Vanity thought #712. Modern marriage

Scouring my memory I curiously can’t find a proper definition of marriage and I don’t know where to seek one either. There are plenty of quotes about what marriage means but they all highlight only some particular aspects of it, not give a full, comprehensive definition the way Absolute Truth is defined in the first verse of Bhagavatam, for example.

The reason this has become important lately is the proliferation of gay marriage legislation all around the world. What should be our opinion on this? Where should it come from? What should it be based on?

We know that Srila Prabhupada would never have accepted it but we also need some shastric sources to justify his opinion to others.

Arguments for gay marriage are numerous and very compelling on their own and it appears the only reason to reject it is our fourth regulative principle, which we can’t force on the rest of the world. We can’t even force it on ourselves, after all. Yet we know that gay marriage is wrong regardless. Why?

In my view it all comes down to the definition, the very purpose of marriage. For us, followers of Srila Prabhupada, marriage is an institution for procreation. The rest of the world has never really thought about it and so when gays came out to claim their right there’s no straight answer for them.

A couple of months ago some gay marriage related case passed through the US Supreme Court and one of the dissenting judges mentioned difficulties arising from a lack of definition of marriage. Marriage has been an unquestionable tradition but now can be interpreted at will. When US Congress passed the original law less than twenty years ago marriage meant one thing but now the majority of US population wants it to be another, not to mention differences in legal interpretation between various US states.

In our tradition, in Krishna consciousness, there’s no such thing as “gay marriage”, it’s an oxymoron because gays can’t produce children, but for those who see marriage as a symbol of love and commitment being gay is not an obstacle.

This reflects gradual shift in understanding what sex is and what it is for. We stick to sex as means for procreation while the rest of the world wants sex as means of enjoyment. Procreation works only between a man and a woman while enjoyment can be had in almost everything.

Opponents of gay marriage are not the brightest bunch and they often get ridiculed. One guy said that once you accept same sex unions the next step would be mating with animals. He got a lot of flak for it but all I can see is that he was stating the truth.

Our local LGBT activist was quoted as saying that sexuality is fluid. No one had a problem with it but that goes so against the very premise of gay rights – that they were born that way. Not long ago an American organization that specialized in converting gays to straights had called it quits and everyone applauded their belated admission that it doesn’t work but here we have a gay leader herself saying that sexuality is fluid. I think I know where she is coming from – she has seen way too many convoluted, fleeting relationships in gay communities that she can’t honestly say that one’s sexuality is fixed at birth.

The only thing that is fixed is the presence of lust. How that lust manifests through one’s life is largely up to his or her association. As we move through life we learn to be attracted to available sexual targets. If that availability changes so will our preferences. I’ve never looked up statistics but it’s a common knowledge that men in prisons who have no other outlets learn to be attracted to men. Arabs and their goats is another example.

The body, of course, imposes its own limits, but only to a degree. No one is born to copulate with a goat, after all.

Recently I read a Buddhist scholar saying that in his religion there’s no requirement for procreation and so there are no restrictions on same sex unions, everything goes. Apparently among major religions only Muslims are holding out.

What is happening is that people who reject God’s laws start making their own, and that includes deciding what marriage is. If we engage in such debates we should remember that what marriage means to us is fundamentally different, if people don’t accept our position all further arguments will be futile. That’s why it’s important that sex for us means procreation, not enjoyment, and our definition of marriage rises from this.

There’s one more big difference – modern marriage implies “until death do us part” while our marriage ends when wife can be handed over to grown up children. It makes perfect sense to us – since there’s no more procreation and children can take care of themselves, there’s no need for the relationship. The opposite stance makes perfect sense to those who think marriage is meant for love and enjoyment, too – since there’s no time limit on how long it can last. They think they make a big sacrifice by staying with one person but that is only a preliminary stage on the path to renouncing sex for pleasure that is absolutely necessary for any kind of spiritual life.

Of course no one stays in marriage until death even where it’s considered ideal. Having accepted marriage as means of sense gratification one is practically obliged to divorce once his passion subsides or diverts to someone else. There’s a huge societal pressure to leave unhappy marriages while staying on despite all problems is considered practically sinful.

Finally, a perfect example of people inventing their own laws is latest statement from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the so called moral compass of South Africans and an icon for the rest of the world. He said that he is not going to worship a homophobic God and he is not going to enter heaven where same sex love is not accepted as natural.

Well, Desmond Tutu is such a big, honorable man that I’m sure God is already making adjustments in His kingdom, ready to serve Tutu’s preferences. Angels are busy writing pro-gay legislation and all the inhabitants are being lectured on how to behave once Tutu comes in.

The egoism and self-centeredness of these modern day Christians is beyond belief but it takes a while to observe it shine through. In the meantime we should stay clear of the marriage debate, listening to these arguments is very very polluting as they come from hearts of people who want to make God their servant.

Vanity thought #711. Guilt trip

If we were to boldly declare that Hare Krishnas should abstain from sex altogether, which is what our fourth regulative principle means in practice, there would be a barrage of arguments why it wouldn’t work. There would be arguments about built up stress, pent up demand, uncontrolled and potentially dangerous releases leading up to encompassing feeling of guilt that would drive us insane. We’d all be unfulfilled individuals who hate themselves and project their hate on the world around them.

