Vanity thought #1798. Jaganmithya

I have not decided what to do with this blog yet. I don’t think I’ll continue it in the current form because it doesn’t fit my “lifestyle” anymore. I wrote these articles when I was consuming a lot of information and I thought I’d regurgitate it in some Kṛṣṇa related manner and in the form of “vanity thoughts” – because I wanted to see myself posting 1000 blog entries, each over 1000 words long, and never miss a day, for example. None of these reasons exists anymore. Gone.

I’ve stopped subscription to a local newspaper and I can’t believe how much simpler my mental world has become. The newspaper provided structure, a coherent narrative which I could fill with random news bits gathered elsewhere but now this structure is gone and whenever I see something on TV or on the internet I don’t know where to put it or bother to process it and so it just goes past me. At first I thought I’d read the same news on the computer but when I scroll through my feed now I don’t want to click on many of the stories that would have been of interest to me in the past because without that supporting narrative, the structure, they are senseless. They have background that I don’t want to investigate and they’ll present conclusions I’m not interested to read.

Actually, dabbling in Sāṅkhya helps a lot here because just by looking at the headline I can see what kind of flavor the article offers and decide to decline it, or indulge, as sometimes happens. The most obvious example is BBC’s “ten things we didn’t know last week” series. It clearly offers a summary of exciting things that happened last week but since I don’t want to taste that excitement I don’t want to keep myself “updated”, no matter what the actual news were. I can’t stand any more of those “bash Trump” moments either. I don’t care what he did or didn’t do, I just don’t want to hear any of those “you can’t believe..” stories. That’s the prime example of carvita-carvaṇānām for me at the moment – chewing the chewed and still expecting some flavor to come out of it.

Lots of stuff have gone that way in the past couple of months. I don’t generally click on “this is what really happened” articles either because, for one thing, life is complicated, devil is in the details, and I don’t have the energy to investigate stuff, but, more importantly, I don’t want to taste the flavor of smugness which is usually delivered with this type of writing.

Once again, big thanks to Sāṅkhya for explaining how news stories, and this includes vaiṣṇava news as well, come not from events themselves but from desires the authors want to satisfy. Just by sensing these desires it’s easy to decide whether indulging in their manifestations is attractive or not. Once you replace reading this stuff with reading Bhāgavatam or remembrances of Śrīla Prabhupāda the attractiveness of anything else automatically fades. I hope this is what’s happening to me, too.

I might continue with covering “Mystic Universe” because there are a few areas there that I want to investigate again but I don’t know when I’ll be up for it. It’s not a pressing matter. This effort will have no effect on the chandelier model of the universe which will be presented at TOVP and even if that model will appear inadequate in some respects I have no objections because it’s not worth fretting over. The temple will be awesome, the sooner they finish it the better, and the few perceived “mistakes” here and there won’t matter much.

In the big scheme of things, nothing matters much – hence the post title. We don’t usually take these words of Śaṅkarācārya seriously but they are not wrong because they can also be found in Niralamba Upaniṣad. Whatever conclusions māyāvādīs draw from them is their problem. Everything in this world is temporary, including happiness derived from observing these temporary phenomena. This happiness is hopelessly corrupt because it is contaminated by innumerable iterations of three modes of nature acting on the moral principles of mahat-tattva, which are originally seen as “goodies” separate from and independent of the Lord. Our universe is about hundred and fifty trillion years old – that’s a lot of modifications to something that was wrong from the start.

By the standards of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam all of it is tasteless. The whole tree of the universe, from roots to fruits. One could object that a devotee sees everything in connection with Kṛṣṇa so we don’t reject this world but rather engage it in its proper function, reuniting it with the Supreme, but I’m not so sure about what it is exactly we are supposed to reunite. What if you see someone eager to enjoy separately from Kṛṣṇa, thinking “I’ve finally got something for myself and I’ll have a jolly good time with it”? I would say that these people should not be disturbed and we should definitely not try to partake in their “happiness” ourselves. I would say that what a devotee sees in this situation is Lord’s energy satisfying desires of helpless and delusional living beings.

An example of Vaṁśīdāsa Bābājī comes to mind who didn’t talk to people at all. When we engage with someone on our level of reality we assume that we are communicating with an entity which, in reality, doesn’t exist. Vaṁśīdāsa Bābājī didn’t make such assumptions and didn’t reply, he only talked to his deities and if people construed answers to their questions from his talk it was good enough for them but Vaṁśīdāsa didn’t care if they made sense of his “replies” or not. There were exceptions, of course, but that was his general behavior.

Our philosophy is subtle on this point – the world exists but it’s connected to Kṛṣṇa as His energy so it’s not correct to say that Bhāgavatam speaker does not exist, or Bhāgavatam blasphemer, for that matter, but when a jīva desires to glorify the Lord our minds should immediately get attracted and relish in the effort and when a jīva forgets the Lord and goes on about his own adventures our minds should “forget” this misguided effort, too. A jīva is not obliged to anything in this world but the Lord and has no relationships with anyone but the Lord so we are not required to interact with anything or anyone we see here. Our bodies will do this task as determined by their guṇa and karma, we should not take personal interest in these forced interactions.

Even when we see guru and devotees we should know that it’s the Lord reaching out to us through His trusted agents, and also that Lord’s messengers are integral parts of the Absolute Truth and so non-different from the Lord as well. On our current level of reality it’s the main way the Lord can reach us because we can perceive guru and devotees with our senses. Of course there’s also a deity form and the Name but the range of communications with a guru is much wider. We can’t build a relationship with the Lord, or with the Holy Name, without simultaneously building a relationship with the guru. One does not exist without the other.

As for all those other jīvas scurrying about in search of ephemeral happiness – who cares? The more we hear topics concerning the Lord from the mouths of devotees the less interest in those mundane lives we will have ourselves. This is the method to turn transcendental reality into our own experience, especially in this age. It will be wise for us to take to it wholeheartedly.

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Vanity thought #1667. Dealing with “mythology”

One of the most obvious questions about stories in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is “How is it even possible?” We don’t normally asks it ourselves and we reserve it for total neophytes and we give the answer only once. I’m not sure it’s a consciously thought out strategy, however.

When we discuss Bhāgavatam topics with devotees we don’t raise doubts like that anymore. A devotee by definition should accept Bhāgavatam as self-evident truth which should not be subjected to critical questioning and this principle provides us with a safe environment. It doesn’t mean we actually know the answer, though, it means we protect ourselves from ever being asked and it’s not the same thing.

