Vanity thought #1754. Hope against hope

What does it even mean? We all know the phrase but the more I look at it the less sense it makes. In any case, it’s the meaning that interests me today, not etymology.

I listened to a class where the speaker presented refreshingly old approach to preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness, tried and tested. That’s when I realized that we might be becoming to smart for our good. We can’t be satisfied with simple logic presented in Prabhupāda’s time anymore, we need to dig deeper and know “better”. Is it even possible to return to the old ways for us? Should we strive for it or just press ahead with our constantly updated understandings?

The question to the audience was about features of the māyā, illusion. The expected answer was “it makes us miserable” but that’s not what people said at all. People said that māyā makes us feel good and people said that māyā brings us a pretty convincing illusion of happiness. I, personally, thought that māyā brings us hope. “Why do you all sound like materialists?” the speaker asked, laughingly. Actually, he was dead serious because he didn’t accept any of these answers as legitimate.

Usually, we think that we ask people something and then tailor our preaching according to their replies, but that does not have to be the case. People live in their own bubbles with their own, faulty frameworks of thought so stepping into them is accepting at least some of their assumptions which might be contrary to our philosophy. Why should we sacrifice our positions so easily?

The speaker rather told people how they should feel about māyā. I would argue that Prabhupāda wasn’t really interested in what people think either, he just told them the truth and they agreed with it regardless of their own thoughts on the matter. This kind of preaching is forceful and uncompromising and it does have its own attraction.

“You are all going to die,” the speaker said. “So what?” we might think in response, and it’s now the duty of the speaker to introduce us to the dreadful reality of death. Just because we don’t think of it or treat death very lightly doesn’t mean that the preacher should accept this position. Death is no joke and we should not allow people to treat it as one. No one ever laughs when the reality of death comes into their consciousness. It is, therefore, the duty of the preacher to bring us back into the real world out of our cocoon of ignorance.

Having put is into the right frame of mind the speaker then proceeded with basic facts of Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy and then relieved our newly found anguish with assurances of Kṛṣṇa’s help and eternal happiness. Surprisingly, lots of people fall for the prospects of engaging in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes as his friends, mothers, girlfriends etc.

Typically, I’d think it’s nonsense because we have no clue how sweet Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are, we only judge them by our material experiences of parenthood or friendship. It’s nice and attractive but it’s nothing like having actual relations with Kṛṣṇa. Mundane words will never do it justice. Still, it works. Is it because we say the word “Kṛṣṇa” in every sentence when we talk about His līlā? Is it a property of His pastimes themselves that make them stand out among similar stories of mundane mischief and happy times? Hard to say.

Maybe it’s because we have been put into the right frame of mind first and with this right attitude we have been able to catch a glimpse of Kṛṣṇa’s sweetness. Another possible explanation that with the right frame of mind we tuned ourselves into the speaker’s mind and shared in his appreciation for Kṛṣṇa. When someone talks about something that interests him and you listen attentively you can’t help but feel attracted to that thing, too. In this explanation no spiritual input is necessary, you have to like the stories from Kṛṣṇa book as they appeal to us here, not as they appeal to the residents of Vraja. I mean someone goes and kills demons, lifts mountains, hurls asses on the tops of the trees – these stories could be likable even if they were about ordinary people, not God. One way or another, it worked and listeners developed an interest in Kṛṣṇa. What does it matter if they were lured by tricks? Kṛṣṇa will take care of the rest. It’s not like they’ve been told it’s a book about dragons or smoking weed.

Anyway, māyā does bring us a glimpse of happiness and it does fill us with hope and these are our everyday experiences, it’s not all about remembrance of death. How should we deal with these enticements? I would say that most people just take it without thinking. Our search for happiness is inbuilt, as we just learned from Sāṅkhya, it doesn’t need an explanation or a reason, we act on it right away without pausing to think even for a second.

Natural reaction, therefore, should be awareness of what is happening. Awareness is the symptom of sattva guṇa so we can’t go wrong with it. If we see what our minds do when presented with opportunities it would become easier for us to separate ourselves from the mental platform and also easier to find a connection to Kṛṣṇa – which should be the goal.

Mind is a real thing, it’s not a figment of our imagination, and so ignoring it completely is not an option. It will continue to exist and act on our senses and move our bodies forward; the real question is how to make the mind connected to the Lord. How to make the mind sense Kṛṣṇa’s presence and become attracted by it rather than by false promises of happiness coming from māyā. I’d say it won’t be possible until we at least start to see how the mind works and stop following it blindly.

On the other hand, such deep understanding of the mind is not really required of the devotees. We can just put our faith in Kṛṣṇa and hope that He will make sure our minds don’t get attracted to really harmful things. Instead of dwelling on negativity of our conditioned state we can put our hopes in the Lord. We can’t go wrong there either.

The counterargument to that could be that sometimes the Lord gives us the opportunity and the ability to understand these things deeper and so we should not misuse this chance, too. Prabhupāda had to go across an ocean on a steamship when opportunity came, why should we refuse to deal with our minds?

There are books written about Vedic psychology and there are seminars held about these books and they have been translated into different languages so I’m not the only freak who is interested in these matters. Maybe one day I’ll know something more than “be aware” but for now it’s all I can think of. I don’t even have enough intelligence to tell the mind what exactly it should be attracted to in order to connect with the Lord. Say you want to shift in your chair – how could that be connected to Kṛṣṇa?

Hmm, this post didn’t go I as I hoped it would but that’s the best I can do on the topic as of this moment.

P.S. Politicians tell people what they should feel and think all the time and they swallow it, we can use that trick, too.

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Vanity thought #1686. Not a duck

Returning to a post from day before yesterday – why is it that we are so different from all other students of Vedic literature?

Yesterday I talked about Sankaracarya’s translation of a controversial verse and how vaishnava acaryas don’t agree on its details either. At the end of the day everyone interpreted to fit with his own preconceived doctrine, so what makes us so different?

It was a typical example of dissecting Sanskrit verses and using grammar and dictionaries to extract a meaning, everyone did it regardless of the tradition. Results were different, of course, but the approach wasn’t. So, if we all use the same method, all use the same grammar rules, all use the same strategy of trying to fit whatever is said into an existing doctrine, what makes us in “not ducks”?

I think that it’s one of those cases where external activities of devotees are indistinguishable from non-devotees. Usually we take it to mean that devotees go to work just the same, take the money just the same, support their families just the same, but in this case the concept needs to be extended to studying shastra, too, which is somewhat unexpected.

In reality, however, it’s unavoidable. The books are the same, the grammar is the same, the goal is the same, so we can’t really do it any differently. I mean if we want to produce a commentary in support of a certain idea and we want this commentary to be accepted by others then we have to follow the rules. We have to resort to grammar and logic, we have to follow the format, we have to present it in the same way – written down in a decipherable form, there really isn’t any other option.