It would be our version of Christian original sin that everyone has to carry, except our sin would be our own falldowns, and it would shape our entire psyche. The civilization has moved past such guilt trips and it has become axiomatic that restraining oneself would lead to nothing but psychological ruin.

To reply to that I have several arguments why it wouldn’t be an issue.

First of all, things like stress, unhappiness, guilt etc are pre-ordained by our karma, if one has to suffer from them he has to suffer, there’s no way of avoiding it, and if one’s karma is filled with happiness and content no regulative principle would be able to ruin it. One can look up his horoscope to see if any “unhappy” planets are casting their shadows on one’s personality if one is really curious.

Let’s also not forget that as devotees we shouldn’t worry about our karma, we should just patiently wait it out, being equipoised both in happiness and distress, and we should be able to withstand criticism, too.

Another reason it’s not going to be an issue is that guilt comes from failing expectations. As devotees we don’t expect much from ourselves and we should see ourselves as deeply fallen. In the beginning we might imagine ourselves as the purest of the pure but with maturity comes realization that we are what we are and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise, not in public and not to ourselves.

Instead of accumulating guilt we should accumulate honesty. Actually it’s not “should accumulate”, it happens naturally and automatically as long as we keep chanting.

Besides, feeling fallen and unworthy in our tradition, thanks to Lord Chaitanya’s mercy, leads to greater happiness as we become less reliant on ourselves and more reliant on the Holy Name, which never fails to reciprocate and reward our surrender.

This is what Prabhupada demonstrated right from the beginning – unimaginably great austerities of Hare Krishna’s lifestyle make us into happiest, most enthusiastic persons with big smiles and bright faces. It’s scheming and controlling our own lives that makes us morose again. As soon as we start looking for permission to enjoy sex, spiritual happiness goes away.

Yet another reason why we shouldn’t suffer from guilt trips is that all these things are material in nature, they just happen to manifest on a subtler, mental platform, and they happen to everybody, not just us. Illicit sex is sinful but with so much of it going around any reactions we might get will be totally drowned in the cacophony of universal suffering.

It’s an illusion to think that liberal attitude towards sex leads to greater psychological health. People suffer from “free” sex all the time, they either don’t get enough of it, or they get too much, become attached and then abandoned, or their partners get jealous, or they can’t choose between different partners, or they make their choice and then regret it, or they fail at monogamy. There’s no end to it, and that is before they get their free trip to hell as promised in Srimad Bhagavatam.

As devotees our karmic results of illicit sex would be about the same, Krishna won’t let us suffer more than necessary even if punishment for people who commit sinful activities knowingly (us) should be greater than for those who commit them out of ignorance (the rest of the world).

The real downside of illicit sex is loss of taste for the Holy Name and this loss can’t be measured or expressed in material terms. It doesn’t affect our external appearance, it doesn’t affect the amount of our pleasure or suffering, and materialists who might wish to criticize us for abstaining from sex would never understand it.

Once we realize what we are missing from our lives due to our interest in sex all the concerns about our emotional state or mental health will become insignificant and immaterial. Of course to get that realization one needs to get a kick from Krishna but it will happen sooner or later, just wait for it.

We might let ourselves slip into a slumber of illusion that we can have our cake and eat it but Krishna is too kind to let us asleep forever. A devotee might come along who’d remind us of real spiritual bliss, or we might read something in the books, or hear, really hear, the sound of kirtan.

One way or another, by refusing to enjoy sex we are not losing anything and we have everything to gain. Sex is an anartha, we think that it is valuable and we can’t live without it but that is not true. By now we should have enough experience with anarthas to know that they once they are gone they are not missed, just like meat or alcohol or betting on football.

It will all work out in the end, we should just have faith.

Vanity thought #710. The principle

If regulated sex in marriage is an application of the principle, then what is the principle itself?

In two words: “No sex”

Do not be confused by “sex in marriage for begetting children” wording. It’s not what “sex” means in modern English. Sex means pleasure while procreation has been relegated somewhere to the very back of society’s mind when you start discussing rules of sexual behavior, and the past couple of years the concept of marriage as means to procreation has been successfully challenged by gay and lesbian community. It has become an old and antiquated notion while sex for pleasure has become the sign of enlightenment and liberation.

So that “sex” everyone is talking about is not “sex” that is mentioned in our fourth principle. We do not have any concessions on sex for pleasure, forget about it.

That’s why when devotee discuss sex they get confused – for us sex still means pleasure and we talk about regulative principle we think we are talking about regulating enjoyment. Things like “once a month on certain days” and so on. We don’t even acknowledge it verbally but this is what it means to us – permission to enjoy.

The overriding principle, however, is that devotees do not do anything for their own pleasure, only for Krishna’s. This will never change, this is the definition of devotion – service without any personal interest, anyabhilashita shunyam. You can’t be a devotee and maintain interest in sense enjoyment.

