Vanity thought #1523. Money as the root of all…

Usually they say that money is the root of all evil. It’s actually a Biblical quote and, interestingly enough, comes from the same letter to Timothy that has “Don’t let women into any position of spiritual authority” injunction by Paul I mentioned a couple of days ago. We, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, are not particularly fond of this saying about money but we understand the sentiment.

We can refer to Mahārāja Parīkṣit banishing the personification of Kali to reside in gold, ie money. The other four places allowed to Kali were where gambling, drinking, illicit association with women and animal slaughter are performed (SB 1.17.38-39). Śrīla Prabhupāda explained that gold was asked and permitted because during the reign of Mahārāja Parīkṣit there were no places where four illicit activities were practiced but gold would eventually attract all of them. Thus our actual beef is with breaking regulative principles rather than money itself.

Being attached to sinful activities is an offense against the holy name and committing them while hoping that the holy name would clear our sins is another offense on top of the first one. Offensive chanting keeps us from realizing the Name’s full glory and, therefore, there’s no spiritual life for those who keep sinning. It’s simply impossible no matter what they claim. God can forcefully reveal Himself to anybody, of course, but sinful people do not have necessary clarity of vision to perceive Him otherwise.

Hmm, one could say that without Lord’s mercy no one can see Him, sin or no sin, and it is true, but spirituality is a big area, seeing personal form of Godhead is a pinnacle of it and lesser aspects of it are automatically revealed according to our purity. Impersonal Brahman realization, for example, can be achieved by anybody through his own efforts (or so it seems to advaitins themselves), and it’s usually the impersonalists who claim to have spiritual visions while still leading gross and sinful lives. They can’t have them, these claims are fraudulent. Same goes for Christians who think that reading the Bible qualifies them to have a personal vision of Christ – jñāna in this case won’t work for them just as it doesn’t work for sinful advaitins. It’s a separate topic, though.

Anyway, money as the root of all evil, or love of money and greed, to be exact, is a common realization across the whole western world. Stephen Fry brought it up during the debate but, as usual for him, he twisted it to imply that money makes Catholic Church evil, too.

He was ranting about limbo and introduced purgatory and was about to reveal the real evil purpose behind it – money. Here’s what he said:

“A soul needs to be prayed for in order to go to heaven… And for many hundreds, indeed over a thousand years you’d be amazed what generous terms those prayers came at. Sometimes as little as two thirds of a year’s salary could ensure that a dead loved one would go to heaven. And money could ensure that your baby, your dead child, your dead uncle, your dead mother could go to heaven. And if you were rich enough you could have a chantry built and monks would permanently sing prayers so that that existence in heaven for a child would go up and up and up until they are at the table of the Lord themselves.”

I don’t think I have any illusions about Vatican greed throughout history, I still remember stuff about selling ingulgencies so that one may commit any sin safely. I think this argument resonates deeply with the public but we should look at the bigger picture and consider Church’s own view on the subject, too. I can’t claim to speak for the Church but I see where they might be coming from.

In the modern world money isn’t only the root of evil, it is also the common currency to determine the value of practically everything. There are insurance payments for the death of a child on terms that parents have negotiated and agreed on. It’s not exactly a price of a child but it certainly a monetary expression of child’s value. Insurance companies calculate values of everything, no one loves them for that but our modern life wouldn’t exist without insurance. It’s not just insurance either – we have the price for everything and, at the end of the day, everything is expressed in dollars and cents. Maybe not all the time but people with money know that they can buy practically anything they want, it’s only a question of price.

Why should the Church be ignorant of the value of money? Why wouldn’t it use such a convenient yardstick in its everyday dealings? Note how it was the price of two thirds of one’s yearly salary, not an absolute amount, demanded for the prayers. This distinction is significant, let me explain why.

What earns people points with God is sacrifices. Unless one has pure devotion, acts completely selflessly, and sees everything as God’s property, he must make sacrifices. Sacrifice is, at its heart, a relinquishment of one’s claims over Lord’s property. We, the spiritually condemned thieves, see at least parts of the world as ours to enjoy and control. This vision is born of ignorance, of course, and there’s no other way we can cure ourselves from our thieving propensity – we must give whatever we can back to the Lord.

People were asked to sacrifice two thirds of their work, not money. I don’t know where the specific number mentioned by Fry came from but I don’t think it was actually “salary”. Most likely it was two thirds of whatever one produced, probably in the form of grain or chickens. Until very recently no one paid salary big enough to donate two thirds of it and survive anyway.

Fry made it sound like fraud, implying that no way anyone in the Church could have prayed any dead soul into heaven and it was a simply money grab but he didn’t consider the personal sacrifice aspect of it. As long as the priest comes from line of disciplic succession, which is still the case with Catholics, his personal qualifications do not play a big role in the success of a sacrifice and how the Church spent the money should not be a consideration either. Once the work/money is offered to the Lord the sacrifice is over, in fact one should offer it without reservations and conditions and without trying to keep an eye on it as if it’s still his.

And the Church asked for money so that their priests could pray, which is another form of sacrifice – saṅkīrtana! It was especially clear in the case of building chantries. Somehow even Catholics recognized that the most spiritually efficient way of passing someone’s sacrifice on to the Lord is chanting.

It wasn’t about money, it was a pure karma yoga elevated by the Church to pure saṅkīrtana. Well, not pure but close enough, and Fry didn’t understand any of it, making it into a caricature and missing all the important points. We should know the principles of it and spot such attacks a mile away if anyone tries it with ISKCON.

