Better way conundrum

LA diorama

BG 12.12 is a mind boggling verse:

śreyo hi jñānam abhyāsāj
jñānād dhyānaṁ viśiṣyate
dhyānāt karma-phala-tyāgas
tyāgāc chāntir anantaram

The structure is simple – it’s a list of activities which are progressively better, leading to tyaga, renunciation of results of work, which brings one peace. Figuring out what it means, however, is tough. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s translation:

If you cannot take to this practice, then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge. Better than knowledge, however, is meditation, and better than meditation is renunciation of the fruits of action, for by such renunciation one can attain peace of mind.

The problem is that dedicating fruits of one’s labor to various KC causes was given as the lowest in the preceding verses, which went “if you can’t do that then do this” fashion.

Śrīla Prabhupāda solves this by saying that there are two distinct paths – one of devotional service and one of gradual elevation, and it’s this gradual elevation that culminates in giving one’s money to the right cause. I mean before you give your money to temple construction you should really think about it (dhyāna), and to contemplate it you need to know that it’s even an option (jñāna), and before that one needs… What exactly?

He begins the second sentence in the purport with “For those who are actually not able to follow the principles of Kṛṣṇa consciousness it is better to cultivate knowledge…” See the problem? It’s not that jñāna is better than abhyāsa (practice), as follows from word-for-word: “śreyaḥ — better; hi — certainly; jñānam — knowledge; abhyāsāt — than practice,” but now it’s “jñāna is better than NOT following abhyāsa“. Or maybe he meant the path of devotion, as I said earlier and as declared in the first sentence, and the meaning is “if you cannot follow that direct method then take to the gradual path”. This makes sense, but then what is that thing that jñāna is “better than”? What is meant by abhyāsa?

Look at the verse translation again: “If you cannot take to this practice, then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge.” The sequence of “this better than that” is already broken here and becomes “this is better than NOT doing that”, which is not supported by Sanskrit, at least as far as I can see.

Our ācāryas do not make it any clearer, I’m sad to say. Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary can be found here and he reads this verse in a totally different way. He doesn’t talk aboutn gradual elevation to taking up the process of devotional service but about progress in devotional service itself, which starts with following sādhana, which then leads to self-realization (jñāna), which then leads to meditation (dhyāna), and then to complete disconnect of senses from enjoying sense objects. In other words, by karma-phala-tyāga he means not giving one’s money to temples but stopping the senses from dwelling on any objects except Kṛṣṇa’s form and qualities. He says this is how the last word (anantaram) is linked to śreyaḥ and viśiṣyate (viśiṣyate — is considered better;) in the first line. Then he concludes “No other explanation can be considered.”

Well… We already have a differeLA dioramant explanation from Śrīla Prabhupāda, so… But let’s see how Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa explains it, too. I don’t know if his commentary is available online but if you google for it you can find a .doc file to download. First of all, his translation is already different:

Realization of ātmā is preferable to practicing remembrance of the Lord, but practice of meditation on ātmā is preferable to realization of ātmā. Preferable to practice of meditation on ātmā is renunciation of the results of work. From this detachment one finally gets purity.

Keep in mind that he didn’t write this translation – it’s how the English translator understood this verse from Baladeva’s commentary and from his own knowledge of Sanskrit. This translation, btw, is straightforward from word-for-word translations in Prabhupāda’s Gīta and that’s how I understand this verse, too. One could say that I should understand this verse from Prabhupāda’s translation first and then work backwards and mold Sanskrit meanings to fit with it but I’m not comfortable doing that. For one thing, Śrīla Prabhupāda never lectured on this verse and never quoted it elsewhere and available manuscript (transcription of a tape) is less than clear, too:

All we have on this verse

The translation already starts with “if one is unable” which is not evident from word-for-word, and in word-for-word it’s “Abhyasaj — by practice” rather than “abhyāsāt — than practice;” in the current version. 1972 Gīta had “abhyasat—by practice,” however. Which one is correct? To me Baladeva’s translation (by Bhānu Swami) makes perfect sense and it’s the other versions than need to fit into it, at least for now. Maybe one day someone can explain how “if one is unable” can be derived from Sanskrit and then I will gladly accept it, but until that day comes I would consider Śrīla Prabhupāda’s translation as conveying the meaning rather than strictly following Sanskrit words.

So Baladeva’s is the best? Not so fast. He also writes:

“Better (easier) than not accomplishing continuous, permanent remembrance (abhyāsāt) of the Lord is jñāna, direct perception of your own ātmā. Better than not accomplishing realization of ātmā (jñānāt) which is the door to realization of Paramātmā, is the practice of meditation (dhyānam) on one’s own ātmā…”

This structure is different from the structure of the verse itself. Now it’s “this is better than failing that”, just as Śrīla Prabhupāda starts his verse translation. The verse, however, goes “this is better than doing that” with no hint of taking the opposite meaning of “not doing that”. As I said – this verse is mind boggling.

On the plus side Śrīla Baladeva explains what is meant by abhyāsa here (remember how this was missing from Prabhupāda’s purport):

“Abhyāsa here means “uninterrupted” remembrance of the Lord, a very elevated stage of sādhana. In verse 9, abhyāsa refered to practice.”

Oh, wait, it’s the explanation supplied by the translator in a footnote, it’s not in the Sanskrit commentary itself. How reliable is it? How can we be sure that in this verse and three verses earlier the same word refers to two different things? Well, at least it makes sense. But not the sense Śrīla Prabhupāda put in his purport, which is also correct.

In the end this is how I understand it – there are two ways of progress, one leading to taking up devotional service and the other starting from devotional service as sādhana and leading to perfection. And by perfection we mean mind’s complete disconnect from this world and complete absorption in Kṛṣṇa’s actual form (as opposed to forced mental images of the abhyāsa stage).

Taking up devotional service is the center point and two paths are a kind of reflection one one another, so mirroring becomes possible – “this is better than NOT doing that” as compared to “this is better than that”. The culmination of the verse (karma-phala-tyāga) then comes to mean two different things – selfless renunciation of earned money to Kṛṣṇa and renunciation of ANY sensual activity. They are not different in principle (renounce and give to Kṛṣṇa) but very different in experience (“give my money” and “don’t even know what money is anymore”).

Ultimately, it’s not a question of what the verse means but a question of what it means to me. If there are other correct meanings applicable to other people it’s perfectly fine, but first and foremost we should correctly get the meaning intended for us. And then to other people we can explain it in the way intended for them.

Śrīla Prabhupāda talks about this in the purport, too:

“One may take either the step-by-step process or the direct path. The direct process is not possible for everyone; therefore the indirect process is also good. It is, however, to be understood that the indirect process is not recommended for Arjuna, because he is already at the stage of loving devotional service to the Supreme Lord.”

Either way, the result declared in the verse is attainment of śāntiḥ — peace. What this “peace” means depends on the individual. For people on the outside it means taking shelter of Kṛṣṇa and the Holy Name but for devotees on the inside it means complete detachment from tribulations of living inside the body and the body living inside the world. Once you attain that then another cycle of abhyāsa-jñana-tyaga begins. I could speculate that abhyāsa would come to mean directly seeing the Lord, jñāna would mean realization that Kṛṣṇa’s form is the best, and tyāga would mean rejecting all traces of Vaikuṇṭha and aiśvarya moods which have no place in Vraja.

