Vanity thought #501. The necessity of being selfish

Today I heard one devotee say that, and it wasn’t off the cuff joke about ways of the world, he quite sincerely observed that unless you are a paramahamsa you must act selfishly simply to survive.

The implication was that it’s not a personal choice, everybody acts like that, it’s the society’s pull that one can’t resist if he to maintain his job and his family.

Someone proposed that while the society’s pressure is real, if we want to see change someone has to act first. Then someone else would follow and someone else would follow him and so on.

Regarding this second, snowball proposal, I have major reservations. In theory this is how it should work, true. We can start one or two exemplary communities to show that alternative ways of life and organizing society can work. Then this community could be duplicated elsewhere, then more more people would join in and pretty soon we’ll have a franchise on our hands.

Practically, however, situation is quite often very different. Quite often we have a struggle for limited resources, be it positions in the company, or a number of potential customers we must feed on with our competitors. It’s the market economy, previously known as the law of the jungle, or survival of the fittest. In situations like this there will always be winners and there will always be losers.

If someone simply gives up and folds it won’t start the snowball rolling, the winners will simply be relieved they get bigger share with less effort.

If there has got to be ten percent losers then there will be ten percent losers, no snowballs. Being unselfish in situations like this is like withdrawing from the auction to preserve funds and wait for the next opportunity because one day you will have to kill to eat, even if it’s killing carrots.

Unfortunately, this is how material world operates, there are no two ways about it – eat or be eaten.

What I think is wrong with this conclusion is that only paramahamsas can survive it. That’s not true. Being selfless doesn’t mean not fighting for your share, as Arjuna was instructed in Bhagavad Gita. Kshatriyas must fight, that’s their dharma, it’s not selfishness.

Actually, brahmanas are supposed to be selfless, too, but not necessarily paramahamsas. Living off voluntarily donations while providing essential service to the community doesn’t require one to be a paramahamsa, it used to be a normal way of life for brahmanas for millions and millions of years.

Even in Kali Yuga there is a great number of non-profit organizations that subsist entirely on left-overs from donations for the causes they champion. If they do their fund raising among affluent segment of society they can afford to maintain their staff and provide for their families quite nicely.

These are only half solutions, though, patch work to get us through this life. If we think we can find a way to live in this world and not succumb to selfishness we are mistaken. One must become paramahamsa, there’s no other way. Even if at the moment we are forced to act selfishly and follow society’s rules we must not lament it but rather patiently wait for the day we become paramahamsas and leave all these concerns behind.

We can’t maintain our attachments to our families and pleasures in life forever, sooner or later the material nature will drag us down and drown us the deep well of material existence. We should look beyond our everyday worries and interests.

Even when paramahamsas like Srila Prabhupada engage in the wheelings and dealings of this world they do so only for the sake of the preaching mission, not to make our lives here comfortable. A paramahamsa descends on the visibly material platform to make us into paramahamsas, too, not to put is into an illusion that life here can bring happiness.

So, the smart-ass comeback for that question should have been “So you should become paramahamsa. Seriously, nothing else would solve your problems, just chant and pray and in due course of time your worries and your mis-identifications will go away.” It’s too late for that, maybe next time if I have a chance I’ll bring this subject up with him again.

Vanity thought #268. Varnashrama and homosex.

I’m taking a break form Bhaktivinoda Thakur, I just finished Svalikhita Jivani and only started The Seventh Goswami and need some time to put those two together in my head.

In the meantime, there as an article on Dandavats two days ago that was called Homosexuality and the New Age that made me stop and think about the third sex. When I was talking about asura varnashrama a week ago I totally forgot about the homosexuals and this is a nice reminder.

In general, I totally agree with almost each and every argument presented in that article but I can’t stop my head shaking in disagreement with the overall thrust and the conclusions.

Two things bother me in regard with homosexuality – blind insistence on following four regulative principles that outlaw homosexual relations outright, and the insistence of the homosexuals on ignoring the four regulative principles when it comes to their sex lives.

I believe I understand both positions fairly well and I think they are both wrong. This is a rather bold declaration on my part but the fact that they haven’t been able to find a workable solution yet implies that something is indeed wrong.

Before going into any details, lets look at what Srila Prabhupada had to say about homosexuals, I’m taking this straight from Dandavats article:

That is not enjoyment. Just like sex indulgence. If you indulge in more than necessary, then you will be impotent. Nature will stop. You know impotency? That will be there. Impotency. This homosex is also another sign of impotency. They do not feel sex impulse to woman. They feel sex impulse in man. That means he is impotent. It is impotency.

Arrival – Chicago, July 3, 1975

So it’s a form of impotency, okay, next.

Now this progeny is bother. It is sense enjoyment, homosex. Progeny, they don’t want. They’re not interested. Only sense gratification. This is another sign of impotency. When after enjoying so many women, they become impotent, then they artificially create another sex impulse in homosex. This is the psychology.

Arrival – Chicago, July 3, 1975

Impotency again.

There is no limit of sense gratification. The sense gratification, homosex, they are supporting. Just see. Just see. At least, in animal society there is no homosex. They have created homosex, and that is being passed by the priest, the religious heads.

