Vanity thought #1762. VC – ether, air, fire, water and earth

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

We got to a chapter I’ve been waiting for my whole life. I’m exaggerating, of course, but I bet when we all heard that even in Kṛṣṇa consciousness physical matter is made up of these five elements we thought to ourselves that this needs an explanation. For westerners Bhagavad Gītā is not the first place to hear this “chemistry” and we’ve never taken it seriously before. Not when it appeared in the Bible nor in any other ancient religion of philosophy. The author says that this understanding of ether, air, fire, water, and earth comes from Greeks and they thought that these were the substances making up the world. Greeks also gave these substances forms but never explained how they interact with each other and how the combinations of forms and substances occurred. Perhaps some scholar of Greek philosophy would disagree here but it doesn’t matter. One way or another, we now treat this “science” as extremely naive because we figured out molecules, atoms, electrons and even small quantum particles. Water is H2O, not some primary substance, idiots.

When I heard that Bhagavad Gītā insisted on the same classification I put it aside as something to resolve in the future and, as I learned more about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, as something not important at all. Then I heard a simple explanation and I put my mind at ease and never thought of it again, until now. The explanations was, and I think I’ve typed it up here once already, that even an atom has all these material elements present in it. It occupies space – ether, it has moving electrons – air, it contains energy – fire, it has the force that glues it together – water, and it is made up of particles – earth.

The solution to this ancient dilemma is that Gītā and, I suppose, Bible, too, classify matter differently. It’s a different description of the same thing and based on this description it’s possible to do yoga while “scientific” description gives us processed food and lasers. And now we’ve got to the chapter that offers a more rigorous description of material elements taken from Sāṅkhya. Hooray!

Instead of Greek “substances” material elements in Sāṅkhya are objectifications of sensual properties, which makes them more of a “form” rather than “substance” – if we think of a form as a description of an object. When we describe sensual properties in Sāṅkhya we also create “forms” and they become gross elements.

Just like everything on the semantic tree of the universe these elements are produces by adding details to preceding concepts. Elements are produced from sensual perceptions – sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. This properties of perception are, in turn, are produced from senses – eye, ear, tongue, skin, and nose. These senses should not be confused with bodily organs in modern science. Senses are produced from the mind, mind comes from intellect and so on. In other words, intellect dispassionately observes all available distinctions but to observe only one selected object mind is born. When more details are added and mind alone becomes not enough to observe the object senses are born. Senses are a wonderful thing but with more details we get sensations, and what are sensations without sense objects? Each material element, subtle or gross, is created by exploring and expanding on the previous one.

We can also describe this process as objectification of meanings. The author here uses an idea of an apple, which is a meaning, and we can comprehend it by the mind. For this meaning to become perceivable, however, it needs a property of being seen, smelled, touched, and tasted. To become seen the apple must have form, color, and size. For the color to be perceivable it must have hue, saturation etc. For hue to be perceivable it needs to be a combination of primary colors such as greed, red, and blue. This is an example of the hierarchical process of objectifying meanings step by step that can be observed even in modern framework.

In Sāṅkhya there’s a different hierarchy, however, which I’ve never heard before even if the words are familiar. The property of being seen, touched or smelled etc is called the “sense” and it has three parts: subjective (ādiatmika), objective (ādibhautika) and their connection (ādidaivika). Subjective part is the ability to sense, the objective part is a corresponding property in objects, and their connection is enacted by karma and time. Together these three produce sensations experienced by the observer.

What we heard is that these words – ādiatmika, ādibhautika, and ādidaivika – describe three-fold material miseries. The transliteration, however, is different – miseries have adhi- in the beginning rather that ādi- as given here. I thought I should mention that to avoid the confusion. The miseries pertain to the same sources – our own bodies, other beings, and demigods/”forces out of our control”.

Further division of the senses produces properties which subdivide each type of sensation. Sight, for example, is divided into hue, brightness, saturation etc. When these properties are further objectified they produce values, like red, blue, and green for color, and at the last step of this subdivision we get gross elements of ether, air, fire, water, and earth. This isn’t very clear but the author mentions tanmātra here, which literally means “form only”, and it includes all the above mentioned subdivisions for all the senses. I understand that abstract concepts like hue or pitch or temperature are part of tanmātra and when tanmātra is given values we get actual matter like ether, air etc. This needs to be contemplated further.

If this is not confusing enough yet, there’s another division of the elements in Sāṅkhya into manas, prāṇa, and vak. Everything described so far falls under vak and it’s the vak that has subjective, objective, and connecting division, which means the property of being seen is different from the ability to see, or that the property of being visible is different from property to perceive the sight. Other senses are divided into ādiatmika, ādibhautika, and ādidaivika, too.

All these properties lie dormant unless activated by prāṇa and senses, therefore, are not the cause of vision but rather prāṇa is. Prāṇa, in turn, is subordinate to manas, or desire for vision without which sight does not become activated. This sequence has already been discussed in the previous post on Vedic cosmology – mind makes choices and prāṇa enacts them, but in this context it’s important to note that our senses perceive not what IS but what WE WANT. There’s no objective physical world out there, as we usually assume. Physical matter – sense objects – are a product of OUR desires instead. And, of course, they are restricted by what we deserved – karma.

The chapter is nowhere near the end and I’ll continue with it next time.

