Pilgrim’s Diary 11b. Philokalia – Nikiphoros

This is the second appendix to Part 11 and it goes over this sequence of Philokalia’s chapters recommended specifically for those desiring to develop inner prayer of the heart:

First of all, read through the book of Nicephorus the monk (in part two), then
the whole book of Gregory of Sinai, except the short chapters, Simeon the new
theologian on the three forms of prayer and his discourse on faith, and after that the
book of Callistus and Ignatius. In these Fathers there are full directions and teaching
on interior prayer of the heart, in a form which everyone can understand.

“And if, in addition, you want to find a very understandable instruction on prayer,
turn to part four and find the summarized pattern of prayer by the most holy Callistus, patriarch of Constantinople.”

“Nicephorus the monk” was a contemporary of Ramanujacarya, lived on Mt Athos, and was the guru of Gregory Palamas who, in turn was the father of Christian hesychasm. Wikipedia informs us:

Hesychasm (/ˈhɛsɪkæzəm, ˈhɛzɪ-/) is a mystical tradition of contemplative prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Based on Jesus’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew that “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you”, hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God.

Sounds just what we need here. First things first, however. Nicephorus is spelled as Nikiphoros in this English translation of Philokalia (starting from page 1011), so I’ll use this spelling. Then, as I began this article, I thought I’d give a short summary of all the aforementioned fathers but after re-reading Nikiphoros several times, in both Russian and English translations, I think I’ll keep this installment to his teachings only. Maybe others won’t need as much space, I don’t know, let’s see.

Reclusive dwelling, Karuli, Mt
Hermits house, Karuli, Mt Athos

First Nikiphoros tells us who his book is for – it’s for those who “ardently long to attain the wondrous divine illumination of our Savior Jesus Christ; to experience in your heart the supracelestial fire and to be consciously reconciled with God” and so on. One crucial characteristic of the proper candidates however, is that they should have given up all attempts and all connections with mundane happiness. This is not for people who hope to extract anything from this world. It’s for true renunciates and this will be re-iterated later. And what does he promise to these people? He promises to relieve them from fear of something called “prelest” in Orthodox Christianity, which wasn’t translated into a singe word in English but it’s a big topic in these circles. It was discussed by many other saints in this mystical tradition and there is a separate chapter about this on our assigned reading list, too. So what is this “prelest”?

In Russian the word gives rise to adjectives like charming, lovely, adorable – all the good ones. In the context of spiritual progress, however, it’s a word for anarthas that misdirect one from true spiritual path. In our language it would be various apasiddhantas. They sound attractive to devotees who go into them but our acharyas warned us again and again that it would mark the end of our spiritual life. “Everything will be finished,” as Srila Prabhupada put it. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati treated followers of apasiddhantas as worse than non-devotees. Non-devotees are presumed to be innocent and can be taught the correct path, but with sahajiyas and others there is no hope as they won’t even listen. They think they know everything already. What is the problem? The problem is in accepting non-spiritual things bringing pleasure and comfort for genuine spirituality. Another candidate for our translation of “prelest” is “bhakty-uttha anarthas” – anarthas arising from the practice of bhakti itself – there is a list of those in Madhurya Kadambini. One can get recognition and become attached to fame or to service received as an advanced devotee. The very idea “I’m an advanced devotee” is said to be the deepest and the most difficult to give up.

Is there a need to expand on this “prelest”? Probably not – one has to smell these things from a mile away regardless of what exact form they take, and this is what Nikiphoros is talking about here. In our society there are plenty of devotees who embrace these distractions and give multiple reasons why they should be allowed to keep these attachments. This book is not for them. In Orthodox tradition “prelest” is the work of the Satan himself and it’s these “prelests” that are meant in the English translation of what Nikiphoros’ method is supposed to provide: “without the danger of being deceived or terrified by the demons. Terror of this kind we experience…” Comparing this to Russian I think a correction is in order – in English we can be deceived OR terrified, and then terror is described, but in Russian translation there is a terror of being deceived, too. This book is for those who are terrified of the possibility of being mislead. It’s for those who try to keep their nose clean and know that one step away from the path and they’ll be finished, at least for the rest of this lifetime.

The method to attain “wondrous divine illumination” within our hearts is given at the very end of the book and first Nikiphoros deals with objections, with “purvapaksa” in our speak. He proposes meditation in the heart with closing one’s consciousness to the external world as much as possible and surely people would object to that. I myself not sold on this whole thing – we are a preaching movement and, regardless of whether this kind meditation works or not, we make progress by following our prescribed methods. If Lord Caitanya told as to go and preach and to chant the Holy Name loudly for everybody to hear then this is what we should do and there is no other way. For us. Because it’s a personal matter – He asked us and we can’t say no, and we can’t be ungrateful, and we can’t say “I know better”. So should I proceed?

My answer is that preaching is effective only as a reflection of our inner realizations. We can give people only what we carry in our own hearts. Ages ago I wrote about reasons why sankritana devotees are so successful and the main one was that because they are the best devotees to begin with. They are first to get up for mangala arati, first to finish their rounds, they never fall asleep during Bhagavatam class (only temple residents can appreciate this ability now). They read books more than others and they remember what they read better than others, too. In other words, they first become perfect “inside” – in the temple, and then they can preach outside on the streets. I apply the same logic here -for Nikiphorus “wondrous divine illumination” might have been the end goal but for me it will always be only the means to an end. This inner glow MUST be projected outside. That’s what Lord Caitanya wants and I’m bound to His words.

Anyway, to defend his proposal Nikiphoros offers anecdotes from the lives of other saints or sometimes their straightforward teachings, and this comprises much of his book. Let’s go over those and story from the life of Father Anthony comes first. To my knowledge, “Father Anthony” was the first ever Christian monk, first person to introduce asceticism into their sadhana. He was living on top of a mountain and once two pilgrims were walking through the desert to meet him. They run out of water and one of them died while the other passed out and was on the verge of dying, too. Suddenly, on his mountain, Father Anthony called his disciples and told them to quickly grab a jug of water and run down towards Egypt. “One guy already died,” he said, “and if you don’t hurry the second guy will die, too”. In this way one pilgrim was saved. The moral of this story is that it’s by renunciation and by looking inside Father Anthony attained the perfect vision of the outside, too. If one asks why the first guy was allowed to die NIkiphoros’ answer is that his death was predestined and Father Anthony was not supposed to change that.

Second argument is from the life of “St Theodosios the Cenobiarch”. The name obviously meant something to Nikiphoros by itself because it looks like he simply cited him as an example of how solitude and renunciation lead to development of character and love of God. Basically, Nikiphoros states that Theodosios was so good because he was inward looking.

Then comes St Arsenios. Nikiphoros says that Arsenios never wrote any letters and never received any either, and not even talked with anybody despite being effortlessly eloquent in his speech. Why? He didn’t want anybody to think highly of him. For this reason even in the monastery he would choose a spot where nobody could see him and he didn’t have to look at anybody. He didn’t want to have any value assigned to his life in this world, he wanted nothing of it.

Then there was St Paul of Mount Latros. As the name says – he lived on Moutn Latros, alone, and if he ever came down to talk to people it would only be to instill the necessity of keeping mind under control, which is “watch over intellect” in English translation but “control the mind” is our usual phrase so I’ll go with it.

Then there was St Savvas, who, apparently, was a temple president back then. The point is that he demanded all the devotees to conquer their minds. Then, and only then, he would consider accepting them as resident devotees in his ashram. But that’s not all – he would allow them to live IN the temple only if they were frail and weak. Otherwise he told them to build their own hermitages. The point being that one absolutely must learn to keep his mind from indulging in mundane things. One cannot be a man of this world AND hope to attain enlightenment. Our devotees should be occasionally reminded of this, too.

Then there was Abba Agathon, who was once asked what is more important – following sadhana or meditation. Agathon replied that sadhana, the practical devotional service, is like leaves on a tree and meditation is like fruit. If a tree doesn’t bear fruit then it should be cut down and used as firewood. The goal of growing a tree to is relish its fruits, and so that is the relation between sadhana and chanting.

There there a letter from Abba Mark to Nicolas where Abba Mark says that if one wants to ignite his inner light of knowledge to guide him through treacheries of Kali yuga then there is one simple method that does not require physical exertion – one must learn to control his mind. “Attentive understanding” was another phrase used for this attainment. In our speak it would probably be “awareness” where consciousness is sharp, attentive, all knowing, but peaceful and largely inactive. To attain this state Abba Mark instructs to look deep inside one’s own heart and purge three enemies of awareness – forgetfulness, sloth, and ignorance. This can be achieved only by relying on God’s help so one should seek it first, and at all times, too..

