Vanity thought #1538. Evernow

Saw this word on TV, it’s about some video game and I don’t think it means anything special there. For us, however, “evernow” is an interesting concept.

I don’t know much about Buddhism but I like their understanding of reality as illusion. It might not be a correct representation of Buddhism but that doesn’t matter, it works equally well across all platforms. The future is not real because it hasn’t happened yet, the past is not real because it’s already gone, the only reality is the present moment but even our present is made of connections to either the past or the future. We need to strip the present of these connections to appreciate its true value and see it for what it is.

Things we see around us are results of previous activities, they were made some time ago, given color and shape, and they constantly change, even if changes are imperceptible. Whatever we observe is, therefore, not the reality as it is but reality as it was and that reality doesn’t exist anymore. This means that relying on our senses to interact with “reality” is a delusion and nothing exists objectively.

Making plans is illusory, too, because plans are driven by desire to enjoy things that don’t exist yet. We think we can shape the reality in a way that pleases us but that pleasure doesn’t exist yet. It might come out satisfactory or it might be disappointing. Chasing it is not the reality.

The only reality, as I said, is now, our current state stripped of references to the past and projections into the future. I’m sure there’s a lot more to Buddhism explanations of this than that but it’s enough of a starting point for me.

There could be a big discussion whether what we feel now is real or illusory. Buddhists and advaitins would say that feelings are not real, we would say that feelings and their corresponding senses exist but they are not ours, and, furthermore, we also have our own eternal spiritual senses which are waiting to be engaged and experienced in service to Kṛṣṇa. The point where we could agree on is the importance of now.

When under the influence of the mode of passion we direct our consciousness into the future and make plans. Future doesn’t exist yet and when it comes it will happen according to the plans of the Lord, not ours, so hoping to extract pleasure from it is like a lottery. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but we get enough small victories to get hooked up and keep buying tickets. We think that we can become richer that way, that our lives will become fulfilled and that we’ll have enough memories to die in knowing we didn’t live in vain.

It might work – if we ignore the elephant in the room, the death itself, which is like the moment when you get thrown out of the casino. Yes, you might have good times there before that happens and even win something but in the end you always run out of credit and lose. “I’m going to gamble away all my money but I’ll have fun while doing it” is not a particularly clever life plan.

So, making our own plans for something that is going to happen according to somebody else’s will is gambling and it will end the same, in a big loss. That’s for placing our faith in the future.

Dwelling in the past is more of a mode of ignorance thing. It doesn’t lead even to creating future karma and earning future brownies. People in this state only try to relive their past moments again and again. As time passes by their memories fade and then they’d have good memories of the time when their memories were good. “I remember thinking about my wife made me feel warm but now I don’t even remember her name” – that type of thing. These days conversations like this are more likely revolve around “remember that time we got high and …”

People try to replay those old feelings and experiences even though they can’t actually feel them anymore and they can’t get off their asses to do anything about it. That’s dwelling in the past and it’s a very subpar way of enjoying your life even by materialistic standards.

Now is governed by the mode of goodness. One sign of it is knowledge – only people in full knowledge can let go off the past and stop worrying about the future. Why make plans when Kṛṣṇa has already made them? His plans are perfect and they have been put into practice an infinite number of times in the infinite number of universes. Trying to improve on them, which is what materialistic planners are doing, is futile. Even trying to predict them is pointless because things will happen anyway and in their own time and we can’t stop them from happening, nor can we protect ourselves.

That’s what trusting Kṛṣṇa means – we can finally stop planning our own lives and surrender to His superior will. It doesn’t mean that our minds stop working. Universe will keep on rolling and our minds will roll with it. Heart will continue pumping blood, lungs will continue inhaling and exhaling, hair and nails will continue growing. People in full knowledge don’t worry about that.

Kṛṣṇa also has His own cunning way to place us under the illusion any time He wants so that we continue acting out His plans. That won’t be the same kind of illusion that covers ordinary living entities, though, it won’t be controlled by cold karma but administered by Kṛṣṇa Himself, and sometimes He’d do it for His personal enjoyment, too, like He does with devotees in Vṛndāvana. I mean we shouldn’t worry that if we surrender to Kṛṣṇa our lives will suddenly stop. They won’t.