Room Conversation – August 25, 1971, London

So it doesn’t exist between animals and it’s a recent invention, okay.

Watchtower, it has criticized…one priest has allowed the marriage between man to man, homosex. So these things are going on. They take it purely for prostitution. That’s all. So therefore people are thinking, ‘What is the use of keeping a regular prostitution at a cost of heavy expenditure? Better not to have this.’

Talk with Bob Cohen – February 27-29, 1972, Mayapur

Homosexual marriage is compared to legalized prostitution, okay.

The animals also do not support homosex. They never have sex life between male to male. They are less than animal. People are becoming less than animal. This is all due to godlessness.

Conversation with the GBC – May 25, 1972, Los Angeles

Not natural, is not present between animals, and the cause of it is godlessness.

Nowadays, of course, they are thinking like that, that man should remain independent, and they’ll have homosex, and the woman also independent and they will make some… This is most immoral…

Morning Walk – December 10, 1975, Vrndavana

Immoral.

I am very sorry that you have taken to homosex. It will not help you advance in your attempt for spiritual life. In fact, it will only hamper your advancement. I do not know why you have taken to such abominable activities. What can I say? Anyway, try to render whatever service you can to Krishna. Even though you are in a very degraded condition Krishna, being pleased with your service attitude, can pick you up from your fallen state. You should stop this homosex immediately. It is illicit sex, otherwise, your chances of advancing in spiritual life are nil.

Letter to: Lalitananda – Hawaii 26 May, 1975

Chances of advancement are nil, but also note “I don’t know why you have taken to…”

While on the surface of it the verdict is pretty clear, and it’s the one the author of Dandavat’s article was hoping for, but on a closer inspection there’s more to the problem than meets the eye.

Take the nature of homosexual attraction, for example. In the first couple of quotes Prabhupada explains it as a kind of impotency, normally it happens when men lose interest in women due to old age, except in this case Prabhupada thought that they tried to transfer their sexual impulses on to other objects, like men, or it could be animals, I guess.

I understand it as if men have had too much enjoyment that their senses have become dull and worn out and so they need higher degree of stimulation to get them going again. I agree that it might be the reason in some cases but I don’t think it applies to the devotees, with all our abstinence. If some of our devotees experience homosexual attraction it’s not because they had way too much sex, that’s for sure.

Actually there could be a case made that confining young men to the company of each other for prolonged periods of time might make them look at each other as objects of sexual attraction. Body needs to express it even if there are no females around. I believe there have been studies that observed this effect in places like jails and army. If that happens it obviously needs a different approach than calling them old impotents looking for a sex fix.

Then there is a couple of references to the animals and how homosex is unnatural. It’s funny how my spellchecker red flags the word “homosex”, it’s not used in the modern English but I think Prabhupada’s choice was rather telling – something unnatural and strange and not deserving a proper term, would be giving it tacit acceptance if it was expressed in normal people language.

Some people might say that Prabhupada was too old fashioned, that his attitude and choice of words do not belong in the twenty first century, but that’s precisely the point – homosexuality does not belong in Prabhupada’s world. In the asura dominated society people might use all kinds of perverted ways of sense gratification, it doesn’t have a place where we, as devotees, are hoping to go.

Okay, I don’t think anyone of us can say with absolute confidence that homosexual relationships do not exist in the spiritual world but each one of us can also say with absolute confidence that none of our ways of satisfying our sex urges exists there either, homo or not. Sex as a means of procreation is a form of Krishna Himself but not sex as a means of satisfying our own senses. We can possibly put an elephant of our sex desires through the needle eye of Krishna’s definitions but homosex simply doesn’t stand a chance. It’s a way of self-gratification that has nothing to do with Krishna.

Having said that – it is also out there, up in our faces, there are people “suffering” from this condition and we have to do something about it. I put quotation marks around suffering because the word has a different meaning in the context of homosexuality as a disease that needs to be cured and in the context of sense enjoyment in general that prevents us from approaching Krishna. In the context of modern discourse on homosexuality suffering would be a bad choice of a word, in the discourse on Krishna Consciousness it’s perfectly normal and to the point.

What else was there in the quotes? Prostitution – okay, if people are engaged in illicit relationships they want to call it normal and acceptable, they don’t want to be ashamed of it anymore. From that point of view Prabhupada’s observation is correct – calling it a marriage doesn’t make it any more legal or spiritual.

Then there’s immoral. Okay, but norms of morality depend on the society, what is immoral here is perfectly acceptable in some other countries or places. Granted, in practically all human societies the basic norms of morality are the same, but I want to remind people here that all the societies we’ve observed and studied so far have been religion based, they were not influenced by the asuric desires for godless sense gratification. Hedonism is certainly nothing new but it has never been practiced in any religious societies and never on the scale of the modern western civilization.

The modern way of trying to satisfy our senses in the best possible ways and relying only on our own efforts has never been practiced before, at least in the modern history, and the ancient Vedic texts do not describe the life under Hiranyakashipu in great detail, for example. Perhaps homosexuality was as morally acceptable then as it is now.

So my point is that we are dealing with something we’ve never dealt before, it is unnatural from our point of view but it is VERY natural for people affected by it. Some hope to cure homosexuality but it’s only a symptom, it’s the prevailing modes of material nature that bring forward perversions like this. For some people the change might happen during their lives, for others it had already been inserted in their genes. Without reversing the gunas dealing with symptoms is futile so we must do something else.

