Vanity thought #1689. Single purpose

I wonder if my recent speculation about single flavor experiences through an apparent variety of services can be applied elsewhere, in particular to Kṛṣṇa līlā? It’s not how we imagine it, that’s for sure, but there are good arguments in support of it, too.

The starting point was our possible connection with Lord Rāmacandra – we don’t seem to fit in His epic story with Sītā and then war with Rāvaṇa but if we think of Him as a perfect king then varṇāśrama could be our way. Lord Caitanya wasn’t interested in it, Kṛṣṇa wasn’t interested in it either, but Lord Rāmacandra seems like the perfect patron Lord of performing our varṇāśrama duties.

When we talk about varṇāśrama duties we can talk about our real life experiences and that’s where it might get real speculative but I don’t think that there could be a big disagreement here. We seem to do a lot of things under the aegis of varṇāśrama and going to work feels very different from relating to one’s wife or children but once we get over the duality of our experiences we can all see the underlying driver – desire to serve the Lord to the best of our ability.

I’d argue that it’s the same motivation regardless of external engagement. It doesn’t matter whether our duties are pleasant or stressful at each given moment, we still have to perform them because doing so would please the Lord. I’d argue that it’s the only way to find a real connection between our activities here and Kṛṣṇa – everything we do must be done for His pleasure only regardless of our feelings and regardless of the results. Our guru wants us to be perfect little soldiers in this battle, too, though following varṇāśrama rules is not very high on the list of things we should be doing for Lord Caitanya’s mission.

Speaking of Lord Caitanya – everything we do for Him must somehow be connected to saṅkīrtana, to spreading the glory of the holy name. I’ve written a couple of posts about this back in December – it’s entirely possible to build our entire society around this single preaching mission so that every devotee, from temple pot cleaner to best book distributor to temple president see themselves not as cooks, managers, or salesmen but as servants of saṅkīrtana. It’s a beautiful attitude to have, the best ever possible, and we have had experiences of implementing it successfully. Maybe now is not the time for it, I don’t know, but when it worked it worked wonders.

Once we learn to see that connection in each bit of our service we should realize that it is driven by one and the same “rasa”, just like following varṇāśrama. We want other people to appreciate Kṛṣṇa, that’s our single motive behind everything we do. I put “rasa” in quotes there because we don’t have a name for it – it’s not exactly dāsya, even though we are servants. Lord Caitanya’s mood is described as audārya, meaning magnanimity or generosity, and it could be a sub-rasa under mādhurya or something, I wouldn’t delve into Six Gosvāmīs literature just yet to find out exactly – if they even mentioned audārya it might have been in different context anyway.

The same attitude was displayed by Prahlāda Mahārāja, btw, who is in dāsya mood but there’s an argument that his compassion towards other living beings was manifestation of compassion of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. There’s an argument that rasas are not building up from śānti to mādhurya but rather spread down from Śrī Rādha to all other devotees who display parts of her complete spectrum of devotion. Some get this audārya and some choose to serve the Lord without it (if it’s even possible).

I’m not a sucker of compassion, a word I believe is generally abused in our movement, but that’s what Lord Caitanya’s mercy is – compassion. It’s what drives His saṅkīrtana movement even though saṅkīrtana itself can contain any other rasa. The best place to feel this magnanimity is in Māyāpura, it just permeates the whole atmosphere there and it is clearly different from the atmosphere of Vṛndāvana. To feel real sweetness of Vṛndāvana is impossible without being qualified for it but no one can escape the audārya of Māyāpura.

That’s probably why Śrīla Prabhupāda made us come to our annual festivals to Māyāpura so that we can recharge our batteries and return to preaching with full enthusiasm. It just doesn’t happen to those visiting Vṛndāvana where the most common reaction is to withdraw and dedicate oneself to chanting and recollecting Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.

Anyway, it is possible to see all service under varṇāśrama as driven by one single motive, one single rasa. It’s possible to see all service under saṅkīrtana as driven by one single rasa, too. Is it possible to see all service to Kṛṣṇa in a similar way?

On the surface of it – no, because Kṛṣṇa has a variety of devotees serving in a variety of rasas. That is not the case with Lord Rāmacandra as the king of Ayodhyā and it’s not the case with Lord Caitanya. We reject Gaurāṇga-nāgarīs who pretend to have various relationships with Mahāprabhu from His pre-saṅkīrtana days and accept only serving to His preaching mission as legitimate means of relating to Him. Relationships with Kṛṣṇa are not so restrictive.

What could be restrictive is our personal relationships with Him. In the spiritual world we might indeed be a one trick pony. Even those devotees playing in manjarīs focus on one single aspect of their service, afaik. Usually it’s decorating something in preparation of the visit of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. From description of other gopīs we can see that they are all expert in one particular field. Some are good a putting tilakas, some are good a cooking, some are good a playing musical instruments and so on. It is quite possible that they do not know how to do anything else and can’t care less about Kṛṣṇa’s relationships with calves or cowherd boys, it just doesn’t occur to them because they are too busy doing their own thing.

We also have examples of seemingly inanimate objects that serve only one single purpose – like the rope and the milk in Dāmodara līlā. They might be aware of everything else that is going on but all their lives they wait for that single moment when the Lord finally interacts with them.

Another argument is the fact that devotees on higher stages of progress are given one single mantra to worship the Lord and these mantras disclose one single devotional sentiment. From Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s commentary on Brahma-Saṁhitā I remember that everyone worships the Lord with mantras there. It’s only for us there’s a difference between mantra and the “real life” but in the spiritual world the sound and the reality are non-different.

One mantra, one sentiment, one rasa, one service – seems logical. It does not allow for personal variety but it should allow for variety of actions to express that sentiment, just as saṅkīrtana or varṇāśrama.