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 #1431. Swing vote 4

Yesterday I talked about obstacles to our surrender caused by excessive material desires. Sometimes, despite having this blessed human form of life, we are just too full of them, like the demigods, and so even when we receive Lord’s mercy we still continue on the same trajectory. It’s a kind of demigod syndrome making human form of life more of a curse than a blessing. It’s not the only problem, of course, so let’s talk more about these unwelcome obstacles.

This demigod syndrome is not related to the demigod level of life per se, ie it’s not only for the rich, but I don’t think it applies to those used to poverty. Poverty is in a class of its own, more on it later. In order to be cursed like a demigod one needs to have a certain level of commitment to good life which can come only through experience, simply dreaming about it is not enough.

Our desires go through several stages as they eventually fructify. First it’s just a thought (that’s what poor people think about money), then we make efforts, then we get first results, then we get the taste, then we can’t have enough of that thing, and that’s when demigod syndrome manifests itself in full. We need to have invested too much to let go and even Kṛṣṇa doesn’t do anything about it but lets our karma run its course out first. Poor people don’t get to that state, they don’t have anything to invest to begin with, but more on it later, as I said.

Another class of unfortunate people are those who learn too much nonsense, or māyayāpahṛta-jñānā, as Kṛṣṇa defined them in Bhagavad Gīta. It might seem that I’m trying to provide a different list from that of Kṛṣṇa (grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons – BG 7.15) but my list is on a different topic. Kṛṣṇa spoke of those who do not surrender, I’m speaking of those who try to but are too limited by their conditioning. People I’m talking about are an addition to Kṛṣṇa’s list. Btw, the very existence of Kṛṣṇa’s list means that not all people are created equal, for some even a human form of life is not a guarantee of the possibility to surrender.

I saw somewhere a claim that 93% of scientists are atheists. If one grows up in such a family or makes a career in science then he would naturally have a great obstacle in exercising his free will. Everything he learns, everyone around him would scream that God does not exists, Kṛṣṇa is only a heart-warming myth, and there could be no such thing as spiritual reality. Trying to surrender under these conditions will go against literally everything one knows.

Doctors are part of the same club, too. They spend too much time studying how human body works to leave any space for the soul. In case someone thinks that if we learn as much about the human body as doctors our faith would also be shaken, the answer would be that they create a self-affirming bubble and filter out any alternative explanations. It’s like if we ask a sociologist to describe our movement he would present a compelling picture explaining every aspect of our lives but he would totally miss the spiritual part of it. We do not perform any miracles and every our action conforms to material laws of nature and so externally it would look like spirituality does not exist but as spirit souls, not sociologists, we have a very different experience of actually living with it. The deities, for example, in sociologist’s view would only be dolls for adults, never the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. Similarly, a doctor would see only the material part of our bodies and it would work according to material laws, and that would convince him that there’s no such thing as a soul. If he tried living as a soul and experiencing the world as a soul he would see bodies very differently, but then he wouldn’t be practicing medicine and wouldn’t be a doctor anymore. Part of being a doctor is denying spirituality and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Being forced in such a situation where one must see himself and the world around him as only matter is going to have an effect on our ability to reject this view and surrender to the Lord instead. As I said, it would go against everything one knows and his mind and intelligence won’t be very receptive to the idea.

On the other side of the spectrum would be an archetypal Vedic brāhmaṇa who might never see an atheist face in his life and never hear materialistic view of the world explained to him at all. His mind and intelligence would have no idea that alternatives to serving the Lord are even possible.

We are somewhere in between these two extremes and so we should try, if the opportunity arises, to structure our lives in such a way as to make the idea of surrendering to the Lord look very natural to our minds. A vaiṣṇava, after all, is a person who rejects everything unfavorable to the service of the Lord, and that means rejecting lifestyle that confuses our minds.

But let me get back to the “swing vote” for a moment. The idea is that our progress through material time does not have a very significant effect on our progress on the spiritual scale. Generally, even if one appears to possess a solid knowledge of spiritual basics, the Bhagavad Gīta, for example, or Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes as any Indian knows them, it doesn’t mean he won’t go through periods of total ignorance. He might be struck by Alzheimer’s, he might become a vegetable and slip into a coma, he will be born again and spend first years of his life in total ignorance, and yet the level of his spiritual realization would remain more or less the same.

It’s not like reading Gīta makes us see Kṛṣṇa any better than a toddler, and if we don’t see Him now we are not going to see Him when we lose all our mental faculties either. Hopefully, our spiritual trajectory is gradually ascending, life after life, but our ability to remember ślokas is only temporary and does not have a big effect on its own so we shouldn’t take it too seriously.

The “swing vote” in this context refers to the few years of our lives when we can really make a difference the way toddlers and senile people can’t. It refers to the peak of our abilities to influence our spiritual position for the better, the time when we can really exercise our free will despite limitations imposed on us by our materially contaminated mind and intelligence. We better not waste it on less productive pursuits, like memorizing ślokas instead of living them in our lives. Memories will be lost, attempts to serve our guru won’t, they will be counted and added to our spiritual balance while parroting Sanskrit verses will be erased.

