Vanity thought #281. Who gets a wow.

I had a few more thoughts on Jobs passing so I’ll try to make a post out of it.

Why “wow”? What did Jobs see in the last seconds of his life to elicit a “wow”? We will never know for sure but one thing is clear – he wasn’t seeing the yamadutas. Or maybe he wasn’t seeing anything but simply reflected on the surge of loving feelings towards his family. On the other hand it’s said he looked past their shoulders so he could have seen something that wasn’t there for everyone else. Most likely, and actually the only explanation I see here, is that he was seeing vishnudutas who came to take care of him because his chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra didn’t go in vain.

What I like to think, though, is that his mind was blown away by their forms and their beauty. They look almost exactly like Vishnu Himself, Jobs wouldn’t be the first one to mix them up. We have plenty of pictures in our books to give us an impression of what they might look like and we have all the descriptions in the shastras to give us the clues but, to be honest, none of the depictions I’ve ever seen looked like “wow” to me. Nice, clean – yes, wow – no. If I were to imagine Krishna as He’s shown in our illustrations to Bhagavad Gita I wouldn’t go “wow”, his features are too Indian for me, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but they elicit petty material associations, they are not transcendental, there’s something off about them.

I shouldn’t be surprised, of course, none of our artists had actually seen Krishna of vishnudutas face to face to portray them exactly as they appear before our material senses. One could say they would never appear before our material senses but on some occasions they make themselves visible. A dying man doesn’t have developed spiritual senses yet he can still see them, for example. Without that first hand experience we can’t really draw Krishna as He is, we have to fall back on our interpretations of what a beautiful Indian god might look like.

Some come out better, some worse, some Deities look stunningly beautiful to me, some don’t, and different people have their own favorites. The only “real” standard of what Krishna looks like that I take on faith is the saying that among the original Krishna Deities of Vrindavana from Vajranabha’s time Govindaji has Krishna’s face, Gopinath resembles Krishna’s form from shoulders to waist and Madan Mohan looks like Krishna from navel down. I’ve seen the pictures, though, “resemble” is the only word I can agree on with my material vision. No “wow” from me.

Jobs, however, saw the “wow”, and coming from a design perfectionist as he was it is a kind of testament to the beauty of the vishnudutas. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know if Jobs was brought back to life he could have reproduced it but the way they appeared to him in person was definitely a “wow”.

I’m not sure we can draw them with the same effect if all we can rely on are the forms and shapes we have experienced in the material world. It’s the modes of material nature that restrict us here. If one carefully looks at common designs surrounding us in our everyday life we can easily trace them back to something we have seen before, something that is connected to certain emotions and certain experiences. To give you an example – soviet era military machinery looks nothing like iPads, they are inspired by a different culture and different design values. I’ve seen the pictures of the insides of decommissioned soviet submarines and it’s an entirely different world out there, with its own rules and its own attractive features but it’s just different, it was inspired by different gunas.

My point here is that unless we are inspired by vishuddha sattva all our design clues and solutions will be traceable to common material roots, they can’t be transcendental. That’s why I think no one so far has been able to adequately convey Krishna’s beauty through material sculpture and painting. It might not be even necessary for our advancement but that is a different point.

Anyway, Jobs got his wows, but did he deserve them? I haven’t finished reading his biography but I’ve seen enough to declare him a major a-hole. You don’t even need to read a book to know he was an a-hole. He rejected his first daughter, for example, he had an uncanny ability to insult and denigrate people, he knew their weak spots right away and he was happy to press on them until he got what he wanted. He was a greedy, vindictive, vain, self absorbed pompous ass. Why did he get the wows?

Remember Daniel Knoppke, his close friend in college that he went to India with, when they first met Jobs pissed of Knoppke’s girlfriend by discussing how much money would it take for her to sleep with another man. Steve Wozniac, his life-time friend they started the company together, Jobs cheated him our of the bonus on the very fist job they did together. Why did Jobs get the wows?

Shouldn’t people like this got to hell straight away? Okay, maybe not to hell but they deserve to be on receiving end of such callousness themselves. Maybe they should, but this is thinking in terms of cause and effect existing only in the material world, under the assumption that we are our bodies fully responsible for what we do.

From Krishna’s POV, however, it might all look very different. Yes, Jobs deserved a body of a genius prick and if he were to follow his karma he would probably be living life of cartoon characters from Dilbert but after chanting Krishna’s names he is not obliged to do that anymore. His next body could be occupied by any number of other living entities, Jobs has nothing to do with it anymore, Krishna would put him somewhere where he can go to the temple, dance and eat prasadam again. Actually I think this is wrong – his dying body didn’t deserve the next incarnation. the law of karma in relation to his body implies that it would be burned or eaten by worms, there’s no Stive Jobs 2.0 waiting somewhere for his old soul to jump in.

That’s all very well but my mind still screams that it’s unfair to the victims of his abuse. To that I can answer that people get abused according to their karma, not because such and such was such an a-hole. Wozniac wasn’t offended by being cheated, for example, he thought that a small matter like this was not important enough to get in the way of their friendship. He was cheated but he didn’t feel like he was shorthanded.

When I see “injustice” like that I want to restore the order in the universe but my perception of what order is is inadequate. There’s so much stuff, so much background information that I don’t know that I should simply not pay attention to thoughts like these. In Wozniac’s case there was no offense, for example, and on some level Job’s ruthless greed was exactly what their partnership needed to become successful so it was in Wozniac’s self-interest to let that one slide.

In cases like this I justify my desire to put the universe straight by appealing to some principles that shouldn’t be violated in the name of universal dharma but in fact it’s not the threat to dharma that gets me all worked up, it’s emotional reactions in my own head that deprive me of sleep. Oh, this guy said this and he is such a shameless liar and the whole universe deserves to know about this. I can’t go to sleep yet – someone’s wrong on the Internet.

Well, this is a wrong approach, I’m protecting my own bruised ego by appealing to religious principles, that’s all. I see the world from the position of my body that has got into its head that it’s in the position to judge what’s right and wrong. I’m not a judge, I’m not a journalist, I’m not an expert on anything, I just have Internet access, that’s all.

I hope Krishna doesn’t see it like that, too, I hope he only counts the times I called His Name and the rest goes straight past his counter, I hope He is not like Santa with his dreaded naughty list. Steve Jobs example inspires me here – nothing else matters but chanting and listening to Lord Krishna’s Name, His pastimes and His glories.

I can say amen to that.

Vanity thought #277. Brownout.

Yesterday our house suffered a brownout – dim lights and not enough juice to run the computer, UPS fed it for a while but then it just died.

Even though I was chanting japa at the time I had a strange feeling of being cut off from the world, not just the world outside but the material world as a whole, beginning with my body. After looking at the dead computer and all the things that were waiting for me there I felt like I lost my body.

