Vanity thought #1798. Jaganmithya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanity thought #884. Snafus

One reason I became somewhat lukewarm to never ending quest for knowledge is that sooner or later you run into some snafus that are extremely difficult to explain, which then goes against Occam Razor’s principle. Sometimes things become messed up beyond salvation yet, strangely, it doesn’t have any visible or lasting effect on one’s faith, so why bother? I mean why bother if knowing answers or not knowing them has no effect. Danger of losing faith is still there so why risk it?

One of such snafus is snuff. Srila Prabhupada used it regularly and his servants always carried a tin or two in his luggage. Snuff is tobacco that is insufflated, that is inhaled, through the nose pretty much like cocaine or other drugs.

Why did Prabhupada use it? We don’t know. His servants remembered that he said it was for relief of high blood pressure or maybe to clear his sinuses or to help him stay up at night, working on books. Well, nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant that would rather increase blood pressure, sinuses can be cleared with non-intoxicant inhalers, and to stay up at night people usually drink coffee.

No need to remind of our “no intoxication including tea and coffee” principle that extends even to chocolate. It just doesn’t match.

Maybe the principle is no intoxication, as no recreational drug use. People smoke to get high, if only a little, people drink to get drunk, intoxication means altering one’s consciousness to produce an artificial feeling of happiness. Clarity of consciousness also gets lost and so it’s easy to see why it’s one of our regulative principles.

Maybe this would explain Prabhupada’s use of snuff – it wasn’t to get high or feel good, it was to keep his work rate through the night, to perform better service, not to enjoy. This is easy to understand, but what then of drinking coffee, the usual go to pick me up elixir? Students cramming for exams don’t drink coffee to get high, no one actually does, people drink it to get perked up in order to function better, though the process can obviously be enjoyed, too.

Would that mean that if we feel sleepy it’s okay to have a cup to coffee or a can of Red Bull as long as we need our bodies to function in Krishna’s service? That would make sense but it’s also against our principles, always have been always will be.

Or we can say that Prabhupada’s consciousness wasn’t affected by nicotine in snuff, only his blood pressure, heart rate etc. That could be the answer, that would also explain why he forbade his disciples to follow snuff sniffing practice.

Still, it’s not how it’s supposed to work with parampara, we are not “do as I say, not as I do” movement, we actually practice what we preach.

As I said – it’s a snafu.

Vamsidas Babaji regularly smoke, or actually he used hookah. In his case we are told that he was beyond rules and regulations and didn’t have to follow sadhana prescriptions. Smoking didn’t affect his devotion to Krishna at all, they might even have been enjoying a pipe together. He used to offer it Radha Govinda, after all, but not to Gaura-Nitai.

Why not? Lord Nityananda Himself was fond of chewing betel nut according to Chaitanya Charitamrita – at the end of Raghunatha Dasa Goswami’s chipped rice festival (CC Antya 6.97).

We can say that Lord Nityananda is God so he doesn’t have to follow any rules but right in the next verse it’s said that after chewing some himself He distributed the rest to devotees.

Or maybe it was because Lord Chaitanya wasn’t there so Nityananda Prabhu could relax the rules a little, as if Mahaprabhu was a party pooper. Maybe that’s why when They were together Vamsidasa Babaji didn’t offer betel to them. But then Lord Chaitanya personally appeared at that festival and was visible to many devotees.

As I said – it’s a snafu.

When Gadadhara Pundit went to see Pundarika Vidyanidhi for the first time he was appalled by the betel nuts and reddened spittoons by his bed. Eventually he realized Pundarika Vidyanidhi’s greatness but it doesn’t say much for no-intoxication principle, does it? Betel nut is a stimulant and people take it to get a mild high, not to increase their work rate when they get tired.

Our opponents can have a field day exposing our “hypocrisy” with these cases and I’m sure they can dig up a few more. I was always worried by the saying “if you see Lord Nityananda going into a liquor shop”, for example. What’s with this “if”? Could it be “when”? Where’s this idea of Lord Nityananda and liquor coming from?

Anyway, none of that seem to affect my [lack of] faith in the above mentioned personalities though I can see how some might become disillusioned. These examples are also not an excuse to start drinking coffee or take other stimulants, ostensibly “for Krishna”.

Would investigating them further bring any benefits? I don’t think so, I think it would be a waste of everyone’s time and it might lead to eventual disappointment.

That’s why I think that at some point quest for knowledge has to stop, topping up will not add any value. This idea might not appeal to everyone but there’s a far less controversial side to it, too – it’s not how much you know that makes all the difference, it’s how much you believe in the simplest things – Krishna is God and chanting His holy name is our only duty.

No one would argue with that.

Vanity thought #421. Pros and cons of perfectionism

It seems like a no brainer – we should perform our service to the best of our ability and always strive to improve it, we can’t be sloppy.

