War Progress

I don’t mean how the war is progressing, I mean the progress we can make while contemplating wars. Some devotees can also make enormous progress during the war itself, as letters from places like Mariupol shows. Some devotees can also become overwhelmed by circumstances and descend into bodily consciousness. In this sense wars are like diseases, vyadhi – we can talk about symptoms, causes, and cures, but the bottom line is that one’s consciousness becomes degraded and one cannot worship the Lord normally anymore. King Kulashekhara’s prayer comes to mind here – at the time of death chanting will be impossible, and this can be extended to the time of war, too. I don’t want to discuss experiences of devotees in Ukraine – what do I know about that? I’d rather talk what use can arm chair generals like myself extract from contemplating wars.

First thing – wars prove that the world isn’t flat. Suddenly we see that some moral values matter more than the others and there is no equality between them, no flatness. When discussing wars people usually mention politics or economics, maybe history, but not morals. Morals are treated as one undifferentiated blob and at best one thing is taken out of it as a moral justification, something like “historical injustice”, but this doesn’t do actual justice to the place morals play in wars.

Modern wars have become somewhat sanitized – waged by governments which hire soldiers to fly to some distant places and all we get is pictures and videos in the media. The media can create an environment where public feels that their government decisions are justified and that the opposing side are definitely bad guys, but designating someone as a bad guy and celebrating victories shown on TV is not the same as going to war. Morals do not actually get involved here, it’s only a lot of huffing and puffing about nothing.

By contrast, conflict over Ukraine is a conflict of convictions deeply held by entire societies, not just by a few individuals in charge. What’s interesting, however, is that they all draw from the same pool of moral values, they have all the same ingredients, but they select different ones to put at the top of their hierarchies. I mean it’s not that no one understands Russian concerns about NATO missiles being potentially put in Ukraine, and it’s not that Russians don’t understand the value of independence, but when they create dominant-subordinate relationships between these two ideas they make opposite choices of what should come first.

This goes back to Putin’s redline – no missiles in Ukraine. Easy to understand but, as it turns out, impossible to take it seriously. Sure he didn’t mean that it would override Ukraine’s right to self-determination, but Putin made it clear – it’s a redline, nothing else matters when it comes to redlines. Ukrainian quest for independence was dismissed with one rhyme, in English it would be “like it or don’t like it, but have to tolerate it”. It also sounded a bit rapey when Putin said it and for a few hours western media puzzled over what he meant exactly, and then they moved on, but Putin didn’t. Redline was still a redline and Ukrainian independence had to be patient and take subordinate role.

I admit I don’t understand Ukrainian case for resistance here. Sure, they don’t want to be dictated who can and who cannot put whatever missiles in their country, but the very quest for independence is illusory. No one is independent in this world and Ukrainians themselves don’t want independence either. What they want is to be dependent on the West instead of Russia. They want to join NATO, they want to join EU – they want to belong somewhere. Where is quest for independence?

Maybe it’s just me, but their entire narrative nicely fits into this two minute cartoon:

You don’t need to understand Ukrainian here – there are two girls growing next to each other. One is a good one and the other is bad, then the good one gets new friends but the bad one cannot accept it and tries to spoil it. Such a nasty character. It’s simple. It’s also about as serious as their medium of choice – it’s cartoonish.

If they take this narrative seriously and Russians don’t then it illustrates my point – people put different relative values on otherwise commonly acknowledged things.

It’s not that Russians don’t want to be a member of European family, this is patently ridiculous, but after thirty years they came to a curious realization, also based on lists of moral values, btw. So someone compiled a list of Western values and a list of Russian values and observed that Russian list is longer and therefore Russia can’t fit into Europe in a same way a bigger thing cannot fit into a smaller hole. Well, actually they meant American values and even that representation was probably unfair, but I was surprised by their mode of thinking. Sample argument – Russians traditionally place high value on cooperation and collectivism so that welfare of the whole matters more than welfare of individual parts. Can this be accommodated in the western world? No, that smells like communism and will be misunderstood and rejected, generally speaking. Therefore Russians cannot express themselves through Western framework, and after many years of trying in frustration we come to the point where they say “dhik dhik”. This means “to hell with it” in Sanskrit, repeated twice).

This makes it a choice for keeping one’s own identity and big words like “self-actualization”. Russians here want to be themselves and nothing can stand in their way. I can’t say the same about Ukrainians, however. Their desire to become European does not go beyond having more money and better stuff to buy with it. Perhaps it’s Russian propaganda but I hear stories of Ukrainian refugees refusing to get a job when they arrive in Europe. They think that since they are suffering from evil Russians then Europeans will give them free place to live and monthly stipend to go with it. Someone called a friend in France and made their case “I want to show Paris to my children, can you recommend a free place to stay for refugees for two-three days?” The reply was “You are a refugee, not a tourist, and, in any case, France is not in the business of providing free hotels.”

What I mean to say is that Ukrainian idea of Europe is cartoonish and so for them it becomes a case of seeking a new identity instead of coming to terms with their existing one. I mean if Russians want to be themselves then Ukrainians want to be anyone else but Ukrainians. Just by comparing these two approaches to life makes me conclude that there is no real case for Ukraine in this war.

