Vanity thought #1571. Perseverance and its limits

Ordinarily we would declare that devotee’s perseverance in pursuit of his service has no limits. I myself said only a couple of days ago that persistence is our greatest weapon in saṅkīrtana, which is still true, but there are also limits to it, however unspoken and undeclared.

Speaking about persistence, I remember one more story about Armenian devotees, this time about a woman who became their biggest book distributor, she isn’t with ISKCON anymore so I won’t give her name. She was a talented musician, at least by Armenian standards, and everybody in the city from those circles personally knew her. When she became a Hare Kṛṣṇa and ran into the same people with books they couldn’t refuse her authority. Still, Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is of limited size and devotees felt that her saṅkīrtana skills could be better deployed in much bigger Moscow, maybe they hoped that she could break into preaching to cultural elites, I don’t know.

So she arrived in Moscow at the time when it was the saṅkīrtana capital of the world, full of hopes and expectations, and it was a disaster. She walked the streets, went into office towers, tried this and that and couldn’t sell a single book. People just ignored her, her provincial sophistication failing to make any impression on snobbish Moskowites. All the tricks, all the approaches, all the appeals – nothing worked. She wasn’t about to give up, though, and temple management was ready to give her as much time as necessary to find her stride.

Eventually she found it, I think after about two months of fruitless labor. I don’t know or don’t remember how exactly it happened but she found a key to Moscow’s psyche and from that moment on no one could refuse her and she gave a run for the book points to the best male distributors there.

I wished I knew more details about her drama but one could easily imagine how it went – a provincial girl making a name for herself in a big city. Usually it’s her talent that carries her over but in case of the devotees there aren’t any talents involved, only reliance on the grace of Lord Caitanya. She was faithful through and through, never succumbing to a doubt, and Lord Caitanya eventually blessed her with His favor. Somebody had to distribute books there, she proved herself and was finally chosen.

I guess we could discuss possible difference between relying on one’s talent, on firm knowledge that one is a good singer/actor or however people succeed in movies, and reliance on Lord’s mercy, but that’s not the point. Perhaps it’s the Supersoul’s suggestion to follow your destiny that matters most in these cases anyway. I think this should be our biggest consideration here and the one that goes to the heart of the whole “perseverance” business.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books are meant to be distributed, not just from our perspective but from the perspective of the future, too. Some might go to waste, like bits of vegetables that fail to make into a pot, but most of them have their readers waiting for them somewhere up the timeline. When we talk about success in saṅkīrtana it’s not just about our personal destiny but about fulfilling the destiny of the books. From the perspective of the future, or from the perspective of one in full knowledge, there isn’t a cause and effect relationship here in the same way we think ourselves as doers, but there’s destiny that gradually manifest itself. Those who are meant to distribute books will eventually fall into their rightful places, no matter if they started in Soviet military research institutes, hippy communities in Rocky Mountains, or classical music scene in Yerevan. It’s not like “if I do this then I’ll get there” thinking of conditioned souls. There’s no “if”, there’s only “when” – when the body is engaged in constant chanting of the holy name gradually the following symptoms will appear…

The point is, it’s not like “if I undergo two months of fruitless book distribution I will achieve the same success as that woman”. There’s no “if” here, I’m not the doer, I’m just a puppet in the hands of the material energy with the Lord occasionally pulling strings Himself. When He wants me to walk the streets like a zombie, scaring everyone I meet away, then I’ll do it, but it’s not my decision to make.

This is where we should not confuse perseverance with stubbornness. There are limits on how much we should persevere and these limits are set by the Lord. Beyond that it’s acting in our own, selfish interests and it will bring karmic reactions, not bhakti and not engagement in service.

The Lord will never force His devotees to suffer more than necessary. Impersonalists and yogīs might undergo severe penances and earn themselves some progress this way but it doesn’t work with the Lord, whose mercy is called causeless for a reason. We can’t force Him to show it to us. It is possible only in a pure state when the relationship with the Lord are firmly established – that’s why Kṛṣṇa says that He is bound by His devotees, but unless we are up there in Goloka we should be His dependents, not His controllers like Mother Yaśodā. We shouldn’t even try to compel Him to do anything for us but rather remember that He is supremely independent at all times, ie nothing we do is bound to produce any effect, which is very unlike our material lives.

Apart from the story of that woman I can’t remember a single case where perseverance of that kind bore fruit. What usually happens it that unsuccessful devotees develop resentment and start blaming everything but themselves for their failures. People they meet is their first target – they are too demoniac, too self-absorbed, preaching to them can’t be done, it’s not my fault, it’s Kali Yuga. They might also shift the blame on fellow devotees – prasādam wasn’t cooked properly and causes bodily troubles that sap their energy, someone interrupted their japa, the other dude didn’t show them proper respect, there’s always something. Ultimately, they start blaming Kṛṣṇa and their guru and let their minds to convince them that it’s all a hoax, that our entire movement is a cult where leaders live a high life on the back of lowly saṅkīrtana slaves who earn all the money.