This is why proper grihastha life in Krishna consciousness is the same as brahmacharya and there are plenty of Prabhupada quotes stating just that.

Does that mean that we are not devotees? Who will accept such a verdict? It will be very unpopular. True, but remember the days when you decided to surrender to Krishna? There was no demand for sex pleasure then, at least not consciously. You knew that surrender required giving up sex, everybody knew that, they just can’t acknowledge it now because it would hurt their perception of themselves – who wants to admit being a failure?

I also don’t believe that householder devotees of old were as interested in sex as we are now. In Lord Chaitanya’s time sex meant procreation, not pleasure, it was a different culture and so examples of Srivasa Thakura or even Bhaktivinoda Thakura are not applicable now.

“No sex” principle is the same as eating only prasadam. We are not supposed to eat for our own pleasure and only honor prasadam as a service to the Lord. We, of course, keep stuffing our faces but we also know what proper tongue control is – take only what is necessary for body maintenance and only in the spirit of devotion. It’s not so difficult and pretty soon one would learn to see when he is eating as a service to Krishna and when he is eating as as service to his taste buds.

What about Lord Chaitanya’s mercy then? Isn’t it supposed to be powerful enough to override our sense-enjoying propensities? I’m afraid we can’t rely on Mahaprabhu to grant us love for Krishna while we can’t renounce sex.

There are two ways to understand it. One is that in Vedic and even Indian culture austerity is nothing, there are renunciates on every corner but that does not guarantee anything in spiritual life. Mahaprabhu’s mercy is in giving love of God that is otherwise unavailable regardless of one’s level of austerities.

Another way to look at it is that by Lord Chaitanya’s mercy the spirit of sense enjoyment goes away. Being His devotee means having no interest neither in sex nor in eating. He guarantees that as long as we remain committed to sankirtana we’ll be protected from material attractions and will be filled with spiritual bliss instead.

What we do instead is ask how can we maintain our attachments and be devotees at the same time. This is not possible by definition and it’s not what Mahaprabhu’s mercy is for.

This is also an offense against the Holy Name and so as long as we think that sex in marriage is a means of enjoyment the Holy Name won’t reveal itself to us. This means we can get stuck in this loop forever – desiring sex hides the Holy Name and without Holy Name sex urges become only stronger which obscures the Name even further.

To sum it up – we should completely renounce the desire to enjoy sex and start with this goal in mind. It will be a long way towards this goal but that’s the only way to get there, and, on the other hand, if we pursue any other goals, any other arrangements, the desire to enjoy will never leave our hearts and we’ll never become devotees.

Vanity thought #709. Living the 4th

Talking about the fourth regulative principle opened my eyes to the wide variety of options and situations out there. In our Bhagavatam classes it’s mostly about devotee families maintaining strict spiritual standards but out there, in the ever growing community, we have so many complicated cases you wouldn’t even know where to start.

The fourth regulative principle covers all of the humanity regardless of the status on devotional ladder and when you think about it that way you get to see the principle behind the rule. I mean it’s called a principle for a reason, right?

We have women married to meat eating non-devotee “sex crazies” and these women desperately want to become pure and spiritual but are torn between their obligations as wives and as members of ISKCON, and if they choose their families and children you can’t blame them for also wanting to be “normal”, ie initiated and marching towards spiritual goals.

Is it okay to demand following the fourth from women in such situations? What if it was a man who is married and had children with a non-devotee wife? Can he be initiated and expected to follow the fourth? How should he treat his wife when she needs him physically?

Then we have devotees who got married in ISKCON but with time drifted away. How are they supposed to follow the fourth if one day they come to their senses but their partners are still not ready? Divorce for the sake of spirituality? And then what? Remarry?

Then we have devotee women who marry outside on purpose, arguing that ISKCON men are unreliable and fickle and can easily abandon their families in pursuit of “spiritual progress”. How are they supposed to follow the fourth, considering that their marriage has a perfectly healthy raison d’etre – protection, stability, and procreation. This probably won’t happen in the West but in traditional societies men are still brought up with solid family values.

Then we have male devotees who simply fall in love with non-devotee women. Oh, such a falldown! As if anyone can fully protect his heart from falling in love. It happens, and they still want to be devotees, how are they going to follow the fourth with women who don’t want children just yet, or ever?

What about devotees who can’t get married for one reason or other. Maybe they can’t find the right person, or maybe they can’t find the right job, or maybe they are brought up in this modern non-marrying culture. Not being married they can’t stay brahmacharies for long and eventually hook up with strangers. What is better in this case – one night stand with devotees or with karmis? Or prostitutes?

When I sat down to type this post I thought I had all these cases organized and sorted in my mind but now it doesn’t matter anymore if I forgot something. The point is that they are all devotees and they all know the value of the fourth but their situations are not favorable to following it. Should they be initiated?

Easy answer – no, only devotees who commit themselves to following regulative principles should be given initiation. That is too simplistic, however, because following the fourth is a matter of karma and external arrangements, as you can see from the above examples. We can’t restrict initiations only to people who have enough good karma to start and maintain a proper, Krishna conscious family with proper, Krishna conscious partners, and most importantly, can afford abstaining from birth control.

