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.

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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.

Vanity thought #1424. Vectors

When Lord Caitanya went to Gaya and accepted Śrīla Īśvara Purī as His spiritual master He had not just an “epiphany” but He achieved a perfect clarity of vision. It’s not that He simply got captivated by chanting Kṛṣṇa’s name but He actually saw Kṛṣṇa everywhere He looked. This probably needs a little clarification.

When one falls in love he starts constantly thinking about the object of his infatuation, everything one sees reminds him of it/her, but I would say most of the time things just don’t register. A car passes by – “God, I love that girl”. There’s no real connection there and if there is, it’s all made up in one’s mind. When this first phase of being in love is over things quickly return back to normal. The love is still there, of course, but the world seems to find its own reasons for existence again and stops screaming your beloved’s name at every turn. That’s not what happened to Lord Caitanya.

He actually saw Kṛṣṇa everywhere. When we fall in love we fall in love with a distinct, localized person. We might remember her at every step but we realize that she is not an omnipresent being. Things that remind us of her are NOT her, and how could they be? She is just a single person out of billions on this planet. With Kṛṣṇa it’s not the same because He is literally everywhere, and that’s what Lord Caitanya saw. It was a matter of vision and realization, not a matter of attachment and infatuation.

Let me give another example. As kids grow up they find themselves some heroes. Could be movie stars, football players, singers, or even superheroes. They want to emulate them at every step of their lives and function on “what would [insert the name] do” principle. This is sustained only as long as the fascination is there, and then people grow out of it.

We can experience the same thing with Kṛṣṇa, got absorbed in His pastimes and personality, read about Him, sing about Him, worship Him in the temple, fill our lives with all sorts of things related to Him, and it all helps us to remember Him but this remembrance doesn’t substitute the actual vision of the Lord. Unlike us, however, Lord Caitanya literally saw Kṛṣṇa in everything.

I’m not going to speculate how it actually works but to me it looks as if He saw everything as Kṛṣṇa’s energy rather than perceiving ordinary objects as Kṛṣṇa’s personal form. Suddenly He realized that all the Vedas, all Sanskrit grammar rules, even each and every sound and syllable, is originally meant to glorify the Lord, for example. This has been expanded later on when devotees wrote grammar books explaining Sanskrit this way but we have to admit that these efforts didn’t become very popular and our scholars still learn Sanskrit the “normal” way.

I guess it’s because we don’t have the actual vision Lord Caitanya had and so the connections that were so obvious to Him look artificial to us and we need to tie up rules and meanings to something we personally understand, the mundane objects and our first language, I suppose. Come to think of it, it’s how we explain “Kṛṣṇa”, too – through our mundane perceptions and experiences. When we say He is the greatest we mean relative to what we know about the world. When we say He is omnipotent we mean relative to powers we know in this world and in our own lives, He can do everything we can imagine and a little more. We define the Lord in the terms of our personal conditioning.

Why am I talking about this? Because I realize I do not have necessary clarity, the kind Lord Caitanya had. Take my latest confusion about direction of our progress. We know we should not slide back into māyā, we know that eventually we must find shelter of Lord’s internal potency, but what’s not clear is whether we should try to reach it right now or settle on the terms of our present conditioning and patiently wait until death and hope it will all work out later.

Settling doesn’t mean the progress will be stopped, it just won’t go in the same direction, and that’s why I titled this post “vectors” – we need to make efforts regardless of the final decision of what is the best course of action. We can try and break out of our conditioning and restore our original relationships with Kṛṣṇa, or we can try and perform our God given duties to the best of our abilities, knowing that since they are arranged by guru and the Supersoul they must be the best and the shortest way to our ultimate goal. Whatever the decision, we must keep trying.

There are arguments for and against either of the propositions and, knowing ourselves and Murphy’s law, we are likely to screw up whatever it is we decide to do. To me this means that we/I should just leave the subject alone, we are not in charge of what happens to us, there’s karma, there’s Kṛṣṇa, there’s fate, there are our desires we aren’t even aware of, and in any case – man proposes, God disposes. Somehow something will happen, the universe and our lives in it cannot be static.

What we do have responsibility to follow is one simple rule – always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget. Everything else would just work out itself. It doesn’t really matter how or why or when or what, thinking about these agonizing choices is a distraction from remembering Kṛṣṇa and so should be abandoned.

Well, we can’t stop thinking and so should let mind and intelligence do their jobs but we should treat it as rain – a naturally occurring phenomenon outside of our control. Sometimes it comes and it’s strong, sometimes it just drizzles, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

This might be controversial because of buddhi-yoga and all that but mind and intelligence are material elements acting under the influence of the modes of nature, time, Kṛṣṇa Himself, and what not. Our problems with controlling them rise from this desire for control itself.

