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.

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Vanity thought #1468. Anticipation

And so it has been another year and it’s Kṛṣṇa’s appearance day again. Will He or won’t He? That is the question. In the aprakaṭa-līlā He will, of course, but in our current perception of Him?

Well, actually in His unmanifested pastimes it’s only His birthday, He appears there only once and then they celebrate His birthdays with their version of a cake and the birthday song, so it’s not “appearance day” per se, save for those devotees in vātsalya mood who relive His actual appearance over and over again. And it’s not a real “appearance day” for us either, it’s an anniversary of one, save for those of us who will be graced by His actual appearance in their hearts. That’s the anticipation I’m talking about – will He or won’t He?

It’s a safe bet that Kṛṣṇa won’t be making a personal entrance today yet but His appearance has degrees. He appears as His Holy Name, for example, or as a Deity form, and so what we are really talking about is the change in our perception of Him. If we are lucky we just might have a sudden surge in realization, which will be practically like an actual appearance.

Will His Holy Name dance on our tongues today? Will memories of Him melt our hearts? Will His Deity smile at us in a special way that would take away our breath for a second? Everything is possible and on His birthday the probability of this special mercy is a tad higher than usual. It could happen, if we do it right, for it’s always a two way street.

We say that Kṛṣṇa’s mercy is causeless, which means independent, but it’s a mercy of engaging us in a relationship, which means two hands need to make a clap, not one. Our hearts must be ready and eager to appreciate and reciprocate, we must deserve to be noticed even if we can’t force Kṛṣṇa’s hand. We will never actually deserve it but we still must try our best, and if we are not trying than it makes His mercy highly unlikely and a matter of fate, which itself depends on preciously accumulated good fortune.

In any case, we must develop bhakti in our hearts, whether it will be enough for Kṛṣṇa to accept our service or not is secondary, because bhakti is not only the goal but also the process AND the reward, too. Our lives are not about making Kṛṣṇa notice us but about making Him pleased with our devotional service regardless of how He chooses to react.

That’s a rather long introduction, our concern today should be about making that special effort, just because it’s Kṛṣṇa’s birthday. If we fail today there’s always tomorrow because it will be Śrīla Prabhupāda’s appearance day and he might plead a special case on our behalf, too.

Since it’s Kṛṣṇa’s appearance in Vṛndāvana it’s natural to dedicate this day to remembering His pastimes there. We might read something from Kṛṣṇa Book or Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but I’ve decided to have a look at actual Vṛndāvana since internet makes it so easy. Youtube is filled with videos of practically every aspect of Vṛndāvana’s life. Whatever comes to your mind, youtube has got it. Janmāṣṭamī in Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Mandira? They’ve got. Videos of parikramā, they’ve got it. Temples of Vṛndāvana, they’ve got it. Sounds of Vṛndāvana, they’ve got it. Sights of Vṛndāvana? They’ve got it. Govardhana, Varṣaṇa, they’ve got it all. Will it make any difference, though?

It’s obvious that this is engaging stuff, not as good as actual visits but still very potent. Most videos have got music for soundtrack but you get to see life in Vṛndāvana pretty much as it is, exactly the same things you’d notice, look at, and remember if you were actually there, but will it be enough?

It’s an interesting question because when I look at these images I have a suspicion that they are missing the point. Temples and deities are okay, I guess, but filming people of Vṛndāvana is a less certain affair. Let me explain what I mean.

We accept that residents of Vṛndāvana are special souls, Vrajavāsīs, they are not of this world even if they still live here. They are one or two steps away from being personally with Kṛṣṇa, they are His family already, they love Him very dearly and material world for them is not an illusion anymore but a medium for their eternal service.

With this understanding we think that looking and associating with Vrajavāsīs is purely spiritual. We are taught to always treat them with utmost respect, no matter what, and for this reason we are taught not to freely mingle because familiarity brings contempt and all that. Gawking at them is okay, though, and so is filming them.

Well, not everybody who we see or who we film is an actual factual Vrajavāsī. Many are pilgrims just like us, many are recent economic migrants attracted by the boom brought by the increase in visitors, and they bring their children with them, too, so not every kid is the Vrajavāsī of the kind we expect. They are all blessed, don’t get me wrong, but buying a condo in Vṛndāvana doesn’t automatically make one a resident and building that condo doesn’t do so either.

Then we have videos of legitimate Vrajavāsīs going about their daily lives – tending the cows, selling stuff, shopkeepers, pūjārīs etc. Absorbing their mood is beneficial no matter what but what we need to absorb is their internal mood, their external appearance is not nearly as important. I can compare it to watching your guru brush his teeth, blow his nose, and maybe even burp. On some higher level those are all spiritual activities but clearly not as beneficial as sitting at his feet, listening to him preaching and talking about Kṛṣṇa, and asking questions. That’s the kind of association we should seek from Vrajāvāsīs, too, but it’s nearly impossible to obtain.

Devoid of that we settle on watching them haggle over prices, or watching monkeys playing with each other, or watching peacocks etc. The real benefit of going to the dhāma is taking the association of the sādhus living there, staring at the monkeys in hope that something might just down on us is a waste of time and opportunity by comparison.

Here’s another thing I’ve noticed about Vrajavāsīs – they never really engage with you, even when they talk and look at you or look in the camera, they are not really there, their eyes never really open windows into their souls. It’s not a bad thing, as we would ordinarily think, it’s simply our lack of readiness to see what’s in the window. It’s not that they don’t show it, we are just not qualified to see.

When they do engage with us they do it out of their mercy and they try to do it by our rules, not by theirs. They try to deal with us on our level and our level is pretty low so possible benefits are lower, too. Most of the time our communication with Vrajavāsīs is about material things – prices, features, quality etc. We are interested in that and they are happy to oblige. We get some benefit but clearly not that much. Getting them to express their inner world of love for Kṛṣṇa is nearly impossible for outsiders like us.

So, if we want to put ourselves in the best position to prepare for Kṛṣṇa’s mercy today we should seek sādhus, not sights. We should seek devotees talking about Kṛṣṇa, devotees talking about parikramā, devotees talking about temples etc.

OTOH, today is the special day so anything can happen in most unexpected of places, we just don’t know how Kṛṣṇa might manifest His mercy and through what or who, so it’s okay to try everything as long as we are honest. At the end of all arguments we should take shelter in the Holy Name and trust that everything will be arranged, and keep a lookout in eager anticipation.

Vanity thought #1464. Behind the skirt

Toddlers have no safer place to learn about outside world then from behind their mother’s skirt, and that seems like the best place for us, too, except the skirt in this case is Lord Caitanya’s dhoti, figuratively speaking.

The relationship between Kṛṣna and Lord Caitanya and our place in it is complex. We can easily say that Lord Caitanya is “rādha-kṛṣṇa nahe anya” or that Kṛṣṇa took the form of Srīmatī Rādhārāṇī in order to experience her inexplicable pleasure but where does it leave us? We can also say that by the mercy of Lord Caitanya we can obtain love of Kṛṣṇa, but then what? Where does it leave Mahāprabhu?

Right from the start Śrīla Prabhupāda told us that our original position is to serve Kṛṣṇa in one of the five rasas in Vṛndāvana and we accept it as the default goal of life without thinking, but where does that leave Lord Caitanya? He doesn’t have a place in this vision.

Those who wonder about this can get a simple answer in Māyāpura where they say that Navadvīpa has a special place in Goloka meant just for the devotees of Lord Caitanya who can switch between pastimes with Kṛṣṇa and Gaurāṅga at will. This sounds like an interesting solution but, to my embarrassment, I’ve never looked for the śāstric support for it.

