Vanity thought #1751. Ways to hear

Continuing from yesterday, someone asked a question after class about how to stay faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda. The answer was to read his books, and I expanded on that in the previous post. The follow up question was how to develop taste to read the books. I think it’s a very important question that many of us prefer not to deal in real life.

It takes some honesty to admit that we don’t have the taste for reading. Many would protest this assessment, too, but it’s not different from the second sloka of Lord Caitanya’s Śikṣāṣṭaka which ends with “I have not taste for the Holy Name.” It doesn’t mean that we might not have the taste for chanting but might have a taste for reading instead. On the spiritual level both these activities are equal. Externally we might prefer kīrtana to japa or reading to kīrtana but these are only external considerations. Most likely what we really prefer is the beating of drums or self-confidence of accomplished yogis absorbed in meditation on the Holy Name, or we simply like to sit alone and read, doesn’t really matter what.

Not having taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books is a default state of a conditioned living entity. There are many times when we do like to read or chant or sing, of course, but those are displays of the Lord’s mercy when He tries to attract us despite our stubborn absorption in materialistic enjoyment. We should clam no personal credit for this.

So, having admitted that we’d often rather do something else then to read, how do we develop the taste for reading? The answer given after class was that there are many forms of reading and that listening to Bhāgavatam lecture can be counted towards one’s daily requirement of one or two hours with Prabhupāda’s books. Listening to Prabhupāda’s tapes (lectures, not bhajans) can also be counted as reading, and we can do that everywhere. The speaker said that he, personally, listens to tapes every day while doing various household chores. In this connection I heard that Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmi famously listened to tapes while in the bathroom. Or maybe it wasn’t him, I don’t remember exactly.

There’s nothing wrong with this answer – if we don’t like reading we can take our daily doze of philosophy in other forms, too. I see some other considerations that, I hope, could expand our understanding of what is actually going on here.

First, the philosophy. We read, and we were instructed to read by Prabhupāda himself, so that we become strong in our understanding of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and gain the ability to refute any objections. This is important, or rather WAS important, because these days hardly anyone is concerned with philosophical arguments when we preach, and even if they do they quickly become defensive about their own, highly cherished understanding, and no amount of solid arguments can change their minds. It’s the sign of our times – people are very proud of their own intellectual achievements, however meager they are, and anyone else with any other ideas is seen as an enemy rather than as a source of possible enlightenment. Point is, knowing philosophy is important but relatively less so when we preach. For many of us most of our preaching is to ourselves anyway and we read Prabhupāda’s books to stay in personal spiritual shape rather than to convert the rest of the world.

There’s also a point that after so many years we know our philosophy inside out, so much that we think we can forget some minor details or ślokas because keeping them all in memory is not as important as seeing philosophical principles manifest themselves in real life around us. We definitely know all that we can possibly need to explain things on the streets and much more. Reading for knowledge, therefore, is not a consideration, maybe for those who are only beginning their path to Kṛṣṇa. The devotee asking that question looked like he already knew what an average devotee is expected to know.

What we really read books for is for Prabhupāda’s association. We absorb his attitudes, follow the train of his thought, appreciate the turn of phrase and construction of arguments not to learn something new but to be with him in our minds if not in our hearts. The opposite of this kind of reading would be searching Vedabase or Folio for specific information we need in our own mental battles with someone. We might find it and it might turn useful, or we might misconstrue the meanings as I discussed yesterday, but what we won’t get is Prabhupāda’s association.

The association of a pure devotees is extremely important, no one would argue with that, but it does not always bring material results in the form of winning arguments. It has value that often has no value in the material world and we won’t gain any visible benefits, but those who got it won’t exchange it for all the wealth of the universe.

The next point to consider is how to develop taste for Prabhupāda’s association, because that is not automatically given, as I explained earlier. The answer about listening to tapes is fine, but it’s given from the position of Prabhupāda’s disciple. Second and third generation devotees should rather find this taste in the words of their own gurus rather than try to approach Prabhupāda personally.

Different Prabhupāda disciples see him differently. Take the incident with canopy over Rādhā-Londonīśvara deities during their installation, for example. The design had it rested on four columns but columns themselves were not fixed in any way. During the ārati one of the columns gave in and Prabhupāda had to personally step in and hold it in place. The class speaker told this story but he probably wasn’t there personally and heard it many times from devotees who were present (because he joined in London, too). Yamunā Mātājī was there and she remembered Prabhupāda’s uncommon agility and how he was faster than lightning to jump up and catch that falling column. She suddenly saw that the Deities were not marble statues for him and he cared about them as one would care for his own child.

Mukunda Gosvāmi noticed the speed, too, but he also thought that Prabhupāda stepping on the altar itself was unusual and he saw it as a necessary infringement on deity worshiping rules. He also remembered how angry Prabhupāda was and how he ordered to take that canopy away immediately. There was no place for it, though, and so Mukunda had to get help and carry it out on the street through the room packed with visitors. Some even thought it was a part of the ritual.

Śyāmasundara Prabhu probably has his own take on this story because he was the one who designed the altar and the whole temple room, too. It was a very complicated design that made the room look like inside of an upside down wooden ship. It was very intricate work and many had doubts it was necessary and that Śyāmasundara could pull it off, even Prabhupāda was skeptical. He did pull it off but the column incident was certainly an unfortunate oversight.

I’m using this as an example how disciples of different gurus can find different appreciations for Prabhupāda, and one’s own guru take on these stories should serve as primary input. In igniting interest in spiritual matters our own guru’s mercy is primary so it’s the surest way to gain appreciation for Prabhupāda, too. Then we can enrich our taste by taking in stories told by other people but we should never forget whose input is the source of all our understanding.

My suggestion here is that if we don’t feel the taste for reading Prabhupāda’s books we should fix the problem with hearing our own guru first. If we do that right then interest in listening to Prabhupāda will appear naturally. Then we can read or hear his tapes and we’ll take Prabhupāda’s association through the medium of our spiritual master and it all will become perfect.

Vanity thought #1557. Chicken and egg

What came first? An egg or a chicken? It seems like an unsolvable problem, I can’t wrap my head around it even with the help of Darwinian evolution. Must have been an egg first, laid by a “nearly chicken” species of birds, but this time it was a genetic mutant inside and when it hatched “nearly chicken” mama thought it was the weirdest thing ever, never seen before. Turned out it was world’s first chicken. Evolution solves all problems, hooray.

When people feel an urge to become religious they have a big choice nowadays, with the help of the internet everything is just a few clicks away. You can always become a Christian, though it’s decidedly uncool thing to do. You can become a Muslim, many do, but then everybody would see you as a potential terrorist. You can become a pagan but then run a risk of everybody quietly thinking that you are just off your rocker. You can become a Buddhist, which is cool, because you get to remain an atheist as well, but absence of a deity might make the experience less satisfying. Religion without God is just a fad, why even bother. Or you can become a Hindu, if you don’t mind being associated with love for Bollywood dancing. At least food is great.

Hindu religion is also cool and mysterious and there are lots of gods to choose from, the only problem is that there’s no such thing as Hindu religion, as you will quickly discover. You’ve got to pick up one of the numerous schools and the range is great, you can even stay an atheist if you want. Once you start digging in you’ll appreciate the depth of the menu even further, there’s no shortage of twists and turns and the amount of supporting literature is astonishing.

