Vanity thought #1623. No easy way out

Yesterday I spent half a post trying to figure out a proper attitude towards those devotees who say what looks like nonsense. I’m still on the recent North American GBC letter, of course. In many ways it looks like a hoax or as if someone used GBC letterhead for his/her own half baked thoughts. I mean the use of terms like OMG in official GBC correspondence? Come on, GBC should have secretaries weeding out this kind of stuff.

As it stands it IS nonsense that can’t be taken seriously. What it really is, I suspect, is a badly edited e-mail, most of it simply copy pasted into the official letter and rubber stamped by GBC. To be fair – Sampradaya Sun does present it as follows: “bill of complaint … written by Malati devi dasi and sent out by the GBC North American Executive Committee to all temples.” However, it does mean to sound super official with all those “whereas” and it does speak of “our” part, not just Malati’s. Actually it doesn’t say “our part”, that would be too grammatically correct for this publication. It says: “There is no personal agenda on our (on the part of Vaishnavi’s & others)” – and there’s no period at the end either.

So, how to deal with this without being offensive? If it’s clearly nonsense in content as well then it could also be considered our duty to explain why it is so in a restrained way. I don’t know how to do it, though.

Some take the highest possible road and simply refuse to criticize all vaiṣṇavas and everything they say, no matter how erroneous they are. The advantage of this approach is that no offenses are made and there could be no harm. The disadvantage is that sometimes inaction can be considered as an offense as well. If we hear blasphemy we must react, for example. If we can’t confront the blasphemer than we should at least leave the place/discussion. Practically, it would mean that we excuse ourselves from all controversial topics when other devotees might still appreciate and even need our input. We can’t just sit and watch a greater body of devotees being misled by cleverly disguised arguments either. If we consider ourselves as part of the community then it’s our obligation to occasionally speak up without fear of personally accrued reactions.

Another problem with taking the high road is that it’s reserved for paramahaṁsas, we won’t be able to stay there for long and eventually will be dragged down and forced to act according to our level of advancement. And even paramahaṁsas would still find a way to offer their comments in an inoffensive way because this is the age of saṅkīrtana – we need to talk things our together in glorification of the Lord, paramahaṁsas are not excused from that either.

On the other end of the scale there are fearless devotees who don’t mind slashing other people’s egos for what they believe is a good cause. They are fearless of offenses and that is a sure way to end one’s spiritual life prematurely. Right or wrong, Kṛṣṇa wan’t accept disrespectful treatment of His devotees. We have api cet su-durācāro verse on this (BG 9.30) which prescribes us to treat all devotees as sādhus. The condition given there is bhajate mām ananya-bhāk ~ engaged in devotional service without deviation, and this certainly applies to Mātājī Mālati.

I guess what we are seeing here is the material nature of her body and mind. Unless one has a fully spiritual body he/she is bound to act according to the laws of karma regardless of his/her devotional position. One has to eat and sleep, one has to talk according to how he was taught at school, same goes for mathematical calculations and all other things that bodies do in the material world.

This means that Śrīla Prabhupāda WAS an Indian gentleman who behaved according to Indian customs and saw the world from Indian perspective. Typical examples are his knowledge of Hitler or his inability to operate tape recorders unless taught by his western disciples, or statements on the physical size of female brains, but it also goes for how he cooked food, what flavors he preferred, how he dressed, his accent etc etc – it all looked undeniably Indian, or Bengali, to be precise.

We should learn to see this kind of things as separate from his spiritual position and we should learn to see how he used all these material facilities (and handicaps, as in case of using gadgets) in an unalloyed service to the Lord. Whatever the material nature supplied him in terms of mind and body he used it selflessly with love and devotion to Kṛṣṇa.

Due to his extraordinary level of devotion everything he did came out perfectly, or most it, or most of what we choose to remember. We can’t replicate that and we can’t expect his followers to be absolutely perfect and free from faults either. Souls trapped in their bodies will make mistakes, they will have the tendency to cheat, too. Occasionally they will be less than truthful, they will try to present themselves in a positive light, they will produce silly arguments to prove themselves right, they will take advantage of others – there’s no escaping that kind of behavior for conditioned souls.

We need to learn how to overlook all that and see only their devotion. As spirit souls they are not doing any of those things, these are attributes of their bodies, as I said earlier, and so we shouldn’t blame devotees themselves for the actions of the material nature. And since the material nature acts under the direction of Kṛṣṇa even blaming these activities would be equal to blaming the Lord Himself.

There’s no easy way out here, not unless one has a truly equanimous vision and has no trace of personal motives but is rather seen as a friend – pretty much like the Supersoul himself. We can’t imitate that but we should strive to offer our sincere service without any hidden agenda to the people we feel the need to correct.

I’m not the one to offer advice to Mātājī Mālati. I’m not qualified to tell her how she should read Bhakti Vikāsa Svami’s book, I’m sure there are devotees closer to her who Kṛṣṇa could inspire to say a few words if necessary. I also don’t want to be critical, just show that arguments used in that letter should not be taken seriously. I know that if someone hears this kind of assessment of his own work he is not going to take it gladly and I don’t want to cause Mātājī or any of her followers unnecessary discomfort.

However, if their goal is to convince people like me of something then they should be ready to accept the feedback, too. I’m not going to agree with everything they say just to be polite, certainly not when I’m sitting alone in front of my computer – I have my own nature that controls my responses. I can only hope that this criticism is accepted as my humble service, I really wish that these devotees notice these errors in their arguments.

Ultimately, all Mātājī Mālati wants is for all of us to become better servants of Śrīla Prabhupāda and advance in our Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This effort needs to be appreciated regardless of the externalities.

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Vanity thought #1429. Swing vote 2

Yesterday I got to the point where we can exercise our free will and either improve or diminish our chances of reacquiring our eternal devotional service. Let’s talk more about that.

Being servants of the Lord is our constitutional position, we don’t have any other spiritual identity, we can only cover it with our false ego, and so we assume that pure devotional service is our birthright. We just need to shake off our illusions and take it.

I bet it’s not that simple. Service means interaction and so we can’t serve without Kṛṣṇa. In fact, service starts only after Kṛṣṇa reveals Himself and mercifully decides to accept it. He is Supreme Independent, however, and we can’t demand or even expect His mercy, we can only hope in anticipation. Since He is not under the material conception of time even a little delay on His part might easily translate into several lifetimes in our calculations.

The answer to this is patience. We measure patience by how long one could maintain his attitude or his practice under unfavorable conditions. Then one inevitably loses it. Spiritual patience is different in that it, like all spiritual things, is immeasurable. Once we attain it it will never go away and we’ll never lose it. Kṛṣṇa might delay His mercy indefinitely but so would last our hope of receiving it – it would be indefinite, too, and without any discomfort, for there’s no such thing as discomfort on the spiritual platform.

Patiently waiting for the mercy would become a kind of relationship with the Lord – He is hiding and we are waiting, and even more, according to Lord Caitanya, this love in separation feels indefinitely stronger than pleasure of being in personal presence of the Lord.

In our situation where we don’t have any prior experience of meeting Kṛṣṇa we can only have a glimpse of this transcendental emotion, the kind devotees of Vṛndāvana feel when they know Kṛṣṇa is coming and can’t wait, but it is nevertheless spiritual – if we get it. As such it could last for eternity and we wouldn’t even notice passage of material time. The fact that we feel under pressure and afraid to lose it is a sign that we aren’t on the liberated platform yet. If we were we wouldn’t be constantly checking our progress or progress of other devotees, these things would become meaningless and unwelcome distractions to us in comparison with sweetness of eternally waiting for Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.

