Bedrock of Rasa

Krishna spoke a lot of bogus philosophy when trying to convince His father to worship Govardhan instead of Indra, but he also slipped in a couple of slokas that are true and free from deception. Here is one of them:

na naḥ purojanapadā
na grāmā na gṛhā vayam
vanaukasas tāta nityaṁ

SB 10.24.24

I won’t copy the translation, please try to look at Sanskrit and let the meaning come to you, it’s an easy verse to parse.

Second “nah” in “na nah” means not “no” but “us”. “Puro” means “city” and “janapada” means suburbs. Okay, it’s not how it’s translated but close – areas developed (padah) by humans (jana). Second line is obvious – “na grama” means we do not live in the villages, “na griha” means we do not have houses, “vayam” means “we” again. Third line then tells us where they DO live – “vana” is forest, of course, and “okasah” means “residents of”. “Nityam” means forever, “nivasinah” means “where we live”, and we live in “vana-saila” – forests and hills. So here is the verse again, look at it and let it come to you:

na naḥ purojanapadā
na grāmā na gṛhā vayam
vanaukasas tāta nityaṁ

Earlier in this chapter Krishna addressed Nanda Maharaja as “pita” – father, but in this verse he uses a much closer, much less official term “tata”. So He turns to His father as close as He can, speaking in the most endearing way, and He lays down the foundation of their family – we do not live in cities or any developed areas, we do not live in villages and we don’t build houses for ourselves. We are people of hills and forests and we will stay this way forever. There is only us and nature, and civilization does not intrude into our lives.

A couple of verses earlier Krishna was speaking of the dharma of vaishyas and he listed four occupations:

kṛṣi-vāṇijya-go-rakṣā kusīdaṁ

SB 10.24.21

We know these things – krishi (agriculture), vanijya (trade), with only kusidam being new and it’s translated as “banking”. Krishna says in that verse that their family, however, was doing only go-raksa – protecting the cows. Trading and banking would tie them to people, and agriculture would tie them to one place – to tilling the land, to gardening etc, and we have seen that they were not interested in that – they were strictly the people of nature.

“Go” means cow and it also means the same as English “go”. Cows are animals that wonder around, looking for things to eat. Senses are called “go” for the same reason – they are naturally attracted to consuming their objects. It’s the same “go” as in the word for the universe – jagat – something that always gives birth to something new and in this way always moves forward. This is what “following the nature” means, too – the nature always brings forth one thing or another, cows and senses naturally follow, and Krishna protects them and brings them satisfaction as “Govinda”.

Why is civilization excluded? I’d say it’s because “nature” is dumb, in a sense that living beings that support it (“dharyate jagat” from BG 7.5) are too conditioned to spoil it with their own ideas. Nature follows the Lord, especially in Vrindavana, without abusing its free will. It’s a perfect example of “mama vartmanuvartante” from BG 4.11. Whatever comes down as a good idea from the spiritual world is fulfilled by nature here perfectly. It’s the humans that screw things up, relatively speaking – because people also do vartmanuvartante.

Now I have an explanation why I was always suspicious of agriculture and gardening, too. On one hand it brings people closer to nature, but on the other hand it lets people override God’s design for it and shape it in their own ways, which are not at all better. I was stunned by this realization once, ages ago, when I was asked to comment on a lawn. Lawns definitely look nice and are pleasure to walk on, but they lack this natural spontaneity, the wilderness that sets in when humans are not around. Lawns have only one type of grass but if you leave the same patch unattended for a month and all kinds of plants and creatures will take shelter there and transform it in unpredictable ways, always in competition and cooperation with each other. It’s not as pretty but a lot more inclusive, a lot more supporting, and a lot more forgiving environment than a lawn. Lawns are not places of love but forests are. In forests every creature is loved and every creature overflows with love for the world, too. Not exactly for the world but with honest and earnest appreciation for whatever opportunities are given. No twig and no leave would ever turn its face away from the chance to grow and shine forth. Only people can do that. Nature embraces life, people control and often deny it, and therefore Krishna follows nature.

Let’s go back to that verse again – Krishna declares what is most important for their lives. It’s connection to nature, the commitment to follow it, wherever it takes them. Vraja is not a place, it’s a style of life. An outlook on the world where you are not tied down to anything but to progress. An attitude where you never say “but we have to stay here” when the opportunity presents itself. I need a little clarification here.

We know nature is cyclical, that there are seasons and in winter everything goes to sleep. There are bigger cycles, too, however, and it’s very obvious when nature comes in touch with people. At first it brings forth fruits and honey and grass for the cows but eventually forest resources becomes depleted and that’s when Vraja has to get a move on and find a new place where nature is fresh and bountiful again while the old place is given a rest and recharges itself. This was the reason given for moving from Gokula to Vrindavan in Hari Vamsa. The old place, Gokula, became depleted, too many cows ate too much grass, too many people collected too many fruits, nuts, and honey. It had to be given a rest. It also attracted wolves, Hari Vamsa says. Bhagavatam doesn’t talk about this but it does say that city people started noticing it – Kamsa’s demons discovered where it was and raided it several times, and that was also a reason to move on, away from civilization.

So here it is, Krishna’s sweet sweet description of their lives: “There is only you and me, Tata, our cows, and the forest, and that’s all we ever need”. Why did I call it “bedrock of rasa”? Because all rasas find nourishment in this arrangement. Gopis meet Krishna in the forest. Cowherd boys can’t wait to get away from their homes and spend time with Krishna in the forest. Nanda Maharaja, as the protector of the realm, rules over forest and cows and makes sure Krishna is alright – this is the object of his vatsalya, too. Also, in the chapter about the autumn in Vrindavana the reason for giving this description is that because nature in autumn automatically produces sringara rasa in both Krishna and the gopis and so Sukadeva Goswami had to describe it to set the mood as the narration changed its course, setting its sights on rasa lila.

As I said earlier – nature is surcharged with love and nature accepts everything, which are distinctive characteristics of madhurya. Neither in nature nor in madhurya can a devotee say “I’m sorry, I can’t do that”. Mother Yasoda and cowherd boys excuse themselves from conjugal pastimes but there is absolutely nothing gopis won’t do for Krishna. They can bathe Him and they can play sports with Him, maybe not as well as Yasoda or Sudama, but they would never say “no, it’s not for us”. Similarly, no one ever says “no” in nature. Every shrub has a right to express itself. It might not be accommodated because of competition for sunlight and such, but it would never say “No, I don’t want to grow”.

In this way the forests of Vrindavana are on the lowest stage of devotion by one count – in santa rasa, as they say (though everything in permeated with madhurya there and so pure santa rasa doesn’t exist). But from another perspective the nature gives impetus to sringara and sringara becomes totally dependent on it. Thus, if we start counting from sringara and go down we will get to nature’s santa but then santa would link to sringara again, completing the circle.