It’s not like Hindus have a Bible, just read one book and you are all set. You’ll probably start with Bhagavad Gītā but then there are so many translations, each school has its own, which one to choose? You’ll also have to read Ramayana and you need to know Mahabharata, and everybody uses Sanskrit terms all the time and types unreadable things like yatkiMchidiha lokesऽmin dehbaddhaM vishAMpate | sarvaM paMchabhirAviShTaM bhUtairIshvabuddhijaiH || Ishvaro hi jagatsraShTA prabhurnArAyaNo virAT | bhutAMtarAtmA varadaH saguNo nirguNOऽpi cha | bhUtapralayamavyaktaM shushrUShurnRpasattama || or nāyaṁ śriyo ‘ṅga u nitānta-rateḥ prasādaḥ svar-yoṣitāṁ nalina-gandha-rucāṁ kuto ‘nyāḥ rāsotsave ‘sya bhuja-daṇḍa-gṛhīta-kaṇṭha- labdhāśiṣāṁ ya udagād vraja-sundarīṇām.

Once you master the reading list, however, the world’s your oyster and you can argue anyone to smithereens with references to scriptures and previous ācāryas. Whatever philosophy you choose, which is likely to be some flavor of advaita, you can prove it 108 ways and you get to refute everyone else with vengeance. Sweet.

Then there’s practice, be it yoga or neo-advaitins with their “satsang”, or kirtans with gupta Hare Krishnas. You get to meditate and achieve realizations, which allows you to walk around with a deep expression on your face and look past people you are talking to. Spiritually, things are looking up and up and nothing is stopping you, soon you’ll attain mokṣa and become Brahman yourself. Cool.

Well, that’s one solution to spiritual chicken and egg problem. Another solution is when one day you’ll walk into someone like Śrīla Prabhupāda, or at least into his books. Then everything turns upside down.

The fact is that “pure devotees”, words you probably never put together before, can deliver realizations of spiritual reality directly into your heart if you open it just a little. It strikes you as a lightning and you’ll never be the same person again. You’ll probably go on with your daily routine for the lack of better engagement but you know that you are basically done with it and you need a new life to suit your new conversion.

Eventually, you’ll read up on it and discover that this philosophy is called bhedābheda and it’s different from dvaitadvaita but they might as well called it dogadoga, it doesn’t matter as long as mercy keeps flowing.

This is what makes it different – our philosophy describes the reality, not determines it. In all other schools you are likely to pick on the internet you are a creator of your own spiritual realm, the more you read the better you understand, visualize and eventually realize it. By studying and sādhana you get to see non-difference between yourself and Brahman, for example, and you get to differentiate between Brahman and māyā. What you know determines what you see. Not so with us.

Ideally, we see and experience things before we know what they are and this direct experience overrides everything we knew before. Lord Caitanya freely distributes Kṛṣṇa premā and it means that He gives us an ocean of rasa. It’s overwhelming and it can’t be described in Earthly language. It has never been known before. Compared to this, whatever they call “bhakti” in other traditions is simply goofing around, some artificial, sickeningly sweet activity without any substance. How can they take it seriously?

And then they argue with each other, proving their intellectual superiority and displaying the depth of their knowledge. No one ever wins but it doesn’t stop them from feeling like winners in every encounter. You tell them something, they pounce on you and prove that you are an ignorant fool. In their world your spiritual life is impossible, it can’t exist, you can’t exist, and nothing is real but their pride and arrogance. With every step there you get bogged down, the more you try to explicate and explain yourself the deeper you sink, and pretty soon you’ll start doubting your spiritual life is actually real.

Truth is, in that company spiritual life can’t exist and can’t be real, they are speculators, there’s nothing real about them, it’s all māyā even by the standards of advaita. To return to reality we must give up their association and drink the nectar of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books in the company of pure devotees. Then the mercy starts flowing again – regardless of how well you can explain it philosophically and whether you call it bhedābheda or something else.

Unfortunately, we are all saddled with mind and intelligence and so ignoring the philosophy will make us into sentimentalists, but our intellectual efforts shouldn’t mimic those deeply in illusion. Intellect should be used to explain things to ourselves, to control our sādhana, not to prove things to others.

We often quote yajñaiḥ saṅkīrtana-prāyair yajanti hi su-medhasaḥ verse (SB 11.5.32) to stress that saṅkīrtana is performed by intelligent persons but intelligence here does not mean the ability to argue philosophy with others or the ability to construct a plausible model of reality. According to this verse intelligence means getting yourself to worship Lord Caitanya and perform saṅkīrtana. If we want to prove something to someone else it is not intelligence, it’s illusion.

In Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism spiritual reality comes first, philosophy comes later, and it’s not even necessary but a condition imposed by having a material body, just like we have to eat food to maintain life.

Vanity thought #1467. Brainwashed

We don’t get to see this term very often nowadays but there are some holdouts who still think Hare Kṛṣṇa is a cult and its members been brainwashed into it. Personally, I think we need to brainwash our new devotees a bit more so that we stay faithful to our mission but, OTOH, I sometimes admire our new bhaktas and the level of their general knowledge. Lots of things that took me years to realize are being taught and officially propagated through various seminars and bhakta programs to every newcomer right from the start. Of course, I’ve always been a bit slow on the uptake so my experience is not a tool to measure others.

There was a time when we were actually proud of being brainwashed – brainwashed by Kṛṣṇa. I don’t know the history of the term but if we were to construct its literal meaning than washing and brains are two good things, and cleansing the brains of all negative and degrading thoughts and concepts should actually be an achievement, not a tragedy.

It takes just a little experience of simple, pure living and a little exposure to Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy to realize how inadequate our brains are, how many disgusting habits we carry, and how small minded most of our motivations are. Cleansing ourselves from all this contamination is a huge undertaking and very few of us can claim to have completed it to the level where spiritual reality can finally become visible. It takes decades of dedicated practice to wash our brains and cleanse our hearts, all the while being chased by the barking dogs of the general atheistic public.

And then they say we imagine things. No we don’t imagine things, our vision and values come as a result of years of hard work and keeping ourselves clean, they are welcome to try it themselves, otherwise their judgments have no value and go straight past, ideally we shouldn’t be even in their company to hear their accusations.

Still, that’s not the kind of brainwashing I want to discuss today. I want to reflect on the brainwashing I’ve willfully undergone when I discovered the internet all those years ago, but let’s start even earlier, with Hitler.

A while ago, when talking about Greek crisis, I half-jokingly attributed it to Hitler (here) and today I will continue in the same vein – blaming Germany’s loss in WWII for lots of subsequent troubles.

Disclaimer: the world wouldn’t have been a better place had the Germans won but I can see very different scenarios had the WWII been avoided altogether.

Europe is a cradle of western civilization, we all know that, but Europe we know now is very different from Europe of the age when it still mattered. Back then, from 15-16th centuries onward and all the way up to disasters of the 20th, it was a shining light and a birth place of enlightenment, it was bubbling with all sorts of fascinating ideas. Napoleon once called Britain a nation of shopkeepers, referring to the small-mindedness of their population. France was the nation of philosophers, artists, and thinkers by comparison, in Napoleon’s view, and Germans weren’t very far behind.