Next is St John Klimakos who instructed that one should strive to “enshrine what is bodiless within the temple of the body”. He explained that this is possible only by controlling one’s mind – again. I would point at the proposal itself, however – to enshrine means to place something that wasn’t there before and it might mean to invite God into our hearts, as if He wasn’t there already. In Russian translation it’s not what St John was talking about – he specifically meant to keep one’s own soul within confines of one’s body, meaning to not allow consciousness to wander in the outside world. In this state the body might sleep but the heart, the consciousness, is still awake and aware. Biblical reference is “I sleep but my heart is watchful” (Song of Songs 5:2). Lock the door to keep your body in your cell, close your mouth to keep silence, and lock your heart to keep “evil spirits” from getting inside and messing you up. By this practice one can learn the pathways бы which “prelests” try to enter into one’s heart. Actual word was “robbers” and I don’t know what was the original Greek – there IS Greek equivalent for the term but they also say the word “prelest” is not used in official Bible translations. Anyway, the metaphor given is that by sitting high up one can see the ways for robbers to get inside the garden and steal the grapes, and so by placing one’s awareness above the body one can see how anarthas find their way inside the heart. St John draws distinction between guarding against evil thoughts and watching over intellect, which is not immediately clear to me. Perhaps he means getting the mind back on chanting as opposed to never allowing the mind to slip away in the first place. This second ability is more important but more difficult to attain. He then compares buddhi to robbers again but in a different way – robbers who properly case the place know exactly how to get to the valuables and so does the intellect when getting the mind under control. Perhaps English translation makes more sense – those who want to rob king’s palace do not attack indiscriminately and so the mind, controlled by the intellect, cannot be penetrated easily. In Russian translation it’s not the mind controlled by the intellect but “heart infused with prayer”. In English translation it’s “enshrined prayer within his heart”, which takes us back to the need to rely on the Lord to control one’s mind. He (either St John or Nikiphoros – not clear) then asks the reader if divinity Lord’s instructions become visible in his words. He says most of the time we miss the point and pass on these instructions as if we were voluntarily deaf. Meaning words remain words and we do not see the Lord speaking through the guru. In this case he was quoting the Bible a lot so it wasn’t posturing – in these instructions he genuinely wanted to convey Lord’s orders.

Then there is St Isaiah the Solitary who taught that only when one detaches himself from one’s mind one can start to see the scope of his sins and his sinful propensities. No, sorry, I wish he said that, but he said that one has to separate himself from evil, not from the mind, which would have been a super cool realization. Anyway, what he said is known in our practice as the phenomenon of people thinking that they are essentially good until, after practicing Krishna Consciousness for a while and restricting themselves, they realize that their hearts are full of slime, gunk, and smut. Then one starts to understand the real meaning of shame. St Isaiah then says that if our hearts are corrupted then we should at least keep our bodies clean and do not indulge – do not break regulative principles. Then maybe we can expect some mercy.

Then comes St Makarios the Great who said the most important task for an ascetic is to “enter into his heart, to wage war against Satan, to hate him, and to battle with him by wrestling against the thoughts he provokes.” He stresses that if the mind is allowed to engage in all sorts of mundane thoughts then keeping the body clean has no value. This seems to contradict St Isaiah above but Nikiphoros says that this is not so and that following four regs is a must in all cases, but keeping purity of the mind is more important and it’s what actually counts. Christian word “spirit” used here could mean the mind, it could mean the heart, and could mean the consciousness. I would say it’s a failure of intelligence – one must have a very clear conception of right and wrong and then the mind would naturally stay within the boundaries. If the intelligence is weak then the mind explores the opportunities. These opportunities do not come from the external world, as one might assume – it’s the intelligence that allows for existence of various maybes. It’s in these maybes that the mind senses potential value and tries to explore. The intelligence has to shut these possibilities completely and put its foot down. Then the mind won’t flow towards undesirable things. I hope this clarifies St Makarios’ message.

Then comes St Diadochos who outright tells us that for those who dwell inside their hearts there are no distractions of porn. He who already lives “in the spirit” does not know desires of the flesh. Temptations, or “assaults of the demons” can’t reach him anymore. This is similar to what I said in the previous paragraph but I want to say a few extra words about this – Christian references to the demons sound a bit naive but, if we think about it, lusty desires rising up in our minds are not necessarily ours. There are sooo many beings that “live” in our body, too, in a sense they express themselves through parts of our bodies. All the demigods live inside our bodies already, for example, but not in the same way that we live here – they occupy a certain slice of ALL bodies simultaneously while we claim ownership of the whole thing, but only as a single unit, one single body. The point is that it’s possible that there is a controlling demigod who gets off by observing lusty thoughts in our minds. Christians might call him a demon but we know that by chanting we can change his/her nature, too. We expect that eventually all the demigods will come to visit our minds and various other bodily parts to appreciate sankirtana and be engaged in devotional service. That’s one way to explain what it means when we say “by chanting all the demigods become satisfied”. They are not our enemies, we just have to preach to them and make them appreciate our chanting.

Then there is St Isaac the Syrian, which I can quote in full: “Strive to enter the shrine within you and you will see the shrine of heaven, for the one is the same as the other, and a single entrance permits you to contemplate both. The ladder leading to that kingdom is hidden within you, that is, within your soul: cleanse yourself from sin and there you will find the steps by which to ascend.” That’s a very elegant way of putting it. I can add many equivalents from our practice but these comparisons might simply distract us from the main point. By SELF-realization we will attain God, too, and Krishna Himself will illuminate our path towards Him as caitya guru inside. There is no need to look elsewhere, unless specifically directed, like towards the Holy Name, which is a sound outside of our bodies.

Then there is St John of Karpathos who says that attaining the state of brahma bhuta requires a great effort but in this state one starts to see God within his heart. In Russian translation there is “reaching another sky, the inner sky of the heart” but there is no equivalent in English that I see. It’s a beautiful point – there IS an entirely different space within our hearts and when traversing this space we don’t need to pay any attention to the world outside. What is this space and what is this traveling? I wish I could speak from experience but I can point the way, roughly as I did here, in an addendum to Pilgrim’s Diary part 8. Eventually our chanting should lead to perceiving the meaning of the holy name and we should notice that there could be multiple meanings there, too. This variety of meanings creates space where some are close to each other and some are far apart. We respond to these meanings differently and our response makes the holy name to reveal the next meaning, too, and this change from one meaning to another, from one response to another, constitutes movement, ie traveling. One can do it by mental efforts, as I think I described in the linked article, but the idea is to become an observer and let the mantra flow by itself. Then we can step off the mental plane of being the controllers and finally learn to HEAR different meanings, which is a kind of hearing that happens in the heart. Then creation and discovery of this new “sky” inside our hearts starts to take place on its own, without us forcing it to go this way or that, which is undesirable in the beginning. Let’s move on.

Next is St Symeon the New Theologian and in Russian “theologian” is like a compound word made of “God” and “speak”. Well, he speaks a lot in this passage and his words are godly, but there are just too many of them. It’s about the original sin and what I get from this is that we have to guard our minds from indulging in it again, which means ignoring Lord’s advice and doing our own thing because we think we “got it, will take it from here”. What we need to do is to guard our hearts and minds against ideas like this, which becomes possible by being attentive to the Lord, which means constantly directing our minds towards Him, by praying, by relying only on His help etc.

At this point Nikiphoros asks the reader if all these pramanas are sufficient to accept that inner meditation is, indeed, the way to go forward. Obviously everybody should agree, and then Nikiphoros moves on to his proposed method of achieving it. First he answers a question from the audience – okay, we got it, controlling the mind and concentrating it on the heart is important, but how to achieve it? With God’s help, answers Nikiphoros. We can’t do it on our own and we need the Lord to guide us.

Different people call this process by different names, like I used our familiar “control the mind” here, but all these terms point to the same thing, except our “control the mind” instructions can apply to external activities as well – do not watch this youtube video, watch that instead. Do not talk to this guy, do not look at that girl, read this book instead of that and so on. What Nikiphoros talking about here is attaining total stillness of the mind, however. It’s not that the mind needs to be engaged but it has to be stopped from doing all external activities altogether. Impossible and inadvisable, we might hear in reply, and that’s why this is not for every devotee. However, EVERY devotee must come to this point eventually – to the point where the mind becomes peaceful and undisturbed. It’s not that we will sit and do nothing either – we always have to chant so “still mind” means mind absorbed solely in listening to the holy name. At some point it must become possible, and it’s the entrance to brahma-bhuta prasannatma stage. Whatever objections we raise – this is still the entrance to actual bhakti, there are no alternatives, and we are not talking about some substitutes brought over from Christian religion here. Neither we are talking about shortcuts – all the same stages we must pass according to our tradition are still there and we still must pass through them. Pilgrim’s diary only offers a slightly different description of what should be happening. It’s not magic – these things MUST happen and mind must be brought under control. Mind should not be just directed to spiritual activities but actually brought under control where it can sit and listen to the maha-mantra for prolonged periods of time. Once it can do that we can, and we must direct it outside – to preaching. As I said earlier, what was the end goal for Nikiphoros is only the beginning of the real sankirtana for us.

Nikiphoros says that this mind control (maybe pratyahara and dharana in astanga yoga) has to be practiced under the guidance of an experienced guru who can observe and direct the disciple every step of the way. Some can do it alone but it’s rare and it happens only by Lord’s special mercy so we can’t count on that. If a guru is unavailable then one must spare no efforts in finding him, and that’s all Nikiphoros has to say about that. Devotees spend years and decades seeking a guru to take initiation from so finding a guru who himself had this kind of experiences and is willing to guide us seems impossible. Well, then we have to pray, what else is there? Nikiphoros’ own solution, and that’s what he literally says – if you don’t have a guru then pray to the Lord and do what I say.