Another aspect of it is that Kṛṣṇa does not and probably will not appear to us while we are still in this world. It doesn’t mean that we have to wait for the next life, hopefully in His presence, to achieve perfection. We should never forget out guru instead because guru IS manifestation of the Lord specifically for us. Lacking the ability to see Kṛṣṇa we can express our love and devotion to our guru just the same, and it WILL be reciprocated.

If we do not see Kṛṣṇa in our guru and lament His absence we are absolute fools only pretending to be spiritually realized. If we can’t establish ourselves in service to our guru but wait for service to Kṛṣṇa Himself we are simply mad. We kill all our chances of spiritual progress there and then, for we commit a gravest offense by considering our guru to be an ordinary man.

We might not say so out loud and we might not even think so to ourselves but if we do not see guru as a direct manifestation of God infused with all necessary energies and powers we see him as an ordinary man, there are no other options.

Why does it happen? Because of vestiges of materialistic thinking and our immaturity, of course, and as such we are all bound to make this mistake. The question then becomes how to spot it and correct it so we can move forward in our spiritual progress.

Living in the materialistic society we naturally absorb their values and one of them is the idea that we can learn things through ascending process, that by reading books on spirituality we can become spiritual, for example. Essential aspect of ascending process is collaboration with others, we need to constantly check that everyone is on the same page, do a peer review of sorts, and form a community of like minded persons. This is not unique to materialists, of course, but when we end up in association with similarly deluded people we ask if they see our guru as manifestation of God, they tell that they don’t, we accept their answer, and that’s how we commit a spiritual suicide.

They tell us to look at a bigger picture, to place our guru in certain age and time, to see how his behavior is/was conditioned by his surroundings and the culture he grew up in, and imply that if our guru was placed in our circumstances he would surely behave differently, issue different orders, adopt different values. We might even conclude that he would have read less books then us and so be less spiritually educated. With the internet at our fingertips we can easily conclude that our guru was an ignorant rube and his knowledge is lacking in comparison to ourselves. Whatever he says, we are ready to second guess, double check, and correct him, or maybe mercifully think “I know why he would say things like that, he probably read only this and this but never seen that and that and so couldn’t place his quote in proper context, but I know better. Yes, I agree, he is probably right here, but, god, he speaks with so much ignorance I can’t take it anymore”.

This is how people start questioning their seniors, this is how they question their guru, this is how they question Śrīla Prabhupāda, this is how they question Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, this is how they question Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, if necessary. If they still consider themselves followers of Gauḍīya Vaiṣnavism it becomes a question of which particular deviation they decided to take shelter in. These days it’s still possible to find deviant vaiṣṇavas of pre-Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura lineage so denigration of previous ācāryas stops with him. If they had someone who disagreed with Six Gosvāmīs they would diss Rūpa and Sanātana, too, no doubt.

Obviously, we shouldn’t fall into this trap and avoid discussing our guru with non-disciples and don’t ask for their opinions, and the same goes for our more immediate authorities, too. Spiritual progress is a personal thing, we can share it only with those who will appreciate it equally, we should be able to see who they are and separate them from less mature and so still envious devotees. In other words, we should pick our association very carefully. If we don’t, they might be right in calling us kaniṣṇthas, though they do it for a different reason. We stop being kaniṣṭhas when we stop listening to them.

Whew, that was a lot or words but none of them on the topic. I don’t know what happened, I guess I got sidetracked. Well, it doesn’t look like it was a total waste, so I’ll continue next time.

Vanity thought #1349. Marketplace of ideas

In the wake of Garland shootings everyone tried to find some explanations to it and I’m no different. At first I thought it would be fairly easy but on a close inspection the issue is far more complex then I expected. Everyone is pushing his own opinion and they all seem perfectly reasonable. Can the “market” sort it out? I don’t think so.

I thought of looking at it as a marketplace because that’s what it really is – people trying to sell their views to the highest number of customers. They rationalize them, dress them up nicely, present them in a positive light, compare them favorably with the competition, and withhold crucial information when necessary. Everybody hopes to win.

Some want total market domination, some want a healthy competition, some want to carve out a niche, some want to hold on to their existing base. No one thinks of God, however.

Since the shootings happened in the US every discussion on the issue involves inviolable principle of free speech. No matter what else people want to know or discover about Muslims, moderate or extremists, free speech is untouchable. After centuries of indoctrination it has become a state religion, along with democracy or the right to carry a gun. Cannot be questioned. And yet it must be questioned, though probably not in this post.

Over in Europe free speech is not nearly as sacred. They jail people for tweets, for example, and they have laws against hate speech. American Muslims also want such a law to protect themselves but not an overwhelming majority of them. So, Europeans are somewhat indifferent to the “free speech” argument and have no problems with restricting it for the public good. Their reaction to Islamic outrage over cartoons is different, and historically so.

Muslims started coming to Europe from 60s onward, as European empires crumbled and people started to leave former colonies for the “mother ship”. No one drew offensive cartoons back then, no one cared to offend them, it was all kind of cool. This particular problem started with the second generation that was supposed to be fully integrated but it wasn’t. This batch of Muslims was expected to completely blend in and melt away but they didn’t. Europe promoted multiculturalism instead. It’s a project with mixed results but what is relevant here is mainstream reaction to the internalizing millions of Muslims.

When they became “one of us” they also became a member of the family, and in European families they do things in a certain way. Satire and criticism is a must, for example. Guests could be spared but second generation Muslims weren’t guests anymore, they were supposed to take insults on the chin just like Christians did before them, just like politicians get it all the time. In Europe it’s not only a fair game but also a sign of acceptance and an expression of love, however weird.

They don’t do these things to strangers, especially with the rise of the liberalism where all minorities must be protected and promoted and white men must always express guilt for sins of their fathers, but Muslims have lost their special status. Liberals there are caught at crossroads – speak against insulting Muslims and they’d undermine their commitment to freedom. Speak for freedom and they’d undermine their commitment to protecting minorities.

No wonder they haven’t got a united response. Everybody condemns Charlie Hebdo killings but that is as far as their unity goes.

In the US the same dilemma manifests differently. There they talk about double standards where it’s okay to insult Christians but not okay to have a “Draw Muhammad” competitions. They’ve done some pretty offensive things towards Christians. There was one exhibition where they had a small crucifix with Jesus submerged in a glass of urine, for example. Another artist had a painting of Virgin Mary smeared with elephant dung, and these exhibitions were sponsored by tax payer dollars, “Piss Christ” even won a prize.

Christians protested against those, of course, and someone broke the glass protecting the virgin painting but there was no violence against artists, afaik. There were death threats, there were curses, there were repercussions, but no one died. Why can’t Muslims react in a similarly civilized manner, atheists ask? But, more importantly, why is it considered free speech and artistic freedom but not if it’s directed towards Islam? Why there’s a chorus of condemnation against organizers of Garland event?

I don’t have an answer to that, but that’s because I think these questions are irrelevant. They do not address any of our needs just like vast majority of the merchandise out on the market is practically useless.

People pushing variations of free speech argument offer a familiar product but, perhaps, the one that is at the end of its life cycle. It certainly is in Europe and many Americans are fed up with constant barrage of insults thrown in each every way in politics without any signs of eventual reconciliation. Everyone is tired of political partisanship but they haven’t connected the dots yet.

There are those who don’t argue against free speech but are genuinely puzzled by the need to draw Muhammad at all? Why? What for? Free speech is just an excuse to say something and it’s that “something” that interests them.

Some draw Muhammad just because they can, or to prove that they can, but that is just a teenage style rebellion. They haven’t understood even their own motives yet. “Freedom of speech” is not a motive, it’s an excuse for not admitting one.

Some get it, but don’t realize the significance of it. Satire is meant to force people to look at familiar objects from a different perspective and thus provoke thinking and re-thinking their paradigms, they say. Fine, but in practice it means trying to convert Muslims away from their beliefs, challenge them and force them to see their religion in a different light, not from the position of respect but from the position of atheists.

