Vanity thought #1430. Swing vote 3

How do we exercise our free will here? I start with the understanding that as material bodies we don’t have any, whatever flashes in our minds and commanded by our intelligence is a result of interactions of material elements moved by the modes of nature and time. We have free only as spirit souls but since we don’t see ourselves as jīvas then how can we exercise it?

We’ve all heard that human form of life is special and as humans we have an enormous responsibility to inquire about the Absolute, athāto brahma jijñāsā and all that. What’s so special about us, though, and how do we take advantage of this uniqueness?

We can compare ourselves with animals and notice that their consciousness is very undeveloped comparing to ours. Christians are not even sure if animals have souls, for examples. Those who follow science, broadly speaking, aren’t even sure if plants and trees have consciousness or minds. I said broadly speaking because there’s no scientific consensus on this but no one would claim that trees have mind and intelligence in the sense these words are used outside of Vedic framework.

Consciousness and mind are as much philosophical terms as they are scientific ones, no one can say with any certainty where mind starts, for example, there aren’t any solid definitions there at all. Some say that having mind and consciousness means being self-aware, whatever THAT means. Human babies aren’t self-aware at birth, in their estimates, and they develop self-awareness at the age of five or six months, according to some studies.

According to other studies chimpanzees’ intelligence is as developed as that of five year old human babies. Does it mean chimps are conscious beings in the modern sense? Some would argue so, others would scoff at the proposal to grant them personhood. Legally this has already been tried, in some places with success, in others it’s still under consideration, and it’s not only about monkeys but also dolphins and whales.

The point is that usual definition of intelligence is very fuzzy one and so there’s no as much difference between humans and at least higher animals as we think, we aren’t that special. And we know from Rāmāyaṇa that monkeys can be as devoted to the Lord as any humans.

On the other side of the spectrum we have various kinds of demigods who possess far higher intelligence than we can even imagine, and yet it doesn’t work for them and human birth on Earth is still preferable for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Why? Clearly intelligence and ability to acquire knowledge about the Lord is not enough. Their Bhāgavatam is many times longer than ours, meaning they have far more Lord’s pastimes to discuss, and still being born on Earth is preferable, meaning even the ability to know more not just about the world but about the Lord Himself is still not enough. What’s our specialty then?

We don’t have any sixth sense for religion, we can’t see auras, can’t see demigods, can’t see Viṣṇu like they do on regular basis, can’t see ghosts, can’t see yamadūtas, can’t see the universe as it is, can’t see anything. In what sense can we possibly be special? Personally, I think none whatsoever, we are just happen to be in the sweet, Goldilocks spot of having everything just right.

That’s the typical explanation, isn’t it? Not too much suffering like in hell where people can’t concentrate on praying. Not too much sense enjoyment like in heaven where they can’t concentrate on praying with all the partying that is going on. I don’t know why we are in any better position than sages on Tapoloka or Maharloka, though. They must have some obstacles there, too, that we don’t have down here. Or maybe it’s because Lord Caitanya doesn’t appear there but here, so they don’t get His mercy but we do. If that is true then prior to Mahāprabhu’s appearance they didn’t think much of the Earth and its “opportunities”.

The question then becomes of what exactly this “just right” is. Are we all in equal “just right” position or there’s variation here, too? Obviously, yes. It’s a big question for Christians with their belief that everyone in the entire human history who didn’t get JC’s mercy had gone to hell, including newborn babies somewhere in Asia where they worship Buddha. They might be human babies but they are not equal to Christian babies, they don’t get the Christian “just right”.

We are not Christians but we shouldn’t go down that way, too. Meaning we need to be aware of our material constraints, our DNA, our background, the culture we grew up in, the culture we live in now etc etc. All these things affect our ability to exercise that elusive free will as spirit souls.

The “just right” position means that we have a relatively better opportunity than animals and demigods but it’s still not perfect, we have to admit that, too. We’ve got the brains and training to know that we must surrender to the Lord. Animals haven’t got that, plenty of humans, a vast majority of seven billion on the planet also haven’t a slightest idea. Demigods might know that theoretically but can’t actually do that.

If we analyze our situation very carefully we’ll notice that we experience waves of such conditioning, too. Sometimes we just forget about our duty, sometimes we don’t have enough willpower to perform it. Lack of willpower means commitment to something else, btw. We want that other thing instead, not that we don’t have any desires at all and this desire to surrender is just like a lone candle in the darkness. Nope, we have a blazing fire of material existence around us and we are too busy enjoying it so we don’t have enough SPARE willpower for Kṛṣṇa.

Once we have these other desires overtaking our heart there’s nothing Kṛṣṇa can do for us. Have you ever heard of a demigod being taken back to Godhead? Even when they get born on Earth and then get liberated by Kṛṣṇa Himself they don’t go to Goloka but back to whatever planet they came from. Isn’t it the greatest misfortune in the entire universe? Being so close to Kṛṣṇa, being personally favored by Him, and still being unable to engage in His service. This is what happened to Dhruva Mahārāja, too. He was forced to live out thousands and thousands of years despite explicitly rejecting his previous desires. Once we get our willpower directed elsewhere it can be guaranteed that we won’t get Kṛṣṇa’s service even if He shows up personally. We should be very careful about that, devotion mixed with karma can separate us from the Lord for a long long time.

