Vanity thought #1490. Ultimate level

There’s just one more level left in the progression of saṅkīrtana, as far as hardware in the material world is capable of supporting, just as material bodies are not meant to support Kṛṣṇa premā. Beyond that material bodies simply go into meltdown, literally. We know that both Kṛṣṇa premā and saṅkīrtana continue uninterrupted in the spiritual world, and this adds another dimension to Śikṣāṣṭaka’s first verse, but let’s start with last level on Earth first.

When the tree of devotion begins to fructify one immediately notices that tasting these fruits absorbs all his consciousness and all his resources so that there’s nothing left to dedicate to the material world. First I wanted to say “material pursuits” but at this point there aren’t any already, yet material world still exists, service to the Lord still exists, preaching still exists, orders of the guru still exist, and they all have to go.

It’s not that one gives up his service completely but he sees all tiniest impurities and rejects them as offensive to the Lord. It’s like with offering food – in the beginning practically everything will do, even milk with traces of eggs in the milk powder used to produce it, as we heard from Prabhupāda, but as one progresses along he rejects more and more unsuitable bhoga and becomes more and more selective about the whole process, from raw ingredients to kitchen conditions to who does the cooking to who does the offering.

Similarly, at some point pushing books under false pretexts doesn’t do it for him anymore, it’s not saṅkīrtana, it’s not pure enough and even the motives are questionable. A lot of otherwise good, solid service gets rejected. Not rejected in the sense that being in the management position such devotee tells others to get lost, but he rejects it as an input to his own, internal offerings to the Lord. Externally he stays away from it and stops supporting it, or only offers half-hearted words of encouragement. It does not produce the required level of taste anymore.

This purified sādhana puts him in a sort of a pupa stage where no one knows what he is really doing and he hardly ever interacts with anybody. Meanwhile, purity being the force, his internal transformations gather speed and reach the level of avalanche – because this force is being applied without any hindrance. Up until that point everybody progresses at roughly the same speed, which is largely determined by how spiritually pure the environment for everyone involved is, say a temple, but when one creates a materially sterile environment just for himself he immediately starts to pull away.

All caterpillars visibly grow but when they become pupae this growth changes dimension and produces completely unpredictable results (if you haven’t seen butterflies before). Same happens with devotees when they come out of the nirjana bhajana stage.

They become paramahaṁsas and attain fully spiritual vision, the one where they literally see the form of Śyāmasundara everywhere they look, they don’t see anything else even if they try, not that they even think of trying. The also stop seeing the impurities and imperfections that drove them into retirement stage and therefore see no reason to reject anything anymore.

This is when they come out and preach like no one has seen before, completely fearless and unstoppable, and can transform lives of thousands in one fell swoop. They become those uttama mahā-bhāgavatas who we need to accept as our gurus, as we are constantly being told. Their mere presence immediately purifies everyone around them and a lava-mātra moment of their association is enough to infuse one with insatiable craving for the love of God.

That is not to say they become God themselves, this is impossible. I’ve started this post with talking about limitations and it’s time to remind that bodily limitations exist for everyone, even mahā-bhāgavatas.

Śrīla Prabhupāda used to compare bodies of devotees with iron rods placed in the fire. Eventually they become just as hot and can be used just as fire, but iron will always remain iron. Even the red hot iron has a shape of the same rod as it was when it was still cold. If all you see is shape and size then there’s no difference.

Similarly, devotees will never appear here in fully spiritual bodies, they will always be iron cast, so to speak. I’m not talking about those who descent here together with the Lord but those who achieve perfection through practice. Externally, their bodies will be indistinguishable from those of ordinary people most of the time. They will have normal blood pressure, sugar levels, body fat etc. They will be affected by environment just as everybody else, and they will get sick, just as everybody else.

Being under direct control of Kṛṣṇa, however, their bodies are also capable of transcending all material laws when necessary, good luck to science trying to catch those moments, though.

Material limitations also apply to their minds and intelligence, and, therefore, speech and interactions with others. Perfection doesn’t mean they would suddenly start speaking in tongues, but it would mean their mercy can overcome language barriers and flow freely to the soul itself. Still, they would need common language and translators to speak to others, just as everybody else.

One might wonder at this point if perfection makes a big difference at all. Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, why should we assume that it’s not a duck anymore? Fair question, but is it asked from the right platform? Regardless of whether a devotee has or has not achieved perfection, if all one can see and recognize is ducks then it’s ducks he will see forever. It’s the same argument with seeing God, except God was always there while a devotee was supposed to undergo this transformation before our eyes. In both cases an ordinary person is incapable of seeing spiritual forms. If you can’t see God you can’t see true nature of God’s devotees either, it’s a question of one’s own vision, not of reality.

What we can observe, however, is the impact a devotee leaves on the world, the sheer number of conditioned souls whose lives he changes. No ordinary duck can do that, even if it doesn’t look like anything magical – just write, print, and sell books.

Our detractors often complain that ISKCON is obsessed with numbers, temples, big festivals etc. They might have a point about obsession but not about value of preaching. Numbers, temples, and festivals should be seen as symptoms of underlying pure devotion, people obsessed with material achievements won’t be able to accomplish that. They can build a sizable following, like Donald Trump, they can build big buildings, like Donald Trump, and they can have popular shows watched by millions, like Donald Trump, but they won’t be able to produce devotees. Only mahā-bhāgavata paramahaṁsas can do that.

Somehow or other we, in ISKCON, managed to preserve Śrīla Prabhupāda’s spiritual energy and carry on. I’m confident that when we need help Lord Caitanya will send us another mahā-bhāgavata to sustain our mission. We don’t have to worry about lack of care and support, just go on with out service and everything will turn out perfectly.

Vanity thought #1371. Why care?

Yesterday I argued that my personal history, and anybody else’s who had come to ISCKON, for that matter, is a naturally occurring phenomena rather than product of our assumed devotion.

Generally, we think that devotion comes first, external manifestation follows, and therefore one is the cause of another. Then we go on and chant “Oh Lord, Or Lord’s energy, please engage me in Your service”, and that’s what happens later. Nope, I say, whatever engagement happens to us is pre-ordained by the stars, lines on palms of our hands, and history of the universe itself.

We still see it as progressing from past to the future and so we hope that by changing the present, by our prayers, we change the course of universal history. Nope, it doesn’t really work like that. And it doesn’t meant that the above translation of the mahā-mantra, given by Śrīla Prabhupāda, is wrong.