I intentionally inserted a couple of Sanskrit words in the previous paragraph to make it sound theoretical. Let the theorists proceed in that direction if they want. The main point is that talking about gopi-bhava is theoretical without seeing it in the nature around us. Granted, it’s not Vrindvana, but nature is still nature and all the rasas are still there, either as seeds or as reflections, and nature is available to us – we all can go out and embrace it. I think it would be a much better and much more useful exercise than sitting around talking about gopi bhava. If one can’t see it nature he won’t see it in these conversations either.

Screenshot of a twig from Maturity

Vrindavan Welcomes

While hanging around the temple the other day I picked up “Vrindavan Memories” book and read a few stories from it. This book is a collection of personal remembrances related to building Krishna Balaram Mandir. Usually our memoirs are centered on Srila Prabhupada, on what he had done, where he had gone, what he had said etc, but this book is about stories between individual devotees and Vrindavan and therefore it provides an unusual insight into the early days of our movement.

Take the story of Surabhi Prabhu, Krishna Balaram’s architect. First he was invited to design Bombay temple but construction there hit a snag with the court case against the original landowner who wanted to cheat ISKCON out of the land. Having nothing to do there Surabhi was sent to Vrindavan to work on design of Krishna Balaram instead.

When their group arrived in Vrindavan they had nowhere to go and so they decided to start with bathing in Yamuna first – you know, to get purified before they get to know Vrindavan itself. So they went to the river, changed into gamchas, and started bathing.

Right at this moment an Indian man from a local group bathing nearby, in other words a Vrijavasi, got swept away by the currents and started drowning. There was huge commotion and devotees went in to save him but he was drawn under the water and they just couldn’t find him. The man drowned and his body was never seen again.

Just think about it – you go to Vrindavana for the first time. You know it’s a sacred land non-different from the spiritual world, and the first thing you see is this sacred Yamuna River killing a man before your eyes. How do you react? Do you treat her as a person and therefore hold her responsible? Or do you think about it is a dumb river, a mass of water flowing under the law of gravity? What just happened? What kind of welcome message Vrindavan is sending you? 

I’m still not sure what to think. Was it a spiritual decision by transcendental personalities and the message was that “life” as we know it means nothing here and can be legitimately taken away at any moment with no recourse whatsoever? Or do you brush it off as an accident, a kind of natural disaster with no one responsible?

Second story was told by Gunarnava Prabhu, the name I don’t think I have heard before, and there are actually two stories here. He was in a group of devotees who flew into Delhi and were told to go to the train station and travel to Vrindavan. So, they started off in the “civilized” world when they got on an airplane, albeit Indian. They arrived in a half-civilized world airport, but their next stop was Delhi train station and they’ve never experienced  anything like this before. 

Sights, sounds, and smells of Indian train stations are overwhelming. They’ve never seen so many people in one place doing so many different things, all seemingly chaotic. “Vibrant” is one word to describe it. There were screams and shouts, everybody was dressed colorfully but at the same time filth was everywhere, too. There were smells of trains, diesel fuel, smoke from the exhausts, cooked food being sold, food being cooked, spices, sweat, and urine. 

Okay, they went to the ticket office and decided that because the journey was going to be only a couple of hours they could get by in a third class carriage. Little did they know that two hours on the schedule means four or more hours in real life, or that third class carriage means standing room only for many many passengers, and that “passengers” included chicken, goats, and even cows. 

From Mathura they took the last bus to Vrindavan and they arrived when it was already dark. If you seen Vrindavan at night – the city is practically dead. All the doors are bolted and there isn’t a soul on the streets, not even animals. Lucky for them, a man spotted a group of lost looking westerners and offered them to spend the night at the nearby Ramakrishna Mission ashram. 

You know how our scriptures describe the Sun as an eye of the Lord? They experienced it for real the next morning when they first got the chance to see where they actually were. The Sun literally opens our vision of the world around us, and they were taking in the sights with the thirst of a tired pilgrim. 

They were taken by rikshaws to the Radha Damodara temple where ISKCON devotees stayed at the time and so they went through a maze of narrow streets with open sewage on both sides and it all looked decidedly medieval. “What is this place?” question was on everybody’s minds. Welcome to Vrindavan.

After a while Srila Prabhupada sent them a letter asking them to move onto the newly donated land in Raman Reti – where our Krishna Balaram temple now is. At that time (1972) Raman Reti was far out on the outskirts from Vrindavan Town and there was nothing there, it was just overgrown land and nothing else.

They moved in, they got a few huts to stay in, and that was all. There was no running water, no toilets, no plumbing or facilities of any kind, but they did get an electric wire coming from the main road. By that time it was already summer and summers in Vrindavan are unbearably hot. During the day temperature regularly goes into mid forties, means ten degrees higher than the human body. I don’t know how much it is in Fahrenheit. 238923 to the power of ten? This would be a suitable place for a joke about non-metric systems but 108 degrees Fahrenheit is about 42 degrees Celsius so they got at least something right in that system there. 

To relieve themselves from heat, or to actually survive the heat stroke, devotees would soak gamchas and chaddars in water, lie down, and cover themselves with wet clothes, waiting for them to dry, then rinse and repeat. The highlight of their day was when one of them would ride a bicycle to Loi Bazaar to buy a block of ice from ice-walla, bring it back, and make it into a cold drink. Once a day. They didn’t have things like refrigerators back then. One glass of cool drink a day was all they had available in transcendentally unbearable 108 degree heat. 

There was one devotee named Vyala among them. He was a pukka brahmacharit – very neat and very organized. One day it was his turn to ride to Loi Bazaar. Devotees also got a watermelon and it was decided that they’d wait for ice and then have a nice, cooling watermelon with nice, cooling drink. This time, however, Vyala was not back on time. 

Tired of waiting they decided to have watermelon themselves first and they left Vyala’s piece on a plate inside a hut. At this point one stray cow, which are everywhere in Vrindavan,  smelled a juicy piece of watermelon, spotted it in the hut, and went straight inside to get it. 

Devotees tried to stop her but nothing can stand in the way between cow and her food. Except small doors. She went through the outer room okay but got stuck in the door to the inner quarters. Her stomach was too big to squeeze through. Lucky for her, she still could reach the watermelon and she started chomping on it.

Because she was stuck in the door devotees could not get into the inner room and save the watermelon either so they helplessly listened to the cow enjoying her food. When she was done she backed out of the door but cows are not very good at walking backwards so she tried to turn herself around inside the outer room. There were three-four devotees in that room as well and they all started pushing and shoving her. The cow thought that she was trapped and she backed up into the inner room again but this time it was her rear end that went in. Panicking, she relieved herself and a huge pile of hot steaming cow dung dropped on the same plate where there was Vyala’s watermelon before. 

When they eventually got the cow out Vyala finally came back. Turned out the bicycle had a flat tire and he had to fix it himself on the side of Vrindavan road and it took a very long time. He was hot, sweaty, and very very irritated. He was cursing the bicycle, the tire, everything, but mostly the heat.

To his disappointment the ice block completely melted so cool drink was no longer on the menu. “Where is my watermelon”, Vyala asked hopefully. “Well, about that….”