PS. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī gives “devotional” names for these stages – jñāna is manana, meaning thinking about the Lord, dhyāna is smaraṇa, meaning having the Lord always residing in one’s head, and by tyāga he means giving up desires for svarga or mokṣa. This makes sense, too.



For a long time I was thinking about an interesting trait in people – hunger. Not hunger that needs food but hunger for life, hunger to get something or to accomplish something. It feels like an unquestionable must and most often we don’t even notice it in us. “Lust for life” is another expression but various meanings of “lust” need another explanation so let’s go with “hunger”. For one thing, lust naturally appears when one is well fed, slightly drunk, and otherwise safe and comfortable. That’s not what I’m talking about – I’m talking about hunger where there is a genuine need even before food appears or, in this case, desires take shape in your mind. You don’t even know what exactly it is that you want, what it is that you hunger for, but you feel that you need, you absolutely must change your situation, that it can’t go on as it is.

That’s when the Supersoul arranges for you to make it happen, depending on guna and karma of course, but He will make it happen because that’s what you want, that’s what you committed yourself to. And not in the mind, mind you, but deeper than that, before you yourself even know what it is. At this point it has no shape, practically speaking, just a deep, animalistic urge to do something. When I say “make it happen” I mean the Lord makes it your “bhava”. Again, tons of meaning to this word but the essential one is “being” as in “You are a being of this world.” It wasn’t there before but now it is, it has been created. This is also the meaning behind “bhu” in “Bhu-mandala” and this is what makes us residents of this part of the universe. This is where this hunger becomes manifested through the full set of empirical objects.

If you don’t have it, if you are happy to simply contemplate things in your mind and thus become satisfied within yourself then you are suited for living somewhere on Svarga. It’s as simple as that, really. If you have this hunger then Bhu-mandala is where your must come to make it expressed.

Srila Prabhupada have certainly noticed this hunger in his American disciples – they were all meant to accomplish big things. Not just things but BIG things. Whatever you do, it must be big, accomplished, sophisticated, detailed, well thought through, well managed etc, not just big in terms of size. Americans are the people who can make it happen. As a side note – Russians have now decided to stand up to Americans but they are nowhere near as thorough in their efforts to achieve anything. Maybe they smell that Americans are losing this ability and so they have a chance, but that’s a whole other discussion.

This hunger also expresses your distinctive personality. For one thing it’s unique to you – it’s what they call “find yourself” when speaking to teenage audience. “Be yourself” and other variations are pointing out to that same thing – your unique hunger that needs to be expressed. Children, for example, can be taught to do all kinds of things. At school they all have uniform engagements – draw the same pictures, write same essays, create same science projects, run around the same track, play the same ball and so on, but besides all this uniformity teachers try to find in their students something that makes them unique and help them express it. That’s the search for hunger I’m talking about.

You can want the same juicer as your neighbor, same car, watch the same Netflix, but there is this hunger that is unique only to you and when you get to express it people would recognize your input because it’s not a duplicate of anything. Or you can learn tunes and try to sing like Aindra but you will never become Aindra, you can’t possibly replace his hunger for the Holy Name and so you have to find your own and then, if you are “American” enough, express it through your own tunes and your own style of singing and playing. You have to find your own service to the Lord instead of doing someone else’s. It’s Bhagavad Gita 101, after all – follow your own nature and purify it by offering it to the Lord. There is no need for another Aindra, the one we had was perfect as he was and for every imitation out there we can always listen to the original. So find your own voice. I’m speaking to myself here, even though I don’t even play harmonium.

Anyway, where was I? Ah, hunger. Here is a twist. This kind of hunger, hopes, aspirations has a Sanskrit word for it – “asa”. I have been noticing it for a while now even if no big verse comes to mind. Vedabase has plenty of examples to study if you want. Having hopes is not enough, however – the wishes must be granted and there is a verb for that as well, or rather root verb, dhatu – “ra, rā , रा , to give; to grant”. So, when the Lord makes it happen for us then, together with our hunger, it become “asura” – granting of wishes. I heard another meaning to “ra” – becoming attached. I don’t know how it is derived but let’s trust Sanskritologists for now – asuras are those who are attached to fulfillment of their hunger. They demand it happen. Devas, on the other hand, are largely indifferent. Their hunger does not control them and they either don’t have it or don’t mind it.

This is why Krishna says there are to types of being in this world. Only two. There are bigger classifications – five, eight, nine, or in astrology there are nine planets and twelve houses so their typology is very extensive, but at the bottom of all this there are only two – those attached to material life, who absolutely need to make it happen, and those who aren’t.

As we know, originally these two types of beings lived in different regions of the universe, then in different countries, then in different families, but in Kali Yuga everything became mixed in each single person. On the plus side it makes it easier for us to study it and behave appropriately. By “behave” I don’t mean external behavior but developing a proper inner attitude.

Of course our first reaction is to purge our personality of asuric qualities and develop daivi qualities instead and it’s certainly a noble endeavor, fully approved by sastra and prescribed by all acharyas, but there are limitations to it, namely – one has to act according to his own nature. So unless our nature changes we shouldn’t imitate devatas. We can, and it has been shown in practice, fully immerse ourselves in sattvic lifestyle and develop a perfect sadhana. It’s possible, but it also has been demonstrated that unless this sadhana is based on our nature this effort will not be sustainable. The trick here is to change our nature before the steam runs out and we give up. There is a lot of skill involved in trying to change our nature and it’s not as straightforward as sadhana rules, but this is not what interests me here.

Look at it another way – if you think the best course of action is to change your nature and fill with daivi qualities then this is your hope and you expect it to happen, which is a definition of asura in the first place!

Like I said – this hunger is deep within us and the Supersoul smells it BEFORE we even know what it is. By the time we make a plan to become better devotees the Lord has already noticed it and it smelled of asura bhava. It’s not the end of the world and this asura bhava needs to be changed so we get our “ten steps to better sadhana” plans or “ten ways I can improve my japa” lists and such. Asuras get their asuric solutions – the path towards the goal must be made clear and doable. Otherwise there would be genuine fear that their hunger will not be fulfilled and they won’t even start.

I’d say we should abstract ourselves from all that. It’s not who we are, it’s just guna imposed natures – we are not creating them, we take shelter of them and it’s a big difference. We express ourselves through them but it’s not who we are, so don’t take it too seriously. We can’t stop ourselves from doing these things because it’s the nature (as in Lord’s energy) that directs and controls the flow so we can’t stop them. But we can observe ourselves going with the flow. And it IS going with the flow even when we apparently try to change the world. Normally it’s assumed that going with the flow means keeping burning fossil fuels and driving petrol or diesel powered cars but now, it’s nature’s course to obstruct this development and impose a new, “green” one instead. In nature’s flow there are waves and waves sometimes clash with each other. This doesn’t make *you* a revolutionary, it’s still going with the flow, just the one you are not aware of yet.

So go with the flow, keeping in mind that the flow also means changing course – don’t look only at what’s ahead of you but also at the flow that drives the change from behind, and abstract yourself from all of it. Just watch it happen and take notice how all these happenings are perfectly designed to make you Krishna conscious.