First, the time – it doesn’t flow from past to future, from left to right, or in any other direction. We see that way because we are under Lord’s illusion. Freedom from this illusion means freedom from time, among other things. Time is one of the Lord’s mightiest weapons and no one in this material world is above it, except viṣṇu-tattva and liberated souls. They see the world as it is, “objectively”, if that means anything in their world. I guess it does, as they are free from any bias, but even in the spiritual world they are still under control of the Lord so He is the only one who can be truly objective.

Anyway, outside of influence of time they do not see it as linear. I guess it’s like playing around with controls of your preferred media player on the computer – you can skip backwards and forwards, freeze the frame, rewind, play it at double speed, slow it down, and even play it in reverse. Musical notes and video images, and their digital representation, follow in sequence but this sequence can be viewed in any direction. One note is always tied to another, there are unavoidable intermediate notes in between, and nothing can ever be out of place.

Or consider bittorrent technology – it allows you to download a song or a movie in a series of blocks, each 256kB in size, and each block downloaded individually. They can come down completely out of order but the torrent program can reassemble them back into a song because they all are numbered. It’s like a collection of singular mementos, a card deck that can be shuffled, each card or each memento has it’s own meaning, value, and information attached to it, but you can always arrange it back to order if you want.

That’s what happens with time and everything that happens to us here. There are mementos, there are memories, and right now they are being served one by one, and we dutifully count them, but outside of the illusion they can also look like a shuffled card deck or a jumbled jigsaw. Liberated persons are not playing, they don’t have to follow the sequence, they only know that the order exists and that’s enough for them.

Our perception that we can somehow assemble the puzzle in any other way is based on ignorance, at best it’s cute but mostly it’s just naive. Each episode from our lives and from the life of the entire universe can fit only in one place and it must connect with its neighbors. We can’t change that, they can’t change that, the Lord probably can but He is not interested, as far as we heard of His engagement with the universe.

The perception that our actions somehow matter is the false ego talking. Usually we think false ego is our temporary identity as a given material body but no, it literally means “I am the doer” in Sanskrit. Ahaṇ is “I”, aham, and kāra is a verb form for action. So, false ego is not just “I am a man” or “I am a woman” or “I am a dog”, but also “I am the doer”. Primarily “I am the doer”, I would say, but don’t quote me on that.

This understanding might explain why false ego sometimes referred to as one element for the whole universe as opposed to ten senses given to each living entity. We ALL think exactly the same, universal thought – “I am the doer”, in each and every form of life.

So, under the influence of this thought we assume that we can change things and our efforts matter. They don’t. All our actions are carried out by the material nature. All our actions are caused by desires that appear in our minds as minds observe the activities of the material nature. Our minds don’t get to choose what they like and what they hate. They don’t get to choose whether to feel cold or hot, pleasure or pain.

Hold on, we CAN influence how to react to various events and feelings, we CAN control our mind, we have intelligence for that, don’t we? Nope, intelligence is just another material element that has access to memories, which came from observing the actions of material nature. When intelligence processes these memories it can chart a different course of action from the one suggested by the mind, but the way intelligence works is also mechanical. It simply makes sacrifices of less important interests for the sake of the more important ones, that’s all. Who sets the values? Who determines the priority? Not the intelligence itself – these things come from other people, our parents, teachers, gurus, friends etc.

As devotees we don’t get to choose whether celibacy is important or not. We don’t get to choose whether chanting is important. All these things come from our authorities. Our intelligence simply reflects the strength these authorities hold over our lives. Those raised as atheists don’t give a dime for God or the scriptures or the prophets or the gurus. Those raised in a different way value the same things differently – we don’t really get to choose our upbringing.

Prolonged exposure eventually solidifies our commitment and strengthens our intelligence, but we don’t get to arrange how long our bodies are going to be exposed to the teachings of our ācāryas. Some only get one mantra and are sent off to a forest to practice it for the rest of their life. Some spend their lives in a temple, some see their guru only once in the life, some are personally trained for years. We don’t get to choose.

So, nothing we think we do here really matters. We are not the doers. The Lord and His material nature carry out all the activities, we just claim ownership over something that is not ours.

And if somebody raises the argument that this attitude leads to inaction and irresponsibility – hogwash. EVERYONE will be forced to work and act according to his nature. We can’t stop it just as Arjuna couldn’t stop the battle of Kurukṣetra. The hesitation and irresponsibility are caused by the mode of ignorance, not by me typing away this post.

We are not the doers also means that we can’t stop things from happening, and they will happen in their predestined way whether we like it or not. Just let the world be, it’s Kṛṣṇa’s world, not ours, He is the controller and enjoyer, not us, stop trying to usurp His position and His powers.

Ha, didn’t I just said “stop”? How can we stop? I just argued against it, didn’t I?

Well, this is the only choice we can make as spirit souls – whether to accept Kṛṣṇa as our Lord and master or whether to defy Him and try being little gods ourselves. Depending on this choice we will see the rest of the world accordingly. The world will go on, but we will perceive it differently. We can choose to see it as paramahaṁsas or we can choose to see it as hogs and dogs, that’s all.

Vanity thought #1353. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 11

Let’s talk about snakes. There are two episodes with snakes among the stories about Haridāsa Ṭhākura, both described in Caitanya Bhāgavata but not in Caitanya Caritāmṛta.

It’s not clear if these two events happened in sequence or if they were separated by many years. Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura simply said “listen to another wonderful incidence involving king of snakes”. It could have happened at any time, therefore, even before marketplace beatings. The first one, however, was just after Haridāsa was released by Muslims and found himself a cave on the bank of Ganges.

Now, I can’t imagine how he could find such a place. Nothing in the present day topography of Phuliyā suggests presence of the caves. There aren’t any mountains of even hills in that area, it’s all flat and probably flooded from time to time. How could there be a cave there “on the bank of Ganges”. Look at this Panoramio photo that shows how Phuliyā looks from the Ganges itself:

Perhaps they means something else, not a cave in a traditional sense, perhaps it’s just a washed away hollow in an otherwise sandy bank. Perhaps the land around it is supported by root systems of big trees rather than by rocks. Must ask devotees who actually live there, they might have a better explanation.

Anyway, Haridāsa Ṭhākura moved into such a cave but it already had an occupant – a giant poisonous snake. No one had seen it, however. The snake exuded overwhelming, choking, eye-irritating gas that everyone complained about. People just couldn’t stay there, it was a local physician who, listening to the symptoms, suggested that the presence of the snake somewhere deep in the cave.