I’m not saying that learning ślokas is totally useless but it’s not the cramming part of this process that is beneficial, it’s taking them to the heart and trying to act on them that is. One śloka learned this way is better than remembering the entire Gīta. That’s the kind of swing vote opportunity that we shouldn’t miss in our lives – act on our knowledge, not just acquire it for keeps. Our opportunities to act are far fewer than opportunities to learn, we shouldn’t waste them.

Here’s an example to clarify what I mean – Śrīla Prabhupāda had only a few minutes of association of his guru and received only one short instruction from him while he spent decades reading and learning, and yet dedicating his entire life to following that one order, a suggestion even, was far more important then everything else. Many of our devotees have similar experiences with their gurus, too, but even if they haven’t, we all can find one single thing that we can build our lives around, be it preaching or book distribution or Food For Life or chanting or kīrtana or serving the deities, we should hang onto that thing and never forget it, never ever let it go. We should then use it to swing our lives around, hopefully all the way back to Goloka.

Vanity thought #1430. Swing vote 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanity thought #748. Treacherous waters

Don’t trust your mind, reasoning or intelligence.

Today I want to tell three stories, all are work of fiction, even the one that is based in reality.

First The Newsroom, which is an HBO show about producing the news. It’s now in the second season and it revolves around how they got their story completely wrong. They had half a dozen very bright people investigating it, they had a high standard of proof, they had to have multiple sources corroborating each other. They had a “red team” which was kept in the dark and had to assess the story when it was ready to go public. Everything appeared solid, they went on air, and then it turned out it was all a hoax.

Suddenly all their eight pieces of evidence were discredited one by one until there was nothing left. Currently they are analyzing where things went wrong but from our Krishna Conscious POV it’s very simple – people wanted to see what they wanted to see and maya provided what they were looking for.

The false story, btw, was about the US using sarin gas on a Pakistani village, which brings us to the second, “real” story about President Obama contemplating shooting missiles into Syria for their alleged sarin attacks on their own population.

We don’t know what really happened, neither in Syria nor in the White House. What we know is that US Secretary of State has been saying they’ve got plenty of evidence to point accusing finger at Assad (who is the president of Syria for those who normally don’t care about world news).

Officially it looks like this – the US is dead sure Assad is responsible, they’ve got video, they’ve got interviews, they’ve got twitter messages, they know where the sarin carrying missiles where shot from, they know everything. Obama has long promised that using chemical weapons would be a red line that Assad is not allowed to cross. Everyone embraced for the strike. Then something happened.

Suddenly Obama called a press-conference and announced that he defers the decision to US Congress. It went completely off the previously clear US course and no one knows why. Reports say only that it was president’s own decision.

Perhaps Obama had his own “newsroom” moment where everybody is edging you on, everybody is eager to fight, but no one is double checking the intelligence itself.

This is a kind of good news – Obama had guts to stand his own moral ground in the face of overwhelming evidence, most people in these situations would just go with the crowd.

Now the third story, from Netflix show Orange Is The New Black, which is about inmates in a women prison. One of them was overly religious and a couple of her fellow inmates pulled a prank on her, conspiring with others to play along and pretend that her spiritual healing actually works.

So, on a dare, she healed one woman, then another, then more and more, and all her acolytes were cheering her on until she totally convinced herself that God was working through her hands.

Then she tried to cure a disabled visiting kid in a wheelchair and she ended in a psych ward where no one would listen to her Jesus rants seriously and she appeared certifiably insane.

I wonder what went through her mind – she saw God’s working though her hands, she saw all the evidence with her own eyes, and now she was locked away and no one believed her. She was all alone, restrained, she was totally dependent on her God, she prayed for Him to save and protect her, she probably accused Him of betrayal, too. Actually, this makes me want to see how the story ends, maybe she completely lost her faith, unfortunately there is apparently no information on her fate on the Internet, I’d have to watch the show myself.

The lesson from all these stories is – do not base your faith on conclusions of your mind, it’s untrustworthy and treacherous. By its own nature it will force you to make big, huge mistakes about your spiritual life.

Our only shelter must be instructions of our guru. Even if a guru makes mistakes, being in a material body and all, it still won’t affect our progress if we follow his instructions with full faith. Krishna is the controller of everything and He’ll judge us by the degree of our surrender.

Mistakes will always be there, we can’t live without making them, but placing our faith in our own judgment does not lead to spiritual progress while placing our faith in guru does.

So, whatever our mind tells us, guru’s words should override it, especially if they are backed by sadhu and shastra. Too many people think they can figure our Krishna Consciousness all by themselves, given how easy it is to understand and apply our philosophy. This, however, is not the way to the spiritual world, it’s the way of illusion.

We are in treacherous waters and guru’s feet is the only vessel that can carry us trough.

Vanity thought #701. Just as I thought…

A week or so ago I wrote about complaints against Indian devotees bringing in outside influences in ISKCON. Then I wrote that Western devotees aren’t principally better because they bring Western influences into our Bhagavatam classes. A few days ago I saw the proof with my own eyes.

It was class by a Western devotee who, during the course of a lecture, realized that he is not up to date with current Indian “spiritual” practices. He was a bit surprised at himself for that but quickly found an explanation – when in India he never ventures outside ISKCON temples. I’m sure the mataji who complained about non bona fide stories was glad to hear that.

