyāpura now, even Russians, or, as they called them once, CIS devotees, have got enough money to visit India, money is not a problem. When the society consisted mostly of brahmacārīs they depended on the mercy and generosity of their superiors and so getting on the list of those who gets to go to India was an achievement, a sign of status. When everyone works and has his own money going to Māyāpura adds nothing to his status. So, okay, that motivation is gone, which is a good thing, right?

There are other problems still, yet unresolved.

Come, see Māyāpura, take in the spiritual atmosphere, which is always so thick there you can cut it with a knife, then go and share this ecstasy with people of your home country. Very easy, but it rarely works. Why?

I’d say it works on two kinds of devotees – very simple and very advanced. Most of us are neither. Most of us are not advanced enough to feel the innate need to preach. We get ānanda, we keep it to ourselves, we are not mature enough to share. We are envious of others, we don’t think they deserve to be equally blissful, most of the time we look at them with critical eyes and they never live up to our expectations, so no ānanda for them. If they want it, they have to work for it themselves. Holy Names are there for everybody, if they want bliss they should do their chanting themselves.

“They have to earn it, they have to earn their entrance to the dhāma. I worked my ass off to save this money and I prayed, and I did a good job because now not only I can afford to go to Māyāpura every year but I’m thinking about buying a condo there. If they were as dear to Lord Caitanya as I am He would have given them money, too. Or, if they got the money, I got contacts there, I’m needed there, I’m a part of Lord Caitanya’s eternal club of dhāma-vāsīs. If they want to be there, they have to make their own way, they have to serve their own authorities, it’s a privileged position that is not be shared lightly.”

So they don’t preach. They treasure their success too much to give it away. “It’s not mine to give,” they might even say, “Go beg Lord Caitanya yourself”.

So, we are not advanced enough to share our spiritual accomplishments, and we are not simple enough, too. A simple devotee would taste the bliss, come back home, and continue doing his service. We get the bliss and we want more of it right there, in Māyāpura. We come back and all we can think about is how awful our place is and how it was much better in India.

There’s a clear culture shock on return, you step off the plane and you just feel the weight of the Kali Yuga. People are not the same as in India, the atmosphere is not the same. We walk around and we feel that we don’t belong here, that our place, our real home, is Māyāpura, or Vṛndāvana, as the case may be.

We cannot stay satisfied in our position, as a simple devotee would be, we want better things for ourselves, we feel we’ve made a great advancement and we need to validate our progress by getting spiritual “promotions”. Walking the streets with books is for neophytes, we are ready for bhājana, we get to preach to other devotees, not to karmīs. So we don’t preach, if you don’t count sitting there spreading the word of our own advancement as preaching.

Yet there are others who treat visits to India as holidays. In Europe everybody gets a holiday once a year and everybody tries to travel somewhere warm and famous – Spain, Egypt, Thailand, etc. We go to India instead, and we go in March. People get charged by frolicking on the beaches, they come back, show off their tan, and feel good about themselves and their lives. We are no different, we might even stop in Thailand on the way back, to get two birds with one stone.

I don’t know what Lord Caitanya thinks of such visits. Maybe He doesn’t mind, who knows.

Bottom line – we come back and we don’t preach, we are too smug to bother.

We also get the idea that Māyāpura or Vṛndāvana are the best places for devotees, it’s said so in our books, after all. This means that streets where we live and where we are supposed to preach are not the best places for us. We think that staying there, meeting all those karmīs is not where we are supposed to be. We want to go back home, back to Kṛṣṇa, and He lives in Vṛndāvana, so that’s what we want, for ourselves.

How about what Kṛṣṇa wants from us? What Lord Caitanya wants from us? What Śrila Prabhupāda wants from us? What our guru wants from us?

These days one can easily find a guru with an āśrama in Vṛndāvana. If he wants to be there then he is not going to push us out into the cold streets of our cities, we’ll be safe with such a guru. He might tell us to preach as a test but if he himself spends most of the year in India then eventually we’ll get there, too.

Luckily, not everything is so bad. ISCKON is still a preaching society and most who entertain thoughts like the above tend to drift away to bābājīs or Gaudīyā Maṭhas.

