Vanity thought #1532. So not so special

I want to go back to atheists and their statistically superior morals, and to that study on altruism in religious children I covered three days ago. Let’s start with science and why it is so successful.

First let me reiterate yesterday’s point – all success comes from following sādhana, meaning voluntarily submitting oneself to a process and telling your mind to shut up about it. Once you learn to follow the rules and get enough practice you are bound to succeed, and it’s the only way to the top.

There are various special circumstances like past karma or apparent absence of authorities in case of pioneer work and these can muddle the picture but past karma gets accumulated according to the same rules, and pioneers never attribute their success to themselves, to them it comes naturally, they just find themselves at the right time in the right place and things fall into place so that they don’t have to agonize over how and what to do. It’s like explanations on how to become rich – it just happens, and mostly by luck. “Rise early, work hard, and strike oil,” as the famous quote goes.

Next, we expect atheists to fall flat on their face so that we can claim superiority of religion and relying on God instead of one’s puny brainpower. It doesn’t happen often enough and rather the opposite is true. Atheists keep advancing science and making world a better place, and thus proving their vitality. We can point out at the shaky foundation of their custom build world, global warming or population decline, but these things are not obvious to people.

Science works in their daily lives while global warming is something they see discussed on TV, and population decline is very hard to accept when we are constantly told to worry about overpopulation instead. Most people would give more value to easy to see proofs of science than contemplate long and hard the long term effects, it’s just how human nature works, that’s why life here is called an illusion.

Why does it work for them, though? Shouldn’t God blow them to smithereens for their atheism and degrading behavior? Shouldn’t they go to the darkest regions of hell, as said in our scriptures? This is where it gets complicated.

They are not as atheistic as we make them to be. They might openly reject God and that’s a punishable offense, but most of the time they are ambivalent to religions, the subject doesn’t come up and offenses aren’t being made. Take the historical case of Hiraṇyakaśipu who escaped punishment until he tried to lay his hands on Prahlāda. He was openly inimical to Viṣṇu but the Lord didn’t take his offenses personally, stepping in only for the sake of His devotee.

Kṛṣṇa is a well wisher of all living beings, He doesn’t punish them for being “free thinkers”. He is a person, however, so He might take it personally, but normally He is far too cool to react to our childish tantrums. There’s a long way to go before our tantrums become truly offensive – just look at the chapter on demoniac nature in Bhagavad Gītā. It took Kṛṣṇa ten verses, 7-16, to describe step by step their path to hell, and another three verses to come to the point where their envy of the Lord becomes personally offensive to Him.

Look at where it starts from, in verse 7: “Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done.” This is not true of the current breed of atheists yet. It’s been only a couple of decades since they started manufacturing their own way of life (feminism, gay rights etc.) while all their achievements are due to work they had done earlier. The effects of things like gay marriage will take decades to manifest and even longer to affect the rest of the society. Feminism started earlier and people are already questioning whether it makes women happier and the society stronger.

Neither of these affect material progress directly and in that area people, however atheistic, still do what is prescribed by the authorities. They do not create their own rocket science, so to speak, but follow the process that has been followed for centuries. They might lay claims but they didn’t invent the scientific method, nor did they invent logic. Look what they ascribe their success to – strictly following reason and logic, being honest and truthful in their pursuit, and going along with the laws of nature.

Nothing in this method is offensive to the Lord and there’s nothing here that we would have done differently if we practiced science ourselves. Atheists somehow don’t get it but religion is not an obstacle to their material science, it has been advanced by openly religious people for centuries. The Inquisition might have stood in the way and be used as an example of religion hampering scientific progress but the progress was still pushed by religious scientists.

The point is that scientific method MUST produce results because it fits with Lord’s instructions on how to behave in the material world – utilize your intelligence and don’t lie. Atheistic or not, they must get rewards for doing that.

I should also note that properly applying scientific method requires great discipline and it implies controlling one’s mind and base materialistic urges. A true scientist must be free from bias, he should not falsify his results for money or fame, nor should he be driven by envy. He must have a cool head and always be rational, not letting human emotions lead him away.

We don’t normally say it and they never acknowledge it, but science is jñāna yoga in its essence. Advaitins require twelve years of grammar study before one gets to expound Vedānta, science requires even longer before one gets to practice it on his own. Vedic learning must also be done under the guidance of a guru. Science requires people to write their dissertations under the guidance of a mentor, too. We have a set of rules regarding personal conduct and students are supposed to lead clean lives as well. Gambling and drinking always ruin academic careers.