It was all water of the duck’s back for Śrīla Haridāsa, didn’t bother him at all. Yet, seeing people complaining about it and realizing that no one would come to visit and hear him chanting if he didn’t do something about it, he agreed to move. Chanting in a cave is a practice of nirjana-bhajana and the way it’s ordinary understood it’s not meant to be disturbed by ordinary people. There was a devotee in Prabhupāda’s time who chanted half of Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s daily limit. He got himself a hut in Māyāpura and he complained to Prabhupāda of being disturbed by others all the time. Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura was not that kind of bhajanānandi, he was not an ordinary bhajanānandi at all, he enjoyed preaching, not personal bhajana.

Therefore, he proclaimed that it the snake doesn’t leave by next morning he would leave himself. I’m just trying to picture how it looked. Haridāsa said that he had no idea there was a snake inside and while everyone’s eyes, throats, and noses burned he didn’t feel anything. At this point, however, was he talking to the yet unseen snake? It looks this way, he probably meant the snake to hear his promise/threat.

Or maybe he was talking to the Lord, not to the snake. He saw some people complaining and threatening never to come to hear the holy name and engage in spiritual discussions and he appealed to the Lord, or to the holy name, seeing them as non-different. If the obstacle, the “snake”, or whatever it was that prevented his visitors from engaging in saṅkīrtana, doesn’t clear out by tomorrow, then Haridāsa would have to search for a new place for their gatherings. He didn’t see it as “his” place, he saw it as a place for preaching.

For me, I would talk to the invisible snake, I see it as a separate object I can try to establish relationship with and, with the magic of the Holy Name, find a way to have influence over. Haridāsa Ṭhākura, however, most likely didn’t see the “snake” as a separate phenomenon, just a fluke in the force, something in the illusion that wasn’t conducive to devotional service, so he talked directly to the Lord.

If this is true then it’s an important lesson. We should not treat external phenomena as having any life on their own, in the vision of a parahaṁsa there are only three entities – living entity, the Lord, and the external energy acting under Lord’s direction. Every relationship he has is a relationship with the Lord and never with external phenomena.

Does he have relationships with other living entities? I don’t think so, only in as much as they both can relate to the Lord at the same time. We don’t talk to sleeping people, we understand that they don’t hear us, and for the parahaṁsa everybody “living” under illusion appears as sleeping, too. We can see people dreaming and being very absorbed in their imagination but we don’t try to reason with them about what they see, perhaps wake them up and tell that it was just a dream, nothing to worry about. Similarly, a paramahaṁsa might shake us up a little and tell us that all our troubles are just an illusion while we want help with the villains chasing us in our nightmares.

We can adjust a sleeping man’s pillow or cover him with a blanket, we can turn off the lights, open or close windows etc. We can do all kinds of things that will hardly be even noticed but we know they are for that man’s ultimate benefit and he’d be thankful for that in the morning. Similarly, a paramahaṁsa is only concerned with the ultimate benefit of the conditioned souls who might not even notice his help in their illusion.

Hmm, it makes sense now that Haridāsa Ṭhākura wasn’t addressing the snake, the way charlatans pretending to be mediums and seers do, or even the way we might address a kid who is hiding somewhere around. He talked to the Lord directly, asking Him to do whatever is necessary for the benefit of the conditioned souls who came to complain to him about their nightmares about some snake.

As soon as he said this, the snake appeared from insides of the cave and slithered out in everybody’s view. Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura specifically mentioned that it was early evening and everybody saw that snake, it wasn’t imaginary. It was large, fearsome, but also wonderful and beautiful – in Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura’s words. It was colored yellow, blue, and white and had a brilliant jewel adorning its head, which somehow reminded everybody about Kṛṣṇa.

Everybody felt relieved and developed great faith in Haridāsa Ṭhākura but the book says that for Haridāsa himself the episode was nothing special.

As for the identity of that snake – we will never know, but the second snake episode tells us to have some respect for the best of their species, I’ll discuss that next time.

Vanity thought #896. Addicted to life

When I was ranting about news the other day I wasn’t totally honest, there was one piece that caught my attention because it offered a fresh insight into a familiar problem that can have great repercussions for us as devotees even if it seems to be unrelated.

It’s about experiences of one young woman who tries to abstain from alcohol for one year, in London. She describes it as probably the worst place to be a teetotaler and gives plenty of reasons why, main of which is binge drinking.

The result of it is toxic atmosphere where everyone is goaded into drinking and there’s too much societal pressure to conform. Elsewhere, in her experience, when people don’t drink to get drunk then no one cares if someone abstains completely or not, but in London not being intoxicated considered practically rude and party spoiling.

Anyway, she soldiers on, on the seventh month now, and she’ll probably complete her “vrata”, so all is good. What can WE learn from it?

In her struggle she questions several fundamental assumptions, first of which was that not drinking is considered “extreme”. What’s so extreme about it? As she says in her article, she is not bungee jumping from London Tower with a live cheetah strapped to her back, that would be extreme.

This is what happens to us when we step out into a society – they have funny notions of what is extreme – no drinking, no coffee, no meat, no sex. For us it has long become a lifestyle, they, however, think that we are torturing ourselves. When someone asks me “So, do you like vegetarian food?” I don’t know how to answer politely. I don’t know any other food anymore, this is what I eat every time, day after day, year after year. We don’t wonder if dogs like dog food or fish like fish food or Italians like Italian food, so why ask if vegetarians like vegetarian?

Now, when we see such artificial limits in others we might consider similar psychological barriers we build for ourselves. Things that we think are impossible, like becoming a book distributor or strictly following the fourth. Much of it is impossible only in our minds just like those London alcoholics can’t comprehend teetotaling.

Back to the story, her next challenge is to “everything in moderation” paradigm. Why? Why should everything be in moderation? A little bit of rape is okay? A couple of murders? Occasional shooting rampage? Shoplifting? Infidelity? Taking office supplies home? A little spouse abuse? A little child abuse? A little heroin?

Why can’t we exclude some things from our lives altogether? We might fail, or we will most certainly fail from time to time but why should we set our goals low from the start as if failure is inconsequential and should become new standard to spare us some embarrassment?

This is where this woman goes to the heart of the problem – people are addicts, substances are addictive, telling people to consume them in moderation is like saying “Hey, you know that stuff that makes you want more and more as soon as you have a bit? Yeah, just have a bit!” It’s actually absurd or outright devilish.

Well, okay, what does it have to do with us? We don’t expose ourselves to addictive substances, we are safe here.

