Vanity thought #207. Conversations with Srila Prabhupada.

This is too bold a title. I don’t mean people having conversations with Srila Prabhupada and gems of his wisdom, I’m talking about me running my own monologues in my head and imagining Prabhupada’s responses.

Why do I do that?

Well, I can’t help but notice that times have completely changed since Prabhupada’s appearance on the planet. Everything has been upgraded, replaced and improved, every facet of society, every bit of understanding. We don’t notice it much when we associate with each other but if you had a chance to talk to a person from a different era it would make an interesting conversation.

Why don’t I take it all the way back to, say, Gaura Kishora Dasa Babaji, or even Lord Chaitanya Himself? There’s a reason – they were all products of a completely different culture. Some of the previous acharyas tried to extend their mercy to mlecchas like us but it was only Srila Prabhupada who had a real, direct experience.

It was only Srila Prabhupada who actually made westeners into devotees and so he has a special place in our hearts and in history, so reporting back to him first is only natural.

I suppose meeting Bhaktivinoda Thakura would be interesting, too, and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, on the account of them realizing importance of preaching in English to reach to the fallen souls of the western world. In their days English were the lords, the golden standard of human achievement. Some say our GBC is actually modeled after management of the British Railway company in India, whatever it was called.

Well, look at the English now – four days of total rioting and anarchy, some society they have build there. Personally, I can’t remember this scale of looting just for the fun of it, without any particular cause.

So, if I were to report to Prabhupada the state of humanity thirty years after his passing, it would make some unexpected turns, in light of these recent events. We also have Greece that had its share of riots over economic mismanagement, we had Norwegian gunman killing almost a hundred people in cold blood just to teach them the lesson about about protecting the purity of their nation, we had American lawmakers driving their country to the brink of collapse simply because they could, we had Arab spring, we had the effective end of American manned space exploration, we had Japanese tsunami with subsequent nuclear disasters – we had a whole lot of things to tell Prabhupada about the world.

His response? I guess we can easily imagine him driving the unpalatable truth about godless civilizations being doomed to all kinds of calamities. Thus we can also imagine ourselves walking beside Prabhupada, hurrying to keep step with him and nodding to his every expositions of the faults of the world around us.

Well, I’m sorry to admit, but that leaves be somewhat unsatisfied and unfulfilled in my purpose.

There are several reasons for this. First, I, the product of ADD generation, want to hear something new and original. Second, the world has changed, the way we address the world should change, too. Third, no matter what happens with the world, our message should stay the same and our talking points, the soft spots we are looking for in people’s hearts, will never change.

Each reason has its own merits and its own doubts. If my dissatisfaction (see how I subtly moved myself from doubtful to opposing camp!) is the product of my own restlessness and lack of spiritual maturity, should it be addressed or ignored? On one hand I know that if I were a bit more dedicated, a bit more surrendered, I would never had these doubts in my head. Everything Prabhupada said forty years ago is absolute and so has direct and practical application to our lives now.

That is true, but forty years ago Prabhupada had no problems addressing what was considered important then – science, technology, unprecedented rate of material progress etc. He addressed people’s current needs and doubts then instead of sticking strictly to examples from Lord Chaitanya’s times and Mahabharata. He knew that those stories have little relevance to the westerners who had their questions about their own surroundings and couldn’t easily relate to flower airplanes and some magic bow shooting thousands of arrows at the same time. People of that age had memories of World War II and Hiroshima, it’s not quite the same as hearing about Kurukshetra and brahmastra.

My point is that if Prabhupada accommodated them then why not expect him to accommodate our modern concerns now? I must say first, though, that his mission on this planet is over, it is purely a mental exercise. If I want real answers I should expect Krishna to send someone new to dissipate my doubts and fears. If Krishna doesn’t do it, it’s probably because we still have the capacity to manage ourselves, we don’t need extra help yet, it’s our chance at doing something useful for the humanity.

So, while I could make it easier for myself and join in the chorus of well-deserved condemnation, I want to present a different view of the world. I would even dare to say that all those man made disasters is a straw argument. We, the people of the twenty first century, do not see our society as on the verge of collapse. Yes, defaults and slow growth and riots do worry us but they should be put in perspective. In pure money terms, British Royal wedding cost more to that country than four days of looting.

I would rather talk about that – do we need to support or condemn the present day monarchies? We know they are nowhere near the desired standard but what would be better for the future – keeping them or dismantling them altogether? It doesn’t directly affect any of us but it affects the atmosphere in the society as a whole, it affects our value structure. Will people become more sinful and thus more difficult to save?

In Prabhupada’s days we, the ISKCON, had a very very limited reach and were very very isolated from the rest of the world. We were just learning to walk and not wet our pants. Some ill-intentioned individuals might say that not much changed since but we will ignore their sarcastic remarks for the moment.

Isn’t it the time that we, as a society, came out of our temples and engage the rest of the world in running it? We might not be ready yet, but what should we start from if not forming reasonable and mature opinions on the society around us? “All them demons will go straight to hell” is not an example of a reasonable and mature opinion.

So, what should our views be on the developments of democracy, on the fate of monarchies, on global warming, on the globalization itself? On Arab-Palestinian conflict?

Yes, we could say that no one but God owns the land and if everyone accepts it they would live in peace, but they don’t accept it, that has been tried, so they remain at war and that war has influenced the rest of the world on the scale no other present conflict had.

When there were massive protests against Iranian election results two years ago everybody had to take a stand, the whole world was watching. Where were we? Were we on the side of the regime trying to protect the religion or on the side of the protesters fighting for democracy and freedom? Were we on the side of Muslim clerics forcing their dogmas on everyone or on the side of the progressive Iranians with their drug parties at their underground discos?

Yeah, well, we were transcendental, as always. That is fine, but I don’t think we can hope to change the world by being transcendental to its problems. We say Krishna will take care but we refuse to take any personal responsibility. How is Krishna supposed to take care if not through our agency?

Is the crux of the problem that we are not good enough to execute His will? Do we really have the right to blame the rest of the society for their lack of spirituality if we do not possess it ourselves, not in the amount necessary to demonstrate to the world that Krishna Consciousness really works at solving problems?

These are the kind of questions I would pose to Prabhupada if I had the chance.

Or maybe not. It would be a waste of time. I know the answers, more or less. Answers are obvious once you figure out the right questions.

What I really need from my imaginary talks is to develop even a small bit of unflinching faith and devotion, everything else would just follow.

Everything starts with devotion, it’s the only blessing we ever need, and if I can get infected with it by listening to Prabhupada blasting the materialistic civilization for the hundredth time over, it’s worth sacrificing interests of my mind.

Vanity thought #206. Don’t know what to think.

It has become a serious problem for me – I don’t know what to think.

Originally I thought no thinking would be necessary when I learn to chant for twelve hours a day. I was wrong.

Thinking is, of course, unnecessary but it is also unavoidable and so I must think of something no matter how unwelcome this admission is.

Sometimes, on rare occasions, I’m perfectly content with just chanting the rounds but it has not become the norm and I’m rather regressing in this regard. I wasn’t expecting this, I was hoping that no thinking would be easier as I chant more.

