Vanity thought #1506. “Decline”

“Good times with Lord Nityānanda” were almost as good as when Lord Caitanya started the saṅkīrtana movement in Navadvīpa. I say almost as good because not everyone accepted Lord Nityānanda’s pastimes as genuine, as evident from curses thrown their way by Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura in Caitanya Bhāgavata.

I don’t think it should be surprising. Lord Caitanya was very sensitive to people’s perceptions of Him. When He realized not everyone was accepting His authority He took sannyāsa. When He took sannyāsa He made sure His behavior was spotless and no one, absolutely no one could find blemishes in His character and behavior. Lord Nityānanda, otoh, couldn’t care less what people thought of Him, He’d simply melt their hearts with love of God. It worked, but there are always holdouts who might accept phenomena like saṅkīrtana as a new normal but they won’t stop grumbling about this “progress” and seek every reason to criticize it. Lord Nityānanda gave them plenty. All they had to do was to outlast the Lord and then start picking on less than absolutely perfect followers. I’m not saying this is what happened but it sounds plausible to me.

Another speculative reason for apparent decline in saṅkīrtana in Bengal was sex. It doesn’t affect Lord Nityānanda, of course, but it affects everyone of us. Unless absolutely pure we can’t think of somebody’s marriage without at least imagining if we could try it ourselves, and that’s how it gets in.

Generally, all Lord Nityānanda’s associates were married. They were cowherd boys descended from Goloka so it didn’t affect them, it was not a problem and no one thought about it twice, it wasn’t an impediment to their saṅkīrtana. Once they all departed, however, ordinary conditioned souls were left with an impossible standard to maintain and a natural desire to be married.

Lord Nityānanda Himself, ostensibly a sannyāsī, got married and He even got TWO wives, not just one. He wasn’t bound by His sannyāsa vows and was renouncing renunciation. Some devotees in our movement tried that, too, with disastrous results. We can’t imitate the Lord, and we are not even doing it right.

In case of Lord Nityānanda the order to marry came from Lord Caitanya Himself. I don’t remember it being mentioned in Caitanya Caritāmṛta but it stated explicitly in Nityānanda Caritāmṛta by Vṛndāvana Dāsā Ṭhākura. I don’t know why this book is not as popular as his Caitanya Bhāgavata but it exists and there Mahāprabhu gives the order to Lord Nityānanda not only to preach but also to start a household life. There are two chapters dedicated to Lord Nityānanda’s marriage there, and I think it’s covered in other books, too.

Elsewhere I heard that when Lord Caitanya was told of Lord Nityānanda’s marriage people were expected to see His surprise but instead He said that as far as He is concerned, Lord Nityānanda could marry a Muslim girl and it wouldn’t affect Mahāprabhu’s opinion of Him in the slightest. It’s in line with “if you see Nityānanda going into a liquor shop you have to assume He goes there to preach” dictum.

Anyway, Lord Nityānanda married two sisters, one was the famous Jāhnava Mātā who, by all accounts, wasn’t an ordinary woman and we have no evidence to suggest the Lord ever engaged in sexual relations with her, at least she didn’t have any children. Marriage to the second sister was “accidental”. Once she was serving prasādam to the Lord and the piece of sari covering her head fell off. She immediately manifested two extra hands and pulled her sari back up, and that’s how Lord Nityānanda recognized His other eternal consort.

It’s this second wife, Vasudhā, who gave Lord Nityānanda a son, the famous Vīracandra who everyone thought was just like Lord Caitanya Himself.

Whatever we think about marriage now (or rather thought about it in the early days of our movement), it was a necessary institution for preaching to Bengali villagers back then. Somehow it wasn’t so important in Vṛndāvana but we should remember that Vṛndāvana is a small place compared to Bengal, and it was very sparsely populated back then. Whoever went there afterwards went for pure devotion, there’s a kind of entrance price to pay there, but Bengal was open for everyone and it was probably the most populated part of India at the time. People there needed to be converted, not admitted after a thorough background check. Ordinary people won’t go for sannyāsa lifestyle, it wasn’t a thing in the times of Mahāprabhu and it was even less of a thing after His disappearance.

Somehow or other householder followers of Lord Nityānanda and Advaita Ācārya held the fort there for hundreds of years. I heard there was a blessing that Advaita Ācārya’s line would hold for thirteen generations, they are on the fourteenth now but we also offer people other outlets to connect to Lord Caitanya nowadays so everyone who wanted genuine devotion has always been covered.

We can say that general level of devotion deteriorated and Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism was overrun by apa-sampradāyas but we should still remember that this marriage business started on the order of Mahāprabhu and He must have had known how it would turn out later on.

Another case was that of Śrīnivāsa Ācārya who was one the most prominent devotees of his generation. His birth was blessed by Mahāprabhu Himself and He got association of most exalted devotees while growing up. He was initiated by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī and then trained by Jīva Gosvāmī. He was supposed to be a renunciate even though Bhakti Ratnākara doesn’t mention sannyāsa per se.

When Śrīnivāsa Ācāyra eventually returned to Bengal he stopped in his birthplace and met with his seniors there. At the time Śrīnivāsa was devastated after disappearance of Lord Caitanya and all of His immediate associates. He cried profusely in separation and it was at this moment that Advaita Ācārya appeared to him a dream and ordered him to get married. Later on Narahari Ṭhākura. who was an undisputed authority for Śrīnivāsa since his very birth, suggested the same thing, too.

I doubt they would have done so if Śrīnivāsa still stayed in Vṛndāvana rather then visiting his birthplace with all associated memories. One more reason that one should never ever step a foot outside of Vṛndāvana, the world will somehow get you.

Anyway, first there were orders from the seniors and then the marriage was arranged. It’s not like Śrīnivāsa woke up one day and thought that renunciation wasn’t for him anymore, as it often happens to our devotees. Perhaps household life is a natural coping mechanism in physical separation from the source of our spiritual strength. It doesn’t mean a falldown per se, but physical presence of our guru means physical and emotional engagement for our bodies. In guru’s absence it must be filled by something else because physical attachment in Kali yuga is unavoidable. We can’t go on on the holy spirit alone, to borrow from our Christian friends, it’s not possible for our bodies just as it’s not possible to sustain them without food.

A sidenote here – in Satya yuga prāṇa was attached to bones so as long as bones were there it was possible to maintain life. In Kali yuga prāṇa is dependent on soft tissues and, therefore, proper nourishment and food. I speculate here that the emotional dependency is similarly necessary, so if there’s no guru then there must be a wife.

Of course this “rule” is not absolute but it explains why devotees in constant contact and constant service to their gurus do not generally even think of marriage but as soon as they are left alone they transfer their affection to their partners. It doesn’t mean that our relationships with the guru are sexual in nature but guru does provide companionship and emotional anchor without which we are lost.

When sex gets into the picture we all get affected. Lord Nityānanda wasn’t, Śrīnivāsa wasn’t, but when the rest of us follow their footsteps we are bound to get attached. Maybe it doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things and doesn’t affect Lord Caitanya’s promise to take us back to Godhead at the end of our lives, but the external manifestation of our devotion is bound to suffer and go into “decline”.

So, the point is that it happens, and it’s still probably the best way to maintain the movement in the absence of super powerful ācāryas. It doesn’t mean any actual deficiency and it doesn’t mean Lord Caitanya’s plan is not working and we are ruining His mission. We can’t ruin His mission, we are too small and insignificant, so we better learn to see it as perfect as it is and learn to appreciate His mercy even when by some other standards it might appear as lacking.