Not quite – life is addictive. Sex life is most addictive. Eating is addictive, too. Games are addictive, news are addictive, TV is addictive, friends are addictive, our jobs are addictive (if we are engaged according to our nature). Everything in this world is designed to be addictive, to make our senses want more and more of it.

Of course eventually we get tired of enjoying stuff, too, and go into some sort of withdrawal phase like sulking teenagers but it’s a cyclical process, mode of passion eventually takes over again and forces us to become addicted to something else.

Problem with life is that we can’t abstain from it like we can abstain from alcohol. With life we have to take it in moderation, there’s no other choice. Or is there? Is this woman right in the absolute sense and “everything in moderation” is a bogus rule?

Yes and no. While we want to enjoy life we should take it in moderation but if we want to become devotees then total abstinence is our only option. As devotees we should not accept any kind of sense gratification in any dozes, however small. Pure devotion means free from any trace of desire for sense gratification, it means total victory over the senses, as instructed in Upadesamrita.

“Isn’t it a but extreme?” someone might say. Yes, we’ve heard this already, just a few paragraphs up, it isn’t, it’s all in our minds. Pure devotion is available to everyone and it is in everyone’s nature so it’s not extreme in any sense.

We shouldn’t look at Krishna consciousness goalposts and think “Oh, that’s for paramahamsas, not for me.” We all must become paramahamsas, there’s no other way, and we all ARE potential paramahamsas, there are no excuses.

Hmm, perhaps these young people are not as hare brained as they usually appear in their selfies. Maybe not everything is lost yet.

Vanity thought #870. A few questions to paramahamsas

It’s not a real request, of course, just a few questions that I don’t know how to answer myself.

First, if paramahamsas see everyone as Krishna’s perfect servant, how come they don’t see themselves as such? How come they see themselves as totally unworthy? Does it mean their vision is clouded? Does it mean they only pretend to be lower than the lowest?

I don’t know how they answer this. I know that maha bhagavata devotees who preach glories of the Holy Name see themselves as blessed by the Lord. They know their relative position and they accept and sometimes even demand respect that should be given to acharyas. They, however, don’t ascribe it to their own greatness but rather to the mercy of their guru and Krishna. They see themselves as engaged in Krishna’s service and they don’t deny it.

Btw, they demand respect not to placate their own egos but for the benefit of their disciples. Showing respect to elevated devotees is necessary for people’s spiritual advancement and if they have trusted themselves into the hands of an acharya then the acharya has the duty to demand they behave in the way that benefits them spiritually.

In this sense they don’t identify themselves with the position of an acharya and they don’t accept respect as their own but they still see their “conditioned” state as that of being Krishna’s servant. “Ordinary” paramahamsas do not. How come?

It’s in the instructions of Lord Chaitanya, amanina manadena, always ready to show respect to others and not demanding any respect for themselves, but acharyas cannot behave that way or they wouldn’t be acharyas.

Even though this can be explained the question still remains – why don’t the paramahamsas see themselves as Krishna’s servants? Objectively they are the best of the best, how come they don’t see it? Is it some sort of an imperfection that should go away as they progress to the stage of the preaching maha bhagavata devotee? This would make sense but I wouldn’t hurry to declare paramahamsas as imperfect in any sense.

Another question is about the meaning of paramahamsa itself. Hamsa means “swan” and the idea is that swans can extract clean water even from the dirtiest of ponds, or something like that. Applied to people it means that a paramahamsa can see devotion to Krishna in the hearts of even staunch atheists.

This I can understand – everybody seeks the Absolute Truth but they see it in different forms. Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan for followers of the Vedas and things like universal laws, logic and justice for degraded people like us.

What I don’t understand is why paramahamsas don’t see envy. Swans can extract nectar from dirty water, which is fine, but the water is objectively dirty. They must see it as being dirty and so they know what to separate from what. Similarly, paramahamsas must be able to see envy before they notice devotion in people’s hearts yet we never hear about that.

It looks as if they simply ignore people’s faults and anarthas. This is easy to understand but then it means they also have to ignore very real suffering that comes as the result of those anarthas. They might see everyone as blissfully engaged in service to the Absolute Truth but how can they ignore the absence of actual bliss here?

Lord Chaitanya tells us – bhava maha davagni – great fire of material existence, He didn’t say that the material world is an ocean of bliss. Similarly, every acharya talks about ocean of suffering, even Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji who was as close to ideal renounced paramahamsa as I can imagine. He saw people suffering very clearly.

Even Vamsidasa Babaji saw the difference between devotees and non-devotees and occasionally warned people of imminent danger.

Even Avanti brahmana from Uddhava Gita saw the difference between knowledge and ignorance, or he wouldn’t have been able to tell us about it. Actually, he was probably an imaginary character because it was Krishna who did all the talking.

We can say that because these particular personalities were preaching they weren’t really paramahamsas but I if they weren’t then I don’t know who was. Lord Brahma, the source of our sampradaya – is he a paramahamsa? I would imagine we can’t get any higher personality in this universe than him, yet he himself complained about being inadequate.

One well known example is his pastime with stealing Krishna’s friends and their calves but there are also Lord Brahma’s prayers in the Third Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam where he talks about his pride (SB 3.9.3):

..I surrender unto You because whereas I am proud of my material body and senses, Your Lordship is the cause of the cosmic manifestation and yet You are untouched by matter.

“I am proud of my body and senses” – what could be clearer? Even Lord Brahma isn’t a paramahamsa, judging by this standard.

Or maybe I should rethink the whole definition of what paramahamsa is. Maybe seeing deficiencies of his material body is part of his knowledge, maybe it’s not that he does not see faults in himself and in others, including lust and envy, but he treats these faults differently.

Maybe me speculating about it is like a child trying to figure out “special hugs”.

Speaking of which (not the hugs, the faults), perhaps having mind overwhelmed by daily struggles is not such a bad thing as I imagined yesterday. Maybe it’s Krishna’s way of showing us that we and our devotion to Him are separate from the activities of our minds, that even amidst heavy thinking we can retain sense of His presence.

It would make sense if we were ever to transcend the mental platform – mind wouldn’t just melt into non-existence but we rather learn to separate our consciousness from it. Then we can direct our consciousness towards Krishna, and then, if we develop taste for Lord’s service, our material mind might follow and become our best friend.

Does it mean it’s okay to engage our minds in apparently materialistic activities? I don’t know. I would say that if those duties are given to us by Krishna and/or our karma then it’s okay. If we chose them ourselves for our pleasure then it’s not. How to see the difference? Well, little honesty can go a long way here.