Turns out it doesn’t really matter how much I chant, same problems crop up regardless. I think if I wasn’t chanting but worshiping deities instead I would still have the same problems with controlling my mind regardless of whether I was offering one or five pujas per day.

Of course deity worship or distributing books keep one’s mind occupied, not so much with japa. In fact, there’s absolutely nothing to occupy one’s mind during japa. During kirtana one might focus on singing and maybe even playing some musical instrument but with japa there’s nothing. Counting beads in the bag does not demand that much attention and everything else is a distraction, so I have to think.

I have to think just as I have to breath and eat. In fact, one of the western geniuses wisely observed once – I think, therefore I am. Thinking is a function of life, though he didn’t mean it quite that way, he was trying to prove that the world exists and deduced that he could only prove that he exists himself, everything else could be just an elaborate illusion, but since I think, personally, it proves that I am an object separate from the suspected illusion, therefore I am.

Interesting method. It doesn’t prove that the way I perceive myself is real, I might not be who I think I am at all, I might be dreaming, for example, but if I’m thinking about my own existence it means I am real. Don’t know what “I” is but it’s real.

There are many ways of arsing around with this logic, like – What if the thing that thinks exists but it’s not you? This question is actually very close to the truth but in Descartes time and even now people are trying to find logical escapes from this kind of dilemmas rather that trying to explain them from non-traditional angles, like our teaching about the soul.

We know that the thing that does the thinking is not me, we know that thinking is an activity performed by subtle material elements under the influence of time and the modes of material nature, it doesn’t prove the existence of the soul on its own.

We know that these realizations are nothing particularly new, and we know that if western thinkers really push it very hard they would come to accepting the existence of the spirit, Brahman, non-differentiated Absolute.

This is entirely plausible, the ability to realize Brahman is not particularly restricted by the material nature. We ARE the Brahman ourselves, the material energy does not have any control over our nature, she controls us only in response to our own desire to surrender to it. If we realize its illusory nature and renounce it we will eventually see ourselves as non-matter, as eternal Brahman.

I wonder if it is really a necessary step on our path to devotion. We might not look like much in our present lives but maybe we have thousands and thousands of years of meditation and tapasya behind us. Maybe we’ve been given this unprecedented access to the treasures of devotion as a reward for our previous progress.

Or maybe we should face the trial of impersonalism one more time before real devotion will awaken in our hearts, and until that moment we are just using our sadhana to advance our own interests, not Krishna’s.

I honestly don’t know, but whatever may be, it still doesn’t answer my pressing need to think about something now.

I think, therefore I am as conditioned as ever. Fine, but I still think and I can’t stop it. Should I? How? If yes, sometimes in the future, then what to do in the meantime?

Simple answer – think of Krishna and everything related to Him. I still can’t fully agree to that, though. I still try to purge all the thoughts out of my mind and do not encourage it in any way. What happens, though, is that it gets hooked on politics and technology all by itself.

I might have successfully stopped my mind from thinking about this blog, for example, but it finds plenty of other, far more destructive things to think.

I gave my mind twenty minutes after lunch to catch up on local news and now it eagerly scans the newspaper on the short way back to the house, anticipating the pleasures of the distant lunch. It refuses to hand the newspaper back when the time is up, too. It’s even worse with technology.

It all starts very small, then there’s just this little thing to clear up before resuming dedicated chanting. Then something else comes to mind, then there are suddenly new solutions to try that bring their own side-effects that need to be fixed. It just snowballs.

So now I’m thinking that I would be better off reading Krishna related discussion boards. I used to do that and it worked magic as far as occupying my mind is concerned but there are drawbacks, too.

There are way too many occasions when I walk straight into a vaishnava aparadha trap. I lend people my ear and they poor poison into it. That was the main reason I stopped participating Krishna conscious discussions. There were also times when I couldn’t restrain myself and, if not offending people, I probably encouraged them to step over the line.

There are plenty of non-offensive sites out there, too, but, pardon me for saying so, they are dead boring, as far as challenging my mind is concerned.

They are perfect in avoiding agitating the mind, they speak straight to the heart, and this is the most beneficial approach, but it doesn’t stop my mind from reading technology blogs on the side.

Actually, it does, but the effect is very short lived and I need long breaks before the refills.

I could again, theoretically, pick up a hot topic elsewhere and blast away all kinds of impersonal and materialistic tendencies displayed by other people, that would keep me busy for hours, but I don’t want to do that either – I don’t want to occupy my mind with anything when I am chanting.

Rock and the hard place. Think and be damned, don’t think and be caught with all kinds of nonsense eating my heart out anyway.

I used to read some short stories or a couple of paragraphs every two or three hours of chanting, for inspiration, I told myself. Now I don’t feel like I need this inspiration anymore, so far I’m still eager to chant, but now I see that those breaks were more for giving my mind some food for thought, distracting me from chanting with some Krishna conscious topics. Paradox.

Well, it looks like I have convinced myself – hot Krishna topics are a go.

There’s just this one thing I have to finish with the tablet tomorrow, complaints about it have been becoming louder and louder, it needs fixing. And then on Friday I’m going to town, and the Saturday and Sunday are family days.

I haven’t done three lakhs this week at all. Today I came thirty two rounds short, that was the closest so far, and the number will be going down until next Monday.

I’m not happy about it, not happy at all. This is not what I should be doing and I can’t do anything about it. I need Krishna’s intervention.

Please…

Vanity thought #203. Incarnating.

I was reading Gaura Ganodesha Dipika recently, which could be found on Nitaaiveda, and I was surprised how casually Kavi Karnapura deals with incarnations there.

There’s no ontological explanation offered to understand what he really meant when he said this gopa appeared as this and that demigod appeared as that. Maybe one day I will find something definitive on the subject but until that day I’m free to speculate as much as I want. What fun!

Basically, we are dealing with stuff like this, for example:

51. The person who appeared in Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes as Jagadananda Pandita was actually an incarnation of Shrimati Satyabhama-devi. What devotee can say otherwise?

Kavi Karnapura has complied the book from writings of senior devotees and testimonies of devotees in Orissa, Bengal and Mathura, too.

He started working on Gaura Ganodesha Dipika about twenty years after the disappearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu when many of Lord’s associates were still present and memories were still fresh. Now no one is in the position to argue, of course.

The question still remains – with no references given in the book and no exact sources for each disclosed identity, how can we trust these revelations completely? Not speaking for anyone else here – how can I be sure that none of these statements is based, in fact, on a rumor that was going around some fifty years earlier and which no one cared to refute at that time?

From biographies of Lord Chaitanya it appears people were eager to say all kinds of things in those days. I mean there are plenty of cases in Chaitanya Bhagavat, for example, when people were openly speculating on identities of the Lord and His associates.

What about Srimati Laksmipriya who is described as Laksmidevi but Lord Chaitanya Himself said she was a dancer from Indra’s court?

I don’t know who was right and who was wrong. Kavi Karnapura? Lord Chaitanya? Lochana Das Thakura? It appears one of them must have been wrong.

That is an awkward question to ask and I’d rather avoid tackling it head on.

I’d rather propose that we might see incompatible answers because we haven’t formulated the question properly. I mean let’s look at the meaning and possible mechanics of incarnating first.