The body, of course, was still there, but I lost the ability to apply my senses which is the main point of having the body in the first place. The feeling was pretty much how I imagine people who just lost their limbs still feel their presence and it was just weird. Or maybe it was like ghosts who are consumed by desires but have no tools to satisfy them – there’s a longing but you can’t do absolutely nothing about it.

This realization made me think about how important our bodies are. Normally I would preach to myself that my body is a useless sack of meat that impedes my devotional progress. I was wrong.

As a living entity I do not perform any devotional service at all. My spiritual limbs and senses are as good as non-existent, all I have is my body, it’s all I really know about myself, it is, in fact, “myself”. Theoretically speaking I might be different from my body but I have no experience of that whatsoever. I think, feel, and act as if I was a body. What’s up with that?

What is “surrender”? Is it only a product of my imagination? How can I surrender myself if I don’t know who I am?

Maybe the secret lies in surrendering only the body, since it’s the only thing I know about. Dreams about surrendering my soul need to be postponed until I can actually see myself as such.

What about the developments that I observe and conclude that they are “devotional progress” Are they real? Or are they just as real as the rest of the material world?

What is the difference between being in Krishna Consciousness and being in maya? Reading Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s biography I don’t see that he was always fully aware of his spiritual identity, so seeing one’s true spiritual form is not a requirement. What is, then?

Luckily, I just stumbled on a Srimad Bhagavatam verse, 2.9.1, that sheds some light on the matter:

…unless one is influenced by the energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there is no meaning to the relationship of the pure soul in pure consciousness with the material body…

This is not a direct answer, Sukadeva Goswami tells Maharaja Parikshit that this world is but a dream – “That relationship is just like a dreamer’s seeing his own body working.” It still mentions the possibility of being influenced by the energy of Krishna and that is supposed to dramatically alter the soul’s perception of the world (and the body) and its place within it.

This means that even if I don’t see myself as I am, if I manage to come under the influence of the Supreme Lord my life will never be the same. It means I will not be under the influence of maya anymore. I won’t be able to participate in Lord’s eternal pastimes in the spiritual world either but I would be more like the residents of Vrindavana during Krishna’s advent – they had no idea who he was and thought they must pray to demigods for their sustenance.

Two episodes come to mind in this regard – gopis praying to the Goddess Katyayani to obtain Krishna as their husband. Under the influence of Krishna’s energy they though Katyayani had some independent powers that could control Krishna Himself. They were convinced they were just ordinary mortal girls, they didn’t even suspect they appeared in their own, eternal forms.

The second episode is the infamous Indra Yajna that Krishna stopped in favor of Govardhana Puja. This as another demonstration that residents of Krishna’s eternal dhama had no idea how lucky they were, they thought they had to work hard and worship the demigods to provide for themselves and for Krishna.

Some of them must have made inquiries into their spiritual nature, studied the books, prayed to the gods, learned from the gurus. What do you think they’ve been told? I bet no one told them they were in their fully spiritual forms already and didn’t have to go through reincarnations and changing the bodies. They probably thought they had to meditate and perform sacrifices just like everybody else so that they could shake the illusion that they were gopis and gopas of Vrindavana. Imagine they succeeded!

What if I am in a similar situation? Of course I’m not in my original body, but I’m under the influence of the same energy, at least the same kind of energy. Maybe not the one that manifests Vrindavana and all different kinds of service devotees render their but under Lord’s energy anyway.

How else would all the devotional things in my life came into my view? Even the verse I quoted earlier appeared in my twitter feed as a blog by a devotee I’ve never heard about before. What about the Deities, the images, the sound of the Holy Name? How did they come before my senses? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t arranged by maya.

That means I’m a stubborn soul that resists Krishna’s influence and dreams about sex and sense gratification instead.

According to Shukadeva Goswami those dreams are just that – dreams, but attempts to maintain relationships with Krishna are as real as service rendered by Vrijabasis who didn’t know who Krishna was and prayed to demigods instead. Not nearly as perfect but of the same nature.

Does it matter then whether I see myself as a material body or as a spirit soul? I still have to render the same service. In a different, perverted way, but still service. Contaminated and insincere but still service, under the direction of Lord’s energy.

Unfortunately the brownout made me starve for material enjoyment, not for the service, so there’s still a long way to go but the principle has been established – body is not a burden, it’s a blessing, just have to engage it in a proper way.

There are more implications from this but they require separate post.

Vanity thought #269. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Approaches.

I’ve been reading Seventh Goswami and I got to the point in Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s life where I left it last time, just on the precipice of turning into a vaishnavava.

This is a contentious point, however, because from our POV he has always been a vaishnava, Lord Krishna and Srimati Radharani’s dearmost servant. This is also the point on which I can’t entirely agree with Seventh Goswami presentation.

I generally agree that his early life, seemingly devoid of devotion to the Lord, was only a spell cast by Krishna Himself, just like Arjuna had never been a conditioned soul despite his doubts at Kurukshetra. He appeared life after life as Lord’s best friend but he never remembered any of them, the time spent before he met up with Krishna all over again being just a fleeting and insignificant moment spent in preparation for the reunion.

Same thing happened with Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, I agree, but this approach also makes his life disappointingly flat. Yes, it was fine for him and His relationship with Krishna and it was great for preaching, but there are no lessons to be learned from it, all his preparations for the preaching mission were inconsequential. I don’t believe this is the case, and I don’t think that Nalini Kanta Mataji, the author of the Seventh Goswami also meant it that way.

What she did was to draw as many devotional lessons from it as possible, just like I’m trying to do, I just don’t always agree with her interpretations.

Her book closely follows Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s autobiography, Svalikhita Jivani, ie. we are drinking from the same source. She had also added a bit of background information on the Indian society of that time, and she also added some outside sources and excerpts from Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s own books and speeches that are missing from Svalikhita Jivani and that I haven’t seen or read before.

I must say those speeches do fill a little gap that is left in the autobiography, they show the side of Bhaktivinoda Thakur that he was presenting to the outside world while his autobiography is more of a personal letter addressed to his son. Those speeches also add depth and perspective to Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s own progression on the spiritual path, they give us a sample of what his thinking was before he manifested himself as a fully fledged acharya.

Again, I see the progression here, there were seeds of what was to come but there were also weeds.

Nalini Kanta clearly tried to spin Svalikhita Jivani in the devotional way, overstressing some episodes and underplaying others. I don’t think it’s the best approach, it might work in certain circumstances but I’m trying to reconstruct a deeper, more nuanced picture of one man’s progress to acharyahood, if that’s the word.

As I said before, I don’t think listening to guards telling Ramayana stories in a language young Kedar couldn’t understand was of some special significance, I bet every child of his age heard those same stories, it’s part of Indian folklore, stuff everybody learns from a very young age, on its own it doesn’t mean anything. The fact that Kedar sat down to listen to these stories while his brothers did some mischievous things is nice but it doesn’t mean that Kedar had some transcendental attraction that overcame his desire to play. He hasn’t learned the concept of God from them, for example, they were just stories.

