Vanity thought #1571. Perseverance and its limits

Ordinarily we would declare that devotee’s perseverance in pursuit of his service has no limits. I myself said only a couple of days ago that persistence is our greatest weapon in saṅkīrtana, which is still true, but there are also limits to it, however unspoken and undeclared.

Speaking about persistence, I remember one more story about Armenian devotees, this time about a woman who became their biggest book distributor, she isn’t with ISKCON anymore so I won’t give her name. She was a talented musician, at least by Armenian standards, and everybody in the city from those circles personally knew her. When she became a Hare Kṛṣṇa and ran into the same people with books they couldn’t refuse her authority. Still, Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is of limited size and devotees felt that her saṅkīrtana skills could be better deployed in much bigger Moscow, maybe they hoped that she could break into preaching to cultural elites, I don’t know.

So she arrived in Moscow at the time when it was the saṅkīrtana capital of the world, full of hopes and expectations, and it was a disaster. She walked the streets, went into office towers, tried this and that and couldn’t sell a single book. People just ignored her, her provincial sophistication failing to make any impression on snobbish Moskowites. All the tricks, all the approaches, all the appeals – nothing worked. She wasn’t about to give up, though, and temple management was ready to give her as much time as necessary to find her stride.

Eventually she found it, I think after about two months of fruitless labor. I don’t know or don’t remember how exactly it happened but she found a key to Moscow’s psyche and from that moment on no one could refuse her and she gave a run for the book points to the best male distributors there.

I wished I knew more details about her drama but one could easily imagine how it went – a provincial girl making a name for herself in a big city. Usually it’s her talent that carries her over but in case of the devotees there aren’t any talents involved, only reliance on the grace of Lord Caitanya. She was faithful through and through, never succumbing to a doubt, and Lord Caitanya eventually blessed her with His favor. Somebody had to distribute books there, she proved herself and was finally chosen.

I guess we could discuss possible difference between relying on one’s talent, on firm knowledge that one is a good singer/actor or however people succeed in movies, and reliance on Lord’s mercy, but that’s not the point. Perhaps it’s the Supersoul’s suggestion to follow your destiny that matters most in these cases anyway. I think this should be our biggest consideration here and the one that goes to the heart of the whole “perseverance” business.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books are meant to be distributed, not just from our perspective but from the perspective of the future, too. Some might go to waste, like bits of vegetables that fail to make into a pot, but most of them have their readers waiting for them somewhere up the timeline. When we talk about success in saṅkīrtana it’s not just about our personal destiny but about fulfilling the destiny of the books. From the perspective of the future, or from the perspective of one in full knowledge, there isn’t a cause and effect relationship here in the same way we think ourselves as doers, but there’s destiny that gradually manifest itself. Those who are meant to distribute books will eventually fall into their rightful places, no matter if they started in Soviet military research institutes, hippy communities in Rocky Mountains, or classical music scene in Yerevan. It’s not like “if I do this then I’ll get there” thinking of conditioned souls. There’s no “if”, there’s only “when” – when the body is engaged in constant chanting of the holy name gradually the following symptoms will appear…

The point is, it’s not like “if I undergo two months of fruitless book distribution I will achieve the same success as that woman”. There’s no “if” here, I’m not the doer, I’m just a puppet in the hands of the material energy with the Lord occasionally pulling strings Himself. When He wants me to walk the streets like a zombie, scaring everyone I meet away, then I’ll do it, but it’s not my decision to make.

This is where we should not confuse perseverance with stubbornness. There are limits on how much we should persevere and these limits are set by the Lord. Beyond that it’s acting in our own, selfish interests and it will bring karmic reactions, not bhakti and not engagement in service.

The Lord will never force His devotees to suffer more than necessary. Impersonalists and yogīs might undergo severe penances and earn themselves some progress this way but it doesn’t work with the Lord, whose mercy is called causeless for a reason. We can’t force Him to show it to us. It is possible only in a pure state when the relationship with the Lord are firmly established – that’s why Kṛṣṇa says that He is bound by His devotees, but unless we are up there in Goloka we should be His dependents, not His controllers like Mother Yaśodā. We shouldn’t even try to compel Him to do anything for us but rather remember that He is supremely independent at all times, ie nothing we do is bound to produce any effect, which is very unlike our material lives.