I don’t think should retell his instructions in my own words so I’ll just paste it here:

You know that what we breathe is air. When we exhale it, it is for the heart’s sake, for the heart is the source of life and warmth for the body. The heart draws towards itself the air inhaled when breathing, so that by discharging some of its heat when the air is exhaled it may maintain an even temperature. The cause of this process or, rather, its agent, are the lungs. The Creator has made these capable of expanding and contracting, like bellows, so that they can easily draw in and expel their contents. Thus, by taking in coolness and expelling heat through breathing, the heart performs unobstructed the function for which it was created, that of maintaining life.

Seat yourself, then, concentrate your intellect, and lead it into the respiratory passage through which your breath passes into your heart. Put pressure on your intellect and compel it to descend with your inhaled breath into your heart. Once it has entered there, what follows will be neither dismal nor glum. Just as a man, after being far away from home, on his return is overjoyed at being with his wife and children again, so the intellect, once it is united with the soul, is filled with indescribable delight.

However you parse it to mean – up to you. Personally, I’m not impressed, not very clear, and do not know where to start. First of all, I’m not going to give up chanting for this so unless there is a way to draw the breath inside while chanting, as well as the way make the Holy Name descend into… Wait – into what? This doesn’t make sense already. He is talking about actual lungs and hearts and an actual region in space where the heart is and where the “intellect” should be compelled to enter. To locate this region one must look at it from the outside and so we have me, the observer, and my heart, the location in space, and now me the observer should force my mind to go into that location. Am I supposed to continue observing my mind hanging around inside my heart? From which vantage point should I observe this? Where is my consciousness during all this? In the heart? With the mind? Or at that vantage point?

Russian translation is not helpful here either as it describes the same process and so raises the same questions. I suspect Nikiphoros had all the answers but today’s translators can’t understand what he was talking about and so interpret this passage in a way that raises questions. I suspect original Greek is not understood today either as we no longer have experiences of what these words refer to. Perhaps familiarity with mechanics of astanga yoga could help but I’m not going to study yoga to figure out what to do with my life – we already have all the instructions we need.

Nikiphoros says that if one can’t enter the heart despite many efforts he has to pray to the Lord for help and follow his additional advice:

…everyone’s discursive faculty is centered in his breast; for when our lips are silent we speak and deliberate and formulate prayers, psalms and other things in our breast. Banish, then, all thoughts from this faculty – and you can do this if you want to – and in their place put the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’, and compel it to repeat this prayer ceaselessly. If you continue to do this for some time, it will assuredly open for you the entrance to your heart in the way we have explained, and as we ourselves know from experience.

Perhaps things have changed since this was written, but we think with our heads now, not our breasts. We might feel something with our hearts or we might have a “gut feeling”, but it’s never as articulate as Nikiphoros describes. Perhaps original Greek word for “breast” here meant something different. Russian translation is the same as English so not helpful. If we ignore this physical location, however, then this advice is no different from our common advise to banish all thoughts from our minds and simply chant Hare Krishna. If this is the way to go from “breast” into the “heart” then there is nothing to object.

If we don’t treat this spatially then it makes sense. There IS a way to hear the maha-mantra with all one’s heart, a way where the mind becomes excluded. When a child cries for his mother the mind is similarly has no place – the child cries, he doesn’t think about what he is doing. There IS a way to focus our consciousness on this “heart” and it might as well be spatially located where the heart is, but analyzing these spatial relations should be excluded just like the mind is excluded when crying. This analysis is done by the mind anyway. Another point is that by “mind” we often mean the thought generating faculty which is not the mind but the sense called “speech”. Thoughts are still words, except physically imperceptible. Similarly, our dreams are physically imperceptible, too, but we still “see” them with our sense of sight. Anyway, this thought producing facility can by shut down, at least for a while, but it’s not the same as shutting down the mind itself, technically speaking. Nikiphoros himself calls it “discursive faculty” rather than the mind or intellect, too.

Finally, Nikiphoros talks about a two stage process – mechanically enter the heart and THEN start chanting the Jesus Prayer. I hope other gurus on the reading list will not make such a distinction and will tell us how the prayer itself can be used to draw our consciousness into the heart. For this reason I don’t think Nikiphoros’ method was anti-climactic but it was a good first glimpse just as Krishna’s instructions in the Sixth Chapter of Bhagavad Gita were not the last word in yoga. We can’t follow those either but we don’t reject them, we rather expect more instructions suitable specifically for us. Nikiphoros’ preconditions are similar to Krishna’s instructions to go into the mountains, find a proper place, and learn to sit there comfortably for a long time. His method works, but not for us, we need more help and we expect this help from the Holy Name. If you remember, the pilgrim used the Jesus Prayer itself to draw it inside his own heart, too. He synced chanting with his breathing to achieve that, which is already a step beyond NIkiphoros’ advice to mentally force the consciousness inside the heart.

And let’s not forget the lessons from various holy fathers above – assimilating them into our consciousness should already make the whole exercise worthwhile.

Another image from Mt Athos:

Reclusive dwelling on Mt Athos

Pilgrim’s Diary 5. Nyasa

In Vedic tradition mantras given at initiation are supposed to be “placed” on the body in a ritual called “nyasa”. Good example of that is Narayana Kavaca from the Eighth Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. The Holy Name, however, is famously exempt from this rule – niyamitah smarane na kalah – no niyama, no rules, no kalah, no consideration of time. Is it equally true for the Jesus Prayer given to the pilgrim? Yes and no – not in the traditional sense.

I think I forgot to mention it last time – unceasing prayer was supposed to be chanted by the tongue, by the mind, and in the heart. So far the instructions were given only for chanting coming from the tongue but the major work is placing the prayer in the mind and, the hardest part – in the heart. It’s not going to happen at once but it is necessary – the prayer must come in touch with these three bodily parts or it would be ineffective. In Narayana Kavaca prayers one is supposed to touch his left knee and right ear so it’s not quite the same, and yet the principle remains – one’s body has to become one with one’s mantra. Narayana Kavaca was meant to protect one’s knees and ears so it had to become one with those bodily parts. Makes sense.

Strictly speaking, this is not required from Hare Krishna mantra which provides direct connection with the Absolute and doesn’t require medium of the body. Of course we can’t chant it without using the body but, with experience, we should realize that the mantra exists entirely by itself. We are not specifically encouraged to “place” it inside our bodies but nobody would object to it either – Krishna is Krishna. Our problem is that we can’t perceive the mantra’s full power and sweetness when it escapes our lips. Maybe it would be better felt in the mind? It should definitely feel better in the heart, right? Not necessarily – Krishna is Krishna, He is independent of any medium, if we can’t see Him in the books or deities then we can’t see Him inside our hearts either. It’s not a mechanical process and it does not depend on our powers of perception, it depends solely on Krishna’s agreement to reveal Himself.

Nevertheless, traditional process of yoga, of connection with the Lord, should not be dismissed. We still have to withdraw our consciousness from the external world and focus it on our hearts, hoping to meet the Lord there. This is how it’s supposed to work – connect with the Lord first, then learn to see Him in the objects of the external world, too. I don’t think Lord Caitanya is supposed to dazzle us with external displays of sankirtana all the time. We have to put our own work in finding Him as well. Of course, when He so obviously demonstrates His external presence, like five hundred years ago in Navadvipa or like fifty years ago in Hare Krishna movement, He can’t be ignored or discounted, but these five hundred years in between were conspicuous by His absence. He presence is not always externally perceptible.

So let’s return to the book. Once again, the goal has been announced – one should chant the Holy Name, in this case Jesus Prayer, always and at all times, inside one’s heart, and even in one’s sleep. The first instruction, however, was much easier. After reading a couple of other unspecified passages the old man explained their meanings and let the disciple to attend predawn Mangala arati. His last instruction was to practice this prayer under his supervision and warned the pilgrim that doing it alone would be troublesome and ineffective.

During Mangala arati the pilgrim felt elated and fervently prayed for further directions. There was no place for him to stay but he heard that there was a village nearby and, by God’s grace, he was able to get a job there guarding someone’s fields through the summer. He got a straw hut to stay and all the time in the world to pray. What a find! He put himself to practice.

First week went fine, he was contemplating his Jesus Prayer from all sides and reflecting on the passages the old man read to him from Philokalia. Then things started to go wrong. He felt heaviness, inertia, boredom, total lack of taste, sleepiness, and simultaneous influx of all kinds of fascinating ideas. He went back to the forest church and told about this to his guru. “It’s normal,” was the reply. “It’s just maya testing you because those who take to chanting the Holy Name are about to escape her grip forever and ever, and she won’t let it go so easily.” Replace “Maya” with “the world of darkness” and you can’t tell vaishnava from a Christian here. The old man also added that even Maya serves at the discretion of the Lord so there is nothing to be really afraid of. This test indicated the need to develop humility and to give up one’s own desires. Unless one’s heart is clean and pure it’s not suitable for the Holy Name to establish itself there. It would lead only to pride. The old man opened Philokalia again and read a passage that I found unexpected:

‘If after a few attempts you do not succeed in reaching the realm of your heart in the way you have been taught, do what I am about to say, and by God’s help you will find what you seek. The faculty of pronouncing words lies in the throat. Reject all other thoughts (you can do this if you will) and allow that faculty to repeat only the following words constantly, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Compel yourself to do it always. If you succeed for a time, then without a doubt your heart also will open to prayer. We know it from experience.’