Oh, and money in this case becomes the source of one’s liberation, just as it’s taught in Bhagavad Gīta.

Vanity thought #474. Retreat

Some Sundays are better and some are worse. Today is one of those days where I look at my life and wonder where it is going. Just yesterday I thought about exercising my freedom but today I’m afraid this might not be the right way to go.

In Bhagavad Gita Krishna talks about everyone acting according to their svabhava, their nature, and that was what I meant by exercising freedom – finding svabhava, but in the midst of Sunday family outing I don’t know what my svabhava is and what is svabhava of my body. There are so many things it wants and craves for it would be impractical to test them all.

There’s also a threat to developing humility – if I seriously consider myself advanced enough to decide what service I can do all on my own I’m probably losing it.

Furthermore, if I decide that my svabhava can be sacrificed for the mission of Lord Chaitanya and simply ignore it as something unavoidable then it would also mean giving myself a lot of credit again, even if for a good cause.

Pity, it actually sounds like a good idea – yes, we all have to act according to our own nature and so we should manage it properly, but why should we bother about it if we want to become devotees of Lord Chaitanya? What is it so important we can do with ourselves comparing to what we can do for the Lord?

Why should we care what happens to us at all? Shouldn’t it disappear from our radar as we put interests of guru and Krishna first?

Some people are very critical of our fallen gurus, laying all the blame on their immaturity and extracting important lessons for the rest of us. I don’t see the point in that – what those people did was to sacrifice their own spiritual comfort and their own spiritual progress in order to spread Krishna consciousness.

Some people say that we should save ourselves first and only then think of helping other people, therefore those devotees shouldn’t have taken sannyasa so early in life. I tend to think that those early days gurus didn’t worry about their own wellbeing, they just wanted to go out and save other people by telling them about Krishna. In this situation Krishna personally takes care about their spiritual safety. The fact that they have apparently deviated from the devotional path doesn’t mean anything, their bodies must live according to the laws of nature and laws of karma, Krishna is interested in the state of their souls. He knows perfectly well what goes on in their hearts while we haven’t got a clue.

So, perhaps foregoing interests of our own svabhava is not such a bad thing to do, freedom can wait, there are millions of people who need spiritual knowledge and mercy of devotees, maybe we should think about them first. That would be acting in the interests of Krsihna, there’s nothing better than doing that.

Oh, Sundays are so confusing.

Vanity thought #407. Vanity, piety and ekadashi

For a while now I’ve been noticing verses about how Krishna preserves progress of His devotees and how He ignores their temporary falldowns. In Bhagavad Gita, for example, He says that even if His devotee commits most abominable actions he should still be considered saintly, that for His devotees He would preserve what they have and also give what they lack (BG 9.22 and 9.30).

Then there was a passage from Srimad Bhagavatam (SB 11.20.25 and verses around it) where Krishna tells Uddhava that for His devotee there should be no worry about committing some offenses, but rather determination and enthusiasm to continue on his path.

That seems to be the standard view on the subject – falldowns are not as important as they seem to be and can be overcome simply by getting up and continuing with one’s service or sadhana. I should note here that it doesn’t really matter what a falldown is, it could be breaking four regs or it could be putting away Bhagavad Gita and watching some movie instead. Each one of us knows his own weaknesses and has his own demons to fight, the principle holds equally for all.

But then there’s this mind blowing verse from the Fourth Canto (SB 4.20.4) where Lord Vishnu personally tells Maharaja Prithu (an incarnation it his own right!):

If a personality like you … is carried away by the influence of My material energy, then all your advancement may be considered simply a waste of time.

All your advancement is simply a waste of time. How about that? How about “I preserve what you have” promise?

ATM I don’t know of any authoritative explanations of this discrepancy, just my own speculations, so beware.

What I think is happening here is that we tend to mix up our advancement on a material platform with our spiritual progress. By material platform I mean all the goodies we collect for years of engaging in “devotional service” – a couple of initiations, gayatri mantra, good standing in the community of vaishnavas, maybe access to Deity worship, invitations to give lectures or conduct seminars, maybe a responsible position in ISKCON management or a residence in the Holy Dhama and so on.

All of these things are incredibly important but ultimately they all have to be left behind in this world, they do not define us as devotees of the Lord, if we agree that real devotional service starts only on the liberated platform and is conducted in one’s original spiritual form.

From that point of view all our achievements are not much more than upadhis of materialistically minded persons, limitations stemming from living on a bodily platform. They see themselves as learned scholars, we see ourselves as learned scholars, too, or as brahmanas, or as “vaishnavas” with tilakas and kanthimalas, or as brahmacharies or even sannyasis. Same kind of illusion, just related to Krishna.

Our real spiritual treasures, however, lie somewhere else – we have been given the Holy Name and we have been accepted by our gurus. We have nothing else to show until we get past the anartha nivritti stage. Then we’ll start treasuring our attachment to Krishna, our ruchi, then bhava, and ultimately pure, unalloyed love – prema.

So what Krishna promises to preserve for us is just that – knowledge of the Holy Name and acceptance by the guru. Everything else is just temporary stuff that would be unwise to try and hold on to. It’s very important to have when we have it but when we die we will have to leave it behind.