Vanity thought #1452. Pseudochoice

We think that we are torn by choices and that we can make rational, guru and śāstra based decisions about our spiritual life. We can decide which service to take, whether to become preachers or pūjārīs, whether to marry or stay celibate, whether to stay loyal to ISKCON or seek spiritual advice elsewhere. One can open any book about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life and find countless examples of such freedom where he as a guru gave this freedom to decide to his disciples, and he even occasionally allowed them to override his advice on these matters. Even atheists observe that making choices is the foundation of our lives, that our choices define us.

We also know that we are simply tossed around by waves raised by the modes of nature and possess only an illusion of free will. To that we say that only devotional service brings freedom and so devotees can make free choices while everybody else can’t.

Earlier this week I’ve argued that even the heads of our society, the sannyāsīs, are not as free to choose how to lead their devotional lives, that they are forced to accept roles of kings and renounce renunciation by the demands of our preaching mission. I won’t go as far as to cynically claim that they took the roles of leaders because that’s what they actually wanted, to rule and control, renunciation rhetoric notwithstanding. There could be some truth in this claim but we’d rather not think of our best devotees in such an unflattering way.

If freedom of our heads is doubtful, what is the freedom of our tails, the “hoi polloi” torn between urges to eat and steal glances at our female population? None whatsoever, rhetorically speaking. It’s all just karma and illusion.

Our managers are trained to engage us according to our nature, to put right people in the right places. Where is our freedom in that? We can only voice reactions to their decision, which are actually reactions of our minds. They don’t even need to be verbal as pleasure or disagreement can be expressed perfectly by bleating, grunting, or mooing. “Oh, he doesn’t like that,” the manager can see right away and give us some other engagement.

Of course we can also take initiative and offer suggestions about what we really want and what engagements agree with our nature, but is there freedom in that? We don’t get to decide what our nature is and what feels good to our minds. Sometimes we might not be very clear about what we want but that’s not freedom, it’s just confusion caused by contradictory urges, which we still can’t control.

Even when talking to our authorities we aren’t free in our expression, we must follow the protocol and there are limits to what we can admit in public, including things we don’t admit even to ourselves. Sometimes we are truly sincere but quite often both sides know that there are certain things better left unsaid no matter the sincerity, and most of the time it’s a negotiation, meaning one hopes to get a better value out of the agreement than the other side suspects, that both sides come with hidden motives they don’t disclose on purpose so as not to be taken advantage of.

Skillful negotiators know it very well – how to find a weak spot and gain leverage, whether it’s a secret one would make big concessions to keep or whether it’s an irresistible attachment he’d give an arm and a leg to maintain. Our ISKCON managers can be master manipulators this way, too.

The easiest way to control your men is by exposing them to women. Once they are sold on the prospect of interacting with females they’d take whatever position that would keep them closer to that alien species. When they come to complain about this or that later on you can always bring “but you wanted to be here” card and remind them that their women are still attainable. They’d do anything for that hope of association and would go away with “I suppose you are right, this service is what I really want” admission of defeat.

Who thinks these poor sods have any freedom? Let THEM think that, but the bosses know better.

Devotees who are already in relationships are a lost cause in terms of seeking freedom. They must work to maintain their families and children, money is an external object to them, they must get it from someone else and that someone will always dictate what needs to be done in exchange. Our “freedom” here is only to seek a more benevolent dictator but even then our choices and abilities to approach them are limited. Regardless, family is practically a life long commitment and commitment means loss of freedom even in the conventional sense. We must work, there’s no choice.

And then there’s this self-fulfillment cause. We must find ourselves and live to our full potential. Who told us we need that? Why do we accept this mantra unchallenged? People can offer an easy explanation why self-fulfillment is necessary – “you must find yourself because..” Wait a minute, as soon as “because” gets involved you have forfeited your freedom, your actions become conditional on whatever comes after that “because”.

At the end all this self-fulfillment business comes to seeking pleasure, it just feels better to live this way, and we are pleasure seeking entities by our constitution, it’s just what we do and there’s no freedom in that. We can’t deny our nature, we’ll always seek pleasure no matter what.

And so we will act to find that pleasure in all circumstances, as men we would seek women, as women we would seek men, and there’s a much greater gradation to how we want to control the world, whether we want to build stuff, control what other people think, or destroy stuff built by someone else that yet another else decides to be illegal. Some of this is available in ISKCON, some cravings can be successfully substituted, but if one has a calling to be a butcher or a fisherman then there’s nothing we can do about that.

Spiritually speaking, that’s not who we are, those are just false identities that have taken over our lives and dictate our wants and needs. We might fulfill them, we might not, spiritually speaking it makes no difference. Self-fulfillment is a long term project, what we haven’t finished in one life will be continued in the next, and we have such a variety of desires that some of them will remain unsatisfied.

In fact, we are caught in this endless, externally imposed dissatisfaction loop as there’s a big delay between forming the desire and it bringing karmic results. Quite often we don’t even want the fulfillment anymore when our karma finally fructifies. Well, that’s because we’ve already been overwhelmed by new desires that contradict our earlier ones and this brings us pain. “That’s not what I wanted” and “I never wanted that” are our go to excuses, which are simply our short memory and pathological lying to ourselves.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven and the message from our ācāryas, from Prahlāda Mahārāja to Bhagavad Gīta to Śrīla Prabhupāda, is simple – endeavoring for happiness in the material world is unnecessary, it will come on its own just as distress comes uninvited in due time. We don’t have to make any efforts to find it, it will find us. Intelligent people take to chanting of the holy name instead because this endeavor is the most profitable in every respect. It might not always feel this way in the beginning, but neither do decades of training to achieve success in any other field. It’s always a sacrifice, for everybody, we just have to pray to the Lord that He keeps us interested, keeps us going. In my experience He always delivers.

Vanity thought #1451. Tails

If sannyāsīs are the heads of our movement then the rest of us are tails, the other side of the coin. Sannyāsīs, the “real” ones, are right-hand path people – those who truly renounce as much of the world as possible and see playing yukta-vairāgya as dangerous to their spiritual health. Those who go against traditional roles and accept all kinds of dangers for the sake of the service are left-hand people and there are no rules yet that have been written for them. Ordinarily, they should be a tiny minority, but not in ISKCON.

This is not unusual, it’s actually by design, as we are followers of the vāmācāra associates of the Lord starting from Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī herself. Our previous ācāryas, particularly Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, were revolutionaries and completely upended what was understood by Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism back then. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was gentle, Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī thought it was hopeless and didn’t want to have anything to do with it, but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī boldly grabbed the “righteous” Gauḍīyas by the scruff of their necks and threw them in the garbage bin of history. We’ve never heard of them again, accept when they come out to prey on fallen devotees.

That is not to say that there were no real devotees outside of Gauḍīya Maṭhas but somehow they either didn’t survive or excused themselves from the preaching mission and decided to keep an extremely low profile. And that was a four hundred year old institution starting from Lords Caitanya and Nityānanda themselves, as well as Advaita Ācārya and other eternally liberated souls. They also started as left-hand path, changed the face of Bengal, well established themselves, but then gradually faded away.

This is just the dynamics – old powers corrupt, new powers come in, break all the rules, establish the new ones, and then they also eventually corrupt and get replaced. Ordinary people learn to get their spiritual benefits at each stage, both during the renewal of the tradition and during practice of working methods and strategies. We just learn to cope with it all. Ready for a change but also valuing the status quo when the status quo is the only spirituality we know. We’ll make do, thank you for your care.

ISKCON was a major revolution for the westerners, we challenged the world on everything, we accepted a strikingly odd culture, we rejected all their axiomatic truths, and we simply refused to live by their old rules. That was then, now it’s somewhat different. New rules have been put in place, new codes of behavior, some of us are milking them for our spiritual sustenance while there are those who rebel against them, too, even if silently.