Nine islands of Navadvīpa map to twelve forests of Vṛndāvana and in that sense they are non-different from Vraja, so how can you be in one but not the other? Is Navadvīpa present in Goloka in the same sense that all tīrthas are present there? Some say that Navadvīpa is one of the six divisions in the spiritual sky (the others are Vaikuṇṭha, Ayodhyā, Dvārakā, Mathurā, and at the top Goloka itself). Others say that Navadvīpa is a subdivision of Goloka, and yet others introduce Śvetadvīpa in the mix.

This last one comes straight from Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and it divides Kṛṣṇa’s abode in three parts – for parakīyā, svakīyā, and all other kinds of bhāvas – that’s where Śvetadvīpa comes in, it’s not the same place that Lord Brahmā goes to when he calls for Viṣṇu’s help. This division makes sense but it’s just one way to look at it and it doesn’t easily answer questions posed from a different angle.

The main difficulty is this – Lord Caitanya and His devotees do not participate in Kṛṣṇa līlā directly but through saṅkīrtana. They relish the relationships between Kṛṣṇa and His devotees but they do not engage in these relationships between themselves. Vast majority of Lord Caitanya’s devotees are His servants regardless of their spiritual form and role in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.

This arrangement definitely needs a special accommodation and its exact nature seems to be hidden from our material abilities to model the world. I hope that somehow or other it works and, perhaps, devotees find more pleasure in serving Kṛṣṇa in separation.

Kṛṣṇa, of course, left Vṛndāvana and we assume that love in separation means physical separation but I’m not sure it even exists in the spiritual world, I’d rather speculate that in order to fully experience that rasa devotees need to step out and join Lord Caitanya in Navadvīpa.

The bigger problem is our eternal relationships with Mahāprabhu. If they are eternal we should never ever leave His side but going to enjoy with Kṛṣṇa means leaving Mahāprabhu behind. I mean taken straightforward this is the path – worship Lord Caitanya, by His mercy obtain Kṛṣṇa, then go worship Kṛṣṇa. I don’t believe it really works like that and we’ll have to leave Lord Caitanya’s feet forever.

The argument could be that Lord Caitanya’s form itself isn’t eternal – he really is Kṛṣṇa, not a separate entity, so He doesn’t exist separately from Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world, too, so our relationships with Him aren’t special or eternal.

Is it atheistic of me to see Him as separate from Kṛṣṇa or is it atheistic to imply that He doesn’t have a separate, eternal existence?

The model that I imagine in my head is the simplest one in this sense – Navadvīpa really is a special place in Goloka, devotees there engage in eternal kīrtanas led by Lord Caitanya, and they can directly enter into Kṛṣṇa līlā whenever they want to, in fact they can probably be in two places at once, and if it’s all about rasa then their relationships with Kṛṣṇa can be enhanced through their saṅkīrtana with Mahāprabhu.

Navadvīpa then would be our entrance point to Kṛṣṇa līlā and that’s where holding on our mother’s skirt metaphor is handy – we’ll get previews, short glimpses first, and they will be overwhelming, especially to those coming from the material world, and we wouldn’t know what to do and say and that’s why we should firmly hold onto the mercy and protection of Mahāprabhu. Let Him guide us and teach us and gently introduce us to Kṛṣṇa, otherwise it will surely be too much.

At least we know and we have practical experiences of kīrtanas. We know what to do, where to stand, when to sit and when to dance, it can’t be that different in the spiritual Navadvīpa. We got it. Being suddenly thrust in front of Kṛṣṇa is a completely different challenge and we’ll surely need some time to get used to it and find our place there. We’ll need training, we’ll need to learn the language, we’ll need to learn names of people and our relationships to them – the whole ekadaśī bhāva thing. We are just not ready for it yet, but we are all ready and primed for Navadvīpa, with minimum adjustments. Leave your body, go straight there, and you are all set.

I particularly like the image of seeing something in Kṛṣṇa līlā and then darting for safety of Mahāprabhu for explanations and advice. It might not be Lord Caitanya personally, in fact most probably it won’t be, but His senior associates who will act as our guides.

In fact, we don’t even have to wait to be born in Navadvīpa to have this kind of experience, we just have to become perfect in our chanting and, theoretically, it’s the ability available to everyone.

Hmm, all of this presents another dilemma – some say that our next births will be with Kṛṣṇa somewhere in the material world, which won’t exactly be material but we’ll get the opportunity to perfect our devotion before finally being taken to the spiritual Vraja. This makes sense, but what about being born closer to Lord Caitanya instead to perfect our chanting and eventually enter Vraja through Navadvīpa?

I guess we’ll have to find out for ourselves, by Lord Caitanya’s mercy it will all be taken care of one way or another.

Vanity thought #1461. Sweetness

One distinguishing feature of bhakti is sweetness. We sort of know this but in our everyday lives we don’t get to experience anything like it and so it doesn’t really register with us how sweet relationships between Kṛṣṇa and His devotees are.

Mādhurya is just a word for us, a technical term describing something we have no idea about. Practically everybody can understand when we talk about Lord’s greatness, even the atheists have experiences of awe and majesty of the universe or universal laws – that’s what gives them the taste for their philosophy. Lots of people can admire either the Lord or the universe, they can be humbled by these realizations, too, but that’s not the same as Kṛṣṇa’s sweetness.

We simply have no clue and maybe we shouldn’t be going around looking for one, it would only be profanation. Attractiveness of bhakti, pure devotion, can only be appreciated by liberated persons, otherwise we’d naturally define bhakti in terms of our material emotions and those are not only nowhere near the same but also necessarily boring and tiresome.

We have a term “puppy love” for something we consider cute, innocent, and sweet, but the implication is that one should get over it, it can’t possibly last and one shouldn’t trust this kind of emotions. They don’t stand the test of time and so the sign of maturity is not being swayed by them. Saying that seven year old Krsna’s relationship with girls of the same age is the highest possible taste in the spiritual world cheapens it. It’s not love, we think, it’s childish infatuation, and we can’t really see it any other way, it’s just what it is in the material world.

We can intellectually restrain ourselves from entertaining such thoughts and we can’t anchor mādhurya relationships anywhere in our materialistic lives, so the moment we try to “understand” them we reduce them to mundane debasement, it just can’t happen otherwise for us in our current state.

Is there any hope for us to appreciate this sweetness? Yes, there is, but it must not come from “sweet talk”, we can’t distill mādhurya by squeezing nectar from worldly romance. Our romance might be rooted in original relationships in the spiritual world but that connection is too deep and too distant so it’s practically lost for us forever.

The only legitimate way is through complete purge of our own materialistic consciousness first, then through appreciating this sweetness in those who already possess it. Materially produced mādhurya, like recycled urine, will never be suitable for drinking, no matter what “science” says about it’s “cleanliness”. Well, it could be argued that every drop of water we ever drink contains some of recycled urine, purified by the sun and by passed through soil and sand, but that would be stretching the analogy too far.

This legitimate mādhurya appreciation process is very delicate, we always need to keep the perfect balance between our spiritual realization and our exposure to sweetness of Kṛṣṇa līlā. Too little of sweetness won’t probably hurt us but any excess can poison our lives for a long time because it would strengthen and develop our material attachments instead – when we accept our mental imagery of Kṛṣṇa līlā as the real thing and grow to like it.

Our Srīla Prabhupāda was always on the case of scientists and māyāvādās but my personal impression of Srīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī is that he saw prākṛta sahajiyā as the greatest danger to devotional service. Māyāvādīs and scientists can spoil regular folk and however much we care about their spiritual well-being, sahajiyās spoil devotees and this loss is much greater. Also it makes more sense to talk to devotees about dangers facing them rather than dangers facing someone else and so if we mostly read what Srīla Bhaktisiddhānta preached to devotees then sahajiyā must naturally come ahead of māyāvāda and other apasiddhāntas affecting outside society.

