Vanity thought #1134. Hand of God – really?

I’m in two minds about God creeping into entertainment. On one hand it’s better to have shows about God than about anything else, on the other hand misrepresenting God is probably as dangerous as preaching atheism.

This summer there was a show about people who were left out after “rapture”, it had a very impressive start, imo, and I covered the first few episodes here but then it disintegrated into pursuing its mundane plot and I don’t even remember how it ended.

Its characters were focused on God all throughout but Christianity puts a limitation on how far they can actually go. After the first push they ran into a wall of selfishness. God as an order supplier can reveal Himself only so much, after that it’s dealing with your own life problems which aren’t interesting anymore.

How people feel about this, how they feel about that, what they are going to do about it all – I bet it’s not only me, God stopped watching it, too.

We aren’t any closer to God and we don’t have any higher realizations but we have an unbreakable connection to Him via our guru. Our critics can say whatever they want about quality of our guidance but the fact remains that paramparā is our link to Kṛṣṇa regardless of how it looks on the outside.

It would be wrong of us to expect progress in terms of acquiring some mystical powers and visions, I think everyone eventually realizes that, and with this hope gone all we have left is following the orders of our gurus. It might not look like much but it signals a change of direction – from pursuing razzledazzle of never ending bliss to quiet appreciation of every little crumb of devotion and mercy that comes out way.

Instead of prolonging the euphoria we cultivate patience and determination, and spiritual self-sufficiency – words of our critics don’t touch us anymore, we realize that one single word of our guru, one single moment of proper association is worth thousands and thousands of lifetimes, what to speak of critical articles on the internet.

We also get to realize that mercy is all around us if we are humble enough to admit it into our hearts and cherish it properly. We might not have anything to show for it but we also realize that devotional life is not for show, it’s for cleansing out own hearts and as long as it works we don’t care how it looks on the outside.

Christians and God seekers from The Leftovers had not internal goals to pursue, even the most dedicated ones. For them it was all about the rules and mechanics but we know that bhakti cannot be achieved by manipulating material energy – our bodies and world around us. That’s why they always end up in frustration – they tie up their spiritual progress to their external behavior, and Kali yuga always messes it up for everyone.

Austerities, temple worship, meditation – those things worked for us once, too, but in this age they are unreliable and time wasting. The only path to God lies through chanting and talking about Him, not through following external rules and obligations.

“What about four regs?” one might ask. What about them? If we chant sincerely following our regs comes naturally without extraneous effort, and if we don’t chant sincerely then forcing ourselves to behave won’t add anything to our spiritual advancement.

Having material attachments is not a sin, it’s holding onto them and hoping they would bring us happiness is what is offensive. We shouldn’t focus our attention on our external behavior, we have Holy Names to chant, that’s our only duty and our only service, everything else will fall in place automatically. That’s what faith is, from śraddhā to niṣṭhā.

Moving on.

Last month Amazon had a pilot of a show called “Hand of God”, the idea was… Wait, let’s start from the beginning. Amazon is a huge company with diverse interests, one of those is “in-house” entertainment. They are no longer content with selling content produced by others, which was originally limited to books, now they want vertical integration – their own entertainment sold through their own channel to people using their own devices.

They looked at success of Netflix original shows and thought they could do the same. This summer had seen the third round of such pilots, success is still eluding them but they are trying, throwing every idea at a wall and waiting for the one that sticks.

One of those ideas was a show about God. With their attitude in mind it was bound to be a cheap ride on a popular topic and that’s what they ended up with. It’s still not known if the pilot was received warmly enough to order a full season but that is not an important criterion of success for us anyway.

Was it really about God and His effect on our lives and our hearts? Or was it just a platform for miracles convenient for plot twists? They packed quite a lot in that pilot, trying to make it as shocking as possible. There was a judge who went off his rocker becoming born again Christian and we get to see and wonder if there’s any goodness and purity, and “hand of God” behind his madness.

Despite the name, God isn’t an attraction in this show, it’s what this super duper judge can do and how he can impress us, the mere hoi polloi, with his brilliant intelligence, high octane energy, wisdom etc. Once I realized that I lost all interest.

They again try to use God to make themselves look good. Humility is just not their strong suit. As soon as they get touched by this “hand of God” they use it to extend their powers and their control over material world. They never even think about becoming servants, only about masters of the universe, and they demand God’s blessings.