Oh, yeah, Krishna, I haven’t said a word about Him yet, but it’s for a reason – as long as we are trapped in the waves of nature we can’t see Him. We can see material objects and call them Krishna and there is certainly a value in that, but looking at Krishna dolls and seeing Krishna Himself are not one and the same experience. Also, if you keep watching the world going in its ways, you will notice Lord Caitanya’s contribution to its evolution. He inserted the holy name into this world, He gave the world Hare Krishna mantra, He prepared people for taking it, and all the while people were seeing it as a material object! Thus there is a certain pace to evolution of Hare Krishna as well. It’s not as fast as we planned it in the 70s but it’s there.

When Covid came we thought the Golden Age would speed up and finally happen within our lifetimes but that’s only our projection again. Let’s just sit back and watch how it really develops. It took Hare Krishna five hundred years to go outside of India and in fifty years since India itself degraded greatly so changing the whole world to Satya yuga conditions is not a matter of years and not a matter of decades, so let’s just sit and watch, and not forget to do our part, too – not just for the sake of preaching or world evolution but for our own purification first and foremost. The world will do fine without us but if we lose our souls then we are done and the world won’t even notice.


I think we have more in common than it appears at first. Babylon is a Biblical city where they built a Tower of Babel. I would say that’s how historians interpret it in terms familiar to them but it could be just their angle on what is unquestionably implied already – Babylon was an organization.

When an organization builds a place for its members it would be called “city”, but you can’t have a city without having organization first. Two-three thousand years from now ISKCON Mayapur could also be seen as an ancient city and it would be so recorded in local chronicles, too – it doesn’t have any special name, it’s “ISKCON” for everybody living in the area, it’s a place, and it soon will be the size of a city.

The name “Babylon” comes from the local language for “Gate of God” and ISKCON is undeniably positions itself as the gateway to the spiritual world, too. Some argue that people can get there bypassing ISKCON but I would question that, it’s a different topic, however, let’s not go into it right now.

So we have two distinctive characteristics that are matching already – a spiritual organization that purports to transfer its members to the Kingdom of God. And then there was the Tower.

The account is recorded in Genesis 11, but there are so many translations there I have no idea which one is the best. The top of this tower was supposed to be in heaven, or reach heaven. And they wanted a name for themselves, too, so that they could be distinguished from the rest of the world. Like “Hare Krishnas”. We don’t say that the top of TOVP will be in heaven or reach Goloka, but we certainly hope that our “top” devotees will have full realization of their spiritual identity and reach Krishna’s personal association. We also have an organization that supports this progress to the top. It might not be an actual tower, but we use other words like “ladder” and “pyramid” so if the future historians come across them they might think we actually tried to built a pyramid reaching Vaikuntha.

Regardless, the meaning is the same – we have a structure that allows people at the bottom progress upwards and reach the top. We are proud of providing this structure, it’s our self-identification and the essence of our existence – preaching. We also want a “house for the whole world to live in” – how’s that not a tower? Okay, it isn’t a tower yet, not at the moment, where we assume that all our members are spiritually equal, all are deserving equal services and equal respect, but it’s a temporary vision and there is a great battle against this equality going on as we speak. In the end it WILL be a tower – some people and some sections of our society will be seen as being higher and some as lower. No one can resist varnasrama forever, it will assert itself because it’s the will of the Lord for how people should be organized in this world. The point is the same – we take people from mleccha and yavana background and we aim to promote them to the highest levels of bhakti, and, hopefully, to direct perception of the Lord. That’s what the tower does, too.

God’s reaction in the Bible, however, is not at all encouraging. There is no direct explanation given but God somehow didn’t want all these people in His heaven. His first words were already about how to squash this effort, not about why. In our ISKCON language it’s about rooting out sahajiya tendencies – only the purest of the pure can actually reach Krishna, not the sahajiyas, not the ones who take it very cheaply. For sahajiyas there is no entrance into spiritual realm whatsoever. They shall not pass.

Quoted from Gauidya:

The disease of prākṛta-sahajiyā-ism is very widespread. In a form that devours everything, takes various shapes, and steals the mind, it wanders throughout the universe, increasing the covering of those jīvas captured by a seemingly natural tendency to reject Kṛṣṇa, and by severe offenses to Vaiṣṇavas, it causes further degradation of the bound jīvas and uprooting of their devotional creeper.

Gauḍīya 11.409

In other words, while the endeavor for spiritual perfection is legitimate and there need to be a structure supporting one’s progress, unless there are guards in place to weed out less than perfect aspirants the Tower cannot be allowed to reach its destination. How did God go about that in the Bible?

The Tower of Babel episode is cited as an ancient explanation of appearance of many languages and that’s how it can be seen by historians, too, but that is the result, not the process, not God’s solution. His solution was to “confound their language”, which we can safely take as “ruin their common understanding”. Once people stopped thinking in the same way their cooperation stopped and so did the construction. Who has failed to notice the same scenario playing out in ISKCON right now, too?

Do I need to mention all the contentious issues of today? I hope not. What I did notice only recently, however, is that we began to understand the same passages very differently and become very sure in our interpretations as being right and the only possible. I don’t want to give examples of this happening in real life, but I have seen devotees from opposing camps literally unable to understand what they were talking about. A quote from the Bhagavad Gita purport is appropriate in this regard:

In the mode of goodness, one can see things in the right position, one can hear things in the right position, and…

BG 14.11, purport

We have reached the point where levels of our conditioning (or levels of purity, if you look from the other end) are so different that we can’t see and hear in the same way. Whether it leads to creation of a different language is only a question of time, I’d say. In the greater society they have already created a different language to explain themselves and I, like many others, have to rely on google to understand their newly minted vocabulary. Which I immediately forget, so it doesn’t really help.

So, with so many parallels between ISKCON and Babylon, is the fate of Babel Tower is our destiny, too? I hope not, and I’m afraid so at the same time. The current project of making topmost levels of spiritual advancement being easily accessible to all is surely going to fail and it is failing already.

Last year I signed up for a virtual Kartik parikrama and I had my fill of “Imagine you are immersing yourself in the waters of Radha Kunda. Imagine the …” stories for the rest of my life. Never again. People who indulge in these narrations and assume any of it is real will eventually get tired of them, too. It’s only a matter of time, and the fact that there is a large part of our society that thinks it’s a kind of sahajiya that needs to be rejected is a testament that God’s plan for Babylon is at work in ISKCON, too. In another example some incensed members recently called for boycotting fundraising for TOVP, the project which was supposed to unite all the people of the world around it, not just all the devotees.

That’s a negative projection, but I also hope that ISKCON will survive as an organization supporting the progress of its qualified members towards the highest destination. I myself need this. I need books, I need temples, I need devotees going to the temples and holding festivals and engaging in daily Krishna katha so that it then appears on Youtube. I need devotees buying books so that other devotees can write and publish them, or at least write blog articles and post things on Facebook. This won’t be happening without audience and audience means ISKCON should create and nurture it, for no other organization will. I don’t know about reaching heaven, but we all need to make steps up the ladder, and for that the ladder must exist and provide solid support.