If we wanted to reach out to devotees and share our appreciation for the Lord then we would ditch grammar discussion, we would ditch alternative non-devotional readings so that we don’t have to refute them, we would ditch logic and rationality and simply talk about the Lord. The resulting work would not be acceptable to non-devotees, of course, and it would not be satisfying for devotees seeking solid arguments in defense of our siddhanta either.

Srila Prabhupada used both approaches. His Bhagavad Gita As It Is was a book meant for the masses, as an appeal to a neutral reader. His Srimad Bhagavatam was meant for devotees but it was still full of lessons on the superiority of the Vedic way of life. We take lots of arguments against atheists from there. Caitanya Caritamrita, otoh, was strictly a devotional literature without any appeals to doubting outsiders.

Srimad Bhagavatam is, of course, an amala purana dedicated solely to glorifying the Lord but Srila Prabhupada wanted to present it to a wider audience and he really wanted to convert westerners to its superior message, so there had to be a degree of logic and rationality. Even when he was writing for our own education he still had to talk in our language, gradually convincing us to accept each and every aspect of daivi varnasrama.  He couldn’t afford to simply share the taste for Lord’s nectarian pastimes. There’s still a lot it there, though, more than we can possibly appreciate, but the point stands – when we have any other goal rather than glorifying the Lord we have to follow rules other than simply chanting the names and reciting pastimes. It was for our spiritual benefit and it was a perfect sankirtana but it is an explanation of why it had to contain a certain amount of philosophy, too.

Caitanya Caritamrita was largely free of these constraints. It didn’t argue for anything but simply told us the siddhanta, and once the Adi lila was over it was all only about pastimes of Lord Caitanya. Even Mahaprabhu’s teachings delivered to Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami, even the arguments presented to Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya were full of sweetness and nectar and didn’t entertain even a shred of doubt in Lord’s message. I mean, unlike the verse from Gita I talked about yesterday, there is nothing to argue with Caitanya Caritamrita at all. There are no different interpretations, no arguments meant for outsiders, it’s all more like “if anyone has any doubt in Lord Nityananda I will personally kick them in the head” line from Caitanya Bhagavata, and that’s all the author had to say about opposition.

So, how should we treat other books that are written by devotees but otherwise follow non-devotional norms? If it’s written by a bona fide acarya we simply accept it as siddhanta but we can’t use this argument when talking to atheists of mayavadis. We need to prove that acarya’s opinions are correct and so we need to resort to the same grammar and logic as atheists.

There are also cases when we have disagreements among ourselves, like with Flat Earth theory or female diksha gurus or falldown from Vaikuntha. We all read exactly the same books, have the same respect for our acaryas, and still we can’t agree on our interpretations. What do we do then? Resort to grammar and logic just like the atheists, sadly.

The argument is often put this way – this or that acarya was certainly authorized by Krishna to spread the glory of the holy name but it doesn’t mean he was omniscient and on certain matters he could have made mistakes. Insisting on acaryas being always correct is foolish and go against all evidence. Prabhupada had to be taught how to use the dictaphone, for example, and on the subject of the structure of the universe he sought help from the outsiders or referred people to Bhagavatam instead of clearly explaining it in his own words.

The other side says that treating acaryas as fallible is a great offense and their every word should be taken literally as the Absolute Truth. It’s all confusing and I think it puts us into a wrong framework where we discuss irrelevant things.

The gift of a guru is transcendental realization of the Lord. We are supposed to receive direct spiritual knowledge and free ourselves from shackles of the material nature so why are we still arguing how these things appear to those in spiritual ignorance? Why do we still care for logic and grammar and things being right and wrong?

If we do our job right we should be elevated above such petty arguments. We should not be interested in reliving experiences of conditioned beings and solving their silly right-wrong puzzles just as we are not interested in sorting out who was right and wrong in a kindergarten sandbox fights. That’s all what these debates should be for grown up  devotees – little kids taking themselves way too seriously.

When an adult steps into a kindergarten dispute he would speak the language understandable to kids and appeal to their level of logic but it doesn’t mean he follows their train of thought, he only appears to be talking on their level. He might talk and walk like a duck but he isn’t a duck and neither are devotee commentators on Vedic literature. They speak from the position of knowledge of the Absolute Truth, not from the position of ignorance and using faulty brains to arrive at meanings.

 

 

Vanity thought #1608. Bane of our existence.

A few times here I mentioned how internet is not conducive to devotional progress. One could argue that it’s just a tool and when engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service it’s beneficial, just like everything else, but we live in the material world where everything is colored by the modes of nature and some corners of it are more conducive to devotional service than others. Different places attract different people and satisfy different aspirations, internet is just one of those. What, or rather who we find here are not people seeking spiritual enlightenment, we do not expect to find them in slaughterhouses, brothels, and casinos either.

On the other hand, everybody is on the internet, it doesn’t not attract malcontents exclusively, and a lot of people come here to find new information. They are open to new ideas and as perceptive to our preaching as people on the streets and so they are the ones we need to talk to, but the thing is that we are usually too late.

A couple of months ago there was an announcement of a new project designed to improve our presence on the internet, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it and so I won’t give a link to my old post about it. I’ll just say that these devotees realized that we are losing the battle for the internet and people seeking information about Hare Kṛṣṇas are very likely to come across all kinds of deviants first. They gave a couple of example to illustrate the point – searching for “Srila Prabhupada” on youtube gives a link to a video of his final moments, which at one time in our society wasn’t shown to uninitiated devotees, and it was coming from the camp convinced that Prabhupāda was poisoned.

I must say that current search produces completely different results but what they were saying was true at the time, I checked. Maybe that project is showing results already.

Anyway, the point is that we were too late and not very skillful and the stage was taken by our various critics instead. They figured our early on how to manipulate google search and get themselves to the top of the result pages. This is ABC of internet PR management but we somehow missed it, but I don’t want to talk about our mistakes, I want to talk about our opponents and how they give Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism a bad name.

Their message is very simple – Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism is a beautiful and gentle religious movement that was hijacked and misrepresented by fanatical ISKCONites. They would pounce on every negative perception of Hare Kṛṣṇas and argue that real Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism is not at all bad and that people should give it another chance – to the real Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism that is, not to ISKCON.

People would come up with some gripes – sexual abuse in Hare Kṛṣṇa schools, guru falldowns, cult like fanaticism, aggressive attitude while preaching, etc etc and our opponents would capitalize on that, give them a shoulder to cry on, pacify them, agree with everything they say, and tell them that ISKCON is Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism black sheep, a one idiot in the family, and that they are also ashamed of us.

When I say it that way it looks like they are doing public a favor and keeping people in touch with Kṛṣṇa despite their negative experiences. That might be true and if they are really doing that we must begrudgingly admit that it’s a useful service and be thankful to those who clean up after our mistakes. Most of the time, however, they plant these negative perceptions themselves. People might have heard something here and there but our opponents give their vague memories solid shapes, fan their half-doubts into flames of war and convince them that we are a spawn of Satan. That’s not public service at all.