There are plenty of cases in Gaura Ganodesha Dipika of two persons incarnating in the same body. Advaita Acharya’s son Achyutananda was the incarnation of both Kartikkeya and Achyta Gopi, for example. Haridas Thakur was incarnation of Richika Muni, Prahlada Maharaj, and, according to Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Lord Brahma. Ramananda Raya is declared an incarnation of three persons – Lalita, Arjunya, and Arjuna, and just a few verses earlier Arjuna, the cowherd boy from Vrindavana, was mentioned, too.

Apparently that same Vrindavana Arjuna also appeared as Sri Parameshvara, while Lalita is said to have incarnated as Gadadhara Pandit.

It sounds like a royal mess rather than definitive list, but only we we approach it from “you go as this person and you go as that person” perspective, which is the most natural for us. Maybe it’s this approach that is incorrect, not the results.

From the very beginning of Krishna consciousness movement everybody is told that we are spirit souls that migrate from one body to another, that the soul travels between planets and between species of life. That in this life I might be a man but previously I might have been a woman, or will become a woman next. Maybe I have lived in India once already, maybe I will earn the privilege of being born there soon. It’s all about me going places, isn’t it?

Well, what if it really isn’t?

What if this whole material world is a giant amusement park? What if we are just moving from one ride to another? The difference between this model and our usual perception is enormous – carnival rides go in their circles regardless of whether we made to get on in time or we missed.

It’s not me who becomes a man in this life – just like with rides, this man’s body is going through its paces regardless of whether I’m present or not.

Sure the body needs a soul to live, that’s our definition of life, but carnival rides also won’t go if there’s no one aboard and it still doesn’t matter who exactly is on and some percentage of seats is allowed to go empty.

What I’m trying to say is that this body of mine would continue to go on regardless of me, the spirit soul’s presence. There are plenty of other souls around to take my place, theoretically speaking, if I leave someone could easily fill my tiny shoes in no time. I’m sure the universe is not going to stop.

Think of it this way – Krishna might grant liberation to any number of souls at any time, would their absence screw the course of the world? If their presence was so essential to the workings of their bodies, the universe is surely going to be screwed. If, however, any soul would do, the universe would go on without a glitch.

So, perhaps Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes were going on regardless of who was incarnating in whom. Maybe some of His eternal associates appeared in one body at one time and in another body later, they were just trying to experience different pastimes and different flavors of association with the Lord. Maybe there was even a queue there:

– Can I be Haridas Thakur, please?
– Sorry, occupied.
– Can we share? Just for one day? Please?
– Oh, okay, squeeze in, feel yourself at home.

Of course it doesn’t happen normally. Normally we are strapped to this one particular body for the duration of its life. In Sanmodana Bhashyam Bhaktivinoda Thakur said “strapped to the wheel of material existence”, which sounds like a more fitting description. Liberated souls are free to insert themselves in any particular place and at any particular time and in no particular order.

To us Lord’s pastimes appear as progressing from past to future, for them it’s just a collection of episodes, being subject to the influence of time is just a temporary inconvenience that is more than offset by the opportunity to associate with the Lord.

Back to the ordinary souls, though – there’s no “me” that transmigrates from one body to another. The soul does not take anything with itself when it reincarnates. Surely it might carry the memories of the previous rides but those memories have no connection with the current ride whatsoever. If we don’t see ourselves as souls we shouldn’t expect old memories to suddenly shine through, should we?

We understand that gross bodies inherit stuff like DNA from the parents and when a soul incarnates in a particular body it accepts what is given. Why should we assume that subtle elements like mind and intelligence follow completely different rules, as if we take them with us and carry them everywhere, from one body to another. When they appear connected to a particular gross body they might inherit something from somewhere but surely they haven’t been sneaked in by the soul itself in a fanny pouch.

What if, due to some special circumstances, one soul leaves the body and another takes its place? The mind, the intelligence, the memory – everything that we can see and experience remains the same, keeps going by the same material laws, predictably responds to the same material stimuli and so on.

At this point I want to stress that I’m a firm believer that the soul is not a doer of anything. It just sits there and watches. It can’t change a single damn thing about its material existence.

At this point I dare to state that everything, absolutely everything we can see and experience and feel about another person is just a combination of material elements, gross and subtle, and each particular combination has its own history and explanation how it came about.

Once a devotee played a devil’s advocate with Prabhupada and, defending scientists, said that they believe some things happen by accident. No way, Prabhupada replied, they just don’t see the connection, that’s why they say it’s a chance, they just try to cover their ignorance. Nothing in the universe happens by chance.

Maybe there are difference statements elsewhere and I’m just cherry picking here but this is good enough for me at the moment. When new information comes to my attention I’m willing to reconsider my position.

For now it boils down to this – I’m just a soul that has been given a chance to participate in this body’s chanting of the Holy Names. I didn’t start it, I’m not doing anything myself, I don’t even know who I am, I just sit there and listen and the body chants.

Maybe it’s a punishment, maybe it’s a promotion, maybe next time I’ll be given a chance to stay in a far more Krishna conscious body, you know, living a life of a genuine vaishnava.

Whatever happens, I hope that the chanting phase lasts long enough to affect my heart.

Vanity thought #199. The new normal.

These past few days have been a study of contrasts. Sometimes I think of Krishna whole day long, or at least about something connected to Krishna. Sometimes I don’t remember Him at all, like today.

Last week I discovered the way to complete three lakhs of names on a normal working day and I thought I’d try to do this three times this week. Today was the first, and the worst, too.

I’ll try again on Friday and possibly on Saturday but now the schedules have moved around and Saturday seems unlikely. Friday is still on, though.

But first I have to come to grips with what happened today. Is it a new normal? I’m afraid it might be the beginning of the end, no positive prospects at all.

Last night disaster struck – everything that could go wrong, did. I didn’t finish my blog, left it till morning, and I spend half the night finding possible solutions to unwelcome technological challenges. I had merely four hours of sleep when I realized this morning that I had big plans for the day.

It was simply impossible to tear my head from the pillow, and it was still aching from the night before. I was on autopilot, didn’t even have enough energy for a cold shower.

That was my condition when I started my rounds, and if that was bad, I still had a gazillion of things to do left from last night. I had no choice but to fire up the computer and operate the mouse with the left hand.

Actually I had a choice – dedicate myself to chanting sixteen rounds first and then spend the rest of the day working. Somehow I didn’t like it. Okay, sixteen rounds in peace I understand, I can always find time for that, I’m unemployed, after all, but it’s the problem of the rest of the day that eats me up.

Why can’t I chant and do my things at the same time? I’m not ambidextrous yet but I’m pretty good with my left hand already. Why can’t I do both?

Yes, chanting took a big hit, even simple clicking around kills the concentration, what to speak of searching the web for solutions and installing a million programs, but would it have been better if I was NOT chanting?

Anyway I look at it – no, chanting is always better than no chanting.

I can’t honestly call it japa, though, but it’s still better than nothing. Yes, it is offensive to the Holy Names but not chanting is even worse. Devotees who perform various services for the Lord don’t need to chant to keep their connection alive. Fixing computer stuff is not the same, it’s not even computer stuff used for Krishna, even remotely.

