Vanity thought #1551. How it’s done

For two days I’ve been speculating about interpretations of Queen Kuntī’s famous prayer asking for more calamities. I don’t think it has been in waste but there’s another approach taken by Śrīla Prabhupāda as quoted in Teachings of the Queen Kuntī that should show us a different way to understand that verse.

To recap: traditionally, and it is also presented in TKQ, calamities made Queen Kuntī remember Kṛṣṇa so she welcomed them, and if we follow in her footsteps so should we. Then there’s a reminder that Queen Kuntī didn’t simply remember Kṛṣṇa but actually had the experience of “seeing” Him so she wasn’t asking for pain and troubles, she was asking for more spiritual connections with the Lord. We can’t imitate this, and if can’t properly follow then we shouldn’t ask for calamities in our own prayers.

The third way is to interpret this verse through the eyes of śāstra. I don’t know of any similar sentiments but the śāstra has quite a lot to say about dealing with calamities. The way TQK was compiled this approach immediately follows Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purport to this verse in Bhāgavatam but this follow up is actually the beginning of a lecture on this verse delivered in Los-Angeles in 1973, and in this lecture asking for troubles didn’t come up at all.

The source of Queen Kuntī’s devotion to Kṛṣṇa is actually a mystery to me. She appears in the first Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as an accomplished devotee already and already in the late stage of her life. A couple of chapters later Śrīla Prabhupāda gives an outline of her life (SB 1.13.3-4) but doesn’t explain how she became a devotee either. I haven’t read the relevant chapters in Mahābhārata but heard retelling of the same biography elsewhere, still no mention of the development of her devotion.

She was a sister of Kṛṣṇa’s father, Vasudeva, but then she was given to a childless uncle, Mahārāja Kuntibhoja, hence the name Kuntī. Her original name, and it appears in several places in Bhāgavatam, was Pṛthā. She grew up as a nice girl and always served guests of her adoptive father. Durvāsā Muni was very impressed by her service and gave her a mantra to summon any demigod she desired. She had no idea what it was for, being young and innocent, and so she was very surprised when she gave it a try – Sun god himself showed up in her room to have sex with her. She objected that she wasn’t married but Sun god assured her that he’d repair her virginity and no one would know. Thus Karṇa was born but she had to give him up because she still wasn’t married and couldn’t raise a son and claim virginity at the same time (insert a Christian joke here).

She later married Mahārāja Pāṇḍu but Pāṇḍu got cursed to die if he ever had sex. While hunting he killed a copulating deer in the forest who happened to be a powerful ṛṣi too shy to have sex in his original body. This could lead to an interesting discussion on sex life in the human form of life but let’s leave it out for today. He got cursed by the dying sage for not expressing remorse and insisting it was his right to hunt as a kṣatriya, which could lead to a discussion on stubbornness.

So, Kuntī got married but couldn’t have children with her husband. That’s when she remembered the mantra once again and Mahārāja Pāṇḍu agreed that it could be a solution. That’s how Kuntī got Yudhiṣṭhira, Arjuna, and Bhīma who were born by summoning respective demigods. This could lead to a discussion on sex in the higher species of life and freedom of will of the demigods but let’s leave that discussion for another day, too.

Pāṇḍū had another wife, Mādrī, and once he got too agitated by lust and approached her for sex, curse or no curse, and he died. This could lead back to the discussion on sex desire in humans but let’s talk about Queen Kuntī. After Pāṇḍu’s death one of his wives should have stepped into funeral pyre and, with the help of sages so it was all legit, it was decided that Mādrī would accept the satī ritual and Kuntī would raise the children – three of her own and two of Mādrī’s (who Kuntī sometimes shared benefits of her mantra with).

To translate it into the modern terms – she was a single mother with five children and no job, having already abandoned her first born, and we are only approaching the beginning of her troubles. Describing all that followed would be impossible here but we can be rest assured she had more that her fair share – surviving assassination attempts, exile, life in the forest, all the while raising five boys all by herself.

Still, I have no idea how she came to know that Kṛṣṇa was the Supreme Personality of Godhead and developed full faith and devotion.

Now, her request for more troubles shouldn’t be taken out of the context, and not only the context of her life but spiritual context, too. She clearly followed Kṛṣṇa’s instructions in Bhagavad Gīta even before they were delivered to Arjuna (BG 2.14):

    mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya
    śītoṣṇa-sukha-duḥkha-dāḥ
    āgamāpāyino ’nityās
    tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata

I decided to quote Sanskrit here because Kṛṣṇa specifically addressed Arjuna as a son of Kuntī – she showed the way how it should be done.

“O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”

She was an expert on patiently tolerating distress, she proved that by her entire life. This is another reason why we shouldn’t rush to imitate her prayers – let us leave through the life of similar pain first. Another verse that Prabhupāda quoted in this regard, and he actually started with it (SB 10.14.8):

    tat te ’nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo
    bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam
    hṛd-vāg-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
    jīveta yo mukti-pade sa dāya-bhāk

“My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.”

This verse has everything we ever need to know about pain – patiently suffer, earnestly wait for mercy, and keep going with your service. What do we get in return? Eligibility for liberation, but not the liberation itself.

I don’t think I need to say anything more, just contemplate the meaning and let it sink in – patiently suffer, earnestly wait, and keep going with your service.

Oh, and everybody else, including fellow devotees, would think you are a total failure, not just in life but in your devotion, too – because you’d have nothing to show for it but troubles.

Is there any other way to develop total dependence on the Lord? I don’t think so. Even guru would seem to have become useless, materially speaking, because he will not be able to help when it’s the Lord Himself who arranges for your suffering.

If we manage to survive through all that then we can think about revisiting Queen Kuntī’s prayer once again but until then imitating her would be foolish.

Vanity thought #1550. Seeing Krishna means..

Yesterday I brought forward a somewhat different interpretation of Queen Kuntī’s famous prayer asking for troubles (SB 1.8.25 and TQK 8). It wasn’t my idea but I thought it was interesting enough to explore. I also offered a possible explanation why we never thought of this before – because we were complacent and way over our heads.

Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote the purport to this verse before coming to the West so he might have made some assumptions about his readers that were later proven to be false. When he revisited this topic again in 1973 in a series of lectures given in our main temples (New York and Los-Angeles) we were again in over our heads, thinking ourselves more advanced than we really were.

What was that assumption that turned out to be false? That by remembering Kṛṣṇa we would actually see Him, that Kuntī meant it literally. Well, not exactly literally because Kuntī didn’t see Kṛṣṇa with her own eyes when she was living in the forest, but remembering and praying to the Lord for a devotee of her status is the same as seeing Him. It’s not so for us.