They think they’ve discovered some unique path to success but this same method has been practiced for thousands of years, and as long as they follow it they will get good results regardless of whether they are atheistic or not, that’s just the law of the universe laid out by Kṛṣṇa.

Real atheism starts when they invent their own ways. It’s been happening, too, but the cases they shove in our cases, like modern medicine, have all been done according to the tradition. I mean doctor or pilot training is so reliable precisely because they follow the authorities better than anyone else.

And then they compare these trained doctors to some charlatans selling colored glass to cure cancer. Yes, it doesn’t look well for religion, but charlatans are charlatans and should be compared not to doctors but to peddlers of snake oil. Apples to apples, oranges to oranges.

Once again, lots of modern atheists are not as atheistic as they claim to be, they still know the rules and follow them very strictly, and rules are set by the Lord.

Vanity thought #1531. House training

My memory is not what it used to be but maybe it’s a good thing. When I was young I remembered everything and I always felt that if I try hard enough I can recall every event in all the details. I felt like it was only a matter of accessing the storage.

Some things I recalled again and again but many didn’t, it was not worth it at the moment, I thought, but I could surely rerun all the memories and relive those moments if I wanted to. Eventually this number of unrecalled memories grew bigger and bigger and I only kept awareness of their existence, not even general descriptions. Right now I need to really stress myself to remember what year this or that happened, and I would usually go not to the memory itself but place it in relation to other events, like “it was a year after I .., or maybe it was two years?” Sometimes I just can’t remember things I thought I knew by heart, and same is happening with my ability to do simple mental calculations. I used to do complex multiplications but now three digit sums and subtractions pose a serious challenge.

What I am driving at is that I don’t remember what I was writing about here only three days ago. I remember the general topic, something to do with the mind, and that I was going to pick up from where I left off, but now I can’t recall any details. I can, of course, click on a recent post and read it again but I don’t see the point – details are not important and they are bound to be forgotten again. Besides, there’s this realization that I’m not in control of my mental faculties and while some might panic about it I feel like it’s a very valuable one, it pulls down the veil of illusion – we are not in control of anything in this world and this desire to be in control, to be on top of things, is what keeps us here and prevents us from turning our consciousness to Kṛṣṇa.

Anyway, the mind. I remember that in the post before last I talked about kids being kids and therefore being unable to control their minds regardless of whether they grow in religious or atheistic families. Sometimes atheistic families can be at an advantage here but today I want to focus on the value of sādhana.

We assume that we are the only ones doing it but it’s not true, especially in Hinduism. Māyāvādīs love “sādhana”, though to them it means something else entirely. Following in Ramakrishna’s vein they take all sādhanas as equal, you just choose the one that you like, like you choose your preferred iṣṭa-devatā. All sādhanas lead to the same goal, never mind Kṛṣṇa clearly stating in Gīta that those who worship forefathers go to forefathers and those who worship demigods go to demigods. This doesn’t register, they are above all that and for them all paths are the same.

This is clearly nonsense but they are not the only ones with sādhanas. In fact, every living being has some sort of sādhana and tries to follow it, however unsuccessfully. Everybody has some sort of dharma to follow and everybody has some goals to achieve. Means to achieve those goals are called sādhana, it’s the literal meaning.

If you want to finish school you have to study and studying will be your sādhana – how, when, where, for how long etc. If you want to master some skill you have to follow sādhana, too – study, train, practice. If you want to woo a girl there’s sādhana for that, too, so we are not special even if our sādhana is different because our goal is different.

What sādhana does to the mind is the same, however – it puts it under control. Whatever sādhana you follow, there’s always a list of dos and don’ts and there’s always some sort of a schedule. You don’t have to think about it, just follow. Get up, take a shower, have breakfast, go to school, or to work, there’s nothing to think about here.

The mind has no leeway, no freedom, it has to like what is offered and be content with what it has. The consciousness then gets freedom to concentrate on its ultimate goal without any distractions. This goal then becomes all one thinks and talks about and one consciously and willingly rejects all other engagements. Do this for a sufficient amount of time and success is guaranteed, no matter what it is you are pursuing.

In the beginning, however, mind poses lots of problems, it’s just wild and it needs house training. It needs to accept the new routine, it needs to learn to like it, and it needs to stop looking for alternatives. It’s like taking in a stray and training it to behave according to house rules. Where and when to eat, where and when to sleep and so on.

Initially we might not like it but under careful guidance dislikes can be overcome. The facilities must be adequate, the training not too hard but not too easy either, there must be some rewards and punishments and there must be some assurance and guarantees of comfort and safety. Well, maybe not comfort per se but comfort in a sense of peace of mind, knowing that you are doing the right thing and it will pay off handsomely.

