Preaching at the time of war

Over the weekend one leader of Ukrainian (and Russian devotees) had a two-day Zoom conference on dharma and adharma, hoping it would help devotees navigate through dilemmas posed by war. First question after the second session was, roughly:

Devotees developed two main attitudes – one says that our business is preaching and we have nothing to do with one set of demons attacking another set of demons. The other says that we can’t call ourselves spiritual if we do not respond to the suffering of people around us and if we do not condemn those who cause this suffering.

In response the leader mentioned the first meeting between Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and how Prabhupada insisted on solving the problem of independence first but Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was adamant that preaching chanting of the Holy Name can’t wait and it’s the most important activity. “Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta replied in a quiet, deep voice that Kṛṣṇa consciousness didn’t have to wait for a change in Indian politics, nor was it dependent on who ruled. Kṛṣṇa consciousness was so important – so exclusively important – that it could not wait”, as it goes in the Lilamrita.

Oh, who am I kidding, that wasn’t the answer at all. The answer was:

Preaching is meaningless if it doesn’t address people’s pressing problems. We can’t be preaching abstract solutions to people who experience real life problems. Preaching means we tell people what they should do in every particular situation, and not only tell but demonstrate it, too. We need to feel what people feel and help them find their inner confidence to do what is right. We need to help people find their inner strength, find their inner place of strength, and from this place they would make their own choices what to do. This is the essence of preaching – help people find their inner selves.

Therefore we can’t skip on basic things in our preaching – we need to explain what is going on and we need to tell people what position they should take in relation to these events. This requirement should be self-evident, otherwise there is no point to preaching.

The juxtaposition of two prevailing attitudes mentioned in the question is artificial. We do need to tell people how to preserve their dignity, their humanity, and how they can act to that effect, and this is what creates place for philosophy. We shouldn’t use philosophy to avoid dealing with problems. That wouldn’t be preaching.

And so it went on like this a little longer. Translation is not word-for-word, I can’t be bothered with exact translation here.

I think it was a brilliant answer, but my conclusions from it are probably different from the intended ones. My first conclusion is that yes, people need to hear what is suitable for them and not what they see as abstract and idealistic, but this means that in certain situations they don’t need the Holy Name. They need food, they need shelter, they need compassion, they need reassurances, they need to make sense of the world – all kinds of things instead of chanting.

Another conclusion is that unless we can demonstrate how chanting solves their problems we shouldn’t be preaching it. If you can’t show how chanting makes people’s minds peaceful then don’t tell them to chant. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta could do it, he *knew* that chanting is so important that it can’t wait, therefore he could say it, but if we try it people will dismiss us because we don’t know how it’s supposed to work and it really doesn’t – just words.

So the world might not be ready to hear the message or we might not be ready to convey it. Either way – preaching won’t work. What to do?

One answer is that we ourselves might not have the power but the Holy Name does not depend on us. Our job is to bring it to people, we are not in control of what happens next. Sometimes we are but it’s not a requirement. And at the same time we should have enough sense not to preach when people are going to only make offenses.

Another thought is that we shouldn’t be quick to judge what people’s real problems are. They are always under illusion in this regard and their expectations never match with their real necessities. If we try to fix *their* problems then we will never get around to preaching chanting of the Holy Name because they would always have something on their mind that they think needs to be addressed first.

So yes, we should know what people feel but we should also be able to transcend their feelings and get right to the root of it, and we should do it in a way that they feel they just had a revelation about themselves. So if there is a war and everybody is running for their lives – the Holy Name drives away all fears by its mere presence. Why can’t we give this fearlessness to people? Short answer – we ourselves don’t have it and we only pronounce syllables, not the Holy Name itself. All we need to say is “Chant Hare Krishna and everything will be okay” and really mean it. We should *know* it for ourselves, know well enough that other people can absorb our confidence. Then it will work.

Or we could always simply try to deliver the Holy Name to others regardless of how qualified we are ourselves. This might sound like a cop-out but it takes faith to believe that this will work, too, and people will pick up on this faith and absorb it and this will also make it work. Or they will just try saying “Hare Krishna” and the Name itself will manifest its power. This can happen, too.