I thought to myself – this is the proper way to visit India. Just stick to ISKCON properties and ISKCON association. This is a very senior devotee with several decades of practice and he might even be on some GBC committee now. I’m not saying I want the same kind of position within ISKCON or the same level of recognition, I’m saying it would be a very good idea to follow in his footsteps regardless of rewards.

Unfortunately, only a couple of minutes later, just after I was contemplating his exemplary behavior, he slipped and committed the mistake I earlier ascribed to Westerners. This time it wasn’t about some wonderful invention or social practice, it was about Shakespeare. Somehow the connection was made and the devotee felt his listeners were not up to scratch on Western classics so he gave a synopsis of an entire play. It didn’t even properly illustrated his point and it took most of the remaining time.

When he finally finished with it he realized it was too late and issued apologies for not telling about Lord Jagannath as was requested by temple authorities. His excuse that we can hear about Jagannath pastimes some other time from some other speakers didn’t really cut the mustard, so to speak. This is what our Bhagavatam classes are for – to hear about Lord’s plays, not Shakespeare’s.

Don’t take me wrong – I do not blame that devotee in the slightest degree, I have no reason to doubt his devotion, dedication, or purity. It was a natural thing to do – we all have to act according to our nature, and when we act according to our nature we have to somehow connect it to Krishna. He connected his story, and it was an explanation of Prabhupada’s quote from the play. Srila Prabhupada knew the background and so did the person he quoted it to but many of us don’t, so an explanation is not out of place.

What I’m getting at is that unless we have a messenger straight from the spiritual world we can’t expect people to avoid following their nature and sharing their experiences. As long as they connect them to Krishna I don’t see a problem. In fact one of the reasons behind this very blog is to try and connect thoughts that occupy my mind for most of the day with Krishna.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but we should never stop trying and we should never blame other devotees for their apparent failures.

He couldn’t have said what he said without permission of the Lord, and if Krishna is okay with it, who am I to complain?

There’s no other way to become a devotee than through deep, heart-felt appreciation for other vaishnavas’ service. Everything else we see in their behavior is like foam on the surface of the Ganges, just ignore it.

Vanity thought #538. Lessons of the aging mind

The way the mind is described in our literature it doesn’t appear to age but what we call mind in real life certainly deteriorates with passing of time. Actually, first it develops, as a person leaves the childhood, then it gets maintained for a while, and then it dwindles and disappears.

Maybe what we understand by “mind” and what Krishna means by “mind” are not one and the same thing. Traditionally, thinking and emotions were considered beyond the laws of physics and in the dominion of soul or God, but with latest developments in science “our” mind is indisputably a function of brain cells and neurons running around. We can measure it and we can control and manipulate it with increasing precision. That is not what’s supposed to happen to “Vedic” mind.

Despite these differences they still must have something in common. Recently I had an opportunity to observe some old people and I think I’m getting a hang of it – I mean I think I understand how their minds and my mind are alike even though they are suffering from progressing dementia.

Evil tongues would note here that this speaks more of my mental abilities than of my power of observation but I will not let their facts get in the way of my story.

What I noticed is that what we usually understand as the work of the mind – thinking, rationalizing, calculating, planning etc is not quite what Vedic mind is supposed to do. These functions depend on our external, gross material brains, real mind works on a subtle level.

Comparing to how everyone else processes same information old people that I’ve seen have these particular capacities as practically non-existent yet at the same time they have full and undiminished mental life from the Vedic point of view.

They have a sense of who they are. They get the actual information from the storage in their brains and it is completely unreliable, so it’s garbage in, garbage out, but as far the mind is concerned, it processes the information, however faulty, just the same.

They feel pain and pleasure and they make adjustments to avoid one and increase the other. They might not be very consistent and their solutions might lead to opposite results but it’s the same problem – garbage in, garbage out, while the process is still working.

They talk to each other and maintain a conversation even if they don’t remember how it started and occasionally they say completely unrelated things to each other. At first it might appear as nonsensical but they do not converse with people to make sense, they converse with people to have an emotional exchange. They feel validated and supported simply by having the other person respond to your concerns and they express sympathy and compassion by saying some reassuring things in response to pleas and complaints.

They feel themselves open up and they appreciate other people opening up to them without making any sense of what is actually said, I mean the sense that they make internally does not correspond to actual words but it doesn’t really matter because actual information has no bearing on friendship and companionship.

They get quite forgetful and keep asking same question over and over again and each time they get satisfied with the same answer. To caregivers it appears annoying but it makes total sense to the elders themselves, ie they feel some sort of a concern and they alleviate it by asking a question. This process doesn’t need actual facts, just the perception of problem being solved, and so it can be repeated again and again, just for the “bhava” of it.

This is perhaps the clue to understanding the mind – it seeks “bhava”, it seeks feelings, not facts.

When our brains are working fine we tend to focus on facts and we think that facts are the basis of feelings. The more you know the more informed decisions you make, and we assume that it would lead to deeper and more complete feelings.

Many have already started planning their Valentines, for example. They have calculated and evaluated possible options, price-reward ratios and the level of their commitment and they hope that if they plan it right they will have the perfect romantic Valentine. They think that those who do not plan as much have a smaller chance of having a fulfilling holiday.