Pure devotional service of the level where one can express sweetness of Kṛṣṇa līlā is very very rare and it’s even rarer for it to be manifested before devotional dumbbells like us. If it happens, however, it’s extremely powerful and contagious and it would finally give a meaning to our lives. It probably won’t actually happen so we don’t have to worry about what to do in such a case.

Another source of this sweetness could be Brijabasis who are naturally born with it even though technically their devotion might not yet be perfected. They do not yet participate in Kṛṣṇa līlā and they do not chant 24 hours a day but they don’t have to force themselves to think about Kṛṣṇa, He is constantly on their minds as it is.

“Problem” is that they generally keep to themselves and do not reveal their internal world to outsiders. To earn their trust is very very difficult and usually requires years and decades of austerity and dedication. One must really prove himself and it ain’t easy.

To “deserve” acceptance one must completely give up all material aspirations and demonstrate full control over one’s senses, patiently and cheerfully executing his service in the harshest conditions.

Vṛndāvana these days can be a very inhospitable place once you give up your external defenses in the form of clothing, houses, air-conditioners and heaters. Summer temperatures can really kill you and winter cold can be intolerable without protection. Locals can be hostile, too, until they strip you of all your attachments. Even monkeys would join in. Vṛndāvana won’t kill anyone, of course, but it would provide the bare minimum to hang onto our lives, in terms of food, too, and that could be too much for comfort seeking people like us.

This is actual proof that we can appreciate bhakti only when we reach the stage of liberation and tolerate anything material nature can throw at us with unflinching devotion, until that happens even Brijabasis won’t talk to us.

Next problem is the language – they don’t speak English let alone other foreign languages, they don’t even speak Hindi for that matter – they consider Hindi as too harsh to express their love for Kṛṣṇa and they soften it as necessary. AFAIK, their talk can be understood by Indians but comprehension is not yet appreciation and appreciation is not yet the ability to express yourself, so even learning the language could take years for us.

I’m afraid translating it back to English would be impossible, there are simply no words for their moods and rasas, our equivalents could be dictionary correct but the sweetness would be gone, it just doesn’t exist in our world just as Kṛṣṇa līlā can’t be compared to anything we know. The words and the līlā are non-different, after all, and this just another confirmation of this basic spiritual principle.

Well, at least we know our goal and we are free to hope, by the mercy of Lord Caitanya we might get infected with at least appreciation for the value of Kṛṣṇa’s sweetness, and we are certainly on the right track.

Vanity thought #1272. Other evidence

There is another source of Tulasī Devī story and, perhaps, looking at it could redeem the bad taste left by reading Devī Bhāgavata. It’s all a bit confusing because I don’t know what to trust. Unlike Devī Bhāgavata, Brahma Vaivarta Puraṇa is one of the eighteen major ones and it has been extensively quoted in our literature. On the other hand, there is no authorized English translation of it and no one knows whether the text found on the internet can be trusted, ie it’s the same book our ācāryas had quoted from.

Brahma Vaivarta Puraṇa has eighteen thousands verses, just like Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, and it consists of four Cantos covering Lord Brahmā and his sons, Prakṛti, ie goddes of the śaktis, the part about Gaṇeśa, and the last part is about Kṛṣṇa’s appearance on Earth.

Interestingly, the whole puraṇa practically starts with the Tulasī story, from the second chapter on. It starts with a description of the quarrel between Śrīdāmā, not Sudāmā, as in Devī Bhāgavata, and Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. I don’t know if this distinction is important, both Sudāmā and Śrīdāmā are Kṛṣṇa’s best friends and they probably play similar roles, it could have been either of them. To get the name wrong, however, is still suspicious.

Brahma Vaivarta Puraṇa starts with adding one more curse to Tulasī story – Śrīdāmā also cursed Śrī Rādhā to be born as a gopī on Earth and Kṛṣṇa had to console her that it would be okay. I don’t know what is it with devotees in Goloka cursing each other to be born in the material world as if it’s nothing. One could say that these curses are still rare and can’t be accounted for the entire population of the universe but who knows, each of these personalities is accompanied by millions and millions or friends and servants and we have no idea if they don’t curse each other as well, following the examples of their masters. There’s also the point that pastimes in the spiritual world are replayed again and again unlimited number of times and if every time someone gets cursed the numbers must eventually add up. I just don’t like the idea at all – not a leaf was supposed to fall from Vaikuṇṭha, right?

Moving on, after being cursed Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī got the opportunity to get back at Śrīdāmā and the third chapter describes the episode with her catching Kṛṣṇa enjoying with Viraja and Śrīdāmā paying the price. In this version Rādhārāṇī’s friends first spotted them together and informed her about it. She went to the place but Viraja turned into a river while Kṛṣṇa simply disappeared. After Śrī Rādhā was gone Kṛṣṇa reappeared and plead with Viraja to turn back into a woman again. Then they had sex and Viraja became pregnant. I don’t know what to think about it, no comment. It’s just gross.

A hundred years have passed and finally she gave birth to seven sons. How that works in the spiritual world I do not know, so far the Puraṇa hasn’t given any explanations on the nature of Goloka. Then it gets worse.

One time Viraja was having fun with Kṛṣṇa but her youngest son came to sit on her laps. While she was attending to him Kṛṣṇa got up and left for Rādhā’s place. When Viraja realized that Kṛṣṇa was gone she cursed her son to be born on Earth as a salt water ocean no one would drink water from. Then she cursed the other six boys for good measure, too. They weren’t even there, this stuff is unbelievable.

That’s the story of the seven oceans, at least the older boys got to be made of sugarcane juice or milk so there was that going for them.

Back in the Goloka, Viraja realized that she was unfair and she started crying for her children, but then Kṛṣṇa came back and she forgot all about it. What kind of motherly love is that? After a new round of pastimes with Kṛṣṇa everything was back to normal but Rādhā’s spies caught them and told Rādhā all about it. When Kṛṣṇa and Śrīdāmā showed at her place she was very angry and told Kṛṣṇa to get lost, find Himself another girl, follow Viraja and become a river, too, and so on. Her servants would simply not let Him enter and Kṛṣṇa had to go to some other gopī’s house.

That’s when Śrīdāmā got angry, too. He started to describe Kṛṣṇa’s glories and in the end said that Rādhā and all her friends are in His dominion, too, so she has no right to speak to Kṛṣṇa this way. Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī couldn’t tolerate being lectured, compared Śrīdāmā to a demon, and cursed him to be born as Śankhācūda.

In response, Śrīdāmā compared her to an ordinary woman and cursed her to be born on ordinary woman’s womb. He said that she would have Kṛṣṇa’s company in Vṛndāvana but after that she would suffer in separation for one hundred years. This was probably the curse mentioned in the previous chapter but who’s counting?

The next chapter changes the subject but it describes Goloka and is very informative in this regard. It started with the goddess of the Earth complaining to Lord Brahmā about the weight of the sinners she had to carry. Lord Brahmā took her to Lord Śiva, then they went to Yamarāja, then, as the company grew bigger and bigger, they went ot Vaikuṇṭha where they saw Lord Hari, then Lord Hari told them to go even higher, to Goloka itself. According to Brahma Vaivarta Puraṇa that’s where the world ends and so there’s nothing for me to object, except to the ability of the demigods in Lord Brahmā’s posse to ever go there, or even to Vaikuṇṭha, but it was on Lord Hari’s order so it shouldn’t be a big deal.