First, we should recognize the change, not deny its existence, second, we should identify best practices under the current circumstances, as I said earlier, Krishna wouldn’t leave us without our duties, however perverted, so we must look at what specific set of behaviors could qualify as following this asuric varnashrama. Not surprisingly, monogamy would probably be at the top of the list. Raising adopted children in Krishna Conscious atmosphere would easily qualify, too.

Would it be enough to go Back to Godhead? That I cannot say, and that’s where I think some of the advocates of vaishnava homosexuality need to scale down their expectations. There’s no particular rule that would disqualify a spirit soul from receiving Krishna’s mercy simply due to its position in the material world, our chanting and other kinds of service will never go in vain, but there’s also our agreement with Srila Prabhupada – no illicit sex. He didn’t live long enough to “understand” our predicament, and I say “our” because it’s not only homosexuals who have illicit sex problem, straight devotees in this age find it just as hard to follow this regulative principle as any other third gender. We all have occasional thought in our heads – “he didn’t know what’s it like.”

Maybe he didn’t, but that’s the price of getting on his coattails. Maybe we are too sinful to receive his mercy but I think it’s a false proposition. We are too sinful to remodel our lives to qualify for the entrance to the spiritual world on his ticket. He met hallucinating hippies who had practiced as unrestricted sex as possible and they had to change their lives to qualify. He never said they could go back to Krishna while still living their sinful lives and they understood, they turned their lives around, as much as they could, and they have a clear shot at Krishnaloka.

What’s stopping us? Maybe we are too sinful to change in one lifetime, maybe our material affliction is far worse than that of those hippies. Maybe we need a new acharya who would inspire us to change our perverted ways, or maybe we should just keep our head down and pray for a better birth next time. What’s wrong with a little humility?

One thing we shouldn’t expect is a new acharya who would lower the bar and declare that homosex or any other perversion is perfectly acceptable in Krishna’s service and we don’t need to follow four regs as prescribed by Prabhupada. Once we go down that way there will be no end to it, you’d be surprised how many thing are considered “normal” these days in certain circles demanding recognition.

And what makes us think that we are so special that we deserve promotion to Krishnaloka within a single lifetime? Why do we expect our gurus and acharyas to guarantee that? Why do we feel qualified to judge this or that guru against this arbitrary and selfish criteria – “Can he give you love of God in a matter of minutes?” What nonsense is this? What incredibly self centered, customer always right, attitude is this?

Krishna is not our servant and if we think that getting us out of here is the sole point of His existence we are simply delusional. Krishna is not in love with our polluted, perverted hearts, we can’t blackmail Him with “but You love me as I am” arguments. We are not who we think we are, if we keep these selfish desires in our hearts we are still not ourselves and we are not the kind of material that attracts Krishna, it’s a delusion.

Wow, a rather long post, possibly my longest ever, I should stop ranting now.

Devotees fighting against homosexuality in our ranks should realize that simply outlawing it doesn’t do anyone any good and does little to encourage those afflicted by this particular material disease. They should also realize that it can’t be corrected at will, with some magic pills and maybe an extra round of japa, quite often it’s firmly embedded in those people’s nature and it’s not going to go away by issuing orders.

Devotees who argue for equal spiritual rights for all should realize that they have been put in less favorable position and they should realize that compared to straights they might have a bit more baggage they need to get rid of. How they manage their sexual lives now is one thing but in the end it has to be given up altogether and though one might argue it’s easier for straights.

I don’t necessarily agree. Straight people have an opportunity to fool themselves into thinking that their sex enjoyment is legitimate and they are making devotional progress. Gay people will never be under such illusion. Straight people might have their lives easier because they tell themselves they are great and totally legit while gay people will have to suffer the guilt of succumbing to their sex desires each and every time but who knows which approach is better for advancing in Krishna Consciousness? Krishna is always in full control of both the pleasures and the sufferings of His devotees, remember? He won’t make any devotee suffer any more than it is absolutely necessary, it would break His heart. Besides, in practice straight devotees also have plenty of reasons to suffer from guilt, there’s no innate advantage or disadvantage here.

Then there’s a sticky question of initiations – married straight people can get them, married homosexuals can’t. Formal initiation and recognition is a whole other topic that in itself has little to do with homosexuality, it needs to be sorted out independently and it’s too late for it today.

Vanity thought #188. Love.

Here are a few heartfelt words which, I think, are suitable for this time of the day when everybody’s asleep and I’m alone with my blog.

Krishna, I’m in love with you.

Yeah, it’s that bad, You’re so beautiful to me. Every time I look at Your face or even remember it, it wrecks me. The way You are manifesting to me, sometimes You’re just fun, and sometimes You make me feel worthless and You even make fun of me but You’re real.

I don’t have enough time in any day to think about You enough. I feel like I’m going to live a thousand years if that’s how long it’s going to take me to think all my thoughts about You, to have even one thought about You, which is that I’m crazy about You, Krishna.