To these great planners and thinkers kids and old people appear cute but they do not take them seriously. This might be a reasonable conclusion to make but we should remember that we appear just as dumb to demigods and sages, too. Even in our human society it’s not difficult to find someone smarter than us who’d laugh at all the holes in our plans that we can’t see because our material brains are not as good calculators as we imagine them to be.

Sometimes later on we laugh even at our own plans but no one sits down to make a stupid plan on purpose. My point is that judging other people’s mental abilities is an exercise in relativity, it doesn’t catch the actual value of the mindwork.

If this understanding of the Vedic vs materialistic meaning of the word “mind” is correct then it would have major implications on our mind control which is absolutely essential for our spiritual progress. Normally when say “control” we mean controlling the brain based calculation process, controlling our arguments and conclusions, it’s all about being accurate as much as possible.

“Vedic” mind, however, appears to have nothing to do with accuracy and so mind control should not be about thinking clearly or getting things right but about control of “bhava”, control of feelings that we have and feelings that we seek. Most importantly, it should happen outside of our material brains purview, ie it can’t be caught on MRI scans or affected with chemicals.

I don’t know how to implement it in practice, I’ve been accustomed to rational thinking for too long to know anything different. For now I discount it as a bad habit that needs to be overcome.

I’ll let you know as soon as I figure out what a good habit should be and how to develop it. Stop overthinking and rationalizing everything seems like a good start, especially during japa.

That reminds me – I still have a couple of rounds to finish today.

Vanity thought #483. Fleeting moments, or I am not my foot

This is about our famous exercise to explain people that they are not their body – look at you leg, you know it’s your leg but you also understand that your leg is not you. Then look at your hand, your hand is not you, and so on. The goal is to make people see their real self as different from their bodies.

We’ve all tried it ourselves, it works fine, but going beyond the basics of feet and hands, can we dive any deeper? Usually we stop at identifying ourselves with how we feel and what we think. “My foot hurts” – we get that, by “my mind wants”? No, it’s “I want” all the time. This is obviously not enough for self realization.

In Srimad Bhagavatam, in Uddhava Gita, in the second half of Chapter 22, Canto 11, Krishna explains how our minds are actually not that different from our feet and other sensory organs. Mind contemplates the sense objects and consequently appears to come into being and disappears in tandem with appearance and disappearance of the objects of its meditation (SB 11.22.38).

This is a crucial point – I think that I exist and that I want something only because of the external objects – smells, sounds, tastes etc. When one set of objects disappears and is replaced by another I think that I die and get born again.

Well, as explained in that chapter, actually there are three components – sense objects, sense organs, and presiding deities, but that’s beside the point.

Although birth and death are major developments which are very hard to miss, Krishna says that material transformations happen all the time, and it’s the time that we are not usually able to perceive and so we don’t notice the constant transformation of our minds (assuming we understand constant transformation of our bodies already).

Here’s the verse I’m talking about (SB 11.22.45), the subtle nature of time mentioned just before it:

Although the illumination of a lamp consists of innumerable rays of light undergoing constant creation, transformation and destruction, a person with illusory intelligence who sees the light for a moment will speak falsely, saying, “This is the light of the lamp.” As one observes a flowing river, ever-new water passes by and goes far away, yet a foolish person, observing one point in the river, falsely states, “This is the water of the river.” Similarly, although the material body of a human being is constantly undergoing transformation, those who are simply wasting their lives falsely think and say that each particular stage of the body is the person’s real identity

This description of the world around us sounds very Buddhist – nature doesn’t exist because there’s no permanence to it. There’s only past and the future and you cannot capture the present. Whatever it is you are thinking about is already gone or hasn’t arrived yet.

This realization sounds important – that fleeting moments we perceive as reality and our minds that perceive them are also not real, not our actual selves. I thought about it and I propose another experiment to further the original “you are not your foot” one.

Go find some of your old clothes you haven’t touched for a really long time, go, take them out, and try to remember how you felt about them when you bought them, what you bought them for, where you actually wore them and how it all worked out. I guarantee that you will see this previous version of your mind and its desires as alien to your current state. You might even fight the memories and feelings that come with them as you don’t want to become that person you were all those years ago.

It’s not only old clothes. This exercise works with any memorabilia. I try to remember where I worked, for example – it’s very easy to see that it’s definitely not me any more. I try to remember how I traveled to work, how I knew every traffic light change, every shortcut and how it all has totally changed since then. At that time I was totally engaged in getting to work as fast as possible, now I have to force myself to relive those moments anymore, it’s a totally different “me” now.

Another exercise is to observe your daily routine and think whether it would stay the same forever. How do you think it’s going to change? I used to ask myself this question about places I lived, people I lived with, devotees, work, my interests, even the Internet itself.

When you ask yourself the change seems very unlikely and unpredictable, your likes and dislikes are iron cast, you habits are solid, your routine is routine – that’s why it’s called that. The fact is, however, that everything changes. Next time you might catch yourself wondering how did everything change so suddenly?

I believe seeing our minds and our identifications with our desires as illusory should help us in our search for Krishna, the only real reality.

Buddhists might have thousands of years of working on these insights and can teach us a trick or two, but after reading this article on Dandavats by HH Indradyumna Swami I don’t think we are cut for that kind of method of self-realization.