What should happen when we disassociate ourselves from both the past and the future, though? Will we cease to exist, in the Buddhist sense of the word? Maybe, I’ll tell you if it ever happens to me, but for now the best engagement I can think of is chanting the Holy Name.

Most of the time we chant while still thinking of either past or the future, mulling over things we said and done, dreaming up alternative scenarios, role playing future conversations to get ourselves ready, or feverishly exploring new ideas and inventions. All these things distract us from listening and add colors of passion and ignorance to the pristine form of the pure name. We’ll never hear the name as it is as long as we divert our consciousness away like that.

So, we should stop doing it, let it go, drop the plans, stop thinking about revenge and injustice, and simply concentrate on the name. Let the name speak to us instead of us shouting at it with angst or begging it to fulfill our desires. These desires aren’t even ours, they are born out of the false ego and directed by the material modes.

One could say that as eternal souls we can’t stop our desires but our real, spiritual desires will not manifest without the Lord revealing Himself first. We can’t have them without connection to the Lord, without the Lord being present, either personally or in the name, so we must learn to hear the name first and wait until it reveals itself. All desires manifesting before that happened are material and worthless, we should led them go.

Then we can discover the bliss of living in the eternal “evernow”.

Vanity thought #1377. Creating reality

Yesterday I talked about how choosing events from our past determines our future. Stated like this it doesn’t sound controversial at all but I also propose snapping out of our illusion that future is important. Then focusing solely on the past starts to look differently.

The argument against the value of the future is that it’s unknown and immutable at the same time. There’s nothing we can do to actually change it and so thinking about it is useless, it will happen anyway and on its own terms, not ours.

I can add that thinking about the future keeps us anchored in karma-kanda mentality – we do something and expect certain results. Karma kanda is not bhakti, at best it can be a karma-miśra bhakti, but neither karma nor miśra part of that term are of any interest to the Lord, they are anarthas we should eventually give up, not foster. Giving up karma mentality means giving up thinking about the future.

We can also think of Kṛṣṇa’s promise to protect His devotees, ma śucaḥ, He says, don’t worry. It means that once we surrender to the Lord we should stop caring about what happens to us, meaning that we should stop worrying about the future.

Sannyāsī, for example, should not worry about where his food is coming from. If a person makes preparations for tomorrow – keeps salt in a jar, for example, or makes ghee, or gets a cow, or buys a refrigerator – he is not a renunciate and should return to the status of gṛhastha, a householder.

Renunciation means giving up thinking about tomorrow’s food, tomorrow’s shelter, tomorrow’s source of income – giving up thinking about future.

It is true that renunciation is not for everyone and in this day and age it is not encouraged, considering that only very few people are capable of living such a life, but it doesn’t mean renunciation is not valuable. It is, and partly because it frees one from slavery to his future.

It is also true that many of the followers of Lord Caitanya were householders, and so was Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, but they weren’t householders like us, they weren’t attached to their material positions, meaning they didn’t worry about the future, they simply acted according to their nature without any claims to things they “deserved”.

The argument can be made that in devotional service we must ensure that the outcomes are pleasing to the Lord, we must take responsibility, and so we must worry about the future. Not for ourselves but for Kṛṣṇa. Okay, but Kṛṣṇa is not pleased by the outcomes, He is pleased by attitudes in our hearts. If we think that outcomes matter – collected donations, sold books etc then we are slipping back into the karma-miśra-bhakti mode.

The argument can also be made that while Kṛṣṇa might be indifferent to our external achievements our guru clearly isn’t. Śrīla Prabhupāda clearly loved the results. True, but not if they were achieved without proper devotion. He loved the outcomes because they were results of his disciples’ devotion. We can’t try to cheat our guru or the Lord here – claim that because we have results we must also have bhakti. No, the guru sees devotion in his disciples and waits until this devotion fructifies. Buying these fruits elsewhere does not please him. If they are not results of bhakti they are worthless.

