Vanity thought #1776. Blog Revival

I’ve been absent from this blog for two months now and it’s time to bring it back to life. There was a period when I was fully expecting myself to resume blogging but other things occupied my mind then and took a lot of my time. It’s not that I couldn’t post anything at all but I wasn’t ready for daily writing of 1000+ words stories and so I postponed it again and again.

I even had specific ideas in my mind I thought I should have written about (apart from simply resuming commenting on Vedic Cosmology) but with time these ideas piled up and gradually dissolved into the background of my mind. I don’t think I have an interest in reviving them, nor do I want to go the easy road and just continue with Mystic Universe. Something, however, still sticks and needs to be said, so, in no particular order.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance day is marked in the calendar and everyone talks about difference between vāṇī and vapu and Prabhupāda’s disciples reminisce, including about adjusting to a new reality of life without Prabhupāda’s personal presence, but people like me, the second and third generation devotees, have never been in his presence to begin with. What’s different for us? Nothing.

Relatively few of us have an experience of losing their guru, I haven’t had a chance to hear how it feels from their mouths so I really don’t know what it’s like. In any case, with Śrīla Prabhupāda all we ever had was vāṇī – all our realizations of him, all our love and devotion is based on keeping his vāṇī in our hearts and nothing else. Technically speaking, his disappearance hadn’t made any changes to our lives and so we will go on in the same vein regardless.

I like binge reading Prabhupāda’s Daily Meditations posted on Dandavats. They’ve been going for over a year but it’s still 1966 there, with wonderful memories making his life vivid like never before. Many people described the very same experiences, some written books about these same events, there are videos, too, but it’s Satsvarupa Dasa Gosvami’s personal approach that brings up new colors into them. I won’t mention names but some come across as somewhat aloof and objective but SDG really opens up his heart there, with all the nuances of personal interactions, personal faults, personal response, and general imperfections that make our lives into what they are rather than smoothed out biographies of them.

One time someone asked Prabhupāda why he was putting chili sauce on his prasādam. Good question. Can a devotee have personal tastes different from Kṛṣṇa’s? Can he “improve” prasādam to suit those tastes? Or was the food cooked not for Kṛṣṇa Himself but for the tastes of Prabhupāda’s disciples? There are no easy answers here, but sometimes Prabhupāda spiced food up after it was offered, though not in the later years when he didn’t have to eat the same food as his disciples. Should we really be fixated on that?

Another time Satsvarupa came to Prabhupāda’s room to discuss what he understood from a book by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Prabhupāda listened to him for couple of minutes and then told him to, effectively, get lost and stop wasting his time. Was he really that busy or did he think that Satsvarupa’s discussions of topics far beyond his understanding was cute but a wasteful?

We also tend to think that those early years were magical and Prabhupāda was converting people on the spot. It was more like out of ten who came only one would stay, and very very few of them are still with ISKCON now. The churn rate was high but Prabhupāda also met a lot of people to keep the movement growing.

I’ve been also watching Following Srila Prabhupada videos on youtube. I understand that it’s practically the whole footage we have of him but with a voiceover by different devotees describing what was happening or telling their personal stories connected with the videos. On one hand this is very enlightening, on the other hand sometimes you want to hear Śrīla Prabhupāda himself instead of someone else talking over him.

There’s also often repeated misconception, at least in my circles, that Prabhupāda started his preaching with harināmas in Thomson Square Park in New York. This is not right – he had the temple of 26th Second Avenue first, harināmas came several months later. On the surface it doesn’t sound like a big deal but not if you use it as a template for starting a local community.

When Prabhupāda was chanting in the park there were dozens of devotees with him, there was food and pamphlet distribution, and people could come to the temple three-four times a week for public programs. This is very different from sitting there and having nothing else to offer and no one else to help either.

In reality Prabhupāda started with kīrtanas and lectures in private settings first, right after he arrived and was taken to Butler. He then received invitations here and there and always responded to them. His time with Dr Mishra was a very important stepping stone for starting his own society and he kept visiting his ashram even after getting his first temple. Public, open for all harināmas came after that. Externally, Śrīla Prabhupāda depended on Dr Mishra for several months even if he was a genuine māyāvādī – we should not forget that, too. They are not always our sworn enemies and sometimes we can’t do anything without them. Whatever Prabhupāda said about māyāvādīs later should be seen through the prism of that experience in late 65 early 66, it comes on top of it and does not replace it. Life becomes so much richer that way.

That’s how we should see dissenting devotees, too – their dissent does not replace their devotion to Prabhupāda, it comes on top of it. Dissent, even outright criticism, grows out of their devotion, too, even if heavily mixed with outside influences. One more argument for becoming paramahaṁsas who extract only Kṛṣṇa’s nectar from everything they see. After all, what’s the use of seeing the world from a point of view of cats and dogs masquerading as humans?

Vanity thought #1677. Frailty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanity thought #1474. No smooth sailing

We tend to think that since Prabhupāda was a pure devotee and his preaching was backed up by Lord Caitanya Himself then it must have been smooth sailing all along. Sure, there must have been difficulties but they were just human limitations – the need to prepare to go to the West, for example, or the need to translate first Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, or the embarrassment of immature disciples constantly screwing things up, or lack of help from his godbrothers, to put it mildly, or cunning Indians eager to ride on his coattails. Basically, the problems of management of his preaching mission, which in itself was perfect.

Most of the time it probably was, but not always. He met quite a few dull headed people who sometimes were openly hostile, even if in general everyone he met was very impressed by his personality. I’m certainly not an expert on Prabhupāda’s life but some things are plain obvious.

First of all, we learn about Prabhupāda’s life from his disciples, which means we learn only the good things. It doesn’t mean they are factually incorrect and we are robbing ourselves of the “full picture” but it means that they tend to report about victories and want to prove that Prabhupāda conquered them all. This bias is not a reflection on his personality but rather a spin on historical facts. They are still there, we just don’t talk about them, don’t dwell on them, and, probably, don’t learn appropriate lessons.

Sometimes Śrīla Prabhupāda was downright sexist, in the modern lingo. One time devotees arranged for an interview with a reporter but when Prabhupāda learned that she was female he visibly deflated because he thought it would be a giant waste of time. Sure enough, the woman started by asking non-essential questions about superficial aspects of our society, which was a fair game for reporters but not for preachers like Prabhupāda, who can’t be expected to behave like an ordinary interviewee grateful for the exposure.

We assume that when Prabhupāda engages with the outside world, like reporters or businessmen, he would behave on their terms but it’s a wrong assumption. He wasn’t going to play any roles other than a staunch servant of Mahāprabhu’s mission. Sometimes the mission required shrewd negotiation techniques or diplomatic tact but almost always Prabhupāda used it from a devotee’s position.