I thought I would end here but there is another aspect to any organization – it stifles individuals. What some see as support others see as oppression. Or it might be an evolving view of one and the same person – as support in the beginning and as an impediment later on. So another kind of experience might be noticed, too – we are wondering around this huge structure, with all its staircases, lifts, and escalators, and people hurrying here and there busy with their own progress, and we keep looking for anyone who is still alive, whose spirit is still alive, who doesn’t hold grudges, who doesn’t fight the oppressors and who doesn’t lead revolutions, but knows his way around the place and can show us wonderful things hidden here and there, or who can bring us to the higher floors and open our eyes to the wonderful vistas available there. Meeting such a person would be a blessing, so we will keep looking.

And another thing – please don’t turn our kirtans into elevator musak. That would make it into a part of the tower, not live expression of the soul we are looking for here.

Vanity thought #1666. Devilish thoughts

My last speculation about the Lord keeping historical accuracy of our relationships with him birth after birth might go against some most basic principles of spiritual progress. Given the 666 in the number of today’s post, however, some devilish entertainment is only natural so let me indulge for the moment, something good might come out of it anyway.

The idea is that we were not randomly plucked out of a crowd of faceless materialists but were placed in our current position according to our previous karma and, more importantly, our previous service to the Lord. In this case to Lord Caitanya. Considering how little progress we make in our present life it’s not such an outrageous idea. With all our chanting we should have made giant strides but it doesn’t happen. Why? Maybe we expect progress in the wrong area.

For a materialist traveling through eight million species of life each new birth is progress, it gives him new abilities, new opportunities, new modes of sense enjoyment, everything looks new and improved. This is the kind of progress we expect from our spiritual life, too – we want to perceive the holy name better or see the deities as God and not as brass dolls on the altar, for example. And I mean actually see the Lord standing there because our eyes only perceive inanimate matter when we look. We might also expect penetrating insights into the workings of material energy, the ability to see past, present, and future, the ability to immediately judge one’s spiritual position and give appropriate advice etc. That last one is what happens to our gurus in ISKCON, we assume. They start off as fresh bhaktas, get shaved up, taught to chant and preach, get initiated, and then voila – ten-twenty years later they are promoted to sannyāsa and allowed to initiate. These days it’s not so easy but that was the general path for Prabhupāda disciples. We assume that because of their guru status they possess some superhuman powers, at least in spiritual matters. Our gurvaṣṭaka prayers are pretty explicit about out assumptions of what to expect from our guru, too, so no one can really blame us.

This kind of progress is still materialistic because it’s materially visible and materially measurable. We can’t see how the guru is serving the feet of Rāḍha and Kṛṣṇa in private groves of Vṛndāvana but we can see that he was declared a guru so it must be there – there’s still a materially perceptible designation to make him qualified. When we define our spiritual progress in such terms we can easily imagine what kind of birth would be a step up in the next life. We also have Kṛṣṇa’s assurances in Bhagavad Gītā that even if we fail to return to Him at the end of this life we’ll be placed in favorable conditions in the next and those conditions are defined materially – a family of a brāhmaṇa, for example.

So, how can I propose anything different? Because chanting of the holy name already granted us liberation even if it might not look so to our material eyes. We still suffer and enjoy and our minds are still attracted to material objects and they are still very very hard to control, where is liberation here? To counter this I’d say that we are liberated from the clutches of material energy and everything that happens to us now is lovingly controlled by the Lord Himself. But what about material desires? He recognizes our material desires and He arranges for their fulfillment in the most spiritually harmless way, it is not dictated by cold karma anymore. There’s another discussion to be had on whether law of karma is actually cold and impersonal but let’s leave it for now.

The point is that we are fully in the hands of the Lord, in every conceivable aspect of our lives, and if we don’t see unicorns and rainbows that’s because we don’t love Him in return yet, we are just coming around to realization that it would be a great idea but we are still attached to our “freedom”.

And that is why might need to disassociate our expectations of progress from materialistic perspective. We don’t need to get a better birth, we are perfectly capable of chanting where we are now. There might be relatively more or less material obstacles but they cannot override the irrevocable fact – we’ve been given the holy name and we can chant it. If it’s more difficult than for others then it could be so that we appreciate it more. One name uttered in the state of helplessness could be more spiritually valuable than sixty four rounds chanted in comfort of our home, who knows?

Material obstacles can’t hinder our spiritual progress but they might encourage us to give up our attachments to safety and comfort. We might think that in the next life we need better arrangements for our chanting but do we really? What’s stopping us from achieving perfection in chanting right where we are now? It’s the desire for better arrangements, that’s what. One split second of perfect association can grant us full spiritual perfection and it’s freely available, what better arrangements do we need? So what if we might spend years waiting for this moment to finally come? Kṛṣṇa, or rather Lord Caitanya, who is in charge of our progress, sees the bigger picture and He is infinitely patient. Waiting is not a problem for Him and it shouldn’t be a problem for us either. The state of kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ is tested precisely by the ability to chant patiently regardless of all kinds of obstacles and the desire to remove those obstacles goes against this principle. When we want better conditions in the next life, even if ostensibly for chanting, it means we still have material hankerings.

How will the Lord deal with them? I’d say He doesn’t need to place us into these better conditions. Judging by the state of our knowledge of philosophy and currently present spiritual opportunities we should be ready to achieve perfection right where we are, we just need more practice in service and detachment.

There’s also the issue of yukta-vairāgya where we must learn to engage everything we see in the service of the Lord. In this spirit we shouldn’t be asking for more stuff when we can’t deal with what we already have. Why would we need a “better” birth when we can’t fully utilize the present one? I’d say that it’s far better to discover connection to Kṛṣṇa where we don’t see it yet rather than demand advancement to the next level.

That’s why we might be born again and again precisely in these conditions, five hundred years after the appearance of Lord Caitanya. We still have plenty of spiritual progress to make here and this work shouldn’t be visible to the materialistic eyes anyway because they can’t see devotion and devotion does not have to manifest externally either.

But what about visible spiritual progress of the kind we can see in our ISKCON? What about it? I’d say it’s no different from a baby learning to walk and talk. We can replay it life after life, this external recognition of our externally visible efforts doesn’t matter, it’s just striving for fame and glory and it would eventually go away once we lived this life a few times.

It’s a fascinating topic, maybe I’ll continue it later.

Vanity thought #1603. Problem with ecstasy.

Last time I mentioned something about symptoms of ecstasy – they are not universal proof of one’s advancement and therefore expecting our devotees to display them to prove that ISKCON works is unjustified. There’s a one curious Bhāgavatam verse in this regard (SB 2.3.24):

    Certainly that heart is steel-framed which, in spite of one’s chanting the holy name of the Lord with concentration, does not change when ecstasy takes place, tears fill the eyes and the hairs stand on end.

On the surface the idea seems very simple – only stone hearts do not melt when chanting the holy name. This is how I remember and understand it instinctively. Perhaps I’m confusing it with some other similar verse, probably from the songs of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, but this is not what this śloka says. Let me read it again, I still don’t get the full range of its implications.