Later on someone told him to chant Rama’s names to drive away ghosts and Kedar took this advice very seriously, I agree, that is significant, but it lacks the devotional or ontological aspects of relationship. Episodes like this planted the seeds, and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes himself that he was very fond of Hari kirtan he heard as a little boy, and he also met several vaishnavas while he was growing up – those are all milestones to awakening devotion to Krishna within his materially provided body but they weren’t defining moments as far as his general life was concerned, there were plenty of other influences that had bigger and more direct effects on how his youth and early career played out and on what books he wrote and what speeches he made before firmly embracing the religion of Bhagavata.

Speaking of vaishnavas, I think I got a few things wrong. When he got sick it wasn’t a cobbler who cured him, it was another man, introduced by the cobbler, a fakir. Mataji Nalini Kanta also gave the name of that fakir’s guru, Golok. Apparently she found some other source and apparently that Golok was more of an impersonalist than a follower of Lord Chaitanya. Could be so, but the lessons Bhaktiinoda Thakur learned from his association were of worship to Krishna and the value of connection to Krishna, and Krishna’s supremacy over demigods, not straight up mayavada of everyone being a god. Actually demigod worship specifically prohibited by Golok is perfectly acceptable to mayavadis.

Anyway, Bhaktivinoda Thakur personally didn’t see himself behaving as a devotee at that time and later he wasn’t proud of some of the stuff he did, and we should be aware of this, too.

There’s also the argument that EVERYTHING in his life led to what he had later become, nothing was unimportant or insignificant, there’s a lesson to be learned from each and every decision he made and each and every anecdote has its own place on the path to pure devotion, or at least on the path of external manifestation of it since we reject the notion that at any point in his life Bhaktivinoda Thakur was not a devotee.

He had to learn English, for example. We can say it was simply to write first English books about Lord Chaitanya’s mission but it was also important for advancing his career that enabled him to carry a lot more weight in the society and influence far more people than simple babajis of that time. I dare to say that without English he wouldn’t have become a leader of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

There’s also more – it wasn’t enough to simply learn English, he had to learn western philosophy and poetry, too. British rulers thought that they had to develop a new breed of Indians, western in their hearts and their minds and native only in appearance. It would have been impossible for Bhaktivinoda Thakur to succeed without playing by their rules and his eventual betrayal of the western paradigm actually gave more power to the philosophy of Bhagavat, as he called it himself.

By learning a lot about impersonalism and Christianity he also made much bigger impression on the educated society when he rejected Brahmos, which was very popular at that time. He wasn’t speaking as some dogmatic outsider then, he knew Brahmos much better than most of Brahmo followers themselves, so when he presented his arguments against Brahmos they worked much better, he presented Bhagavat as a step up from there, not as some forgotten and discarded atavistic tradition he was trying to push instead or alongside.

It all made sense in the end. We just have to have trust in Krishna’s plan and we have to pray for intelligence to understand it. I don’t think it’s fair to ignore some parts of it simply because we can’t fit those pieces in the bigger picture. Yet, I hope we can’t do it yet but eventually we will.

Maybe not today, maybe tomorrow.

There’s some controversial stuff about meat eating that falls into this category – wait until tomorrow and pray that it comes together then.

Vanity thought #250. Vamshidas Babaji Part 6.

Yesterday I wrote about Vamshidasa’s unusual treatment of his deities which might completely confuse neophyte devotees such as myself. I mean I might accept it as completely normal and treat standards we follow in our temples as superficial. There could be several arguments to prove that our worship is improper, one just needs to ask those who left ISKCON for Gaudiya Math and you’ll get an earful.

Equally, I might argue that we should be careful about embracing externally simple but loving relationships exhibited by Vamshidas, or even Sanatana Goswami for that matter. Perhaps it’s okay to realize Krishna’s greatness before focusing on His simplicity, otherwise we might just turn the deity worship into playing with dolls, I don’t know where to draw the line. Sanatana Goswami might have told his Deities to stop asking for salt and other tasty stuff but the the first thing They complained about was that they were pretty happy playing in the yard with little children and now they had to formally accept Sanatana Goswami’s service.

Who knows what Krishna really wants from us? Sometimes He likes simplicity but are we qualified to offer it to Him? Better stick to what Prabhupada showed us, for our own safety. Why should we worry about those of us who are on the the first name basis with Krishna already? I’m sure Krishna will arrange His preferred exchange of service with them, be it playmaking or puja offering, it’s not our concern.

Anyway, that stuff is only mildly controversial, it can be explained and argued away, today I want to talk about something that I have no explanations for whatsoever, and I mean some aspects of Vamshidasa’s personal behavior. First, I should say that all these allegations are apocryphal, they aren’t mentioned in Bhaktivikasa Swami’s book at all. I’m sure he heard them and, perhaps, heard a lot more than trickled on the internet pages but he decided to exclude them from his book altogether. I don’t know for what reason. Maybe it’s because they couldn’t be verified, maybe because he wanted to protect our doubtful minds, maybe because he didn’t know how to explain them himself.

Basically, the allegation is that Srila Vamshidasa Babaji regularly ate fish and smoked tobacco, or even some stronger stuff.

Regarding fish – does it come from the same source that told a story I mentioned yesterday? The story where Vamshidas got attracted by the smell of fish and couldn’t stand this display of weakness. That story is apocryphal itself, so now we have BVKS who dropped it form his book, we have anonymous source with this fish vendor story, and we have yet another anonymous source saying that Vamshidasa ate fish everyday.

At this point I should say that fish eating and smoking were the first things I heard of Vamshidas in my early days, it’s not something entirely new to me, but I’ve never ever seen any source behind that claim or given it much thought.

I will side with BVKS here – fish vendor and fish eating stories are mutually exclusive, fish vendor story sounds more plausible because it has lots of details but probably not enough to declare it as genuine. Better just skip it, it’s out there on the internet anyway, for those who really want to know.

There’s another argument against fish eating – Bhaktivikasa Swami’s source on Vamshidasa’s life was one Jatishekhara Das, assigned by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati to look after Vamshidas during his travels. That Jatishekhara was also one of the sources for Gaudiya Math biographies and he had never seen Vamshidas eat any fish and he spent quite a lot of time being very close to the babaji.

My conclusion – it’s nonsense.

The smoking allegation is a bit more difficult to dismiss. I don’t remember BVKS ever saying anything like that but it appears twice in Gaudiya Math biographies. According to one version devotees used to buy a pretty strong “tobacco”, for the lack of better translation, and bring it from as far as Calcutta. Vamshidas would then set up a hookah, not a pipe, and he didn’t roll any joints either. So he smoked that hookah and called “Bhakata-vatsala-Hari” between draws. That was one of his favorite “mantras”, btw, he used to say it repeatedly, all day long. BVKS even says that Vamshidas made the last “i” very very long, as if he was crying. So the story goes that he would call out bhakata-vatsala-Hari and then the hookah would go “glug-glug-glug”.