The demigods (there were probably a dozen of them at that point) went to the shore of the Viraja river but only three of them crossed it to the actual Goloka.

I’ll just leave the text as it appears here. There are over a hundred verses in this escription and it’s not the end yet, but it’s impressive enough. What I find the most interesting is the number of various servants and their servants with all their āśramas. They went from place to place and everywhere there were billions and billions of houses and palaces. This should give us hope that there might be a place for us somewhere there, too. There’s a place with a billion of āśramas specifically for those who achieved perfection by chanting Lord’s names on Earth, for example, so it should work.

    After gazing at this place, the (three) demigods crossed to the farther shore, where they saw a beautiful mountain with a hundred peaks,…

    …splendid with parijata trees, filled with kalpavrksa trees and surabhi cows,…

    …ten million yojanas high, ten times as long, and five hundred millions yojanas wide,…

    …on its peak a beautiful walled rasadance circle ten yojanas across,…

    …with a thousand gardens of fragrant blossoming flowers attended by swarms of black bees,…

    …splendid with jewelled pastime palaces and with a thousand multiplied by ten million jewel pavilions,…

    …splendid with jewel staircases, beautiful jewel domes, and a splendid emerald pillar studded with rubies and its middle decorated with beautiful sapphires,…

    …splendid with jewel walls and four gates of many jewels,…

    …with many mango trees tied with diamonds, and with many banana trees,…

    …with the leaves of whiterice plants, with fruits, and with durva grass, anointed with sandal, aguru, musk and kunkuma,…

    …filled, O sage with many millions of youthful gopis decorated with jewel ornaments, splendid with jewel necklaces,…

    …decorated with jewel bracelets, armlets, and anklets, their cheeks splendid with jewel earrings,…

    …their fingers beautifully decorated with jewel rings, their toes splendid with a network of jewels,…

    …decorated with jewel ornaments, splendid with jewel crowns, their nostrils splendidly decorated with a gajendrapearl ornament,…

    …the place below their curly hair splendid with a dot of red sindura, their complexions the colour of beautiful campaka flowers, (their limbs) anointed with sandal paste,…

    …dressed in yellow garments, their beautiful lips bimba fruits, the splendour of their faces eclipsing the autumn moonlight,…

    …their eyes eclipsing the beauty of lotuses blooming in autumn, their eyes glistening with black kajjala and designs drawn in musk,…

    …their braids decorated with malata blossoms that attract black bees greedy for nectar,…

    …their graceful motions defeating the elephants and khanjana birds, the crooked motions of their curved eyebrows suggesting a slight smile,…

    …splendid with teeth like ripe pomegranate seeds, decorated with raised noses opulent like the king of birds’ beak,…

    …their heavy breasts like the elephant king’s cheeks, their thighs firm and their hips broad,…

    …their hearts wounded by Kama’s arrows, passionately yearning to gaze on the full moon of (Lord Krsna’s) face…

    …(their forms) beautiful, attached to serving Sri Radha’s lotus feet, and by Radha’s order engaged in protecting that place,…

    …which was always filled with a hundred thousand pastime lakes filled with red and white lohita lotuses, splendid padma lotuses, sweetly humming black bees,…

    …and which had a thousand gardens of blossoming flowers and many forest cottages with couches of flowers,…

    …betel nuts and camphor, jewel lamps, white camaras,…

    …and wonderful, beautiful, and colourful flower garlands. O sage, after seeing this rasa dance circle, the (three) demigods left that mountain.

    Then they saw RadhaKrsna’s favourite forest, which was named Vrndavana forest, which was extraordinarily beautiful and charming,…

    …which was a place where Radha and Krsna enjoyed pastimes, which was filled with kalpavrksa trees and gentle breezes carrying drops of water from the shore of the Viraja river,…

    …which was fragrant with musk designs everywhere, filled with new sprouts and with the cooing of cuckoos,…

    …beautiful with somewhere kelikadamba trees, somewhere mandara trees, somewhere sandal trees, and somewhere campaka trees,…

    …scented with fragrant flowers of mango, nagaranga and panasa trees,…

    …filled with forests of tala, coconut, jambu, badari, kharjura,…

    …guvakamrataka, jambira, banana, sriphala, and pomegranate trees, O Narada,…

    …splendid with many piyala, sala, and banyan trees, with many trees bearing ripe tala fruits,…

    …with many beautiful nimba, salmali, tintidi, and with other kinds of trees,…

    …splendid with many kalpavrksa trees everywhere, with mallika, malati, kunda, ketaki, and madhavi vines,…

    …with many yuthika flowers, with five hundred million forest cottages, O sage,…

    …with jewel lamps, with decorations fragrant with incense, with fragrant breezes,…

    …and with beds made of flowers decorated with a network of flower garlands and scented with sandal filled with sweet sounds of bees greedy for nectar,…

    …filled with gopis beautifully decorated with jewel ornaments, by Radha’s order protected by five hundred million gopis,…

    …filled with thirtytwo forests of which beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, secluded Vrndavana is the best,…

    …filled, O sage, with many perfectly ripe, sweet, delicious fruits, filled with many cows and barns,…

    …filled with a thousand fragrant gardens of blossoming flowers (attracting) hosts of bees greedy for nectar,…

    …and splendid with the jewel homes of five hundred million gopas whose forms were like Sri Krsna’s.

    After gazing at beautiful Vrndavana, the (three) demigods went to circular Goloka, which was ten million yojanas in size,…

    …which was surrounded by a jewel wall with four gates protected by many gopa gatekeepers,…

    …and which had five hundred million asramas of Lord Krsna’s servants, asramas studded with jewels and filled with many delightful things,…

    …one billion asramas of Lord Krsna’s devotees, asramas even more beautifully made of many jewels,…

    …one hundred million asramas of Lord Krsna’s associates, asramas even more beautifully made of precious jewels,…

    …ten million jewel asramas of the Lord’s intimate associates, whose forms were like Lord Krsna’s,…

    … million jewel asramas of gopis purely devoted to Sri Radha,…

    …one hundred million beautiful jewel asramas of these gopis’ maidservants,…

    …and one billion beautiful asramas of they who, purified by austerities in a hundred births, became very firm devotees on earth in Bharatavarsa, awake or asleep rapt in meditation on Lord Hari, and chanting “RadhaKrsna! Krsna!” day and night, asramas made of many jewels, filled with many delightful things, splendid with flower couches, flower garlands, white camaras, jewel mirrors, many sapphires, curtains of fine cloth, and roofs decorated with many domes made of priceless jewels.

    After gazing at this wonderful place, the (three) demigods went a little further and happily saw a beautiful and eternal banyan tree,…

    …five yojanas across and twice as many high, with a thousand trunks and countless branches,…

    …and beautiful with jewel platforms and many ripe jewel fruits. At the root of that tree the demigods saw many cowherd boys who had forms like Lord Krsna,…

    …and who were dressed in yellow garments, attached to playing, handsome, decorated with jewel ornaments, and all of whose limbs were anointed with sandal paste.

    The demigods gazed at these close associates of Lord Hari and then looked far away at the beautiful royal path,…

    ..which was paved with sapphires, rubies, diamonds, rucaka jewels, and jewels the colour of red sindura,…

    …which had many benches and jewel pavilions, which was anointed with sandal, aguru, musk, and kunkuma,…

    …which was splendid with many banana trees decorated with yoghurt drops, leaves, rice, fruit, flowers, sandal anointed flowers strung on fine threads, kunkuma, auspicious jewel bells, and branches filled with fruit,…

    …decorated with flower garlands anointed with sindura, kunkuma, and fragrant sandal,…

    …and filled with many playful gopis.