Or, as an ultimate solution, we can just put our trust in Krishna, that He would never engage us in ways detrimental to our progress even if sometimes they appear as setbacks. Which is exaclty how it would look to a paramahamsa – everything is perfect, and now I’ve made a full circle because my questions are still unanswered.

Vanity thought #868. Reconnection

If we were to see material energy as Krishna’s agent we would certainly have to rethink our relationship with it. One of the first thing we learn in Krishna consciousness is that our material interests are impermanent and unimportant while our real duties and obligations lie in our relationships with guru and Krishna.

This is how we’ve been trained – spiritual life comes first, material duties can be practically forsaken.

Of course we have the entire Bhagavad Gita dedicated to convincing Arjuna to perform his varnashrama obligation to fight and we never forget to mention it when challenged about being disconnected from the world but our practical application has been mostly about giving up all our dharmas, shaving our heads, and joining the temple. That’s how we interpret the last instruction of the Gita, sarva dharman parityajya, and make no mistake, it’s the most important one and it doesn’t lose its value even for fully liberated paramahamsas but the application should most probably be somewhat different.

I mean that a paramahamsa does not even see any other varieties of religion, he sees Krishna everywhere and not just symbolically but in His two armed form of Syamasundara. Or rather everywhere he looks he sees Syamasundara first and foremost, in the heart of his heart, and then the external world as His extension, I guess. I don’t know how exactly yo mam pasyati sarvatra sarvam ca mayi pasyati works (BG 6.30). Point is – he can’t see any separation from Krishna so for him there’s nothing to renounce.

It could also be that he can see and understand all kinds of material dharmas but he sees their connection to Krishna and so in every duty he sees Krishna’s hand and Krishna’s orders, so following them does not break mām ekaḿ śaraṇaḿ vraja principle.

If we were to try and treat the world in this way it would mean reconnection with our previously abandoned duties. We thought that our obligations to our families needed to be renounced in favor of surrendering to Krishna but if we saw our family duties as imposed by Krishna Himself we would happily return home and take care of whatever and whoever needs to be taken care of there. I guess simply being there would give so much pleasure and satisfaction to our mothers and fathers that it could be considered a duty. They have brought us into this world with certain expectations and these expectations could be considered our duties, right?

Similarly, the whole society invested quite a lot in our training and education and it expects us to be productive members in return even though these days it means simply being faithful customers. One day, however, a country might mobilize its citizens for a war and we would be expected to fulfill our duties in this regard, too.

Right now we do not see ourselves as being obliged to fight for “freedom” or “democracy” or whatever nonsense politicians think up to justify their greedy adventures but if we were put in World War II times somewhere in Europe we could be facing the battle for the very survival of the society that has made us into citizens, hence the call to arms would have been justified.

Can we see it as coming from Krishna Himself? No, of course not, but a paramahamsa would, so theoretically we should always keep that option open. I think.

The maturing into that paramahamsa stage would be most welcome by all – everyone would enjoy the return of the prodigal son and everyone would have their smug “I told you so” look on their faces and we should be prepared for that.

From outsider pov we would finally admit the value of their value structure. That it’s important to be a son, a citizen, a consumer, a member of the society, the member of the human species. We can give up these aspirations out of youthful foolishness and our return is a sign of validation for them.

Of course they’d be totally wrong about the reasons for our newly found appreciation and their smugness would be very short lived because if we serve in our materially designated roles only as servants of Krishna then people who expected to accept this service as their own would be educated about their real position of being only Krishna’s agents and greatly humbled by the experience.

That’s how paramahamsas turn everyone into Krishna’s devotee, how they act as magic touchstones and convert everyone simply by their presence. This is a deeply profound experience, for everyone gets to see himself as connected to the Lord of their hearts, whatever their version might be, simply through a brief association with a devotee. They immediately forget that they wanted to be our fathers for their own pleasure, for example, they see that their parental duties are their service to Krishna, and that feeling simply melts the hearts of materialists.

We say that preaching requires stepping down to madhyama level but it is not entirely correct – associating with perfect devotees is always supremely beneficial even if they don’t try to teach us anything in particular. Simply being in their presence opens up our hearts to service to Krishna, one single moment of their association transforms our relationships with the entire world.

Practical example – when they meet a sankirtana devotee on the street they immediately form some kind of relationship with him. It’s a stranger selling some stuff, or it’s one of those Hare Krishnas, or it’s a nice young man, or it’s an annoying young man, or it’s a useless young man – one look is usually enough to establish the basis of the relationship. When this person hears devotee speak, however, that relationship suddenly transforms into being put in touch with Krishna Himself. You can see it on their faces, how one moment they think their are talking to a young man and the next moment they realize God’s presence in their heart. Nothing has changed externally but the heart has been melted.

This should form the essence of our return to the world, the essence of our reconnection with it. We don’t come back to be sons or fathers or employees or consumers, that’s only the first impression, but our return should inspire people to serve Krishna. At first they might think “my value system has been validated” but their next thought should be “forget it, I want Krishna!”

That’s how being lower than the blade of grass makes one the greatest personality ever. To carry Krishna in one’s heart we should become humblest of the humble but when we give Krishna to others they see it as greatest of the greatest. We’d be foolish to claim this greatness to ourselves and we’d be foolish to think of being humble as means of achieving greatness and so we might not be ready yet, but that is the paramahamsa way, we should always keep it in mind even as a theory.

Vanity thought #867. Liberal New Year

Being liberal about this particular holiday is super easy. All one has to do is to overlook all the gluttony and boozing and sexual promiscuity. Once you are able to look past that the holiday is actually very inspiring – people look forward to the next period of their lives and they honesty hope to make the best of it.

Those who make New Year resolution are obvious. They think long and hard about what their perfect life should look like, identify their weak points and resolve to overcome their deficiencies. I don’t see any way they could be criticized for this, effort is unmistakably there.

What we can make fuss of is their misguided aspirations. They don’t know where their true benefit lies and go after illusory and temporary goals. If only they knew that they are spirit souls separate from matter they’d make much better resolutions. That’s a legitimate complaint but whose fault is it anyway? We’ve been around for nearly half a century, how come we still haven’t convinced people of basic spiritual truths?

Thinking this way one can easily see himself as being inferior to the ordinary folks celebrating their New Year. We can say that we’ve been following instructions of guru and Krishna and therefore we are objectively higher beings but this pride can be dissipated by considering our apparent progress solely as mercy of Lord Chaitanya and not claiming any credit to ourselves.