On second thought – Krishna also said that mind can be conquered by sustained efforts, by one’s willpower. We have also been told to speak nothing else but Hare Krishna mantra. To be honest, I always fail at this. I’m compelled to say so many other things, but I would also admit that avoiding temptations is very important. This instruction was meant for Christian monks and ascetics and I’m sure it would work for “simple living high thinking” vaishnavas, too. The pilgrim lived alone in the forest, on the edge of the field he was guarding, so he had no one to talk to and no TV. In those days cell coverage didn’t reach remote areas yet so there was no mobile internet either. There was no outlet to even charge his phone, if he had one. Electricity had not reached rural Russia yet. My point is that living in today’s world and peace of mind are incompatible, and one has to make concerted efforts to isolate himself from the noise of the world. It has to be done, skillfully, gradually, with humility, with recognition of one’s weakness, but it has to be done. As far as I tried, it really works and mind CAN be brought under control when it is protected from unnecessary stimuli.

In this regard, Christian response to this book made a point that the pilgrim, in his twenties by their calculation, was jumping ahead of himself and that one should go through many many years of practice before one can dedicate himself solely to prayer. Fair enough. Actually, very true, but we all must come to this point anyway. Christians can’t accept that the bulk of this progress could have been done in previous lives and, perhaps, we also have to accept that perfection in our chanting is a multi-lifetime project as well. It helps to understand how the world works, it helps to know what distractions are there and what their roots are so they hold no mystery and don’t provoke curiosity. Curiosity is encouraged in modern population but there must come a stage when one sees it as a distraction. We should realize carvita carvananam principle for ourselves – all the alleged pleasures and treasures of the world are only chewing the chewed. But for that things have to chewed first, too. How else would you recognize them?

This is an uncomfortable point for those devotees who believe in one life ticket back to Godhead. I’m not here to discourage them and I know many who are well on their way towards this goal, but I am also aware of many who are fooling themselves and driven by rather mundane interests in their daily dealings. You can’t be genuinely excited by something you see on the news or something you anticipate in your own life AND hope to return to Krishna. Maybe we can get to fulfill those desires in Krishna’s presence, but it won’t make us into His devotees, it won’t grant us Krishna prema.

I was hoping to finish this part of the story today but there’s too much interesting stuff left. Coming back to the title – so far it’s not so much about placing mantra “on” our bodies but about placing ourselves INTO the mantra. Let the Holy Name take over our lives, let the mind surrender unto it. It’s a very important step that no one can neglect. Mind must become still and peaceful. Not thoughtless, but peaceful. Undisturbed.

Vanity thought #1754. Hope against hope

What does it even mean? We all know the phrase but the more I look at it the less sense it makes. In any case, it’s the meaning that interests me today, not etymology.

I listened to a class where the speaker presented refreshingly old approach to preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness, tried and tested. That’s when I realized that we might be becoming to smart for our good. We can’t be satisfied with simple logic presented in Prabhupāda’s time anymore, we need to dig deeper and know “better”. Is it even possible to return to the old ways for us? Should we strive for it or just press ahead with our constantly updated understandings?

The question to the audience was about features of the māyā, illusion. The expected answer was “it makes us miserable” but that’s not what people said at all. People said that māyā makes us feel good and people said that māyā brings us a pretty convincing illusion of happiness. I, personally, thought that māyā brings us hope. “Why do you all sound like materialists?” the speaker asked, laughingly. Actually, he was dead serious because he didn’t accept any of these answers as legitimate.

Usually, we think that we ask people something and then tailor our preaching according to their replies, but that does not have to be the case. People live in their own bubbles with their own, faulty frameworks of thought so stepping into them is accepting at least some of their assumptions which might be contrary to our philosophy. Why should we sacrifice our positions so easily?

The speaker rather told people how they should feel about māyā. I would argue that Prabhupāda wasn’t really interested in what people think either, he just told them the truth and they agreed with it regardless of their own thoughts on the matter. This kind of preaching is forceful and uncompromising and it does have its own attraction.

“You are all going to die,” the speaker said. “So what?” we might think in response, and it’s now the duty of the speaker to introduce us to the dreadful reality of death. Just because we don’t think of it or treat death very lightly doesn’t mean that the preacher should accept this position. Death is no joke and we should not allow people to treat it as one. No one ever laughs when the reality of death comes into their consciousness. It is, therefore, the duty of the preacher to bring us back into the real world out of our cocoon of ignorance.

Having put is into the right frame of mind the speaker then proceeded with basic facts of Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy and then relieved our newly found anguish with assurances of Kṛṣṇa’s help and eternal happiness. Surprisingly, lots of people fall for the prospects of engaging in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes as his friends, mothers, girlfriends etc.

Typically, I’d think it’s nonsense because we have no clue how sweet Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are, we only judge them by our material experiences of parenthood or friendship. It’s nice and attractive but it’s nothing like having actual relations with Kṛṣṇa. Mundane words will never do it justice. Still, it works. Is it because we say the word “Kṛṣṇa” in every sentence when we talk about His līlā? Is it a property of His pastimes themselves that make them stand out among similar stories of mundane mischief and happy times? Hard to say.

Maybe it’s because we have been put into the right frame of mind first and with this right attitude we have been able to catch a glimpse of Kṛṣṇa’s sweetness. Another possible explanation that with the right frame of mind we tuned ourselves into the speaker’s mind and shared in his appreciation for Kṛṣṇa. When someone talks about something that interests him and you listen attentively you can’t help but feel attracted to that thing, too. In this explanation no spiritual input is necessary, you have to like the stories from Kṛṣṇa book as they appeal to us here, not as they appeal to the residents of Vraja. I mean someone goes and kills demons, lifts mountains, hurls asses on the tops of the trees – these stories could be likable even if they were about ordinary people, not God. One way or another, it worked and listeners developed an interest in Kṛṣṇa. What does it matter if they were lured by tricks? Kṛṣṇa will take care of the rest. It’s not like they’ve been told it’s a book about dragons or smoking weed.

Anyway, māyā does bring us a glimpse of happiness and it does fill us with hope and these are our everyday experiences, it’s not all about remembrance of death. How should we deal with these enticements? I would say that most people just take it without thinking. Our search for happiness is inbuilt, as we just learned from Sāṅkhya, it doesn’t need an explanation or a reason, we act on it right away without pausing to think even for a second.

Natural reaction, therefore, should be awareness of what is happening. Awareness is the symptom of sattva guṇa so we can’t go wrong with it. If we see what our minds do when presented with opportunities it would become easier for us to separate ourselves from the mental platform and also easier to find a connection to Kṛṣṇa – which should be the goal.

Mind is a real thing, it’s not a figment of our imagination, and so ignoring it completely is not an option. It will continue to exist and act on our senses and move our bodies forward; the real question is how to make the mind connected to the Lord. How to make the mind sense Kṛṣṇa’s presence and become attracted by it rather than by false promises of happiness coming from māyā. I’d say it won’t be possible until we at least start to see how the mind works and stop following it blindly.

On the other hand, such deep understanding of the mind is not really required of the devotees. We can just put our faith in Kṛṣṇa and hope that He will make sure our minds don’t get attracted to really harmful things. Instead of dwelling on negativity of our conditioned state we can put our hopes in the Lord. We can’t go wrong there either.

The counterargument to that could be that sometimes the Lord gives us the opportunity and the ability to understand these things deeper and so we should not misuse this chance, too. Prabhupāda had to go across an ocean on a steamship when opportunity came, why should we refuse to deal with our minds?

There are books written about Vedic psychology and there are seminars held about these books and they have been translated into different languages so I’m not the only freak who is interested in these matters. Maybe one day I’ll know something more than “be aware” but for now it’s all I can think of. I don’t even have enough intelligence to tell the mind what exactly it should be attracted to in order to connect with the Lord. Say you want to shift in your chair – how could that be connected to Kṛṣṇa?

Hmm, this post didn’t go I as I hoped it would but that’s the best I can do on the topic as of this moment.

P.S. Politicians tell people what they should feel and think all the time and they swallow it, we can use that trick, too.

Vanity thought #1590. Going mad

Yesterday I looked at the example of Mahārāja Pṛthu. He led an extraordinary life, being an incarnation of the Lord which appeared without help of a mother. He is also the father of agriculture, since he was the first one to subdue the Earth, flatten the mountains etc etc. His story is quite long and I don’t remember all the details.

The important part in the light of my recent posts is Pṛthu’s departure. He sort of reconciled two different instructions on how to conquer the mind, first by bringing it under control through strict sādhana and austerities, and then merged it into mahat-tattva through the practice of advanced yoga.