Vyala went inside the hut and realized that not only he spent hours out in the burning sun for nothing – no ice and no cold drink, but that for prasadam he literally had only a pile of cow sh*t. He just flipped out. “I’ve had enough”, he said, and he left Vrindavan soon afterwards.

When I replay this story in my head I can’t contain laughter, it’s pure gold comedy, but there’s a very important lesson here for us. Surrender everything to Krishna means surrender everything. There’s absolutely nothing that Krishna will let us to hold back. Nothing. We cannot demand water, food, tolerable temperature – we cannot demand anything. 

When we approach Krishna there will be severe tests given and we are expected to pass. One can chide this Vyala devotee for not being patient and tolerant enough but he was given a test no one of us is ready for yet. He didn’t pass it but we are not even in the same grade. From his example we can only estimate what will be asked of us when the time comes.

Alternatively, instead of imagining all the possible things we will have to tolerate or give up we can concentrate on the chanting of the Holy Name and then absolutely everything else in our consciousness will have to go. 

In our lives we try to orient ourselves relative to all kinds of phenomena. “How do I react to this? What do I do when this happens? How to I reply here? What about that? Is it safe for me to think this way?” Our true position, however, should be relative only to Krishna/Holy Name. Once we see this connection our positions in regards to all the other phenomena will be clear automatically. We won’t have to think or ask questions about it. Just try to develop Krishna consciousness and everything else will fall into place naturally without any extra endeavor. 

Perhaps it’s for this reason that I’m not eager to go to Vrindavan anymore. I feel like I’ve seen everything that there’s there to see already. That is – I’ve seen everything I can see with my present eyes and if I continue looking – meaning I continue engaging my senses in my current materialistic mentality – I will be making nama-aparadhas. New eyes are necessary. 

Of course it’s not just eyes – eyes are only tips of the senses but the main perception occurs in the mind. Then the intelligence catalogs the experiences in the vast library of dates, places, meanings, and connections, and then the ego decides what kind of experiences I want to pursue in the future. 

I feel the need to cleanse this whole mirror in the heart, the one that reflects reality for my perception, before I dare to have another look at Vrindavan. Interesting thing – once this mirror is cleansed Vrindavan can been seen everywhere and in its full transcendental glory, too.

Another aspect of it is that Vrindavan is not a city, not a town, and not even a village. Vrindavan is a forest and Krishna lives in Vraja, which is a special kind of place that needs to be described separately. This Vraja or Vrindavan doesn’t have electricity, air conditioning, cool drinks, ice boxes, apartment buildings, cars and rikshaws, or the Internet. Or rupees in your wallet. If I interact with these things I’m not in Vrindavana and these are the things that Krishna wants to be given up completely. There will be a test as well so I better get ready. First learn offenseless chanting, establish your own Krishna Consciousness, then Vrindavan will appear together with Krishna Himself. They are inseparable, you can’t see one without seeing the other.

Vanity thought #1044. Doom of Mayapur

I don’t mean Māyāpura is doomed, I mean the doom it brings to visiting devotees. It’s not supposed to be understood this way but Māyāpura changes people, for good. Hopefully always for the better but maybe sometimes for the worse, too. In any case, once you have changed there’s no coming back. Things you were used to before will be gone forever, there’s no return, you are doomed.

Ultimately, everything that happens to us is for our benefit, even for ordinary materialists, so there’s nothing to worry about when we lose or gain something. In short and medium terms, however, some things are beneficial for our progress and some aren’t and we judge them accordingly. So, there could be situations where a visit to Māyāpura prevents a long term disaster but appears to damage our spiritual lives from a short term perspective.

I would even argue that this is a very common occurrence, we just don’t see it that way.

Originally, annual Māyāpura festivals were meant to recharge our spiritual batteries for a year-round preaching. That’s how Śrila Prabhupāda devised them – to let devotees get a taste of what is coming so that their faith becomes stronger and they see more compelling reasons to preach in cold and gloomy west. It certainly works for some but not for as many as we’d like.

What was true in Prabhupāda’s time might not be true anymore because devotees have changed, it’s been almost half a century, after all, which is a lot of time in the modern, Kali Yuga world. Just think about people back in the sixties and seventies, it was a height of the Cold War, hippie revolution, flowers, flying to the Moon and dreaming about the world of 2000.

We, the humanity, are a lot more cynical now. What was exciting fifty years ago only make us cringe t our naivety. Communism had become a huge disappointment, and then so did democracy. Flying cars haven’t been invented and no one flies to the Moon anymore, Americans don’t have a rocket to fly anywhere, period, they hitch rides on Russian rockets instead.

Social fabric has been completely torn apart, homosexuality and feminism have become a norm, and people go to concerts to take selfies, not to listen to ground breaking music.

ISCKON has also changed, devotees changed, tricks our managers used in Prabhupāda’s time do not work anymore, we’ve learned a lot of lessons and become very sensitive not to repeat them again. It’s not that we became more advanced, we rather became more sophisticated in our ignorance.

When devotees come to Māyāpura they certainly get a lot of inspiration but they do not apply it in the same way Śrila Prabhupāda had hoped all those years ago.

I suspect even in those days there were devotees who saw trips to Māyāpura as a validation of their progress or position in the society but let’s not dwell on the past, it’s not a problem anymore.

Everyone can go to Māyāpura now, even Russians, or, as they called them once, CIS devotees, have got enough money to visit India, money is not a problem. When the society consisted mostly of brahmacārīs they depended on the mercy and generosity of their superiors and so getting on the list of those who gets to go to India was an achievement, a sign of status. When everyone works and has his own money going to Māyāpura adds nothing to his status. So, okay, that motivation is gone, which is a good thing, right?

There are other problems still, yet unresolved.

Come, see Māyāpura, take in the spiritual atmosphere, which is always so thick there you can cut it with a knife, then go and share this ecstasy with people of your home country. Very easy, but it rarely works. Why?

I’d say it works on two kinds of devotees – very simple and very advanced. Most of us are neither. Most of us are not advanced enough to feel the innate need to preach. We get ānanda, we keep it to ourselves, we are not mature enough to share. We are envious of others, we don’t think they deserve to be equally blissful, most of the time we look at them with critical eyes and they never live up to our expectations, so no ānanda for them. If they want it, they have to work for it themselves. Holy Names are there for everybody, if they want bliss they should do their chanting themselves.

“They have to earn it, they have to earn their entrance to the dhāma. I worked my ass off to save this money and I prayed, and I did a good job because now not only I can afford to go to Māyāpura every year but I’m thinking about buying a condo there. If they were as dear to Lord Caitanya as I am He would have given them money, too. Or, if they got the money, I got contacts there, I’m needed there, I’m a part of Lord Caitanya’s eternal club of dhāma-vāsīs. If they want to be there, they have to make their own way, they have to serve their own authorities, it’s a privileged position that is not be shared lightly.”

So they don’t preach. They treasure their success too much to give it away. “It’s not mine to give,” they might even say, “Go beg Lord Caitanya yourself”.