    Then, seeing in the distance a beautiful place surrounded by a moat and jewel walls with sixteen gates guarded by gatekeepers, splendid with jewel stairways, beautiful curtains more pure than fire, mirrors, white camaras, wonderful jewel beds, and flower garlands and anointed with sandal, aguru, musk, and kunkuma, the demigods became very eager to proceed.

    O Narada, after going a short distance they saw the beautiful asrama of Radha, who is the queen of the rasa dance,…

    …the queen of the demigods, the best of the gopis, and She who to Lord Krsna is more dear than life, a beautiful, beautiful asrama,…

    ..that was completely indescribable, that no great pandita could describe, that was a great circle of six gavyutis,…

    Note: A gavyuti is equal to two miles.

    …that had a hundred palaces, shone with the splendour of many jewels, was made of the best of the best of priceless jewels,…

    …was beautiful with many impassable deep moats, filled with a hundred flower gardens and many kalpavrksa trees, constructed with many jewels, surrounded by great walls,…

    …and was made with jewel benches and seven wonderful jewel gates, O sage,…

    …and a series of seven gates that led, one after the other, to a place of sixteen gates.

    Gazing at this great wall as tall as a thousand bows and splendidly beautiful with many small jewel domes, the (three) demigods became filled with wonder.

    Keeping it on their right, they happily went a small distance behind that asrama.

    There they saw a billion asramas of many gopas and gopis.

    They gazed again and again at the beautiful, beautiful ever new asramas of the gopas and gopis.

    After thus seeing all of Goloka, the demigods returned to the beautiful circle of Vrndavana forest.

    The demigods saw the mountain of a hundred peaks and went past it to the Viraja river. When they went past the Viraja river they saw nothing more.

    Thus the demigods gazed at auspicious, wonderful, spiritual Goloka, which had a thousand lakes, which was made of jewels, and which, by the will of Lord Krsna and the wisdom of Sri Radha, was situated in the spiritual sky. The demigods then gazed at the beautiful dancing they saw there.

Vanity thought #1249. Illustrations

I’ve had a couple of episodes demonstrating the truths spoken in Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s article in the eighty year old issue of the Harmonist. Nothing special, I just want to look at them from the perspective offered there.

First, an unrelated case – about a week ago I dreamt about Vṛndāvana. Seriously. I didn’t see much, all I remember is going down the slide which felt like one of those old playground slides made of metal, except this one was decorated with lots of flowers. Lots. It was more like sliding through a tunnel of flowers, that’s how many were there. I have no idea what they were called but they are big and bright. I don’t remember any smells, though.

As far as I remember, I was testing this slide for Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, just checking how it works. They were not present themselves, in fact no one else was present there at all, I was all alone and that worried me – what’s the point of being in Vṛndāvana without association with devotees there? It didn’t feel special in any way at all, save for those astonishing flowers.

I don’t believe I had a glimpse of actual Vṛndāvana in any sense, just a mental concoction, and I didn’t even like it very much. I remember I was upset that I was doing the testing myself and it was like I was actually enjoying the dhāma, not serving it.

The reason I mention it at all is that I was fairly pleased with my attitude – no enjoying the facilities, and lack of association as a big bummer. It was all in the dream, I wasn’t consciously directing it, maybe my mind finally learning something useful.

The dream I woke up from this morning, however, was directly related to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s article. I had some altercation with a couple of Muslim guys, there were those big, curved Muslim sabers waved and a lot of stabbing that somehow wasn’t fatal. The Muslims had finally had it with me and tried a new tactic – they converted me to Islam right on the spot and then called on their friends to kill me for rejecting the conversion.

I don’t remember what the ritual was, but, apparently, my consent wasn’t necessary, they just recited some hymns and I was a Muslim. When I protested they called for help in enforcing no denouncing rule. Now I had a whole mob on me and I had no time to explain anything, not that anyone was going to listen. Death was all that was on their mind. I didn’t feel any kind of animosity towards them but I ran for my life as fast as I could.

That’s what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta called “latent partiality for untruth”. Being protective of one’s life is an all-pervading instinct that is bound to manifest in all kinds of dangerous situations. I was really scared in this dream. Petrified. And I hadn’t had a single thought about Kṛṣṇa or not being this body or about anything, just primal fear. I ran and ran and was about to get away when alarm rang.

I have it on sneeze, however, so I postponed it and went back into the same dream. Situation changed somewhat. I was watching a football match with players and spectators from the same Muslim mob. It wasn’t played in a stadium, just a field among the trees, and it was televised. Then I saw myself as a sneaky figure dressed in all black, from head to toe, hiding in a hollow of a large tree.

I was caught on camera, everyone watching TV saw me, and I wondered how long before the mob was informed of my whereabouts. Somehow I was watching it on TV, too, while absolutely sure that I was also inside that hollow. I really felt for myself while watching from outside. Then the alarm rang again and I had to get up.

The point is that unless we relinquish this animalistic attachment and false self-identification we won’t be able to perceive spiritual reality of any kind. This horrifying dream reminded me how much work is still ahead.

The last episode was more positive. I think I got some kind of food poisoning, probably bad oil or something. My stomach has been battling with it whole day and there’s no end in sight yet. My body temperature shot up to 100 Fahrenheit or 37.7 degree Celsius. It stabilized now but when it was going up I was out of commission, cuddled under a blanket and wanting to fall asleep.

Chanting in this condition is never good, mind was absolutely out of bounds, and I had no willpower to control it.

On one hand it showed again how difficult it is to overcome my “latent partiality for untruth” but I realized something else, too – sickness affects only my body and my mind but not the Holy Name.

My every thought was somehow colored by discomfort but the Name stayed pure. Nothing can touch it. Even if the sound coming from my mouth might be affected by pain, the Holy Name stays transcendental.

One way or another, I had moments when I was above the pain and there was nothing between me and the Holy Name. Nothing as in no love and no devotion, but that it still better than appealing to Kṛṣṇa from the bodily platform.

There were moments when I stopped being myself and just listened to the Name, and in these moments I realized that nothing can possibly affect our relationship, if I manage to eventually build any.

Material nature cannot come between the soul and Kṛṣṇa. She will always be on the outside, unable to touch the Lord. The Lord never gets covered by her illusion and we can see Him with all clarity if we stop looking at the material world.

We can forget the Lord ONLY if we identify ourselves with matter, for it will be out of our hands – whatever is on TV would occupy our minds instead. Free from this false identification, however, the Lord is always there, pure and transcendental and completely unaffected by whatever seems to be troubling us in our material existence.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that the Lord will automatically reveal Himself, for that we need genuine devotion and all the help we can get form our ācāryas. Without it all we have is the sound of the Holy Name, which isn’t very different from what we hear in everyday life, we just have learn to treat it with a bit more respect and have full faith that eventually it will reveal more of its transcendental nature.

Source (p34)

Vanity thought #1048. Walking the Vraja

Having said a few critical things about some of our attitudes towards Māyāpura, now it’s turn of Vṛndāvana. Whatever offenses we might commit by thinking of Māyāpura as a field of our enjoyment are multiplied a thousand times in Vṛndāvana. In Māyāpura we can at least count on Lord Caitanya’s forgiving attitude, He knows what stock we are made of, but that won’t fly in Vraja.

Vraja is not a place to beg for forgiveness, it’s a place to serve Kṛṣṇa, if we can’t do it properly, if we do not possess śuddha bhakti we should not even be there. It’s not a place were we go for purification, we can’t plan to bring our sins into Vṛndāvana and expect Kṛṣṇa to take care of them for us. We cannot impose our impure selves on Him there.