Another lesson is that “democracy” is an illusory concept, too. It’s not what gives countries their power. British empire got prosperous because it subjugated a lot of countries all around the world, not because of “democracy”. The US got a good chunk of Europe after WWII and made these countries into American vassals who aren’t allowed to make any serious decisions without American approval. Example – the fate of Nord Stream 2 is decided in Washington, not Berlin. Better example yet is that if you look at the map of countries that joined Russian sanctions you will see that it very nicely corresponds with the map of countries occupied by the US in WWII. They can’t disagree, they are not allowed to, they all have to toe the same line. To restate the same point – democracy is a distraction for the masses, real power lies in military and political dominance, just as it has always been, and it’s coming from Vedic times. Therefore there is no democracy in Bhagavatam – whoever has the real power gets to dictate the rules, that’s the law, and it works in “democracies”, too.

More interesting is a lesson on “independent media”. Traditional idea is that democratic societies need independent media so that people can make informed choices about direction of their countries. Russians don’t have that, they say. True, but Russians don’t see the role of the media in the same way. Since they reject democracy (not really, but to make it simple) then there is no need for the informed population. People who make choices have to be properly informed and others have to be either encouraged or assuaged or given something to keep busy with, and that’s what the rulers need media for. Did you get this – “rulers need media”? Because this understanding rules out any need for independence.

What’s interesting is that Russians are the last to arrive at this conclusion while in the West they nailed it thirty-forty years ago. In the 90s Chomsky was already writing articles on how western media doesn’t do what it’s supposed to and it doesn’t serve people [to inform them]. Today they say Russians don’t have access to alternative viewpoints. Not true – several popular outlets have been shut down only after the war started but had a free go for decades. People listened to them, they gathered their loyal following (pro-western, needless to say), but they failed to capture the collective mind, and when the war started the government decided that their nonsense it could afford during peace cannot be allowed during war.

Once again, if it was a “modern war” fought by distant people in distant places it would not have mattered much, like these pro-western media were allowed to present alternative views on Russian involvement in Syria, but this war is too close to home to allow for any fissure between the government and the people.

More on independence – it doesn’t exist, as I said, so it’s not a question of having independent media but rather a question of who these media depend upon. Legally, it means being designated as a “foreign agent”. Usually it comes with proof of foreign funding, going to organizations like US National Endowment for Democracy and the like. Having your stuff trained by these organizations is another sign of being a “foreign agent”.

Non-Russian audience is not expected to know but Russian cultural elites are very much like Hollywood – liberal to the core. Outside we are informed of relentless Russian propaganda but there is a large number of Russian movies which offer alternative narratives of events like Russian participation in WWII, which is traditionally close to Russian heart. They glorify or at least humanize traitors and Nazi collaborators, they present Soviet army officers as bloodthirsty monsters killing their own soldiers etc etc. These movies invariably bomb at the box office but, and here is a mind blowing fact – most of them are made on government subsidies! This is the extent of pro-western elites grasp on Russian cultural space – they own it.

A few years ago a famous director made a TV serial about a Russian security officer who discovered an American regime change plot involving Russian sleeper agents recruited back in the 90s. The elites would not tolerate it and the director had to publicly apologize for making such a pro-Russian serial and second season had to be directed by someone else. So no, it’s not true that Russians have no exposure to alternative views – they do, or they did before the war, and they rejected them. Why? Many reasons, but a prominent one is probably because they see that this agenda doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Propaganda is propaganda, and they prefer to be lied by their own government, which is another interesting point.

Western ideal is privately held, not government controlled media. Okay, but private companies work for the profit of their owners while governments work for the welfare of the citizens. Corporate media wants to make money off you and the government wants you to be happy. Government takes responsibility for its citizens and cannot fire them whatever they do. Businesses take no responsibility for their workers and if they don’t fit in corporate culture they are let go and they have to fend for themselves. Governments don’t do that – they are always with you, like the Paramatma.

Which media model is better? It’s a no brainer – government one, but in today’s world it’s the opposite. Governments are supposed to be our enemies intent on cheating us and abusing their power, and corporations are presented as our true friends so that we give them all our money, meaning all our labor. Isn’t it amazing what maya makes us believe?

This is getting too long and I better wrap up. All in all, this war gives us an opportunity to see how Vedic laws still work even as the reality is covered by illusion of independence and “democracy”. Here is one last argument to ponder.

There is a legitimate question – if nobody is independent, what is Russia and Putin are depended on? If Ukraine should depend on Russia then what about Russia itself? A hundred and fifty years ago one German observer commented – Russia is dependent directly on God. Why? Because if it were not so then there would be no rational reason for Russia still keeping itself together. One could make the same argument about ISKCON, too.

And an atmospheric picture as a farewell. Death flying on the back of western anti-tank missile.

PS. None of the above seems to be about spiritual matters, but I would argue that these realizations are necessary on the way to “brahma-bhuta” platform. We must learn to see things as they are, free from illusion and propaganda. Like what progress do you expect if you can’t come to terms with your own personality and refuse to accept and act according to your own nature? The process is called “self-realization” for a reason.