Whatever the means, they manage to take control of the conversation and start promoting their own agenda, which is still about Kṛṣṇa’s service so it isn’t all bad but any perceptive person can see through their charade and dismiss us, and I mean the entire Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism, as a sham.

The fundamental problem is that our opponents are not promoting devotional service, they are promoting service to one’s ego and their attitudes are atheistic despite externally professing allegiance to God. Perceptive people can smell this a mile away, they can see absence of humility, they can see mental gymnastics even without understanding the details, and nothing can cover this stink completely, no matter how much they dress it up as genuine service. People sense when they are being used and abused and they sense lack of sincerity, they also see personal aspirations and it turns them off – if they were seeking genuine religion, that is.

That’s why when I was talking about saṅkīrtana last month I stressed again and again that preaching must come from a pure heart, everything else people can find elsewhere if they want to. When they sense that they are being used for one’s personal agenda they realize that they have intrinsic value and they exploit it like cheap prostitutes. With this attitude even talking about Kṛṣṇa becomes useless because it’s the opposite of surrender, everybody keeps exploiting each other and saṅkīrtana does not take place.

If this becomes people’s experience with Hare Kṛṣṇas it becomes so much harder for us to get their attention for the third time. First time was when they learned about our existence and second time is when they become victims of our critics preaching. It isn’t an insurmountable obstacle but it would take exceptional effort and purity for our saṅkīrtana devotees to reach their hearts in the limited time they have when they meet people on the streets. After all, saṅkīrtana is about seeking favorable audience, if a devotee can’t find anyone supportive he would just move along to the next place rather than try to correct misconceptions created by our critics from the comfort of their computers.

Saṅkīrtana devotees can’t afford to spend time arguing, it would only make people more defensive and they would gather all their energy and intellect to try and prove us wrong and themselves right, and by “themselves” I mean our critics who planted these devious ideas into their heads. It is very hard to overturn one’s emotional allegiance to somebody and most of the time it can’t be done by arguments alone. Time is usually too short for that kind of sober analysis and people would rather go with what feels good than what is right.

That’s for the general mass, but we should also be concerned with genuine seekers of the Absolute Truth. They won’t find what they are looking for in conversations with our critics and move on. Their numbers might not be great but they are out there, joining Islam in record numbers because there’s a lot less BS there. When I first saw these western converts myself I was very surprised but it made sense immediately – they went for honesty, you can’t substitute it with nice words and fake sincerity. People do want to surrender to God, they do want the company of similarly devoted people, they do want mutual trust, and Islam easily provides all that. I mean real Islam, not that caricature image presented in the media.

I’m not going to pull statistics but, despite universally bad publicity, Islam is probably the fastest growing religion. There might be some others with a higher rate of growth but they also have a much smaller base. For them even a hundred new adherents might be statistically significant.

Well, I wasn’t planning to end this post by talking about Islam but somehow it happened. It does attract a fair number of nutcases but it’s the loss of sincere souls that should worry us. Why do they go to them and not to us? Part of the blame lies with us, part of it lies with our critics. We should not have allowed them to hijack the conversaton but it happened. Correcting it will never be too late, though, so nothing is lost forever. We just have to oppose their misrepresentation of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavims whenever we see it and do not let sully the pristine image our sampradāya with their mental concoctions.

Vanity thought #1601. Speaking with knowledge

There’s one prominent feature in various ex-ISKCON circles – they seem to know everything better than us and they certainly know more than us in other areas of Hinduism. Sometimes, if we are not familiar with the topic and do not have time to research it, they can plant seeds of doubt in our minds. How do we deal with this? Here are some thoughts.

First the problem – we have our books and we constantly discuss their content in our classes but only very few of us can truly be called knowledgeable of the scriptures. Most us know only the conclusions and straightforward explanations as given to us by Prabhupāda or other devotees. The truth is that we never take a “critical” look at our books, we never even admit the possibility that they might be wrong and there could be different interpretations that are at least just as valid.

One can pick up any controversial topic to see examples of this in action. Take female gurus, for example – there are books written in support of it, all with quotes and explanations, both from Prabhupāda and previous ācāryas and even from earlier Vedic literature. It looks pretty convincing and yet it’s all hogwash, we know it but we can’t be bothered even to read that book let alone write a thorough critique of it, and hardly anyone can produce opposing quotes and expose propagandist nature of such publications on the spot. It’s just too much for our little brains.

This, btw, is a known propaganda technique, or a lawyer technique – swamp the opposition with largely irrelevant stuff and force it to wade through tons of garbage. Many would give up and accept your argument just to save their time and energy. I’m not saying that authors of our books did this knowingly, too, I don’t believe they are that cunning but it happens anyway.

When it comes to ex-ISKCON devotees we can take the jīva fall issue where they argue from books most of us never even heard of and give quotes from ācāryas we never knew existed. How can you answer that on the spot? Most of us can’t, but we know it’s hogwash, too.

Even outside these well-discussed topics there’s plenty material for them to challenge us with. It’s not that we don’t know our books at all but they approach them with critical mind and therefore are ready to exploit the possibilities that won’t even occur to us no matter how many times we read. Our reading is different from theirs, it’s all in the attitude.

We read to get association and appreciation of Śrīla Prabhupāda, hoping that some of his devotion eventually rubs off on us, too. The content is a secondary consideration for us, we just want to see the śāstra through his eyes. We know that he gives us the right understanding and that by doubting or questioning him we deprive ourselves of his mercy. No superficial knowledge is worth it, we just can’t read his books in such a mode. They can, and so they see a lot of stuff that we overlook, and overlook intentionally.

They also explore Hinduism at large. We go by what Prabhupāda told us but they read books from other traditions and so claim to know them better than our cookie cut answers. We know Śaṅkarācārya, for example, but we’ve never read any of his works ourselves. They did, and they can also say that Abhinavagupta was just as influential but Prabhupāda never mentioned that name at all. When they throw these things at us we can’t argue with them until we familiarize ourselves with the same sources, and who’s got time for that?

In my limited experience, checking their claims always proves that Prabhupāda was right and they are wrong, without fail, on any topic. Pretty soon I’ll lose all desire to argue with them. Partly because it always ends the same, partly because they never accept their mistakes as a matter of principle. They set out to read those books to prove Prabhupāda wrong, no amount of arguments is going to change that bias, it’s a waste of time.

Still, when they present these challenges in public we can’t just shy away, we need to come up with an adequate response. Adequate for our goals, not necessarily adequate by their standards. As I said, they will fight tooth and nail to prove themselves right, they have their own psychological reasons for it.

What we can easily challenge them back is their understanding of what knowledge is. They don’t have any, not if they continue criticize and diminish ISKCON. When they speak to us and to the public they imply that knowledge is familiarity and understanding of books and teachings and everybody tacitly agrees with this definition but it’s wrong, totally wrong. Here’s how Kṛṣṇa defines knowledge instead (BG 13.8-12):

    Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity; approaching a bona fide spiritual master; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratification; absence of false ego; the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease; detachment; freedom from entanglement with children, wife, home and the rest; even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me; aspiring to live in a solitary place; detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realization; and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth – all these I declare to be knowledge, and besides this whatever there may be is ignorance.