Typical answer in devotional circles is that these stories are incomprehensible in our conditioned state. With our current vision we can’t even see the universe for what it is, with Mount Meru, flat Bhū-maṇḍala and possibly round Earth globe floating near the shore. We also say that due to Kali yuga we lost purity necessary for controlling the matter through mantras and so can’t direct thousands of arrows to invisible targets or trigger ancient nuclear bombs or build Vedic airplanes. It’s only a matter of contamination, we say, otherwise Bhāgavatam stories would make perfect sense.

On the subject of the battle of Kurukṣetra we say that it was quite possible to have millions and millions of soldiers, elephants, and horses to be there and fight on a relatively small piece of land. It was all magically stretchable just like the land of Vṛndāvana where Kṛṣṇa could easily go from one place to another and come back in a matter of minutes whereas it takes us half a day on a motoriksha to reach there. It’s just a matter of our personal limited perspective, we say, when we develop proper spiritual visions these things will be easily reconciled.

That might be true and it is certainly a good explanation for fellow devotees but we haven’t seriously tried it on atheists yet, afaik. Atheists are a different bunch and they are by nature very skeptical of such claims. In fact, they cannot possibly take them at the face value and therefore treat our scriptures as mythology. If they ever discuss scriptures with us they grant us temporary right to delude ourselves and approach us with “let’s not raise that ridiculous aspect of your books for a moment and indulge in philosophy, maybe there’s something valuable in that” attitude. This means that they never take our books seriously and discuss them with us like adults discuss fairy tales with kids.

I’m not sure how much benefit they can extract from these conversations even if they otherwise go smoothly. Are we hoping to impress them with philosophy to such a degree that they forget the ridiculous part of our books? Forget doesn’t mean accept as true, however, and without this acceptance they’ll never become devotees, only mildly curious well-wishers.

It isn’t such a bad outcome but why should we settle on it? Is it only because we can’t explain the stories in a way that makes them believable? Would it be much better if we were able to dispel all their doubts? I think the obvious answer is yes. We don’t need to take Śrīmad Bhāgavatam on faith, we KNOW that it’s true in every aspect, we just don’t know how it is so and we don’t know how to explain it properly. There are plenty of devotees who try but we still haven’t got one consistent and widely accepted theory. The argument about Flat Earth perfectly demonstrates our confusion here and the fact is that it’s not going to be solved any time soon.

One approach could be to suggest the possibility how Bhāgavatam might be true even if we can’t explain every detail of it. Nor do we need to explain every detail because figuring out how the universe works is not our goal but rather a waste of time. Another fact is that even Lord Brahmā doesn’t know the universe in full and to every being between us and him it looks slightly different. There can’t be full consensus on this issue by definition – we are all conditioned and we are all in illusion, and those who are free from illusion do not waste time on documenting the universe in full either. This desire to know and understand the universe is caused by illusion and once the illusion is withdrawn it goes away and gets replaced by spiritual knowledge, but still in doses carefully measured by Kṛṣṇa, or rather by His yoga-māyā potency that provides us only with what is necessary for our service.

So, the answer to “how does it work” is that it’s “on the need to know basis”. Okay, but how much to we need to know right now and, especially, how much do we need to know for preaching? Not much. Whatever concerns I raised in the beginning haven’t stopped Śrīla Prabhupāda, for example. He didn’t give detailed answers to many of the questions raised by skeptics and devotees didn’t push him for it. This kind of questioning does not suit the relationship between a guru and his disciples so we didn’t indulge. If it didn’t stop Prabhupāda why should it stop us?

We just have to demonstrate that human form of life begins with athāto brahma jijñāsa¸ that it’s time to inquire about spirit, not matter. Even if we talk to atheists we should still press this point – learn about the soul first, learn that it’s different from the body and it doesn’t die. Learn what is mind, learn how it works, learn how to control it and learn how to engage it in the service of the Supreme. Knowledge of the universe is irrelevant to the spiritual inquiry and the moment it becomes relevant it reveals itself to the necessary degree, no more and no less, we shouldn’t worry about it.

We do not avoid difficult questions about Bhāgavatam because we don’t know the answers, we avoid them because they hijack the spiritual inquiry – an entirely different reason. Will we ever be caught having to actually produce the answers instead of admitting we don’t know anything and our books might be factually wrong? I seriously doubt it. Kṛṣṇa would never put us in such a situation just as He’d never make us starve and force us to subside on meat. Questions like these should not rise in the company of devotees and so we should not be forced to avoid them at all. It’s just not a problem.

There are, however, some ideas on how to reply to these questions on scientific terms but I’ll leave them for another day.

Vanity thought #1275. Off the chest

I’ve been collecting some grievances for a while now and can’t resist the temptation to spill them out in the open. It’s probably not the right thing to do but I’m going with modern psycho therapy here – it’s better to articulate your issues and start dealing with them then keep them bottled up only to have them spring out on you when you least expect it.

Practically, this means that next time I talk about these devotees my perception of them could be colored by long held biases and this might lead to some serious misunderstandings and breaks in communication.

So, in no particular order and without any names…

There’s one devotee whose dedication to service of our mission has always fascinated me. He is steadfast, unpretentious, austere, and does nothing but preaching. He also regularly runs massive kīrtana melās. It’s these long kīrtanas that I could never get so I decided to give it a go and listen carefully, maybe I missed something due to a lack of concentration.

Maybe I got the wrong recording but I it started with mahārāja constantly telling people how to sing. Turns out he has an accompanying kīrtana group that has been playing with him for some time and they have certain standards to uphold. Devotees in the audience just couldn’t get it and were out of sync (not out of tune). They were less enthusiastic when expected, overly enthusiastic when kīrtana was supposed to be slow and quiet, something was always wrong and mahārāja had to correct them nearly at every step.

All in all I got an impression that it was all about perfect performance rather than singing and listening to the Holy Name. Then there was a long riff without any singing at all that left me totally convinced that it was more of a concert than a kīrtana.

Yes, his band has mastered musical instruments and is very pleasing to the ear but I’m not sure it was equally pleasing to the Lord. I can understand playing music in front of the deities but even that is not usually practiced in our tradition. In this connection I always remember Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatī interfering during one kīrtana where the lead singer extended syllables of the Holy Name to make them fit his beautiful melody. “You could have sung three mantras at the same time and gotten three times more benefit,” said Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta. I don’t think he would approve no singing at all.

