Vanity thought #1798. Jaganmithya

I have not decided what to do with this blog yet. I don’t think I’ll continue it in the current form because it doesn’t fit my “lifestyle” anymore. I wrote these articles when I was consuming a lot of information and I thought I’d regurgitate it in some Kṛṣṇa related manner and in the form of “vanity thoughts” – because I wanted to see myself posting 1000 blog entries, each over 1000 words long, and never miss a day, for example. None of these reasons exists anymore. Gone.

I’ve stopped subscription to a local newspaper and I can’t believe how much simpler my mental world has become. The newspaper provided structure, a coherent narrative which I could fill with random news bits gathered elsewhere but now this structure is gone and whenever I see something on TV or on the internet I don’t know where to put it or bother to process it and so it just goes past me. At first I thought I’d read the same news on the computer but when I scroll through my feed now I don’t want to click on many of the stories that would have been of interest to me in the past because without that supporting narrative, the structure, they are senseless. They have background that I don’t want to investigate and they’ll present conclusions I’m not interested to read.

Actually, dabbling in Sāṅkhya helps a lot here because just by looking at the headline I can see what kind of flavor the article offers and decide to decline it, or indulge, as sometimes happens. The most obvious example is BBC’s “ten things we didn’t know last week” series. It clearly offers a summary of exciting things that happened last week but since I don’t want to taste that excitement I don’t want to keep myself “updated”, no matter what the actual news were. I can’t stand any more of those “bash Trump” moments either. I don’t care what he did or didn’t do, I just don’t want to hear any of those “you can’t believe..” stories. That’s the prime example of carvita-carvaṇānām for me at the moment – chewing the chewed and still expecting some flavor to come out of it.

Lots of stuff have gone that way in the past couple of months. I don’t generally click on “this is what really happened” articles either because, for one thing, life is complicated, devil is in the details, and I don’t have the energy to investigate stuff, but, more importantly, I don’t want to taste the flavor of smugness which is usually delivered with this type of writing.

Once again, big thanks to Sāṅkhya for explaining how news stories, and this includes vaiṣṇava news as well, come not from events themselves but from desires the authors want to satisfy. Just by sensing these desires it’s easy to decide whether indulging in their manifestations is attractive or not. Once you replace reading this stuff with reading Bhāgavatam or remembrances of Śrīla Prabhupāda the attractiveness of anything else automatically fades. I hope this is what’s happening to me, too.

I might continue with covering “Mystic Universe” because there are a few areas there that I want to investigate again but I don’t know when I’ll be up for it. It’s not a pressing matter. This effort will have no effect on the chandelier model of the universe which will be presented at TOVP and even if that model will appear inadequate in some respects I have no objections because it’s not worth fretting over. The temple will be awesome, the sooner they finish it the better, and the few perceived “mistakes” here and there won’t matter much.

In the big scheme of things, nothing matters much – hence the post title. We don’t usually take these words of Śaṅkarācārya seriously but they are not wrong because they can also be found in Niralamba Upaniṣad. Whatever conclusions māyāvādīs draw from them is their problem. Everything in this world is temporary, including happiness derived from observing these temporary phenomena. This happiness is hopelessly corrupt because it is contaminated by innumerable iterations of three modes of nature acting on the moral principles of mahat-tattva, which are originally seen as “goodies” separate from and independent of the Lord. Our universe is about hundred and fifty trillion years old – that’s a lot of modifications to something that was wrong from the start.

By the standards of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam all of it is tasteless. The whole tree of the universe, from roots to fruits. One could object that a devotee sees everything in connection with Kṛṣṇa so we don’t reject this world but rather engage it in its proper function, reuniting it with the Supreme, but I’m not so sure about what it is exactly we are supposed to reunite. What if you see someone eager to enjoy separately from Kṛṣṇa, thinking “I’ve finally got something for myself and I’ll have a jolly good time with it”? I would say that these people should not be disturbed and we should definitely not try to partake in their “happiness” ourselves. I would say that what a devotee sees in this situation is Lord’s energy satisfying desires of helpless and delusional living beings.

An example of Vaṁśīdāsa Bābājī comes to mind who didn’t talk to people at all. When we engage with someone on our level of reality we assume that we are communicating with an entity which, in reality, doesn’t exist. Vaṁśīdāsa Bābājī didn’t make such assumptions and didn’t reply, he only talked to his deities and if people construed answers to their questions from his talk it was good enough for them but Vaṁśīdāsa didn’t care if they made sense of his “replies” or not. There were exceptions, of course, but that was his general behavior.

Our philosophy is subtle on this point – the world exists but it’s connected to Kṛṣṇa as His energy so it’s not correct to say that Bhāgavatam speaker does not exist, or Bhāgavatam blasphemer, for that matter, but when a jīva desires to glorify the Lord our minds should immediately get attracted and relish in the effort and when a jīva forgets the Lord and goes on about his own adventures our minds should “forget” this misguided effort, too. A jīva is not obliged to anything in this world but the Lord and has no relationships with anyone but the Lord so we are not required to interact with anything or anyone we see here. Our bodies will do this task as determined by their guṇa and karma, we should not take personal interest in these forced interactions.

Even when we see guru and devotees we should know that it’s the Lord reaching out to us through His trusted agents, and also that Lord’s messengers are integral parts of the Absolute Truth and so non-different from the Lord as well. On our current level of reality it’s the main way the Lord can reach us because we can perceive guru and devotees with our senses. Of course there’s also a deity form and the Name but the range of communications with a guru is much wider. We can’t build a relationship with the Lord, or with the Holy Name, without simultaneously building a relationship with the guru. One does not exist without the other.

As for all those other jīvas scurrying about in search of ephemeral happiness – who cares? The more we hear topics concerning the Lord from the mouths of devotees the less interest in those mundane lives we will have ourselves. This is the method to turn transcendental reality into our own experience, especially in this age. It will be wise for us to take to it wholeheartedly.

Vanity thought #1613. Propitiating news gods

Yesterday I talked about results of the British inquiry into the murder of Litvinenko. It was a work of an activist judge and from there I managed to link it to the famous criterion of Hare Kṛṣṇa popularity – vaiṣṇavism will win when judges will wear tilakas. The way justice is done these days, however, it would probably be an indictment rather than a victory.

I haven’t finished the story and I have no idea how to connect it to Kṛṣṇa today. My mind was quite agitated by report’s revelations and I think I need to put my thoughts into writing so that the gods controlling the news leave me alone. I should’t have stumbled into their territory and now they have a firm grip over my consciousness, demanding a significant share of my mind’s attention.

Anyway, the “inquiry” was more of a trial even if not legally so. The judge not only tried to determine the facts of the case but also find the perpetrators and determine their guilt. Two individuals, Lugovoi and Kovtun, were judged guilty and Russian president Putin “probably guilty”. Since it wasn’t an actual trial the judge could get away with real travesty of justice – there was no defense whatsoever and despite proclaiming the inquiry “open” it relied on classified information never seen by the public and a statement by a code named individual to the police in another country. He simply didn’t want to testify in front of the judge and there was no defense to cross examine him anyway. Also there was no jury so whatever judge liked to hear easily became “facts” and “truth”.

Maybe they are facts, who knows, but with “trials” like this Britain should never ever complain about judicial systems in the rest of the world, which they love to do whenever there’s an occasion.

Despite the guilty verdict the inquiry discovered that a lot of public information about this case was plain wrong but this was never announced and needs to be gleaned from their report itself, which is 300 pages long and therefore beyond the comprehension of an average citizen.