Therefore anyone thinking of settling in Vṛndāvana should think twice whether it’s appropriate at all. Some service needs to be done there by our devotees but that means we should patiently wait to be called upon rather than check into some guesthouse, unpack our bags, and go shopping for condos.

Everyone can *live* in Vṛndāvana, sure, but it won’t make them into vraja vāsīs. Vraja vāsīs are only nitya siddhas, Lord’s eternal associates, we can’t claim membership in that club simply because we bought land or got a visa from Indian government.

One could say that residing in Vṛndāvana is prescribed in Upadeśāmṛta so who am I to argue otherwise but we should follow the footsteps of our ācāryas and carry out their mission, not mimic Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī or claim to understand his instructions better than our guru.

We’ve heard it from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura – there are no vaiṣṇavas in Vṛndāvana, only kaniśṭhas. That was a hundred years ago and by the way things have been going we shouldn’t assume situation improved much there. There are more devotees living there now, sure, but in service to Kṛṣṇa quantity doesn’t mean quality.

What about those who live all their lives there or maybe even been born there – shouldn’t we consider them as nitya siddha vraja vāsīs? Yes and no. Whatever their exalted position might be, if they behave as if controlled by envy, anger, or lust, there’s nothing for us to learn there and we should treat them accordingly, which doesn’t meant to retaliate and engage in vaiṣṇava aparādha.

When Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta heard one of those vraja vāsīs declare himself to be fit to offer blessings to Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī he didn’t retort but fasted instead, and he kept fasting until that brāhmana apologized for his behavior.

There’s a lot we can learn from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s guru about behavior in Vṛndāvana, I hope it won’t be disrespectful to Śrīla Prabhupāda to do so.

Take the case of that brāhmana, for example. If we want to be bābājīs then we should simply cover our ears and leave when someone speaks disrespectfully of our ācāryas but because we are engaged in the preaching mission, behave like preachers, use the facilities of preachers and hope to satisfy Kṛṣṇa by preaching, we have no other choice but confront the offenders. We cannot allow to simply walk away, it’s not the mission given to us by our guru and by Śrīla Prabhupāda.

This is an important point – we can’t behave like someone we are not, we can’t pretend to be renunciates of the highest order, we can’t forget who we are and what we were asked to do. We can’t arrive in Vṛndāvana, dress like locals or as if we don’t care that we don’t look like Prabhupāda wanted us to look, and it will all be okay.

No one has ever given us permission to behave anything other than Śrīla Prabhupāda’s representatives and we shouldn’t award such permission to ourselves.

Vṛndāvana is not a place where we can reinvent ourselves spiritually.

Many of our devotees subconsciously try to do just that, to find some inner truth, to discover a pure devotion within themselves.

I wish I could say “it doesn’t work” but it kinda does – except that instead of discovering their inner devotees they pander to their inner materialism, using Vṛndāvana as a place of their lodging.

And what of that “everyone’s a kaniṣṭha there” claim? What can we say or do about that? There are thousands of ex-ISKCON devotees who would argue otherwise, sometimes very convincingly.

Well, the first step would be to weed out anyone smoking or maintaining female association. That is just a big no no. Still, there would be plenty contenders for the post of uttama adhikārīs left, what should we do about them?

There were such devotees in Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s time, too, but he was knowledgeable enough to point out their deviations from the scriptures and our ācāryas. I guess we’d have to deal with them on case by case basis, which I don’t want to do here, name names etc.

There’s a long check list on “ācārya compliance” and sooner or later they’d be found lacking. It could be following some smarta rules, it could be lack of respect for Lord Caitanya and literature about him, it could be māyāvāda contamination, something is always there.

Still, there could be found exemplary devotees who follow all the rules, read the right books, worship the right ācāryas and behave impeccably as devotees. Those are the ones Śrīla Bhaktisiddhana called kaniṣṭhas. They are trying but they are not there yet.

If anyone objects that it’s presumptuous of us to call anyone a kaniṣṭha as if we ourselves are any better, but it was only a week ago that I argued that we are, indeed, only kaniṣṭhas and cannot claim any higher position.

As neophytes, we are not qualified to pass judgment on any other devotee and that’s exactly what I am doing here – simply repeating what we were told by our gurus. I can speculate why and how it is true but I won’t take it upon myself to contradict our ācāryas.

But what about Rūpa Gosvāmī’s clear instruction to take residence in Vraja and, specifically, Rādhā Kunda? I can think of two answers to that.

First comes form Upadeśāmṛta itself – one who has control over his senses should take disciples “all over the world”, in Prabhupāda’s translation. You can’t do that by sitting in your “āśrama” in Vṛndāvana. Transition to madhyama means getting off your ass and going out. If these “vraja vāsīs” don’t realize that then they are not madhyamas, what to speak of uttama adhikārīs.

As for residence at Rādhā Kunda, I once again want to refer to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswatī who said that Rādhā Kunda is the place to serve the lotus feet of one’s guru, it’s not a place for a personal residence. We can visit and then we have to return to our less than exalted position.

The recommendation to actually reside there is for those who are completely free from all material desires and who have only a single pointed consciousness – to serve Śrimatī Rādhārāṇi.

So, here’s the second answer – Rādhā Kunda is for those on the pure spiritual platform, those who can actually enter Lord’s pastimes and serve Him there. If we are not given that kind of clearance we should not be there, it’s not a place to “hang”.

Final quote:

    Vraja means “to walk.” Anyone always walking the path of satisfying Kṛṣṇa is a Vraja-vāsī.

I don’t think we should take this as a metaphor but as a statement on reality. If we are not yet serving Kṛṣna personally we can’t be vraja vāsīs, and if we become His servants we’ll become vraja vāsīs regardless of where we reside externally. Everything else is just our material imagination or external material designations.

“Vraja” means walking the path of satisfying Kṛṣṇa. It’s not a physical place, can’t say any better than that.

Vanity thought #1026. Leeching off

A few days ago I discussed our unique devotion and dependence on Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī that separates us from other vaiṣṇavas. There’s more to this topic and I want to touch on some of the implications.

In ISKCON, this realization, that we are actually devotees and servants of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, is considered fairly advanced even in theory. This is not what we tell people first time we meet them on the streets and not even on their first visit to the temple. We don’t mention it in our Bhagavad Gītā classes and one would have listen to great many Śrimad Bhāgavatam lectures to finally hear it.

Even then, we don’t go into any details and we don’t express this philosophical postulate in our external service. We don’t change our mantras, we don’t stop praying to Kṛṣṇa, we don’t start singing bhājanas dedicated to Her, we don’t read books detailing Her service or describing those who are engaged in Her service – nothing, life goes on.

Those of us who jump ship to bābājīs of Vṛṇdāvana, however, make this realization their everyday reality. They greet each other with “Rādhe Rādhe”, for example. We still “Haribol” each other as we meet. They read up on Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes with Rādhārāṇī, we still read Kṛṣṇa book.

Even those who made it out to Gauḍīyā Maṭhas immediately become far more advanced than us, though that’s probably because Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja, we allege, took his philosophy from bābājīs rather than from Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, and devotees who leave for other maṭhas go there in search of spiritual highs so they need to be fed highly confidential pastimes to separate them from hoi polloi like us.

Same happens with those who leave for traditional Gauḍīyā gurus in Bengal. Some sort of differentiation from ISKCON is necessary for everyone and this often takes form in devotion to Rādhā, though smoking ganja and sexual exploits as means of self realization are not uncommon, too.

So, Rādhā, our “new” mistress, what should we know about Her and what should we do about it? As far as knowledge goes, we are restricted to books of Śrila Prabhupāda, and for a good reason – we can’t really discuss Her personality if we still maintain anarthas in our hearts.