In another account it is said that he would smoke his hookah but he would offer it first, from a distance, to Radha-Krishna, but not to the boys – Gadadhara and Gaura-Nitai, or whatever was the actual combination.

I must admit that I think there are too many details to dismiss the whole tobacco smoking thing as baseless. Who would have made it up completely? As they say – where there’s smoke…

So my goal here is to make as much sense of it as possible with the least damage to myself. On one hand I can take an easy way out and just ignore the whole thing as if I have never read it. That’s what I’m probably going to do in the end. Right now I can say a few things for and a few things against but a few days later I will just shrug my shoulders and call this dilemma “the one that got away”. There’s no shame in that, it’s not evidence against completeness of our philosophy, it’s not like we don’t know how to explain reincarnation or something like that. In fact our philosophy by design leaves a lot of things as inconceivable, behavior of fully liberated souls is one of them. We are not expected to understand it, even Krishna Himself might have a problem fully understanding what’s going on in the hearts of His pure devotees.

But before I admit to my failure to deal with Vamshidasa’s smoking I still have time to give it a go. There are a couple of cracks there that could help explain it away. First, if he ever smoked he probably didn’t take his hookah on his travels to Puri and Vrindavana so Jatishekhara, the devotee who told BVKS about Vamshidas, had possibly never seen Vamshidas doing it. Whatever happened before that is hearsay, especially if it’s coming down the lines of Haridasa and OBL Kapoor who, I suspect, didn’t have any moral dilemmas about accusing Vamshidasa of smoking. it is possible that it was just an occasional “pastime” and so would need a different set of explanations adapted for a different set of circumstances. Maybe it just didn’t happen often enough to worry.

To us it’s a real problem, though – we can’t imagine someone willingly clouding his judgement and intelligence and perception of reality in favor of drug enhanced illusion. For us it’s simple black and white difference – intoxication is either favorable to devotional service or it isn’t. In early days (and years) of our society some of our members tried enhancing their devotion with drugs but it ended badly, for some even fatally.

There was a point when one of our leading sannyasis felt the pressure to display his high level of advancement and he thought drugs would help him, at least that was his excuse. His end was the most regrettable one.

Did Vamshidasa had the same attitude? Did he really offer hookah to Radha Krishna first? Was it like prasadam for him? Did Radha and Krishna really accept his offering? Why? Because they enjoy a good hookah now and then or because it was offered by their dear devotee?

It seems as if they were ready to overlook his little indulgence.

This is both dangerous and depressing. Dangerous because we might get wrong ideas about what Krishna can allow us to do, and depressing because even a devotee of Vamshidasa stature still had some bad habits. I hope there’s another explanation, really.

Or maybe I should think of avadhuta as not simply as being free from any social customs but actually breaking those customs left and right without any effect on his position. I mean he could have eaten fish and meat and even killed a few people and Krishna would still love him with all His heart. That doesn’t make sense, though, I really wish there was a better explanation. I mean what if Krishna allowed some sannyasi’s to have sex without punishment? For some it might be nothing but other devotees have killed themselves over illicit sex. It’s a dangerous game – how much leeway Krishna can give us? My understanding – no leeway whatsoever. Mistakes He can forgive but no intentional sense gratification or rule breaking.

Or maybe it’s a reminder that absolutely no one in this world is perfect. We might have perfect intentions but the very fact of being engrossed in our bodies means we must fail here and there, no exceptions. On one hand it might give us an excuse to relax in our sadhana, on the other hand it might open our eyes to our own faults like we’ve never seen them before. It might also lead us to judge other people with a bit more compassion.

I really have no idea, I think I should follow the advice of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and stay away from puzzles like this for my own spiritual safety, or follow the example of HH Bhaktivikasa Swami and strike it out form my memory for my own good.

Okay, done, what was I talking about? It’s too late now, it’s time for me to sleep.

Vanity thought #203. Incarnating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, what if it really isn’t?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanity thought #196. Contagiosity.

There’s another aspect of illusion I forgot to add yesterday even if it was in my plans. From Krishna comes both remembrance and forgetfulness but it appears they may alternate on the same topic.

Anyway, it’s easy to understand why we may get attracted to chocolate, for example. Taste buds’ experience is unforgettable, we want to relish it again and again.

With chocolate there’s also the issue of chemicals, not just taste. There are all kinds of things in there, especially in cocoa solids which are abundantly present in dark chocolate. The exact nature and extent of their influence is still not determined but it’s likened by some to effects of marijuana, for example.

A few years ago there was a news item about chocolate producing deeper and longer lasting effects than kissing. They said the whole brain lights up when chocolate melts in your mouth. Theobromine, one of the main chemicals producing elevated mood effect is similar to caffeine and, curiously, is poisonous to dogs. Dogs can’t metabolize it and can literally die. Chocolate is also prohibited in horse racing.

Leaving these psychotropic effects aside it’s easy to understand and even experience the attraction if one tries. It’s easy to understand why one might want to try it again or even become a chocoholic.

It’s also easy to understand why one might want to miss his loved ones when being away. Love for children, for example, doesn’t need explanation. In fact it does need an explanation because one is particularly attracted to one’s own offspring and not children in general, this doesn’t happen with chocolate, but that is the topic for another day.

Contagiosity is when this kind of feelings experienced by others forms attraction in ourselves, too. That doesn’t work with children at all, by the way. Contagiosity can be better observed when we are hunting not for the objects of sense gratification per se but for the emotions that accompany enjoying them. When it really doesn’t matter what we enjoy and we don’t follow any objective criteria for selecting the stimulants, we are going for the rush itself.

Sometimes we remember the rush we had experienced before, like with visiting fun parks we enjoyed when we were kids or reminiscing about old summer camps but most often we want to be infected by this rush from other people.

Put a normal person in a queue of Apple fans on their sleepover before the launch of a new Apple store just a half kilometer away from the existing one, and the enthusiasm will start to rub off even if the intelligence would scream that this is the stupidest idea ever.

Their enthusiasm is contagious. People can fight it but they can’t deny they feel its power, too. It’s like putting a man and a woman together, they will develop attraction sooner or later regardless of their marital status.

The most intriguing part of this contagiosity is, well, contagiosity itself.

It’s a perfectly normal idea if you consider it from the normal, conditioned soul POV. Our, vedic knowledge of how the world works is not so clear. We know about the soul and twenty five material elements but it doesn’t mention interaction between other souls and their own material coverings at all.

How is that we get attracted by other people’s feelings? What is the connection? Through what channels do we share our emotions?