Instead of accepting Lord’s will they push their own vision where they see themselves as great book distributors. This vision is so attractive that they are ready to accept great tapasya to achieve it. They are ready to change their ways, learn new techniques, show up first for morning programs and stay on the streets longer, read more books, hear more tapes – everything that in their mind would cause the Lord to submit to their will of becoming great saṅkīrtana devotees. The Lord doesn’t bend to our will, however, and so everything fails, and eventually they reach the point where their determination to undergo austerities for the sake of saṅkīrtana runs out, and that’s when they start blaming someone else because in their mind they themselves did everything humanly possible.

What we need instead is persevering in Lord’s genuine service, doing things He wants us to do instead of pushing for our own version of it.

There’s another angle to patience – it’s supposed to be a distinguishing quality of a brāhmaṇa but there’s a story about Karna tolerating enormous pain while his guru slept resting his head on Karna’s lap. When the guru woke up and saw how a beetle bore a hole in Karna’s thigh he immediately realized that Karna wasn’t a brāhmaṇa – this kind of tolerance was an attribute of only kṣatriyas and no one else. The possible explanation for this, however, is beyond the scope of today’s post.

Vanity thought #1551. How it’s done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanity thought #1184. In the loop

It’s nice to be in the loop and it’s rather cold outside. No one wants to be caught out of the loop, even in our community. People out of the loop immediately feel a big hit to their self-esteem, and that is before calculating their material losses from not knowing what’s going on.

How should a devotee react to it, however? We obviously feel betrayed and unappreciated but that is just ego talking. We could easily see it as Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, it’s for out own good, it’s stripping our upādhis, our worthless attachments to our material identities.

On the other hand, the feeling of betrayal by devotees is devastating. We depend on devotees in every each way, we depend on their mercy, depend on their shelter, depend on their faith. We do not know Kṛṣṇa, we know only guru and devotees, being betrayed by them is like being betrayed by Kṛṣṇa Himself.

We can justify it by saying that Kṛṣṇa is using devotees to cure us, there’s nothing personal, devotees are just doing their jobs, but then how can we look at them as persons again? How can we take shelter of them if we know that at any moment they can turn around and give us a cold shoulder? How can we see them as devotees if they act as impersonal agents?

I guess it takes a lot of maturity to take such a hit and still keep our faith in devotees’ mercy. After all, no matter what they do, we should see them as saintly persons and as only carriers of devotion. We can’t find devotion anywhere else, no matter what they do, they are the only repository of bhakti. It doesn’t exist outside devotees’ hearts.

Yeah, sometimes they act as agents of Kṛṣṇa, sometimes they act as agents of māyā. It would be nice if they were all liberated souls, it would be nice if they were all first class vaiṣṇavas, but it’s an unrealistic expectation. We better get used to it.

We should also learn to see the difference between devotion and betrayal. Actions and attitudes unbecoming real devotees do not nullify real devotion. It might not be visible at the moment but it’s always there, we just caught them at the wrong time. Their devotion will shine through again, we just have to wait.

And we have to admit that striking down our false ego is actually a boon, so what if it hurts? It’s a necessary step, a bitter pill to swallow but it’s still a cure. One day, when we are finally spiritually healthy, we’ll be very grateful for every “bad” thing devotees have done to us.

Once we accept this within our hearts we will also feel a surge of forgiveness and even appreciation. Nothing happens without Kṛṣṇa’s sanction so if we have a problem with how others treat us we have to take it up with the Holy Name rather than take it out on somebody else.

Or put it another way – devotees can’t hurt us, by definition, only our karma can. We should learn to see the difference between the two.

Hmm, that’s not even the loop I was talking about, I meant a loop in a more literal sense – a series of iterations, doing things over and over again.

In programming there are two kinds of loops (as relevant to the topic). They are closely connected and, in a few lines, can be converted from one to another with little effect on the speed or memory resources, but it’s the symbolic difference that interests me today.

One kind is for loop and another kind is while. For loop is usually used to instruct the program to do something a preset number of times, and its cousin for each loop tells the program to do the same thing for each element of a set.

In both cases the number of iterations is predetermined, you know exactly what will happen and when the program will exit the loop. It gives you clarity and control, and you can demand your “rights” if you don’t get what you want. It’s a materialist’s dream – you can shape the world around you at will and insist on perfect execution of your plans.

While loop, otoh, is open ended. It goes through the iterations just the same but there’s no predetermined exit from it. Instead it checks a certain condition on each go. If the condition hasn’t changed it won’t exit. The control of this condition is usually outside the program itself, or at least this particular part of the program, so to the loop it looks external.

That’s the uncertainty of our spiritual life. We cannot make any claims here, we cannot demand pure bhakti on the completion of X number of rounds. Materialists, in their for loop, can demand a paycheck at the end of each month, we can’t. Kṛsṇa needs to see a qualitative change in our hearts before He grants us access to the next level.