There’s not a word there about knowing stuff, facts, quotes, theories etc. Kṛṣṇa explicitly calls all of that “ignorance”. It is easy to understand why – we are talking about transcendental knowledge arising in the soul and how it manifests itself externally, they are talking about records in their material brains which will get erased with each new birth. All these facts, dates, quotes, names, arguments, all of it will disappear in due course of time. Either Alzheimer’s will get it or death will. It can’t possibly last.

Once we ourselves understand this point about what constitutes knowledge we can easily counter all claims by our opponents as coming from ignorance and done in pursuit of ignorance. They are all irrelevant to the path of the religion. The truth is that ex-ISKCON devotees have given up that path and so they survive on rotting leftovers like jackals or hyenas. Unable to serve guru they serve their pride instead. Unable to extract real, soul nourishing advaya-jñāna they settle on memorizing names and quotes. Unable to follow the path they argue about directions.

All their arguments are basically about coming back to square one, making a different choice, and hoping it would turn out better. That’s all they ever tell us – forget what we know, start from scratch, fill our brains with teachings by assorted scholars, pretend that we figured it out all by ourselves, and make a knowledgeable decision. We are half way through already, why would we ever go back and start all over? Their chosen method does not even remotely look like development of transcendental knowledge, we get that they are attached to it but there’s nothing in it for us to consider seriously.

The argument could be made that their studying falls under “philosophical search for the Absolute Truth” but that’s not what they are doing. Philosophical search would be trying to understand the words of our guru, theirs is mental speculation. They are not trying to understand the truth, they just take whatever pops up in their minds and put a label “tattva” on it. Of course on some very basic level they are searching for the Absolute but it’s not the level we should be interested in, we must be so far past that already. Not in terms of how much we know, I would remind again, but in terms of how much o fwhat Kṛṣṇa put in his definition we try to practice with all our energy. Can they say the same for themselves? No, end of conversation.

Vanity thought #1598. No kidding

Yesterday I claimed exclusivity to our particular brand of worship while at the same time embracing all other forms as worthy of deep respect. Such an attitude on a material platform would be extremely patronizing but I stand by it.

Basically, it not only puts its own tradition above all others but makes other traditions into simple derivatives, denying them any independent value. It’s arrogant and disrespectful regardless of external expression of humility. It’s as if telling people that their lives are meaningful only because YOU are talking to them, it’s their relationship to YOU that brings them any dignity and without this connection to YOU they are worthless. It’s not them who you respect, it’s their connection to you. Without you they are nothing. If you hear someone talking like this you’d immediately interject – “Who do you think you are? God?”

Right, and that’s why I stand by my claim – we are speaking for God, and if we are speaking for God we can’t talk in any other way. Nobody in this world has any value without relationship to God, or, to put it in a different way, no one has any value that does is not derived from their relationship with God, however distant. People do not have any other sources of splendor but God, other sources can’t exist by definition, for it would mean there are two and possibly more Gods out there.

Not conveying this point clearly might be the biggest fault in our preaching. Ordinarily, in a modern discourse, one must treat his counterpart as equal, no matter where they are coming from. That’s why people say things like “I’m not going to dignify this nonsense with an response” – because giving an answer means you participate in a discourse and participation means equality. If we do not explicitly embrace this equality we would be immediately condemned in harshest terms as preachy and sectarian and whatever we say would be immediately rejected. We are very afraid that this would happen and therefore engage with people on their own “democratic” terms. There’s no democracy in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, however, no one is created equal but everybody is either a master or a servant, and being a master is seen as a service, too. And then, of course, there’s Kṛṣṇa Himself who is the Supreme Autocrat.

When we accept people’s unspoken assertion that they have their own sources of strength, knowledge, and convictions and agree to treat them as such, as if it was true, we willingly place ourselves into an illusion that something in this world has existence independent of Kṛṣṇa. It’s an easy mistake to make because that’s how we all see the “reality” but it isn’t a Kṛṣṇa conscious view and it is not going to bring people any closer to Him.

I would argue that it’s the opposite of saṅkīrtana and that it’s a soul killing activity. We are not doing anyone any favors, let alone guru and Kṛṣṇa, by accepting the world and people in it as separate from Him. It’s exactly what we should change, not embrace in the name of democracy, political correctness or a childish desire to be liked. That last one is probably the most common cause of this failure – we do not depend solely on Kṛṣṇa ourselves and seek affirmations from others. If they like us it’s good, if they don’t like us it’s bad, and our views should be aligned with their reactions. It’s a mockery of what Kṛṣṇa consciousness should be and we won’t have any as long as we maintain this attitude.

The problem for us is that we don’t see others as dependent on Kṛṣṇa in every which way. It might be true, we might accept it intellectually, but we don’t see people that way. What can we do? Imitate paramahaṁsas? Obviously not, we’d be spotted right away. The correct answer to “what can we do” question is to become paramahaṁsas and there’s no other way. Well, actually there is, but, if we think about it deeply, it’s just redefining what paramahaṁsa means.

We can display perfect Kṛṣṇa consciousness without having any of it ourselves if we strictly follow the orders of our guru. We simply repeat the words, become the perfect messengers, and voilà – people would get Kṛṣṇa consciousness for real, even better than us. That’s what Śrīla Prabhupāda told us to do – simply repeat what we have heard from him and everything will be successful.

We can see it as a temporary solution until we find our own footing but if we listen to Prabhupāda’s recipe for his success it’s exactly the same – he simply followed the order of his guru and simply repeated what he heard from him. He even called our Gītā “as it is” – as it’s heard from the authorities. It’s not a temporary crutch but the most mature understanding of how Kṛṣṇa consciousness works, how it transfers from one soul to another.

Maybe there’s a stage in the middle where we think that we got it, we figured it out, we know how to preach, but it’s this understanding that is temporary and it needs to be given up. Kṛṣṇa Himself will surely take it away for own sake because it’s delusional. All power, all knowledge, all preaching strength comes only from Him and only through His authorized channels. When we lay our claim to this power we make it into a stolen property and karma will eventually catch up with us for doing that.

So, if we think about it, strictly following the orders of the guru and simply repeating his words IS a paramahaṁsa platform. It might not look like much but it is. The problem is that we might only appear to be strictly following, or that this following is temporary – as long as it aligns with our own interests. When we want something else, like association of the opposite sex, we forget about it. One must be a paramahaṁsa to be able to strictly follow at all times – it’s a catch 22.

However, temporary or not, but simply repeating the words of our guru does have an effect, and this effect does not depend on us but on Kṛṣṇa Himself. Who are we to stop it? It’s not in our power to control it – as long as we serve as messengers. We can always cut the pipe, of course, but it’s not control, it’s only a refusal to serve.