So, we are not advanced enough to share our spiritual accomplishments, and we are not simple enough, too. A simple devotee would taste the bliss, come back home, and continue doing his service. We get the bliss and we want more of it right there, in Māyāpura. We come back and all we can think about is how awful our place is and how it was much better in India.

There’s a clear culture shock on return, you step off the plane and you just feel the weight of the Kali Yuga. People are not the same as in India, the atmosphere is not the same. We walk around and we feel that we don’t belong here, that our place, our real home, is Māyāpura, or Vṛndāvana, as the case may be.

We cannot stay satisfied in our position, as a simple devotee would be, we want better things for ourselves, we feel we’ve made a great advancement and we need to validate our progress by getting spiritual “promotions”. Walking the streets with books is for neophytes, we are ready for bhājana, we get to preach to other devotees, not to karmīs. So we don’t preach, if you don’t count sitting there spreading the word of our own advancement as preaching.

Yet there are others who treat visits to India as holidays. In Europe everybody gets a holiday once a year and everybody tries to travel somewhere warm and famous – Spain, Egypt, Thailand, etc. We go to India instead, and we go in March. People get charged by frolicking on the beaches, they come back, show off their tan, and feel good about themselves and their lives. We are no different, we might even stop in Thailand on the way back, to get two birds with one stone.

I don’t know what Lord Caitanya thinks of such visits. Maybe He doesn’t mind, who knows.

Bottom line – we come back and we don’t preach, we are too smug to bother.

We also get the idea that Māyāpura or Vṛndāvana are the best places for devotees, it’s said so in our books, after all. This means that streets where we live and where we are supposed to preach are not the best places for us. We think that staying there, meeting all those karmīs is not where we are supposed to be. We want to go back home, back to Kṛṣṇa, and He lives in Vṛndāvana, so that’s what we want, for ourselves.

How about what Kṛṣṇa wants from us? What Lord Caitanya wants from us? What Śrila Prabhupāda wants from us? What our guru wants from us?

These days one can easily find a guru with an āśrama in Vṛndāvana. If he wants to be there then he is not going to push us out into the cold streets of our cities, we’ll be safe with such a guru. He might tell us to preach as a test but if he himself spends most of the year in India then eventually we’ll get there, too.

Luckily, not everything is so bad. ISCKON is still a preaching society and most who entertain thoughts like the above tend to drift away to bābājīs or Gaudīyā Maṭhas.

My point is that we should watch out for attitudes like that in our own lives and we should not allow ourselves to indulge in such thinking. Maybe getting to Māyāpura IS a test, but we mostly fail it and so the Lord gives us shelter there because it’s where it is easier to keep us under control. If we pass, however, then we get to go and serve the Lord for His own pleasure. We get to take risks and suffer inconveniences on His behalf.

Will we get the same comfort and bliss from Him? Shouldn’t be our consideration at all. If we pass our Māyāpura test we won’t be thinking in such self-centered terms.

Our dharma is to preach, that’s what constitutes saṅkīrtana, congregational chanting. Mutually scratching our backs and congratulating ourselves that we have made it to Māyāpura is not saṅkīrtana. I would even say that no one who really wants to please the Lord will spend even a day there, it’s a place for those who want to accept Lord’s service instead, for those who want to enjoy at His expense, albeit spiritually.

No one needs us there. Yes, we need a big temple so that many Indians can come but it’s such a lame excuse. We don’t know what their motivations are, we can’t even talk to each and every one of them, we don’t really get to preach. We should be going out to meet them in their homes instead – that’s what Lord Caitanya did and that’s what He asked His followers to do.

We are not in business of preaching where results matter most, we should value the process instead. Our success is in reaching out and changing people’s hearts and minds. I don’t think that ever happens to temple visitors, it’s just one of the many temples they visit every year, it’s not a life changing experience like a meeting with a devotee could be.

I’m getting carried away here, maybe need to rethink some of what I just said, so I’d better stop now and get my mind back together

Vanity thought #736. The tale of two videos

Two youtube videos popped up in my news stream, both from reputable ISKCON sources, yet they couldn’t be any more different.

One is a showcase of some videographer and it’s about his filming of “Festival of Colors” with the soundtrack of MC Yogi, pumping out meaningless lyrics about love. There’s no mention of ISKCON or Krishna or Srila Pabhupada anywhere. The only connection seems to be that the festival was the work of a rather despondent looking Charu Prabhu who organized that outwardly madness (to be honest, I had to play video frame by frame to catch this look).

Charu Prabhu observing Festival of Colors madness

Charu Prabhu observing Festival of Colors madness

Website of the organizers doesn’t state any affiliation with neither ISKCON nor with Srila Prabhupada.

It looks good, people were certainly having fun, but what has it got to do with Krishna consciousness? Apart from Charu Prabhu there isn’t a single devotee in a frame.

The other video is from Villa Vrindavana in Italy and features a group of devotees doing poorly choreographed dance moves to the Hare Krishna mahamantra. There aren’t any high tech cameras doing fly over shots, video effects seem very amateurish but the overall mood is of utmost sincerity and dedication to chanting the Holy Names of the Lord.

Maybe I am too prudish and very hard on the first video. Thousands of people went to a festival organized by Hare Krishna temple and celebrated their local version of Holi. ISKCON has certainly made many friends that day (actually, it was a two day festival). Why am I complaining?

Why not compare these two videos like we compare Vaikuntha and Vrindavana. Many devotees on Vaikuntha are in shanti-rasa, they are aware of the Lord but they prefer to sport their own, Narayana-like forms and do their own thing. It’s very easy to imagine them doing something like this Festival of Colors just outside Lord Narayana’s temples there. Even the Lord Himself probably looks at them and feels pleased by his devotees having so much innocent fun.

The other video is Vrindavana where there’s no sophistication, no expert dancing, no opulence – nothing but love of Krishna. To a casual observer it wouldn’t look attractive at all, especially comparing to Mathura or Dvaraka. They dance like milkmaids and they look goofy as cowherd boys do in their simple village charm. Yet they will never ever sing anything but Krishna’s glories.

It’s easy to assume that Vaikuntha devotees are inferior to Vrindavana but from our point of view, from down here in the material world, they are both equally unattainable.

Let’s not forget that gopis feel jealous of women of Mathura and Dvaraka, they lament being plain village girls who can’t keep Krishna with their backward country appeal, so the feeling of inferiority is present in Vrindavana, too. And I suppose Vaikuntha devotees also do not feel inferior to villagers of Gokula.

I’m saying it’s not my place to pass judgments, every devotee is dear to Krishna and I don’t know how He felt about that Festival of Colors. I don’t know even how Charu Prabhu felt about it. I wish they displayed more of a Vrindavana mood but, on the other hand, Vrindavana atmosphere is better appreciated when there’s a comparison with mad dancing Americans.

Vanity thought #720. Another loss…, or was it a gain?

There was another jolt of electricity given to our movement a couple of days ago – the GBC announcement on HH Mahanidhi Swami’s status, who is no longer a swami and, subsequently, no longer HH either.