On Ukrainian Conflict

What is striking to me in the current Russian conflict over Ukraine is disparity in approaches, the asymmetric warfare. Russia talks about security and force and the west talks about economy and sanctions. It’s like ksatriyas againt vaisyas. In case it’s not obvious – vaisyas can’t win.

That is not to say that the West has no ksatriya element, rather that the West is able to talk sanctions BECAUSE their ksatriyas provided security for their vaisyas in the first place.

While political leaders bravely read the same script about sanctions ksatriyas in the back have accepted the reality – Ukraine is under Russian control and their influence and protection does not extend beyond NATO borders. These borders are backed by force, with actual troops and tanks and other hardware, and the West was able to move these borders closer to Russia in the past thirty years and turn the insides into a fortress.

But ksatriyas are not the ultimate force in the universe – brahmanas are more powerful. Not in a sense of forcing ksatriyas but in a sense of providing them the reason to fight for. Take away the reason and the army dissolves into ordinary civilian population. In the current conflict it’s visible in Ukrainian border patrol and many military units simply not turning up for work on the invasion day because they didn’t want to fight for their government agenda.

In a bigger picture the brahmanas in the West propose freedom and democracy as values to die for and it worked for a while but the internal rot has set in a long time ago, too. At first Russia jumped on the same train but realized that “freedoms” are for public consumption only when they watched NATO bomb Yugoslavia into submission, and then the war in Iraq sealed the perception that it’s all a lie and so Russia checked itself out of “world community”.

In the West itself Trump’s rise to presidency exposed fundamental rifts in the society about what “freedoms” and “democracy” actually mean. They are not going to die for the same thing and they’d rather turn on each other than go fight for some Ukrainian democracy.

Covid pandemic further divided the populations and right now it’s possible that Canadian sanctions on Russia are dwarfed by Canadian sanctions on their own population for participating in their Freedom Convoy.

Shifts on the brahminical level take a long time to propagate while shifts on vaisya level are the fastest, with ksatriya level coming in between. Sudra level shifts are, of course, the fastest, like they change the rules of what you can and cannot say almost every day, but it’s of no big concern here.

Does Russia offer some kind of new brahminical paradigm to the world to unite over in the wake of demise of “freedom and democracy”? Not at all. Their state is lacking ideology, they have been trying to find it but without success so far. Do they actually need one? That’s probably a better question.

The war in Ukraine is about Russian survival, not ideology – Russians have their place and they are trying to make a living in it, and they feel very insecure with the West potentially absorbing Ukraine into NATO and putting missiles there. What is there to be afraid of? Well, they look at the examples of France and Germany and they see that in the US sphere of influence countries do not have freedoms but have to abide by the will of their master. French have been strongarmed by Americans too many times to count, the latest one was when they took over Australian submarine contracts, and Germany’s example is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline the fate of which is decided in Washington, not in Berlin.

Russians historically don’t like to be dictated what to do against their will, they don’t want to be vassals, they want to be masters of their own land and people. So for them it’s about self-identification and security, not ideology.

This explains why no one in the West wants to take Russian side in this conflict – there is nothing in it for them, at best they can imagine themselves in Russian shoes and empathize a little. In this sense westerners are behind Russia by three decades – collapse of a unifying ideology with a feeling of emptiness and a desire to fill the gaping hole left by communism in the case of Russia and democratic freedoms in the case of the West. AND by collapsing of book distribution in ISKCON. We have been in the same exact place, too – when in the mid-nineties book scores started going down and sankirtana as the sole means of our sustenance was out, together with temple based communities, brahmacari pathos, asceticism etc.

Somehow there always comes a point where grand revolution hopes fade away and we have to find our own place in the world and our own mission in life. We thought we’d be always moving bigger and bigger mountains but suddenly we have to scale down and look inside ourselves. Russians still can’t find it after thirty years of searching. ISKCON still can’t find it and current sankirtana resurrection does not yet transform foundations of our movement. The West won’t find a replacement for freedom and democracy in the foreseeable future either.

It seems now is the time for self-realization, in the literal meaning of this word, not for grand projections of ourselves into the world, enjoying our marvelous power. I mean it’s easy to be a devotee when you always top the charts and always build huge temples. Try remaining a devotee when nothing is happening instead – it’s one of the necessary tests, I’d argue.

Russia has been talking about multi-polar world for a while, which means that there would be different types of brahminical cultures all around the world instead of one type dominating all the others. Maybe time for consolidation will come again (surely it will come) but it’s not the phase we are all in now and so we should stop pretending to be elsewhere, it won’t do us any good.

Once again I want to draw your attention that these developments are universal, echoing through different levels of society and vibrating in different countries. I’m saying this not to make Hare Krishna movement sound mundane but to demonstrate that Lord Caitanya’s mission is universal and it is guiding people through the necessary steps towards self-realization everywhere. It’s a process and there is no skipping – as long as we want the material universe to enter into Golden Age. Or we want our minds to become pure and peaceful so that we can chant the Holy Name 24/7 if we talk on the personal level. Material elements have to follow material laws, whether it’s countries or minds. If you have to transform matter to behave in a certain way then there are steps to follow. At the same time nothing stops you from going to Krishna after leaving your body. But if you want the body to become a “perfect devotee” then there are rules.