Next argument in this line is that if people’s beliefs can’t withstand a little laugh then they are not deep enough. Okay, that’s a fair point, but every religious person is aware of his weaknesses already and they structure their lives in such a way as not to push their buttons.

A comparison could be made with Alcoholic Anonymous here – yes, their commitment to sobriety is weak and they fall of the wagon all the time, but it’s not an excuse for someone to tempt these people by offering them free drinks. Some would withstand and some would not. I bet there could be a statistically proven formula that predicts the number of those who fail depending on the time spent in AA, strength of the ties with their sponsors, frequency of attending and sharing in the meetings etc.

Temptation chips away at faith of even the strongest ones, as mere consideration of the possibility pollutes one’s mind, and it does most of the damage on the fringes of the community where faith is not yet strong enough. It’s community leaders’ responsibility to protect their brothers and that’s how it works with atheists, too – people willingly sign away their rights, trusting the society to act for their own benefit even if it goes against their will. Laws against underage drinking are a good example.

Not disclosing this hidden motive – to change how Muslims view their religion and their prophets, and to bring them in line with the secular mainstream, is such a typical marketing gimmick, the tiny fine print about side effects that makes all the difference when there’s trouble with the product. The don’t mention it when they urge you to buy this argument.

I also disagree with “Christians can take insults in stride” argument. Their acceptance of attacks on Christ is offensive towards their own religion and they suffer for it by losing their faith and losing their numbers. When faith is not there they are forced to explain themselves in totally irrational ways and that brings even more damage to Christianity. Insults DO have their effect even if one doesn’t react to them.

And then there’s “insults are taken, not given” crowd. They say that a truly rational being would ignore any kind of insults unless it brings physical harm. Words can’t hurt them, they say, they are not sticks and stones that can break your bones. It’s an old school of thought and it has its use in teaching kids to deal with bullying, or to promote free exchange of ideas, but not in this situation.

The problem is that such a truly rational being doesn’t exist. These people might say that they don’t care about insults but only as long as they are in situations where they don’t care about the target. As soon as “I care about this” realization steps in, the principle goes out of the window. That’s what makes people human – they have desires and “irrational” attachments. They are compelled by the modes of nature and they can’t escape it. Any attachment eventually leads to anger and anger leads to actions.

I think this phenomenon deserves a closer look, though, and not today.

Vanity thought #1348. The reaction

Yesterday I talked about that “Draw Muhammad” contest and a message these little pictures send to Islamic community. I think there’s a lot more to say about this, starting from infamous Danish cartoons and all the way up to Charlie Hebdo. The puzzlement among westerners and especially atheists is genuine, they really have to idea why would anybody react to some drawings so violently. And they don’t understand it when people try to explain, it just doesn’t register.

I think I’d better do it some other day, though. Today let’s talk about reactions to this unfortunate contest.

It happened in Texas, which offers a rich background to anything that would happen next. I mean it’s probably one of the most religious places in the entire West, not just America, and yet they went along with it like the worst of the atheists. Just because their Christian fundamentalism makes Muslims their sworn enemies.

Religion is good only for hatred with that lot. Normally, when we hear about a debate between Christians and atheists we sympathize with those who believe in God in whatever shape or form. We might disagree with Christians and Muslims, sometimes very strongly, but in the face of the common enemy we, I mean devotees, tend to offer support. Worship of the Lord, however imperfect in our eyes, is still better than atheism. Not for fundamentalists, though. As long as atheists were attacking Muslims they felt fine about it.

Insulting God or His prophets is an offense that should be felt by all believers regardless of their religion, and if we ignore it we invite severe reactions on ourselves, most probably losing the taste for our own service.

Hmm, perhaps there’s really not much difference between those two groups in America. They all come from the same stock anyway, both born out of the evolution of Christianity, both share the same history even if they look at it differently.

Btw, I saw an interesting argument about secularism recently. Atheists consider US constitution and its separation of religion and state as direct evidence that religion should only be a private matter for retarded individuals. The state, the real life with economy, education, taxes, laws etc should never ever be touched by those religious nuts. The counterargument goes is that separation of state and church wasn’t written in the constitution to protect government from religion, it was the other way around – to protect church from the government.

It makes sense if we consider that practically the entire population of the US at that time were people running away from state persecution for their beliefs in the Old World. The founding fathers didn’t want to see repeat of that in their new country. The state, however, has grown very big since then and laid claims to areas of public life that were traditionally in the domain of the church, things like education and weddings, for example. While the separation still exists on paper in practice the state has infringed on churches rights to promote their religion in any way they see fit. Children born to Christians belong to the state now. When they go to school it’s the state, not the church who gets to decide how they are going to be educated.

Hmm, it really does make sense. Just a different angle on what secularism means and we have an effect opposite to the intended. Why didn’t they foresee it? Because atheism wasn’t a thing then, no one could have predicted how atheists would take secularism and where they would run with it. And because atheists have a completely different mindset they took in a completely different direction.

Anyway, shame on Texas Christians who didn’t protest against the contest seen by everyone as provocative and offending towards their fellow believers.

“Official” Muslim community acted very mature in this regard. First thing that must be noted is that the whole affair was completely unrelated to them. The organizers weren’t local, the guest speakers weren’t local, most of the contest participants weren’t local, and the shooters weren’t local, too, they came from as far away as Phoenix. And ISIS, which took credit for the shootings, weren’t from Garland either.

Some reports say that there are as many as 200,000 Muslims in Texas. That’s a huge number, maybe not percentage wise but it’s twice the population of Garland itself, and none of them had anything to do with what outsiders brought on their community. When we speak about Muslim reaction we should first look at them, not at the shooters, not at ISIS, not at stereotypes of Islamic extremists or terrorists.

All those things exist but on a global level, in the virtual world where two people can hog all the news and two hundred thousand be ignored.

Yes, the event was provocative and inflaming but actual factual Muslims on the ground took it in stride and didn’t give in to the provocation. Two radicalized ones from a thousand miles away spoiled it all for everybody else, though, giving black eye to the entire Muslim community.

Typical reaction to the shootings – those Muslims are killing people over cartoons again. But they aren’t. Muslims, as a population, keep their anger in check and deal with it in a mature way, issuing public statements and protecting each other’s faith. They are not being radicalized by this experience but I’m sure the trust they have in the non-Muslim society that brought this trouble into their community and blamed it on them, is diminishing.

From their pov it’s a good thing. I’m sure they all struggle between two different identities, between their loyalties to God and their loyalties to the material world. I’m sure all of them realize that they can’t stand with their feet planted in two different worlds and sooner or later they must make a choice. Cases like this might make this choice so much easier.

They won’t go out with a bang, they won’t blow up buildings and shoot people, they probably won’t even protest. Just like devotees they would probably realize that their future lies not in improving this world but in preparing themselves for the next. Jihad for them is a spiritual struggle, not an external one, and they do it as a community, by staying disciplined and organized.

As devotees we should probably learn from their behavior, too. When trouble comes to our door it’s best to put our faith in the Lord and concentrate on our own spiritual progress, not give in to our base instincts and behave just like atheists want us to do so that they can make fools of us in public.

I’m pretty sure that if something like this happens to devotees there will be some wannabe kṣatriyas who would take it in their heads that it’s their job to protect devotees from insults and they will end up like those two dead shooters, condemned by everybody and their behavior rejected by their community as well.

Let Kṛṣṇa protect us when necessary, why can’t we have trust in Him? Devotees in Navadvīpa didn’t lash out at non-believers making fun of them. They were unhappy, they lamented the situation, but even Advaita Ācārya who could theoretically destroy the entire universe only prayed for the advent of the Lord Caitanya, who didn’t dish revenge either.

