Vanity thought #1248. Rationality explained

Yesterday I got to yet another uncompromising assertion by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī – spiritual realm is ready to be revealed to anyone who actually listens. We’ve heard this from Śrīla Prabhupāda, too, but I don’t remember it ever being presented without some sort of a disclaimer.

A typical example is that of a tree. We embrace a tree trunk and beg for māyā to let us go but the tree is not holding us and neither does māyā, we hold onto it ourselves. Despite our loud proclamations we still want to live in the illusion. The implication being that slipping out of māyā’s control is easy.

Well, it is not, and I don’t remember anyone practically demonstrating how it could be done. Some devotees would give inspirational speeches on the subject but when the push comes to shove, no one is really liberated, meaning everyone is still holding onto the illusion and not letting it go, no matter how many times they declare that it’s an extremely easy thing to do.

Some devotees are honest in this regard and so they present disclaimers. We can’t let it go because of this or because of that. We have history, we have habits, we have material bodies, we commit offenses, we need to purify our consciousness through engagement, devotees are not renunciates so instead of seeking liberation we can happily engage in service from the position of our false ego, real devotees do not care for the liberation, they spit on it. Tons of excuses why we are still attached to the illusions and tons of reasons why we should continue in this vein.

I don’t think Śrīla Prabhupāda meant it this way. He asked people to serve the Lord, chant the Holy Names, and that was already above liberation. Later he saw that ISKCON devotees weren’t as transcendental as he hoped and asked us to deal with problems at hand first. That’s why we need the varṇāśrama, for example – according to the famous conversation where he says that chanting is not possible for an ordinary man and asks “Who will chant? Who’ll chant?” He then continues lamenting how people cannot take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness without undergoing varṇāśrama training first.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī left no room for compromises, though, and presented the subject as a matter of fact – what one needs to do to attain the spiritual realm and how one must go about it. I believe if we analyze his proposed method we’ll find no room for compromise, too, except that we’ll have to discount our own prospects of success, which aren’t very bright, just as Śrīla Prabhupāda observed in that conversation.

So, the failure to attain spiritual realm is only due deliberate withholding of our attention, as was quoted yesterday. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta continues:

    It is in ones power to correct this error of method when it is pointed out by the sadhu. In proportion as the receptive attentive hearing is perfected, the true import of the words of the sadhu manifests itself to the soul of the hearer. It is necessary to offer this form of service by way of the preliminary on the threshold of the realm of the divinity by all those who really want to enter there.

Actually, there’s room for compromise here – he talks about degrees of receptive hearing corresponding to degrees of realization. He discounts this stage as only preliminary, though. That’s what we should do to get to the threshold – try to develop receptive hearing, and not just develop, we need to perfect it. How?

    The pilgrim is required to give up his preference for pseudo-knowledge if he is to be benefited by his pilgrimage of the divine realm under the guidance of the sadhu who has a natural and exclusive attachment for the real truth. The guidance of the sadhu is necessary for enabling him to lend his full attention to his words by discarding all explicit or latent partiality for untruth.

Highlighted words tell us what we need to do. We need to give up all pseudo-knowledge and all our interests in pursuing it, both explicit and latent. Explicit interests are easy to see in others but probably not very easy to notice in ourselves. There’s also the need to understand what this pseudo-knowledge is. It’s not just the materialistic philosophy, we can deny and defeat it with full conviction, pseudo-knowledge goes much deeper than that.

We don’t need philosophy or big brains to know that eating would satisfy our hunger or sex would satisfy our lust, but that is a pseudo-knowledge. Love, family, relationships, entertainment, jokes, work, kids – extracting hope and satisfaction from any of those things is pseudo-knowledge. We know it by heart and we act on it without thinking. Our instinct of self-preservation is pseudo-knowledge, too. We can talk big words but the real test is very simple – do we instinctively reach for food? Do we instinctively try to protect ourselves from danger? These are acts based on pseudo-knowledge and, unlike Kṛṣṇa consciousness, this pseudo-knowledge is actually realized. It’s what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta called “latent partiality for the untruth”. It needs to go.

    The function of the cognitive faculty is to be relieved from the consequences of its willful and perpetual attraction towards untruth.

