Vanity thought #1177. Priority of the Self

It’s a general rule that if you decide to offer advice to anyone you should measure that person’s level of understanding and say things just within their grasp. Advice is of no use if it goes over their heads, and it won’t be accepted if it states trivial things, too. It has to be just right, just what the person has been looking for but couldn’t figure out himself.

For ordinary people we can safely talk about the existence of the soul, the difference between the soul and the body, reincarnation, and that is even before we mention God. For those who proclaim their faith in God we might better concentrate on the need to serve Him rather than pray for Him to serve us and maintain our lifestyle.

We can also get bogged down in arguments over the nature of the soul and “proof” of reincarnation. Christians will never accept our views, it’s against their scripture, there’s no point in convincing them otherwise – they already try to serve God, and they already try to finish their job within this lifetime, just like us. What’s the point of talking about things that don’t really matter anymore?

I mean they already have dedicated themselves to carrying out God’s orders, whatever they are, why should we distract them with different interpretation of spiritual ABC? Yes, giving up on meat eating and intoxication might help them but not because *our* scriptures say so but because they should feel REAL improvement in their service. It’s not about the rules, it’s about trying to please the Lord to the best of our ability.

Instead of scaring them with potential results of killing animals we should probably talk about potential improvement in their service if they stop doing so. No one likes to be criticized, it’s not a great motivator, especially if it goes against one’s interpretation of the scriptures. They won’t accept our claim that we might know their scriptures better than them either.

There are Christians and Muslims who DO know the value of selfless service, they would probably appreciate our sincere help in that regard, but if we waste the opportunity by arguing about trivial things they would consider us as petty debaters with no clear purpose in life. They would rightfully see that their service takes priority over our arguments.

When talking to Hindus we don’t need to mention soul, karma, or reincarnation. They would probably feel offended if we decide to lecture them on axiomatic things they have known since birth. Their understanding of these concepts is probably wrong, being colored by hundreds of years of impersonalism dominating the public discussion, but that is not an excuse for to start correcting them right away.

We’d better talk about bhakti, or Kṛṣṇa’s unique position, or Lord Caitanya, or saṅkīrtana. These are the areas where we can establish the supremacy of pure, unalloyed devotion to the Lord and compare it to cheap imitations peddled to them by all kinds of māyāvādīs. They would appreciate exposing selfishness where they couldn’t see it themselves.

I don’t know what our devotees tell Indians nowadays, I’m afraid they just pander to whatever ideas they already have, we simply want to be liked and get our donations. Maybe things have already improved since I saw how it was done there before but I won’t be surprised if Kṛṣṇa consciousness does not even come up there anymore, it’s just accepted as a fact and people are asked to pay up accordingly. Or they are asked to pay up for using our temples to their own ends, like for weddings.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Some people appreciate having children more than anything else. I think they get lucky and approach it with sincerity and dedication, and, because it’s one of the prescribed duties of men, it pleases the Lord. They naturally feel this appreciation and therefore they feel their sacrifice is worth the effort even though it might look irrational by modern standards. Kids are too much trouble, raising them is expensive, and if you can’t do it right you better not try at all.

They come to see their pre-parenting days as something they grew out of and they stop valuing freedom and all the other things people associate with care-free single life. They know it must feel good but, having tasted a drop of following human dharma, they are not attracted to such life anymore.

Consequently, when we approach these kind of people we need to find something that they could consider as a revelation. Telling them that their children are not really theirs won’t go down very well, and if we start talking about family life being the dark well they’d think we are lunatics. Family life is their way of serving God, why should we discourage them? We should help them to see it that way instead, they might not always realize why it feels so good.

They should also remember that child raring stage doesn’t last forever, and so we should be ready to offer them the next step towards God, if they are ready for it.

Yesterday I advocated the same approach towards followers of Ayn Rand – they get their spiritual pleasure from serving their “self”. They see the difference between their bodies and their immediate bodily concerns, they are not fixated on sense-gratification either. They want to fulfill the purpose of their birth in the material world.

Here we say that the purpose is to become Kṛṣṇa conscious but that is not exactly true – it’s not what the universe has been created for, maybe one of the reasons, maybe one main underlying reason, but we should also consider the universe as a gift to the rebellious souls who want to fulfill desires impossible in the spiritual world.

Those desires are spiritual in nature, for some reason we want to spend time away from the Lord, and Kṛṣṇa gives us this opportunity. We should respect that. My point is that these people feel attraction of the soul itself, not their bodies and not their minds. They irrationally try to serve interests of their souls no matter what. It feels good, it feels right, and no amount of arguments can convince them otherwise.