People who object to this process and demand some rights and freedoms are fools who will never accomplish anything. No one gets to dictate the terms of a boot camp. They can accept or reject them but that’s all, training is non-negotiable. There are rules and if you want a diploma at the end you must follow them.

When it comes to religion, however, people invent their own ways, which means they give themselves their own titles according to their own perception of progress. It’s all nonsense, just like a university degree you printed on your own printer is worth nothing. Your achievements must be recognized by an authority, not by your own mind.

So, there’s only one rule – submit to the authority, control your mind, and do what your teacher says. This will make you a successful athlete, a successful businessman, a successful singer, a successful politician – anything you want. There’s no other way, even though theoretically you might be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, meaning you have tons of suitable karma and most of your work has been done in previous life. Unless you are one of those and get to make your own rules you need to follow the process like everybody else.

Devotees are special, though, sādhana is not a guarantee of success at all – because Kṛṣṇa is a person, a supremely independent one, and it’s up to Him whether to engage with us or not, we can’t make Him like we can demand a driver’s license if we passed the test. This means that our attitude to our sādhana must be different from others, but more on that some other time.

Vanity thought #1122. Banality of Bhakti

“Banal” is not a word one should ever associate with devotional service but I would be lying if I said it never feels that way. Yes, we should always be enthusiastic and full of joy but reality is that we are just as often full of boredom and can’t be bothered.

The reason is simple – we are doing sādhana bhakti, which is not a “real thing”. There’s no spontaneity or selflessness in our service and it is always interrupted by one thing or another, which means it doesn’t deliver ātmā suprasīdati, complete satisfaction of the self (SB 1.2.6).

It might be argued that for many of us it’s not sādhana bhakti either but only vaidhī – where we simply follow the rules without any comprehension and loving attitude. Such service is not even supposed to be joyful.

That shouldn’t be off-putting, of course, but we should adjust our expectations accordingly and we should not be discouraged by a lack of bliss.

In fact, I would argue that we better not feel any joy at all, that it would be in line with our actual position. Of course we can’t stop feeling happiness and distress but I mean spiritual joy, which is not supposed to be happening to people on our level. Senior devotees say that occasionally we all should get glimpses of spiritual pleasure but the key word here is occasionally. Normally it shouldn’t be there, if we feeling it we must be mistaken.

We didn’t invent the word ecstasy, it’s a fairly common feeling available to all conditioned souls, there’s nothing particularly spiritual about it. We just feel ecstatic about different things. Ours are spiritually legitimate but that doesn’t mean they are fully spiritual.

There are thousands and thousands of devotees in our movement who eventually exchanged this “spiritual bliss” for pursuit of ordinary sense gratification, which is impossible by definition – whoever tasted the fruits of devotional service will never ever, under any circumstances, desire material sense gratification again, occasional slip-ups in enjoying interactions between senses and sense objects notwithstanding.

What we should admit, I think, is that by Kṛṣṇa’s grace we have been put in situations where our material happiness was derived from service to our guru. Waves of love and devotion that occasionally overcome us are powerful and uplifting but we perceive them with material senses and as such they can be duplicated by artificial means, which is what the rest of the world has dedicated itself to. Sometimes they are successful and that makes them as convinced in the correctness of their ways as we are convinced in ours.

I mean science works for them, democracy works for them, communal spirit works for them, sex works for them, money works for them, love works for them – everything works, just not at all times. People remember successes and that keeps them going even if they are heading over the cliff.

We aren’t much different – our “blissful” experiences are just as rare and just as memorable, and they are usually sufficient enough to take us over our cliffs, too. Except we are supposed to be caught by Kṛṣṇa and lifted to His world rather than fall into the depths of hell like the rest of Kali yuga population.

I hope this works but this means that whatever we are doing now would matter only at the moment of death, on its own it doesn’t have much value, unlike pure devotional service that immediately takes one beyond material perceptions of life and death and identifying oneself with one’s body. We don’t get that, not yet, maybe not ever, only after taking another birth closer to Kṛṣṇa.

That next birth isn’t supposed to be a lifetime of uninterrupted ecstasy either. We can read about people who were with the Lord in Kṛṣṇa Book or in biographies of Lord Caitanya and His associates. They led “normal” lives in that they were born, went to school, many were poor, some were sick, they all got old and they all died. None of that felt particularly blissful.

Śrīla Prabhupāda promised us that Kṛṣṇa consciousness would solve the problem of birth, death, old age, and disease but the solution is not that the material world would stop, old age would stop, death won’t happen – no, the solution is that we will be raised above such trivialities and eventually leave this world altogether.