A for loop for us would look like this:

for i in 1..35,000,000
do
chant Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare Hare Rāma Hare Rāma Rāma Rāma Hare Hare
done

SinOfKillingABrāhmaṇa=absolved

That’s according to Kali Santaraṇa Upaniṣad, and we don’t care much about sins of killing brāhmaṇas. It’s not really applicable to us, unlike the while loop:

while [ $heart = contaminated ]
do
chant Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare Hare Rāma Hare Rāma Rāma Rāma Hare Hare
done

bhakti=unlocked

Here I assume we start with a contaminated heart, and before chanting each mantra we check if it still is. When and how our heart is accepted as clean is beyond our control, it’s a decision made by Kṛsṇa. Technically speaking, I should probably add asking Kṛṣṇa for our heart status after each loop, too, but you get my point.

Should we stop chanting when we develop bhakti? Of course not, but we won’t have to follow sādhana rules anymore and we won’t have to chant any particular mantra, most likely we’d loose external consciousness anyway.

My point is that we should approach devotional service with a psychologically different attitude from materialists setting out to achieve their goals. They live under laws of karma, under the laws of nature, so they can demand that these laws are followed and after doing something N amount of times they deserve their just rewards.

It doesn’t work like that in personal relationships with Kṛṣṇa. For one thing he doesn’t follow any laws. Another point, which is true for materialists, too – you can’t win somebody’s love by doing mechanical things. Well, these days kids are looking for sex, not love, so this reference might be lost on them altogether.

Anyway, the condition of our heart does change with each mantra, however subtly, but we need a qualitative change, not just a small iteration, to earn pure devotion. With this approach we can visualize offensive chanting, too – it’s the one that doesn’t improve anything and so can last forever with no visible progress.

We should also remember that even with Kṛṣṇa mercy residual contamination would remain and falldowns are still possible, but recovery would be a lot easier than achieving that level for the first time.

In that sense it’s like a computer/mobile phone game where you can’t save your progress and have to start from the beginning – it’s a lot faster to go through the same first levels with each new start.

Bottom line – we should psychologically accept while part of our condition – there’s no limit on how much we should chant to make it to the next level, we should just patiently wait until we are there.

On that note, there’s until loop, too, which is just an inverted while:

until [ $heart = pure ]
do
chant Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare Hare Rāma Hare Rāma Rāma Rāma Hare Hare
done

bhakti=unlocked

I hope it happens to all of us rather sooner than later.

Good luck.

Vanity thought #1125. Impatience

Patience rules. Without it a devotee is nothing, just a wannabe. The amount of our patience corresponds directly to the level of our devotion, is the opposite true, too? Is impatience always a sign of immaturity or does it have a legitimate place somewhere?

It all starts and ends with the śikṣāṣtaka. Verse three introduces patience as a necessary component, a condition to success in devotional service – taror iva sahiṣṇunā – one must be more tolerant than a tree, then one can chant Lord’s names incessantly. Well, there’s no mention of actual causation there and patience is introduced as a symptom of devotion, not its cause, but it doesn’t really affect my point.

Patience is also the first thing mentioned in Upadeśāmṛta – one must tolerate the urges of the mind, tongue, belly, and so on. What is there to argue? That this verse is about qualification to make disciples all over the world? Obviously, it’s about a lot more than that as “qualified to make disciples” implies lots of other desirable things, like being engaged in saṇkīrtana, for example.

Patience is mentioned in another place in Upadeśāmṛta, too – utsāhān niścayād dhairyāt. Dhairya, patience, is one of the six principles favorable to the execution of pure devotional service, right after enthusiasm and confidence. Śrīla Prabhupāda mentions his personal example in the purport:

    These activities must be executed with patience. One should not be impatient in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Indeed, this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement was started single-handedly, and in the beginning there was no response, but because we continued to execute our devotional activities with patience, people gradually began to understand the importance of this movement, and now they are eagerly participating.

He gives another practical example, too – a girl can’t expect a child the morning after her wedding. She can attempt to get a child right away but she should accept that it must take time.

This is an interesting metaphor, I wonder how far we can go with it. If we compare our initiation into chanting of the Holy Name and acceptance by a guru as a wedding, then we must attempt to achieve success right away but the fruit is not going to be born immediately. It takes nine months of pregnancy, of course, but who knows how long it would take to conceive?

The husband is there, sex is there, but there could be no conception for quite some time, for years, even, and for all sorts of reasons. It might be frustrating but one must not stop trying – without sex there cannot be a child even though it’s not true vice versa – there could be sex without conception.

Then we should also consider what is assumed by an acceptable fruit. Birth itself is only half way there – the child might not even survive. Not a big concern with western medicine but in Vedic culture survival rate was very very low. Mother Śacī had eight daughters before Lord Caitanya and they all died, so that’s two kids out of ten.

Even if the child survives, there’s a difference between having a boy and a girl, especially for the ruling classes where male issues inherit all the power and possessions. So we might consider postponing declaration of victory until the moment the child grows up and becomes ready to replace his father. This might take decades after the wedding – the girl must truly be patient.