I don’t want to be with anybody else. I don’t, I really don’t. I don’t think about women anymore, I think about You. I had a dream the other night that You and I were on a train. We were on this train and You were holding my hand. That’s the whole dream – You were holding my hand. And I really felt You holding my hand. I woke up and I couldn’t believe it wasn’t real.

I’m sick in love with You, Krishna. It’s like a condition, it’s like polio. I feel like I’m going to die if I can’t be with You. And I can’t be with You, so I’m going to die and I don’t care because I was brought into existence to know You, and that’s enough.

The idea that You would want me back – it’s greedy, but is there any planet, any part of the world that You’d feel any of the same, is there even a shard of a fraction of the feelings that You have for me too?

….

This is taken almost word for word from the latest episode of TV show “Louie”, and it was addressed to a woman, not to Krishna, but is there any difference, really?

Louie C.K., the comedian who writes, produces, and acts in his own show, put a lot of effort in expressing this declaration of love and it’s perfect in every respect, except it’s not addressed to Krishna.

Let’s take it apart and see how it works. I separated it in paragraphs myself and substituted or added a few words here and there to make it more realistic as if someone was really talking to Krishna, not a woman but it follows Louie’s line of thought very closely.

The first paragraph is the admission of failure, failure to contain yourself. A few posts ago I mentioned that being in love is not cool in modern society so Louie starts with a sorry for falling into such a state.

We are supposed to be proud, strong and unmoved by emotions, we want to display total indifference to silly stuff like that, we want to be above it – we want to keep our wits and intelligence with us at all times but love is the thing that takes it away from us and forces even the strongest man on his knees. It’s an admission of being weak and that’s why his first words were “It’s bad, but I have to tell you this.”

The paragraph ends with very interesting statement – “You are real.” Louie admits that he is weak, admits that he can’t fight for his dignity, admits that he doesn’t mind being humiliated – all because the other person feels real to him. True enough – we are surrounded by fake people all the time – fake smiles, fake compassion, fake emotions, fake sympathy. People express them because they want to appear polite but all too often they don’t really give a damn. When someone addresses you from the heart it sinks and hooks you right away, even if the words are hurtful.

Ages ago I was told by a senior devotee that all people want from us is being real, being sincerely concerned with their lives. Only devotees can feel that because they don’t have any self-interest, only love and compassion. That devotee was very grave when he told me that because he knew that it gave him an enormous power over people and he was very conscious about it, very aware of the temptation. I lost track of him over the years but in those days he was known for always getting what was needed for Krishna’s service, he spoke from experience.

Moving on – lack of time, when we are in love we never have enough time to think about the object of our infatuation, be it a woman, a new tablet, or Krishna Himself. I changed it a little bit but Louie was saying that the single thought about his woman would need thousands of years to get properly expressed. That’s how Balarama feels about Krishna – He’s got the time and He’s got thousands of mouths, as Ananta Shesha, and He never stops talking about Krishna. That’s love.

Third paragraph – can’t think of anybody else and the train dream. Anybody who has ever been in love knows how it changes the perspective on all other men or women – they kind of fade away, zoom out and become insignificant and unnoticeable. They don’t attract us anymore and they don’t distract us either, we truly are indifferent to their existence. That’s love, too.

Train dream is also a clever way to express love. An utterly unremarkable surroundings – train, an insignificant gesture – holding hand, but they mean a whole world to the person in love. Nothing else matters anymore, perfection of life, true satisfaction has been achieved. Devotees hope they can get a hold of Krishna’s lotus feet, just a sight of Lord’s lotus feet, even a dream of Krishna’s lotus feet would do, I suppose. They said to have this unique cooling effect on the soul, I honestly wouldn’t know.

Next paragraph is a climax. Louie proclaims total selflessness in his love. He only wants to be able to love, he realized that had been the goal of his whole existence and he doesn’t want anything else. He also compared being in love to having a medical condition. Devotees know this very well, too. Lord Chaitanya famously talked about being struck in the heart by the arrow of love of God. It’s incurable and once you’ve been hit you wouldn’t want anything else in the whole three worlds.

Last paragraph, unfortunately, is where Louie is preparing to screw it up. After declaring undying, selfless love he started talking about reciprocation. The answer was “Hell, no” and all the love just swooshed out him like an air from a balloon.

Why does that happen? All the time, too. Why do non-devotees are capable of expressing such strong, deep feelings, such encompassing knowledge about love but can’t maintain it and give up at the first hurdle? It’s easy to say it’s because they choose wrong objects and only Krishna is worth such love and if they loved Krishna then their love would never die.

It’s easy to say that but the fact is that we don’t know anyone who is capable of expressing such love for Krishna, last vaishnava who was not ashamed of going public with it was Bhaktivinoda Thakura in his songs and books. Nowadays it’s simply not done. How can we tell people to love Krishna then?

Just direct your love to Krishna and everything will be okay. Yes, it will be okay, from Krishna’s POV, in the long run, but that’s not exactly what people expect. How many of us have stopped trying to love Krishna with all our hearts and all our powers of mind and body? How many of us slipped in the familiar routine of material sense gratification instead?

Loving Krishna is not a straightforward, easy affair, it’s so darn hard and nearly impossible to achieve. Who in this world has achieved it? Who has Krishna prema blossoming in their hearts? If there are such souls, they hide it pretty well.