I guess France was to Britain what Apple was to Microsoft during height of Steve Jobs’ creativity. It was just better in every respect, more cultured, more civilized etc etc. Brits, however, pulled away in the 19th century by taking full advantage of industrialization. They build a bigger empire and got incredibly rich and powerful for the country of its size but were still far from convincing continentals of their superiority. French clearly would never agree to such a proposition, and Germans were too busy building their own engineering and industrial base to worry about English.

German philosophy might have been lacking sophistication of the French but it went deeper and wider and didn’t pause to admire its own beauty. When Brits were busy denigrating Vedic literature to validate their own religion, Germans hit the Upaniṣads with all their vigor. I’m not going to argue about impact of these studies on general German way of thinking and attitudes to life, but they have produced some fine minds, very close to realizing nondual nature of the Absolute Truth. Brits gave us Adam Smith and economics instead.

I’m exaggerating things here, btw, I just want to make a point about relatively higher aspirations of Germans and French. I’m not going to argue if someone insists that it’s not how things actually went down in history of philosophical thought, but these are visible milestones, Kant and Schopenhauer for Germans and Adam Smith for Brits.

Anyway, Adam Smith’s theory proved to be more economically advantageous than fascination with Nietzsche and eventually it showed, Germans lost two world wars, and if they lost them to Brits and Russians it would only have been half bad, but they lost the entire Europe to Americans, and those were the people absolutely stripped of any higher philosophical aspirations. Their only philosophy was money. They also talked about democracy and freedom, but it was freedom to make money, and that’s what they forced Europe to adopt after the war.

To be fair, it didn’t require a lot of forcing, they were the victors, they were open and friendly, they were rich, and they always had lots of new and exciting stuff to sell, which everybody liked. In their quest for profits they learned how to sell ideas, like Coca-Cola for example. It’s just a fuzzy sugary drink but consuming it gave people a sense of being better, a sense of belonging to a superior culture, it was something to be bragged about, and Europe fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.

Another thing they gave to the world is computers. These are rather useless devices because, unlike Coke, we don’t have suitable sense organs to consume and enjoy them, but they established the value of efficiency for its own sake. They helped to produce all the other stuff better, cheaper, and faster, and that has become a mantra on its own.

Now, in the name of efficiency, lunch has become time to refuel oneself rather than a meal to savor. For the sake of efficiency people are meant to work, not to enjoy life. Things like siestas and naps have lost their values, sitting around and contemplating the world has become laziness, and high philosophy simply has lost its place and appreciation. Philosophers and thinkers do not make money, and writers have to shamelessly monetize their skill rather than endlessly search for a sparkle of artistic truth.

Art itself has become a profession, not a calling, and so did education. They have standardized everything so that it has become easy to replicate and mass produce at the cheapest price possible, uniformity has become a norm and personal expression has become a luxury. These days it’s all about personalisation, of course, but what it actually means is that the provider of a service must program for a huge variety of choices and let them all be processed smoothly, without the user even noticing that his “personality” has been reduced to mundane entry in the database.

Amazon and eBay are great at it, they make you feel like you are dealing with a very nice human, but actually you are not. Their computers can, however, predict how you would react to certain things and they’d build their presentation and communication around these predictions, and as long as you go with the flow the experience will be flawless and seen as highly engaged and personal.

All of this is pretty obvious, but it has a big impact on us as devotees as well, and discussing it is something I will have to postpone for another day, sorry.

Vanity thought #1295. Ultimate Acintya

We generally take our acintya-bhedābheda tattva for granted. What’s there not to understand? The manifested world, as well as the spiritual souls trapped in it, are simultaneously one and different with the Lord, like sparks of fire are separate but non-different from fire itself, or rays of sunlight, another one of Prabhupāda’s favorite go to metaphors.

Actually, these metaphors come from Vedas themselves, Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t invent them, they often appear in Upaniṣadas, like the fire sparks in Muṇḍaka 2.1.1 or rays of sun emanating from the Supreme in Kaṭha, Muṇḍaka, and Śvetāśvatara upaniṣadas. Somehow Śrīla Prabhupāda never gave us the sources so we might assume that these metaphors come from ācāryas in our Gauḍīyā tradition only but this is not the case.

Our acintya-bhedābheda tattva is not an invention either but a way to interpret the knowledge easily available to any reader of the Vedic literature. Lord Caitanya didn’t start it, it was always there, it’s just that previous ācāryas, including in vaiṣṇava traditions, interpreted the same verses differently. Māyāvādīs obviously interpreted them very differently but the ślokas themselves and the metaphors were always there.

Here it must be said that we have no idea what arguments they bring forward and whether they would sound as convincing as Śrīla Prabhupāda’s. We’ve been told that we shouldn’t even try reading māyāvādīs explanations but there are devotees who looked at dvaita-dvaita or viśiṣṭādvaita of the previous vaiṣṇava ācāryas and found them just as compelling, which shouldn’t surprise us either. At that level the discussion about supremacy of one over another goes deep into philosophy and Sanskrit. Our ācāryas concluded that Lord Caitanya’s acintya bhedābheda is the best, I assume because it accommodates and reconciles all other variations of dvaita, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

There are, however, fundamental questions that we usually avoid in our discussions but which contradict everything we know about the Lord. His body is transcendental, for example, and therefore there’s no difference between His soul and His body, and the same is true about His eternal associates. Yet when they appeared on Earth they died like ordinary beings, or at least that’s what it looked like to the ordinary eyes.

Last week I discussed the unenviable position of Śrī Lakṣṃīdevī who joined the Lord in His pastimes as Gaurāṅga but had to leave early because there was no place for her there as the Lord was not interested in household life. She was bitten by the snake of separation, it is said, and that snake might have been metaphorical, but she left her body on the banks of the Ganges anyway. Was it a material body? If not, what kind of body was left lying there, breathless?

Or what about Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma themselves? When they left this world they also left the bodies there that were burned in the fire like everyone else’s. Explain that! We usually talk about the hunter who “killed” Kṛṣṇa and how it was arranged by the Lord Himself who was otherwise impossible to kill, but I’ve never heard devotees tackle the subject of the dead body being left behind after Kṛṣṇa ascended to heaven, or rather back to Goloka.

Or take the case of Mother Sītā who, during apparent captivity by Rāvaṇa, was actually hiding in Agni’s place and it was Māyā-Sītā who was visible to everyone else. Just think about it – what is this “Māyā-Sītā”? Was it a material form? How could Sītā have a material form? Did this form act under the modes of nature? Did it have any connection with actual Sītā? Was actual Sītā aware of being in two places at once? Was there a soul inside this māyā form?

At least Lord Caitanya’s case spared us these uncomfortable questions as He entered the deity of Ṭoṭā-Gopīnātha and didn’t leave a dead body after Him.

Trying to get our minds around dead body of Kṛṣṇa lying in the forest, or body of Balarāma left on the ocean shore, is impossible. There’s a verse in the 11th Canto that might add to the confusion (SB 11.30.11):

    ..Supreme Lord’s appearance and disappearance .. are actually a show enacted by His illusory energy..

