Vanity thought #1294. Alone in the crowd

Māyāpura part of our annual shindig is over and the first reports are coming in. The one that caught my attention was about a devotee feeling disconnected from the celebrations and totally alone among ecstatic crowds. It was met with “OMG, we have to do something about it” reaction followed by the usual talk about developing interpersonal relationships, taking our vaiṣṇava support ministries seriously, reaching out, touching souls, keeping track etc etc. Some really took it to the heart and thought it was a big institutional failure, perhaps tears were shed, too.

Personally, I don’t understand the fuss.

I don’t know this particular devotee’s circumstances but I think I know enough about loneliness to make some generalizations. I have never been a people’s person and getting me to open up and relax was always a big achievement for various well-wishers around me. I think I know how it feels on both sides of introvert/extrovert divide. Contrary to common assumption, I don’t think one is fundamentally better than the other and I don’t think I ever miss seclusion when going along with the crowds, nor do I miss company when going alone with my thoughts.

What I have come to realize is that these two states of mind are products of karma and the influence of the modes of nature. Or, rather, both of these states can be experienced under different modes, too, just like Kṛṣṇa explains in Bhagavad Gīta how various activities can be conducted under goodness, passion, and ignorance.

There’s “brooding” in ignorance, there’s “brooding” in knowledge, too. There’s joining the crowds with passion, there’s sense of belonging in sattva, therefore we don’t have to fix the condition, we have to fix the consciousness. If someone feels disconnected from the community it doesn’t mean we have to quickly integrate them back, we have to help them to process their feelings with proper attitude.

To start with, we can trace the roots of our alienation and I bet most of the time it will be down to some mundane trivialities. Someone stole out shoes outside the temple. Someone cut in line for caraṇāmṛta. Someone didn’t listen to what we have to say. Someone passed us over when distributing prasādam. Someone didn’t show expected level of respect. Or that we don’t have as many friends as hoped, or that we don’t have enough money to buy all the stuff everyone else seems to be buying all the time, or we can’t digest festival food, or we can’t get used to the heat, or we can’t get used to the Indians outside, or bathing in the Ganges is not as pleasant as we hoped. There are so many little things that can go wrong and spoil our mood. We just have to acknowledge their existence and their power over our mental and emotional state.

Sometimes we could have genuine spiritual problems when we just lose taste and can’t acquire it again. It’s always down to some offenses we might not even remember and so can’t easily correct. Either way, it’s a temporary condition and all we have to do is persevere and hope that the Holy Name eventually straighten us out.

One thing we have to understand is that whether we are suffering from material afflictions or spiritual failures, the problem is always with us, not with anybody else. It’s not that Lord Caitanya doesn’t have enough mercy to overcome our moroseness. It might feel that way but we should be sober enough to reject this ridiculous conclusion outright. The auxiliary of this statement is that we can’t blame ISKCON, other devotees, or our guru either because it’s them who channel most of that mercy for us, we are not taking it directly from Kṛṣṇa in any significant quantities.

Another important thing to understand is that other people suffer from exactly the same afflictions, they just manifest them differently. I mean everyone is forced to act under the modes of nature and everyone is bound to act less than transcendentally from time to time. Perhaps Māyāpura festival is not the best time to expect everyone to be on their best behavior. For many, it’s our vacation time, time when we can unwind and do whatever we want, time when Lord Caitanya mercifully allows us to indulge at His expense, so we behave like kids in the candy store. In these circumstances it’s perfectly normal to be less considerate of others and a sober person shouldn’t be upset over these things. Let them have their fun, they deserved it and the Lord has allowed it. It’s not the time to spoil His mood with complaints either.

And let’s not forget the big picture – as followers of Lord Caitanya we should not expect feeling high all the time. Yes, He started His Śikṣāṣṭaka with describing the glories and joys of chanting of the Holy Name but that was also the last verse to ever mention it. We read it and we expect that there’s this ever expanding ocean of blissful transcendental life but that’s not what happens as we progress along Śikṣāṣṭaka, and that progression of verses should reflect evolution of our own spiritual life, too.

The second verse immediately acknowledges that despite of all the glories of saṅkīrtana we have no taste and we are “not feeling it”. The third verse implores us to chant with patience and humbleness and without any breaks, not because it feels so great but because we should even when we are not in the mood. Finally, Śikṣāṣṭaka arrives to the final three verses where the Lord openly laments feeling deprived of all mercy. At first He asks when the mercy will come, then he states that each moment without it feels like a millennium, and finally swears His undying love even when this absence of mercy is killing Him.

Why should it be any different for us? We KNOW that vipralambha sevā is the highest mode of devotion, we can’t settle for anything less anymore. When we feel disconnected from this mercy and we long for it to come back into our lives this is exactly what we experience – Lord Caitanya’s mood in Śikṣāṣṭaka. We should embrace it instead of rejecting it or trying to fix it. There’s nothing wrong with missing the joys of our service to the Lord or the joy of serving devotees, it should be our most treasured emotion instead.

Besides, fixing it by external means, by reaching out to lonely devotees, will never really work. We can’t change their karma, which is controlled directly by the Lord, btw. And if they have committed some offenses we can’t give them the spiritual taste back unless they rectify them themselves. Only the Supersoul can help them with that, we usually don’t know what’s going on.

On the fundamental level, one feels a disconnect not because of lack of interpersonal relationships but because of disconnect with Kṛṣṇa. We can’t become someone’s friend without getting that person to connect to the Lord first. And when one does that everything and everyone will automatically appear as one and all feelings of loneliness will pass.

At the end of the day, we have to make peace with the Holy Name, it’s the only solution to all our problems, nothing else will ever work.

Vanity thought #952. Siddha Pranali

The topic of unsuccessful chanting of the Holy Name is a long one, we’ll never have enough of it. I guess it will go away only when we manage to develop love of Godhead and all such worries would dissipate like morning fog. This day surely must come, right? Wrong.

Consider this verse regarding offensive chanting (CC Adi 8.16):

    If one is infested with the ten offenses in the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, despite his endeavor to chant the holy name for many births, he will not get the love of Godhead that is the ultimate goal of this chanting.