But enough of that.

If we realize that future doesn’t matter and concerns about it fade away from our consciousness, what is left? Only our past. It’s hard to explain how it feels, and it’s hard to maintain this attitude, but once the burden of worrying about the future falls off our shoulders one will never forget the feeling. We are so used to being under this stress we can’t imagine life without it. It exists, however, and it’s very very pleasant even without bhakti – it’s life in the mode of goodness, free of passion to achieve things in the future.

Life in goodness supposed to exist in the present, however, not the past. Past is for the mode of ignorance. That’s not how I mean to treat our past, however. I proposed to choose only what is related to Kṛṣṇa and forget everything else. A person under the mode of ignorance would dwell on the opposite set of memories.

On the spiritual plane a devotee feels the Lord’s presence all the time, it comes to him naturally. We, however, must force ourselves to remember about Kṛṣṇa. We don’t get to see His pastimes in real time, we have to refer to what we have read in Kṛṣṇa book or what we have heard from other devotees, and all these things come from our past.

I have a feeling that once we get actual spiritual realizations and actual appreciation for the Lord we’ll stop “remembering” stories, stop putting them in organized fashion, but rather focus on certain aspects of Lord’s nature, like Kṛṣṇa’s playfulness or His care about His devotees. I mean we won’t have to explain to ourselves all the events preceding the situation and so won’t need to remember how the story was told, we’ll only care about that particular moment.

We are not there yet, however, and so, instead of dreaming about the future, I propose to concentrate on our past while waiting for the past to fade away, too.

The central point of yesterday’s argument was that things we select from our past determine our reality. It will be subjective, but so what?

It was exactly a year ago that I wrote a few good words about Donald Rumsfeld. However unusual his conclusions were, his arguments made a lot of sense, too. Today it’s the turn of another Bush era strategist – Karl Rove, who is believed to be the aide in this quote (NY Times):

    The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.

The quote continues but it’s these words that interest me here. The common reaction is that Rove is a right wing neo-con lunatic and dismiss it out of hand but actually this position makes a lot of sense. When we act we create our own reality.

The problem with accepting this view is that people expect the same results as from their “objective” reality. Perhaps Rove expected the same results, too. Perhaps he thought that they could do whatever they want, create their own reality, and still come on top. It’s not how it works, however – their administration created their own reality alright but the results were unexpected.

We, however, know what the results of thinking about Kṛṣṇa are, and we are totally fine with them. Outsiders might measure them by their own yardstick and talk about us ruining our lives but we shouldn’t care. Let them have their “objective” reality and study and dissect it all they want, however judiciously. We WILL create our own reality, develop devotion to the Lord, and then skeptics can study that, too.

We should remember that solutions in Kṛṣṇa consciousness do not come from studying and weighing choices but from acting. Life is short, we can’t spent all of it on arguing why saṇkīrtana is theoretically better, that’s not very intelligent – we should take a chance, see that it works, and dedicate the rest of our lives to practicing.

Bottom line – we should create our own reality regardless of what the world thinks, and we can do it by meditating on Kṛṣṇa related memories.

Vanity thought #1376. Making of the past

As I argued yesterday, it’s the past that is all important. We think we create our future but that’s only an illusion, what we actually do is dwell in our past, all the time.

It doesn’t mean that our actions do not create future karma, they most certainly do, but my point was that future karma is unimportant. Karma doesn’t work according to our desires and we have no control over it. We are forced to act according to our nature and according to the influence of material guṇas and there’s nothing we can do about it. As spirit souls we are not the party to the process, the world will keep rolling on its own with or without our willing participation.

We can try to predict the future but we can’t change it. Astrologers always tell us about remedies and counteractions to alleviate our bad karma and increase our good fortune but it’s a fool’s errand. Whichever way you look at it, it makes no sense. If we have the possibility and means to change our astrological destiny, it should be reflected in our horoscope, too. If it’s not there then no matter how much we try it won’t happen. And if changing our future was as simple as wearing a ring with allegedly precious stone then other things might influence it as well, and that makes mockery of the entire prediction business. What if the astrologer looks and my chart and sees something that has been remedied decades ago? The chart is still the same, but “destiny” isn’t.