Is it the same illusory energy that makes us identify with our bodies and accept the material world as real?

The verse, however, tells us that it’s the kind of illusion that is used by magicians. They don’t really die on stage and they don’t saw their assistants in half. They create the illusion of it being so, and so did the Lord. He didn’t really die and He didn’t really leave His body, it was only an illusion. This is explained in the purport with references to the previous ācāryas so it’s legitimate.

Still, it doesn’t fully satisfy me because it’s the kind of explanation that can justify practically anything. A devil’s advocate would exclaim “but of course vaiṣṇavas would say that!” and he would be totally right. Unlike everything else in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, a replica of the Lord’s body lying around, waiting to be burned, does not yield itself to straightforward understanding. We need a lot of mental gymnastics to explain that one.

It must be said that this topic has been covered very extensively by Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī in his sandarbhas with lots of references and examples from the Vedic literature. I once tried to read it but gave up, it’s impossible to follow. Perhaps, if I mentally prepare myself to get through it, I can figure it out and become as clear about it as was Jīva Gosvāmī himself but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon, if ever.

Instead, I accept this and other similar episodes as acintya. Technically, they are not inconceivable per se but they are inconceivable for my old noodle. Perhaps, I should also accept that there are two kinds of “acintya” – inconceivable as a principle and inconceivable in practice, just because my mind is too weak. Either case is fine by me, btw. At one point I was afraid that it would bother me that I don’t have an explanation and don’t understand something so important, but not anymore. In fact, I’m prepared to the reality that as I get older there will be more and more things inconceivable specifically for me. Others might say they get them but I’ll never be sure if they got them right unless I understand them myself, and that’s never going to happen.

There’s another interesting observation about our acintya bhedābheda tattva. It appears to us as an evolutionary step and even if it’s better than any other philosophy we can’t really say that it’s the ultimate knowledge, precisely because of its evolutionary character. Every preceding philosophy appeared as ultimate knowledge, too, and their supporters were convinced that nothing better would come along but something always does. Why should we think our philosophy can’t be improved upon?

I think I got a good answer to that. Our philosophy is ultimate because it was introduced by Lord Caitanya, who is the yuga avatāra for this age. This point is important because no one will supersede Him for the next four hundred something thousand years, and the next avatāra, Kalki, is not going to talk philosophy, He’d just chop everybody’s heads off. After that there would be a universal reset and Vedic knowledge would manifest itself again through the sages who would populate the Earth in the next Satya yuga. Then it will become lost, another Vyāsadeva would compile the Vedas again, and that’s when the race for the best understanding actually starts from square one. It would again culminate in the next yuga-avatāra finally settling it once and for all, as another incarnation of acintya bhedābheda, I’m sure. The evolution in interpreting Vedic knowledge we have observed for the past few thousand years is actually a temporary phenomenon, it’s not eternal, and it goes in circles.

Hmm, but wouldn’t it be cool to actually figure out what kind of body was left behind after Kṛṣṇa ascended to Goloka? Nah, it’s too much for me.

Vanity thought #897. Astucious atheists

Just who are these atheists we keep hearing about so much? There’s a tricky logical proposition that disproves their very existence and it’s deceptively simple:

“There are no atheists because to be an atheist one first has to have conception of God, and if he has conception of God then he is not an atheist.”

It’s like there’s no meaning to Antichrist without Christ, no anti-communism without existence of communism and so on, down to “no darkness without existence of light”, because darkness means absence of light and so you can’t define it if light didn’t exist at all.

Atheists are not having this, of course, and they enthusiastically attack this logic from each and every angle, convincing themselves of easy victory but, to my knowledge, there are no easy answers to this problem.

One easy refutation goes like this – I have a concept of unicorns but that doesn’t prove they exist, so I might have a concept of God but it doesn’t mean God exist, and so I can remain an atheist. This can be modified to disprove existence of Santa Claus, tooth fairies, and Pokemons, too.

Problem with this explanation is that it assumes that concept of God and concept of unicorns are interchangeable in this construction but they aren’t. To be fair, however, to atheists they are, they think they are both imaginary and so if you can think up something in your mind, like God or a unicorn, it doesn’t make it exist in reality.

This seems solid but even that logic can be challenged, and it has been challenged, by so called “ontological argument” that seeks to prove, using definitions of God, that if you can think of Him in your mind that He must exist for real. There are many variations of this argument but the basic logic goes something like this:

That which exist in reality is greater than that which exists only in the mind and so if God is greater than everything than He is greater than what we can possibly imagine and He can top our imagination only by being real, and we can’t top that in return.

Modern atheist think that this kind of logic is easy to defeat but it puzzled greatest thinkers for hundreds and hundreds of years and big names like Descartes or Leibniz elaborated and solidified it. It wasn’t until Kant that ontological argument has been defeated conclusively, but, interestingly, only within Kant’s own elaborate framework. If you don’t accept it, ontological argument still stands.

There has been no philosophical movement on it since Kant and propagandists like Dawkins simply do not engage with it, preferring to reject it out of hand instead.

So, it is possible to argue that God exists simply because you can have a concept of Him in your mind but ontological argument is not the only way to puzzle atheists here.

Concept of God does not have to be imaginary at all. We can think up unicorns or any other weird creature and so we can imagine God sitting in the clouds and casting bolts of lightning but we don’t have to. In Vedic philosophy no imagination is required at all.

We define God as the cause of all causes, for example, which is not an imaginary concept. Good luck trying to prove that cause of all causes does not exist and if it does – there’s your God.

I guess one could argue that cause of all causes does not exist just like there is no such thing as the smallest number, because you can always divide it by 2 and get something even smaller. Likewise there is no such thing as the greatest number because you can always add 1 and get something greater.

Yet we do have concepts of infinity and if infinity exists so should things like “cause of all causes”.

Or we can define God as absolutely independent being, which is a similar quality to “cause of all causes”. What it practically means is that God is not obliged to follow laws of nature and therefore His existence cannot be proven, because “proof” for us means getting response from the object, be it light reflected of its surface or quarks generated from its bombardment with other particles. Absolutely independent entity is not obliged to react to anything and so it’s impossible to prove its existence in conventional way.

Alternatively, we define God as being inconceivable and beyond perception, which is a direct consequence of being the cause of all causes or being absolutely independent. This, of course, makes people like Dawkins into fools because when they ask for proof of God they don’t even notice that anything that can be “proven” in the way acceptable to them can’t be God by definition. Usually they travel around and agitate ex-Christians but I wonder how they’d do against Islamic scholars whose concept of God is very similar in this regard – Allah can’t be felt, seen or perceived so what Dawkins is asking for is nonsense.

So, this is one feature of atheism – they imagine their own concept of God and then vigorously try to prove that it doesn’t exist. In this sense they aren’t really atheists, just fools, and so the original puzzle still stands.

Another way to explain it is to point out that atheists only reject God’s authority over their own lives, which they can do, but they can’t prove God’s non-existence to the believers nor can they deny God’s authority over those who surrender to Him. In this sense atheism doesn’t exist either just as darkness does not exist on itself, it’s just a localized absence of light. So what atheists actually say is that in their locality God does not manifest Himself but by saying so they admit that He exists elsewhere.