Until that happens, however, the world will go on complete with all the usual suffering. We aren’t free from suffering now and we are not going to be free from suffering if/when we get born in Kṛṣṇa’s or Lord Caitanya’s presence.

Remember how Gadādhara Paṇḍita got so old he couldn’t put a garland on his deity, Ṭoṭa Gopīnātha, and how the deity then took a sitting form to accommodate him? I’m pretty sure Gadādhara Paṇḍita’s body didn’t feel great about it. Pain and incapacity were surely there like they are going to become daily reality for us in a few years or decades, too.

Remember sores oozing pus on Sanātana Gosvāmī’s body? They surely didn’t feel great and didn’t make Sanātana Gosvāmī ecstatic. He even thought that his body became useless for devotional service and decided to kill it, only to be stopped by the Lord Himself who assured him there was still great future for him despite his current condition.

Remember how shortly after that Sanātana Gosvāmī took a path along the beach to avoid touching servants of Lord Jagannātha downtown and hot sand burned his feet?

Being with the Lord does not guarantee material happiness, whatever we do with our bodies, however we engage them, it would always bring a mixed bag of pleasure and pain. Why should we only pick what feels good about our imperfect service and declare it “ecstasy”? What about bad things that happen to us? What if they outweigh the good ones for a while and force us to reconsider our commitment? What if what we perceive as bad is as pleasing to the Lord as what we perceive as ecstatic?

We can’t make such distinctions simply on the basis of our feelings, that would be unwise. The key to success in devotional service is steadiness and this means that a large part of our experience here would be banal. Would it make bhakti banal? No.

Returning to sādhana bhakti – what makes it work is not how it feels but our underlying dedication to our service. We are supposed to be satisfied by executing it regardless of our feelings, disregarding perceptions of good and bad altogether. That’s what makes it different from vaidhī bhakti where we force ourselves to perform our service for the sake of the future payoff, not because we see its spiritual value now.

So, there’s no banality in bhakti but this needs separation between our materialistic experiences and expectations and the as yet imperceptible spiritual side of our life. If we group it altogether than some things we do WILL appear as less inspiring than others so the banality CAN be observed even if it’s not really there.

It’s all in our minds, unavoidable as long as we are stuck on this relatively low level.

Vanity thought #981. Food me once

Science, tech, and all kinds of nerdiness are at the top of their game now. While in popular culture finding a geek who can break into CIA mainframe from a cellphone is as easy as making a phone call, actual geeks are hard to find. Jobs in technology are always short of qualified candidates, one can casually dismiss programmers as useful idiots but hiring a qualified programmer is a tough job and they cost a lot. They don’t *look* expensive but their time is really really valuable simply because such raw brainpower is rare.

Most people do not realize this and expect geeks to work for a simple thank you and acknowledgement. Actual costs aside, they expect geeks to explain complex things in a simple way so that they can feel themselves smart and intelligent because now they understand them.

Translating geek speak into simple English, therefore, is very popular. We have tons of articles in the media which are meant to make hard things look easy. Two weeks ago everyone was writing about Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL, for example. Completely ignorant persons were giving solid sounding opinions to impress general public but were making fools of themselves to anyone who actually understood what happened and how.

It was a simple programming mistake, btw. They were asking for certain things to check input data but forgot to do the checking itself. It took two years to spot the loophole and only a few lines of code to close it. Look here – that’s the fix right here:

    /* Read type and payload length first */
    if (1 + 2 + 16 > s->s3->rrec.length)
    return 0; /* silently discard */
    hbtype = *p++;
    n2s(p, payload);
    if (1 + 2 + payload + 16 > s->s3->rrec.length)
    return 0; /* silently discard per RFC 6520 sec. 4 */
    pl = p;

The first line is a comment, disregard it, and that leaves seven lines of code of the fix itself. I wish it was as easy to plug all those running mouths all over media.

Never mind. I am actually ranting about a couple of easy to read “scientific” articles that spout absolute nonsense because people writing them had no geeks to translate them into English properly. One was about consciousness being a state of matter. That would pique interest of any devotee, of course, but it turned out to be a dud. One guy with German sounding name postulated that matter organized in a certain way would produce consciousness. He didn’t know what that way was, he just thought it would be possible.

He hopes that consciousness is a function of complexity and thought it would be nice to quantify that complexity by how much consciousness it produces. This is a fine point – he has no idea about level of complexity itself, he simply says that if organism shows certain level of consciousness then it should be assigned a grade of complexity, and he even thought up a stupid name for it. It takes us not even one tiny step closer to producing consciousness from matter or even explaining how it could happen, it simply says that if humans are at the top of the pyramid than they should be given five stars of complexity.