Is there any value in such utilization of God, as was my question in the beginning? I don’t know. God is absolute, everyone who remembers Him in any context purifies his existence but “God” isn’t the best name to remember so the effect is limited, and if one approaches God with the desire to take His powers and use them for his own pleasure then he kind of seals his own fate.

It’s what impersonalists do – they want to become God themselves, they don’t want to become servants. That’s what demons do, too – Viṣṇu is there to be equaled to and then possibly defeated. This attitude is decidedly undevotional.

Is it better than atheism, though? Not necessarily. First of all, they ARE atheists – they reject their relationships with God even if they accept His existence. They are even greedier than ordinary atheists who at least do not hanker after God’s powers to help them in their sense enjoyment.

We’ve also seen millions of atheists in former Soviet block countries becoming best of devotees. I think it was because their atheism wasn’t actually offensive towards God, they simply didn’t know anything about Him, and once they heard our message they immediately became receptive. It’s not the lack of knowledge, it’s the offensive attitudes in our hearts that make us into atheists.

I guess I should have clarified the meaning of “atheist” here first but it’s a big topic, even atheists themselves do not always agree on various aspects of this term.

And I still don’t know the answer if we should welcome using God for entertainment purposes. Certainly not for our own, of course, but for the rest of the population.

Vanity thought #1080. GR

GR stands for “Guilty Remnants” in the TV series The Leftovers which I have gotten into a habit of discussing every week. There were some very good episodes there, like the one about the pastor trying to save his church – we can all relate to such experience. This one wasn’t particularly inspiring or memorable. The plot just slowly moved along but I’m not interested in the plot, I’m interested in portrayal of religion, in portrayal of one’s faith.

GR is one of the strange cults featured in the series. No one really knows what they want, and they were the ones who took over local church, which made them into enemies of religion. On the other hand, I am also curious about that bunch and I once wrote about being in their cult as compared to being a Hare Kṛṣṇa. The point of that comparison wasn’t to determine which cult is better but to understand how joining a religious organization changes a person. Not counting spiritual progress (which GR people don’t get), the experiences are pretty similar.

Our ISKCON leaders have noticed that long time ago and I’ve listened to seminars on the topic, on how to strike a golden balance between being too weird and demanding too much and being too conventional and thus unappealing. People invest themselves into something they feel as special, if we were just like everybody else not many people would have seriously committed themselves.

Kṛṣṇa West, btw, is probably nothing more but another shot at finding that balance. I don’t know why everybody is on their case. If Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t make concessions to westerners there wouldn’t be ISKON. He hooked people first and demanded certain standards of material and spiritual purity later, same principle Kṛṣṇa West devotees hope will work again.

Anyway, these GR folks are mystery. The whole show is about life in a small town after some of its residents were “raptured” and went to Heaven, or so goes the official version. Some people are indifferent to it, some took it as an impetus to try harder in their lives so they don’t get left behind next time JC comes around. GR decided to strike at God with vengeance.

Being left behind is totally unacceptable to them, they refuse to recognize God who would do this to His people. On one hand they appear to be inimical to God, on the other hand they demonstrate an unusual intensity in their relationships with Him, which is never a bad thing. One of Kṛṣṇa’s favorite queens, Satyabhāmā, was similarly hot tempered, so there’s a space in relationships with the Lord for justifiable anger or frustration.

They are also angry at people who let themselves to be manipulated and cheated by a God like that. That’s why they stake their targets and keep reminding them about futility of base human existence – “God does not care, there’s no meaning in life without Him, so just drop it” – that seems to be their message.

There was one scene involving them last week – they staked a boy, gave him a flier that said “Everything that is important about you is inside”. He opened it and it was empty. Clever.

There’s no meaning to our lives without God. Even animals have a purpose – they will eventually become human, their lives don’t go in vain, they make their own steady progress. People who refuse to serve God in the human form of life, however, are a total waste of space.

Well, Kṛṣṇa is generous, they can have pretty good lives even without worshiping Him, but for most of us life without devotion is empty.

Christians aren’t that different. They might not have as strong sādhana as us but they know that whatever they do must in the end lead to reunification with the Lord. Sometimes they can do horrible things but this one realization – “It’s not right by Jesus”, might stop them in their tracks – everyone has limits.