If we do that we’ll become a caste society – some would be pure enough for initiations and some won’t and would never have a hope until they get a better birth.

As far as I know no one has figured out a solution to this yet, and I don’t have one either, but understanding the situation and accepting the difficulties is a good start already. At least it will make us a bit more mature and less judgmental.

Vanity thought #708. Debating the 4th

Recently a devotee posted a quote from one of our leading sannyasis about following the fourth regulative principle. The gist of it was that there’s a big difference between sex inside and outside of marriage. Sex outside of marriage is sinful and ruinous for spiritual life while recreational sex between married people is simply unfavorable for spiritual progress.

I thought that was very odd because Srila Prabhupada has never made such a distinction. There are tons of quotes on this and these two sound very convincing:

..in the Vedic civilization sex life is allowed only in a restricted way; it is for the married couple and only for begetting children. But when sex life is indulged in for sense gratification illegally and illicitly, both the man and the woman await severe punishment in this world or after death.

SB 3.30.28, purport

and

These laws and scriptures are meant for human beings. As such, if one violates these laws, he becomes sinful. The conclusion is that unrestricted sense enjoyment means sinful activities. Illicit sex is sex that violates the laws given in the scriptures. When one violates the laws of the scriptures, or the Vedas, he commits sinful activities.

SB 4.27.5, purport

So my first reflex was to point how maharaj clearly diverges from Srila Prabhupada on this. Thinking about it some more, however, I realized that this was a reply to a question, and if the question was “What to do if ..?” then one certainly has to make distinctions between husband and wife slipping into a bit of sense enjoyment and a sannyasi sexually abusing children.

Maharaj also called devotees who don’t see the difference “foolish and fanatical”. I don’t know about that – there’s no difference in principle, but if the question was “Should I drown in Ganges like Chota Haridas?” then the comment would be totally appropriate.

This question of in and out of marriage sex made me think of what a marriage is, too. From a karmic/devotional point of view – what constitutes marriage? Registration with civil authorities? Performing vivaha? Declaring their status publicly? That doesn’t seem to be definitive enough for marriage as it is accepted in “heaven”. What if a devotee performing the yajna made a mistake? What if all our yajnas are useless and no demigod/higher power ever recognizes them as a proper sacrifice?

Perhaps the most important part is the commitment to raising Krishna conscious children. Traditionally it’s the commitment to stay together until death but from devotional point of view the purpose of marriage is procreation, not the commitment to enjoy/annoy each other no matter what.

Perhaps we should define marriage as an arrangement for producing and raising Krishna conscious children, and everything else consider only as a tribute to society. Devotees aren’t meant to stay together until death anyway, after their procreational duties are over they should leave the family and devote themselves solely to spiritual practices.

Anyway, after submitting some of these arguments in hope to clarify maharaja’s statement it turned out that the question was about some other gurus who openly declare that any sex within marriage is okay and are not demanding abstaining from it neither for the first nor for the second initiation.

I don’t know what to say to that. Here I thought this particular guru was very liberal in his interpretation of how to follow the fourth reg but now he turns out to be the “strict” one!

There’s a confusion about what Prabhupada meant by establishing this fourth requirement for ISKCON devotees, the argument goes. I don’t know about that. To me it can’t be any clearer – no illicit sex, and illicit sex is sex outside of marriage, and in marriage it’s sex not for creating children.

What is there to be confused about?

Never mind the rules, there’s no surprise that some guys come along with easier versions, but rewriting the rules can’t change the fundamental principle – those who are attached to sex life, illicit or otherwise, will never become devotees. As long as attraction to sex enjoyment is there we can’t even dream of going back to Krishna. Pure, spiritual sex desire will not manifest itself as long as we cling to our base, material lust.

We can’t have the cake and eat it, too.

Vanity thought #595. Not to despair

My yesterday’s post ended on a somewhat discouraging note. Not to despair – the solution is rather simple.

Five hundred years ago the path to spiritual perfection was only through renunciation of worldly pleasures, no one even thought that he would achieve liberation while being attached to and fully engaged in his material life. That was just ridiculous.

Lord Chaitanya changed all that through introduction of harinama sankirtana, his followers and Six Goswamis exposed the cheating phalgu vairagya and taught us that there’s no link between pure devotion and material affairs, ie a pure devotee is not affected by whatever it is he is doing externally.

This is also a “realization” of many of the present day devotees who, in their “maturity”, are skeptical of brahmachari enthusiasm and reject it as only an initial stage of progress that has to be superseded by purifying our sex desire through family life.

On the surface it would appear that Lord Chaitanya completely revolutionized spiritual practices but that’s only one way to look at it. His revolutionary introduction of sankirtana does not allow for blind rejection of everything else that is taught in Srimad Bhagavatam.

Pure devotees are very very rare and for most of us the old rules still apply – you cannot make any progress while remaining attached to sex life. In fact it was devotees who tried to combine the two who were rejected by the Lord.