I suspect Śrīla Prabhupāda hoped that his readers would be more or less on the same level and when he was speaking on this topic in 1973 he also thought that ISKCON devotees were already there, but we weren’t. Some would argue that Śrīla Prabhupāda had a full spiritual vision and therefore he couldn’t be wrong and couldn’t misjudge our level of advancement but I don’t accept this type of arguments. Guru is not God, he is not omniscient, and Kṛṣṇa does not manifest all His potencies through guru in full. He can, theoretically, but He displays only what is necessary for our spiritual advancement.

In the case of Śrīla Prabhupāda I would point to his serious miscalculation of our ability to stay in marriage, for example. Originally he thought that he’d simply match boys and girls and the problem of sex in our society would be solved. Instead we unleashed a hell of complaints and demands for divorce under the guise of renunciation, and many didn’t even bother to ask. After a few years of very bad experiences Śrīla Prabhupāda washed his hands of the whole affair and lost faith in us in this particular aspect. Just recently I heard a quote where he stated our ineligibility for married life as a matter of fact – it’s just how we are, incapable of staying married, contrary to his earlier expectations.

So, when talking about Queen Kuntī’s prayers Prabhupāda assumed that simply by remembering the Lord we would gain enough of His presence to forget all out problems but it doesn’t happen. Similarly, his early message to us was “chant and be happy”, simple and śāstrically correct, but it doesn’t work on us. It did work for some very well, for those who embraced simplicity and had full faith in Prabhupāda’s words, but vast majority of present day devotees tend to overthink things, I would say, and find plenty of caveats in this simple slogan.

“Happiness is determined by one’s karma,” that’s what I would argue here. Troubles will come regardless of whether we chant or not, and then I would link back to this very prayer by Queen Kuntī or to Kṛṣṇa’s words in Bhagavad Gītā – “one should learn to tolerate happiness and distress”, not that “distress will never come”. How can one be in pain and happy at the same time?

In lectures on Teachings of Queen Kuntī Śrīla Prabhupāda acknowledged this problem and reminded us of Arjuna’s objection that knowing one’s spiritual position is not enough to be freed from pain of watching his relatives to be killed. “You must overcome it,” said Kṛṣṇa in response, eventually one will achieve the level of brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā where these things will stop bothering him. On this level remembrance of Kṛṣṇa does bring happiness regardless of the material situation, Śrīla Prabhupāda was absolutely correct here, the problem was our actual position.

Our devotees sincerely thought that they were already there, fully engaged in service to guru and Kṛṣṇa, and therefore above material pleasure and pain. Maybe they were at the time but later it was proven that for many of us it was unsustainable. These days remembering Kṛṣṇa is expected to relieve us from suffering, not “seeing” him, at least for me. I can also point to plenty of devotees in relatively comfortable positions who attribute their happiness to Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, that it’s proof that Kṛṣṇa consciousness works. Maybe it is proof, but it’s not “seeing” Kṛṣṇa either. We are still not on brahma-bhūtaḥ platform yet, and I think everyone in our society acknowledges that. It wasn’t so in the beginning when people were speaking about it as given in their Bhāgavatam classes.

Hmm, I can think of one devotee, Navīna Nīrada, who still goes around spreading the mood of saṇkīrtana as if nothing has changed since the days it was so successful in his home country and Europe in general. He still talks about it as a matter of fact – take books, find people, preach, and brahma-bhūtaḥ is yours. We don’t do it, though, we become smarter, and we approach book distribution methodically instead. In India, home of our current champions, saṅkīrtana means finding rich donors, pandering to their egos, making them pay for thousands of books, and then giving these books away for free.

It’s just not the same, for millions of reasons, and so brahma-bhūtaḥ does not manifest. Elsewhere we talk about healthy lifestyle, yoga, and maybe try to please the vegans, which is not the same thing either. Many have figured that it’s better to hide our Hare Kṛṣṇa identity and pretend we are anybody else but followers of Hare Kṛṣṇa movement of the seventies and eighties. This obviously does not elevate us to brahma bhūtaḥ, too.

If we are not on the brahma-bhūtaḥ level then we won’t experience prasannātmā, we won’t become “fully joyful”, and so we might have calamities coming our way and they might make us think of Kṛṣṇa but it won’t be the same experience as that of Queen Kuntī, it won’t make us “see” the Lord.

Actually, in the verse itself, Queen Kuntī explains exactly what she meant: “seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” This could be interpreted differently from what I meant in the beginning of this post but it’s the same brahma-bhūtaḥ – freedom from birth and death, liberation. She speaks from the platform of liberation and she can’t have enough of various calamities because they add remembering Kṛṣṇa and thus complete her happiness and fulfillment.

Once again – on the platform of liberation, or on the platform of devotional service, calamities do not bring pain, but it’s not the same for us. If I asked for troubles I’d be harping about my bodily condition and demanding Kṛṣṇa to do something about it. That is not what Queen Kuntī teaches at all.

Vanity thought #1549. Queen Kuntī for beginners

Teachings of Queen Kuntī is already a beginners’ book, one could say, but I beg to disagree. I don’t know the exact history of its publishing but what is obvious is already telling enough – it’s a book for devotees and can be appreciated only by devotees. Moreover, many of us might not be advanced enough to understand it correctly.

The book is made of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purports written still in India, when he had no idea what his actual audience might be. He hoped he’d attract crème de la crème of English speaking society, he aimed for Western intellectuals. Instead he got hippies. This alone opens the possibility that it might go straight over our heads, Bhāgavatam is not the introductory course in Kṛṣṇa consciousness even if some chapters are more accessible than others.

The purports were further augmented by excerpts from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lectures delivered in 1973 in New York and Los-Angeles. 1973 was a curious time in ISKCON so if Prabhupāda tailored the content to the level of his listeners it might be another indication that we should take this book more seriously.

In 1973 we thought we were invincible. ISKCON was on the up and up, we just got a temple in Māyāpura, in the birthplace of Lord Caitanya, which was a big victory, and the rest of the world was also in full Hare Kṛṣṇa fever. The side effect of it was that our leaders were amply rewarded with titles and positions and thought they themselves became invincible, too. Now we know that a lot of these “diplomas” in spiritual progress were premature but back then our devotees really thought they were already “pure”.

Prabhupāda didn’t seem to mind, everyone was following very nicely and there were no indications that his sannyāsīs would start blooping left and right. If there were problems they were thought to be isolated cases, not a general trend. He thought he could entrust running ISKCON to the GBC and concentrate on writing books instead, and it worked, it was probably the most productive period for him.