The only problem is pastimes where gopīs and Kṛṣṇa interact in unpredictable ways, especially when other devotees are involved, too. In those pastimes there aren’t any restrictions on what each and every person would do. Within limits, of course, because gopīs behave as gopīs and gopas behave as gopas. Still, some of these personalities are very versatile in their service. To this I could answer that we are never going to reach their platform, and that even with this versatility there’s always one single motive behind it anyway. Gopīs do not have any other interest but Kṛṣṇa or Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, as the case may be, everything they do serves this singular purpose in one single mood.

Hmm, it seems my new speculation is holding up very nicely. It would be great to check it out personally but for that one would need to visit the spiritual realm which is not on the cards, unfortunately. Maybe one day…

Vanity thought #1688. One trick pony

Last time I talked about our possible connection with Lord Rāmacandra – service to varṇāśrama. It’s a speculative idea, of course, and I’m just getting started. Well, I used to say “I’m just getting started” but these days fifteen minutes after start I’m already thinking about a nap so nothing big will come out of it.

As I explained in the previous post, it’s hard to imagine how we could be useful to Lord Rāmacandra in any other way. We aren’t conditioned for Rāma līlā, we are conditioned for the mission of Lord Caitanya. We can fit very nicely in there even if removed from Lord’s appearance by five hundred years. The mission is the same – spread chanting of the holy name, the service is the same – chant, go out, meet people, tell them about Kṛṣṇa, the environment is the same – toxic, just to a different degree, the orders are the same, the philosophy is the same, so we are all set.

There’s a possible way to fit into Rāma līlā if we consider the inner meaning of battle with Rāvaṇa, though. If we consider Rāvaṇa not as a person, a demoniac king with plans to conquer the universe, but as an attitude – a demoniac wish to enjoy Lord’s property. In this sense we all have Rāvaṇas inside our hearts and we all have to battle them.

Are we going to kill this demoniac attitude? Nope, according to the story Lord Rāmacandra does that, we only assist to the best of our abilities. Considering that this demoniac attitude is rooted deep inside our hearts we are both the enemy and Lord Rāma’s soldiers, so our role here gets a bit confusing. Aren’t we also Sītā? We are being held hostage to our demoniac desires, too. Sītā didn’t fight, she just kept her chastity and patiently waited for the Lord to come to her rescue.

On one hand we aren’t supposed to sit and wait but actively fight against our anarthas, on the other hand, after many years of trying, we can also admit that until the Lord comes and helps us we are not going to achieve anything worthwhile. We can’t grow the tree of bhakti on our own, it has its own schedule. We can nourish it with chanting and pull out weeds of anarthas but bhakti, just like any other plant, ultimately needs the bright sun of Lord’s mercy. If that mercy is not there nothing will grow despite best attempts at gardening.

In that last metaphor our role as gardeners is only minor but pulling the weeds is Rāma’s battle with Rāvaṇa so it must be central to the story. As I said, translating Rāma līlā into our own lives is confusing and all these metaphors can easily get away.

Service within varṇāśrama, on the other hand, is solid. It’s always, always available, no matter what condition we were born into. We might not qualify by our occupational duties for the four varṇas and we might not qualify for the four aśramas by our personal behavior but we know what to be done and have the work cut out for us anyway. We know we have to get up, go to work, we know what we have to do there, we know when we have to come home, we know our chores around the house and our duties towards our families. It will never ever go away. We all have mothers and fathers and we all have sexual desires that need to be controlled even in the most degraded of relationships. We also all have to aim at eventual renunciation at the end of our lives even if full sannyāsa is prohibited in this age.

Speaking of sannyāsa – perhaps we shouldn’t look at that prohibition as simply an order, which would imply the choice of obey or disobey, but also as a description of Kali yuga conditions. It would mean that we can’t disobey this order even if we tried. It is said that in Kali yuga our prāṇa is attached to our flesh while in previous ages it was attached to the nervous system and even only the bones. It means that we cannot possibly survive without food while people like Rāvaṇa could undergo severe tapasyā for thousands of years. I mean even what is now considered fossils could still be, theoretically speaking, a living body of a meditating sage. That kind of sannyāsa is out of question, of course. We can’t survive by begging and living under the trees either, not in the present climate, not even in Vṛndāvana where summer temperatures require substantial shelters and electric fans not to die of a heat stroke.

Where was I? Ah, varṇāśrama – it seems we have multiple duties varied with our positions and our ages but in its essence the service is one and the same – following what needs to be followed. It’s in this sense that I meant “one trick pony” as a title. On the surface it would appear that we are doing so many different things but with practice we should all see that it’s all the same service, following orders, and there won’t be any other rasa involved in it ever.

We are not going to sit and watch our family duties being performed all by themselves, so no śānta, we are not going to treat the Lord and His orders as our friends and we are certainly not going to give orders ourselves, so no sakhya and no vātsalya. The only possible relationship with the Lord we can have under varṇāśrama is dāsya, there’s no other option.

As I said, it can manifest in a variety of ways but I’m not sure if this variety adds any transcendental flavors. In varṇāśrama these extra flavors come from interaction with other people, not with the Lord Himself, and they come only on the material level. Do these extra relationships exist in Vaikuṇṭha? Apparently yes – they have families, houses etc there, but it’s not how citizens of Vaikuṇṭha are defined – they are defined by their flawless service and by their constant absorption in the Lord. The fact that they also have families barely registers. We are taught to think that despite of the variety of engagements and personal flying airplanes all they can ever think of is their service.

So, I don’t think it’s dāsya mixed with attraction for their wives or with the exhilaration of flying your own vimāna. Nope, it’s just dāsya, so “one trick pony” description is true even there, albeit it carries negative connotations in modern language. I intend to overrule this negative connotation when talking about service but I’ll leave it for another day.