All in all, I think Ukrainian devotees are doing okay, given the circumstances – they support people’s angst against Russia to earn their trust and build rapport, and then they feed them prasadam and do kirtans and discuss philosophy. I wish it wasn’t “Hare Krishna against Russia” but blind uncle is better than no uncle. Eventually devotees themselves will figure out that Russia is not their enemy and then people they preach to will catch up, too. In any case – what else can be done if devotees themselves are convinced that they are in a holy war against putinoids? You can’t change their minds in a moment and you can’t tell them to stop preaching, distributing prasadam, doing kirtans etc.

It’s a bit below my expectations but we need to learn appreciate devotees as they are, not as what we expect them to be. Of course it also means that when I’m looking for something new in Krishna Consciousness I won’t be turning to devotees who would call me rashist putinoid, but I’m sure there are lots of other things they do better than me so I can learn those, if I ever need them. It’s exactly the same solution I have for feminists and whoever else I happen to disagree with. Everybody hits their ceiling at some point and we don’t need to learn from what they do trying to break through their ceiling, we can learn from whatever they build trying to reach it.

Peter Principle – employees rise to the level of their incompetence

Not to start whole other thing, but it would be like trying to learn sringara rasa from cowherd boys. I’m sure they have their opinions on it but it’s not where we should look for guidance. This is true about all religions, too – in one classification Madhvas are perfect at dasya, Sri Vaishnavas are perfect at awe and veneration, Vallabhas at vatsalya and so on. Everybody has a ceiling and in the material world everybody is trying to break through it, too. We should be able to spot when it happens and when people preach beyond their adhikara.


Tava Kathamritam

It’s a famous verse from Gopi Gita. For one thing, when Maharaja Prataparudra recited it for Lord Caitanya while massaging Mahaprabhu’s legs Lord Caitanya suddenly got up and embraced him.

Here is the translation:

The nectar of Your words and the descriptions of Your activities are the life and soul of those suffering in this material world. These narrations, transmitted by learned sages, eradicate one’s sinful reactions and bestow good fortune upon whoever hears them. These narrations are broadcast all over the world and are filled with spiritual power. Certainly those who spread the message of Godhead are most munificent.

SB 10.31.9

Another notable usage is as a motto of Madhavananda Prabhu’s Krishna Kathamrita Bindu magazine (full archive here). Tava kathāmṛtaṁ tapta-jīvanaṁ – tava — Your; kathā-amṛtam — the nectar of words; tapta-jīvanam — life for those aggrieved in the material world;

Beautiful and sweet, isn’t it? Well, I wouldn’t be writing this if there was nothing more to it, would I?

Turns out every acharya gives an alternative interpretation to this verse. Sometimes it’s explained as if two groups of gopis were speaking and so one group meant for all the verses to be sweet and pleading, and the other, headed by Srimati Radharani, sang the same verses in a contrarian mood, basically blaming Krishna for this or that. Okay, I won’t argue with that, but the alternative meaning given by the acharyas is relevant to us, too, not just to Sri Radha and her group, and that’s why I find it interesting.

Almost every word in the verse gets twisted and so BBT translations are of no help here. “Tava” is the same but “kathamritam” can be legitimately split as kathā-mṛtam instead of the usual kathā-amṛtam. In either case the connection between two words would be reduced to one single long ā. So now it gets interesting – discussions about Krishna become the cause of death, not some nectar of immortality. Tapta-jīvanam then takes a new meaning, or rather the same meaning – material aggravation, but in a different context. Tapta means hot, as in hot fire or molten metal, or, specifically, hot oil, and jīvanam can also mean water, so Krishna katha causes death in the same water splatters and evaporates when dropped in hot oil. One can get seriously burned if he does that.

Next line starts with kavibhir iditam (check for correct diacritics in BBT translation, it just gets in the way for me now). Kavibhir means by great poets and iditam means recited. The contrarian meaning is that those poets would praise anything that pops in their minds so it proves nothing, rather it says that only people not concerned with actual meaning and impact of the event would go on talking about it as if it was something great. It’s like saying “this was praised in New York Times” to Trump supporters.