GR people are there to tell them that there’s no point. God as we know is dead, we shouldn’t fool ourselves and should seek the meaning of life elsewhere. I still don’t get their message in full, I just remembered this phrase “We want them to remember something they want to forget.” What does it mean? It was mentioned casually as if it’s pretty obvious but I missed the memo, I guess. Are they saying that they want people to remember ultimate futility of their existence? It would make sense but it’s only my guess.

Even outside their fixation with God there’s a lot we can find in common with them. They are very renounced, for example. We have very advanced views of what proper renunciation means but in real life we are still very attached to sense gratification. GR members aren’t.

They don’t talk, for example – they control their tongues and their minds. Not perfectly, because they can write things they want to say on a piece of paper, but it’s still a reasonable compromise between running your mouth off with the latest gossip and not using your mouth at all.

There was one other thing I noticed about them. This episode started with one of GR woman being stoned to death by some lynch mob. The whole town was pretty shaken, the police chief tried to even impose a curfew. It was a horrible, senseless, inhumane crime but we can find something else to ponder about here – our deep rooted assumptions about the society around us.

Everybody assumes that killing is wrong, but why? Why do we expect people around us respect our right to live? Why do we expect the police to ensure our safety, as individuals and also as groups. Why do we think “I’m a part of this group therefore the government should protect me and my rights.”

If our lives have been rejected by God and have no purpose – what’s the difference between life and death? Why living should be better than dying?

Same applies to GR, too – they renounced the world, so what if one of them got killed? It’s not like there’s any hope or grand destiny for their cult members anyway. When they walk out on their families they cease to exist as members of the society, why should they expect the society to treat them as fully fledged citizens with all the rights and privileges? Renunciation should go both ways, here, shouldn’t it?

This goes for us, too – if we surrender to Kṛṣṇa we shouldn’t expect a fair treatment from the society we rejected

Then, at the end of the episode, the pastor came to preach to these GR folks. He got portable speakers to amplify his message and he expressed the desire to pray for their souls. He said that even if just one of them listened to his message and came out to join him in a prayer he would feel very grateful.

Finally, one of them did come out, approached the pastor, who was already melting with appreciation for God’s power, and then that GR woman blew a loud whistle in pastor’s face, which symbolized their attitude towards church. Whistle is a powerful, multifaceted message – it warns people to danger, it expressed disagreement, it’s meant to wake people up, too.

“Stop doing whatever it is you doing, it’s a waste of time, search for the real truth within, God is not there for you anymore” – that seemed to be that woman’s message.

I don’t approve but I agree with quite a large part of it

Vanity thought #1072. Baby Jesus

This week on The Leftovers: bla bla bla and the story of stolen baby Jesus. There was nothing particularly interesting in the latest episode, more drama about people in the cult and their former families, some barefoot weirdos with a bull’s eye for tilaka, but the baby Jesus story somewhat justified the wasted time.

To remind – The Leftovers is a TV series about time after “rapture”, when roughly one in fifty people had simply disappeared. Everybody assumes they went to heaven and those who are left, well, they are the leftovers. This changes everything for them. Suddenly they are more aware of God but also feel snubbed.

Everybody reacts in his own way, some join a cult of “nothing matters”, some try to prove that raptured folks didn’t deserve it and so it can’t be the real rapture. There’s a side story about another cult, too. Everyone seems to have ground taken away from under their feet and they just can’t come to terms with being left without God’s mercy. How would you feel if you were left down here after all the chanting and praying?

I don’t know how I would have reacted. On one hand it would prove that Kṛṣṇa is “real”, on the other hand it would prove that He doesn’t really need me so I’m free from an obligation to serve Him. It’s quite hurtful to be ignored like this by the Lord. We are supposed to develop a personal relationship with Him, it’s hard as it is and being snubbed like this isn’t helping.

Maybe that’s why this show is a product of someone’s imagination and the Lord doesn’t put is into situations like that for real.

Moving on, the town was prepared to celebrate Christmas, they setup a nativity scene in a public place – sheep, Mary, Joseph, the whole family, and, of course, baby Jesus. Then someone stole him.

Town police chief, when hearing about this, said it doesn’t look like his business but then everybody he met started asking him about it, all the way up to the mayor. He was surprised people really cared. He offered to buy another one in a department store but that wasn’t acceptable either. People wanted “real” Jesus back, not a cheap substitution.