Temples in Los Angeles and New York were also main pillars of our community and as such devotees there expected to hear really advanced Kṛṣṇa consciousness philosophy, not the ABCs. Of course their definition of advanced then was probably on the level of bhakta training programs required for any new devotee these days but my point is that those weren’t lectures for beginners but for those who considered themselves fully renounced from the material world and fully engaged in spiritual service.

Then it all blew up in our faces, which why it shouldn’t be surprising that we might have misunderstood some of what we thought was basic stuff. We didn’t understand it then, or we wouldn’t run into the problems in the 80s, and we might not understand it now because we never paid attention to it since.

I’m not trying to reinvent teachings of Queen Kuntī, I just heard something in a class that needs serious examination.

The subject is Kuntī’s pivotal request (SB 1.8.25 and TQK 8):

    I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.

This request for more suffering was probably the main reason for publishing the entire book, for it is truly mind boggling for the general audience. Of course we have Christians with their penchant for crucifixions but “beginners” in this context meant misguided atheists, not Christian wannabe martyrs. No one entices people into their religion with promises of more pain, everyone talks about eternal life full of bliss instead, but here we have Hare Kṛṣṇas begging for troubles right in the beginning of the main book on their philosophy. Isn’t it something wonderful and pretty unique?

Well, the other day I heard that when Queen Kuntī said “seeing You” she really meant it. She didn’t ask for calamities per se, she wanted to see Kṛṣṇa and it worked for her. We, in our neophyte stage, completely miss that part and remember only calamities.

For us calamities mean inescapable pain and disturbance of the mind. It doesn’t meant that we’d actually see Kṛṣṇa. We don’t know what seeing Kṛṣṇa means at all. We think that “seeing Kṛṣṇa” and chanting more rounds is one and the same, the name being non-different from the Lord. “If something bad happens it will make me think of Kṛṣṇa so it’s a good thing, so I get what Queen Kuntī meant there, it’s not that difficult.” We think that if problems make us pray more than the mission is accomplished and we’ve become just as advanced as Queen Kuntī in our understanding.

Nope, that’s not how advanced devotees see calamities and how they see Kṛṣṇa. Seeing Kṛṣṇa means actually experiencing bliss of His presence, be it in person, in the name, or in memories, it’s a full on samādhī and it’s not what happens to us. Likewise, “calamity” means a totally different thing for a conditioned soul and for a devotee lost in his service to the Lord. We look at it from the bodily perspective and react according to our bodily interests, it doesn’t affect the status of our relationship with Kṛṣṇa. We will not “see” Him just because we are in pain.

I would argue that adding pain to our attempts at service adds more distractions, not less. At first we didn’t think of Kṛṣṇa much and now we think more about pain, how’s that progress? The excuse that problems make people pray more doesn’t hold – they might be praying more but they’d be praying for the wrong thing – liberation from suffering, and it won’t impress Kṛṣṇa in the least. If Kṛṣṇa is not pleased then there’s no progress, no benefit in pursuing this course of actions. What we do is demand Kṛṣṇa’s service instead – to come and relieve us from our calamities. That’s why Christians are not getting anywhere – they look at God as their order supplier, it’s a waste of everybody’s time.

There’s another mischief going on here – like when a girl pretends to be in trouble to get boy’s attention. It works on boys but it won’t work on Kṛṣṇa, He can’t be fooled. We should give up this mentality that Kṛṣṇa’s mercy can be manipulated by our actions, that we can somehow deserve or elicit it. Nope, it’s causeless, it doesn’t depend on us whatsoever.

What Queen Kuntī was saying there is that her experiences of Kṛṣṇa’s mercy were always triggered by calamities, that’s how their relationships worked. We misunderstand it to mean the Kṛṣṇa’s mercy is CAUSED by calamities, and it’s a big, fundamental mistake. In our case Kṛṣṇa’s mercy manifests in our particular way, for some it’s deity worship, for some it’s kīrtana, for others it could be direct service to their guru. It’s Kṛṣṇa’s choice and He can change it any time at will, but we cannot. We cannot decide that from now on I’ll get my share of His mercy triggered by suffering.

I’m not in the position to fully grasp all the implications of this understanding of Queen Kuntī’s prayers. Perhaps it will come to me later on. Perhaps I will find reasons for an objection, too, but it’s certainly something to think about.

Vanity thought #1548. Reaching out

Perhaps the most memorable lesson I learned from my dental problem was that Kṛṣṇa remains totally aloof from the happenings in the material world. Whatever help that occasionally comes is part of the universal plan. What concerns me today is the question how to bridge this gap and get Kṛṣṇa’s attention.

Well, “occasionally” above is probably not the right word. On some level the Lord always offers help – it’s a universal law. We offer sacrifices, chant the holy name, and the universe responds. The holy name is fully invested with all Kṛṣṇa’s energies, when it appears in a sound form these energies are always present, even if imperceptible to us, so the universe has to accommodate them. More like the holy name IS part of the universe just as deities and temples are, and so there is always some purifying influence around.

Sometimes temples get desecrated and deities destroyed, though. Does it mean that Lord’s power get overwritten? Visibly – yes, spiritually – no. If one dies while protecting the deity from aggressors the spiritual reward is worth all the material loss – the person doing the service is always spiritually protected even when his material body is not. Aggressors need to have their wishes fulfilled, too, and this way both parties are satisfied – devotees get reunited with their Lord and atheists get to rule the matter as if God is not there.

Anyway, as long as we chant, the influence of Kali Yuga will remain minimal. If we keep ourselves clean by following four regs we become practically impervious. It doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to us but the law of karma will greatly reduce them because of the presence of the holy name. This doesn’t mean that we get upgraded in our own relationships with Kṛṣṇa.

The holy name is there, it protects us and it will save us from greatest dangers, but it doesn’t mean we’ll be granted pure devotion, maybe we’ll lose a few anarthas at best.

Our current relationship with the Lord is that we chant His name, hear it, and keep doing our own thing. We don’t see the name’s full glory and we ignore the words of our ācāryas imploring us to chant the holy name with full seriousness. In this state we obviously can’t expect any breakthroughs. The name will reciprocate with our negligence by staying hidden.

So, how to bridge this gap and earn Kṛṣṇa’s attention?

Not by whining about toothache for sure. Bhakti must be unalloyed, as Prabhupāda learned from a billboard put up by Boston steel company, I learned the other day. He saw it and thought that concept of “unalloyed steel” could be very useful in describing devotion. Nice story, but the word unalloyed appears plenty of times in his purports to the First Canto of Bhāgavatam which were written and published before he came to the US.