There is a famous incident with acquiring Rādhā Londonīśvara deities, for example, when Prabhupāda played on inherent Hindu obligation to donate things to sādhus when the owner clearly wanted to be paid. In negotiating prices for other purchases, like buildings for our temples, he would sometimes ask for a donation straight away, to the embarrassment of his disciples who arranged the meeting. I don’t know if he really believed it might have worked, but it certainly altered the mindset of the opposing party, which was suddenly forced to negotiate not from their price down but from zero up.

I mean, isn’t it clever – instead of accepting the value of a property at 300K and trying to lower it, Prabhupāda imposed the initial value of zero and forced the seller to prove that he needs to get paid at all instead of making a donation? This suddenly becomes a moral, not a business decision.

Anyway, this kind of things Prabhupāda did according to time, place, and circumstances, and his own upbringing, they were not taken from the books of previous ācāryas so we shouldn’t focus on them too much. Preaching, however, is different, we should play close attention to how Prabhupāda did that.

In case of that female reporter it took some time, perhaps half an hour, to get her on the right track and talk about what really matters – life, death, eternal soul, and our relationships with the Supreme. Before that Prabhupāda was answering her questions with throwaway one liners, sometimes with a perfect solution: “Just read our books, then you will understand.” Eventually he did get her on the right track, though, and congratulated her on finally asking intelligent questions. Even then, Prabhupāda wasn’t satisfied and asked his disciples to screen reporters more thoroughly, he wasn’t going to preach to less intelligent people, who just happened to be women.

I also know of at least two of his lectures where audience was rude and even hostile, openly throwing insulting words towards him and the devotees. They both happened to be at universities – so much for the value of modern education – they are still cats and dogs, but now more puffed up than ever.

In one case, in Sweden, it happened during the first lecture in the series and afterwards devotees made sure everything went smoothly, and that’s a lesson we should probably learn, too. Preaching is not a random affair and it must be properly managed. Shouting match is not preaching, the audience must be receptive to the message and feel respect for the speaker, only then the talk will be successful. It’s actually easy to understand because that’s how Arjuna approached Kṛṣṇa – in a humble state of mind and looking for answers. This principle is not going to change in whatever circumstances it is applied.

Unfortunately, it’s not so obvious in the modern world where people expect debates and arguments and losing temper and raising your voice is seen as par for the course. They insist that this is the civilized and enlightened way to arrive to the truth but in the end they get Donald Trump as their hero.

In Sweden Prabhupāda wasn’t verbally assaulted but got a full taste of modern debating anyway. He’d had none of it. That’s another lesson, too – we should never stoop to their level and try to raise the conversation to our standard instead. If they can’t behave like humans we shouldn’t behave like animals either. We can accommodate them only so far, at some point it becomes useless. In that case Prabhupāda not only refused to indulge in back and forth arguments but also refused to change the topic, practically forcing the audience to follow the prescribed role – submissive and eager listeners.

This was the time when he was asked if he thought himself to be the first class man and he humbly replied, with tears appearing in his eyes, that he is the fifth class man because he serves everyone else including the fourth class.

Some other contentious issues he simply delegated his disciples, which is another lesson for us – we can’t delegate things to anyone else so we must somehow deal with problematic inquiries ourselves.

At Australian university things got so hot that physical confrontation was becoming a possibility. Once again, Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t loose his cool. When he saw that people were not ready to sit and listen he suggested to move onto Q&A instead, which didn’t really help. The whole lecture ended in disarray but, overall, Madhudviṣa managed the situation brilliantly and defended both ISKCON and Śrīla Prabhupāda with a cool head and rational arguments, earning a visible approval from Prabhupāda. At least something was salvaged from that disaster.

Another lesson that could be learned from that incident is that while our speakers must be shown respect so that the audience feels the same, too, we shouldn’t go over the limit where it would be seen as ostentatious. In Australian case it was the arrival in Rolls-Royce that did it, a less conspicuous vehicle would have probably been accepted favorably.

We should remember that there are always people who are more troublesome than others and sometimes they can steal the show, which what happened in Melbourne, so we need to be mindful of the audience composition, too, so that common sense and decency always prevail. This means that replying to trolls on unmoderated platforms will only cause trouble and will contaminate everything, including what bystanders think of us. No one comes out of a wresting match with pigs clean as a whistle.

Point is, preaching can be dangerous even to ourselves, and even Prabhupāda himself was not always successful at it, such is the life in Kali Yuga.

Vanity thought #1473. Two steps away – how far is it?

While watching all these devotees share their memories of Śrīla Prabhupāda a question must naturally arise – what has it got to do with us exactly. Are we permanently excluded? Are we permanently in? Should we try to replicate them with our gurus? Are they the standard by which to judge relationships with our gurus, too? What is the right attitude to have here?

First of all, when we hear stories, any kind of stories, we always immerse ourselves in them as if we were there. We might identify with protagonists, for example, or we might imagine ourselves as mere observers, but in any case we must identify with some aspects of it to have any impact on ourselves, to empathize. We must have “I know how it feels” moment for any story to register in our hearts, and this means “I know what it’s actually like to be there, to be the part of it.” I think it’s unavoidable in our material condition, and might be even spiritually.

This is no problem if we are talking about mundane work of fiction, it’s perfectly okay to pull underwear over your pants and imagine you are a Superman and then go to Comic Con dressed like this, or feel yourself like Neo from the Matrix and never admit in public, or imagine yourself in any other shoes and replay their pastimes in your head.

The problem here is that we cannot imagine ourselves on par with Prabhupāda’s disciples, they are our spiritual fathers, not equals. We will never become like them just as we can’t replay our fathers’ romantic relationships with our mothers, the mere thought of it grosses people out. The similarity here is not in the nature of relationships but in their value. For a disciple the most intimate one is with his guru, for an ordinary man it’s with this wife. We can’t step into either of those.

This point, btw, is important in itself – guru and Kṛṣṇa are closer for devotees than their wives or husbands or even children. Materialists can’t comprehend it and would immediately reject us and our philosophy if they hear about it. We can imagine any kind of God we want, they generously allow, but we cannot, under any circumstances, treat our bodily relationships as inferior to our religion. Family ties are real, God is not, and this is where they draw the line for our “rights”. We should have no right to place God above our wives, let along children. Children are sacred, God is not. Well, their version of God isn’t, it’s just a plaything for them, not a reality. For devotees, however, guru and Kṛṣṇa are real and are closer than their families. Not for everyone, of course, but eventually we should all achieve this realization because they ARE real, after all.

