Vanity thought #1446. Entrance fee

This has been puzzling me for a while and I’m still not quite clear what it is exactly that is bothering me. Yesterday I mentioned a case where Kṛṣṇa seems to be appreciative of devotees aspirations and supports them every step of the way. I, otoh, can’t bring myself to follow in their footsteps. Is there something wrong with me or with them?

Many view being in Kṛṣṇa consciousness as ultimate liberation, freedom to do whatever they want, freedom to express themselves. Society usually puts restraints on young people but Kṛṣṇa doesn’t, He accepts everything. Whatever you want to do, do it for Kṛṣṇa and He’ll support you in your endeavors. Śrīla Prabhupāda has built a house for the whole world to live in, we all can fit here perfectly.

Perhaps it’s my filtered vision but everywhere I look I see devotees who have well adjusted themselves to Kṛṣṇa conscious lives and while they aren’t rich they do not have a shortage of anything and they put it down to Kṛṣṇa. He really provides and looks after well being of those who surrender to Him and they are living examples. Some quite openly “brag” about their material situation and generalize it to extend to the rest of our society. If they can do so, why can’t I? Kṛṣṇa consciousness does seem to work for those who have it.

This has led to a slow but profound shift in our culture and I think it’s irreversible.

I joined in the days when everyone remembered how people made devotees right in the shopping malls, sold them books on one floor, took them to barber shop to shave their heads on another, and bring these new bhaktas straight to the temples. All you needed to do was to show enthusiasm and desire to dedicate yourself, everything else was supposed to work out on itself, with Kṛṣṇa’s help.

There was a period where our temples were overcrowded, people slept in halls and passage ways, society grew by leaps and bounds, new centers were opening practically every day, the future was bright and no one really thought about it. “Kṛṣṇa will take care” was the mantra.

This doesn’t fly now. There are temples where there are no living devotees at all, someone just comes in the morning, opens them up, and then leaves for the night. Lots of temples have been abandoned and those that remained struggled for survival until they found a perfect balance between size and ambitions and their abilities.

The result is that you don’t just walk into the temple and expect to be accepted anymore. They don’t just pluck people off the streets or out of their families, I bet they have some sort of “job interviews” with long lists of boxes to be ticked off to ensure that you are perfect fit.

It’s understandable, if “temple” means three-four men and maybe their wives then personal compatibility must become a serious consideration. You can’t just blend in, there’s no crowd for that, you must become a member of a very small, tight-knit team, and no temple president will make this decision lightly. Who can blame them?

It’s not like if you need friends you can always find someone among a hundred of devotees who would listen to you. At your level of advancement and experience there would none. There’s also no society to conform to, if you don’t wake up for maṅgala-ārati that’s half the attendance down and you have only your alarm clock to keep you in line. All your personal life becomes focused on relationships with the other two-three temple residents and this might throw them off balance because that would double their load of personal stuff. It just won’t work.

Recently I listened to an eye-opening talk on management and I was surprised how things have changed since I last time heard this person talking on this same subject. I remember twenty years ago he was preaching taking care of devotees, he used the infamous example of temple presidents telling sick devotees to go and collect donations for their medicine. I don’t know if that has ever actually happened but in the 80s and 90s it wouldn’t have been completely out of line. The manager, we’ve been told, must take full responsibility for the devotees in every respect and make them feel safe and accepted in their surrender.

This time the tone was very different. No one should expect to be provided for by our authorities, it’s not ISKCON’s job. The main consideration should be what we can bring to the table, what we can surrender. ISKCON is not a place for bums and hobos who don’t know what to do with their lives, our members have to have a purpose themselves and they have to surrender this purpose to Kṛṣṇa. If they don’t have anything to surrender then ISKCON doesn’t really need them. They can read books and come to the programs but otherwise they have to figure out their lives for themselves. ISKCON will provide spiritual guidance but won’t take material responsibility.

What about “house for the whole world”? It’s still there, but it’s not that you will move into it, rather the house will extend its own boundaries to include your life. It’s not that you can come to the temple, say that you are going to surrender to Kṛṣṇa, and they will take you. Not anymore. Rather you invite ISKCON into your life and surrender whatever you have to offer and they’ll take it.

This might sound like ISKCON is after people’s money but no, far from it. This is what they genuinely think is in your best interests – stay wherever you are but make your life Kṛṣṇa conscious, not abandon it and bring your otherwise useless body to the temple for further maintenance.

Another example – there were times when if you wanted to go to college devotees would think you are nuts. This days they would think you are nuts if you drop out of college to pursue Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In the recent newsletter sent out by a local temple they interviewed one of the devotees, she recently graduated and got a job at Siemens. When asked about her goal in life she answered that she wants both material and spiritual progress, and it seems she is making it. These are the role models for the new bhaktas now.

I have to say that it makes perfect sense and I do not blame ISKCON for anything here, I do not question the motives of our leaders, nor do I question their rationality.

The only problem is that now I’m staring at this verse and it says something completely different (SB 1.8.26):

    My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling.

This is the verse with the famous akiñcana-gocaram qualification — “one who is approached easily by the materially exhausted man”, as word for word translation says. These materially exhausted men, however, are not welcome in our society anymore, we are not running a retirement home, everyone must bring something to the table – parentage, opulence, education, fame etc. and then use it for Kṛṣṇa.

To me it just doesn’t add up. Give your material aspirations up and you automatically give up the company of devotees. If you want to be one of them you must make something of yourself in the material sense, too. But then you won’t be able to approach Kṛṣṇa sincerely.

Perhaps we need to redefine what ISKCON is and what it should be as we move forward. Perhaps these days renunciation and sannyāsa should mean giving up not only our connections to the outside world but our connections to ISKCON, too – our reliance on temple funds, devotees’ help, temple cooked food etc. Somehow historically it’s been our sannyāsīs that got the safest, most assured and most comfortable lives in our society. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it or that they have been abusing these privileges but as we move forward and more and more devotees, now second generation ones, approach the age of renunciation perhaps it’s time to rethink the concept.

Maybe the old “leave the world, join ISKCON” thinking should be replaced “leave ISKCON, seek Kṛṣṇa’s shelter” instead. And I don’t mean leave ISKCON philosophically, of course, I mean leave your dependence on ISKCON in your everyday life and become truly akiñcana-gocara. I mean ISKCON is helpless if you want it to provide your with shelter in your old age, only Kṛṣṇa can, and that’s who we should surrender our lives to. Sometimes Kṛṣṇa might act through ISKCON and for that we should be grateful but sometimes He won’t and we should not resent ISKCON for that, too.

Or maybe it’s just me acting out some old, Freudian episodes from my life. I think this idea deserves consideration, though.

Vanity thought #1431. Swing vote 4

Yesterday I talked about obstacles to our surrender caused by excessive material desires. Sometimes, despite having this blessed human form of life, we are just too full of them, like the demigods, and so even when we receive Lord’s mercy we still continue on the same trajectory. It’s a kind of demigod syndrome making human form of life more of a curse than a blessing. It’s not the only problem, of course, so let’s talk more about these unwelcome obstacles.

This demigod syndrome is not related to the demigod level of life per se, ie it’s not only for the rich, but I don’t think it applies to those used to poverty. Poverty is in a class of its own, more on it later. In order to be cursed like a demigod one needs to have a certain level of commitment to good life which can come only through experience, simply dreaming about it is not enough.

Our desires go through several stages as they eventually fructify. First it’s just a thought (that’s what poor people think about money), then we make efforts, then we get first results, then we get the taste, then we can’t have enough of that thing, and that’s when demigod syndrome manifests itself in full. We need to have invested too much to let go and even Kṛṣṇa doesn’t do anything about it but lets our karma run its course out first. Poor people don’t get to that state, they don’t have anything to invest to begin with, but more on it later, as I said.