One last thing I want to mention – Ukrainians declared 130+ casualties on the first day of war. It’s comparable to numbers of dying from Covid. It seems Russian method of warfare is close to the Vedic one – they show up, you pledge allegiance, and they move on, and they don’t even plant their flags on the “occupied territories”. I suspect that’s what they want from the government in Kiev, too – just declare that it won’t make any troubles for Russia and they’d leave Ukraine alone to figure out what it wants for itself. This is a very different approach from “building democracy”, and it’s the same approach used by China, too – they don’t really care how countries run themselves, just don’t make troubles for China. I believe this ideology, which on the surface looks like no ideology at all, will win in the end, in the next few decades at least, and the current conflict is just one step towards this new equilibrium.

As a picture I add a photo from 2014. It’s Zaporozhye, Ukraine, just after Maidan revolution in Kiev. People in the middle are “Russian sympathizers” who were demanded to renounce their allegiance, take off their identifying ribbons, literally stand on their knees, and recite pro-Maidan slogans. The standoff lasted for six hours, there were also eggs thrown at them, there were beatings, stabbings, and blood in the process. But they didn’t give up. Then the police arrested them, and some of the police vans were put on fire by the crowd. For eight years they have been waiting for Russia to do something about this and now Russians came for them. That’s how people feel in the separatist republics, too – finally! Zaporozhye, however, was deep in the Ukrainian territory, at the time these people had no hope whatsoever but still they didn’t give up their identity.

“300” in Zaporozhye, April 12, 2014

Well, recent events show that Russia doesn’t completely abandon its dependents, unlike some other country I don’t need to mention. Even Ukrainian president yesterday spoke about facing Russian aggression alone, which was a big change from “building anti-Putin” coalition just a day before the sh*t got real. This is another reason why Russians are on the right side of history at the moment – ksatriyas offer real protection and always win against vaisyas, it’s nature’s law.

Vanity thought #1447. Nuclear option

This week we had another anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings and I think they deserve a second look, not particularly from a Kṛṣṇa conscious POV but as an observation of the Kali Yuga and its workings. It might come helpful one day, I believe.

I don’t remember myself ever approving of dropping atomic bombs on Japan, not at school, not ever. I always viewed them as a crime against humanity and even argued that it was a perfect example of terrorism – targeting innocent civilian population to force government to change its policies. I’ve never seen this argument being considered seriously by mainstream society and it was kind of tongue in cheek but it didn’t matter to me, I was convinced that there was no justification for it whatsoever. So, what has changed?

This year even my local newspaper carried a reprint from Washington Post dispelling five common myths about atomic bombings, I don’t know how much impact that article has made but the moral arch of the universe finally looks like bending towards justice, what more do I want? Surely I am not going to change my mind just to be contrarian again? Well, sort of, and here’s the argument about morality of those bombings.

I don’t think they were perpetrated by some sort of monsters, they were not “real” crimes against humanity, certainly not when put against Hitler and Stalin, and there was nothing remarkable about those bombings even in the context of allegedly superior Western liberal civilization. How so? Let’s talk about their origins.

Chinese invented gunpowder about a thousand years ago, centuries later it tricked to Europe and Europeans liked its destructive power. In the ancient times people fought with swords and spears and the best warriors were masters of bow and arrow. Then crossbow was invented, also in China, and it changed how wars were fought forever.

Mastering the bow was a very rare skill and it required years of training while practically anybody could learn to use a crossbow in a couple of hours. Instead of fielding a few warriors of Arjuna’s level of proficiency the kings could bring a thousand of quickly trained peasants and achieve the same effect. The wars had become the games of numbers – who gets to recruit more peasants wins. Before that they left general population largely unaffected but now everybody had to be involved and everybody’s life was at risk.

Then came the gunpowder and muzzleloading muskets. The firepower became overwhelming but it was kind of slow so shooting was carried in turns – while first line was shooting next line was getting ready just behind them and the third line was reloading. Armies, therefore, grew in size even further.

Another major problem with firearms was very low accuracy and that was compensated by quantity, again. Even when they finally invented machine guns the problem of inaccuracy only compounded – soldiers just shot more bullets. It is said that in WWI they spend 10,000 bullets per each kill and that number increased to 50,000 bullets in Vietnam.

This has changed army’s center of gravity. Killing one soldier was taking out one rifle out of millions while destroying one factory could take out entire divisions out of play. A soldier without his gun and tons of ammunition is not a threat to anybody, and if he gets killed it’s not a big loss. Factories have become indispensable instead, they have become the heart of the war machine and, therefore, legitimate targets. It was pointless to talk about their staff as civilians, that’s not how military planners saw it – in the long run these civilians were bigger threat than frontline soldiers.

In WWI factories were out of reach of attacking armies but, as scientific progress rolled on and airplanes were invented, the solution had been found – they had to be bombed out of existence. It was a superior strategy than trying to kill millions of well armed and well trained soldiers, especially of German quality.