So, where was I? Ah, yes, we can’t put ourselves in our guru’s shoes and imagine how it feels there. We will never become part of Prabhupāda’s pastimes with his disciples, that’s also the reality, we will always be a step away, or two steps from Prabhupāda himself, because our gurus can’t put themselves in Prabhupāda’s shoes either.

Where does it leave us? Is our position inherently inferior then?

Not at all, it’s absolutely perfect for us. This is our place in devotional hierarchy and this is what it means for us to be a servant of a servant of a servant. Our gurus are two steps away from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, and Śrīla Prabhupāda was two steps away from Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī. Everybody is always two steps away from someone just like everybody has grandparents and doesn’t feel he needs to become his own father in order to appreciate them fully. It’s just silly to think like that but when we come to ISKCON it happens. This is all new to us and if we come from a culture where everybody can become a president then we naturally think that we can also become our gurus and approach Śrīla Prabhupāda ourselves. We do not see him as a grandparent yet, it hasn’t sunk in.

There’s a little story to illustrate in this regard. Śrīla Prabhupāda had a servant named Kartikeya, it was in the very early days, when devotees were still calling him svāmījī. Once, in Hawaii, Kartikeya wanted to present Prabhupāda with halava made from wheat germ rather than usual suji, semolina. Wheat germ is the most vitamin and mineral rich part of the wheat kernel and was/is considered a specialty, Kartikeya thought his guru deserved that.

It happened to be a rainy day and it was a bit cold, so Śrīla Prabhupāda called for halava, which he liked on cold days. Kartikeya cooked a pot and presented Śrīla Prabhupāda with a nice, steaming hot bowl of wheat germ halava. Prabhupāda had a one look at it and dismissed it right away, with his left hand, which is the most offensive way to dismiss someone in Indian culture. I don’t know if Kartikeya was aware of that but he was heart-broken just the same. He ran downstairs to the temple room and let his tears flow. He sat in front of the picture of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and explained the situation: “All I wanted was to please my guru, your disciple, it was my only intention, but now it turned out all wrong and I was rejected.”

At this point he heard loud calling “KARTIKEYA! KARTIKEYA!” coming from upstairs. He rushed there not knowing what to think but Śrīla Prabhupāda told him to bring back that halava and ate the entire bowl. He then asked for a refill and ate the entire bowl again, until he ate everything that was in the pot.

Anyone who doubts that there’s a real connection between us, our gurus, and the rest of the paramparā deserves his heart being turned into stone. They all are always there for us, the fact that we don’t see or don’t feel them at any particular moment doesn’t mean anything, the connection is always there.

We will never be Prabhupāda’s disciples, but our gurus will never be his spiritual grandsons either, and as such they are missing on a lot of nectar, too, because grandparents always have special love for their grandchildren. There’s always special sweetness that their own children sometimes feel they don’t get their fair share of.

I’m not saying we are entitled to it but with honesty and humility it should always be available. It also means that it should be a special treat and we should not burden Prabhupāda with silly requests and use him to get around our spiritual parents.

Vanity thought #1472. Life and soul

Any talk about Prabhupāda Memories series that doesn’t give due credit to the deep love devotees feel for him would be incomplete. In fact, it’s the only lesson we really need to learn, everything else is superficial and only accommodates for our temporary interests. Śrīla Prabhupāda was/is their life and soul, and life and soul are far more important than the condition of our body, mind, or intelligence.

Unfortunately, and we can see it in real life, devotees had to accommodate their material desires, they drifted away, made careers, raised families, but all of this is superficial, even our dogfights over philosophical and institutional points. Kali yuga is the age of diversity, to put it mildly, conflicts arise for smallest of matters, people insult each other, commit offenses against the holy name, lose their taste and eventually their position in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but it’s all temporary and most of it doesn’t even register with Kṛṣṇa.

At the moment of our death we might feel strong attachments to material pleasures and it can be problematic but at least we don’t have to worry about Kṛṣṇa holding our sins against us, they don’t matter to Him. So, if we manage to remember Him when we die then all the superficial transgressions caused by the material nature will be written off as if they never happened. The only thing we need is our life and soul being where they belong – at the lotus feet of our guru and Kṛṣṇa.

So far I’ve come across two videos where devotees, when speaking about Prabhupāda, completely chocked on their emotions and broke down in tears. One was Kṛṣṇa Premī Dāsi, a well established singer who made quite a few sweet devotional records, so one would expect her to be a little sentimental, but it wasn’t like that at all. She wasn’t waxing lyrical and wasn’t even talking about singing but rather about quite an ordinary advice from Śrīla Prabhupāda – if you help Lord Caitanya to spread this movement He will give you all His blessings.

Simple things like that can completely trip up grown up men (or women, in this case). The whole talk was about how she and her husband should go about preaching in Sweden – whether it’s okay to wear suits when preaching in universities, what deities they should have, whether they should fly or travel overland. Then Prabhupāda went quiet and just watched them for a few minutes, and then he opened his eyes widely and asked her: “Who do you love more, Kṛṣṇa or your husband?”

She was caught completely off guard and couldn’t understand Prabhupāda’s mind. She realized that she didn’t love Kṛṣṇa at all, and, on second thought, she didn’t love her husband either. Seeing her confusion, Śrīla Prabhupāda grinned and delivered this blessing that she still can’t remember without breaking in tears. From the interview it appears they’ve discussed the content and she was going to talk about “Who do you love more?” question but, however prepared, she just couldn’t contain herself.

Simplest things can go so deep in our hearts that when we remember them all the outside world just goes away. That might not be technically a perfection in absolute terms but from our degraded position it’s as good as it ever going to get.

Another case was also of a musician, but this time a grown ass man Maṅgalānanda Prabhu. He didn’t have much personal association with Śrīla Prabhupāda, only attended a half a dozen lectures, following Prabhupāda on his tours of the US. His personal interest was in writing Kṛṣṇa conscious music using guitar and he was a part of some road show that eventually wound down.

I understand that not all of those roadshows were approved by either Prabhupāda or GBC, sometimes they went off the rails and were seen as over the top, so I can see why his local authorities were cool to the idea and didn’t offer much support, if not outright obstructed to using western instruments and western tunes, but that didn’t stop Maṅgalānanda who found his moment alone with Prabhupāda after a recording session in Los-Angeles.

Śrīla Prabhupāda was about to leave when Maṅgalānanda thought that it was now or never. He and his friend prepared a little demo and he came up to Prabhupāda, gave him the lyrics, and said that they had a few songs to show. The mere fact that Prabhupāda accepted his offering, sat down and agreed to listen melts Maṅgalānanda heart when he remembers the occasion.