Unfortunately, the way we were brought up makes it impossible not to worry about money, sex, health and lots of other things we consider our birthright. If we want them and we want Kṛṣṇa we’d better hope that the Lord is much more merciful to us then we deserve and He strips us of these selfish motives. The bliss of selfless service beats those material comforts by an incomparable margin, we should always remember that no matter what our minds tell us. Of course sometimes we have to admit that we aren’t in the “just right” position yet and living out those silly dreams is what we have to do in order to approach Kṛṣṇa truly selflessly.

What can be done then? Our only hope is the mercy of Lord Caitanya, who doesn’t have any limits and never sends anyone to soulless places like heaven or even Vaikuṇṭha. Dealing with Kṛṣṇa is far more dangerous in this sense – He can easily dispatch us to the planet of iPhones and keep us there until they run out of numbers for upgrades or can’t increase their size any further. Lord Caitanya would never do that, and that’s the only thing we can count on.

Vanity thought #1180. Permission to chant

First, I think I need to clear something from yesterday’s post: I said that for residents of Vṛndāvana it was “my children”, then “myself”, then Kṛṣṇa. This seems offensive but I think it’s true – it’s a universal law, it affects everybody. It certainly doesn’t affect their spiritual position but it’s the kind of limitation that is placed on everybody in the material world.

They did love Kṛṣṇa more than themselves but their duties were towards their families and their children, and in that sense these things came first. They loved the year when Kṛṣṇa pretended to be their children but it would have been possible only if their ordinary relationships with their kids were, well, ordinary.

When we say that Kṛṣṇa’s devotees in Vṛndāvana love Him more than their own lives it probably doesn’t mean they don’t love their own lives at all, that they don’t have any self related interests whatsoever. They do, and they have to spend a lot of time attending to those, but all they really want is to serve Kṛṣṇa, of course.

Unfortunately, even when Kṛṣṇa was here it was possible only for a few short moments of their lives. Parents of the stolen cowherd boys were lucky, but even one full year out of one’s life is nothing. Kṛṣṇa left Vṛndāvana at a very young age and after that it was only pain of separation for everybody, and they still had to carry out their usual duties, look after their cows and families etc.

I hope that clears it up a bit. Now, about chanting.

Holy Name is absolute, there are no rules and regulations for chanting, we can invoke it at any time and in any condition, and, ideally, we should always, always chant, non-stop. As spirit souls we have no other obligations here, only to chant. As embodied living entities we, of course, have plenty of things to do but we can leave those to the material nature and Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, we do not have to put our hearts and souls into it. Let the chips fall wherever they may, not our concern.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. There’s also this thing called guru’s mercy and it overwrites everything, even our obligation to chant. We need guru’s permission to succeed, otherwise chanting will not bring any fruit.

At a first glance that last sentence doesn’t sound right but consider this – even if we decide to go around our guru and chant anyway, the result of that chanting would be Kṛṣṇa giving us intelligence to submit ourselves to guru’s will again.

If we commit offenses against other devotees or even against our guru, and we do not have means to ask forgiveness, we are told to chant and hope that one day Kṛṣṇa will arrange everything. Chanting is always, always our last resort, our only shelter, but it will lead us to the exactly the same spot we were earlier so that we can rectify our mistakes and take shelter of our guru or the devotees again. Holy Name can’t replace that, only facilitate.

So we need guru’s mercy and guru’s permission to chant. Our orders are to chant sixteen rounds, for example, anything over that is subject to negotiation. We are told to chant sixteen rounds *minimum*, of course, but all extra should not come at the expense of our other service, our other engagements.

There was a devotee who came to Māyāpura once to chant a hundred thousand names a day. He discussed it with Śrīla Prabhupāda and got his “permission”. He built himself a hut so that other devotees wouldn’t disturb him, and he chanted there day and night.

Now, Prabhupāda’s permission didn’t equal to his blessing. He just let his disciple do whatever he wanted but he didn’t approve of it at all, especially after that devotee started complaining about other vaiṣṇavas being a disturbance to his sādhana. A lot was said there on the topic of imitation of Haridāsa Ṭhākura. It was also noted that we should come to the Holy Dhama to seek association of saintly persons, not seclusion, and that such premature chanting was actually a worship of one’s own mind, not Kṛṣṇa. All of the warnings came true and this devotee soon left, for good.

That bit about worshiping one’s mind is interesting – in situations like this we make promises in our minds to our false egos. We want to prove our own power as devotees, and we go along with our plans to make our minds happy. None of it has anything to do with Kṛṣṇa, we are just using pretense of serving Him for our selfish interests.

Another example was with one of Prabhupāda’s personal servants, no names just in case. So, he saw Prabhupāda being very excited about book distribution. It was in the days when saṅkīrtana was just discovered and everyone talked about it non-stop. Those were the days when we realized what Prabhupāda’s mission really was – to write and distribute books.

With this background in mind, this devotee approached Śrīla Prabhupāda and asked for a permission to join saṅkīrtana party, fully expecting Prabhupāda’s appoval. Instead Prabhupāda told him: “You can go, but without my blessings.” That reply stopped everyone in their tracks.