And then the kīrtana went into singing Rādhe Śyāma Rādhe Śyāma Śyāma Śyāma Rādhe Rādhe instead of Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra. To me it was totally unacceptable because Śrīla Prabhupāda was very srict about inventing our own mantras or copying them off god knows who.

One could say that these are still the Holy Names and so no harm is done but this argument ignores the point that the Holy Name descends to us from the lips of our guru. Our guru is the one who channels Lord’s spiritual energy for us. Whatever we imagine ourselves or take from unauthorized sources might look like a Holy Name but it will never be revealed to us. We will be trying to access the Holy Name with our mundane mind and senses and in that position we will never be able to touch even the drop of the actual spiritual truth that is fully transcendental and imperceptible for such mundane empiricists.

The idea that singing Rādhe Śyāma was somehow expressing spiritual longing for their association does not hold against “only by the mercy of the guru” principle. It is artificial just as producing sweet melodies for their own sake or for the sake of our own enjoyment. Imagining that this mundane sweetness is somehow infused with real spiritual potencies is sahajīya. We should not fall into this trap. I don’t think I will willingly listen to this kīrtana group ever again, they are off my list until they change their ways.

In ISKCON we also have no shortage of devotees who are accused of some form deviation or other. What I usually do in these cases is listen to the devotees themselves. Sometimes their honesty and devotion beat all the opposing arguments, which could be likened to compaints about foam on the surface of the Ganges. Sometimes this contrarian approach works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes, after listening to devotees, I realize that our complaints are mostly products of our imagination or results of our unrealistic demands about what it means to be “pure”. Today I’m talking about cases where it didn’t work.

There’s one mahārāja who is regularly accused of taking wrong association so I’ve downloaded a couple of his lectures to see if there is anything really wrong with him. On the plus side is the fact that he has only Kṛṣṇa on his mind, there’s nothing else there, safe for usual crap that we are forced to endure to survive in the material world. He somehow turns everything into using it for Kṛṣṇa’s service and that is enough for me. I still can’t listen to his classes, though. His expectations of how Bhāgavatam classes should go are very different from mine.

He always, always asks questions of his audience and he expects everyone to answer or raise their hands, it looks like he does actual hand counts and the concept of “rhetorical question” is foreign to him. If, in the middle of the class, he asks devotees what’s on their minds right now he’d expect everyone to immediately give an honest answer. Needless to say, it doesn’t work, and that makes him frustrated.

I’ve heard him lamenting that devotees in the audience lack concentration, then he goes off to reflect on possible reasons for it, he talks about being hungry or sleepy and he preaches against succumbing to these natural urges. He tries to wake everyone up by asking more questions or raising his voice and if people do not respond his frustration only builds up.

All we want is to sit and listen to Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. It’s time for hearing, not for talking. It’s not the time to have a conversation about it, it’s not the time to express our own, inherently mundane feelings, we just want to listen to Bhāgavatam, please don’t vex our memories, please don’t demand us to guess ślokas you are going to quote, it’s no the right time for that.

During Bhāgavatam class we are supposed to sit and absorb it like sponges. Then we have to process the information and internalize it. We might not have questions worth asking until we fully digested the subject and made it part of our own intelligence. That’s when we might ask for clarifications. Either way, question time is reserved for the end of the class and it’s supposed to be short and to the point. We all know that asking relevant questions is not as easy as it sounds, certainly not when you are demanded to speak up in the middle of the lecture.

These “interactive” Bhāgavatam classes is our tribute to the modern culture and its fascination with powerful presentations. Not trying to be sexist, but it’s our female devotees who are always after innovations and improvements. Whenever I see or hear a mātājī giving a class I resign to it being presented in some new and improved format. Some introduce power point presentations illustrating the subject, some use guitars during singing Jaya Rādhā Mādhava. Some bring gurukulīs to stage short plays on the topic and so on.

Many of these mātājīs are gurukula teachers, I guess, and so they treat the audience like a bunch of six-year olds. They expect us to finish their sentences for them, for example. “And then Kṛṣṇa went to..? And the second principle of devotion is..?” I somehow find it very annoying. If I knew all the answers I wouldn’t need to learn, and if it’s a Bhāgavatam class then I’m not here for answers, I’d rather have my mind and intelligence dissolve in the background and forget they even exist. Bhāgavatam should be speaking directly to our hearts and the less interference from material body is there the better.

There’s another case that worries me and I still don’t know how to properly respond to it so I don’t want to talk about it yet, it touches on pretty serious subjects and involves probably untouchable personalities, so I’ll keep quiet for now, I’ve said enough for one day.

Vanity thought #1207. Bhagavatam observer

Continuing yesterday’s topic I thought reassessing our relationships with Śrīmad Bhāgavatam are in order, too. I don’t think I would speak only for myself when I say that we take it as a guide book, as a course of action. We are supposed to follow in the footsteps of great devotees described there, after all. So what’s my problem now?

Same thing – we are not the doers in this world, we are simply being tossed on the surface of the great ocean of material existence, we might try to swim but our efforts are insignificant and our direction and position is determined by powerful winds and undercurrents. We can go with the flow and feel like we’ve become powerful swimmers or we can struggle against the current and become tired and frustrated. In either case, the illusion that we matter is only that – an illusion.

Frustrated and exhausted we take to the Bhāgavatam and devotional service as if they were paddles to help us row. We hope to get enough power from Kṛṣṇa to finally overcome the material energy. He is all powerful, right? If we get Him on our side we will surely prevail. This logic is solid except for one thing – it has nothing to do with devotional service, which is characterized by selfishness. We just want to use Kṛṣṇa for our own ends, it’s not bhakti.

Realizing that we are missing devotion in our efforts we could take two-pronged approach to the problem – change our hearts and put Kṛṣṇa’s interests front and center, and stop using His help the way ordinary materialists would.

Bhāgavatam, therefore, is not meant as a course of action or a guide book to happiness. We are not supposed to read it and do what we usually do after reading life changing books. It’s not a tool to help us overcome our material addictions to sex or intoxication. It would do that anyway regardless so there will be no loss for us if we give up our materialistic mentality.

Rather, I propose, we should become Bhāgavatam ovservers. Just listen faithfully and marvel at its representation of God and His devotees. We are not going to become part or Bhāgavatam ourselves, we are not supposed to play out its pastimes in our own lives. Maybe in some future incarnation we might be born during events covered in Bhāgavatam but even in that case our names are not likely to be mentioned. So all we should do is observe.