Time is fleeting, the “me” that contemplated this blog is not the same person who sat down to type it and it’s not the same “me” that is now thinking how to wrap it up. The “me” that picks up my japa bag is not the same “me” that puts it down after sixteen rounds. Actually, “I” change even from the moment I open my mouth to say “Hare” to the moment I finish saying it. Everything is illusion, except for the Names, of course.

How does that work? I don’t know, Buddhists do not have this understanding of the Holy Names. For us, I guess, the world around us is real, though appears illusory, and so is the Holy Name – it exists independently of our perception and, unlike the rest of the material energy, it’s purely spiritual. It manifests itself before our sensory organs like any other sense object but it has a completely opposite effect – it liberates us from our illusions.

It gets even more complicated when we think about all the other things connected with the Holy Name but appearing as parts of the illusory world – guru, vaishnavas, Deities, various parafernalia and so on. We create our identifications relative to all those things, too – in our minds, as usual, we see ourselves as servants, or as friends and superiors. How real are those identifications? How important are they for our progress?

Too many confusing questions for my little head to answer, I guess I’ll leave it at that.

Vanity thought #220. Sukshma sharira.

While contemplating various aspects of what happens to the memories during reincarnation I must admit I have totally forgot about the sukshma sharira, the subtle body. There are reasons for that, though – I never thought it mattered enough.

Linga sharira, sukshma sharira – all the same thing, the subtle body. There are probably some differences but they are not essential at the moment. What is essential is that subtle body means many things to many people and that, I believe, accounts for all the confusion in the case of missing memories.

We know subtle body as the combination of the mind, intelligence and the false ego – three subtle material elements, the other five, earth, water, fire, air and ether are gross material elements. That’s all there is to the world, according to Bhagavat Gita. Other vedic sources, however, count a lot more things, altogether twenty six including the soul itself, if my memory serves me right.

According to other vedic sources composition of the subtle body is related to five koshas, or sheaths around the soul. The first one of those, anamayakosha, is where we deposit the food – the gross body, the next three are related to prana, mind, and intelligence, and form the subtle body. The last one, anandamayakosha, is treated differently in different schools so I’ll leave it out.

Notice how false ego is missing from this classification but there’s an addition of prana, a very important element that we don’t normally pay any attention to in our society. I’m not saying that we should but prana is always out there, everybody has it, and it’s mentioned a few times in our books but we just never try to correlate it to other elements of the subtle body.

Yet there’s another system of counting subtle body elements that includes all kinds of senses and sense related stuff and the total runs up to seventeen.

All of those dichotomies can be found in Prabhupada’s books, here and there, and so it’s not clear what he meant exactly when he said in the purport to Bhagavat Gita 15.8:

It is stated here that the subtle body, which carries the conception of the next body, develops another body in the next life.

If we look at what is stated in the verse it isn’t clear either – Krishna probably referred to the “six senses including the mind” mentioned earlier. That is yet another classification of what the subtle body is, the forth one.

I’ve also seen further divisions of the mind and, possibly, other subtle elements, I don’t remember, something about conscious, subconscious etc etc.

All of these definitions are pretty authoritative and all of them must be true, I believe all of them could be reconciled if we consider possible approaches to the subject. Sometimes mentioning mind, intelligence and false ego is enough, sometimes we need to differentiate further. The only real problem is prana – it’s hard to see where should it go in a simple three element subtle body, but if Krishna mentioned only three subtle elements prana must fit somewhere there, He couldn’t be wrong, could He?

Now, what is relevant to the discussion of reincarnation here? We know that the soul leaves the body via several possible exits and the subtle body follows it. At the moment of death there’s separation of the gross and subtle bodies. Then come Yamadutas and take the soul away, still with the subtle body.

From all accounts I’ve heard the subtle body at that point is still pretty much the same as the gross body it just left. It feels different but it has the same shape, same memories, same desires – it’s still ME, I don’t have arms of legs anymore but it’s still me, why can’t anybody hear me?

When the soul is taken to Yamaraja it still maintains the same subtle body. There it is given a list of reasons why it should go to hell and it remembers all or most of the transgressions from the recent life.

I don’t know if it maintains the same subtle body while the actual punishment is administered. Some said that souls are made to suffer in their subtle bodies, in other places they take forms of worms or other creatures according to the hellish planets they’ve been sent to.

At this point they might remember what they are being punished for, or they might not.

Some souls don’t go to hell, they get born on the heavenly planets, then they come down to Earth as rain, then they enter grains, then they are eaten my men, then they become semen, then they are impregnated into a female womb, and a few weeks later they finally wake up and start praying.

I don’t believe that most of this journey they maintain the subtle bodies of the demigods, more likely their astral forms take shape of the particular gross vessels they happen to be carried in.

That is an important point – the subtle bodies change. They change throughout our lives, the grow and then shrivel as we become old, and they keep familiar forms for as long as they can, before new gross bodies reshape them.

It’s said in the Bhagavatam that the soul within a human embryo prays for Lord’s mercy but forgets about it as soon as it gets born, and we all know that it doesn’t get the capacity to pray again for another few years. It doesn’t say that the soul prays for the mercy to be eaten when it’s confined inside the grains of rice, too.