Vanity thought #1677. Frailty

These days we can read a lot about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life, often including minute details in a diary like format. We often have several devotees remembering exactly the same events and conversations and Prabhupāda’s participation in them, too. All of this adds volume and depth to the standard story of his life but it also makes him human, which is not always a good thing.

Typically, we seek such deeper, more intimate understanding of our guru, or any other authority, for that matter. We want to be close to them, we want to feel what they feel, we want to know what they know, but I’m afraid these desires are not legitimate manifestation of devotion.

For a conditioned soul knowledge is power and possessing such intimate knowledge gives one unprecedented leverage over his peers. Regardless of how it’s used, a person who is known to be close to a guru, or Śrīla Prabhupāda in this case, is going to command a great deal of respect and his words would carry enormous weight in our community. Avoiding this power is impossible and power is the enemy of devotion, generally speaking.

Of course there are devotees who cannot be swayed and there are devotees who are put in the position of power to carry out the mission of Lord Caitanya but we if go through the list of those who once yielded it we can’t help but notice that close association with Śrīla Prabhupāda was not a guarantee of staying. These devotees will eventually reunite with their master, of that there’s no doubt, but while we are still here, struggling with out anarthas, we should note that power of association is not the same as staying power, which is the first sign of maturing devotion – niṣṭhā.

This is a really simple bottom line – if one forfeits his service to the Lord then he doesn’t have niṣṭha and all his previous achievements have not yet born the fruit of bhakti. It’s not a condemnation, it’s not a test that one has to pass, it’s just an observation. Devotees with niṣṭhā have Lord’s energy arranging their lives in such a way that they never spend a moment without service to the Lord. You can’t imitate it, it’s either there or it is not, cheating won’t help.

The first reaction would be; “Oh look, he’s blooped, let’s write him off as a neophyte.” Technically it might be correct but since niṣṭha or falldowns are both arrangements of the Lord blaming the devotee himself is doubly wrong. First, because he is not the cause of actions by the material nature, and secondly because blaming him means actually blaming the Lord. Nothing good will come out of it and this in itself is a sign of our immaturity.

When such thoughts enter our heads we should know them to be simply perturbations of the mind serving the false ego. The ego wants glory and recognition and even if we might accept that we are not perfect in our service we still go for the pleasure of being better than someone else. “Kṛṣṇa,” we mean to say, “I know I’m fallen, but at least not as low as him. You know that I’m actually a better devotee, right?”

What can we do? Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī recommended beating such a mind with a shoe. What was it – with the shoe in the morning and with a broomstick before going to bed? During the day the mind must be engaged and therefore always under control but when we sleep the mind has total freedom to dream whatever it wants. That’s why it must be beaten in advance, before bed, and on waking up to shake off its impure thoughts, too. That was Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s personal method, btw, our minds can’t be controlled by beating alone. In his waking hours he was totally engaged in service but we can’t master even that, what to speak of controlling our dreams.

Can we speed up the process? Possibly, but we should be clear in our motivation – if we want to become better devotees meaning better than someone else then our rush to perfection will be useless. We should become sensitive to our desires and spot the selfish ones as soon as possible. If we fail to do that then we’d naturally enjoy “making progress” and that would lead to our falldown.

How many times have we been caught indulging in selfish thoughts like that? Should be a lot, and if one denies ever having them he is still in deep illusion. That’s the feature of growing bhakti – it should make us look worse and worse in our own eyes. If the opposite is happening then we are doing something wrong. Real bhakti would never ever let us feel good about ourselves or take credit for our success.

So, instead of rushing it, we should gradually develop indifference to waves of fame and infamy and to successes and failures. These things come and go and only time separates a devotee from perfection anyway, so if he looks like a neophyte today just wait it out and Kṛṣṇa will eventually shine through him tomorrow, or next year, or next decade. Once you are sure it will happen you’ll stop looking at him as imperfect now, too.

Think of King’s child, everyone knows that he is special and great things await him so they don’t see him as on ordinary baby soiling his diapers. Same should be with devotees – forget what they look like now and appreciate their eternal connection with guru and Kṛṣṇa.

About frailty – unless our minds are ready for it, I think we should avoid seeing humanity in Prabhupāda’s life. It’s easy to see him as human, one just have to get close enough for it, either personally or through reading personal accounts. It’s far more difficult to see him as an external manifestation of the Lord.

It’s one thing to worship him from afar where we can imagine him to be whatever we want him to be, even God himself, as history shows, it’s another thing to see him as God’s representative when you are up close and personal. We were never meant to be in his entourage but, thanks to all the written diaries, we can take a mental place alongside individuals selected by the Lord as Prabhupāda’s personal servants, cooks, and secretaries. These are not the positions we were born for, we should always remember that. It’s not the kind of knowledge of Prabhupāda we should be seeking but we should rather try to pick the devotional mood of his servants, that’s the only thing that matters at the end of the day, not the amount of “once Prabhupāda said that..” quotes we can carry in our brains.

Our nascent personal service to Prabhupāda is frail and we should treat it with great care, always remembering all the devotees in between who make it possible. By personal service I mean simple stuff like offering praṇāma mantras and reading books, not anything special, like looking after his mūrti in the temple. We should always remember that this personal service is enabled by our guru and everyone else who helps. And we should also be sensitive in the service to our guru, too – nothing can be taken for granted in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and everything must be treated with great care, as if it was the most precious thing in the world.

Vanity thought #1673. The good we have

I ended yesterday’s post with saying we don’t know how good we have it. Maybe, but we sure do know we have it bad – torn by mind and senses, drowning in the sea of temptations, and chanting without any visible progress. I must be crazy to recommend reliving this life to anyone.