There are things that are good in Kṛṣṇa’s service and there are things that guru asks us to do. Guru’s orders overwrite everything. If we want to chant, we can, if we want to eat prasāda, we can, if we want to distribute books, we can, but eventually we all should realize that there’s a proper way to serve Kṛṣṇa and that it lies through the service to the guru. Everything before that is just a bit of a carefree childhood, we should grow out of it.

So, what I’m driving at is that we have guru’s orders to chant sixteen rounds a day and that’s what we should do no matter what. Beyond that there are other orders and so we have to attend to them first, and do any extra chanting in our “free” time. We cannot abandon our spiritual responsibilities and replace them with chanting, guru wouldn’t like that, and Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t like that either.

So, this is one way to answer the question hanging over from yesterday – Holy Name is supreme, but serving guru must come first. We should chant on guru’s orders, not on our own, and the key to pleasing Kṛṣṇa lies not in chanting but in guru’s mercy.

Vanity thought #1056. Reenforcement

Yesterday I talked about treating everything that māyā sends us as Kṛṣṇa’s gift, Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. The logic is pretty solid, I think – Kṛṣṇa promises to take personal care of His devotees, we don’t see Him personally, He acts through the agency of māyā so māyā is His representative and we should not reject whatever she brings us [from Kṣṇa].

We agree to accept suffering as Kṛṣṇa’s lessons but duality is not our philosophy and this means that we should equally agree to accept pleasure. After all, life in Kṛṣṇa’s service is supposed to be pleasant, what kind of God would He be if He left His servants hanging without rewards?

So far so good, but what is scriptural basis for all this? It’s quite possible that I suffer from excessive imagination and it’s easy to question my motives, so, unless this view is supported by śastra or other authorities it could all be just worthless speculation.

I must admit, śastra appears to be silent on this point. I guess I could look for statements that a devotee should accept everything as arranged by Kṛṣṇa but that these kind of statements are too general. If there are any other direct statements in obscure books they would be too specific and context related, we need evidence from Bhagavad Gīta or Śrīmad Bhāgavatam or Caitanya Caritāmṛta.

This in istelf is an interesting topic – we have tons and tons of literature left by our ācāryas and Śrila Prabhupāda wanted us to study their books (SB 1.1.1):

    Within the past five hundred years, many erudite scholars and ācāryas like Jīva Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, Viśvanātha Cakravartī, Vallabhācārya, and many other distinguished scholars even after the time of Lord Caitanya made elaborate commentaries on the Bhāgavatam. And the serious student would do well to attempt to go through them to better relish the transcendental messages.

or here (SB 1.2.12):

    A sincere devotee must, therefore, be prepared to hear the Vedic literature like the Upaniṣads, Vedānta and other literatures left by the previous authorities or Gosvāmīs, for the benefit of his progress. Without hearing such literatures, one cannot make actual progress.

Yet our usual wisdom goes that we should read only books by Śrila Prabhupāda and I totally agree. Why?

For one thing, these two passages were written even before Śrila Prabhupāda left India, at the time when he had no idea what kind of disciples and followers his translation of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam would attract in the West. Or we could say he had wrong ideas about it. He expected to appeal to the cream of the society, real decision makers, but instead ended up with dregs, lowest of the lowest.

We could immediately spring to our defense and argue that as vaiṣṇavas we shouldn’t be judged by our birth bur rather by our dedication to service and so on but the fact that we do not behave like cream of the cream still remains.

While serious and responsible students might to well studying books by other ācāryas we read them only to increase our own standing in the society and support our own interpretations. Whatever we read, be it Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura or Śad Sandarbhas, we always end up correcting everybody else and imposing our own understanding.

Later quotes and letters by Śrila Prabhupāda addressed to his actual disciples rather than hypothetical readers of the first Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam make it pretty clear – we should stick to his books and do not pretend we are qualified to read anything “better”. Quotes like this, for example (Letter to Sri Govinda — Jaipur 20 January, 1972):

    There is no need by any of my disciples to read any books besides my books—in fact, such reading may be detrimental to their advancement in Krishna Consciousness.

That’s why I don’t feel like I haven’t done any research if I only think of what is written in our books. Unfortunately, in our books there’s no clear support for my yesterday’s idea. What to do?

There are two ways the idea that we should welcome everything māyā and karma send us as Kṛṣṇa’s mercy can be applied. First, it’s an understanding of paramahaṃsas. They don’t see anything as separate from Kṛṣṇa anyway. There’s nothing to argue here, except that we are not yet paramahamsas and shouldn’t imitate their behavior. Good point, will address later.

Secondly, there is indirect evidence that we should enjoy our karma if it wants us to. This is a rule for neophytes or even non-devotees.

In the Eleventh Canto Kṛṣṇa tells a story of an Avantī Brāhmaṇa and one of the reasons for his fall was this (SB 11.23.7):

    ..He would not even allow sufficient gratification for his own body at the suitable times.

You could look up the neighboring verses as well, especially this one (11.23.24):

    One who fails to distribute his wealth to the proper shareholders — the demigods, sages, forefathers and ordinary living entities, as well as his immediate relatives, in-laws and own self — is maintaining his wealth simply like a Yakṣa and will fall down.