The line ends with kalmasapaham – it drives away (apaham) sinful reactions (kalmasa). That is true, but not in the way simple people understand it. They think that Krishna katha destroys seeds of karma and all that, but the real meaning is that it causes so much suffering that all accumulated bad karma gets released all at once. It’s not a good thing to experience, it’s very painful.

Next line starts with sravana mangalam – hearing it us auspicious. Yes, it is, but for who? For those who are described in the last two words of the line – srimad atatam. Srimad means those endowed with all good things, and atatam means preaching it widely, broadcasting. Now it makes sense – Krishna katha is auspicious for fortunate people proud of their attainments who can’t stop talking about it. The overtly virtuous, in your face, self-righteous pricks. That’s how they make their money, after all.

Last line still talks about these people – bhuvi grinanti ye – those who (ye) spread it (grinanti) all over the world (bhuvi). So silly poets take this suffering and foolishly praise it in their worthless odes to nothing good, and then profit smelling preachers take it up and make themselves rich and famous by preaching it. What actually happens to the people, though? Bhrui-da janah. Janah is people, bhuri is “great number” and da can be short for death, for killing. They actually kill people in great numbers. Some die from suffering, some die spiritually as they have been mislead to accept some sahajiya cult for the real thing.

Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti cites a verse to demonstrate what actually happens when people take to Krsihna katha seriously, specifically the last line of it:

bahava iha vihaṅgā bhikṣu-caryāṁ caranti

SB 10.47.18

Here bahava is “many”, just as bhuri above. Iha is “here”, meaning in Vrindavana, and then vihaṅgāḥ — (like) birds; bhikṣu — of begging; caryām — the livelihood; caranti — they pursue.

So, instead of enjoying opulences associated with being “srimad”, and instead of “mangalam” from “sravana mangalam”, people end up begging for food like birds picking loose grains in the village. Not even searching for food in the forest, not digging up worms themselves, but depending on what was discarded by humans. That’s what indulging in Krishna katha leads to. We will become exactly like those birds.

Anyone who expects his fortune to rise from hearing Krishna katha is either a fool or someone who exploits other fools misfortune. Even worse – someone who inflicts misfortune on others and takes whatever remains in their lives for himself.

I don’t want to pontificate on this, but tell me if this is not a correct description of what Krishna consciousness is supposed to do to people? It’s not there to make us happy and prosperous, unless we consider being homeless and eating what others have thrown away a symbol of prosperity. “Spiritually wealthy”, they could say. Or “opulence of Vrindavana eclipses that of Vaikuntha millions and billions of times,” they say. How’s that not the typical “suffer now, enjoy later” mentality of materialistic persons of this world? How’s that not the typical “srimad atatam” from this verse? Yes, these people learned how to live comfortably off Krishna katha, and now we are supposed to become like them? The live by killing us, bhuri-da janah, and this means they won’t let us be like them – we are their food, not their friends. They might talk, promising auspiciousness (kavibhir iditam and sravana mangalam), but when it comes to real changes they will inevitably protect their turf and keep us as outsiders, as bhuri-da janah.

When I started this article I meant for it to be half serious, but why bother? I’m dead serious now – these people who tell us that Krishna Consciousness will make everything great, who urge us to shout “Gauranga”, to raise our arms and shout “Hare Krishna”, who urge us to dance in lines, squares, or circles etc, they have no idea what they are talking about, except they know it makes them feel great when we sit and listen and otherwise follow their orders. They are just trying to build their own Babylon. If they ever give us something really valuable it’s not while doing that, but that’s a whole other topic.

For Facebook’s sake I’ll include an image. At first glance it has nothing to do with the content, but, if you look closely – it makes Krishna and Yashoda look like one of us (I mean white people) with expressions reflecting our own conceptions of what spiritual beauty and spiritual emotions are like. It’s going to be dreamy like that. Who doesn’t want to feel like that? That’s what they promise us instead of homelessness and eating discarded food. And these days we might not even be able to reach Vrindavana to do that. That’s the reality of taking up Krishna consciousness, not their promises.