In short – we can and we must speak for Kṛṣṇa and anything less than that is māyā. “But what about..?” – someone might say. Nope, it’s still māyā. You either speak of Kṛṣṇa or it’s māyā, there’s no third option. The problem is that we need to see each and every case for ourselves first and learn from our own mistakes, and it takes time. I’m pretty sure that at the end of our lives we’ll realize that we should have simply followed what Prabhupāda said all along and all our attempts to reinvent the bicycle were a waste of time.

Vanity thought #1595. The alternate world

Continuing with the latest vaiṣṇava news. Our sites are not sophisticated enough yet to sort them out into categories – sport, business, entertainment etc, so we have to group them by topics ourselves. I’ve noticed a couple of articles about the possible future of ISKCON and talked about one of them yesterday.

Come to think of it, what could possible news categories be for us? I guess “philosophy” would be a major one. “Calendar” would be another – a lot of stories are concerned with explanation of various events marked on our vaiṣṇava calendar, ekādaśī’s, appearance/disappearance days etc. There would certainly be “news” themselves – stories about various preaching programs around the world. There could be “journals” section, too, where selected devotees would post their personal stories. They would be like bloggers on big sites like NYTimes or Forbes, not pushed onto the main page but always there. There would certainly be a business section with job offers and advertisements of projects selling Vṛndāvana land. Much of the same would be on the opposite side to ISKCON but criticizing us for exactly these things instead, and their bloggers would be called “serial offenders”. “A diary of a serial offender. 1008th way to criticize Svami X devotional service”. They love that kind of thing over there. And their “news” section would be rightfully called “rumors and gossip”, and they should have one section called “rants”, but I’m being offensive here myself so let’s stop.

Anyway, Sun features several articles concerning the future of ISKCON but they are somewhat different. One thing they share is that everybody offers solutions – “do it like I said and everything will be alright”. Of course they cover their suggestions by quotes from authorities and so who can argue that harināma is the most effective method of preaching. Everybody knows that, how to revive it is the question.

Dandavats article I talked about yesterday saw salvation in devotees retiring from their gṛhastha life and taking up preaching. This seems solid because that’s what retired people are supposed to do under varṇāśrama but it’s not straightforward. One should spend 25 years in vānaprastha first, clarifying himself from sins and attachments accumulated while being a gṛhastha. These things don’t go away easily even with our process of chanting the holy name, it takes time, and with passing time the energy drains, too.

I mean one of the positive points of ageing is that detachment is easier because the body and the senses are not that strong anymore. Sex drive just disappears, for example. The downside is that with sex drive the energy to get up and go at it goes away as well. You see what the problem with relying on old people to do the bulk of our preaching is – the same thing that frees them for it strips them from the power to do it. There could be a solution to this problem but it’s most likely to be limited.

What this prediction shares with those of our critics is that it doesn’t put any trust in our institutions, GBC and temples. It is quite possible that the next surge of saṅkīrtana could come from outside traditional sources, like the way Gauḍiyā Maṭha saw Śrīla Prabhupāda’s success, but we are not in the same position GM was after Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s disappearance. Our institutions are the source of our strength, they provide shelter, refuge, and beneficial association on industrial scale to thousands if not millions of people at once. This can never be discounted no matter what imperfections appear to be there.

One more thing about that article, it mentioned in passing that while Eastern Europe might be going strong right now they are simply repeating the North American cycle and are where the US was twenty years ago. Incidentally, there’s a post on Sun about this exact time period and it doesn’t talk about growth but of clear signs of terminal decline – in the typical Sun fashion. Twenty years ago was 1996, the year of Prabhupāda centennial, and even if the whole of ISKCON was energized by it there was nothing special going on in the North America, it’s when they discovered that they can import Indians and milk Indian community there. 1996 was the time when ISKCON was carried almost exclusively by “Eastern Europeans”, or CIS, as they were called back then. They are still going at it with no sign of abating. They preach, they distribute books, they build their own settlements in Vṛndavāna and Māyāpura where they hold their own festivals, they appear unstoppable. North America, by contrast, didn’t last even ten years after Prabhupāda’s disappearance. For whatever reason, the Europeans broke the cycle.

Another suggestion of how to resurrect our mission in the US is the [infamous] “Krishna West”. Everybody everywhere loves telling Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī how it’s all going to fail, which is not helpful. Someone leaked his private conversations to add even more fuel to the fire, they handle it with the grace of Daily Mail or any other UK’s yellow press publications. The current status of this project, however, is that Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja is given a chance to build something himself first and if it works then GBC would consider taking up this method seriously, which is fair.

Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja even sees his current restrictions on traveling and preaching as a blessing allowing him to concentrate on building a center, he wouldn’t have time and energy for it otherwise. From the leaked conversation he appears to be quite rattled by GBC’s treatment of him but, as he explained himself, he was simply venting in private, letting off the steam. I don’t think we should judge him harshly for it and declare him a heretic. He is absolutely clear he does not want to leave ISKCON, that his Krishna West project IS an ISKCON project, so let’s not push him out. I believe GBC will have enough sense not to punish him for those leaked tapes.

All we have here is a devotee trying to preach, trying to invent a way to make us presentable and attractive. I don’t understand the fundamental problem with it at all. Lots of our devotees preach and distribute books wearing ordinary clothes and without visible tilakas on their foreheads (though lots of them have their tilakas on, too). Adapting out appearance to suit the public was started by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta nearly hundred years ago, it’s not a new proposal and it has always been met with resistance. Some of the subsequent innovations failed, perhaps too many, but some survived, like wearing leather shoes, traveling by planes, or using the internet.

The right balance between tradition and appeasing modern men is difficult to strike but only those who find it will succeed. Our reaction to other people’s efforts should not be guided by one of my favorite observations about driving – everyone driving slower than me is a moron and everyone driving faster is a suicidal maniac. We should not judge these things from our personal perspective, which gives rise to the duality and, therefore, can’t be correct as a matter of principle.

Vanity thought #1594. The future

By now I should have let go of my dream but the memory of it is still stuck in my head. Good times… Now I look at it mostly as an offer from Kṛṣṇa, an arrangement to go on with my [spiritual] life. Instead of my current identity I was offered a new one, nameless, free from obligations and free to pursue detachment. I still see it, however, as a replacement of my current set of attachments and as such it wasn’t bad either. The sun was bright, the air was clear, the sand was clean, I could have lived in that place. Of course it was only a dream and the offer wasn’t real but my mind is still in it so it still IS a reality for me even though imperceptible to everyone else. I’m not ready to talk about relationships between dreams and the real world yet, so I have another topic in mind.

The other thing I did over the weekend was to check vaiṣṇava news sites. I treat this habit as an addiction I have to get over with because nothing good ever comes out of reading news, it’s like junk food for the mind, we should know better. There’s a fact, however, that there are devotees who sincerely offer their articles for the spiritual benefit of others and it would be wasteful not to appreciate it. Our entire devotional life is sustained by absorbing bhakti of others, after all. They open their hearts and minds and that’s the only way bhakti can find a way inside ours.