This is an interesting insight into human psyche, I hope it is real and people would react like that in real life, too. That street display was nothing special but people thought of it as sacred and that particular baby Jesus as unique and irreplaceable, like a deity.

If we translate this into our language, baby Jesus was properly installed by the town priest and so he cannot be substituted. Deity is a deity, it’s alive, it’s not just a lump of metal or marble, you can’t replace it just as you can’t replace real people around you.

The rest of this story was about people’s relationships with this “deity” of baby Jesus.

I should mention that the opening sequence to this episode showed how that baby Jesus doll was made in a factory. Not a particularly pretty sight – how they molded the plastic head, how they fitted the eyes, it was eerie, I half suspected they were making another Chucky, the doll character from horror movies that mercilessly kills everyone. Turned out it they were making baby Jesus.

I suppose even when Indians make our deities there are stages when unfinished statues look scary, not ready for public display. There’s ugliness in birth for everyone, I guess, part of life, everyone goes through it, even the Lord Himself.

Of course when Kṛṣṇa appears as an ordinary child there’s nothing scary about Him, or so we think, but maybe real devotion is loving Him with all our heart and soul no matter how unattractive He appears to a materialistic eye. Okay, Kṛṣṇa’s birth was special, but what about Lord Caitanya’s? He looked like an ordinary baby – covered in blood and slime and with the umbilical cord instead of a lotus flower stemming from His navel.

He obviously looked better than other newborn babies but that doesn’t say much in absolute terms. One more reason to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that unless we look at the Lord with “the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love” we won’t see anything. We should always remember that.

That was just one step in creating the “deity”, however. It came out of a factory just like any other doll, in a pretty box. It was standing on the ordinary shelf with hundreds of other dolls of all shapes and colors. It became Jesus only after the priest “installed” it.

When the police chief went to buy a replacement he picked one up from the shelf but it just didn’t feel right, he just couldn’t fake “installing” it, ie turning an ordinary doll into authentic Jesus. Believers or atheists – when it comes to real stuff everybody want to do right by God. It’s not a joke.

This takes us to the thieves themselves – a bunch of teenagers who wanted to mock an object of someone else’s worship. They went full retard in that, doing unmentionable things to baby Jesus and laughing about it. Finally, they decided to burn it but then the one given the task of lighting the fire couldn’t go through with it.

I hope it’s true of ordinary people, too – even hardcore demoniac atheists won’t dare to do the Lord actual harm. Whatever their did in their mockery, they knew there are limits.

Actually, the fact that they intentionally desecrated the “deity” of Jesus should tell us that they believe he is real, they just want to relate to him in their own demoniac way.

That’s how I myself see atheists. It’s not that they don’t believe in God, it’s that they want to relate to Him in a certain way, openly defying His laws or His powers, for example.

Next morning, after the designated girl couldn’t set baby Jesus on fire, teenagers dropped him on police chief’s front steps and ran away in shame when the chief saw them.

I hope this is true for the real people, too – that at the end of the day we all want to do right by the Lord, no matter what we have done, we all hope for forgiveness.

Yes, those kids were awful, and there are many people much more hostile and offensive than them, but I hope they all remember that no matter what, the Lord is our father, in Christian speak, and we can never change this fact no matter what we try. Eventually we all come back and seek His shelter.

The police chief picked baby Jesus and later that day went to put him back where he belongs. He eventually accepted that this doll in his hands was something special, real baby Jesus. Turns out that the priest had already installed the replacement. He simply said he had a spare and he put another doll in the crib, case closed.

Police chief put the original baby Jesus back in the front seat of his truck and drove home. Baby Jesus was looking at him with his blue eyes in the dark of the cabin and eventually the chief decided he had enough of this craziness. He stopped and threw baby Jesus no one needed anymore out of the window.

The end.

Was it, though? Was it the end of that man’s relationship with the Lord? Had he been frustrated beyond his limits? Has the Lord let him down?

I’m afraid the answer is yes to all these questions, but, on the other hand, the chief has learned that there’s more to the Lord than His external manifestations. He has also learned that the Lord appears only through authorized channels. If the priest says “This is Jesus” then it is, you can’t make Jesus on your own out of any ordinary doll. The priest can, we cannot.