Srila Prabhupada’s Disappearance

We almost midway between Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance day of 2020 and of 2021, so what am I talking about? There is a paradox of sorts there – on his disappearance days we make special efforts to remember him and so we come closer, he actually “appears” in our consciousness, while in the middle of the year he kind of “disappears”. But that’s not what this article is about.

What I want to reflect on here is largely an Indian thing, though it manifests among western devotees, too, in somewhat different ways. When I say it’s an “Indian” thing it doesn’t mean all Indians are affected in the same way – there are simply too many Indian devotees to fit under any particular umbrella. I’m talking about a particular slice I see in particular communities and I hope it doesn’t spread to other Indian devotees elsewhere. These affected sangas are significant and non-trivial, and therefore I feel the problem deserves to be addressed.

It’s “Indian” because they see Srila Prabhupada as one of them. Krishna is their God, not Prabhupada’s God. Bhagavatam is their purana, not Prabhupada’s purana. Lord Caitanya is their saint, not Prabhupada’s. Okay, Gaudiya Vaishnavas consider Lord Caitanya to be Krishna Himself, but for most Indians He was only a saint and if Gaydiyas make claims otherwise they accept them as “okay okay, whatever…” Indians are followers of “sanatana dharma”, as they love to proclaim, not followers of Prabhupada.

In other words, Srila Prabhupada is not as essential to them as to western devotees who had no idea of any of those things before Prabhupada came and informed them. Indians put Prabhupada in context of their religion and culture, but for western devotees Prabhupada himself created context from scratch and they put Indian culture into this context created by Prabhupada.

See how their visions are fundamentally different, how they are practically mirrors. It doesn’t matter for the moment which vision is correct and which isn’t, just that they are completely at odds.

Typical reconciliation is that Srila Prabhupada gave us the true, correct, and pure culture while today’s Indians live in some kind of degraded forms of it. Indians can accept this argument, too – no one would argue that onions are bona fide, for example, or that common Indian perceptions of God are not tinged with mayavada. Nevertheless, approaching Prabhupada from these two different angles cannot be reconciled completely and sooner or later the differences will come up to the surface.

Typical example of that is disagreements over some aspects of the siddhanta. For western devotees whatever Srila Prabhupada said is accepted as final truth and everybody else’s opinions to the contrary are rejected, but for Indian devotees allegiance to previous acharyas are never to be dropped. If previous acharyas said something than it must be accommodated, and, if necessary, Prabhupada’s opinion put aside. Note how I said “opinion” – not truth, but only an opinion. Sometimes it can be elevated to “personal realization”, but still not to the level of “truth”.

Srila Prabhupada might have spoken strongly on demigod worship but Indian vernacular doesn’t even have “demigods” in the vocabulary, so Prabhupada’s statements need interpretation. Maybe he didn’t mean it, or maybe he meant it only for westerners, or maybe he meant it only to certain types of demigod worship. At the end of the day, Indians are bound by their karma to respect the worship done by their ancestors and by their acharyas, they can’t give it up just because Srila Prabhupada said something somewhere.

This is understandable, but it’s still not what I meant by “disappearance” in the title. I mean something far more radical – Srila Prabhupada, as he was known to his western disciples, was not a person of Indian origin, not even of Gaydiya Vaishnava origin. His appearance in the west was a total surprise even for Srila Prabhupada himself. He had no idea it would turn this way. He himself couldn’t attribute his success to anything “Indian”, it had full potency by itself. The only connection he could trace was to the orders of his spiritual master. This is what he said again and again – my guru ordered me to print books, I did it, and this is what happened. He didn’t say that his mother taught him how to cook and so everybody loved his prasadam, and that’s how his first ISKCON temple survived. He didn’t claim proficiency in singing or playing mridanga. By Aindra’s standards he wouldn’t be allowed to play karatals on his 24hour kirtan party. Okay, he dedicated Krishna Book to his father, but that was one off. All the other times he gave credit only to following his guru’s order. Not even to his guru as a full personality – only to following one specific order.