Kṛṣṇa said to us all – you surrender, I’ll protect you. That’s the deal and we better honor it. If protection isn’t coming it’s probably not the time, and not an excuse for us to do Kṛṣṇa’s job.

Vanity thought #1341. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 9

In his parting comments to Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura the Muslim king said: “You are equal to everyone – both friend and enemy – but there is no one in the three worlds who can understand you.” That was a telling testimony – we think we know and understand Haridāsa’s status as a pure devotee but without having seen it with our own eyes our knowledge must be shallow.

Vast majority of our ISKCON members have never seen a certified pure devotee and since the 90s we’ve been taught that the current crop of our gurus are not there yet. Maybe it’s true, in general, and it means that we imagine pure devotees through the lens of our material experiences. If we actually seen someone truly equal to all living entities we’d probably reject such a person outright.

We expect devotees to behave in a certain way and value certain things over others and we can’t imagine it being any other way. When these values are challenged we protest, very loudly, and quickly identify our enemies. It’s not a bad thing to do, it’s how we are supposed to behave on our level, but it’s also not the stage of perfection yet. We have no mercy for meat-eaters and for some even milk-drinkers. We hate māyāvādīs and impersonalists of all persuasions. Some can’t stand the idea of female gurus, and others can’t stand patriarchal traditionalists in return. Strong opinions are everywhere and we all refer to the same authority – Prabhupāda.

If someone is non-committal to any of those issues we brand them as ignorant offenders and accuse them of not having “real humility”, which nowadays means going after your enemies with everything you got. Indifference is offensive, of course, but it’s not equal to equanimity, and that’s why I think a real well-wisher of everyone would have a hard time in our society if he decided to propagate his views.

Having observed Haridāsa Ṭhākura rise from the dead one would expect the king to praise a miracle but that was not what impressed Nawab the most – he was impressed by Haridāsa’s attitude throughout the whole ordeal. Having no such experience we can’t understand how impressive equanimity really is. We can’t imagine how anything could be more impressive than a dead person rising up and continuing chanting. I can’t explain it to myself, even when I heard about people’s impressions of Śrīla Prabhupāda I didn’t understand what the big deal was, and many didn’t see him that way either because externally Śrīla Prabhupāda appeared as very opinionated and always ready for a fight.

Well, I can’t talk about something I have no experience of, so let’s move on.

The king gave Haridāsa Ṭhākura a free pass anywhere in his kingdom and Haridāsa immediately went to Phuliyā and entered into an assembly of the brāhmaṇas. It was unusual in that Haridāsa was still a Muslim by birth and thus association with brāhmaṇas was forbidden but after his miraculous resurrection even proud seminal brāhmaṇas had to admit that Haridāsa was special. Everybody started chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and Haridāsa swam in the ocean of bliss, or, practically speaking, fell on the ground unconscious. Caitanya Bhāgavata says that at this point, seeing Haridāsa’s transformations, it was the brāhmaṇas who felt transcendental bliss. I suppose ordinarily a short kīrtana wouldn’t produce such an effect in those who were raised in pride but seeing Haridāsa Ṭhākura with their own eyes brāhmaṇas’ hardened hearts melt.

After a while Haridāsa came back to his senses and addressed brāhmaṇas concern. “Please do not feel sorry for me,” he asked, “I’ve committed a great offense by hearing blasphemy of the Lord and for it I got only a token punishment. I was supposed to go to hell, to Kumbhīpāka, but by Lord’s grace I was spared so that I may not commit such a sin again”.

Of all the explanations of what had happened to him this is the last one that would come to our minds. We consider Haridāsa sinless, he wasn’t supposed to go to any hell, and he didn’t receive a “token” punishment, he was beaten like no other devotee in our memory. Yet that’s how Haridāsa saw what happened himself and we can learn quite a bit from this.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatī offered lengthy comments on each verse in Haridāsa’s explanations. Mostly they were directed against prākṛta-sahajiyā sampradāya. We don’t know it even still exists, though it does and one of the first ISKCON detractors from Prabhupāda’s time eventually joined it, no need to mention names. Does it mean that it is the only target group and everyone else is spared? I think not.

I think Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī singled them out because they were prominent in those days and were the visible carriers of the offensive attitude described by Śrīla Haridāsa. These days they are nowhere to be seen but it doesn’t mean the offensive attitude disappeared with them. Being product of the illusion it affects every conditioned living entity equally. We all have to go through it from time to time.

The main charge by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was that we discount hearing blasphemy of the Lord on account of ‘Vaiṣṇava etiquette’ and this happens because we try to imitate tolerance and vision of a mahā-bhāgavata devotee like Haridāsa Ṭhākura. Imitation is sahajiyā’s trademark, of course.

    Those who even after hearing the blasphemy of Viṣṇu and the Vaiṣṇavas display their ‘cleverness’ by posing as advanced and liberal on the pretext of artificial gentleness or tolerance without understanding the real purport of taror api sahiṣṇu – “more tolerant than a tree” are understood to be enjoying the results of their grave offenses.

We’ve seen it many times when devotees engage atheists and pretend to be unaffected by all the cruel words atheists say about God. We need to be ‘open-minded’ and, yes, ‘liberal’, if we want to reach to those people. Like hell we don’t.

Furthermore, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī paraphrases Śrīla Haridāsa as follows:

    As a Vaiṣṇava, I will never again hear blasphemy against Viṣṇu and the Vaiṣṇavas under the shelter of tṛṇād api sunīcatā or on the pretext of taror api sahiṣṇutā. I have had a sufficient lesson this time. The Lord is most merciful; He taught me by awarding a token punishment for a grave offense.

Can we finally take a lesson from this? I know it’s hard for me to avoid making this mistake again and again, on the excuse of ‘preaching’. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t pain me very much and I think I should tolerate these offenses anyway because my ‘liberalism’ would somehow attract and convince atheists just like Haridāsa won over Muslims. In the meantime I also know that I’m not prepared to take any personal pain like Haridāsa did. I know it would affect me very much and I won’t consider it a “token punishment”.

Isn’t it duplicity? I want to have the cake and eat it, too, or I want to stand in the kitchen but I’m not prepared to take the heat.

Do we really have learn this lesson through our own misfortune? I bet Kṛṣṇa Himself is at a loss what to do about us. How to teach us not to do it again without subjecting us to necessary pain? Why can’t we help Him by simply taking it on faith from the mouth of our ācāryas?

Oh, sometimes we are such slow learners.

Vanity thought #1308. Second look

The lecture I was talking about day before yesterday didn’t end with eulogizing compassion, there was more to it and it was a good stuff. I didn’t like it, personally, but that’s just my reaction to this particular style of dramatics.

I love a good story as much as anyone else and probably even more because I once had professional interest in story telling. I love dramatic effects, I love artistic license, it’s a true art. Art, however, is subjective. This particular style sounds way over the top for me and it grinds my ears. Why? I have a foggy image of an explanation that I think is more objective than simply blaming it on my personal tastes.

There are things we grow out of. We know how exciting they might still be to other people, especially children, but they just don’t touch our hearts anymore. I love cats but I avoid cat videos with their “aww” moments. Just the other day a neighborhood cat dragged a piece of a freshly slain bird across my porch and I watched it tearing into it like a little tiger. I’m sure that back home he is as lovely as he can be and everyone strokes him and cuddles him and everything, but what I saw was the reality of animal existence – it’s all about killing and enjoying power.