Well, we shouldn’t get fooled by their arguments, they appear clever only on the surface and being atheists is their God given right so we can leave them practice it to their hearts’ content.

As for ourselves – we should build realistic understanding of the Absolute Truth, not something that we imagine in our minds. It’s a bit difficult because we’ve been given so much information about Krishna’s personal qualities and we can easily imagine Him walking in Vrindavana and playing games with His friends but actual realization of this reality must go through the generic stages – liberation, Brahman, and then Bhagavan.

I mean liberation is not just a word we throw around, absolutely meaningless to our lives because, as we’ve been told, devotees are liberated already and mokṣa herself waits to serve us with folded hands but we aren’t devotees yet, just trying, and to attain that status we need to reach actual liberation first.

So, even if all of the above sounds like pseudo-intellectual mambo jumbo, which it probably is, we still can contemplate building our relationship with the “cause of all causes”, īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ.

Best way, as they say, is to listen to the sound of His name.

Vanity thought #739. Ananda

I was amused to learn that some devotees (non-ISKCON) think that we, the jivas, possess only sat and cit qualities but no ananda, and they got evidence to support their point – we get bhakti-lata-bija by the mercy of guru and Krishna, hence its external, not intrinsic to the soul itself.

I was also amused that it’s impossible to prove them wrong. We know Krishna is sat-cit-ananda-vigraha but we don’t have verses that say the same about jivas.

There’s a verse in Chaitanya Charitamrita (CC.Madhya.22.107):

Pure love for Kṛṣṇa is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, this love naturally awakens.

The problem is that they highlighted part is not the Bengali text itself, there’s only nitya-siddha kṛṣṇa-prema and it could be translated as love of nitya-siddha devotees, and apparently there was one Mukunda Goswami who explained this verse just like that.

So this is a perfect example of what I was talking about yesterday – there’s a point that is apparently needs to be proven, the ananda quality of the jiva, and there’s a world of vaishnava literature out there, but we are prohibited from searching it just for that purpose.

We are supposed to study books for self-realization and we should do it very thoroughly, not just scan all available literature for proof needed to win arguments.

What to do?

Can I/we just let it go? Or should we try to prove it anyway, as this is a significant philosophical challenge? Or should we try to prove it on the strength of the books we already know?

Perhaps we should approach this problem from another angle altogether.

First of all, to actually know where ananda comes from one should simply reach that stage. Theoretical knowledge of the same has no practical spiritual value. That’s the basis, the bottom line – arguing about source of ananda is a waste of time while actual discovery is years and lifetimes away, and it’s not accomplished by mental efforts.

This leads to the logical conclusion – if we want to learn the answer to this question we should engage ourselves in service to guru and Krishna, not in arguments and debates.

The argument, coming from non-ISKCON quarters, questions philosophical presentation by Srila Prabhupada, and that makes our immediate service task very clear – protect his integrity. It doesn’t even matter what is it exactly we need to prove, argument-wise, it matters that Srila Prabhupada remains unblemished.

We can start by dismissing possibilities of mistranslation of “nitya siddha” verse because it as in Prabhupada’s mother tongue – Bengali, so it becomes an allegation of misrepresenting the philosophy.

That’s quite a serious charge that needs a lot of proof. What is the source of this deviation? Where could Prabhupada have learned it? Where else does it manifest? How does it contradict shastra?

At first these questions appear disrespectful but if our accusers can’t answer them than they have no support for their allegation. They can’t say Srila Prabhupada deviated on this one verse and was fully compliant on all related matters.

We also have a much easier, direct way to check – compare Srila Prabhupada’s statements with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s. Well, it’s easy to say, not easy to find the exact quotes, and searching for quotes to prove our point is not recommended, remember?

The core of the argument is actually our interpretation of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva in regards to the individual soul. We say that jivas are infinitesimal parts of the Lord and so qualitatively the same but they possess those same qualities in infinitesimal degrees. It’s hard to imagine Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had a different view on this. This, after all, is one of the first things we tell people about Krishna consciousness – Krishna is full of eternity, knowledge and bliss, and we are minute parts of Him that have forgotten their original position.

We have Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s translation of Brahma Samhita into English with his own purports and there we can find this:

Both jīva-soul and Kṛṣṇa are transcendental. So they belong to the same category. But they differ in this that the transcendental attributes exist in the jīva-soul in infinitesimally small degrees, whereas in Kṛṣṇa they are found in their fullest perfection.

Srila Prabhupada often quoted examples of fire and its sparks or sun and sunshine, which follow the same logic.

The comparison between Sun and sunshine isn’t actually Prabhupada’s invention, it’s there in Chaitanya Charimrita (in jivera swarupa haya verse), and the similar concept – vibhu and anu is given even in Vedanta Sutra.

To say that it relates only to sat and cit potencies of the Lord but not to ananda needs a serious, direct proof, which doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t matter – we need to prove that Srila Prabhupada didn’t deviate from the teachings of his guru, that’s our primary service.

If somebody says that maybe Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati didn’t know works of Jiva Goswami or Mukunda Goswami very well we won’t take that person very seriously, his erudition was beyond reproach.

Another point is that “externality” of ananda is not the correct way of looking at it. Sat and cit aspects of the Absolute are available for realization by yogis and jnanis, on their own, but we can’t experience ananda in the same way – it comes only from service to Krishna. If you are not employed in service, there’s no ananda for you. In that way it is certainly external – it’s not enough to possess it within oneself, it manifests only from interaction with an external entity – Krishna.

I’m not sure that these arguments will convince our opponents, though. Actually I’m sure they would be refuted with more references to shastras and what not. These arguments, however, are meant to convince ourselves, they are meant for us to understand our philosophy better because that is our service.

If we do it right, with full faith and dedication, we might get a direct experience of where ananda comes from. Let our opponents have their own way, feel victorious or whatever. Between beating them and living in the bliss of ananda it’s not really a choice, is it?

Vanity thought #672. Philosophical speculation

A few days ago I talked about ambiguities in the episode with disrobing Draupadi, and in this regard HH Hridayananda Maharaj reminded of an important point about philosophical speculation.

Srila Prabhupada wasn’t particularly fond of philosophical speculation, you can do a Bhagavad Gita search, for example, and there is at least a dozen mentions of philosophical speculation and they are all negative. It doesn’t get any better in Srimad Bhagavatam or his lectures or conversations. There’s one particular letter, however, that Hridayananda maharaj cited in this regard:

As for the difference between mental speculation and philosophical speculation, we take it that everything is known by the psychological action of the mind, so that philosophical speculation is the same as mental speculation if it is merely the random or haphazard activity of the brain to understand everything and making theories, “if’s” and “maybe’s.” But if philosophical speculation is directed by Sastra and Guru, and if the goal of such philosophical attempts is to achieve Visnu, then that philosophical speculation is not mental speculation. It is just like this: Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita that “I am the taste of water.” Philosophical speculation in the accepted sense then means to try to understand, under the direction of Sastra and Guru, just how Krishna is the taste of water.