Of course for the girl herself having a baby is more than enough. Boy, girl, sick, healthy – it doesn’t affect her feelings of motherhood and from her POV it’s not really the child, it’s the blossom of motherly love that makes her life successful.

Likewise, if we still can stretch this metaphor, joining Kṛṣṇa in His pastimes in the spiritual world is our ultimate goal but in fact we would be fully satisfied with developing our love for Him without even reaching there – bhakti, like motherly love, is a reward in itself. Hmm.

When Lord Caitanya was explaining the ātmārāma verse to Sanātana Gosvāmī he said (CC Madhya 24.184):

    In this material world, all living entities are disturbed due to their flickering position. A devotee, however, is fixed in the service of the lotus feet of the Lord, the master of the senses. Such a person is to be considered situated in endurance and patience.

This looks like a quote from somewhere because this verse was spoken in Sanskrit and not Bengali but no source is given. It also looks like a quote from somewhere not very important because devotion here is valued due to it leading to a person becoming “situated in endurance and patience”. After Lord Caitanya we turn such sentences around – patience and endurance have no value if they do not lead to devotion.

I’ve just looked at how Śrīla Prabhupāda used the word patience on other occasions and I found that he often makes it a prerequisite for successful hearing, too – to receive the message of Bhāgavatam one must be submissive AND patient. When such use appears in his purports he never explains why patience is necessary but I don’t think anyone ever doubted the legitimacy of this condition.

Impatience, OTOH, does not get such a grand treatment in our literature. It is listed as one of the transcendental symptoms or features in relations with Kṛṣṇa but in that sense there’s no point even in clarifying its exact status, origins, or examples – it has nothing to do with us in our present condition.

I would still argue that impatience has its place in our lives, though. Some time ago a senior devotee left a comment here, pointing out at a habit of judging levels of devotion in oneself and other people, like an annoying kid in backseat of a car with his endless “Are we there yet?” questions.

We’ll get there when we get there, not a second earlier or later, and when we get there the question will become meaningless as our situation will become self-evident. The fact that it still bothers me means that I’m still on the way.

Actually, it was a quote from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī: ““Patience, Humility and Respect are our only friends in pursuit of Hari Bhakti.” Nice one – it excludes judgmentalism, for example.

Having said all that – how can we remain calm and patient in the ABSENCE of Hari Bhakti? How can we put up with our dreadful situation? How can absence of Hari Bhakti become acceptable to us? How can we NOT be impatient without devotion in our hearts? How can we not scream “Are we there yet?” for the hundredth of time when we see no trace of bhakti in our lives? This journey is an absolute waste of time, we need bhakti right here right now, how can we not be impatient without it? It is called being in māyā, how can we tolerate being in illusion?

These are rhetorical questions, I’m not going to even try to answer them. What for? They are self-evident, too, it’s just that most of the time we are too complacent about our situation to lament our absence of devotion. That’s not patience, it’s one of māyā’s powers – it makes us accept our otherwise unacceptable condition.

Hmm, perhaps I need to talk about what patience means again, but certainly not today.

Vanity thought #604. Payback time

This is in continuance of an old post where I promised to find a shastric example of a liberated person being put in the most abominable position. Usually we expect that Krishna would protect us in every way and that means He would also make our lives as comfortable as we want.

We don’t seriously expect for our egos to be dragged through the mud, not on Krishna’s watch.

Unless we achieve a hundred percent purity our appeals to Him to protect our egos are not actually about Him keeping His word, it’s about us protecting our attachments. Needless to say, as long as we cherish our false egos we’ll be born here again and again. It’s quite possible that even when offered liberation and going to Krishna we would choose our false egos that have kept us warm through millions and millions of lives. Would Krishna take us to Him against our will? Our attachments to our conditioning is ours, as long as we have it we will be stuck here.

One could say “But what about our devotion?” Well, what about it? If we have devotion we wouldn’t be having attachments. If we keep our anarthas we don’t have devotion, at least not the pure devotion that would take us to Krishna directly.

So, in Uddhava Gita Krishna tells a story of an Avanti brahmana. He was a merchant and an agriculturalist, he had a nice family but he wasn’t a nice man. He was quite wealthy but due to his stinginess all good fortune deserted him and soon the family had followed. This lead him to renunciation and eventually he realized that material attachments are the cause of distress and he decided to dedicate his life to serving Lord Hari.

His karma, however, just wouldn’t let him go. Even as a sannyasi, being in the topmost order in varnashrama system, he didn’t get any respect. While he was sitting and meditating on the Supreme Lord he was derided and abused by hooligans. They would spit on him and urinate on his food, or fart in his face.

Those who knew him from his earlier days blamed him for everything he had done before and dismissed his renunciation as a cheap trick to find food. Some would put him in chain and keep him as a slave. In short, he got the worst possible treatment as a member of the human species as possible.

Yet he didn’t bother the Lord for protection, he fully separated his devotion to the Lord from his karmic reactions. No matter how badly he was treated it didn’t affect his meditation, he didn’t try to bring his material concerns into Lord’s service and he didn’t try to make the Lord his servant, asking him to do this or that for his own comfort.