They think that being devotee of Hers is the height of humility, as clearly follows from a quick look at the situation – it’s really being servants of the servants of the servants rather than trying to approach Kṛṣṇa directly. On reason is that we should realize our contamination and our limitations as devotees, and the other reason is that we should realize that if pleasing Kṛṣṇa is our goal then maximizing His pleasure should be a team effort, with those who are most suited for His enjoyment being placed at the front and those who He has relatively less interest in taking positions in the back.

Sometimes Kṛṣṇa lays His eyes on some girls other than Rādhā and because of Her unique and unsurpassed love for Him She goes to that girl and brings her to Kṛṣṇa, completely forgetting Her personal jealousy.

This is how we are expected to get Kṛṣṇa’s association – He would notice us and then His more intimate servants would come, pick us up, dust us off, maybe do a little make over, and shove us into Kṛṣṇa’s arms.

I also argued that being devotees of Rādhā is a more secure position than being devotees of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa has a very fickle nature and He is as famous for breaking people’s hearts as He is famous for stealing them. Everything about Him spells trouble. Love in separation, as we’ve been taught by Lord Caitanya, is higher and more intense than pleasure of being in His company but by our material standards it’s all a bit too much.

Just think of the time spent by residents of Vṛndāvana in Kṛṣṇa’s company vs time spent without Him. Say, gopīs first noticed Him when He was about seven and He left for Mathura when He was twelve, so that’s five years. If they lived up to a hundred that’s merely five percent of life in love and ninety five percent of life in pain. These are just rough numbers, don’t quote me on this.

Devotees, however, never ever abandon us and if Lord Caitanya was the most merciful avatāra they are even more merciful than Him. His mercy is two fold – first, it’s the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, secondly, it’s the mercy of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī.

We say that He had two distinct missions in this world, external and internal. External being the preaching of the Holy Name and internal being the tasting of rasas available only to Śrī Rādhā. Preaching, however, is a feature of Rādhārāṇī aspect of His persona. It’s She who wants to engage the entire world in His service, it’s She who looks for quintessential good in each one of us and figures a way to make us useful and pleasing to Kṛṣṇa.

Being servants of the servants of the servants is also our constitutional position so it’s natural for us to seek shelter of devotees rather than Kṛṣṇa directly. With their blessings we can attain bhakti and with bhakti we won’t even need Kṛṣṇa because it’s self-sustainable and independent of His whims.

Bhakti is a reward in itself, it’s more golden than gold itself, so to speak, and it’s given only by other devotees, so, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, here we come, brace Yourself for impact. Thousands and thousands of new devotees have taken shelter of Your feet, declared themselves Your devotees, and there’s nothing You can do about it, ‘cos it’s not in Your nature to turn anyone away.

This is leeching off, however.

Yes, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is always ready to accept new devotees and She would never reject anybody because we are all spirit souls and all meant for Kṛṣṇa’s enjoyment, there are no leftovers or “reject” bins in the spiritual world. Her shelter is the safest position in all worlds, but there’s one crucial component missing – we must give pleasure to Kṛṣṇa to qualify.

In the spiritual world it’s easy, natural, and self-evident but here in the material world things are very different. By nature we are averse to any kind of selfless service, we negotiate exchanges for mutual benefits instead. We are extremely corrupt and this attitude never really goes away.

We want to become Rādhā’s servants because it’s easy. We turn to Her because we smell a good deal, we are more than ready to exploit Her kindness. It’s like economic migrants to America or Europe paying lip service to running away from tyranny and seeking freedom. This type of migration has been going on for decades and it doesn’t fool anybody anymore but people are still trying to cash in on their oppression at home when they make their cases at Immigration.

This is what we do when we pray to Rādhā, too. We hope we’ll get all the benefits of being a devotee without trouble of actually doing anything for Kṛṣṇa. We’ll just hang around Vṛndāvana, chant our rounds, and Rādhārāṇī will do the rest.

We are missing a major point here – She introduces people to Kṛṣṇa only when they are of any interest to Him, She never rejects anyone but only because of their potential, it doesn’t mean She pushes everyone to enjoy Kṛṣna’s company just for the fun of it. Who says He’d enjoy our company in the first place? What have we ever done to deserve being introduced to Him?

We sit there in our rooms, chant our rounds to ourselves, read books for our own enlightenment – how any of that is supposed to please Kṛṣna? What’s in it for Him? Why should He ever care?

Saṅkīrtana is congregational chanting, japa isn’t. We can’t substitute chanting japa together for saṅkīrtana either, we can’t substitute kīrtans together for saṅkīrtana if we engage in them for our own advancement. It’s like “Do I really have to do this in front of other people? Oh well, if it’s absolutely necessary then I guess it’s okay, I’ll do it.”

It’s not like “I very much enjoy my rounds and there will be more enjoyment if we chant together.” It’s not saṅkīrtana, it’s a mutual masturbation society.

Saṅkīrtana means changing people’s hearts, inducing them to love and serve Kṛṣna more and more, it’s not singing in each other’s company, it’s directly affecting each other’s lives. It’s making others into better devotees, and not theoretically, because chanting make everything better, but practically moving other people’s hearts. Easier said than done but then who said pleasing Kṛṣna was easy. It’s simple but it’s not easy.

And for that humility claim – there’s even better, more humble position – to realize our contamination and seek shelter of Lord Nityānanda and our guru because we are totally unqualified to be servants of the servants of anybody else.

We haven’t earned our entry into the real of Vṛndāvana yet, we haven’t got a visa, let alone green card. Instead of trying to gatecrash the party or sneak in on student visa and then stay there illegally, perhaps we should apply traditional Vedic solution – wait until we are born in more suitable bodies. We have plenty to do and many ways to serve in our current position, and that’s what we should do rather than trying to become residents of Vṛndāvana prematurely and without being invited for our actual achievements rather than our potential.

It’s not a place to leech off others’ devotion.

Vanity thought #977. Ways of wonder

Please excuse me for brining up a topic I’m unqualified to speak on but I’ve been wondering about several aspects of life in the spiritual world, specifically Vṛndāvana.

We all heard that every stone there is a gem, every move is a dance, every tree is a desire tree and every cow is a desire cow, too. Unlike material world there is no dull matter there whatsoever, everything is fully conscious so there are no “things” per se, only “whos”. Okay, but do they all talk?

It’s one thing for a tree to be able to grant all wishes, which, I think, means they can supply any kind of fruit rather than do completely unrelated things like knock on your window in the morning to wake you up like some sort of an alarm clock, it’s quite another thing for a tree to talk. Why? Because we expect trees to behave in a certain way that would define them as trees and talking is not a part of it.

Technically, a tree is something that drinks with its feet so there’s nothing to prevent it from talking as long as its remains fixed to the ground with its roots but trees do not have mouths. We can say that they don’t need mouths to talk but talking without a mouth would be weird. Kṛṣṇa’s bodily organs are freely interchangeable and that, I suppose, is true for all inhabitants of Vṛndāvana but still, as we have seen in our local manifestation, He and everybody else follow certain conventions in the way they use their bodies. So He doesn’t talk with His foot even if He perfectly can.

I mean Vṛndāvana trees could talk if they wanted to but my point is that normally they don’t. Most likely it’s just not their rasa, not their service, not how they relate to Kṛṣṇa and other devotees. They might be fully spiritually conscious but it doesn’t mean they push their boundaries at will. If all Kṛṣṇa expects of them is to stay there and let Him climb then that’s what they do, they don’t provide a running commentary while He is climbing.