It’s my karma – I have this certain interest in technology and maya provides me with plenty of opportunities to indulge. Actually no, that’s not correct either – I wanted this stuff myself, nobody pushed it on me. Now that it has gone wrong it demands more attention than I hoped but it’s entirely my responsibility from start to finish.

Even the interest itself. Let’s say I have a natural predisposition, but I also spent years of my life completely away from any gadgets. Even a year ago I had no interest in tablets, for example. Now it takes most of my waking life and it’s only the beginning.

I should have enough intelligence to understand how these things snowball our of hand, I should have enough intelligence to avoid falling into this trap but I couldn’t stop myself.

My recent mumbling against renouncing material interests didn’t help either. Now I’m drowning in the whirlpool of problems. Wouldn’t it have been better to stay away from them in the first place?

Well, yes, it would have been perfect if I lost all interest in those things and engage my mind and body in chanting instead. It would have been perfect but that’s not how the world works.

I’m still a very conditioned being, I still have no attraction to chanting whatsoever, it’s only incredible mercy of the Supersoul that empowers me to chant so many rounds, it’s not my personal achievement in any way.

So far I agreed with my conscience that I will chant more than sixteen rounds only in my free time, if anyone wants me to do anything, I should oblige. I haven’t refused anything to anyone so far and I still have plenty of opportunities to chant so by Lord’s grace it’s working. Looking back at these past few months I think I have proven at least one point for myself – there’s nothing to stand in the way between me and Krishna.

Yes, objectively speaking, there are millions of things that can go wrong and stop me from chanting my rounds but they don’t happen as long as I have plenty of determination and Krishna’s support. Objectively speaking these obstacles don’t exist.

The only way this glorious opportunity can get screwed is if I drop the ball myself, and I’m afraid I’m about to let it slip out of my hands.

Today I spent at least six hours fiddling with computers entirely for my own satisfaction of seeing things fixed. I invited these trouble on myself, too, and I made a new deal with my conscience that I would compromise my chanting to accommodate these new interests.

Following the logic and available evidence I should build enough determination to not allow anything to stand between me and Krishna’s name. If lots of other people who can legitimately interfere get distracted by Krishna’s mercy then some technical glitches surely can’t have so much destructive power on their own.

It’s the failure of my devotion.

That’s why I’m very afraid of this “new normal” – I’m supposed to be driving the distractions out not invite them in. If this is a necessary compromise I hope it’s only temporary but it might be hope against hope.

These desires are overwhelming and with the body I’m having they sprout like zits on a face of a horny pubescent boy. It is certainly true that lust in young men and woman would lead them into the depths of material existence but telling them so hardly even stopped anybody. They can’t be stopped by risks of STDs or pregnancies – things they can personally understand and relate to, what to speak of some lofty talk about karma and illusion?

Somehow or other we all have to battle through it. Lust, career, children, vanity – at every stage of life there’s something to distract us from reaching Krishna. It’s a miracle I still remember Him at all.

So I should probably not despair. I still have ten rounds left to finish today, this post taken less time than I expected, too, everybody’s asleep – I have no excuses to fumble my remaining japa.

Off I go.

Vanity thought #170. Body of proof.

Following a rather uneventful Monday I’m left wondering if chanting so much is working for me at all. I need proof. Or maybe I don’t.

It is kind of frustrating to look at my current state of consciousness and see no improvements at all, that’s not what I was expecting. A couple of months ago I was so excited about an opportunity to chant so many rounds, I cleared my schedule in advance, I was really looking forward to it, I was full of anticipation.

Now I do it everyday and it’s become a rather dull affair. I can’t deny looking forward to lunch and then the evening with the family, I can’t deny that I’m glad I have chores to do so that I can take my mind off chanting for a bit and work with my hands. The worst part is that while I’m dusting the shelves or sweeping the floor I’m still counting my beads. The worst part is that I consciously move chanting to the back of my mind because I’m so sick of it, I guess.

So is it working?

A while ago I was absolutely sure that it was and, on some level, I’m still sure it does but I doubt it’s the progress in the right direction. I need real proof but all I got is transformations happening with my body and mind – the body of proof it isn’t.

Take speed – if one repeats the same tongue twister again and again he would eventually master it and can dazzle his friends with his new skill. If I manage to chant my rounds faster it’s the same effect, there’s nothing spiritual about it, it doesn’t count. I still marvel at how other devotees, notably maharajas on my downloaded recordings, seem to take each mantra, each Name so seriously. They are really meditating on Krishna there. I’m just mumbling something to myself while looking for excuses to think of something else.

There were also a few “special” realizations, like that time I really felt I wasn’t my body. Two things to bring me down from that high horse. First, I don’t see myself as such anymore, it just doesn’t come back. Second, it might not have had anything to do with spiritual progress at all. Yes, even namabhasa brings liberation and liberation means not seeing himself as a material body but I bet there are plenty of other, mundane techniques to achieve the same effect, too, like transcendental meditation or something.

Hare Krishna mantra is a very powerful tool, it can grant all kinds of things – remove anxieties, bring peace, it can excite and it can provide any kind of sensual enjoyment possible, it can bring yoga siddhis, it can bring liberation, it can do everything, and most of these things could be disruptive on the path of developing devotional service. So what if one can see himself as not the body, it has absolutely no value on its own. The only thing that matters is seeing oneself as a servant of Krishna and vaishnavas and I didn’t see that. So there – useless.

Also the fact that this particular realization doesn’t come back anymore might be a sign that it was just one of my mood swings, nothing more. Our real progress in our real devotional lives cannot just disappear. We can become rich or poor and the next moment we can become ill or famous – all these things come and go like the waves in the sea. One day we are extremely intelligent and perceptive, another day we are dumb and demented, one day we hover above the floor like Maharishi Mahesh yogi, next day we hover above a pile of dung as flies. None of it matters.

If, on the other hand, we manage to get accepted as Krishna’s servants we will never ever go back. Maybe we’ll have temporary setbacks due to the influence of the material nature and our impure hearts but that achievement is impossible to compromise. Krishna will always preserve it for us, He promised.

So, when I look at the signs of my real progress I can’t see any at all. I haven’t become more absorbed in Krishna, I haven’t developed the taste for chanting or for service, I haven’t gained any acceptance – I got nothing.

I probably have to admit that I was driven by the mode of passion, I didn’t care for the process at all, I wanted quick results, and now, when I’m not getting any, I’m naturally losing interest.

This coming Saturday I think I’ll get a chance to chant three lakhs of names, three sets of sixty-four rounds, and I can’t help but notice the difference in anticipation levels now and two-three months ago.

Okay, I know what happened, there’s an explanation, the real question is how to move forward now, when the passion has gone? What should I do?

Ideally I should elevate myself to the level of goodness and enjoy every step of the way but I can’t get there artificially. If I don’t like getting up early in the morning I can’t fake it.

Am I caught in the gap where passion has already worn off but the goodness hasn’t kicked in yet? Afaik, sacrifices in the mode of goodness do not feel great in the beginning but once one acquires taste for it one feels extremely satisfied without even caring for the results. I was hoping that the push of passion would help get past that initial aversion. Apparently it wasn’t enough.