Another class of unfortunate people are those who learn too much nonsense, or māyayāpahṛta-jñānā, as Kṛṣṇa defined them in Bhagavad Gīta. It might seem that I’m trying to provide a different list from that of Kṛṣṇa (grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons – BG 7.15) but my list is on a different topic. Kṛṣṇa spoke of those who do not surrender, I’m speaking of those who try to but are too limited by their conditioning. People I’m talking about are an addition to Kṛṣṇa’s list. Btw, the very existence of Kṛṣṇa’s list means that not all people are created equal, for some even a human form of life is not a guarantee of the possibility to surrender.

I saw somewhere a claim that 93% of scientists are atheists. If one grows up in such a family or makes a career in science then he would naturally have a great obstacle in exercising his free will. Everything he learns, everyone around him would scream that God does not exists, Kṛṣṇa is only a heart-warming myth, and there could be no such thing as spiritual reality. Trying to surrender under these conditions will go against literally everything one knows.

Doctors are part of the same club, too. They spend too much time studying how human body works to leave any space for the soul. In case someone thinks that if we learn as much about the human body as doctors our faith would also be shaken, the answer would be that they create a self-affirming bubble and filter out any alternative explanations. It’s like if we ask a sociologist to describe our movement he would present a compelling picture explaining every aspect of our lives but he would totally miss the spiritual part of it. We do not perform any miracles and every our action conforms to material laws of nature and so externally it would look like spirituality does not exist but as spirit souls, not sociologists, we have a very different experience of actually living with it. The deities, for example, in sociologist’s view would only be dolls for adults, never the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. Similarly, a doctor would see only the material part of our bodies and it would work according to material laws, and that would convince him that there’s no such thing as a soul. If he tried living as a soul and experiencing the world as a soul he would see bodies very differently, but then he wouldn’t be practicing medicine and wouldn’t be a doctor anymore. Part of being a doctor is denying spirituality and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Being forced in such a situation where one must see himself and the world around him as only matter is going to have an effect on our ability to reject this view and surrender to the Lord instead. As I said, it would go against everything one knows and his mind and intelligence won’t be very receptive to the idea.

On the other side of the spectrum would be an archetypal Vedic brāhmaṇa who might never see an atheist face in his life and never hear materialistic view of the world explained to him at all. His mind and intelligence would have no idea that alternatives to serving the Lord are even possible.

We are somewhere in between these two extremes and so we should try, if the opportunity arises, to structure our lives in such a way as to make the idea of surrendering to the Lord look very natural to our minds. A vaiṣṇava, after all, is a person who rejects everything unfavorable to the service of the Lord, and that means rejecting lifestyle that confuses our minds.

But let me get back to the “swing vote” for a moment. The idea is that our progress through material time does not have a very significant effect on our progress on the spiritual scale. Generally, even if one appears to possess a solid knowledge of spiritual basics, the Bhagavad Gīta, for example, or Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes as any Indian knows them, it doesn’t mean he won’t go through periods of total ignorance. He might be struck by Alzheimer’s, he might become a vegetable and slip into a coma, he will be born again and spend first years of his life in total ignorance, and yet the level of his spiritual realization would remain more or less the same.

It’s not like reading Gīta makes us see Kṛṣṇa any better than a toddler, and if we don’t see Him now we are not going to see Him when we lose all our mental faculties either. Hopefully, our spiritual trajectory is gradually ascending, life after life, but our ability to remember ślokas is only temporary and does not have a big effect on its own so we shouldn’t take it too seriously.

The “swing vote” in this context refers to the few years of our lives when we can really make a difference the way toddlers and senile people can’t. It refers to the peak of our abilities to influence our spiritual position for the better, the time when we can really exercise our free will despite limitations imposed on us by our materially contaminated mind and intelligence. We better not waste it on less productive pursuits, like memorizing ślokas instead of living them in our lives. Memories will be lost, attempts to serve our guru won’t, they will be counted and added to our spiritual balance while parroting Sanskrit verses will be erased.

I’m not saying that learning ślokas is totally useless but it’s not the cramming part of this process that is beneficial, it’s taking them to the heart and trying to act on them that is. One śloka learned this way is better than remembering the entire Gīta. That’s the kind of swing vote opportunity that we shouldn’t miss in our lives – act on our knowledge, not just acquire it for keeps. Our opportunities to act are far fewer than opportunities to learn, we shouldn’t waste them.

Here’s an example to clarify what I mean – Śrīla Prabhupāda had only a few minutes of association of his guru and received only one short instruction from him while he spent decades reading and learning, and yet dedicating his entire life to following that one order, a suggestion even, was far more important then everything else. Many of our devotees have similar experiences with their gurus, too, but even if they haven’t, we all can find one single thing that we can build our lives around, be it preaching or book distribution or Food For Life or chanting or kīrtana or serving the deities, we should hang onto that thing and never forget it, never ever let it go. We should then use it to swing our lives around, hopefully all the way back to Goloka.

Vanity thought #1430. Swing vote 3

How do we exercise our free will here? I start with the understanding that as material bodies we don’t have any, whatever flashes in our minds and commanded by our intelligence is a result of interactions of material elements moved by the modes of nature and time. We have free only as spirit souls but since we don’t see ourselves as jīvas then how can we exercise it?

We’ve all heard that human form of life is special and as humans we have an enormous responsibility to inquire about the Absolute, athāto brahma jijñāsā and all that. What’s so special about us, though, and how do we take advantage of this uniqueness?

We can compare ourselves with animals and notice that their consciousness is very undeveloped comparing to ours. Christians are not even sure if animals have souls, for examples. Those who follow science, broadly speaking, aren’t even sure if plants and trees have consciousness or minds. I said broadly speaking because there’s no scientific consensus on this but no one would claim that trees have mind and intelligence in the sense these words are used outside of Vedic framework.

Consciousness and mind are as much philosophical terms as they are scientific ones, no one can say with any certainty where mind starts, for example, there aren’t any solid definitions there at all. Some say that having mind and consciousness means being self-aware, whatever THAT means. Human babies aren’t self-aware at birth, in their estimates, and they develop self-awareness at the age of five or six months, according to some studies.

According to other studies chimpanzees’ intelligence is as developed as that of five year old human babies. Does it mean chimps are conscious beings in the modern sense? Some would argue so, others would scoff at the proposal to grant them personhood. Legally this has already been tried, in some places with success, in others it’s still under consideration, and it’s not only about monkeys but also dolphins and whales.

The point is that usual definition of intelligence is very fuzzy one and so there’s no as much difference between humans and at least higher animals as we think, we aren’t that special. And we know from Rāmāyaṇa that monkeys can be as devoted to the Lord as any humans.

On the other side of the spectrum we have various kinds of demigods who possess far higher intelligence than we can even imagine, and yet it doesn’t work for them and human birth on Earth is still preferable for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Why? Clearly intelligence and ability to acquire knowledge about the Lord is not enough. Their Bhāgavatam is many times longer than ours, meaning they have far more Lord’s pastimes to discuss, and still being born on Earth is preferable, meaning even the ability to know more not just about the world but about the Lord Himself is still not enough. What’s our specialty then?

We don’t have any sixth sense for religion, we can’t see auras, can’t see demigods, can’t see Viṣṇu like they do on regular basis, can’t see ghosts, can’t see yamadūtas, can’t see the universe as it is, can’t see anything. In what sense can we possibly be special? Personally, I think none whatsoever, we are just happen to be in the sweet, Goldilocks spot of having everything just right.