See – one will NOT get the love of Godhead if one keeps committing offenses while chanting. In the purport Śrila Prabhupāda cites Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura saying plainly that “there’s no possibility of attaining the platform of devotional service”.

Kṛṣṇa doesn’t owe us anything, He certainly doesn’t owe us our own love for Him, so if we simply keep chanting with offenses absolutely nothing will happen. It might go on for many many lifetimes, we’ve been told. At first such projections were probably meant to scare us but I think they have an opposite effect now. We chant for many years and decades, do not achieve any results, and tell ourselves that it’s normal, that this could take many lifetimes, so our years or even decades without any progress is nothing to worry about. Instead of whipping us into a shape we use it as an excuse to improve nothing.

Certainly, this attitude won’t be appreciated by the Lord. Therefore we should never forget the struggle for offenseless chanting. Never.

Sometimes I read what devotees say about each other and I can’t help but see total disregard for their own spiritual progress. Why do they do this to themselves? Targets of their criticism might very well deserve it, this is besides the point, but why do they go to such lengths to denigrate other people’s dedication and service?

I think that they have become so insensitive to their own chanting that it doesn’t make much difference for them anymore, so they see no problems. When asked, they say it’s for the good of everyone, from Kṛṣṇa to Śrila Prabhupāda to ISKCON to their targets and they certainly hope it will be beneficial for their own progress, too. Giant waste of time, methinks.

Also this attitude is contagious, it creeps up on you. I haven’t checked these questionable websites for a few weeks and now when I look at their headlines I really don’t want to open any of their “click me, I’m so controversial” links. It’s not stench per se but the offensive mood is so thick you can cut with a knife. If you visit them often, however, you fail to notice it, and that means you’ve become a victim yourself.

Never mind, this is not what I meant today’s post to be about.

Problem with offenses is that they are natural for us. Our very birth is an offense to the Lord, our very nature is offensive. Atheists might see parallels with Christian orthodoxy here – how we are all damned from birth and how nothing we do here deserves praise in the eyes of God, how sin is everywhere and devil penetrates all our thoughts and desires. Perhaps they are right, the difference is that Christians blame everything on Adam and Eve while we know we are personally responsible for our situation, no one else is.

I don’t think we can declare our innate corruption publicly anymore, no one will listen to us, they’d declare us dangerous lunatics full of hate and laugh us off, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the truth. More importantly, this should be our innate struggle, not something we should bring out in the open. We should accept our own deficiencies, not point them out in others.

Only the guru has the obligation to show his disciples how materialistic and fallen they are, no one else. A preacher is also a kind of a guru so it’s okay for them to say so but only if the audience is willing to hear it.

When we are on our own with the Holy Name, however, we can and should be brutally honest, there’s no point of hiding the truth anyway – the Supersoul sees everything.

If we consider our motives very closely we’ll inevitably come to a conclusion that all our actions on the material platform are selfish. We always do everything strictly for our own benefit, occasionally our actions please guru and Kṛṣṇa, too, but that is more like an afterthought or a side effect.

How do we transcend the material platform then? One way is to fully absorb ourselves in the service to our mission but that is very hard to achieve and it is beyond our control – we are engaged by guru and Kṛṣṇa, not on our own volition, and we have example of thousands and thousands of devotees who gradually slipped from ISKCON authorities radar and are not on active duty anymore. It just happens, we can hope it won’t happen to us but it most likely will, just like most of us are likely to succumb to sex desire, too.

What to do if we fall outside of full-on service? Is there any chance of us then? Of course there is but we have to fight for it very very hard.

We’ll need more sādhana, for example, the more time we leave for ourselves the more time we leave for committing offenses. We should always, at all times, have something to do and we should watch very carefully that we are not doing it for our gratification but for the sake of our duty. Sometimes we need some “me time”, too, but we should watch carefully that this idleness doesn’t degrade our consciousness.

Creative types need more of this idle time than others but even they can look at it as a necessity – they need to give their minds enough time to come up with ideas, and producing ideas is their duty, so they are not being lazy and idle per se, this is simply their dharma.

Bottom line, though – we cannot perform devotional service as long as we identify ourselves with our bodies, it is simply not possible. To become real devotees we need to see ourselves as spirit souls, we need to realize our spiritual identity.

This might sound like an invitation to esoteric practices of siddha praṇāli, introduction to one’s siddha svarūpa but that is not what I mean. It appears that we have only two choices – see ourselves as our material bodies or see ourselves as our spiritual forms but there’s a third option here, thanks of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

Lord Caitanya introduced another kind of identity for us and gave us a siddha praṇāli mantra to achieve it:

    tṛṇād api su-nīcena
    taror iva sahiṣṇunā
    amāninā māna-dena
    kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ

This should become our svarūpa while in the conditioned state, we should stop seeing ourselves as men, women, seniors, juniors, husbands, wives etc. All those designations must be cast away, we should accept this new identity instead – lower than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, always ready to offer respect to everyone and never demand any respect for ourselves.

This is not our spiritual form but this is not our material form either. We can accept this identity without giving up any of our external obligations either. How will it manifest externally then? That’s a good question that needs another long answer.

The point is that this Śikṣāṣtaka verse is even more important than we usually think. ike I said, it is our siddha praṇāli mantra. I didn’t make this up even though I don’t remember who said this first, I think it was Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī.

The point is that it is a brilliant idea.

Vanity thought #434. Siksashtaka #7

It’s been over a year since my last post on Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakurs’s commentary on Siksashtaka, Sri Sanmodana Bhashyam. After such a long break there’s no point in trying to “follow” myself as I hardly remember my frame of mind in those days, yet it would be nice to finally finish reflections of Siksashtaka so here it goes.

The reason I stopped then is simple – I was waiting for some realizations pertaining to that verse and, unsurprisingly, I haven’t got any. Not to this day, not in any foreseeable future. The seventh verse deals with the subject matter way above my pay grade in this life and probably a few of the next ones, too.

Unlike previous Siksashataka verses there’s absolutely nothing to personally relate to here. Verse two, “durdaivam”, is a simple statement of fact. Verse three, “trinad api sunichena” should always be in our minds, the mood of the verse four, “na dhanam na janam na sundarim kavitam” should also occasionally appear in our prayers, as is the mood of the verse five, about being saved from the ocean of material existence. Verse six, “nayanam galad ashru dharaya…” is trickier as it deals with transcendental symptoms that can’t be imitated but its root lies in the word “kada” – when, seen that way it becomes much easier to relate to this verse: “When will I finally experience any kind of emotion towards chanting of the Holy Name?”