Should I cheer myself up with some new, temporary and illusory visions of success and hope they will carry me to the point where I won’t need them anymore to chant? Sounds great but there are dangers in stocking passion, too. Those fires might die out in one place but the heart will still want the rush and so will look for them elsewhere.

This is what is happening to me now – since I’m no more excited about chanting I’m starting to get excited about all kinds of other things, I’m actually looking to get excited, I’ll take anything.

I know that it won’t bring me any satisfaction, like scratching an insect bite but, just like an itchy bite, it’s impossible to stop oneself.

In this situation it is probably better to get excited about something at least related to Krishna, and that brings me to the possibility of me giving up the chanting and taking up some other service instead, a service that fully occupies my hands and my mind. If I’m doing my extra rounds thinking about what to do with myself I’m not doing it right.

Does that signal the end of my experiment? Maybe, but I’m not going to give up so easily.

The Name itself is perfectly capable of solving all these problems for me. All I have to do is to keep chanting and never miss a chance to be sincere about it.

Actually, I do not need any proof that it works, I just have to keep going at it on faith alone, maybe even against all evidence to the contrary. That kind of strong faith should separate the logical path of my self-benefit and the selfless and causeless devotion.

Yeah, devotion is causeless, isn’t it? Its benefits can’t be rationally explained to other people, if you being totally honest about it in your presentation they are not going to accept it, not unless you are a pure devotee yourself.

Here’s a possible topic for tomorrow – what’s in it for myself?

Vanity thought #152. Breaking up.

That was fast, just yesterday I proclaimed undying love for my precious body and today I’m talking about separation. Kali Yuga, what else can I say.

I didn’t do anything special, the only difference was that I mentioned Siva and Ganesh before commencing my rounds. I just started reading Chaitanya Mangala by Lochana Das Thakura and he includes prayers to Siva and Ganesh in invocation. I thought it was nice, praying to remove obstacles on the path of bhakti.

Then I remembered that I’ve seen similar prayers in various other books by previous acharyas but I never given it much thought. Should I also include prayers to Ganesh, for example?

On the other hand, not worshiping demigods is our ISKCON signature, never did it, never seen anyone doing it. Srila Prabhupada taught us to respect them as great devotees and that’s it, I’ve never read any prayers to Lord Shiva in his books.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with asking anyone for blessings to succeed in service, we ask everyone for blessings like that. Should I intentionally omit Ganesh because he is not an ISKCON devotee? What next, imagine I have a better understanding of our philosophy and Srimad Bhagavatam than Ganesh who actually wrote it down with his own hand? Or was is Mahabharata? Either way it would be presumptuous of me.

So I started the day with these awkward prayers, saying that I don’t offer anything better because I can’t appear more pious than my spiritual master.

First few rounds were a warm up, getting my mind and my mouth to work with proper level of energy and concentration, then it happened – I started breaking up with my body. Maybe I am delusional but I’m not ready to dismiss the incident just like that.

Suddenly I clearly saw that me and my body are two different, barely related things. I wasn’t watching it from above like in out of body experiences in the hospitals, I just clearly felt that I was not the body. I felt nothing in common with this sack of flesh and bones striding around the house, chanting the Holy Names, it had a life of its own, being tossed around by the modes of material nature.

The only connection I had with it was forcing it to chant the Names, that was the only thing it was good for, the only worthwhile occupation, so I threw it into the battle.

The disconnect wasn’t total but unmistakable. I was vaguely aware of the pain in the body’s knee but I didn’t feel it as personal. I saw the room through the body’s eyes but it was not my vision.

Connection to the subtle body layers were still there, unfortunately, but I’ve observed the marginal area for my mind where I could chose to identify with the gross senses, or choose not to.

It was a mystical experience of sorts, but not spiritual. I saw that I’m not the body but I still had no idea who I was, I still had no shred of taste for chanting, it was still something I had to do out of duty.

The feeling was exhilarating, a whole new perspective on the universe, a whole lot of new opportunities. I was prancing around like a boy who just discovered the joys of a swimming pool.

I also realized how much liberation means to me, how exciting and attractive it must be. Devotional service? Still no idea. I knew that I had to keep chanting and eventually I’d be rewarded with appreciation for devotional service but it didn’t seem like a real option at the moment. Instead I was happy planning what I can do with my body in this newly discovered state of separation.

All the old and worn out slogans about engaging you body and the senses in the service suddenly took a whole new meaning. Wow, I thought to myself, that’s what they were all talking about? I can really commandeer the mouth to chant and the legs to walk? What else can I do, now that I’m not associating myself with what happens to the body?

So I got carried away.

All in all I had about forty minutes to one hour of fun, and that’s what it was for me, mostly fun.

There could be many reasons why it didn’t last any longer or why I didn’t make any real progress towards devotional service. I still was identifying myself with subtle body, for example, or I thought myself as controller of my gross body, or I started making my own plans, or I started thinking how I would teach others, or I just simply enjoyed myself. None of that is conducive to developing a devotional attitude, any of that can seriously disrupt one’s progress for a long time.

It was like partaking in a temple feast for the first time. You know you should restrain yourself and you know it’s just gross sense enjoyment but you just can’t stop, it’s too delicious to pass. I hope the Lord isn’t too disappointed in me, I’ll be good, I promise.

On the positive side I’ve seen yet another confirmation that chanting works, works like magic. Technically I was probably somewhere in the namabhasa stage, and namabhasa brings liberation. If one keeps chanting bhakti will eventually develop, too.

I just had no idea that liberation was so literal. I’ve seen only the beginning of it and it was great.

I’ve also come to accept that I am not a devotee, I’m just looking for relief from my struggles, that’s all I am. I just have to hope that by chanting the Holy Names I will one day realize the value of devotion and maybe even start serving the Lord and the devotees with love, not waiting for anything in return.

Just a few words about growing back into my body. It started with me sitting it down on soft cushions. It felt nice. Nice for the body but a few minutes later I appreciated the comfort too. A couple of times I stopped myself and sent the body up, marching around like a madman again, but eventually it got to me.

There was this funny thing with lust and sexual impulses. Just for a dare I recollected some of my recent fantasies and waited for the body’s reaction. Nothing. Confirmed – it was all only in my mind. Now, when I clearly lost the identification with the body all potential sexual pleasures for it seemed absolutely irrelevant. In order to make it work again I had to manually reconnect my mind to my body first and then forcibly feed sexual images through this new channel. I chose not to.

Even now, hours later, I still don’t have any inclination to do so. I feel that I can but I’m afraid it would only bring me back into a full body consciousness again and I don’t want that.

Later in the day I had only brief spells of conviction that my body should be made to chant but I’ve never experience the same “vision” again, couldn’t duplicate it even in my mind.

That makes me think I wasn’t delusional, or maybe I was, but that doesn’t matter – the main lesson I carried from this episode that I should keep on chanting no matter what, and that’s good enough for me.

Vanity thought #147. And now we wait…

While describing all the tribulations of last week I forgot to write about some really good and encouraging things that happened, too.

On Thursday night, before falling asleep, I prayed for mercy, I was really worried about how my Friday japa would go.

Next morning the Lord delivered.