That’s the typical explanation, isn’t it? Not too much suffering like in hell where people can’t concentrate on praying. Not too much sense enjoyment like in heaven where they can’t concentrate on praying with all the partying that is going on. I don’t know why we are in any better position than sages on Tapoloka or Maharloka, though. They must have some obstacles there, too, that we don’t have down here. Or maybe it’s because Lord Caitanya doesn’t appear there but here, so they don’t get His mercy but we do. If that is true then prior to Mahāprabhu’s appearance they didn’t think much of the Earth and its “opportunities”.

The question then becomes of what exactly this “just right” is. Are we all in equal “just right” position or there’s variation here, too? Obviously, yes. It’s a big question for Christians with their belief that everyone in the entire human history who didn’t get JC’s mercy had gone to hell, including newborn babies somewhere in Asia where they worship Buddha. They might be human babies but they are not equal to Christian babies, they don’t get the Christian “just right”.

We are not Christians but we shouldn’t go down that way, too. Meaning we need to be aware of our material constraints, our DNA, our background, the culture we grew up in, the culture we live in now etc etc. All these things affect our ability to exercise that elusive free will as spirit souls.

The “just right” position means that we have a relatively better opportunity than animals and demigods but it’s still not perfect, we have to admit that, too. We’ve got the brains and training to know that we must surrender to the Lord. Animals haven’t got that, plenty of humans, a vast majority of seven billion on the planet also haven’t a slightest idea. Demigods might know that theoretically but can’t actually do that.

If we analyze our situation very carefully we’ll notice that we experience waves of such conditioning, too. Sometimes we just forget about our duty, sometimes we don’t have enough willpower to perform it. Lack of willpower means commitment to something else, btw. We want that other thing instead, not that we don’t have any desires at all and this desire to surrender is just like a lone candle in the darkness. Nope, we have a blazing fire of material existence around us and we are too busy enjoying it so we don’t have enough SPARE willpower for Kṛṣṇa.

Once we have these other desires overtaking our heart there’s nothing Kṛṣṇa can do for us. Have you ever heard of a demigod being taken back to Godhead? Even when they get born on Earth and then get liberated by Kṛṣṇa Himself they don’t go to Goloka but back to whatever planet they came from. Isn’t it the greatest misfortune in the entire universe? Being so close to Kṛṣṇa, being personally favored by Him, and still being unable to engage in His service. This is what happened to Dhruva Mahārāja, too. He was forced to live out thousands and thousands of years despite explicitly rejecting his previous desires. Once we get our willpower directed elsewhere it can be guaranteed that we won’t get Kṛṣṇa’s service even if He shows up personally. We should be very careful about that, devotion mixed with karma can separate us from the Lord for a long long time.

Unfortunately, the way we were brought up makes it impossible not to worry about money, sex, health and lots of other things we consider our birthright. If we want them and we want Kṛṣṇa we’d better hope that the Lord is much more merciful to us then we deserve and He strips us of these selfish motives. The bliss of selfless service beats those material comforts by an incomparable margin, we should always remember that no matter what our minds tell us. Of course sometimes we have to admit that we aren’t in the “just right” position yet and living out those silly dreams is what we have to do in order to approach Kṛṣṇa truly selflessly.

What can be done then? Our only hope is the mercy of Lord Caitanya, who doesn’t have any limits and never sends anyone to soulless places like heaven or even Vaikuṇṭha. Dealing with Kṛṣṇa is far more dangerous in this sense – He can easily dispatch us to the planet of iPhones and keep us there until they run out of numbers for upgrades or can’t increase their size any further. Lord Caitanya would never do that, and that’s the only thing we can count on.

Vanity thought #1146. Life problems? – What’s life?

If we examine our lives it becomes obvious that we aren’t as surrendered to Kṛṣṇa as we would like ourselves to be. We are plugged into a society, and quite often not into a vaiṣṇava one. Our roots there run deep and even if we see our lives as blossoming flowers of devotion, all nutrients still come through the roots.

It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly we fully depend on Kṛṣṇa. Spiritually everywhere, of course, but as far as our bodies go, Kṛṣṇa might as well not exist. If we try to argue with a scientist he would say that every aspect of our lives is proof that God is just a figment of imagination. We breath material air, drink material water, digest material food, cover ourselves with material clothes, experience the world through material senses and so on. Kṛṣṇa adds nothing.

Even philosophically, and I mean Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy, we live our lives according to the laws of karma. We might not create new karma for the next lifetime but the number of our breaths left here is predetermined and the only question is how we live the rest of these breaths rather than the possibility of changing this number.

We treat astrology not as quackery but as a real science, after all, and it works only because our lives are but a part of a grand cosmic design churning the universe and everything in it. We cast horoscopes not only for our ācāryas but for the Lord Himself, too, and then use these totally predictable combinations of stars and planets as proof of God.

That is actually an interesting point we don’t usually discuss – if we can determine from an astrological chart if God has appeared among us then it means we put God as dependent on external causes, ie not God by definition, and that we actually have some principle by which a combination of stars and planets would produce God. I wonder if this principle would withstand scrutiny by fellow astrologers, let along material scientists.

Nowadays all births happen in hospitals so it’s conceivable that quite a few of them happen at exactly the same time in exactly the same place and would have exactly the same astrological charts. How do we determine which one of these babies is God? Okay, we are not expecting God any time soon but we can have an eternally liberated soul coming down to help in our preaching mission born here any minute now.

My point is that our astrological tools are not fine enough to separate souls fully surrendered to Kṛṣṇa from ordinary ones, and so Kṛṣṇa’s, Lord Caitanya’s, and our ācāryas’ charts we have in our books are a matter of interpretation rather than strict application of the rules.

Anyway – we are dependent on the material nature and there’s no material proof of Kṛṣṇa’s existence whatsoever, and so the whole talk about us being surrendered to Kṛṣṇa is just wishful thinking. We wish it was so and, hopefully, we aren’t deluded enough to think that it is already so – as per tṛṇād api sunīcena verse, and, realistically, we can’t expect it to become so in the near future.

This makes our talk of surrendering to the Lord mighty hypocritical. How can we promise something like that while taking orders from our bosses, for example? Kṛṣṇa won’t pay our salaries.

Just today I was curious about what happened to the Moscow temple and learned that devotees there finally got a new place for their deities. A quarter century of ISKCON in Russia being recognized and registered officially and still no permission for a permanent temple in Moscow – interesting. What struck me most, however, was that some of their pūjārīs apparently go to work during the day. How’s that for being totally dependent on Kṛṣṇa? Even temple pūjārīs can’t afford to do so.

Of course there’s a perfectly legitimate explanation for this and the opportunity to serve the deities shouldn’t be restricted only to temple devotees but still it struck me as odd.

Anyway, this unavoidable integration with the materialistic society around us causes all sorts of problems for our spiritual lives. Even in Lord Caitanya’s time it was undesirable and many of His associates renounced their material lives completely in order to start their devotional service, and those who remained in their positions weren’t situated as badly as us. They were all parts of the holy dhāmas, after all, and we aren’t.

So it takes great skill and, most importantly, a great deal of realization to see material nature surrounding us as Kṛṣṇa’s agent, to see our lives as dependent on Kṛṣṇa even when our supplies are being delivered by someone else, to see our government and our bosses as Kṛṣṇa’s representatives, for example.

A more radical answer to this dilemma of life being dedicated to Kṛṣṇa but actually feeding on the side would be – what life?

It’s a life of our false egos, it’s illusory, it doesn’t exist, it should of no concern for us whatsoever. We shouldn’t be trying to fix it, shouldn’t be trying to navigate it safely, shouldn’t be concerned with it in any way, shape, or form. Our only duty is to chant the Holy Names, all the rest has to be abandoned as per sarva dharmān parityajya dictum. Who cares what happens to our bodies in the meantime? Well, we do, but we shouldn’t – it’s just the false ego talking.