Litvinenko’s deathbed statement, for example, was confirmed to be a hoax, a paper typed up by his friend without any factual basis to it. The polonium that killed him could have come from anywhere and there’s no way to prove that it was from Russia. It could also be bought quite cheaply in the West. The most striking discovery in my view, however, was the background of the alleged murderers. Wikipedia still states that one of them, Kovtun, has worked for KGB. It fits the “everybody knows” theory that he was a brutal KGB trained assassin sent by Moscow. The inquiry found something entirely different.

Kovtun was drafted into Soviet army just like every other man in the country and was sent to serve in Czechoslovakia and then East Germany where he met a local woman and got married. When news came in that his unit was about to be transferred to Chechnya he deserted and fled to West Germany. He lived in Hamburg until 2003, mostly on welfare but he also supplemented his income by collecting trash and bussing tables. Eventually he was picked up by another alleged killer, Lugovoi, who was his childhood friend, and given a place by his side.

Lugovoi did work for KGB but he left in mid-nineties to start a business providing security to VIPs. He was doing very well but then his patron, Russian oligarch Boris Berezovski, fell out of favor when Putin came to power and fled from Russia to London. Lugovoi helped arrange escape of one of Berezovski’s acolytes, got caught, and spent fifteen months in jail. He then continued riding Berezovski’s coattails and that’s how he got to know Litvinenko, the victim. They met numerous times and Litvinenko didn’t suspect him to be his killer at all.

After the murder Lugovoi became a minor celebrity in Russia and appeared on TV. He then used his newly found popularity to get elected as an MP for the opposition party. The end. Does he look like James Bond, a KGB trained assassin? I bet if this biography was presented to the jury they would dismiss him as a potential suspect. Litvinenko himself pointed to a different man, an Italian, of whom I know nothing and don’t want to learn any more.

Litvinenko’s brother told the media last week that Russia had nothing to do with the murder and that KGB/FSB didn’t care about him at all. His work there didn’t involve any classified information, he wasn’t a spy, and no one cared what he had to say.

These days when we talk about defectors and intelligence gathered from various dissidents we point to Iraq and how they all screamed about WMD’s there. It was all lies designed to impress their western handlers and talk up their own value. They probably learned this method from Russians, however, who played this trick over and over again for a decade before Iraqi debacle.

Just last year, when Russian opposition politician was murdered right outside Kremlin the media said that the motive was his explosive investigation into Russian involvement in Ukraine. A couple of months later his paper came out, compiled by his friends from his notes, but no one bothered to report on it because it was a dud.

Same thing was with Litvinenko. Maybe Russian FSB did blow apartment buildings themselves to blame it on Chechens but by 2006 when Litvinenko was murdered Chechens had already committed a long list of despicable acts of terrorism and no one would taken claims that their were innocent seriously. They held a theater hostage, they held a hospital hostage, including a maternity ward, they had a school hostage, though some of these acts might have happened later, I don’t remember.

Anyway, the inquiry was a joke but it was meant to influence public opinion, not seek actual justice, and to satisfy judge’s ego, too. And now I hope gods of news are satisfied and I will never have to revisit this subject again. I don’t know who the real murderer was, just one quick look at the report shows an unmanageable number of details. Maybe Lugovoi and Kovtun did it, I don’t care, I’m just appalled at how justice is done in the UK.

Last offering to gods – I’ve also watched a video compilation of Hillary Clinton’s flip-flops on several issues and I actually came to trust the woman. I know she almost certainly lies when he mouth moves and that every thing she says is meant to brainwash the listeners but she is consistent in that and therefore predictable. She WILL make mistakes and she WILL deny making them. She has her own warped version of reality that she presents everywhere but behind that she is just a woman. Maybe I’m being sexist but I believe that is a fact. I mean it’s a typical female behavior – never admit to anything and always turn everything in your own favor. Even when you approach her in full confidence that now you finally nailed her she’ll still manage to make you feel guilty. At heart, however, women know they are wrong and they know they are vulnerable and they do want to do the right thing, everything else is just fluff.

Finally, the gods of news were favorable to me and directed me to the latest Bernie Sanders’ campaign ad. I don’t want to comment on its content but at 9 second mark there’s a face of a Hare Kṛṣṇa devotee there, so I’ll leave you with that:


Vanity thought #1606. More of the same

It’s weekend and I habitually paid more attention to the news than usual. The election season in the US is approaching its first primaries. They’ve been at it for almost a year and it’s still almost a year to go. In the UK the entire election is done in six weeks but Americans love to drag theirs out. Perhaps it’s because elections are a big business and so they need almost two years to milk their donors dry and spend all their money. Six weeks is a joke from the financial POV, there’s no profit in such short elections.

Elsewhere sanctions on Iran have been lifted while Saudis are stirring a regional crisis there, as if they don’t have enough on their hands with ISIS, Syria, and Yemen. There is a World Economic Forum in Davos where rich cats make lofty promises to the public but god knows what they agree among themselves. If you read zerohedge there are lots of theories on what’s going on behind the scenes, maybe not at Davos itself but in general. Russians sell their oil for cheap, their ruble crashed, and yet they are also buying gold while it’s cheap in the same dollars they sell their oil for. Essentially, they are trading oil for gold, which sounds like a clever long game but who knows if they can outlast the market. No major news there.

Terrorists attacks are everywhere – Indonesia, Burkina Faso, Pakistan, it’s becoming a new normal and fails to trigger worldwide outrage anymore. So far every reaction propagated in the media is to stand united against terrorism but this also means diving the world into us and them. The obvious result is that “we” talk to ourselves and “they” don’t listen anymore. Communications are broken and the only solution is violence.

In my local Saturday’s paper there was a nice juxtaposition of an editorial on the problem with greying population and a letter condemning Catholic opposition to condoms. I half thought of writing them a letter about it myself.

The editorial said all the right things backed up by global surveys and population projections. It wasn’t only about decline in birth rates but also about breaking down family traditions. Something like 60% of people think that supporting the elderly is a government’s job. 20% think that they should support themselves, and only less than 10% think that elderly should be supported but their children.

Just think about it for a second – only one in ten people thinks that it’s his duty to support his father and mother in their old age. Nine out of ten want to dump their parents. What is the world coming to? I don’t even want to look up the exact numbers, it could be even worse – these responsible 10% might be all from Africa or Asia with the West being closer to zero.

I also suppose they’ve asked mostly adults who are not retired themselves yet and who have their own children, those who are in between generations. Their attitude towards their parents is a payback and their attitude towards their children reflects modern values and their attitude to sex, which was the subject of the letter that caught my attention.

Widespread use of contraception is the main reason that changed sex from procreational activity into a recreational one. Raising responsible children who would carry on family legacy was people’s main goal in life and sex was only augmenting it. Now sex has taken the center stage and raising children has become almost like a hobby – if you have time and money go for it, by all means, but in this economy it’s just too expensive.

When sex itself is the goal children become bothersome and people can’t wait to offload them to college so that they can have time for themselves. No wonder those who were raised in such families are not going to support their parents in return, let the government do it or whoever.

The thing is, savings rates aren’t that high and while twenty-thirty years ago people could retire with their golden nest, these days they only have credit card debts. Obama is talking about unprecedented period of job creation but data shows that the only people who work more are the fifty year olds, and the jobs that are being created are part-time positions for those who need a second job, and they are mostly unskilled and low paid.