Whatever was done to him he didn’t think he deserved any better and he didn’t see his offenders as doing anything wrong, he didn’t see any injustice in his inhumane sufferings. There was nothing to be corrected or protest about.

This is what I was talking about in that old post – if we strive for perfection we should forget about our innate desire to judge and correct the world around us. We should give up all our “human rights” and we will never be able to pull rank again. No matter what happens we should see ourselves as being in the wrong and our offenders in the right.

Moreover, we should not appeal to Krishna for our personal comfort either. Let Him enjoy our service without being disturbed. The beauty of devotion is that it can’t be hindered by our karma, our own conditional existence and Lord’s service should be totally separate.

Vanity thought #591. The impossible truth

It’s not really impossible, actually it’s the only reality for liberated souls and pure, unalloyed devotees but it’s impossible for us in our present state, without exceptions.

In every personal conflict where things do not go as we like we are always wrong and our opponents are always right. Whenever we see injustice done to ourselves it isn’t there – we have to accept whatever is forced on us no matter what.

This rule follows straight from the third Siksashtaka verse – lower than grass, more patient than a tree, always offering respect to all others.

It means that in no confrontation we are allowed to come on top, it should always be – you are right, I’m wrong, prabhu, I’m too low to even argue with you.

If we are upset at not getting something, like food, for example, then we cannot argue that it’s unfair – amanina – we should not allow false prestige dictate us that we deserve more than we get.

Another foundation for this rule is the fact that we are conditioned living entities struggling in a world controlled by the Lord through His maya potency. This plainly means that maya is always right and we are always wrong. Another way to put it is that karma is always just. Yet another way to put it is that our feeling of injustice and of being unfairly treated is also the result of our karma, we can’t increase of decrease it, we just have to accept the discomfort and carry on.

Sometimes we come in contact with devotees, and they are controlled not only by maya but also by Krishna who personally takes care of them no matter what they do. Obviously when we pop up with our selfish desires then we are wrong and Krishna is always right.

There aren’t any other actors in this world – only Krishna and His maya potency, every other living entity is just an observer.

Once we try to apply this rule in real life it quickly becomes apparent that we are nowhere near that platform, ie it’s impossible. It’s pretty hard to sustain this attitude even for a few moments, and it’s okay because that is the natural feature of illusion we are in – as soon as we identify ourselves with our bodily interests we see ourselves as superior to the world around us and we start believing in our divine right to shape it according to our desires.

Sometimes, however, we fight for our rights and we win our trophies – does it mean that the rule can be broken? No, not at all, it’s a rule for those who seek spiritual progress, it’s not the rule for those who desire to control material nature as they like. If someone wants to control the nature and obtain desired things than maya makes them work hard and eventually grants their wishes. This has been going on since time immemorial and it will continue to go on because that’s what material world is for – to grant us our illusion.

If we want to be freed from the illusion – that’s when the rule comes in with full force.

It ties up beautifully with the ability to chant the Holy Name – as long as we think we have some rights to stake in this world we can’t be Krishna’s devotees, we have to give up all and every right and aspiration. It is possible to be like little gods in Krishna’s presence and draw power from him but that is not devotion, that is not service and that is not love. It might be a perfect setup for personal gratification but it’s not what we are looking for at all.

There’s one important catch with this rule – when we represent Krishna we gain a lot of power and we can argue on His behalf with all given strength and intelligence. This is very important because if we fail to do so then we are practically refuse to carry our service. Yet at no point we should assume that these powers are our own.

The moment Krishna withdraws His endorsement we are back below the straw on the street where everybody, and I literally mean everybody, can trample upon our egos and display their superiority in all imaginable ways and we should patiently accept it, for without Krishna we are nothing.

I just remembered a shastric example to illustrate this point, hopefully will investigate it further some other day.

Vanity thought #285. Surfing the waves.

Recently I’ve tried to develop better tolerance in face of daily troubles – stress at work, family disagreements, body ailments etc. I told myself that I should treat happiness and distress as waves, they come and go in due time and instead of panicking about it and thinking of the ways out I should just soldier on and wait until relief comes naturally.

It works magic. Surely it sometimes tests the limits of my patience but, generally speaking, the relief comes without me having to wait for it for too long, and every time I feel satisfaction when it does. Mostly it’s the satisfaction with myself for sticking around with my rule of ignoring my personal discomforts.

It’s only in the past couple of days that I realized that this much awaited relief and the sense of satisfaction is actually me falling head over heels with maya, with the illusion that I’m this body. Suddenly I remembered that it is actually maya’s first business to make me feel welcome and comfortable in my life.

It appears that when I ride the wave of distress and await the lull in suffering I’m actually waiting for the maya to embrace me and show me her good side and I buy her proposition hook, line and sinker.