We, as devotees, often make the same mistake, too. We think that because we know the Holy Name, possess books, and maybe even deities, we can relate to all these manifestations of the Lord directly ourselves. We can’t. Only our guru can authorize our worship. Without his mercy and his blessings there’s nothing spiritual in our lives no matter what service we do externally.

Two things to remember from this story – we can’t expect the Lord to conform to our standards of beauty – we need to develop real devotion to appreciate Lord’s appearance, and we should never try to serve the Lord without medium of our spiritual master, it won’t work

Vanity thought #1065. Chasing highs

When Cosmos was on air I was reviewing each episode. The excuse was to look at atheist propaganda and see its faults. Now I might take up watching The Leftovers, the show about life after rapture I mentioned twice already.

First time I liked the idea – how the world looks to a person who was left behind when God came to deliver His servants. Second time I was interested in how people get drawn to cults and what it does to their identity, how our identity is closely linked to our names. We chant somebody’s name all the time – how does that make THEM feel? This week’s episode was simply mind blowing, I didn’t know how to feel about it, how to behave in a similar situation, and therefore I decided to write a post about it.

My excuse this week is that the show was entirely about a local priest who tried to find his place in Lord’s service. Yes, he is Christian, yet we are all humans and we all see God through the prism of similar experiences as we live side by side with each other. There’s a lot we can share in day to day life, we face the same struggles and we are equally removed from the Lord Himself, ie we can’t reach Him directly.

The first thing I noticed was common to all Christians – they think God is their order supplier, that He awes them a good life or something. They judge their relationships with Him by how much they get out of it. Considering His interests doesn’t even enter their minds. We should always remember this.

Yes, we share a lot of common problems, we fall to the same temptations, we work on the same impurities in our hearts, yet we must never forget that our lives are not about us, whatever happens to our hearts, whatever happens to our fates – it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that our lives have some value for Kṛṣṇa.

We can’t help but seek His help when we are in trouble but we should never forget that He is not there to make our lives easier, it’s the other way around. “What can we do for Him?” – that’s our primary concern.

Moving on. This priest has a problem with the rapture. He thinks that it wasn’t it, that people who were allegedly taken by God were actually sinners, it couldn’t have been a rapture for them. He collects personal stories and makes them public and that drives a lot of people away – no one wants to hear dirt about their loves ones who they think found God’s grace.

So, there he was, with dwindling congregation, hated by lots of people in the city, unsure about the whole rapture thing, life was hard. Then it turns out that his church is about to be sold and he has only one day to come up with a large sum of money to keep it.

That’s where it gets really interesting. We should be naturally drawn to support him in this effort, even as devotees, we are not the jealous type, churches exist for preaching and for discussing Lord’s glories, however imperfectly. In that part of the world it’s people only connection to God, why would we wish him to fail?

As viewers we also imagine ourselves in this situation, what would we have done? We take it personally. As devotees we can relate to it very well – money for temple maintenance is a constant source of our worries. What would we do to keep the temple afloat? Anything, right?

As it turns out, God was helping our priest by sending doves to appear as guiding signs. He followed the doves and he found some money, but then it took a nasty turn – doves lead him to a casino where he was supposed to multiply the money until it was enough to buy out his church. What would we do?

We don’t have “dove” equivalent, we don’t have a sacred bird or animal whose presence we could interpret as Krṣṇa’s sign. Doves wouldn’t have worked on us and we wouldn’t be taking such signs as real anyway.

It is still possible, however, that gambling could have been presented as a real choice to save our temple. Some of our leaders did similar thing with stock markets. We are wiser now but it didn’t raise many eyebrows then. Even if we know that it’s highly unlikely that Kṛṣṇa would have led us to the gambling table, the possibility still exist – He is “gambling of cheats”, after all.

In the olden days I could remember quite a few devotees who wouldn’t be constrained by no-gambling rule in such a case – it’s not for personal benefit so it shouldn’t count. Can we gamble Kṛṣṇa’s money for Kṛṣṇa’s service? I hope I don’t have to ever answer this question in real life.

The priest of course won, but that wasn’t the end of his troubles yet. This means that I was still sitting on the edge of my seat, rooting for success of his mission against all odds. This is what I call “chasing a high”. Whenever we are put in such a situation and a lot is at stake, adrenaline pumps through out veins, and if we do it in Kṛṣṇa’s service it become double and triple exciting.