Records from Lord Chaitanya’s time show that people really fell in love with Krishna, with all the symptoms of being in love – can’t think of anything else, don’t mind public humiliation, can’t look at other people or things, can’t hold your feelings – love just flows like a river out of your heart and you scream at the top of your lungs to the whole world to know about it. Why doesn’t it happen to us? To me?

I also can’t help but draw another parallel – it’s like being in an arranged marriage. Krishna has been chosen for us without asking, now we are forced to live together but love is not there, we are just trying to learn to co-exist, learn each other’s habits and learn not to step on each other toes all the time, but love is just not there. It might be beneficial in the long run but love is still not there.

Can it grow out of co-existence? Maybe, in the material world people can develop tolerance, attachment, even dependence, maybe even deep commitment and, if they stick together long enough, they might even call it a real love, but love is still not there. Not the kind of love Louie was talking about in that episode, not the kind of love that takes away your soul and turns your world upside down.

I can’t help but compare this cohabitation to love gopis have for their nominal husbands – serving them all their lives with faith and devotion, not the love that made them run away from home in the middle of the night to see Krishna.

Maybe we are doing it wrong but more likely we don’t have any other choice. If we can’t fall in love with Krishna we can’t fake it either, we’ll just have to work for it, like Krishna’s wives worked for lifetimes to get the opportunity to become His maidservants, as they told their stories in Srimad Bhagavatam.

Why does everybody have to be a gopi anyway? We are not Krishna’s eternal associates, we are not Lord Chaitanya’s eternal associates either, we are just ordinary fallen souls whose only known association with God is sleeping alongside Maha Vishnu or something, when the material world is non-manifest. Maybe we are not born to love at all, maybe our true spiritual rasa is neutrality, just hanging out on the same Vaikuntha.

I know it’s not much, even a curse in devotees’ eyes but maybe that’s all that we are ever going to get.

Or maybe sincerely chanting the Holy Names will, in fact, eventually wound my heart with all-powerful love for the Lord.

I’ll believe it when I see it, until then I have enough reasons to be skeptical.

Maybe next life.

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.

Vanity thought #61. Scraping for my life.

A short while ago I had a little car accident.

Some guy cut in front of me and, as he didn’t have enough space and wasn’t going fast enough, I chipped a little paint off his rear wing. The guy didn’t stopped and I was infuriated. I overtook him, cut him off, blocked his way but he didn’t want to stop at all, just drove around my car and went away. I got out my phone and tried to take a picture because I needed to file a police report for insurance purposes but, while I was fiddling with the pone buttons, he got out of clear view and then he shot up expressway ramp that was going in a completely different direction from me.

Adrenalin was rushing through my blood, my eyes were probably red shot with anger but I had enough presence of mind not to start a full blown pursuit and let him go. Then I started counting my chickens. Insurance would probably need me to cough up some petty cash as a “processing fee” or something because I didn’t have the guilty party to sign off the papers. The police report would have only slowed things forever and wouldn’t be worth the trouble. The real trouble was coming from my better half.

I can’t imagine facing her wrath in the evening, it doesn’t matter whether I was right or wrong, IT WAS ALL MY FAULT. After the anger there would be a lot of sulking, silent treatment, pent up emotions and reminders of MY FAULT for many years to come. I would never be able to overtake anyone with her in the car, she would always make caustic remarks about driving “too fast”.

It would be hell.

The accident happened in the morning, on the way to work. When I parked my car I looked with desolation at the large area of scraped paint, impossible to hide. With a heavy heart I went on about my duties. Whole day I was thinking about it, or trying not to think about it. At some point my mind put all the blame on Krishna – I was listening to a lecture on a CD when it happened, why didn’t He look out for me? Why do I have to suffer so much? Why doesn’t He protect His devotees? All kinds of unreasonable arguments. So silly and ungrateful that there’s no point in refuting them at all.

I got home early enough to survey the damage alone. I got some oil and alcohol and tried to clean up the mess. To my great relief most of it was the paint from the other car but I knew that somewhere underneath it there would be scars that can’t be hidden. I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed and most of it was gone, then I got some special, hard rags and scrubbed some more until there was nothing left, not even a scratch. Paint on my car was completely untouched, no sign of accident left.

HURRAY!

Now it was time to deal with Krishna. As a die-hard ingrate I took it philosophically:

Well, I didn’t really blame You, I knew it was just my mind, so I don’t feel guilty at all. Thanks for saving my behind on this occasion, knowing me it won’t be the last, we have a lot of business like this ahead of us…

Did I fully realize that Krishna IS saving devotees? Not really – He wasn’t supposed to save me here and I wasn’t supposed to appeal to Him to clear my own mess, so I should be prepared to eventually deal with these things on my own. The fact that I couldn’t avoid those thoughts dampened my spirits significantly. Instead of celebrating I was already looking forward to the next test, and I probably won’t have to wait for long.

I shouldn’t even think of “mat prana nathas tu sa eva naparah” without passing “marma hatam” without a thought of my own salvation. If I can’t live through troubles inflicted by me alone and blame the Lord, what are the chances of me living through pain inflicted by Krishna? None, zero, zilch, nada.