Somehow or other I managed to keep my head clean and started my chanting in a very promising mood. Previous night prayers were still in my head and I was watching for the signs of Lord’s answer. I knew I had no power to summon the mantra on my own, I was totally dependents on Lord’s mercy there.

When the first few rounds simply flew off my tongue I knew my prayers were heard. I was full of appreciation, I felt naturally humble for such a gift, I fully understood that it is only by Lord’s own will that I’m able to chant His Holy Names.

I also caught a glimpse of the mood of the first three verses of Siksashtaka, I knew I was finally going in the right direction. Everything came together – the appreciation, the humility, the realization that I’m very unfortunate not being able to feel the real taste of the Holy Names and I chanted with eagerness and enthusiasm. For a moment it was a picture of perfection.

“Now what?”, I thought. “And now we wait.”

To really feel the beauty and power of the Hare Krishna mantra I had to maintain this mood forever, “Kirtaniyah sada harih”, sada – always, the next step was being more tolerant than a tree, also meaning being very patient, extremely patient.

A tree stands in one place and waits for whatever it needs or wants, for years, in some cases for hundreds of years. A tree does not complain if there’s no water, it just waits for the rain, sometimes for months, in extreme heat. And even when its own leaves are dry and scorched by the sun it still finds generosity to provide shade and shelter to whoever asks.

Similarly we should always be waiting for the Lord, always eager to see Him coming, always ready to receive Him in the proper way.

The Name might already be there, on the tip of my tongue, but I should not only keep chanting and praying, I should also be always prepared to see its real glory, prepared for the occasion when it mercifully decides to manifest itself, reveal its form, its attributes, its full mercy.

I cannot pop my head our for a second, see that nothing is coming my way, and go do a crossword puzzle or something. I cannot stop eagerly waiting even for a second. The moment I turn away I lose all my chances and will have to start waiting all over again. This can go on and on, possibly for lifetimes.

Even if I keep chanting but my mind is not fully into it, the Name is not going to reveal anything.

Even if I chant and control my mind, but have no intense desire to meet the Name, it’s not going to appear.

Unfortunately, apathy is not something easily overcome. I can’t turn eagerness on like tap water. Sooner or later the modes of ignorance and passion cloud my heart and I find myself in a dull, numb state of mind, or chasing skirts. I don’t know what’s worse, I think the apathy is my real enemy.

Passion can come and go and can be forgiven but apathy comes from the heart, it can’t be cured easily. “Durdaivam” it may be but whatever the origin of it I have to get past it. From apathy all other offenses arise, and nothing good comes from the offenses, only more apathy.

Having said all that, I’m still very optimistic. Now I know what I need, I know what mood to find, I know the signs of it, I know what destroys it, I’m pretty sure I will catch it again sooner or later, and then I’ll wait.

Now, unlike before, I see the road mapped in front of me. I don’t have to search for Krishna’s glories or beauty or the taste for the Holy Name – I don’t know what any of these things are. What I have to search for is the humility I have already seen the preview of, I have to search for eagerness I already have felt the dawn of, I know exactly what I want, and when I get it I know what to do next – wait.

The good news is that the further down that road I progress the easier it becomes, and the easier it is to wait, I’ve already seen the glimpse of anticipation, I just have to learn to keep it longer, for as long as possible.

I don’t really mind that the rest of the day was a mess, or that today’s japa was one of the worst on record. These are not distractions, they are just obstacles naturally put in my way. I’ve set my eye on the immediate goal and nothing is going to stop me.

Except my pride.

Pride is a tough nut to crack, I’ve seen it ruin plenty of precious moments already, but I also know how it manifests itself. In the past week, for example, I’ve learned what thoughts exactly ruin my pronunciation of the Holy Names.

Ever since I remember I’ve always had a running commentary in my head, describing my actions, my feelings, my intentions etc. “And then he did that, and then he thought that, and then decided that” and so on. It is like constantly eulogizing myself, recording my life for posterity. It had become somewhat of my second nature, this desire for vanity (hence the name of my blog entries, btw).

Now I’ve been shown that it’s a big no-no. If I want to progress any further I have to give it up. At first I was amazed how often I do it, how frustratingly often, but at least I’m aware of it now and I’ve learned how to avoid it – under the threat of not being able to pronounce the maha mantra. Now I know how to shut it down, not always successfully, of course, but it’s an ongoing battle, the war hasn’t been lost yet.

Coming from another angle, I think that existence of my pride has to be acknowledged just like the existence of hunger or lust. It’s not going to go away completely, it just has to be managed. First I should become aware of its manifestations then I should disassociate from it in my heart.

Then I can feed it here.

Today’s portion has been served.

Vanity thought #140. Prayers.

In preface to HH Bhaktitirtha Swami’s book I mentioned a couple of times earlier, “The Beggar I, Meditations and Prayers on the Supreme Lord”, there’s a list of ten different kinds of prayers offered by devotees. Shame on me for not knowing this earlier but the list is interesting enough to reflect on.

Bhaktitirtha Maharaj says the list comes from the book by Narottama Dasa Thakura titled Prarthana and that all these kinds of prayers were exhibited in the writings of Srila Bhaktivionoda Thakura. Maharaj also says he wrote his books using these ten types of prayerful statements.

I’m not going to analyze his book, not at all, I just want to go through the list and see if anything is missing from my own understanding of myself, God, devotees, and our relations.

First type on the list is Samprarthanatmika: Words of direct prayer to the Lord.

I don’t know what separates samprarthanatmika from any other kind of prayer, what is the uniqueness of it. From what I found it looks like expression of attraction, generally introducing and announcing oneself to the Lord. Sanskrit word “prarthana” means prayer, I am not a Sanskrit expert to figure out how “sam” and “atmika” modify it. Perhaps “directly addressing the Lord” adds more sense, perhaps it’s just a general name for all prayers addressed to the Lord directly, and when they take different flavors they are called by different names.

Second on the list is Sva-dainya-bodhika, words informing the Lord of one’s own humility. We all know what it is. I’m a cynic that way, though, I can go on and on about how humble I am and how lowly I feel and I won’t convince even myself, let along the Lord who can clearly see what’s in my heart and doesn’t pay much attention to me boasting about my humility.

That is only half the problem, though, the real danger is that I project my own deficiencies on others, too, and have hard time believing other devotees’ sincerity. One thought like this can destroy all my progress through thousands of lives but I can’t stop my mind whispering in my inner ear “He’s lying, he’s pretending, you know how it is, he’s just talking himself up, he doesn’t really feel that way.” I can’t stop my mind from saying these things, I only hope I can catch it in time and shut my inner ears. I cannot afford listening to such blasphemy.

In Kali Yuga we are not punished for out sinful thoughts, we don’t get karma for thinking, but thinking still counts as an offense to the Holy Name. It’s the attitude that we allow to dwell in our minds that is offensive and there’s no way of escaping the results if we allow ourselves to listen to it.

Makes me think how important mind control is to our mantra yoga, which literally means purification of the mind.

Third on the list, very appropriate,is called Manah-siksa, instructions to one’s own mind. There’s a book by Raghunatha Dasa Goswami with the same name. There are only twelve verses, eleven instructions, telling the mind what to do, what to avoid, and how to worship Radha and Krishna.