My point is that we should watch out for attitudes like that in our own lives and we should not allow ourselves to indulge in such thinking. Maybe getting to Māyāpura IS a test, but we mostly fail it and so the Lord gives us shelter there because it’s where it is easier to keep us under control. If we pass, however, then we get to go and serve the Lord for His own pleasure. We get to take risks and suffer inconveniences on His behalf.

Will we get the same comfort and bliss from Him? Shouldn’t be our consideration at all. If we pass our Māyāpura test we won’t be thinking in such self-centered terms.

Our dharma is to preach, that’s what constitutes saṅkīrtana, congregational chanting. Mutually scratching our backs and congratulating ourselves that we have made it to Māyāpura is not saṅkīrtana. I would even say that no one who really wants to please the Lord will spend even a day there, it’s a place for those who want to accept Lord’s service instead, for those who want to enjoy at His expense, albeit spiritually.

No one needs us there. Yes, we need a big temple so that many Indians can come but it’s such a lame excuse. We don’t know what their motivations are, we can’t even talk to each and every one of them, we don’t really get to preach. We should be going out to meet them in their homes instead – that’s what Lord Caitanya did and that’s what He asked His followers to do.

We are not in business of preaching where results matter most, we should value the process instead. Our success is in reaching out and changing people’s hearts and minds. I don’t think that ever happens to temple visitors, it’s just one of the many temples they visit every year, it’s not a life changing experience like a meeting with a devotee could be.

I’m getting carried away here, maybe need to rethink some of what I just said, so I’d better stop now and get my mind back together

Vanity thought #835. Putting money in my mouth

Or rather where my mouth is, as the saying goes. I just talked about how this world is perfect and we have absolutely nothing to complain about here, and here’s an opportunity to put this theory to practice.

I’ve just heard accusations against Mayapur devotees that they have been filling the dhama with ugra-karmic activities and ignoring simple living high thinking principle. In the past decade or so Mayapur has seen an explosion of private property development and it’s gone more or less unrestricted, turning once pristine rice fields into ugly modern dystopia, as some say.

To become a respectable member of the community you now have to own a flat, a fridge, an air-conditioner and a motorcycle. Some have 500cc bikes which seem like an overkill but I’m sure look very imposing, projecting the image that their owners must have be really blessed by Lord Chaitanya. Of course there also must be wives, internet, laptops, smartphones and tablets, too, to keep up with the Joneses and to show the world that spiritual life can also be very rewarding.

What to make of it? First of all there’s freehold issue – how can devotees buy and sell land in the Holy dhama? All treasures of the universe are not enough to buy even a speck of dust of Navadvipa, are we sure that devotees who “buy” houses there do not think themselves as real owners? What about the sellers, how do they dare to sell land that doesn’t belong to them? Are we sure that they maintain the proper mentality when handling such transactions? Is it okay for them to benefit materially from it? They make a lot of profits, not to mention the value of the land and buildings that developers hold in their name.

Srila Prabhupada was very clear about it (CC Antya.3.101):

We must always remember that a devotee’s life is one of vairāgya-vidyā, or renunciation and knowledge. Therefore all devotees are warned not to live unnecessarily luxurious lives at the cost of others. Gṛhasthas living within the jurisdiction of the temple must be especially careful not to imitate karmīs by acquiring opulent clothing, food and conveyances. As far as possible, these should be avoided. A member of the temple, whether gṛhastha, brahmacārī or sannyāsī, must practice a life of renunciation, following in the footsteps of Haridāsa Ṭhākura and the six Gosvāmīs. Otherwise, because māyā is very strong, at any time one may become a victim of māyā and fall down from spiritual life.

Devotees in question are not avoiding opulences but rather try to accumulate them at all cost. This is definitely not right. At first it might seem easy, if you got funds to invest, but eventually maintaining such a lifestyle will become a read drag. These things have a rather short lifespan, your shining bike will become old news in a couple of years, air-conditioners and fridges need to be replaced for better, more energy efficient models if not for any other reason. Electronic gadgetry becomes obsolete with an alarming speed, too, you need a new phone, tablet, and a notebook every two-three years. Then you’ll need to replace your furniture, which is not as sturdy these days as it was before. Plumbing and various fittings also do not last as long as they used to. Fresh coats of paint aren’t cheap either.