Oh, Lord Chaitanya is so mercifyl, we say, but go ask Chota Haridasa who had to drown himself in Ganges. There’s no mercy for those who want sex.

Likewise, we have grown to believe that we can do whatever is it we are doing, add some chanting to our lives, and that would be enough. No, that would be only the beginning. To actually succeed in our chanting we have to completely give up all material aspirations – career, income, families – everything. We can’t want that and be devotees at the same time.

So, if the dilemma is that we can’t live in a society and not be exposed to contamination and therefore we can’t follow our principles the answer is that it’s true. We can’t live in a society and not be contaminated. We have to live only among devotees in places where the Lord is worshiped by everyone every minute of the day. Lord Chaitanya hasn’t changed that.

The only way we can remain among non-devotees and maintain our purity is if we are one hundred percent engaged in preaching. If we are preaching we can go to shopping malls, pass through airports, fly first class – whatever. If we are not preaching then all the same things will completely screw up our devotional lives.

A devotee who is concerned only with the spreading of Krishna consciousness does not think about his job even though he might have one, he does not think about his financial situation even though he spends money everyday, he does not think about enjoying his wife even he sees her everyday and makes sure she has a happy and protected life. He has no interest in those things, he lets them sort themselves out by the laws of karma and with full trust in Krishna’s protection.

So, the short answer – if we want to live a “normal” life and make devotional progress, it’s not possible. The only way we can appear to have a normal life is if we are fully engaged in preaching, in sankirtana, but in that situation we will not have a desire to live a normal life anyway, it would be happening on its own and we would think of it as a curse.

Given that there aren’t enough places populated solely by devotees, and first class devotees at that, and that vast majority of us have to live within the society, the real question is how to completely engage ourselves in sankirtana and preaching.

Chanting our rounds is a good start but it still takes only ten percent of our lives, we need to do more, and sankirtana is always expanding so in our search for service there will never be any rest. So, if you don’t have a service now you can at least busy yourself with looking for one, thinking about something to do for Krishna. It’s not as good as actual service but it’s a step.

Actually, it would appear that it’s not even a first step, it’s a step we must take every day, every minute of our lives – what more can I do for Krishna? I’m not doing enough to expand the mission of Lord Chaitanya and Srila Prabhupada, I’m not qualified to be entrusted with the service but I want to do something anyway.

So, there’s no room for despair, we should rather see our situation in terms of progress, not in terms of achievements. The only caution we should take is that our progress doesn’t lead to a dead end, an impossible situation like a “sense-enjoyer devotee”.

That’s why protecting our siddhanta from impurities is very important, I guess even if we ourselves don’t live up to it we should still know what the proper standards are.

Vanity thought #594. Skin, flesh, blood, muscle, fat, marrow, bone, stool, urine and pus

Not very attractive when you describe a body that way, is it? We are reminded of this reality over and over again in our books but it never truly sticks. Why is it so?

When we look at our own bodies we know what they are made of and very few of us are proud of what we got. Sometimes we look into mirrors and like what we see but it requires an effort and a mirror. On our own we might like our skin but we get enough zits and blisters over the course of our life to know that even the most beautiful skin is not what it seems. Several times a day we get calls of nature and we don’t like what comes out of our bodies at all. Everybody also knows what pus is, it’s not pretty, and if we forget what pus feels like, everyday we have the smell of sweat that we can’t fully hide from ourselves.

In short – we’ve been grossed out by our bodies often enough to be aware of their nature. Why do we assume that other bodies are any better just because they belong to the opposite sex?

In fact, I’ve met several women who were very aware of natural shortcomings of their bodies and who couldn’t truly understand why men find them so attractive. Not that it stopped them from manipulating their prey.

On the surface it seems very easy – you know what the body is made of, it’s not attractive, so stop being attracted to it. It’s unnatural to be attracted to urine and pus and all the other things so stop it.

Never works.

When we are attracted to the opposite sex we don’t see the grossness of their bodies at all, it goes straight past us and disappears totally unnoticed. We do not get attracted to bones, marrow and fat, we get attracted to some idea in our heads that has little to do with reality. How to stop that from happening? This idea is not related to bones either, it comes from somewhere else.

If you tell someone who is smitten by a girl that her shit stinks they wouldn’t even hear you. You can preach all you want about the reality, they become transcendental to it. You can preach all you want to yourself, too, it won’t stop you from being in love.

It’s not the lack of knowledge that causes us to fall in love, it’s something else. Perhaps instead of trying to see the body for what it is we should study love and infatuation and how they work to put us under their spell.

Sometimes they say it’s just lust. Not true, imo. Lust plays its part and it might be at the core of our existence but people in love are not particularly lascivious, not in the beginning, in fact they feel some sort of a barrier to expressing their feelings physically, they feel that sex is inadequate to express their love, they feel it’s much more than just physical actions. Eventually it goes away but in the beginning it’s definitely there.

Science has a pretty convincing explanation how hormones work and it might help us to see things more clearly when we feel attraction to opposite sex but what we need as devotees is the shastric version and, afaik, it doesn’t exist. We have this description of a human body and so far I’ve traced it to the teachings of some king AFTER he got dumped. My point is that we need different lessons when we fall in love and when we suffer from break ups, “pus lesson” is for break ups, we needs lessons for falling in love.