I see that we have a graded variety of responses to questions about our prospects. First we learn about being with Kṛṣṇa in one of the five rasas. That’s the stage where Christians can asks us if we really dream of ourselves as girls having sexual relationships with Kṛṣṇa. That’s how they understand it, that’s how we understand it at first, too.

Then comes the realization that this world is not a place for a gentleman. I don’t think anyone actually dreams of his future life in Vṛndāvana, I don’t think it’s even a phase, but the initial fascination with pastoral leisures in Vraja needs to give space to dark reality of this world anyway. We need to realize that we are hopelessly fallen, no matter what everyone says. I mean there are tons of not so helpful devotees giving us all sorts of respect but they don’t know what they are talking about and we shouldn’t believe them. We are fallen. Period.

This is the stage where we temper our expectations and focus on immediate progress with constant questions in vein of “Are we there yet?” We don’t pay much attention to descriptions of Vṛndāvana pastimes anymore, we are more concerned with stuff that makes sense to lives instead – battles with mind and all the “wonderful” things that reside there – greed, lust, envy etc.

It’s the stage of battling anarthas and we are going to be stuck there until the rest of our lives, realistically speaking, but, of course, we can’t remain in one place for too long and we develop interest in something “better”. Many decide that absorbing our minds in Kṛṣṇa is the best. They trot out quotes how reading about rasa dance can free one from mundane lust and they dive into esoteric literature, seek association of “rasika-bhaktas”, and they can’t really stop themselves. Whatever I think about that path it needs to be acknowledged that they do constantly remember the Lord.

Btw, each of these stages is fully supported by quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda or other ācāryas – that’s what I was saying in the beginning – we can easily calibrate our response to questions about goal of this lifetime and say whatever one needs, or rather wants to hear.

Beyond the stage of artificial sweetness is service to one’s guru and our mission. Some think they are above preaching and that only paramahaṁsas can do it right so everyone else is just wasting their time but we have clear orders and clear examples from history – our life depends on preaching and if we try to imitate solitary bhajana we will stagnate and eventually die off like Gauḍīya Maṭha did. Imagining himself an elevated devotee because one conveniently always thinks of Kṛṣṇa is easy. Whipping your mind and getting yourself out to face atheistic opposition in hope of finding potential devotees is hard. Not everyone cut for that but it’s the only way to move forward in our spiritual lives.

We are not Kṛṣṇa’s servants, we are servants of our gurus and all the other vaiṣṇavas. Self-appointed rasika bhaktas do not see the value in serving guru’s orders and they do not have the taste for it, which means they do not see non-difference between guru and God, which means all their alleged advancement it phony. Unless you realize that a second of selfless service to your guru, however inconsequential it might appear, completely eclipses all the arguments in the world you don’t know the first thing about Kṛṣna consciousness, you just imagine things.

Sometimes you can see it in debates – there are things that mature devotee will simply not say. It might be hard to explain this to neophytes but there’s a spiritual weight attached to certain thoughts and emotions and if you don’t feel it it appears all the same to you, but there are subjects that are too close to devotees hearts and they will never ever treat them lightly. It doesn’t require explanations, really, we should simply try to absorb their mood, their devotional attitude, then we might appreciate it ourselves. Fools rush in where angles dare to thread, as they say.

Anyway, how good do we actually have it? Doesn’t feel good at all, just average, so what’s the actual score? Repeatedly returning to our current situation is not even considered when we think about our prospects. Chant until you develop taste for the name. Remember Kṛṣṇa at the end of your life and return back to Him. Submit yourself to you guru’s feet and pray to be engaged in saṅkīrtana to experience some real bliss. Who wants to come back to the drudgery of our current lives? It’s nothing to be proud of.

This is where I beg to disagree. We chant, we take prasādam, we worship the deities, we worship the guru, we read Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, we tell others about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we offer obeisances, we think about the Lord, we donate our time, energy, and money to the Lord. What more do we want? Why do we think that all these things are tasteless and immaterial and we need a serious upgrade in the next life? When we reach that next level are we going to say “I worshiped the deity in that last life on Earth but it was nonsense, nothing like the Lord we directly see here”? Are we going to say “Nah, the name as I chanted it in my last incarnation wasn’t sweet at all, in fact it was tasteless”?

Why do we think we deserve an upgrade when we haven’t achieved even a modicum of perfection here? What’s wrong with coming back to the very same life and trying to chant better and better? What’s wrong with trying in our service to guru again and again until we get it right? And when we do get it right, why will we be asking for anything else? Bhakti is its own reward, once we attain it we won’t be needing anything more. What stops us from developing bhakti right where we are now? Why do we need this “progress” to some other situation?

Hmm, these are just some thoughts. If there’s a need for us to serve in some other capacity in our next life then so be it, I’m just saying it’s not necessary and should not be expected automatically.

Vanity thought #1672. Spiritual modesty

I’m still waiting for knowledgeable comments on the Flat Earth observation I wrote about two days ago. I don’t think there will be any, though. My calculations were somewhat incorrect, to say the least – the island should be not 100 m but 1000 m below the horizon, which makes it even more difficult to explain, so I was wrong but in Flat Earth favor, not against it. In the meantime I want to return to the topic of reincarnating again and again to serve in the mission of Lord Caitanya. I don’t have anything new to add but I’ve seen two related items that I want to comment on.

First was a general Bhāgavatam class where someone said generic things – we should be respectful of every devotee around us because they might be demigods who came down to taste the nectar of saṅkīrtana movement. We’ve been hearing this for ages now, it doesn’t raise out attention anymore. Could it really be possible?

Why not? Saṅkīrtana sure is sweet and demigods might be bored out of their wits so naturally they want to join. One short life on Earth is not that big of a deal. We might not be getting any of the major ones like Indra of Vāyu because they have actual work to do but there are millions of other heavenly beings whose brief absence might not be missed.