I, for some reason, don’t like baby videos either just as everyone else around me is an avid fan of some two year old internet sensation. “Grow out of it, will you!” I want to scream but no one would listen. The new season of a popular TV singing contest The Voice is in full swing but I don’t understand what is so fascinating about it. I’ve watched a couple of presentations, they all feel so staged with “artists” deliberately playing underdogs to the audience and begging to pity them for their sob stories. They are not “artists”, they are people who sing and that’s all, they can’t write any songs themselves. Similarly, no one calls nameless Chinese dudes who churned out thousands of copies of famous paintings sold by devotees as “artists”, that’s not what “art” means, but I digress.

My point was that dramatic effects look like very cheap tricks when they don’t work and leave a very bad aftertaste that can spoil the entire presentation, which would be a shame if it was a story about the Lord or His devotees. In this case it was.

Stories from Śrīmad Bhagavatam are full of transcendental nectar that doesn’t need any embellishments. We want to “improve” them only because we can’t taste the real thing, can’t transmit the nectar to the listeners, and so decide to decorate them with unnecessary details that we think would better suit particular conditioning of our audience instead.

This brings me to todays’ subject – the story that was told in that class had more layers underneath it that left me wondering. It was about Devānanda Paṇḍita (short version here – CC Adi 10.77) and it was brought in to illustrate the devastating power of offenses against devotees, iirc. Devānanda Paṇḍita once offended Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura and therefore didn’t get Kṛṣṇa premā when Lord Caitanya was freely distributing it to everyone. Eventually he got to serve Vakreśvara Paṇḍita and Lord Caitanya has forgiven him. The speaker, however, spend ten minutes on a prelude that had nothing to do with Devānanda and created so much drama out of it I could hardly listen, but back to my second thoughts on the story itself.

Devanānda is described as a learned and austere brāhmaṇa without any interests in material life. He spent his days reciting Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but his interpretations were impersonal, Lord Caitanya didn’t like it at all and once wanted to grab Devanānda’s Bhāgavatam and tear it apart. One time He ran into Devanānda and recollected the offense against Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura.

What happened was that Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura visited Devanānda’s lecture and listening to Bhāgavatam made him cry and faint. Devanānda’s disciples couldn’t understand the emotions of a pure devotee and unceremoniously carried him out of the house and into the street. I’ll get back to this a bit later.

My first “second thought” here was “Wait, how could Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura relish impersonal presentation of the Bhāgavatam?” In these situations we are told to close our ears and run away precisely for the reason we might like māyāvādī explanations. Here, however, Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura completely ignored Devanānda’s interpretation and heard only praises to the Lord and to pure devotional service that weren’t even in the lecture itself.

From this episode it appears that it is possible to hear nectar coming from māyāvādīs lips even if the danger is still there. A real devotee listening to Bhāgavatam won’t even notice misrepresentations of it, he’d be too focused on its real content to pay attention to anything else. That is a sign of a true paramahaṁsa who can’t see anything but the Lord everywhere around him and distills pure nectar from unlikeliest of places.

When Lord Caitanya harshly rebuked Devanānda, however, he took it very seriously, like a real brāhmaṇa, and he worked very hard to rectify his behavior. Eventually he got a chance to serve Vakreśvara Paṇḍita and he took it. Vakreśvara once led a very sweet and ecstatic kīrtana that attracted a lot of people and he was so absorbed in it that he didn’t see the danger of the crowd pushing and closing in on him. That’s when Devanānda got a stick and drove the crowd back, to keep the safe space around Vakreśvara.

Later, when Lord Caitanya stopped in Kuliyā, he saw Devanānda again and praised him for his service to Vakreśvara. This service canceled his previous offense against Śrīvāsa and Devanānda finally received the mercy of Mahāprabhu.

Here’s my second “second thought” – “How come Devanānda offended one devotee but was forgiven for serving somebody else?” This is not how we are told to deal with our offenses. It’s not like Devanānda couldn’t find Śrīvāsa and beg forgiveness from him directly. Just think about it – somebody offends you then sucks up to another devotee and doesn’t feel he owes you anything. That’s not how it’s supposed to work, at least in our understanding of what offense and forgiveness means. It worked with Devanānda, however. Why?

Maybe because his offense wasn’t against Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura personally. It wasn’t him who threw Śrīvāsa out of the assembly, his fault was that he didn’t stopped it. Perhaps he didn’t even know it was Śrīvāsa and so his offense was against manifestation of devotion in general. When he saw bhakti manifest in Vakreśvara he understood its value and served it, thus rectifying his offense.

Maybe there’s another explanation, but in any case, when delivering Devanānda Lord Caitanya gave important instructions on how one can rectify his aparādhas:

    If a person who unwittingly commits blasphemy stops blaspheming others and instead praises Lord Vishnu and the Vaishnavas, then that person will destroy all his sins. That is the right way to destroy them.

This translation is awful but I can’t find any better, sorry. It doesn’t mean that one doesn’t have to seek forgiveness of a particular devotee but it provides a way out for numerous offenses we commit unknowingly. If we don’t know what we did wrong we are not condemned forever, we just have to increase our service to the Lord and His devotees and hope that our greater appreciation will destroy our sins. I don’t think we can take it as a substitute for an apology we KNOW we should be offering.

Finally, with all these troubles falling on Devanānda Paṇḍita’s head and especially his impersonal interpretation of the Bhāgavatam I was surprised to learn that he is actually an eternally liberated soul and eternal Kṛṣṇa’s associate, even His senior. In Kṛṣṇa līlā he was one of the brāhmaṇas who recited Vedic literatures in Nanda Mahārāja’s house. Go figure – impersonalists in Goloka, who would have thought?

I guess the lesson we can extract from this is that in Kṛṣṇa’s kingdom there’s a place for everyone. We, however, as followers of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, should stick to the norms set by our ācāryas. We are not servants of everybody there, we are servants of our particular group of Kṛṣṇa’s devotees and if our predecessors found impersonalism unacceptable then so should we, come hell of high water. A drop of mercy from our guru cannot be substituted by an ocean of blessings from everyone else.

Vanity thought #1260. Looking at devotees

A week or so ago I checked for vaiṣṇava news on Sampradaya Sun and among the usual there was this little gem – a lecture by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī delivered in 1931, apparently on the day of his guru pūjā. It was announced as “excerpts” and the longer text is available on the site of Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja’s followers, which still isn’t a full class, but the devotee who posted it on Sampradaya Sun got the best parts anyway. Sources at the bottom.

It was actually ironic to see such an article appear on that site where there’s always room to express the attitudes Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was speaking against. I don’t want to rant against their editorial policies, however, for that would also be against our ācāryas’ advice.

Somewhere in the middle of the lecture Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta relayed his answer to a question posed to him by one of his Maṭha’s devotees. In the beginning everything looked perfect there, the devotee said, everyone was visibly attached to their service and everyone’s character was an inspiration. As time went by, however, devotees started to drift away, returned to their families or got married. The standard is not the same anymore. What to do?

It’s a rather typical situation and we’ve heard various explanations for this. Mostly they address the issue of beginner’s enthusiasm and how we should not be fooled by it. Another approach is to consider side effects of our close association with devotees, which breeds familiarity which breed contempt which breeds offenses which leads to the loss of taste. So it’s either their fault or it’s our fault or a combination of both.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta offers a completely different perspective. First of all, he refuses to acknowledge slipping standards of devotion. Something that becomes obvious to us is rejected out of hand.
“

    I cannot say that they have left hari-bhajana just because they have returned to their homes. In fact I see each and every one of those brahmacaris as amazing Vaisnavas and that their Vaisnava qualities and devotion for the Lord have increased manifold.

Come to think of it, I’ve heard this before, but the point this argument was driving at was recognition of wayward practices as genuine service. It was argued taht just because devotees do not follow sādhana as strictly as before and are engaged in what appears as mundane activities doesn’t mean there’s any deficiency in their service and therefore their behavior must be held as exemplary.

