Vanity thought #1074. Purging atheism from our hearts

We are not atheists, we are nominally devotees, why would we harbor atheism in our hearts? Well, it’s not done intentionally, of course, and it’s been sitting there since time immemorial, we just nor usually aware of its more subtle manifestations. Today I want to focus on one of those hidden atheistic attitudes.

Atheists want us to prove that God exists. This proof must be delivered on their own terms – God must be subjected to a series of tests and experiments and he (small “h” here) must return predictable and replicable results. If he consistently complies with scientific criteria for evidence then atheists would agree to accept his existence.

There are so many problems with this attitude that I don’t even know where to begin. God is not a object of anyone’s inquiry, He is not “seen”, He is the “seer”. We cannot subject God to our experiments or He wouldn’t be God by definition.

“Which definition?” – one might ask. The one where He has absolute power, for example. Absolute power means you can’t force Him to do anything. You can’t compel Him to do anything and so He is not obliged to respond to our tests.

Or we can take a definition where He is the source of laws of nature. This means He is not bound by them. We have quite a few fundamental laws, like conservation of mass and energy or laws of thermodynamics. These laws cannot be broken (except the law of biogenesis that states that life must come from life, ha ha). God is above and beyond these laws so even if we decide to test Him, He will behave totally unpredictably and irrationally.

When we shed a light on an object it usually reflects it, that’s how we see things, but God’s skin is not obliged to reflect light back. When we touch things they offer some resistance but God’s skin is not obliged to be felt in any way. Scientists fire particles at each other and watch them collide but they won’t collide with God. They will go straight through, or He can change their direction in physically impossible ways – it’s entirely up to Him.

The point is – God will never behave like an ordinary physical object. He cannot be detected, by definition. There’s a definition of God that states just that – He is beyond the reach of the senses and He cannot be “known”.

Of course the fact that God is not obliged to do anything doesn’t exclude the possibility that from time to time He might decide and respond to our material senses. Would it be enough for scientists? No, because it won’t be replicable. Unless experiments can be reliably reproduced they will not be counted towards supporting any theory (like a theory that God exists).

Atheists can’t quite wrap their heads about such basic things about nature of God but we are not immune to replicating their mistakes either. We want proof of Kṛṣṇa’s existence that is not very different from the proof expected by atheists. We call it “spiritual experience” and “realization” but we expect it to work in the same way.

We expect Kṛṣṇa to be visible to us, for example. We might concede that our eyes are not suitable for seeing Him but then we simply ask for eyes that would work. Principle is the same, just sensory organs are different – we want to see God, meaning He must respond to our actions. We look, and He appears before our eyes.

See how this attitude is essentially the same as that of the atheists?

We want to experience spiritual joy, we expect it to be infinitely better than anything else we experience in the material world, but we expect it to work under the same principle – we are the enjoyers and the spiritual energy, ie God, is meant to be enjoyed, just in a different way. See how this is essentially atheistic?

Bt let me return to atheists’ demands of proof of God. They want it to be empirical, and we say that God is transcendental, so empirical proof is not possible by definition. There’s a Vedic method of employing this basic principle in our search of God, the (in)famous neti neti.

It’s the method of jñāna yoga – trying to separate Brahman from matter. If it can be perceived, it’s not Brahman, therefore “not this, not that” (there are other translations as well). It’s very simple, really – whatever behaves like matter is not God. Whatever can be perceived empirically is not God.

Śrīla Prabhupāda was not very keen on this method, of course, due to its close association with impersonalism of Śaṅkarācārya and due to it’s being far from the path of devotion and our philosophy of acintya bheda abheda tattva where, in a certain sense, everything is Brahman and so there’s no place for neti.

And yet this method is recommended in Bṛhad Araṇyaka Upaniṣad, it’s legit. We don’t give much credit to jñāna yoga but it’s mentioned in Bhagavad Gīta as a possible way of realizing the Absolute Truth, even though it leads to incomplete understanding. Therefore I suggest we try to apply it in our spiritual lives and cleanse our hearts of atheistic expectations of God.

Everything we do in connection to Kṛṣṇa is spiritual but acintya bheda abheda can be applied to us, too. Some things are separate and so are detrimental to our devotional progress. Those things must be rejected and neti neti method can help.

We all serve Kṛṣṇa to the best of our abilities but our service is not pure, we can isolate those impurities by analyzing and rejecting them.

Marrying a girl so that we can sex with her is not a spiritual aspiration – neti. Eating a ton of prasāda to fill our belly is not a spiritual aspiration – neti. Going to the temple to enjoy the sound of beautiful kīrtana is not a spiritual aspiration – neti.