Prabhupāda seemed to like the songs and asked what was the problem. Maṅgalānanda said that some of the big men didn’t approve of his approach to preaching but Prabhupāda said that sometimes you have to let the cows moo. “Go ahead,” he said, “and you will be successful.” This simple blessing, no big deal, as we hear this all the time in our movement, etched in that devotee’s heart forever.

These days we don’t give much weight to blessings, everybody’s got them, the problem is making them successful and we usually blame ourselves for bungling the mercy but it wasn’t like that for Maṅgalānanda, or for Kṛṣṇa Premī. They took these simple blessings very very personally and kept them deep within their hearts for the rest of their lives. Who can say their lives weren’t successful, devotionally speaking?

I can’t avoid a little doubt in my mind, however. Both of these devotees are musicians and so are somewhat more emotional than the general public so there’s always an excuse of sentimentalism, but I would rather put it down to incredibly soft hears of Kṛṣṇa’s devotees. AND they’ve been singing Kṛṣṇa’s glories all their lives. Why shouldn’t their hearts melt with love of God and Śrīla Prabhupāda? They are doing everything Lord Caitanya wanted us to do so their alleged sentimentalism is authorized.

Just listen to this video of one of Maṅgalānanda’s songs. It’s simple and pure, just as devotee’s heart should be. There’s nothing wrong with Kṛṣṇa Premī’s singing either, it’s perfect. Our musical tastes might be different but devotionally they are both absolutely perfect artists, and guru and Kṛṣṇa are clearly their life and soul.

Vanity thought #1471. Literally his

One distinguishing feature of Prabhupāda’s disciples is their utmost, unreserved faith in his words. Factually, not everyone was affected by this condition equally and we’ve learned to deal with this but I’m not sure how much we benefited from this accommodation.

“Prabhupāda memories” series in a good case study into this phenomenon. In preparation for Śrīla Prabhupāda centennial devotees went all over the world looking for all inactive Prabhupāda disciples they could find and interviewed them. I think videos come from these interviews but even if they didn’t the effort was there, it was documented and statistically processed and the conclusion is permanently etched into our memory. I have no reason to suspect other devotees has heard different conclusions as it was gradually propagated all throughout ISKCON.

These disciples were obviously what we call “in māyā”, some had simply taken the time off of active service, some just couldn’t restrain urges unacceptable in our society, some had philosophical differences, some greatly resented GBC and ISKCON as an institution. That time, early to mid nineties, was probably the first outreach effort by ISKCON to bring our entire family together. I’m not sure it was entirely sincere because it was also the time when our leaders discovered profound truth in literature like Seven Habits of Highly Successful People and created our first PR departments to control how we project ourselves.

Problem with this adoption of foreign techniques is that one can smell them a mile away, and many of our early members came out of a hippy movement where they had decades of operating BS radars with or without ISKCON so they couldn’t be fooled, and those who discovered them before ISKCON in their workplaces couldn’t be fooled either. In a way it was similar to book distributors quoting science or some well known authorities as if they supported our philosophy. It sounds great on surface but anyone familiar with what we are talking about becomes utterly disgusted with us appropriating their authorities to fool their people while pretending to be their friends.

I guess this needs examples but I’m not in the mood of digging up documented stories. Our devotees sometimes sold books on all kinds of pretenses. Exact value of this kind of saṅkīrtana is debatable, but it would cast our book distributors in a negative light and that would bring no good to anybody. There are cases of people becoming devotees by finding our books in most unexpected places where the original buyer would have been a “victim” of “fraudulent” saṅkīrtana methods. What price are we going to put on their devotion? Who can say bringing them to Kṛṣṇa was not worth it?

Back to the point – I don’t know why our leadership went for outside help there. I suspect the excesses of the eighties put a heavy block on the path towards our own humility and with all this baggage we simply couldn’t express ourselves without taking shelter in “sādhana” of PR. Perhaps we thought that by doing it we would gradually develop the actual sincerity, just as we are asked to offer obeisances even when we don’t feel like doing so.

On that note, Satsvarūpa Dāsa Gosvāmī talked about probably the first obeisances in ISKCON, In New York. He had a heavy workload and couldn’t come to lunch on time so he asked Śrīla Prabhupāda to save him some food. When he finally arrived the lunch was already over and nothing was left but Prabhupāda told him to sit down and then brought his saved plate. It’s at this moment that “Steven”, who wasn’t even sure Prabhupāda remembered his name at the time, offered obeisances to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s feet, grateful for the food and care, as Prabhupāda was towering over him. It didn’t go down well with others and many have left right at that point – where people started to bow down to Prabhupāda’s feet. It wasn’t a natural thing to do for those early devotees but some of them got used to it and then became disciples and the movement was born.

Anyway, regardless of how our effort was accepted, old devotees answered and the conclusion was that their personal memories of Śrīla Prabhupāda were unblemished, statistically speaking. They had absolutely no doubt that he was their eternal well-wisher and that’s what the rest of us understood from that survey, too.

“What’s wrong with it?”, one might ask. Excellent question. Nothing inherently bad, but “well-wisher” is still below “unquestionable authority”.

We often quote a verse from Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad:

yasya deve parā bhaktir
 yathā deve tathā gurau
tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ
 prakāśante mahātmanaḥ

“Only unto one who has unflinching devotion to the Lord and to the spiritual master does transcendental knowledge become automatically revealed.” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.23) Often it’s translated as “implicit faith” but I like this translation better (SB 2.9.43).

What is required is not simply seeing one’s guru as a well-wisher but having unflinching/implicit faith in his words, and this level of understanding was not supported by that survey. To find it we need to take our lessons from real Prabhupāda men, devotees who would take a bullet for Śrīla Prabhupāda and consider it a blessing.

Over the time we can find spots even in the most pristine character and this history might spoil our appreciation for their devotion but it should not discourage us from seeking it. Various memoirs give us plenty of clues if we bother to look. Everything Prabhupāda said in those days was accepted as absolute, unchangeable truth.

It was much much later that doubts started arising over whether Prabhupāda really said this or that particular thing, we even had a website investigating various claims. We also got Folio, and now all Prabhupāda’s letters and conversations are online, so we can check and double check everything, find inconsistencies, reconcile them, and, generally, approach the matter with greater intelligence and understanding. Not with greater devotion, though.

Second guessing our authorities is an obstacle to our progress. We won’t get any further, as simple as that, because intelligence and understanding can take us only so far. Consider an example of a simple devotee who, upon hearing “Prabhupāda said” goes and does that thing without a second thought because it would please both his immediate authority and Śrīla Prabhupāda.

A highly knowledgeable, independent thinker in his place would check the internet first, check with sources, check with previous ācāryas and then, by a stroke of luck, he might actually agree to follow – because it’s a right thing to do, not because out of love and service attitude. If he refuses to follow he might also say that by correcting his authorities he is doing them a service.