This obviously gives a lot of leeway to speculators like me. Everyday I try to think up something interesting or mildly controversial and I do it mostly to satisfy my brain’s desire for thinking.

On its own this process is not even comparable to chanting or to simply retelling stories about Krishna. That’s why no matter how engaging a story might appear to our minds we should always try to analyze it under the direction of guru and shastra and we should always aim to bring about better understanding of Krishna. I hope my own efforts in this regard are not totally in vain, thought that’s what my starting point usually is.

There’s another aspect to it that I don’t fully understand. By philosophical speculation we can propose many different angles and explanations some of which might contradict our guru. Sometimes they might complement him and that probably isn’t the worst thing, but at other times we have no other recourse but to declare that our guru has made a mistake or that he doesn’t display complete knowledge on some matter.

However dreadful that sounds, if we accept that our guru himself might be engaged in philosophical speculation then it’s not a problem at all.

Shastra says that Krishna is the taste of water, as Prabhupada explained in that letter, and we can try to understand how it is so. The innate nature of such inquiry is that there will be different solutions. Our guru might give us one while previous acharyas might offer another explanation, and yet we, the children of bottled water, will surely have something to say based on our experience that wasn’t available until ten-twenty years ago.

Would it be wrong to try and explain taste of bottled or filtered water? Of course not, anyone taking up a guru service nowadays would certainly have to answer that. And yet there are no instructions on bottled water in shastra nor in Srila Prabhupada’s works. What to do? Only speculate, philosophically.

New information comes to us all the time and so it’s our job to interpret it according to and under the guidance of our acharyas. Srila Prabhupada has tried to explain so many mundane things according to the information available to him at that time.

He talked about Christ being named after Krishna, for example. It’s a good theory but we have nothing to support it apart from Prabhupada’s words. Sadhu, and especially shastra, cannot be called in this case. It looks very much like philosophical speculation on Prabhupada’s part, in which case we should appreciate not the infallibility of the theory but infallibility of Prabhupada connecting it with Krishna. Contemplating this proposed connection between Krishna and Christ we all come to understand Christ much better, sometimes even better than Christians themselves.

Another case is Buddha avatar. Srila Prabhupada was apparently unaware of his spiritual master’s view on this matter, that the historical Buddha is not Buddha of Srimad Bhagavatam. Yet nothing Srila Prabhupada ever said about Buddha contradicts shastra and it always stresses ahimsa as foundation of spiritual life, and it even tells us that some Vedic injunctions must be abandoned if they contradict this basic principle.

Did Buddha avatar teach Buddhism? No, it appears He had not, but when He was merged with historical Buddha that Prabhupada knew, the result of Prabhupada’s philosophical speculation was a better understanding of what is really important in spiritual life.

To stop senseless animal slaughter Buddha preached against Vedas, Prabhupada said, and the Shankaracharya re-established their authority. That might not be what has happened in reality but it still connects Buddha with elevating humanity to Krishna consciousness.

The benefit of this particular speculation is, again, not infallibility of the proposed theory but infallibility of its connection to Krishna. Which, may I remind you, is more important than being factually correct.

This again leads to our better understanding of the guru. In the beginning we all are looking for correct and factual explanations, especially considering that guru is as good as God, but that makes us look at the guru with material eyes and want him to solve our material problems, in this case our lack of knowledge. Guru’s real help, however, is in connecting us with Krishna and in teaching us how to connect everything with Krishna ourselves. Whether guru is factually correct or not is irrelevant.

We can accept even an obviously wrong explanation/speculation if it makes us appreciate Krishna better. That should be the real goal of our search, not the quest for being right all the time.

Vanity thought #309. The importance of reading

This is one of my favorite activities in my attempts at devotional service and I’m glad I’m not adverse to sitting down with a book for several hours at a time. I understand the current generation is lacking that kind of patience, unless they are reading comics. Good old fashioned reading, that’s what we all need. It’s our own quality time with Srila Prabhupada or with our acharyas, or, indeed, with Krishna Himself.

I’ve learned English by reading Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita, after all. How many times since then I thought about learning Sanskrit or Bengali? Not a month passes by without me making a promise to myself to look up some online Sanskrit courses and I always diligently read word for word translations hoping that someday I’ll start getting the meaning simply by reading Sanskrit. Never worked so far.

Our gaudiya vaishnava library is huge and even if one avoids reading about intimate pastimes of Sri Sri Radha Krishna we still have enough stuff to last a few lifetimes. Six Goswamis, Narottama Dasa Thakura, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura – a real treasure chest of devotion.

There’s one little problem though, and it’s aptly summarized in this quote from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati:

Out of His own mercy Krishna reveals all scriptural conclusions to those who please Him by their service attitude. Trying to understand the absolute truth merely by learning and cerebration is like trying to see the sun at night by holding a torch.

This basically means that all reading and learning is a one giant waste of time without pleasing Krishna by our devotion first. It means that we can’t learn about Krishna by learning Sanskrit or Bengali.

I always assumed that I would become a better devotee if I could read more stuff, I assumed wrong. I’m always envious of people who can know shastra inside out and can give quotes and trace origins even if in other aspects their devotional credentials are a bit suspicious. I was envious for no reason and I should give up this appreciation for worldly learning. Yes, I’m also envious of people with a deep knowledge of science, I know this is wrong but I was programmed to respect knowledge from my childhood. People who know more stuff are always better in my book.

I have to throw this book away.

I have to stop myself from gleeing over exciting new things and facts I’m going to learn when I take up new books. I will not learn anything important that way. This approach is completely erroneous – even if I accumulate knowledge of the Lord’s or His devotees pastimes – knowledge acquired for the sake of accumulation is ultimately useless.

I cannot substitute my lack of devotion and refusal to surrender submissively and unconditionally with a pile of facts and stories, this is not how it works and I’m only cheating myself.

These days I’m not as voracious reader as I was in school but I still need to choose my books wisely, simply hunting for new titles won’t do, I need books to transform my heart, for those I should hunt tirelessly until the end of my days.

There are so many stories in Bhagavatam that I hardly even remember, I should be savoring re-reading them first. Sri Jiva Gosvami’s Sandarbhas can wait, from what I hear about them I would be trying to prove my philosophical mettle, prove that I can follow and understand his complicated logic and arguments. This is nothing but sense gratification.

I hope one day I come across a simple quote from Srila Prabhupada that would turn my heart upside down. I see so many of them everyday but my heart doesn’t melt. I have to solve this problem first, then think about reading any further material.

I think I should repeat the quote again

Trying to understand the absolute truth merely by learning and cerebration is like trying to see the sun at night by holding a torch.

One of the best metaphors I’ve seen in my life, ever.

Vanity thought #260. More crumbs.

I think I’ve put Steve Jobs issue to rest, including their grand visions of robotic society. There are more issues that need mopping up and today is the day. Some of them are strangely related.

Let’s start with radical solipsism. “Eric” has replied to my comment and he appreciated the questions but their scope is a bit overwhelming, there’s nothing he can do right away in this regard. He also gave me a list of names to define his own stand on the “self” issue. I’ve never heard any of them. So what now?