Self always takes priority, this kind of “self-realization” always trumps money, family, fame, comfort etc. People do what they feel they are meant to do despite all opposition and are often eventually praised for it. We should respect that, too.

What should be our “next step” offer here, however? Should we talk to them how vegetarianism can make them healthier, for example? They won’t even let us finish, they’ll just turn around and run away. Should we tell them about ancient wisdom contained in Vedic texts? They won’t wait for us to finish our sentence either.

We should offer them serving something that is better than serving the self. In the material world there’s nothing, it’s as high as they can possibly go, the only thing better than serving one’s self is serving the Supreme Self, Kṛṣṇa. Fulfilling our destiny is great but fulfilling Kṛṣṇa’s destiny is greater. That’s what we should probably offer.

It’s not easy, however, we should speak with some kind of realization. It should come either from our own experience or be visible in the words of our ācāryas as we present them. I don’t think I could do it, for example, and so preaching is not for everyone but only for the best of the best.

Not to worry, the world is big, even neophytes can find someone to tell something useful to, we shouldn’t imagine ourselves as all-powerful preachers or expect Kṛṣṇa to back us up with His powers every time we open our mouths. These Ayn Rand fans, die hard Republicans, or Tea Party enthusiasts are tough nuts to crack for anyone on any issue, not just for us.

So, my today’s point was that their apparent irrationality might not be totally irrational but that they have much deeper sources of their convictions than conventional “wisdom”. We need to see that and offer them one better – service to the better self than they’ve been trying to please so far – the Supreme Self.

Vanity thought #536. Freedom, service, and sankirtana

A while ago I had a discussion on the meaning of freedom. Usually we accept that there’s no freedom in the material world and real freedom comes from surrendering to Krishna. There are arguments regarding free will that still popup from time to time but I’m not going to address those. It’s freedom in full surrender that interests me today.

It’s become widely acknowledged that once we surrender to the Lord and get accepted by Him and His representatives as His devotees, we are free to do whatever we want, free to truly express ourselves. The idea is that we don’t want anything but service to our master and anything we want to do for our master is accepted and encouraged, that once we dedicate ourselves to service all obstacles on our path completely disappear.

This is what we think happens in the spiritual world and it can be replicated here, too, provided our desires are pure enough.

This is what we accept as true freedom – to act in our natural position as Krishnera nitya dasa and be free to express ourselves in a spiritual way.

Generally I agree, but then there’s sankirtana.

The thing about sankirtana is that you are never free to be yourself, you always have to be whatever the Lord wants you to be for His service. If you are great thinker and choose your words slowly and carefully but preaching requires quick, dynamic presentation then this is what you are going to do. Your own nature needs to step behind and be suppressed for the pleasure of the Lord.

If you have brahmanic nature and like to sit and study books but sankirtana requires a lot of walking and carrying stuff then this is what you will happily do because that’s what pleases the Lord. If you are terminally shy but you need to lead the kirtan or start dancing first then this is what you are going to do because that’s what pleases the Lord.

The question of freedom never enters your mind, you act not according to your nature but according to the requirements of sankirtana.

Is there any freedom in that at all? Yes, occasionally sankirtana devotees see Lord Chaitanya helping them in each and every way but this is not what a sankirtana devotees actively seeks or desire. Even if the Lord is ready to provide us with shakti to control our preaching we should not ascribe it to ourselves, we don’t want to see Him as serving our wants, we’d rather see it as us being in sync with the wants of our guru.

Last thing a sankirtana devotee would admit is that He wants the Lord to fulfill his own desires. Sankirtana devotees abhor freedom as a matter of principle. Freedom means independence for them and they don’t want to be independent of the Lord under any circumstances.

It might look like sankirtana devotees hate themselves and need psychological help but this is not it at all – they simply do not have any desires separate and independent from the Lord. They live in perfect unity with guru and Krishna, they do not experience any pain of pleasure themselves, only when Krishna feels it. They experience the world through Krishna’s eyes.

Unlike other devotees they don’t trust their nature as it’s expressed in this world, they don’t trust following what their minds and senses tell them. They don’t actually see their minds and senses as truly theirs, if their bodies want something they don’t see it as their own wants. Maybe up in the spiritual world it will be different but not down here.

Maybe up there they would see their spritual bodies as perfect instruments for Krishna’s enjoyment but down here they sense too much interference from their minds to trust them.

One could say – but you have to purify your own desires, act according to you own nature, Krishna says so in Bhagavad Gita. A sankirtana devotee would ask “What for? For my own advancement? To achieve my own liberation? I’m not interested.” If they distribute books and see the happiness of their guru, their lives are complete. They can’t care less about spiritual advancement and liberation. The Lord is happy, that’s all they want.