That happened to him before he started on the path of self realization and that’s why I say these rules are meant for non-devotees. Are they meant for us? Not really.

Śrila Prabhupāda never wanted us to torture or exhaust ourselves. Whatever his disciples needed he always made sure they had it. Food, clothes, adequate lodgings, rest – devotees should never lack anything essential, especially not due to artificial restrictions.

This is not an excuse, however, to eagerly accept every bit of sense gratification sent our way by our karma. I didn’t not advocate such indulgence either. Yet when it comes – money, fame, love – things we can’t really escape, how should we deal with it?

I’d say that even if we can’t see them as connected to Kṛṣṇa as paramahaṃsas would, we still have sufficient knowledge to reconstruct this invisible connection. I also hope that we have sufficient experience to see the difference between finding connection to Kṛṣṇa and justifying our indulgence.

What we should be on the lookout for is wanting things. When they come they come, we can’t stop them, but most of the time our problem is that we want them, and that is detrimental to our spiritual progress. Even when we don’t explicitly want them, we get all giddy in anticipation at the very first sign of their arrival. This isn’t a mature response either.

Even more sophisticated enemy is mental speculations. They are also controlled by karma – our knowledge, our ability to think and analyze things, the external inputs and triggers – it’s all out of our control, yet when the opportunity comes we exercise our brainpower to the full. Stopping our minds from arguing with themselves is nearly impossible. We become obsessed with something and we can’t think of anything else, we can’t chant, we can’t read, we just need to prove this idea wrong and that idea right. We replay these arguments in our head over and over again.

How can we accept this as a “gift” from Kṛṣṇa? I don’t know. There must be some purpose behind it that escapes me but I don’t see how knowing this connection to the Lord would help control my mind anyway.

Except this one thing – it can help us see ourselves as different from our minds, get off the mental platform, and, hopefully, the mind will soon follow. Remembering Kṛṣṇa when there’s a storm in your head is a great skill and with experience we should be able to see how to treat our mental fixations properly. I don’t think it can be described in words, not by me anyway, but if infatuation with some subject can help us distance ourselves from our mental gymnastics then it’s a great step towards self-realization regardless of whether the subject is visibly connected to Kṛṣṇa or not.

If we can extract this kind of benefit then it’s Kṛṣṇa’s mercy already, point proven again.

Bottom line – paramahaṃsa vision is correct and perfect, we should accept it unquestionably, we just have to be careful in not imitating paramahaṃsa behavior prematurely.

Vanity thought #581. Life in Lord Chaitanya’s party

All of us have been drafted into Lord Chaitanya’s movement. We aren’t Krishna’s eternal associates who appear together with Lord Chaitanya just for the taste of it. We are conditioned souls who have been saved by His mercy.

Lord Chaitanya has established yuga dharma for this age and if we follow His orders we come under His care and protection. We also know that He is the most merciful avatara, taking on souls that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to even come in contact with Krishna.

From His Navadvipa and Jagannatha Puri pastimes we also know that He is very very kind to His devotees, showering them with His mercy and even sometimes personally feeding them. He always makes sure that His devotees never lack in anything, that they are always happy, well fed and well looked after. He doesn’t normally put His devotees through severe austerities described in the Vedic literature.

Life in Lord Chaitanya’s movement is pretty sweet, there are no two opinions about this. We eat a lot, we sing, we dance, we have lots of feasts and festivals, and generally there’s no such thing as a morose soul in this sankirtana mission, if we do it right.

We, however, should not take this mercy for granted. Yes, Lord Chaitanya takes personal interest in well-being of His devotees but His main message to us is to always chant the Holy Names and strive for the mercy of Krishna, not of His own.

Yes, He will make sure that we never starve but His main concern is that by following His orders we get mercy of Krishna. We should make this our priority, too, because that’s what would make Lord Chaitanya happy. We should look beyond our basic necessities in life, beyond being satisfied that by performing yuga dharma they are being met, we should try to make Krishna notice our efforts instead.

Ours is not a feeding movement, using yuga dharma for material purposes might work very well but that’s not what chanting Hare Krishna is for.

Same applies to our preaching, too – we are not going out to make people happy, though we can do that, too, we are going out so that people do something, sacrifice something for Krishna. Receiving Lord’s prasadam is nice but real devotion starts with offering it to the Lord and in seeing that the Lord enjoys our service, not with appreciating Lord’s service to us.

As for Lord Chaitanya – real devotion starts with making Him happy by chanting the Holy Names and pleasing Krishna. Yes, He appreciates if we offer Him flowers, for example, but what would make Him really ecstatic is if we offer flowers to Krishna. Lord Chaitanya presented Himself as a devotee and so serving Him is lower on His list of priorities than serving Krishna.

One could ask – how can we approach Krishna without medium of Lord Chaitanya? True, we cannot, but it doesn’t mean He is not making sure that our service reaches its destination. Enabling our service to Krishna is one of His favorite things to do.

I bet He likes passing our service to Krishna Himsels better than feeding people with His own hands, and that is my main point today.