In case of pain, unalloyed devotion means not even acknowledging that the pain is there. It’s not even tolerating it, because tolerance means awareness and conscious reaction. When we consciously react to our karma we make our bhakti “karma-miśra” -infused with material desires, and the Lord will never reciprocate with that. If He feels that He can’t ignore His devotees even when they exhibit material desires He would relieve them of karmic tendencies first, and only then proceed in developing a relationship. It happened to Dhruva, it happened to Kubjā, it happens all the time. Material desires have no place in relationships with Kṛṣṇa.

We aren’t anywhere near Dhruva’s level of intensity in our service and Kubjā was born to live in Mathurā during Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, so we won’t get Lord’s personal darśana unless we completely purify ourselves. We need a level of purity necessary for mahā-bhava platform, nothing less.

During these couple of days when I felt the pain I also was given a chance to see that chanting and remembering Kṛṣṇa is “transcendental”, that it can go on regardless and feels just the same. I could pray for easing of the pain, and that’s one way to make us remember the Lord, but I could also simply sit and hear the name, the effect on pain perception was the same.

If I directed my consciousness away from my tooth, the pain disappeared. I could direct my attention to talking to other people, I could direct it to something on the internet, I could direct it to reading our books – it doesn’t matter. If I directed it to hearing the name, however, it would be a spiritually benefiting decision while all the others would be creating more karma. It doesn’t matter whether it would be a good karma or bad, neither for the purpose of pain management nor for the purpose of developing Kṛṣṇa consciousness – it is something that would steal my attention away from Kṛṣṇa in the future.

I was given a chance to see how by concentrating on chanting, or rather remembering the name, as chanting itself takes only a small portion of the day, we can divert our consciousness away from matter while karma still goes on. I use the word “consciousness” here because the mind seems unstoppable and acts on its own. If I paid attention to the mind he’d immediately remind me of pain. If I used intelligence to force the mind to think of something else, I would still be on a mental platform, just in a slightly different place – less painful for the moment but who knows how it’d turn out in the future? Consciousness, however, is spiritual, and its existence and experiences are different from those of subtle material elements like mind and intelligence.

It’s the consciousness that needs to be diverted, rendering convulsions of the mind irrelevant and uninteresting to the soul. We can see it in older, wiser people. They seem to be unperturbed by whatever is happening to them, and not just because their senses have become dull, but because they don’t value sensory perception and activities very much. The world goes on but fails to impress them. That’s what we should be going for, too, even if it doesn’t mean recognition by Kṛṣṇa.

I can’t make Kṛṣṇa shower me with mercy, I don’t even deserve this mercy – compared to the efforts made by other devotees, but I can divert my consciousness to hearing or remembering the name. I can’t force my mind and intelligence – those are working under the modes of nature, but my consciousness is transcendental. It can’t upgrade my relationship with the Lord but it can concentrate on what is already there – whatever it is that I can chant and remember, there are no material words to adequately describe remembrance of the Lord anyway.

So, at the end of the day, it’s not reaching out to the Lord but learning to appreciate whatever is already given, and not even appreciate but simply observe. Appreciation would imply receiving mercy, it won’t happen out of the blue. Observation, however, is available to all who has ever heard the words Hare Kṛṣṇa.

Finally, this silent observation doesn’t seem to do anything practical at the moment but it shows that there’s more to life than obsessing with happenings in the material world.

Vanity thought #1547. Out of touch

How does Kṛṣṇa help with managing pain and bad karma in general? As I said yesterday, the usual solution that I was somehow scheduled for tooth extraction by Russian “bratva” but instead was sent to a dentist, like normal people, isn’t very satisfying, for several reasons.

The main one is probably the amount of interference the Lord would have done on my behalf. Even if I had to undergo even a slightly different procedure in the same clinic it would have required changing karma of lots of people. The doctor would have spent more time, nurses would have done different things, the clinic would receive a larger payment, someone else had to wait for his turn a bit longer, meaning he or she could have posted more comments on twitter and possibly started a flame war. There’d be also different consumption of resources – pliers instead of drills, dental cement instead of gauze, meaning the next order would either be different or come at a different time. It’s not a big deal in any of these cases but practically the entire universe would be affected, in as much as faster consumption of Earth’s materials affects the solar system and the galaxy.

Why would Kṛṣṇa go to all this trouble? Just because of my whining? And how much trouble exactly? Does He have to prepare for every contingency? If I whine a little more He prepares this level of change, if I whine a little less, another change is at the ready. And what about affects on all the other people who’d put forwards their own demands when their lives change unfairly? This would quickly snowball out of hand, with infinite number of scenarios appearing instantly, all guided by my reactions? I don’t think it’s how the universe is supposed to work. I don’t think Kṛṣṇa interferes as easily.

Of course one could say that I’m applying my material restrictions to the Absolute, as if saying that Kṛṣṇa can deal with two-three adjustments easily but a thousand would be a strain, and fixing the entire universe would overload Him. Still, I don’t think it’s how the Lord takes care of the things.

He is known to be partial to His devotees and ready to protect them, but I would argue that these cases are always planned well in advance. Lord Nṛsiṁha’s appearance, for example, was clearly scheduled even though to us it appeared spontaneous. Both the demon, Hiraṇyakaśipu, and the devotee, Prahlāda, had to be placed within the universe in advance, in the case of Hiraṇyakaśipu the back story started in the spiritual world. Or, from the example of the life of Lord Brahmā, we know that it’s the position, not a person, and it’s filled by a suitable soul who then goes on to relive the entire history of the universe, including all the interactions with the Lord in multitude of incarnations.

We normally think that karma is impersonal but it isn’t so, it, and the entire universe, are always connected to the Lord, who then appears at appropriate times to remind us of this connection. It is all planned, it’s the same pastimes being replayed again and again, in each day of Brahmā. So, the Lord doesn’t turn up out of order to fix my toothache, partly because my reaction to the toothache is NOT out of order itself. The Lord knows exactly how I would react and how much pain I would feel, there are no surprises for Him here. This time there was no need for His personal involvement, it wasn’t scheduled and it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that the Lord wasn’t involved, though.

So, apart from medication, I tried to deal with pain mentally. First thing I noticed is that I don’t feel it when I sleep. The pain is still there, in as much as pain is the objective reality, but probably it isn’t – it’s my perception of the objective reality. The infection is still there but my perception of it is turned off during sleep. Hmm, “so this is manageable,” I thought to myself.

Next thing I noticed is that I forget pain when I think of something else. Of course it’s easier to forget little pain than throbbing toothache but it’s still possible, it’s a question of how far the mind is taken away from the body. Wifey droning on in the background is probably not going to distract me much, I’d rather concentrate on pain than listen to her nagging, but a bomb falling in the backyard would probably make me forget about toothache in an instant. In this case, reading an engaging news story was enough most of the time. As long as I was there, the pain was absent, as soon as I returned to reality, the pain was throbbing again.