One can easily imagine wealthy people deciding to control their ostentatious spending habits and becoming envious of the poor who are much better at controlling themselves. They correctly identify their problem as inability to restrain their shopping urges and don’t see their wealth as a blessing at all. If they were poorer it would have been much easier, they’d think.

We are in the same situation – we’ve been given wealth of spiritual knowledge but we don’t know how to use it wisely. A simple devotee who has just accepted Krishna into his heart has it so much easier, he is not burdened with politics and conflicts, he can’t care less about dark periods of ISKCON history, his enthusiasm and dedication are pure and his future looks bright.

We can, of course, dismiss it as utsaha-mayi, false enthusiasm, and we can indulge our envy in thinking up various reasons for their certain downfall but if that’s what we want then paramahamsa stage is obviously not for us yet.

Even people who don’t make any New Year resolutions due to their cynicism can be applauded for their practicality and honesty. It takes certain bravery to admit one’s weaknesses and one’s inability to control one’s life in face of the superior force of fate. It’s not that they don’t have any goals, they know value of healthy life and wholesome relationships just as well as those who, on this New Year’s eve, promise to achieve all their goals, they are simply being realistic about it.

I would even argue that they realize weaknesses inherent to their own nature and they see themselves as separate from their uncontrollable minds, a step better than being enthusiastic but largely ignorant of the reality.

It’s very easy to see the best in people on New Year, maybe even easier than on Christmas or Thanksgiving which are spoiled by Black Friday shopping or Christmas present frenzy, there’s just too much greed involved.

Now that I just said that then the next step should be about seeing goodness in people rushing through store doors morning after being thankful to God for whatever they have. That’s a tough one, I admit. Naughty and nice business with Santa is also awash with greed and sense of entitlement, which is still somehow seen as legitimate by devotees with perfect vision.

So, seeing good in people on New Year really is a baby step but a necessary one. We should still see them as non-devotees and protect our consciousness from their polluting attitudes but it won’t hurt us to theoretically acknowledge their efforts anyway.

In fact, there’s no good reason not to try and set New Year resolutions for ourselves, too. Taking vratas is one of the limbs of devotional service, what’s so bad about taking them on this day as opposed to any other?

In fact, what is the reason to avoid taking vratas right now? Following lunar calendar is not an excuse, any promise for any period of time is good. We don’t have to wait for auspicious days to start serving the Lord.

All we have to do is to figure out reasonable vratas, not too difficult and overwhelming and not too easy and meaningless. Will I make a New Year resolution myself?

Not very likely but if something comes to mind in the remaining hours of this year I won’t object. You can’t rush these things either, and if you are not ready to start on New Year, any other day is just as good, too.

There’s another consideration here – like it or not but our lives are tied up to the secular solar calendar and even though we think of vows as reading more books or chanting better rounds there’s no reason for us not to take vows relevant to our bodily lives – eating healthier, exercising, or just being nicer to people. It is a kind of dharma that comes with our bodies and performing it to the best of our abilities is our duty.

What would a paramahamsa do? I think it’s reasonable to expect pure devotees to greet their material obligations as coming from the Lord Himself and so they would put all their efforts in performing their assigned duties. Usually they don’t have that many duties so if something comes along they’d be feeling as being truly blessed.

So, there’s no reason for us not to participate in New Year celebrations with eagerness and enthusiasm. Our material lives are given to us to purify ourselves so we should welcome the opportunity.

This probably not what one would expect from New Year’s post on a blog ostensibly about service to Krishna but obligation to perform all our duties as a service to Krishna is not going to be suspended. If New Year celebrations are a part of it then it’s an offer we better not refuse.

Vanity thought #866. Case study in liberalism

Yesterday’s speculations need examples to see if they make sense in real life. Pretty much everything could be considered but I thought it’s better to start with some contentious issues of the day, of which we have way to many. FDG has been my favorite for some time but I’ve grown tired of it. Among other issues there aren’t clear favorites and I decided to start with “ISKCON infestation by kirtaniyas” that I haven’t considered before.

There are, as usual, two sides to the story. To my knowledge, “pro-kirtaniyas” never engage in any public debates and I’ve never discussed this issue personally with any of the proponents, just heard a few excuses here and there and tried to fill the gaps.

The main argument is that these kirtan singers bring in the crowds, people who otherwise would never have come to ISKCON chant the Holy Names, and really, what other arguments are needed?

Fair enough. Now, the opponents, who are disproportionally vocal – they charge that this kind of kirtan is polluted, that there’s too much association with neo-mayavadis, that in Prabhupada’s time being on the same stage with hardcore impersonalists would have been unthinkable, as was inviting impersonalists to sing at our festivals.

Hearing Holy Name from the lips of mayavadis is poisonous, there are examples from Chaitanya Charitamrita if Srila Prabhupada’s own instructions are not enough. Associating with mayavadis is prohibited, too. All valid arguments that have no retorts, afaik.

How to be liberal about this then?

Let’s just step back a little and determine the context. Liberalism requires looking at a bigger picture, then what is unacceptable in one situation for a certain kind of devotees starts to look quite okay elsewhere for a different group of people.

For example, taking vegetarian non-prasadam is a no-no for temple devotees but for those outside it’s often a matter of necessity, and for non-devotees it’s certainly a progress towards a cleaner life. Veganism is certainly better than meat-eating but if someone has been coming to a temple for a while and still hasn’t given up his vegan ideas about milk then progress is not being made.

What we need to see is a vector – where the person had started and where he arrived. If a temple pujari eats a non-offered pizza on ekadashi he is going down, if a meat-eating karmi decides to have veggy pizza on the same day he is going up.

For devotees of Lord Chaitanya associating with mayavadis, listening to their kirtans or reading their literature is a spiritual suicide but I know devotees who were very well read in all kinds of impersonalism before taking up Srila Prabhupada’s books. Whether we like it or not, impersonalism is a natural and even necessary stage before becoming a devotee.

Some get causeless mercy, that’s true, but most living beings purify themselves through thousands and thousands of lives before coming in contact with devotees. Impersonalism is unavoidable.

How can we say with absolute certainty that it is dangerous and undesirable in such non-compromising terms?

Where opponents see mission drift, dilution of our philosophy and spreading the poison, we could try and see thousands and thousands of people coming to hear the sound of the Holy Name. Why would we turn them away unless they read up on philosophy? What do they know about drinking poisonous milk and how would they learn about it if they never come to our programs?