Verse seven offers nothing. We have no idea what experience of separation from Govinda feels like, we will never have any idea what it might feel like until we actually meet Him face to face. We can’t speculate about separation from someone we have never met.

Looking at Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s comment in Sanmodadana Bhashyam we can’t relate to anything he says there about various mixtures and progressions of rasa either.

There’s a possible way we can relate to separation from the Lord but I think it’s totally inappropriate here. I’m talking about feelings of losing our devotional mood and mistaking them for separation from Krishna Himself. It’s true, we often feel ourselves separated from the Lord if we honestly look at our situation here, but this separation is due to our failures, due to our own desire to enjoy separately from Him in this material world.

Our separation is caused by Lord’s external energy, maya, who we take shelter of due to our lack of devotion, it has nothing to do with the Lord disappearing from our vision, “govinda virahena me”, as described in the seventh verse.

Our feeling of separation is related to the second verse, no taste to chanting of the Holy Name, and in this condition the idea that the Lord would abandon us is unthinkable. In materially conditioned state of consciousness the Lord’s ever-present mercy is our only hope, the only constant in our lives. Everything else comes and goes, including our own rare desire to become Lord’s servants, everything here is impermanent but we can’t imagine that Krishna would one day disappear, too. We rely on His promises in Bhagavad Gita that His devotee would never perish and that the Lord would personally take care of all our sins and needs, we are too immature to think of Siksashtaka here.

On that subject – Jesus’ reported “Why have you forsaken me” question also can’t be considered on the level necessary to appreciate the seventh verse of Siksashtaka as it seems to arise in his mind only at the ninth hour of crucifixion.

This is an important point to keep in mind – our feelings of separation depend on the circumstances provided by the material nature, on our perceptions of ourselves as material bodies put in certain conditions. Lord Chaitanya’s feelings of separation from Govinda were completely transcendental to the happenings of this world.

We might cry to the Lord and experience separation from him when we are cold or sick or hungry or when we suffer in any kind of way. Pure devotee’s separation from Govinda might afflict him when externally he is very very comfortable, well fed and and rested, or when he appears to be eating or sitting or sleeping.

We don’t see such things during our lives because meeting such devotees is extremely rare. Practically, I think it’s better to miss such feelings in those on that level of devotion than to ascribe these feelings to those who are not qualified at all. Simple innocent ignorance is better than developing sahajiya tendencies as ignorance can be easily dispelled by the Lord but sahajiya attitudes will pollute our hearts forever.

Personally, when I chant Siksashtaka I just repeat this seventh verse as it is, simply because it’s there, without trying to imagine how I could relate to it. It means nothing to me and I think it’s better to keep it that way until it actually does.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and wait for “param vijayate sri Krishna sankirtantam” first. Separation would come after that victory.

Vanity thought #308. Bhava maha davagni nirvapanam

Not directly related to yesterday’s attempt to re-examine the first Siksashtaka verse but still a fresh look at the old problem.

I’ve always assumed that Lord Chaitanya would take care of His devotees, and this is, of course, correct, but I think I’ve got the mechanics of this “take care” a little bit wrong.

It all starts with chanting Hare Krishna mantra as yuga dharma, meaning it can fulfill all our desires. On the other hand we know that though it definitely can fulfill each and every our desire we also know that Krishna is kind enough not to grant us wishes that will harm us in the long run.

Still, even in the early days of this blog I wrote that whatever it is that we want we should ask Lord Chaitanya and the Holy Name, there’s no benefit in asking anybody else. From then on it’s just negotiating between what we want, what we deserve and what the Lord is prepared to grant.

Basically, if we want to feel the power of a sports car and the exhilaration of gunning it down the highway we should pray to the Lord for a Ferrari. Or we could desire an agreeable wife, or the latest iPad, or a pay raise or a million other things we find ourselves craving in this world. Whatever we want – pray to Krishna, Lord Chaitanya, and chant a lot of Holy Names and all will be “taken care” of.

For that we can appeal to bhava maha davagni nirvapanam promise – if our senses feel depraved of something to the point where their urges interfere with our service we should feed them something in order to keep them under control. Our path is not that of renunciation anyway, we better engage our senses in the service to the Lord and that means, incidentally, that they can get all satisfaction they want, too.

This is where I think I got “extinguishing the blazing fire of material existence” wrong. It doesn’t mean that our desires will be fulfilled, it’s not the only way to put down the fire, perhaps it’s even the wrong way to go about it and I think what the Lord does is not fulfilling our desires but reducing them.

He simply makes us want less.

So, next time I turn to the Lord with prayers for Samsung Galaxy S3, I should ask not for the phone itself but for removing the interest in this and other phones altogether.

A similar solution should apply when we consider the axiom that having firm faith in devotional service means, among other things, belief that surrendering to the Lord will satisfy each and every our desire so we don’t go astray trying to pray elsewhere. The Lord won’t satisfy each and every our desire, he will make sure we ourselves are satisfied regardless of what our senses are getting.

It means that if I wanted to feel the speed of a Ferrari I will end up not with driving one but with sitting in a front seat of a friend’s Honda and watching him trying to get us killed due to his reckless driving. Much much cheaper solution but the end result will be the same.

Conclusion – before praying to get something we should try praying not to want that thing first. That would be the real nirvapanam.

Vanity thought #307. Param Vijayate

From the very beginning I assumed that the glories of sankirtana described in the first verse of Siksashtaka were a gift from Lord Chaitanya, His supreme boon, a benediction, and all we had to do is to collect it. Naturally then, when none of the mind blowing qualities of sankirtana materialize during my chanting, I needed an explanation.

I’m trying very hard, I told myself, why is none of the promised magic is working? Offensive chanting is obviously the reason but the ultimate responsibility for the quality of the gift lies with the giver, I assumed, and thus I felt somewhat cheated.

Today I pondered on the meaning of the last line, however – param vijayate sri Krishna sankirtanam – let there be victory!