First, it talks about steel framed hearts, aśma-sāram, which means it must be a rhetorical device because no one has actual steel framed hearts. Clicking around Sanskrit translations shows that aśma means stone and sāram means essence so it would be correct to translate it as “stone-hearted”, too, doesn’t make a difference to the meaning.

Secondly, the verse talks about those who chant the holy name with concentration, which is a no small feat. We’ve been trying this for years with little success – concentration is elusive. The exact word is dheyaiḥ and it means concentration and meditation, not just walking around, checking the birds and making plans for the rest of the day. We are talking about serious chanting here.

And then there’s the kicker – this heart does not change WHEN ecstasy takes place. Not that the person doesn’t experience ecstasy, he does, and there are two symptoms given of this ecstasy – tears fill the eyes and hairs stand on end, but it doesn’t change the heart. What is going on here?

We’d be glad to experience some ecstasy, we have śikṣāṣṭaka verse begging for it (CC Antya 20.36):

    ‘My dear Lord, when will My eyes be beautified by filling with tears that constantly glide down as I chant Your holy name? When will My voice falter and all the hairs on My body stand erect in transcendental happiness as I chant Your holy name?’

If Lord Caitanya only hoped that one day it would happen to Him, what about our expectations? And, according to Bhāgavatam, if we finally achieve that state it still doesn’t guarantee the change in our hearts? That’s depressing. Let’s see what Śrīla Prabhupāda says in the purport.

I’m not going to paste it here or go through it sentence by sentence, it’s too long for this, but there’s a general thrust there – this verse condemns prākṛta-sahajiyās. It needs to be noted, however that this term was given to us by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, no one has heard of it before, and therefore proper explanation of what it means is in order, which is what Śrīla Prabhupāda did in the purport.

The first paragraph puts this śloka in context as it comes in the third chapter of this Canto. This is where direct worship of Viṣṇu is finally recommended and is “suggested herein in relation to the change of heart”. The whole chapter is titled “Pure Devotional Service: The Change in Heart” and this verse is its culmination. After that the discussion shifts to the matters of creation.

Next paragraph explains what is this expected change of heart should be. It’s not about attaining love of God and manifesting bhāva but about accepting one’s position as Lord’s eternal servant and detachment from material world that goes hand in hand with it. This is what we are supposed to achieve, not walking around crying and shaking. Śrīla Prabhupāda does mention symptoms of ecstasy and that they are a natural consequences of this change of heart and he deals with the apparent contradiction later. His next paragraph explains that if we do not observe material detachment that it must be due to offenses and only due to offenses, there are no other reasons.

Second half of the purport deals with bhāva and it relies on Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī and even Rūpa Gosvāmī opinions to condemn unscrupulous neophytes’ imitations of it. Apparently it has a long history, going back possibly as far as Lord Caitanya Himself. Hmm, actually there’s a story with Haridāsa Ṭhākura and a snake charmer where one of such imitators tried to steal crowd’s attention but was beaten with a stick.

While condemning the imitators Śrīla Prabhupāda also says: “They are sometimes even affected by the reflection of such transcendental symptoms, yet if they still do not give up the forbidden habits, then they are hopeless cases for transcendental realization.” So they can experience glimpses of actual symptoms, not always imitate them, but they are still hopeless for transcendental realization.

In the next paragraph Śrīla Prabhupāda cites the example of the meeting of Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya and how the Lord had to suppress His ecstasy because other people were present. This is proof that even the first class devotees do not display bhāva all the time, for “certain circumstantial reasons”, and therefore

    … real, steady bhāva is definitely displayed in the matter of cessation of material desires (kṣānti), utilization of every moment in the transcendental loving service of the Lord (avyārtha-kālatvam), eagerness for glorifying the Lord constantly (nāma-gāne sadā ruci), attraction for living in the land of the Lord (prītis tad-vasati sthale), complete detachment from material happiness (virakti), and pridelessness (māna-śūnyatā). One who has developed all these transcendental qualities is really possessed of the bhāva stage, as distinguished from the stonehearted imitator or mundane devotee.

Six fool proof symptoms of progress are given – absence of material desires, constant engagement in service, eagerness to chant, desire to live in holy dhāma, indifference to material happiness, and absence of pride. It’s not very difficult to find ISKCON devotees manifesting those and we should take them over any other external “proofs”. All other traditions must be hiding their advanced devotees, or, more likely, no advanced devotee would even engage in a attack on ISKCON or Śrīla Prabhupāda. Unfortunately, it’s the loudmouthed ones that set the tone of public discourse, especially on the internet, and it’s one of the reasons why I think internet is a giant waste of time.

Vanity thought #1600. We got spunk

For a couple of days I’ve been writing not so flattering things about other religious traditions and if any of that was said in a public forum we’d immediately be challenged to provide proof of our superiority. If we look into our our hearts we might find that we want to see this proof as well, that all the accusations that Hare Kṛṣṇas got annoyingly loud mouths and that’s all there’s to us might be true. Today I want to address these doubts.

First of all, we should remove all doubts from our own consciousness. If we are not sure about what we say then others will pick up on this hesitation, too. They might sense it directly or they might pick up on braver than usual arguments – it’s a known psychological phenomenon to conceal one’s doubts by speaking louder. We can object that Śrīla Prabhupāda was even heavier but people know the difference between speaking from conviction and speaking from self-doubt, they do it all the time. You know how they say that it takes a thief to know the thief – they all have dabbled and they all have first hand knowledge of what BS smells like. Someone somewhere will notice and we will be finished, end of conversation.

There’s another reason why we should defeat our own doubts first – Kṛṣṇa consciousness is a personal experience, it deals with transcendental reality that is inaccessible to people’s senses. We can’t “prove” it because it’s beyond the purview of eyes, ears, or even logic. It can be demonstrated only by opening people’s hearts to Kṛṣṇa and that happens only in association with devotees. Who are these devotees? We are! There’s usually no one else around, we have to do it ourselves. If we fail then we’d be considered as boastful empty-talkers, end of conversation again. There’s still a chance that people get their Kṛṣṇa consciousness elsewhere, like the books, but if they dismiss us they might not even read them or take them seriously enough.

We also should not expect to remain neophytes forever. Our personal perception of our progress is one thing, it should become lower and lower, but it’s not an excuse to preclude Kṛṣṇa from using us as His preaching tool. We can’t say that because we are neophytes Kṛṣṇa cannot do something. We are not special and denying Kṛṣṇa’s mercy would be a misuse of our humility. Our progress is not up to us, Kṛṣṇa is the most hardworking one in our relationships, and so we can’t say that He failed to make us into devotees just because we are so fallen and so “humble”. However fallen, no one is below Lord Caitanya’s mercy, we are not going to limit it by our “special” condition.

The fact of the matter is that Kṛṣṇa is real and advaya-jñāna is real and we are not in a position to restrain its flow. If we surrender ourselves and chant the holy name it WILL work, it WILL become our direct experience, and it can’t be resisted. We’d read books, we’d seek association, we’d become inspired, we’d try to preach, one thing would lead to another and advaya-jñana would reveal itself without a fail. It probably won’t become a permanent fixture in our lives but it will become undeniable and it would disappear only to make us strive for it with higher intensity.