What will happen to these people when they can’t work anymore? The West hasn’t seen this kind of crisis yet, there’s no experience of dealing with it. Western economic miracle happened when birth rates were two three times higher than now, the societies were coasting on that success ever since but the party is clearly coming to an end. Good times are over and they are not going to return, there are no drivers for positive change while the challenges grow every day.

But back to contraception – the idea was to extract more pleasure from sex and people are convinced it worked but did it really? Are they sexually more satisfied then our ancestors? Do they have more sex than a hundred years ago? They surely have more sex with strangers but definitely less in marriages – mostly because they are not even married.

That’s the thing – when sex was a physical expression of a union between dedicated partners it only augmented their love. Now they stripped their relationships of deeper meaning and are left with simply tickling their bodily sensors. People who were in deep relationship feel that sex without love is empty and is not better, it’s of lower quality and it’s a poor substitute, it just doesn’t satisfy the soul.

And then they have porn that made even their sensors numb. Maybe it felt good in the beginning but after a while they can’t derive physical pleasure from it anymore and they compensate by quantity, and it reduces their chances of having deep, meaningful relationships with opposite sex even further.

So, I would argue that in the long run contraception has not improved sexual lives and it definitely destroyed the family institution. They didn’t think it through and went for the short term benefits and now it’s coming back for them big time. And that is strictly from the material point of view, there’s no question of any spiritual progress for these sex addicts at all.

Without spirituality they are becoming just like animals – slaves to their mind and senses with no clue that there’s a bigger world out there. Ironically, they call it “evolution”. Evolution towards what? They can’t even maintain their standards of sense gratification and both their food and their sex have become tasteless. Everything is “new and improved” but after several iterations it becomes worse than the original.

I just realized that I haven’t mentioned Kṛṣṇa today at all. Well, personally, He has nothing to do with this Kali Yuga world and these people are drifting further and further away from Him and His service. I wish I could preach to them but I’m stuck on convincing myself that we are right and they are wrong. There was another disturbing development in this regard but I’ll talk about it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1554. Baskin Robbins

For two days I was speaking about rasa derived from reading the news. At one point I said that it must be rejected while at another time I said that we have no choice but to engage in relishing these rasas, albeit in connection to Kṛṣṇa. Well, not in connection with Kṛṣṇa personally, of course, but in connection with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, activities of the devotees etc.

This rasa thing, however, goes deeper than news, it’s all around us, and experiencing these rasas is our primary motivator in this world. I’d say when we talk about desires we mean we want rasa, so dealing with rasa is the same as dealing with desires – they need to be directed to Kṛṣṇa, not given up altogether. However, it’s not a simple, fit all solution – some desires need to be purified, some forgotten, some replaced.

Maybe nothing gets forgotten forever but some desires need to be rejected altogether for the moment, like the desire to inflict pain on others. Cruelty feels good but we don’t have a ready substitution for it in our daily practice. I mean Kṛṣṇa conscious practice, in our daily lives we enjoy subtle forms of cruelty very often, and if you watch the news there are plenty of people in the world who like to subjugate and torture people. The possibility of such attraction is there but we should not let it inside our heads, ie forget about it.

Rasa means different things in different disciplines, in mundane sense it means juice or tree sap, in Auyrveda it refers to medicine, in Vedic philosophy it means essense, but in Kṛṣṇa consciousness it means relationships with the Lord. The kind of rasa I’m talking about here has nothing to do with juices or medicine, of course, but it has nothing to do with devotion either.

There’s an ancient art of Vedic drama, Nāṭyaśāstra, and it has a section on rasa where it means human emotions elicited through theatrical performances. This is probably the closest to what I mean but it would be difficult to define emotions appealed to by news writers according to Nāṭyaśāstra classification. There are also further developments to that classification added by later authors, respected in that tradition but ignored by vaiṣṇavas. In fact, in our Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism we ignore Nāṭyasāstra, too.

Some say that Rūpa Gosvāmī took his rasa teachings from there but this theory is advanced by suspicious characters, not authoritative devotees. As far as I can tell, the source of it is one Graham Schweig, a wannabe yogī who rose through the ranks of academia, too. He is surely a knowledgeable man but that does not qualify one to speak on devotion and certainly not to interpret the minds of our ācāryas like Rūpa Gosvāmī.

This idea of putting Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism in historical context and seeing it as an evolutionary step in Indian thought is quite attractive but it needs to be rejected. Rūpa Gosvāmī learned the science of devotional rasa from Lord Caitanya and Lord Caitanya described it as pertaining to the spiritual world. It takes a certain kind of atheist to implicitly reject Lord Caitanya’s divinity and suggest that he actually stole His teachings from Nāṭyaśāstra (and books like Gītā-Govinda on the transcendental eroticism).

This kind of atheism is common in ex-ISKCON circles, however. Deprived of Prabhupāda’s mercy and, therefore, genuine spiritual progress, they explain our teachings in terms they can understand themselves, which are empiric in nature – historical evidence and its speculative interpretations. They can’t accept that either Lord Caitanya or Six Gosvāmīs had genuine spiritual visions, they insist that it was all reinterpretation of existing works. Ordinary devotees simply don’t know the real roots but these “scholars” have discovered where Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism really comes from.

They can speculate all they want but we should not let ourselves affected by their atheistic association. There are obvious objections to their theory even on empirical grounds – Rūpa Gosvāmī never acknowledged taking science of rasa from Nāṭyasāstra, never mentioned later authors like Kashmiri Śaiva Abhinavagupta, and his classification of rasa is entirely different. All our rasas are expressions of bhakti but bhakti has no place in Nāṭyaśāstra and was suggested later as a rasa of its own. Nāṭyaśāstra also speaks of seven primary rasas that are totally different from our five. You can have a look at how another ex-ISKCON devotee tries to fit it altogether here. It’s another speculative effort but it illustrates my point, makes certain sense, and it doesn’t reduce our ācāryas to plagiarism, even though the author is probably the biggest offender in describing them as products of their age. Just look how he tries to define progression from śānta to madhurya as stages in one’s material life. That’s not where rasas arise from.

The one interesting aspect of Nāṭyaśāstra is that it describes mundane rasas in terms of presiding deities and colors. It’s exactly what I need, even though I don’t trust its conclusions. The rasas we seek in the world are defined by guṇas – that’s why colors and deities. You mix a bit of this with a bit of that and get a complex flavor. It is beyond me to reduce the entire range of our emotions to three primary qualities of nature but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be the case. Combinations of the three guṇas are the source of both colors and deities, after all.

I bet the three guṇas can explain Baskin Robbins, too, but that’s not what we should be wasting out time on. It is possible and that’s all that we need to know.

Having all this in mind it’s easy to see how we get attracted to various mundane rasas – according to the influence of the guṇas we seek certain kind of shelter, in goodness, passion, or ignorance, but the tricky part is in connecting these emotions to Kṛṣṇa. There are no material guṇas there, there’s no equivalent of goodness or passion, there’s no ignorance. Surely, material guṇas have their ultimate source in the spiritual world, too, but that’s not a connection open to our understanding, let alone practical application.

We don’t have the experience of spiritual rasas yet and so we can’t express our mundane emotions in spiritual terms, as reflection of our spiritual feelings, and that’s why there’s nothing particularly wrong with rejecting these material experiences altogether. The way we perceive them now they are fully material and thus have no place in spiritual life.

Yes, they need to be purified and the only means for that we know of is somehow or other connecting them to Kṛṣṇa but it’s this presence of Kṛṣṇa, either as a thought or as a name, that is important, not the presence of emotions. We should not aspire to enjoy them and so should not waste time on seeking them. Somehow or other they will come as awarded by our karma, we don’t have to make separate efforts for it.