I mean that our mind and intelligence become so active because that’s where we direct our consciousness, that’s how we express ourselves. “I think therefore I am”, as they say. We fall for this illusion first and face the need to control the consequences later. The more we think, the greater the need. It’s the same problem we have with gross bodies – the deeper our attachment to them, the more attention they require. The more we try to accomplish with our bodies the more maintenance they need – more food, more rest, more health problems, faster ageing and so on.

The idea is that if we stop caring about what our mind and intelligence think they won’t go berserk but would rather leave us alone. For those who surrender to Kṛṣṇa surviving in this world is an easy and simple thing, a no-brainer, we don’t have to think about it.

So, perhaps the vector of our efforts should be directed within and all the external manifestations should be seen as only projections on the three-dimensional world around us. That’s why they say you can’t understand a devotee, btw. Whatever he does is done for Kṛṣṇa and it’s done deep within his heart. How it manifests externally might therefore seem totally random, one moment this, another moment that.

This internal desire to serve the Lord with all one’s heart is what we should seek in other devotees, that’s what we want to emulate, that’s what we want to get infected with, too. Simply copying their external behavior is less beneficial. This is the vector we need to align ourselves with, forget the “progress”.

Vanity thought #1091. Evil wheed

Kali yuga is the era of evil. Not only human society degrades to below animal behavior, the nature itself conspires against Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It’s not an exaggeration, it really does.

Usually, we assume that climate changes that come with Kali yuga are just to make our lives uncomfortable – droughts, cold winters, hot summers – those are just minor annoyances in the big scheme of things. We still have enough food to eat and even if our lifespan gets ten times shorter than in previous ages it’s not such a big deal – it means we can return to Kṛṣṇa ten times faster.

However, the nature, as it turns out, has direct influence on the state of varṇāśrama dharma and that means on practice of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Pure devotees will never be stopped, of course, but we are not those, we are hoi polloi, the great unwashed masses that can’t become Kṛṣṇa conscious on our own. We need to be herded and corralled and dealt with via sweeping policy decisions. External circumstances can make or break our devotion very easily.

On this point – if we are meant to be saved en masse, like through world wide saṇkīrtana movement of Lord Caitanya, does it mean our spiritual future should be institutionalized, too?

From the very beginning we are being taught that every living entity has his own (her own?), personal relationships with Kṛṣṇa. Our whole philosophy is based on this personalism, yet when we consider our place in Lord Caitanya’s army we are nothing more but another nameless face in the crowd. Sure, some of us get noticed by name but the very notion of selecting best of the best means there must be many more completely unremarkable devotees as well, or it wouldn’t make sense.

Should we demand equal recognition from the Lord? Not in terms of fame, of course, but in terms of being “special”, I guess. Let’s say there are three billion men on the planet, we can talk about their generic qualities and stereotype them and generally treat them as a whole, yet each one of these faceless, nameless men is “special” to their partners. To achieve that the Lord must provide three billion women. How would it work if we all wanted to be special for the Lord Himself?

We have “cop outs” where Kṛṣṇa appears alongside each devotee and makes him/her think that they are alone but this isn’t a real solution. Personal relationship, at least how it works here, is that one gets special attention ahead of all the others. That won’t work with Kṛṣṇa, not unless He duplicated Himself into six billion forms, which makes Him not so special Himself.

This muddling distraction might be the result of trying to comprehend Godhead with my materially limited mind but to that I’d answer that if I don’t understand this, why should I assume that I really understand other, seemingly rational concepts of Kṛṣṇa consciousness? We use our material minds all the time, why do we cherry pick results only when they make us feel we understand something about Kṛṣṇ?

Let’s leave that for now.

My point today is that nature affects life of the humanity as a whole and that means certain qualities get more prominence and others less. Some of these qualities are conducive to spiritual life while others aren’t, and sometimes we can see this connection clearly.

A few days ago I read a summary of a research article published in the journal Science earlier this year. The researchers set out to explore roots of psychological differences between Westerners and Asians and they found something really amazing, if true.

It turns out that rice based agriculture produces societies perfectly suitable for varṇāśrama while wheat based agriculture breeds demoniac qualities.

By demoniac qualities I mean individualism and selfishness and by varṇāśrama friendly qualities mean collectivism and hierarchy. Individualism, as we can see from modern civilization, leads to atheistic democracy while collectivism and deference to authorities is a feature of varṇāśrama pyramid of power.

How does wheat and rice fit in all this?

Usually, the well documented differences between East and West are explained through modernization, assuming that individualism and accompanied analytic thinking is a natural result of human progress. Why does analytic thinking is part of all that? Because the opposite of it in this context is holistic thinking. In western logic if A is true then non-A is false. In Eastern logic both A and non-A can be accommodated simultaneously.