Lord Caitanya’s answer to the life under intolerable influence of Kali is to chant the Holy Name. He didn’t ask us to do anything else, didn’t demand anything else, didn’t make any other promises. Śrīla Prabhupāda asked as to follow the four regs but only to ensure the purity of our chanting, not as standalone principles.

“Life” is what happens to us when we stop chanting and forget the Lord, and we shouldn’t do it – I mean stop chanting. Our first rule is to always remember Kṛṣṇa, if we follow it then “life” would cease to exist. Cease to exist for us, not per se, as the universe isn’t going away, but for us it would be about as interesting as the path of an ant crawling on the ground outside – we wouldn’t even know or care it existed.

This is what is expected to happen to us when our chanting becomes perfect and Kṛṣṇa finally reveals Himself and all His potencies through the Holy Name – we would be expected to lose external consciousness. This has been documented as having happened to other people, and we also know that this full awareness of Kṛṣṇa is independent on the material mind and body, it can and should go in parallel to the course of our material lives.

The fact that we aren’t seeing Kṛṣṇa now shouldn’t be taken as an excuse – He is fully present in the Holy Name regardless and our chanting shouldn’t be dependent on His reciprocation. We should just chant, chant, and chant. The time spent on doing something else shouldn’t exist, and it actually doesn’t – not for us as spirit souls, it is perceived only through our false egos.

We actually live only when we chant, the rest is an illusion.

One could try chanting as a solution to all his life problems. Can’t make a decision? Just chant, something will come up. Don’t like the situation? Just chant, it will magically improve. Sometimes it won’t work and bad things would happen to us anyway. Should it affect our faith? No. Bad things happen to our false ego and they would happen regardless of whether we chant or not.

Chanting is not supposed to solve our problems, it’s supposed to make them NOT our problems anymore. As spirit souls we do not have any material problems, they appear as ours only when we accept our false egos.

Chanting relieves us from our false identities and disassociates us from “our” problems, that’s all.

If we can’t chant we can think of Kṛṣṇa, and if we can’t think of Him then we can at least remember Him, which doesn’t require strenuous mental efforts. Awareness of Him doesn’t need to be vocalized or visualized, in that we can become independent of the material nature as it is a function of the soul, not the mind or intelligence.

Our only concern, therefore, should be the purity and continuity of our chanting and remembrance of Kṛṣṇa and nothing else.

Then the world would simply cease to exist along with its problems and our lives in it. We are still aware of it only because of our imperfect chanting, nothing else.

It’s a glass half full situation that I should probably address some other time.

Vanity thought #1145. Impersonating life

Yesterday I argued that modern life is simply incompatible with devotional service, that all precedents from the lives of Lord Caitanya, His associates, and our ācāryas show that devotional life starts with complete renunciation. Everything before that is like what masturbation is to sex.

Hmm, surprisingly profound comparison with details too gross to discuss. Not what I was going to talk about today.

Rejecting all attempts at devotion as impure while maintaining modern lifestyle is easy but it still leaves a couple of questions. Most obvious one is that we all are guilty of it one way or another so we need practical instructions, not blame game and finger pointing. If we decided to completely give up our attachment to the world, how do we do that? And if we admit that we are unable to give up our attachments, how to live with this deficiency, too.

Yesterday I said that in ISKCON total surrender begins with taking sannyāsa. Brahmacārīs are maintained by their authorities. Whatever problems they have, whenever they need anything, they can always come to their temple president and expect help. They don’t surrender to Kṛṣṇa per se, they surrender to our management structure, hoping that it will carry them through their lives. They expect shelter, food, clothes, iphones, and public recognition of their celibacy.

I’m not saying that they are incapable of surrender but that is their social position – being dependent on other people, on their seniors. If they decide to surrender completely they should give up this dependency and become sannyāsīs.

Our sannyāsīs, however, often are the most pampered and protected group. Maybe it’s because reaching that level requires getting certain recognition in ISKCON and with this fame come all the trappings.

I’m not saying that our sannyāsīs are incapable of actual surrender but very often sannyāsa is associated with getting top notch, always on, 24/7 support from the rest of the society. None of our sannyāsīs live in the forest and support themselves by begging, and quite often they get more money and power to control than anyone else. I mean they are expected to lead the rest of the society and leaders are naturally worshiped and pampered, this principle will never change no matter what we call it.

I’m not saying our sannyāsīs are frauds either, they perform a very important role and very important service, more important than any of us, and I’m sure it’s greatly appreciated by Śrīla Prabhupāda and Kṛṣṇa but that is not the kind of renunciation I was talking about, it’s even better – they renounce renunciation, for the sake of spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness. As our spiritual leaders they are far more useful to our society than some hermits who might be totally dependent on Kṛṣṇa but useless for preaching, for our mission. After all, if we are not serving Lord Caitanya’s mission then our full surrender has no real value. It’s good for us but bhakti is never about personal achievements, it’s actually directly the opposite.

This also answers the “no sannyāsa” rule for Kali yuga – our sannyāsīs are not the sannyāsīs from the books. They are far above varṇāśrāma roles. When we call them “sannyāsīs” we actually denigrate their real position on the spiritual ladder.

And as for real sannyāsīs – we are not built for that and it’s not a big loss if we can’t do it, we are not supposed to anyway. Many of Lord Caitanya’s associates did it, His older brother, Viśvarūpa did it, many of our ācāryas did it, but we can’t imitate them, only appreciate their capabilities. If we can do it, too – good for us, but those are exceptional cases, I’m not talking about them. If it happens to us then we won’t need any outside advice by definition – that’s what total dependence of Kṛṣṇa means.

Having said that – we should never stop trying. Giving up our material attachments should be our goal and we should be firm in our conviction that it is attainable even during this lifetime. How should we go about that? There’s no magic solution – by following our program and becoming ISKCON sannyāsīs, if necessary. It won’t happen to the vast majority of us, though, so we need something more practical even if a lot less glorious.

Here’s a paradox, however – we can’t know of successful cases of absolute renunciation by its very definition – there won’t be any means for such a renunciate to communicate his success, nor there would be any desire to do so. Total renunciation means being completely unplugged from the society. Such sannyāsa always meant social death.

Despite being our undisputed goal, we are not likely to achieve it anyway, only make progress towards it. This means that we should concentrate on the process, and the process would lead us through a series of intermediate steps, same steps that we are expected to go through in ISCKON as a society. They are all legit.

What about our relationships with the outside world? We can’t give them up yet but we have to deal with them every day, we still are at the mercy of the materialists, how should we relate to them? Some of our devotees can get fairly insulated but the majority are right in the middle of it and they are the ones I’m talking about here.

We need to learn to see māyā as Kṛṣṇa’s agent to deal with outside world successfully. We can’t imitate this vision but we can understand it at least theoretically. I think Bhagavad Gīta should help us greatly here. There Kṛṣṇa gives tons of examples of His manifestations in the world. He is the taste of water, sex life according to regulative principles, fire of digestion – that kind of stuff.

Things we see here might not be Kṛṣṇa’s spiritual form but we can see Him in everyday forms, too. However inferior, they are still worthy of our respect, and that way we get too see them as connected to the Lord at all times.

Take this verse, for example (BG 9.16):

    But it is I who am the ritual, I the sacrifice, the offering to the ancestors, the healing herb, the transcendental chant. I am the butter and the fire and the offering.

From Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purport we can see that this list shouldn’t be taken quite literally, that its elements can be observed in all kinds of sacrifices, and that it’s the principle that is important here – when it comes to sacrifices – Kṛṣṇa is everything.