It’s the same answer Śrīla Prabhupāda once gave about teachings of Queen Kuntī. She prayed for calamities, devotees asked, so shouldn’t we pray for calamities, too? No need, said Prabhupāda, they will come on their own, don’t worry about it.

That’s why when I flick through ostensibly devotional news trying to steal my attention with promises of mundane feelings I tell myself “Do not bite, do not give in to this type of pleasure, do not let the mind indulge in it.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this solution, and I didn’t think it up, it came on its own and it’s already there. Maybe it’s driven by false renunciation but when such indulgence is supported by “It’s all about Kṛṣṇa” it stinks of sahajiyā. Kṛṣṇa is not present in mundane emotions just as he is not present in sex orgies imitating rasa līlā.

Forget the explanations, these rasas are meant for our own enjoyment, not Kṛṣṇa’s, and that’s why they fully deserve to be rejected, too.

Vanity thought #1554. Mining for transcendental gems

Yesterday I complained about mundane flavors emanating from outwardly vaiṣṇava news and articles. This is unavoidable and, in fact, it’s absolutely necessary for our purification, so there’s nothing to complain or criticize there.

We are attracted by rasa, our mind and senses are simply instruments in this enjoyment. As devotees we need to connect this experience of rasa with Kṛṣṇa, pretty much like we need to offer food and then consume it as prasādam. We are not renunciates in the common sense of the word – we do not reject the world and all the feelings and emotions that come with it, we only need to connect them with Kṛṣṇa, and places like Dandavats provide a platform for the rasas concerned with news and politics.

Instead of complaining and rejecting it we shouldn’t have it any other way. Yesterday I said that I don’t read it anymore, which is a rejection, so I obviously need to defend or explain this choice. There’s an explanation but I’ll leave it for another day. What interests me today is real spiritual gems found there that can’t be found anywhere else.

Take this assignment given to Satsvarūpa Dāsa Gosvāmī – to write daily meditations on Śrīla Prabhupāda from now (started in October) until the end of the next year. It’s a massive undertaking, if you think about it, and I was surprised that Mahārāja felt physically up to it and agreed to take it on. When I was reading Satsvarūpa Gosvāmī’s daily blog a few years ago I was under the impression that his health was really bad and his mind was gradually losing its clarity.

He wasn’t become senile, he aged beautifully, with all vestiges of material life being daily squeezed out of his consciousness. All that was left was devotion to Kṛṣṇa and Prabhupāda and it couldn’t be constrained by the limitations of his body. I thought he was on the verge of entering into samādhi, with all his bodily functions reduced to a minimum so as not to interrupt his meditation. Apparently, it didn’t happen yet and Mahārāja still does a lot of writing and painting. Maybe Kṛṣṇa needed his body in good working order so that he could write these wonderful Prabhupāda meditations.

Whatever I said earlier about mundane rasas seeping out of our devotional articles is inapplicable here. There’s absolutely nothing selfish and enjoyable in these meditations. There’s nothing to feel great about like when someone else is writing about meeting celebrities or building tallest temples or becoming famous by holding Ratha Yatras. There’s nothing that could please ourselves, only what could please guru and Kṛṣṇa.

Satsvarūpa Maharaja’s submissions are completely devoid of mundane rasa and at the same time filled with nectar. It’s the nectar of Prabhupāda’s pastimes, nectar of Prabhupāda’s devotion, nectar of complete and selfless dedication to the mission of guru and Lord Caitanya. We are not invited to enjoy ourselves but to partake in the enjoyment of our spiritual superiors, which is ultimately Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. There are so many rasas added on the way, too – by Prabhupāda, by his guru Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, and especially by Lord Caitanya who gave us the nectar of saṅkīrtana.

This illustrates how spiritual life is full of rasa but none of it is ours, it’s all Kṛṣṇa’s and His devotees’. We foolishly think that we can use the same rasa for our own pleasure and be better off. We indulge in sex life, we stuff our faces with food, we play music with headphones on so that it’s strictly for our enjoyment, we think it will work, and yet it doesn’t. All these gratifications are incomparably small to the rasa we get to experience in serving Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure instead of our own.

Unfortunately, most of the time we are locked out of experiencing it. It’s very very rare to have someone extend us an invitation and share the nectar of his own service. Mahārāja does it extremely well here, I can’t imagine how anyone would fail to appreciate it, thought I suppose there are people so full of envy and ignorance that it would go straight past them. If we presented it to them they’d say “Challenge accepted” and proceed to criticize Mahārāja’s writings, which will eternally deprive them of any spiritual advancement. These topics should be presented only to a qualified audience.

Some of these meditations are thought provoking and deserve discussing in detail, I might use them as a springboard in the future posts here.

Another gem, actually, a category of gems, is this article by Indadyumna Svāmī about disappearance of his mother. Indradyumna Mahārāja has contributed plenty of spiritually inspiring stuff where he doesn’t simply share happenings in his life but rather his devotional interpretations of them. I think it’s his disciples who contribute the best of his articles on his Traveling Monk blog. They are not stories about what happened in his travels but rather stories of Kṛṣṇa showing mercy to people around him, one soul at a time. Sometimes it’s about places that inspire people to worship God but mostly it’s about people and their personal spiritual discoveries.

Hmm, the blog is called TRAVELING Monk but it’s not about traveling to places, it’s about traveling to people. It just so happens that to inspire these transformations Mahārāja has to move his physical body from one corner of the Earth to another. And because he has no interest in his personal experiences and how this traveling makes HIM feel he doesn’t share any mundane rasas, he only shares people’s excitement from meeting Kṛṣṇa.

This time he didn’t have to travel, however, his previous preaching work caught up with him. He tried to introduce his mother to Kṛṣṇa consciousness all his devotional life but without any success, she was too “rational” to surrender to a deity. Then she got cancer.

It changes people’s outlook on life and forces them to re-evaluate their most basic assumptions. Often they start taking it far more seriously than us with our years of chanting but little progress. This realization that body has become unreliable and we need to seek other means of existence is very powerful, it doesn’t usually happen to healthy people. It’s like the illusion is suddenly pulled out from under our feet. We, the healthy, can’t see this illusion for what it is yet, we can’t imagine the world in which our bodies do not provide shelter, we haven’t left bodily consciousness yet.

Indradyumna Mahārāja’s mother was lucky. She got a fair warning and the means of liberation, thanks to her devotee son. I hope the same thing happens to my mother, too, but so far there’s little indication she is going to take Kṛṣṇa consciousness seriously. She still considers it a foreign religion, she’s got to stay with her people and be Christian. I’d rather her try to become a Christian now, see that it’s practically useless, and then get a serious religion when the time comes. So far she seems to be leaving it all for the last moment.

Anyway, the point was that there are some very enlightening stories among piles of not very enlightening ones, and these stories won’t appear anywhere else but on devotional sites, and not on any sites but only on those that are authorized by Prabhupāda’s representatives – GBC. Any site that doesn’t have Prabhupāda’s authorization can’t produce anything of spiritual value, just mental constructions as poor substitutes. This is getting a bit sectarian and I don’t want to argue about it today, but it’s the basic fact of spiritual life – it awakens only by the mercy of the guru and not by any other means.

Vanity thought #1553. Encroachment

Yesterday I complained about the quality of present day news, sometimes it’s unbearable. Media proprietors know that people will always be interested in hearing the news and they shamelessly exploit this human weakness to advance their own agenda. There must be a special hell for that.