Total waste of time reading that.

Then there was another article about freezing light for up to a minute. That was an actual experiment, very successful, but it has nothing to do with freezing light, of course. No more than shutting a fridge door which captures the light inside and then releases it when the door is open again.

It wasn’t about freezing light in a sense of stopping it either. Light can’t be stopped, period, so it’s not what happened. Theoretically it was nothing, no new insights were gained, but it was a successful practical application of well known principles. “Freezing light” was just a very bad headline and the explanation was not much better, too.

AFAIK, all it had to do was with controlling how matter absorbs light. Some crystals’ transparency can be affected by shining lasers of certain wavelength at them. So this one controlling laser fires to turn the crystal transparency on and off. Another laser, carrying sample code, modified condition of crystal’s electrons in another way. When transparency was off these electrons couldn’t revert to their natural state so they kept the modifications from the code carrying laser until transparency was turned back on again.

After that they jumped back into their original states releasing a bunch of photons that exactly replicated the ones that came from a code carrying laser. This shutdown period was as long as one minute and that’s what they meant by “freezing light”. They didn’t freeze the actual light but they managed to keep electrons in new positions for a minute before they released light received earlier.

I hope that explains it, though I won’t be able to describe practical implications of this method in full. Internet might become a million times faster, that should be enough.

One article, however, turned out to be very relevant to our lives as aspiring devotees. It was about food and diets.

Fifteen years ago some researchers worked with people with short term amnesia, the ones that can’t remember anything that happened to them just a minute ago. They offered them a meal, waited until they forgot about eating it, offered another meal, waited until they forgot about it, too, offered a third meal, and so on.

Some said it was cruel and I tend to agree but what this “research” showed was that we do not eat with our stomachs but with our minds. These poor people couldn’t remember having a meal just a few minutes ago and they couldn’t read signals from their stomachs telling them that they were full.

This is a very profound discovery. It means that our dependence on food is mostly in our brains. Sure, we do need some nutrients to survive but we don’t *need* to eat the way we feel this need now. We decide when, what, and how much to eat based on calculations in our brains, based on certain rules we set for ourselves – three meals a day, for example.

We think these rules are real but they are not. It’s all in our minds. That’s why Six Gosvāmīs could survive on very little food, in some cases only on buttermilk which is not even solid food but a drink, and they lived on such diet for fifty-sixty years. All left their bodies when there were over seventy, which was a very long life by medieval standards.

There are many other studies that show how our understanding of what should our diet be and how much we should eat has very little to do with reality. Nice smell in movie theaters make people eat more popcorn and drink more soda, for example. Low ambient lights also make people eat more and for longer times. Healthy items on the menu also help people order more high calorie, greasy stuff because they don’t feel guilty about it anymore – they are dining in a healthy food establishment.

I guess I could compare this with devotees living in the temples or in holy dhamas. They might fall into the trap of thinking they don’t need to watch their sādhana as closely as those householders in the wild, they are in a safe place already. It’s a trap nevertheless and it’s only natural for us, humans, to lower our guard and think we can afford to relax our rules.

And those rules themselves aren’t real, remember, it’s just something we make up for ourselves to give us some sort of a system. Rules do not make devotion, following them because our guru said so does, that’s their only value.

If we try to judge ourselves by those rules we will make serious errors in our judgment, that’s how our minds work, and if we try to judge others we might ruin our spiritual lives forever. All it matters is if the guru appreciates our efforts.

Sometimes we take our lives here too seriously, we want them to make sense but they are not worth it, it’s all just an illusion.


Vanity thought #773. Glass half full

If we apply this idiom to our lives as devotees our answer should be “half full” because our faith makes us confident and optimistic that we are firmly on the way to achieve our goal.

If, however, we ask that question in certain circles their answer would be “half empty” because of all the alleged failings of our leadership and our alleged lack of progress. In those circles they won’t give us any credit for following Srila Prabhupada and they spend a lot of time discussing our imperfections, they see us as eternal neophytes who haven’t figured anything and remain as naive as ever.

Without giving any credit to ISKCON devotees they gleefully see us as full of faults and so technically their answer should be “half full”, too, except that we assume totally opposite qualities as “water”.

If we look at ourselves we’d also call our lives as full of imperfections and so agree with our critics. We are born and bred materialists, it’s our base quality, and service to the Lord is something that pushes our materialism out.

Actually, devotional service would be like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water that slowly spreads to the bottom of our hearts. It is not displacing our lives, it’s transforming them. As Srila Prabhupada would say that one can dig a hole in the ground and think of it as a service to the Lord and that would make him Krishna conscious, or he can dig the same hole and think of cool bottle of beer expecting him at the end of the day and that would make him a doomed sense-enjoyer.