Our minds have greatly “advanced” during the past five hundred of years and most of those instructions are way over our heads. What’s interesting is that among all kinds of distractions Srila Raghutatha Dasa Goswami singled lust, hypocrisy, and fame. That basically says it all, but there are countless derivatives we should be aware about. Lust and fame are kind of obvious as roots of all evil, but hypocrisy is new to me. It appears being honest is just as important as as being humble and pure, or, reversely, lying is as evil as indulging in sex or chasing personal fame.

Reminds me of the duplicity as one of the great weeds that grows around bhakti tree, but, apparently, it’s not only for advanced devotees who water their bhakti creepers so much that weeds also grow along, it appears duplicity should be avoided from the start, just like lust and pride.

Moving on, at number four, we have Vilapatmika, statements of extreme lamentation. From examples it’s clear that the devotee expresses lamentation of not being able to be with Krishna or engage in His service. This is the one I consciously try to avoid, for the sake of avoiding duplicity discussed earlier. I might lament missing some opportunities to serve Krishna and His devotees but that’s not because of the service, it’s because of the benefits I expect to derive for myself.

It’s like going to Vrindavana is basically a vacation for me. I go there to do nothing and get some nectar, I don’t know of any benefits for Krishna or anyone else, it’s purely for my own enjoyment. It’s so damn good to feel like a sadhu, coming back to my usual life and complaining how grossly materialistic it is and how I miss the dhama. I don’t. If I really missed the dhama I would realize that it’s all with me, in the Holy Name, Srimad Bhagavatam, or on the altar. Not to diminish the value of the dhama itself, just to test my proclaimed feelings for it. They don’t always check out, if at all.

At number five we have Vaisnava-mahima-prakasika, statements revealing the glories of the Lord’s devotees. This is the best so far, unlike with the previous ones I can’t go wrong here. Whatever I think, whatever I feel in my heart, whatever jealousy or envy, whatever ill wishes, anything glorifying other devotees is supremely beneficial. Duplicity doesn’t count. Okay, it counts somewhat, but the way to overcome it here is to glorify the devotees more and more, just like the way to overcome the offenses against the Holy Name is to chant more.

This is a case that we better believe our own BS. We cannot believe ourselves when we falsely declare our humility or when we falsely declare our separation from the Lord when we don’t feel any. But we should strive to believe whatever “lies” we tell about other devotees. Even if that particular devotee doesn’t deserve praise, in our opinion, we should still glorify him and hope Krishna gives us intelligence to realize it’s all good no matter what the “truth” is.

The truth is all devotees of the Lord are absolutely perfect. Whatever imperfections we see are shown to us by maya for our own entanglement.

Intelligent person cannot even contemplate finding faults with devotees, it’s a suicidal activity.

And on that thought I’d like to take a pause, there are five more types of prayers to go, will leave it until tomorrow.

All glories to Sri Krishna’s devotees!

Vanity thought #138. Rollercoaster ride.

The day started as usual, I resumed chanting from where I left yesterday, which was ‘no more power pleading, no more speaking to God, just say the names and listen to the sound’. It happened after I decided that “Hare” from now on would refer to Srimati Radharani, not Lord Hari. The change was abrupt and surprising but I accepted it as legitimate, there simply wasn’t any time for me to commit any offence, I was just excited about Srimati Radharani’s mercy, that’s all.

It worked just fine, there was no inner heart penetration I observed a couple of days ago but it’s a rare thing anyway, I was content that my mind was calm and I was just listening to the sound of the Names.

Very well, I thought, perhaps that’s exactly what I need – just accept the Names as they are, so what if I don’t feel anything about Them now? Eventually They will reveal Themselves out of Their own causeless mercy. Just sit back and listen, I told myself, if my mind went away I just gently pulled it back to listening.

Little did I know what a storm was brewing just a few hours ahead.

It all started at lunch break when I finally checked a news article about local jails. A few days ago I was thinking about a perfect place to chant as much as I want without any interruption and I thought of jails, so I searched the Internet, found an article, and didn’t read it until today.

Turns out the place is not as peaceful and quiet as I expected. There are too many people, too few creature comforts, and it’s generally under the influence of the mode of ignorance.

The more I read, however, the better it became. Once you get past the initial shock you realize that there are thousands of people there making their lives and, generally, they leave each other to do whatever they want.

Sure, food is going to be a problem but if I look at how I eat now, I can survive. The more I chant the less I need. Sleeping arrangements are not perfect either but still manageable. Thousands of people can sleep there, so should I.

Six gosvamis of Vrindavana slept under trees, and each night they chose a new tree too. I’m not going that far, just to a level acceptable to so many other people.

The main point going for it is that in prison nobody is telling you how good you got it. They all know it’s crap and not a place for a gentleman. This is a remarkable realization that is totally missing for people surrounding me here. These people think they are enjoying freedom when the reality is just the opposite – they are imprisoned by their desires and their senses and they are forced to work day and night to satisfy them.

Ever since I lost my job everybody and his dog are offering me advice on how to make my life more comfortable and what sacrifices I should make to achieve that comfort.

In the meantime I squeeze as much time as possible from my day so that I could avoid thinking about comfort and concentrate on chanting the Holy Names instead. All I think about is how to make this situation more permanent, not how to enslave myself in yet another office and sneak to the car park for a round of two when everybody else goes for a coffee break. And that is only half the problem.

When I’m with these people, working my ass off, I inevitably absorb their moods and interests, I keep abreast of their topics of conversation, I spend all my free time online, looking at one amusing youtube video after another. It really, really pollutes my heart.

And now I’m finally free and try to manage the remaining attachments, hoping they would eventually go away, and these people come up to me and implore me to give it another try. Urghh!

So I seriously thought about checking myself into the nearest jail to avoid all this commotion. It will be like taking sannyasa, Kali Yuga style. Sure, it will be unfair to some of the people that still depend on me but such is life.

Then I realized that I won’t be able to hide my chanting in prison, eventually the news will leak out and people would start to talk “He went to prison to chant Hare Krisha! Crazy!” Eventually even the devotees might get the whiff that something is going on. What would I tell them if they decide to visit me? Srila Prabhupada organized ISKCON specifically for people like me so that we could advance in our Krishna Consciousness together. Why would I give it up? Why would I give up the association of the devotees? And without their blessings?

What is the press finds out about it and decides to make a story? How would that affect the devotees and ISKCON?

I realized that I was being selfish, and it all just crashed on me…

I will have to accept another round of slavery. There’s no sannyasa in Kali Yuga, one must suffer his karma without complaining and do the best he can to advance his Krishna consciousness. I can’t do it on my own, anyone not following the rules and regulations and inventing his own ways is just a nuisance.

All I’ve been doing so far is just a nuisance, if I really wanted to serve Krishna I wouldn’t be playing Haridasa Thakur here, I would be at the local temple, begging for an opportunity to do something, anything for real devotees there.

If I’m not doing that I’m a failure and a rascal and a pretender.

Really soul crashing realization.

With a mind confused like this another couple of hours had passed in total disarray. Bouts of self pity followed by periods of apathy.