We should use our intelligence to free ourselves from this latent attraction. It means we should identify our weaknesses and convince ourselves that they are not worth hanging on to. This is easy to understand – anartha-nivṛtti, right? Another point we should take away from this sentence is that this anartha-nivṛtti is declared the purpose of having the brain. This is the only thing it is useful for, as will be explained later, along with answering concerns about our freedom:

    Guidance for such an end is not any curtailment of ones freedom of rational choice. The rational faculty is only then true to itself when it submits to be guided by a competent person in the quest of the truth which is located beyond his reach.

Atheists, and most educated modern people, for that matter, would immediately object to the stated need to follow a guru. They cherish their freedom too much to become someone’s intellectual slave. They say it’s irrational, that people who act on faith, both in God and in their guru, are irrational. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta answers both of these questions.

No, following the sādhu does not deprive one of his freedom and it is not irrational. Rationality is true to itself only when it is used for discovering the Absolute Truth and so it is practiced only when one submits to the sādhu. Contrary to what atheists assume, search for the Absolute Truth is rational, everything else is not.

    Neither the end nor the method indicated above proposes any form of mechanical subordination to an external agency which is being always enforced without any protest on the part of the conditioned soul by his material environment.

Submitting oneself to the words of the guru is not the same as mechanical subordination to an “external agency”. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta is telling us here that people are always forced to do that, forced to follow dictates of the material nature but they don’t even notice it and therefore never protest.

What people call “rationality” is simply following the prevailing ways of thinking and applying them to externally imposed fund of knowledge. We aren’t free to think any differently from how we’ve been taught. Westerners are very proud of being “open minded” and “free thinking” but actually we are not, our mode of thinking is totally predictable. We cannot think like Chinese, we would always think like westerners. Or we can train ourselves to think like Chinese and see the world from their POV but that would still be mechanical subordination to the forces of nature because even the choice to train to think like a Chinese would be forced on us and then rationalized. When we rationalize our choices we, in effect, strip ourselves of the free will – we ought to choose this or that because…

There’s no freedom here, only following the laws of nature. Learn to think in a certain way, see the input, process it, and produce an output. It’s not freedom, it’s subordination to the material energy, and it’s an irrational choice for anyone aware of the existence of the Absolute Truth.

    Unless we are prepared to adopt the only rational course that is open to us, the attainment of the knowledge of the absolute truth in the form of willing submission for receiving Him from His agents we really abdicate our rational function by preferring to follow the irrational alternative.

Irrational alternative here is trying to find happiness in the material world while rational function is seeking the Absolute Truth. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta concludes the paragraph with the following:

    We are of course free to go astray. We are also free to maintain that such irrational course is rational. But such sophistry will not enable us to avoid the logical consequences of such a procedure in the shape of losing sight of the truth altogether.

Basically, he says that we are not free to invent our own truth. If we decide to pursue our own course of action and call it rational, the truth will never reveal itself to us. There are lots of people, many among devotees, too, who convince themselves that they are doing the right thing. However, convincing oneself and even creating a following will not have any actual, spiritual effect. It won’t take us closer to the truth and it might force us to lose sight of the truth altogether.

The only rational choice is to submit to the authority of the sādhu, all other paths are misleading and go against our real self-interest, they only feed our pride and ego.

Article Source – navigate to p 34.


Vanity thought #940. Sense is overrated

Yesterday I talked about how rationality and logic have no place in searching for Kṛṣṇa. Mostly it’s because Kṛṣṇa is beyond the laws of nature from which logic and reason originate. He is also beyond time which is essential for application of logic – the word “then” would make no sense if there was no time and no sequencing. My conclusion was that while on the material platform we should certainly follow rules and regulations, which are logical, of course, but we shouldn’t expect our practice here have any effect of Kṛṣṇa’s decisions regarding granting us the boon of devotion.

If logic doesn’t work on Kṛṣṇa it should still work here, right? Not true.

It is true in a sense that logic, reason, cause-effect and time based laws of nature still work. It’s not true that it would work for us.

Nature’s laws are unbreakable because it’s Kṛṣṇa’s energy but we are full of faults and can never hope to implement them in our lives with the same certainty and precision.

Modern society prides itself on being based on science and rationality and has no qualms of claiming to be better than religious societies which are based on superstitions and ignorance. Science knows that the Earth is a spherical object hurling through space while religion taught everyone that the Earth is flat and that it’s resting on elephants who stand on the back of tortoises. What do tortoises stand on? No clue, those ignorant Christians never asked themselves, or so says science. When scientists, Christian scientists, mind you, discovered that the Earth is not the center of the universe they were persecuted and even burned at stake. Such celebration of ignorance, modern science says.