This transformation of consciousness is important but I think it doesn’t do justice to our sadhana. By becoming devotees we make some real changes to our lives. We start to get up earlier, for example. We also change our diet, reading our books is incomparable to reading for pleasure, for most of us worshiping Deities has no material equivalent, and chanting our rounds is also totally alien to anything a materialist would do in his life.

So devotional service doesn’t simply change our consciousness, it changes our life itself, too. This difference is important because these changes come not from our hearts, as surrender to Krishna does, they are imposed on us by the modes of nature. They follow unbreakable laws of karma, they have causes and they have results and they can be quantified and predicted just like any other activity.

This also helps to explain how sankirtana words as the prescribed method of worship in the age of Kali, and the action of this medicine is similarly two-fold. On one hand it works on the transcendental level as the Holy Name itself. This mechanism does not lead to changes in our external conditions.

If we chant Hare Krishna it doesn’t ease our arthritis, for example, and chanting doesn’t cure hunger or make our bosses any more pleasant, but it helps us to see ourselves as separate from mental anguish of our minds or physical pain of our bodies. In this sense chanting doesn’t alleviate the effects of Kali Yuga, it takes us around them, so to speak.

The other action of sankirtana is that it engages us in sattvic activities – rising early, eating healthy, staying away from polluting influences etc. In this sense it actually displaces Kali from our lives and it makes our temples literally into Vaikunthas. If we take full shelter of this process we will be genuinely happy and trouble free.

There are ways to subvert even the best process, of course, if that’s what we want, but if we restrict our interests and aspirations to simply following the program we’ll be immune. Simple living should be accompanied by simple thinking, too, ie we shouldn’t try to over complicate our lives and step outside our boundaries, then high thinking will be able to take place, but I digress here.

The important part is that if we are suffering from the effects of the Kali Yuga we can alleviate our pain in two ways – by becoming transcendental to it and by being engaged in the process of sadhana bhakti under the guidance of guru and shastra.

First one is kind of raganuga based, for it doesn’t impose any external rules and is completely imperceptible to outsiders, and it depends entirely on our spiritual relations with Krishna. The second one depends on material nature cooperation – whether we have bodies suitable for temple living, whether we have suitable skills to survive as proper grihasthas, whether we get suitable partners etc. It’s all out of our control.

One could say that sadhana bhakti is inferior to raganuga but that is only half the truth because it also requires a higher level of devotion. It’s not just about trusting our lives to Krishna, it requires us to entrust our lives to the material nature and to other devotees, too. It requires us to see the world as uttama adhikaris do – fully under control of the Lord, in each and every respect fully connected to Krishna, and all the dazzling or fearsome manifestations of it as nothing but plays of Krishna’s energies.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. In the olden times it could have been considered relatively easy but now, in Kali Yuga, trusting our lives to material energy is an act of utmost faith and surrender.

Or let’s put it another way – raganuga bhaktas see this world as dull and irrelevant while our Kali Yuga sadhakas see it as Krishna’s playground and accept their assignment to the Earth and not to Vrindavana as Krishna’s direct order.

Serving Krishna on Goloka is definitely sweeter but if He wants us to serve Him here, we don’t mind, our guru told us to wake up for mangala arati, chant, listen to Bhagavatam and so on, we are more than happy to oblige. If there was a chance to jump off the train of sankirtana mission and onto Vaikuntha – we won’t take it. We won’t exchange all the treasures of all the material and spiritual universes for following the order of our guru, whatever it might be.

Or, if our consciousness it not yet pure enough, following sadhana is more pleasant than sweating from fear in the clutches of Kali Yuga – whatever works.

Vanity thought #316. Loose change

Some afterthoughts, or rather afterfacts, complementing a couple of recent entries here.

First on pain – apparently in Bhakti Sandarbha Srila Jiva Goswami says that Krishna doesn’t know what it’s like to be under the spell of the material energy and, consequently, doesn’t know what our sufferings feel like. To solve this problem He feels material sufferings through His devotees. I have no idea how it works and I don’t know where to find an English translation of Bhakti Sandarbha to check.

I heard this in a record of a seminar on Sandarbhas by HG Gopiparanadhana Prabhu, he jokingly suggested that next time we feel pain we should think of it as doing research for Krishna. I’ll keep that in mind.