This could be the kind of stuff that Lord Vishnu told Maharaja Prithu he could easily lose. The background for that verse was that Indra got envious of Maharaja Prithu’s strength and tries to still his sacrificial horse. He got nearly killed for that and that’s when Vishnu interfered (Lord Brahma spoke first, though) to stop Maharaja Prithu from committing a serious offense of murdering Indra.

The achievements that Lord Vishnu most likely meant was the accumulation of pious results of Maharaja Prithu’s sacrifices. One hundred horse sacrifices enable one to reach the position of the King of Heaven – clearly a karmic activity even if done in Vishnu’s name, and it’s also not very different from climbing the ladder of success in ISKCON. We might have one hundred full sets of Prabhupada’s books distributed, or one million servings of prasadam, or a thousand of disciples, or whatever else that suits our own level.

These things will be taken away if we let ourselves to be carried away by maya. Of that there’s no doubt and there are millions of examples. We might be able to collect these merits again in the next life but that should never be our goal, should it? What do we need these things for if not for our own vanity?

Krishna might not care about our falldowns but that also means He equally doesn’t care about the other stuff we might consider important now. He will preserve the spark of our devotion and the memory of the Holy Name, that’s all. When circumstances permit He would also direct us towards our guru, which, in turn, might turn into scoring some brownies for our service again.

I was pondering all of that today because it’s also edadashi, observance of ekadashi brings an untold number of benefits and general piety. Do we really need all that stuff? Umm, probably yes and no. Lord Chaitanya wanted His devotees to observe ekadashi but probably not because it would make us into pious persons.

I’ve decided to do a serious fast today, no food, just juice and milk, hoping to eventually go only on water. This proved to be an impossible task. Even a year ago, even a few months ago, on Nirjala Ekadashi, I had absolutely no problem with fasting. Today it was a torture.

I’ve learned two lessons – I totally identify myself with my body, and that this extra asceticism is absolutely worthless as its results can be wiped away in an instant.

Unfortunately these realizations also left me without an anchor – everything I used to rely on to give me strength turned out to be illusory, and I don’t know how to be an atmarama yet, I know about the Holy Name but I can’t glean any support from it, I don’t get anything that I can feel and measure, unlike reassuring words of fellow devotees or family members.

Hopefully the Holy Name does its work quietly in the background and something does get cleansed in my heart. If even that doesn’t work then I’m truly doomed. No family, no connections, no recognition can provide me with proper support as a spirit soul, and this is a dilemma on its own, perhaps one that I should address some other time.

Vanity thought #366. Sacrifice in the name of sankirtana

Heard this question today – can a devotee completely ignore his bodily needs for the sake of preaching? I think it was about distributing books. The question was loaded and the expected answer was almost hanging in the air – of course not, one should take proper care of his body because …

While I was processing it I missed the actual given answer but it sounded like a diplomatic way of not upsetting the person asking and and the same time not giving him ammunition to attack whoever it was all about.

But what should the real answer be? Should we pause the sankirtana mission to take better care of our bodies? What happens if we don’t?

On one hand it’s really really simple – properly maintained body can serve much much longer so while we are sparing an hour today we might lose a year later.

On the other hand this question is similar to telling people to quit smoking and drinking because it will prolong their lives, to which they answer that they are not interested in useless life without drinking no matter how long it is. Sometimes they do the math and say that ten years of exercising adds only two years of life, so it’s time wasted. I bet there are other variations, too.

In both cases, sankirtana and drinking, we are facing with serious addiction. Life without it does not seem to be worth living and everything must be sacrificed to feed that addiction.

So, what’s wrong with being addicted to sankirtana? Too much heavy book lifting and walking the streets might damage one’s health and even shorten his lifespan, but how do you measure success? By the number of years spent on this earth? What’s wrong with going back to Godhead a few years earlier?

Perhaps a better, more appealing to sankirtana addicts, argument would be – you’ll lose you ability to preach and you’ll spend the rest of your days in bed, unable to help anybody and accepting service from others. That might scare them off, but it also sounds like an implausible scenario – people don’t need that much to preach, no one is ending in hospital bed for reals. Scary scenario but improbable.

We should also remember that no matter what it looks like to us but everyone is taking care of his body one way or another. Even the most dedicated preachers occasionally pause to eat and sleep. It just appears insufficient by OUR standards. Who are we to impose our standards on others, btw?

So it appears that my answer would be – let them preach and distribute books as much as they want, these people are so rare in this world that we shouldn’t be worried about them, we should be worried about those who can’t get their bottoms of the sofas (and no, yoga doesn’t count).

They might damage their health and suffer negative consequences but it’s not the criteria for success or failure, they are prepared to face the pain, that’s why it’s called sankirtana-yajna in the first place – we must sacrifice something. How much? Not our job to judge.

There are important considerations, though. So far I assumed that we are talking about people making sacrifices in the name of spreading the Lord’s glory. That is not always the case. Some people might have ulterior motives, they might want to appear better devotees than others, they might want to win the first place and all the adoration that comes with it. They might want to prove the strength of their own willpower. People perform all kinds of sacrifices and tapasyas for all kinds of reasons all the time.

Sacrifices performed for these ulterior motives will definitely bring results and they will definitely be unfavorable to devotional progress. On the other hand – if one is inclined to perform tapasyas then it’s better to do it while distributing books – it’s the best activity in the world for purifying one’s desires .

So, while we should watch out for the motives, having them is not sufficient enough to slow down one’s sankirtana.