Great, so all I need is distractions? Not really, because pain is karma, it will always come around, and engaging in distractions is a karmic activity as well, it will come back to bite me, probably by distracting me from chanting, digging up the memories and reminding me how engaging it felt. There is an easily solution, though – get distracted by Kṛṣṇa! Read Bhāgavatam instead of news. Simple. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

I don’t think we are supposed to abuse Bhāgavatam this way. It’s not a story book to read ourselves to sleep or to use to manage pain. As a story book it’s not very exciting either, considering how little happens during reading word for word translation, for example. Philosophy can be distracting, too – when you discover something you haven’t thought of before and go on exploring all the options, but how often does it happen when we read the Bhāgavatam? Hardly ever, most of it we have heard before. Our problem is not with learning but with realizing it.

Realization means Kṛṣṇa’s grace, though, and if He had offered it I would have certainly been distracted from pain but I can’t order it around, it doesn’t come from simply reading the book. Bhāgavatam is an incarnation of Kṛṣṇa and it takes us directly into the spiritual world but it doesn’t happen all the time, practically never.

I tried to misuse our books as tools for mitigating pain and it didn’t work very well for the purpose, nor should it have. What I got instead is that Kṛṣṇa is totally aloof from this world and approaching Him must be done on His terms, in HIS consciousness, not ours. If I worry about pain I’m still captured by illusion, meaning I can’t approach the Lord. Whatever actions I do to avoid the pain are still born out of illusion and pursue selfish purposes, I shouldn’t even think of coming to Kṛṣṇa with these complaints. He is not there to improve the conditions of the material world, He won’t be interested. And He ignored me, I now have my personal proof.

So, whatever I did to reduce the pain was all on me, my karma, probably sowing seeds of future reactions. Kṛṣṇa is completely out of touch with it, it stinks, and I shouldn’t bring it to Him. Sometimes cats find dead mice and drag them into the house. Nope, the mice are not staying, and the Lord, being omnipotent, will not even allow us to bring our dirty, selfish desires into His presence.

Actually, He is protected by our fellow devotees and it’s them who’d stand in our path. If we offend them in return we’d condemn ourselves to even more suffering. The cycle needs to be broken, we can’t invest all our consciousness in battling illusory pleasure and pain, Kṛṣṇa is never to be found there, so just leave it alone, it will somehow all work itself out and we would eventually die, which will probably be much more painful than a toothache. It’s not what we should worry about at all. It’s not the real us and it’s not our real lives.

How to come in touch with this out of touch Kṛṣṇa is a different matter. So far I only know what doesn’t work.

Vanity thought #1546. Pain management

I’ve got an appointment with the dentist but in the meantime I have to manage the pain by myself. So far I’ve tried aspirin and ibuprofen, it’s not bad, I think I’ll survive. What I want to talk about, however, is pain management from a spiritual perspective. Mayo clinic’s online advice isn’t of much help here. Neither are our books, for that matter, that’s why I think I have to do it on my own.

First is the question of karma – we can’t avoid it with pills. It doesn’t matter whether I take the ibuprofen or not, I have to live through the allotted amount of pain regardless. It’s rather that when the pain taps out ibuprofen becomes available. Another issue is that we don’t know how much pain we should be in, it’s quite possible that our condition normally produces this much pain but by our karma we get to suffer only half of it, so ibuprofen is supplied to restore justice in the universe.

Typically, it’s not how people think of drugs. They see themselves as a cause and believe they can manipulate effects. They think they are free to either take ibuprofen or continue suffering and thus exercise their free will. I don’t think it’s how it works. We live under the illusion that we are doers in this world, we accept movements of material elements as ours, as controlled by us. We insert ourselves into this “pain to medicine to relief” chain and take the credit but in reality it all goes on according to universal plan, we are just here to observe and enjoy.

Just think how many people take credit for pain relief in this case – I take the credit because I take the pill, the person who brought the pill to me takes some credit, too. The person who typed up advice on webmd takes the credit, the person who maintains that site takes the credit, google takes the credit for finding it for me, people who invent ibuprofen take the credit, people who taught them take the credit, people who invested in its development and managed trials take credit, people who make ibuprofen now take the credit, government that might control the prices (not sure in this case) take the credit, insurance companies take the credit – it’s a large collective effort and it comes as a part of overall practice of medicine by the society over hundreds and thousands of years and by now covering the entire planet.

As for me – I don’t really have a choice here. I might think about tolerating the pain instead but this is not what is prescribed by our authorities so I must take the medicine as soon as it becomes available. If I hold out it would be out of stubbornness or false pride – qualities that I have been nurturing and then fought against my entire life. Whether I succeed this time or not depends on the entire history of this struggle, it’s not really a choice. The idea of taking ibuprofen wasn’t my choice too, I learned about it from others in response to the growing pain, which I didn’t choose either.

The reality is that I’m pretty helpless here, tossed around by forces I don’t control, if I examine their sources closely. It all comes down to one stupid decision to seek pleasure in this world, and I can’t even remember how that happened. No one does, even Vedas themselves are quiet on the subject. In all His appearances here the Lord chose not to disclose the exact process by which we turn our backs on Him, it was probably ugly and uncomfortable for everyone involved. Past is past, the Lord is ready to forget it, there’s no benefit in us digging it up – what if the Lord remembers what happened and, on the second thought, decides that He is not in the mood to take us back yet?

Speaking of Kṛṣṇa – what’s His role in administering our pain? Theoretically, He can wave it away with even half a wish. Practically, His involvement deserves special consideration.

We are taught that we should see our pain as already greatly reduced. Instead of a minor, almost unnoticeable pain after taking ibuprofen, I should have suffered my tooth being pulled out by a burly gangster with Russian accent, but by Kṛṣṇa’s grace I was relieved of that heavy karma. It’s a nice attitude to develop but it’s not easy to do so without evidence. Sometimes in the end we get some knowledge of what could have happened and realize that we were saved from much greater danger by Kṛṣṇa but it’s hardly ever the case in the beginning, when misfortunes only start piling up. I can’t see any other source but faith in the words of our ācāryas here, that somehow they are correct even against the available evidence.

What happens instead is that I find it hard not to blame Kṛṣṇa for inflicting pain on me. Who else am I going to blame? My karma is in His hands now even if it was originally created by me. The only solution is not to blame anyone but embrace pain as mercy, as a test, as an opportunity to serve. It’s not as hard as it sounds – we get tests and difficulties all the time, this one is just a little bigger than the others, which is also a sign that we are ready to take it on, otherwise Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t put us in this situation.