It might take some time but one of the first qualities we develop with practice is patience, and patience also comes with age, so waiting is not a problem. One of the signs to progress is not worrying about time, as soon as the mode of passion subsides time ceases to be an issue. It happens naturally and automatically as part of anartha nivṛtti, we don’t have to worry about it, just be sincere in our efforts, which in itself is a function of chanting.

There are millions of ways to screw our progress towards advaya-jñāna and we should avoid them as best as we can but they are also the same ways that prevent others accessing it, too, and so knowing our own faults makes it easier to explain theirs to them. If we make continuous, conscious efforts to avoid offenses then Kṛṣṇa will cooperate and provide us with necessary intelligence as He promised in Bhagavad Gītā, and then it snowballs from there. Less offenses lead more direct perception of the advaya-jñāna, which lead to less material attachments, which lead to more nectar, which lead to stronger convictions and more determination to avoid further offenses – it becomes unstoppable and feeds on itself. It’s a still long way to go to experience Kṛṣṇa directly but should quickly become more than enough to stand our ground in conversations with ordinary people.

The thing about modern society is that no one even tries anymore, their “new normal” absolutely precludes them from making any spiritual progress and it makes them lose all faith in transcendental reality. Sex, for example, is an absolute must for them and it immediately blinds one to his spiritual nature, it ties them to their material bodies and they can’t perceive neither themselves nor the others as anything else but sex objects. They might listen to us talking about the soul but when they look around all they see is bodies so they don’t believe us and they don’t believe we might see the same world differently.

Meat eating is another insurmountable problem, and alcohol, too. I would also add the internet as a modern form of gambling. They might not place any bets on it but it’s just as addictive. I don’t want to discuss the similarities and differences between gambling and drinking addictions at this time, suffice it to say that it blinds people to reality and fills them with illusion, and I would insist that internet is just as dangerous.

Our process is very simple – stay clean, chant, and it WILL work, but people don’t believe us, they can’t imagine someone staying away from sex or bacon. For some reason those of them who are vegan are not so receptive to our message either. I think I can try to explain it but not today. Otherwise, the direct experience of one’s spiritual nature is open to all.

Sometimes we ourselves lose it and we seek some complicated explanations. We might make the path of our progress unusually long and troublesome, we might talk up our obstacles, move the goalposts, do whatever it takes to justify our lack of realization but the answer is usually very simple – maintaining our attachments. I assume we’ve learned to avoid offenses already, otherwise it would be the first item on a checklist.

Ex-ISKCON devotees often don’t get the offenses part, and also the part where they reject their gurus or even Śrīla Prabhupāda. They take the position where advaya-jñāna becomes impossible and when then don’t see it in their own lives they conclude that it couldn’t exist in ISKCON either, because they are so much better than us, it unimaginable that we would make progress when they don’t.

For ISKCON devtoees it’s the attachment part that wrecks our spiritual lives. It might not wreck our lives in general or even our lives within ISKCON itself but we can’t attain advaya-jñāna while keeping our attachments. Those of us who left temples for sex with husbands or wives are doomed to lose the perception of the Absolute even if we manage to stay nominally within ISKCON. There are great many of us to form our own club and it’s easier to sin in company but it won’t take us closer to Kṛṣṇa, it just won’t.

Also, there are legitimate ways for advaya-jñāna to be perceived and there are manufactured ones, but it’s a topic for another day, I’m done for now.

Vanity thought #1503. Perfect progress

Our path towards our goal is charted in stone, no one gets to make it any other way, though shortcuts in the form of causeless mercy are allowed, and yet it’s natural for us to try and improve ourselves and get there as fast as possible. So, is our progress perfect or is to be perfected?

In the western culture everything is eligible for improvement and a quintessential leader doesn’t even need to know the field he is managing, just ask his subordinates to identify their problems, think of the solutions, and make sure they are implementing them. This makes sure that in every situation there’s always some room for progress.

I don’t think I’m alone in running unspoken conversations with my inner manager and wondering how I can improve my attempts at service. There’s always that vision of ideal progress that I should live up to, and then it becomes a question of efforts. Am I being thorough and responsible? Am I implying piecemeal, ineffective fixes? Should I crank up the engine and make radical changes? Am I doing enough? Am I doing too little?

The ideal devotee is described in our books, the ideal path is shown by our predecessors – we have no shortage of ideals, we know what perfection is and this makes this over-analyzing things very easy.

Well, I have a radical answer to this – what we see around us, what we see in our lives, is already perfect and instead of reaching for the “ideal” we should learn to appreciate it as it is, as it is given.

We know Lord Caitanya’s mission – to spread chanting of the holy name all over the world and establish a ten thousand year old Golden era in the midsts of the Kali yuga. If it isn’t happening yet it’s our fault and we can bring it forward by being better devotees. More specifically, Śrīla Prabhupāda was a perfect devotee and so all his wishes must come true and be fulfilled, if it isn’t happening is because we do not live up to our potential as devotees. We don’t have varṇāśrama because of our lack of dedication to the cause, for example. We don’t have Kṛṣṇa conscious governments because we don’t know how to preach to world leaders and we don’t have practical solutions to world problems. We haven’t defeated Darwinism because we don’t believe in Bhāgavatam enough ourselves, and so on.

Most of us would object to this explanation but the alternatives would somehow diminish the power of Śrīla Prabhupāda and become unacceptable to Prabhupādānuga orthodoxy. We somehow have learned to live without a resolution, in an unspoken compromise between our own imperfections and Prabhupāda not really meaning what he said, or maybe being merciful and forgiving. Even this solution, however, implies that Lord Caitanya’s mission is stalling and not manifesting in full.

This step from us failing Prabhupāda to a potential problem with Lord’s own mission is rarely taken but it exposes the fallacy of this thinking. The problems we have seen in our movement can’t be attributed to Lord Caitanya, it’s unthinkable, and so we unquestionably attribute them to our own shortcomings. We can explain and even justify ourselves but the problem lies in us, not in the Lord.

But if we determine the outcome of the mission than it’s not Lord Caitanya’s anymore, is it? Another paradox here is that we attribute all success, every step to the way, to the Lord but when these steps produce less than ideal results in our estimates our deference to the Lord is nowhere to be found. It suddenly becomes karma and material energy as if they are capable of independence or of overturning Lord’s will.

We fail to see our mission as a whole, we see only unconnected parts of it, successes and failures, and we fail to notice that most of the time the border between successes and failures is impossible to draw. We fail to accept that the image of our mission is made up of successes and failures equally.

This, of course, makes it easier for us to blame ourselves and think that we can improve the mission through our own efforts, if not by expanding successes then at least by minimizing failures.

The underlying problem here is that we still think we are in control and even if the Lord knows what He’s doing we still can improve on His management. This view is rooted in illusion and, perhaps, it would be useful for us to consider how it would look like if we were free from it.

Caitanya Caritāmṛta has a story of Sanātana Gosvāmī falling into the same trap but it was laughed off and quickly corrected by the Lord who called Sanātana Gosvāmī a thief. Perhaps this joking accusation steals our focus here but the point was that Sanātana Gosvāmī thought he had his own ideas on how to improve his devotion but the Lord has cut him short. We don’t get to choose what is good or what is better for us, we have to accept whatever service the Lord has given.