The first instruction was given to Arjuna – control the mind by force, eventually it will comply. The second instruction comes from description of the philosophy of Sāṅkhya, how all material elements are one by one returned to their original unmanifested state. Both stages in beating the mind are important but what interests me is how the mind is perceived by the practitioner. At the first stage mind is seen as one’s own enemy but at the second stage the false ego gradually disappears and mind becomes something like air – ever-present and impersonal.

There’s another case study in this regard, and there are probably more tacked away somewhere in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, but I want to talk about Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira who we know very well, perhaps better than any other character save for Arjuna.

After the battle of Kurukṣetra was won Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira took the throne and became the emperor. He conducted a sacrifice to wash away all traces of war karma and everything looked good. Arjuna helped him a lot by procuring gold for the massive sacrifice because the government was in dire straits and needed a big financial injection. After that Arjuna went to stay with Kṛṣṇa in Dvārakā and didn’t send any news for half a year. Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira noticed various bad omens and suspected something really bad had happened. That’s when Arjuna returned with the news of Kṛṣṇa’s departure.

Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira immediately knew what to do and prepared to leave this world. He installed Mahārāja Parīkṣit in his place and appointed Kṛṣṇa’s grandson Vajra as the kind of Mathura, and with that his earthly obligations were done. He didn’t practice any tapasyā the way Mahārāja Pṛthu did.

Usually tapasyā means you start with relatively easy level and gradually turn it up, eating less and less until the mind comes under total control. There are other restrictions as well – on clothing, on association, on sleeping etc. It takes time, even for Dhruva it took six months and usual vānaprastha plus sannyasā take fifty years but Mahārāja Yudhuṣthira didn’t go through this step at all.

He went straight to dissolving his mind into mahat-tattva. It took him literally one verse between making a decision to retire and killing his mind for good (SB 1.15):

    SB 1.15.40 — Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira at once relinquished all his garments, belt and ornaments of the royal order and became completely disinterested and unattached to everything.
    SB 1.15.41 — Then he amalgamated all the sense organs into the mind, then the mind into life, life into breathing, his total existence into the embodiment of the five elements, and his body into death. Then, as pure self, he became free from the material conception of life.

Just like that. Relinquish garments, belt and ornaments, become disinterested, and then amalgamate sense organs into the mind, mind into life etc. Done.

We should remember that he always had his mind under control, though. He was never attached to anything but dharma and never had any other interests in life but performing his duties and serving Kṛṣṇa. He never had any personal ambitions either. He was an exemplary devotee and as such the need to control the mind through sādhana wasn’t there.

We are not that lucky and our minds are all over the place, starting with such basics as our own health and food, and therefore we shouldn’t even think about imitating Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira. Besides, it was his time to leave and the universe cooperated by dissolving his body into the sum total of the material elements. We can’t force the process until our time comes up on its own, and even then our departure will probably be in much less elevated consciousness.

Now, if you read two verses quoted above it would appear that Mahārāja Yudhuṣṭhura successfully died, amalgamating his “body into death”, but that wasn’t the case from outsiders’ perspective – his body was still very much alive. Look at the next three verses:

    SB 1.15.42 — Thus annihilating the gross body of five elements into the three qualitative modes of material nature, he merged them in one nescience and then absorbed that nescience in the self, Brahman, which is inexhaustible in all circumstances.
    SB 1.15.43 — After that, Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira dressed himself in torn clothing, gave up eating all solid foods, voluntarily became dumb and let his hair hang loose. All this combined to make him look like an urchin or madman with no occupation. He did not depend on his brothers for anything. And, just like a deaf man, he heard nothing.
    SB 1.15.44 — He then started towards the north, treading the path accepted by his forefathers and great men, to devote himself completely to the thought of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And he lived in that way wherever he went.

It starts with “annihilating the gross body” and ends with walking the path towards the north. Physically, it should be impossible and “annihilating the gross body” cannot mean literally annihilating it. I do not see any other way for us to read it but “annihilating selfish perspective that this gross body is mine”. In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t make this clear but he does talk about Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira achieving a jīvan-mukta status, liberation while still in this world.

To the outsiders the body was still visibly present and alive but it didn’t make any sense. Our bodies have purpose and we can see it from our behavior. We have reflexes, we need to eat and breath, we listen and react, we express desires, either verbally or non-verbally – our existence makes sense. Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira’s didn’t. His body moved around but it wasn’t interested in eating, wasn’t interested in comfort, wasn’t interested in impression it makes on others and wasn’t expressing any desires. Even animals are a lot more self-aware than that, even ants and bacteria. To better understand what happened look at word for word translation: jaḍa — inert; unmatta — mad; piśāca-vat — just like an urchin.

I don’t think any of us will ever achieve this stage but theoretically we must know that it’s there, that we should, ideally, reach it. Maybe not in this life and maybe we’ll get transferred to the spiritual world directly but here’s Kṛṣṇa’s personal associate who was born in the material world during Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and he became jaḍa, unmatta and piśāca-vat. Why should we expect any less? Or any more? It’s hard to decide which – more or less.

I mean to say that it’s quite possible that we all will have to do something similar before we are allowed into the spiritual world, we can’t get there while still maintaining attachments and harboring material dreams so we should all eventually become jaḍa from the material perspective. It might look different but the consciousness should be the same, so we better get cracking at the mind and at least learn to control it, at least while we chant. Good luck.

Vanity thought #1589. More than one way to skin a cat

Some idioms are just animal cruelty. Who came up with this idea – skinning cats? I looked up the origin of the phrase and it’s inconclusive. Early versions were talking about killing cats by choking them with cream, which is like drowning an Irishman in a vat of Guinness. There’s one record of a man skinning a cat alive and it was used as an evidence during deliberation of a bill on cruelty to animals, rather fittingly, but it’s hard to see how it could have been a source for such a widespread use.

By “cat” I mean the mind, or course, and I want to continue yesterday’s discussion. I was thinking of the nature of the mind as one big universal element rather than a single unit personally issued to everyone. To us it looks like our mind is ours but I argued that it’s because of our false claim to property. Without staking this claim there’s no basis of talking about “my” mind or “his” mind, it’s just mind, it’s everywhere, and living entities simply take advantage of its presence.

It would be difficult to find a confirmation to this in śāstra, though. The first verse that comes to mind, spoken by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gītā, implies quite the opposite, and that’s what I intend to discuss today.

Kṛṣṇa was describing yoga to Arjuna, how one should sit in one place and meditate. Arjuna said that this system appears to be impractical, chiefly because of the mind, which is very difficult to control. In response Kṛṣṇa said that it’s difficult but possible through practice and detachment (BG 6.35).

This particular conversation could have happened to any one of us, it’s a common question and to us it implies battling with our own mind. How else can we understand it? Our mind gives us the problems, Kṛṣṇa was also talking about an individual yogi controlling HIS mind, and the solution to it is individual efforts. It’s hard to see how the mind could be a one universal element. Should I give it up? Nope.

Yesterday I said that context is important here, meaning that if the situation was different Kṛṣṇa might have given a different answer. That doesn’t mean I question the validity of Kṛṣṇa’s advice, not at all. In fact, I don’t think there’s any other way to conquer one’s mind, we have to follow Kṛṣṇa’s instruction, follow a suitable practice and cultivate detachment.

What I mean to say is that this is what we have to do, not necessarily how things are from Kṛṣṇa’s own perspective. My point was that to a liberated soul the mind might appear very different than to us. We see it as a personal property but they don’t. We have to bring “our” mind under control but they are passed that point, we have one set of instructions and they have another. The nature of the mind itself, however, does not depend on our advancement, we just see it differently from different platforms.

In the 11th Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam there’s a chapter dedicated to the philosophy of Sāṅkhya and how it can be used to dispel the bewilderment of the mind. The context here is somewhat different from Arjuna’s, even if it’s basically the same Gītā, same knowledge, only delivered to Uddhava. There Kṛṣṇa doesn’t talk about using yoga to manually control the mind but describes the nature of the material world itself. Once you figure it out the confusion born of false dualities disappears. Part of that confusion is seeking things as “mine”, it should disappear, too, and from Kṛṣṇa’s description it appears that we, indeed, have one big mind for the entire universe.

First He described how material elements came into being. False ego was the first one to appear from mahat-tattva when no living entities were even present. The modes of nature were there, too, and when they acted on this false ego various other things started to manifest. Mind was born out of false ego in the mode of goodness. The universe itself didn’t exist at that point yet, though Kṛṣṇa did mention that along with the mind appeared eleven controlling demigods. The purport gives the list but our local personalities holding these posts couldn’t be the ones Kṛṣṇa was talking in that verse – as I said the universe itself hadn’t been formed yet and it was before appearance of Lord Brahmā.

Later in the chapter Kṛṣṇa talked about annihilation and how material elements gradually merge one into another in a reverse progression. Body merges into food, food into grains, grains into Earth, Earth into fragrance (a sense object, not a perfume, of course). Fragrance merges into water and so on. By the time it gets to the mind there’s nothing of the universe left to speak of, certainly not individual bodies.