That means that when our ordinary materialists perform their dharmic duties they are performing their own kinds of sacrifices and as such Kṛṣṇa is present there, too. Note that He doesn’t say I’m the sacrifice in the mode of goodness performed strictly according to Vedic injunction and I’m not present anywhere else. Sacrifices performed under various modes of nature are described elsewhere in the Gīta but it doesn’t mean Kṛṣṇa is not present in those. So, when our materialists slave away their life force in their jobs they are performing a kind of sacrifice and we CAN see Kṛṣṇa’s presence there. There’s value in “honest day’s work”, everybody feels it, why should we deny that it comes from Kṛṣṇa being present there?

So, we can appreciate people doing their jobs and performing their various duties. They might not be spiritual in any sense but Kṛṣṇa still can be observed there. If we happen to rely on those jobs and their results we can see it as reliance on Kṛṣṇa, too.

People might not see themselves that way, they might think they are the masters of their own lives and no God has any role in it but that is their illusion, we should be free from it. That means that when we are talking to them we shouldn’t be talking to them as they imagine themselves but as who they really are – Kṛṣṇa’s eternal servants.

It won’t relieve us from the necessity of observing social norms but it would make our relationships kind of asymmetrical. We would be impersonating life that isn’t really there, that is just an illusion.

There are crooks and conmen who would say absolutely anything to get what they want, and we should be like them, too, except we would do it for Kṛṣṇa. We’ll pretend to be people’s friends, employees, sons, husbands, fathers and so on but really we would be just playing these roles to keep our long con going. Unlike real conmen we would be acting in these people’s actual interests and for their ultimate benefit so it’s all good, even if they don’t realize it yet themselves.

That, I think, is one possible way of going through our daily motions without ever falling into the same illusion as people around us. We should be like deep undercover agents who appear as somebody else but never forget their real identity.

There’s another way to approach this, too, but I’ll leave it for another day.

Vanity thought #1144. Keeping your nose clean

Two days ago I discussed the ways and the necessity of always keeping in touch with the Lord. It’s not easy as it sounds in Kali Yuga because everything that worked before is hopelessly contaminated now.

People used to offer yajñās and the Lord would appear, which is totally out of the question for us. People used to meditate and see Paramātmā within their hearts, it was even instructed in Bhagavad Gīta, we can forget about that, too. People could at least follow the rules of varṇāśrama and that would satisfy the Lord to some degree but varṇāśram is totally screwed now, too. How could a poor soul keep in touch with Kṛṣṇa? There’s no way but chanting, which is our yuga dharma.

For us the world appears as totally separated from the Lord and it’s not just because of our illusion but also because the Lord wouldn’t touch it with His foot anymore. He used to come here and perform His pastimes but now the Earth is too corrupt, too covered under the modes of passion and ignorance. We can’t accommodate the Lord and His associates even if they wanted to come.

Well, if the Lord really wanted to come here again He certainly could but then He would prepare the place first and it wouldn’t look anything like where we live now.

Being always connected with the Lord is a constant theme of all our literature. All stories in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam end with seeing the Lord, for example. There are tons of mantras and invocations, too. They are still the same and the potency of the Holy Name remains unaffected but results of chanting are different.

All intricate worship of the Lord on the spiritual plane used to be done through mantras. For every rasa there was a mantra. Every aspect of the Lord had a mantra, every name meant something different. You chant it and you experience the relationship expressed by the mantra. Needless to say, we are nowhere near that level.

Svarūpa Dāmodara used to screen various verses and poems submitted to Lord Caitanya for subtle deviations. There’s a whole science there for properly expressing all the moods and mellows. For us it’s all the same, we understand these things only theoretically, rasa-ābhasa means nothing to us, there’s no overlapping transcendental mellows because we don’t have any transcendental mellows, period.

So, how do we keep in touch with the Lord?

That’s actually easy – we just chant as instructed. That’s all we are good for in this day and age, if we don’t feel anything about it then that’s where we are at, there’s no better way than keep chanting regardless.

The other question is a lot more complicated – how do we keep our noses clean when we are not chanting? How do we relate to this polluted world when we are out and about?

How do we go to work and serve under orders of materialistic people? How do we go to government offices and beg things like passports and visas to visit holy dhāmas? How do we eat food when we don’t have facilities to cook ourselves and offer it to the Lord? How do we survive raising kids? How do we raise kids who can survive in the modern society? We have oh so many obligations to fulfill, lots of them don’t even feel right let alone being connected to Kṛṣṇa or being called service.

How can we say “I surrender to Kṛṣṇa” and then go work for money somewhere else? Our houses, our clothes, our food – it’s all supplied by materialists in exchange for money given to us by materialists. And money is given to us in exchange for our service to materialists. Where is our surrender? Is it even possible? How?

Short answer – impossible. To become a completely surrendered soul one must reach the level of paramahaṃsa, everything before that is a mixed, impure bhakti. In our ISKCON hierarchy total surrender begins with taking sannyāsa, that’s when one officially puts all his trust solely into the Lord. Not in his family and his job, like a gṛhāstha, not in his temple authorities, like a brahmacārī.

Anything below that cannot be called surrender, precisely for the reasons outlined in questions above.

We have historical examples to illustrate this point. Take Rūpa and Sanātana Gosvāmīs – their situation in life was very similar to ours, they served meat eaters and did not see themselves as brāhmaṇas anymore, they saw themselves as outcasts, not part of varṇāśrama. When they went to Jagannātha Purī they didn’t behave like “Hindu” devotees of Lord Caitanya, they knew their places, didn’t try to enter the temple, didn’t eat in the company of actual brāhmaṇas and so on.

They got the full mercy of Lord Caitanya, of course, but not before they completely given up their previous material engagements, their status, their wealth, everything. When Sanātana Gosvāmī appeared wearing a relatively expensive woolen blanket Lord Caitanya visibly disapproved.

That’s the answer to the question “How can we fully surrender if we have to work.” We can’t. Full surrender means giving up your job. Gṛhāstha life is not for fully surrendered souls, it just isn’t.

One could cite examples of gṛḥāsthas among Lord Caitanya’s associates but we shouldn’t think that their attachment to their gṛhāstha duties was anything like ours. Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura wouldn’t stop kīrtan to go have a look at his dying son, it’s unthinkable for us. We can’t imitate him, of course, but then we can’t claim being the same kind of gṛhāsthas, too.

Śrīla Prabupāda was a gṛhāstha, one might say. Yes, but not when he came to the West, which required full surrender. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was a gṛhāstha, too, but his life was an example of gradual progress from a busy householder to a paramahaṃsa bābājī. At one point in his career he even had a craving for and ate meat, then he had given everything up. Point being that full surrender is still incompatible with householder life.

There’s an example of Lord Caitanya’s brother Viśvarūpa to illustrate what full surrender means, too. He lived in the Holy Dhāma at the time the Lord was performing His pastimes there. He was surrounded by Lord’s intimate associates who were all pure devotees and liberated souls, traveling with the Lord from one universe to another. Yet to Viṣvarūpa life in Navadvīpa appeared too materialistic to tolerate. It appeared that way to Advaita Ācārya, too, let’s not forget that.

Viśvarūpa didn’t try to see spiritual connection to Kṛṣṇa in materialists surrounding him, he just gave it all up and took sannyāsa.

It would be a fool’s errand to try and see our bosses and colleagues as Kṛṣṇa’s agents. Even if they theoretically are, we aren’t on the level where we can actually see that. We can’t seek surrender and keep our lives as we know them. We must give it all up.

For several decades we’ve been telling ourselves and anyone who would listen that it’s possible be a devotee and have a job or a business. Yes, possible, but only “sort of a devotee”, an aspiring one, a neophyte, and the progress in one’s devotion would mean gradually severing all the ties with our current situations, just like Śrīla Prabhupāda did, just like Sanātana Gosvāmī did, just like Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī did, just like Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura did.