Another argument in this line – Bhāgavatam is a literary representation of God, it’s non-different from Kṛṣṇa, why should we strive to become part of God. What’s wrong with being its humble servants?

I’m sure there could be any number of good objections raised but consider the essence of my argument – we should not use Bhāgavatam to further our illusion that we are doers, everything else is perfectly okay. One objection could be that, according to Bhagavad Gīta, we should not withdraw ourselves from action but rather engage ourselves in service to the Lord. Seems solid, right?

Well, I’m not arguing for inaction, we can’t stop ourselves from doing things, that should be the least of our worries. One way or another but we will be forced to act, which is also what is said in Bhagavad Gīta, remember? I’m saying that our consciousness is better be directed at absorbing the message of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam than at actively trying to figure out how to improve our lives.

I’m pointing out to mechanics of actions – first comes observation, then desire, then plans, then activities. As spirit souls we can only express desires, plans and actions are carried out by the material nature. Our desires, in turn, are determined by our observations, we are not really in charge of them either.

We can’t just develop a desire to become devotees, for example – the seed of that desire needs to be planted from the outside. We can’t desire to drive a Ferrari, the image of Ferrari as the fastest of cars needs to come from the outside, too. You see what I am driving at here? The key to all our desires, all our plans, all our activities, all our karma lies in our observation. The rest happens automatically.

It’s very obvious in the material world where nothing happens without a reason, every thought, every emotion, every desire could be traced to something external. It’s less obvious in spiritual life but that’s because we are not living it yet, only speculate about it. There are books, of course, and they tell us that spiritual progress starts with śravaṇam, from hearing the words of our guru. He plants the seed of devotion, he gives us a glimpse of taste, we can’t get it from anywhere else.

Next comes kīrtanam and watering the seed of bhakti but we shouldn’t see this stage as taking matter into our own hands – it happens automatically for anyone exposed to the messages of guru and Bhāgavatam. We can’t stop it and we can’t facilitate it either – that’s why it’s so hard to speed up our devotional progress. All these external manifestations are outside of our control, as spirit souls we as powerless with spiritual energy as we are with material. Service to the Lord is governed by His internal potency, not by us.

From śravaṇam and then kīrtanam comes a desire to do something more, to carry out the orders of our guru, for example, or the desire to serve the Deity. It’s not ours either – orders come from the guru and instructions on Deity worship are external, too. We get them by further listening to our spiritual masters and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. That’s where we get the idea that orders should be followed and Deities to be worshiped. What’s our contribution here? Only to listen with rapt attention so that we don’t miss anything.

Listen, observe, absorb, and the rest will come about naturally. What do we do instead? Affected by material disease we treat guru and Bhāgavatam as an ordinary teacher and an ordinary book. We seek instructions useful to our agendas, we cover the material, understand it, use it in our lives, and move on. After we get basic philosophy we don’t see anything else to learn there, maybe some ślokas, details of some stories missed by others, so that we can impress everyone by our memory. Mostly we move on, reading up on Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes elsewhere and learning philosophy from Six Gosvāmīs.

Sometimes we treat Bhagavatam (and guru) as a repository of material knowledge so we try to reconstruct the model of the universe, or perfect family life, or varṇāśrama, or figure out intricacies of re-incarnation or whatever. At some point we realize that it doesn’t describe those things in required detail and so we move on, filling the gaps with our own speculations, because that’s what all materialists in this world do – they constantly expand their empirical knowledge and constantly “conquer” new frontiers of knowledge.

Devotion has nothing to do with it, it doesn’t grow in the same direction and it doesn’t grow while being watered down by our materialistic aspirations. So what I propose is to watch ourselves carefully and catch that moment where we tell ourselves “I’ve heard this before, I’m going to listen to something better”. Another moment to watch out for is when we think to ourselves that we can do better than characters described in the Bhāgavatam. We can do better than Ajāmila, better than Mahārāja Bharata, better King Prācīnabarhiṣat, better that Dhruva. Out of ignorance they’ve made errors on their spiritual paths but then were saved by the mercy of the Lord. We can learn from their mistakes and do better, we think. We think that learning from others’ mistakes is clever but that kind of thinking only betrays our deep seated materialistic attitudes.

This needs to be stopped, we better stop devising ways to use Bhāgavatam in our own lives and become simple, humble listeners instead. Those stories are perfect in every detail, there are no errors there, they are Lord’s pastimes. Without Dhruva’s envy of his brother, for example there would be the story itself. Without Ajāmila’s seduction there would be no saving him from Yamadūtas. We can’t improve on perfection, we’d better stop trying to and simply sit and listen.

Vanity thought #1149. Affirmations

Publicly, everyone makes fun of pathetic people who flock to self-help sections of book stores or download inspirational audiobooks for listening in their cars. I think they themselves realize how silly it all looks and would rather not admit it to anyone but their closest friends.

The reason is simple – it displays weakness. Same reason “tough” guys reject shrinks, they imagine they can sort our their mental problems on their own. They don’t need motivational speeches either, they see themselves as well-adjusted and confident in their abilities already.

Well, not everyone is tough, and, as I discussed yesterday, life in the modern society puts enormous stress on people to behave in a certain way and they don’t have the luxury not to comply. If they don’t feel like enthusiastically jumping out of bed to slave away yet another day they need someone to whip them up in shape.

Self help and self improvement workshops are a big business and one of our favorites, too – there are plenty of devotees and near-ISKCON people who make living by holding such seminars. There are devotees who bring these ideas back to ISKCON and try them on devotees, too. I am not a fan.

Mostly it’s because people go to motivational seminars with materialistic expectations in pursuit of materialistic goals, not in search of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and renunciation, and the speakers have to oblige. It’s not the worst way to make money but when they bring these seminars back they also bring attitudes and flavors. You can smell this borrowed content miles away no matter how well it is diluted by Kṛṣṇa conscious sounding words. The innate, fundamental desire to be in control and to be successful can’t be washed off.

That is not to say that devotees do not need motivational speeches, in fact that’s all we live for – hearing stories about Kṛṣṇa and His devotees that would increase our faith and inspire us to improve our service. So what’s the difference?

So far I go only by attitudes. If it smells like taking control of our lives and making ourselves better performers then it’s just not right. Wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.