There’s a story of Mahārāja Pṛthu’s return to the spiritual world which illustrates both the approaches, the one given to Arjuna and the one given to Uddhava. First, Mahārāja Pṛṭhu retired from public life and went into a forest. He practiced austerities and cultivated detachment, then he practiced yoga, just as Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna. He conquered his mind and engaged in meditation. The result was that “by regularly discharging devotional service, Pṛthu Mahārāja became transcendental in mind and could therefore constantly think of the lotus feet of the Lord. Because of this, he became completely detached and attained perfect knowledge by which he could transcend all doubt. Thus he was freed from the clutches of false ego and the material conception of life.” – SB 4.23.11

This is the part of the process as described to Arjuna. The actual process of leaving this world is described later and it looks mechanical – sit in a proper posture, block your anus with your ankles, raise life air upward etc. Then comes the relevant part – gradually merging material elements one into another, mind, senses, and the false ego among them, and then merging them into mahat-tattva, and next Pṛthu was free to leave his body. That’s the part told to Uddhava.

How does a person follow the same procedure as it happens during universal annihilation I do not know. Did he merge his own mind and senses, sort of returned them to storage, or did he simply stop seeing them as his own? Did these material elements, which comprised his body, change their actual status or was it only a change of perspective? The way the story is told Mahārāja Pṛthu merged his bodily fluids with the totality of water and his body with the totality of earth. It looks as if nothing was left but when his wife found him there was a body still lying there, she burned it and entered the fire herself, so I’d go with changing perspective rather than actually merging body into the ground.

Next time let’s look at another example of how it might happen, maybe it will become clearer.

Vanity thought #1588. Mind reader

The other day I speculated that the universe might have one mind to rule them all instead of us dealing with each our own mind individually. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the bottom of this by reading relevant passages from the scriptures so I might just as well speculate a bit further with what I already have.

From our empiric point of view when we hear that Kṛṣṇa has created twenty something material elements we don’t take it to mean that He literally created twenty elements and that’s it. We understand it just like we understand ordinary air or water – it’s all the same around the Earth but water I splash on my face is different from water used for cooking on the other side of the world. Same with mind and senses – there are eyes and everybody has got them but still each has got his own.

Same with elements described by Kṛṣṇa – He created mind and senses but we all have got our own sets. My mind, therefore, is different from the mind of the person sitting next to me, and so are my eyes, ears, skin etc. It’s hard to imagine it being any other way.

The objective reality, however, might be totally different. Our views are dictated by the illusion even when we talk about the same objective things like material elements. Kṛṣṇa sees them and we see them, but we still see them differently from those who are free from illusion. This is where it gets tricky.

My differentiation between my mind and the mind of my neighbor is caused by the false ego but liberated observers do not have it, they do not see the world as divided into mine and his and theirs and so they have no grounds to see our minds as separate. Then the question becomes how could they still see our minds as differing from each other. Is there even a possibility for this?

There could be because we are still individual souls and there’s spiritual difference between us and between our relationships with the Absolute. If we have our unique relationships then we must have our unique tools and unique, individual minds and senses.

This, however, could be true only of the spiritual reality but in the material world we are forced to accept whatever is given. We do not form individual relationships with Kṛṣṇa in the conditioned state, we form individual relationships with His inferior material energy, and even then “we form” is on overstatement, we accept what is forced on us by karma. Even then acceptance means some expression of our will but in the conditioned state we just helplessly observe, no one asks whether we accept it or not.

If we compare this world to a movie theater then we are not in charge of the program and we do not control the plot, we just sit and watch and imagine that we are the thinkers and the doers and the enjoyers and the sufferers.

This understanding supports the argument that there is no such thing as an individual mind and individual senses, it’s just a show and we lay claim to various characters. What we see as ours is part of one bigger plot, it has no separate existence and it’s intricately connected with everything else.

I would say that it’s one universal mind which at this point in time has these properties in this part of the universe and other properties in another part. Or we could bring it closer together and talk about distribution of properties in a country, city, neighborhood, or a single house. When something happens in the middle of the house, someone says something, for example, then the mind in this corner agrees with it, the mind in the another corner disagrees, the mind in the third corner wants to reconcile opposing reactions, the mind in the fourth corner wants to see a fight. Yet another mind takes a macho approach and starts boasting, a different mind takes a feminine approach, the macho mind softens up, the feminine mind feels a victory, and a young mind on a potty tries to absorb it all and make sense of what is happening.

If you aren’t completely overwhelmed by your own thoughts you can observe it all and understand everybody present there, understand why they react in their particular ways and predict their actions. You might not feel their emotions personally but you can empathize.

The other day I heard someone say “I don’t want to understand you because if I do then I might forgive you.” That’s a profound observation if you think about it. We all make mistakes but we all also can justify our actions, we can even justify malicious intent. We do it for ourselves and we can do it for others, too, we just need to understand their situation, be in their shoes and we’ll get it. Once you see the situation through somebody else’s eyes forgiveness is inevitable.

We always forgive ourselves, or nearly always. Even if we think we were wrong and deserve punishment we still accept it as part of the forgiveness ritual. We just can’t see ourselves as being totally doomed but it’s very easy to lay absolute, immutable blame on others. Just listen to the rhetoric and accusations thrown around in politics, they leave absolutely no room for forgiveness. They don’t allow any space for the other party to be right, it needs to immediately cease and desist. It’s all just stupid, selfish, and short-sighted. Wise people must understand and therefore forgive others, that’s why they have no enemies.

So, if we try to see the world through somebody else’s eyes we ought to share the same likes and dislikes and it will be like sharing the mind, which was my point all along. Once you see the whole gamut of possible reactions you forget which ones were your own and which ones were born of empathy and compassion. Or you could share righteous indignation, too.

Moreover, the more you observe how people’s minds work the more you know that they are not in control but simply follow the nature. How can you say that it’s “their” mind when you can see it being shaped by news, media, public opinion, education, peer pressure, previous experiences and the like. There’s nothing individual about it, no more than individual temperature readings around the room. When it gets hotter in one place then the heat gradually spreads until the air-conditioning kicks in. Same with people’s emotions – it’s complicated but a totally mechanical process.

At the end of this post I think I have proven to myself that I don’t deal with “my mind” but with this one universal substance that affects and interacts with a patch of it that I claim as my own. The goal here is to strengthen the intelligence enough not to fall under the influence of this mind but rather bring it under control, which is another tricky question – how exactly do you bring under control something that is not yours and is ruled by far superior forces? Kṛṣṇa has answered this question but I think it applies only to a certain context and I’m not going to start that conversation now – keeping Kṛṣṇa’s words restricted by the context is not how we usually read Bhagavad Gītā so I won’t even start.

Vanity thought #1586. Still unseen

I was hoping the ekādaśī would fix me but I didn’t really cross my fingers yesterday and so it backfired. Not that I’m superstitious that way but I do believe there’s a connection between thoughts and their future results. In my case thoughts usually destroy the future and so I can never make a correct prediction. Crossing fingers won’t help.

It’s frustrating – having all my plans being ruined without fail, but there’s a benefit in learning this lesson, too. For one thing, it clips my ego. I KNOW I can’t control the world, can’t shape it according to my wishes, so I know that any kind of daydreaming is a waste of time. At this stage it doesn’t really matter whether dreams come true or not, I’ve seen it fail enough times to disassociate my wishes from reality altogether. The other thing is that sometimes I DO know how things are going to turn out, I just dare not to think about it and go for more pleasant versions instead. There was a big part of me yesterday that told me my ekādaśī chanting would not be great, I guess that’s why I needed to mention “crossed fingers” in the first place. However, I didn’t want to sound that sad premonition outloud.

It’s a typical mind trick – try to will the future the best way possible despite having serious doubts that it would ever come true. I fall for it every time but I also realize that escaping it requires escaping the mind itself. If you know something then be quiet about it, don’t let the mind come in and ruin everything. Somehow or other the mind never gets it right so the best thing is to ignore it and keep your intuition to yourself. I know it’s very difficult but maybe that’s why they call it intuition – it’s not something you can just think up, it’s there on its own, so better leave it alone. Trying to flesh it out by conjuring the correct scenario in the mind is going to fail, at least in my experience. Just wait until it happens on its own and accept whatever comes.

This is where the mind fails us once again – by contemplating the future it positions us relative to results so that we are bound to react with either likes or dislikes according to mind’s plan, not according to Kṛṣṇa’s. If we didn’t listen to the mind we would accept whatever Kṛṣṇa’s has given us but by making plans we are tricked into making judgments. Even if things turn out favorable we’d be thinking they are not good enough or not perfect enough and we would always be looking the gifted horse in the mouth. Of course if Kṛṣṇa’s shows up Himself even through a small spark of His glory we’d be immediately won over but I’m talking about our regular karma here. Mind forces us to like or dislike our regular karma while Kṛṣṇa tells us to accept everything with gratitude and as means of serving Him.

Tricked by the mind we place various demands on how we would serve the Lord. We need prasādam to be just right, we need a certain model of a mobile phone, we need a certain kind of wife or husband, we need to feel safe and secure, we need to be healthy, we need sufficient funds, we need a peaceful mind, we need our enemies kept at bay, we need our seniors to be first class devotees, we need our juniors to be respectful, we need we need we need – there’s no end to our conditions. These conditions are born out of the mind’s preoccupation with likes and dislikes and nothing else, because everything in service to the Lord is absolutely perfect, spiritually speaking, but the mind is not a spiritual thing and so it comes with its judgments and dictates everything.