I don’t remember specific situations right now but I remember the feeling – when everything hangs by the thread and only Kṛṣṇa’s divine intervention helps us to pull through, and when we tell devotees back at the temple everyone’s heart melts in appreciation of His love and care.

I guess our Moscow devotees are going through something similar all the time. They’ve lost their third temple, they have no place to go, and they have deities to serve. How they survive through all these evictions? I don’t know, but I’m sure they are totally dependent on Kṛṣṇa all the time and they know the high I’m talking about.

Yet there is another consideration here, too – we should not be attached to the outcome of our actions, we cannot give in to the taste of the high itself, our minds should always be equipoised. It’s like with the latest world cup – when I saw games on TV I didn’t care who won and who lost, but Brazil apparently lived through their greatest defeat of all time. One dude drank poison when he saw the score and died with TV still on. I could understand their feelings but I wasn’t involved in it myself.

Same happened with this TV show – I wasn’t fully caught in the drama, suspense didn’t really touch me, and I knew all along that it would all end bad. And it did. Yet I didn’t know if this detachment is genuine. Shouldn’t we be fully absorbed in our service? Yes, losing a temple would be painful but wouldn’t this pain be actually sweet?

Is it okay to embrace the pain of loss? Or is it better to stay cool? I don’t know. Many years ago I wouldn’t even think twice, now I’m either wiser or lazier, I don’t know which. Maybe this emotional detachment is the reason I’m not involved in such dramatic service anymore, I’m just not motivated enough.

Same can be said about bābājīs – they know about Kṛṣṇa, they have their own attachment to Him, but they can’t imagine traveling to horrible, ugra-karmic cities and trying to save some despicable people there. They just don’t love Kṛṣṇa enough. Our ISKCON devotees, OTOH, do it all the time.

Maybe that’s why Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī said he saw only kaniṣṭhas in Vṛndāvana – devotees who don’t understand the value of preaching.

Well, by that measure I don’t understand the value of preaching either, I’m not out there on the streets distributing books, I have excuses. If I was serious about it Kṛṣṇa would have arranged it for me.

Perhaps for those like me chasing highs in Kṛṣṇa’s service is the only available motivation. If we don’t do it due to our spiritual realization, do it to see how Kṛṣṇa always saves our asses instead.

So, should I legitimately get excited? I don’t know. Feels artificial to me, and it’s never a good feeling, but it’s not a valid argument either.

I really don’t know

Vanity thought #1060. What’s in the name?

A week ago I wrote about a new TV show that deals with life on Earth after the rapture, after all the good Christians have been taken to heaven. I thought it was an interesting idea and was worth to explore.

This week there was the second episode and I had a look at it. It wasn’t quite what was I expected and the story now centers on two seemingly unrelated cults that grew up as a response to that rapture thing. One cult is just nuts and the other is lead by a guy who relieves suffering by hugging people, for some reason he also has a fetish for young Asian girls.

It’s the first “nuts” cult that is interesting, though. Apparently they believe that they have been abandoned for good. They don’t share in enthusiasm of the mainstream society that God has taken their friends and relatives to heaven, and they live their lives as if God doesn’t matter anymore.

They call themselves “Guilty Remnants” and I don’t know what it means but they spend all their time smoking because they view it as defiance of God’s given duty to maintain your body in good health, or something like that. They also don’t talk, the take vow of silence, they live in communities and they wear all white.

Their mauna-vrata is farcical, as usual. They don’t talk but they communicate through writing, and not only with outsiders but between themselves, too. I guess if you spend whole night chatting and arguing on the internet you’d qualify for their mauna-vrata, too. As long as you don’t swear aloud at your computer you are okay.

I don’t know the purpose of their silence, there appears to be nothing spiritual behind it, they are not out to discover some inner self, they are just angry at the world and silence represents their rejection of the society, I guess.

They usually carefully pick up their “victims” and start stalking them, silently standing outside people’s doors or windows, always reminding them of their presence and of the idea of the futility of ordinary life, I think. When it works the victims start questioning their situation and their life prospects, then they crack under pressure, run away form homes, and seek shelter with the cult.

This is where we can start relating their experiences to ours. We are not a cult but we go through a similar process of re-orienting ourselves in the world. We give up our old values and absorb new ones. We learn to live by new rules, we learn new habits, new prohibitions, we start wearing new clothes – we are not that different after all.