First of all, we are never in control of our lives. Kṛṣṇa is, material nature is, our karma is, we are just there along for the ride. I don’t want to start another debate on free will but, essentially, free will can only be exercised by liberated souls. We aren’t liberated, we don’t see our true spiritual nature, don’t know our spiritual identity, so we can’t seriously talk about making free decisions, we are conditioned by too many things.

The meaning of our mahā mantra is to ask Kṛṣṇa to engage us in His service, not to take control of it ourselves. We can’t seriously consider influencing Kṛṣṇa either, who are we to lecture Him on how to control our conditioned lives?

The illusion of becoming better performers is also only an illusion. It doesn’t not deliver bhakti, does not evoke devotion. We can’t claim spiritual rewards and recognition for doing things better than others. We can certainly fool our fellow devotees and our management but we can’t fool Kṛṣṇa. He knows that we “perform” only to impress others and look good ourselves. He will probably help us, too, if that’s what we want, but why should we waste our time on such empty pursuits?

That is not to say that forcing ourselves to do our sādhana better and better is useless. It isn’t, but it has to be done with a proper attitude – not to impress Kṛṣṇa, not to impress other devotees, not to impress our guru, but to carry his orders to the best of our abilities (we can’t directly please Kṛṣṇa yet).

There’s a point, however, beyond which we shouldn’t push ourselves too hard. We should not appear holier than we really are. It’s a tricky balance and that’s why I don’t want our “self-help” devotees to stop with their seminars – even a little genuine progress towards bhakti would justify all wasteful efforts, can’t throw the baby out with the water.

Our desire to be unduly motivated manifests in other ways, too. We need affirmations of our chosen paths, we aren’t pure enough to have internal strength against external criticism yet. We make quite a lot of commitments in our devotional life and we want to be sure we made the right choices.

Those who moved to Vṛndāvana, for example, need to be sure that they are in the right place. Of course they are in the right place, one would think, but our mission is to preach, our orders are to go out in the streets and introduce people to Kṛṣṇa. You can’t do that in Vṛndāvana. It might be our spiritual home but our current orders are different.

I’m sure devotees who chose to reside there are very adept at explaining it away, and in that they rely on help from each other. If you happen to drop in on their conversations you would notice that they are talking to convince and justify themselves, not necessarily about Kṛṣṇa’s interests. You might hear it even in Bhāgavatam classes.

In some communities devotees use Bhāgavatam classes to promote their sides of controversial stories. It could be about female dīkṣā gurus, it could be about bhakti-fests, it could be about Kṛṣna West, it could be about dynamic preaching vs conservatism, it could be pro- or against varṇāśrama and so on. I hope most of the time Bhāgavatam speakers are careful not to take sides but sometimes, if the audience is one sided, too, they let it rip.

What has it got to do with Kṛṣṇa? Does it please Him in any way? Bhāgavatam classes are saṅkīrtana, meaning glorification of the Lord, we should not use this time to try and prevail over fellow vaiṣṇavas.

There are less controversial issues, too. Take maṅgala-ārati, for example. Everyone in our temples must attend morning programs so it’s okay to encourage people not to miss them. The downside, however, is that it’s again about us, not about Kṛṣṇa. Some people need to hear it, some people don’t, but Kṛṣṇa probably stops listening.

There are other ways we want to affirm our way of life as members of ISKCON community, too. It helps us, it’s legitimate, but it’s still about us. What about devotees who live their lives slightly differently? Those who worship their own Deities would be interested to hear how others manage it but those who don’t would quickly lose interest, for example. Book distributors can be fairly annoying, too. They are doing a great service but they can’t expect everyone else to share their problems and concerns. We should take interest in book distribution anyway but if it goes against our own conditioning we’d rather hear about something else.

All in all, I think we should be careful not to use time allotted for glorification of Kṛṣṇa to make us feel better about ourselves, to improve our lives, to improve our service. We need to do it elsewhere in a more appropriate company.

OTOH, anything that makes us serve better in whatever way we choose is welcome, too. Balance is tricky, but no one would ever complain about Bhāgavatam classes that concentrate solely on Kṛṣṇa, His devotees, and their pastimes. You can’t go wrong with those, much safer than promoting your own agenda, no matter how devotional it might appear.

Vanity thought #849. Gita jayanti

If you were going to a uninhabited island and there was only one book you could take, what would that be?

Gaudiya vaishnavas have three main books – Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Chaitanya Charitamrita, which one would you choose? Srila Prabhupada told us that Bhagavad Gita is an introduction to spiritual science, Srimad Bhagavatam is a graduate course, and Chaitanya Charitamrita is a postgraduate study. Which one to take?

I guess ISCKON devotees would go for Bhagavatam or Chaitanya Charitamrita. Bhagavatam is special for us because we listen to it every morning, it’s what separated temple devotees from the “plebes” who come only in the evenings or for Sunday lectures. With them we discuss Bhagavad Gita. “You are not your body” and all those basics. Bhagavatam is for mature devotees, it’s the real thing.

Another reason is that, unlike Gita, it’s so long, once you start reading it it would go on for years, and if you want to become an expert in quoting Sanskrit Bhagavatam is a real treasure. Chaitanya Charitamrita? Not so much, there are only a few verses “worth remembering” – jivera svarupa haya, kiba vipra kiba nyasi etc.

With Bhagavatam we are never finished – by the time you gone through all twelve cantos you forget what was there in the beginning so you must read it over and over again, and that is not touching tenth canto yet, which is the crown jewel we prepare ourselves for all our lives, and we are never ready. This makes Bhagavatam into a life long project, in fact the tenth canto is probably better left for the next incarnation altogether.

Chaitanya Charitamrita? Not so much. We mostly read it on holidays or other special occasions, and we think it’s full of Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes, ie “easy reading”. There’s also a fact that it’s not as heavily purported as Bhagavatam, sometimes you can go on for ten-twenty verses before you come across a commentary and it might be only a few lines one. In our public classes we tend to skip verses that have no purports so that makes Chaitanya Charitamrita not easy to give lectures from.

So, Bhagavatam it is, then.

Well, there are parts in Chaitanya Charitamrita that are very heavy on philosophy and there are purports there that go on for several pages, it’s called a post-graduate course for a reason, after all. Let me offer two of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s quotes on this:

    If somehow all the books in the world were destroyed, leaving only Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, the people of this world could still achieve the ultimate goal of life. Even if Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam were lost, leaving only Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, there would be no loss to humanity, for whatever has not been revealed in the Bhāgavatam is found in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.

and

    In due course māhā-pralaya (devastating floods) will inundate the entire universe. If you attempt to survive by swimming in that deluge, then do not neglect to take hold of Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Or if you cannot hold all three, then release Bhagavad-gītā. If necessary you may also relinquish Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, but under no circumstances release your hold on Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, for if this one book remains then the flood can do no actual damage, because after it has subsided, the message of śāstra can be revived from Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta alone, it being the essence of all śāstras.