Vanity thought #570. Nityananda

Time flies surprisingly fast. It seems only yesterday I was postponing homage to Lord Nityananda and now lo and behold – two weeks have passed by. I put it down to my current explosion of karmic activity, everyday brings something new, there’s no stability nor predictability in what will happen next, and so one thing leads to another and before I knew it my lifespan had been reduced by almost two months.

Anyway, what can I say about Lord Nityananda that hasn’t been said much better earlier?

Well, I chose one little episode from His trips to Jagannatha Puri.

We all know that Lord Nityananda had been instructed by Lord Chaitanya to preach in Bengal. He wanted to stay with Mahaprabhu in Puri but that would leave no one to spread the Holy Name in Gauda-desha. Thus Lord Nityananda had been dispatched from Puri.

Next year He showed up for the Ratha Yatra festival, and the next, and the next. Finally, Lord Chaitanya held a little council with Advaita Prabhu and they told Lord Nityananda directly – we don’t want you to come here every year. You have a mission and you are wasting time for your own pleasure (of being in Mahaprabhu’s company).

Same happens with us, too, I suspect. Originally our annual trips to Mayapur were meant as “charging batteries” time but eventually they turn into festivals – good food, good association, good atmosphere. I think it’s rather natural that recharging effect eventually wears off and we are left only with spiritual bliss and a light sense of guilt of abandoning our posts. Even Lord Nityananda fell for this.

Lord Chaitanya’s mercy is not meant for our enjoyment, only for preaching, no abuse allowed.

In terms of preaching, however, no one can ever surpass Lord Nityananda. Even when Lord Chaitanya was telling Him that He is not wanted in Puri it was made very clear that no one but Nitai can effectively fulfill Mahaprabhu’s mission (CC Madhya 16.65).

You can perform a task that even I cannot do. But for You, I cannot find anyone in Gauḍa-deśa who can fulfill My mission there.

In the purport Srila Prabhupada explains exactly how it works – by the mercy of the Lord His servants can surpass even the Lord Himself.

Lord Chaitanya saved many people but they were mostly from the upper class, fallen brahmanas. Lord Nityananda, however, saved people of all castes, starting with Jagai and Madhai. Lord Chaitanya apparently didn’t have the patience to deal with such fallen souls, it required unparalleled compassion of Lord Nityananda to tolerate their offenses.

Coming further down the disciplic succession it’s possible for sincere followers to display even greater mercy and deliver hundreds and thousands of Jagai and Madhais, who are actually epitome of goodness comparing to modern population.

It all starts with Lord Nityananda, though – He is the very first expansion of Lord’s mercy and Lord’s power, and it’s He who transfers that power down in the form of our guru. That’s how we can serve Lord Chaitanya – by Nitai’s mercy only.

And as fallen souls ourselves we should appreciate Lord Nityananda even more – if not for His mercy, Lord Chaitanya’s benevolence would have never reached us. We are too low, too contaminated to appear on Lord Chaitanya’s radar, it’s only with Lord Nityananda’s help that we are being kept in play and not dismissed for many many lifetimes. He is the one who puts a good word for us and finds us a place in Lord Chaitanya’s mission despite our despicable and disgusting nature.

Pretty much like what Lord Nityananda did for Krishnadasa – He gave Krishnadasa a chance to serve the Lord even if he wasn’t ready, and He protected Krishnadasa from effects of his inevitable offenses. Isn’t it what happens to us practically every day?

This debt to Lord Nityananda can never be repaid and proper gratitude for His mercy can never be fully expressed.

Of all the mantras, songs, and prayers I somehow can stick with only one – endlessly repeating His name – Nityananda, Nityananda, Nityananda. It used to be a very popular chant during kirtans of my early days and it stayed with me ever since. I hope His mercy will stay with me forever, too.

Vanity thought #529. It’s all in the Name

From the very beginning we have learned that the Holy Name includes all the opulences of the Absolute Truth and grants all the wishes but I think that as time goes by we forget this simple fact and treat the Holy Name in a restricted and sectarian way.

First we lose faith that It delivers unlimited material wealth. Perhaps we accept the dictum that Krishna takes away all material prosperity from His devotees too literally. Many devotees therefore deliberately stop worshipping Krishna when they decide to give in to their material desires. It might actually be not a bad idea because this way they do not commit the offense of maintaining attachments while chanting the Holy Name.

Then we take Lord Chaitanya and Srila Prabhupada’s unlimited mercy too literally, too. We assume that if we keep on chanting the unalloyed devotion would automatically rise in our hearts. We do not take the warning that chanting while keeping our anarthas would actually water them and not the creeper of devotion.

Practical implication of this is that we mistake a lot of things that happen to us as growth of the genuine bhakti. We also think that if our chanting does not lead to immediate suffering then we are on the right path. If we get some positive results we sink even deeper into this illusion.

Therefore some devotees think that moving up the ladder of recognition is a sign of progress on the path of devotion. Some devotees think that residing in Vrindavana is the pinnacle of progress, too. Some think that delving deep into Krishna’s pastimes is the only way to go. Some think that developing symptoms of ashta-sattvika-vikara is the perfection of our lives.