When writing a blog we can put more effort in proof-reading it, for example. To me it’s a big deal, if I publish a post without spending a few more minutes checking for mistakes it’s like I don’t really care how Krishna will enjoy it, I just want to get out of here as fast as possible. That’s not the way to serve the Lord, or anyone else for that matter.

There’s however, another side to perfectionism – Krishna is known to accept the mood of the devotee, not the actual offerings. It’s a sad fact of life that non-devotees generally make the best stuff, but Krishna won’t even look at it because it’s not offered with love and devotion. So why do we have to concentrate on making things better when it’s not things that we are offering, it’s our hearts?

The answer to this, of course, is that we try to chop carrots in perfect cubes because that’s what our hearts tell us to do, for Krishna. We don’t want to create perfect things for the sake of perfection itself, we concentrate on making efforts towards perfection and that’s what we really offer to the Lord.

Initially our offerings might be clearly substandard but pretty soon we notice that we are getting better at preparing them, and once we develop our skills it seems unthinkable not to employ them in order to make the better offerings.

We learn how to do better things from other devotees and once we heard from them it seems unthinkable not offer improvements to Krishna. Sometimes we make mistakes and someone had to teach us how to do things properly, it seems unthinkable not to correct ourselves.

To illustrate this we might consider an example of a guy who mispronounces someone’s name. A lot of non Americans would have trouble getting something like “Cheyenne” correctly but the girl would know they are talking about her anyway. It might go on for some time until she explains to everybody once and for all that it’s “shy-an”. After that using all possible phonic readings would be embarrassing, wouldn’t it?

Same should be with our service – initially Krishna might accept our mistakes but once we know the right way we should quickly abandon erroneous ways, or it will mean there’s something wrong with out attitude.

This, however, has another side, too. For Krishna there are no errors in our offerings, we might get our Sanskrit completely wrong or put too much salt in our food, He doesn’t care about these things. It is quite possible that He gets used to be served such “imperfect” offerings and it becomes integral part of our relations with Him, especially in the form of a Deity.

When we suddenly change our ways He might get surprises: “Who are you? Where’s that devotee whose idiosyncrasies I come to love so much? He was so cute when he pronounces Hare in his own way. I miss him so much, I don’t want any changes.”

It might seem far fetched but there are plenty of examples where Krishna accepts some non-standard seva and He won’t have it any other way. Lord Jagannatha is, perhaps, the prime example. He takes service only from sabar people, originally a forest tribe, not even brahmanas. They don’t follow Pancharatrika rules and their personal habits are not up to our ISKCON standards, yet Lord Jagannatha will not let anyone else to serve Him, there are periods when no one is even allowed to see Him but His dear daitas, He doesn’t need any changes, He likes service from His “imperfect” sabars as it is.

Or one could remember Vamsidasa Babaji, I doubt His Deities, never mind how abused they might have appeared to our eyes, wanted Vamsidas to uphold proper Pancharatra standards.

We can say – this is a temporary material platform, the way I cook at home might be pleasing to the Lord but it doesn’t mean I can’t change my cooking at the temple kitchen. I don’t have to sing the same tunes in the kirtan all the time either. Things here pass, it’s not our original nature, we might have our peculiar ways of serving the Lord but we can’t hold on to them forever.

To answer this I would again point at sabars and Vamsidasa Babaji, whose appearance in this world was as temporary as anybody else’s but who didn’t have to change anything in the way he served his Deities.

If we manage to connect our service with Krishna – that’s already the stage of perfection, it simply can’t get any better than this, it can’t be improved by increasing standards or eliminating errors.

Of course only very few of us a lucky enough to achieve that level but we should always assume the best about service of other devotees. As far as we are concerned – Krishna accept everything from them and enjoys it very much. Our own service – hardly ever, only by the grace of the guru, but we should never think this way about other vaishnavas and so should be very careful with our advice how they can “improve” their service.

Vanity thought #236. Japa roundup.

It’s that time of the week for me to reflect on my chanting performance, after all that’s the only thing that matters.

Most of the week I spent on research, blogging, and reading and I’m in two minds about that as it affected my chanting in opposite ways. First, it made me remember that research, blogging and reading is also done by people with absolutely no interest in chanting.

Most of what I read comes from Internet battles for supremacy where people just love to display their intellect, amount of knowledge, and zero interest in actual service. They also display total disrespect for vaishnavas, the most notable observation. They are, in the words of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, on a “crow pilgrimage”, digging deep in garbage holes in search of rotten leftovers. They have no intention of glorifying the devotees whatsoever, they only want to enjoy the stink of somebody else’s material imperfections.

That makes me think – let’s say all their allegations are true, in a very very unlikely scenario, what would it mean in actual life? What benefit would one gain from chewing on that devotees themselves spat out in disgust? I have plenty of skeletons in my own closet, things I’m ashamed of and want to forget. They are testaments to my weak human nature and the lack of my devotion. I know they are there but I naturally avoid remembering them, doing so only contaminate my consciousness because those are things that I wanted at that time. Their memories bring out long forgotten desires and habits that I don’t want to carry with me anymore.