The only way that I know from our books is staying away from the opposite sex altogether. Of course these days everybody gets married so people might say that staying away doesn’t work, but it’s the injunction for married men, too. We should stay away from all temptations with all females. Anyone who could remind us of association with women should be outside our circles. No movies, not popular culture, no female “friends”, nothing. What more, we should not associate even with men who are attracted to women, so no male friends either.

Senses cannot be pacified by bringing them in contact with their objects, only by withdrawing them. There’s no such thing as “little harmless sense gratification”. It all starts with very little and then it grows and this growth can’t be checked, you’ll just see yourself rolling with it until you hit a wall.

So what about our wives then? I don’t know. Approaching them only for procreation should help but no one does that these days so there’s no way to confirm it. In the entire ISKCON there are probably only a handful of couples who stay with their grihastha vows like brahmachari stay with theirs, and I don’t know their names and no one is sure how long they can keep doing this. The situation appears to be completely hopeless.

So yeah, not very inspirational, I know, but that’s the reality of it.

Vanity thought #371. Homosexuality

This topic came up twice in the last twenty four hours so I think it deserves a little reflection, and it actually concerns practically each one of us regardless of our sexual orientation.

I caught an episode of a TV show where they promoted several stereotypes concerning homosexuality. It’s not a choice, it’s not a lifestyle, it’s not a disease, and the only people who see it that way are brain dead religious fanatics who believe in supernatural being rather than in science. In the end they, of course, lose.

I don’t know how strong science is on this issue. I know how strong the popular opinion is but that’s not the same thing. Arguing against homosexuality is arguing against public opinion, it evokes ostracism, not scientific arguments, it’s a fight you better not pick up in public.

Personally I don’t think it’s as solid as it appear. Personally I think for the majority of practitioners it’s a matter of choice and shaping your behavior to fit with it, hard-core homosexuals are rather rare – but that’s an opinion I can’t properly back up.

The most worrying part about it is that modern society is trying to impose its own standard of normality. People have had problems with homosexuality since forever, they had basically the same ethical standards for theft, murder or even sexual transgressions like adultery but now the “enlightened” society tries to present homosexuality as normal. Old ethics and morals need to be discarded. That raises a big red flag for me.

In Krishna consciousness homosexuality will never become normal as it does not leads to procreation. It’s not sex according to regulative principles that Krishna talks about in Bhagavad Gita, there’s no way to go around it.

And this is where the second mention of homosexuality comes from – Mataji Urmila was asked a question about it during “Sexual Desires” seminar I talked about a couple of days earlier.

She handled it brilliantly, imo. She actually gave a number – a third – of people for whom homosexuality is a fashion choice rather than biological necessity. She also admitted that it is a problem in practicing Krishna consciousness but, instead of offering a soothing solution she was quite blank about it – it’s unacceptable, it’s a problem, deal with it, you are not the only one with problems, welcome to the world.

This is an important point relevant to all of us that I mentioned in the beginning – none of us has got a body ideally suited for executing devotional service, we all have problems we have to deal with, some problems are bigger, some smaller, but it’s all a matter of perception as everyone thinks that his problems are pretty huge and tough to deal with.

As far as I understand Mataji Urmila’s point we should just plough through and concentrate on things that we can do for Krishna, we shouldn’t let our problems direct our devotional lives, be it homosexuality or addiction to mundane entertainment. She even mentioned that Prabhupada once called prajalpa, idle talk, a form of gambling, ie. against our regulative principles.

I wish to add a few points here. Gay advocates say that it’s our sexuality and it can’t be changed at will. If you listen to Mataji Urmila, however, you’ll know that our sexuality is spiritual in nature and it lies in our relationships with Krishna. What we see in this world is just a perverted projection of that pure sexuality through material objects. That means that our sexuality as it appears in the material world is not cast in stone, it changes just like everything else in the world, and, more importantly, it’s not real, it’s illusory.

The only way to purify it and return our sexuality to its original state is to offer it to Krishna as a sacrifice. That’s why sex for procreation is so important – it’s the only acceptable form of sacrificing our sexuality. And everyone can do it, gay or not.

Any semen producing man can impregnate a woman, homosexuality might make it a bit more difficult but not impossible. Closet gays have been doing it for thousands of years, after all. It might not be as pleasing to their senses as their preferred way of sex gratification but the goal of a sacrifice is to please Krishna, not ourselves. If done right it should bring “deep satisfaction” to the soul just as does any other sincere offering.

This act of sacrifice should get the purification process going, and indulgence in illicit sex would be just a kind of personal weakness, like craving for chocolate. A problem but not the end of the world.

I don’t think “practicing homosexuals” should be awarded the same rights regarding initiation or deity worship but devotional service is not about public recognition anyway. One could offer food to Krishna in his own kitchen, it doesn’t have to be on a temple altar, it’s the love and devotion that matter, not the surroundings.