So, this toothache is the next challenge posed by the Lord and I should approach it as such. What am I supposed to do? Control myself, keep steady, do the needful. Relief will be provided whenever I can’t go on without it, like that first time I couldn’t fall asleep and suddenly realized that I still have a couple of aspirins that could help, and they did. It was on day two or three of trying to ignore the pain and the thought simply didn’t occur to me before then. And now I have ibuprofen – it’s not all bad, Kṛṣṇa still keeps watching over me, so I’ll probably survive.

On that note, there’s a lot more to be said about mentally controlling the pain and the role of the Holy Name in the process, but I would rather leave it for another day, I hope my memories do not fade by then.

Vanity thought #1076. Point of pain

Why are we made to suffer? Yesterday I said that there’s a perfectly good explanation why apparently innocent people and children sometimes have to suffer unspeakable pain. I thought I would present it today but on the second thought the explanation still appears to be elusive.

Short answer is that it’s karma but that doesn’t say much because then you’ll have to explain what karma is and why it works that way and it quickly becomes a shaky subject no one agrees upon.

One could argue that, according to karma, people are made to suffer exactly the same pain they earlier inflicted on others. That makes sense within one lifetime but not so much if karma is earned in one life and manifests in another. In this case we don’t remember the crime and have to take its existence on faith – law of karma is not observable over two or more lifespans. Maybe it works as described, maybe it doesn’t.

One could further argue that because it works within one lifetime then it’s reasonable to extend it into the next life as well rather than to seek an alternative law but not everyone will agree with this logic.

Observable fact is that some things happen to us for no apparent reason while other things do not correspond with their reasons uniformly, like people getting away with murder or ethnic cleansing. It’s nice to hope that they’ll be punished after death and it would make a lot of sense but it’s not something we can see, and we are not talking about spirituality here, just ordinary material laws of nature.

So, if we say that all pain is caused by the law of karma we essentially blame undeserved suffering on unseen causes and a lot of people would ask for a better solution than this.

Another argument could be existence of pain itself – maybe there’s a law of karma and maybe it’s unbreakable, but what is the need for suffering in the first place? Why can’t we have this law of karma AND no pain?

People often answer this question by the need for variety, that without pain we wouldn’t appreciate pleasure. Not true, we don’t need to eat disgusting things to appreciate the taste of delicious food. We don’t need to flay our skin to appreciate soft touch. Variety might be necessary but extreme pain isn’t.

There’s variety in the spiritual world, too, but planets there are still called vaikuṇṭhas – free from suffering, so that answer is flawed.

Another possible answer is that pain is the property of the material world, pain is what makes it different, but it still doesn’t explain why it’s really needed. There are heavenly planets here where pain is practically non-existent so it’s possible to have a material world AND be free from pain, so? Why do we have to suffer but inhabitants of the heavenly planets don’t?

The answer to this is “karma” again, but it still doesn’t explain the need for pain itself. Can’t we all have karma with just a mild irritation? Obviously we can’t, but why?

Another answer is the degree of piety – pious souls experience a lot less pain than impious ones but it still doesn’t explain the need for the low base value. Source of piety itself is questionable, too.

Usually, in Vedic culture and elsewhere, piety is related to worshiping God and following rules given in the holy scriptures but what about best of the demons who live more comfortable lives than the best of demigods? They hate God with all their hearts and can’t care less about worshiping Indra and his crew and yet they appear to acquire more piety than anyone else.

This is actually an important point because it redefines piety in a way that is more suitable for devotees – if Kṛṣṇa is the one who ultimately controls our fate then usual notions of “good” and “bad” karma become inadequate and one must look beyond standard prescriptions from the śāstra. Demons ignore them to increase their material happiness and devotees ignore them to increase their love of God.

We and the demons to not subvert śāstra in the same way, of course, but it’s the possibility of living outside Vedic rules and succeeding is what’s important.

However important that realization could be it still does not explain existence of pain.

I’m afraid we have to look at how the material world is made possible as well as definition of pain itself.

Spiritually, we are all parts and particles of Kṛṣṇa who are meant to be engaged in His service. If we refuse we need an illusion to cover this fundamental truth, and this illusion is temporary. We want something and the Lord arranges it for us, and material world comes into existence.

Because it’s not eternal it needs to be created and creation must end with destruction, which is controlled by the mode of ignorance, and this mode of ignorance also causes pain. How? Not important, what’s important is that it’s unavoidable.

If we can explain how and why tama guna causes pain we’ll have the final answer to the original question.

Tama means ignorance, means forgetfulness of our spiritual nature and misidentification with matter. Even if false ego itself is not the product of tama guna eventually it leads to ignorance and absolute, total conviction that we are our bodies, that we are made of matter, that we ARE matter and nothing else.

Pain, therefore, is the property of matter, not spirit. *We* do not suffer pain, matter does when it undergoes certain transformations, like when nerve endings are stimulated in a certain way. We feel those transformations as our own when, in fact, they aren’t.

Similarly, pleasure does not exist either – it’s just slightly different stimulation of the same nerves.

Pain and pleasure are, therefore, not absolute, but are our attitudes towards interactions between material elements. We have certain expectations about how these interactions should transpire and when they don’t happen the way we want we feel pain.

Take rape, for example – everybody wants to have sex but not the way rape goes, and some actually like being forced into sex, or S&M wouldn’t exist.

Now, I think, I’m getting close – we want material world to be eternal but because it does not reflect the actual reality (which is that we are Kṛṣṇa’s servants) it cannot last forever. When time comes for it to be destroyed tama guna increases and that leads to increase in pain.

One could say – wait a minute, shouldn’t it increase pleasure as well, both should go together, right? Right, it increases pleasure in the mode of ignorance, as Kṛṣṇa explains in Bhagavad Gīta. Similarly, there’s pain in the mode of goodness, too, but it doesn’t feel nearly as painful.

There’s pain the spiritual world as well – pain of separation from Kṛṣṇa, for example, as Lord Caitanya demonstrated in His viraha bhava, but He also showed that this spiritual pain is more desirable than spiritual pleasure.

Hmm, I didn’t see that one coming when I sat down to type this post – that pain and pleasure exist everywhere in every mode of existence but what makes what we understand as “suffering” is the pain in tama guna.

In all other modes it’s not nearly as painful. In the mode of passion, for example, it’s experienced as frustration of not achieving desired results, which is unpleasant but incomparable to the pulling out one’s nails. And whatever discomfort one might experience in the mode of goodness is not even called pain by our standards. It’s more like pain of putting up with fools.