When Lord Caitanya was here demigods came disguised as humans to have a look at Him and people were wondering who those mysterious visitors were. We don’t have Lord Caitanya Himself as the main attraction now but we had a unique moment in history when Kṛṣṇa consciousness was spreading like wildfire, it was clearly intoxicating, so it’s understandable why even demigods might have wanted to be a part of it. Some might have come to help because Śrīla Prabhupāda surely needed it with all our ex-hippies. We are not going to speculate who among his disciples could be a demigod in disguise but simply admit the possibility.

More interesting question is why do we want demigods in our ranks at all. Are we absolutely sincere about it or do we want some extra importance attached to our mission? Is it a cheap trick to rally the troops to go out and fight māyā? It might be cheating but we still need this kind of encouragement because often we won’t get out of bed for purely spiritual reasons, we need some material motivation, too. I’m not sure whether exploiting our materialistic motivations is beneficial in the long run but it definitely helps.

I’ve heard of some of our managers deliberately using women to get male hormones going, otherwise devotees are too lazy. A man would do anything for a chance with a girl, why not use this energy in service of Kṛṣṇa? Why let it go to waste? He’ll fall in love with someone sooner or later anyway. I understand and almost agree with this reasoning but something holds me back from completely agreeing with it. It’s not what I was going to talk about today anyway.

So, we might be bringing demigods into the picture to make ourselves appear important. Ostensibly we’d say that it’s our mission that is important, so important that even the demigods decided to chip in, but the “our” part there makes it about self-importance, too. That is only half the problem, however.

Why do we use demigods to elicit extra respect in the first place? It makes ordinary devotees look insignificant by comparison, which is disrespectful. Are we going to offer obeisances to someone because he could be a demigod but not for the fact that he is a devotee? Do devotees not deserve respect on their own?

Technically, our devotees are going back to Kṛṣṇa while demigods usually go back to heaven, as we can see from numerous examples in our books. I always wondered why they misuse the opportunity of meeting Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu face to face and desire to stay in the material world longer. This should not happen to our ISKCON devotees who follow the program. At the end of their lives they are going to be reunited with the Lord while going to heaven would be considered a failure. Well, nothing done in service to the Lord is a failure but it would still be a setback.

So, we’d offer special respects to demigods who are going to enjoy the pleasures of the material world and walk past a simple devotee who is going to be reunited with Kṛṣṇa? It doesn’t make sense and so I don’t understand these demigod references.

A second item on this topic is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lecture on what it means to be liberated. There is a couple of paragraphs there that I’d actually prefer to read backwards:

    You have to become the servant of the servant of the servant of gopīs. So to endeavor to become gopīs, that is also Māyāvādī, that “I shall become gopīs.” No. So we must always remember that if we want to be recognized by Kṛṣṇa, if we want to become inhabitants of Vṛndāvana, then we must take this lesson given by Caitanya Mahāprabhu, gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ.

And then in one of the preceding paragraphs:

    Don’t try to become gopīs. No. Rather, try to become the dust of the lotus feet of the gopīs. Gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ (CC Madhya 13.80). Just like Uddhava. Uddhava wanted to become one grass in Vṛndāvana because the gopīs will trample over it. This is the highest perfection. So, liberation. Liberation means gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ. The more you become servant of the servant, servant of Vaiṣṇava, then your perfection is there

The futility of any other type of liberation is explained as well:

    Ahaṁ brahmāsmi: to understand that “I am not this matter, I am Brahman.” But unless one takes shelter of the gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa, he’ll fall down. Āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥ patanty adhaḥ (SB 10.2.32). Why? Anādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ. Because one does not know, as Caitanya Mahāprabhu teaches, that gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ (CC Madhya 13.80), he falls down. He has no shelter. Anādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ.

Śrīla Prabhupāda makes full use of the linked Bhāgavatam and Caitanya Caritāmṛta verses here – those who do not become servants of the servants do not achieve liberation. Not servants of Kṛṣṇa either, but servants of the servants of the servants.

To me this validates my earlier point that we might be born again and again exactly where we are now so that we can perfect our position of lowly servants of the servants of Śrīla Prabhupāda and should not demand anything better. Uddhava wanted to become grass in Vṛndāvana but for him it was a step down from his exalted position in Dvārakā. If we desire the same it would be a step up, which is not a display of necessary humility. We should simply aspire to serve dedicated servants of Śrīla Prabhupāda in whatever capacity we can, if we do it right we will eventually develop real bhakti ourselves, and with bhakti we’ll have no problems doing this “insignificant” service again and again, lifetime after lifetime.

Or, in other words – we don’t know how good we have it.

Vanity thought #1667. Groundhog Day

There was an iconic movie with this name some twenty years ago. The protagonist goes to some little provincial town to report on an arcane ritual where locals predict the weather for the rest of the year from a choice of food made by a groundhog on what is known as “Groundhog Day”. What happens is that when the protagonists wakes up the following morning it turns out that the time stuck and it’s Groundhog Day all over again. At first he is surprised but when this phenomenon repeats unfailingly again and again he gets the hang of it, learns every little details of what is going to happen, uses it to his advantage first but eventually he realizes the futility of worrying about trivial stuff. He starts seeking the deeper meaning of life and tries to live this day as perfectly as possible. I don’t remember how the movie ends but that part of the plot is enough for today’s post.

What if our lives here are just like this Groundhog Day and we get to relive them again and again until we realize the value of spiritual side of it? Being in ISKCON we are quite advanced already but clearly have a long way to go to perfection, too.

As I argued yesterday, in order to qualify for this repetitive lives we need to become liberated first, which practically means we need Lord Caitanya to personally extend His mercy to us and take us under His wing. If we are already in ISKCON than this is no problem, we got it covered, and so we need to concentrate on getting our lives right.