The problem was inaccuracy again. When British started doing it they were so far off target that Germans sometimes couldn’t figure out what they were trying to bomb in the first place. The solution, just like in the previous cycle of escalating violence, was the same – increase quantity and carpet bomb large areas. British did it at night – they were so inaccurate that it didn’t really matter but it was much safer for the pilots. Americans invented the bombsight and did their runs in daytime for greater precision but the effect was very limited, only something like 20% of bombs dropped in the “target zones”, and so the principle stood – the war had to be fought by destroying large patches of industrial infrastructure regardless of civilian casualties. It was all a fair game and a major part of military strategy. Brits also thought killing this civilians would affect enemy’s morale – they were the original terrorists in that sense.

I am not going to argue that carpet bombing had won the WWII because other factors were at play, too, and German industrial base was rather large, but both Brits and Americans tried their best. More or less the same story was on the other side of the world in Japan.

I am not going to argue that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japanese surrender. Some say it did, and it’s called a myth now. Some say it was the threat of looming Russian invasion. Some say that Japanese didn’t know themselves what they were going to do, and that’s with the benefit of hindsight, which wasn’t available to the American president at the time. He and his military planners simply pushed with the winning strategy – bomb the hell out of Japan and hope it will be easier to fight against the army depleted of guns and ammunition (also ships, tanks, and what have you).

Atomic bomb was a major scientific and technological breakthrough but in terms of the strategy it didn’t offer anything new. It’s just that instead of sending a hundred planes they had to send one, but armed with a two billion dollar bomb.

So this is my point here – it wasn’t a moral choice, to bomb or not to bomb. That choice was made long long time ago and it was forced on Americans by scientific and industrial progress, that’s how wars had to be fought in those days. A few months earlier they had a bombing run on Tokyo with regular incendiary bombs that killed a hundred thousand people – the same casualty range as nuclear. Dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was no bigger crime against humanity than the war itself.

In the post-war years everybody was freaked out about nuclear weapons and so the world came to see Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing as special cases but back then, in 1945, they weren’t. Technologically – yes, morally and strategically – no.

The moral case was lost a thousand years ago when kings decided to involve civilians to boost their army, and it came on the back of scientific advancements of the day that made warfare “democratic” and available to all.

Like with everything else, they thought they were making improvements but long term effects were quite the opposite. They thought that electricity and internal combustion engine were great discoveries, too, and made lives very convenient but now we are stuck with global warming. The inventors didn’t foresee that just as they didn’t foresee crossbows eventually leading to nuclear bombs killing tens of thousands of women and children in a second.

So, instead of blaming individuals for their horrific choices we should see how it is the modes of passion and ignorance working slowly but steadily over hundreds and thousands of years that force people into the situations where nuclear isn’t really an option anymore.

PS. I ripped the idea of this post off Stratfor, sorry, it’s not mine.

Vanity thought #1084. Slowing down

For the past couple of days I assumed a rather militant tone. Atheists be dead! Long Live Hare Kṛṣṇas! War is inevitable! Our kṣatriyas must be ready to kill! The reality, of course, is nothing like that and I don’t really want it to be like that, so, perhaps, it’s time to slow down and take less confrontational approach.

Thing is, however, that all of the above is inevitable in one form or another, there could only be mitigating circumstances, not principal changes. Still, calling for a war, even if it’s only a war of words, is not right.

What should comfort us the most is that our Lord Caitanya did not come to kill the demons but only demoniac mentality. The war on atheism should never cross onto actual battlefields. Having said that, there was clear demonstration of force in the famous conversation with Chand Kazi. The Lord might have used arguments to convince His uncle not to obstruct saṇkīrtana but the presence of thousands of devotees just outside the gates was a kind of argument, too.

I guess we can try that, too – a great assembly of devotees to demonstrate to our rulers that Hare Kṛṣṇa’s interests must be taken into account, too. Won’t impress Russians, I suppose, but should work elsewhere in the world.

Usually, outside of known conflict zones, local rulers are understanding of our needs and our progress as a society is not slowed down by atheistic governments but by our own limitations.

We don’t need to show force, we just have to preach visibly and governments would appreciate us automatically. Why?

Because our message is transcendental. Practically it means our message is apolitical, we are not seen as enemies by anyone, except Russian Orthodox Church, and everyone love to have us as friends. People who are interested in promoting religions are especially appreciative.

We do not always speak in their language and quite often it’s cheap tricks like regulative principles or feeding people that impress them most. If it works we should use it anyway. It takes a certain amount of piety to demonstrate intelligence sufficient enough to accept our philosophy.

We, of course, think that our philosophy is very easy. There’s God, there are souls, there’s karma, there’s reincarnation, and soul’s job is to serve God – what’s so complicated about it? For some reason, however, people can’t comprehend even the apparent simplicity of it.

“Soul”, for example, means different things to different people. Afaik, only us accept it as a living entity, everyone else thinks it’s one of the features of themselves, hence “my soul”. Christians idea of the soul is closer to our idea of subtle body than the idea of jīva.

Karma and free will are two other concepts we disagree on philosophically. We disagree on those even among ourselves. The idea of serving God as a goal of life is also alien to many, people’s attitudes are generally very egocentric to comprehend this point in full. They still think in terms of what God can do for them.