That is not to say that precious stones don’t work. They do, but they don’t change the future, which is cast in another kind of stone, immutable and impossible to break, metaphorical but still powerful.

There’s also an argument I made a couple of days ago that the future and the past are so closely linked together that separating them doesn’t make a lot of sense, it’s like solving a chicken and egg problem. The past and the future are inseparable and the distinction is observed only by those under the illusion of time. Outside of time the difference doesn’t exist, it’s all kind of the same, with our relationships with the Lord being the only thing that matters.

Does our relationship with the Lord change with time? Possibly, we can see signs of spiritual progress, signs of awakening from the illusion, but even this process can be explained outside of the frame imposed by passage of time. Sometimes it is said that the only thing that matters is coming into contact with the mercy of the devotees. Once it happens, the soul is as good as liberated. Surrender could happen tomorrow or next year or even in the next life but it’s inevitable, and sooner or later, maybe a hundred lives later, the soul would return to Kṛṣṇa.

We think that these hundred lives matter and we’d rather complete the process in a few days but our perception of time is relative. Once we develop required patience time will fly without even noticing. Hundred human lives is less than a thousand years, nothing compared to the reign of just one Manu, and there are fourteen of them in the day of Lord Brahmā, and one day of Brahmā includes only one Kṛṣna’s appearance. I once heard that sages who became gopīs in Kṛṣṇa līlā had to try FIVE times to be with the Lord before they were allowed into the rasa dance. Five days of Brahmā and our desire to see Kṛṣṇa today are incomparable.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that devotees had to wait five days of Brahmā, they could be transferred to suitable universes right away, but even five lifetimes WITH Kṛṣṇa but without obtaining full mercy is a lot comparing to our present impatience.

Anyway, the future is unknown but unchangeable and unavoidable, and so focusing on the future is a waste of time. The future is created by our past, and so if we want to change our destiny we should change our past.

Is it possible? Not really, but as conscious beings it’s the only area of action available to us – observing the world around us, which is always observation of our past. Both in a sense that the star light shows us what happened there billions of years ago and in a sense that we can’t actually catch the present moment, everything we deal with is always in the past, however close or distant.

So, can we change the past? Quantum mechanics suggests we can, as I described yesterday. Our observation determines what happened.

It flies in the face of the idea of objective reality and truth and facts. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts, as they say. There’s only one true version of events and it must be uncovered, our subjectivity is the enemy of knowledge, and so on, one argument after another.

It’s all very well, but the only objective person in the world is Kṛṣṇa, and we are not Him. The fact is that all our lives we live and act subjectively. When our versions of reality align with versions of other observers it’s just that – temporary sync of two subjectivities, possibly leading to a shared karma.

These days it’s very easy to find examples of people stubbornly clinging to their opinions regardless of all kinds of facts and arguments. Current wisdom is that debates only strengthen people’s respective positions. It might not have been designed that way initially but this is where we are now – the more people argue the better they convince themselves. Their own subjectivity always, always takes precedence.

And once their opinions are cast, so is their destiny. They are free to hold all kinds of views but they are not free from the reactions.

So, my point is that we, as devotees, can take full advantage of this situation and create a selective view of the past that would bring us closer to Kṛṣṇa.

Once again, by past here I mean everything we see and remember, all our memories and experiences, all our ideas and opinions and choices. We can choose to see only those of them that are related to the Lord and ignore all others. It would make us subjective but so what? It’s exactly the kind of subjectivity we want.

Others might say things like “remember this one time when you…” or “didn’t you tell me you wanted that…” and they might conclude that we are hypocrites lying even to ourselves but so what? Selecting memories of Kṛṣṇa over our moments of weakness is totally worth it. Even Kṛṣṇa picks and chooses only our service form our lives.