All the while I thought I was developing my Krishna consciousness but it was actually quite the opposite. So what IS Krishna consciousness? Negation of suffering is not it. Attraction to happiness is not it either, but avoiding those too feelings and getting some sweet spot of temporary equilibrium is also not the answer.

It is said that impersonalists have to give up all their interests in comings and goings of this world in exchange for nothing whereas Krishna’s devotees replace those interests with interests in Krishna and His service. Fine, but the fact is that I’m not aware of any of my spiritual senses that I can engage in service anyway, so there’s not much practical difference with impersonalism.

When I strike out time when I feel happy, distressed and all the other feelings in between, there’s absolutely nothing left. I can experience feelings when tasting prasadam or looking at the Deities or reading books but those manifest in my material body. They are pleasant but there are many other things that could be pleasant in exactly the same way.

I’m afraid I do not have an easy answer to this problem. I’m afraid that all my Krishna consciousness can be tested by what I feel when I say or hear Krishna’s Name without trying very hard to pretend I like it. What I feel is indifference, but that is good indifference, it’s indifference of my material senses, material mind and material emotions. Somewhere behind this indifference lies my dormant Krishna Consciousness.

Another test is how much aware I’m of Krishna during my deep sleep. Not much, but I’m going to look for that little part of my soul that never really sleeps. Until I find it all I have to go on is Krishna’s manifestation on the external platform – Deities, books, devotees etc. That’s how He keeps His connection with me and should hang on to it at any cost.

Well, this post grew longer than I originally planned but, perhaps, it’s a good thing. I could have been typing away on local politics, Facebook IPO, Apple’s evil plans or something, that would have been an enormous waste of time, it always is.

Vanity thought #244. Gleeful Frustration.

As usual, my weekend schedule is dictated by social obligations and while I’m reading up on Srila Vamhidasa Babaji I think I need to make some Krishna conscious points out of my dose of TV entertainment.

Today it comes courtesy of the returning TV series Glee. It’s a story of a high school show choir trying to win the national championship. The background is that being in a choir is the bottom of the high school barrel, socially speaking, you can’t fall any further, it’s absolutely uncool, so the guys and the girls are heavily ostracized by the rest of the community but they keep on going because they just love to sing. That’s going into the third year now and this first episode of the new season somehow made this angle most prominent for me.

They’ve lost badly in the finals last year and their spirits were down but they didn’t have any other place to go and they couldn’t do anything else but sing, singing had become the whole purpose of their existence. This time, despite being utterly frustrated by their failure, they also had to recruit some new members so their coach sent them out to preach. The deal was that anytime they see one of the purple pianos in the public place they had to perform a number in search for the like minded souls, hoping that their own dedication to singing would be contagious.

First time they saw a piano in the canteen they were not in the mood at all until one of their leaders convinced them to give it a try if only to cheer up themselves. When they started singing life returned to their bodies, their spirits went high, they really put all their hearts into music and they had the best time in months, they were jumping up to the ceiling. As soon as they finished, however, some hired hand came up and threw a slushie, a flavored frozen drink, in the lead singer’s face and in seconds the entire choir was pelted with all kinds of leftovers. When it was over they wanted to scream in frustration but some time later, when they saw another strategically placed piano, they couldn’t help it but break into a song again. This time the piano was set on fire but it didn’t stop them and so it continued.

While watching this I suddenly remembered a video of a massive kirtan in Mayapur that I happened to watch a few days ago. I don’t think I need to tell anybody how those kirtans go, they really turn you inside out and it seems like the entire universe is chanting Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. The bliss is in the air, penetrating each and every atom, and even inanimate objects seem to be surcharged with ecstatic emotions. I bet people with better vision can see Lord Chaitanya Himself appearing among the dancing crowd, the roar just become tumultuous and no one, absolutely no one, can contain themselves. Then the kirtan ended and I was back home, back in the house.

What happens to those choir kids is exactly what is happening to us, or what should be happening to us. We only really live when we are chanting the Holy Names and as soon as we stop the mundane reality comes in and slaps us on the face and we can’t wait for the chance to forget about this world again, counting hours, minutes, and seconds until we hear the calling of the conch-shells and the tinkling of the karatals, That’s when we wake up from being under the spell and life comes back into our hearts again. We can’t help ourselves as we are naturally drawn to the most attractive sound in the entire universe.

Ideally it should be like this, this is what we should strive for but the long break between chanting sometimes makes us forget where real bliss is and we might start making other plans. Right now I can’t think what would happen to me if I suddenly got a job, it’s not the laziness and un-willingness to work that scares me, it’s the unavoidable fact of life that I WILL become attracted to it that makes me really afraid. If I were given some new responsibilities I would naturally dedicate my mind to getting my job right and before I know it I won’t have any time left for Krishna at all.

Right now, if I get some itch in my brain to do something, I can still keep on chanting and use my free, left hand to type or click or move things around. I can still get up every two minutes and chant until the itch pulls me down to the computer again. I know it’s not the best solution but if the alternative is to get a job where I can’t say “Krishna” for eight hours I’ll take left hand typing any day. I hope this desire to chant will never go away, I kinda got used to mumbling Hare Krishna to myself all day long, being in some office and hanging out with non-devotees is never going to be the same.