Unlike with materialists devoid of Lord Caitanya’s mercy our progress isn’t going to happen in huge steps – one life here on Earth, next life possibly on heavenly planets or, more likely, down in hell, then animal birth here again, and so on. Each new life and the assigned body is going to be very different from the previous one, but not for us. We get to stay and repeat the same mission over and over and over again until we get it right, or possibly forever. Our consciousness will become clarified incrementally and as soon as material body catches up, ie learns to walk and talk, we’ll be right where we left at the previous attempt.

Unlike the movie, however, we are not going to recognize our “new” life right away, it would take a certain level of maturity to see beyond the trivialities of every day life and recognize familiar patterns. They might still look differently but we’ll know that it’s the same experiences and same interactions repeating themselves. Falling in love is the same, getting out of bed and going to work is the same, raising children is the same, food is the same, entertainment is the same. When we are young we feel that we are special and that we have our own, unique experiences never seen in history before but that exultation is repetitive, too.

What we need to finally learn is the appreciation for chanting of the holy name, appreciation for saṅkīrtana. We sort of know it’s important already but we still behave as if we don’t, as if it’s only an add-on or one of many other equally important activities we can’t skip.

There’s one big difference between that Groundhog day and our groundhog lives, and actually any other time tweaking story – they use this opportunity to change history while we don’t. Materialists do not have a spiritual dimension to their lives and so they are not interested in spiritual progress, which is transcendental to material happenings. They want to improve the material life instead.

Given the chance they might go back and kill Hitler, for example, or save Kennedy, or prevent any other catastrophes and disasters. They want to bring modern inventions to help people of old, or they want to bring future inventions into the present. They want past and future to be interactive, hoping to improve things for everybody involved. This, of course, is not going to happen and it will always remain a fantasy.

We, the tiny little jīvas, are not in control of this world and we don’t make changes here, nor can we turn back the time because time works under the orders of the Supreme, not ours, and for us it’s irreversible. The Groundhog Day phenomenon in our lives might become possible only if we are outside of the influence of time, ie liberated, just as I said earlier, or if it happens in different universes which are at different stages of material development but always see Lord Caitanya visiting them anyway.

As spiritual beings we can make spiritual progress but it will remain imperceptible because spiritual matters are transcendental. There are, of course, external symptoms to recognize devotees but I could argue that plenty of ISKCON members qualify for being potentially pure devotees already. They all chant, they all follow regulative principles, they all serve the mission of Lord Caitanya, they all surrender their lives to their gurus, and differences in the amount of visible service are trivial, they don’t mean much. It is possible to become a pure devotee and still do the same things in exactly the same way.

Life of a pure devotee does not depend on external happenings, his body reacts to hot and cold, it needs food and shelter, but it doesn’t break his constant concentration on Kṛṣṇa even if his mind apparently interacts with material objects. Mind is a material element, it will keep doing whatever it is doing according to the laws of the universe.

Pure or not, but, as Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna in Bhagavad Gītā, we all have to perform our assigned duties. Arjuna had to fight, we have to go and vote, for example, and we might also need to explain our voting choices if someone asks. That would all be done by the mind but our spiritual lives underneath the material coverings are not going to be disturbed. In fact, at the stage of perfection we’ll see each and every movement in the material world as an interaction with Kṛṣṇa himself where right not we still see illusion.

So, we will relive our groundhog lives over and over again but the difference would be in our appreciation of Kṛṣṇa’s role in it which we don’t have yet at the moment. We would still chant the same sixteen rounds but with each new life we’d ignore our minds better and better. We’d also have more and more appreciation for whatever little service that is given to us where now we see it as insignificant and inconsequential and not really worth mentioning because we think it’s OUR service that WE deserved ourselves. Right now we might still desire big things for us but that should go away, and even if we happen to come across big service opportunities we’d credit our guru and fellow devotees, not ourselves.

I don’t know how many lives we need to start seeing it as Kṛṣṇa’s service arranged by His representatives for His pleasure, and it’s our presence there that is inconsequential instead. I hope not too many, this selfishness is boring and tiring.

Vanity thought #394. Fear of God

When Lord Chaitanya asked Ramananda Raya about the ultimate goal of human life He rejected progressive answers one by one, from performing one’s duties according to varnashrama system to offering fruits of one’s labor to Krishna to cultivating devotional service as Krishna taught in Bhagavad Gita. Eventually Ramananda Raya got to pure devotional service as described in Srimad Bhagavatam and that sparked Lord Chaitanya’s interest.

He approved worshiping the Lord as His servant but wanted to hear more and the next offering was, of course, service to the Lord in the mood of a friend. It’s at this point, CC Madhya 8.74, that Srila Prabhupada mentions fear of God.

He says that in relationship between a servant and his master there’s always fear, and that when one loses this fear he progresses further up the ladder of devotional ranks.

This made me think for a moment – am I afraid of Krishna or my spiritual master? Should I be? In this world we don’t get any other relationships with the Lord, only as servants – dasadasanudasa. Should we be afraid?

Quickly checking my inventory I don’t think I have that fear, I do have fear in connection with my body but it’s not fear of Krishna and I don’t take it as a spiritual emotion, just as a material reflex to external stimuli.

Maybe it’s because I don’t know Krishna very well, I have an image of Him that I built by listening to the devotees and reading books and this image is actually of shelter and safety, fear is the last emotion I expect from seeing Krishna.

Maybe if I saw Him face to face I’d realize how fearsome He actually is. Maybe not Krishna Himself but someone like Narayana or Vishnu – same thing for conditioned souls – we can’t relate to God in any other form without achieving liberation first.

There’s a case of Gopa Kumara who went to Vaikuntha and saw how everybody was full of deep respect towards the Lord and they were very afraid of Gopa Kumara acting inappropriately.