We should follow their footsteps, not invent our own ways or offer fancy explanations, or pretend we are anything like Lord Caitanya’s gṛhāstha associates.

We can’t live in a pigsty and keep our noses clean no matter how much we want to. There are ways to mitigate our current situation but they are not solutions. I will probably discuss these ideas some other day.

Vanity thought #1142. Always in touch?

It’s impossible to find the Lord in this world, he just doesn’t live here, especially in Kali Yuga, yet we all need to keep in touch with Him via material means, there’s no other way. How? And what about the Holy Name? Let’s speculate about it a little.

Traditionally, there have been many paths of self-realization. Results were not the same, of course, but at least they all led to the point of liberation which was a common entry level for all kinds of transcendentalists. Yogis reached the Paramātmā feature of the Lord, jñānīs saw the effulgence of Brahman, and devotees engaged in transcendental loving service. I forgot what was wrong with yogis and why didn’t they engage in bhakti but there IS a reason why their realization of the Absolute is considered inferior to that of devotees.

There were also karmīs, the proper ones, not the gross materialists we have populating the world now. Proper karmīs are engaged in karma-yoga, meaning they offer fruits of their labor to the Lord and then enjoy the results themselves. Perhaps modern religionists are examples of karmīs today but certainly not those who call themselves atheists. Even religionists are not big on sacrifices, which is the essential part of karma yoga, their only achievement is that they plan to enjoy the world by begging mercy from God. The best of them give money to religious charities but most just learn to beg and think that this is enough.

Well, it might be enough for getting what they want but they are still nowhere close to the level of karmīs of Vedic times. Demigods can be considered karmīs, and they had access and occasional association with Lord Viṣṇu Himself.

It’s not like they are BFFs, and they need Lord Brahmā to call for Lord Viṣṇu’s intervention but they have personally witnessed numerous incarnations of the Lord, sometimes on this Earth, sometimes elsewhere in the universe. Sometimes they take a birth among humans to get Lord’s association, sometimes they appear among humans to see the Lord for themselves.

However it happens, they are usually cool with it. Viṣṇu’s great and they can always rely on Him but their purpose in life is not devotional service to Him but controlling the universe and enjoying the perks. Cool does not mean devotion.

So we have hundreds and thousands of living beings who regularly see the Lord in His original transcendental form and still don’t feel impressed enough to give up their life of comfort and power and dedicate themselves solely to serving Lord’s lotus feet.

Great kings from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam usually did better, they always became devotees at the end even if they started off as heaven seeking karmīs. Some of them saw the Lord personally, too, and even if they didn’t, they reached the Lord by manipulating material nature – conducting sacrifices or meditating.

The process was mechanical – you do this, then you do that, then the Lord might reveals Himself to you. Even if you didn’t get to meet the Lord, there was always varṇāśrama, there were always kings who were Lord’s representatives, there were always husbands and gurus and brāhmaṇas who acted as Lord’s agents. There were always temples, of course, where one could come in direct contact with the Lord Himself.

Then came Kali Yuga and the system stopped working.

God knows where our rulers derive their authority from. Originally from the Lord, of course, but then so did Rāvaṇa and Hiraṇyakaśipu. No one in his right mind would look at that kind of rulers and think that serving them means serving Viṣṇu.

Varṇāśrama is all screwed, too, and there are no brāhmaṇas to speak of. There is no shortage of pretenders but not the kind of pure humble souls who were once considered as a mouth of Lord Viṣṇu. And that is in India, there’s nothing outside of it whatsoever.

Sacrifices are a joke, too. In ISKCON we try to do them right but in reality we hope that simply following the instructions is enough. The Lord is not going to appear in our sacrificial fires as He did in previous ages. I would argue that success of our sacrifices doesn’t lie in achieving their purpose but in trying to follow the orders of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Even then, the first thing I heard about Deity installation in Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma mandira, for example, is that he conducted that ceremony solely to impress local Hindus, otherwise simply chanting would have been enough. I’ve never taken our yajñās seriously since then.

The Divinity has simply become unreachable. The Lord might still manifest Himself as a deity, for example, but all we will ever see here is dead matter, never the actual spiritual form of the Lord. There just isn’t enough purity in this day and age.

Purity is crucial here. The Lord IS the Lord of this universe, too, but not when we keep it in such filthy condition. Even the best and purest ingredients can’t be relied on anymore. Everyone knows that Śrīla Prabhupāda allowed devotees to drink milk contaminated by eggs because that was the only milk available on the market. We had no choice but the Lord wasn’t going to be joining us for a cup of egg laced milk. I don’t think they add eggs in any form to milk nowadays but they still contaminate it by their industrial production, not to mention what they do to the cows. Ghee made from such milk isn’t going to be pure, too.

It’s all just hopeless.

That’s why the only authorized incarnation of the Lord for our age is the Holy Name. Everything else fails. Our temples are okay, I guess, but once you step outside there’s only the Holy Name.

And yet it’s not enough to sustain our lives. In Lord Caitanya’s times He would personally make sure that all the devotees were taken care of, provided with shelter and prasāda. In Navadvīpa everything was spiritual and pure, and when devotees came to Jagannātha Purī it was still the spiritual world. Then they all happily engaged in harināma saṅkīrtana.

These days we are on our own. Temples can’t look after us and they shouldn’t – we should be looking after them instead, but how do we purify our own existence when we work for materialists and sustain ourselves on materialists’ mercy?

What happens is that we take contaminated stuff, like money earned in ugra-karmic activities, and give it to the devotees who will engage it in service and thus purify it. Okay, but what about all the other stuff that we don’t get to give to the temple? What about the food we consume ourselves? Clothes we wear? Cars we drive? Houses we live in? It’s all contaminated, all laden with sin, and none of it comes from Kṛṣṇa.

Moreover, we are forced to take on all this stuff to simply sustain our lives. How can we say we depend solely on Kṛṣṇa? Kṛṣṇa doesn’t give us anything, not directly, and whatever He gives indirectly is still contaminated and impure.

I mean how can we proclaim that we would surrender only to Kṛṣṇa and then go to work and do whatever it is our bosses want from us? We can do our jobs in a proper consciousness but it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s not Kṛṣṇa who supplies us but materialists.

Our water comes from public pipes, its purity is questionable, and it’s provided by the government, not Kṛṣṇa. Electricity comes from the government, too, not Kṛṣṇa. Heating gas and Internet come from materialists, too. How can we rely on Kṛṣṇa when we have to pay money to the materialist providers for all those life sustaining services? And the money to pay for that comes from serving materialists, too, not Kṛṣṇa.

How’s our surrender going to work? Holy Name is not going to produce any of that stuff for us.

I don’t see any solutions to this dilemma other than acceptance that even those despicable, corrupted providers and authorities are Kṛṣṇa’s representatives. We hope that Kṛṣṇa would always talk to us through His devotees but that is generally impossible when it comes to maintaining our lives. I don’t see any other answer but that Kṛṣṇa talks through materialists, too, and everything we get from them actually is given by Kṛṣṇa, they are just agents.

What does it mean for out surrender then? What about sarva dharmān parityajya?

What do we say to people who give us money? Honestly. Okay, we might not want to say these things to them personally, but what do we tell ourselves?

I have no idea. How can we see them as Kṛṣṇa’s agents when they don’t want to have anything to do with our religion? I guess it will remain a mystery for now.

Vanity thought #1096. Krishna – real name for imaginary friend

As I was saying yesterday – it’s not really clear what or who Kṛṣṇa is for most of us, conditioned souls. His devotees, real ones, have some sort of direct perception of His form and qualities but all of that is hidden from us, we have to rely on our our imagination instead.