The trouble with this thinking is that to achieve any of these things we need to make sacrifices. Career in ISKCON demands engagement in politics. Moving to Vrindavana requires leaving their yatras and quite often leaving the shelter of Srila Prabhupada and getting re-initiated in Gaudiya Math or entering babaji circles. We almost always have to make unfavorable trades, unless all these things come to us without our asking.

What we forget is that none of it has anything to do with Krishna and His service and we still treat Him and the Holy Name as the source of our enjoyment. WE want to cry at the sound of the Holy Name, WE want to live in Vrindavana, WE want to become a sannyasi and train lots of disciples, and the Holy Name dutifully delivers. It keeps serving us and fulfilling all our desires. It keeps giving and giving and giving and we keep taking.

While we indeed become closer and closer to Krishna the essence of our hearts doesn’t change, we are still not devotees but leeches and we slowly convince ourselves that this is how it ought to be.

The Holy Name is so merciful that It allows us to make It into whatever we want It to be and thus we still misuse our independence.

It’s ALL in the Holy Name also means that It encompasses everything. We shouldn’t take it to mean that we have to experience Its every aspect, though.

Devotional service starts when we abandon ALL self interest, even spiritual one. Being free from material illusion does not automatically make us into devotees and even people of Vaikuntha do not necessarily possess the kind of devotion that we aspire to. This complete absence of self interest is what makes our acharyas to leave the comfort and safety of Krishna’s lotus feet and descend into this world.

Achieving this position is only possible if we become indifferent to what the Holy Name can do for us and start sensing the world through Krishna’s eyes. Regardless of how much happiness we can experience with our pure spiritual senses, Krishna’s capacity to enjoy would always surpass ours so sharing in Krishna’s pleasure makes sense even from the position of our self interest.

Unfortunately, this is also the hardest level to achieve but it should not stop us from trying.

So here’s another meaning of “It’s all in the Holy Name” – the secret lies in sharing all the treasures that exist in the Holy Name for Its own personal pleasure and ignoring anything that could be available for ours even if we deserve the right to kick back and enjoy.

Methinks Krishna is so clever that He would trick us into accepting His mercy even if we are not looking for it.

All in all it’s a win win solution and we ought to pursue it very vigorously not least because this is what Krishna’s service actually is.

Vanity thought #513. The verse to forget

“rājā dekhi’ mahāprabhu karena dhikkāra chi, chi, viṣayīra sparśa ha-ila āmāra”

This is not “one of those”, this is THE verse you hope never to hear from the Lord in response to your service. It was spoken to Maharaja Prataparudra who picked Lord Chaitanya from the ground when He fell during Ratha Yatra festivities:

After seeing the King, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu condemned Himself, saying, “Oh, how pitiful it is that I have touched a person who is interested in mundane affairs!”

It was actually worse, it wasn’t said to the King, not even in his direction, the King couldn’t get even that minimum attention from the Lord.

The official explanation by Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya was that Lord Chaitanya was displaying anger only externally, for the benefit of the onlookers who had to see religious principles being upheld, that inside Lord Chaitanya was full of mercy for the King.

I hope it’s true but I bet it still hurts, and if the Lord is merciful towards you internally you wouldn’t need an explanation, you would just feel it, wouldn’t you?

More important than potentially hurt feelings, this verse tells us straight away what our actual position is. Normally we judge ourselves relatively to other people and by modern standards we are doing rather well, with our principles and chanting, but by Lord Chaitanya’s standards Maharaja Prataparudra is million times more advanced and more pure-hearted than we ever will be, and even he was not welcome to receive Lord’s mercy.

Who among us could honestly say that he has no interest in mundane affairs? Most of us have absolutely no qualms about getting jobs, fighting for promotions, and spending our money at our own pleasure – this is absolutely normal in the modern society. We also take interest in society’s affairs, we know most of the celebrities, we keep up with politics – we actually strive to appear as normal as we possibly can.

This verse, however, tells us that this “normality” is what forever keeps us from joining Lord Chaitanya’s party.

This verse tells us that next time we come to the temple and pray in front of the Deities Lord Chaitanya might resent our presence, avoid eye-contact, and refuse to listen. It sounds unthinkable but had He been present in His visibly moving and talking form, this is what would have most likely to happen.

He is not there to bless our material aspirations or take sympathy in our material interests, He would have nothing to do with it, He would have avoided our association as long a we keep attached to mundane affairs. I know I don’t stand a chance, people who read this on the Internet are probably in the same position, too.

This is why, even after being saved by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and his disciples, we are still five hundred years and thousands kilometers away from the Lord. Like it or not, this is the closest we deserve to be, no transcendental platform for us.

Maybe in the next life we’ll get a better chance, but maybe hearing this kind of verse from the Lord is an integral part of our progress and we all will have to live through it at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s a test of our devotion.

I hope we all pass.

Vanity thought #429. “Meh” on mercy

I got into a phase where everything I hear or read somehow gets connected to the topic that has been bothering me for the past week. I haven’t decided how I am going to deal with perceived “deviations” yet, so far I think that anything not in line with what Srila Prabhupada taught us is a fair game. Maybe one of these days I’ll make a coherent argument why it is so but for now I’m going to concentrate on “what” rather than on “what next”.