Just like gopis who abandoned all religious principles for the pleasure of Krishna, sankirtana devotees do not care if they have to spend millions and millions of lives in the material world because they still don’t act according to their nature. They found a soul ready to hear about Krishna, they told Him about the Lord and planted the seed of devotional service, they pleased guru and Krishna – this is the perfection of life. Their only concern is when can they do it again.

Other devotees might seek freedom and explore every aspect of their nature, their bhava. Sankirtana devotees do not have time for that – there are books to be distributed and people to be invited to serve the Lord. Life can wait, it’s not that important.

There are no more exalted souls than sankirtana devotees not only the three worlds, even in Vrindavana their attitude of absolute selflessness would make them the best Krishna’s servants ever.

This is the mood of rupanugas – promoting service of others and not thinking about your own pleasure at all.

May the dust from the lotus feet of sankirtana devotees touch my head and cleanse my soul from all contamination.

Vanity thought #529. It’s all in the Name

From the very beginning we have learned that the Holy Name includes all the opulences of the Absolute Truth and grants all the wishes but I think that as time goes by we forget this simple fact and treat the Holy Name in a restricted and sectarian way.

First we lose faith that It delivers unlimited material wealth. Perhaps we accept the dictum that Krishna takes away all material prosperity from His devotees too literally. Many devotees therefore deliberately stop worshipping Krishna when they decide to give in to their material desires. It might actually be not a bad idea because this way they do not commit the offense of maintaining attachments while chanting the Holy Name.

Then we take Lord Chaitanya and Srila Prabhupada’s unlimited mercy too literally, too. We assume that if we keep on chanting the unalloyed devotion would automatically rise in our hearts. We do not take the warning that chanting while keeping our anarthas would actually water them and not the creeper of devotion.

Practical implication of this is that we mistake a lot of things that happen to us as growth of the genuine bhakti. We also think that if our chanting does not lead to immediate suffering then we are on the right path. If we get some positive results we sink even deeper into this illusion.

Therefore some devotees think that moving up the ladder of recognition is a sign of progress on the path of devotion. Some devotees think that residing in Vrindavana is the pinnacle of progress, too. Some think that delving deep into Krishna’s pastimes is the only way to go. Some think that developing symptoms of ashta-sattvika-vikara is the perfection of our lives.

The trouble with this thinking is that to achieve any of these things we need to make sacrifices. Career in ISKCON demands engagement in politics. Moving to Vrindavana requires leaving their yatras and quite often leaving the shelter of Srila Prabhupada and getting re-initiated in Gaudiya Math or entering babaji circles. We almost always have to make unfavorable trades, unless all these things come to us without our asking.

What we forget is that none of it has anything to do with Krishna and His service and we still treat Him and the Holy Name as the source of our enjoyment. WE want to cry at the sound of the Holy Name, WE want to live in Vrindavana, WE want to become a sannyasi and train lots of disciples, and the Holy Name dutifully delivers. It keeps serving us and fulfilling all our desires. It keeps giving and giving and giving and we keep taking.

While we indeed become closer and closer to Krishna the essence of our hearts doesn’t change, we are still not devotees but leeches and we slowly convince ourselves that this is how it ought to be.

The Holy Name is so merciful that It allows us to make It into whatever we want It to be and thus we still misuse our independence.

It’s ALL in the Holy Name also means that It encompasses everything. We shouldn’t take it to mean that we have to experience Its every aspect, though.

Devotional service starts when we abandon ALL self interest, even spiritual one. Being free from material illusion does not automatically make us into devotees and even people of Vaikuntha do not necessarily possess the kind of devotion that we aspire to. This complete absence of self interest is what makes our acharyas to leave the comfort and safety of Krishna’s lotus feet and descend into this world.

Achieving this position is only possible if we become indifferent to what the Holy Name can do for us and start sensing the world through Krishna’s eyes. Regardless of how much happiness we can experience with our pure spiritual senses, Krishna’s capacity to enjoy would always surpass ours so sharing in Krishna’s pleasure makes sense even from the position of our self interest.

Unfortunately, this is also the hardest level to achieve but it should not stop us from trying.

So here’s another meaning of “It’s all in the Holy Name” – the secret lies in sharing all the treasures that exist in the Holy Name for Its own personal pleasure and ignoring anything that could be available for ours even if we deserve the right to kick back and enjoy.

Methinks Krishna is so clever that He would trick us into accepting His mercy even if we are not looking for it.

All in all it’s a win win solution and we ought to pursue it very vigorously not least because this is what Krishna’s service actually is.