Dwelling on negatives, on the memories when the Lord wasn’t there, OTOH, would only lead to further enslavement by the material nature. Who needs that?

By picking only certain moments from our history we forge our new identity, once the karma from past deeds runs out this new identity will start bringing its dividends and will become obvious to all, that’s how karma works. Habits and characters don’t change overnight, patience is still required.

The real question is – do we have freedom to choose what to remember and focus our consciousness on? I would say no, not really, but in as much as we feel we have this freedom we should use it. People telling us to do this are not changing our destination, they are fulfilling it. Kṛṣṇa said He would bring us back to Him and He does so through the help of the guru and the devotees. Every class, every advice, every casually dropped instruction affects our mode of thinking and slowly but steadily captures our minds. If we are free to resist this pressure it would be the most foolish thing to do, but that’s where our real independence lies, so we better not to abuse it.

Bottom line, if we take responsibility for developing our devotion then we should focus on how we view our past instead of dreaming about future.

Vanity thought #1375. Quantum past

The experiment I wrote about a couple of days ago suggested that in quantum mechanics time is of less importance than we normally assume. We usually think that whatever happened happened and past is cast in stone but in that experiment past was found to be dependent on what we do in the present.

To recap, in quantum mechanics elementary particles behave both like particles and like waves. As particles they take one and only one route between two points in space but as waves they propagate in all possible paths. The choice seems to be entirely random, but don’t hold me to it, I haven’t seen a convincing explanation whether it really is.

In this experiment scientists had two control points, the first one would determine whether the particle behaves like a particle or a wave, the second one would check what particle’s choice was, and then they would look at the final result which would tell them what combination of choices was there.

The trick here was that the second control point would turn on randomly AFTER the first control point was passed. Common sense tells us that by that time particle’s choice at the first control would have already been made. What the scientists found, however, is that it is not so and how the particle behaved at the first control point depends entirely on whether the second control turned on or not. When the random number generator decides what to do about the second control it also happens to control what the particle did at the first – in the past, moments before.

So, in this experiment present determines the past, not the other way around. The effect controls the cause.

Afaik, no one has observed this before and so there’s no reason to extend results of this experiment to our daily, non-quantum life, but if we think about it from Kṛṣṇa conscious POV it makes total sense. We have only an illusion of freedom here, everything that happens in the material world is governed by the law of karma and karma leaves no slack and no leeway.

As spirit souls we can make our own choices but not as far as material world is concerned, everything here is already cast in stone for millions and billions years to come. We think our decisions matter because we identify ourselves with our mind and intelligence but these material elements are like any other, they are governed by karma, driven by time, and colored by the three guṇas.

So, whatever happens here in the present is firmly and unequivocally tied to the past, and the same is true about the future. In such a deterministic universe distinctions like cause and effect lose their sense. Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate cause, everything else follows from Him, and that’s what we say about the creation, the process that is still outside our world.

Inside it’s already different. Time and guṇas are the causes of things happening and stuff moving around but we think in more immediate terms of one choice leading to one result and another choice leading to another. In fact, there are no choices, everyone must choose according to the guṇas and under pressure from time. Freedom here is an illusion.

Okay, enough with the basics.

What interests me today is our plans for the future. Normally we think that we can make plans and change the course of our lives. Our desires affect our thoughts, our thoughts affect our actions, our actions create karma, and karma brings results.

I propose that we discard this model altogether, and not because we have no actual freedom here, but because the future is truly unknown and all we have is our past, which is determined by our present.

There’s a tribe somewhere in the Amazon, or perhaps in Papua New Guinea, I don’t remember, where people have a different spatial representation of the time flow. For us the past is behind and the future is ahead, but for them the it’s the opposite. They say that we can look at our past and therefore it should be in front of us while we can’t see the future and therefore it should be in the back, outside our vision.

I’m not saying their perspective is perfect but this part about placing the past in front of us is interesting and hard to argue against.