What seemed like a wise initial investment gradually turns into a life time commitment and slavery. It’s okay to maintain such lifestyle if you are plugged into a global economy but I wonder if Mayapur will be able to provide enough economic activity to sustain these grihasthas forever. Temple itself will always be a magnet for visitors and donations but if people think they would work for the temple and share in the profits one day they might face a big disappointment.

I believe they’ve compartmentalized temple income long time ago, every department must be responsible for its own finances, so people don’t really work for the temple anymore but rather for success of their own projects. This is a recipe for disaster.

Capitalism might be totally at ease with varnashrama dharma but it has no place in a temple. For now we might not see a problem with merging temple with communities in Mayapur but that is a delusion. Pretty soon devotees themselves will sense the difference between maintaining their own lives and selfless surrender that is expected from temple dwellers. They themselves will strive to put a barrier between their lives and temple ideals. Pretending to be Krihsna’s mouth will work only for so long, eventually they realize that they are leeching off and feeding themselves, not serving the Lord and the society.

So with so many reasonable objections to what’s going on, how can I apply paramahamsa vision here? How can I not notice the deviations? How can I see this situation as absolutely perfect?

Actually, I don’t have any problems with Mayapur situation at all. Yes, it’s unsightly, but all our existence here is unsightly. Mayapur “problems” are not any different from problems anywhere else in the world. Should I expect something totally different from Mayapur? Why? Material existence is the same everywhere, people will always need to eat, sleep, and mate, and they will always have something to defend.

Ultimately, it’s the Lord who maintains everyone in this universe and He is extremely partial to His devotees and to the residents of His own dhama, so if someone qualifies to be sheltered by the Lord, why should I protest that he is provided a relatively better care? Out of envy? That is not a valid reason.

Are these devotees abusing Lord’s mercy? Maybe, but, to be honest, I’m abusing my limited privileges, too, I shouldn’t be the one throwing stones at that glass house.

We can also be sure that devotees pursuing their materialistic aspirations in Mayapur will get purified of them sooner than those who remain in the West. Somehow or other they must get over their obsession with big bikes, why not do it in the most suitable place for this purification?

Are they getting carried away? Well, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, the complete collapse of the world economy might not be as far away as we think and Mayapur’s bikes will probably the first ones to go down. For devotees who are ready for the next step the Lord doesn’t even have to wait for worldwide economic meltdown, He can strip anyone of any possessions in a minute, yet somehow He doesn’t, He lets His devotees to play with their toys for a little while longer, who am I to object? I’m not their guru and even if I was, they are in the hands of Lord Chaitanya now, why would a guru get in the way of Lord’s mercy to his disciples?

We should really learn to mind our own business and trust the Lord in having the best possible plan for everyone, including alleged deviants.

Vanity thought #197. Dreaming of Jagannath.

The other day I was walking around, chanting, and daydreaming.

It is a sign of an advancement in devotional service to desire to live in holy places so I had myself a solid excuse to imagine living in Mayapur, Vrindavan, or Jagannatha Puri.

A real devotee would simply want to be there, a real devotee puts his full faith in Krishna and he doesn’t take any obstacles on his devotional path seriously because he knows they are all insignificant comparing to his Lord and Master.

I was thinking of visas and passports and residence permits and such, couldn’t help it, couldn’t imitate a mood of a real devotee, which is a good thing, I guess.

Mayapur, especially ISKCON temple there, looks like a squeaky clean place, governance wise. Unless you are properly invited and all your paperwork in order you just can’t stay there, I thought. Maybe I am wrong but that is my impression.

One must be fully embraced and accepted by Lord Chaitanya’s servants and associates to reside there, it’s by invitation only, or so I think.

Vrindavan is a pretty loose place comparing to that. Anyone is welcome there. Maybe not everyone but there seems to be a lot more options to sneak in. I don’t know about the town itself but Govardhan sounds like a place for any kind of renunciate to feel at home and I seriously doubt the police run regular checks on all the people there.