Disciples are obviously devastated, some have invested quite heavily to live in their guru’s neighborhood and are now left with no purpose in being there any longer. Another sannyasi falldown is also an obvious blow to our guru doctrine and a gift to our critics.

Having said that, I think it was actually a blessing in disguise.

Why? Because this is what Krishna thinks necessary for Mahanidhi’s own spiritual progress. If his body didn’t have enough strength to withstand material temptations then giving up the robes is better than pretending. No one can act against his own nature and if maharaj took upon himself a dharma of a sannyasi while still being attached to female association then, as Krishna teaches us in Bhagavad Gita, it’s better for him to be a failed grihastha than a perfect renunciate. This unnatural dharma can’t last very long anyway, and I think it’s better that maharaj was corrected at a relatively young age. Well, I think he’s got at least a couple of decades to properly deal with his attachments.

His spiritual health is not the only reason, though. Perhaps even more important is the effect his resignation will make on the particular type of practice that he’s been advocating.

My personal impression has always been that he was a Narayana Maharaj counterpart in ISKCON. I mean that while “rasika” devotees flocked to hear rasa katha outside, Mahanidhi Swami provided the same service “in-house”. I thought he showed that it can be done right, without leaving the shelter of Srila Prabhupada and within Srila Prabhupada established boundaries.

Apparently it wasn’t all that peachy, though, and now the chickens came to roost. I don’t know if there’s anyone who would continue with this experiment in ISKCON, I sincerely hope that Mahanidhi Swami’s falldown would be a lesson for all of us to stay away from rasa katha for good.

Apparently maharaj was taking instructions and more on the outside and had a big fallout with Aindra Prabhu. There is a talk about Mahaniddhi Swami receiving siddha pranali or some other “special” initiation from one of the babajis in Vrindavan. There’s no definitive proof of that but apparently that was the reason for Aindra Prabhu’s outburst.

If that really was the case, as everyone is led to believe anyway, then maharaja’s good standing in ISKCON kind of justified it. His falldown, however, proves that all this esoteric staff is nonsense.

When you start feeling your spiritual arms and legs then some sort of instructions on how to use them is definitely in order, and that’s what siddha pranali process is for, but for that you have to be way past the liberated stage, completely detached from the workings of your material body, and in awareness of your actual spiritual form. Trying to superimpose siddha pranali on our material mind and imagination won’t work, and I hope maharaja’s case has proven it once again.

This falldown also once again drew everybody’s attention to Vrindavana babajis. I can’t say they are all impostors but what is definitely clear is that nothing good comes out of our association with them. Ever.

Let them do their thing, Srila Prabhupada told as to stay away from them, and he gave us the process that works for us. What more do we want? Any attempt to outflank Prabhupada’s instructions would be ruinous, and any attempt to behave on a level higher than our actual spiritual advancement would be ruinous, too.

If we use our material bodies to participate in Krishna’s pastimes we’ll become sahajias. It’s perfectly okay to engage our bodies in Krishna’s service in any way He wants but the problem with material bodies is that until we are fully liberated we use them for our own enjoyment, not for Krishna’s. This will never change, no matter what we try. We can’t bring our lusty, needy, gluttonous bodies in contact with Krishna.

Look at the Six Goswamis – they were inside Krishna’s pastimes everyday but they never brought their external bodies into it. That’s the path shown by our acharyas – external bodies should be engaged in external service according to directions of guru and shastra while direct service to Krishna should be rendered internally.

“Rasika” devotees, on the other hand, having no access to this internal, spiritual platform, try to compensate for that with linking their material bodies and minds directly with the Lord. This will not work.

According to our acharyas these “rasikas” will never ever penetrate into spiritual Vrindavana even if they drink and bathe in Radhakunda all their lives. “You do not simply walk into Mordor”, as a popular meme goes. You do not enter into Radhakunda by sticking your hand into it.

As for disaffected devotees – I suspect they were attracted by these false promises and so their disappointed is not only natural but also well deserved. If they can look past it and re-examine the actually prescribed path then they should see that it’s a perfect opportunity for them to put their lives solely into Krishna’s hands.

They’ve been abandoned in Vrindavana, after all – do they really need saving? Maybe only from themselves.

So, all in all, this recent falldown looks like a good thing. GBC is accused of covering up earlier cases of indiscretion but I’m sure they’ve got used to it by now. They are the ones who are supposed to call an accidental slip up from an irreversible falldown, I don’t think any one of us would do this kind of job better, none of us has the same access to facts, and none of us has the experience of carrying this kind of responsibility. Internet trash talk is easy, we should not fall for it and we should not give any real credit.

PS. There is one Ramesh Baba of Varshana involved in this story. Some say he is a sahajiya but there aren’t any facts to back up this assessment, no reasons to believe so. For all we know he could be a genuine sadhu, we should be careful with branding him as this or that.

Vanity thought #696. Where is Krishna?

On Goloka, of course, unless…

Where else could He be? He doesn’t set a foot anywhere outside Vrindavana, yet He appeared here on Earth five thousand years ago. To this we can say that our earthly Vrindavan is non-different from Vrindavan in the spiritual world but that opens up a little can of worms because there are several obvious differences.

Krishna’s pastimes in earthly Vrindavan are manifested only for a few short years. In our Vrindavan Krishna was also attacked by demons that do not even exist in the spiritual world. Over there, we’ve been told, there’s only fear of their appearance but no Putana or Trinavarta can actually enter there. Yet they can enter our earthly Vrindavan faily easily.

Devotees are also not the same down here. Here we have sages from Dandakaranya forest who asked Lord Ramachandra for a blessing to be born during His Krishna’s pastimes and they formed a group of gopis who weren’t automatically accepted into the rasa dance. We ourselves are told that before we are accepted into the spiritual Vrindavan we’ll have to take birth during Krishna’s pastimes somewhere in the material world first.

With our understanding of time and space, Krishna always stays in celestial Vrindavan and then once in a day of Brahma He descends and manifests His pastimes down here. So, where is He now? Back on Goloka?

Not so fast – Krishna’s pastimes are ALWAYS manifested in one of the universes. He finishes with one and goes on to the next, like the Sun that is always rising somewhere even if we, fixed in space, can see sunsets, too.

This makes impossible locating Krishna at any given point in time unless we accept that He is simultaneously in Goloka and in one of the universes. How’s that possible? Not so difficult for Him, of course, but then it would raise a question of His original form. During the rasa dance He expanded Himself to be with each gopi at the same time and we have no problem accepting that, seeing it as His special mercy displayed just for the occasion. Now, however, it would appear that we are always dealing with a “copy”. He looks like original Krishna to us but He isn’t, it’s just one of His expansions.

Come to think about it – why only one extra Krishna? Why does He have to wait until the very end of His set of pastimes before He manifests in some other universe? Why not have a “rolling” avatar that finishes killing Putana here and then replays it right away elsewhere? This would require an unlimited number of avatars, each doing something slightly different in each of the universes.