Yeah, well, sometimes mistakes are obvious and we can offer a correction but those cases should be exceptionally rare. We, however, take second guessing as a norm, as our modus operandi, and this attitude is atheistic in nature because we think ourselves to be in charge of our fate and our intelligence to be our guiding light.

I hope after many years of trying and after gradual increase in our understanding we’ll come to realize that at the end of the day taking the words of our guru and authorities is more beneficial than doubting them. I hope we will realize that we can’t possibly see the full picture and all the pitfalls of our personal decisions, and the only guarantee is faithfully following the authorities as they pass the knowledge down from Lord Caitanya Himself. Everything, absolutely everything done with devotion and faith will eventually prove itself to be right and all our speculations will prove themselves to be wrong, no matter how correct they look at the moment.

One might say that blind faith lead people to many stupid and harmful decisions, but so do our speculations, which makes sense only in the short term. No matter how convincing they look at the moment they entangle us in the chain of karma and real consequences will manifest themselves much much later, unexpectedly, and there would be nothing we could do about it then.

Eventually we will learn all of that and eventually we will realize that śāstra was right all along, and then we might develop unflinching faith in our guru, and only then the actual, spiritual import of his words will automatically be revealed. Until then all our “spirituality” will remain a product of our imagination.

Or we could save ourselves the trouble and try the benefits of unflinching faith right now, and so we should literally become Prabhupāda’s or our guru’s men, not just see them as well-wishers who might sometimes be useful.

Vanity thought #1470. Balance

Yesterday I said that I don’t know the spiritual significance of Śrīla Prabhupāda appearing on the day after Janmāṣṭamī but here’s another tactical reason – after midnight feast on Janmāṣṭamī and then both Śrīla Prabhupāda’s and Nandotsava feasts the following day devotees’ bodies must be overwhelmed with sugar and fats and all kinds of carbs, and so to return them to normalcy ekādaśī fast a day later is most welcome. This feasting, especially at irregular times, throws bodies off balance, and celebrations affect our minds, too, so sitting back and simply reading and chanting extra rounds on ekādaśī brings the order back to the universe.

That’s not the kind of balance I was going to talk about today, though. Yesterday I said that Janmāṣṭamī immerses us in Kṛṣṇa līlā while Prabhupāda remembrance roots us in our present, “material” service instead, and that these two effects counterbalance each other.

I’m not sure that Prabhupāda’s lack of interest in our thinking of Kṛṣṇa is a real thing and I don’t think it does justice to him or to his memories, so I want to counterbalance that.

It was only my impression after watching a series of videos and, perhaps, it’s the selection of those videos that produced this bias. If I find a couple of hours and sit down and watch another set of Prabhupāda memories this bias would disappear naturally. I’ve tried, it works, but the first impression is usually the strongest one so it still stays, too. Where did it come from?

As I looked over all uploaded videos on the topic I noticed that there are very few ones by active members of our society. Wherever they appear they look like clips from lectures or separate events, not sit-downs with the series producers and interviewers. Perhaps the idea was to find those who left ISKCON and record their recollections and active members were included as an afterthought, perhaps specifically to dilute the kind of impression I got myself.

Devotees who are not engaged in spiritual practices naturally see the world around them from a materialistic perspective. Sometimes their new habits shine through their tilakas and contrast greatly with the spiritual significance of their words, they don’t look and sound like devotees anymore. Some of their talk about Śrīla Prabhupāda is still self-centered, they just can’t help it. There’s one devotee who spent half his time on describing his own path, slowly leading to “Oh, and then I met Prabhupāda” introduction, and then ending with “Prabhupāda immediately singled me out from the crowd”. That’s how special there were, which is still true, btw.

Hansadutta rose an interesting topic in this regard – the meaning of his name. He might have been talking about himself but his plea to Prabhupāda to know what it means is legitimate. Unfortunately, Śrīla Prabhupāda never gave him a satisfactory answer and so if someone accuses him of leaving ISKCON he can legitimately shoot back that Prabhupāda bungled his name and didn’t even tell him what it means so until that issue is resolved there are grounds for pouting and obstructing. This kind of resentment is a tiny little thing but it adds spice to the relationships and so we should not be quickly to judge and take sides. Hansadutta is still very dear to Prabhupāda and always will be, we are incomparable to him.

The point was that if devotees direct their consciousness towards some material pursuits then naturally they’d appreciate Prabhupāda turning this kind of pursuits into devotional service and would not talk about “always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget” solution of the slackers like me. To them service means doing something while I, perhaps foolishly, try to distill service to reading, listening and chanting. I think that in my case everybody is cool with that but it’s not inconceivable that someday more will be required of me and then I’d naturally shift stress to doing actual service rather than sitting around and “thinking”.

It’s just the nature of the modern day ISKCON – we wouldn’t know what to do with all our ex- and sleeper devotees if all of them one day decided to come back and demand service. And it’s not only ISKCON management that can’t handle it, these people themselves won’t come back because of lack of their surrender. Given service is great but service offered is greater, the first one is mercy, the second one is pure bhakti. Maybe one day an effulgent ācārya would appear once again and re-energize our movement so that sleepers get tired of sleeping and worrying about what will happen to them if they engaged actively with ISKCON, and our leaders will stop worrying that they don’t have enough service opportunities and can’t possibly take responsibility and provide for everybody, as they’ve been taught in management seminars.

We are all very cautious now and we are averse to risks, and there are a couple of testimonies to show that it wasn’t like that in the early days. One is by Uttamaśloka and there he talks how he was planning to buy an expensive property as a temple and Prabhupāda said that “we don’t want to buy anxiety” because paying for it would take all the energy of the devotees. This kind of opposition went for a long time, for several months, but at the end Prabhupāda slammed his fist on the table and proclaimed that “anxiety must there, otherwise we will just sit and eat prasādam all day”.

Another story was by Śyāmasundara and there he talks about financial difficulties with maintaining the temple in San-Francisco and how in the most desperate moment, when they were about to be evicted, they walked down an empty street and suddenly hundred dollar bills were simply floating through the air in their direction. They still don’t know where they came from but their immediate problems were solved, and that’s all that matters. He said they had trust in Kṛṣṇa and Prabhupāda in those days but now it’s gone, devotees have become cautious.

His then wife, Mālati, told a story in a similar vein. For some reason she and her husband got sentenced to five years in prison but were released just after twenty four days. Prabhupāda had already arrived in San Francisco and she hurried to his flat straight out of jail. She knocked, he opened the door and matter-of-factly told here that he just thought the day before that five years was too much. She still doesn’t know why and how she was released, her parole officer couldn’t understand it herself.