Being liberal in this case is looking at the issue from a different perspective. There are thousands and thousands of vaishnavas who look at “pure” ISKCON and think we are deviating and poisoning people, too. This kind of perception is not absolute, it’s never absolute.

The only real standard is the view of our guru and that’s what we should embrace in the face of all criticism but it’s a standard for US, not for our critics. They’ve never signed up for our program and we don’t expect them to gain mercy of Srila Prabhupada either. We can say that they are missing so much and wasting their lives on worthless pursuits but it’s their lives and their choices. Even as preachers we should not be trying to convert everybody, we should only look for people favorable to our ideas, so we can leave our critics alone and don’t worry too much about them.

So, the critics of “kirtaniya infestation” must be wrong then? No, not at all. We can look at them and see their genuine strive for the purity of our mission and preserving the legacy of our founder acharya. We might dismiss their criticism or decide to take it seriously and reform ourselves but that is not important atm. What is important is to see their sincerity even if their efforts might bring undesirable results, like vaishnava aparadha. Every effort in this world brings about undesirable results anyway, we can’t waste our lives focusing on those.

If we were to ask a paramahamsa which side to take in this dispute he’d tell us exactly the same things – both sides are doing their best for Krishna, and that would overwhelm him with respect and appreciation. He wouldn’t take sides at all and he’d be seen as a well-wisher of all living beings, in short, as paramahamsa.

Is it really that hard to theoretically visualize this kind of response? I don’t think so, it’s very simple, actually. Maybe I need a better case or maybe I’m missing something important, either way, not too bad for the first try, I think.

Vanity thought #864. Bridging compassion

Let’s start with what happens to compassion on the soul’s journey from materialism to impersonalism to devotion to paramahamsa stage and then to parivrajaka acharya, assuming that it’s a normal process everyone eventually goes through.

When I put it like this it seems implausible, just as a statement that every conditional living entity starts his life as Lord Brahma. I mean there’s one universe for all living beings in it, how come each one serves as Brahma, math just doesn’t work. Same with parivrajaka acharyas – there are too few of them to make it a final destination for every conditioned living being.

If it’s not a normal process but rather a standalone phenomenon then there’s no point in seeing logic to it. It just happens for some but not for billions and billions of others. Still, let me try and bridge it.

At the moment we can see clear difference in the meaning of compassion between atheists, religious leaders, and devotees. Atheists empathize with bodily suffering, which includes emotional discomfort, too – hence “human rights”. Religious leaders used to have a monopoly on compassion but for them it meant roping everyone in their own churches. There’s no compassion for unfaithful, they all go to hell sooner or later and that’s all that really matters. They are not going to feed the hungry is there’s no conversion to be made.

Devotees, on the other hand, see suffering in a different light. They see people’s disconnect from service to Krishna as the root cause and offer to fix that. Once a person is re-established in the service to God, his material discomfort will cease to bother him if not disappear altogether. Watering the roots vs watering the leaves, as we usually explain it.

Paramahamsas don’t see any disconnect whatsoever, as I argued yesterday, hence they don’t see ground for compassion – every one is already better than they are themselves, it’s they who need all the mercy, not the other way around.

Parivrajaka acharyas artificially descend from that exalted platform in order to preach like your run-off-the-mill brahmacharies. Their mission is to demonstrate relative superiority of serving Krishna as a Lord and master than serving maya as a separate energy. They spread love of God.

How often does it happen? Almost never, just a couple of short periods in the day of Brahma. Even Sukadeva Goswami wasn’t in the mood to preach, for example. He gave his Bhagavatam class but didn’t stay to answer the questions. It’s really only Lord Chaitanya who decided to spread the love around, everyone else is essentially a normal religious leader, simply preaching the existence of God and benefits one would extract from worshiping Him, as per karma kanda section of the Vedas.

This makes appearance of personalities like Srila Prabhupada extremely unique and it makes it totally depended on the Lord in their mission. Without Lord Chaitanya there’d be no distribution of love, it’s that simple, they don’t decide it by themselves. They don’t just leave Krishna’s pastimes and decide to have a quick run to scoop a bunch of materialistic conditioned souls before breakfast.

That’s why I, personally, don’t accept that Srila Prabhupada acted with any degree of independence. Externally his body acted fully in accordance with the laws of material nature – it was born of union between a man and his wife, unlike that other religious leader everyone worships nowadays, it was brought up in a pre-existing environment, it was taken to pre-existing schools to be educated by people who were totally conditioned in every each way, it was set to meet his guru even though it was given different, nationalistic interests to pursue, it was set to live as a grihastha and maintain a family, it was placed in a proximity to Gaudiya Math but far away from its internal problems, it was placed in circumstances where it could afford to retire and take sannyasa, it was given enough free time to pursue translation of Srimad Bhagavatam, it was given a crazy idea to travel to the other side of the world with only a chest of books, it was given a one way ticket, it was given shelter on arrival, and then it was sent a bunch of hippies to meet. The rest is history, as we say, but I don’t see why suddenly Srila Prabhupada would be given power to commandeer material energy around him.

I subscribe to a different model – according to the universal plan there was a person scheduled to appear who would spread the message of Lord Chaitanya all around the world and a faithful living entity, known to us as Srila Prabhupada, came down to voluntarily place himself in this conditioned body. He voluntarily subjected himself to birth, death, old age and disease and apparent forgetfulness of his original position. If he ever had glimpses of his spiritual identity, they shouldn’t have been manifested in his material mind and memory, for what we can see and perceive here is NOT born of the spiritual world. It’s just an external shell we inhabit for a while, and in that sense there’s no difference between us and him, even though he was an eternally liberated soul.

Why so? Because you can’t tell pure devotee from a materialist just by observing his external behavior. We ourselves attributed certain aspects of Prabhupada’s behavior to spiritual origins, like his preaching, but there were and still are millions of people who don’t see it as anything special, just an old man making lots of followers by playing on people’s interest in all things oriental.

We know better, of course, but we should also admit that others don’t agree with our explanation – therefore the difference between a pure devotee and an ordinary human is not absolute.

This leads back to the question of free will – being a devotee does not make one into a master of the material world, does not make oneself into a doer. Even the best, eternally liberated devotees are simply observers of the show put up by the illusion. If Srila Prabhupada didn’t step into the shoes of that elderly Indian gentleman, someone else would. I bet there was a scramble there when there was an opening. This, btw, explains how some associates of the Lord Chaitanya are described as incarnations of different spiritual personalities. Ramananda Raya, fore example, was simultaneously Arjuna and a gopi. Haridas Thakur was Lord Brahma and Prahlada Maharaj.