Apart from the story of that woman I can’t remember a single case where perseverance of that kind bore fruit. What usually happens it that unsuccessful devotees develop resentment and start blaming everything but themselves for their failures. People they meet is their first target – they are too demoniac, too self-absorbed, preaching to them can’t be done, it’s not my fault, it’s Kali Yuga. They might also shift the blame on fellow devotees – prasādam wasn’t cooked properly and causes bodily troubles that sap their energy, someone interrupted their japa, the other dude didn’t show them proper respect, there’s always something. Ultimately, they start blaming Kṛṣṇa and their guru and let their minds to convince them that it’s all a hoax, that our entire movement is a cult where leaders live a high life on the back of lowly saṅkīrtana slaves who earn all the money.

Instead of accepting Lord’s will they push their own vision where they see themselves as great book distributors. This vision is so attractive that they are ready to accept great tapasya to achieve it. They are ready to change their ways, learn new techniques, show up first for morning programs and stay on the streets longer, read more books, hear more tapes – everything that in their mind would cause the Lord to submit to their will of becoming great saṅkīrtana devotees. The Lord doesn’t bend to our will, however, and so everything fails, and eventually they reach the point where their determination to undergo austerities for the sake of saṅkīrtana runs out, and that’s when they start blaming someone else because in their mind they themselves did everything humanly possible.

What we need instead is persevering in Lord’s genuine service, doing things He wants us to do instead of pushing for our own version of it.

There’s another angle to patience – it’s supposed to be a distinguishing quality of a brāhmaṇa but there’s a story about Karna tolerating enormous pain while his guru slept resting his head on Karna’s lap. When the guru woke up and saw how a beetle bore a hole in Karna’s thigh he immediately realized that Karna wasn’t a brāhmaṇa – this kind of tolerance was an attribute of only kṣatriyas and no one else. The possible explanation for this, however, is beyond the scope of today’s post.

Vanity thought #604. Payback time

This is in continuance of an old post where I promised to find a shastric example of a liberated person being put in the most abominable position. Usually we expect that Krishna would protect us in every way and that means He would also make our lives as comfortable as we want.

We don’t seriously expect for our egos to be dragged through the mud, not on Krishna’s watch.

Unless we achieve a hundred percent purity our appeals to Him to protect our egos are not actually about Him keeping His word, it’s about us protecting our attachments. Needless to say, as long as we cherish our false egos we’ll be born here again and again. It’s quite possible that even when offered liberation and going to Krishna we would choose our false egos that have kept us warm through millions and millions of lives. Would Krishna take us to Him against our will? Our attachments to our conditioning is ours, as long as we have it we will be stuck here.

One could say “But what about our devotion?” Well, what about it? If we have devotion we wouldn’t be having attachments. If we keep our anarthas we don’t have devotion, at least not the pure devotion that would take us to Krishna directly.

So, in Uddhava Gita Krishna tells a story of an Avanti brahmana. He was a merchant and an agriculturalist, he had a nice family but he wasn’t a nice man. He was quite wealthy but due to his stinginess all good fortune deserted him and soon the family had followed. This lead him to renunciation and eventually he realized that material attachments are the cause of distress and he decided to dedicate his life to serving Lord Hari.

His karma, however, just wouldn’t let him go. Even as a sannyasi, being in the topmost order in varnashrama system, he didn’t get any respect. While he was sitting and meditating on the Supreme Lord he was derided and abused by hooligans. They would spit on him and urinate on his food, or fart in his face.

Those who knew him from his earlier days blamed him for everything he had done before and dismissed his renunciation as a cheap trick to find food. Some would put him in chain and keep him as a slave. In short, he got the worst possible treatment as a member of the human species as possible.

Yet he didn’t bother the Lord for protection, he fully separated his devotion to the Lord from his karmic reactions. No matter how badly he was treated it didn’t affect his meditation, he didn’t try to bring his material concerns into Lord’s service and he didn’t try to make the Lord his servant, asking him to do this or that for his own comfort.

Whatever was done to him he didn’t think he deserved any better and he didn’t see his offenders as doing anything wrong, he didn’t see any injustice in his inhumane sufferings. There was nothing to be corrected or protest about.

This is what I was talking about in that old post – if we strive for perfection we should forget about our innate desire to judge and correct the world around us. We should give up all our “human rights” and we will never be able to pull rank again. No matter what happens we should see ourselves as being in the wrong and our offenders in the right.

Moreover, we should not appeal to Krishna for our personal comfort either. Let Him enjoy our service without being disturbed. The beauty of devotion is that it can’t be hindered by our karma, our own conditional existence and Lord’s service should be totally separate.

Vanity thought #442. Renouncing liberation

Usually we have no problem with renouncing liberation and praying only for devotion to the Lord. We know very well that liberation is not worth bothering, that it is automatically included in the “welcome” bag for every devotee already.