Sucking them out of the cesspool of my memory and reliving every repulsive detail as done by modern day shrinks won’t solve my problem of addiction to material life, it might rather lend the air of legitimacy because that would put a human face on inhumane behavior. We advance in spiritual life by focusing on Krishna pastimes, not by dwelling on our material past. Shrinks are not gurus, they do not save us from material disease, they only make it more enjoyable, which is directly opposite of what we seek.

So, if reminiscing about my life is not going to do any good to me, what good would it do to people who have absolutely no connection to it? Forget me, it was just a personal example, there are people digging up dirt on practically each and every acharya in our parampara, they study all historical documents they can lay their hands on and they compare them to the vedic siddhanta with the view to expose acharyas’ deviations.

Some of their talking points: Srila Prabupada – easy, he established a western cult in search of fame and money. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati – he deviated from the babaji tradition and established a ridiculous preaching movement that is not following the prescriptions of the six goswamis. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur – he was influenced by Ramananda Roy followers and so introduced foreign influence into the pure Gaudiya vaishnavism. Lord Chaitanya Himself started a new sampradaya that should stop using “Madhva” its name to give it an air of legitimacy.

I suppose every living being in this world, however devoted, has a material body that leaves a trail of stinky stuff in its wake. Even Vamsidasa Babaji who was a fully realized soul on a very intimate level with Krishna once got an urge to taste fish again (he grew up in a family of a fisherman). His reaction to the discovery of such desires in himself, or rather in his body, was very very unusual and I might cover it on another day.

My original point is that all those people on a crow pilgrimage know an awful lot of things, I will never catch up with them. So I did some more reading this week, just like they did, too. What’s the benefit? I might use my newly acquired knowledge to try and push myself towards Krishna but on its own this knowledge is nothing but a bunch of kilobytes I transferred from the Internet and into my brain. Time well spent…

On another hand, returning to my original concern about the value of reading vs the value of chanting, I’ve come across a few examples of “excessive chanting” that weren’t exactly the promotional material. First there was that devotee in Mayapur who came there frustrated with his service at home and started chanting hundred and fifty rounds a day and then wanted to build walls around his “kutir” so that he wouldn’t see other devotees, during Gaura Purnima festival. He soon gave up and returned home.

Srila Prabhupada made it into a lesson for everybody – until you have disturbances in your mind you should not try to engage nirjana-bhajan and rather engage in active service.

I’ve also read that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s brother, Lalita Prasad, who had joined the babajis, had chanted three to five lakhs a day. I’m not in a position to comment on the level of his devotion but he didn’t seem to appreciate the preaching mission that saved me and countless others from absolute ignorance about Krishna. That matters to me but it didn’t seem to matter to him, at least externally. If I take to his path and start chanting so much I might grow a cold stone in my heart devoid of any compassion for other living beings caught in the grips of maya.

Excessive chanting might not affect him but it would certainly affect me.

Btw, a little math here – two lakhs is a hundred and twenty eight rounds, or two sets of 4×16, the counters often seen on our japa bags brought from India. Hundred and fifty rounds is more like two and half lakhs. Three lakhs is three sets of 4×16, or three sets of sixty-four. Five lakhs is five sets of sixty four, or three hundred and twenty rounds. A little more math to follow just a bit later.

So, this week I was torn between reading and chanting, with reading eventually winning. I don’t know if it improved the quality of my japa overall, I’d like to believe it has, it has certainly improved from the time when I was fixing computery things a few weeks ago. I tend to look at reading as the next best thing if I can’t concentrate on chanting only. The next best thing available to me, I mean.

So, without the pressure to chant as much as possible my speed dropped significantly and refuses to go up again. I always said I’m not in control of those things. Sometimes I chant fast, sometimes I chant slow and there’s nothing I can do change it. Currently I’m at a stable five minutes per round. This drop in speed from less than four minutes records coupled with more reading and an extra hour I spend on this blog made my daily count drop to a hundred rounds zone, with hundred and eight rounds currently being the daily target.

Some more math – at five minutes per round three lakhs would take sixteen hours, I can’t do that anymore unless I have an the whole day entirely to myself. Five lakhs, however, would take over twenty six hours, which mean Lalita Prasad was chanting a lot faster than that. If he was chanting at four minutes per round he would have finished five lakhs in over twenty one hours, leaving less than three hours for sleep, bathroom and food.

Without offering any judgment, it’s a precedent for a really fast chanting, someone has done it before. I’m not chanting as fast now so it’s not a pressing matter anymore but it’s a nice little fact to keep in the back of my mind for my personal justification.

As usual, it’s all about me. Will my vanity ever go away? I could only hope.