I once subscribed to a newsletter from one famous kīrtanīyā and now every couple of months I get invitations to enjoy my senses in the company of cool people. I’m not going to attend that, ever.

Criticizing devotees is an aparādha, it’s connected to Kṛṣṇa but it’s not a spiritual aspiration, so neti.

You see where this is going?

I can take it further – appreciating deity’s beautiful dress is appreciating a material form as it conforms to our material standards of beauty, so neti. Of course we don’t always transfer our material concepts of beauty to decorating our deities but we should always watch our hearts for what is it exactly that we like about Them.

Deities in Vṛndāvana are often very simple but they are loved absolutely selflessly by their worshipers. Kṛṣṇa does not need opulence, we offer it because we appreciate it ourselves, we think it’s “better”, so neti.

“Vṛndāvana charm” itself reflects material position of devotees there. Their hearts might be pure but when we look at their lives and their worship we see it as “Indian”, so it’s neti, too.

This neti neti path has no end, not for impersonalists, not for us – as long as we live here our hearts will always have something to purge.

One more thing – we might think that not separating non-spiritual aspects of our service is not a big deal, and, in a way, it isn’t, it’s still purifying, but this also means accepting non-spiritual aspects of our service, and it means that our determination to seek Kṛṣṇa is not resolute, that we are not complying with vyavasāyātmikā buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana bahu-śākhā hy anantāś ca buddhayo ‘vyavasāyinām verse (BG 2.41).

By accepting non-spiritual things our intelligence becomes “many-branched” and it affects our resolution, so the warning is there, we can’t go on like this forever.

Vanity thought #419. A letter to Krishna

A couple of days ago a devotee commented on one of my posts suggesting the possibility that my blog might attract Krishna’s attention just like Rukmini’s letter to Him. That was very sweet but is it really possible? Can our writing attract Krishna’s attention?

Rukmini sent a letter to Krishna directly, Krishna personally received it and took action, nonchalantly snatching her from under the nose of her groom on the day of their marriage. This story is spread over three chapters of Krishna Book.

Our situation is completely different. Rukmini had a real chance to serve Krishna as His wife, she had a suitable body and it was her destiny. We live in the bodies that wouldn’t be allowed in Krishna’s presence at all. With bodies like ours Krishna prefers to stay only in our hearts, and only after they’ve been completely purified. Since we use our materialistic bodies as proxies to serve Him, He equally accepts this service through His own proxies – our spiritual masters and vaishnavas.

Rukmini needed Krishna’s intervention to remedy her situation. If she wasn’t taken by Krishna her life would have been a total waste. We, on the other hand, already got what we need – the grace of Lord Chaitanya and service to His mission. We do not need any more protection, no one in the entire universe can lay claims on our service.

Our souls, bodies, and minds belong to Lord Chaitanya, no one else. We can misuse them, of course, but this is only between us and Him, no Sisupala can take our service unless we voluntarily offer it to him.

We don’t need to send letters to Krishna, He already knows everything in our hearts and minds and He already answered our prayers – by placing us at the lotus feet of our gurus.

Therefore we don’t write blogs to attract Krishna’s attention, we write them for our own purification, or as a service to Lord Chaitanya’s mission. Our efforts in this world won’t attract Krishna’s interest anyway, He only looks at what’s in our hearts. If we want to address Him directly we don’t need to put it up on the world wide web, we don’t need to advertise our prayers to the whole world to be heard, it would sound like a show off rather than a sincere desire to connect with the Lord.

Having said that, it would certainly be nice if Krishna or His representatives bestowed on us some blessings after reading something they like. If that is the price we need to pay to obtain devotion, we should take it even if it means typing up stuff 24/7.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Real problem is not with what we do, the problem is with our contaminated hearts, we can’t substitute purification of our hearts with any external activity and we can’t accelerate the process with any extraneous efforts. Krishna has already arranged the best situation for the cleansing of our hearts, provided all the tools – cleaning liquids, brushes, manuals, expert advice and training – we’ve got everything we need already, just have to keep on working.

On the other hand, Rupa Goswami sometimes wrote books and verses for the pleasure of his brother Sanatana. That is a great example for any modern day blogger, too – write something that would please the devotees.

Vanity thought #392. Uddhava Gita

Uddhava Gita is an amazing part of the 11th Canto of Srimad Bhagatam and I think it gets a lot less credit that it deserves. It’s definitely not as famous as Bhagavad Gita and even when we talk about Bhagavatam we’d rather discuss pastimes of Lord Nrisimha or story of Ajamila or Dhruva Maharaja but not Uddhava Gita.