Vanity thought #404. Celebrating Gaurakishora style

Appropriately clueless, the error number 404 is just a sign that I do not have necessary resources to display any useful information regarding today’s holiday.

In light of my recent thoughts on the subject I decided to celebrate it Gaurakishora style. Once Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji declared that he was going to celebrate some vaishnava holiday. Next day some of his followers gathered in anticipation of a big feast but he deflated their enthusiasm by saying that his kind of celebration means fasting and chanting extra rounds of japa, nothing more.

Considering the gravity of the situation it’s better not to pollute the world with thoughts of extra feasts, sumptuous prasadam or allegedly high-minded talks on esoteric matters, I can do this any other time.

To actually understand the import of the appearance day of Srimati Radharani requires full and unshakable knowledge of samdanha jnana, a fully realized understanding of our constitutional position. Short of that realization everything that comes out of our mouths is actually namaparadha.

Usually discussing transcendental pastimes is beneficial for the conditioned souls as it helps us to overcome the namaparadha stage but today is not an ordinary day. Our desire to dabble in pastimes of Radha and Krishna is materialistic in nature but by indulging it we also purify it just like we purify our desire to eat by consuming prasadam or we purify our sexual desire by trying to produce children. Bottom line – we do these things for our own satisfaction, we simply try to get the best deal out of our infatuation with our own bodies.

If, for one day, we suspend this self-indulgence and limit ourselves only to chanting the Holy Names, that would be a real sacrifice showing our real desire to please the objects of our devotion.

We can’t maintain such a strict regiment forever, only on special occasions, and today is the most appropriate one.

On appearance days of Krishna or Lord Chaitanya we can expect some extra mercy and some extra leeway, hoping that the Lord won’t mind granting us some of our materialistic wishes (better food, louder kirtanas etc). Srimati Radharani, however, is not Krishna. Krishna might forgive us but for Her indulgence in any kind of selfish desires is very offensive towards the Lord, I bet She could only sigh watching us wasting the few remaining days of our lives on something so frivolous.

Let me put it a bit differently – watching us fishing for some extra benefits on days when we are supposed to give everything and more to Krishna is upsetting for Her. Krishna might not mind but She does. We cannot expect Her mercy in this situation because our desire to have some fun for ourselves is directly opposite to what She wants from us and what She might be eager to grant.

This is why I think Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji style of celebrating vaishnava holidays is more appropriate for serious sadhakas. Let’s try and rein in our minds for the day, let’s celebrate by putting more efforts into avoiding offenses while chanting and reading extra pages from Bhagavad Gita or Srimad Bhagavatam describing spiritual ABCs – we are not the bodies, we should not be following the interests of our bodies, we should not underestimate our fallen position and we should not pretend to have any taste for the Holy Name and pastimes of the Lord.

Let’s try to be smaller and humbler, let’s not claim any spiritual rights and let’s not inflate our egos by pretending to be ready to talk about Srimati Radharani. There are devotees who are obliged to deliver these talks and we are obliged to listen to them very attentively but let’s also remember that proper spiritual conclusion from listening to these talks is realization of our total inadequacy.

If we expect increase in our self esteem, or if we perceive any increase in our self esteem, than we are simply deluding ourselves.

Maybe if we are able to pull this little sacrifice we will be able to bow down with utmost sincerity and offer our prayers to Srimati Radharani.

Even if we fail, there will be another day or another year. We should not dare approaching Her in our thoughts while imagining ourselves having accomplished anything, as if claiming something we deserved by acquiring some service points. Even a slightest thought in the line of “now I’m ready” immediately disqualifies us.

Today I caught myself many a time diverting my thoughts from serving the Lord, what to speak of the purity. Unfortunately even a fallen situation does not qualify one to worship Sri Radhika. Her attention is the rarest gift for all conditioned souls, we shouldn’t be expecting it here, only after our liberation and only after we are fully engaged in serving the Lord on a fully transcendental platform.

I just realized that the more I talk the more I entangle myself. Let’s stop for now and chant an extra round or something instead.

Vanity thought #151. In love.

In love with myself, that is, not with people of opposite sex or, God forbid, Krishna.

I actually don’t always see it that way but there was some story I’ve seen on TV that made me pause and think about it.

It was a story of a woman in love, she didn’t mind that she was a mistress and her lover was married. She didn’t mind when she was told that he uses her position at the bank to launder money, she didn’t mind when she saw the proof that the money was financing terrorist activities. She didn’t mind when her love offered her to run away with him as a fugitive, hunted by CIA. She was still in love with him.

Turns out he lured her from CIA protection not to elope but to kill her. He almost strangled her when CIA operatives shot him dead. She didn’t mind, she caught her breath and hold tight to his dead body, crying tears of separation.