Kṛṣṇa does not live in His holy name unless it was invoked by other devotees – that’s the thing with saṅkīrtana, you can’t do it alone. Otherwise it won’t be effective in this age. Kṛṣṇa is non-different from His name, of course, but by “live” I mean being accessible for us, extending His mercy that purifies our existence. Well, even if we chant the holy name in total isolation it still was given to us by our guru so repeating it is our tribute to him. The name never appears by our own efforts, not even the material sound of it. It must always come from other devotees, there’s no other way. Even Lord Caitanya gave us the saṅkīrtana while in a garb of Kṛṣṇa’s devotee.

Speaking of Lord Caitanya and His mission – I noticed several articles concerned with its future. One was on Dandavats and it advocated “resurgency”, the revival of Hare Kṛṣṇa movement in the US. The others were on Sun and so were rather critical and hopeless. Let’s go with the hopeful one first – I’m not buying it.

Basically, the prediction is that ISKCON in North America will be revived by a new wave of preachers independent of the temples. My first reaction was that it’s a hope against hope but it may be somewhat softened by now. You see – Kṛṣṇa doesn’t owe the US anything. That devotee, no doubt with the best of intentions, assumed that our mission there must be revived but, historically speaking, it never happens, it’s a false hope.

Every empire in a decline can’t imagine the world without it, its people naturally expect some kind of revival of its dwindling fortunes. Even up until now there are people on some Greek islands who still identify themselves as Romans even though Roman empire has been gone for over a thousand years. The identification goes on and people naturally assume that God owes them a good life. If I think myself as a Roman, or as an American, or as a Libyan – God surely must favor the entire group I identify myself with, the future is always bright, not just for me but for everything else I lay my claims to, too.

It’s an illusion and the material doesn’t work that way. Forget God, we are in the hands of time and time shows no mercy. Time owes nothing, it takes whatever it wants and gives whatever it wants regardless of how we feel about it. It always made us offers we can’t refuse. If North America is going into decline than that’s what will happen and hoping for a resurgency is futile.

The only part I agree with is that we are at the point in time where old devotees who left temples decades ago are retiring from their jobs and will have time and energy for preaching. I’m still not sure it’s what they would actually do with their lives but the retirement part is undeniable. Even so, it sounds more like a plot for a bad movie about old-timers defying their age, starting a new life, and succeeding at it. Even Hollywood makes them into comedies now, the premise is ridiculous. What would it be? “Expandables 4, ISKCON style”? It’s not really about preaching, it’s about refusing to acknowledge our age and imposing our presence on everybody else.

It’s like the phrase “young at heart”, old people appreciate it but it’s all about denying their age and new set of responsibilities that comes with and pretending to be young. It’s embarrassing, it’s undignified, it’s off-putting. Old people have their role in a society and young people have theirs, to each his own.

It doesn’t mean that retired devotees (retires from karmī jobs, that is) can’t become preachers but preaching requires energy and lots of it. It also requires one to become an authority or a role model. Young, energetic men are attractive, everyone wants to be like them, their have vigor, they are full of vitality, and it doesn’t really matter what they say. These might not be perfect qualities for preaching but they work. We have to make ourselves presentable so that people would want to be like us, want to live like us, want to emulate our behavior.

One could site the example of Śrīla Prabhupāda but he was unique, and the bulk of actual preaching work was done by his young disciples. They were the ones travelling everywhere and starting up temples. They went to San-Francisco and ignited everyone with interest in Śrīla Prabhupāda, they went to London and started UK preaching all on their own. This pattern was then repeated everywhere. “Dancing white elephants” wasn’t just a cute, slightly patronizing moniker, without their youthful energy ISKCON wouldn’t have happened.

Maybe some of our older devotees have enough energy left to get an RV, stuff it with books, and go travelling from town to town, singing kīrtanas and distributing books but, generally, it’s not what old people are good for. They should “lead from behind”, so to speak. They should inspire others to do all the footwork. Even if they are spiritually advanced so that they could turn others into devotees, still it should be done in stages, through their disciples. It’s how it has been always done in history. If there are exceptions, like Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, for example, they are still exceptions.

Older devotees should stay at the inner core of our movement, be a source of our inner strength and inspiration, not man the front-line barricades.

Maybe this resurgency will happen, but if the underlying motive is to prolong one’s illusion of being young and powerful, or the illusion that God owes us something, then it will fail without a doubt. A final thought – if need is there Lord Caitanya will pick someone younger to push His mission and we shouldn’t be envious of them when they come even if we dislike their ways.

Vanity thought #1584. Advaya jnana

I’ve mentioned this term once when talking about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s last public address but I didn’t do it full justice and want to come back to this topic again.

HH Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī gives the following definition in the glossary to his Srī Bhaktisiddhānta Vaibhava biography:

  • Advaya-jñāna—(1) knowledge that there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and His names, forms, qualities, weapons, and so on, and that anything pertaining to Him is of the same spiritual nature; (2) the object of that knowledge, who is nondifferent from it, namely Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This meaning is often conveyed by the term advaya-jñāna-tattva (see SB 1.2.11).

The Bhāgavatam verse referred to in this definition is the famous:

vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam
brahmeti paramātmeti
bhagavān iti śabdyate

vadanti — they say; tat — that; tattva-vidaḥ — the learned souls; tattvam — the Absolute Truth; yat — which; jñānam — knowledge; advayam — nondual; brahma iti — known as Brahman; paramātmā iti — known as Paramātmā; bhagavān iti — known as Bhagavān; śabdyate — it so sounded.

Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān.

Advaya jñāna is not the part we usually discuss there, though, and it’s not mentioned once in the purport, so it’s new. OTOH, there’s nothing conceptually new about it either – it’s the “nondual substance” in our translation, we just normally gloss over the term. If we look into word-for-word translation there’s no “substance” there, there’s only jñāna, knowledge, which could be a source of confusion.

In our default understanding knowledge and the object of knowledge are different so we can easily understand what “know the substance” means but when we talk about “nondual” then the difference between the act [or state] of knowing and the object of knowledge disappears. We can’t “know the Brahman” in the normal sense. On the platform of advaya-jñāna the difference between “know” and “Brahman” disappears, and I would argue that the “I” that supposedly “knows the Brahman” disappears, too.

This might sound impersonalist but it isn’t – our “I” is a product of a false ego, it doesn’t exist in the Absolute Realm and it ceases to exists when we attain advaya-jñāna. Impersonalists are our fellow transcendentalists and they speak the truth in this regard, the only part they miss is that even despite dissolution of our material identity we can revive our original spiritual one and thus get a new “I”, which, unlike the present one, will be “nondual” – qualitatively non-different form the Lord/Brahman. It won’t have material duality but it will be spiritually differentiated from the Lord.