So, in short – pain is present everywhere but experienced differently. The worse kind of experience happens under the influence of the mode of ignorance and mode of ignorance is, unfortunately, indispensable to making material world happen – since it’s not eternal everything here must eventually be destroyed.

Vanity thought #1023. Gripes

Most of the time we don’t remember that this world is meant for suffering, which isn’t very surprising because it goes against our direct experience of the illusion.

It’s the nature of the illusion to hide the ugly side of life from us and even after we discover it māyā still finds a way to make us complacent about it again. We might not think too much of Buddha’s realization that life is full of suffering because in our big Kṛṣṇa conscious picture it’s something not very significant, but as we keep living in the conditioned state we might need to reconsider the importance of it again.

For Buddha, it was a turning point of his life, for us it gets overshadowed by our first contact with Kṛṣṇa. The fact that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is supposed to be a life full of bliss doesn’t help either. We have all the reasons to become complacent, and they are good ones, too, but it doesn’t mean that complacency is acceptable.

We can’t avoid taking Kṛṣṇa’s offer of protection in Bhagavad Gītā literally. We surrender to Him and He takes away all our karmic reactions, we should have no more suffering, we assume. In our present state we can’t help but read it that way because bad karma affects us too much to be indifferent, especially in Kali Yuga.

Moreover, our first experiences with Kṛṣṇa consciousness are usually full of bliss and this euphoria only strengthens our initial misunderstanding. We really expect to live the rest of our lives without any suffering. All gone, bye bye, Lord Caitanya, here we come, surfing the waves of saṅkīrtana.

Even more, we look at our senior devotees and they seem to be doing okay, sattvic way of their lives eventually shows itself. Quite often they discuss various ways to make their lives even better – to eat better food, have a balanced diet, do some yoga, take vitamins and supplements, pay attention to passing stool, to sleeping on the right side of their bodies (not necessarily on the right side, though), all kinds of stuff. There never seems to be a shortage of good advice promising good, trouble free life.

If we start asking questions about their income and their material position they usually refer us to Kṛṣṇa, how He provides everything they need, their faith evidently pays off. I once heard a devotee giving a class and he mentioned how he impressed some karmi on a plane that by being a devotee he gets to travel all around the world. It might be my fault seeking mind but to me it sounded as if good life for devotees is guaranteed.

Things might have started changing but our leaders aren’t exactly poor people. Making spiritual progress in our society means moving up the institutional ladder and people are the top of it are traditionally endowed with all kinds of power and wealth. Houses, cars, flying first or business class, opulent food, best computers, phones, and cameras – success in Kṛṣṇa consciousness obviously means success in the material sense as well.

As aspiring devotees we are not in the position to judge levels of spiritual advancement of our seniors but we aren’t oblivious to their material prosperity. It’s not necessarily bad, though, because if that’s what makes us get up in the morning and go to maṅgala-ārati or start chanting then it’s probably justifiable. The point, however, is that we assume that material happiness and freedom from suffering is a must. We can’t be more wrong.

Just like in the material world, some make it, most don’t. We usually don’t remember those who fail but we can’t stop thinking about those who made it. This bias clouds our vision and we greatly overestimate the average or our own reasonable expectations. I short, we begin to expect more than we deserve.

Then we meet the real world, and it’s nothing like our expectations.

Take the family, for example. We expect that Kṛṣṇa conscious marriage will be a blissful, trouble free affair, with Kṛṣṇa offering protection for both husband and wife there seems to be no reason to develop problems. We also don’t have a shortage of seminars on successful gṛhastha life so we assume that marital and familial happiness is certainly within our grasp.

On a third marriage we start to suspect that something might be wrong here but māyā is strong, she always have ways to fill up with false hopes.

Then there’s a famous saying that things will get worse before they turn for the better. It’s supposed to prepare people for the bad times but what we actually hear is “better” at the end. As long as things get better, we forget the first half of the sentence.

We also forget that this dictum has no ground in reality whatsoever. Things are not supposed to get better, not in Kali Yuga. They might, of course, but gradually everything deteriorates and whatever “better” we register eventually turns to be the beginning of the next “things will get worse” cycle.

Therefore we should forget about happiness and take shelter in verses like this (SB 5.14.11):

    Sometimes the conditioned soul is very aggrieved by the chastisement of his enemies and government servants, who use harsh words against him directly or indirectly. At that time his heart and ears become very saddened. Such chastisement may be compared to the sounds of owls and crickets.

and like this (SB 5.14.15):

    In this world, family life is exactly like a blazing fire in the forest. There is not the least happiness, and gradually one becomes more and more implicated in unhappiness. In household life, there is nothing favorable for perpetual happiness. Being implicated in home life, the conditioned soul is burned by the fire of lamentation. Sometimes he condemns himself as being very unfortunate, and sometimes he claims that he suffers because he performed no pious activities in his previous life.

And there’s plenty more in that chapter, and it’s not he only chapter on obligatory suffering in this world. This is our reality, not our imaginary visions of how others are doing very well.

Our greatest misfortune is if we don’t feel it that way and keep believing in “things will turn for the better” delusion.

Everything that comes into our lives has a purpose and if we are sober enough we should see it as reminder from Kṛṣṇa that material world is a place of suffering.

The purpose of our wives is to constantly berate us for being wrong, for being unfit for our position, for being spiritually weak, and for being inferior to our neighbors and other rivals. This one is easy, nowadays nearly every woman eventually slides down into this pattern no matter how sweet they might appear in the beginning.

The purpose of our children is to break our hearts and squander our wealth and tarnish our good name. We can’t expect their protection in old age, sannyāsa might be forbidden in Kali Yuga but for many staying with their families might feel like hell and they might seriously consider just getting up and walking away.

The purpose of our employers is to squeeze the last drop of our sweat and withdraw our “just” rewards. Employers are meant to make us feel inadequate and subservient and if you walk away without a feeling you’ve been cheated you are not seeing the reality.

The purpose of the government is to force us to abandon our spirituality and become good, law abiding consumers instead. Governments won’t tolerate devotion, we better not let them know what we are really up to in our lives.

The purpose of our cars is to make us live in constant prayer that nothing goes wrong with them. Repairs are costly, both in terms of money and time wasted, and there’s always that wife in the passenger seat who’d tell you everything about your poor choice of your vehicle. While she is there, her purpose is to drive you nuts with her comments on your driving.

The purpose of our houses is to make us uncertain about our future. Will it stand another ten-twenty years? Will it become a bottomless pit, always in need of repairs and fixing? Will it be able to provide shelter from elements for the rest of our lives? Probably not.