Thinking about it some more, there’s a better solution – there’s one Krishna but it’s the universes that go past Him, just like the Sun is stationary but it’s different points on Earth that get to observe each of its position. So, there’s always one universe that sees Krishna playing His flute and, coming in a line a few minutes behind it, there’s always some other universe in which gopis react to its sound.

This requires us to rethink our time and space model. Goloka, for example, is not somewhere outside our universe, on the other side of casual ocean, across Viraja river. We are not separated by space but by consciousness, it’s always in our hearts, we just don’t have access to it.

This model also has space for our own, universe specific perception of the pastimes. It’s like we have our own projectors on the window through which we see Krishna’s pastimes. We can have projections of the demons, for example, and they won’t be able to touch actual Krishna, and residents of spiritual Vrindavan can only feel the fear of them entering.

Or, alternatively, we have our own screen on which Krishna is projected and we interact with that projection, having our own dramas around His appearance. That’s how we can have our own gopis who are not the part of Krishna’s celestial entourage.

In this model Krishna is always on Goloka and He never leaves, and at the same time He is always visible in unlimited number of material universes. The only trade off is that “our” Krishna is not the original one.

Is it a big contradiction? Not really, Krishna means “all attractive” and He is the embodiment of rasa. In that sense, the rasa perception of the Lord, there’s no difference between the original and “our” Krishna even if the spiritual body might not be the same. From rasa point of view we don’t mind if Krishna descends into our universe through Vishnu, that doesn’t make Him inferior in any way even if in the material understanding of cause and effect it would appear that Vishnu is the source while Krishna is His avatar.

Technically it might be so, in materially conditioned vision of reality, but from the rasa point of view Vishnu doesn’t come even close to Krishna and so can’t be His source.

To be honest, my Saturday brain can’t deal with all this stuff in full, just a bunch of ideas thrown at a wall, hoping that something would stick.

Vanity thought #361. Real appearance day

While Krishna’s birthday was yesterday it wasn’t a real appearance day – according to my weird idea. The real appearance day is today.

Consider this – on Janmashtami Krishna appeared as Vishnu with four arms and all the paraphernalia, that’s how Vasudeva and Devaki saw Him first and they offered their prayers to Him as the Supreme Lord. They addressed Him as Vishnu and Madhusudana, which is actually Lord Vishnu’s pastime, not Krishna’s.

Then Krishna changed to the form of a newly born baby and Vasudeva took Him across the river to Vrindavan where Mother Yashoda was also having birth but was too tired to check whether she had a boy or a girl.

The first time anyone saw Krishna in Vrindavan was this morning – that’s when He really appeared as Krishna to His devotees and no one thought of Him as God, they just loved the baby Krishna as it was, Vrindavan style.

Today is also the anniversary of that first celebration of a new born Krishna in Vrindavan.

So, technically, He was born last night, but that was in the form of Vishnu and also in Mathura. Krishna as He is known in Vrindavan appeared today.

Hmm, not so weird after all.

Vanity thought #235. Holy residence evolution.

I think I need a short break from Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji lila and reflect on something else, though it so happens that I look at a lot of things through the memory of what he said or did about it in his days.

Today I wanted to try and apply his attitude towards living in the Holy Dhama to our days and I’ve got perfect help from HG Hari Shauri’s Transcendental Diary, from the part where Srila Prabhupada dealt with his disciples in Mayapur.

Let’s start how it was in the old days, how vaishnavas of Srila Gaurakishora and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s caliber thought about it. Before Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati started his preaching mission residence in the holy places was the ultimate goal and absolute minimum for any serious devotee.

People who left for Gaudiya Math or Radha Kund babajis still remind us about that, along with quotes of Sanatana Goswami and others. One who wants to develop love for Radha and Krishna should go and live in Vrindavan or Mayapur, that’s the starting point of developing one’s devotion.

Okay, maybe not the real starting point but it’s the test of commitment. Is one ready to give up his material attachments and dedicate himself to chanting the Holy Names? Vrindavana was given to us exactly for that and if one wants to live somewhere else his motives are certainly contaminated. I mean, if you serious about surrendering to Krishna than why would you want to live in Paris or New York or on some tropical island? All those places have a lot going for them but all their attractions are purely material. If you want Krishna, go live in Krishna’s place, as simple as that.

So it was a test, new devotees were coming to Vrindavan or Navadvipa all the time. I don’t know much about Vrindavan traffic but from Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji’s biography it appears there was no shortage of aspiring devotees in Navadvipa.

Simply moving in wasn’t enough, though, Srila Gaurakishora and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had a lot more tests coming. What are your living arrangements? What are your eating arrangements? What kind of association do you maintain? How do you present yourself and how do you treat others?

All those questions needed to be answered satisfactory or you wouldn’t get recognition as a genuine vaishnava.

You can’t buy land to live, and you can’t beg for land to live from unworthy persons. You can’t eat for your own pleasure, you can’t eat food prepared by non-devotees, you can’t associate with non-devotees either, and you can’t, under any circumstances, demand or enjoy any respect as a devotee. That’s a short list but it’s really tough to follow.

Basically, the only way to comply is to become a renounced babaji like Srila Gaurakishora himself. You should give up all, absolutely all material interests and consider yourself to be the lowest and most fallen servant of every living being and the land itself. We all know what an advanced vaishnava looks like, more or less, and if you are not advanced yet then living in the Holy Dhama isn’t for you, come back when you are ready.

Fast forward to the days of Srila Prabhupada. ISKCON had land and beautiful temples in both Vrindavana and Mayapur and everybody wanted to be there, it was a pinnacle of one’s progress. If you made it to the status of Brijabasi you made it, and it seemed so easy – just buy a ticket and go, and then you become a resident of the Holy Dhama.

There was also a question of preaching, and entirely new strategy to achieve success in Krishna Consciousness, thanks to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. Living in Holy Dhamas and doing your bhajan had become the sign of selfishness because Lord Chaitanya’s real request for his followers was to preach the glory of the Holy Name in every town and village.

Vrindvan is great for your own advancement, that hasn’t gone anywhere, but putting yourself out on the streets of ugra-karmic cities and calling people to come back to Krishna is a far bigger sacrifice. The babaji club probably has different opinions on this and they might be very exalted devotees but we were not born to live in Vrindavan, we were born to live as disgusting meat-eaters and drunkards, if vaishnavas like Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Prabhupada hadn’t left Vrindavan for our sake we wouldn’t even know about its existence.

We can never ever overestimate the value of preaching, no matter what anybody says, preaching saved us, no less than that. It makes me sad when some devotees denigrate the very thing that gave them the ability to become devotees in the first place.

Anyway, there was an influx of devotees to both Vrindavan and Mayapur and I’m reading the part from Transcendental Diary where Prabhupada had to deal with it. Clearly, not everyone was ready, and that’s being very, very generous. Factually speaking, not a single person would have qualified by Srila Gaurakishora Babaji’s standards, not a single one. Massive fail on each and every account, so there’s that.