I guess it’s the absolutely correct translation but in the context of the modern culture it sounds like what people say when they raise their glasses of beer. At this moment this is probably what football fans say while cheering their teams, Italy, for example – now, at half time, they lead 1:0 and are on the way to the next stage of Euro 2012.

The problem with this context is that when people say these things they mean that Italian football team will do all the work, people themselves need not do anything but cheer them on. You see how the responsibility for the actual victory has been shifted form the person doing the chanting/cheering to someone else?

I’m afraid this is what happened with my understanding of that verse, too. I assumed that I was given a gift rather than the task to make that victory happen when in reality my job is not to taste the fruits of sankirtana given to me by someone else, my job is to create those benedictions myself.

Of course I won’t get anywhere without blessings of Lord Chaitanya but my point of view needs to be shifted significantly. Now I have to go through that verse item by item and think how I can make it happen. From being a spectator cheering the victory of sankirtana I need to become a principal actor, fully responsible for success of my chanting.

Italy, in the meantime, got its job done, beating Ireland 2:0. Fans feel on the seventh heaven, too, but they are not actual heroes, just hangers on, mostly, its the players who will get all the benefits in full.

Vanity thought #205. When – Sanmodana Bhashyam 6.

It’s been a while since my last post on Sanmodana Bhashyam commentary on Siksashtaka, almost a month, so “when” is the appropriate question to ask in every respect.

To be honest, I was waiting for some sort of realization or maturity that would allow me to move on to this verse, sort of “ready to start the next lesson” feeling. It never came.

It is a good idea to progress from one verse to the next along with progress in one’s spiritual life. For this reason I’m not reading, much less commenting, on books describing confidential pastimes of Radha and Krishna. Siksashtaka, however, is meant for the benefit of every devotee, no matter how retarded. I was going to type “no matter how advanced” but who worries about advanced devotees here, it’s the retarded ones like me that need encouragement to study and speculate on Siksashtaka in depth.

My personal speculation is that the mula, the root word of this verse is kada, when. This is the word that sets the mood of the whole prayer.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur describes all the topics that have been already covered prior to this verse – shraddha, sadhu sanga, nine methods of executing devotional service, the science of self-realization etc. Now it’s time to talk about fruit of all these efforts – development of bhava. Pardon me for not making distinctions between rati, ruci, bhava and prema here, it’s all the same thing to me.

Whichever one of those develops first, the rest are sure to follow and none of them manifests to me at the moment so they are all equally alien and all equally obtainable at the same time. Get one, get three free.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura is deadly serious, though, all these stages are real and each one of them is elaborately described, if not in Sanmodana Bhashyam then elsewhere, so we have every right to study them and expect their appearance, too. This is what should happen, if we don’t believe it we are wasting our time and fooling ourselves.

I bet every devotee eagerly awaits for these symptoms to manifest, and sooner rather than later. I believe this is the kind of spiritual thirst that is entirely excusable.

The reality, however, is that despite all our efforts our sadhana-bhakti does not bring the desired results, and that can be off-putting for many.

Well, this is completely natural, too, as natural as developing the symptoms, and, unlike the tears or chocking voice this stage is easily obtainable. I mean lamenting the lack of progress.

I mean the entire verse is admitting failure to develop bhava, isn’t it? Lord Chaitanya knows what is supposed to happen, He knows what to expect, He, supposedly, have been practicing. He admitted His fallen condition, nanuragah, lack of taste for the Holy Name, He supposedly practiced kirtaniyah sada Harih in a proper mood of humility and tolerance, He renounced all material goals and attraction, He declared His eternal position as a fallen servant. He’s done everything right, yet the symptoms of bhava still do no manifest in His body. That’s exactly what He saying here.

I can relate to that. Everybody can relate to that. That is what devotee should be expecting from himself – sincerely lamenting the lack of progress. Many, including me, are expecting goozebumps and unrestrained flood of tears but this is just wrong – what happens next is that we experience acute realization that we are not getting anything.

So it’s all going according to the plan, just not THAT plan. I’m doing okay, I guess, except that the feeling of lamentation is not acute enough for me. Out of foolishness, pride or ignorance I was following a different plan all these years, it took me re-reading this verse for an umpteenth time to realize I was expecting the wrong things, wrong symptoms.

There are still two more verses to go in Siksashtaka and I will probably discover some new meanings or angles but I’m pretty sure there’s no verse there that says “Look, I got goosebumps! I got goosebumps!”

Yet Bhaktivinoda Thakura assures us that goosebumps are real, and so is prolonged yawning, hiccuping and drooling, among other things. Just think of it – who could possibly imagine these symptoms? Prolonged yawning? Tears, laughter, even body spasms and rolling on the ground – maybe, but yawning? Someone surely must have observed and documented it, and made sure this is the symptom of a real bhava before putting it on the list.

What about the devotee who actually experienced it and was the subject of the study? Did he ever say “Siksashtaka? Kiddy stuff for total neophites, I’ve been yawning and drooling whole morning while they can’t even shed a proper tear in those verses.”

Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati in his comment sternly warns about any artificial displays, these symptoms are not for those who have not yet cleansed their hearts of all anarthas. They are not for those who have naturally moist eyes either.

These symptoms can’t be evoked at will. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati uses the words “obsequiously obedient” to describe a devotee who manifests these symptoms. “Obsequiously obedient to the eternal ecstasies that constantly ply within the heart.” These symptoms themselves command the mind and body, not the other way around.

I suppose one can’t objectively analyse and dissect them and record their appearance and disappearance. One might not even realize that they are happening at all.

If one is eager to achieve them then one should certainly heed Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s advice – artificial imitation is creating gigantic obstacles on the path to pure devotional service.

Personally, I follow Srila Prabhupada’s method when I feel something is up – chant more vigorously, it will go away.

Personally, I think I answered the “when” question for myself – never. The entrance of rati/ruci/prema/bhava is not caused by following sadhana bhakti alone but it surely is not happening for a slacker like me. I have way too many deficiencies in my personal practice that my just and generous reward would be only to practice better, not yawning or drooling.