I don’t think I have that kind of fear yet. Sure, I’m afraid of committing offenses towards Krishna but that’s not fear of what Krishna might do to me in revenge but fear of upsetting Him, and this kind of fear is not unique at all.

In fact I’m far more afraid of upsetting my wife, she’s the one who can really make my life a living hell and she has far longer memory than Krishna. The fact that I won’t get very far spiritually without her blessings is even more worrisome. She’s not my guru, of course, but she’s under my responsibility and unless she releases me from it I’m bound to serve the family. No one can approach the Lord directly, you know, have to get blessings from all the devotees first.

Same goes for relationships with Maya, too. We are not her servants but we need her help and her blessings to progress in our lives and she can scare the hell our of anybody. Krishna wouldn’t do that to His devotees Himself but Maya can. The upside is that she scares us for our own good, so these fears should be welcome.

I also think of little Prahlad who had absolutely no fear of a huge, ferocious beast of a Lord, all covered in blood, still infuriated after tearing apart the body of a demon. Little Prahlad saw no danger for himself whatsoever, I think he should be my role model when approaching the Lord.

Devotees up on Vaikuntha have their own reasons to behave like they do and I will keep that in mind but for now I’m sensing no fear of Krishna at all and I don’t see why I should feel it. Maybe, as I said, because I don’t realize how great He is – in a sense how big and powerful and how He can crash me in a split of a second. Arjuna had this moment of realization once, maybe my turn will eventually come, too.

Vanity thought #293. What is “surrender” anyway?

Continuing from yesterday – for quite some time I was thinking of our relationships with the Lord in terms of devotional service. Surrender, however, is not the same thing.

In this world we can serve someone without surrendering anything, just because we want to. Sometimes rendering service here is done through clenched teeth and brings a lot of resentment, so when I think of the spiritual world I imagine that all service there will be done completely voluntarily and out of sheer love.

Surrender, however, implies certain unpleasantness. It means giving up something one is attached to, things like comfort or free time. It also means yielding to the higher power, so it implies there’s resistance.

Does it exist in the spiritual world?

Down here we think of surrender in terms of our material aspirations, we give them up and take on the attitude of service, but is it all there is to it? Is there something more? Do living entities in the spiritual world even have anything to surrender? Do they have any interests separate from the Lord that they have to give up?

Surrender also means losing respect, and having an opponent. Right now Krishna is our opponent in our attempts to lord over the nature so surrender makes total sense, and losing respect makes sense, too, as we stop identifying with our bodies. Does it exist in the spiritual world?

Does Krishna have respect for His devotees? Most of the time He does, but not required to.  I think this surrender of self-respect when dealing with Krishna is the foundation of viraha bhava, love in separation – when Krishna abandons the gopis He stops accepting service from them and leaves them alone. And that is besides losing self-respect as chaste women of farming community, that identification is kind of external for them anyway.

In light of yesterday’s topic I’m wondering if surrender in the spiritual world means giving up our preferred way of service to Krishna and letting Him enjoy us in the way He likes even if it completely disrupts our plans of serving Him? Or even if He doesn’t want to enjoys us, that’s okay, too.

Or how about this – Lord Chaitanya came here to relish His service in the mood separation precisely because it doesn’t exist in the spiritual world. Consider this – Krishna went to Mathura and then Dvaraka but on the spiritual platform, in unmanifested pastimes, Krishna had never left Vrindavan and His pastimes there never stopped for one minute, so there was no real separation. It existed only on the material platform, if we can call Krishna’s manifested pastimes that.

So, perhaps, Lord Chaitanya felt that the best place to experience love in separation is by coming down here.

That would mean that it is very hard to have Krishna trample on our hearts in the spiritual world and it’s very hard to surrender to Him there, but that is also the highest possible bliss in our relationships with Him.

If only I stopped looking at it through my material perceptions, because like it or not, but I’m trying to making this “surrender” business as painless as possible – I like that the detachment from material things comes naturally as one progresses in devotional service.  On the spiritual platform, on the other hand, the approach would be the opposite – we would take as much pain as possible because pain of separation from Krishna brings the highest bliss.

I wonder if I can try this approach with material attachments, too, or would it be a perversion on one hand, and sahajiya mentality on the other? In a sense of equating material emotions with spiritual.

There’s an undeniable sense of satisfaction when one’s ego is being cut but the words of the spiritual master. Painful but blissful, just like surrender to Krishna is supposed to be.

Vanity thought #291. One last question.

I hope it’s the last. A few days ago someone asked the Bhagavatam speaker in Mayapur a question that sounded like this, quoting from memory:

“You said that one should detach himself from …, but elsewhere it’s also said that one should develop …, so is it enough to simply detach oneself from … or should one also …?”

Somehow the question was presented in such a way that the speaker couldn’t quite turn it into our familiar frame of relationship between detachment from material things and development of devotional service and so the answer didn’t sound all that reassuring.

If I were there I would shoot my hand straight up, but I wasn’t there and that’s why I’m posting here, under “vanity thoughts” title.

The key to the answer lies not in trying to reconcile the apparent substance but in answering “Is it enough?” question.

In unalloyed, selfless devotional service to Krishna there’s no such thing as “enough”. No devotee would say “I’ve done enough for Krishna”, ever. Krishna’s ability to enjoy is unlimited, and so are our opportunities to satisfy Him.

So the short answer is “No, it’s not enough”. The long answer is, obviously, longer. The concept of “enough” obviously exists, we can’t deny it, but we should apply it properly. It’s enough for us, as ISKCON followers, to chant sixteen rounds a day, but is it enough to develop pure love of God? Experience tells us – no, not in our current time frame.

On the other hand it’s enough, or else we could say that following Prabhupada’s instructions is not enough to attain our ultimate goal, which is obviously not true.