Take the morning program, for example. Officially, every ISKCON devotee must attend it without exception, many gurus make regular attendance as part of the qualification for discipleship. GBC is watching out for complaints about our leaders slacking off in their sādhana, everyone knows that. And yet all this commotion has come about only because plenty of our devotees thought that morning programs are for neophytes while seasoned devotees, fully engaged in their preaching service, don’t really have to go as they are above such silly regulations.

People would quote how Śrīla Prabhupāda put preaching and book distribution above rules about fasting, for example. I don’t think he ever said devotees could skip morning program but it’s a logical next step for those who come from book distribution very very late and don’t get enough sleep. They never say that morning programs are not important, they say that attending them affects their preaching and preaching can’t be sacrificed.

Those who moved out of the temples got a natural excuse and even if they are expected to conduct morning programs at home they can say they are not ready for deity worship yet and without deities there’s no real reason to wake up in such an ungodly hour, they just say they are not morning persons and it screws up their lives.

I’m not judging them here, my intention is to point out how our left hand affinity to breaking rules edges us to rebel against ISKCON itself. There are probably better examples than morning programs but you get the drift.

We do not see sense gratification as dangerous, sannyāsīs can think whatever they want, we aren’t them, they are special. After a while we might start to think that they are not special at all as we accept our new normal as true spirituality and forget that it might look very different to those who really gave up on self-indulgence. We think they are doing it for the status, we don’t see sannyāsa as particularly necessary for preaching anymore. When one of our fellow devotees applies for sannyāsa we accept that if he gets it we’ll have to take whatever he says more seriously and we are fine with it. We don’t think that sannyāsīs discover new spiritual truths, that’s just not possible. We all read the same books, study the same philosophy, come to the same programs, visit the same dhamas, so their experience must be the same as ours.

Of course we don’t say this out loud and we probably try to purge such thoughts from our minds, if we are sober enough, but that should be our natural reaction whether we approve of it or not (of course we shouldn’t).

And so we let our senses rip, they are not meant to be stopped, we argue, but merely directed towards Kṛṣṇa. This connection to Kṛṣṇa far outweighs all other possible concerns about rules and regulations, we think. It purifies us no matter what it looks like to outsiders, and there’s no other way to deal with them – it’s the only way. Personally, I don’t see any other way either, our ācāryas didn’t recommend any other alternatives and were rather strict against immature renunciation, so that’s it?

Of course not, this left-hand path might work great in the beginning but dynamics always change, people settle in their routines and soon enough problems start to appear. First they hit our sannyāsīs, who weren’t even practicing sannyāsa in the traditional sense of the word, but what their failures told us is that renunciation is bad and must be rejected in our age.

Well, they fell down because they weren’t renounced enough and gave in to the amount of sense-indulgence they couldn’t handle, all those perks that came with their jobs finally got them. We, however, took a completely wrong lesson out of it and blamed the wrong party – renunciation. Their fall strengthened our resolve to go along with our senses as much as possible and we started pushing boundaries anywhere we can, demanding spiritual recognition of our material urges. That doesn’t work, of course, and it bred a new wave of failures, but that’s something I will probably talk about tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1450. General mislabel

Yesterday I got to the point where we award devotees with sannyāsa but then appoint them to lead our saṅkīrtana army as if they were generals. There are implications to this so let’s talk about it.

In a fight against atheism we certainly need leaders and we can’t expect our leaders to engage in frontline battles, standing out there on street corners and converting people one by one. That wouldn’t be an effective use of their abilities because one such leader can inspire thousands of other devotees who will contact thousand time more people and with a greater degree of success.

That last point is important – normal logic would dictate that since our leaders are the best than they should be better at preaching than their followers, so if a leader converts five people per day than one thousand followers would convert less 5×1,000=5,000. Maybe 4,000 if on average they are only 80% as good.

Kṛṣṇa conscious math doesn’t follow normal logic, however. Individually, the followers might not be as effective but when acting on the orders of the spiritual master they project the power of the entire parampāra. There are no limitations on what one devotee can achieve, no matter how mediocre they might appear to outsiders. Technically, a leader, backed up by the parampāra, can convert the entire world single-handedly, but so can any number of his followers, because we don’t know how many of them can turn into a moon and eclipse everyone around them. We have more chances trying with a thousand people than if we put all our expectations on just one.

That’s what Śrīla Prabhupāda did when he appointed eighteen GBCs and demanded them to work collectively. Far from finding the moon, but they have managed to keep ISKCON together despite huge losses, and we can’t attribute this success, however modest, to any one devotee in particular. Saṅkīrtana, after all, means congregation, it always works better in numbers.

Where was I? Ah, yes, we need generals to lead and organize our saṅkīrtana efforts but somehow we mislabel them as sannyāsīs. A general, a leader, must project image of power, fame, and opulence. Ordinary people won’t follow him otherwise, that is a defect of human nature that has become a lot more prominent in Kali yuga. People won’t pay attention to someone who has not “made it”, as simple as that.

I remember one Australian politician seriously proposing that unless a man can’t afford to drive a BMW he shouldn’t even try to run for office. Right now Donald Trump leads Republican pack of presidential candidates and his only claim to expertise of any sorts is that he has ten billion dollars. If he managed to do that he must be able to lead the country. Now, that might not impress everyone but that’s because all other alternatives aren’t poor either and can raise billions of dollars themselves. Bernie Sanders and his ideas don’t stand a chance, as I mentioned yesterday.

You can read Prabhupāda’s interviews with reporters in the US and lots of them don’t hide the fact that ISKCON’s financial success played a major part in stocking their interest. When we had a twelve story building in Manhattan as our temple they couldn’t dismiss us as weird ex-hippies pestering people at the airports, our wealth had made us count.

It was the same story in India. White dancing elephants or not, but we needed to build big ass temples to be taken seriously. Sometimes Śrīla Prabhupāda was frank about it – what’s the use of all my American disciples if they can’t build something awesome. He didn’t want us to be seen as penniless white trash begging even from poor Indians for sustenance.

Raising money was important and we gave this job to our leaders, but then we called then sannyāsīs, renunciates. The more money you could produce, the greater the chances were of you getting sannyāsa. Of course you couldn’t just buy it but raising funds meant the ability to command and control devotees, and if you have proven yourself at that, you were good for sannyāsa.

Well, we just didn’t have any other titles for our leadership, and we saw this drive to command and control as an example of yukta-vairāgya.

We argue that people can’t stop from feeling and willing and so real renunciation is to engage themselves in Kṛṣṇa’s service. There’s nothing wrong with this logic but sannyāsa traditionally means reducing one’s feeling and willing to a bare minimum. Śrīla Prabhupāda practiced that for a decade before being put in charge of a worldwide movement. And he took sannyāsa after he was thoroughly done with his household life. Our devotees, OTOH, had less than a decade starting from scratch, from a position far far lower than Śrīla Prabhupāda’s birth in a vaiṣṇava family, never ever having engaged in sinful activities that our ex-hippies were accustomed to.

It was implausible for us to wait out until they prove themselves sannyāsa-wise, they had to take leadership positions now and then. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself sometimes explained it as war-time rules. During the war soldiers get promoted to lieutenants right on the spot, to fill positions left by their killed commanders, there’s no time to wait for them to finish the academy. There’s no alternative, you simply have to pick the best available and go with your choice.

We aren’t at war anymore, though, are we? With fifty years of history we can afford to wait until our next generation of leaders mature and get necessary training, and we can finally award sannyāsa to mature renunciates, too. We can wait for people to prove their abilities in controlling their senses and we aren’t so fixated on GBCs being sannyāsīs anymore.