I can’t possibly expect to progress further than my far more dedicated peers who execute their assigned service flawlessly and earn appreciation of their gurus and other vaishnavas and surely the mercy of Lord Chaitanya Himself for their tireless preaching efforts. Honestly, at most I should only expect to become somewhat resembling them in my life, and I haven’t even got time for that – my youth is gone, my energy, my enthusiasm are not what they used to be. I just don’t have time to catch up.

I’m yawning alright, btw, it’s time to sleep.

I will settle on this – it’s not the symptoms of bhava that I should be chasing, it’s sincere sorrow and remorse at my lack of progress.

Vanity thought #179. Sanmodana Bhashyam Verse 5. Sturdy boat.

It’s been a while since my last thought on Siksashtaka and its explanation in Sanmodana Bhashyam, I’m afraid I can’t wait any longer for fear of forgetting what I wanted to say and skipping onto the next verse.

A few months ago I played with an alternative explanation to Siksashataka verses, according to which verse 5 belongs to the second group – chanting on a spiritual platform.

I better reproduce the same table again:

Hare Krishna param vijayate Set the goal
Hare Krishna durdaiva Set the starting point
Krishna Krishna trinad api sunichena Set the mood
Hare Hare bhaktir ahaituki Reach the goal
Hare Rama sthita-dhuli-sadrisham Set the goal
Hare Rama kada Set the starting point
Rama Rama Govinda virahena me Set the mood
Hare Hare mat-prana-nathas Reach the goal

This table is based on Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Sri Bhajana Rahasya where he links each pair of name in Hare Krishna mantra with each verse in Siksashtaka. As my own speculation goes, when we get to the second group of names in the mantra we also observe a shift from chanting on the material platform to purely spiritual level.

I know it’s awkward to claim that any of Siksashtaka verses have anything to do with material platform at all but consider this – the first verse outlines the benefits of sankirtana for a conditioned soul, beginning with extinguishing the fire of bhava.

The second verse is about unfortunate lack of taste for the Holy Names – clearly a material condition.

The third is about proper chanting in the material world, too – lower than grass, more patient than a tree. Surely this attitude should continue in the spiritual world, too, but it’s obviously advise for the conditioned souls striving for success in sankirtana first and foremost.

The fourth verse is about rejecting various material pursuits. It’s kind of transition – no more material interests, getting ready for purely spiritual goals but the verse still concerns itself with material subject matter.

Now comes the fifth – “I’m your fallen servant, please make me a speck of dust at your lotus feet”. Kinkaram, afaik, means an errand boy, someone waiting by the side for orders, ever ready and alert and always eager to please.

This call to Nanda-tanuja, son of maharaja Nanda, is a request for an undeniably spiritual position. It’s not about positioning yourself relevant to material interests anymore, as in the fourth verse, it’s taking your eyes off them completely and concerning yourself exclusively with your spiritual nature – a big, decisive step forward.

From now on there will be no mention of any material markers in Siksashtaka, no talking about wealth or suffering or respect or patience, not in a positive nor in a negative way. We are in the purely spiritual realm now, though, obviously, still chanting in the material world.

So, let’s see what our acharyas had to say about this verse.

Curiously, both Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati talk about drowning in the terrible ocean of material existence. That kind of goes against my interpretation but there’s no disagreement here – they both cite request for placement at the Lord’s lotus feet as the only goal and the only means of survival.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura starts his comment with a question whether it’s proper to discuss material miseries and gives an extended version of the shloka as an answer, except it doesn’t, at least in this translation – it doesn’t answer the question “to talk or not to talk?”

What it says, though, is sufficient enough on its own. We are drowning and we have nothing to hold on to. Waves of lust and greed and gales of bad association are tossing us here and there and making our lives truly miserable. Sometimes we see some weeds floating by, and those are karma, jnana, yoga, austerities etc but weeds can’t save us, we need a sturdy boat of the Lord’s Holy Name, it’s our only salvation.

He also says that we get this invincible boat from our guru – good point – if the Holy Name is a vessel to get us across the ocean, the guru is the one who gives it to us.

Now we pray to the Holy Name that it picks up from our miserable condition and places us in the shelter of His lotus feet, where we belong.

I found a very useful practical application for this approach. Every time my mind goes away thinking about politics or gadgets or sex I ask myself – are they the proper vessels to put my trust into? I surely have plenty of suffering from greed, lust, vanity, pride etc etc but is thinking about politics is going to improve my lot? Sometimes it seems that developing a Krishna Conscious way of solving political problems is a useful activity, but is this the sturdy boat I should be taking shelter of?

No matter how noble it might appear to be – improving the lot of the fellow citizens and possibly introducing them to Krishna, let’s not lose focus here – I’m drowning myself, my shelter is the Holy Name, I like politics because it makes me feel myself clever and potentially important, it’s not my service to save anybody, not now, not at the time when I’m supposed to be chanting.

Thinking of new gadgets is also very absorbing. There’s no excuse, no linkage to Krishna in anyway, but fantasizing about owning them and playing with them makes me feel good and forget all other problems, but is it really the boat I was looking for? I’m killing myself if I behave as if it’s so.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati starts his comments with establishing jiva’s swarupa as an eternal servant of Lord Krishna, that’s what Siksashtaka verse actually say – it’s about forming a spiritual identity. Like I said – no more negativism of “I don’t want this and I don’t want that”, finally Lord Chaitanya has given us some positive idea to concentrate on.

Still, raising up our spiritual consciousness doesn’t happen in one verse, it’s a process and it takes seemingly forever, so Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati aslo talks about drowning in the ocean of material existence and he talks about anarthas in our hearts. We might know our ultimate goal but it’s still obfuscated by impurities.

Once we fully realize the sambandha jnana, or “knowledge of the relationships between God, His multifarious energies, and the spirit souls” we become eligible for devotional service and pure chanting. From that moment on we should become jata-rati – born of taste for Krishna.

This promise, however, comes with a big warning – it is “unconscionable that anyone deceitfully and prematurely present himself as a jata-rati.”

The way the condition to become this jata-rati is presented in this comment is that we should really know our position. Simply parroting the words “I’m a servant” is not enough – when we really know our position we should be acting it out every moment of our lives, effortlessly and naturally.

I guess it’s okay to force myself to shut my mouth every now and then because that what Krishna’s servant would do but not until this humility comes from the heart I can’t even think of qualifying as jata-rati, that would be deceitful and unconscionable, whatever that means.