My realization – if you feel happy making progress and earning Krishna’s attention – keep chanting, it will go away.

Vanity thought #60. How to woo Krishna.

This is not a tutorial, it’s a genuine question.

I have only a vague idea how women conquer men, none of what they usually do sounds like a legitimate way to attract Krishna’s attention. In this day and age no woman lure a man with modesty and chastity, they all put out their best tricks instead. You know the joke – men hope that after marriage their wives would stay the same but they change, women expect their husbands to change but they stay the same.

This is stereotypical misogynistic garbage but that is all I know.

I also believe I have a better understanding of how to win women’s hearts. Persistence and perseverance are the keys. It doesn’t really matter what a man achieves, it matters how much he tries. It doesn’t matter if he wins a fist fight or not, he’d be a hero simply for not chickening out. I never understood the logic of that but this is what often happens. Quite often women give themselves to a man just for a solid promise of a future life even if he might still be a nobody at the time and they would often stick with him through thick and thin as long as he is putting a serious effort into it.

Women seem to sense the power of a drive, as long as the drive is there, results are only a matter of time, and as soon as the drive disappears, no amount of money or comfort can replace it, the taste goes away and women start thinking whether there’s any future in the relationship left.

So, how to woo Krishna? Should we try female tricks to win Him over, should we try chastity? Should we try male raw force and dedication?

Chastity is very attractive. One who keeps his heart and mind clean will surely attract Krishna’s attention, but, as I found out yesterday, simply chanting the mantra doesn’t give devotion, the effort must be there. Maybe women feel secure that they don’t need to manifest any heart desires externally, I don’t. I think there’s nothing wrong with trying to grab Krishna’s attention by any means necessary, too.

I’ve tried that already and failed many many times. With each new idea I soon discover that I’m not doing it right, that in my heart every desire to please Krishna is buried deep under multiple layers of selfishness and self-gratification. Every time I return home badly beaten, licking my wounds and thinking “never again”, and yet as time passes by I find myself wanting to give it another go.

I figure that I will never learn if I never try. I prepare to learn from my mistakes, I plan to avoid making them again. I think that starting up a fire in the rain is a difficult task and one should not expect to succeed on the first try, I believe that eventually one will learn to light it up in seconds but it requires a lot of practice and a lot of fails.

Basically, I transfer our modern thirst for progress to conquering Krishna as well. It works on everything else – science, medicine, economy. Don’t our scriptures tell us that we should direct that energy to the Absolute Truth instead? Yes, the underlying desire is for gratification or liberation, but as long as we come in touch with Krishna there’s every chance that our hearts will become purified. In fact I don’t see any other way – without Krishna’s touch our hearts will never ever change.

Isn’t it what Siksashtaka tells us in the first shloka? The Holy Name WILL change our hearts and there’s simply no other way.

A chaste woman, on the other hand,  doesn’t need to prance around in push up bras. Chastity means avoiding all the stupid ideas I try to win Lord’s attraction, it means taking each step very carefully and keeping the heart clean all the way through. It means chanting without offenses comparing to jumping like a mad gorilla in the name of a “good kirtan”.

I guess it could work both ways. As long as the Lord is the ultimate goal it should be okay. Sometimes “chaste” way might appear as being more advanced than “drive”, sometimes as being lazy and  indifferent. As long as the desire to please the Lord is planted in our hearts the degree of progress doesn’t really matter, it is only a question of time and time has no relevance to devotional service, it has power only as long as we think in terms of better and faster, and when was the last time it did us any good?

Vanity thought #50. Chasing God.

I went to bed last night determined to persevere in our daily, routine tasks  – chanting, reading, associating with devotees etc and so far I largely followed but there’s one nagging thought I don’t know how to answer.

 

Same Isopanishad – you can’t outrun God, you can’t chase and catch up with him. If you think that by doing this or that you can capture Him, you are mistaken. Great demigods are not idiots, they know all there’s to know about all kinds of yoga practice and there’s no reason to suggest they’ve never heard of Srimad Bhagavatam or bhakti. We hear it all the time – demigod edition of Srimad Bhagavatam is many times longer than ours. Yet still they can’t reach Him.

 

So what makes me so sure that by doing certain things I can reach the Lord? By scrubbing floors or by selling books, or by eating, or even by chanting. All these activities could be just as well be performed with other goals in mind, or rather deep in the heart.

 

Four kinds of men approach the Lord, as we know form Bhagavad Gita, recently I heard another one – people want something exotic to avoid making a tough decision to follow their given path and so they go for all kinds of easy solutions. Hare Krishna is not easy, you might say, but, be honest, it’s not that difficult to start either. Eventually the going gets tough and that’s when the inner motivations come to the surface and it gets ugly.

 

Unless one has a real devotional attitude in his heart, the real desire to please the Lord rather than force Him to serve us by our austerities, it just won’t work. Demigods can be forced to behave, that’s the whole point of traditional vedic sacrifices, if you perform your yajnas right the demigods will be forced to provide you with benedictions, they are not in power to say “no”.