It’s a bit longer than Bhagavad Gita, at over 1000 verses, and it doesn’t cover the entire Krishna Consciousness philosophy from A to Z in the concise way like Bhagavad Gita does but it has its own moments. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati wrote a commentary on it but I think in ISKCON it is still a little bit under appreciated. For one thing we don’t often quote from it and it’s a pity, there are some real gems in there, like this series of verses (SB 11.20.18-30), I’ll bold some of the key lines for easy skimming:

A transcendentalist, having become disgusted and hopeless in all endeavors for material happiness, completely controls the senses and develops detachment. By spiritual practice he should then fix the mind on the spiritual platform without deviation.

Whenever the mind, being concentrated on the spiritual platform, is suddenly deviated from its spiritual position, one should carefully bring it under the control of the self by following the prescribed means.

One should never lose sight of the actual goal of mental activities, but rather, conquering the life air and senses and utilizing intelligence strengthened by the mode of goodness, one should bring the mind under the control of the self.

An expert horseman, desiring to tame a headstrong horse, first lets the horse have his way for a moment and then, pulling the reins, gradually places the horse on the desired path. Similarly, the supreme yoga process is that by which one carefully observes the movements and desires of the mind and gradually brings them under full control.

Until one’s mind is fixed in spiritual satisfaction, one should analytically study the temporary nature of all material objects, whether cosmic, earthly or atomic. One should constantly observe the process of creation through the natural progressive function and the process of annihilation through the regressive function.

When a person is disgusted with the temporary, illusory nature of this world and is thus detached from it, his mind, guided by the instructions of his spiritual master, considers again and again the nature of this world and eventually gives up the false identification with matter.

Through the various disciplinary regulations and the purificatory procedures of the yoga system, through logic and spiritual education or through worship and adoration of Me, one should constantly engage his mind in remembering the Personality of Godhead, the goal of yoga. No other means should be employed for this purpose.

If, because of momentary inattention, a yogi accidentally commits an abominable activity, then by the very practice of yoga he should burn to ashes the sinful reaction, without at any time employing any other procedure.

It is firmly declared that the steady adherence of transcendentalists to their respective spiritual positions constitutes real piety and that sin occurs when a transcendentalist neglects his prescribed duty. One who adopts this standard of piety and sin, sincerely desiring to give up all past association with sense gratification, is able to subdue materialistic activities, which are by nature impure.

Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities.

When an intelligent person engages constantly in worshiping Me through loving devotional service as described by Me, his heart becomes firmly situated in Me. Thus all material desires within the heart are destroyed.

The knot in the heart is pierced, all misgivings are cut to pieces and the chain of fruitive actions is terminated when I am seen as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Where else one can find such a clear, practical guide for all of us, aspiring transcendentalists who are yet unable to transcend even the basic, gross bodily platform?

Whether one is a struggling grihastha or a dedicated brahmachari, we all continue to enjoy our material senses one way or another and thus we all fall victim to sense gratification, there’s no denying it, therefore we all can benefit from these Krishna’s instructions.

Sometimes we think “well, as long as I’m engaged in service of guru and Krishna I have nothing to worry about” and that is fine, but we shouldn’t mistake it for the state of actual liberation and we should not forget that actual devotional service begins only after actual liberation. Until then all our “service” is tainted with desires for sense gratification or false renunciation. We are on the right way, correct, but here Krishna gives us clues on how to navigate our path properly.

And while we might readily apply this advice to our own lives we should also remember that other devotees are facing the same problems, too, and rather than accuse them of “being in maya” we should see that they are also trying to rein in their own horses and more often then not Krishna Himself is helping them, meaning He Himself gives their senses some freedom to enjoy and He Himself will eventually bring them back under full control.

We’ve all heard this before – we shouldn’t criticize devotees for occasional “falldowns” but now we see the underlying methodology behind this – the “falldowns” are actually necessary and so should be praised, not criticized.

Another important point here is that there’s no special atonement procedures for lusting for ice cream or chocolate but we should just get on with our usual chanting and service, knowing that this is the best purificatory activity in the whole world already.

We should, of course, feel regret for our transgressions but, more importantly, we should remain happy and continue our service with great faith.

Golden words, truly golden.

There have been devotees who committed suicide when they were unable to follow the four regs – apparently these verses from Uddhava Gita weren’t sufficiently impressed on them. This is how proper knowledge can literally save lives.