Normal people also realize that this kind of emotional empathy happens on a higher, deeper levels than just eating and mating. It looks like it happens on the level of the mind, bypassing our own senses altogether. The mind comes up with a proposal it borrowed from other people’s minds, often without any personal experience.

There are many examples of the herd mentality exhibited by the crowd. Quite often the majority of participants in a mob haven’g got a clue about the actual reason. When they find out some end up disappointed, some satisfied.

When Krishna entered Mathura no one knew Him personally yet the whole city came out to see Him and everybody saw Him in a different light. This is an example of crowd mechanics working even if directed to God, Krishna.

The practical implications are boringly trivial but extremely important – we have to be very very careful with our association. Whether we like it or not but other people’s attachments are contagious. We can fight them but we can’t deny their power to corrupt our own minds, nobody’s immune.

We have to accept the right to existence of non-devotees around us just like we have to accept our own material urges. As long as we are in these bodies they will follow us everywhere and on every stage of our progress.

The only thing we can do is to manage them wisely.

Or I could offer another explanation – the capacity of other people’s attachments to be transferred to us and vice versa is the proof that there’s only one bhava, one material existence for everybody. We see ourselves as separate and unique but in reality our bodies are parts of the same giant jigsaw. Just like the molecules of water – each one of them doesn’t make water on its own, they exist as water only when they are together, in the same container and in the appropriate temperature band.

Similarly, thinking in terms of “I will do that and then he will do another thing and then I will respond in this way and then” is an illusion. We don’t exist as separate beings with separate wills and wits. Our bodies are all meshed up together, emotions rising in one heart are inseparable from emotions rising in another, and we can fight them only because we receive the power to do so from someone else.

Everything I’m thinking and typing now is dictated by what happened to many people long time ago, from the language I learned at school to the ability to organize my thoughts to the existence of the internet. There’s no originality or uniqueness in my actions, they are unique only in the sense that every atomic particle in this creation is unique in its current position in space in time. Otherwise my body is no more special than the computer I use and my fingers are no more special than the keyboard. One wouldn’t exist without another.

They are bound by the same law of cause and effect, we see one following the other only because we are bound by time. If time was not the factor it would be possible to rewind the world and observe how letters appearing on this screen caused me going to school many many years ago.

From this POV there’s no such thing as conagiosity as there are no separate objects to transfer anything between them, there’s only one bhava, one ocean, one blazing fire of one material existence for all of us.

It’s not how I usually see things because I’m in the conditioned state but I’m hoping one day I will. Right now I still put too much concern into illusionary interactions of this world, worrying about this and that. No time to think about Krishna.

By an unfortunate collusion of circumstances I haven’t chanted my rounds today yet. I’m waiting until everyone’s asleep and I can finally have an hour and a half for myself, or rather for Krishna, as I don’t really exist the way I imagine it.

Vanity thought #165. Backdoor entrance.

Normally people approach Krishna after having undergone thousands and thousands of lifetimes of pious activities, feeding brahmanas and performing sacrifices, doing tapasya and meditating in the mountains.

Gradually they purify themselves enough to get noticed by Krishna’s devotees who introduce them to devotional service. Then they perform more tapasya, offer more sacrifices and eventually they get the chance to be born during Lord’s lilas on this planet.

That seems to be how it worked if you read Krishna Book or Bhagavatam.

We are lucky because we were born in this special Kali Yuga when Krishna descends again, as Lord Chaitanya, and, together with Lord Nityananda, they freely distribute love of God all over the world.

We have missed Their pastimes but still they sent us Srila Prabhupada who was probably equally potent in spreading Krishna consciousness.

Now it’s up to us to develop it, or is it?

Do we really have to perform all kinds of tapasya to achieve perfection? Or is there a backdoor somewhere?

Normally we assume that Prabhupada was our backdoor, we just grab his feet and sneak in. On a certain level it is certainly true, and there’s always such thing as kreepa siddhi – achieving perfection by the mercy.

Kreepa siddhi is not granted to everyone one, though. On the other hand we ALL rely on the mercy to succeed. It just doesn’t compute.

I suppose some of us need to actually work on it ourselves. Cleansing our own hearts, developing our own attraction, chanting our own rounds, preaching, distributing books, organizing festivals and so on. In the end we’d still need mercy but at least we could say we worked our socks off to earn it.

Or we could put on tilakas, honor prasadam and sing sweet kirtans and hope to float right into the spiritual world. Then things start going terribly wrong and we don’t know who to blame.

I looked into that patral pushpam phalam toyam verse I mentioned yesterday a bit more closely. Yes, Krishna promises to accept any little offering from His devotees but there are caveats, too.

First you have to offer only what he wants. Prabhupada was very clear on this point – you can’t do anything whimsically, we do only what Krishna likes, or we follow orders of spiritual masters and authorities. I’ve covered this point yesterday already.

Second, Krishna accepts these offerings only from His devotees. Specifically, He says prayata-ātmanah – from one in pure consciousness, He also mentions bhakti, twice. I bet very very few of us qualify and those who do won’t even know it. Also offering food with devotion is tricky – 99,9999% of the time we also want to enjoy it ourselves.

Basically, we can’t offer anything to Krishna, not ourselves. That’s why we need to go through guru first. Everybody knows that but in everyday live we still expect Krishna Himself to take care of us and our problems. We tell ourselves of all the great service we have done for Him so it’s natural to expect something in return. THERE! We haven’t offered any service, we were never qualified to offer any service, maybe it got counted by our guru’s grace but we did it for our own benefit, that is our fallen nature.

Krishna might reward us anyway but He sees us as spirit souls and so His help might be not what our false egos have expected, and thus we turn down His mercy in frustration.

So some work still must be done, our appearances and superficial thinking might not count for much.

Then we take it even further.

A while ago, when I was searching for recording of devotees chanting japa I also came across hundreds of various seminars, workshops and retreats on the subject. Apparently the process of chanting japa has been covered quite well, from all angles, and by almost all leading devotees. Great, isn’t it?

When I looked at it I was somewhat depressed, though. Sure there are things in there that I have missed in my own education but trying to listen to all those seminars and workshops seemed like a colossal waste of time. I’d rather be chanting that talking about it.

Each one of us went through some kind of japa seminar once, I believe, and that is enough. All we really need to know is that we should pick up our beads and start chanting, everything else can serve as a potential excuse to postpone and delay. Sure preparation is important but you can’t win the war without actual battle experience and that experience carries far more weight than any theory.

If you need any help it’s usually just one stroke of inspiration, some half thought that suddenly puts you back on track, Krishna has a million ways to deliver it, when and if you need it, wading through hours and hours of japa talk sounds like a cop out.

If people expect these endless seminars to turn their lives around – it doesn’t look like a real backdoor to me, either.