An example of this is a simple experiment – people are asked to group two out of three objects. Let’s say they are carrot, rabbit, and dog. Analytical thinkers would choose rabbit and dog because they are animals and carrot is the odd one out. Holistic thinkers would choose rabbit and carrot because this way rabbit will have something to eat rather being thrown to the wolves for the sake of logic.

Essential part of this holistic thinking is the need to forgive and overlook minor transgressions for the sake of the whole society. As the article says, in Asian soceities friends are not being punished for cheating, for example – it’s more important to have friends than to be right.

To the western mind it gives rise to corruption and nepotism, two big enemies of progress and democracy, and so it’s assumed that Eastern way of life will naturally die out, that Asians haven’t evolved yet to the Western levels.

Authors of this study, however, demonstrate that individualism or collectivism naturally follow from agriculture, and they show it by studying quantifiable differences between Asians themselves.

Cultivating rice is a communal effort, even if land plots are in individual possession successfully growing rice requires the whole village to coordinate their work. Paddy rice needs a lot of water and so irrigation structure must be maintained by everybody for the sake of all. Planting and harvesting rice also requires a lot of manpower applied in short periods of time so quite often villagers work on each other’s fields in turns and form a queue to plant rice on individual plots so that it doesn’t need to be harvested at the same time, too.

We can easily see how this collective work lends itself to varṇāśrama structure of sharing power.

Wheat, otoh, can be grown by families without any outside help. Wheat relies on rain, not on irrigation, and it requires half the work needed for growing rice. Consequently, wheat growers do not have a strong communal sense and do not feel the obligation to accept anyone’s authority but their own.

In China, northern provinces grow wheat and southern provinces grow rice, and researches found strong enough correlation between wheat and individualism, and even the number of patent application (a measure of “progress”), to declare that “Western” thinking is more influenced by agriculture than by anything else. They point to well developed countries like Japan and South Korea that, despite all their progress, remain very communal and “Asian” in their thinking. These countries do not grow wheat at all. And the West doesn’t grow rice, it’s not the right climate.

One thing they didn’t discuss about wheat is that it encourages laziness disguised as progress. Wheat doesn’t take much work to grow and so, I think, this makes people enjoy and appreciate their free time, which leads to trying to increase productivity and invent things so that they have even less work – that’s what we call progress.

Growing rice makes people appreciate work instead of leisure. It makes people value interpersonal relations more than their own free time, it makes people value work done together with others. They are not looking for innovations to ease their burden, they are perfectly content with what they already have – more goodness, less passion. For them, idle hands is devil’s playground.

I wish there was a similar study on cow based agriculture or at least on variations within India. We know that even in Lord Caitanya’s time rice was the staple food in Bengal but not so much in northern India, not Vṛndāvana. Did it make any difference? I don’t want to speculate.

Did they even grow rice in Kṛṣṇa’s time? I don’t remember anything about it from our Kṛṣṇa book. It was mentioned in the description of Govardhana feast and that’s it, nothing about growing it as their staple food. When Mādhavendra Purī establised the temple of Govinda at Govardhana in Lord Caitanya’s time rice was featured very prominently in that festival but generally, Bengali devotees were not used to Mathura diet – not enough rice and too much wheat.

Whatever they did in Kṛṣṇa’s Vṛndāvana then, we can grow rice now regardless. Of course that would require setting up farms in a suitable climate, and this means that all our Western devotees remain hostages of their geography, as I discussed yesterday and wanted to demonstrate today.

Vanity thought #1079. Measuring lines

Yesterday I looked at spiritual progress of different people as parallel lines that never cross, not until they finally reach Kṛṣṇa. By different people I meant different religions but, I suppose, this theory holds true for individuals, too – we don’t have any personal connections ourselves, only through Kṛṣṇa.

Let me explain – we see and interact with people all the time, they all seem to be different, each with their own personality, but actually it’s just an illusion. We do not exist as separate personalities in the material world, we just claim a part of the material energy as our false ego. When other people interact with us it’s still the material energy acting under the inviolable laws of karma that conducts the interactions.

These “other people” cannot and will not say anything that is not destined for us to hear. They can’t harm us, they can’t please us, they can’t present danger to us, they can’t present hope to us – they can’t do anything outside of what is predetermined by our karma.

But what about occasions when somebody’s intervention does change the course of our life? Nothing, these people are just being karma’s agents. Karma isn’t a mysterious, transcendental force, it acts only through material elements. If we are destined to be robbed, it will send a robber out way, and if we are destined to be consoled it will send someone who cares about us and makes us comfortable.