This doesn’t completely solve our problem with awarding spiritual titles to material leaders. We need to have people expert at manipulating our material resources but we also need to motivate them spiritually. Traditionally, it was the job of the kings, we haven’t got those yet. We haven’t got devotees who are so inspiring that people can ignore that they also require a degree of opulence and sense gratification. We ourselves aren’t used to the idea that our leaders can legitimately indulge their senses, we see it as a spiritual disqualification. We want sannyāsīs to raise millions of dollars in funds and build big temples like TOVP, or even organize massive preaching efforts, which we expect to be strictly Kṛṣṇa conscious. If we see our leaders monetizing preaching we find it unappealing, and if we see not so pure wannabe devotees allowed on the stage we think it’s a sacrilege and Śrīla Prabhupāda would never let them anywhere near the microphone.

This might be true, I’m actually pretty sure it is, but this is what moving forward with kings at our helm would eventually mean – all kinds of people being brought in and given a place and awarded respect.

The next step would be us realizing that we shouldn’t mix with kings, no matter how devoted they are, and stay away from them as far as possible, like Lord Caitanya did with King Pratāparudra. Our next generation of renunciates will be renouncing ISKCON!

I see nothing wrong with “diluting” our society for the sake of growth. As we embrace more and more people we will have to put up with their imperfections, Kṛṣṇa does that with not so exemplary residents of Vṛndāvana, Lord Caitanya treats Muslims living in Navadvīpa as His own, too. We need to treat everyone who takes shelter in our society as a family, we can’t reject them for the sake of purity, though the urge is sometimes difficult to resist.

We should better concentrate on our core, strengthen the spiritual position of our most dedicated members, and we should allow them to sometimes distance themselves from ISKCON’s “hoi polloi”. They are not after titles anymore and they don’t apply for sannyāsa, they are perfectly happy to chant without getting any recognition for their efforts but we should never forget that they are always there and they should be the source of spiritual strength for everyone else, including our nominal leaders.

I think we, as a society, are doing okay in this regard. It’s not a utopia but a reality, if one knows where to look.

Vanity thought #1448. Contemporary asceticism

Thinking how the decision to drop atomic bombs was forced on US military command by the accumulated effects of the Kali Yuga I tried to find a connection to our ISKCON. We haven’t dropped any bombs anywhere ourselves (there was one episode in NZ, though) but it doesn’t mean we are immune to the influence of Kali. The problem is not only in overcoming unusually strong attachments but in that it forces us to act in decidedly non-Vedic ways even for a good cause.

Take our yukta-vairāgya, for example. The idea is for mahā-bhāgavata devotees to use everything they see for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. For us, however, it slowly turns into an excuse to indulge ourselves in sense-gratification under the pretext of service. If it was a real yukta-vairāgya then we would be able to stop it at will and simply sit still, absorbed in chanting and meditation on the Lord. We can’t however, we “need” to act, and so there’s no vairāgya in our actions of any kind, there’s plenty of hypocrisy, though.

Maybe it’s only karma-yoga – dedicating results of our work to Kṛṣṇa while we reserve the right to thoroughly enjoy the process. Maybe it’s only “always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget” rule where we allow ourselves to do practically anything and consider it okay as long as we keep Kṛṣṇa somewhere in the back of our minds.

I don’t mean “okay” from the rules perspective, I mean okay from the perspective of renunciation. Hitting a snooze button on alarm clocks is not against any rules, for example, it’s “okay”, but enjoying even a few extra minutes of sleep is not okay for renunciates, who we claim to be with our yukta-vaiṛāgya excuse. Well, what we cleverly say is that these extra minutes enable us to get up feeling fresh and so contribute to the quality of our morning service, which is very important, more important than getting up on time for the sake of the rules.

This explanation might be acceptable but what happens to us embracing these extra minutes of sleep with eager anticipation, longing for the comfort of our pillows? What kind of vairāgya is in that? if we gave in to this pleasure then everything we say afterwards to deny our self-indulgence is hypocrisy. If someone sprung up from bed on time but then dozed off during his japa we would call it monkey renunciation, but what do we call ours?

The only solution that I can think of is to accept our imperfection, stop calling it yukta-vairāgya, identify problem areas and start working on them. In the snooze button case it’s disassociating ourselves from the pleasure brought to us by the warm embraces of our pillows. We can’t avoid it, we also need to get up fresh so sleep is necessary, but we can’t see this enjoyment as ours, it’s an interaction between material elements extraneous to our real existence.

Beating the snooze button pleasure would be a great achievement, btw, because at this point our mind and intelligence are still turned off and so we don’t have the same sense of [false] self-awareness we are forced to live with during the day. The illusion is at its weakest during deep sleep, as śāstras say, and so finding “ourselves” in this situation should be a lot closer to the truth than our self-perception in fully awakened state. It should enable us to see daytime imposition of the mind as external to our real selves, finally beating “I think therefore I am” illusion.

Seeing failures in our renunciation, yukta or otherwise, should also enable us to see our real enemies. What is it that drives us to act? Is it our own desire on an external imposition? Is it a combination of both? How much of it is truly ours and what can we do about it?

A mahā-bhāgavata devotee would, presumably, see everything in this world as an external imposition but an imposition by Kṛṣṇa’s energies for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. His own participation would be determined by the degree of his realization of his actual spiritual form. I don’t think he would act on it, though.

We have an example of Lord Caitanya playing out His pastimes with Kṛṣṇa in “real” life but to outsiders it looked like total madness. No one else among His followers did anything close. What we’ve been told is that as we slowly uncover our preferred rasa we devevs vairagya
lop affinity for listening to that particular type of Kṛṣṇa līlā, and that is what I think the degree of our true spiritual involvement should ever be while still in this world.

Everything we do before we reach that level would be acting in illusion – illusion that we are the doers in this world and we can control and manipulate material energy according to our will. The only difference from the rest of the eternally conditioned population is that we assume our will as superior to theirs, so Kṛṣṇa Himself is helping us to do anything we want while they are left at the mercy of karma. I’m not sure this difference should count as positive for our spiritual progress, however.

Is this the kind of freedom we hope to achieve in Kṛṣṇa consciousness? The fulfillment of the same desire to control the world but now with Kṛṣṇa’s help?

Well, I guess it is progress but it should not be seen as the ultimate goal of our process. There should come a time when we realize that controlling the world is not as much fun as letting Kṛṣṇa do it and becoming His puppets instead. That’s what the liberated soul cries for when chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa – please engage me in Your service. Not “please empower me in whatever I want to do”.

But then there’s preaching – mahā-bhāgavatas don’t preach, the world is absolutely perfect as it is and doesn’t need any improvements. Every living entity is already engaged in service the Lord in whatever capacity that suits best his consciousness so there’s nothing for mahā-bhāgavatas to do here. Wait, maybe this isn’t right – it’s paramahaṁsas that don’t do anything, mahā-bhāgavatas could be different in that they see superiority of the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth so everyone who is not engaged in service to Bhagavan needs to be elevated to that stage. They see full potential of every living being and they see how it can be achieved, and they can convince the Lord to upgrade relationship level with these jīvas, too, so preaching is there as their service. It’s paramahaṁsas that don’t preach.

It makes sense but I’m just speculating here. I hope there’s a verse or two that clarify the difference, if there’s any, between mahā-bhāgavatas and paramahaṁsas.

In any case, the role of those liberated souls that take up preaching adds a level of complexity to the whole renunciation paradigm. That’s when yukta-vairāgya actually comes in, but that’s a topic for another day.

Vanity thought #1297. To be totally honest

This is not about any personal revelations, I mean being totally honest with Kṛṣṇa. Are we really, most of the time? Are we holding something back? Are trying to fool the Lord and, perhaps, ourselves?

Personally, I hate articles that start with a bunch of questions. If I see something like that I just skip over unless I have a compelling reason to tax my own brain and figure out what it is that the author really wants. So, don’t try to answer mine, they are rhetorical. The answer are No, Yes, and Yes, if we are totally honest.