Pretty clear, huh? The idea is that lots of people had read Srimad Bhagavatam before Lord Chaitanya but without His mercy the meaning was obscured, some even accuse Sridhara Swami of giving impersonal interpretation to it and others valued it only as book of Krishna’s adventures, especially with gopis.

Real message of Bhagavatam can be found only in and through Chaitanya Charitamrita and only through Lord Chaitanya’s mercy. Without Mahaprabhu Bhagavatam would be just another book for us, and we are also first and foremost servants of Lord Gauranga, whether Krishna will or will not accept us is a big question.

From this angle it doesn’t matter whether we understand Bhagavatam or not, we only need to stick to the shelter of Lord Chaitanya and Chaitanya Charitamrita, everything else will be revealed automatically.

Okay, but where does it leave humble Bhagavad Gita?

Is it really only ABC of spiritual knowledge that is not worth taking to the desert island? Not so fast.

All the spiritual knowledge is contained within Gita, it’s like the sound of om from which the entire universe unravels. Srila Prabhupada could easily deduce every complex spiritual problem to one or two Gita verses, we just need to understand them correctly. Everything that is in the Bhagavatam, all the lessons from Bhagavatam, can be found in Bhagavad Gita, we just need to know where and how to look.

Or let me put the original question this way – if you were going to the island but you couldn’t take any book with you at all, which one would you commit to the memory?

Bhagavad Gita, of course. There’s simply no way we can memorize Srimad Bhagavatam or Chaitanya Charitamrita, out of the question. Even memorizing seven hundred verses of Gita is a herculean task, but it’s totally worth it.

There’s an other argument in favor of the Gita – do you really consider yourself a fit student for Srimad Bhagavatam let alone Chaitanya Charitamrita? Remember the tenth canto prohibition? And Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati restricted his disciples from reading certain parts of Chaitanya Charitamrita, too.

Why would you take a book you are not qualified to read, not in full anyway?

No one will ever say you are not qualified to read Bhagavad Gita, you are safe here.

In the same vein – if Bhagavatam starts where Bhagavad Gita ends, which is sarva dharman parityajya, which is a liberated stage – is it really a book for you? Remember the atmarama verse, the one Lord Chaitanya explained in sixty different ways on two occasions, it comes right in the beginning of Bhagavatam and it sets the purpose for the whole book – these stories of Lord’s pastimes attract the liberated souls. It might be in the seventh chapter but it’s in the description of the Bhagavatam’s very creation (SB 1.7).

We are not there yet, we read them as stories, which is a valid reason in itself, but Gita is where we are at spiritually, that’s also a fact. We might take Bhagavatam because of its philosophy AND entertainment value, but for our spiritual progress – Gita is our only suitable shelter. We will never be able to express our debt to it in full, never. In this lifetime, mlecchas that we are, Gita is the book of our lives, we are too contaminated to read anything else.

Maybe that’s not much of a praise on the occasion of Gita Jayanti but that’s all I’ve got today.

Vanity thought #778. Best problem solving method

The best problem solving method is acquiring Krishna consciousness. It solves sufferings caused by the material nature, of course, but it also solves all disagreements and frictions we might have among ourselves.

Is the soul constitutionally ananda? Get liberated and engaged in Krishna’s service and you will know.

Have we really fallen from Vaikuntha? Get liberated, have a look at your browser history, and you will know.

Have Americans landed on the Moon? Get liberated, stop by the Moon on the way to the spiritual world and check for yourself, maybe interview some of the witnesses of human invasion there.

How is Vedic model of the universe possible? It doesn’t look anything like that from where we are now. Get liberated, have a look for yourself.

What exactly is Jambudvipa and are Americas a part of Bharata Varsha? Get liberated and find out.

Did they really have nuclear weapons and airplanes in Vedic times? Get liberated and have a look at what is available to people in other yugas.

Did Lord Ramachandra really live millions of years ago? Did Hanuman really jump to Lanca? Did he really fly around with a mountain in his hands? Get liberated and maybe take part in the lila yourself, possibly as a monkey soldier, I’m sure there are positions open.

Has Bhagavad Gita been corrupted over the ages or is still exactly the same as was spoken by Krishna? Or do we have a translation from Vedic Sanskrit to classic one? Get liberated, visit the battle of Kurikshetra and listen for yourself.

Actually that last one – does it even matter? English translation by Srila Prabhupada appears to be thousand times more powerful than plain Sanskrit text. So Srila Vyasadeva might have written it down in vernacular Sanskrit, the whole Mahabharata was written down in plain language so that people could learn about dharma without hacking through “real” shastras.

The truth is, unless we become real devotees on the liberated platform we will never fully understand the answers to all these problems. Sometimes we have words of our acharyas to accept as truth but that is not equal to seeing the truth for ourselves and at other times even acharyas didn’t say much.

There must be a very important footnote here – even if we did become liberated and learned all these things it doesn’t automatically follow that we would share answers with the world. Why? Because they would appear utterly insignificant and besides the point. It would be like Dhruva Maharaja calling his desire for the kingdom and happiness “pieces of broken glass” – forget you were ever interested.

Or consider this example – a young man or a woman falls in love and engages in sex for the first time. All young people are curious about sex and how it really works but after experiencing it for themselves they just can’t talk about it in the same way anymore, the experience is too overwhelming to focus on technicalities. Do they know the answers now? Yes, do they care? No, their minds are blown. Do they care to tell all their friends how it went? Hell no.

Another truth is that these are not the right questions to ask, both about the universe and spiritual world or about sex. In our present condition we just can’t believe they would become so unimportant and irrelevant.

And yet another fact is that we can’t find the answers any other way. We won’t find them by studying books or by building abstract models and speculating about them. That might look like a useful exercise for now – to prove how shastras and acharyas are correct, but that is only because we have restless minds that have to be engaged somehow or other. Real knowledge of spiritual truths doesn’t come from books, it only comes from realization, and yesterday’s verse only confirms it once again:

Lord Śiva said: I may know; Śukadeva Gosvāmī, the son of Vyāsadeva, may know; and Vyāsadeva may know or may not know Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. On the whole, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the spotless Purāṇa, can be learned only through devotional service, not by material intelligence, speculative methods or imaginary commentaries.