 

Not so with Krishna. He can say “no” to anyone at anytime in response to anything. You can’t get him by becoming the sankirtana champion, you can’t get him by becoming the largest donor, you can’t get him by becoming the best kirtaniya, best Bhagavatam lecturer, best provider of shastric quotes, best temple president, best whatever, and if you want to get him by displays of humility – you can’t either.

 

Nothing works on Him. Krishna is the closest to our hearts and at the same time Krishna is the farthest. Krishna is the most merciful, if we make one step towards Him, He’ll make ten, or so they say, but the problem is that this first step must be ours. Mine, in this case, other people manage it just fine.

 

Without sincerity and purity in my heart no matter what I do, it won’t be the step towards the Lord, and where do I get this sincerity? All I can think of is taking it from other devotees, nowhere else. Speaking of which, I’ve met a new devotee today, not new new, just I’ve never seen him before. My first thought was “Who is this scruffy fella talking to my friend over there?”, seconds later I noticed tulasi beads around his neck and realized my mistake.

 

Did I commit vaishnava aparadha? I don’t know, I had no idea it was a devotee, it was totally unexpected and I corrected myself pretty fast but what I do know is that I should never ever judge anyone by their first appearances. God knows how many devotees I dismissed in the similar matter without ever noticing it. People might not be even Hare Krishnas but still be pleasing the Lord in their own ways.

 

I should just stop judging people, period.

 

Next step is how to learn real devotional service from them. It would have been easier if they were doing it all the time themselves…

 

I’m going to hell.

Vanity thought #34. The source of anger.

What is the source of anger? Or what is the source of betrayal?

Sure, material modes of passion and ignorance lead a person to behave this way or that way, but we’ve always been taught that everything we see here is possible only because the originals are in the spiritual world. We have things like love and friendship and motherly attraction, and we know about special nature of parakiya rasa in Vrindavan, or thievery and stealing. Yesterday I expressed some ignorance of some aspects of amorous relationships there but nevertheless we know they are not anything like cheating on your husband in this world, and stealing butter is even easier to explain, but what about anger and betrayal?

Off the top of my head I can’t think of any good examples, but emotions like these surely must be present in Vrindavan, too. Closer to home there’s an example of Satrugna almost killing Manthara, Kaikeyi’s maidservant who corrupted queen’s mind, or Lakshmana ready to kill almost anyone who was involved in banishment of Ram, they were both extremely angry. There is also a story about Deities’ lilas in which, without mentioning any names, one of Them jumped on a servant who committed a mistake and pounded him heavily with His fists until He was stopped by His eternal companion.

It could be (hold on, it IS) all lilas and devotees on the receiving end ultimately derive greatest blessings out of Lord’s anger but it surely is a serious test of one’s devotion. I’m sure I don’t stand a chance.

Anger is probably not so bad, it’s when it subsides and there’s only indifference left, that is an eternal doom for someone like me, for people who approach the Lord seeking their own satisfaction. Actually everyone approaches the Lord with some ulterior motives, but when you are given the chance, the shot at getting real devotion, and you blow it on personal comfort, and the Lord is indifferent  – then you are really really screwed.

Ok, Krishna probably won’t keep the grudge for too long, but what if you offended His devotee? Will He ever forgive you that? That is the most certain way to shut yourself off from His mercy forever, and it doesn’t take much to show disrespect to a vaishnava, and it would count even if it was only in your mind.

I dread to think of situations where Krishna might exhibit betrayal. Technically, He is well within His rights NOT to respond to our prayers and He is well within His rights to betray our hopes, too. That’s what makes Him the Absolute, He is not obliged to do anything, and being accepted as His aspiring devotee is not like taking an insurance policy, and you definitely can’t sue Him. Maybe you can appeal to Lord Chaitanya, though. I can’t stand the thought of Lord Chaitanya failing to show mercy to anyone. Not Him, not Lord Chaitanya, and even if Lord Chaitanya might get occasionally angry, His associates will never leave any one of us without mercy.

Anyway, my point was that when we ask for devotion we must hope for the best but we should also be prepared for the worst, because for a devotee even Lord’s anger, indifference, or betrayal cannot possibly shake his faith even a little.

I’m happy for devotees who feel that the Lord genuinely reciprocates with them, but for me, all too often I must be prepared to beg for the shelter of His Holy Names against all hope and beg Him not to take away chanting away from me. I do not have strength to endure on my own for very long. Sometimes even three rounds at lunch seem like eternity…

Before I finish – despite all the doubts I expressed here one must fully believe in the words of Srila Prabhupada and the shastras. The Lord is all merciful and He will never betray our efforts and this is not something we – I – should spend time on speculating. The Lord would never betray His devotee, period.

 

PS from a little demoniac voice in my head: “But He can, can’t He?”

Vanity thought #33. The curse of Krishna lilas.

There’s no curse, I’m just making it up.

The problem with my mind is that it can’t really get around some of the characters in Lord’s lilas. Take Kaikeyi, for example, second wife of King Dasarath, father of Lord Rama. She was corrupted by her maid Manthara into asking Kind Dasarath to banish Lord Rama to the forest.

I mean there is this person who was accepted as a mother by Bharatha, an expansion of the Lord himself, and then she gets overwhelmed by envy and destroys the family. Ok, it’s easy to understand how her actions could have been “hijacked” by the Lord himself for the sake of the good story line, but what I don’t understand is why she had to suffer like that.