We also know that liberation is the greatest enemy of bhakti (I mean impersonal kinds of liberation here). Why would anyone pray for liberation? Why would anyone desire liberation? Why would anyone pay any attention to liberation?

Well, this is in theory, in practice, however, we might seriously underestimate our core motivations. We might not acknowledge them but Krishna, or Paramatma within our hearts, can see them very clearly.

One could easily test his desire for liberation by remembering or even imagining himself in a difficult situation. We don’t feel we need liberation when life is comfortable, bellies are full of food and internet is fast, but what if we get struck by a terrible, painful disease?

If we are lucky we might go into a shock and lose consciousness, but what if pain is never strong enough for automatic body shutdown and we get to vividly experience every shade of torture? Can anyone say that he would be completely uninterested in the offered painkillers? Because that what liberation would look like to a sick person.

What if we were stranded in a desert and run out of water? We can survive a day or two, maybe less if it gets very very hot, and just when we are about to give up struggle to survive someone offers us cool shade and a bottle of water – will we be in a position to have absolutely no interest in taking it?

Most likely we will grab at this offer of liberation with both hands and will never let go.

To fully renounce liberation we have to develop extraordinary levels of tolerance, taror iva sahishnuna, like a withering tree about to be cut down but still offering shade and whatever remaining fruit is there to its own murderer.

Actually, we might need to be a lot more tolerant than a tree because we don’t know how the tree feels, we can only observe how it acts. Maybe the tree is agonizing beyond relief inside but has no power to protest externally. That consciousness won’t get us anywhere, we should fully embrace our fate if we are to request the gift of devotion and chanting of the Holy Name.

We should be really indifferent to whatever levels of pain and pleasure material nature throws at us. On that note – I believe there’s no limit of pain the material illusion can inflict on us. Which leads me to the next step – it’s impossible to achieve this stage by our own efforts.

We might learn to tolerate moderate amounts of pain, we might learn to tolerate occasional insults thrown at us in the comment section on some Apple-Android article, we might tolerate people forgetting our birthdays and anniversaries, we might tolerate mild headaches, but that is all only relative – what we have to learn to tolerate is infinity, and by that measure all our mundane achievements in tolerance are utterly insignificant.

Basically, we should try our best but remember that our best will never be good enough to earn devotional service to Krishna. We can’t afford to show any slack either.

As for liberation – yes, we should reject it, but remember that our inner motives will not withstand any real tests and most of what we are saying now is just talk. Luckily, Lord Chaitanya only talked about dhanam, janam, and sundarim kavitam – things we can easily relate to. If He included mukti in His Siksashtaka we might have to gloss over it as we gloss over yugaitam nimishena verse because we can’t fully grasp its meaning yet.

Vanity thought #144. Reflections on Sanmodana Bhashyam, verse 1.

The fact that what I am doing is not sankirtana wasn’t the only discovery I made while re-reading Sanmodana Bhashyam. Don’t know where I was looking when I read it the first time, there are little gems of wisdom on every page there, hidden behind the usual glorification of the Holy Name.

Take “vidya vadhu jivanam”, for example, sankirtana is life and soul of all education. Vadhu also means wife or bride. Gopis were called vadhu, too. So, is vadhu here means life and soul in a sense one’s wife is his life and soul? Possibly, but Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura offers a different explanation, but wait a second.

I always assumed that “life and soul of all education” means that you study vedas and discover that worshiping Krishna is their ultimate purpose, you study some more and find that shravanam and kirtanam of the Lord’s name and pastimes is the highest service, and among various ways to glorify the Supreme Lord sankirtana is the best. Goes hand in hand with what Lord Chaitanya was doing Himself. First He became a famous vedic scholar, undisputed champion of grammar and everything. Then He proclaimed that all this studying leads only to chanting the Holy Names of Lord Hari and if one does not come to this realization all his studies have been a waste of time.

There’s nothing wrong with this explanation of “vidya vadhu jivanam”, I suppose, but Sanmodana Bhashyam offers a twist.

First, Bhaktivinoda Thakura states that there are two kinds of Supreme Lord’s shakti, vidya and avidya. Avidya is Lord’s external potency, mahamaya, that covers spiritual soul’s knowledge of his real position and makes him enjoy in the material world. Vidya is Lord’s internal potency that creates the spiritual world, yoga maya.

When one chant the Holy Name this internal potency, yoga maya, or swarupa shakti, or bhakti devi, enters the heart of the devotee, eclipses the maha maya, and drives away all ignorance and material desires.