See, we can’t tackle it by applying our intelligence, trying to figure out how things work by our minds. Even if we comment on the verses, ṭīkayā, which seems like a legitimate activity, we can’t grasp or clarify the meanings unless we talk from the platform of devotion.

I suppose that extends to our Bhagavatam classes, too – we should only be speaking on the basis of devotion, not on the basis of mental processing of events, words or sentences. Once the devotion rises in our hearts, meanings become clear and alive, and all the mental concerns simply disappear like darkness disappears with the sunrise.

I mean really, what we think is important now is like children’s nighttime fear of the monsters. Seems real at the moment but totally dissipates when the morning comes.

So, do not give in to doubts and challenges and do not try to battle the monsters with your toy swords, that’s not going to help much, but instead pray for the sunrise of devotion in your heart, that’s the only way to resolve all our issues.

Vanity thought #777. Parampara Power

Never underestimate it.

First thing that comes to mind of a conditioned soul is that there’s no way all gurus are created equal. It’s just not possible to see our acharyas that way with our material eyes and we have plenty of legitimate criteria to judge their relative levels even if we can’t judge their devotion itself.

Most obvious of those criteria is renunciation. We can always compare devotees, gurus, acharyas, whoever, to Six Goswamis. We know that a pure devotee has absolutely zero attachment to his body and bodily convenience. Six Goswamis slept under different trees every night so as not to become attached. If a devotee builds himself a comfortable ashram in Vrindavana it’s just undeniable that he isn’t on the level of Goswamis yet.

Another clear cut criteria is the ability to preach and convert people into devotees. We have examples of Srila Prabhupada and his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, to compare any other devotee to.

Another criteria is writing devotional books, though these days everyone can write just about everything and we have been warned not to read books translated by some very prolific writers.

So, in our immediate parampara we have Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati who were preachers, we have Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura who was a preacher and a writer, and a great reformer. We have Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji who was a perfect renunciate, as good as Six Goswamis, and that’s about it.

We don’t know much about Jagannatha Dasa Babaji, except that he was a great devotee who helped discover birthplace of Lord Chaitanya, and we don’t know anyone in our parampara beyond him.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati gave us “bhagavata parampara” rather than diksha chain, and that confirms our initial suspicion that not all gurus are created equal. Some were not even good enough to make a parampara list.

We don’t disrespect them in any way, but there’s a unspoken assumption that they weren’t as extraordinary as those who were included. Maybe there weren’t even “pure devotees” (gasp!)

Then we have two generations of spiritual masters coming after Srila Prabhupada and, as time goes, by there will be even more grand-disciples taking up the torch, we might live even to see the third generation becoming gurus.

Our critics, however, argue that it’s obvious that none of them are as self-effulgent acharyas as Srila Prabhupada, and some critics go all the way and dismiss all ISKCON gurus as unqualified impostors.

We can’t learn anything useful from these not so advanced devotees, they say. We can’t learn Krishna prema from those who don’t possess it themselves, they say. Fine, but I want to point out one important precedent – Srila Vyasadeva himself.

He is, of course, an empowered incarnation of God and he is the author of Vedas as we know them. Not the original author, of course, but a person who manifested them and wrote them down for use in Kali yuga.

Under the guidance of his guru, Narada Muni, he compiled Srimad Bhagavatam, the topmost scripture, the ripe fruit of all Vedas.

Yet it’s is possible that he didn’t know what he was writing himself.

[Lord Śiva said:] ‘I may know; Śukadeva Gosvāmī, the son of Vyāsadeva, may know; and Vyāsadeva may know or may not know Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. On the whole, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the spotless Purāṇa, can be learned only through devotional service, not by material intelligence, speculative methods or imaginary commentaries. (CC Madhya 24.313)

Just take it in slowly – Srila Vyasadeva, who compiled and wrote down the book, might not know its actual meaning.

There are reasons how that might have happened. For one thing, the story of Bhagavatam is pretty convoluted – we hear it from Suta Goswami who retells it as Shukadeva Goswami told it to Maharaja Parikshit. Shukadeva Goswami learned Srimad Bhagavatam from his father, Srila Vyasadeva, and Srila Vyasadeva was among the sages who heard Suta Goswami’s talk, and that’s what he decided to write down.

It would appear that Srila Vyasadeva, sitting in the forest of Naimisharanya, didn’t know the full import of Bhagavatam, which is understandable, but then how could he teach his son, who was the original source, several years earlier?

Because of the parampara system – knowledge transferred down the parampara is full and complete in itself regardless of qualifications of the gurus. Srila Vyasadeva DIDN’T HAVE TO know full import of Srimad Bhagavatam when he was teaching it to his son, he might not have realized the full import even when he wrote it down, but those were instructions of his guru, Narada Muni, so he followed them.

So, he taught his son, he heard the Bhagavatam again at Naimisharanya, he went on with his business of compiling Vedas, and only when Narada Muni instructed him directly he finally put that story to paper as it didn’t seem important to him before. Narada Muni promised Vyasadeva that he would be finally satisfied by doing that yet here we have Lord Shiva saying that Vyasadeva might still not know the full import of Srimad Bhagavatam.

One can only wonder at how parampara works. Srila Vyasadeva received Srimad Bhagavatam from his sources, passed it down to his son, heard it again from a follower of his son, and still haven’t realized the full glory of his own work while everyone else was swimming in the ocean of bliss already. Well, not everyone, but his son surely knew the value of the book, and Lord Chaitanya knew it, too, and so did Srila Prabhupada.

In the same vein, things we say to each other or things we say to people when we preach might not strike a chord within our own hearts but if we do our job honestly their full import might manifest for proper recipients and in places we least expect ourselves.

We don’t have to be super advanced, we just have to be honest and pass down the knowledge as we received it ourselves, it will still work and it might work even better if people we pass it to have pure hearts filled with faith.

There’s nothing to despair if we don’t make any progress ourselves, and it doesn’t disqualify us from the preaching mission either. It doesn’t require much from us – just honestly tell people what we heard form our guru, that’s it.

It might not work on us due to our anarthas but we are not doing it for ourselves anyway. We don’t preach so that we become advanced, we preach because that’s what our guru wants and that’s what pleases Lord Chaitanya, and that’s what people want to hear. There’s no place for selfishness in sankirtana.