This is where I start worrying what’s going to happen to my life in the not so distant future, and that’s another danger – I don’t want to get slushied, I want a nice and pleasant life between my rounds, not constant slaps on the face. Essentially, I want to forget about Krishna in comfort. Either way, happiness or distress, it’s still an illusion, what I should really want is counting time until I get to resume my chanting.

I can’t claim to personally know HH Lokanatha Swami, the kirtan leader in that video, I had a chance to relish his association only briefly and a long time ago but I can’t imagine it’s possible to keep him and his mind away from Krishna for any period of time. He would be suffocating like fish out of water. I want to be a devotee like him, I want unquenchable thirst for chanting, too.

I guess I could settle for doing some service instead of taking a job but I still think it’s more or less the same thing – trying to make my life pleasant. Yes, doing an active service purifies the soul and keeps one thinking of Krishna and it is incomparable to any materialistic job, but it is still only filling the void between chanting.

I look at it this way – I can legitimately get attracted to chanting but any attachment to any service has a potential of becoming attached to material side of activities, too. On the absolute level it is all the same andif I get attached only to beautiful chanting it would still be a material attachment, but, in the words of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, sankirtana is sarvatma snapanam – it’s a purifying bath for the soul, it washes away all selfish desires including the desire to enjoy it.

I don’t want to dilute my original point with clumsy explanations anymore. For some people it’s chanting that is most encouraging, for others it’s preaching, and there’s always book distribution, whatever makes you heart jump, doesn’t matter, it’s the periods in between that we should worry about, we should try to get through them as fast as possible.

It works on a small scale of living through the day and it works in the larger scheme of our lives, too. Right now I’m consoling myself that according to all astrological predictions I’m a late bloomer and Krishna will find something useful for me to do in the future. Maybe I’m fooling myself but that is my fault, not the principle. Even Sanatana Goswami had periods when he thought he was completely useless, like that time he was traveling from Vrindavan to Puri and got skin disease on the way. When he arrived he thought there was nothing for him to do but to jump under Lord Jagannatha’s chariot and kill himself. Lord Chaitanya stopped him, His main argument was that since Sanatana Goswami had surrendered his life he had lost the rights to his body, too. To console Sanatana Goswami Lord Chaitanya told him that He had big plans for his future – all the books to write, all the Holy places to discover, all the devotees to train and so on.

So maybe Krishna is testing my determination, or maybe He is simply waiting until I become mature enough to trust me with anything important, I just worry that my waiting period might lead me off the track.

I just read the meaning of the name of the Goddess Durga. It’s made of two syllables, the first, duh, means difficult, and the second, ga, means go. Altogether it means something like a fortress that is difficult to escape from. In between chanting we are locked in the fortress of maya and it is extremely difficult to escape from it no matter what preparations we make, not matter what we try – it won’t work.

We might try to make our captivity more pleasant and that would be a mistake ‘cos it might grow on us. We’d better trust the Lord of the Universe, Hari, to make necessary arrangements so that the time in jail flies faster and with minimum damage. He knows very well whether our minds should be pacified with better blankets and pillows or whether those should be taken away so we don’t fall into an illusion of comfort.

Our job is to patiently wait until we are given the chance to glorify Lord’s Name, which is like being let out of cells for a bit of fresh air. We’ll be released when our sentence ends but there’s also the possibility of a parole – achieve liberation while still in our bodies. In the meantime we should stay away from the career criminals and keep our noses clean.

Vanity thought #144. Reflections on Sanmodana Bhashyam, verse 1.

The fact that what I am doing is not sankirtana wasn’t the only discovery I made while re-reading Sanmodana Bhashyam. Don’t know where I was looking when I read it the first time, there are little gems of wisdom on every page there, hidden behind the usual glorification of the Holy Name.

Take “vidya vadhu jivanam”, for example, sankirtana is life and soul of all education. Vadhu also means wife or bride. Gopis were called vadhu, too. So, is vadhu here means life and soul in a sense one’s wife is his life and soul? Possibly, but Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura offers a different explanation, but wait a second.

I always assumed that “life and soul of all education” means that you study vedas and discover that worshiping Krishna is their ultimate purpose, you study some more and find that shravanam and kirtanam of the Lord’s name and pastimes is the highest service, and among various ways to glorify the Supreme Lord sankirtana is the best. Goes hand in hand with what Lord Chaitanya was doing Himself. First He became a famous vedic scholar, undisputed champion of grammar and everything. Then He proclaimed that all this studying leads only to chanting the Holy Names of Lord Hari and if one does not come to this realization all his studies have been a waste of time.

There’s nothing wrong with this explanation of “vidya vadhu jivanam”, I suppose, but Sanmodana Bhashyam offers a twist.