Likewise, when Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī wanders through the forest and asks trees whether they have seen Kṛṣṇa or not they do not immediately respond and give away Kṛṣṇa’s location. They, of course, could, but that’s not how they relate to Śrī Rādhikā. At that moment they are there as a prop to let her speak her heart. She wildly talks to them precisely because they appear as inanimate objects and this is why her otherwise crazy talk becomes even more exalted – she talks even to the trees!

Another thing – every rock, every grain of sand is a precious gemstone there. What does it mean, however? What constitutes a gem? Down here gemstones are valuable because they have special features that make them different from ordinary rocks, but if every rock is of the same quality – what would be the point of calling them gems? They would lose the very distinction that makes them unique in the first place.

Maybe they are gems in a different kind of way – they can appear as precious as you want them when you look at them. Normally, however, their service is not like that. Grains of sand and “dirt” lie there to be walked on by Kṛṣṇa and His devotees. They are not supposed to sparkle, they are not supposed to be picked up and fitted into earrings and other jewelry. Sometimes they are, I guess, so that Kṛṣṇa and devotees can exchange gifts, but wouldn’t picking up any stone on the road make a gift appear cheap? Shouldn’t devotees require to make some extra effort to please the Lord? Like go somewhere very far, climb some mountains, mine some rocks. The value of a gift is not in the object itself, after all, but in the effort the gift giver made to deliver it.

Maybe it’s just my material mind talking but I think it would be better to have some really valuable, hard to get gemstones there so that we can go through all the trouble of getting them for Kṛṣṇa? Why should it be easy? Why should service be easy? Isn’t hard effort is an essential part of what it means to render service?

Or maybe stones there appear as gems only when you look at them in a certain way but ordinarily they appear as ordinary sand and stones. As I said – they could be gems but if we only want to use them to make the paths softer then that’s what they would do. This, however, could mean that sand and stones we see in our earthly Vṛndāvana appear as ordinary only because our vision is imperfect, only because we expect to see them as ordinary but to those whose eyes are smeared with love of God they appear as precious as they desire.

Speaking of love of God – is Kṛṣṇa really all that attractive? When He grew up and moved out of Vṛndāvana He appeared as a human to most observers. Very few understood His divine nature. We don’t have a problem with that because He stepped into our world, full of unbelievers. We can walk straight pass Him here and not notice anything special about Him. Okay, but is it any different in Vṛndāvana?

Does everybody there think He is the most attractive being not because He objectively is but because they love Him with their lives and souls? Typically, everyone is His devotee there but there were also brāhmaṇas who refused to give Him and His friends any food. Maybe it was a pastime but they clearly didn’t see His divinity and didn’t think anything special of Him. There are also gopīs husbands who, afaik, do not see Him as their wives lover. The whole idea of sneaking out in the middle of the night rests on husbands not knowing what is going on and not appreciating Kṛṣṇa’s power of attraction.

So, here are two cases when Kṛṣṇa probably personally pulled wool over some devotees’ eyes so that they could not see Him for who He is. They, of course, will always love Him in their own capacity but certain aspects of Kṛṣṇa’s personality would always stay hidden from them. This means what Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī says of Him is true only in her own eyes. Other devotees in different relationships with the Lord do not see Him that way at all. This means that beauty is in the eye of a beholder.

How’s it any different from our world?

Well, we don’t have Kṛṣṇa here who IS absolutely attractive regardless of our imagination. We can become fans of some local celebrity but that would depend on values we project on that person ourselves, up close and personal that celebrity is not as attractive as media makes them to be. We can imagine supreme beauty in some model or actress and by everybody’s account she might be beautiful indeed but it’s also only temporary, pretty soon she would get old and wrinkled and die.

This does not happen with Kṛṣṇa. He IS the basis of our love for Him, it’s not imaginary. He IS the attraction that makes us into His devotees, we do not surrender to our own imaginary idea of God.

Sometimes people make pledges to themselves, like New Year resolutions, for example. These pledges look like surrendering to certain ideas and images. Means people voluntarily agree to forsake some of their interests for the higher goal. “I will not do this because I promise to become that”, they tell themselves, but that is a surrender to their own visions. They can rethink their pledges any time they want, there’s not objective basis behind them.

With Kṛṣṇa it’s different. He IS there, always, and He will never change and He will always remain the most attractive being – that’s the meaning of His name, after all. He wouldn’t be Kṛṣṇa if He wasn’t supremely attractive. This also means that whatever we see as valuable and attractive now will become useless the moment Kṛṣṇa reveals Himself to us. Nothing will appear of any value then. It will be only our Lord and our unstoppable desire to love and serve Him.

Let’s just hope that this moment comes as soon as possible

Vanity thought #623. Luxury of being stupid

We don’t have it, others do, and it ain’t fair but it is what it is.

Residents of the Holy Dham are special souls, not of this world, they are like Krishna’s family. In this world no matter what you do you will still be someone’s son or someone’s father or brother. Family relationships do not depend on the happenings of the material world, once you incarnated you’ll stay in your position until you die.

We accept the right of children not to testify against their parents and vice versa, we accept that our criminal laws do not apply to family matters. It’s a lot more difficult to accept that ALL the laws of material nature do not apply to dhamavasis. Yes, they surely get born and then die like everyone else but no matter what they do in between they will never cease to be Krishna’s dearest devotees.

When we visit Navadvipa or Vrindavan we are told to treat dhamavasis as residents of spiritual Goloka even if they appear in a material form, and we sort of accept it but it’s very difficult to implement it practice, especially if we get ourselves in regular dealings with them. It’s very easy to forget their vastly superior position.

They can cheat us out of our money, Krishna won’t mind, they can even eat fish or eggs and Krishna wouldn’t mind, too. They might get some sort of punishment for their material misdeeds but it will be behind closed doors of their family, not in public view where we will have the chance to basque in our “righteousness” and feel vindicated. It’s for our own good not to give us this chance of self-destruction.

They also have the luxury of being stupid.

There was an episode during Lord Chaitanya’s travels in Vrindavana when all the locals became convinced that Krishna has manifested Himself again in the Kaliya lake. They were sure they saw Him on top of the serpent and they were sure they saw the glare of the jewels on Kaliya’s hoods.

Their devotion to Krishna was natural and spotless, He was their life and soul and they were happy to see Him everywhere and in everything. They were also fools, Lord Chaitanya Himself called them so.

Here’s the fundamental difference between them and us – they can afford to see Krishna where He is not present while we cannot. Their foolishness does not affect their spiritual position but our foolishness affects ours. They didn’t become any less dear to Krishna for being fools but Lord Chaitanya’s assistant brahmana who took their proclamations for real got “mercifully slapped”.

You can almost see Lord Chaitanya’s frustration. He is Krishna Himself, people come to see Him but mistake Him for an ordinary human but when they see an ordinary human fishing they mistake him for Krishna (that’s what they saw in the lake). It’s even more frustrating when Lord Chaitanya’s personal servant thinks that he has to go see Krishna directly elsewhere despite being with the Lord for many months.

There’s also a powerful message there and Srila Prabhupad explains it in the purport (CC Madhya.18.99) – we should learn to see Krishna through the words of our spiritual master and do not deviate or be fooled by people suggesting there’s a better vision to be had elsewhere.

Many of our devotees decided that they would reach Krishna faster by going to this or that magical babaji of Vrindavana, they thought that listening to far out revelations of those babajis is a better and more exciting way than reading our books, chanting rounds, and following four regs. They do not think they can see the Lord in the words of Srila Prabhupada. What fools!

And there’s no one to slap sense into them anymore, as if Lord Chaitanya has withdrawn His mercy, too.