Perhaps the only valid reason is if one goes out to distribute books when his actual service is something else. Sankirtana, of course, is the most valuable service in the universe, but we still can’t break the main principle – we should do our service first as given to us by gurus and authorities. We might feel that it’s small and unimportant but if that’s what the Lord wants from us then we have to do it with love and devotion, not with resentment and aversion.

One cannot abandon his wife and his children at will, for example, they depend on us not only materially but, most importantly, they depend on us spiritually. Their spiritual progress is tied up to us and ours to theirs. If we can’t make them into better devotees we are failing in our primary responsibility, a few distributed books here and there won’t change that.

Come to think of that – there are so many people tied up with so many things and hardly anyone has any time for sankirtana, and if we find such a rare soul we are trying to pull it down and restrict his enthusiasm? What is wrong with us? Do they make us uncomfortable? Do we feel guilty of indulgence in mundane things that come with our territory so we want them not to stand out too much? Are uncomfortable because our value structure seems so selfish and superficial comparing to theirs?

There are a lot of questions to ask of ourselves if we suddenly become concerned with too much preaching going around.

The years, months, or even days when one could go out on the streets, meet people and tell them about Krishna are the most important times of our lives, let’s not forget about that.

Vanity thought #334. A thousand words

Eddie Murphy, of all people, made a movie with a serious message. It’s called “A Thousand Words”, and even if he spoiled it with his acting and mannerisms it still “makes you think”.

His character – ostentatious, self-absorbed businessman accidentally meets a popular New Age guru and triggers a kind of a curse – he gets his life intertwined with that of a “bodhi” tree. Now for every word he says a leaf falls off the tree and the guru helps him figure out that as soon as all the leaves fall off both the tree and Eddie Murphy himself would die.

They estimate that there are about a thousand words left for him to say, hence the name of the movie.

From the Krishna consciousness point of view it’s a perfect setup to realize the importance of chanting the Holy Name but the movie doesn’t go that far despite the guru being an Indian teaching people mantras and meditation. Actually he was a native American Indian, from Bolivia.

Eddie Murphy then goes through various stages of realization of his situation and the tree doesn’t fool around. He tried using his words for good, he tried giving charity, he tried praying – nothing works, leaves continue to fall. Unable to explain himself he loses his wife and his son, he loses his job, and at one point he decides to give up, get drunk and run his mouth off until he dies but luckily someone stepped in and stopped him.

Finally, with the help of his guru, he realizes the gravity of the situation and the value of speaking absolutely honestly, from the bottom of his heart and not wasting any words on frivolous subjects. Again, a perfect setup for taking up chanting and a perfect reminder to us that Holy Name is really, really important.

We might not have a limit on the number of words we say but we do have a limit on our bodies shelf-life, whether measured in years or in the number of breaths. Every word spoken without seeing its connection to Krishna is a waste, but the movie actually gives another, perhaps even more important lesson – even when Eddie Murphy took to the right path with full dedication, leaves still continued to fall.

I’ve caught myself a number of times where I realize that I hope chanting will give me a long and wholesome life filled with all kinds of happiness. The script writers, however, cut down this illusion at its root – even if we do everything that we need to do perfectly our lives are still going to be as miserable as usual and, perhaps, even worse.

Chanting is not supposed to make us happy, in fact it should be quite the opposite, just like Queen Kunti prayed for more calamities. I was very surprised that some comedy producers realized that, too, and ahead of me.

Eddie Murphy’s last three words were “I forgive you”, which was the ceiling of his spiritual realization in that movie’s context, and after saying that the remaining leaves and his body fell to the ground and expired.

The movie should have just ended there but, of course, it’s impossible in entertainment, so both the tree and Eddie Murphy were reborn and lived happily ever after. In a way this is what is supposed to happen to us, too, except being reborn here in the same body and in the same situation would be a bit of a disappointment.

Anyway, two lessons from this movie stood out for me – the importance of chanting and the futility of high expectations. Sometimes I feel ready to make sacrifices to achieve progress in developing my Krishna consciousness but I still don’t have the guts to give up the desire for rewards and as long as this desire is there I will not become a devotee, just a generic enjoyer who thinks he struck gold by getting the Supreme Lord to attend to his needs and wishes.

That attitude needs to go away.

Oh, and it’s also interesting to note that even in a movie a meeting with a saintly person, even if it hastens you demise, is ultimately beneficial.

Vanity thought #312. Bhogair atmanam atmani

This is a line from a verse in Bhagavatam (11.11.45) where Krishna tells Uddhava about various ways one can worship the Supreme Lord.

Check out the translation – “One may worship Me within the individual living entity by offering food and other enjoyable substances.” Cool, huh?

I guess this explains why people since time immemorial loved serving each other with delicious foodstuffs – it pleases not only the body and senses of the fellow materialistic enjoyer but the Supreme Lord Himself, too!

Devotees, of course, have taken this activity a lot further – by lovingly offering delicious prasadam to vaishnavas. There are very few types of service that are as satisfactory as feeding the devotees of the Lord. Even feeding other people on our Food For Life programs makes one easily feel that Krishna likes us doing this stuff.

There’s also book distribution but it often makes one feel competitive and proud of one’s achievements and thus deprive us of the usual bliss associated with preaching, I can’t imagine how that could happen when distributing food. With book distribution there’s also the pressure to get something out of people in return and that spoils the effort, too. Food distribution is totally selfless by comparison.