First, Bhaktivinoda Thakura states that there are two kinds of Supreme Lord’s shakti, vidya and avidya. Avidya is Lord’s external potency, mahamaya, that covers spiritual soul’s knowledge of his real position and makes him enjoy in the material world. Vidya is Lord’s internal potency that creates the spiritual world, yoga maya.

When one chant the Holy Name this internal potency, yoga maya, or swarupa shakti, or bhakti devi, enters the heart of the devotee, eclipses the maha maya, and drives away all ignorance and material desires.

That’s why chanting of the Holy Name is life and soul of all transcendental knowledge – knowledge of Lord’s form, attributes, pastimes, and our relationships with Him.

That is also why this Bhakti Devi is called vadhu, as She is also described as Krishna’s wife.

Awesome stuff.

Practically, it further proves that my efforts at chanting and sankirtana are two different things. For my chanting the highest knowledge I expect is realization that chanting is the highest service I can possibly render, at this point at least.

If I was doing sankirtana the highest knowledge would the knowledge of direct my relations with Krishna.

That brings up yesterday’s point about discrepancy of what Lord Chaitanya was teaching in Siksashtaka and what we are trying to do. Today I tend to look at the first verse as declaration of the ultimate goal and ultimate benedictions. All the verses following it are more in line with our imperfect chanting than with real sankirtana.

Lord Chaitanya talks about lack of taste, He talks about being humble and patient in glorification of Lord’s Hari’s names, He renounces all kinds of material goals in exchange for devotional service in His future births, He begs Krishna to make him a speck of dust at Krisna’s feet instead of boasting about His actual spiritual relationships if He were talking from verse 1 platform.

Perhaps the most pertinent observation/complaint against the first Siksashtaka verse is absence of “anandam budhi vardhanam pratipadam purnamrita svadanam” – where is the nectar at every step?

Lord Chaitanya might have stated this in the beginning but when He followed with His own realizations there was not nectar either. Just extreme sorrow and lamentation. He cried that His body didn’t display any signs of love of God, He cried that separation from the Lord is unbearable for Him and finally He accepted His misery for the sake of Lord’s pleasure, so to speak. Where’s the nectar there?

Lord Chaitanya wasn’t cheating us. The glories of sankirtana described in His first verse were as unattainable for Him as they are for us, and they are still there, of course.

Makes me do two things – first, forget about analyzing this first verse in every detail, it’s nice and all but purely academic. Second – make achieving “sankirtana” my most pertinent goal, unless told otherwise.

The fact that I’m not doing sankirtana yet shouldn’t discourage me at all. There’s this verse from Srimad Bhagavatam, 2.1.11

O King, constant chanting of the holy name of the Lord after the ways of the great authorities is the doubtless and fearless way of success for all, including those who are free from all material desires, those who are desirous of all material enjoyment, and also those who are self-satisfied by dint of transcendental knowledge.

Constant chanting. Doubtless and fearless. For those who are desirous of material enjoyment.

What other confirmation do I need?

Same chanting is recommended for those who are free from all material desires, and for them it would be real sankirtana, I suppose, same chanting is recommended for annoying nuisances like me, and for great yogis who meditate on their own self and don’t need anything else, apart from chanting names of Lord Hari, as they are about to find out.

This is another argument in favor of Hare being Hari in the maha mantra, btw.

Well, a few words about today’s chanting. Two things happened, encouraging and discouraging. First, I’m learning how to intensely listen to the mantra without deviating even for a second. I’m learning how to maintain this discipline for hours on end. It’s far from perfect but it’s a clear progress nevertheless.

Unlike before, where my default state of chanting was mouth moving, mind flying elsewhere, I’m more often listening to the names than thinking about anything else now. During today’s nine hours I can count only a few instances when the mind was able to sustain his own line of thought for more than a few mantras.

This is good, but I doubt I can sustain it myself without taste for the Holy Names to feed to my mind. It’s a material element, it attracts to things like a magnet. I can hold it off only for so long, I’m not a yogi. It will find something to cling to and if it’s not the Holy Name I’ll be lost again.

This is me blackmailing the Lord in giving me some nectar…

He knows better than me, of course, I should display my tolerance here, not whine about possible failures.

The discouraging thing is that my pronunciation took a nosedive. I can say the full mantra only if I’m fully committed to it. If I think of anything else, even for a split second, I start stammering and swallowing words and syllables.

I can’t even slow down anymore, my mouth refuses to work at all if there’s no required level of energy, speed, and concentration. You could say it’s a blessing in disguise but for me it means repeating the same mantra again and again without moving a bead until I get it right, and it takes time. If I was chanting sixteen rounds extra ten minutes wouldn’t have mattered, but with my new standard 108 I’m looking at extra hours, not minutes.

Either that or completely bungled, distorted mantras, or reducing the number of rounds.

The last half an hour were in haze for me today, again. I was really squeezing out the last bits of juice from my batteries, completely helpless and bewildered, having lost all sense or purpose.

I have a few thoughts about it but they are not quite clear to me yet, can wait until tomorrow.

As much as it pains me to say it, but

All Glories to Sri Krishna Sankirtana!