To sum it up – homosexuality is a politically charged topic, one should be careful airing opinions about it in public. It has no place in Krishna consciousness, it’s a nasty, hard to get rid of in one life habit, but it’s only a temporary obstacle on the path back to Godhead. Whining about it won’t help either – we don’t deal with problems by seeking sympathy, we deal with problems by praying to Krishna or by offering sacrifices. Eventually it will go away, our problems won’t hold sway over us forever.

Just remembered a story about sexuality from the history of Gaudiya vaishnavism. I don’t have time now to look up the details, sorry. Jahnavi Mata, the wife of Lord Nityananda was once approached by two brothers who wanted to be her disciples. She told them that she can’t take male disciples and there’s nothing she can do about it. The brothers determination to have Jahnavi Devi as their spiritual master could not be broken, they went away and came back a few months later as women. Their new gender was confirmed and Jahnavi Devi accepted them as disciples. It is said that they converted their bodies from male to female through intense meditation.

Considering this example I can’t help but state that homosexuality is not a problem in itself, it can be overcome with enough determination.

Vanity thought #367. A touch of masochism

This just can’t wait. Today I listened to Mataji Urmila Bhagavatam class on Mayapur TV and she let it rip like no one before. I don’t know if they asked her to talk about this particular topic but she was determined not to deviate from bashing men and all our perceived fallacies.

She said so much about our distorted view of renunciation, our improper attitudes towards women, about our imperfect understanding of devotional service and more. Some of it was exaggerated almost to the point of being comical but it was all fundamentally correct and to the point.

It’s a bit painful to hear these lessons from a) someone who is not a man and b) someone who is never going to be a renunciate and that drove me crazy for a while, until I realized that all my objections were driven by a desire to be better than others.

I wanted to be smarter and more knowledgeable than Mataji Urmila – after all, being a man and trying to defeat my sex desire gives me a bit more valuable first hand experience. And even if I admit that I am wrong and she is right, I still wanted to be better than all those women who got off scott free today.

I was caught like a kid in preschool – pointing my fingers at everyone else and shouting: “They did it too, they did it first, why are they not being punished?”

When I realized what was the real reason for my disagreement with some aspects of Mataji’s presentation I had to swallow a bitter pill and accept my “punishment” in hope it will purify my heart. In fact I wanted to hear more and now I’m waiting if this class will appear online to download and listen carefully again. In the meantime I found Mataji’s Urmila recent seminar on sex desire and it covers basically the same material but in a more structured way.

As much as I hate it, she says all the things that I need to hear, submissively and with full respect. Even if I think I’ve heard this all before, it never hurts to hear the truth once again.

Anyway, Mataji presented her topic so skillfully, so gracefully and confidently skirting past some tricky questions that I thought it was a class by Maya Devi herself – Maya Devi who has full control over our lives, who knows she can fool us at any time, who knows she can afford to be cheeky and even annoying, but she does all of that for our ultimate benefit. She is playing with us only until we become real devotees, after that her power over us is over.

It must be funny for her, indeed, to watch us trying to run away from her clutches only to voluntarily come back for some more punches. How hard is she supposed to kick us before we stop trying to savor her illusion and sincerely turn to Krishna? How many times can she hear us to swear of sense enjoyment only to come back with our tails between our legs for “one last time”? No wonder she wants to add some fun to this boring game, make jokes of our clumsy efforts and secretly long for some real men who can actually fight back and take shelter of Krishna.

I don’t know if Mataji Urmila would like comparing herself to Maya Devi, but it’s not a bad comparison. Maya Devi is Krishna’s faithful servant, she engages us in His service, too – externally, and she has a LOT of experience guiding people towards ultimate liberation. I think Mataji Urmila would be honored if Maya Devi herself chose to speak through Mataji’s mouth.

As for inconsistencies in the presentation – they can be ignored for now. As far as we, the men, are concerned – she was spot on. If women take the wrong lessons out of it – it’s their problem, not ours. Unless we are put in a position to teach them it’s not our business.

Even if female devotees do something very wrong to us after hearing Mataji’s ideas we should take it on the chin, in the spirit of trinad api sunichena, taror iva sahishnuna, and amanina manadena. For one thing they can’t hurt us more than is destined by karma, and, more importantly, we should treat this as lessons for our inflated egos and try and increase our humility. We should see women in our lives (as householders, not renunciates, of course) as objects of our service regardless of their position or apparent mistakes.

All in all, it was a really great lesson, painful but necessary, and my next step should be trying to put it in practice.

Vanity thought #270. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Last hurdle.

I left Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in Midnapur where he was continuing to ride the wave of his teaching career and on the spiritual side he eventually came in touch with vaishnavism, after he was called to judge a dispute about some vaishnavas there eating fish. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur realized that he had natural attraction towards bhakti from early childhood and decided to study vaishnavism in depth. He was told that the first books he should read were Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita, unfortunately they couldn’t be found anywhere and the project was put on hold for a while.

This was the last hurdle, or hurdles, before turning all his attention to the religion of Bhagavat, as he called it himself.