Turns out that there is! It’s called Avīcimat (SB 5.26.28). It’s for those who serve their own interests by lying. They are repeatedly thrown off the top of a mountain into this waterless hell where stones only resemble the water. Their bodies break into pieces but they don’t die and are lifted up the mountain again and again.

I’m not sure anyone takes these descriptions seriously these days, though. As devotees we are sure it won’t happen to us, we don’t sense the danger of being in hell, none whatsoever, and the materialists simply brush off these warnings as mythology. There are moments in people’s lives, however, when they get a preview of what is coming and it scares the hell out of them. I don’t think they get the visuals, just a strong feeling that something very bad is going to happen. On one hand these moments are extremely rare, on the other hand we can always count on the Lord nudging them from within. He can equally inspire and frighten and it’s this Lord’s cooperation that we should rely on in our preaching.

Usually, I scroll down the list of RSS feeds or daily news digests, I read the headlines, take the note of accompanying images, maybe glance at a few words of introduction. Normally it’s enough to quickly decide if the story is worth reading, whether it’s complete garbage, or whether it’s one of those propaganda pieces. Everyone knows how to do that but I’m describing it here because we also learn to detect something else – base human interests the stories appeal to, and these are becoming increasingly important for me when sorting through news articles.

BBC, for example, puts out “Quiz of the week” articles that tease people to test their knowledge of the news. This temptation is hard to resist for some people, they want to know how they are doing with news reading, how strong their memories are, how deep their understanding. It’s not about actual news anymore, it’s about self-perception, and it works all the time. “Ten things we didn’t know last week” is another type of such articles. It’s not about knowing stuff anymore but about keeping with Joneses – people are afraid to miss something that “everybody knows” now, doesn’t matter what.

Most stories are a lot more subtle but they all try to make themselves interesting and clickable by making emotional appeals. Some appeal to sex, some appeal to people’s interest in celebrities, some appeal to the sense of justice, some want to channel the outrage, some appeal to macho audience, nowadays everybody must get something for himself emotionally, not just the information. They try different types of presentations – professional, explosive, sharing insights, sharing good feelings, sharing pain. Some appear as academic writing so that whoever reads them feel themselves extra smart, too.

Watching myself sorting through the news I realize how important this flavor, the emotional scent of the article, is for me when deciding whether to accept or reject it. Often times I don’t even parse the meaning but spot only these emotional clues. Why I’m talking about this? Because I notice the same thing going on on vaiṣṇava news sites, too.

We don’t have it as bad regarding content, of course – next to world events our problems are incomparably small, stakes are lower and lies are practically innocent, but if we fine tune ourselves to what is and what should not be acceptable in a vaiṣṇava world our emotions can run pretty high, too. Our reaction to it is to disallow any discussion at all, because nothing good comes out of these shouting matches. Some moderate the comments, others simply don’t provide the facilities, and yet in other cases devotees themselves stay away leaving discussions one sided in their own echo chamber. I think it shows our overall maturity – let’s read only what matters, or if you want to say something you should put more effort into it than typing up a few angry words and submit it as a genuine article.

Emotionally, however, we are just as bad, which makes our fights storms in a teacup. Somebody seems to deviate from Śrīla Prabhupāda in his preaching. Did he say something philosophically unacceptable? No, but this is not how Prabhupāda did things, and it’s enough to start a word wide smear campaign. Right now “Krishna West” is under fire, for example. I wanted to type “Krishna” with diacritics as I usually do here but it would be against Krishna West philosophy.

Our news stories are very diverse, they come from all corners of the world, have all kinds of backgrounds, mention all kinds of names. This makes parsing their emotional content a lot easier than parsing their factual meanings. Scrolling down Dandavats, for example, I must quickly determine the flavor of the story and there are several major types there, just as there are in the mundane world.

Someone passed away, the reader is encouraged to share the feeling of loss and also memories of something good regarding that person. They might just as well have a template for these stories, substituting only names, places, and particular achievements. Someone died and went back to Kṛṣṇa, who wouldn’t want to read about that? I don’t, I admit. Most of the time these stories suck you deep into the background and history, you need to find out more about that passed devotee, find out about his character, his service, his devotion. It is not a waste of time but it is also impossible to do considering how often these news appear nowadays.

Then there are reports of some preaching programs. Ratha Yatra here, food distribution there, temples open, devotees preach in jails etc. It’s obviously important to those who actually experienced these programs and they feel elated but every time I tried to read about it I feel like they are sharing their own feelings, not Kṛṣṇa’s. What’s important there is what happened to THEM. I admit that I’m equally selfish but what happens to them doesn’t happen to me and so I just skip these news over.

There are also articles pretending to be scholarly. “Understanding that a hierarchical concept of reality characterizes the Gita can help us see coherence of the Gita’s message.” The fact that I’m able to parse the meaning of this sentence makes me feel smart already. Maybe it’s not pretending, maybe it IS scholarly, and maybe on some occasions I would bite and see if there are any good ideas in there, but the scholarly flavor in unmistakable and sometimes I’m just not in the mood for indulging in it. Sometimes I just can’t parse what appears to be academically sounding garbage at all, apparently our devotees have learned how to pad one paragraph ideas with hundreds of unnecessary words. Some relish this kind of reading, too, but not me, thank god.

What I’m saying is that his news business encroachment into vaiṣṇava affairs is disheartening. All these emotional appeals are pandering. Ideally, they should have no place in our discussions at all, we should speak only about Kṛṣṇa, but I don’t know how to do achieve that either. What I do know is that after scrolling through Dandavats I feel like being cheated and emotionally abused, not spiritually surcharged, and that’s why I practically stopped reading that site altogether, which is sad.

Not all is lost, however, but more on that tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1552. News barrage

Ever since the deadly attacks in Paris a couple of weeks ago newspapers have been filled with stories and opinion pieces about terrorism. Is any of it worth reading, though? This kind of topics used to titillate me but now I think I’m transitioning onto a stage where I gradually withdraw from news consumption. For one thing, I think it’s a more mature position to take because as devotees we shouldn’t be spending time on politics and wars but the horrible quality of today’s news helps the withdrawal, too.

Śrīla Prabhupāda wasn’t a news junkie but he was familiar with major developments of the day, especially from his household years. He had views on Hitler, for example, which are now considered controversial but reflect the general knowledge of Indian society of those days. He also had his own theory about the role of Gandhi’s non-violence in winning Indian independence, he insisted it’s the threat from Bose’s army that convinced the British, not Gandhi. Vaṁśidāsa Bābājī, on the other hand, was blissfully unaware of any of those things. Once, during his pilgrimage to Vṛndāvana, he was repeatedly asked about possible outcome of the WWII and Vaṁśīdāsa simply didn’t know there was a war, nor he cared to know about it.

Both approaches are acceptable in our movement. As preachers we need to know stuff so that we can connect with people but as devotees we also have to remain aloof and as detached as possible. Quality of our preaching does not depend on knowledge of worldly affairs and, as I have seen myself, best saṅkīrtana devotees used absolutely trivial ways to unlock people’s hearts, they certainly didn’t need to read newspapers to preach.

For some people news are hard to resist, however. Men are traditionally prone to discussing politics and having strong opinions even if they have absolutely no effect on real life. These days women are catching up fast, too. Politics was also one of the subjects taught to Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, and the Pāṇḍavas were familiar with politics, too. Uddhava, Kṛṣṇa dearmost devotee in Dvārakā, was especially adept at diplomacy. Swimming and wrestling are called vaiṣṇava sports and politics shouldn’t be too far behind, it’s important part of society’s life and if we want to change society for the better it’s unavoidable.