There is also preaching, devotees who were otherwise unqualified could stay in Mayapur for the preaching purposes, that is the only excuse our faults could be tolerated, and that is the only safeguard for us not to fall the victims of dhama-aparadhas.

Devotees who were not in the preaching mood paid dearly. I think no one can live in the Holy Dhama unless he preaches or becomes a first class vaishnava, in which case he would naturally live as a babaji. There’s also a class of people are are simply meant to be there, whose service has been practically reserved until their appearance, but, just like with mahabhagavatas, no one can imitate them even though many have tried.

Today I read the story of the devotee who decided to chant hundred and fifty rounds a day. He genuinely thought he could pull it off. Unfortunately, the first thing that is mentioned about him the Diary is that he didn’t want to see other devotees as they disturbed his bhajan. That is a major misunderstanding of the value of vaishnava association, the way I’ve heard this story before it didn’t have a happy ending, let’s see how Hari Shauri ends it in his diary.

Yes, I also try to chant many rounds every day but my excuse is that I really have no other choice. I’m not in the presence of my spiritual master ready to engage me in various preaching missions and I’m not living in a temple where there’s always lots of service to be done. All I can practically do now is to chant and type this blog. I’m not forfeiting any other duties by doing that.

Another devotee solved the problem of living in the temple in another way. If you live in the temple you must pull your share of work and you must follow the management, in those days our temples weren’t in the business of providing babaji service. So that devotee decided to rent a piece of temple land for himself, that way he wasn’t obliged to anybody.

Well, that’s the problem, though – we are not seeking independence, that’s actually exactly opposite to what we are trying to achieve. “Devotees can’t come and order me around anymore, I’m finally free” – what kind of attitude is that? I hope that devotee didn’t feel like that but others following his footsteps might. Afaik that story didn’t have a happy ending either.

The most interesting part is how Prabhupda was not in the position to criticize them. That’s an outrageous statement, the spiritual master is the only person allowed to criticize other vaishnavas, how come Prabhupada couldn’t? In answer to this question I’d say that he certainly had the right but it doesn’t mean he could do it freely.

Criticism is only a tool in developing disciple’s devotion and it doesn’t work in each and every case. In Transcendental Diary Hari Shauri Prabhu made that point very clear – in some cases Prabhupada restrained from open criticism to retain devotees in our society. If he blamed them they could have left and instead of chanting a gazillion of rounds they could have been doing a million of other, non Krishna Conscious things. What good would that criticism bring then? So Prabhupada stayed non-committal and restrained in his response. I think it made him sad that some devotees thought they could imitate Haridasa Thakura so easily but it’s the lesson they had to learn themselves, he just helped.

That’s the thing about gurus – they don’t make devotees by magic, this is something we must desire ourselves, gurus are their to guide and inspire us, the ultimate decision is still ours to make. I might be wrong here, I just don’t like shifting responsibility for my faults on my spiritual master.

And now we have a large community of devotees living in Mayapur and especially Vrindavan, unfortunately many of them have left the shelter of Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON, at least externally. I don’t know what Srila Gaurakishora might have said to people who left their gurus because they were not good enough and made long lists of their gurus faults. Personally I think this has absolutely nothing to do with vaishnavism, but since becoming a pure devotee is a process we should just let it play out itself, it’s all for our own good, Krishna wouldn’t have it otherwise.

I too had been badly burned by trying to maintain my materialistic lifestyle in the Holy Dhama. I thought the whole world outside existed to support my residence there and I just had to go out and milk it. It didn’t work, I was not, and still am not on the level where living in the Holy Dhama is possible and probably won’t be for a long, long while, perhaps for a lifetime or two, or two thousand.

It’s sad, really, and I hope thinking about it purifies my heart and brings me just a bit closer to becoming ready. One way or another, I will be there, I have to keep that goal in my mind at all times. Rome wasn’t built in one day either, I just have to build my house of devotion brick by brick, however long it takes.

Vanity thought #198. Daydreams and reality.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been having these thoughts about living in Vrindavan or Jagannatha Puri. I was thinking about the ways I could get there, the ways I could stay there, the ways I could live there, even what I would say to my mom when I leave and what I would say if she ever finds me there.

I don’t think I’d look pretty enough for her, that’s not the the kind of life she envisioned for me and it could break her heart – after all these years of trying to bring me back into the society I want to escape again. I’m afraid she can’t accept that life of a beggar can be in any way satisfying.

Imagine if I ever pull it off, on the strength of attraction to chanting the Holy Names – I would look like a madman needing urgent psychiatric care. Of course there are proper ways to live in Vrindavan as a respected member of a society but that is just not for me. The only way I can be there is by going native, and the only reason for me to do so would be overwhelming desire to chant in places frequented by Krishna. I doubt it would ever happen in this lifetime but as far as dreams go – that’s the most realistic one.

The biggest problem I have is that these dreams occur to me when I’m supposed to be chanting and listening, not dreaming.

I could argue that daydreaming about Vrindavan is way better than daydreaming about upgrading the OS in my computer and rooting my tablet but what is the principal difference anyway? Thinking about Vrindavan is better because it’s connected to Krishna and that’s about it but what I think about Krishna is not what I should think in the mood of Siksashtaka so does it really matter?

I’m thinking about making mundane arrangements for my sleeping and eating, that’s all. Dreams of seeing actual holy places don’t even enter my head, those places are just names for me, and I don’t even remember the names.

I would need a guided tour to show me the location of this or that pastime. It’s nice, even necessary, but one doesn’t need to live his life behind to know that. Just visit Vrindavan from time to time and develop the mood of separation, appreciate its value form the distance.

And here comes the reality – what is the proper way to take shelter of the Holy Dhama? No brainer – visiting, paying respect, learning basics, trying to absorb the love of Brijabasis for the place. This way one would develop proper, failsafe attitude of humility and what more does one need?

If one wants to move to Vrindavan, though, he should be given a compelling reason to do so. It’s one thing to find some kind of service there, like, hmmm, joining the twenty four hour kirtan, or one could even think of buying a house and doing some preaching program from there, perhaps even over the internet, or one could think of setting a business to supply devotees back home with the essentials, but I can’t help thinking that all these things are just excuses for self-aggrandizement, pathetic ways to feed one’s ego as the great devotee of the Lord.

If one is desperate enough all those things can be arranged, by Krishna’s mercy, but what does it do for Him? He can arrange things for us, no big deal, but where’s the service for His pleasure?

The proper way, imo, is waiting until your help is being requested. Maybe they’d need someone there, maybe they’d need a pujari, or a gurukula teacher. In Prabhupada’s days everything was exploding there and there was always need for help, now we are more or less settled down, learned to manage our society properly, with minimum effort. New services, especially in Vrindavan, are hard to come by.

Yet, by the Lord’s grace, everything can happen, one has to be patient and humble and one needs to invited, that’s the only way. It’s like with Govardhana shilas – you can’t just take one for yourself, you need to receive one from a devotee who would be kind enough to put Govardhana shila in your care.