Having paid tribute to serving people with prasadam I have a rather twisted thought – what stops one from serving the Lord by feeding oneself? The Supersoul is equally present within my body just as well as within the bodies of everyone else so does it make any difference which body I should offer food to in order to please the Lord?

The only danger I see is that when I’m feeding myself I’m having the wrong attitude but that should be corrected regardless, as per Krishna’s advice to Arjuna – “perform every activity as a sacrifice to Me”. I guess once the right attitude is there one can legitimately serve the Lord by consuming all kinds of delicious stuff.

Let me go and try this now, and if I fail in the beginning it shouldn’t discourage me. Also practice makes it perfect, right?

Key point – it’s not the living entity who is the enjoyer here, foodstuffs should be offered to the Supersoul, via the body, I guess just like stuff is offered to the Lord via sacrificial fire.

Vanity thought #171. What’s in it for me?

Following from yesterday’s mild depression I’m tempted to evaluate the benefits of chanting and how it would stack up against any other “normal” activity.

If I was chanting the designated two hours a day no one would ever pay any attention, that’s what religions are for – to provide an outlet to one of our natural desires, it fits somewhere between eating and shitting, along with sex, socializing and arguing about politics. Muslims offer their prayers five times a day, they also have their beads to chant, Catholics also have their rosaries and go to church once a week. So what if I, as a Hare Krishna, chant two hours a day? It’s nothing comparing to vegetarianism and no drinking, the easiest part to accept for “normal” people.

I’m trying to chant significantly more than two hours, though, and that makes it far less acceptable by “normal” standards.

I spend most of my days shuffling around the house, doing my japa. As time goes by I also learn the habits of my other stay at home neighbors and naturally I’m trying to compare myself to them.

There’s a retired dude, he washes his car, trims his bushes, rides a bike to buy groceries and basically spends his days chilling out. I don’t do any of that, I don’t muck about the garden, I never go anywhere in a car, let alone a bike, and I’m too busy to chill out.

There’s another big difference, too – he earned his rest, he squirreled away enough money to not think about it, and there are always his grown up kids to prop him up. I, on the other hand, do not have a plan. I do not have any savings to speak of, there must be another twenty-thirty years left in my body and I certainly do not have resources to maintain it for that long. What am I thinking?

I can’t sit down for a chat with that guy and tell him I’m doing the best possible thing in the whole world.

Then there’s working from home neighbor, he goes to the office every other day for a couple of hours but most of the time he crunches excel sheets and presentations on his computer. What he does pays him money. I can’t sit down for a chat with that guy either and tell him I’m doing the best possible thing in the whole world. What’s wrong with me?

By any normal standard I’m a bum, not much different from an alcoholic drowning his life in booze without any care neither for his future nor for the future of his family. The only difference is that I’m going slower through my money. I must be crazy.

Why don’t I chant just two hours a day and look for a job? Why do I insist on trying to chant 24/7? What’s in it for me?

The way I see it is that normal two hours a day chanting is pretty much like any other vedic sacrifice. You do that and then you enjoy the returns – happy, healthy, prosperous life, warm family, safe future etc. etc. Everybody can understand that but I, somehow, got it in my head that I don’t want any of that crap, I want to understand the Holy Name instead.

The way I see it there’s no balance in life, there’s no compromise between Krishna and the material comforts. There’s only either this or that, and a long and treacherous road between two extremes. The road is not a home, you either stay cuddled by the illusion or try to reach Krishna.

Many people try to find a compromise or to make the journey a bit more pleasant but the truth is that the pleasantries and amenities seriously slow down the progress, the are more like shackles, like anchors pulling down a drowning man. You can’t get on the boat of the Holy Name while still wearing them.

Okay, but none of that makes any sense to my neighbors. They can understand how I might not want to get a job and live a life of a monk but monks live in temples and they go around and beg. I don’t and I’m not planning to start any time soon. Neighbors don’t get that, I don’t get it either, this is a future problem and I hate making future plans when Krishna and my karma have already arranged everything, they just haven’t told me yet.

The neighbors get how I decide to renounce this world and dedicate my life to chanting, but they think of it as whim. I still want to eat, right? At this point I simply don’t realize that in order to eat one must work, one must provide for himself first. What I am doing is squandering my meager resources like a child. Sooner or later the day will come when I will have to get off my high horse and do something to get food, and it won’t be chanting.

I’m afraid they might be correct, japa alone is not going to put food on the table and butter my toast. Japa is good help in whatever you are doing, Gods give you their blessings and you succeed.

Well, that would be an offence of equating chanting the Holy Name with ritualistic activities. Eventually one must overcome it and have full and unequivocal faith in the power of chanting.

Still, chanting won’t put food on the table. How to reconcile?

Easy, I think. Chanting, if I succeed, will give me devotion to Krishna and when I have devotion I won’t care about food anymore. I won’t be too proud to beg on the streets either, or eat from the dumpsters and sleep with other hobos. Or maybe Krishna will encourage people from within their hearts to bring me stuff – it won’t matter a bit, won’t even register.

So, if the neighbors ever ask me why I’m chanting like crazy, what’s in it for me, I know what to answer – nothing, absolutely nothing. It will probably ruin my life, it will probably put me out on the streets, it will probably drive me away from my family, it will probably make me a homeless beggar. These are the real dangers and the most likely outcomes but I just don’t care. I want to get devotion before that happens, selfish as I am.