Then there are various courses to become a better devotee. Some of them are absolutely necessary for some people but there are also ways to misuse them.

Take a common suggestion, for example. One should make a list of various ways he can improve his devotional life, prioritize it, and start implementing changes starting from the top, or not in any particular order. Common things include reading more books, waking up earlier, completing all rounds in the morning and so on.

The idea is that if you wake up earlier it will make you a better devotee. I don’t buy it. Don’t buy it at all.

If you become a better devotee you will naturally wake up earlier, the reverse is not true. Sometimes it might work but not as a rule.

The proposal is to imitate qualities of a more advanced devotee, hoping that by imitating we can get the real thing. I don’t know. You can’t get cancer by imitating the symptoms, you can’t lose sight by pretending you are blind, you can’t fall in love by sending Valentine cards to yourself.

Having said that, all those self-help ideas still work. My understanding is that Krishna respond to the desire to become a better devotee. Whether His grace will manifest in people following their lists is not guaranteed. What if Krishna sees your desire and decides to give you better appreciation for our books, or for other devotees but still makes you sleep past mangala arati? Is it a fail? According to self-help check list it is, according to Krishna it isn’t, and the person himself might be bewildered and confused that he has done something wrong.

Similarly, none of the backdoors I talked about today are a fail, they might not work on the surface but it’s the desire to be closer to Krishna that counts. We are just trying to pass through the wall with our eyes blinded by our illusions. We don’t know where the real door is, we just try our luck in every each way we can.

One day Krishna is bound to have enough amusement and gently prod us in the right direction.

Bottom line – the only thing that really counts is remembering Krishna and listening to His name. This sound creates attraction in our hearts that will eventually overcome all obstacles and bring us to him. Studying the maps is not going to help much by itself.

Vanity thought #155. It’s all His fault. Again.

Actually I mean all credits should go to Krishna but there’s no problem with assigning credits, we all easily take them for ourselves, it’s when the time to spread the blame comes no one steps forward, so for those awkward situations – it’s all Krishna’s fault.

Actually it’s all our fault, originally, it just as removed from us as the original sin – we aren’t even supposed to speculate how we fell down here. Very very few people see it as their own fault in their hearts. We’ve been told about it, we see the results – our attachment to the material nature, but we still have no clue how that happened.

It’s like punishing a three year old kid for breaking a vase two years earlier – now he can understand that it was wrong and so is eligible for punishment even though he doesn’t remember it, so let’s put him in the corner or take away his toys – he deserved it.

So when some devotee feels unhappy and wonders why it is so, why he has lost the taste or inspiration and why devotional service no longer satisfies him, ie me a few days from now – I’ve got the answer. It’s all Krishna’s fault.

Last time I posted an article under the same title it was about responsibility for starting sahajiya movement but that’s not what I mean today.

Why does Krishna make His devotees suffer? It’s one thing to take away their possessions so they lose their attachments or put them in dangerous situations so they could surrender to Him fully, but why does Krishna make them suffer while executing their service to the best of their abilities?

Chanting supposed to make you happy, not apathetic and indifferent. Marrying another devotee supposed to protect you from into the falling deep well of family existence, not lusty and guilty of it, not push you even farther down the hole of family problems. Taking responsibilities supposed to make you stronger and protect your dependents, not utterly fail and appear hopeless when others are still relying on you.

There are all kinds of troubles that we, as devotees, find ourselves in against all our hopes for Krishna’s protection. Why is that?

Let’s start with credits first.

Who has provided us with a chance to meet the devotees? Who arranged our births in countries blessed with ISKCON presence? Krishna.

Who gave us intelligence to understand our books, who gave us intelligence to understand how to apply our philosophy in our own lives? Krishna.

Who gave us the opportunities to visit the temples and engage in worshiping God there? Krishna.

Who sends us powerful preachers who inspire and comfort us with their enthusiasm and strong faith? Krishna.

Who gives us enough time everyday so that we can finish our daily rounds? Krishna.

Who gives us determination to finish our daily rounds against all odds? Krishna.

Who puts books in our hands so that we can flip pages and read about Him? Krishna.

Who allows people to put up free vedabase and lots of other vaishnava literature online? Krishna.

Who gives us memory to think about Krishna when we get in trouble? Krishna.

Who gives us remembrance of Krishna when we see some seemingly mundane objects? Krishna.

Who inspires devotees to sing sweet songs that we keep playing in our heads? Krishna.

Someone smarter than me can go on for a lot longer but my point is – if it’s Krishna who gives us all the good things in life, who is responsible for all the other, bad things?

Our original sin? As I said, it would be like punishing us for a mistake we not only can’t remember, we are prohibited from looking into altogether.

There must be some other reason.

Let’s examine how the process works in some hypothetical situation. A person comes into the temple for a Bhagavat Gita class, sitting cross legged on the floor is not the easiest position to maintain for a long time and eventually he loses concentration for a moment, trying to make himself mode comfortable. Unfortunately at this exact moment the speaker is making an important point about dealing with other devotees and our visitor totally misses it. Some words just enter his ears but they do not register in his long term memory, he does not internalize them, and when a crucial time comes he lashes out another devotee, completely forgetting the lesson he has missed earlier.

I don’t know why he got angry. Our bodies and minds have millions of reasons to feel frustrated, one way or another it came out wrong.

The result is a serious vaishnava aparadha that leads to the loss of interest or the loss of association, things start snowballing, his bosses give him more work, wife presses with her own issues, kids start acting out, too, and pretty soon he finds himself in a middle of a mess of royal proportions. Each new problem elicits more anger and more frustration, meaning less taste and less interest in Krishna.

Whose fault is that?

Who provided the temple and the speaker and the floor? Krishna. Who told us to sit on the floor cross legged against our habits and physiology? Krishna.

Who gives us the ability to concentrate and understand the lecture? Krishna.

So why is that when we lose that ability for a few seconds it’s entirely our fault? From Krishna comes BOTH the remembrance and forgetfulness, right?

Or should I believe that Krishna remembers to help us only from time to time and when He turns away we are totally at the mercy of the material elements – the bodies, the emotions, our minds and so on?

There’s an argument that we CAN control our mind ourselves, but not without being taught, by Krishna, ultimately, how to do it.

In the example above the devotee could have sat through the pain, mentally suppressing it but where would that mental strength come from? Where would the determination not to miss a word from the lecture come from? Krishna. Sometimes He just doesn’t provide enough, or so it seems.

I dare to say that Krishna doesn’t forget any one of us even for the moment even when we feel like being totally abandoned, or when we feel we don’t deserve his attention anymore.

When we feel happy it’s due to Krishna and when we are in pain it’s the same old Krishna showering His mercy again, paradoxically.