The entire Kingdom, including her own son, turned against her and blamed her for what she did to Lord Rama and for bringing death to her husband, she was left completely alone, without any sign of mercy from anyone.

Or was she really overcome by material modes of nature and suffered for succumbing to poisonous words of her maid? If a devotee who Lord accepts as His own mother can fall like that, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I tend to think she knew all along what was coming to her and she accepted such horrible, horrible role in order to please the Lord Rama and all his other devotees.

Now that would have been the ultimate selfless sacrifice. Imagine being called to participate in Lord’s lilas and then being told that the role is to inflict greatest suffering on all other devotees and two of Lord’s expansions and being blamed and cursed for that.

Or maybe it’s the selfishness of “I will be with the Lord and I don’t care how I have to make all others feel”.

Again, I tend to think she took the sacrifice knowingly and waited for the story to unfold patiently, without expecting anyone’s recognition for her effort. There would have been no story without her, someone had to do it.

Another character, or rather characters, that my mind can’t get around, are husbands of the gopis. I don’t even want to speculate how they must feel about Krishna and how he treats them. The traditional explanation is that they don’t know where their wives spend their nights, but, again, I tend to think they actually do, but they take it for the sake of Krishna’s pleasure. I know we must accept what shastras tell about them but wouldn’t it be much much cooler if they knew what they were giving to Krishna rather than being fooled by Him?

Maybe they just learned not to think about it to keep their minds at peace, I have no idea, but if they are kept clueless – how does Krishna look them in the eyes? Why can’t/don’t they accept their actual roles in Krishna’s pastimes?

It’s tribulations like this that make me think that occasionally some of the jivas in spiritual world might decide “I’ve had enough” and turn to the illusion of the material universe instead.

So far all these mental concoctions are probably just nonsense, but the side effect is quite serious – we chose to turn away from Krishna ourselves, and now we are begging to take us back, but where do we get strength and devotion to resume our duties there, the same ones we’ve rejected before and have no idea what they were and how difficult they were but still looking forward with utmost confidence? Where does this confidence come from? What part of it just our own bravado rather than Krishna’s inspiration from within?

How can I be sure I will stand the same test again and not fail? I can’t, and probably that’s why a real devotee feels completely unworthy and unprepared and begs the Lord to just give him a chance at ANY service, life after life after life, and learns to treasure and cherish this opportunity, however small.

I admit, I take it for granted, means I’m a stupid, ignorant ingrate who loudly asks for a lot more than he could ever chew.

Vanity thought #32. The reality.

From the very beginning I assumed that my journey back to Godhead will be rather short, that I would reach my destination at the end of this life. There are plenty of encouraging signs everywhere, right from taking our initiation vows to numerous assurances in our books.

I always assumed “life after life” line in Siksashataka was more  like a figure of speech, why would a devotee need to take so many births anyway? So here are some possible explanations why Lord Chaitanya included them there.

First, there’s a certain sequence to Siksashataka prayers – one feels unfortunate that one doesn’t have taste for the Holy Names, then one feels humbled, then one pleads the Lord for the opportunity to serve him anyway, life after life. To a devotee on the “durdaiva” and “trinad api sunichena” stages the thought that he could achieve the Lord in this life doesn’t even occur.

The real devotee never feels confident of qualifying for Lord’s mercy any time soon, or even any life soon. That could be a nice yardstick to judge my own progress against.

Second, a real devotee is absolutely indifferent to liberation. The question of “I need liberation, why doesn’t it come” doesn’t occur to him either.

So he sees himself as totally unqualified for liberation AND he doesn’t care whether it comes or not, he’s only interested in the opportunity to serve the Lord.

In his life he doesn’t focus on his imperfections, like I do, he focuses only on the positive – the opportunity to chant, the opportunity to serve. I approach it from a different angle – if I eliminate this or that, devotion would come. A real devotee begs for devotion, knowing that only devotion can overcome his obstacles, he doesn’t waste time on artificially trying to clean his heart himself.

Surely it doesn’t mean he is not trying to avoid offenses against the Holy Name, but his solution is only to chant more rather than analyze what he has done wrong on the Internet.

I should take notice again.

With an attitude like that a real devotee doesn’t have time to worry about terms of his deal with his guru, and not because time is short. For me lifetime after lifetime sounds like an awfully long period, for a real devotee, with real humility and real understanding of his position in this world, lifetime after lifetime sounds like a wonderful chance not to be missed, even a blessing.

If I heard that from the start I probably wouldn’t have thought of bhakti yoga as anything special, it would have appeared as a very slow and totally unreliable process.

In reality, however, it appears that it is the only process by which one can escape the power of time altogether, and escape here doesn’t mean liberation, as desire for swift liberation is still contingent on one’s judgment of time, but a total, absolute escape where one is not even aware of the time passing by, lifetime after lifetime.

Question is – would someone like me, subconsciously desiring for the end of my suffering in material world would ever qualify for the boon of devotional service? On one hand the two have nothing in common, one is selfish, the other is selfless, but, on the other hand, the realization of one’s suffering here is a necessary step to any spiritual endeavor.

I hope I don’t get stuck.