At first it would appear heartless and impersonal to strip people of their humanity and look at them as passive agents of invisible karma but that is not the whole totality of ideal, paramahaṃsa vision. That vision consist of two parts – seeing everything as the work of Lord’s energy and seeing everyone in connection to the Lord, too.

That is to say that paramahaṃsas see the world as the illusion and at the same time they see everyone’s connection to Kṛṣṇa, connection that ordinary people are not even aware of.

When we relate to other people as Kṛṣṇa’s servants we relate to them “personally”, when we see them as agents of our karma we see their false identities, which are parts of soulless material energy, ie we see that aspect of their existence as impersonal, which it is.

One could still argue that we, in our conditioned state, always seek a personal touch with other people. We care, we love, we help, we hate, we envy – these are all personal emotions, as opposed to impersonal indifference.

That is correct but these relationships are illusory, they are only an extension of our fundamentally wrong and impersonal desire to lord over God’s energy. We want to be our own little gods and so we imitate God when we seek personal relationships with others. Our arrangements here are negotiations between two wannabe gods, or two thieves sharing the loot.

Our science of rasa confirms this view, too – our ācāryas have taught us that our relationships in this world are just perverted reflections of original rasas in Vṛṇdāvana. Sex life is real, as Śrīla Prabhupāda explained, but it’s real in the spiritual world, down here it’s perverted and unnatural.

When devotees marry they are not supposed to see and relate to their partners as materialists do, they are supposed to serve them as they would serve Kṛṣṇa’s devotees. One serves in the capacity of the husband and another serves in the capacity of the wife. Marriage is not a license to enjoy but a license to serve. Through that service our certain desires get fulfilled, too.

So, if we all can relate to each other only through Kṛṣṇa, how can we compare our progress? As aspiring madhyama adhikārīs we are obliged to make such judgments and behave accordingly. How can we measure our places on the parallel lines of our progress?

Naturally, only by the distance to Kṛṣṇa, not by appearances in the material world, but that’s the hardest part, really – how do we know how close this or that person is to the Lord?

There are symptoms but they are not absolute, especially in our Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism – everyone can be Kṛṣṇa’s dearest servant regardless of appearances. Bhakti is independent of one’s material position and only those who are close to Kṛṣṇa themselves can correctly estimate others’ devotion.

Yet there are symptoms and there are general brackets for the majority of our devotees. External appearances don’t matter only on the higher stages of bhakti and we have a pretty good idea how devotees behave when they have reached bhāva, for example. We can safely assume that no one we will ever meet is on that stage.

Most of us are on the stage of anartha nivṛtti, firmly on the way to liberation but definitely not there yet. Real bhakti begins after the liberation and so until then our progress can be fairly accurately judged by external appearances.

One cannot maintain interest in the sex life and be a real devotee. By real devotee I mean personalities described in our books, the ones who are most dear to Kṛṣṇa, always under His protection, always engaged in His service, higher than the purest of brāhmaṇas, the ones the Lord can appear personally to and the ones who can always see Him because their eyes are “tinged with the salve of love”. We are not there yet, obviously, firmly on the way but haven’t yet arrived.

So, freedom from sex desire is a one big litmus test. Sometimes it’s hard to judge the power sex has over other person and so we should look at secondary manifestations, things like desire to control, drive to succeed, desire to dominate people, envy, possessiveness and so on.

Control of the tongue is another easy to judge feature, probably the easiest. Everyone can spot someone’s addiction to food even if that person is abstaining or dieting. Devotees, real devotees, are fully in control of their tongues, that’s what is said in the first verses of Nectar of Instruction (NOI 1):

    A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.

This verse provides everything we need to know, really – how much a person is in control of his speech, how much a person is in control of his mind – all the main criteria is there.

So, even if we see and appreciate someone’s devotion or interest in God we should also see how much one is still in the grasp of the material energy and then choose an appropriate course of action – whether to seek association, avoid the person, or offer help.

When we say we want to serve vaiṣṇavas it shouldn’t mean serve only to those who are objectively more advanced than us – a guru serves his disciples, too, we just need to determine what the appropriate service should be in each particular case.

We should also remember that the kind of judgment I talked about today is just a calibration – actual desire to serve must come from seeing that person’s connection to Kṛṣṇa. If we don’t see that there’s no question of service at all even if our behavior seems to comply with all the rules.

About that – the rules are important – they help us to relate to others appropriately even when we don’t have the underlying realization why. Guru must be treated as God, for example. We don’t really know how to treat God, do we? And, with time, many of us come to see our gurus as fellow humans, too, but that lack of spiritual vision should not stop us from offering proper service and respect either.

If we could really see people’s personal connections with Kṛṣṇa it would have been so much easier to relate to others but we are not there yet and so should follow the rules. It’s a very simple principle we should never forget.