No, not really. We feel pain because we mislead ourselves to believe that we are in our spiritually cleansed bodies already that shouldn’t feel any pain or suffering, two days ago I argued that we are most definitely not. I guess the stronger our misconception and attachment to this particular identity is, the more painful it becomes.

I understand that we also under pressure from other devotees and our seniors to fully grow into our new identities and behave like perfect vaishnavas, and we naturally strive to meet their expectations. It’s kinda hard to achieve that without full dedication, meaning developing a strong false ego. On the plus side it’s a better false ego than one given to us at birth or by our families, coworkers and society in general.

However good it is, it still has to go at some point and pain is the essential part of the separation from attachments.

Okay, pain can be beneficial, what about loss of taste? How’s that Krishna’s mercy?

Well, if you realize that it’s missing you are probably learning better what it is and its real value – how’s that not a lesson? The taste will come back, Krishna preserves everything we have achieved, and we’ll have better appreciation for it then.

But what about devotees who not only lost the taste but also don’t seem to mind it at all. How’s that Krishna’s mercy? They are surely in maya, aren’t they?

Maybe they are, but it is also only temporary. First of all, we “forget” about Krishna all the time, some only for a few seconds, some for a few minutes, some for a few years or even lifetimes. What’s the principal difference? We are on the same platform of absolute ignorance because actually we, as conditioned souls, never ever remember anything about Krishna at all. Sometimes He manifests some of His images before our material minds and sometimes He doesn’t. It is completely our of our control, and by “us” I mean our original spiritual identities.

It’s a bit presumptuous to say “I remembered Krishna and then …” because I don’t mean I remembered Krishna as we were in our eternal spiritual relationships. More correct would be “A particular image of Krishna, as has been taught by my spiritual master and other devotees, has flashed in my mind”. I didn’t do anything, I’m not a doer, just an observer.

For practical purposes, however, we have to assume one identity or another and act accordingly, eventually it will purify us enough to see us as we really are.

At this point my duty under my given identity is to chant at least 108 rounds tomorrow and put all my energies into it. I’d much rather sit back and observe my body doing it by itself but I have not been purified enough yet.

For me, not knowing real self, the only reality is the sound of the Holy Names, everything else is silence, or white noise – doesn’t really matter which, it just fills the space between the sounds of the maha mantra.

That’s how I prepare myself for another day of chanting. This gives me confidence.

It also makes me a bit irresponsible and rebellious, like a son trying to test the limits of his father’s love and forgiveness – everything goes until the father gets serious.

Vanity thought #154. Free will crisis, too.

Now that I don’t know who I am I’m also mighty confused about the free will.

It has always been confusing to me no matter what identity I was wearing.

When I was young I thought I could choose my own future and built it just the way I wanted. Didn’t take me long to realize the world doesn’t work that way at all, maybe ten years of trying or so and I was extremely skeptical about the existence of choice.

When I was a brahmachari I believed I had the will to get up for mangala arati or push myself out on the streets. All I needed was to wish for it really really hard and Krishna would arrange everything.

This was the prevailing attitude in those days. Everything senior devotees would say was bound to happen, what to speak of gurus and sannyasis.

It took me a little less time to realize that’s not how the world works either.

I was still convinced that I had the will to do anything, it just had to be strong enough. Basically that’s what Krishna explained in the Bhagavat Gita, He fulfills our desires, but where the initial will is coming from? Whose desires are those?

On one hand we have a standard answer – the only choice for us is to be with Krishna or not, everything else is out of our hands. I totally agree, btw, for now.

On the other hand we have things like astrology that struggle to reconcile our free will with predictability of our lives. They also offer remedies and corrections so that we can manipulate our destiny. I’m totally lost there.

As far as I know astrology, we can’t change anything. Our entire lives have been cast from the moment of our birth. With a bit of an insight you can predict the exact date of death, the number of children, wives, lovers, and, more importantly, one’s ability to believe in these predictions, too.

Where do the corrections and remedies fit in all this? Is it just a marketing talk to get people pay for them? Astrology wouldn’t enjoy the same popularity if it offered only the finality without any hope.

Even if the remedies do exist, wouldn’t their existence or availability depend on the destiny itself? A million things outside your control must converge together so that a person suddenly starts chanting mantras or buys an expensive prescription gemstone. You need extensive and favorable background knowledge, you need mining companies and the entire gemstone industry, you need a suitable astrologer who just has the stone for you, you need money, you need friends to give you a push and so on.

An honest astrologer should be able to predict the entire transaction and its subsequent effects years before it takes place. It would take a lot of knowledge and a lot of insight but, technicalities aside, it’s no different from predicting a birth of a child or a failed marriage.

With an attitude like this I consider myself a determinist, though I don’t go around and declare myself as such in public.

As far as this universe goes, there’s no free will. Making a choice between Coke or Pepsi is not a free will at all, the choice is dependent on the lot of things, like the third installment in Superbrands series on BBC. It changed my perception of Coke and will influence my choices from now on.

Anyway, so the universe is deterministic, but what about devotees? Krishna promises to take care of them, Krishna has the ability to break the laws of nature, He can alter the course of one’s life forever and no one would ever notice, it won’t be a sloppy hack job like in time machine movies where people are tripping on the loose ends everywhere.

Maybe He does that, I wouldn’t know. It’s nice to believe in that but, on one hand, it would make absolutely no changes to determinism theory because everything would still look logical and predictable after the intervention, on the other hand we should consider the reason for Krishna’s intervention, too.

Is it because I want mango lassi and I have been chanting? Is Krishna going to fix the mangoes for my material enjoyment? I seriously doubt it.

Sometimes I think that giving me mangoes would increase my devotion because I could offer them and honor the prasadam, assuming that it would be a more persuasive argument. Well, Krishna is not going to be fooled by this.

Seriously, though, if I admit that some of my requests for service are at least mixed with material desires, what stops me from extrapolating that ALL my requests are just the same.

But what does “mixed” mean? If all our freedom is to choose between Krishna and material world, everything is black and white, there’s no place for “mixed”. What exactly are we choosing here?

How am I to choose between Krishna and maya? I don’t see any difference. I’m offering mangoes because I want them, the process works, I get purified, gradually, but I don’t know where offering to Krishna ends and anticipation of my own enjoyment begins.

“Gradually purified” means there’s a mix, mix does not mean a clear choice.

If I consider the whole offering process from start to beginning I don’t see any space that could be filled by free will. I want mangoes because of my previous experience, I can choose mangoes only from a limited choice of fruit on offer, I remind myself to offer mangoes to Krishna because I’ve been taught this way. Sometimes I might consider not offering them, because I’ve heard even Prabhupada occasionally ate fruit in the hotels. So it’s a battle between my upbringing that has arguments for both choices, and my hunger. Where is free will in that?

Imagine how much preparations have to be put in place to organize, say, Ratha Yatra festival. How would you even know you can do such a thing? It didn’t just popped in inside your head, you might even carry the concept from the previous life. Where’s free will?