I would also go with Bhagavat Gita – the soul discards old bodies and takes on new ones just as we put on new clothes, and that the soul is the only unchangeable, eternal element. Krishna didn’t say that the subtle body containing the soul takes on new gross bodies and discards old. He didn’t say that the soul and the subtle body stay the same through all these changes either.

That leads me to a conclusion – even though there always are some material elements surrounding the soul, they are not constant in shape and they change, sometimes completely, under the influence of the material nature and higher powers.

Thus I’m extremely doubtful that they carry all the memories of all past lives at all times. One reason is that at no point in its history the subtle body displays capacity, another reason is that the subtle body doesn’t need to remember everything, only the last snapshot of the mind at the time of death.

That is actually an interesting point – why is the last memory so important? The subtle body can think, it can desire things at all times, all the ghosts want something. They can’t act on their desires but the last thought is not an action of a gross body – it’s a thought, it’s an action of the mind or intelligence which are parts of the subtle body and so is not particularly different from thinking while gliding above the operating table watching your body dying, thinking, for example, that you should have shaved that morning to make a better impression on that cute nurse.

Maybe it’s the rules – thoughts while in a gross body count, thoughts without a gross body don’t, or maybe there’s a principal difference between the mind of an incarnated man and the mind of the subtle body carrying the soul between births. Maybe they are not quite the same thing, maybe they function differently, maybe they have different capacities.

Maybe the last thought counts more because it’s literally the last thought – all other memories are going to be wiped after getting through purgatory. After that you are born as new, your last desires are recorded, you can resume from where you left off, with the new gross body, but all that happened before that is gone, your memory slate is clean.

Either way, it doesn’t sound good for the argument that we all carry all our memories from all our births at all times.

Why am I trying to prove that? To soothe my wounded pride, and also for the sake of the argument. And also I believe it makes sense. And also because I don’t know any better, I have no humility, I have argumentative nature, and I’m going to hell to find out how it works for myself.

Can’t find any proper reasons, really, so I’ll leave it at that.

Vanity thought #219. Born again.

This subject gave me considerable grief in the past couple of days – what happens when one dies and gets born again. What does the soul carry from one life to the next.

Actually, I don’t care that much, it’s not something we, as devotees, should be overly concerned about – we should be preparing ourselves NOT to be born again, ever, and we shouldn’t be making plan B in case that doesn’t work out. All these things are better left to Krishna, man proposes, God disposes, there’s no practical application in knowing the exact procedure of reincarnation.

There’s a matter of pride, however, I staked mine on saying that the soul goes alone, it turns out I’m most probably wrong and I want to make it right. Not by accepting the correct version, proving that I didn’t make a mistake. Such a fool.

I’ve learned quite a few things along the way, however, so there was some benefit from my stubbornness in the end.

My understanding always has been that the soul leaves one body and goes to the next. All that we accumulated in our lives becomes lost, all our possessions, all our family ties, all our expertise, experience – everything. Surely our present situation affects our next appearance but, basically, when you die you leave everything behind.

Turns out there’s an alternative version – that we take our subtle body with us, too. Outrageous, was my first reaction.

It all started with competition for the best answers to a common question – if there’s reincarnation then how come I don’t remember anything from my previous lives? A common answer is that these memories stay hidden so as not to overwhelm our gentle psyche. Basically the same reason we don’t know our future that is predetermined by the laws of karma – too much to bear.

I always thought it was a lame argument. Some people can deal perfectly well with predictions of their future, some people should be able to deal well with memories of the past lives, too. Maybe not at each and every moment of their lives but occasionally, when they’ve been told they have only a few months left to live or when they go through some allegedly traumatic experiences and need a real eye-opener to put their trivial problems in perspective.

Instead, the memories of our past lives are shut out for us forever regardless of the state of our minds. There are people who remember something from their previous incarnations and they don’t go crazy, too.

There must be another reason, I always thought. Recently I found one – when we die and get born again we do not carry any physical connections from one life to another, no receptacles for the memories. Even if there was no restriction on remembering our past lives we still have no means to carry the data from one life to the next. Sounds plausible to me but, as I said, some people say that we indeed carry something – our subtle bodies.

I didn’t remember ever reading anything like that so I set out to scout all relevant pages in Bhagavat Gita and finally found some – verse 15.8:

The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas. Thus he takes one kind of body and again quits it to take another…

In the purport Prabhupada says “It is stated here that the subtle body, which carries the conception of the next body, develops another body in the next life.”

The commentaries by acharyas in other vaishnava sampradayas are unequivocal, Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara sampradaya being a but more direct than others:

The purport is that wherever the jiva departs from a body and whenever it is compeled to accept another body the atma or immortal soul migrating from one body to another, arrives with the subtle forms of the mind and senses in tact to perform their functions through the physical body which has been allotted due to karma or reactions to previous actions.

This looks like a total defeat for my little theory, or does it?

I’ll leave the acharyas out of it for the moment and concentrate on Prabhupada. He said that the soul carries “different conceptions of life”, nothing about mind and senses at all. Different conceptions of life could be impressions the mind leaves on the soul’s consciousness at the time of death.

That’s how I always thought it worked – the mind affect the consciousness, consciousness can’t be separated from the soul, however polluted it is, it’s inseparable part of the soul itself. In the next life a new body develops according to this particularly polluted consciousness, and it develops from the scratch, no need to carry anything physical, gross or subtle. In fact, the new mind develops according to the present material conditions – DNA, parenting, education, at least the mind as we know it. The living entity has been put into these conditions according to his consciousness and karma but I don’t see why the old mind should be present, too.