Just to remind – Sanātana Gosvāmī contracted some infectious disease while traveling through a forest and when he arrived in Purī his skin was covered with boils and he had to avoid the crowds where he could accidentally touch and pollute servants of the Lord Jagannātha. Seeing himself as not just useless but also dangerous to others Sanātana Gosvāmī decided to commit suicide by jumping under the wheels of Lord Jagannātha’s chariot.

Lord Caitanya had none of it whatsoever. He said that ever since Sanātana Gosvāmī had surrendered himself to Him Sanātana has lost all rights to deciding his own fate. His body, however sickly and polluted, had become Lord Caitanya’s instrument and so he was effectively accusing the Lord of incompetence in using His own tools.

“Nope,” said Lord Caitanya. “I know exactly what I am doing, what state your body is in and what plans I have for it in the future. Trust me.”

We are not Sanātana Gosvami but the same logic applies to us – ever since we surrendered our lives at the feet of our guru and the Lord we do not get to complain about them being misused or not utilized properly, each such complaint would be an accusation against the Lord.

The mission is perfect and it is implemented perfectly. We might see it as being slow to spread but by whose standards of speed? Ours or Lord Caitanya’s? Whose ideal we apply in our imagination? Ours or Lord Caitanya’s?

Scientists have their speed of light as the absolute speed in the universe, you can’t go faster than that. We should similarly accepts Lord’s pace of progress as absolute. Move a bit too fast or a bit too slow and you are in māyā, either imagining yourself too advanced or not fulfilling your Lord assigned potential.

So, every time we think “ideally, it should be..” we should stop ourselves and accept that the existing situation is ideal already, just the way the Lord wants it. Our “ideally” means “in my illusioned view” and nothing else.

Vanity thought #1467. Brainwashed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanity thought #1429. Swing vote 2

Yesterday I got to the point where we can exercise our free will and either improve or diminish our chances of reacquiring our eternal devotional service. Let’s talk more about that.

Being servants of the Lord is our constitutional position, we don’t have any other spiritual identity, we can only cover it with our false ego, and so we assume that pure devotional service is our birthright. We just need to shake off our illusions and take it.

I bet it’s not that simple. Service means interaction and so we can’t serve without Kṛṣṇa. In fact, service starts only after Kṛṣṇa reveals Himself and mercifully decides to accept it. He is Supreme Independent, however, and we can’t demand or even expect His mercy, we can only hope in anticipation. Since He is not under the material conception of time even a little delay on His part might easily translate into several lifetimes in our calculations.

The answer to this is patience. We measure patience by how long one could maintain his attitude or his practice under unfavorable conditions. Then one inevitably loses it. Spiritual patience is different in that it, like all spiritual things, is immeasurable. Once we attain it it will never go away and we’ll never lose it. Kṛṣṇa might delay His mercy indefinitely but so would last our hope of receiving it – it would be indefinite, too, and without any discomfort, for there’s no such thing as discomfort on the spiritual platform.

Patiently waiting for the mercy would become a kind of relationship with the Lord – He is hiding and we are waiting, and even more, according to Lord Caitanya, this love in separation feels indefinitely stronger than pleasure of being in personal presence of the Lord.

In our situation where we don’t have any prior experience of meeting Kṛṣṇa we can only have a glimpse of this transcendental emotion, the kind devotees of Vṛndāvana feel when they know Kṛṣṇa is coming and can’t wait, but it is nevertheless spiritual – if we get it. As such it could last for eternity and we wouldn’t even notice passage of material time. The fact that we feel under pressure and afraid to lose it is a sign that we aren’t on the liberated platform yet. If we were we wouldn’t be constantly checking our progress or progress of other devotees, these things would become meaningless and unwelcome distractions to us in comparison with sweetness of eternally waiting for Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.

Another aspect of it is that Kṛṣṇa does not and probably will not appear to us while we are still in this world. It doesn’t mean that we have to wait for the next life, hopefully in His presence, to achieve perfection. We should never forget out guru instead because guru IS manifestation of the Lord specifically for us. Lacking the ability to see Kṛṣṇa we can express our love and devotion to our guru just the same, and it WILL be reciprocated.

If we do not see Kṛṣṇa in our guru and lament His absence we are absolute fools only pretending to be spiritually realized. If we can’t establish ourselves in service to our guru but wait for service to Kṛṣṇa Himself we are simply mad. We kill all our chances of spiritual progress there and then, for we commit a gravest offense by considering our guru to be an ordinary man.

We might not say so out loud and we might not even think so to ourselves but if we do not see guru as a direct manifestation of God infused with all necessary energies and powers we see him as an ordinary man, there are no other options.

Why does it happen? Because of vestiges of materialistic thinking and our immaturity, of course, and as such we are all bound to make this mistake. The question then becomes how to spot it and correct it so we can move forward in our spiritual progress.

Living in the materialistic society we naturally absorb their values and one of them is the idea that we can learn things through ascending process, that by reading books on spirituality we can become spiritual, for example. Essential aspect of ascending process is collaboration with others, we need to constantly check that everyone is on the same page, do a peer review of sorts, and form a community of like minded persons. This is not unique to materialists, of course, but when we end up in association with similarly deluded people we ask if they see our guru as manifestation of God, they tell that they don’t, we accept their answer, and that’s how we commit a spiritual suicide.

They tell us to look at a bigger picture, to place our guru in certain age and time, to see how his behavior is/was conditioned by his surroundings and the culture he grew up in, and imply that if our guru was placed in our circumstances he would surely behave differently, issue different orders, adopt different values. We might even conclude that he would have read less books then us and so be less spiritually educated. With the internet at our fingertips we can easily conclude that our guru was an ignorant rube and his knowledge is lacking in comparison to ourselves. Whatever he says, we are ready to second guess, double check, and correct him, or maybe mercifully think “I know why he would say things like that, he probably read only this and this but never seen that and that and so couldn’t place his quote in proper context, but I know better. Yes, I agree, he is probably right here, but, god, he speaks with so much ignorance I can’t take it anymore”.

This is how people start questioning their seniors, this is how they question their guru, this is how they question Śrīla Prabhupāda, this is how they question Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, this is how they question Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, if necessary. If they still consider themselves followers of Gauḍīya Vaiṣnavism it becomes a question of which particular deviation they decided to take shelter in. These days it’s still possible to find deviant vaiṣṇavas of pre-Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura lineage so denigration of previous ācāryas stops with him. If they had someone who disagreed with Six Gosvāmīs they would diss Rūpa and Sanātana, too, no doubt.

Obviously, we shouldn’t fall into this trap and avoid discussing our guru with non-disciples and don’t ask for their opinions, and the same goes for our more immediate authorities, too. Spiritual progress is a personal thing, we can share it only with those who will appreciate it equally, we should be able to see who they are and separate them from less mature and so still envious devotees. In other words, we should pick our association very carefully. If we don’t, they might be right in calling us kaniṣṇthas, though they do it for a different reason. We stop being kaniṣṭhas when we stop listening to them.

Whew, that was a lot or words but none of them on the topic. I don’t know what happened, I guess I got sidetracked. Well, it doesn’t look like it was a total waste, so I’ll continue next time.