This sounds convincing but we cannot extrapolate those limited triumphs to assume that logic and reason will hold true for scientific method in all other cases and all other circumstances. It is possible only in theory but in reality our conditioned nature will always spoil everything in the end, we just have to be patient enough and wait for science to trip over itself.

The wait won’t be long. The best of the best, like nerds working on Hadron Collider, will take longer to make fools out of themselves but the general crowd we meet in every day life does not stand a chance, they are hopeless. Sometimes it feels like reason and logic are alien concepts to them. Sometimes they willingly discard it if it makes them feel better about any particular topic.

Take recent turmoil in Ukraine, for example. The whole western world has ganged up on Putin and want to protect Ukraine’s democratic aspirations from Russian imperial ambitions. Emotions run high and to sustain that high people will do anything – lie, ignore, avoid, deny any information that doesn’t fit with their preferred agenda.

I personally seen one otherwise reasonable man tweeting fake pictures about the subject. When pointed out he simply shrugged it off and reposted the same picture the next day simply because it made him feel good. “You don’t understand our aspirations”, he said. Actually we do – they are so strong that they make you blind and you would rather be wrong than abandon the comfort of your dreams.

People win Nobel prizes for theories that show how to exploit our innate irrationality. We may claim to be reasonable people but in reality we are anything but, we follow our minds and senses and discard advise from our intelligence more often than we dare to admit.

The other day I was reading an article by former director of UN Population Division about inequality in education. Women get more of it then men, he said.

The way the article was presented I see no reason to doubt this man’s deep knowledge of the subject and relevant statistics. He skillfully summarizes and distills numbers to present a clear picture of social dynamics of the modern world. It was an enjoyable read in that sense but then he went on and spoiled everything.

The trend he was talking about is a familiar one – “liberated” women in developed countries pursue careers and are catching up with men even though gaps and ceilings still remain. In education, however, women have overtaken men and now they outnumber them at universities. In the 70-ies there were 160 men for 100 women in colleges, at the turn of the century it was parity, and now, only a decade later, there are 93 men for 100 of women.

There are differences in what men and women study and feminists, like this guy, want to address this imbalance but that is not what is interesting. What is interesting is that he says well educated women have trouble finding suitable partners. In Australia one in four college educated women will not be able to find an equally educated man of the same age.

One could say that college education does not make one smart, it’s just a degree, but the truth is that attaining this degree requires certain amount of dedication, intelligence, and hard work that lesser educated people cannot usually muster.

This means that women have to marry below their own social level and that is never good for marriage. Many of them won’t marry at all, which is a problem in itself in many developed countries. It’s a problem because children growing up with single parents don’t do as well as those coming from solid families.

Childbearing is another challenge to the modern women – it takes time and distracts them from their careers which only reenforces inequality feminists strive to eradicate.

So here they are, presumably rational and very knowledgeable people, caught in a dilemma – they try to pursue path that creates unresolvable problems yet their solution is to keep doing the same thing and keep piling those problems up – more freedom for women, more education, more opportunities, less time spent on raising children and so on. The real clincher, however, is this – if trying to break through barriers of gender inequality is so difficult then we should do away with genders altogether and raise boys and girls equally right from the start, with equal preferences between arts and engineering so that gender differentiation ceases to exist.

There’s a tiny little problem with child bearing, though. Only women can do that, but our rational and logical feminists have answer for this, too – child bearing should be reduced to a minimum, women should work all through pregnancy, take a very short leave, and come back ASAP without missing anything in company’s business.

What will happen to these children raised by the state instead of their mothers? Will they have enough of them to sustain the population? No idea, never bothered to ask themselves like those Christians with their tortoises.

There’s one more thing they totally missed – in their fight for equality they make all women to be like men. That’s what it means, right – women must be equal to men? In their ultimate society there won’t be any women at all, only workers, which is a traditional male role. There won’t be any mothers, there won’t be any wives, there won’t be any femininity.

And yet they call themselves feminists.

Nope, if we try to succeed in this world on the strength of reason and logic we will fail. It won’t get us anywhere in the long term, only for the duration of the initial spark of brightness that will soon be replaced by darkness of our innate imperfection and ignorance.

Maybe that’s why intelligence is said to be created out of mode of passion – it drives us to be rational and logical just for the sake of the rush but in the end leads to our destruction.

To sum it up – this world is hopeless.