The point is that Srila Prabhupada’s success was unique and it had a life of its own. It didn’t depend on anything else and it couldn’t be described in any other terms – it was a substance by itself, a category by itself. I will repeat – I think when Srila Prabhupada arrived in the US he himself had no idea what it would be like, it was a total surprise.

When it came Srila Prabhupada embraced it exactly like that – like it had a potency of its own and it had to be served, not controlled. This “success” dictated how Srila Prabhupada had to to things, not the other way around. I use the word “success” as only a label, it had to be felt to be described, as I said. I think the word “success” conveys the undeniable aspect of it – everybody knows what “success” is, everybody knows how good it feels, and nobody can deny it. But what you or I experienced as “success” is not the same thing as what was experienced by Srila Prabhupada and his followers.

Srila Prabhupada gave some explanations, the root of which is that it was a mercy of Lord Caitanya – based on the statement in CC that preaching can become successful only if Lord Caitanya puts His potency in it. On other occasions he attributed it to the power of the holy name, which he saw as absolute. This is the point where I can finally start talking about disappearance – we don’t see the power of Hare Krishna mantra as absolute anymore. An example – one devotee complained about being overwhelmed by sexual desires and Srila Prabhupada’s answer was to simply chant. In his explanation the power of Hare Krishna would drive away all lust from disciple’s heart. In Prabhupada’s experience he saw that happening all around him – hippies were chanting Hare Krishna and forgetting drugs and girlfriends. He saw it worked. We don’t. We offer all kinds of other solutions instead, like “watch your diet” or “stop watching porn”. No one today would say that simply chanting Hare Krishna mantra will solve your lust problem in a minute but Srila Prabhupada meant it exactly like that – chant loudly and lust will be gone immediately.

This is what has disappeared – the power of the holy name, and I would argue that its disappearance is linked to disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. It worked in his presence, we have many anecdotes documenting how minds and hearts immediately became pure in his presence, it was undeniable. Now the name is still with us but without Prabhupada its power is not manifested to the same degree. What I mean to say is that it’s Srila Prabhupada who has disappeared, not the Hare Krishna mantra.

Hare Krishna mantra is not tied to Srila Prabhupada exclusively, we all know that, but Srila Prabhupada gave it a particular potency. Sooo many devotees felt it directly. The annotation to the first Hare Krishna mantra record spoke about it with absolute clarity as if it was obvious to everyone. It was repeated from devotee to devotee, it was all-pervading understanding back then. Now it’s absent and no one talks that way with any conviction.

For me, however, it’s the preaching aspect of that same potency of Srila Prabhupada that disappeared first. Maybe because I can’t recall any miracles associated with Hare Krishna mantra but I was fortunate enough to see mind blowing preaching in action. It had a life on its own and, listening to many remembrances of that era, I don’t know anyone who did not notice it. They usually say only a few words (“millions of books were distributed”) and move on but actually seeing these millions of books going away to meet their eager readers was something else. At the time it was spoken exactly like this – books were going away on their own. They were not sold, not distributed, not given – they were going away on their own, and the entire purpose of sankirtana, as it was called back then, was to find that sweet spot in space and time where, by Lord Caitanya’s mercy, books would get a life of their own and practically distribute themselves against all odds and against all objections. The power was irresistible.

This is what has become absent and, to me, it indicates disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. Of course books were not the only vehicle of this mercy. One time I clearly felt it was when one of Prabhupada’s early disciples was describing San Francisco Ratha Yatra. Not the first one in 1967 but the one a few years later where Srila Prabhpada started the address with “My dear frustrated youth of America” (not exact words, but that’s how some remember it). To me it was the same kind of potency, the same “rasa”, so to speak, as the one I remember from my own life. It still lives in the hearts of at least some of Prabhupada’s followers, but that particular disciple has left his body already. Others remember it but prefer to talk about something else, like today’s politics. There is a lot to be said about why and how and who but let’s not talk about it now.