And it’s not only our mind that does that – the entire material world works that way. Well, maybe not the world itself but everyone placed in it. It’s not OUR mind only, it’s everybody’s mind, and if we manage to avoid making judgments ourselves there’s no shortage of people who would gladly do it for us and tell us how to live our lives. It’s not only our mind’s company that we should avoid but the rest of the world, too.

There’s really no difference between our mind and the mind of our fellow beings. The likes and dislikes might be slightly different but only as far as our senses are unique, which they aren’t. We have tons of social upādhis where we share our goals and where our senses react in unison. Patriotism is one such thing, everyone cheers for the national team just the same, but there are many many more, more than we are usually aware of. The fact is that our entire being, our sense of ourselves, is formed by social interactions and it has been going on since the moment of our birth. We’ve changed a lot since then, haven’t we? It’s all been due to the influence of others so they, the others, do get a lot of say in how our senses work in this world, meaning our minds are alike, too, meaning they always have tons of advice on how we should live our lives. Just ask your wife, she knows how to make you perfect better than you do yourself.

The point is that we should avoid listening not only to our minds but to the minds of everyone around us, too. Family members, friends, co-workers, people on the streets, shop assistants, voices on TV, strangers on the internet – they all channel the universal mind and they all force us to like or dislike everything we see. It doesn’t even matter if they agree or disagree with our own mind, they force us to take a position, any position, and that’s already bad for our spiritual advancement.

The whole lot has to go, all of them.

Another argument is that some of them are serious offenders and even if we avoid making offenses ourselves our association with them is just as bad. Well, maybe if we talk to meat eaters it’s not as bad as slaughtering a cow ourselves but even that is not guaranteed because this subtle influence is harder to resist and it might show up when it’s already too late. This is especially true about sex and that’s why we are specifically ordered to avoid association of not only the opposite sex but of members of our own gender who are attached to sex life. Anything related to [illicit] sex life has to be purged from our consciousness. Same is true regarding offenses against devotees – we cannot allow ourselves to listen to them. If we can’t stop the offender we must leave the place immediately.

This seems obvious but my point was that sharing in these parts of the universal mind is just as bad as harboring these thoughts in ourselves. Sometimes The Mind is just bad, doesn’t matter if it manifests in our head or in the heads of our associates, that’s why we are told to avoid certain places even though we ourselves might not share in temptations. There’s no real, actual border between subtle elements like the mind and intelligence. We imagine it being there only due to false ego but these elements are shared. Hmm, maybe I’m onto something big here, it’s the topic I was keeping in mind for a long time and there are many aspects to it I’m not ready to tackle yet.

Oh, and the advaya-jñāna still remains unseen and imperceptible. This is by definition, of course, but the definition applies only to those devoid of spiritual consciousness, so to say that is’s unseen means that I’m still not ready to perceive it, assuming Kṛṣṇa is not withholding it on purpose. Sad, there was time only a few days ago when it seemed so close.

Vanity thought #1531. House training

My memory is not what it used to be but maybe it’s a good thing. When I was young I remembered everything and I always felt that if I try hard enough I can recall every event in all the details. I felt like it was only a matter of accessing the storage.

Some things I recalled again and again but many didn’t, it was not worth it at the moment, I thought, but I could surely rerun all the memories and relive those moments if I wanted to. Eventually this number of unrecalled memories grew bigger and bigger and I only kept awareness of their existence, not even general descriptions. Right now I need to really stress myself to remember what year this or that happened, and I would usually go not to the memory itself but place it in relation to other events, like “it was a year after I .., or maybe it was two years?” Sometimes I just can’t remember things I thought I knew by heart, and same is happening with my ability to do simple mental calculations. I used to do complex multiplications but now three digit sums and subtractions pose a serious challenge.

What I am driving at is that I don’t remember what I was writing about here only three days ago. I remember the general topic, something to do with the mind, and that I was going to pick up from where I left off, but now I can’t recall any details. I can, of course, click on a recent post and read it again but I don’t see the point – details are not important and they are bound to be forgotten again. Besides, there’s this realization that I’m not in control of my mental faculties and while some might panic about it I feel like it’s a very valuable one, it pulls down the veil of illusion – we are not in control of anything in this world and this desire to be in control, to be on top of things, is what keeps us here and prevents us from turning our consciousness to Kṛṣṇa.

Anyway, the mind. I remember that in the post before last I talked about kids being kids and therefore being unable to control their minds regardless of whether they grow in religious or atheistic families. Sometimes atheistic families can be at an advantage here but today I want to focus on the value of sādhana.

We assume that we are the only ones doing it but it’s not true, especially in Hinduism. Māyāvādīs love “sādhana”, though to them it means something else entirely. Following in Ramakrishna’s vein they take all sādhanas as equal, you just choose the one that you like, like you choose your preferred iṣṭa-devatā. All sādhanas lead to the same goal, never mind Kṛṣṇa clearly stating in Gīta that those who worship forefathers go to forefathers and those who worship demigods go to demigods. This doesn’t register, they are above all that and for them all paths are the same.

This is clearly nonsense but they are not the only ones with sādhanas. In fact, every living being has some sort of sādhana and tries to follow it, however unsuccessfully. Everybody has some sort of dharma to follow and everybody has some goals to achieve. Means to achieve those goals are called sādhana, it’s the literal meaning.

If you want to finish school you have to study and studying will be your sādhana – how, when, where, for how long etc. If you want to master some skill you have to follow sādhana, too – study, train, practice. If you want to woo a girl there’s sādhana for that, too, so we are not special even if our sādhana is different because our goal is different.

What sādhana does to the mind is the same, however – it puts it under control. Whatever sādhana you follow, there’s always a list of dos and don’ts and there’s always some sort of a schedule. You don’t have to think about it, just follow. Get up, take a shower, have breakfast, go to school, or to work, there’s nothing to think about here.

The mind has no leeway, no freedom, it has to like what is offered and be content with what it has. The consciousness then gets freedom to concentrate on its ultimate goal without any distractions. This goal then becomes all one thinks and talks about and one consciously and willingly rejects all other engagements. Do this for a sufficient amount of time and success is guaranteed, no matter what it is you are pursuing.

In the beginning, however, mind poses lots of problems, it’s just wild and it needs house training. It needs to accept the new routine, it needs to learn to like it, and it needs to stop looking for alternatives. It’s like taking in a stray and training it to behave according to house rules. Where and when to eat, where and when to sleep and so on.

Initially we might not like it but under careful guidance dislikes can be overcome. The facilities must be adequate, the training not too hard but not too easy either, there must be some rewards and punishments and there must be some assurance and guarantees of comfort and safety. Well, maybe not comfort per se but comfort in a sense of peace of mind, knowing that you are doing the right thing and it will pay off handsomely.

People who object to this process and demand some rights and freedoms are fools who will never accomplish anything. No one gets to dictate the terms of a boot camp. They can accept or reject them but that’s all, training is non-negotiable. There are rules and if you want a diploma at the end you must follow them.

When it comes to religion, however, people invent their own ways, which means they give themselves their own titles according to their own perception of progress. It’s all nonsense, just like a university degree you printed on your own printer is worth nothing. Your achievements must be recognized by an authority, not by your own mind.

So, there’s only one rule – submit to the authority, control your mind, and do what your teacher says. This will make you a successful athlete, a successful businessman, a successful singer, a successful politician – anything you want. There’s no other way, even though theoretically you might be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, meaning you have tons of suitable karma and most of your work has been done in previous life. Unless you are one of those and get to make your own rules you need to follow the process like everybody else.

Devotees are special, though, sādhana is not a guarantee of success at all – because Kṛṣṇa is a person, a supremely independent one, and it’s up to Him whether to engage with us or not, we can’t make Him like we can demand a driver’s license if we passed the test. This means that our attitude to our sādhana must be different from others, but more on that some other time.

Vanity thought #1528. Peace of mind

Last time I think I made a convincing case that our ordinary understanding of freedom is inadequate and misleading. At least I convinced myself, at least on some superficial level. What next then? Where does real freedom lies? Don’t say “spiritual world” – we are not there yet, we need to make steps in that direction, but which direction is that?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, Kṛṣṇa grants self-realization out of His sweet will and we can’t force Him. We might sit and wait, we might run, it doesn’t matter, Kṛṣṇa is not going to be convinced by externalities, we need to make a personal connection and a personal plea. How to make that personal connection? Kṛṣṇa is guarded very well against intruders like us. We can say it’s due to guru’s mercy but guru doesn’t act independently of Kṛṣṇa either. A material mind might see a possibility of a shortcut here – around our guru and directly to the source, but it’s foolish. Guru and Kṛṣṇa are non-different in this regard, we can’t get to one without passing through another, guru’s presence is a manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s interest in us.

What can we do in the meantime? That’s the question on my mind today.