We can’t help it, we want to control and enjoy the world, it just feels so good. Not all the time, of course, but this world has its own moments and if our lives are really going bad we always have memories and hopes.

People deprived of sense gratification can really kill for a bite of food. I hope it never happens to any of us but if it did, there’s no way of telling how low we could go when nature squeezes us real hard. Most of the time we don’t have to get into extreme situations at all and would lie and cheat either for money, prestige, or plain sex. For sex, people would do anything. Maybe not right away but if the object of our desire plays his or her cards well they can get us into a situation where we would be ready to kill someone, let alone cheat or steal.

Again, we don’t have to go to extremes, we have a much higher standards than the ordinary public, we don’t need to become criminals to commit offenses before the Lord and His devotees. Simple desire to indulge or to keep our passions is enough to disqualify us from obtaining Lord’s mercy. Every simple, tiny little thing that we want to keep for ourselves shuts the doors completely.

We might be able to restrain ourselves for now but if we let our mind keep its options open in the future it would be an offense already. We can’t deal with our minds like we deal with our kids. Kids can be fooled with future promises: “Not now, son, first we have to do this thing and then that thing, and maybe later…”, and we hope that the kid forgets. It doesn’t work all the time but some cravings indeed go away with time. Well, we can’t do this to our minds.

If we leave an option that sometime in the future our mind can have its sex, for example, then that’s what it will remember. It will be a deal – it will leave us alone for now but will come to collect later. We must realize that when we are dealing with our minds we also make promises to ourselves because we identify ourselves with sense gratification, both gross and subtle. We think it will happen to us, we think that we will experience it ourselves, that it will be some sort of a future reward for overpowering the mind in the present, and that will be “maintaining material desires”.

Honestly, I don’t think we can live in any other way while being under the material illusion. As long as we are attached to our false egos we WILL think that pleasurable interactions between senses and sense objects happen to us directly. And as long as we think we “deserve” letting our hair down once in a while we have no chance of Kṛṣṇa making a grand entrance into our lives.

Once again, it doesn’t have to be a big sin, like illicit sex. We have infinite number of subtle enjoyments that we might be as attached to as ordinary people are to fornication. In fact, sex desire eventually subsides as we grow older but subtle desires to dominate and control the world around us stay forever.

In that sense, I sometimes envy people with Alzheimer’s because they often give up on trying to be normal. Not all of them but some. There’s a stage where they imagine they are doing okay and act is if they in total command of their mental faculties but for some there’s also a stage where they realize their mind is gone. At this point they don’t fight with relatives or care takers, they don’t make crazy demands, they don’t make outrageous accusations, they suffer in silence, being forced to be meek and humble.

Sometimes I wish my life was like that and I would be freed from all my responsibilities. When you are seen as a productive member of society there are so many expectations to fulfill. You must be ambitious, you must project power, you must appear in control, you must have dreams, you must project the image of success. If I had Alzheimer’s I would have been excused.

There isn’t sannyāsā in this age, as we know. Partly, it means that there isn’t a social order for us where we can renounce all worldly aspirations. This means we have to keep appearances, we have no permission to seek shelter only of Lord’s lotus feet and depend on Him alone.

It’s not a contradiction, just a nod to reality. Whoever imagines himself ready for such a position is very likely to fail, Kali Yuga eventually gets everyone. We have to carry the burden of our material misidentification, we can’t give it up like sannyāsīs of the previous ages. We are condemned to suffer the company of our minds indefinitely and there’s nothing we can do, just learn to be humble and patient.

It’s a little trouble for the privilege to develop love of God simply by chanting the Holy Name. This process doesn’t work in any other age, only for us, so we get the best and the worst at the same time. Sometimes I think that people who desire to live their lives purely in service to the Lord are secretly seeking liberation from the struggles imposed on us by Kali Yuga. They want to serve because it will bring them relief. Maybe I’m wrong but only fully liberated persons can have unalloyed desires to serve, for the rest of us there will always be a tinge of either bhukti or mukti – desire for enjoyment or renunciation of suffering.

So, to be totally honest, we are destined to be shitty servants and we will never attain the necessary level of purity in this age. It does’t mean we are doomed, but it means we are not likely to attain Kṛṣṇa premā while in our current material bodies. Or, to put it in another way – our bodies are not designed for Kṛṣṇa premā. We can’t make our lumps of lust into Lord’s pure accessories or instruments, not going to happen. Our bodies will never be good enough for that. We must resign ourselves to serving from a distance. Perhaps life after life, as going to Vaikuṇṭha isn’t going to solve our problem either – their bodies are not meant for developing the kind of premā we want.

So, all we have left is to chant against all odds. The Lord is always with us, just not with us as we imagine ourselves.

PS. Sannyāsā in ISKCON and GM before that is not meant for practicing renunciation but for preaching. Our sannyāsīs wouldn’t qualify by Vedic standards, even by standards in Lord Caitanya’s time, but they are doing great service, far greater that simply practicing renunciation, and will surely earn a ton of mercy for it.

Vanity thought #1290. Gauranga grief

Thinking about somewhat mundane aspect of Lord Caitanya’s appearance reminded me about grief He gave to His wives. Of course there’s nothing mundane about Lord’s pastimes but let me explain what I mean.

We can celebrate Lord’s birthday as the appearance of our savior but we can also look at it in the context of His pre-conversion Navadvīpa pastimes. He was a channa avatāra, hidden from view of everyone, including His closest future devotees, for many many years. They all saw Him, they all knew Him, yet no one suspected He was a devotee, let alone the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself.

First, He was an ordinary boy, and quite naughty at that. After His father’s disappearance He became even more “difficult”, one day practically destroying His house out of anger. Then He became a proud scholar, trolling everyone for a fight about Sanskrit grammar. Then He got married and, after losing His first wife, He got married again. Interestingly, He spend several months working closely with his future spiritual master, Īśvara Purī, on editing his book but didn’t display any visible signs of future surrender.

So it’s this context that I called “mundane”, because it doesn’t explicitly manifest Lord Caitanya’s own nature and the purpose of His appearance. It doesn’t mean that it was actually mundane, it only appeared so externally. Demigods knew what was going on and showed up at important junctions in Lord’s life dressed as ordinary people, and there were cases when the Lord ‘s identity was revealed privately but under strict non-disclosure agreements. Spiritually, Lord’s association was just as beneficial to those around Him even if they didn’t know about it. People were constantly induced to chant the names of Hari even if only to pacify the Lord in moments of His apparent distress. More or less, it was just like with Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana where no one knew His actual position but loved Him unconditionally anyway.

We have no problems with discussing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes on this external level, keeping in mind that He was not simply a little boy and that all His devotees were perfect in their love even if they didn’t know He was God. I suppose we can discuss Lord Caitanya’s pastimes in the similar vein, too.

So, the grief.

The Lord appeared as an ordinary boy and lived an ordinary life. Everybody was happy when He was born and everybody was happy when He got married. There was nothing unusual about that. But, Lord’s principal reason for appearance was preaching the Holy Name and immersing Himself into the ocean of unalloyed bhakti. Marriage had no place in this plan so Lord’s wives got probably the worst of it, not to take anything away from pain caused to Mother Śacī. In fact, the Lord had to adjust His post-renunciation life to somewhat relieve the suffering He caused to His family, which at that time had only two defenseless women. The Lord left no children to take care of them, His father had passed away long time ago, there was no one to look after His aging mother, and His young wife who was condemned to a life time of being a widow.

Just think about it – a twenty year old woman who could never had sex for the rest of her life. Who would agree to it in this day and age? Whose heart won’t turn against the Lord for causing such suffering? It’s like taking away the very purpose of woman’s life. Not just sex, obviously, but children, too.

I don’t know who got it worse, Śrī Viṣṇupriyā, His second wife, or Śrī Lakṣmīdevī who left her body in pain of separation.

Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta doesn’t shed much light on the nature of these two personalities. There’s more in Caitanya Bhāgavata but their spiritual position is not immediately clear. In Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā it is said that Lakṣmīpriyā was previously Rukmiṇī while Viṣṇupryā was Bhū-śakti, which is another to say “mother of the entire universe”.

It is natural to expect Lord’s wives from the previous incarnations to join Him in His pastimes as Gaurasundara, too. How could they not? Everybody else went, Kṛṣṇa’s friends, parents, even gopīs. Gopīs, however, wisely appeared in male forms so that their association with the Lord wouldn’t be interrupted. Still, someone had to appear as Lord’s wives, and so Rukmiṇī obliged, and then the Lord left her.

In Lakṣmīdevī’s case the Lord went on a tour of East Bengal and was gone only for a couple of months but Lakṣmīdevī took it very seriously. Her usual service to the Lord was absolutely remarkable. She had absolutely no other interests or hobbies but to serve the Lord and Lord’s mother. She cooked and cleaned, and when the Lord came home she would massage His feet and just be there in complete silence and deference.

Lord Caitanya didn’t lead what is usually accepted as a model household life. He had no interest in any kind of material pleasures, save for trouncing His opponents in grammar debates. When I said that Lakṣmīdevī cooked I didn’t mean she cooked for three people only – the Lord, His mother, and herself. She cooked for all the guests Lord Caitanya would constantly invite to his home, regardless of how much foodstuff was there.

In that sense He was a model householder. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s father was the same way, always inviting various sādhus and feeding them. Sometimes the order to prepare food for a dozen or so people would come completely unexpected and there was no stuff to cook. It must have been unbelieveably annoying. Somehow or other, by His mystic potency, the Lord always arranged someone to drop by and bring ingredients but if one wanted to be in control and plan the feasts himself he was going to be disappointed. I wouldn’t last a week under such conditions.

When not cooking, Śrī Lakṣmīdevī was busy attending to the family shrine, decorating the temple room, cleaning the paraphernalia and so on. There was no entertainment whatsoever, there was no shopping, there was no traveling, no honeymoon, nothing, just cooking, cleaning, decorating, and massaging Lord’s lotus feet. I don’t even think they had proper sex, the śāstra doesn’t say but they were both young and healthy, they must have had conceived if they did.

So, considering such dedication to nothing but thankless service to the Lord, Śrī Lakṣmīpriyā couldn’t survive the separation from the object of her worship. Traditionally, when husband leaves on a trip his wife should wear plain clothes and stop putting makeup on her face but Śrī Lakṣmīdevī went a step further – she stopped eating. There was no point in sustaining her life if her body wasn’t used in Lord’s service. There was no point in living her life at all, and so she left this world while meditating on the banks of the Ganga.

I don’t think “snake of separation” mentioned in Caitanya Caritāmṛita should be taken as a literal, physical snake. He body wasn’t material, she was non-different from the Lord, and no material snake could have killed her.

The story of her life is remarkable. Modern women won’t even think about following her footsteps and even some of our female devotees would demand a better treatment and equal rights. No one would, of course, declare to be ready to follow her example, but at least we should know the standard of dedication displayed by Lakṣmīdevī. That’s what we all should aspire to, and it has nothing to do with our gender. I don’t mean to use it as an example for our marital relationships only. Her devotion transcends such mundane interests.

Still, Her path might be difficult to follow but it also has amazing clarity and simplicity about it. In that sense women’s dharma appears to be very straightforward, one only has to have devotion and dedication. Men, otoh, are always torn between different choices and, invariably, always make the wrong ones. When entering household life we ought to act as controllers and enjoyers and providers and protectors – all the things that lead us into deep illusion, and that’s what we HAVE TO do, forget about developing attachment for sex. It’s what we must do when on our best behavior. How can we develop the service attitude under such conditions? In this sense women have it much easier.

Anyway, my point was that, externally, Lord’s pastimes were not always ecstatic and there was plenty of unbearable suffering to go around, too. Real devotees, however, should not focus on that but rather direct their consciousness only towards the service of the Lord, considering pain and separation as punishment for their identification with their material bodies.

After all, renunciation is our only treasure in this world which is appreciated by Lord Caitanya (Kṛṣṇa premā does not count, it’s purely spiritual). The more we externally suffer in our service the more it pleases the Lord and that alone should be enough to keep us always happy and enthusiastic, no matter how life feels for our false egos.

PS. If one brings a familiar argument like “you wish your wife was like that while you…” I would immediately cut it off with “I wish *I* was a wife like that”.

Vanity thought #1274. Hari

After writing a series of posts on Vṛndāvana gossip published in various Puraṇas I’ve naturally lost interest in praying to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, if I ever had any. Should I try and find it? Or is it really a boon?

There are two reasons, internal and external. Externally, she wasn’t presented in the best light, all her good qualities were hidden, giving way to displays of petty jealousy and short temper. It’s just not very attractive and it could be pretty scary – the moment she steps into my mind she’d probably curse me to eternity in hell, and that is the internal reason – my mind has become corrupted and my intelligence has stored these unsavory images in my memory forever. These offenses need to be paid for by losing all the taste for the subject.

This is where it might actually turn beneficial because if my mind IS that degraded I shouldn’t direct it towards worship of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī anyway. It is not ready, I’m not ready, and therefore I better not pretend that I know anything about her and would like to make her the object of my devotion. My tongue should probably be ripped out for speaking about her in such a casual, materialistic way. For three days I ogled the product of my mundane imagination, ascribing her qualities which are completely absent in Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s personality. I added these impure thoughts to the bank of my knowledge and linked them to her, which she doesn’t deserve, and I think I must pay the price for this transgression.

What should the price be, however? If I’ve lost all my good fortune and all interest in the chanting of the Holy Name, I haven’t noticed it. My intelligence still tells me to chant and my mind is not any more averse than usual. Everything seems to be normal, so what should be the price then?

I see it as being two-fold. First, I’m forced to abandon, with a good measure of disgust, all attempts at “humanizing” her. The way I used to “know” her is gone, hopefully forever. I will miss her image but I’ll get over it, it wasn’t the one that should have been kept anyway. This form of punishment could really turn to be a blessing.

Secondly, I’m forced to seek shelter elsewhere, which is usually a bad thing if it happens in the course of our regular service because elsewhere means māyā, but this is not the usual case – there are plenty of lotus feet for us to seek shade of, Lord’s mercy is unlimited, and Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s mercy is unlimited, too, even for those who do not deserve to receive it directly. In short, I have probably been sent back to do my homework first.

This punishment is also a blessing – before that I didn’t know how unprepared I was but now I’ve been shown my real situation and I’ve been given instructions on how to improve it. What instructions? A couple of stand out verses from Caitanya Caritāmṛta and Caitanya Bhāgavata. I was just reading along, minding my own business, when suddenly I was taken away by their import, and I take it as a sign.

First, the verse from Caitanya Caritāmṛta (Antya 6.220):

    Renunciation is the basic principle sustaining the lives of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s devotees. Seeing this renunciation, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is extremely satisfied.

Chanting is great, but as long as we cling to our attachments it won’t be effective, like trying to ignite wet wood. There’d be a lot of smoke but no heat, as Śrīla Prabhupāda used to say. Perhaps by smoke he meant a lot of empty talk about progress and how to achieve it, I’m certainly as guilty about it as anyone.

Taken out of the context this verse can be interpreted as supporting yukta-vairāgya, proper renunciation, in which we engage everything in the service to the Lord, thus nothing get renounced in the usual sense. Yukta-vairāgya lets us keep all our wealth, our family, and, indeed, our attachments, but engage them in service so that they get gradually purified. On the level of ISKCON as a society yukta-vairāgya in unassailable. It’s what drives our grown – bigger temples, more devotees, big festivals, 24 hour kīrtans, massive food distribution and so on. There’s an upcoming movie Acarya that is scheduled for release later this year for the anniversary of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s arrival in the US and it looks like a very professional production – another example of yukta-vairagya at work.