That’s why chanting of the Holy Name is life and soul of all transcendental knowledge – knowledge of Lord’s form, attributes, pastimes, and our relationships with Him.

That is also why this Bhakti Devi is called vadhu, as She is also described as Krishna’s wife.

Awesome stuff.

Practically, it further proves that my efforts at chanting and sankirtana are two different things. For my chanting the highest knowledge I expect is realization that chanting is the highest service I can possibly render, at this point at least.

If I was doing sankirtana the highest knowledge would the knowledge of direct my relations with Krishna.

That brings up yesterday’s point about discrepancy of what Lord Chaitanya was teaching in Siksashtaka and what we are trying to do. Today I tend to look at the first verse as declaration of the ultimate goal and ultimate benedictions. All the verses following it are more in line with our imperfect chanting than with real sankirtana.

Lord Chaitanya talks about lack of taste, He talks about being humble and patient in glorification of Lord’s Hari’s names, He renounces all kinds of material goals in exchange for devotional service in His future births, He begs Krishna to make him a speck of dust at Krisna’s feet instead of boasting about His actual spiritual relationships if He were talking from verse 1 platform.

Perhaps the most pertinent observation/complaint against the first Siksashtaka verse is absence of “anandam budhi vardhanam pratipadam purnamrita svadanam” – where is the nectar at every step?

Lord Chaitanya might have stated this in the beginning but when He followed with His own realizations there was not nectar either. Just extreme sorrow and lamentation. He cried that His body didn’t display any signs of love of God, He cried that separation from the Lord is unbearable for Him and finally He accepted His misery for the sake of Lord’s pleasure, so to speak. Where’s the nectar there?

Lord Chaitanya wasn’t cheating us. The glories of sankirtana described in His first verse were as unattainable for Him as they are for us, and they are still there, of course.

Makes me do two things – first, forget about analyzing this first verse in every detail, it’s nice and all but purely academic. Second – make achieving “sankirtana” my most pertinent goal, unless told otherwise.

The fact that I’m not doing sankirtana yet shouldn’t discourage me at all. There’s this verse from Srimad Bhagavatam, 2.1.11

O King, constant chanting of the holy name of the Lord after the ways of the great authorities is the doubtless and fearless way of success for all, including those who are free from all material desires, those who are desirous of all material enjoyment, and also those who are self-satisfied by dint of transcendental knowledge.

Constant chanting. Doubtless and fearless. For those who are desirous of material enjoyment.

What other confirmation do I need?

Same chanting is recommended for those who are free from all material desires, and for them it would be real sankirtana, I suppose, same chanting is recommended for annoying nuisances like me, and for great yogis who meditate on their own self and don’t need anything else, apart from chanting names of Lord Hari, as they are about to find out.

This is another argument in favor of Hare being Hari in the maha mantra, btw.

Well, a few words about today’s chanting. Two things happened, encouraging and discouraging. First, I’m learning how to intensely listen to the mantra without deviating even for a second. I’m learning how to maintain this discipline for hours on end. It’s far from perfect but it’s a clear progress nevertheless.

Unlike before, where my default state of chanting was mouth moving, mind flying elsewhere, I’m more often listening to the names than thinking about anything else now. During today’s nine hours I can count only a few instances when the mind was able to sustain his own line of thought for more than a few mantras.

This is good, but I doubt I can sustain it myself without taste for the Holy Names to feed to my mind. It’s a material element, it attracts to things like a magnet. I can hold it off only for so long, I’m not a yogi. It will find something to cling to and if it’s not the Holy Name I’ll be lost again.

This is me blackmailing the Lord in giving me some nectar…

He knows better than me, of course, I should display my tolerance here, not whine about possible failures.

The discouraging thing is that my pronunciation took a nosedive. I can say the full mantra only if I’m fully committed to it. If I think of anything else, even for a split second, I start stammering and swallowing words and syllables.

I can’t even slow down anymore, my mouth refuses to work at all if there’s no required level of energy, speed, and concentration. You could say it’s a blessing in disguise but for me it means repeating the same mantra again and again without moving a bead until I get it right, and it takes time. If I was chanting sixteen rounds extra ten minutes wouldn’t have mattered, but with my new standard 108 I’m looking at extra hours, not minutes.

Either that or completely bungled, distorted mantras, or reducing the number of rounds.

The last half an hour were in haze for me today, again. I was really squeezing out the last bits of juice from my batteries, completely helpless and bewildered, having lost all sense or purpose.

I have a few thoughts about it but they are not quite clear to me yet, can wait until tomorrow.

As much as it pains me to say it, but

All Glories to Sri Krishna Sankirtana!