Same thing happened to Upendra who got sentenced to several months in jail for possession of marijuana (he was caught before he got initiated, I understand). The judge offered him some time for himself before turning in and Upendra flew to LA where Prabhupāda was at the time. He offered his prostrated obeisances and put Prabhupāda’s feet on his head. That’s when Prabhupāda told him that he was a good boy and he would be released in only a few days, and then it actually happened.

Now I am describing memorable memories, which is an auspicious activity in itself, but I think it’s time to stop.

Vanity thought #1469. Memories of Srila Prabhupada

Just as Janmāṣṭamī is the day we are supposed to dedicate to remembering Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s appearance day is the day to immerse ourselves in memories of him. I don’t know if the fact that Śrīla Prabhupāda was born right after Janmāṣṭamī has any spiritual significance but it was a good strategy on Kṛṣṇa’s part.

Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are fascinating, if we watch the videos of Vṛndāvana or of devotees retelling them it naturally arises attachment in our hearts but, speaking for myself, it’s mostly a sentimental reaction. If we remember Śrīla Prabhupāda’s pastimes the next day we get a nice comparison that should help us check our pride and put us back on track. The spiritual components of both of these pastimes are non-different while external, not so important impacts, cancel each other out.

By listening to Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes we get attracted to Vṛndāvana and it makes us feel that nothing else matters, that simply continuing in this vein indefinitely is the real path to bhakti. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s pastimes, however, demand us being and serving now and here, work first, samādhi later. When the importance of this dictum finally enters our consciousness Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, so important just the day before, somehow fade away and seem like undeserved indulgence.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples shared plenty of memories, just type it into google and you are all set, not just for the day but probably for the rest of your life because by the time you take a second round of what is out there you’ll forget how it sounded the first time and it would seem as fresh as ever.

I spent the day looking at video testimonies recorded for Śrīla Prabhupāda centennial almost twenty years ago. You can find them on this Youtube channel and I don’t know how many of them are there, the stream seems endless. They have been uploaded only a couple of years ago but I believe they are DVD rips from “Prabhupada Memories” series sold on the internet. I think they are from the centennial celebrations because they feature devotees who long left this world since, and their words somehow seem more precious.

They all follow the same format, devotees sitting in front of the camera and speaking of their memories for a couple of minutes, not just general appreciation but something specific to them, often something no one has ever heard before, and so each recording is unique and heartfelt, and very personal, the most precious thing they are willing to share after all these years. I wanted to continue “all this years in the movement” but here’s the thing – many of these devotees have left ISKCON and some of them are quite inimical to us, and yet they all agreed to say something about Prabhupāda, who remains the patriarch of our sometimes feuding family.

Their names have become loaded and not all cognitive associations are beneficial for our spiritual progress. I don’t want people to think about pedophilia when hearing about certain persons, for example, so I’ll leave the names out, there’s a good reason not to dwell on negatives, as I’ve learned from one of the videos.

The “no more with ISKCON” devotees stand out as they look like they’ve just been dragged off the streets, drawn large tilakas on their foreheads, and put right in front of the camera. Some are openly gay, some came in drag, some look like new age massage gurus, you get everything. Sometimes their narratives are also out of sync with those who still stay and that sometimes unnerved me.

There was one devotee who denigrated Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s order to print books to a mere suggestion and turned Śrīla Prabhupāda’s success into mere choice to pick up one of such suggestions and run away with it. There’s this subtle implication that you can do whatever you want if you do it right and it’s really up to you. This means that you can’t judge anyone and all the paths lead to the same goal, and you are a master of your own success, guru is there only to provide help. There’s a GBC injunction to avoid association with this devotee, btw, and now I can see another reason why.

Another devotee in the series completely refuted this approach. He remembered how he and some other senior devotees went to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s room and caught him chanting japa while tears were flowing like rivers down his face. They were completely shocked that they walked onto a such intimate moment and they dropped on the floor in prostrated obeisances to make themselves invisible. When they finally got a chance to speak they were full of admiration and praise for Prabhupāda because they just saw that he was such a great devotee. Without even having time to think Śrīla Prabhupāda simply responded: “No, no, no, it’s all my guru mahārāja.”

We really have nothing but the mercy of our guru, no matter what success we think we achieved by a combination of external factors and our efforts.

This, btw, was delivered by a devotee who Śrīla Prabhupāda personally promised to come and save at the time of his death. He left the movement, engaged himself in most abominable activities, and when he was dying of AIDS one of his godbrothers went to find him in some slum, picked him up, put him in a rented apartment, and arranged with one of his godsisters who served with him in the early days to take care of him in this last stage of his life. He left this world in a very auspicious atmosphere and in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, which would have been impossible and unthinkable if he was left on his own. This story of his departure only confirms his testimony of Śrīla Prabhupāda – “It’s all by the mercy of my guru mahārāja.”

In another video an ISKCON devotee talked about one of his godbrothers who went into yoga and was still using ISKCON name to collect donations for his new, yogī guru. He thought Śrīla Prabhupāda would immediately disown him but, on the contrary, Prabhupāda said that “You have no idea of the extent of Lord Nityānanda’s mercy”. Soon enough that devotee was back in the fold, confirming that Lord Nityānanda has unlimited patience with our foolishness, not that we should exploit it or anything.

Once again, the common theme through all these testimonials is that Śrīla Prabhupāda engaged his disciples in whatever capacity they had. Maybe it was my biased selection but no one has ever said that Śrīla Prabhupāda thought their lives didn’t matter as long as they remembered Kṛṣṇa. No, he looked for and appreciated every bit of service they performed in their otherwise conditioned and illusioned state. Our guru is not just the “spritiual” master, no, he comes and saves our material form, too. We might not think much of our material activities but the guru comes and turns them into service, so they always matter even though we might think that chanting is our only real life.

That was a sobering thought for me – we can’t rely on our inner spiritual beauty blossoming out of nowhere sometime in the future. Remembering Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes might indicate that this is what’s important, but the guru comes and reminds us that we need to purify our present, material consciousness, which is a real, not an illusory thing, and it’s this present consciousness that needs to be engaged as much as possible. We can’t just switch off and say “This is nothing, it’s what I do for my job, never mind that”. It’s not nothing, it’s time taken away from the service to our guru, as if we do not understand the value of guru’s mercy. It should mean everything to us and not a bit less.

Vanity thought #1439. I’ll be damned

Recently I came across an old letter, written in 1994, which was publicized a couple of years ago and produced a strong reaction in those who noticed it. I haven’t seen anyone articulate a coherent response to it, however. Usual critics went with their usual criticism but a more discerning public just paused in wonder without announcing any judgments. The idea was for the readers to make their own minds, I guess. Well, I tried to, and it’s not easy.