Having said that, the interest in politics has nothing to do with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, it’s spiritually unhealthy but since it’s already there it needs to be engaged and purified. In most cases, for people with no direct political responsibilities, it should probably be abandoned. I’m one of such people, can’t wait to shake it off.

As I said, the quality of today’s news is atrocious. My local paper keeps printing opinion pieces and editorials on the fate of journalism as a profession but then they mindlessly fill their pages with syndicated drivel. The contrarian views found on the internet are even worse, however, and if one wants to find what has actually happened he needs to trawl too many resources to count. It is still humanly possible but I bet for the vast majority of the population it’s not worth the effort anymore. Thinking for oneself is not as easy as it sounds and takes too much time and energy which otherwise could be spend to flicking through instagram images and facebook videos.

Speaking of Facebook – they’ve lately surpassed Youtube for the number of watched videos. It’s not that people watch more videos there, though, it’s just that Facebook puts more of them into people’s timeline and it puts them on autoplay. If people pause for three seconds before they scroll down to the next newsfeed item Facebook counts the video as watched. It’s just tricky accounting.

Speaking of accounting – the whole financial world awaits next month interest hike in the US. It is actually a pretty big thing because interest rates have been near zero since the 2008 crisis. In normal days this fact would undermine the notion of “economic recovery” but these are not normal days, people have been brainwashed to accept outrageous policies and react in the ways opposite to normal. Traditionally, printing money would lead to devaluation of the currency but the way “quantitative easing” was presented to the public, even to the financial world, the opposite has happened – dollar became only stronger. More dollars makes them more valuable, go figure.

They also changed the ways to count unemployed so that it appears that the US economy is in full employment. They don’t talk that labor participation rate, how many people are part of the labor force, is on the level of the seventies when stay at home housewives were still common. Now women are proud of the ability to have careers but the overall employment is still the same.

So they managed to put together some rosy numbers but the public is still not buying it when they look at their own life prospects. Somehow people’s confidence dropped like a brick in the latest surveys, and the government can’t figure out why because everything looks so good on paper, ready for the December interest rate “lift off”, as they say.

I don’t know what will happen but they can’t postpone it any longer because not lifting rates would undermine confidence of financial markets in the US ability to manage their economy. If financial markets suddenly realize that US authorities are completely out of touch with the reality and have no idea what’s going in the real world then we’ll have another meltdown similar to the discovery of toxic loans back in 2008. Some pundits are already hedging themselves just in case there’s another crisis so they’d get their names in the news as the ones who predicted it.

My biggest disappointment, however, has been the coverage of the “war on ISIS”. It makes an absolute mockery of the affair. French have been cheering their homegrown jihadis when they went to fight for democracy in Syria for years, long before ISIS was a thing. Then it backfired on them spectacularly but all the media wants us to believe is that it’s all ISIS’ fault, as if there is no terrorism outside of that organization.

Russia is not fighting ISIS, media tells us, they are not pulling their weight, they should join the coalition. Obama chimed in with similarly dismissive attitude, too. What nobody explains, however, is why after only one month of non-bombing ISIS the terrorists responded by blowing up a Russian airplane. Somehow after over a year of being bombed by sixty countries it’s Russia they decided to retaliate against. Or maybe that plane was blown up by “moderate” Syrian rebels who, by all media accounts, bore the brunt of Russian onslaught.

Then, of course, there is the story of a Russian SU-24 bomber shot down by a Turkish F16. Russians intruded into Turkish airspace, Turkey claims. Maybe so, but Turkey itself intrudes into Greek airspace THOUSANDS times a year. Russians were also playing up Turkey’s response to downing of their own plane in Syria just a couple of years ago – it wasn’t justified, Turkey cried then. Western media, however, didn’t cover this aspect at all, as far as I can tell.

Perhaps the ugliest part of this story is shooting the pilot as he was parachuting down from a burning airplane. This is specifically prohibited by Geneva convention as a war crime and it was Russians who replayed US State Department comment that rebels killed this pilot in “self-defense”. Turkey said that Russians were attacking moderate rebels in the area but there’s nothing moderate about shooting a defenseless pilot, even ISIS doesn’t do that. To be fair, the rebels who captured the wounded pilot did want to try him and then burn him in a cage, just as ISIS did to a captured Jordanian pilot earlier, but then they decided to simply kill him. In some aspects ISIS looks even more civilized than these “moderates”. Oh, and the leader of this group turned out to be not only a Turkish citizen but a son of a Turkish politician. You won’t find this in syndicated news either.

Somehow things are changing, however slowly. Our Tulsi Gabbard have been campaigning against this travesty of justice that Washington presents as American policy on Syria. Turkish support for ISIS is going to be curtailed, too. Last I heard the US demands that Turkey closed the part of the border which is used to travel to ISIS held territories, and that would include the oil trade and delivery of aid supplies, too. Turkey last week imprisoned two journalists who found weapons being transported under the guise of humanitarian aid. Haven’t seen it in my newspaper either but this news is quite popular elsewhere, pretty much a common knowledge now.

And then there are American elections. What was reported in my local paper is puzzlement expressed by various fact checkers that politicians do not seem to care about lying at all, and when caught they, instead of apologizing, keep insisting on the same lie without any shame. They completely separate themselves from reality, facts don’t matter, it’s the impressions made on people that make all the difference.

Lastly, Ukraine got in the news, too. On Sunday they had elections in Mariupol, a place where pro-Russian separatists advance halted a year ago but sporadic fighting and mutual shelling there never stopped since. Embarrassingly for Ukraine, 66% of the population voted for the candidates from the former president’s party (which was legally dissolved iirc) – pretty much against Maidan revolution and for separatism. In today’s Washington Post there’s also an article about substandard equipment supplied by the US to Ukrainian army as military aid – they’ve got Humvees from the 80s and bulletproof vests that Americans themselves dropped a decade ago. As one official explained it – we’ve got no use for this stuff ourselves so we sent it to Ukraine. Such support, so commitment.

Perhaps I’m missing something important but I believe these examples are enough to demonstrate my point that following the news is a giant waste of time, unless you are prepared to invest this time to find what’s really going on in the world. Why would we need to know this, however? The mere fact that the media shamelessly manipulates the public opinion should be enough to turn away from the whole thing in disgust, and I’m not talking about conspiracy nuts who knew this fact all along but about general population who, I sense, is about to give up, too. Traditionally this means that preaching should receive a boost. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Vanity thought #1300. Rabbit food

Theres’s something charming about writing letters to your local newspaper in this internet age. I suppose no one actually writes letters but sends e-mails but still. Most of the newspapers have plenty of space for comments on their websites but also keep “Letters to the editor” section, out of respect for tradition, I guess. There are plenty of correspondents, too, and the general level of conversation is a couple notches better than in cheap, throwaway comments, it’s moderated much heavier, lots of letters get rejected, and so all in all it appears much more civil than anything else you read on the internet.

Not that the arguments themselves are any better, just better worded, often wittier, and more charming overall. It’s also probably the only space for people with love for old-fashioned prose to showcase their verbosity. They have no place on twitter, obviously, and would be laughed off any pure internet platform, letter section is exactly what they need to survive and I, for one, am glad that the humanity hasn’t lost one of its species completely yet.

In short, I like reading it.