Kṛṣṇa himself said that some do not understand the soul even after having heard all about it: śrutvāpy enaṁ veda na caiva kaścit (BG 2.29).

The main battle lines for us are not on the streets or in the fields, they are in people’s minds. We will take over the world by preaching, not by fighting. Atheists have nothing to be afraid of, we pose no danger to them, all they could possible lose is their convictions.

Perhaps we should calibrate our preaching force keeping that in mind, too, especially considering that we are supposed to win people over not by forceful but by sweet arguments. Service to Kṛṣṇa must look supremely attractive and people should take to it voluntarily and with great enthusiasm.

What about those who disagree? Should we force them? Well, yes and no. Ultimately, there are no disagreements over our philosophy – it’s perfect, there’s only a question of misunderstanding and misunderstandings are meant to be corrected, not punished.

In real life, however, it’s often more practical to simply force people to do something rather than waste time trying to educate them. That’s why we must follow our sādhana even if we don’t appreciate its merits, too. It takes us many years of practice before we realize the value of our service, prior to that we just do it because we were told so.

We aren’t forced to follow sādhana, however, and so neither should people be forced to do anything. They should be persuaded instead. Even if they must be punished, for theft, for example, they must be persuaded that accepting punishment is in their best interests and they should do it voluntarily.

If that’s the idea we all strive for then people would forgive us for minor transgressions.

There are practical examples of such approach in action. Just this year Russia has taken over Crimea without firing a shot. A coup happened in Thailand without firing a shot, too. Hundreds of those who opposed it were detained but junta managed these detentions so cleverly that no one complained in the end.

Just as with Kazi – was it a show of force? Yes. Was it a use of force? No.

Dealing with our internal disagreements is trickier. We aren’t going to use force against each other and we understand that we are all devotees, our disagreements will never cross a line. When Russian ISKCON won their case against labeling Bhagavad Gīta as extremist literature ALL devotees celebrated it together – those who left of Gauḍīyā Maṭhas, those who left for bābājīs, those who left for ritviks, even those who left active service altogether.

At the bottom of our hearts we all bow down to Kṛṣṇa and to ALL His devotees. Our infighting is just like family feuds, it’s just to keep us occupied rather than cause actual harm.

Accordingly, the punishment for our internal transgressions should never be anything more than public disapproval. Of course we can also take administrative steps, like official ex-communication, but nothing that would actually harm people, and nothing that would leave no room for eventual forgiveness.

The real problem with infighting is not actual damage but that it saps our energy, which should be better applied elsewhere. The problem is only the loss of opportunity.

Just as with materialists, all that is really needed to solve our problems is a little more Kṛṣṇa consciousness. All we have to do is to show the participants that their opponents are connected and supported by Kṛṣṇa. Once we see that connection our desire to fight disappears like fog under morning sun.

To sum it up – all our fights are fights against ignorance and our only weapon is knowledge. Knowledge, saṇkīrtana, and a prayer to the Lord to appear in everyone’s heart.

The way we conduct our wars shouldn’t look like a fight at all.

Vanity thought #1027. Revisionism

A couple of days ago the world celebrated the seventieth anniversary of Allies landing in Normandy, the D-Day. All the leaders of the Western civilization were there, mingling and commemorating. Victory in WWII is what unites them all, it’s their shared history. Of course they also claim Greece and Rome as their common roots but WWII s their most recent defining moment that is still very much alive and close to home for millions of their people.

Victory in WWII is seen as triumph of freedom and democracy over dictatorship and totalitarianism and it started new and unprecedented era of progress and prosperity in the Western world. What makes it even more significant is that the losing side, the Germans, Italians, and Japanese, got as much and probably even more from post-war order than many of the winners.

Thousands of Allied soldiers landed on the shores of Normandy under heavy enemy fire. They established beachheads and pushed on without any cover from machine guns and artillery fire, dying but persevering. D-Day is the most memorable battle in history and for many it was the day the victory was won.

It looks very different from the Russian side, though. A very welcome reprieve in their singlehanded fight with Germany but mostly a non-event of no real consequence. I saw some numbers in today’s paper and then looked for what was lacking on Wikipedia. Russians have got a point.

4,500 soldiers were killed on the D-Day, by far the heaviest Allied casualties ever, clearly something to be proud of, until you checked how things were going on the Eastern front.

Soviet Union lost 6-7 million soldiers and their participation in the war lasted from 1941 to 1945. This averages to more than 4,500 per day, everyday, for years and years. D-Day is nothing special on their scales.

One could say that D-Day was a localized event while Eastern front was stretched for hundreds of kilometers but Russians also fought battles like Stalingrad where they averaged 10,000 dead soldiers daily for about half a year. There was one hill overlooking the city where they lost 10,000 soldiers in just one day, and German casualties weren’t much lower. D-day looks like a picnic by comparison.

There’s another, rather shocking number – almost 90% of German soldiers died at the hands of Russians. This makes Allies look like hangers on that were “also there” rather than contributed anything significant.