Good news – it’s a process, it doesn’t happen in one day, and for every step forward there are two steps backward, and being overwhelmed with material desires seems to be expected at this stage, so I’m not falling very far behind.

One more thing – the difference between jata-rati and ajata-rati is in the quality of chanting. This is mysterious. How does it manifest in real life?

I think it’s a food for thought on another day.

Vanity thought #161. Sanmodana Bhashyam verse 4.

This Siksashtaka verse shows a little inconsistency in translation. Srila Prabhupada twice, in introduction to Srimad Bhagavatam and in Chaitanya Charitamrita, translated sundarim as “beautiful women”. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati are talking about sundarim kavitam instead, Bhaktivinoda Thakur translated it as “beautiful verses” and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati translated it as “religious principles of the Vedas”.

What to make of it? Shouldn’t we worry about Prabhupada deviating from the previous acharyas? Well, those of us with an inclination to do so can’t be stopped.

My first thought about it was hundreds of ways Lord Chaitanya used to explain shlokas from shastras, sometimes he would convince everyone of one particular explanation and then turn it around and argue against His previous position and conclusively prove that it was wrong. I guess that is the freedom of Sanskrit.

If one translation is slightly different form the other it’s not necessarily a sign of deviation, as long as both versions support the single conclusion the variety only adds richness and texture. Meaning those who want to see glorification of the Lord and devotional service will see that, those who want to see mistakes will see mistakes.

Let’s look at the list itself – dhanam, janam, sundarim kavitam. Dhanam is wealth, everyone knows it’s extremely attractive, money can buy everything, no wonder it’s first on the list. Then comes janam, which Prabhupada translated as followers. Bhaktivinoda Thakura translated as followers, too, but then explained that it includes the family – wife, children, servants etc. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati skips the “followers” and just talks about family.

Now, followers and family are two different things in modern language. When we talk about followers we imagine disciples, we also keep in mind that wife and children hardly ever join their husbands if they suddenly decide to take to Krishna consciousness. Pop stars have followers and these fans are very different group of people from stars’ families and are usually envious of any boyfriends or girlfriends. Pop stars do not have wives or husbands as a rule.

Things have clearly changed, not only from the times of Lord Chaitanya but even from a hundred years ago. Prabhupada was talking to more or less modern people, still cavemen by twenty fist century standards but the distinction between followers and families was already there, and families were not as popular anymore. That could be the reason that Prabhupada translated that part of the verse as followers *and* beautiful women, sundarim, he knew it would have made more sense to us.

I believe that is the meaning of acharya, btw, acharyas not only lead by their own example, they also set new paths that work – meaning new examples to follow.

Now we get to sundarim part. I’m not a sanskrit scholar but I wouldn’t argue if sundarim kavitam are presented as one idea, after dhanam and janam. Five hundred years ago it probably made perfect sense to Indians – wealth, family, vedic activities.

Sundarim kavitam for them probably meant beautiful vedic verses and vedic knowledge. All your life you were supposed to perform samskaras and yajnas and you were supposed to pontificate on beauty of the Sanskrit all the time.

Those following impersanalist understanding were especially fond of commenting on Vedanta and could explain away any notion of God’s personality aspect with most beautiful and convincing arguments.

This is not attractive to a devotee, perhaps that’s why Bhaktivinoda Thakura calls it “dry philosophical and esoteric technical subjects”, it wasn’t sundarim enough for him.

Now consider the priorities of a modern person. Dhanam – check, still need it more than ever. Janam – check, but maybe more of a fanclub variety, people you can milk for money and fame for the rest of you life, people you would hang out your boobs for, they are life and soul of any modern celebrity.

Is family still important? Yes and no. Parents are waiting to send their kids to college so they could finally have time for themselves, and kids can’t wait to leave their small towns or suburbs and partake in the excitement of a city or university life. Three out of four marriages end in divorce, is family still priority number two? I don’t thinks so.

You want money first, and what do you want to do with it? Get beautiful women, lots and lots of them, and the last thing on your mind would be to actually marrying any one them or even taking them seriously as human beings. Their beauty is meant to be enjoyed and discarded, erased like an old song from your mp3 player .

Forget the celebrities, these days any “normal” man or a woman would freak out if someone even mentions marriage on the first date. Dating is not for marriages, it’s for fun. It might end up in marriage if the girl gets knocked up or something but, generally speaking, it’s a modern way of avoiding commitment.

Prabhupada arrived in the West smack in the middle of a hippy movement and free love culture. Perhaps he had one good look at them and thought to himself “For these people Lord Chaitanya surely meant sundarim as beautiful women, not as religious psalms they hear in churches, that wouldn’t make any sense for them.”

It’s not that Prabhupada was not aware of the possible sundarim kavitam compound, in the translation of Bengali version of this Siksashtaka verse that follows Sanskrit in Chaitanya Charitamrita, in the word for word translation, he used “kavitā sundarī — a beautiful wife or fruitive activities”, whereas in the Sanskrit verse he translated them as two separate words – “sundarīm — a very beautiful woman; kavitām — fruitive activities described in flowery language”.

It appears that translating sundarim as beautifil women and thus separating wives from the janam category where they belong in Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhakstisiddhanta Saraswati classification was a conscious decision by Srila Prabhupada and not a mistake or an oversight.

Well, with that out of the way there’s precious little space left for the importance of the verse itself.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that this verse indicates secondary symptoms of bhakti – detachment from material things, the primary symptoms – attachment to the Lord and consequent four qualities that arise from it are supposed to have been achieved on the previous stage, or that’s how it is implied.

This verse is supposed to help the devotee to overcome the stage of bhakti-abhasa, the shadow of bhakti, the devotion tinted with material aspirations. The previous verse was about dissipating nama-abhasa, the shadow of the pure name – chanting tinted with nama-aparadhas.

It kind of make sense that way but I assume here that verses follow stages in development of one’s devotion and that might not be true at all. That would mean, among other things, that unless one starts chanting the pure name he shouldn’t worry about severing his material attachments.

Maybe I’m not doing it in the right order, and actually a lot of ISKCON devotees do so, too, come to think of it, because we tend to sacrifice all we can first, hoping that Lord will give us a taste of his pure Name in exchange.