A real devotee would not mind to wait for Lord’s mercy in any miserable conditions but not me. I want devotion to save me from my troubles I am bringing on myself. Clever bastard as I am, I’m hoping for a bridging loan from Krishna to get me across first, I really plan on Him saving my ass until I stop caring about it.

Krishna promised to give everything devotees lack and I’m going to hold Him to His word. I lack either daily provisions or devotion, He should supply.

I tend to overlook the requirement to be a devotee to get on that program but, even if it sounds like catch 22 scenario, I’m hoping for a bridging loan anyway.

Vanity thought #170. Body of proof.

Following a rather uneventful Monday I’m left wondering if chanting so much is working for me at all. I need proof. Or maybe I don’t.

It is kind of frustrating to look at my current state of consciousness and see no improvements at all, that’s not what I was expecting. A couple of months ago I was so excited about an opportunity to chant so many rounds, I cleared my schedule in advance, I was really looking forward to it, I was full of anticipation.

Now I do it everyday and it’s become a rather dull affair. I can’t deny looking forward to lunch and then the evening with the family, I can’t deny that I’m glad I have chores to do so that I can take my mind off chanting for a bit and work with my hands. The worst part is that while I’m dusting the shelves or sweeping the floor I’m still counting my beads. The worst part is that I consciously move chanting to the back of my mind because I’m so sick of it, I guess.

So is it working?

A while ago I was absolutely sure that it was and, on some level, I’m still sure it does but I doubt it’s the progress in the right direction. I need real proof but all I got is transformations happening with my body and mind – the body of proof it isn’t.

Take speed – if one repeats the same tongue twister again and again he would eventually master it and can dazzle his friends with his new skill. If I manage to chant my rounds faster it’s the same effect, there’s nothing spiritual about it, it doesn’t count. I still marvel at how other devotees, notably maharajas on my downloaded recordings, seem to take each mantra, each Name so seriously. They are really meditating on Krishna there. I’m just mumbling something to myself while looking for excuses to think of something else.

There were also a few “special” realizations, like that time I really felt I wasn’t my body. Two things to bring me down from that high horse. First, I don’t see myself as such anymore, it just doesn’t come back. Second, it might not have had anything to do with spiritual progress at all. Yes, even namabhasa brings liberation and liberation means not seeing himself as a material body but I bet there are plenty of other, mundane techniques to achieve the same effect, too, like transcendental meditation or something.

Hare Krishna mantra is a very powerful tool, it can grant all kinds of things – remove anxieties, bring peace, it can excite and it can provide any kind of sensual enjoyment possible, it can bring yoga siddhis, it can bring liberation, it can do everything, and most of these things could be disruptive on the path of developing devotional service. So what if one can see himself as not the body, it has absolutely no value on its own. The only thing that matters is seeing oneself as a servant of Krishna and vaishnavas and I didn’t see that. So there – useless.

Also the fact that this particular realization doesn’t come back anymore might be a sign that it was just one of my mood swings, nothing more. Our real progress in our real devotional lives cannot just disappear. We can become rich or poor and the next moment we can become ill or famous – all these things come and go like the waves in the sea. One day we are extremely intelligent and perceptive, another day we are dumb and demented, one day we hover above the floor like Maharishi Mahesh yogi, next day we hover above a pile of dung as flies. None of it matters.

If, on the other hand, we manage to get accepted as Krishna’s servants we will never ever go back. Maybe we’ll have temporary setbacks due to the influence of the material nature and our impure hearts but that achievement is impossible to compromise. Krishna will always preserve it for us, He promised.

So, when I look at the signs of my real progress I can’t see any at all. I haven’t become more absorbed in Krishna, I haven’t developed the taste for chanting or for service, I haven’t gained any acceptance – I got nothing.

I probably have to admit that I was driven by the mode of passion, I didn’t care for the process at all, I wanted quick results, and now, when I’m not getting any, I’m naturally losing interest.

This coming Saturday I think I’ll get a chance to chant three lakhs of names, three sets of sixty-four rounds, and I can’t help but notice the difference in anticipation levels now and two-three months ago.

Okay, I know what happened, there’s an explanation, the real question is how to move forward now, when the passion has gone? What should I do?

Ideally I should elevate myself to the level of goodness and enjoy every step of the way but I can’t get there artificially. If I don’t like getting up early in the morning I can’t fake it.

Am I caught in the gap where passion has already worn off but the goodness hasn’t kicked in yet? Afaik, sacrifices in the mode of goodness do not feel great in the beginning but once one acquires taste for it one feels extremely satisfied without even caring for the results. I was hoping that the push of passion would help get past that initial aversion. Apparently it wasn’t enough.

Should I cheer myself up with some new, temporary and illusory visions of success and hope they will carry me to the point where I won’t need them anymore to chant? Sounds great but there are dangers in stocking passion, too. Those fires might die out in one place but the heart will still want the rush and so will look for them elsewhere.

This is what is happening to me now – since I’m no more excited about chanting I’m starting to get excited about all kinds of other things, I’m actually looking to get excited, I’ll take anything.

I know that it won’t bring me any satisfaction, like scratching an insect bite but, just like an itchy bite, it’s impossible to stop oneself.

In this situation it is probably better to get excited about something at least related to Krishna, and that brings me to the possibility of me giving up the chanting and taking up some other service instead, a service that fully occupies my hands and my mind. If I’m doing my extra rounds thinking about what to do with myself I’m not doing it right.

Does that signal the end of my experiment? Maybe, but I’m not going to give up so easily.