This is not the point Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was making. He wasn’t about to pass judgment on others and he wasn’t about to justify any nonsensical things others do either, he was leading us away from “objective” view of the devotees and towards a proper *subjective* perspective. Forget about how it looks, concentrate on how YOU should look at it.

    What a wicked atheist I used to be, but my wickedness substantially abated in their association. I see that I am averse to Bhagavan, but they all are engaged in hari-bhajana.

See how he changed the subject completely. Instead of looking at possible faults he implores us to consider our personal progress and attribute it to the influence of the devotees. That way we will feel grateful, not judgmental.

It sounds reasonable – if we see faults in others we should undergo our own attitude adjustment first. What is necessary for the success here, however, is humility and sober assessment of our own position. “I’m averse to Bhagavan,” he says. That should be our starting point – we see others’ service as deficient only if we compare them to ourselves.

We might think that we are trying to be objective and cite various scriptural references but we should remember that there’s variety in devotees’ service, some look good and some look better, there’s always a hierarchy. Deficiency comes into the picture only when we think that devotees fall below OUR standard. Anything better than us is good, anything lower is not and needs improvement.

To avoid this attitude, therefore, we should place ourselves as lower than the lowest, lower than the blade of grass. Incidentally, this subject was illuminated in the first part of the lecture that didn’t appear on Sampradaya Sun but we should be familiar with it already.

    From my perspective, everybody is advancing in hari-bhajana, and this universe, which was created by Bhagavan, is prospering in every respect. Everyone except me is receiving spiritual benefit.

This needs some time to be properly digested. “Everyone except me is receiving spiritual benefit” – that’s how we should see others.

You’d also think Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was lecturing a neophyte devotee but he wasn’t. He was actually extolling devotion of the person who asked the question:

    ..because you are intensely eager to serve Bhagavan you want the devotees who left to also be increasingly keen to engage in hari-bhajana. They are, however, engaged in hari-bhajana. Still you are dissatisfied and want their exuberance to serve their beloved Lord to increase a million-fold.

That’s another lesson for me. Usually, when we hear criticism of devotees we either agree or we treat the source as an offender. Here Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta neither agrees nor rejects the criticism, he sees the underlying desire to server the Lord better and better instead, and he immediately compares it to his own lack of devotion:

    My heart, on the contrary, is meager and unable to accommodate the magnitude of their bhajana of Sri Hari. They exemplified living according to an astonishingly high ideal. The only person who is incapable of performing hari-bhajana is me..

To be honest, it’s not very clear here if by “me” Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī means himself or if he speaks from the perspective of the inquiring devotee because the rest of the sentence seem to apply to the person asking the question – “because I busy myself with finding faults in others.”

I tend to think that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta here meant himself, he was speaking about his own propensity to find faults in others. It seems incongruous with his position and his behavior but if he genuinely saw himself as devoid of propensity of “hari-bhajana” then finding faults in others should have been seen as replacing it.

The less devotion one sees in one’s own heart the more faults he finds there, and seeking faults in others is one of the anarthas that should become clearly visible even if “objectively” the person might not exhibit such behavior at all.

It must be noted that “objectivity” is not applicable here at all. We should not take devotee’s expression of humility and disgust with himself as real. That’s the problem with those who advocate acceptance of questionable acts – they display only half of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s attitude – reverence for other devotees but no the underlying humility without which such reverence becomes artificial and insincere.

We shouldn’t talk nonsensical things up – we should talk our own position down.

Perhaps there’s a need for a close look at how we should develop proper “tṛṇad api su-nīcena” attitude, there’s plenty of advice in the first half of this same lecture. Not today, though.

Sources: Sampradaya Sun, Pure Bhakti

Vanity thought #1172. Pakka jnani

I was listening to a class the other day and there was one curious question at the end – who is better, a pakka jñānī or a sloppy devotee? I’m going to somewhat disagree with both the speaker and the devotee who asked the question so I better not mention any names. Bad enough I know who I am talking about, no need to spread potential offenses any further.

The answer was actually perfect. The devotee giving the class immediately brought up api cet su-durācāro verse (BG 9.30) and gave some new insights into it. New for me anyway.

First, he concentrated on the meaning of su-durācāro, the most abominable actions. We tend to think it’s just some awkward stuff, silly mistakes no one wants to admit in public, but here Kṛṣṇa talks about really the most abominable stuff. Stuff that convicted felons kill each other for because it’s inexcusable even for them.

Nice turn, if you think about it. Instead of trying to determine “most abominable” limits by our own experience we can look at the dregs of the society and see what is considered the lowest by them. Or one could just visit 4chan and read some of their commentary. The downside to this is that if Kṛṣṇa meant socially unacceptable stuff, then, as He was talking to Arjuna, it must be judged by standards of that time, not ours. OTOH, His words are eternal and His mercy is absolute so He should be able to top up anyone claims at any time, including 4chan’s.

And then this devotee mentioned the next verse, which we don’t always quote in this connection – kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā – he soon becomes righteous. Kṣipra means “quickly”, and in this verse Śrīla Prabhupāda translated it as “very quickly”, but then again, it’s quick by Kṛṣṇa’s measure.

To illustrate this the devotee gave an example of Kṛṣṇa’s answer to the Ganges when she complained about troubles awaiting her in Kali Yuga – she was afraid of all the sinful reactions people were going to deposit in her waters and she didn’t want to become a toxic dump, but Kṛṣṇa assured her that there would be no problem – in five thousand years … *Five thousand years* – no wait at all! Well, I checked the verse in our present, unauthorized Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa, and it’s just a loose rendering to suit the occasion, Kṛṣṇa didn’t use the word kṣipra there and He didn’t promise it would be fast, but it’s a good point anyway – what is kṣipra by His time might appear unbearably slow by ours. That’s why first quality of a devotee is patience, we have to chant the Holy Names with patience, everything else must wait and would come in due course of time.

Coming back to the verse, another important feature there is that Kṛṣṇa was so insistent on it that He asked Arjuna to announce it because Arjuna’s word was considered more solid than Kṛṣṇa’s own. So, it must be true. We must consider such devotees as saintly and we must accept that they will never perish for their sins. Remember this when you come across someone willing to dance on Kīrtanānanda’s grave. We have plenty of those who will not even consider overlooking other devotees’ sins, whatever they are.

Anyway, before delving into the answer the devotee asked for a clarification of what “pakka jñānī” and a “sloppy devotee” mean in this question. For “sloppy devotee” it was established that it’s someone who has committed himself to Kṛṣṇa consciousness but he is loose in following four regs and he doesn’t always complete his rounds. This was accepted and that was who api cet su-durācāro was applied to in the answer.

Pakka jñānī is more interesting here. Pakka is an Indian word meaning “neat”, “perfect”, “mature”, “complete”, and so on. Jñānī here was someone qualified by Vedic standards – reading up on Vedic literature, following Vedic injunctions (probably smarta rules, though). Following brahmacarya, vegetarian, the regs, etc. Probably with a tinge of impersonalism in his outlook but open to other ideas, too.

This is where I strongly disagree. I’m pretty sure I understand what the questioner had in mind, it was clarified, the answer mentioned these qualities, too, and I understand and agree with the answer, so I’m confident that I know where this question is coming from. This pakka jñānī is a non-devotee. He has heard of Kṛṣṇa but he has never thought of surrendering to Him and never chanted the Holy Name in proper attitude.

How can we possibly compare him to a devotee?

How can we possibly compare any kind of jñāna devoid of bhakti to devotion and chanting of the Holy Name? All repositories of all jñāna in the entire universe are not worth a drop of bhakti, not worth of one syllable of the Holy Name cried with humility and devotion.