The other day someone rekindled the old vegetarian debate in my local paper and added a somewhat new dimension to it. Usually it was about two sides listing various studies and statistics to prove their point but this time a meat eater added a bit of his own experience with a twist.

He had written that he just completed a two weak meditation retreat where they were fed “rabbit food” and it taught him one important lesson – vegetarian diet makes meat tastes even better, especially when paired with good wine.

I was incensed, I might even write a reply, though we have enough outspoken vegetarians to refute arguments like that, but then I realized that I was still thinking in clichés.

It’s okay to call our diet “rabbit food”, it’s a cheap shot that shouldn’t register with devotees at all. Vegans with their kale, carrots, and soy substitutes for everything are a better target. I, myself, hate soy milk, it tastes like paper and I like reading mine in the morning, not having it blended into a shake. That’s how they make soymilk, I understand – grind beans into powder and then mix it with water, but I digress.

This reaction from a meateater is actually a good case study in learning how karma works.

The main point that he made, even if unspoken, was that he ate his steak but the Earth didn’t open up and swallowed him, so it’s okay. This is the very first and totally expected reaction from both meateaters and vegetarians alike – karma is supposed to punish these sins and since it doesn’t it either doesn’t exist or eating meat is not sinful. Vegetarian answer to this problem is patience and statistics, not necessarily a deeper thought into the nature of karma as a law.

First of all, there WILL be punishment of some kind. Every actions brings a reaction, what we eat influences our life in many different ways. We can’t prove that there’s a hell awaiting meateaters in the next life but we can be sure that there WILL be a reaction, even if not as bad as described in the śāstra. We shouldn’t worry too much about it not being immediate and not being up to our expected standards.

That’s the first lesson about karma we should learn here – as a law of nature it’s impersonal and indifferent to our desires. It doesn’t exist to help us feel self-righteous. It doesn’t exist to prove our faith in God. It doesn’t exist to bring us instant gratification. It doesn’t care about expectations and our time frames in any way. It just is, it rolls over on its own, taking its sweet time without a care for those subjected to its rulings. It doesn’t care for those who want to rush it and it surely doesn’t care for those who want to postpone it. When it finally comes around it’s inescapable. No mercy, no negotiations, just cold justice.

As devotees we can try to make a deal with it, or rather with Kṛṣṇa who can change our karmic reactions, but we are doing it out of ignorance and general lack of realization. Our karma should have absolutely no effect on our devotion. As neophytes we can’t avoid it in the beginning but it shouldn’t take long to realize that our goal, unalloyed devotion, should be as indifferent to karma as karma is indifferent to us.

Secondly, the worst part about committing a sin is not a reaction but growing attachment to committing it again and again. People do not indulge in sinful activities just to prove that hell doesn’t exist. Most of the time sin feels good, there is a certain taste in it, and people love it. Try it once, try it twice, and you got yourself a habit. After some time this habit becomes impossible to break and that’s when people become hopelessly trapped.

It’s not the reaction to one little steak that one should worry about. Actually, it would already be pretty bad but atheists won’t accept this argument on faith. They say that they can handle whatever comes from eating one steak and so let’s play along. It’s not this one steak but all the steaks that will be consumed in the future as a result of developing a habit that would kill you.

It’s like somebody dashing across a multi-lane highway and surviving – it feels great, sure, and you probably have saved yourself some time, and you probably feel confident that you can do it again and it’s not that dangerous at all, but it would take only one car to kill you. It might happen on your next time or it might happen on you hundredth time but it WILL happen. Your odds diminish with each run in inverse proportion to the growth of your thoughtless confidence.

Or maybe this one meateater was a member of a species everyone has heard about – those who eat meat, drink alcohol, smoke a pack a day, and live until the ripe age of ninety when they die of an unfortunate accident, possibly surfing. I heard of these people but never met one myself. They inspire others to follow in their footsteps but here’s the thing – odds are it won’t happen to you. That’s why there are statistics about cancer, clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes, and statistics here are against you.

There are people who hit jackpot in casinos, too, and they inspire others to try their luck, but any sober person knows that house always wins. Far more people would lose their money than win anything, it’s just how the frequency of jackpot wins is set. Out of a thousand tries it will show you five wins and pay maybe half the money you spent on the nine hundred ninety five losses. You can sit and wait for that win and it will feel enjoyable but it’s not an investment, you won’t make profits that way. You would essentially pay through the roof for this little taste of victory, and maybe it’s worth it. Most casual gamblers play for the experience, not for profits.

Eating food, however, should not be compared to gambling. It’s supposed to give us nourishment, not shorten our lives in exchange for a brief moment of satisfaction. This should be clear even to those who don’t believe in reincarnation. This understanding, however, is impossible to maintain when under the influence of the mode of passion. We want things and we want them now regardless of the future cost.

This bring me back to the habit argument – bad habits are very easy to acquire but impossible to break. We should at least warn people about this fact when they still have a chance to make the right choice.

So, should I write to my newspaper? Or should I leave it to karma to sort it out. There’s a lack of the mode of goodness for a reason in this age and we, as devotees in Lord Caitanya’s movement, shouldn’t try to reverse the Kali Yuga and teach people how to live better lives. We are not here to elevate them in incremental steps, our solution to acquiring bad karma is a radical one and if I don’t mention it in my letter it would be a waste of time.

I need to think hard how to incorporate a solid spiritual advice and get it passed by the editors. So far I haven’t figured it out and it’s one of the reasons that I just quietly lament the barrage of bad news and stupid reactions to them. “Letters to the editor” is not a proper platform for preaching, if I really want to help people I need to find something better.

Vanity thought #1041. Sadhu Sanga

It’s important, right? In our present condition it’s probably more important than even chanting of the Holy Names. How could that be?

Our chanting is impure, our hearts are overwhelmed with all kinds of material desires, whatever we say comes out as an offense from our lips. Śrila Prabhupāda said that offensive chanting is like burning wet wood – lots of smoke, no heat, and it can go on forever without any effect.

To actually make progress we need to chant offenselessly but it’s impossible for us because of our material desires. We value them higher than service to Kṛṣṇa, we have too much taste for enjoyment obtained from interaction of material senses with their objects. That taste spoils everything we do, and we can’t get rid of this taste unless we find something better, and we can’t find something better unless we stop chewing the chewed – it’s catch 22.

The only way we can taste something better is if other devotees introduce us to it. There’s no inherent reason for us to come across something we are not interested in, that’s not how the material world works – it satisfies our desires, it doesn’t impose anything we haven’t asked for earlier. Devotees, however, can break this chain and that’s why it’s called “causeless mercy” – we haven’t deserved it, it’s not in our karma.

So, by the mercy of the devotees we can attain some higher taste, learn attraction to pure things, and, eventually, learn to chant purely. Without this sādh saṅga Holy Names would mean nothing to us.

We can learn to extract material benefits from chanting but that is not the same as devotion, it’s still a material activity meant for OUR pleasure, not Kṛṣṇa’s. Of course when we ask Him for something and He provides it it’s already a relationship but we want to do so much better than that. So we need to associate with devotees. How?

If you are in the temple it’s easy, but I want to talk about finding association on the internet, where we are now. Lots of people forgo personal relationships for the virtual ones. Dating sites were initially looked down upon but eventually people realized that if they spend most of their free time online they might as well use it for finding life partners. It works for some and craigslist has become a lifestyle for others, but what can we do there as devotees?