First he got an offer to change his field and go into tax collection instead. The pay was lousy but people didn’t go into tax service for salary alone. Kedarnath was offered a job of a translator and an intermediary between the natives and British officers. He quickly made extra 200 rupees, about half of his annual salary, in “black deals”, as he said, we know this practice as bribery, no need to delve into the exact details.

He himself was disgusted and applied for a transfer. He said tax collecting job was not suitable for human beings. Many a taxpayer would agree but he meant the illegal money, of course. After just over a year on the job he got another position in the same branch of government but he didn’t have to deal with bribery anymore.

What to make of this episode? Was it any useful to the students of his life? I think I can see an explanation – material world sucks. It literally sucks all the good qualities out of a soul. Just like it’s described in numerous places in Bhagavatam a hapless householder eventually resorts to dubious ways of earning money to support his family and bad karma drags him down. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur got the taste of corruption himself and he got away before he became addicted.

Around the same time his wife died, actually before the tax collecting episode but it’s not really important. Somehow or other Kedarnath wanted to remarry really fast. Some say it was because his mother couldn’t take care of his first child on her own due to her age, others accused him of impropriety, both Indian and European friends. I even heard that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati didn’t approve. Evil minds might also think he simply needed a woman. I don’t know how evil it is, there’s nothing wrong with taking a wife to control one’s sex life. It also shows devotees who believe only sannyasis can make solid spiritual progress that devotional path is not quite so black and white.

To avoid upsetting the larger families the ceremony was very simple, it was held away from new wife’s birthplace and there were no festivities. Whatever problems appeared on the surface, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was convinced it was the will of God that couldn’t be denied, and it was this woman who eventually gave birth to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and even to Lalita Prasad himself.

With new wife secured Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur could focus on his career again, and it was going very well. At one point he received three lucrative offers and decided to go into judiciary. The only problems were with examinations, even in those days people had to pass exams to take this or that government job, half way around the world in chaotic places like India – British surely knew how to run the government. Some of those examinations were easy, some had to be taken twice.

I should also mention that yesterday I discovered that I got some details wrong regarding mochi cobbler story, today I should add that I mixed up deaths of his grandmother and grandfather, too. I don’t think it matters much, what mattered to me at that time was that young Kedar went on a pleasure trip with his friends and missed the death of a close relative. I think it was also a lesson to him on the need to stay with one’s duties rather than follow the wind of easy life.

Moving on, at one point Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur got a high judiciary position in Chapra and he moved his family there. Things were not going smoothly at first but eventually he was able to win his enemies over and everything in Chapra was “very good”, except that he developed a strong desire to enjoy fish and meat.

He ate a lot of fish there but it wasn’t very good so he ate more goat meat.

I can see why this admission is not included in our short articles and commemorative speeches about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur but I think it deserves mentioning in books like Seventh Goswami, I think the omission there is not due to insignificance but a deliberate exclusion from history of things we don’t quite understand.

Anyway, this meat eating habit caused Kedarnath ulcer and he was very sick. None of the treatments helped him and he had to suffer for a long time. I don’t know how long the meat eating lasted, over a year later and after he moved to a new place and a new job he finally got some medicine that worked and he went on a month long diet that included fresh fish cooked in aged ghee among other things. I don’t know if he actually ate fish at that time, its inclusion on the list with detailed instruction how it should be cooked sounds suspicious.

This time of illness also gave him a chance to ask for a long vacation and he went on a pilgrimage to Mathura and Vrindavan and all the usual places on the way to and from Bengal. He was impressed by Vrindavana temples but he didn’t have much appreciation for devotees, as he said. He had even less appreciation for pandars in Prayag, all in all it wasn’t a very successful trip.

Despite the illness he still managed to pass his examinations and got a new position in Purnea, that’s where he finally collected all the ingredients for his medicine and finally cured himself.

I don’t know what is the actual significance of meat eating episode. I guess we should just accept it as it is and keep in mind that it didn’t hinder his path to acharyahood. Maybe he just had to get it out of his system. He already knew that meat eating was wrong and now he had conclusively proven it to himself. It’s one thing to know something theoretically, it’s quite another to teach one’s body and senses. Young children need to get burned to learn about dangers of fire, maybe it was this kind of lesson for Bhaktivinoda Thakur.

There’s also a possible lesson that even Bhaktivinoda Thakur didn’t fight his natural attractions or bad habits, he let them play out and go away by themselves. Maybe it’s a lesson in futility of false renunciation. Otoh, he was under Krishna’s direct supervision, if any of us goes off the rails like this the result might not be so relatively harmless. On yet another hand Krishna could have easily stopped him from craving for flesh but chose not to. Was it to give us a lesson? But then why do we feel we need to hide this episode from our history? I think it’s a natural desire to protect the reputation of a great devotee and an acharya, it’s not wrong per se.

Either way, after working for a year and half in Purneah he got transferred to Dinajpur where Vaishnava religion was very strong and the rest is the history, as they say.

Nothing could stop his ascendance as the most prominent vaishnava of the century anymore, there were no more setbacks or deviations.

To be continued.