One could say that we have authoritative descriptions of practically every aspect of Kṛṣṇa’s personality but having heard about Him and seeing Him for real are two very different things.

Look how it works – we read somewhere that His face resembles some campaka flower and His eyes resemble lotus petals and His lips resemble bimba fruit, now go and draw it. How?

I mentioned campaka because it’s the only flower I remember off the top of my head, I don’t think it matters because I’ve never seen it, nor have I ever seen any of other flowers usually mentioned in our literature. I don’t even know what lotus petals look like, the ones I’ve seen made no impression on me, I expect Kṛṣṇa’s eyes to be much more beautiful that that, and don’t even start on bimba fruit.

The color of tamal tree is also a mystery. One can easily google it, of course, but none of the pictures really helps. Personally, I wouldn’t use any of them to talk about actual person’s skin color.

When Śrīla Prabhupāda was here devotees just asked him if their paintings of Kṛṣṇa were correct and that was good enough, but good enough is not enough to say that this is exactly what Kṛṣṇa looks like. We still only imagine Him, and even within our ISKCON history we can see evolution of our imagination.

Early depictions of baby Kṛṣṇa showed Him looking like an angel or even Cupid of western pastoral tradition. Latest ones, however, are blue copies of contemporary CGI animations while others are clearly inspired by computer game graphics.

The point is – we do not know Kṛṣṇa, we only imagine what He looks like and we use our material standards to describe or draw Him. Can we surrender to such pictures?

Well, yes, as long as they are approved by our guru, but I don’t think any of us is weird enough to actually equate our mundane drawings with Kṛṣṇa’s transcendental nature. We are not surrendering to colored lines on paper, we surrender to…, I don’t really know what. A concept?

There are also deities, those are non-different from the Lord and we can surrender to them as if they are actual persons, they just don’t move like the rest of us, but even in that case we do not surrender to metal or carved marble, material elements making up a deity are not Kṛṣṇa per se, even though inseparable from Him.

Deities are like bodies – someone creates them and then the Lord enters them, and at some point they get destroyed and merge with the rest of material elements while Kṛṣṇa lives on. Without Kṛṣṇa’s presence they are just dead statues, but what is this “Kṛṣṇa” thing that makes them alive?

There’s also the Holy Name, which is non-different from the Lord in every respect. It’s not a material vibration even though it sounds like an ordinary audio wave. We can record it, amplify it, put it through an equalizer and apply all kinds of effects, material form will change but Kṛṣṇa won’t. How? Is the material sound of the Holy Name material?

Obviously it is – it needs material sources to create the vibration. It comes from our tongues and mouths. In the spiritual world it exists on its own, I suppose, and sometimes it can manifest independently of material carriers even within this universe, like when Lord Brahmā heard it in meditation, but generally we deal with clearly material vibrations.

Can we produce them artificially? I suppose we can – we can get Siri to say Kṛṣṇa’s name and even chant the entire mahāmantra but would it make it into a Holy Name?

To become transcendental sound the Holy Name must come from the right sources, or it would become poisonous like milk touched by a snake. Does it mean that if a devotee makes Siri to say “Kṛṣṇa” then it will be Holy, and if a non-devotee does it than it will be just an ordinary sound?

On this point – we shouldn’t take poisoned milk analogy too far – what will be poisoned is our relationships with the Lord, the Name itself cannot be affected, and, if you think of it, ALL instances of the Holy Name in this world are authorized. They might be corrupted by non-devotional attitudes but the name Kṛṣṇa doesn’t have any other source but Kṛṣṇa Himself. Even the generic word kṛṣṇa has its source in the Lord.

Atheists can think up their own names for God and those won’t be authorized but they can’t change the origin of names like Kṛṣṇa or Govinda, these names will always be non-different from the Lord.

Does it mean they are real and not imaginary like our drawings?

That opens up another aspect of Lord’s representation in the material world – even if the name itself is fully spiritual, we do not perceive it as such. It might be objectively real but it doesn’t feel like it to us, and so what is the use of its reality?

We can’t avoid disrespecting the Holy Name if we don’t see it as Holy. If the sound of Kṛṣṇa is non-different from any other sound and we’d rather listen to a neighbor spreading some new, juicy gossip, what’s the value of the name being non-different from the Lord?

It’s not the lack of Lord’s presence that keeps us from His association, it’s something else.

So, arguing the material or spiritual nature of the Holy Name misses the point. Whatever we decide as the best outcome of this debate won’t change how we perceive it, it won’t reveal Kṛṣṇa’s real, spiritual form.

Can we surrender to the Holy Name? I guess we can, but what do we actually do when it happens?

For kids it’s easy to surrender to their parents – just trust your father, he’ll make everything alright. When we grow up we surrender to our teachers, then we might surrender if we join the army. We surrender to politicians and political parties, we surrender to the governments, we surrender to our partners and families.

It always requires a personal touch and reciprocation, even with large, impersonal entities like the army or the government. Without feedback surrender makes no sense, we at least expect a peace of mind in return.

How do we surrender to the name? How do we surrender to the sound? We don’t see it as a person and we don’t expect the sound itself to offer us protection or solve our problems. Kṛṣṇa does that, and even if He is non-different from the sound, He exists separately from it, too. We can just think of Kṛṣṇa and surrender to Him in our mind. Is His mental image in our heads imaginary of real?

In my head it’s not an image at all, just an awareness, a concept, something that I assume to be God. It has no shape or form, it doesn’t talk, it can’t be defined, it can’t be compared to flowers or fruits. It doesn’t feel like anything in particular.

When I tell myself “always remember Kṛṣṇa” there’s nothing really to remember – unlike anyone else I know, I’ve never seen Him, never experienced Him, I have no memories of Him. What’s there to remember? Even if I had some warm memories that I attribute to His mercy, I can’t invoke them at will, I don’t even remember them exactly.

What is real about this Kṛṣṇa and what is not? What am I supposed to surrender to? A product of my imagination? An actual sound?

It’s the second day in a row and I’m nowhere near the answer. Maybe it will come to me in the future.

Vanity thought #1009. Resentment

Resentment is one of those emotions that are obstructive to development of bhakti, much like lust or envy. Every time we feel overwhelmed by indignation and sense of injustice we should know we are not making any progress, at least not at the moment.

Last night I had another lucid dream where I experienced a whole gamut of such negative emotions. When I woke up it took me a while to reboot and shake them off, it seems appropriate to record and reflect on this, hence this post.

The dream had two distinct parts but emotionally it felt like one as if I saw the evolution of my emotional state illustrated by disconnected scenes. First scene was me being kicked out of a university dorm because I was expelled. The expulsion itself was not in the dream, I don’t know why or how it happened, it’s just that back in the dorm the management told me to pack my stuff and leave. That made me very very upset. I felt like my whole world crumbled down. Prior to being evicted I was hanging out with my friends as if nothing happened, and, in fact, my expulsion didn’t affect my dorm life in the slightest. It was still me with my friends, still the same dinners, talks, and probably booze, but that wasn’t in the dream. I wasn’t even occupying anyone’s legitimate place, I was sleeping on empty beds, I didn’t keep a room of my own.

When the management showed up, however, they said that the party is over and I need to move out. This is when it downed on me that my life as I knew it was over. I slowly collected my belongings and walked out in the streets, it was cold and there was snow, and the management somehow grabbed one of my bags and only laughed in my face when I demanded it back. It felt so unfair but I also knew that this was the reality I was trying to avoid, and it only increased my resentment.

Eventually, I embraced my new situation and settled into life on the streets – my new home. I was free from any obligations and this independence made up for the lack of comfort. I wasn’t part of the rat race anymore and I grew to be content with my new, austere conditions. Then came the second part.