The Name itself is perfectly capable of solving all these problems for me. All I have to do is to keep chanting and never miss a chance to be sincere about it.

Actually, I do not need any proof that it works, I just have to keep going at it on faith alone, maybe even against all evidence to the contrary. That kind of strong faith should separate the logical path of my self-benefit and the selfless and causeless devotion.

Yeah, devotion is causeless, isn’t it? Its benefits can’t be rationally explained to other people, if you being totally honest about it in your presentation they are not going to accept it, not unless you are a pure devotee yourself.

Here’s a possible topic for tomorrow – what’s in it for myself?

Vanity thought #150. Compassion

Every now and then I come across some prayers or writings extolling the virtue of compassion and sometimes it makes me uncomfortable.

I seem to have an issue with compassion as most people understand it.

I don’t have a problem with fully realized devotees who see Krishna inside the hearts of every living being, they have their special vision and I can only speculate about its real nature and what kind of compassion they exactly feel, but I tend to think it’s not what most people assume.

It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for other people’s suffering, I’m pretty normal in estimating how those people might feel, I just don’t go bananas over it and rush to fix the world. Maybe I should, a lot of what I read about compassion says that I should, but I have my own reasons.

By mid thirties practically all my hair had already turned gray, I assume I know a thing or two about hardships and suffering, there are few situations where I have absolutely no idea what it would feel like but the rest, the everyday problems, I got it, I think.

From what I know about suffering, there are no easy fixes, no magic, no “drop a hundred dollar bill in a hat and everything will become peachy” solutions.

When I see someone getting a wrong end of the deal I think I should help that person to live through his karma, not try to change it. We all get our hardships for a reason and we all have to patiently suffer all the way through until bad karma runs out, so I don’t want to be Santa Claus, I want the ability to convince people to fight on and keep their faith.

For people coming from Christian tradition compassion takes another flavor. They are particularly impressed by Jesus Christ sacrificing himself for the sake of all others and so they think they should try to emulate his heroic deed, it has become the standard approach to suffering – one should take as much as possible on his own shoulders so as to relieve others.

That’s where they lose me. If I wanted to relieve others I would relieve them of their pleasures, not their sufferings.

Suffering makes people turn to God, that’s spiritual ABC. I have never heard of anyone who turned to God because his pleasures were fulfilling.

Okay, some people get bored of enjoying themselves and turn to God for the higher taste but imagine an experiment. Two people take two different paths form the same place. One is being put through all kinds of troubles while the other is given unlimited access to any kind of sensual pleasures. Which one will start praying faster?

It’s fine if you meet someone already at the end of his sense gratification path but, generally speaking, there are very few fat cats like this in the world, ripe for the taking.

There’s a similar problem with suffering, mind you. Modern wisdom goes that suffering is proof of God’s non-existence. If you pray for a while and your problem does not go away it’s time to forget about God and take the matter in your own hands. That’s why if you see someone in trouble you don’t encourage them to turn to God, you blame God instead and show them your “compassion” by trying to help yourself.

I must admit this is a very persuasive argument, especially if these “helpers” manage to succeed.

This is not surprising, btw. Krishna helps people to achieve whatever they want. If they really really want to save others from suffering Krishna will strengthen their faith and provide the means.

But are you any better in the end? Any closer to God? Quite the opposite, I think. While they are celebrating the victory I would start mourning another lost chance, another lost soul.

Am I being compassionate in any other sense? I don’t think so. Not at the moment.

The reason is that my own troubles make my heart harder, not softer. I’m chanting too many rounds to feel all warm and soft inside. Everyday I’m engaged in a major battle with my mind and my body, everyday I’m doing this tapasya, forcing myself to listen to the Holy Names.

When I’m done with my rounds I can’t even allow myself a sigh of relief, that would be offensive to chanting.

So what happens if someone comes to me with his own gripes? “Welcome to the club”, I say.

I realize that this is a problem but I don’t know any way around it.

By its nature bhakti is supposed to make one’s heart soft, and by its nature tapasya makes one’s heart hard. That’s why austerities are not encouraged in our practice, we don’t fast just to make ourselves stronger, we don’t reject food, we don’t reject comforts, we practice yukta vairagya instead – never reject anything but utilize it in Krisna’s service.

Fine principle, perfect philosophy, but there are things that just fall outside it.

Take sex, for example. Restricting it only to procreation in this modern age is an unspeakable austerity, by modern standards. Don’t tell me that honestly trying to follow this regulative principle does not harden one’s heart.

My problem is different yet still a very legitimate case of necessary tapasya, I think. I’m trying to purify myself from committing nama aparadhas and the only way to achieve it is by conscientiously avoiding them, meaning forcefully restricting one’s mind.

Among the synonyms for the word conscientious there are scrupulous, meticulous, and painstaking. None of them is conducive to softening of one’s heart. I guess that’s the entrance fee, just like our regulative principles. It should get easier once I’m in.

So please pardon me for not going all soft and wobbly at the sight of someone’s sufferings. As much as I want to feel that way I just physically can’t, not until the real bhakti grows in my heart.

There’s another argument – yes, clearing up anarthas is a tough and painful process, and so is chanting a hundred rounds a day but we are not supposed to do it if it’s so hard. I agree, and I said many times that I’d be glad to be doing something else but there isn’t anything yet. Just hang around the house and chant.

To be honest, though, I’m scared of losing this opportunity, too. I’ve grown fond of my tapasya, but that is a concern for another day.