Did they have any freedom to act here independently? I don’t believe so, they were like actors taking roles in a play. Quite possible that different acts were played by different actors, or two of them squeezing into the same costume – souls are not people, unlike our costumes a material body can easily fit two or three of them.

What I mean to say is that Ramandanda Raya did not have a choice whether to describe intimate Krishna’s pastimes or not. Lord Chaitanya made him speak, as Krishnadasa Kaviraja says.

Similarly, Srila Prabhupada didn’t have a choice what life to live here. He came down and took the whole deal, no negotiations. Therefore even if he had supreme, absolute vision of a paramahamsa his body was forced to live a way of a preacher, ie madhyama adhikari. We, of course, don’t look at it this way but some of his godbrothers didn’t think much of his spiritual prowess, they didn’t see anything special, preachers used to be a dime a dozen in Gaudiya Math, then everybody spiritually “evolved”.

Well, it’s a controversial topic and I might be completely off the mark, but this explanation seems better than assuming that parivrajaka acharyas come here as masters of material energy, as little gods. This also explains why there’s an apparent difference in spiritual advancement between “ordinary” paramahamsas and the preachers and it explains the source of their compassion, which appears to be absent on the stage of paramahamsa. It does not reappear, it’s that they take the bodies that are not paramahamsa like.

This is my longest post in recent memory, the case is made, time to give it a rest and contemplate where it could be wrong.

Vanity thought #863. Question of pain and compassion

We all feel pain and we also feel compassion to other suffering living beings. The more enlightened we become, the more we empathize with others, recognizing their rights to happiness. We admire leaders who give a lot to charity, leaders who extend help to those less fortunate, who inspire others to help those in need.

Spiritual paths also lead people to the same realization. Even impersonalists, having tasted the fruit of liberation, come back to the society with altruistic intentions. Actually, for them it’s a failure of their model because they can’t maintain their detachment from the world but once they realize the inevitability of engagement they choose the most “enlightened” option – serving others.

People who rise above the modes of passion and ignorance also want to spread sattva around and improve lives of those suffering under the lower gunas.

Compassion is also one of the qualities that naturally develops in devotees and of late it has become a catch word in certain ISKCON circles.

Our role models, Srila Prabhupada and his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, are considered the most compassionate souls, saviors of the entire world, glorified as parivrajaka acharyas. On the scale of spiritual advancement they are at the very top, as we recognize goshthi-anandis to be superior to bhajananandis. What makes the difference is the compassion towards all living entities, while bhajananandis “only” interested in their own spiritual well-being.

Let’s not focus on the fact that compassion of a pure devotee and compassion of a mundane philanthropist are two totally different things and that they lament totally different misfortunes. Let’s leave it out, for the moment. Compassion is where we are at.

Well, squeezed between goshthi-anandis and mundane philanthropists are ordinary, unremarkable paramahamsas. They don’t seem to have any compassion at all, totally oblivious to the sufferings of the world. They don’t see anything in need of fixing, they see everyone perfectly engaged in Krishna’s service as it is. How come? And where does this vision go when they decide to preach?

The question of how come is more difficult to comprehend. Preaching requires a conscious step down from their elevated platform in order to please the Lord, but how do they get to that platform in the first place, and why does compassion disappear?

How do they not see people suffering? How do they see everyone perfectly situated when the entire world is in agony?

I don’t think we, as non-paramahamsas, will even be able to understand it but we can theoretize and we can catch glimpses of their attitude in our clearest moments.

Explanation for suffering appears to be easy – they see people as they are, as spirit souls, and they see that suffering exists only as interaction of material senses with material objects. They are beyond duality of pain and pleasure, they are indifferent to it. They simply don’t notice it.

Okay, pain might be imaginary, or rather illusory, but deep unhappiness that comes from it is experienced by souls themselves. We might be made of stuff that is eternal, full of knowledge, and super-blissful but in our present condition we are objectively NOT full of knowledge and bliss.

It’s highly unlikely that paramahamsas see us in our original spiritual forms having our original, spiritual fun and this is what makes them so happy about our condition. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. We are not here and there at the same time, our consciousness is not split, at this very moment we don’t have our original spiritual relations with Krishna going on somewhere in the spiritual world.

Paramahamsas see us as perfect servants right where we see ourselves now – in the material world. Our suffering is of this world, too, how come paramahamsas don’t notice or don’t care about it?

How come they see us as perfectly engaged in service when we are most certainly not?

I think I got an idea.

We are engaged in the service to maya, who is Krishna’s most trusted servant in this world herself. We see her as illusion but they don’t see her as separate from the Lord. For them service to maya is the same as service to Krishna, she is just Lord’s agent to accept this service on His behalf. He created her to interact with us. Since we can’t or don’t want to reach Him in the spiritual world He sets up a nice show for us and engages with us even when we refuse to see Him.

Okay, but what about suffering then?

Suffering is just a result of our service, a karmic reaction. People suffer in relationships with Krishna in Vrindavana, too. Of course that suffering is full of spiritual bliss, as taught by Lord Chaitanya, but it’s suffering nevertheless.

In both cases, here and there, it only increases our devotion. Separation from Krishna increases love of His devotees, and suffering caused by karma only increase our faith in power of maya, especially for non-devotees.

Atheists trying to improve their conditions as the result of their suffering only strengthen their bonds with material nature. Their answer is to have more illusion, seek deeper surrender, build more trust in science, and develop strongest faith that maya will solve all their problems.

So, the key to observing people suffering is not the suffering itself but their stronger commitment to their relationship with the Absolute Truth (which of them comes in the form of illusion).

If you really want to empathize with people – look at the world through their eyes and notice how they never ever want to be … evil, for the lack of a better world. Even in their darkest moments they can find justification for their actions. Everybody always strives to make the world a better place, even if only for themselves.

Most of the time it results in unpleasant karma but it’s not the results, it’s the drive to serve the Absolute Truth that impresses paramahamsas. When they see such deep, spontaneous, ever increasing devotion, when they see their unshakable faith, they realize their own imperfection and feel truly humbled. That’s why they can’t preach to anybody.

Of course their imperfection lies in not serving Krishna Himself rather than His agent, maya, but imperfection in service is imperfection, period, because they don’t see the difference between serving Krishna directly and serving His energy.

Now it all makes sense, I hope.

There’s a lot left to speculate here, of course, but let’s take it one speculation at a time.