Out of all schools of dvaita we with our bhedābheda are actually the closest to advaitins but at the same time we are their most outspoken opponents. Go figure. The difference is relatively small and unnoticeable on the material platform but it makes or breaks out future spiritual lives – denying existence of the transcendental form of the Lord, which we can’t even see, is our doom as devotees. As future devotees, I might add, for now we are only candidates with limited training.

Somehow the decision we make here now affects our future spiritual karma and we are warned with all seriousness and heft of our guru and predecessor ācāryas to make the right one. They must know and see something we don’t. Perhaps our human form of life IS very special and we should not trifle with our choices. They might appear innocent but they will have far reaching consequences.

Our reaction to hearing these warnings is to increase the level of hostility towards māyāvādīs and convince ourselves that we are nothing like them. It helps to stay the course but whether it’s factually true or not is a matter of dispute. The more we learn about impersonalism the more we notice it in ourselves. We notice impersonalism in our relationships with others, we notice our attraction to impersonalism we observe in the materialistic society, we notice impersonalism in our whimsical interpretations of śāstra or Prabhupāda’s instructions, it can be found everywhere, we just have to look hard enough.

Technically, every time we do not see something as manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s energy is a sign of impersonalism. Anything we see as NOT Kṛṣṇa’s property is due to our impersonalism, too. Any place where we do not see Kṛṣṇa’s personal presence is impersonalism. There’s a lot of it to find in our lives. Most of the time we don’t even bother to look, which is another symptom of impersonalism – as if Kṛṣṇa wasn’t there.

Here how we can connect this Bhāgavatam definition with the one given in the glossary, which, I presume, was taken from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s usage. Advaya-jñāna is “knowledge that there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and His names, forms..” When we say the word “Kṛṣṇa” and we do not see His personal presence and His direct control over everything else present in our view we are being impersonal and we do not possess advaya-jñāna. Once again – advaya-jñāna and advaita are actually opposite. On the advaya-jñāna platform we must see the Lord, on advaita we can’t.

All this talk about definitions and I didn’t even get to the heart of the matter, to why this concept of advaya-jñāna was so important to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta – it was one of his go to terms when talking about goals of devotional service. My excuse is that I’ve lost the sense of urgency myself in the time between conceiving this post and sitting down to actually type it. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to invoke it artificially and just go with what I have now.

Let’s take how the term was used in Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s last speech:

    All should remain united in following the āśraya-vigraha, for the sake of serving the advaya-jñāna.

Āśraya-vigraha here can be understood as either the guru (Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī himself) or Śrī Rādhā, doesn’t really matter, but look at “for the sake of serving the advaya-jñāna“. Here the term is non-different from Kṛṣṇa Himself. We should follow our ācāryas, all the way up to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, for the sake of serving Kṛṣṇa. See how the meaning of advaya-jñāna is different here from our default interpretation as “knowledge of non-dual substance”. We still see “Kṛṣṇa” and “knowledge” as different and we certainly use these two words differently in our everyday lives, even in conversations on spiritual topics, but this difference is illusory.

The point is that we should strive to achieve the real advaya-jñāna platform where this duality disappears. Unfortunately, we can’t take our opponents with us, we must leave our battles with them behind, they are not real, they are a product of illusion and we shouldn’t be attached. Arguing with atheists, with people from other Vedic schools, with fellow devotees – it’s all illusory, a product of a dual vision. It doesn’t matter, we need to know Kṛṣṇa first, then we can continue our arguments from a proper platform and illuminate these souls with proper advaya-jñāna.

Vanity thought #1583. Lines of authority

For a week now I’ve been talking about the departure of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, his last public address, his last days, and his actual last words. However, despite knowing all this I still stick by the version I’ve heard many many years earlier from a devotee whose name I don’t even remember. Lines of authority are funny that way.

Modern people pride themselves on being logical and rational but one of the most obvious areas where logic fails them is their irrational allegiance to their first authority on any subject. Everything they hear after that is viewed through the prism of their first “guru”, turns out I’m not an exception.

One can easily find confirmation of this phenomenon in people’s mundane lives, I don’t want to waste time on proving that. One’s political views on the value of the free market, for example, are usually so long held that it’s impossible to actually trace them to the first person who asserted that capitalism is good, or capitalism is evil, both utterances pronounced with the air of the authority around the speaker. Everything else that comes after that would still be forever judged according to that first premise. Another example would be one’s opinion of historical figures – you hear it once and it will stay with you for the rest of your life. Unless it’s something you take a keen interest in and mentally prepare yourself for fundamental changes in your understanding you are stuck with your guru forever, it’s just how our minds work.

What interests me more is how this phenomenon manifests itself in people’s spiritual lives. Sometimes you just need to hear a few words from a person to determine where he comes from and how far he can possibly progress in a foreseeable future. You can also easily determine how much interest he takes in the subject and how important it is to him, but more importantly – how it will affect his next life.

If you talk to Indians you can spot traces of “yata mata tata patha” planted in their minds so long ago they are not going away – all paths are good, all are spiritual, and you can worship all gods equally. The plus side is that they are less offensive at least in their external behavior. Likewise, they have absorbed their knowledge of Kṛṣṇa with their mothers’ milk, no matter what anybody ever says about Him they will still see Him as God.

If you talk to non-Indian Hindu wannabes then the first thing they know is that you are Brahman and God doesn’t really exist, Kṛṣṇa being simply a tool to achieve higher understanding. No matter what they read after that they’ll always think of themselves as Brahman and as being above such silly concepts as devotion. It just doesn’t wash off.

On the plus side there are people who got their first spiritual lessons from our books and you can spot them a mile away, too. The way they might talk about māyāvādīs is a dead giveaway, and also the way they talk about things like reincarnation or yoga, or Sanskrit, or elements of varṇāśrama. We, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, are known for having immutable and easily recognizable views on such topics. The way Śrīla Prabhupāda presented them makes them unique even so many years later and in people who can hardly remember his name. These things stick.

Sometimes I wonder why it is so and whether it has any spiritual value behind it. With Śrīla Prabhupāda it’s easy – even a small knowledge attained on our path can save one from the greatest danger, but what about this subconscious allegiance to all kinds of bogus gurus? Does it make people spiritually crippled for the rest of their lives?

In some cases it does because it makes people carry their attachments and upādhis. Eventually they have to overcome those but it takes a very long time, which is obviously not good. OTOH, this allegiance can be seen in a positive way, too – a guru is a guru. You surrender and he teaches you and you can never ever give him up. Objectively speaking he might be a bogus guru but it’s the one given to you and so you have to stick with him no matter what.

“Stick with him” doesn’t mean you can’t recognize errors in his teachings but it means you should never ever lose respect. It’s like with your father – no matter what he does he is still the one who gave you life, nothing will ever change this simple fact. So yes, I’m prepared to appreciate people allegiance to frauds like Ramakrishna if it’s done with the spirit of always honoring your ācāryas. I believe one can, and should be encouraged to, keep this gratitude in their hearts even if they moved on to better understanding of God and devotional service. More likely they will never be able to move on but if they did gratitude is still in order.