Vanity thought #730. Metathoughts

One underlying aspect of reading a blog such as this is that it doesn’t give you direct access to knowledge itself. It’s a product of things happening in the outside world being reflected through my brain, over which I, as a spirit soul, have no control.

If I’m talking about free will then whatever I say isn’t a result of exercising one, it’s just reverberation of whatever else is happening in the universe on this subject. I don’t have direct access to knowledge myself, only to what has been said before by people in a similar situation. These are thoughts about other people’s thoughts.

Where does the original knowledge comes from, the one that we can trust, the apaurusheya one? It’s a mystical process where it gets revealed in the minds of great sages. Srila Vyasadeva didn’t just sit down and write Srimad Bhagavatam, compiling it from stories he had heard before, like I write here. He sat down in meditation and he saw the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the illusory energy being under His control. That is how Srimad Bhagavatam got manifested in this world.

Everything we have done since is like ripples going through the pond of maya after this heavy rock of Bhagavatam was dropped into it. Whatever else we knew about things like family or duties or yoga is still there but now it has been reshaped and corrected by the knowledge of Srimad Bhagavatam.

Mahabharata is a great study of human lives, aspirations and obligations, failures and victories, but that knowledge, similarly divine in nature, was incomplete. Srimad Bhagavatam redefined how we see the entire history of that epic, how we should relate to Krishna, to Pandavas, Kurus etc.

Similarly, mundane topics have been corrected, too. We all know what families are, what the duties of fathers are, what the duties of mothers and children are and so on. Srimad Bhagavatam, however, changes our perspective and redefines those duties as relative to devotional service.

Another great source of divine knowledge was Lord Chaitanya. On one hand He didn’t contribute any new writings except siksashtaka and generally spoke from Srimad Bhagavatam but he also redefined our service to the Lord in terms of rasa and He set clear priorities – gopis first, friends and family after.

Now, when we talk about devotional service, we not only it discuss according to the standards of Srimad Bhagavatam but also according to the standards of “rupanuga”, followers of Rupa Goswami, who was advocating service of manjaris which is even more exalted than service of the gopis like Srimati Radharani herself. Technically we aren’t even Krishna’s servants anymore, we are aspiring servants of those gopis, generally giving Krishna a pass.

So, when I and others like me talk about things of this world we aren’t contributing any knowledge to it, only reflecting some pre-existent aspects, and therefore there’s no actual value in my writing from acquiring knowledge point of view. There’s nothing to learn here.

What I am hoping to achieve is take knowledge from Srimad Bhagavatam, which we receive from our gurus and Srila Prabhupada, and put mundane phenomena under its spotlight, see how it changes our perspective on things we’ve known before.

These mundane things, stuff that is accessible by our material senses and mind, doesn’t change its nature, I can’t add anything to our bank of knowledge about it, only change the perspective of the soul accessing it.

Ideally, I’m not writing a blog to bring you news stories you might have missed or latest gossip or new look on familiar situations – it’s all only a mundane clucking of headless chickens, the only useful effect is putting this noise through the prism of Bhagavatam, hoping that we learn to see the world as illusory energy working under control of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

This, in turn, does not happen in our brains or minds, this change of attitude must happen within our hearts, beyond the reach of our material thoughts and senses. I can’t observe it within myself and I can’t put it in words, my mind can only observe gradual changes that manifest due to me trying nityam bhagavatam sevaya. Sometimes that’s enough, sometimes it’s so little that it’s discouraging but that shouldn’t stop us.

I think I’m rushing this article and it looks foggy and unfocused but that might come to my mind later, it needs time to process things, it’s a material object after all, but to sum it up – the only object of our study should be Srimad Bhagavatam, blogs like these are not sources of knowledge, they don’t contribute anything to the human bank of knowledge, and so they can’t prove anything to anyone. The actual proof should come from seeing the world through Bhagavatam, not from arguments.

Vanity thought #701. Just as I thought…

A week or so ago I wrote about complaints against Indian devotees bringing in outside influences in ISKCON. Then I wrote that Western devotees aren’t principally better because they bring Western influences into our Bhagavatam classes. A few days ago I saw the proof with my own eyes.

It was class by a Western devotee who, during the course of a lecture, realized that he is not up to date with current Indian “spiritual” practices. He was a bit surprised at himself for that but quickly found an explanation – when in India he never ventures outside ISKCON temples. I’m sure the mataji who complained about non bona fide stories was glad to hear that.

I thought to myself – this is the proper way to visit India. Just stick to ISKCON properties and ISKCON association. This is a very senior devotee with several decades of practice and he might even be on some GBC committee now. I’m not saying I want the same kind of position within ISKCON or the same level of recognition, I’m saying it would be a very good idea to follow in his footsteps regardless of rewards.

Unfortunately, only a couple of minutes later, just after I was contemplating his exemplary behavior, he slipped and committed the mistake I earlier ascribed to Westerners. This time it wasn’t about some wonderful invention or social practice, it was about Shakespeare. Somehow the connection was made and the devotee felt his listeners were not up to scratch on Western classics so he gave a synopsis of an entire play. It didn’t even properly illustrated his point and it took most of the remaining time.

When he finally finished with it he realized it was too late and issued apologies for not telling about Lord Jagannath as was requested by temple authorities. His excuse that we can hear about Jagannath pastimes some other time from some other speakers didn’t really cut the mustard, so to speak. This is what our Bhagavatam classes are for – to hear about Lord’s plays, not Shakespeare’s.

Don’t take me wrong – I do not blame that devotee in the slightest degree, I have no reason to doubt his devotion, dedication, or purity. It was a natural thing to do – we all have to act according to our nature, and when we act according to our nature we have to somehow connect it to Krishna. He connected his story, and it was an explanation of Prabhupada’s quote from the play. Srila Prabhupada knew the background and so did the person he quoted it to but many of us don’t, so an explanation is not out of place.

What I’m getting at is that unless we have a messenger straight from the spiritual world we can’t expect people to avoid following their nature and sharing their experiences. As long as they connect them to Krishna I don’t see a problem. In fact one of the reasons behind this very blog is to try and connect thoughts that occupy my mind for most of the day with Krishna.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but we should never stop trying and we should never blame other devotees for their apparent failures.

He couldn’t have said what he said without permission of the Lord, and if Krishna is okay with it, who am I to complain?

There’s no other way to become a devotee than through deep, heart-felt appreciation for other vaishnavas’ service. Everything else we see in their behavior is like foam on the surface of the Ganges, just ignore it.