Secondly, on the myth of idyllic life in the times of Lord Chaitanya – in Chaitanya Charitamrita, at the end of the second chapter of Madhya Lila, Srila Krishnadas Kaviraja specifically mentions criticism of his work and explains how he choose to deal with disapproval. He doesn’t mention any names but clearly there were people less than satisfied with him.

We are so lucky that it doesn’t enter our minds to criticize Chaitanya Charitamrita. I wonder what obstacles people who found faults with it put in the way of their devotional service. I’m sure they weren’t completely rejected by the Lord but still. Anyway, my point was that politics exist everywhere and at all times. We might think that grass was greener on the other side of 1600 but in other ways we are luckier than some neophyte devotees of those days.

And finally, not a sequence to anything in particular, but I found this verse from Brahma Samhita (5.59) rather telling:

The highest devotion is attained by slow degrees by the method of constant endeavor for self-realization with the help of scriptural evidence, theistic conduct and perseverance in practice.

Somehow I lost faith the “slow” process, I settled on performing sadhana bhakti just as a stopgap measure until Lord Chaitanya bestows His mercy on my soul, or until I die in a favorable circumstances and return back to Godhead. Basically, I don’t have much faith in external show of service, it’s good, it’s better than doing nothing, but it is not really a service, just imitation. Not a service in a sense that it’s diluted with selfish, materialistic desires that are inherent in our conditional lives.

Here Krishna says, however, that this slow, gradual, step by step process is a genuine method to attain highest devotion, so it’s not in vain. Obviously Krishna didn’t mention extraordinary, once in a day of Brahma mercy of Lord Chaitanya but still, Krishna is the boss, when He says something it must work.

Considering the gap between ever increasing and boundless Krishna prema and my present condition I think I’m dealing with the mathematics of infinite numbers here. How many tiny steps one needs to reach the infinity?

As many as it takes, apparently, so I better get on with it.

Vanity thought #276. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Puri Bliss.

Testing Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s faith and devotion by pitching him against impostors with yogic powers was probably the only uncomfortable moment during his stay there. Everything else was pure bliss.

Remember how the only thing he brought with him when he was assigned to Puri were sets of Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita? He put them to good use.

He had learned Sanskrit earlier but wasn’t very good at it. In Puri he got himself a tutor to help him study Bhagavatam. There were also two friends who studied with him but soon they were left behind. Yesterday I wasn’t sure if he originally brought Sridhara Swami’s commentary with him but this was the edition he read in Puri. After Bhagavatam he devoured lots of other Gaudiya vaishnava literature like Sat Sandarbha and Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu and lots of other works by Six Goswamis and their followers. He even read Govinda Bhashya – Gaudiya commentary on Vedanta written by Baladeva Vidyabhushana.

Not only did he study those books, he learned Sanskrit well enough to start writing books of his own. His first Sanskrit book was Datta-kaustubha and while in Puri he also started work on his famous Krishna Samhita.

Simply studying and writing wasn’t enough, he had to go and practice his understanding by preaching.

Everyday he would go to Jagannath Temple and hold discussion about vaishnavism. He avoided groups of mayavadis that also gathered there, he said that their blasphemy towards the Lord was unbearable for him to hear. He started his own community, by the place where Lord Chaitanya left imprints of His feet (how appropriate!) Eventually more and more people joined in and he had become a famous preacher of the Bhagavatam. His worldly scholarship paid off again as he was able to quickly pick up on philosophy he was only vaguely familiar with only few years ago.

He also held regular discussions in the place of Ramananda Raya’s bhajan. Many vaishnava pundits came to hear him talk there.

His success was noted and some people were not very happy, initially. There was one renounced devotee, a babaji, by the name Raghunatha Dasa, who thought that Kedarnath didn’t look like a real vaishnava – he wore neither tilaka nor kanthi-mala – tulasi beads worn around the neck.

It was like a replay of the episode between Gadadhara Pundit and Pundarika Vidyanidhi from Lord Chaitanya’s lila. When Gadadhara Pundit, a member of the Panca Tattva, saw Pundarika Vidyanidhi for the first time he thought he met an ordinary self absorbed sense enjoyer but then he observed transcendental transformations in Pundarika Vidyanidhi as soon as he heard verses about Krishna from the Bhagavatam. Gadadhara Pundit realized his mistake and begged not only forgiveness from Pundarika Vidyanidhi but also asked to be accepted as his disciple.

Well, this case was very similar – Raghunatha Das was a great devotee himself but at first he didn’t recognize Kedarnath’s greatness. We commit similar mistakes all the time, in Raghunatha Das case, however, Lord Jagannath Himself appeared in his dream and told him to beg forgiveness from Bhaktivinoda Thakur. We don’t get this kind of mercy, if we criticize vaishnavas even in our minds we get doomed. Actually Raghunath Das was first afflicted with a severe illness, too, but later the Lord came through and revealed him the cause of his misfortune and told him how to rectify it.