Or what about numerous statements that one who has heard the Holy Name even once achieves liberation? We know that most people don’t achieve liberation at once but eventually. I suppose I’m in the beginning of this “eventually” stage myself. Everything I do, everything that is happening to me can be easily traced to the moment I heard someone telling me about Krishna, possibly many lifetimes ago.

I don’t think I have exercised my free will ever since. I’m just guided through a series of Krishna’s arrangements to gradually purify my heart and make me eligible to see my true nature. When I see myself as a spirit soul and I see both the material and spiritual worlds, then I can start talking about exercising my free will. I don’t think I’ll be concerned with these logical arguments, though.

Maybe the choice will be – serve Krishna, don’t serve Krishna, not go here or go there.

So my current conclusion is that it’s Krishna who is doing everything I normally consider my service, which is fine, what I don’t know is how I can help. I know how I can help if I identify myself with my body but that’s not me, not my decisions, not my choices, not even my head where all these choices are made.

Maybe I shouldn’t concern myself so much, the fact is that identifying with my body and engaging in service works, what more do I want at this point? And even liberated souls should continue chanting, so what’s the question?

The existence and the exact nature of free will is just a red herring, it is irrelevant to what I have to do now and it will be irrelevant for a long, long time to come.

Once we’ve heard the name Krishna, especially from vaishnavas, there’s no turning back, there will be ups and downs and we’ll make plenty of stupid choices along the way but we all somehow or other end up at His lotus feet, it’s only a question of time.

Vanity thought #142. I hate Mondays.

It never changes, does it? When I had a job I hated going there on Mondays and now when all I do is chant Hare Krishna all day long I hate starting it on Monday morning, too. Is there any real difference?

A while ago I speculated about chanting being the recommended sacrifice for Kali Yuga, here, here and here. If people used to offer horses to achieve all kinds of success before, can chanting Hare Krishna mantra bring the same results now? I still think the answer is “why not?”

From that perspective chanting my rounds is no different from any other job. I do it to get some benefits, just like I go (went) to work to get salary. Moreover, isn’t chanting Hare Krishna compared to watering the roots of a tree? Isn’t going to work is like pouring water on the branches instead?

Shouldn’t I get the same benefits and much more from chanting Hare Krishna?

The downside of this logic is that it induces me to put lots of conditions on chanting. I calculate how much I would chant and how much I expect to get in return.

I felt this attitude very clearly this morning and it made me very sad. Suddenly the pride of chanting ten hours a day was replaced by realization that I spent fourteen hours on myself and I don’t think it’s enough.

It’s not how much we give to Krishna that stops us, it’s how much we hold back, right?

Well, I physically felt the attachment to *my* fourteen hours today, I was very much against giving them up.

Actually it’s more than fourteen hours. I found the new cruising speed – one round in five minutes, twelve rounds in one hour, hundred rounds in eight hours and twenty minutes. That leaves fifteen hours and forty minutes for myself. I felt like I’m finally getting something out of this – more free time to goof off.

Just like with work, after a while you learn the ropes and find an easy way to accomplish the same tasks that leaves more time to yourself, same thing is happening with chanting.

Is there any difference again?

I thought chanting faster would be good. I didn’t try to achieve it, it just happened. Three months ago I noticed I could chant faster than six minutes, I timed myself, I could chant even faster if I sat down, concentrated and controlled my breathing. Same thing happened over this weekend, except the times are about one minute better.

Back then I thought of trying to chant three hundred thousand names in one day. Actually it’s one hundred and ninety two rounds according to our tradition. Eventually I pulled it off.

Those were the days. Speed really mattered. Now I’m thinking speed is good because it gives me more time for myself. What a rascal!

I think I will start chanting one hundred and eight rounds from tomorrow. Interestingly, a hundred and eight is a very special number in our tradition but it doesn’t fit with our sixteen round counters. Our counters go ninety six then hundred and twelve. Never mind, 108 is still good.

One advantage of speed is the demand for concentration. As soon as I lose it I start mispronouncing the names, chanting faster keeps me on my toes all the time. I suppose after a while my mouth will get used to it and I would need to increase speed again.

Today I came across another argument against any special status for chanting the Holy Names. A few weeks ago BBC aired a documentary on the power of super brands, I finally watched the first part, technology, today at lunch. This is from their preview:

The scenes I witnessed at the opening of the new Apple store in London’s Covent Garden were more like an evangelical prayer meeting than a chance to buy a phone or a laptop. The strangeness began a couple of hours before the doors opened to the public. Inside the store, glassy-eyed staff were whipped up into a frenzy of excitement, jumping up and down, clapping and shouting.

Today I saw it on TV myself, there’s no exaggeration here. The shop staff were really whipping themselves up before going out to greet the customers, and the customers were no better, too. There was this dude who traveled all the way from California to witness opening of an Apple store, there were guys from China and Russia, too, and there was a local guy who has been to his thirtieth store opening himself.

Apple fanboys were really made look like a pseudo-religious cult there, but that’s not what is really interesting, it’s the claim made in the documentary that MRI scans of the brains show that Apple fans have exactly the same physiological response to Apple products as real religious people have to images of their objects of worship.

It’s fine to joke about Apple cult but are we any different? That same MRI guy admitted that he is thinking about Apple and its products twenty four hours a day, just like we do about Krishna, and he gets the same effects, feels the same emotions.

Can we replace Krishna with Apple and feel no different? Hmm, I could even say that Apple is more real – you buy the stuff, you use it, you enjoy it. I chant the Holy Names I don’t feel anything, just the sense of unavoidable duty. Sure we have many things to enjoy about Krishna – prasadam, really nice deities, sweet kirtans, but don’t we create all these things ourselves for our own amusement? Yes, they are transcendental and absolute but very few of us can’t tell the difference between tasty and average prasadam or between good and bad singing.

Until we reach the certain stage, ruci, if I am not mistaken, we still see those transcendental things with material eyes and Apple has an advantage here – you worship it and it gives you real, tangible things and benefits that cannot be mistaken for anything else. We have to tell ourselves that Krishna’s mercy is present in this rice, we can’t tell the difference otherwise.

Having said that, there’s a loophole in that MRI argument. First I heard of these experiments about five years ago and it was obvious then – they asked people to try and remember their most profound religious experiences. That is just nonsense – you can’t reproduce these things at will. You might try to reproduce the feelings they elicited but that is just pretending and it is rejected in our tradition.

If you are fooling yourself that you are seeing Krishna face to face the feelings you produce have nothing to do with actual spiritual experiences, you are just being phony. So that’s what worshiping Apple feels like, too?

Monday is finally over, worrisome but just as expected. I’ve been there before, gloom and doubts come and go, the important thing I lived through without dropping a round, there’s just one or two more days before I start feeling good again.