Anyway, first, the victims are placed in “pledge” houses where they undergo basic training. They are allowed to talk and wear ordinary clothes and they are given a series of tests and exercises. If they pass they are accepted as full converts, if not, well, I don’t really know, but they can run away.

Each “pledge” has a tutor, a spiritual guide and mentor, and these “gurus” monitor pledges’ progress and report it up the chain of command. If the progress is unsatisfactory the “guru” is informed and asked to tighten up the screws. Relationships are outwardly personal but there are impersonal rules to follow, too. Pledges don’t really know who judges them and what is being said about them. There are rules and you must obey but you don’t see who is behind these rules, it’s an institution, a machine.

Doesn’t that sound a lot like ISKCON? I guess all cults are alike, after all.

To get to my point today – there was a scene in the show where local policeman came to the pledge house to look for missing persons. He had photographs of people declared missing and he walked up to each pledge to check if they are on the list. Since many of the pledges ran away from home their relatives often don’t know what happened to them and where they are so this kind of police work is necessary.

So he finds this one woman and asks her name. She is a new pledge, still struggling with her commitment, and when she says her old name you can see a transformation in her heart. Saying her old name out loud made her remember who she was and made her feel separate from this new “pledge” identity.

With the old name came old memories, old desires, aspirations, dreams – all her life suddenly came back into her consciousness. She became another person right in front of our eyes. Externally she restrained herself, of course, but the change was clearly there.

This made me think about the importance of our names. Śrīla Prabhupāda often said that Kṛṣṇa plays different roles according to how He is called and gave examples of people who are known by one name at work and another name at home.

Everyone of us is called differently by different people. Family, co-workers, bosses, children, devotees – everyone addresses us in his particular way and we respond accordingly. There grows a tight correlation between how we are called and how we behave. It doesn’t mean that if our bosses start calling us “dada” our position at work would suddenly change but if our kids call us and say “dada” on the phone we’d surely forget where we are for a second or two.

That’s why it’s important for us to get a new, devotional name, or at least add “bhakta” in front of our usual one. This new identity should grow on us, too.

One day we might forget our service and disappear but the name and the associated identity would stay, waiting for us to fill that role once again. Then, maybe many years later, someone would address us as “So and so” Dāsa and suddenly our heart will melt, overwhelmed by memories, and our knees would give in. There’s no feeling like meeting Kṛṣṇa’s service and Kṛṣṇa’s devotees once again.

Sometimes I think it’s worth disappearing again and again just to experience the overwhelming bliss of reunion.

Well, we don’t have to disappear, most of the time we spend in a wretched state of mind so all we have to do is to remember the best moments of our previous service, would be as ecstatic as anything else.

Conversely, if we meet our old friends or partners and they address us by our old names, we might forget about Kṛṣṇa and start reminiscing about our past. It works both ways. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, we always have some unfulfilled desires and we always have idealized visions of our past so these trips down the memory lane are often sweet, too. We should be aware of this danger when we see the lists of the best bands from the 90s or best movies from the 80s or invitations to high school reunions.

There’s another aspect to this name recollection – how does Kṛṣṇa feel when He hears us calling?

It’s possible that sometimes we both remember our best moments but shouldn’t it also mean that our ordinary chanting doesn’t inspire Him at all? Is it possible that He thinks “Oh, it’s such a drag, do I have to listen to this for another two hours?”

What if we He hears our prayers and thinks “This idiot is asking for that thing again! How many times do I have to deal with this. It’s no good for him.” What if he thinks “Oh, God, this dude is on his trip again, pretending to care about me but in his heart thinking only about his own pleasure. He doesn’t even realize that he’d sell me for thirty pieces of silver if someone offers him a simple relief of suffering.”

Who knows how He reacts when He hears us chanting HIS name. Who knows what memories and identities He associates with that? Considering that we chant so much but nothing seems to be happening He might be actually avoiding us most of the time.

So the question becomes – how to say His name so that His heart melts, too? How to chant it so that it pleases Him? How to chant so that no matter where He is and what He is doing, He’d always find a spare time to listen to us talking?

Honestly, I don’t know. We have the facilities given to us by our gurus and ISKCON but no particular instructions how to achieve that, no magic clues. All we can do is chant and hope that we’ll figure it out with Kṛṣṇa’s help. Eventually He’ll arrange someone to impart us with proper love and understanding, we just have to have faith.