This is not, however, what was meant in that verse from Caitanya Caritāmṛta. It’s taken from a description of renunciation of Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī and it was “real” renunciation, in a sense that Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī actually gave up all means of sense enjoyment. It was from the part where he first took food given to him by Lord Caitanya’s servant but he thought it was inappropriate and started to beg outside the temple. Then he realized that begging there was like being a prostitute – he had to look at every potential donor with hope and he was forced to treat people depending on the value of their donations. Then he took free meals at the shops that didn’t discriminate and didn’t favor anybody. Then he thought that was inappropriate, too, and so he started to eat remnants of the prasādam that was thrown away and rejected even by cows.

As Lord’s servant, Govinda, was relaying all these news to Mahāprabhu, the Lord was very visibly pleased, confirming the verse itself.

In Śrī Caitanya Bhāgavata there’s a verse in praise of Dabira Khāsa, better known as Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī (CB Adi.13.191-192):

    By Lord Chaitanya’s mercy one can renounce a kingship and become a beggar. In Kali-yuga the proof of this is Dabir Khas, who renounced a kingship and happily lived in the forest.

This wasn’t about yukta-vairāgya either, it was clearly about renouncing all means of self-sustenance (except begging, of course). This example was given to illustrate renunciation of the famous digvijaī after he was blessed/defeated by the Lord. In a way, his was a perfect case for yukta-vairāgya, he had fame, he had influence, if he took to preaching he must have been very successful. Instead he gave up everything, he distributed all his horses, elephants etc. in charity and left on foot, without his posse.

Yukta-vairagya certainly has its place but, ideally, it should be practiced AFTER one gives up all his attachments, otherwise it turns into a mere karma yoga.

And so, with realization of the need for complete renunciation, one should seek shelter not so much of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, but of Lord Hari, the one who takes everything away. Without His mercy there’s no question of ever approaching Śrī Rādhā anyway. We know what our ultimate goal is but we should also know our immediate steps, dreaming of endearing ourselves to anyone in Vṛndāvana is a delusion, we need to obtain the favor of Lord Hari first.

We are like balloons tied to heavy weights. We want to fly up but it’s impossible until someone frees us, and that someone is Lord Hari. Liberated devotees can certainly appeal to Śrī Rādhā when they chant the mahā mantra but I think I should stick with “Hare” as addressing Hari until I rise to their level.

After a couple of days thinking about this, I also realized that my attachments are really weighing me down and drag me into a vortex of perpetual love hate relationship with the world.

While we can always say that Lord Caitanya’s feet our only treasure, the real treasure appreciated by Lord Caitanya Himself is renunciation. All our personal and professional aspirations need to go. All our little successes and little hopes need to go, our attachments to eating, sleeping, or good health need to go, and the only person who can take it all way is Lord Hari.

I don’t know how He will manage it, whether He’d force me to live through my karma until I get sick of it or whether He’d take away all my possessions leaving me literally with nothing but the Holy Name, either approach is welcome. The worst response to my prayers would be indifference but I’m sure He won’t leave me hanging. He never had, He won’t leave me now.

Vanity thought #1130. Say no to your life

We often quote the verse from Bhāgavatam about three aspects of the Absolute Truth realized by learned transcendentalists. Besides the obvious point of drawing distinctions between Brahman, Paramātmā, and Bhagavan (which might actually be wrong), we also assume that this is the goal of transcendental realization, that’s what we must achieve at the end or even sooner if possible.

First, that verse (SB 1.2.11) isn’t about distinctions among the aspects of the Absolute:

    Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān.

It’s specifically mentioned there that Absolute is nondual, there’s no qualitative difference between these three, at least not the same difference as between living entities and their material bodies. We might accept that but we definitely see the difference between three kinds of practitioners and that naturally leads to seeing distinctions in the Absolute, too. That’s not what I wanted to talk about today even though it might explain some of our “problems”.

More important is that we assume realizing the Absolute should be the goal of our practice. That is not what is said in the preceding verses:

Take this, for example (SB 1.2.6):

    The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self.

It doesn’t say “one should be able to see the Lord”, the desire to “realize” the Absolute Truth could fall under a motive for the devotional service, and that would make it undevotional by the definition given in this verse.

“Realize” in English also means to obtain profit and there are a couple of other money related definitions, too. Even in the sense of “understand” it means some sort of a gain. You think very hard and then boom, you got it. I’m sure Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t mean it this way but for us the connotations are there, even if subconsciously. Desire to “realize” Kṛṣṇa is a motive, and it also implies us being the doers and Kṛṣṇa being a fruit of our labor. It’s as if we want to conquer Him and summon Him before our eyes.

Devotional service is all we need and all we must strive for, every other motive is inherently selfish, especially in the conditioned state.

Other verses elaborate further, take SB 1.2.9:

    All occupational engagements are certainly meant for ultimate liberation. They should never be performed for material gain. Furthermore, according to sages, one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification.

There are three points being made here. First is the “ultimate liberation”, whatever that means. Sanskrit word āpavargyasya does not appear anywhere else in our books and “ultimate liberation” is the only translation. Śrīla Prabhupāda does not specify what it means in the purport but he generally talks about it as devotional service mentioned in the previous verses. It would be better if this verse clearly mentioned bhakti but we have no reasons to suspect it was talking about anything else anyway.

So, we can safely read the first sentence as “all engagements are meant for achieving bhakti”. Not “realization of the Absolute” in whatever form. Such realization is a by-product of bhakti, not a goal.

Second point is that we should never do anything for the material gain. Nothing, never ever, no excuse. ALL our duties must be for the sake of bhakti. This is a big one. I’d say in the beginning we all happily agree with this statement but as we grow older we start to allow ourselves some creature comforts. For some it might be food, for others entertainment, some like shopping, some like computer games, some like their phones (to keep in touch with devotees, as they say), some like their tablets (to quickly look up ślokas). Everyone has got excuses.

Being weak is one thing, justifying this weakness is another. First one can be forgiven by the Lord but the second one is a punishable offense. Punishable how? By blocking our way to devotion. If it’s material enjoyment we want, that’s what we get, the ability to quickly look up ślokas, not bhakti.

To become real devotees we must reject all material motivations in our lives. Every time any of our senses want gratification we should remember that we cannot afford to invest our consciousness into it. I mean we can’t stop material nature from working and so senses WILL interact with their sense objects but we should not anticipate such pleasure because it would ruin our chances of developing bhakti.

The third point is that even if we happen to obtain some material gains we cannot afford to contemplate using them for sense gratification. I’m not sure how exactly it is different from the second point so I’ll just speculate here.

We can perform some duties in expectations of material gains, like going to work, it’s not quite the same as working strictly for sense gratification, like when you work for food and shelter rather than for money and freedoms associated with having it.

If you work for food you have no choice but to accept the result so the only thing you can do is do it in the proper consciousness – work not for sense gratification but hoping to develop bhakti.

If you have a job, however, you get a certain freedom to spend your wages. Money is material gain, it’s not sense gratification per se, and so the third point says that if you have such funds you should not even consider spending them for your own pleasure. No, never, nada, forget about it.

Gains always come, we can’t stop them, even if we do not work we still have choices in our sense gratification, like a stay at home wife is free to ask for anything she wants even though it’s the husband who is expected to buy it for her. In this case the exact nature of our “material gain” is not clear but we all have a sense of how far it could go. Even grossest gold diggers know that making one dinner does not earn them the right to a fur coat.