Vanity thought #1425. Catching the wave

I don’t think I was clear yesterday about the connection between Lord Caitanya and my indecisiveness but it’s actually very simple – when Lord Caitanya SAW Kṛṣṇa’s hand in everything, everything had become clear and fell into its place. When we don’t see Kṛṣṇa anywhere but only theoretically speculate how it might be connected to Him we can have doubts. Which connection is better? Are they all real? Are multiple connections even possible? Did Lord Caitanya saw everything connected to Kṛṣṇa in different ways simultaneously or was the variety only instances of the same connection? Does this alleged variety even register when one sees Kṛṣṇa?

All these questions can come only from someone who doesn’t know the Lord, someone who can only speculate what it means to be in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and my yesterday’s answer stands – don’t worry about it, it will somehow work itself out, our job is to remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget.

There’s another way to approach the dilemma and rule it out as inconsequential. Our understanding of spirituality is temporary. For some time it manifests in our brains and then it goes away. Our true spiritual position, however, is not. We see our progress as a journey through time but time doesn’t exist neither for Kṛṣṇa nor for us as spirit souls.

Think of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life, for example. Was he dearer to Kṛṣṇa when he was five, twenty, fifty, or seventy years old? He himself said that he realized that Kṛṣṇa is God at the age of five, does it mean that when he was three Kṛṣṇa didn’t care much about him? From our conditioned POV it would appear that Kṛṣṇa was waiting for Prabhupāda to prove himself, pretty much like Prabhupāda’s godbrothers did.

Śrīla Prabhupāda was no one special for them, most probably didn’t even know he existed as he didn’t play a visible role in the Gauḍīya Maṭha as an institution. Then, after he went to America, he suddenly became the talk of the town. Did any of his godbrothers ever guessed his future success? I don’t think so, and I bet there were all very surprised when it happened. Then they probably started to rationalize and seek explanations. Some went to the West, too, but nothing big came out of it. For them it was a story of progress and if they were wise, they’d pick up some very important clues why it happened to Prabhupāda and not to any of the “ācāryas”.

We look at Prabhupāda’s life in the same way, except from the point in time where Prabhupāda’s success already happened, we don’t have memories of what he was before that. We can highlight faith in the words of a guru, dedication to carrying out his order, staying clean of institutional politics, preaching over comfort of renounced life and so on. If one does these things then other things would happen. It works.

Well, Kṛṣṇa doesn’t see it that way because He is not bound by time like we are. The sequence does not exist for Him, transformations of our bodies do not exist for Him. Prabhupāda is always Prabhupāda, His dearmost servant, no matter what shape or what place his body was at any given moment.

One could say that this might be true for our ācāryas who are Kṛṣṇa’s closest associates sent down to our material world but for the rest of us progress is clearly there, from one moment to another, from one lifetime to another, from lower species to humans, we are inching closer and closer, especially after we have met Kṛṣṇa’s devotees. Kṛṣṇa must appreciate our service more than He appreciated the time we were it total māyā.

I don’t know the answer to that yet but let’s look at our lives in zoomed out view.

According to Lord Kapila the living entity is conscious of the Lord when still in the womb and prays incessantly. When it comes out this consciousness somehow gets lost and, as a baby, he needs to learn all the basics again. I’m not sure if Lord Kapila was talking about ALL babies or just in general. Perhaps his description is not valid for the majority of Kali Yuga population at all but it doesn’t mean there’s no change in consciousness between fetus and newborn.

We don’t know how it happens and what facilities a fetus can use to pray to the Lord but consciousness does not depend on the body as much as science tells us. Being born forces the living entity to behave like a baby, so he needs to learn stuff like speaking and reading even if he did it in his previous life, no matter what he did or did not know while in the womb.

If he is lucky he’ll learn something about God, he might even become a devotee. With time he understands these things deeper and deeper, becomes wiser, gathers a lot of knowledge, learns ślokas, learns KC philosophy inside out, learns his occupational duties and so on. It’s a long way from the total ignorance of a child and so far it has been only up and up.

Then old age takes over and he becomes senile. Memory becomes weaker, intellect dwindles, ślokas get forgotten, his professional skills become outdated, and eventually he becomes a vegetable. Some people stay in good mental shape until the end but for most deterioration is inevitable. Then comes death and one loses all his acquired knowledge, if you ask him what 2+2 is and he probably won’t even understand the question, or that he is even being asked something. These last moments, minutes, days, sometimes weeks and years might be spent in total darkness. That’s when the oscillator of our “knowledge” swings down.

I hope for devotees it is replaced by spiritual realizations and they don’t need to command their brains in order to stay Kṛṣṇa conscious, but even if it happens, it’s a different kind of intelligence, it’s not the same intellect that we use to decide what to do next in our lives, as devotees or otherwise. It relies on different bank of memories and it juggles different kind of values. We might see spiritual beings or Viṣṇudūtas and have a conversation with them about our fate, our destination, perhaps about staying a while longer to complete some sort of a mission. We can be rest assured that whatever concerns us now will become completely irrelevant then.

So why worry? Just because, materially speaking, our intelligence now is at the crest of the oscillator’s wave it doesn’t mean it has any value in things that really matter, things that would make Kṛṣṇa decide whether to come and get us or to leave us here for another life.

Even Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī lost some of his mental capacities with age. Sometimes he couldn’t remember ślokas, for example, and he probably didn’t have mental energy to produce something like his earlier treatise on Surya Siddhānta. It doesn’t mean his preaching was any less effective, his conclusions became erroneous, or he forgot the import of the ślokas. It didn’t really matter.

What we really need to know is that Kṛṣṇa is God and we are His eternal servants. Everything else is extraneous, it comes and goes like ocean waves or ocean tides. And to “know” here means know with all capacities available at the moment. It must become a conclusion of all our arguments and reasoning regardless of how much ground they cover. What I mean is that we don’t need to explain a connection with Kṛṣṇa in situations we are not aware of or in situations we have long forgotten. Kṛṣṇa must become a center of our own mental universe, no matter how small.

Right now, as the universe of our knowledge is still expanding and we learn new stuff everyday, we might struggle with finding Kṛṣṇa in everything we learn, we might have doubts, like in the case with Moon landings – what if they go there again and conclusively prove according to all our empirical experiences that they really went there this time? What if they learn to stimulate certain areas of the brain and produce visions of the spiritual world? Will we be able to reconcile those developments with our śāstric knowledge? Who knows?

A dying person, however, is free from these troubles, he remembers very little and can process even less, and so in his shrinking universe there’s no space for doubts. If we live our lives right it could all be only about Kṛṣṇa in our last moments, and all the stuff that we worry about now would just fade away.

This means that our job is to separate really important things and concentrate on getting them right, expanding our horizons is not it and we can survive perfectly fine without getting confused by all this incoming “knowledge”. That’s why devotees are expected to be simple minded and are even asked not to read too many books.

The problem is that we are riding the wave and for the moment it feels good, it’s our perverted rasa we can’t deny. Hopefully it will go away on its own, we should not feed it just as we should no feed remaining vestiges of the sexual attraction. It won’t be a big loss and one day we’ll appreciate not polluting ourselves with all these doubts, arguments, and counterarguments. In the meantime we should make sure they are still connected to Kṛṣṇa one way or another.