Oh, and about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s last words – I was told by a devotee, in great confidence, that he said that we should always chant the holy name and it will save us no matter what happens in our lives. Things will get messy, mistakes will be made, falldowns will be experienced, relationships torn, institutions ruined – but if we keep chanting through it all our lives will be spiritually successful. Chanting is the only thing that matters.

As it’s recorded in Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī’s biography, the actual last words were: “All of you, present and absent, accept my blessings. Remember that our sole duty and dharma is to propagate service to the Lord and His devotees.” Not exactly what I was told, but I still stick by my remembered version. How? By explaining it away, by refusing to see the contradiction.

Fine, he didn’t say “..our sole duty and dharma is to chant the holy name”, but I didn’t understand it to mean only chanting and not saṅkīrtana either, and saṅkīrtana is nothing else but “propagate service to the Lord and His devotees.” There’s no contradiction here. He didn’t say build temples, distribute food, or even distribute books, he meant perform saṅkīrtana in a broader sense – as preaching, which is discussing the Lord in the company of others, chanting the holy name is included. This is what “propagate service” means – talk to others about glories of the service to the Lord. It’s still the same thing as chanting.

I’m not going to give up my eternal gratitude to that unknown devotee just because there’s an apparent inconsistency. Spiritually, the message is the same, it’s advaya jñāna, which is another great subject taught by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta.

Vanity thought #1575. Param vijayate

I’m not sure I’m in a sufficiently purified consciousness to properly elucidate reasons and arguments I’m about to propose. I’m still on relative merits of book distribution vis-à-vis all the other services. Simply proving that saṅkīrtana is better is relatively easy (books is preaching by Prabhupāda and they last forever) but I myself am not impressed by these arguments anymore. I want to go deeper and see the unity of all preaching and all service, albeit if it’s done on a pure platform.

This is actually the catch – platform of purity. Let’s take plain, straightforward preaching which was the staple in the early days of our movement. Whenever devotees could organize a public meeting they would come and speak, if Prabhupāda was visiting all the better but they didn’t have to wait. In India meetings like this were a norm wherever Prabhupāda went. It’s still going on, Rādhānātha Svāmī being the most visible speaker of this kind.

How do we judge success of such preaching? It’s not as easy as it sounds. We are not the only ones delivering sermons, compared to motivational speakers or Indian politicians we are rather shy. How do we compare ourselves to all those people who can speak of hours and hours non-stop?

We can judge our success by the reaction of the audience. Were they listening attentively? Did they ask pertinent questions? Did they react appropriately to humor or to the most serious parts of the speech? Did they applaud at the end? Was there an invisible but nevertheless palpable connect between the speaker and the audience? Did they visibly enjoy stories about Kṛṣṇa? There are plenty of signs to conclude that the speech was received well. Well, guess what – it works exactly the same for all the other big talkers, too, so what does it prove?

Some speakers might not say a word about God but there are plenty who exploit this topic very cleverly, especially māyāvādīs. Bhāgavata Saptāha speakers are very adept at story telling and very expert at controlling the audience, they got paid good money for that, they are professionals. They talk about Kṛṣṇa all the time, they also talk about devotion, and yet all their words are completely devoid of any spiritual value. Next to them we are amateurs, by all objective criteria, so how do we know if our preaching was successful?

One sure way to judge it if people come and offer service at the end. Some offer donations, some offer land, some offer their professional help, some become devotees. That’s how we judged success in Prabhupāda days but now it all has become rather murky. We get more benefits like that from personal, one on one meetings rather than from public engagements. In many cases the afterwards donation is obligatory just as participants expect a “welcome bag” with goodies, it’s part of the ritual, not a sign of devotion, and it’s specifically meant to make sure that everybody, starting from the speaker, had a good experience. It’s pretty much like Vedic yajñās – people go there to show themselves, it’s a big social event, everything is properly organized, but none of it is about devotion, only about making themselves feel good.

My point is that it’s very easy to fool ourselves into thinking that our preaching matters, the organizers and participants actually conspire to leave us with that illusion because they all get something out of it and want us to continue serving them, the idea of actually serving Kṛṣṇa doesn’t even cross their minds.

This can surely happen on saṅkīrtana, too – if our goal is to sell books. People appreciate the effort, like our company, love being pampered by God, love being loved and appreciated and spoken to as if they matter, books are also gorgeous, so they give money for that. We walk away with a book being sold, which will earn us a place at the saṅkīrtana table, good graces with the management, and continued safe residence in the temple. Everybody happy, except no one had given one thought to Kṛṣṇa.

A real saṅkīrtana devotee doesn’t tell people he’s giving them a gift from God, who loves them no matter what and wants to make them happy, instead he inspires people to become God’s servants and give gifts to Him. Saṅkīrtana devotee doesn’t come to give, he comes to take. Well, he gives them path to love of Godhead, the opportunity for God to take their lives away through devotional service. After meeting such a saṅkīrtana devotee a person doesn’t feel he has got something for himself, he feels he has given something to God, there’s a fundamental difference.

So, in both forms of preaching, if they are done right, Kṛṣṇa comes out the winner, and both forms of preaching can end up with people completely missing the point, therefore they are simultaneously one and different. The advantage of book distribution is that in the end everybody must give money so the chances of success are higher. I mean if the book is sold the chances are high that preaching worked. In case of public speaking no one is actually obliged to do anything, most listeners just walk away, books are usually left untouched, and so while the speech might have gone objectively well the preaching might not have happened at all. This has been observed at various “bhakti-fests”, for example, some say that they are the worst audience when it comes to giving something to Kṛṣṇa even though they are all nice and “love the experience”.

A few words of appreciation and a token gesture is all we personally need to feel good about ourselves. For a book distributor, however, it’s not enough, only a few books sold is a burden and lots of books sold is a temptation. Book distribution forces us to become detached from results and invest our hearts only in the process. Book distribution gives us service itself as the most valuable achievement, divorcing us from the book point tally. This is very hard to achieve, though not impossible, by doing other kinds of preaching.

Book distribution done as means of maintenance or as means to advance up the hierarchy deserves to be condemned. If one becomes puffed up by being a book distributor and starts looking down on the service done by others he needs to be avoided, too, but so do people who sing kīrtanas to get the girls or the gigs, who distribute prasādam to get famous and important, who deliver speeches to rub shoulders with VIPs and so on.

The fact of material life is that all these cheap substitutions are possible, people do it all the time, it works. It doesn’t work with book distribution, though. No one can distribute books steadily for a long period of time without having actual mercy of Lord Caitanya, and therefore it’s the safest method to avoid the traps of māyā and defeat the illusion in our hearts. Question is – are we qualified for it or are we destined to live with non-devotional duplicates of the real thing?