Strictly speaking, anyone who’s ever heard Krishna’s Name has heard enough to eventually develop unalloyed prema bhakti. The only thing that separates that moment from actually reaching that stage is time, a material concept that has no relevance on the spiritual plane.

So one meaning of “enough” is about our material constraints. We can say it’s enough reading Bhagavatam, meaning for today, but we obviously don’t mean it in absolute terms. Another meaning, and I’m totally speculating here, is that “enough” on the spiritual plane might mean that Krishna doesn’t enjoy that particular service anymore and wants a change.

This is a bit of paradox – Krishna shouldn’t get tired of our service, but, on the other hand, it’s totally in His power to get bored, too.

Never mind how it plays out on Goloka, however, we should probably stick to what we know and can apply in our present conditions. We accept “enough” as a temporary break only, due to our own current limitations. It’s reasonable but not absolute.

As for the question – sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what the person needs to know. Maybe I’m totally wrong here and that person was fully satisfied with the answer, but it gave me a food for thought about Krishna, so it’s not all in vain.

Vanity thought #277. Brownout.

Yesterday our house suffered a brownout – dim lights and not enough juice to run the computer, UPS fed it for a while but then it just died.

Even though I was chanting japa at the time I had a strange feeling of being cut off from the world, not just the world outside but the material world as a whole, beginning with my body. After looking at the dead computer and all the things that were waiting for me there I felt like I lost my body.

The body, of course, was still there, but I lost the ability to apply my senses which is the main point of having the body in the first place. The feeling was pretty much how I imagine people who just lost their limbs still feel their presence and it was just weird. Or maybe it was like ghosts who are consumed by desires but have no tools to satisfy them – there’s a longing but you can’t do absolutely nothing about it.

This realization made me think about how important our bodies are. Normally I would preach to myself that my body is a useless sack of meat that impedes my devotional progress. I was wrong.

As a living entity I do not perform any devotional service at all. My spiritual limbs and senses are as good as non-existent, all I have is my body, it’s all I really know about myself, it is, in fact, “myself”. Theoretically speaking I might be different from my body but I have no experience of that whatsoever. I think, feel, and act as if I was a body. What’s up with that?

What is “surrender”? Is it only a product of my imagination? How can I surrender myself if I don’t know who I am?

Maybe the secret lies in surrendering only the body, since it’s the only thing I know about. Dreams about surrendering my soul need to be postponed until I can actually see myself as such.

What about the developments that I observe and conclude that they are “devotional progress” Are they real? Or are they just as real as the rest of the material world?

What is the difference between being in Krishna Consciousness and being in maya? Reading Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s biography I don’t see that he was always fully aware of his spiritual identity, so seeing one’s true spiritual form is not a requirement. What is, then?

Luckily, I just stumbled on a Srimad Bhagavatam verse, 2.9.1, that sheds some light on the matter:

…unless one is influenced by the energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there is no meaning to the relationship of the pure soul in pure consciousness with the material body…

This is not a direct answer, Sukadeva Goswami tells Maharaja Parikshit that this world is but a dream – “That relationship is just like a dreamer’s seeing his own body working.” It still mentions the possibility of being influenced by the energy of Krishna and that is supposed to dramatically alter the soul’s perception of the world (and the body) and its place within it.

This means that even if I don’t see myself as I am, if I manage to come under the influence of the Supreme Lord my life will never be the same. It means I will not be under the influence of maya anymore. I won’t be able to participate in Lord’s eternal pastimes in the spiritual world either but I would be more like the residents of Vrindavana during Krishna’s advent – they had no idea who he was and thought they must pray to demigods for their sustenance.

Two episodes come to mind in this regard – gopis praying to the Goddess Katyayani to obtain Krishna as their husband. Under the influence of Krishna’s energy they though Katyayani had some independent powers that could control Krishna Himself. They were convinced they were just ordinary mortal girls, they didn’t even suspect they appeared in their own, eternal forms.

The second episode is the infamous Indra Yajna that Krishna stopped in favor of Govardhana Puja. This as another demonstration that residents of Krishna’s eternal dhama had no idea how lucky they were, they thought they had to work hard and worship the demigods to provide for themselves and for Krishna.

Some of them must have made inquiries into their spiritual nature, studied the books, prayed to the gods, learned from the gurus. What do you think they’ve been told? I bet no one told them they were in their fully spiritual forms already and didn’t have to go through reincarnations and changing the bodies. They probably thought they had to meditate and perform sacrifices just like everybody else so that they could shake the illusion that they were gopis and gopas of Vrindavana. Imagine they succeeded!

What if I am in a similar situation? Of course I’m not in my original body, but I’m under the influence of the same energy, at least the same kind of energy. Maybe not the one that manifests Vrindavana and all different kinds of service devotees render their but under Lord’s energy anyway.

How else would all the devotional things in my life came into my view? Even the verse I quoted earlier appeared in my twitter feed as a blog by a devotee I’ve never heard about before. What about the Deities, the images, the sound of the Holy Name? How did they come before my senses? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t arranged by maya.

That means I’m a stubborn soul that resists Krishna’s influence and dreams about sex and sense gratification instead.

According to Shukadeva Goswami those dreams are just that – dreams, but attempts to maintain relationships with Krishna are as real as service rendered by Vrijabasis who didn’t know who Krishna was and prayed to demigods instead. Not nearly as perfect but of the same nature.

Does it matter then whether I see myself as a material body or as a spirit soul? I still have to render the same service. In a different, perverted way, but still service. Contaminated and insincere but still service, under the direction of Lord’s energy.

Unfortunately the brownout made me starve for material enjoyment, not for the service, so there’s still a long way to go but the principle has been established – body is not a burden, it’s a blessing, just have to engage it in a proper way.

There are more implications from this but they require separate post.