One new age website carried the following blurb, for example: “… Swami was a student of the spiritual activist A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, from whom he learned a contemporary version of bhakti or devotional yoga, which teaches that those who have found their true spiritual nature have an imperative to reduce suffering in the world.”

There’s so much wrong with it I don’t know where to start. Srila Prabhupada was a spiritual activist? Yes, he was, in a way, but this makes him sound like one of numerous mayavadi gurus who come to bless the world. That website itself is full of spiritual activists, it doesn’t take much to become one.

Also, to say that Srila Prabhupada taught a contemporary version of bhakti is just plain wrong. We try to learn bhakti from Lord Chaitanya and His followers who lived five hundred years ago, that’s not contemporary by any measure, not to mention Srimad Bhagavatam as the main scripture for our sampradaya. We take utmost care to strictly follow footsteps of great devotees from the beginning of the universe. Becoming contemporary is actually a proof of our failure – Srila Prabhupada never said he was teaching contemporary knowledge, if we think that what he taught us is not ancient than we mean that Prabhupada failed to deliver.

I also take an issue with “version” of bhakti. Bhakti does not have versions, it does not belong to us, it’s meant for Krsihna’s pleasure, we do it the way He likes it and we learn it from our acharyas. Mayavadis, on the other hand, are free to invent anything because they do not take Krishna seriously, as a real person with real demands and conditions. Since they assume that they are one with God they naturally think that whatever way they like to practice bhakti is legitimate. It is not. sruti-smrti-puranadi-pancaratriki-vidhim vina, aikantiki harer bhaktir utpatayaiva kalpate – any personal inventions or “versions” are simply a disturbance. Incidentally – I’m disturbed by reading this already.

But the real gem in that blurb is that bhakti leads to “imperative to reduce suffering in the world”. That is not the goal of bhakti at all, the goal is pleasing Krishna. Reducing suffering might please Krishna, too, but only if it means giving people Krishna consciousness, not feeding people or opening eye clinics as mentioned in the next sentence of that blurb.

This is such a gross misrepresentation of bhakti that it should never ever be attributed to lessons learned from Srila Prabhupada. Mayavadis teach like that – Ramakrishna Mission being the prime example.

Even more interesting than that is the allusion to the value of mercy and compassion, which is a main thread stringing together all various aspects of that type of preaching. In the end it all appeals to developing mercy and compassion. Being merciful is one of the qualities of a devotee, one might say, what is wrong with that?

I’ve found an interesting quote in that regard from the purport to Chaitanya Charitamrita (Madhya 9.49)

“..mercy is a relative thing. We show our mercy to a subordinate or to one who is suffering more than ourselves. However, if there is a superior person present, the superior person cannot be the object of our mercy. Rather, we are objects for the mercy of the superior person. Therefore showing compassion and mercy is a relative activity. It is not the Absolute Truth.”

This points to one fundamental feature of mercy – if you feel merciful and compassionate towards others you must also feel yourself as being superior. This is not a vaishnava attitude, which is trinad api sunichena – lower than the blade of grass. Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji was not merciful at all, he never gave anyone any blessings. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, and I gave an example once here, considered himself unworthy of offering benedictions to anyone he met and he looked for their blessings instead. That is a proper vaishnava attitude, as demonstrated by our acharyas, not “Oh, I’m so full of mercy already”, or “Becoming merciful is the goal of me practicing bhakti.”

Naturally, among vaishnavas some must accept superior positions and it’s their duty to show mercy to juniors but that’s how they should accept it – as a duty and as undeserved honor. They should never think themselves as being actually in a position of greatness and definitely not judge their progress by how much mercy they feel towards plebs around them.

If we have an instruction – become a guru and teach other about Krishna – it doesn’t mean that one day we decide – “Oh, yeah, now I’m a guru alright, time to dish out some lessons.” A sincere vaishnava never considers himself qualified to carry out the mission of his guru, he only hopes that guru’s power would work through him, and, subsequently, he never considers himself a fountain of mercy just like he thinks his guru is.

But what about mercy as a natural quality of a devotee? Srila Prabhupada answers that in the next sentence:

“Apart from this, we also must know what actual mercy is. To give a sick man something forbidden for him to eat is not mercy. Rather, it is cruelty. Unless we know what mercy really is, we may create an undesirable situation. If we wish to show real mercy, we will preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness in order to revive the lost consciousness of human beings, the living entity’s original consciousness.”

It can’t be any clearer – real mercy is to preach Krishna consciousness, not open hospitals, not feed school children, not promote healthy living in eco-friendly environment. Those are plainly outside of our mission as followers of Srila Prabhupada, those are examples of mundane welfare work that only prolongs suffering of the living beings, deluding them with hopes that their material existence can be fixed. Making people comfortable here is the job of maya, not of devotees.

So, when being merciful is presented as some kind of spiritual perfection any sincere devotee should go “Meh, not interested, I’d rather attain humility necessary to attract attention of the Lord. Me spreading my own mercy is not going to please neither guru nor Krishna, it’s a waste of time.”

Vanity thought #386. Clarification

I cannot leave that story of Pundarika Vidyanidhi as I described it yesterday – the main lesson to learn from it is actually quite the opposite of what I was talking about.