When we dream about our future what we actually think is our past. We dig up our memories and juggle our experiences to select the ones we like. We don’t create anything new, we only pick and choose from what we already now. We seek things in our past that we want to experience again, we confirm our attachments. All our desires stem from our past and from how we see it, and so there’s no such thing as future per se. It’s just an abstraction to arrange our memories on the timeline of our past.

I mean when the future happens it becomes past and we call it future relative to the day before. And when we talk about future now, at this very moment, we talk about desires from our past. “I wish that in the next five minutes I’d experience the sensation I remember from five years ago” – that’s what we effectively think even if externally the words are “I think I will surely win this bet”.

Similarly, when at job interviews people are asked about their five year plans and visions they talk about best things they heard before, not the actual future, which is unknown. They scout their memories and think about cool things to say to the interviewer, they pick up tricks tried by others, they write their resumes following other people’s advice or layouts. It’s all about the past.

The interviewer is also looking into the interviewee’s past to see if it fits with his organization, he asks about interests and skills and experience and education – all things from the past, including questions about vision, which is a representation of the interviewee’s role models.

So, all in all, it’s only our past that is important, it determines everything about us, including our future, and so it must be important to relate to our past in the appropriate way.

I think I will continue on that tomorrow, it’s too late to start this new train of thought.

Vanity thought #593. Future, present, past

This is not related to yesterdays’ post even though the title suggests so. I was actually thinking about how much sleep I’m getting these days, how much sleep I had last night and how much sleep I’m going to have today.

Will I wake up rested and refreshed, moments before my alarm goes off, or will hit snooze a couple of times cursing everyone and everything? Will I enjoy my sleep or will I suffer from a bout of insomnia? Will I have an obsessive idea that would switch me off like a robot for a few hours and then turn me back on in the morning with no recollection of any dreams? Will I have dreams?

I’m not overthinking this, I’ve been sleeping every day for many years already, I know the subject, I know how it works, and I’ve got some unusual insight from my findings.

It turns out I can predict my sleep patterns rather well. By analyzing what happened in the past and what happened today, the amount of nap I snatched during the day and other details I can predict what will happen at night with striking accuracy and as the night approaches my estimates get better and better.

This is where I realized that future and past are linked together very very tightly. One does not happen without the other and in their interdependence they don’t allow for any variations.

It’s natural for us to spend a lot of time analyzing our past, why things happened and what were the reasons and how they could have happened differently. Well, at some point these same “things” were in the future, and all our rationalization is nothing but proving strong, unbreakable links between events on the time line, so, if we take these two points into account when we prognosticate events in our future we should see that there’s absolutely nothing special about. There will be the same links, the same reasons, the same laws and the same conclusion that things couldn’t have turned any differently given the circumstances.

Future events do not come out of the blue, they are results of preexisting conditions. Future does not exist without past and we call it “future” only relatively to our chosen point on the time line. In regards to our own lives we do not get to choose out point in time but that’s because we are conditioned souls, if we were free from bondage of time we would also be free to “relive” our lives in any direction, from birth to death or from death to birth, it would be an abstract exercise just like we contemplate history.

Sometimes we tell stories from the end, sometimes from the beginning, sometimes we jump back and forth, make loops and shortcuts – that’s how our lives would appear to us when we finally achieve liberation, that’s how we would retell them to anyone who cared to listen.

What is the meaning of present then? Nothing, it’s just an elusive moment between past and future, or it’s just a duration of time, rather short, that we can process using our brains’ RAM before we dig into long term storage or call the CPU to calculate complex future possibilities. Either way, it’s not important and it’s not that different. We constantly see our future become our present and our present becoming our past.

The important point is that mystery and expectations surrounding our future are an illusion, they are baseless. It’s just titillating ignorance, nothing more. We, of course, are attached to this illusion and we enjoy having hopes but actually, if you think about it, it’s all deeply boring. We are just being entertained like little children who are told a story or shown a cheap trick.

So yes, ignorance is bliss, literally, and rather crappy bliss at that. Hopefully, by becoming Krishna conscious we will be granted a superior source of happiness, the real one, the one that won’t get spoiled if we are told the ending.