As for clearing anarthas, it’s supposed to be easier in association of inspiring devotees. I agree, but there are natural limits on that, too. Maybe devotees are not so inspiring, maybe there’s not enough association, but sooner or later one must confront his demons and try to develop pure chanting of the Holy Name, proper sankirtana. I’m afraid it’s unavoidable. It might be easier after death but I’m not betting on it.

I have a chance now and I can’t miss it, that’s all there is to it.

Vanity thought #120. Hard lessons.

Well, that Fake Krishna thing is not going to take care of itself, it needs a lot of work, investment in time, brainpower, reading up on the latest stuff, studying the target audience, brown nosing etc.etc.

Without a talent for this kind of thing the only chance for it to succeed is extraordinary dedication and, basically, “living on a prayer”. Speaking of songs, watched the much talked about Glee today, finally, and, I have to admit, they’ve got some catchy tunes there. As an excuse I can say that I can’t even think about conquering the twitter universe without basic knowledge of the, oh, just one of the most famous TV dramas in the recent history.

Favorite quote so far:

That’s how you get better – singing with people who are better than you.

Can say exactly the same thing about becoming a better devotee, often slips my mind, what with my pride and all.

Anyway, when I look at the amount of work needed to be done I get very mixed feelings about the whole Fake Krishna idea. Not that it’s bad, no, not at all, I still think it would be brilliant if I can pull it off, I’ve got mixed feelings about doing this extra mile.

To be honest, I haven’t stressed myself for ages, I don’t remember when was the last time I did anything so demanding against my will, for the higher purpose, for the future benefits.

Just as I watched Glee I realized that there’s a whole world out there, competing, squeezing every last bit of energy, last drop of sweat, all in “pursuit of happiness”, and now I have to step into this world myself? Hmm, I spent my entire life trying to avoid this rat race, was I wrong?

From Krishna consciousness point of view there’s nothing wrong with making extra effort for Krishna, Srila Prabhupada left for an unknown country at the age of seventy, after all, what is my little adventure comparing to that? Come to think of it, nothing ever comes without a sacrifice, I just forgot how to do that.

Suddenly I feel like a teenager again, presented with equally appalling choices of what I want to do with my life. I feel like a thirty something bachelor without anything in my life to show for it.

People open Govinda restaurants, start their own businesses, devise new preaching programs, build temples – none of it comes easy, all these endeavors require enormous sacrifices and putting one’s own interests on the back burner. Unless you’ve done it yourself you can’t really describe the gravity of it, and now I feel like I haven’t learned anything yet and my life has been a waste because I always took an easy road.

I mean, I argued that mode of passion is not really something I should strive for, there are plenty of examples and lessons in our books that one should be satisfied with whatever one has and anything above that leads to entanglement.

Just look how it normally goes – you fall in love, suddenly you start to care, then there’s a baby on the way and you grow out of boys’ nights out, you take up a new job, new projects, climb the ladder – for the family. And that’s how all great things in life are built, aren’t they?

In Krishna consciousness we are not out to build great things, all the examples of best devotees from Lord Chaitanya’s time are poor, humble souls, many literally starving.

So, why should I go into the world, receive tons of undesirable association, pollute my feeble mind with wrong attitudes and values and, potentially, commit a suicide as a devotee (speaking as fake Krishna is a very risky business)?

The generic answer is, of course, to spread Krishna’s glory. Right, I’m not so sure about that. More like to give me an excuse to surf the interwebs and read up on all the juicy gossip. I already do that, of course, and now I’ve figured out the way to turn that into something useful for Krishna, or is it just an excuse not to give up my internet addiction?

That’s the question I can’t answer straight away. First, I will have to give reading all my usual stuff – it won’t cut if I want to be on the edge, I will have to read stuff other people like, not me. Hmm, does that mean that I will be doing this for Krishna, after all?

Possibly – I have this propensity to sit on the computer whole day long and write really long blog posts, but so far I have been doing it only for myself. Now Krishna wants to use this propensity for His own satisfaction, not for mine – as much as I like the internet, there are some blind spots there I thought I would never ever go in my life, like watching Oprah, and her last shows are going to be the talk of the town for weeks to come. When Larry King retired I was proud that I managed to avoid the entire brouhaha, and I firmly stayed away from Will&Kate marriage.

For Fake Krishna events like this must be the staple, he cannot be restricted only to the stuff I like.

At this point I’m really not sure if it is worth it at all. What if it eats into my devotee related surfing as well?

Bottom line – I still don’t like the Fake Krishna idea that much to drastically change my life for, it is kind of my baby but it’s not a baby, I am not attached to it yet, so far I haven’t sacrificed a moment of my time, just did it when I liked it.

Another thing, and it’s far more important – is Krishna Himself on board with this? He let me start it off quite easily, there are plenty of pet projects of mine that never ever got off the ground, I even learned to dismiss them with a light heart if I sensed the force was not with me. When setting Fake Krishna twitter and wordpress accounts went so smoothly I thought it was going to be blessed by the Lord, now, when I have to nurture it, I don’t feel it anymore.

Right from the start I made it the main condition – Krishna has to be on board and very supportive, and very protective of me or it will all end in ruin for both of us.

Ah, well, I’m ranting.

Tomorrow is a new day, let’s see how it goes.

One positive result is there already – I’ve been thinking of Krishna the whole day, so what if it was only one tweet today that no one read?