We can approach it from two sides. One is from the POV of a struggling soul trying to make his life better, another is from the POV of a devotee trying to perfect his sādhana. Personally, I constantly oscillate between these two. Most of my actions are selfish but occasionally I remind myself that I can do things for Kṛṣṇa, too, and not just special things like offering food but everything I do, everything can be connected with the Lord, I just don’t remember or don’t know how.

Whatever approach one takes it will make his life better, and the struggling soul approach can appeal to non-devotees, too. It’s not a direct path to Kṛṣṇa consciousness but almost everybody has to pass through these stages on the way and realize the futility of the material struggle even when one feels like he is finally winning. Winning not just the war for sense enjoyment but the war with one’s mind, too.

So, seeking freedom to act is no freedom at all, as I argued yesterday. It gives only hopes and just enough confirmation to keep us going, but in the end we can never be as free as we want, eventually this race will come to an end. We need to define freedom differently, if value it at all.

Normally, we feel like freedom is our innate desire, our inalienable right, we have the entire civilization built on this principle now, and it’s the only civilization most of us have ever known. It sounds convincing but our experience and knowledge of history is still limited. Other values commonly assumed are sex and drinking, for example, but they don’t mean anything to us as devotees, we are past that, just as we are past meat eating. People’s addiction to bacon is the same as their addiction to freedom. We can easily reject the first one but the second one still holds over us, just as sexual desire will always be present as long as we have these bodies.

We need to stop valuing freedom just as we stopped valuing steaks. The fact that everybody loves it is not a reason for us to go along. They are all miserable because of it and helpless to stop themselves – not a good role model for us to follow.

What we need instead is peace of mind, the concept that cuts across all religions and all cultures. It is nearly lost in the modern age but we do have plenty of self-proclaimed Buddhists and other new agey types who can be considered as our companions on this path, they just go about it in the wrong way.

What we need is not following our mind wherever it wants to go but keeping it in one place, happy and content and not giving us any trouble. In this state the desire for freedom (to act) melts away, it just stops being a question. In this state we realize that chasing freedom is slavery in itself.

Peace of mind gives us what the chase is supposed to give – happiness and content, the happily ever after where the thought of further improvement doesn’t even cross our minds. In our speak it’s sattva guṇa, not the end but a solid starting platform to strive for bhakti.

This is what the wannabe yogis don’t understand yet and maybe are not ready to appreciate – that there’s life beyond sattva and beyond “non-existence” and “unity with the Universe”. Envy gradually disappears on that stage so they’ll come to appreciate devotional service soon enough, converting them is not our biggest concern. Instead of arguing with them we should encourage them to follow their path, wait until humility develops, and then make our pitch, but that’s a different topic.

How do we attain this peace of mind? How do we bring our mind into this peaceful place? Well, it’s not literally a place, we should realize this first. Ordinary people think that peace of mind is a result of creating nice external arrangements, cushy and comfortable life with fast internet, cheap TV, healthy food, and unlimited amount of very satisfying sex, with your soul mate – for the romantic ones.

We should know better than that and tell people so, too. It won’t work. Peace of mind is a state of consciousness that should persist in all external conditions. We might never achieve this absolute ideal but we should try to achieve it at least in conditions imposed on us, whatever they are.

Some would object that it’s impossible, that we should try being in their shoes before offering suggestions. This might perplex us for a while – what if “their shoes” are indeed different and impossible to fix? We should remember, however, that this is a typical defense. They say the same thing when we tell them about meat eating or about the necessity to chant. “Not for me”, “I don’t have time for this”, “Maybe when I get my life in order but not now” – we all heard those. They are not real arguments.

First of all, Kṛṣṇa always helps. If we express a desire to follow His instructions the universe complies, or He wouldn’t be God. Secondly, the impression of “impossible” is the result of us being locked in into our desires. When we want something else the mind naturally finds the way to think of it as possible – it’s what it’s there for, to make impossible look possible, we just have to let it do its work. Just plant the desire and it will naturally grow.

So, these are the first steps – start wanting the peace of mind, look at the possibilities offered by the mind, observe the universe turning around and providing us with opportunities. It might not look like a solution to scientifically minded atheists but we know that’s how the world actually works – desire, thought, action, results. It works all the time.

It’s only a start, though, there’s still plenty of work ahead and bringing mind into a happy place will contradict a lot of our long held assumptions, and the old karma will catch up with us, too. Not to worry, though, it’s all has been seen before and there are solutions and fool-proof methods, but more on this later.

Vanity thought #1527. Free as a what?

We all want to be “free as a bird”, implying that birds, due to their ability to fly, enjoy degree of freedom unavailable to men. They can just up and leave at any moment and be miles away in minutes. We have airplanes to achieve the same but then you need to book tickets, pay for them, have your body scanned, shoes examined, wait for boarding – it’s not the same thing, never mind that you can’t change plane’s destination at will. Birds rule, right?

Another way to appreciate their freedom is that they have no social constraints whatsoever. Well, they might have some obligations to their families and mother birds are known to sacrifice their lives for their children but what we usually see is that they can leave bad company without any second thoughts. We get stuck in uncomfortable meetings, we get stuck with annoying neighbors and our own families aren’t always a pleasant bunch. We are social animals and societies live by rules, which we think is the opposite of freedom.

As I discussed yesterday, these are all illusions. Birds might appear free in some respects that are important to us but this understanding of freedom is fundamentally wrong in itself.

Take the first “advantage” – freedom of movement. We have some, we got cars that we can drive and legs we can walk on. Not as much as birds, of course, but pint is that this kind of freedom is relative. Only God, and maybe Nārada Muni, have absolute freedom of movement and we can never achieve that, no matter what animal body we wish to possess. What actually bothers us here is not the lack of absolute freedom but insufficient amount of relative one. We think that if we had just a little more we’d be happy.

This depends not on freedom of movement per se but on our perception of it, which is a function of the mind. It’s the mind that gets to decide whether we feel free or not so fixing this problem should be done in the mind. Extra legs or wings won’t solve it. At first the mind would be pleasantly surprised, of course, but managing the mind can be done in a variety of ways. Giving it what it wants is just one of them and probably not the best one in the long term.

Our ability to satisfy mind demands will always be limited and at the end of our lives we all will run out of options anyway. If we can’t train our mind it will one day become our greatest enemy. Other methods include reasoning with ourselves or directing the mind towards other things, or avoiding temptations, they all work to varying degree.

Fundamentally, though, negotiating with the mind is not freedom in any sense. It wants something and we can’t ignore it just as we can’t ignore the government, our bosses or our families. They all, including the mind, demand things and we have to oblige, there’s no principal difference between them.

We can predict what our wives will want, what our bosses will ask, what our governments will expect, and we can similarly predict how our mind will react to each particular situation. There really is no difference. Sometimes we might think that taking time off our duties elsewhere will give us freedom but then we’ll get trapped with our mind. It’s no different from running home from office to enjoy the company of our family or running from home to the office to forget our family problems. When we are “alone” we just swap them all for the company of our mind.

Sometimes these changes bring us relief, sometimes we walk into a perfect storm where everyone seems to be out to get us, but even when things are “normal” switching between our obligations in constant search of a relief doesn’t look like a long term solution and this escapism has its limits, too. Our stress will eventually catch up with us no matter where we run. It’s the stress that’s the problem, swapping our environments is only dealing with symptoms.

If we think about it a little we should realize that our work and family are products of our mind, too. We got these things because our minds wanted them. It took a lot of time and a lot of effort but these are the things that we wanted, they are not external, and so running away from them is running away from ourselves. It’s the same thing as getting ourselves busy to avoid facing inconvenient thoughts.

People have figured it out and invented shrinks to find the “root” of our problems and finally deal with the disease, not with symptoms, but how far do these roots go? For one thing, we still live in denial of our spiritual nature and on the material platform no solution is possible. Another thing is that the root of our problem is always our mind and its unreasonable and uncontrolled wants that do not commensurate with our karma. The mind always wants more than is allotted to us, that’s what keeps the world rolling, but it’s also the cause of frustration.

So, when we want freedom and we think that we’ll get it from the company of our minds we are being delusional. Sure, dreaming feels good in the beginning and it feels promising when one puts efforts in achieving one’s dreams but in the end it will always be frustration and a desperate need to dream of something else, because our mind never sleeps.

There’s also no such thing as freedom of mind, or, as we usually say, “freedom of thought”. The mind isn’t free to think whatever it wants, it reacts to the environment and feeds on memories, and we are not in control of those. It’s the environment that gets to decide what our mind will be thinking about. It’s Hollywood producers and marketers who plant ideas into our minds. It’s the media, it’s the government, it’s people on the internet – they control our thoughts, not us.

I remember reading Noam Chomsky a long long time ago, how he said that western freedom of speech is an illusion because they learned to control what you think first. When they control your thoughts they can let you say whatever you want, it will only advance their agenda. He was talking about politics but it’s true of our everyday lives as well. Our minds aren’t free.

Mind is a prison, sometimes it feels good, and it’s always around, it will never leave us, but it’s still a prison. We can accept it and declare that life in prison is actually good, and it’s a form of coping, but an intelligent man should try to find the way our of the prison and try to remember the taste of real freedom, which starts with freedom from one’s mind.

It’s a fascinating topic, isn’t it?