I completely reject this premise. It should never be put up for a discussion, the possibility should never be acknowledged, even silently.

We can analyze it from another angle, too – what does “better” mean in this context? Better for whom? As conditioned souls we understand “better” in personal terms. We think we know what is “better” for us. We can also empathize with others and see how things might be “better” for them, but as devotees our only meaning of “better” should be “better for Kṛṣṇa”.

Now, in what possible way a non-devotee jñānī can please Kṛṣṇa? Absolutely nothing he does interests Kṛṣṇa in any way. Nothing, complete indifference. A devotee, OTOH, however sloppy, constantly chants Kṛṣṇa’s names and begs for His mercy, protection, care, shelter, and love. He might be marginally annoying at times but He has PERSONAL relationship with the Lord, however fragile and unsteady. It is ALWAYS better than indifference. Kṛṣṇa will NEVER forget this devotee, as was cited in the verse above.

I don’t know how one can think that Kṛṣṇa would consider non-devotees, however pakka, as being better than His bhaktas. We might be total crap but we can’t accuse Kṛṣṇa of not caring. His mercy is absolute and boundless, it is always better than His indifference.

In questions like this, and they are not new, the idea is that while sloppy devotee might have a head start, the pakka jñānī has fully charged batteries and as soon as he turns to Kṛṣṇa he will make tremendous progress in a very short time, leaving sloppy devotee in the dust.

There’s so much wrong with this assumption, too. We can’t trade a possible future turn of heart for bhakti now. Bhakti is not measured by time, of course, but it needs to be planted in the heart first. If it’s not there than fertile soil is still barren and cannot be compared to a growing bhakti creeper.

It is also false to assume that one person would make faster progress than another based on their external behavior. Bhakti does not depend on one’s karma, only on Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. It might be more difficult to practice for someone with a more sinful background but these things are relative, even in ISKCON acceptable standards of sādhana vary from zone to zone and temple to temple. Kṛṣṇa won’t be impressed by external following anyway and you can’t “overtake” someone simply because you know more and eat less.

There’s no “overtaking” in Kṛṣṇa consciousness anyway, it’s not a competition, a sign of “pakka devotee” is that he doesn’t want to be better than others in any aspect, it’s just pride talking, he knows not to listen to it.

Suppose everything above is clear and agreed on, where do these wrong assumptions come from? I think they are side effects of too much sattva. People get attached to it, that’s why the fascination with “pakka”, perfection. It seems naturally better, and it validates one’s own sattvic position, reflects one’s own sattvic values. Perhaps the real question is not about pakka jñānīs but about oneself comparing to sloppy devotees who are so not “pakka” but get lots of credit anyway, which seems unfair to someone with more sattva in their lives.

This is where I should not mention any names, this is the kind of fault that is hopefully absent in the devotee asking the question but we can find traces of it in ourselves when similar dilemmas come to our minds, too. We can easily find ourselves wondering whether measured perfection is better than sloppy spontaneity, there are lots accusations against non-pakka devotees in our debates, too.

We are always sure that our preferred way to preach or to practice is the best and we easily judge others for deviating from our standards, either into pakka or sloppy way. Ultimately, none of it matters if we consider what is good for Kṛṣṇa, and when such “good” is found we should see it as absolute so talk of “better” should not even arise, certainly not at the risk of offending anyone.

Now, if I could only purge the names from my own memory and completely remove all doubts and judgments…

Vanity thought #924. Preaching problems

Saṇkīrtana, or preaching the glory of the Holy Name, is the yuga dharma for this age but this being the age of Kali even saṇkīrtana brings problems. How so?

Well, a lot of our ISKCON problems are blamed on improper preaching. That has started even when Śrila Prabhupāda was present. Japan was a hot spot and so was Nigeria. Devotees complained to Prabhupāda about “wrong” preaching techniques all the time. At least once he answered that the end justifies the means and so whoever distributes lots of books is doing it right.

Longer term effect, however, needs to be assessed differently and I’m sure there are Prabhupāda quotes to clarify that books needs to be distributed honestly, as a preaching effort, not as some sort of a scam.

So, even book distribution is not immune to creating problems, what to speak of regular fund raising in the name of saṇkīrtana. We better get used to screwing things up every now and then, it’s impossible to be perfect by these material standards – that everybody should be happy about our preaching all the time with no negative consequences ever. By spiritual standards every contact with Kṛṣṇa is beneficial but we don’t see it that way with our material minds and intelligence so problems will be there.

Even Lord Caitanya couldn’t escape it.

Let’s see – He discovered the congregational chanting of Kṛṣṇa’s names and tried to spread all over Navadvīpa. There were obstacles, sure, but I’m not talking about those, I’m talking about problems arising from saṇkīrtana itself. First it was His childhood friends who openly questioned the value of glorifying such adulterous characters as gopīs and Kṛṣṇa. They were speaking out of ignorance and it was a blasphemous talk but Lord Caitanya couldn’t do anything – they were His equals with an equal say and an equal right to an opinion. He wasn’t an authority for them.

So, instead of benefiting the whole humanity He ended up with encouraging offenses by “rational” thinkers of His age. Not the intended outcome.

His solution was to take sannyāsa. That gave Him immediate authority, no one would dare to object Him and no one would dare to offend objects of His devotion. This looked like an ideal solution. The Lord went on preaching tours all over India and spread Gauḍīyā Vaiṣṇavism everywhere, converting Muslims, strict South Indian brāhmaṇas, and even attracting devotees of Lord Rāmacandra to worship of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇ.

Perfect, right? Not so fast.

Problems started almost immediately as the Lord settled in Jagannātha Purī. There was the case with Amogha who criticized the Lord for eating too much. Taking prasāda is legitimate spiritual activity for Gauḍīyā devotees, sannyāsa or not, but in the broader spiritual culture it was viewed as inappropriate. The Lord took advantage of mundane adoration for sannyāsīs but it came with side effects, too – He had to comply with standards of behavior of non-devotee renunciates.

The Lord was accused of eating too much on another occasion by godbrother of His guru, Rāmacandra Purī. That devotee didn’t get any praise in Caitanya Caritāmṛta but guru’s godbrother must be respected no matter what he does so Lord Caitanya had to go on a diet. That wasn’t the full extent of the problem, though – other devotees didn’t like it and I’m sure it contributed to their dissatisfaction with Rāmacandra Purī regarding some other, legitimate topics, too. I’m sure some of them developed a rather offensive attitude because even Gadadhāra Paṇḍita got some flak for accepting Rāmacandra Purī as a guest and listening to him.

The whole atmosphere was unhealthy and life returned back to normal only after Rāmacandra Purī’s departure to some other place. With Rāmacandra Purī it would have been awkward regardless but being sannyāsī Lord Caitanya made himself into an easy target even if He didn’t do anything wrong.

Then there was also a problem with local king, Pratāparudra Rāya, who wanted the audience of the Lord but that was impossible due to the same sannyāsa limitations. As a sannyāsī the Lord could preach everywhere and convert everyone but He couldn’t preach to the rich and powerful, and it’s the rich and powerful who set up rules and provide role models for the society to follow. Without converting them preaching would not be effective.

This, however, points to another, larger underlying problem – saṇkīrtana is not for everyone but only for the most pure souls. We’d love to take everyone on board but only they completely if give up all their material interests. Unfortunately, we do not take this prescription seriously and so while our interest in Kṛṣṇa remains our ability to obtain Lord Caitanya’s mercy disappears. We just can’t get it anymore. The Lord came here to give pure love of God to everyone but we excuse ourselves and rather use His boon for our own self-gratification.

Does it still benefit us? Yes, it does. Does it please Lord Caitanya? Not in the least.

There is a chapter in Caitanya Caritāmṛita (CC Antya 9) that describes problems created for the Lord by less than stellar behavior of some of His devotees.