I probably shouldn’t be talking about it as all as it involves disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda who are, by definition, above criticism. I can’t tell them how to live their spiritual lives, not can I tell they are living it wrong. We should all remember the case of Jīva Gosvāmī who corrected his senior and was banished from Vṛndāvana. The subject itself appears to us as a clear cut example of correcting an obvious error for the everybody’s benefit and so we think Jīva did nothing wrong but we are seriously mistaken here.

We should look at it not from ours or even Jīva’s POV but from the position of Rūpa Gosvāmī. He sets the standards of vaiṣṇava etiquette for us, not our own assumptions. If he says it’s wrong and gets very very serious about it we should take notice. What makes no visible difference for us in our deluded state might make or break our spiritual health in the eyes of those with true spiritual vision.

I will be damned if I use this letter as a criticism of the devotee who wrote it, so I need an excuse. Mine is that sentiments expressed there are becoming universal in ex-ISKCON circles and do not have to be tied to the source anymore. It’s a common argument they make whenever the topic comes up. If one wants to know the official ISKCON position on the devotee in question, there’s a pdf one can read that contains all pertinent information. I’ll just go with this one paragraph from the letter in question:

    Let me share with you what I believe to be the greatest problem facing Iskcon today.
    Iskcon is suffering from, of all things, over-glorification of Srila Prabhupada. Of course we cannot glorify him enough, but when glorification is not founded in philosophy it turns to fanaticism. I realize that in bringing this out I may have lost the interest of many of you. These days practically anyone who waves the banner of “All Glories to Srila Prabhupada” is, in the minds of many, beyond reproach. Our Prabhupada, however, taught us much differently, rupanuga viruddhapa siddhanta dvanta harine. Padma Purana states, sruti smriti puranadi pancarartra viddhim vina aikantiki harer bhaktir utpatya eva kalpate. In Prabhupada’s words, “Religion without philosophy is fanaticism.” That philosophical issues such as the origin of the jiva soul, its “fall down,” the principle of accepting a siksha guru, etc. are major controversies in Iskcon stems from this fanaticism, which results in quoting and understanding Srila Prabhupada out of context. This threatens the very foundation of Iskcon. Statements like, “Prabhupada siddhanta,” “Prabhupada’s sampradaya,” “Prabhupada is greater than Rupa Goswami,” and so on at some time and place may be remotely appropriate, yet when institutionalized, they are Prabhupada’s greatest nightmare. We cannot embrace this mood of fanaticism, yet we would like to embrace all of our Godbrothers in Iskcon on the basis of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy and the true love that its application gives rise to. We would like to cooperate and learn from you, but we also feel strongly that you also have something to learn. The world is not revolving around Iskcon, and if this fanaticism continues, it is questionable if even Srila Prabhupada will remain in Iskcon. I realize that these are strong statements, yet if further discussion ensues I assure you that you will find that they are not easy to dismiss.

Sometimes people quote only the first two sentences but those who defend the devotee in question give the whole paragraph as if the context and explanation erase the shocking effect of the opening. They do, to some extent, but not completely.

As I said, I don’t want to focus on the possible fallacies in this particular package itself but on errors in the attitude which it invokes in that devotee’s followers.

“Of course we cannot glorify him enough” is common, and it always follows by “but”, and it’s this “but” that changes everything. Devil’s in the details, as they say, and this “but” opens doors to unacceptable things.

Fanaticism is bad but it’s not lethal in one’s service, we all must suffer from it from time to time. Ordinarily we are expected to grow out of it but in my case it’s a recurring phenomenon so I’m not sure about it. I find safety in what others call fanaticism, I’d rather stay with what I learned and be accused of fanaticism than try to accommodate demands of others just to be liked.

Statements such as “Prabhupada siddhanta,” “Prabhupada’s sampradaya,” “Prabhupada is greater than Rupa Goswami” might be over the top but I personally never ever heard anyone in ISCKON making them, and if they did most would just shrug their shoulders and discount it as unrestrained but understandable emotion. No one seriously considers Prabhupāda to be greater than Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, unless there’s a long qualifier attached to it just as the rest of the paragraph qualifies “over-glorification”. No one would equally consider “Prabhupāda siddhānta” as a separate philosophy or “Prabhupāda sampradāya” as a separate tradition. It would make sense when talking about post-Prabhupāda time and diversity of ex-ISKCON devotees but not next to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava siddhānta or Gauḍīya sampradāya. I’ve never heard these expressions anyway, could be a strawman.

What I have a particular issue with is this sentence: “That philosophical issues such as the origin of the jiva soul, its “fall down,” the principle of accepting a siksha guru, etc. are major controversies in Iskcon stems from this fanaticism, which results in quoting and understanding Srila Prabhupada out of context.”

It implies that we don’t understand Prabhupāda’s position on the origin of jīva (but this particular devotee does). It’s my impression that these days it’s only ISKCON devotees who maintain “Back to Godhead” understanding, maybe rittviks, too, but everyone else, including those nominally in Gauḍīya Maṭhas, are all on “no-fall-vāda” bandwagon. They all state with supreme confidence that this is true siddhānta and only fools still don’t know that it is.

This is one of the biggest “buts” in accepting Prabhupāda as a guru and an ācārya. Prabhupāda’s position on this issue is unequivocal, I don’t think the letter writer(s) really meant that we, the ISKCON, misunderstand him on this. What they subsequently argue is that Prabhupāda himself was wrong but they got it right. They, however, are mature and generous enough to accept Prabhupāda as he is, with all his faults, of which ignorance of the siddhānta is just one.

See how that last sentence makes it sound normal? It’s one of the amazing tricks of māyā to lull us into a sense of false normalcy. The underlying principle is, perhaps, best summarized in one of the quotes presented in the linked pdf above – one guru says this, another guru says that, but we are free to take what we want from both of them and produce a third idea, a synthesis.

This synthesis is then called a siddhanta and everyone must accept it and judge both his own guru and predecessor ācāryas against it. In public they speak about this “siddhanta” as if it’s something sacred and “everybody knows”, all dissent is thought of as foolish and all previous ācāryas who disagreed must be accepted as erroneous and in need of correction.

To hell with it and with these people, really, I’ll be damned but this nonsense cannot be tolerated. We can’t stop them from doing their thing but we should never ever allow this stuff penetrate our own consciousness. Whatever else they say in apparent praise of Prabhupāda must be rejected as poisoned milk and as a highest level of hypocrisy. Rūpa Gosvāmī would be furious with their attitudes, no doubt about it, so I’m not in a bad company here.