The reference to mind and senses come from the previous verse, Krishna doesn’t mention them here at all, he just says etani – all these, referring to the content of the previous sloka, 15.7:

The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.

Krishna talks about several things here – living entities are His fragmentary parts, living entities are conditioned, living entities are eternal, living entities struggle with six senses including mind.

When He says “all these” – what exactly does He mean? It’s not very clear. Prabhupada didn’t translate it as “six senses including mind” at all. He just said “different conceptions of life” as that follows logical progression of the thought. Logical in the sense that Krishna wasn’t concentrating on a particular composition of the material bodies, it was just one little aspect of what He was saying – my fragmentary parts, eternal, conditioned, and suffering. Six senses including mind was only one example of what our sufferings here are.

If Krishna was really enumerating all the reasons we suffer here He could have mentioned suffering caused by our bodies, other beings and the nature, or sufferings due to birth, death, old age and disease, sufferings due to the modes of passion and ignorance – there are so many reasons to be unhappy here.

If Krishna was preparing to describe what a living entity carries over to the next life he would have described our bodies in greater details – what senses, jnanendriyas or karmendriyas, and what of intelligence and false ego? It just doesn’t sound like it was His intention at all, not the subject of His concern at that particular point.

Following that logic I agree with Prabhupada not mentioning any details specifically, just “different conceptions of life”. Or maybe Krishna referred to eternal struggles in conditional life – in English they could also be covered by saying “all those”. Prabhupada didn’t want to commit one way or another – the point Krishna was making was about the way to reach His abode, not about specifics of reincarnation.

Other acharyas chose to focus on mind and senses, good for them.

This calls for some kind of reconciliation. Reconciliation between commentaries and reconciliation between current interpretations, too, but, most importantly, reconciliation between my pride and the truth…

Maybe the soul does take something with him when he travels from one body to another, however I don’t think we should take OUR literal meaning of what the senses and the mind are in this context. Literally speaking, taking senses with you does not make any sense at all.

Does taking the mind mean taking all the memories, all the skills, all the experience? No one is born with a mind of a grown man, no one is born with the memories of an old man either, and it’s not just because the new body is too small for all these things – when it grows up it doesn’t display them either, it collects new memories and skills.

Material science has largely proved that memories are stored in the brain – they might not be able to manipulate them yet but they can do crude things like enabling and disabling access to the memory areas via surgical or chemical interventions. Brain is not carried over, that much is clear.

Personally, I think that having consciousness is enough – all new body elements, gross and subtle, are supplied by the material nature according to the laws of karma and these new elements enable the consciousness to develop the new body.

Gosh, but then Prabhupada said that it’s the subtle body that develops the next body! Something must be carried over.

What about ghosts and going to hell? Ghosts, as far as we know, exist outside their bodies and they have memories of their lives. People having near death out of body experiences also don’t need brains to know what’s going on. Subtle bodies must have some kind of storage, too.

When people go to hell they, I presume, remember what they are being punished for. I’ve been told that Yamadutas torture people in their subtle bodies there and they get gross bodies only upon new birth.

Fine, but isn’t it also the common theme about the “point of no return” in all ghost stories? Wouldn’t it mean the point after which people lose their identities? The point where they are stripped of their subtle bodies and eventually get reborn?

At this point I’m leaning towards the theory that memories do not get carried over. I don’t see the need, I don’t see the evidence, and I see only a weak reference in the Gita that could mean a lot of things, the whole bank of memories from thousands and millions of lives is the last possibility, in my opinion.

The living entity itself who lived through all these lives must have the memories in its own, spiritual form anyway. Normally we don’t have access to this “spiritual” storage but that is not surprising – in the conditioned state we don’t know who we are, after all, and all remembrance and forgetfulness is controlled by the Supersoul. Sometimes these memories might come to the surface and manifest through our material bodies, like when people remember their past lives or start speaking in ancient languages.

On a related topic – when Krishna talked about being the cause of forgetting things He probably didn’t mean the functions of our material minds. Our minds can be trained to remember and they can be trained to forget. They can be trained to recollect things faster and they can be distracted to slow them down. That kind of manipulation doesn’t have any direct connection to Krishna, remembering something stored in our spiritual memory is another thing altogether – no one but Krishna has a control over that facility.

I guess He can easily remind us where we dropped our keys even if our minds resign in desperation, who can claim that such little miracles never happened to them? There are other cases that could be explained by the Supersoul unlocking some of our memories and forcing us to make some surprising connections and discoveries. To scientists it happens all the time – the solutions just appear our of the blue, or they dream them up.

Anyway, the definite resolution of this matter requires more references from the scriptures. Either answer to the question of not remembering our past lives is fine, I guess. I’m not comfortable with “You don’t remember because your weak mind wouldn’t be able to deal with it” explanation but it’s me, I don’t use it very often, if ever, maybe people who give this answer themselves find that it works just fine, I don’t know, I’m not in the position to tell them how to preach anyway.

If only I could subdue my pride and admit I had no clue what is really going on with reincarnation, the spiritual ABC. That’s my real problem, not the correct answer per se.