Great love story, on the surface, but what struck me there was that she was not in love with the man, she was in love with her own image of herself as being in love.

When she looked at herself in the mirror she saw this devoted woman, loyal to her lover with all her heart, all her being. When she saw this image in the mirror she loved it. The actual man didn’t matter anymore, she was maintaining and protecting her own perception of herself, her own ego.

When I thought about it that way I realized that this problem is far more common than I thought. Typical example is rich, middle aged women dabbling in philanthropy. They don’t care about starving African kids, they wouldn’t touch one with rubber gloves, but the image of themselves being so charitable is irresistible. They do it to boost their own ego.

Over the years I’ve collected enough little experiences here and there to convince myself that a frighteningly large number of people do good things not for others but because they’ve been told it would make them feel better themselves.

A man opens a door for a woman because he is a gentleman. Right, he doesn’t actually open it for a woman, he opens it because HE wants to look like a gentleman.

Someone finds a wallet on the street and decides to return it to the owner. How many times it is because he wants to look good in front of his friends and family, or because his consciousness told him it was the right thing to do? Either way, it’s not because the person who has lost the wallet might actually need it back, desperately. Let’s not discount the number of people who’d return the wallet only for a small reward, too.

All this makes me even more suspicious of modern concept of compassion, I suspect there’s a large doze of self interest in it, but I think I’ll write about it again later.

I don’t know if things have always been this way, probably yes, but popularization of ancient Chinese “Art of war” by Sun Tsu might have raised it to the whole new level of duplicity. Hardly anyone has read the whole book themselves, though, but its ideas made its way into Business Administration courses and so influenced the basic, fundamental moral principles and values of thousands if not millions business and political leaders. Its reach is truly frightening when you consider that these ideas are applied to billions of consumers around the world who happily play along and don’t even realize that they’ve been pwned.

The main idea, the essence of what I’m complaining about, is manipulating people’s self interest in such a way that they agree to accept your terms because they think it’s good for them. The offered deal might be fair and square, that’s not my concern, it’s the part where self interest has been made the main guiding force in people’s decision making and in their lives in general that I find abhorring.

Don’t we have enough selfishness going around already? Doesn’t the world provide more than enough as it is?

In vedic concept of life the whole society was operating to reduce self interest, reduce one’s attachment to one’s illusory self. From arranged marriages to burning bodies to accepting a spiritual master – the false ego must always be under pressure, always in check.

Let’s not forget the impersonalism, too. We might be determined to fight it tooth and nail but renunciation it preached for centuries also made people value their self interest a lot less conducive to spiritual practice. Looks like the only place to escape the pressure of pandering to self interest is prison. There one could finally be free.

I mean, the ability to renounce everything is one of the powers ascribed to Bhagavan Himself. You can’t really claim success in your own life if you can’t renounce it when the time comes.

Whatever your self interest is, you always have to put dharma above it, that’s the rule.

It was more or less the same before Sun Tsu in the western world, too, and Sun Tsu can’t be held personally responsible, but proliferation of these views has certainly made the world a lot less.

Didn’t Krishna and Balarama study these same things things themselves, btw? Srimad Bhagavatam says they learned military science and politics but in Krishna Book Srila Prabhupada specifically mentions “practical psychology” – how to influence another’s mind and thus induce another to act according to one’s desire. Prabupada also says that sometimes it’s referred as hypnotism. I don’t know about that, maybe there’s a doze in hypnotism involved in modern practice, too, that’s not really the point.

The point is that having grown up in this society I don’t even realize the actions of my self interest anymore. I love being a devotee, I love writing a blog, I love doing this and that, and I love being unattached to things, too. I love all these nice images of myself.

I chant so that at the end of the day I can see myself as a better devotee, more dedicated, more detached. It elevates my image, even if only in my own eyes. Actually, it’s only my own eyes that really matter. I don’t care what others think of me as long as I see myself as perfect.

Sometimes I catch myself watching my own actions and commenting and commending myself, too. Sometimes, not always. Last week I’ve learned to shoot down these thoughts as soon as they register but I’m not doing a very good job of it yet, also there might be some other manifestations of my love for myself I’m not aware of yet, I’ll keep looking.

There must be some offence against the Holy Names here, I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but I think this is one of the things that I should be conscientious about and purge from my mind if I were to achieve success in purifying my heart.

Good luck to me!

Oh, and I’ve read once that MBA courses are adopting Bhagavat Gita, too, for the times when motivating people’s self interest doesn’t work anymore, for when they need to bring the “big guns”. It’s a fascinating subject, I suppose, but I’m not qualified to comment on it.