Vanity thought #1164. “Transcendental” departure

Today is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance day. No one is happy when ācāryas leave this world but generally we accept it as a transcendental pastime and consider their reunion with Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world as a perfect conclusion of their lives. Sad for us, good for them. We also talk about how ācāryas’ lives go on through their books and instructions, and, of course memories, which is good for us.

All of that is true but it also masks the grim reality of death. We choose to focus on “transcendental” aspects of our faith instead. We accept Kṛṣṇa’s hand where we often see nothing but human suffering. Some deaths are easier than others, some vaiṣṇavas leave this world in a cheerful mood, Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t, he suffered like you won’t wish anyone else. And now we say it was transcendental.

Okay, it was transcendental, but I would argue that we corrupted the meaning of transcendence here to suit our own needs, primarily to fool ourselves into believing that death is nothing but unspeakable ugliness. We call it “transcendental” not because we see it as such but because we refuse to accept the reality of someone dying. We want it to be all about rainbows and unicorns instead.

I mean it’s easy – transcendental existence is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss. What is eternal about someone dying? Our memories? Okay, but those are *our* memories, the person who is dying surely does not want to “relish” them again and again.

We can say that death is an eternal solution but, again, it’s only from our perspective. The same soul who dies today will get to live a new life tomorrow. And when talking about vaiṣṇavas we also talk about eternity of their pastimes and teachings, not eternity of the death itself.

It’s more likely that waiting for someone to die feels like an eternal torture. We don’t know what is best – quick departure or drawn out struggle for half conscious existence filled with unimaginable pain. We can’t commit ourselves to either outcome, we can’t admit that sometimes we wish death would come faster, and we can’t really say “I wish you’d live like that for another year”.

This was very obvious during Prabhupāda’s last couple of months. He himself and devotees who were with him were torn between wishing for staying here or moving on. Sometimes they seemed to be resigned that Prabhupāda was about to leave this world, sometimes they prayed that he’d stay a bit longer. When his body didn’t cooperate they also realized that keeping Prabhupāda here artificially wasn’t in HIS best interests. One day they were all full of hope and plans, the next day reality of hopelessly deteriorating health overwhelmed them. New doctors meant new hopes, new failures meant new desperation.

So, where was I? There is no eternity in death. There’s certainly no bliss. No one would describe Prabhupāda’s last days as blissful. As a spirit soul he might have been, as a body it would be a gross misrepresentation of reality.

Problem is that we don’t know what is real and what is not. We assume that Śrīla Prabhupāda experienced some other level of reality and we say that on that level he was happy, but that is just our assumption. I would say that every time he directed his consciousness through his body he felt enormous pain. We (or rather our seniors) did not relate to him on any other level of reality but through his body. All we could see is body dying in excruciating pain. No bliss.

The bliss could have been there on occasions, I would not argue against that, but there’s no permanent, uninterrupted bliss in the dying body.

Maybe there was full knowledge. I hope there was full knowledge and Śrīla Prabhupāda wasn’t forced by an illusion to think he was his body. It doesn’t have to be material illusion, btw, spiritual illusion works just the same, like it did for the residents of earthly Vṛndāvana or Māyāpura. I hope that this illusion is not as painful to experience as the material one, but from the looks of it it feels just the same.

Then the question would be “what is full knowledge?” From a paramahṃsa POV it might be very different from what we, conditioned beings, consider as knowledge. When we talk about full knowledge we tend to ask questions about actual geometry of the universe or subtle bodies of ghosts and spirits or lots of other questions that seems important to us. I seriously doubt that ācāryas struggling through the experience of their death possess that kind of knowledge at the time.

So, what exactly does “transcendence” mean in such cases?

I’m afraid the very best scenario is complete detachment and indifference to the goings on of one’s body. Is it in pain? Is it dying? Do its systems shut off one by one? Does it have any dignity left? None of that would concern a “transcendental” person. That last question is important.

When Śrīla Prabhupāda’s body was about to die his disciples were trying to maintain his usual appearance and persona. He was supposed to be an all-knowing, all-powerful man, the leader of a spectacular world-wide movement, naturally drawing respect and admiration. That’s not how he looked on his death bed, though. That look is not how our leaders wanted the world to remember him – the video of his last days and his last rites were not shown publicly and I think it was ISKCON official policy to restrict its viewing.

I think it was a sensible decision but sooner or later devotees need to come to grips with the reality of death – it’s undignified. We don’t want our ācāryas to look like that. They, however, are transcendental to what we or anybody else thinks of their bodies and their legacy.

This last point is important, too – we need to preserve ācāryas’ legacy for ourselves and for the future generations but I would argue that paramahaṃsas leave these matters to Kṛṣṇa, they are not attached to universal glory, nor do they take any credits for their achievements in this world. They don’t care about their legacy, we do.

The knowledge of a departing vaiṣṇava is full but obviously not in our sense. Knowing that Kṛṣṇa is God is already full knowledge, for example. We sort of know it, too, but we also add a lot of conditions that reflect our attachments to this world. For a departing vaiṣṇava there should be no such conditions left, the less he “knows” about our material subjects the better. The moment of perfection is probably when material mind and intelligence give up completely and there’s only faith and dependence on the Lord. We can’t see it, we still search for sings of external consciousness but there’s nothing transcendental about it.

Then there’s realization that complete detachment from body’s interests is impossible. Even Lord Caitanya maintained connection with external world. Living here forces us to be self-interested and egotistical, they don’t talk about instinct of self-preservation for nothing. This seems incompatible with our understanding of transcendence, too. When we see it in our ācāryas we assume that it’s spiritual but that might not be the case – it could be just the body being itself, that’s all.

In our vision of transcendence we usually erase the line between the body and the soul when we talk about our ārāryas but the distinction is always there. Body of a vaiṣṇava is spiritual, true, but not in the sense that it’s made of purely spiritual energy, it’s the same inferior material energy like for the rest of us but it has been perfectly engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service.

It’s an all-important difference but it does not completely eradicate the usual faults of material bodies, and these faults are not “transcendental”. They might be endearing to Kṛṣṇa and to the devotees but the truth is that we should see ALL material energy as transcendental, as connected with Kṛṣṇa, faults and all. In paramahaṃsa vision there are no faults per se. Everything looks perfect and everything is worshipable.

So, I might have drawn a disturbing picture of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance but I would insist that all aspects of it are perfect, we just have to learn to see it that way, or at least accept that these “imperfections” are result of our poor vision, that they don’t really exist.

I guess what I meant to say that death in all its gore is as perfect as the best moments of anyone’s life, we need to learn to see that perfection rather than mask our lack of realization with empty talks about “transcendence”.