The purpose of our bodies is to remind us about old age and disease. House feeling less reliable? It’s nothing comparing to how our bodies can make us feel. I saw a woman once, she had cancer but they caught it early and filled her with hope, so she appeared very brave. She had a successful operation and life looked a lot better for her. Then something went wrong and she had to go back to the hospital again. That’s when her bravery completely disappeared and she was filled with terror instead. Fortunately for her, it wasn’t cancer making a comeback but these few days of fear turned her into a vegan health freak.

When it’s needed, Kṛṣṇa can really turn our body screws and remind us how precarious our position in this world is. If He doesn’t, it’s probably because we are too attached to living under the illusion. It’s not His mercy, it’s the lack of it, and that should worry us as devotees a lot more than bodily pain. If nothing troubles us in this world we should chant and pray until it finally does.

That’s not what we usually do but, perhaps, we should reconsider our priorities. Comfortable life means less Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We are not pure enough not to be affected by comfort.

Should we ask for troubles instead, like Queen Kuntī? Not really, troubles will always find us on their own, we should simply chant the Holy Name without any concern for either happiness or distress, we should be beyond this duality, Krṣṇa should matter to us more than how we feel about this world.

So, if we find some reasons to complain about something, it’s good for our spiritual lives but it doesn’t mean that we should give in to the urge and meditate on our problems.

ATM, I can’t do anything more but chant while waiting it out, which is not an ideal response. I suppose it’s better than praying for deliverance but it still makes me conscious of my position in this world, I still keep at least one eye on how my body feels. With such divided attention no wonder I can’t make any progress, but chant I must. We all do, there’s no other way

Vanity thought #316. Loose change

Some afterthoughts, or rather afterfacts, complementing a couple of recent entries here.

First on pain – apparently in Bhakti Sandarbha Srila Jiva Goswami says that Krishna doesn’t know what it’s like to be under the spell of the material energy and, consequently, doesn’t know what our sufferings feel like. To solve this problem He feels material sufferings through His devotees. I have no idea how it works and I don’t know where to find an English translation of Bhakti Sandarbha to check.

I heard this in a record of a seminar on Sandarbhas by HG Gopiparanadhana Prabhu, he jokingly suggested that next time we feel pain we should think of it as doing research for Krishna. I’ll keep that in mind.

Secondly, on the myth of idyllic life in the times of Lord Chaitanya – in Chaitanya Charitamrita, at the end of the second chapter of Madhya Lila, Srila Krishnadas Kaviraja specifically mentions criticism of his work and explains how he choose to deal with disapproval. He doesn’t mention any names but clearly there were people less than satisfied with him.

We are so lucky that it doesn’t enter our minds to criticize Chaitanya Charitamrita. I wonder what obstacles people who found faults with it put in the way of their devotional service. I’m sure they weren’t completely rejected by the Lord but still. Anyway, my point was that politics exist everywhere and at all times. We might think that grass was greener on the other side of 1600 but in other ways we are luckier than some neophyte devotees of those days.

And finally, not a sequence to anything in particular, but I found this verse from Brahma Samhita (5.59) rather telling:

The highest devotion is attained by slow degrees by the method of constant endeavor for self-realization with the help of scriptural evidence, theistic conduct and perseverance in practice.

Somehow I lost faith the “slow” process, I settled on performing sadhana bhakti just as a stopgap measure until Lord Chaitanya bestows His mercy on my soul, or until I die in a favorable circumstances and return back to Godhead. Basically, I don’t have much faith in external show of service, it’s good, it’s better than doing nothing, but it is not really a service, just imitation. Not a service in a sense that it’s diluted with selfish, materialistic desires that are inherent in our conditional lives.

Here Krishna says, however, that this slow, gradual, step by step process is a genuine method to attain highest devotion, so it’s not in vain. Obviously Krishna didn’t mention extraordinary, once in a day of Brahma mercy of Lord Chaitanya but still, Krishna is the boss, when He says something it must work.

Considering the gap between ever increasing and boundless Krishna prema and my present condition I think I’m dealing with the mathematics of infinite numbers here. How many tiny steps one needs to reach the infinity?

As many as it takes, apparently, so I better get on with it.

Vanity thought #313. Pain

Pain pain, go away please come back another day…

I was visited by a bout of pain I had never seen before. My body is starting to age and every couple of years I occasionally feel my joints reacting to a change in the weather or something but never before it was so severe. Not only I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t even stay in bed and had to pace up and down the room trying to distract my mind from the pain in my shoulder.

And I still haven’t figured out how to deal with it. Pain is not an activity, I have no idea how it could be offered to Krishna for His satisfaction, so what to do about it? Tolerate it?

Somehow I don’t think that being more tolerant than a tree means having a high threshold for pain. The capacity to tolerate pain is a quality of the material body, some have more of it some have less and some can be trained to withstand even torture. Wasn’t Karna once called out when he pretended to be a brahmana pupil of Parashurama but could tolerate agonizing pain without twitching a muscle in his body?

Somehow I also had enough wits about me to remember that praying to Krishna to relieve one of his suffering is unbecoming any aspiring devotee, it’s totally materialistic and bounds one to his bodily consciousness.

It is possible to ignore pain by directing consciousness to something else, that’s what I did by walking around and chanting japa, but I also have to admit that any other activity that distracts the mind works just as well. Of course it’s more beneficial to distract oneself with the Holy Name or reading Srimad Bhagavatam but it’s still a material distraction for the material mind.

A liberated person simply does not associate the pain of his body with himself, an advanced devotee can even subject his body to pain if it’s pleasing Krishna in any way, but none of that had ever happened to me, I was still fully on the material platform.

I also remembered that Bhaktivinoda Thakura had quite a fragile health and a significant part of his autobiography describes his dealings with various illnesses. That side of his life was running in parallel with his preaching and writing, sometimes he couldn’t even complete his books because of pain and still Krishna didn’t relieve him of it.

Comparing to that I shouldn’t even hope that Krishna will magically make my pain disappear because of some unseen importance of whatever it is I am doing.

I remembered that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati never took any medicine, completely relying on Krsihna and Lord Chaitanya instead. I considered it for a moment but then I thought that providing me with medicine is also the most likely way for Krishna to take care of my pain – it’s still manipulating the matter – the interaction between pain sensors and external objects activating them.

In the end I decided to let the nature take its course and continued with my japa, then went to the pharmacy at the earliest chance and stuffed myself with ibuprofen and I don’t feel particularly guilty about it.

Pain does pose some difficulties in executing regulated devotional service and I can see how people in hell don’t have energy to cultivate their Krishna consciousness but real devotional service and whatever is happening in the material world are two completely different things, they run parallel to each other and don’t ever intersect. The body (and mind and intelligence, too) will always try to seek relief, the soul should always try to seek service.