I’m not talking about vaiṣṇava dating sites, I’m talking about seeking genuine, spiritually enriching association. Is it possible? There are statements by Prabhupāda that voice recordings are not as purifying as listening to an actual guru but most of us don’t take it in absolute terms – based on our own experience listening to tapes, or mp3s now, is as illuminating and inspiring as sitting in a Bhāgavatam class, and you are not likely to fall asleep. Plus they’ve got tons of videos now – you can both listen AND watch, and with some life broadcasts you can also ask questions and see them answered in real time. Isn’t it great?

There’s more to association, though, we also need friends to share our minds with, and that’s where it all might go really bad really fast. It’s the same in real life, unscrupulous association will affect us negatively regardless of whether it’s online or face to face. The advantage is that when we are online we can avoid bad association immediately, and we also have a greater choice of groups to affiliate ourselves with.

With freedom comes responsibility, as Spireman’s uncle has taught us, and in our terms it means karma. Join the wrong club and you are doomed. Visit the wrong site you’ll get contaminated for the rest of the day. Offend someone by rather innocuous banter (by internet standards) and you’ll lose taste for devotional service forever.

All in all, I don’t think we can manage our online association as easily as it looks. Sometimes we get great help and inspiration but, personally, I can’t find neither rhyme nor reason in how it works. If I go looking for it, it escapes me, but then, out of the blue, I get real gems, or I don’t.

I’ll take whatever I can, there’s a lot of bath water with this baby but that’s just how it is.

I’ve spent a month without checking vaiṣṇava news sites and I probably should have kept going but curiosity took the better of me today. How many times will I lapse into this news reading thing? It always ends the same, with me telling myself how I should not have done this and why.

Over at Sampradaya Sun they keep going, “Finding faults with devotees, part 273” is as fresh as ever. Official ISKCON news extols virtues of legumes, benefits of aloe vera, and fruits for diabetics. There’s an inside ISKCON section, too, but also an opinion piece about Modi swearing in ceremony (which wasn’t actually bad).

As far as actual association goes, devotees are still fighting over no fall issue. New entries in the top chart this month are the debate over responsibilities of Kṛṣṇa conscious husbands and what looks like an attack on self-help book style of one of our senior devotee’s preaching. I’ve never liked this style myself but now I see several virtually identical comments about this devotee across different sites and it just doesn’t feel right.

What if some people find this style just fine? What if they get inspired by this kind of talk? This devotee has a significant following, I gather, and he is not saying anything controversial, so why the attack? I’m afraid that if I set out to find the reasons it will end up with me seeing even more faults in devotees. Who needs this? I certainly don’t, and so I’ll leave it at that.

What I found interesting, however, is a public announcement by a devotee who leads charge against HH Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja’s Kṛṣṇa West and homosexual propaganda in ISKCON. He says that he has accepted HH Bhakti Vikasa Swāmī as his śikṣā guru. He used to be Hṛdayānanda’s Mahārāja’s disciple but he renounced him a few years back. Now he’s found a new shelter.

Good thing is that he wasn’t re-iniated. Offering śikṣa, therefore, would not be offensive towards his original guru who remains to be in good standing with GBC. It wasn’t done with his mahārāja’s blessings, however, so it’s still, basically, a whim, guru shopping, so to speak. I hope Bhakti Vikasa Mahāraja talks some sense into him because it’s the mahārāja who leads the battle for staying faithful to Vedic tradition, mostly notably in marriage, but I’m sure it also includes staying faithful to one’s guru. Or at least respectful, which isn’t seems to be the case here.

We could also take this to mean Bhakti Vikasa Swāmī’s declaration of his position in regards to Kṛṣṇa West initiative. Maybe it isn’t but that’s how most people would take it to mean. Expect more ISKCON guru bashing in the near future.

Who needs this aggravation? Sane people stay away from such trolling topics in the material world and we, as devotees, should know better than indulge ourselves in them either, their apparent connection with Kṛṣṇa consciousness notwithstanding.

A day well wasted, hundreds of news articles to look through and nothing to remember. Should have read Bhāgavatam instead, this kind of sādhu saṅga is not worth the trouble

Vanity thought #894. Blue Sunday

Normal people get blues on Monday but for me Sunday has recently become a dreadful day. It’s a day when I have too much free time and I catch up on the news. News are bad for you, as I learned several months ago. In the past month or so it seems I have been complaining about it every Sunday and today is no different.

Francis the Pope declared internet a gift from god and it’s a thought provoking idea but maybe not for today.

The great liberal democratic ideal kept unraveling with protests in Egypt, Ukraine, and Thailand. In Egypt the military killed over a thousand people to maintain their post-coup power and no one in the “enlightened” West blinked an eye. Earlier today they reported another several dozen dead.

In Ukraine the progressive, democratically minded young men hoping to join European Union have been throwing Molotov cocktails at the police and watching people burn. Apparently as long as they are anti-Russian then it’s okay, burning people is a part of proud European tradition anyway.

In the US they kept their own tradition of mass shootings for no apparent reason, just out of frustration.

In the UK people can’t withdraw their money from ATMs but somehow everybody writes that it’s bitcoin that we shouldn’t trust.

85 richest people own as much wealth as half the planet – 3.5 billion.

Gallup polls showed that after twenty people in former USSR republics are disenchanted with the whole capitalist idea and think it’s a big scam for the rich cats. Apparently, they are not wrong.

Lithuania, the holder of current EU presidency has a law against gay propaganda but it’s Putin who gets the stick and Obama refused to visit the upcoming Olympics to make a statement.

Tulsi Gabbard got a stick for supporting gays, too, though she probably didn’t notice she was attracting so much attention in near-ISKCON circles.

Speaking of near-ISKCON, seemingly endless criticism of a book glorifying Srila Prabhupada still goes on. I don’t know what they are hoping to achieve by this. A devotee should never spend so much time criticizing anyone and there’s no chance that after doing all that they can create a better, more complete and more faithful image of Srila Prabhupada. That’s just a wrong approach to glorifying an acharya.

Someone started a project collecting money to support Ravindra Svarupa’s preaching and book writing. As he approaches retirement age he, obviously, can’t work to maintain himself. For some reason supporting an elderly vaishnava is unacceptable nowadays, they all want to see him suffer in poverty, which might be a blessing for him but a curse for anyone who refuses to help.

Last Monday was Martin Luther King’s day and for some reason people on dandavats encouraged us to appreciate his life that “ us the inspiration to fortify ourselves with the same spiritual consciousness..” Umm, no, thank you, I don’t want my consciousness to be anything like Martin Luther King’s, my own is pretty bad already.

Official ISKCON news site released a promotional video where they claim, and I kid you not, that the clue to spiritual happiness for temple devotees who got everything else right lies in reading their site. True, they inform us of ISKCON successes all over the world but it is also true that they have more “karmi” news on their front page than devotional ones. You can read about vitamin D, effects of television, abortion and so on. They even promote an article suggesting Iyengar for Nobel Peace Prize. How’s that supposed to make devotees happy? I have no idea.

Speaking of Iyengar – he might be sympathetic to our cause but he is not a devotee, he doesn’t appreciate the value of the Holy Name or bhakti-yoga in general. I was surprised to see his endorsement on the back of HH Radhanatha Swami’s Journey Home and he appears to be the best of the bunch there. The rest are outright neo-mayavadis with interest in Indian culture.

So, all in all, it was pretty depressive, a Sunday wasted. The only fun part was this joke on the above mentioned book blurbs – Rave Reviews for The Journey Home.

And on that note I say goodbye to this dreadful, dreadful day.