This is where I got myself in a bit of a twist. As a white person I would stand out as a sore thumb unless I hang out with other white people. It will be years before I can pass as one of the local whites.

If I ever decide to go native there the first thing that would confront me is my past – every white person arrives from somewhere, has a life back home, has a government and consulates to help, has family to send money, has a return ticket, and has a two month visa.

Forty years ago HH Radhanath Swami entered India on foot with only twenty six cents to his name and a passport. Now you need to get a visa first, however easy the process is, it proves that you DO have a place to go back to.

That’s why I can’t imagine myself just going to Vrindavan to chant for the rest of my life. White people like me are just visitors, playing devotees for a short while.

I’m sure there are ways to get around all these obstacles but the main one is in my heart, I know I’m just a pretender, I know all my dreams of Vrindavan are nonsense.

Then I thought of Jagannatha Puri. Jagannath has always held a special place in my consciousness. The very first festival that I ever attended was Ratha Yatra, from there I tailed the devotees and found the temple.

The first place in India I ever visited was Puri, not counting Calcutta.

We arrived late in the afternoon and found a place to stay in some Math, it was very close to the ocean so we went for a bath/swim first. After the ablutions were settled for the temple, except no one in our group had any idea where it was. We thought we had to follow the beachfront and soon we’d see the way, but we went in the opposite direction.

We walked and walked and walked, it was twilight already and it looked like we were leaving the town altogether. Then I turned back and there I saw the marvelous domes and the Nilachacra and the flag. It was nearly dark around us but the temple, very far away by then, was brightly lit and the contrast reminded me of material and spiritual worlds.

We almost ran then, I don’t remember the rest of the evening but I can’t forget my fist impression of the temple.

Then we visited Tota Gopinath and Siddha Bakul and the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya and we walked to the Gundicha temple and it is all blurry now. I’ve been to those places many times since but today I discovered I can’t locate them on Google maps anymore.

What I remember most clearly, though, is the all pervasive feeling of being on Vaikuntha. All the troubles always seem non-existent in Puri, daily life is just a dream there, underneath the dark, sun baked skin of local people there are four armed forms of Vainkuntha residents visible to demigods.

Somehow or other I’ve never been so out of touch with reality anywhere else. In Mayapur I always felt like I had to toe the line, in Vrindavan I couldn’t shake the desire to buy cheap dhotis and incense and have my palm read. In Puri I didn’t want anything from this world at all.

I’ve tried browsing the market there and I’ve tried scoring cheap prasadam but it didn’t take. It was like trying to run on the bottom of the ocean, wearing deep diver’s suit and boots.

I don’t know if Jagannath would ever welcome me there, I doubt so. For Lord Chaitanya and His associates it was their destination after the Lord took sannyasa. For Haridasa Thakur, on the other hand, it was special only in the sense he wasn’t allowed to see the Lord.

He could see Lord Chaitanya everyday, though, and he could see the Lord in the sound of Holy Names. I don’t have even that, and maybe it’s a good thing.

The other day I lighted up an incense and I had no one in particular to offer it to except the image of Jagannath on my japa bag. Suddenly my heart melted and I had no power to complain about Jagannath excluding us from seeing Him. He is still the sweetest Lord in the whole universe. If He wants us to stay outside and wait, it’s His merciful order and it’s very sweet to carry out.

The best part about Puri is that it’s reachable by sea. I’m not in my best years but I’m still pretty good in the water and if someone dropped me in the sea in sight of the Puri temple I’m sure I can easily make it to the shore. That way I would avoid all this nonsensical visa business and I would have no return tickets and no money to save for the rainy days, I would have no phone or a camera or a wallet or a watch. I would have only wet clothes and I would surrender all my future to the will of the merciful Lord Jagannath.

Sweet dream, huh?

Before I go to bed I want to break with my tradition and include an image in my blog.

Personally, I never thought Jagannath would be so big. Look at Him, He is huge, and He’s got a nose. I’ve never seen noses on our ISKCON Jagannathas.

Well, with Him being so big and with a nose, I don’t mind staying outside at all – He is so intimidating, and yet so liberating at the same time.

Jaya Jagannath! I hope I’ll have read dreams about Him, too, it’s time now.