I can look those guys up on wikipedia but I know for a fact that I can’t possibly maintain conversation on his level, or rather on his grounds. In fact, introducing those names is a gentle invitation for me to disclose my background, too. I, of course, know my background, but I also think I know how the conversation would proceed afterwards. Today I will try to gather my wits and, perhaps, see the best way out.

We, Hare Krishnas, are not big on philosophy. Many of us think we are and many are attracted by unassailable arguments in Prabupada’s books. Perhaps many have thought that it was tough reading at times and if they got through it they can consider themselves philosophers. It’s all just plain naive as far as modern philosophy is concerned. Of course there are some of us who know the scriptures inside out and can quote lines from Upanishads or Puranas to support our arguments but it still accounts for very little in the Western world.

First of all, we learn all our arguments from our acharyas, as we should, but our acharyas fought their battles in a different ballpark. They could cite slokas and consider it sufficient proof because all their opponents considered Vedas as sacred, too. Despite all our differences we all have the same faith in shastras, shruti and smriti. These words alone would probably send Eric to wikipedia, they are not considered as any kind of proof neither for him nor for any Western philosopher.

Whatever arguments we have learned from the acharyas would not be convincing unless we trace them back to some common ground with Western logic. I can’t do that, not unless I speak the same language as Eric and translate our arguments into something he can agree with, too.

Prabhupada was very clever in cutting straight to the truth with his explanations that life comes from life and many other “scientific” topics. Can we do the same? Well, there are two approaches here, too.

Do I want to make Eric a devotee or do I want to defeat his philosophy? These are two different things. People can become devotees simply by tasting prasadam or hearing just one sweet kirtan, they get attracted by purity and then devotion enters straight into their hearts, bypassing all logic and other material coverings. I don’t believe I’m capable of doing that but, theoretically, by Lord Chaitanya’s grace, it’s possible.

If that is achieved then Eric would himself find arguments to justify his newly found revelation, he would defeat his philosophy himself, at least as far as his own convictions are concerned. Still, I think in many cases this never actually happens, we just dismiss most of our previous beliefs and fight them only until we achieve our own peace of mind, we don’t pursue them until they are totally defeated. We can’t usually convert our family members, for example. Arguments that work on us do not equally work on them so I think I can state that we have never actually defeated Western or any other philosophy as a principle, which is fine – their faith in their knowledge is also personal and that knowledge does not have objective basis, it’s a product of illusion, they will never see the world as it is unless they become devotees.

Hmm, it seems that the only real debate is over Eric’s own soul. On the other hand Srila Prabhupada always encouraged his disciples to take the debate to the science itself. He might have thought of the possible domino effect if we make them to concede Darwinism or “life comes from matter” positions, or maybe there’s intrinsic value in scientific progress, it makes people learn about the world and eventually to the realization that it’s all an illusion. They won’t become devotees but they have a chance at reaching the stage of impersonalism and from there it’s just one step away to being attracted by God’s personal features.

I should mention here that I don’t consider myself as being past impersonal realization of Godhead already, I do not see any of Krishna’s transcendental features, I can only say that I’m occasionally attracted by their material manifestations just as I’m attracted by everything shiny.

The truly conscious choice of whether to surrender to Krishna or bask in the rays of brahmajyoti where I don’t have to serve anyone. that choice is, perhaps, lifetimes away from where I am now, and I’m not entirely sure what I would choose when I reach the stage of real liberation. It can go both ways, I don’t like serving and bowing down to anybody, that’s what probably brought me here in the first place and it might not change when I get back to making that choice.

Anyway, so there actually are benefits in pursuing philosophical debate with Eric, I might not achieve much, maybe just chip away at the monolith of Western philosophical knowledge. Maybe Eric would just pause for a second and think that I actually made sense and thus I would plant a doubt in what until now he accepted as fundamental truths.

What if once at a family, or even faculty dinner Eric says something like “Well, you know, perhaps what we think as ourselves is actually an illusion and we really have no idea who we are, and, more importantly, we have no instruments to discover our real nature unless we turn to transcendental knowledge, to faith.” Wouldn’t that be groundbreaking? Wouldn’t that be a philosophical admission that faith and science study different things?

Every religious person knows that already but I’m talking about philosophy realizing its own limitations. But is it possible? Is it possible for philosophy to defeat itself? Well, it happened in the Vedic tradition. We might not know much about arguments pertaining to radical solipsism but that’s because we are at the top of the vedic food chain, we don’t feed on inferior stuff like that. That battle was probably fought between sankhya and vedanta schools thousands of years ago with vedanta emerging the winner, and we are the winners among various interpretations within vedanta, if we assume that mayavada has been defeated.

So this is what I know – radical solipsism as modern philosophy posits it is an erroneous proposition, they can still try to disprove it just for the fun of it but ultimately they will have to admit that what they perceive as “self” and “own” stream of experience is part of the reality they perceive as external, which among other things, means dead. Then they would have to search for new definitions of what life is because simple “I think therefore I am” will not be enough, they would have to rethink the “I” that is doing the thinking.

Perhaps that “I” is only a super clever Personal Assistant, next generation Siri. In fact it is, it’s serving the needs of the living soul within, it is programmed by God, and it has its own backend servers to handle our requests – the Supersoul.

Hmm, that’s clever. I still don’t know what to answer Eric, however. Maybe I should leave him alone for a while, maybe I’ve already chipped his faith, maybe for now I should just swing back for another blow, simple pecking won’t be enough to make any difference, it’s just annoying.

Vanity thought #252. Vamshidas Babaji Part 7.

Hopefully the last. Hopefully I’m done with all the controversial stuff that has the property of endangering my spiritual life but I sense it’s not going to go away, my mind and my heart still need the excitement.

I think the least controversial part of Vamshidasa Babaji’s life were his travels to Puri and Vrindavan, and it so happens that this is the part that appears the most boring to me.

Despite warnings on several occasions not to visit Vamshidas, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati always made sure Vamshidas was well looked after. Once, during the total ban, he still ordered one devotee to act inconspicuosly and deliver the daily stuff to Vamshidasa’s kutir. Vamshidasa’s reception was always unpredictable. Sometimes he would accept the gifts, sometimes he would ignore the devotees who brought them, sometimes he would throw the gifts into the river. Once he told a devotee that if he wants to please him he should never come to his place again.

Some devotees were very very eager to get his mercy and they took a sneaky and patient approach – they would wait for Vamshidas to come out of the kutir to rinse his mouth after eating and they would sneak inside and look for bits of his mahaprasadam. Sometimes they would hide in the bushes and look for bits of mahaprasadam after Vamshidasa spat the water out, sometimes they would just suck this water from the blades of grass. Eventually Vamshidasa accepted their eagerness and let them close.

As for Srila Bhaktisiddhanta himself, he would often offer obeisances to Srila Vamshidasa Babaji from the distance, and there’s a story that when Vamshidasa saw Srila Bhaktisiddhanta he would call him a manjari, and would often ask if Sri Radha was coming to visit him, too.

When it was time for Vamshidas to go on pilgrimage Gaudiya Math arranged for several of their devotees to be in his traveling party and that didn’t seem to elicit any problems.