Or maybe this verse talks about basic, fundamental drivers of our beings, the motivations we initially simply overlooked, blinded by our enthusiasm and totally forgot about until they claim their share many years later. Now it’s the time to look at them again and ponder on the deeper meaning of the fourth Siksashtaka verse.

That sounds reasonable if one looks at the history of our movement but it doesn’t fit with the recent wave of the second generation devotees who take sannyasa and initiate disciples and, at the same time, are fully aware of the potential pitfalls and not so exemplary experiences of the first generation.

They seem to know exactly what they are giving up and they undergo very long periods of observation that rule out any effect of false enthusiasm.

Either way, I don’t think it would hurt anyone to tell the Lord that we at least desire not to desire wealth and women and want causeless devotion instead. So what if we don’t know what unalloyed devotion actually is? We heard it is the best thing ever and we wants it.

We want only the best for ourselves, don’t we?

Vanity thought #156. Sanmodana Bhashyam Verse 3. Humility and Compassion.

I bet anyone who has ever seriously tried to make himself heard by Krishna run into the problem of humility. You can’t fake it and without the real thing Krishna is not going to pay much attention.

It’s a catch 22 – you can’t become humble without Krishna’s mercy and you can’t gain Krishna’s mercy without being humble.

The main problem is our ignorance of our true nature. Not seeing ourselves for what we are we are forced to adopt identities provided by the material nature and those new identities are meant to be proud, not humble.

Forcing them to pay respect to anyone is like squaring a circle. The only reason they might accept bowing down to another person is if they are going to deserve more respect in return.

I might not consciously desire it but somehow or other my body and mind are searching for all kinds of vanity and validation. All I can do is to try and stop myself in time because the moment I allow myself to dwell on those things I become immediately disqualified from gaining Krishna’s mercy.

Next problem is that even if I push these thoughts back inside they are still sitting there, waiting for their chance to come out and shine. The propensity to enjoy fame is one of the basic features of my false ego, I can’t turn it of at will.

So what am I to do?

Nothing, just keep chanting. Eventually the Lord will notice my intentions and will help me in my endeavors. Then He will find a way to sneak into my heart while my pride is not looking and manifest Himself there, even if partially.

In Sanmodana Bhashyam, verse 3 Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura doesn’t give any other solutions:

When the holy name, which is the absolute embodiment of transcendental rasa I, appear in the devotee’s heart, setting him up to abhor anything mundane he begins to think, “I am constitutionally an infinitesimal and eternal servant of Lord Shri Krishna…

One cannot become naturally meek and humble unless one sees himself as an infinitesimal and eternal servant of Lord Krishna.

The good news is that when this finally happens one would be avoiding both namaparadha and namabhasa and so be well on his way to chant the pure name. That’s from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s purport.

So the real problem is getting that initial Krishna’s attention and, no matter what I said about rejecting all my identities in the past few days, one can achieve it only by engaging his material senses and material ego in service of the Lord. Hopefully, when Krishna sees us sincerely trying to fit a round pin into a square hole He’d have a quiet smile to Himself and send a little boon our way, too.

I suppose I, as a spiritual entity, have a minute quantity of spiritual powers and I shouldn’t be wasting these powers on observing my material body having its way in the material world. I should try to steer this ship to the best of my abilities, resolute, determined, yet unattached.

There are many things I can gain by submitting myself to others – their approval, their gifts, a job, all kinds of things, so out of all these options why shouldn’t I choose to beg for Krishna’s mercy instead? So what if I don’t have a pure heart and want to enjoy His mercy myself? There’s a good chance I would be attracted to the service itself, actually it’s my only hope.

Now for compassion. I wrote about it a couple of times last week (here and here). Today, after looking at Sanmodana Bashyam explanation of what compassion is I’m positive the materialists have got it all wrong.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura links compassion to “taror iva sahishuna” – tolerance. The reason he gives is that the tree is ready to give everything it has even to its killers – fruit, shade, place to rest. The can enjoy as much as they want before getting their axes out and cutting it down. The tree doesn’t mind.

Neither does a devotee. He sees the world as completely devoid of interest in chanting Lord’s names, being completely covered by ignorance and even enjoying it. He doesn’t really notice their pleasures or sufferings, he only laments that they don’t see Krishna and he is ready to do absolutely anything to wake up their dormant love for Him.

Compare that to compassion of common men. To begin with, they feel that they got it pretty, pretty good. They feel that they are more fortunate than anyone else. A devotee never feels that way – trinad api sunichena. He doesn’t have what he wants to give. Actually he does but he doesn’t feel that way, he feels as being the most unfortunate of all. The more unfortunate he is, the more he wants to help others. That’s a paradox of Krishna consciousness.

Common people, thinking that they have reached unprecedented heights, look down on their fellow men and generously offer help. This is nice but the help they offer is often not the help that was asked, they just share whatever they got in excess, not what people really need.

Blinded by their false ego they imagine that everyone wants to be just like them, they think that other people suffer because they didn’t follow in their footsteps exactly. They think that to make people happy they need to teach them to be exactly like them.

The best gift to a suffering man in the third world country is a green card. Short of that he also needs a cellphone, access to cheap and nutritious burgers and a lot of Christmas spirit. Oh, if only they celebrated Christmas over there!

Of course not everyone is like that, there are exceptions, but they still are trying to elevate others to the material standards they assume as optimal for themselves.

People in Middle East need democracy and freedom to live like in America. If they are unhappy with their rulers they want someone like Obama instead. Also they want a lot of internet and porn. There’s no way they want to live like Arabs, that is so backward.

There are basic necessities, too. Access to clean water and so on, that’s fine, but I still remember a story on CNN from ten years ago about a new slaughterhouse in Angola. First thing they said about it – now everyone has enough water to drink. Yeah, but if they didn’t kill the cows in that place everyone would have enough water to take five baths everyday.

In modern philanthropy even the basic needs are exploited for someone’s own gain. If it’s politicians – we should give people hope and jobs, happy, docile subjects make for happy, content rulers for life, they think. If it’s Starbucks – buy our coffee and save the world. You don’t have to do anything personally, just put your money in the register and we’ll clean up the environment for you.