Yes, it’s bad to seek fault in devotees but if we consider that story carefully it might actually be the best thing that ever happens to us.

First of all, Pundarika Vidyanidhi was on the seventh heaven when Lord Jagannatha and Lord Balarama slapped him on his face in his dream. Yesterday I made it appear as if it was a heavy punishment. Well, it appeared so, with his cheeks red and swollen, and other people made fun of his appearance,too, but he himself was having the best time of his life and both Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami and Vrindavana Das Thakura specifically stressed his happiness.

If he was seeking faults in some regular people he might have had a mild case of mind pollution (if it is at all possible for devotees of his caliber) but because he directed his displeasure at a devotee the Lord Himself appeared in his dream to dole out the “punishment”.

You do something and the Lord appears before you – how’s that a bad thing?

Okay, slapping on the face is probably not the most convincing case of Lord’s mercy but that’s not the only such case in Pundarika Vidyahidhi’s life.

This particular story begins with Pundarika Vidyanidhi giving another initiation to Gadadhara Pandit, and how did Gadadhara Pandit got his first initiation? By having offensive thoughts towards Pundarika Vidyanidhi, of course!

There are so many people in this world who can’t find a guru. Maybe they are going about it the wrong way – they have to offend a vaishnava, the Lord would make them suffer for a while and then make that vaishnava their guru. Problem solved.

There are other cases as well. One “unfortunate” crocodile happened to bite a foot of a vaishnava once and got liberation. I’m talking about the story of Gajendra, of course. Technically, though, the crocodile became a gandharva, but Srila Prabhupada says in the purport that he also became an associate of the Lord in the spiritual world.

Gajendra, an elephant, didn’t look like a vaishnava and so the crocodile got really really lucky. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we have to go around biting other people’s feet, hoping to find a vaishnava, or, if we found a vaishnava we should try to bite him, but if we consider the background of the characters in that story it might appear as a legitimate option.

Gajendra was a king in his previous life and he got cursed by Agastya Muni. The result of the curse was liberation personally granted by Lord Vishnu Himself. Not bad, huh?

The crocodile also wasn’t a generic reptile, he, too, got cursed by a sage to become a crocodile, “accidentally” bite Gajendra, and got liberation.

Or how about Nalakuvara and Manigriva, two demigods who weren’t afraid to appear drunk and naked in the presence of Narada Muni, got cursed, and as a result got a chance to participate in Krishna’s pastimes?

Who do I have to offend to get some mercy around here? That seems to work all the time.

It also should make us feel twice about the duality of this world – good or bad, if something is connected to the Lord or His devotees – it’s all beneficial, there’s no discrimination, it shouldn’t worry us too much.

Vanity thought #381. Overthinking

It’s nice to make a decision to rely on the Lord at all times, it’s not so easy to make it actually happen. Draupadi, as I discussed yesterday, searched for answers elsewhere before turning to Krishna. As soon as she remembered Him, her problem went away. Once you remember Krishna, He extends His helping hand.

Equipped with this transcendental knowledge I tried to apply this method in my day to day life. It turns our my problem is quite the opposite of that of Draupadi – she was thinking of different solutions before turning to Krishna, I start to seek help elsewhere after praying to Him.

What happens is that I ask Him to guide me and then I start second guessing everything I do. Was it Krishna’s advice that just popped up in my mind or do I have to be patient and wait a bit more? When, after some time, I get a whole bunch of the new ideas I completely lose the track of what was supposed to be Krishna’s help and what was just twitching of my own mind.

If I were to face problems of life and death the divinely inspired path would be a lot easier to judge – after I survive. Facing mundane minutiae with identical outcomes is not so easy.

At my level of wasting my time away in relative comfort I don’t really need Krishna’s help, what I am actually looking for here is the voice of the chaitya guru – the Supersoul. Hearing Him is not the same as getting Krishna’s help, which comes maybe once in a lifetime. The Supersoul is our constant companion, Lord Hari, always guiding us on the path of devotion. He talks to us every second of our lives but we, of course, rarely sense even His presence.

The problem here is not in getting His help, as with Krishna, but with hearing Him through the cacophony of our minds. Unlike Krishna presence that is the most wonderful experience of all and is impossible to miss, the voice of the Supersoul requires good listening skills and a high level of self-realization.

Self-realization, I must add, is not some theoretical step, a bubble on the mind map, it’s a very practical achievement. When you have it you can’t miss it, and when you don’t have it you can’t imagine what it feels like.

Instead of talking about seeing the Lord behind movements of each blade of grass, we start actually seeing Him as the cause of all causes. We also lose the sense of hearing to our senses, losing the capacity to experience the world through our material bodies, and gaining the capacity to experience the world through its connection to Lord Hari within our hearts.

Until that happens we will tend to over-think things. Perhaps the ultimate measure of Krishna’s guidance is not in observing the immediate results but in gaining that tiny bit of self-realization along the way, regardless of the solutions to material puzzles placed before us.

Step by step, bit bit, clawing our way up out of this pit of illusion – that’s real Krishna’s help, so let me not over-think things and lose perspective here.