First time he traveled was just after he moved out of his native village when no one knew him and we don’t know where he went. Next time he wanted to visit Vrindavan he was over eighty years old but that didn’t seem to dump his spirits at all. Much younger devotees from Gaudiya Math often couldn’t keep up with him. They mostly traveled on foot but they sometimes took a boat up the Ganges. Vamshidas spent a couple of months in Mathura and Vrindavana but eventually he experienced strong feeling of separation from Navadvipa and decided to return. Bhaktivikasa Swami gives a detailed description of his itinerary but very little in the way of story-telling. I think his main source, Jatishekhara, wasn’t with Vamshidas on that trip. He was, however, on the next trip to Jagannatha Puri.

Vamshidas wanted to go to Puri two years after his trip to Vrindavan, Jatishekhara Prabhu was there and he kept a diary. It’s on that trip that Vamshidasa had bever been seen bathing, urinating, or defecating, not even once during the three months that Jatishekhara was with him. There was plenty of Vamshidasa’s prasadam on that trip and it was all sent back to Navadvipa where devotees honored it with great respect despite of it appearing to have gone bad.

The most memorable story from that trip for me is the episode where Vamshidasa was sitting on the ocean shore and he wanted his deity of Bala-Gopala to take a bath. Instead of getting up and walking into the sea he asked the waves to come up instead, and they did. This story, unfortunately, is apocryphal, too. BVKS, however, tells about local beggars trying to drive Vamshidasa away and even setting his tent on fire and the famous elephant quote that is based on the wordplay from the song of Narottama Dasa Thakura. The point was that the elephant, the animal, was serving his master but Vamshidasa couldn’t. He thought he was a crappy devotee, more useless than the elephant. He changed the words in the song to “this animal”, referring to himself. “That animal can serve his master but this animal cannot” or something like that.

Vamshidasa’s way back to Navadvipa had seen many stops at many famous places where he was visited by many many people. One thing from that trip that eventually became his signature is setting his tent under a banyan tree. He did it not because of some strange preference but because each banyan tree reminded him of Vamshivata in Vrindavan.

He didn’t even reach Navadvipa on his way back but tried to go to Vrindavan again. The whole journey was very confusing to his attending devotees. Vamshidas didn’t care for any common sense rules like eating breakfast then traveling then stopping for lunch, traveling again and then settling for the night. Sometimes he would go and sometimes he would stay. He also traveled a lot on a buffalo drawn carts and boats, in some places they stayed for days and in some places only for hours. It was very very difficult for his companions not blow their fuses off.

During that journey Vamshidasa also run into some misunderstanding with the local pandas, he seemed to have accepted them as legitimate guardians of various holy places but he also saw that they did a lot of very strange things and that confused him. Sometimes they wanted to extract money from him and he had to fight them off. Once they tried to convince him to perform sacrifices for the sake of his father and mother and Vamshidasa was totally confused – “How can I follow your requests? I was told by my deities not to follow Vedic prescriptions? They told me not to. What can I do? Let me ask them again, maybe they will tell me the way.”

Once in Kashi Srila Vamshidas got attracted by the local pandas glorifying Deities in their temples. “How come,” thought Vamshidas, “they tell me that Shiva lives in those stones but he actually resides in the the burying ground.” This is downright scary because he probably saw it with his own eyes rather than speaking metaphorically. On another occasion he similarly laughed at the worshipers – they think that this golden deity is Shiva but actually Shiva is walking among the burning corpses. Scary.

All in all Vamshidasa’s impressions from visiting those holy places were disappointing, he never ever met a single devotee of the Lord and nothing that they offered him in exchange could satisfy his growing pains of separation. He was very frustrated that he wasn’t a devotee himself and no one there could help him. The sights that he had seen often reminded him of Vraj and sometimes he would ask his associates about it. Once, for example, he saw power lines and he wondered if they stretch all the way to Vrindavan.

Sometimes he saw the banks of the Ganges and that reminded him of Navadvipa, he would again and again complain that there’s absolutely no harinama anywhere he went, the world seemed useless for him. The trip, in the meantime, had lost all its external purpose – sometimes they were traveling in the general direction of Vrindavana and sometimes in the direction of Navadvipa.

During that trip Vamshidasa was interviewed by some English gentleman who asked him the usual questions regarding spirituality and Vamshidasa demonstrated his deep and correct understanding of our philosophy despite caring very little for the issues that interest ordinary philosophers.

The first question was whether Vamshidas had seen paramahamsa Rama Krishna. “Maybe,” answered Vamshidas, “but I wouldn’t know, Arjuna, Nakula and others have also left.” The pun is that Rama Krishna was more or less Vamshidasa’s contemporary while Arjuna has lived five thousand years ago. During the rest of the conversation Vamshidas was talking about material and spiritual existence in a matter of fact manner. He was saying that material existence brings troubles for everyone including himself but because he was worshiping his deities he had a spiritual existence, too, while the Englishmen and a lot of other people were eternally bound only to their material roles. He called them being in maya-samsara while he had nitya-samsara. The way I understand it he saw his birth in this world only as part of eternal service to his deities, he wasn’t forced to be here by the material nature.

Once he was talking to a devotee from Ramanuja sampradaya and he told him he didn’t belong to any parampara, which is another argument in favor of him being an eternally liberated soul directly engaged in Krishna’s service. He gave another of his “punchlines”, too. The devotee asked, most likely in a philosophical sense, about the presence of Narayana in this world. “No, he is not here,” replied Vamshidas with all seriousness, “he just left.” Okay maybe it’s not exactly how he had worded it but my version illustrates how people were talking about God in abstract terms while Vamshidasa’s replies were based on his immediate, concrete experience.

Anyway, he never reached Vrindavana and after a year on the road finally came to the place of his brith, Madjitpur. He didn’t go into the village itself, which is the tradition for the renunciates, and instead he settled in the same sacred grove he spent the first three years of his devotional life. A month and a half later he had left this world and continued his service to Radha and Krishna, and Gaura, Nitai and Gadadhara elsewhere.

There are probably many many wonderful stories about his life and pastimes in this world that I have missed in this miniseries but I think it’s time to draw the line. Just as I started, the main lesson I see in it is the reality of the spiritual existence. While we might think that the spiritual world might exist or it might not, Vamshidasa was its living breathing inhabitant for whom it was just as real as the existence of the Sun and the Moon are real for us.

I just realize how much of my allegedly spiritual practice is based entirely on faith. It’s not a bad thing per se, I guess, but it’s not real either. I just hope one day it will be as real for me as it was for Vamshidasa.

I also realize that if I ever met a soul like him I wouldn’t be able to tell him from a scamming beggar and wouldn’t give him a dime.

All in all it’s great to have someone like him in the back of my mind, and the fact that he is not removed from us by hundreds and thousands of years and he sort of lived through the WWII, at the same time as my grandparents, moves him from the part of my brain that stores the usual “Indian mythology” and into the “real historical personas” area. I mean I know people who knew people who had actually seen him talking to the deities and doing all his out of this world kind of things.

Like I said, his life story added a substantial amount to my shraddha and for that I’m eternally thankful to all who have brought his biography to the world, including the “apocrypha”.