That is the epitome of modern philanthropy – be compassionate by enjoying yourself to the full, don’t even need to lift a finger.

No wonder everyone is so determined to fight the global warming and third world hunger – they intend to beat them by shopping more!

Vanity thought #149. Sanmodana Bhashyam, Verse 2.

Somehow the pdf I downloaded for my Kindle has a mix of both Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Sanmodana Bhashyam and purports by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. Now I don’t know when one ends and another begins.

They are both discussing the second verse of Siksashtaka, of course, which is about the powers of the Holy Names and Lord Chaitanya’s absence of attractions for them.

The main point about the Names is that they are non-different from the Lord and fully invested with all His energies, His forms, qualities and pastimes. I like that pastimes are included, too. I hope there will be something to spend time on once the Name finally reveals itself. Without pastimes, I’m afraid, I’ll get bored very easily.

There’s also a point that there are no rules or regulations for chanting the Names. Very handy in this day and age, I’m abusing this loophole in any way I can. Thanks.

Srila Bhaktivionda Thakura gives a list of supporting quotes from Srimad Bhagavatam that makes it look entirely convincing. Just say the Name once and get liberated, or get unalloyed devotional service. Then Bhaktivinoda Thakura openly admits that despite all this clear evidence from shastras we still can’t develop even a drop of attraction to chanting.

That’s how we come to “durdaiva”, the reason why. Bhaktivinoda Thakura says durdaiva is synonymous with ten offences against the Holy Name and then he lists those offences.

So far so good, fairly predictable.

It’s in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s purport where things become quite frightening.

First there’s a bit about primary and secondary names. Krishna is a primary name, Vasudeva is also a primary name but in the reverential mood. Paramatma, the supersoul, is a secondary name. Still potent but not as much, only partially representing the potencies of the primary names.

Nothing to see here, too, moving on.

It’s the next part that prompted me to think a lot about it. I’ll just copy the whole paragraph

Because the spirit soul has turned away from the Lord, he has become imprisoned in maya’s illusory and ephemeral kingdom, bringing down upon himself his great misfortune all due to his reluctance to render service to Shri Krishna. Anyabhilasita or material desires, karma and jnana lead to different degrees of mundane enjoyment, deluding the spirit soul into forgetting his real spiritual identity, or svarfipa, thus causing him to fall into a veritable whirlpool of misery. Under the spell of lusty desires, he becomes intoxicated with sensual pleasures; while pious activities goad him into yearning for temporary heavenly joys. Thus battered about between bhoga and tyaga, or indulgence and renunciation, he searches for release seeking absorption in the undifferentiated brahman. The soul’s intrinsic nature and eternal duty is to serve Lord Krishna, but it has been obscured by the three impurities and as a result his good fortune is being slowly chiselled away. He becomes busy with mundane activities of religiosity, accumulating wealth and enjoying the senses. Or else he is: frustrated because he does not derive any satisfaction from committing impious immoral activities. Thus becoming the ignominious bearer of offences, when he attempts to chant the holy name he perpetrates ‘nama aparadhas’. He is unable to chant Krishna’s name purely, His chanting is offensive, for he cannot chant purely at this stage.

This is really depressing.

To make the long story short – fallen souls like me are torn between the desire to enjoy this world and the desire to reject it, between bhoga and tyaga. In either of these conditions the soul becomes an “ignominious bearer of offences” and is unable to chant the Holy Names purely.

This is me alright.

I guess there are plenty of people on this stage, too, but to me it brings unpalatable finality. There is simply no way I’m going to eradicate all offences from my heart. Not in this life time. Not in this life form, not in this body and not with this mind.

Yes, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati talks about the way to overcome the offenses – one must recognize and isolate the offenses; conscientiously avoiding them he must then chant continuously, just as I thought, but it doesn’t sound plausible at all.

I don’t see how I can forever avoid thinking about sex, for example. I think I can say even from my limited experience that lust pollutes the heart for many hours at a time. Chanting helps overcome it, true, but aftereffects still stay with me.

Yes, I admit I’ve seen progress dealing with it, but the reality is that three little spells of lust can ruin the whole day of chanting. In the beginning I had this romantic notion that as I chant more and more lust will magically disappear. It doesn’t. In fact it seems there’s a lot more of it going around.

When I was working and generally keeping myself busy I didn’t have time to think about sex. Now, when I walk around the empty house whole day long, I’ve finally got all the time in the world to entertain every fantasy I’ve ever had. This is not what I expected.

Idle hands, as the say, is the workshop of the devil. Chanting, it turns out, does not provide me with enough distractions.

I’m sure there’s a better, more optimistic way to look at it but I’m not buying it. Sure, I sometimes think that now I’m dealing with the crux of the matter, no more sweeping it under the carpet, taking on lust head on. I don’t believe it myself, not yet, at least.

Should I use the same tricks to cool off I used before? Should I find another subject to think about instead? Or should I just chant through the entire nightmare? Sometimes I think it’s okay to manage the mind, feed it less disruptive thoughts, sometimes I think this is just postponing the inevitable.

I want to try to chant through, try at least for a day or two, maybe the whole week. That guarantees I won’t see any repeats of my best rounds from the previous weeks but maybe it will be worth the while in the end.

There are plenty of other things that make me depressed, too. When I look at the clock, for example, I catch myself oscillating between bhoga and tyaga again. If I’m waiting for a break I’m in the bhoga mood, when I’m trying to chant faster I’m in the tyaga mood, dedicating my energy to escape from the unpleasant situation through faster chanting.

When my eyes pause of a magazine cover even for a second I catch myself doing bhoga, and when I turn them away in frustration I’m switching to tyaga.

For the entire day, ever since I’ve read that paragraph, I couldn’t spot one single time when I chanted the mantra purely for the Lord’s pleasure. Thanks to the book my eyes have been opened but I don’t like what I see, not at all.

Two things that still keep me going. First is the story of Dhruva Maharaja, he had no idea what devotional service was until he summoned Vishnu by his tapasya, so it is possible to get Lord’s attention even with impure motives. Second is that regardless of how depressed and frustrated I might feel, the only solution is to keep chanting.

I can continue chanting now, or I can sulk, give up, go do something else, but one day I will still have to resume from where I left and go through the same tribulations again, so why not do it now if I still can?