This disappearance is “mostly Indian” problem because this aspect of Srila Prabhupada’s success was never known there in the first place. They don’t have reference points for it, except may be construction of Juhu and Mayapur temples, which is not a lot in context of the entire Indian history and gets easily overflown by memories and histories of other events. Those other events are no less significant, like self-manifested deity of Radha Ramana, for example, but they are not “Prabhupada”.

For the past twenty something years Indian devotees distributed many more millions of books, and yet I never hear them speaking of book distribution with the same “rasa”. It’s just absent and book distribution means something else to them. Likewise, TOVP is a massive project, far bigger than Juhu, but TOVP presentations do not carry the same “rasa” for me. They rely on other things to “prove” themselves – like everybody should do seva, or everybody should make donations, or everybody should bathe Srila Prabhupada with sacred waters etc, and because of this conviction one should… When Prabhupada was present the proposition itself, whatever it was, had a power of its own, it was self-evident, not reliant on one’s appreciation of “seva” or “donations” or “sacred rivers”. These are aspects of Indian culture and they were totally absent when Prabhupada came to the west. He didn’t have to rely on them at all – his preaching was self-evident and no one know what “seva” even was.

This is a principal point, actually – people didn’t know what seva was and that it should have been offered – they offered service because Prabhupada was there and they felt they should do something in appreciation. Today it’s “you know that seva is important, and therefore you should go and offer it to Prabhupada.”

That’s why I’m saying that Srila Prabhpada has disappeared even though he is arguably at the most remembered stage in ISKCON’s recent history. His name and his pictures are everywhere, but not the actual memory of his presence.

Many of our senior devotees worry about it, they just express it differently. To me this disappearance is not very important – because Srila Prabhpada is present eternally, it’s only us who moved to a different location and, if we so desire, we can move into the place of his presence again.

What I really wanted to say but wrapped it in the disappearance topic is that Srila Prabhupada’s “success” was an entity of its own and even Srila Prabhupada was its servant, that even he wasn’t in control of it. To me this is the biggest manifestation of Lord Caitanya’s mercy and in decades since I haven’t found any substitutes that come even close. And I really mean “any substitutes” – not even if someone starts chanting three lakhs a day or cry incessantly or go into trance every time they see an image of Lord Jagannatha. I would even say that some big name ISKCON gurus of Indian origin have never seen it, simply because they weren’t there when it was manifested, they were in India, but that is a whole other can of worms.

I remember one of these big gurus wanted to visit the zone where preaching was booming but his request was rejected because “his mood would spoil everything”. Today this sounds ridiculous and great many devotees, each of them great in their own ways, would reject this argument out of hand but I, after deliberating on it for some time, would still argue that it was the right thing to do and that Srila Prabhupada’s preaching mood, his preaching rasa, should have been rightfully protected and that once that protection was withdrawn it simply disappeared – scroll to the top to see an explanation how and why.

Congregational plans

This weekend there was a presentation in our temple by a devotee from ISKCON’s Congregational Development Ministry and it was called “Gita for everyone”. I didn’t think much about it and sat down to listen just like everybody else.

The class was illustrated by PowerPoint slides and right in the beginning the devotee said that we should present Bhagavad Gita in a way that is easy, practical, and fun. There was a slide for that as well and it was repeated quite a few times. These Gita meetings should be held regularly and were compared to book clubs, with an appropriate slide of what book clubs are expected to look like – several women lounging about.

Somehow I just don’t see myself as part of that scene, though. I don’t know anyone who goes to book clubs, I understand it’s something bored American housewives do when they need an excuse to start drinking early. I assume they talk about books, of course, but what attracts them to this activity is not what attracts people to Bhagavad Gita, which is certainly not “easy” or “fun”. Or maybe it is now – perhaps I’m completely out of touch with times.

When I joined we were replicating ISKCON of Srila Prabhupada’s time. If we said Krishna Consciousness was easy we meant “drop everything and simply move into the temple”. When we said it was “practical” we meant there was always something to do and we could take part in the most exalted activity – sankirtana mission of Lord Caitanya. When we said it was “fun” we meant uninterrupted flow of nectar of sankirtana pastimes. None of that is compatible with book club settings.