It looks like Russians are totally justified in their view that it was them who defeated Nazi Germany, not Allies. They say that D-Day wasn’t so much about winning the war but about stopping the rest of Europe from falling into Stalin’s hands. Allies couldn’t postpone it any longer not because they wanted to help USSR but because they wanted to grab as much as they could for themselves while no one was looking.

Two opposite views of the same event, which one is correct? Let’s consider something else. Russians did most of the fighting, true, but war is not so much about killing each other but about the supplies, about constant feed of manpower to the flashpoints where actual fighting goes on. Of course, no fighting would be possible without weapons and machinery, too, and that’s where Russians were completely dependent on Allies help, particularly the US.

In those days for each tank the army needed six trucks and even though Russians won the biggest battle involving armored vehicles in history in Kursk, all their trucks carrying all their troops and provisions were supplied by Americans. There’s no fighting without food, too, and a lot of it was supplied by the US, as well as airplanes and other important stuff.

The US realized the importance of supplies very early on. Most of their fighting in the war was not against German army but against German infrastructure – factories, oil refineries and the like. Dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was part of the same strategy – they weren’t military targets but were very important to maintaining the war effort. However horrific those atomic bombs were, the Americans inflicted very similar destruction with conventional weapons all over Germany, too, and they didn’t stop there.

Most glaring recent example is their bombing campaign in Yugoslavia in 1998. They didn’t engage Yugoslavian army at all, they went after power plants, factories, bridges, roads, anything that could cripple Yugoslavian state and its economy, and it worked.

We could say that this is a very coward way to fight and we will be right. It’s nothing like wars in Vedic times where civilians gathered on the edges of the battlefields to observe the proceedings and they were completely safe there, knowing that no warrior would ever target a civilian.

Russians seem to be a lot braver in this regard, taking on the enemy head on, but that is only a part of their strategy. My most memorable quote from their army chief Zhukov is that “There’s quality in quantity”, meaning that if they throw a lot of untrained, poorly equipped men into the battle, their corpses would eventually make a difference. Men were brave, their strategic planners were rather cruel and demoniac.

Here’s another number – in the battle of Stalingrad Russians killed over thirteen thousand of their own soldiers who displayed signs of weakness, just to make sure that no one even thinks about retreating and saving their own lives.

I don’t know how it should look from Vedic POV. Clearly, Pandavas weren’t killing their own to teach lessons to the rest of their army but what I find puzzling is that I’m not sure there were things like “orders” in those days at all. If there were no orders than there could have been no punishment for not following them.

I understand that everyone on Vedic battlefields was there voluntarily and everyone executed battle plans drown by military commanders with a sense of duty and without a trace of hesitation, there was no need for enforcement and the word “order” probably didn’t have the same connotation as in the modern armies. I don’t think there were any deserters in Vedic times, and if there were people like Arjuna who decided to become monks instead no one would ever think of punishing them.

Anyway, all the world leaders were in France for D-Day celebrations and even Putin was invited, for the first time ever. I don’t know how he felt about being there and what his advisers were thinking but it looked like a trap to me – with all the Ukrainian stuff going on no one was ready to properly acknowledge Russian contribution to victory and it was his turn to become “also there” hanger on. Some were probably thinking: “What’s he doing here at all? Who invited him to our party?”

So many views, so many narratives, history gets revised again and again, how can we know the truth? Do we even need to know the truth? Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, what else do we need to know?

Revisionism is a bad word, it implies that history becomes distorted, real heroes get forgotten and superficial values are installed instead. I, however, propose that we must engage in our own kind of revisionism – how it all looks from Kṛṣṇa consciousness point of view.

Will it be the correct one? Not necessarily. It might not reflect all the facts and it might not rule out alternative views but this is what we need for our Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

Allies view of D-Day is largely correct, it perfectly fits into their worldview and into their version of history, it serves their purposes. Same with Russians – their narrative makes total sense to them, it’s supported by facts, and it serves their goals of nation building and whatever it is they want to achieve instead of communism.

What academics call revisionism is a judgment made against some idealistic values like “facts”. Facts don’t matter, not as much as we were told to believe when we went to school. What matters is if the state achieves its objectives. Not being truthful about it might cost them dearly in the long run but this also just a trade off between long and short term benefit that they should consider before embarking on revising the history.

Similarly, what matters to us is our Kṛṣṇa consciousness. If we distort facts for the sake of our progress it’s probably not such a bad deal. Who knows, maybe our entire Bhāgavatam is one such big revision. There’s not a lot of original material there that isn’t covered in some way in other pūranas, even Kṛṣṇa’s Vṛndavana pastimes can be found elsewhere, but what Bhāgavatam version does is to present the history of the universe in a way conducing to developing bhakti.

If this goal is achieved, who cares if it was a correct version or not? As long as we are aware of the downsides and “lie” to ourselves in full awareness of what we are doing, I don’t see anything absolutely negative about it.

On some level we already lie to ourselves all the time – because what we do and what we believe usually goes against what the material nature with its “facts” offers us as a better, true, “real” alternative. We live against our empiric experience, as far as the observable world is concerned, we live a big lie as it is.

Therefore, I see nothing inherently wrong with revisionism, as long as it’s done in service of Kṛṣṇa. Now I’m off to read what Śrila Prabhupāda had said about Hitler.