Raghunath Das immediately went to see Bhaktivinoda Thakur and begged his forgiveness. Unlike the case with Gadadhara Pundit, though, it was Kedarnath who asked to be accepted as a disciple.

It went down like this – Bhaktivinoda Thakur accepted that he wasn’t wearing the signs of vaishnavas but he said that it was because he didn’t have a guru, Krishna hadn’t sent him one yet, and without guru’s blessings he would look like a fraud wearing tilaka and kanthi mala. He already had japa mala and that was enough for him ATM, he said. It’s in this context that he asked for Raghunath Das shelter. It wan’t formal, though, the proper initiation was still a few years away. Still, Bhaktivinoda Thakur had probably learned a lot from association with Raghunath Das.

Raghunath Babaji wasn’t the only exalted vaishnava who Bhaktivinoda Thakur respected very much. At that time in Puri lived another great devotee, Swarupa Babaji, who, btw, later became an associate of Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. Swarupa Babaji lived near bhajan kutir of Sanatana Goswami and many devotees came there for the kirtans, bhajans, and readings from vaishnava books.

Swarupa Babaji spent whole day doing his solitary bhajan and came out only after sunset to engage in congregational chanting of the Holy Name. Devotees would bring him Jagannatha prasadam and he took very little, only what was necessary for his body maintenance. After that he would ask someone to read books about Lord Chaitanya, and then, around 10 PM, he would retire to his kutir for further bhajan. In the middle of the night he would go to the ocean for a bath. Bhaktivinoda Thakur says he went for a bath so late because he didn’t want to give people a chance to serve him, but he needed the service indeed – he was blind in both eyes! As Bhaktivinoda Thakur says: “Only Lord Chaitanya knows how he found his way to the ocean all by himself.”

This is the kind of association that anyone could only dream of and Bhaktivinoda Thakur took full advantage of the opportunity.

As I said, he became a very respectable member of the vaishnava community. His service to the government also didn’t go unnoticed and he became a magistrate. He was actually in charge of maintaining the temple itself and organizing all the festivals, as far as the government was involved.

He was very dear to the Englishmen in charge but his relations with the locals were not very smooth. Once he even put down the king of Orissa in his place when the raja unceremoniously broke into a devotee’s assembly in the temple compounds. Bhaktivinoda Thakur rightly told the king that he rules only on the outside, inside the temple there’s only one Lord – Jagannath, and raja was in no position to show any disrespect towards Jagannath’s devotees.

His relationship with the king was a complicated one. First of all, it was the king’s library that supplied many of the books Bhaktivinoda Thakur was reading. Then there was that incident in the temple. At first the raja offered his apologies and the matter would have been forgotten but next time he got caught embezzling temple’s money and was sentenced by Kedarnath to pay for Lord Jagannath services from his own pocket, Lord Jagannath eats fifty two times a day and the expenditures were very taxing even on the king himself. Eventually the raja became very upset with Kedarnath, so envious that he decided to kill him.

Kedarnath was too prominent a man in Puri society that simply hiring hitmen wasn’t a very wise idea, the king decided to turn to brahmanas instead, he hired a team of fifty and ordered a series of massive fire sacrifices lasting for thirty days with the sole intent of killing Bhaktivinoda Thakur. On the last day, when the curse was supposed to finally unleash its power, the King’s only son died instead. Talk about backfiring.

It wasn’t a big deal for Bhaktivinoda Thakur, though, he was too absorbed in the bliss of his daily sadhana to notice. King’s episode deserved only a bare mention in Svalikhita Jivani but in those days other devotees started memorizing his pastimes and so now we have far more detailed accounts.

It was also in Puri that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was born and all his samskaras – first grains, first solid food etc were performed with Jagannath’s prasadam. In fact that was the time that Bhaktivinoda Thakur and his family ate nothing but Lord Jagannatha’s prasadam. When he entered the temple for his daily service someone would always give him a bowl of dahl there, without tasting that dahl Bhaktivinoda Thakur could not be satisfied.

All in all, it was a period of pure bliss, but as with all periods it had to come to an end. Kedarnath was transferred back to the vicinity of Calcutta and that’s a story for another day.

Oh, one more thing – while dealing with Besikisen and other impostors Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur had to learn a lot about their philosophy and, by extension, he also learned about all kinds of deviations practiced by many different groups there. The fight for the purity of Lord Chaitanya’s movement was practically born there and then. But that is also a story for another day.