So, whenever we have a chance to ask for something and expect our wish to be fulfilled, we should not use this opportunity to ask for sense gratification. The next verse explains it better (SB 1.2.10):

    Life’s desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s works.

It appears we have some leeway here – healthy life. These days healthy life is expensive, there are health nuts who blow tons of money in pursuit of organic food and all the fancy supplements. There’s a LOT of sense gratification that could go under “healthy life” category, including yoga and desire to look good, or jogging and a need for an Apple Watch. That is most certainly not how this verse should be read.

Self-preservation is, perhaps, a better qualifier. It does not require you to be healthy, just not die, but even then we can say that to preserve yourself longer you must eat fancy organic food, do yoga, and wear an Apple Watch.

Sanskrit word, jīveta, is not very helpful here, too. It appears in a few places and sometimes it means sustenance. “Live by collecting rejected grains in the field”, for example (SB 11.17.41), in other places it means live your life solely in service to the Lord.

I think the intention here is clear – health or self-preservation should not be taken as permission to enjoy our lives in any way.

There are certain things we must do to keep our bodies going, like going to the toilet, but beyond that all our life aspirations should be rejected. All thoughts “if I had a thousand dollars I would..” should be purged from our consciousness.

I realize it’s impossible to do that right now but at least we should know what to strive for and, if we understand this point clearly, it would be easier to stop our minds from contemplating various ways to enjoy our money. That should never be done. Our lives as we know them must be forgotten and abandoned – sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja – forget everything in your life, only think of serving Kṛṣṇa.

Vanity thought #1124. Indifference

I think indifference is a better word for detachment. As I explained yesterday, detachment is often associated with renunciation but renunciation of material world is not our goal.

We would say that instead of renouncing the world we want to engage everything in Kṛṣṇa’s service but most of the time it’s beyond our capacity, we can hardly engage ourselves, what to speak of the rest of the world. This leaves us with interest in affairs around us but with no proper engagement and that leads us to undesirable outcomes.

I think our error lies at the beginning here – we mask our attachment to sense enjoyment by pretending we are doing it for Kṛṣṇa, that we are connecting material energy with Kṛṣṇa, that we are doing the world a favor. We subconsciously assume that interactions between our senses and their sense objects are somehow important to the Lord, that He watches these interactions with genuine passion growing into genuine concern when things are not going so well. That’s a delusion, of course, the Lord indifferent.

He sits in our hearts and He has zero interest in what’s going on with our senses, so the moment we tell ourselves that because we are devotees we must engage our senses in sense gratification for the Lord’s pleasure He simply tunes out. It’s like with a girl who can’t stop talking – we can’t start listening, we genuinely can’t, we can’t bring ourselves to participating in her fantasy world. Unlike the Lord, we always have the option to leave, imagine how He must be bored with our self-absorbed tales.

Anyway, where was I? Right – renunciation, detachment, and indifference. Well, renunciation is out, for conditioned souls like us it’s phalgu vairāgya all the way. Detachment is our friend but, as the opposite of attachment, it’s still defined in reference to the material energy. Like Lord Śiva who is permanently marked with association with material universe. However pure He is, this “stain” will always remain on His reputation.

Yesterday I also suggested a way to indirectly cultivate detachment. Even though it should be impossible, its innate connection with attachment can be exploited – by curbing growth of our attachments detachment would naturally follow.

There might be another, more direct way to cultivate detachment – by acquiring knowledge. When we learn true value of material things we tend to lose interest in them. Same often happens when we figure out how things work. We study something, solve all the related mysteries, and lose interest. This brings detachment even without transcendental knowledge per se.

In this sense its akin to overindulgence that leads to senses becoming numb to this particular pleasure, which leads to detachment. I don’t remember where but Nārada Muni once spoke about this method with an air of legitimacy.

It’s easy to see, however, that the path to detachment here lies through taking our attachments to the extreme. Even when we contemplate our attachments theoretically, ie defeat them solely with knowledge, the same principle is still at work, it’s just that instead of exhausting our capacity for sense gratification we exhaust our capacity to understand the world.

There’s nothing more to learn here, we tell ourselves. Learning and understanding, however, are just subtler forms of sense gratification. Māyā means to measure, among other things – desire to understand, estimate, and classify. When we want to know the world we are in māyā.

Indifference, otoh, is absolutely pure. It has no connection with material world whatsoever. We wouldn’t even know what is it that we are indifferent to. With detachment we always know the object, with indifference we are in complete ignorance.

We can’t cultivate indifference, directly or indirectly, it’s either there or it isn’t. It exists only as by product of devotion, it has no other causes and no connections to anything.

With detachment we always know detachment from what. We can always say things like “I’m attracted to serving guru and Kṛṣṇa and that made me detached from eating meat, drinking, gambling, and even sex.” “How about mundane entertainment?” – “I’m detached from most of it”. “How about news?” – “There’s still some work to do”

With indifference we wouldn’t even know what questions to ask. We are not aware of it until someone shoves something into our faces and forces us to express an opinion about it. “I don’t have an opinion, I don’t want to form an opinion on this subject, I don’t even want to know this subject exists.”

Good news is that we are already indifferent to so many things in the world we don’t even know the extent of our fortune. Most of it is based on ignorance, however – not exactly our goal. Our goal is to develop attraction to Kṛṣṇa which would simply squeeze out all existing interests in our lives, the ones we are fully aware of, and pretty soon we’ll become indifferent to them.

There’s an obvious problem with developing attraction to Kṛṣṇa – this attraction, bhakti, is the most treasured thing in all of creations, material and spiritual, it doesn’t come to us very often.

In the absence of genuine bhakti we always find some substitutes and holding onto them will lead us to serious problems, that’s how Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism was overrun by apa-sampradāyas in the time of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. In our case it might lead to the problem I stated in the beginning of this post – we foolishly assign spiritual value to our material interests in this world.

This might also lead to a false assumption that if we like things related to Kṛṣṇa then we are spiritually alright. Food, Deities, clothes, decorations, culture, history, philosophy, stories, songs, music, kīrtans, bhajanas, classes, friends – we can have fully material attachments to all those things and indulge ourselves in gratifying our senses and there will be precious little spirituality in our pursuits.

Simple example – everybody in India knows Kṛṣṇa and “loves” Him but devotees are still very rare and difficult to find. It’s of course better to like stories about Kṛṣṇa than stories about Snow White or Cinderella but it’s not enough to develop genuine devotion. At some point our attachment to materially imagined Kṛṣṇa’s forms will hold us back.

What I’m saying is that sometimes we can be indifferent to this folklore, too. What if someone says “I cannot be indifferent to our Deities, they are the most beautiful Deities in the world!” To this I can reply by asking if this person attachment to Kṛṣṇa extends to all the not-so-beautiful Deities, too. Genuinely spiritual attraction would manifest equally to all deity forms, and if we feel indifferent to some of them then we can feel indifferent to all of them, too, we just need the right circumstances to notice our lack of interest.

That is to say – when we fail to see Kṛṣṇa we can become indifferent, too, it would be more honest of us.

Same is true for all other external manifestations of divinity. We can see devotees as our friends, not as Kṛṣṇa’s servants. We can see our guru as our manager, not as our eternal master and the only connection to the Lord. We can treat kīrtans as good music, prasāda as good food, etc etc.

It’s okay to be indifferent to the beauty of the Deities, to the bank of knowledge of our guru, to the friendliness of the devotees, to the pleasant sound of the kīrtan, to the taste of prasāda – all those things are material anyway. Spiritually speaking, poorly decorated deities are as attractive as the best dressed ones, uneducated guru is as good as a top class brāhmaṇa, grumpy devotees are as good as friendly ones, unsalted prasāda is as tasty as the most delicious one and so on.

We shouldn’t waste our time on cultivating these false material attachments and pretend we will be okay. We should become indifferent instead.