Suddenly I was back in the dorm again, not the same room, though, and not with the same people, and I don’t even know why I was there. I was given a place and introduced to new friends and I tried to act like I was one of them but I still wasn’t a student and I had no job either, I was still the same bum from the streets but forced to pretend that I had a normal life.

People were quite friendly and accepted me in their group, but what I noticed that while I had time for endless conversations they actually had to go somewhere and so my conversation partners were always rotating. By the time I finally wanted to sleep it was already morning and a new bunch of people walked in.

Some brought their other friends and they all were excited about their plans and projects. I tried to talk to them but quickly realized that I was out of my depth and had absolutely nothing to contribute. In all this commotion I couldn’t sleep either so I tried to make myself busy, just like them.

I still had nowhere to go, though, so I just procrastinated with brushing teeth, taking a shower, collecting some papers and so on. Just as I was about to leave I realized that my shoestrings got lost somewhere so I spent maybe another hour looking for them, and people started to wonder what was wrong with me.

That’s when the new wave of resentment overwhelmed me again – why can’t I be normal like them? Why can’t I have a job like them? Why can’t I be a student like them? They seem to be so happy and their lives full of meaning while I’m all by myself and have no purpose.

I knew I was dreaming, btw, and I knew what my problem was, and when I woke up I continued thinking in the same vein – why do I feel so much pain looking at “normal” people? Does the key to my unhappiness lie in my independence?

Thing is, I knew even in my dream that those were materialistic people and I knew that to succeed in their society I had to submit myself to some boss somewhere, a person who I have no respect for simply because he is not a devotee. I knew that applying for a job means accepting values that are foreign to me and pursuing goals I’m not interested in, all for a bit of money and a chance to be “normal”. Do I really need this in my life?

Thing is, I always had problems with authority. Not that I’m rebellious or anything, but I don’t do orders, and authorities never loved me back. Once I met a company boss, we had a short talk, and later he told my managers to get rid of me. They, however, needed me at the moment and kept me, and several years later that same boss was thanking me for my services which were so important to his company and which helped him to steer it through difficult times. I didn’t remind him of our first meeting.

Another time I had a boss I was chemically incompatible with. We just couldn’t discuss anything without starting a big argument. For many years we simply avoided each other, knowing that it was the best practice for everyone.

Just recently I saw a local political leader, he was on “meet the people” tour, shaking hands, kissing babies, and letting women take selfies with him. When he finally got to where I was standing he didn’t even smile at me even though I was in a very good mood and wanted to congratulate him on doing a good job. Nope, just one little glance in my direction and he hurried away. “Not again”, I thought, “what is it with me and the authorities – why don’t they like me?”

It is more or less the same in ISKCON, too, I guess it’s my karma or my horoscope – I don’t look like anybody’s servant and authorities simply don’t like having me around.

What should I do about it? In my dream I felt resentful because I thought I was unfairly excluded from materialistic society but when I woke up I thought more about my position in relation to Kṛṣṇa – is it really enough for me to surrender to Him or should I swallow my pride and beg some materialistic pig to engage me in his service, too? It can seriously improve my career if I decide to go down that road, but should I?

On one hand it sounds completely wrong – taking shelter of Kṛṣṇa should always be enough, we can never allow ourselves to think that Kṛṣṇa is good only for one kind of thing but is useless for anything else – job, money, sex, etc, so we cannot rely on Him alone and should serve many masters. This is so undevotional I don’t even want to entertain such thoughts.

On the other hand my problem might be in not seeing material bosses as Kṛṣṇa’s representatives. I’m okay with following instructions of our spiritual and managerial authorities but I refuse to see outside leaders as having any legitimacy. A mature devotee should see their legitimacy as derived from Kṛṣṇa no matter what their appearances and motives and so he should accept service to them as service to Kṛṣṇa’s agents. I don’t see it that way – is it what my real problem is?

Or is my inherent desire for independence that is the root of all my troubles? One one hand it’s certainly true, on the other hand there are classes of people who should not take orders by their nature – brāhmaṇas, for example. Maybe kṣatriyas, too – kṣatriyas pay tributes to the emperors, of course, but no one is allowed to micromanage their own domains.

It is pretentious of me to claim brāhmaṇa status in defense of my independent nature but somehow being ordered around feels so wrong. Another argument in favor of independence is that my time of being in anyone’s employ is quickly running out and I should prepare myself for purely spiritual pursuits where complete dependence on Kṛṣṇa and satisfaction with whatever gets supplied by my karma is a must. Why should I force myself to learn something I will have to unlearn fairly soon anyway?

Shouldn’t I learn to be content with whatever I have now, too? As it is, I don’t really need to brown nose anyone in exchange for anything, so why should I start?

The only reason I see is to defy my false ego, to humiliate myself, to detach myself from perceived loss of dignity. Do I really need to do this? Or is it what is in store for me anyway and Kṛṣṇa is gently preparing me for this eventuality through dreams such as this one?

Though I recognize emotions awakened in my by this dream I don’t usually feel them or think about my life in these terms, it was something out of the blue, based on imaginary events of many many years ago in places I’ve never been before.

What is the meaning of all this? I do not know, but I do know that resentment needs to go, I have to purge my heart from attitudes that are causing it. In that sense understanding and embracing some set of values that I should stick to no matter how material energy makes me feel is important. Unfortunately, I still haven’t decided what those values are – should I consciously punish my pride and surrender to some uncouth, meat eating barbarian in exchange for a few pieces of silver, or should I stick to the principle of relying only on Kṛṣṇa?

I need to go and chant on that

Vanity thought #579. The gap

There is a glaring gap in our basic understanding of how our Krishna consciousness is going to play out in the end. On the surface it’s very simple – chant the rounds and follow the program and return to Krishna at the end of your life. On the other hand it looks nothing like the advanced process of entering Krishna lila as described by our acharyas.

We don’t think about it at all while others exploit this gap to advance their own agenda and declare our ISKCON program incomplete. Obviously we need a better solution but AFAIK it doesn’t exist. Every day we sing samsara davanala lidha loka prayers that include descriptions of our gurus that are factually not correct. None of our spiritual masters is visibly engaged in assisting Radha and Krishna in their most intimate lilas, for example, though this is exactly the kind of activities that are necessary to train us to enter Goloka Vrindavana.

Without authoritative answer we can only speculate what’s going to happen. One option, for example, is to undertake further training by taking birth again during Krishna’s appearance in some other universe. This would not be the spiritual world per se but it wouldn’t be a karmic birth either. Maybe there’s a place in Goloka Vrindavana where devotees can continue their education but still not be participants in Krishna lila proper. Everything is possible there, isn’t it?

We also know that Lord Chaitanya has His own place on Goloka where He and His associates engage in eternal sankirtana and can freely move between both Krishna and Chaitanya lilas. We don’t know how it would work exactly and can only speculate.

Speculation, however, is not a part of our program and we should not occupy our minds with these concoctions.

Perhaps the best and the most mature solution is to keep faith in Srila Prabhupada and willingly accept existence of this kind of gaps as integral part of our surrender. That’s what surrender means – cede control of our future and accept the unknown. Otherwise our surrender would be like booking a flight – there’s no uncertainty in that, you know what’s going to happen at every step and if the airline fails to deliver you can sue them.

Perhaps we assume that our journey to the spiritual world would be just like that, all booked and preplanned, and the first class, too. That’s why we need answers, that’s why we need to know – we worry about our rights, we still trust only in our own knowledge and abilities. Needless to say this has nothing to do with surrendering to Krishna, it’s a completely opposite attitude and it’s the one we should purge from our hearts.