Vanity thought #273. Babies and hope.

Hopefully last of my latest concerns.

The other day I saw a baby and I somehow looked at it from a distance, not caught in the usual swirl of emotions – how cute it is, how mummy and daddy love it so much and so on. The picture was confusing – it was supposed to be a focus of loving attention for everybody but I could only sigh with apprehension.

I know what kind the world it is being born into and I know that it is very very eager to enjoy it to the full. There’s no self awareness with the babies – they just want things and they want them now. Some people find it adorable but all I see is another demon flexing its little muscles.

Why am I so pessimistic? I don’t know, I can’t get my head around the fact that vast majority of the newly born babies will never ever pay any respects to God. At best they will grow into some kind of organized religions where they will milk God for their own eternal happiness. Lots of them would learn about God only to ridicule the concept itself. Why bother raising it?

In traditional varnashrama babies were nice and useful. They were useful for continuing the clans, as free work force, as insurance against old age and as a ticket to a more enjoyable afterlife. Giving birth was also giving a soul a chance at developing its God consciousness, even if gradually and via indirect ways. By following the daiva varnashrama process and living life in accordance with vedic principles soul’s consciousness was supposed to evolve at least to the level of desiring liberation and that means realizing Krishna’s impersonal manifestation.

Devotion wasn’t guaranteed but it was always just one step away, plus there always have been sadhus who could spread the message of Bhagavatam or Lord Chaitanya.

Why bother with people born in Kali yuga? Unless a baby is born into a vaishnava family it’s pretty much doomed. Is the off chance of seeing Hare Krishnas and getting attracted to them enough as a justification? Possibly, but we have no way of knowing that now. Now everyone just adores the stupid baby.

Of course its not stupid, it just hasn’t developed yet, or hasn’t been developed yet. When it finally grows it will be smart and intelligent, it will have good health and many skills, it will be a magnet for the opposite sex, it will be nice to people, and, in 99.99% of the cases it won’t give a hoot about God.

So why do we have to go dopey eyed at the sight of the babies? Aren’t they just another trick of maya to keep us interested? What kind of hope do they give us?

As they grow older we also realize we have to train them, it’s going beyond providing for their wants and whims, we need to teach them how to fend for themselves and, unless it’s a devotee baby, we need to teach it the best ways of self-enjoyment. We need to teach it to be stronger so that it can grab more stuff from others, we need to teach it to be smarter so that it can manipulate others and subject them to its will, we need to teach it to be more more handsome or more beautiful so that it can attract and manipulate members of the opposite sex. We need to teach it self-esteem and a healthy doze of self-absorption so that it doesn’t loose the sight of the goal – to be a little God in itself.

All the good qualities come after that – being merciful so that it can feel better about itself, being charitable so that it can feel superior to others, loving people because it feels so damn good when people love you back, for a few months anyway.

Nothing that a soul picks up along its journey to old age and death is of any benefit to it. Am I being too cynical?

Maybe it’s just a display of my immaturity, a devotee would see every living soul as equally dear to the Lord and he would see how the Lord is fulfilling desires of each and every living entity so it’s not a waste of time at all, it’s just Krishna being kind. Fine I guess I can look at babies that way, too, but I can’t imitate the realization.

Look at this latest tearjerker – a toddler listening to her father’s bedtime stories from far away:

 

 

The last hug and kiss made many a man cry. Not me, though, my heart remains stone cold. Maybe my consciousness evolved past the blind materialistic adoration and hasn’t reached the level where I see Krishna’s care but more likely I’m just a cold hearted bastard, maybe I haven’t evolved into a proper human yet. I don’t know.

What I see is another soul trying to enjoy her father who is thousands of miles away, making money for his family by risking his life somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan where he has to kill people who get in his way. I see a snapshot of a deeply dysfunctional society that sends hapless young men on a wild goose chase in far out countries for no particular reason.

Oh, how caring it is that the military provides its soldiers with laptops and Internet access so that they can read bedtime stories to their abandoned children! I say abandoned because in the relative scheme of things being with the family is less important than fighting in some crazy war god knows where.

And the baby – what kind of world is she born into? Unlike adults she has no concept of the Internet and long distance communication. She hugs the LCD monitor and kisses is because that’s what she thinks her father is. Does she deserve a real warmth of her father’s body? What for? To make her believe in the safety and stability of this world? What for?

Of course every baby naturally longs for filial love, without it the whole “let’s get born in the material world” enterprise won’t be worth taking. So it’s basically grows itself into a deep entanglement.

In the daiva varnashrama this growing absorption is checked and after a few years of being spoiled under strictly controlled conditions a child is supposed to go to a guru’s ashram and start learning that it is not its body and its parents are not real either. In the modern world it doesn’t happen so there’s little point in cheering the babies on. Sure, they will have to perform their natural duties as prescribed by the prevailing asura varnashrama but the point of it is total detachment, not unbridled enthusiasm and fascination, at least not within our hearts.

Hopefully I’ll have a chance to return to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s life tomorrow and see how he conducted his family life as a vaishnava, it wasn’t quite the same but it wasn’t directly opposite either.