Does it work elsewhere? I remember a devotee who hosts a local bhakti-vṛkṣa program shared her realizations once and her speech was heart rending, not “easy, practical, and fun”. In my view devotees should take Bhagavad Gita way more seriously than was suggested, and they already do.

I’m afraid we substitute real values we should be attracted to in the Gita by values common to modern society – “easy, practical, and fun”. It means we seek low effort (easy), we seek personal profits (practical), and we seek personal enjoyment (fun). I’m afraid all sorts of things will go wrong if we approach Krishna Consciousness with these expectations.

Maybe for some people making donations or offering food immediately brings undeniable prosperity but I’m not one of them. Even if it works it’s still only a karma-miśra-bhakti. I’m sure it’s very attractive to many but weren’t we supposed to propagate pure devotion, not get rich quick schemes?

There was a senior devotee who took interest in me once and the first thing he asked was about what attracts me to Krishna Consciousness. He was visibly relieved when I didn’t say “I like the food, the kirtans, the clothes – the culture”. I know it works for some but there are way too many people who aren’t in the least bit impressed by it. I mean we have the entire Krishna West, after all.

Anyway, from this point in the presentation I realized that I’m not going to be the part of this congregation, it’s just not for me. I have nothing against the devotee doing it, he was very sincere and very sure of what he was saying. As his personal service to the Lord it was certainly great – for him. The sad irony – for me – was that his service is officially called “outreach” and his stated goal was to turn every house on the planet into Krishna temple, and there I was not feeling it at all.

That is not to say I had no interest whatsoever – the biggest part of his presentation was showing how to make sense of Bhagavad Gita – 800 pages, three sections, eighteen chapters etc. When he was asking for each chapter’s title, for example, I tried to volunteer answers just like everybody else – it WAS fun, but it was fun of showing off your memory skills or the fun of showing off your erudition. I’m actually somewhat ashamed I fell for this old trick.

Making sense of the Gita is a big project and it brings the sense of accomplishment, plus it gives you an “inside knowledge” against which you can test anyone you meet with your “do you know that?” questions. I’m too old for this, however, and I know first hand that this kind of knowledge doesn’t last. Chapter titles, verse numbers, Sanskrit and translations – all these things gradually get washed away from the memory, they are impermanent and, therefore, they are not what we should focus on in our studies of Bhagavad Gita.

Actually, the clues were right there in the presentation itself – one verse, even remembering one single word from Bhagavad Gita can relieve the soul from all material contamination. But “remembering” here means something different. It’s not being able to repeat “sarva dharman parityajya” and then claim that you are free from sins, it’s the actual experience of giving up everything and actually feeling weight coming off your shoulders. You don’t even have to remember words for it to happen – this process of surrendering to Krishna comes BEFORE its expression in thoughts and, subsequently, in words. It’s not a mental activity for our minds.

If you say “sarva dharman” but then seek easiness, practicality, and fun it means you haven’t actually abandoned all those other religions and haven’t embraced surrendering to Krishna as your only activity, as your only life and soul.

If the presenter only paused and considered the import of the quotes he included in his presentation he would have realized that it came out as inconsistent – there was a Prabhupada’s quote that during these regular Bhagavad Gita meetings we should chant its hymns and slokas we reverence and devotion, not ease and fun. How did they miss that?

My answer is that this understanding of Bhagavad Gita and what is attractive about it is superficial. Or that they say these things to the larger audience and therefore do not share their personal realizations. Which is another way to say “it’s superficial”. I hope it works and they can attract and maintain a very large congregation. I’m just not going to be a part of it.

PS. One other thing – supplementing your talks with PowerPoint presentations was cool twenty years ago and being attracted to these “marvels” of technology indicates another anartha. Proper sharing of realizations goes straight to the heart of the listener and so relying on visuals is a poor substitution when the real thing is absent. Do it for iPhones, not for imparting transcendental knowledge.

PPS. I didn’t have the heart to express my doubts about that talk publicly, everybody thought it was a success and this is where the future lies. Devotees have become so hopeful I don’t want to discourage them. I can’t pretend I share their enthusiasm either. I hope it won’t become a problem.

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.

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.