There’s no gatecrashing Krishna’s party, one has to wait until the Supersoul within our hearts exhibits His mercy through His representatives in this world. This is the proper way to receive invitation to join any Krishna’s pastime, from sankirtana to rasa dance.

Then one could slowly build his service up and in time maybe even receive the permanent permit to reside in the Holy Dham, from proper authorities. At the end of his life one then could engage himself in chanting the Holy Names day and night, when his body isn’t fit for doing much else anymore and his senses lost the taste for gratification.

In short, one has to steadily move up ISKCON ranks from bhakta program to sannyasa and maybe one day, if it’s really pleases Krishna, he will be given the privilege of serving in the dham. Our sannyasis don’t stay in one place and chant, however, it’s Kali Yuga, people take sannyasa only for preaching.

So the real chances of me ending up in Vrindavan are small to none, there are probably a hundred steps between where I am now and where I want to be, and if I take each of them seriously I probably drop my little silly plans anyway.

This is the ultimate reality – I shouldn’t be making any plans at all. Okay, that’s not exactly right – I should be making plans to please Krishna and that means I should be ready to give up those plans at any moment. Krishna might request for lassi and while I am getting it for Him He might change His mind and want plain water instead. Screws up my plans but if this is what He wants I should be happy to oblige. He’d probably get the kicks out of making me frustrated like that. Hopefully not all the time.

The reality is that I should sit down and chant, this seems like the right thing to do at the moment. Eventually I might attract Krishna’s attention and He might want my body to do something else. In that case the Supersoul will find the way to send me a message, I doubt I will miss it.

Any plans beyond that is daydreaming, should reduce that to a minimum.

Vanity thought #197. Dreaming of Jagannath.

The other day I was walking around, chanting, and daydreaming.

It is a sign of an advancement in devotional service to desire to live in holy places so I had myself a solid excuse to imagine living in Mayapur, Vrindavan, or Jagannatha Puri.

A real devotee would simply want to be there, a real devotee puts his full faith in Krishna and he doesn’t take any obstacles on his devotional path seriously because he knows they are all insignificant comparing to his Lord and Master.

I was thinking of visas and passports and residence permits and such, couldn’t help it, couldn’t imitate a mood of a real devotee, which is a good thing, I guess.

Mayapur, especially ISKCON temple there, looks like a squeaky clean place, governance wise. Unless you are properly invited and all your paperwork in order you just can’t stay there, I thought. Maybe I am wrong but that is my impression.

One must be fully embraced and accepted by Lord Chaitanya’s servants and associates to reside there, it’s by invitation only, or so I think.

Vrindavan is a pretty loose place comparing to that. Anyone is welcome there. Maybe not everyone but there seems to be a lot more options to sneak in. I don’t know about the town itself but Govardhan sounds like a place for any kind of renunciate to feel at home and I seriously doubt the police run regular checks on all the people there.

This is where I got myself in a bit of a twist. As a white person I would stand out as a sore thumb unless I hang out with other white people. It will be years before I can pass as one of the local whites.

If I ever decide to go native there the first thing that would confront me is my past – every white person arrives from somewhere, has a life back home, has a government and consulates to help, has family to send money, has a return ticket, and has a two month visa.

Forty years ago HH Radhanath Swami entered India on foot with only twenty six cents to his name and a passport. Now you need to get a visa first, however easy the process is, it proves that you DO have a place to go back to.

That’s why I can’t imagine myself just going to Vrindavan to chant for the rest of my life. White people like me are just visitors, playing devotees for a short while.

I’m sure there are ways to get around all these obstacles but the main one is in my heart, I know I’m just a pretender, I know all my dreams of Vrindavan are nonsense.

Then I thought of Jagannatha Puri. Jagannath has always held a special place in my consciousness. The very first festival that I ever attended was Ratha Yatra, from there I tailed the devotees and found the temple.

The first place in India I ever visited was Puri, not counting Calcutta.

We arrived late in the afternoon and found a place to stay in some Math, it was very close to the ocean so we went for a bath/swim first. After the ablutions were settled for the temple, except no one in our group had any idea where it was. We thought we had to follow the beachfront and soon we’d see the way, but we went in the opposite direction.

We walked and walked and walked, it was twilight already and it looked like we were leaving the town altogether. Then I turned back and there I saw the marvelous domes and the Nilachacra and the flag. It was nearly dark around us but the temple, very far away by then, was brightly lit and the contrast reminded me of material and spiritual worlds.

We almost ran then, I don’t remember the rest of the evening but I can’t forget my fist impression of the temple.

Then we visited Tota Gopinath and Siddha Bakul and the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya and we walked to the Gundicha temple and it is all blurry now. I’ve been to those places many times since but today I discovered I can’t locate them on Google maps anymore.

What I remember most clearly, though, is the all pervasive feeling of being on Vaikuntha. All the troubles always seem non-existent in Puri, daily life is just a dream there, underneath the dark, sun baked skin of local people there are four armed forms of Vainkuntha residents visible to demigods.

Somehow or other I’ve never been so out of touch with reality anywhere else. In Mayapur I always felt like I had to toe the line, in Vrindavan I couldn’t shake the desire to buy cheap dhotis and incense and have my palm read. In Puri I didn’t want anything from this world at all.

I’ve tried browsing the market there and I’ve tried scoring cheap prasadam but it didn’t take. It was like trying to run on the bottom of the ocean, wearing deep diver’s suit and boots.

I don’t know if Jagannath would ever welcome me there, I doubt so. For Lord Chaitanya and His associates it was their destination after the Lord took sannyasa. For Haridasa Thakur, on the other hand, it was special only in the sense he wasn’t allowed to see the Lord.

He could see Lord Chaitanya everyday, though, and he could see the Lord in the sound of Holy Names. I don’t have even that, and maybe it’s a good thing.

The other day I lighted up an incense and I had no one in particular to offer it to except the image of Jagannath on my japa bag. Suddenly my heart melted and I had no power to complain about Jagannath excluding us from seeing Him. He is still the sweetest Lord in the whole universe. If He wants us to stay outside and wait, it’s His merciful order and it’s very sweet to carry out.

The best part about Puri is that it’s reachable by sea. I’m not in my best years but I’m still pretty good in the water and if someone dropped me in the sea in sight of the Puri temple I’m sure I can easily make it to the shore. That way I would avoid all this nonsensical visa business and I would have no return tickets and no money to save for the rainy days, I would have no phone or a camera or a wallet or a watch. I would have only wet clothes and I would surrender all my future to the will of the merciful Lord Jagannath.

Sweet dream, huh?

Before I go to bed I want to break with my tradition and include an image in my blog.

Personally, I never thought Jagannath would be so big. Look at Him, He is huge, and He’s got a nose. I’ve never seen noses on our ISKCON Jagannathas.

Well, with Him being so big and with a nose, I don’t mind staying outside at all – He is so intimidating, and yet so liberating at the same time.

Jaya Jagannath! I hope I’ll have read dreams about Him, too, it’s time now.