Rāmānanda Rāya’s brothers were employed in various government positions where they had access to large amounts of money which they misused on inappropriate things like watching “dancing girls”. This led one of them, Gopīnātha Paṭṭanāyaka, into serious debt. I don’t know how much dancing girls charge but when he offered his horses to settle the debt it wasn’t enough. In one place it’s mentioned that his entire property wasn’t valuable enough to pay back whatever he squandered.

This being Kali Yuga, one thing led to another and soon he was facing capital punishment. Then another brother got arrested, too, probably on some other embezzlement charge. All the devotees rushed to Lord Caitanya for help and that greatly upset Him. What He saw ws the King asking what was rightfully his and devotees getting themselves into trouble over sense-gratification. Having considered the circumstances, He refused to help and advised to beg mercy from Lord Jagannātha instead.

We should all take note here – we can’t count on Lord Caitanya’s mercy to help us with our petty sins. He doesn’t like being involved into our materialistic affairs and it’s not what He descended on this planet for. We are on our own as soon as we decide to make a living for ourselves here. Lord’s mercy is withdrawn from hypocrites who want the benefits of both worlds – material and spiritual, it’s only available to those who completely renounce all selfish interests and surrender to the Lord with all their hearts and souls.

This shouldn’t be injunction only in relation to the Lord Caitanya but in relation to our ISKCON, too. We preach to everyone but we can’t solve everyone’s problems and we really shouldn’t. As Lord Caitanya’s representatives it’s not our job either.

As fellow strugglers, however, it would be unthinkable for us not to offer help. In the case with Rāmānanda Rāya’s brothers it was devotee intervention that saved them. Kāśī Miśra met up with the King and reminded him that it was Lord’s devotees who got themselves in trouble. Luckily, the King would have never done anything to harm Lord’s servants and instead of punishment rewarded Gopīnātha Paṭṭanāyaka with bigger salary.

Basically Kāśī Miśra cashed in the Lord’s glory while Mahāprabhu didn’t have to do anything himself. It all worked out in the end and the Lord delivered His mercy in the form of instructions for the future but what we should learn is that He doesn’t like being involved at all.

Also, we aren’t Rāmānanda Rāya’s brothers, we might not get as lucky. We are actually entirely on our own, so it’s surrender in full or slowly die at the hands of our karma without ever attaining love of God.

Vanity thought #847. Mountains of dust

Not of the good kind, not the one that we get from lotus feet of pure devotees, the kind that accumulates in our hearts and which we need to clean through chanting of the Holy Name.

First verse of siksashtaka starts with ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaḿ, cleansing the mirror of one’s heart, and if we’ve seen mirrors, they collect dust. Cleansing them is not such a heavy job even if you don’t have Windex. Our hearts, however, are different.

In our hearts we have not just dust, we have mountains of it, compressed by its own weight and by eruptions of lust into hardened rock. Try to clean that.

Lord Chaitanya made it sound so easy it’s unfair. He was speaking to the people of his age, sadly. Back then attaining love of God was relatively easy, and not just through His mercy, hearts were a lot less polluted then. Life was simple, people were simple, people were still religious, too, and they were raised in a favorable environment.

Even Bhaktivinoda Thakur wrote about chanting manifesting its results in three days. Books describing progression of the growing bhakti were not theoretical either, Six Goswamis simply recorded their observations, like proper scientists.

For us, three decades is nowhere near enough. Why? Has the process stopped working? No, it’s just that our hearts require much more work. The main problem is not cleansing itself, for nothing can stand in the face of the power of the Holy Name, it’s our deep rooted attachments that we don’t want to give up.

Holy Name gives us whatever we desire, and it ain’t love of God. If we wanted it we could have gotten it in days, just like in Lord Chaitanya’s times, we simply don’t seem to be very interested.

We say love of God is dormant in the heart of every living being and we imply that it’s only under the false ego that we don’t appreciate Lord’s service but that is not entirely true. We want to live down here and control the material nature, these are our own, spiritual desires. This is how we want to relate to the Absolute Truth, we weren’t placed here without a reason, we wanted to be here and we can’t deny how much raw happiness we derive from the ability to enjoy Lord’s material energy, how we love being embraced by the illusion, how we are attracted to her splendor.

This is not just dust on the mirror of our hearts, these are our hearts themselves, it’s not external.

Can we be easily reoriented? Yes, in days, if we want. We only need to chant offenselessly, that’s all, then our taste for the material enjoyment will be quickly replaced by the taste for the service to the Lord.

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been shown various verses, comments and lectures that specifically deal with offenses against the Holy Name. By “shown” I mean that I’ve suddenly started noticing them among the regular KC input as if the Lord was giving me intelligence by which I could come to His lotus feet. I don’t know how to describe it but sometimes ideas just come into your head and suddenly you know what to do and you are very confident in your own thoughts and it leads to you making good decisions. This kind of sudden clarity is enlightening and promising at the same time.

First time it happened, when reading some otherwise unremarkable passage, I had a “wow” moment. “Wow, offenseless chanting, the answer is so easy!” – I thought. I was very glad this point presented itself so clearly, I felt so enlightened and full of hope. It was like “finally the Supersoul has given me clear directions, I must be near the goal.”

Nothing happened, of course. There was no cleansing of my dust and tasting the nectar of the Holy Name of any kind. It was rather the opposite and now, after about two weeks, I look at my previous epiphany in a different way – it wasn’t a promise of close success, it was a warning to get ready for a relatively more difficult patch and get through it with minimal damage.

I think I managed okay and I’m thankful for the heads up but, I must admit, I’m having a difficult time letting go of that brief moment of hope. It felt so close, so on the verge of a major breakthrough, I can’t settle for a mere warning not to screw up in the next few days, as it turned out to be in practice.

Thing is, I still see the reminders about offenseless chanting everywhere – in books, in lectures, in articles on the Internet. Is there any reason behind it? Am I going to face some more problems and need to remember not to get carried away? It’s important, I know, but it’s also so “meh”.

Or maybe I should take the lessons seriously – just try to chant without offenses and see the results almost immediately! I tried, doesn’t work, seems like a Sisyphean task – lots of work, goal within the sights, then back to square one.

It seems like there’s no magic in Krishna consciousness, it’s simple but not easy, and while Lord’s help with maintaining a steady trajectory is a sign of being in the good hands it’s also a sign that the slow rising trajectory must be followed no matter how long it takes, there will be no sudden movements, just day in, day out work.

Well, we can’t conquer the Lord by such efforts alone but we still need to put these efforts in if we ever want to attract Lord’s attention, I just wish they stopped promising unobtainable things like ruci, bhava and prema.

Here’s another point, though, I noticed that if I start feeling neglected in the bliss department it takes a couple of days for the results to come in and defeat my defeatist attitude, but every time it happens I feel like I’ve cheated myself because all my ideas about what bliss must feel like are still material. Tears, goose bumps, ecstasy – all those things can be experienced by any teenager with headphones, I’ve seen it first hand, I lived through it myself, too. It feels nice but it’s not it, if that’s all that chanting can bring then it’s not worth it, I might just as well browse through trending youtube videos (a list of top videos for 2013 has just come out, incidentally), or become an Arsenal fan, because that team is having the most promising year ever and football fans know a thing or two about experiencing ecstasy.

That’s why I don’t put much value in discussing anything above namaparadha, it’s unobtainable for me, even namabhasa. Those are topics for liberated souls, I can’t appreciate them just as a toddler cannot understand sex.

I have to slave in the quarry of my heart, chipping away at that mountain of hardened dust. I trust that the Lord is still looking out for me and He’ll keep me motivated just enough to keep going. And that’s the story of my life, really.