The truth is, I thought, that at this point there’s nothing I can do, only chant, so let me just finish this job, however badly.

Then it dawned on me – what if Krishna is giving me a test? What if He arranges some new job for me and when I complain about not having enough time to chant He’d say “I gave you time once, remember, you blew it on thinking about jails and how worthless you are. Why do you need more? You don’t deserve it”

I just bolted! There’s no way I let the opportunity like this slip through my fingers. I can’t allow doom and gloom to take it away from me. With renewed energy and enthusiasm I attacked the remaining ten rounds with brute force.

I couldn’t just sit and listen to the Names anymore, situation demanded immediate and undivided attention and praying, lots of praying. I was chanting like these were the last rounds of my life.

So, after morning euphoria I went down to afternoon doom and then was up again. Quite a ride!

It wasn’t the end, though.

After about half an hour of attack I suddenly caught myself thinking that I’m actually abusing the Holy Name for my own ends. I want to prove something, not quite sure what, I want the Name to validate my decisions, I want the Name to give me power to enforce my will on the world.

Maybe I just don’t like feeling like a rascal and a pretender. Maybe I need to prove that I am not and I need the Holy Name to help me, probably by giving me prema bhakti right away or something.

And so I was down again and that’s how the day ended. Another hundred rounds gone and wasted.

One interesting observation – while I was down with guilt and shame for trying to invent my own ways of service instead of following the authorities, I wanted to think about sex instead!

You see – thinking about sex can be purged from the mind, it will go away, however bad it is, it’s manageable. Being a rascal, however, is unavoidable. This one is not going away, ever, and I really really didn’t like living with it.

That’s a sign of a certified rascal.

What is Krishna going to do about it?

Vanity thought #136. Dharana.

As I said, it means holding on.

In my case I’m trying to maintain my new regiment of chanting lots of rounds. It’s not a novelty for me anymore, there’s no excitement, no rush, no curiosity to see what happens. I know what happens already – nothing major, but there are changes and not all of them for the better.

Bad news first – somewhere on the third hour I had to admit that I’d rather be doing something else. There are plenty of interesting things out there waiting for me to finish, I only caught a glimpse while scanning newsfeeds but that was enough.

Perhaps I went in too fast, perhaps I should cut on my rounds and check out those juicy news first. One should not pretend to be more advanced than he is and one should not imitate practices that are above his own level. Very reasonable argument, and to add salt to the injury – if I still insist on chanting I would be doing it to feed my pride.

While I was thinking like this the rush has gone. Still, to make a compromise, I allowed myself to go online during the lunch break. Then I went on chanting and during the break, among other things, bought Bhakti Tirtha’s Swami first book The Beggar I: Meditations and Prayers on the Supreme Lord . I’ve read only the first few chapters so far but they’ve already helped a lot. There’s nothing like prayers of real vaishnavas to shake off one’s ignorance.

Thankfully, the “japa is boring” feeling has disappeared for now but I’m afraid it will come back, just like any other material distraction. One day I will have to give up, there’s no way I’m going to chant so many rounds for the rest of my life. I will make the best of the opportunity I have now, feelings and boredom would have to wait.

Now the good news – I observed some progress, that’s part of the reason I called today’s blog “dharana”. Yet again I experienced a period of unusual absorption in chanting, last time it lasted for about three rounds, today it extended to eight or even ten, depending on where I agreed that it was totally gone.

During these first rounds I was completely unplugged from the rest of the world. I kept my eyes shut, I didn’t moved an inch, and the sound of the Holy Names seemed to be reaching the depths of my very heart. My mind was conspicuously absent, the sound of the maha mantra was the only experience I registered.

I was trying to hold on to it and it lasted a lot longer than before but eventually it disappeared. I managed to observe how it happened and it might help me in the future. First, the memory was back online. I started to remember what I said about this stage yesterday, then the mind started analyzing the reality of what is happening. Then I remembered “pratyahara” stage – ignoring the sense objects, but, in my case, I started noticing things that I was supposed to ignore instead. The whirring of the fan was first, then I opened my eyes – lots of new information to ignore, took careful notice of it all.

Then I felt the urge to get up and stretch my legs, and so I did, and it went downhill from then on.

I have to say, though, that it was quite a long seesaw battle. Open my eyes, lose concentration, close my eyes again, concentration comes back. Walk around a bit, lose concentration, sit down, close my eyes, concentration comes back.

That’s why I’m not sure when exactly I realized that this morning spell has gone completely and couldn’t be revived. I started really losing it on the eighth round and by the tenth I had only a vague memory of how it felt.

Never mind the loss – it’s still very inspiring. I count on Krishna when He said that results of one’s devotional service are never lost, so I figure that even if I can’t repeat the same success tomorrow, eventually the day will come when I get to experience it again, and probably for a bit longer. At the end of the day I’ve added another brick to the tower of devotion that is supposed to reach Krishna.

Please don’t think that when I say “I added” I mean I actually did it. It was entirely Krishna’s mercy, from the start to the end, I was just trying to hold on to it for as long as I could, and I was praying for the power to hold on for even longer.

Another important point is that even this display of Krishna’s mercy is not the goal of our practice. Yesterday I was talking about yogis finally reaching their goal on the stage of “samadhi”, and it was a similar experience of going through the stages for us, but there’s a gulf of difference.

Yogis, you see, are trying to achieve perfection of their practice. They do all the hard work, and their motivation is only theirs. They want success, Krishna, the Supersoul in everyone’s heart, grants it.

Our practice is completely different. We don’t want anything from Krishna, we don’t want yogic perfection, we don’t want to enjoy our success. We simply do whatever is pleasing Him. If He wants us to chant we sit and chant but if He wants us to go and cook instead we happily get up and go, without a shred of discontent that we might miss the chance of getting the taste of the Holy Names.

We know that among various kinds of service chanting of the Holy Names is the most sublime, absolutely perfect way to reach Krishna, but we also know that our own desire to see Krishna is inferior to serving Krishna’s devotees.

Keeping that in mind I contemplated my next steps. Finally I decided to continue chanting, however imperfect. If Krishna withdrew His mercy it doesn’t mean I should stop, not at all. In my life I’ve offered plenty of service to the Lord, probably 99% of it was rejected out of hand. I don’t know how to please Him or His representatives or other devotees.

My constitutional position, however, is to keep on trying no matter what. Krishna can show me His mercy or He can break my fragile heart, He is still my eternal Lord and Master.

So I kept on chanting, and I was rewarded yet again. Comparing to my previous efforts I had far less distractions from the mind and it was far easier to bring the mind back to listening the mantra. Then I started worrying that I won’t have time to proofread my yesterday’s entry and no time to type up today’s but by Krishna’s grace it’s happening, He somehow squeezed the time. I completed the eighty rounds, just as I planned, and I have some leftovers, too!

Oh, and I noticed that my speed doesn’t drop anymore, never. It could be the achievement of my mouth and tongue but it could be my minds failure to distract me. Today my mind was just not as strong and powerful as before and couldn’t affect the rhythm.

So here it is – empirical observation of the effect of chanting the Holy Names, in a space of just a couple of days and magnified by chanting as much as possible.

It works.

Hare Krishna!