Vanity thought #1668. Terminology

The very first thing when trying to explain “magic” of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam “scientifically” should probably be clarification of terms. Direct translation into modern languages is easy but in many cases it’s grossly inadequate because reality of our lives is different from theirs.

Some might object that reality doesn’t change significantly but we often don’t realize how many of our assumptions are influenced by ever changing external conditions. Nowadays, due to introduction of knives, forks, or even chopsticks, not having an overbite would be a medical condition but when people used only hands to eat their food it was the opposite and no one had an overbite at all.

Another example is bodily odor – the sweat gland responsible for it is often completely missing in certain nationalities and so when people of these different cultures meet they can have very surprising and often unpleasant discoveries about each other, most often blaming it on lack of proper hygiene while back at home some wear their odor with pride or maybe fight it with strong cologne or deodorants. In Japan, on the other hand, deodorants are hard to find because no one uses them ever.

I once read that teachers in Ireland were going on a strike because temperature in their classrooms has risen to 26 Celsius while in tropical countries people work outdoor in 40s and then set their air conditioners to 26 to cool off inside. That’s roughly 100 and 80 in Fahrenheit.

Maybe these are not very good examples overall but I just wanted to demonstrate that our perception of what is “normal” can vary greatly even now, what to speak of “normal” in previous yugas. People can grow 10 cm taller in only a couple of hundred years, imagine if they kept growing for a couple of thousand. The only conditions necessary are better food and less diseases, which depend on climate as much as on human practice of medicine. I’m not going to discuss why the skeletons of these giants are missing from our fossil record here, maybe some other time.

When “normal” reality changes so greatly we shouldn’t try to see ancient people through our prism. We just can’t see the same things anymore because they no longer exists and so we use our poor substitutes which seem real to us but would probably not be recognized by the ancients themselves.

We don’t believe in yoga siddhis, for example, because no one has them in our society. Well no one practices celibacy in our society either and that’s the primary condition for developing “supernatural” abilities. Another example is that no one can see God anymore and therefore we assume that it was true in Vedic times, too. When Vedic sages wrote about demigods appearing on certain occasions we can’t believe it either. Conditions for demigods to grace us with their presence are still the same and we use the same words but their meanings are different now.

The place needs to be pure, for example. We can clean it up, get a guy with a mop in and scrub it, and disinfect it, too, but that won’t be “pure” by Vedic standards. They probably won’t consider anything plastic as pure in principle and they would require purity from people being present, too. We can send everyone to take a shower but that won’t be enough because demigods require internal purity, ie freedom from lust, and that we can’t provide. It just doesn’t exist anymore. Anyone who has ever eaten unoffered food, let alone meat, would contaminate the place with his gluttony, too.

We can’t even imagine what a really pure assembly place would look like even though we still use the same words. They mean different things to us from what they meant in Vedic times.

For scientific discussion specifically we should highlight the difference in meaning of fire, water, air, earth etc – gross material elements. We assume that ancients used these words just like we do – because they didn’t know what water or earth was made of. For them these elements were prime building materials – take some earth, meaning clay, shape it, put it into fire, and get a pot. Primitives! We can’t even begin to think that these words meant something completely different in Vedic terminology.

Take “earth”, for example. How do we expect to differentiate it from water? By touch, of course. Earth is more or less solid, just put your hand on the substance and you’d know whether it’s “earth” or liquid. In Vedic times, however, earth was associated with smell. If it smells, it’s earth, while touch was a symptom of air. What what?

We are clearly talking about different things here, not common clay and water. We don’t grant the ancients the ability to analyze the matter differently from us. We think that the only way to understand common water, earth, etc is to find their chemical composition and this again forces us to see the world in a very restricted way without even realizing it.

We can’t imagine ancients to make scientific progress using their weird classification, we think that we have the monopoly on honest scientific inquiry while they were hopelessly corrupt and invoked gods to mask their ignorance all the time. That’s another common stereotype, probably completely without merit. We can’t even think about ancients advancing in their scientific understanding on their terms, our brains are not wired for that, there’s a societal pressure, and no one honestly tried it, even for fun. The fact that people even in India can’t pursue yoga anymore doesn’t help either. Even if there are successful yogis there they won’t be mixing with us, the modern people, and so they can’t be studied in laboratories. They’d avoid our atheistic mentality like a plague, and they should be very good at it, too – due to the same yogic powers.

What I mean is that they’d practice mind control where mind means something different from what it means to us. They would practice control of their senses where senses mean something different from what they mean to us. How can we withdraw the sense of smell, for example? Or the sense of sight? We completely lack the ability and so we don’t believe it’s possible for yogis either. That’s just projection of our own limitations and it’s unscientific but often that is all the modern science can offer on this subject.

Vanity thought #1465. There’s no other way

How literal is the famous śloka from Bṛhan-Nāradīyā Purāṇa is? First thing – I don’t have English translation of this purāṇa and so know only that it’s a verse 38.126. There’s unnamed source floating on the internet which claims that there are only twenty two chapters in that purāṇa, I don’t know how credible it is. There’s a paperback on Amazon with Vyasadeva himself listed as the author but I’m not going to order it just to check, sorry. The verse, of course is this:

harer nāma harer nāma
harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva
nāsty eva gatir anyathā

Since it appears in Caitanya Caritāmṛta (Adi 17.21) there’s no reason to believe that it’s a new invention as it has been around for some five hundred years. Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja wrote it down many years after disappearance of Mahāprabhu but during that time we had Six Gosvāmīs, particularly Śrīla Gopāla Bhāṭṭa Gosvāmī, going through all the Vedic literature to put books like Hari Bhakit Vilāsa together, which is nothing but a compilation of authoritative quotes. It’s inconceivable that harer nāma verse went unnoticed and unsourced and no one ever checked its authenticity.

It is also highly unlikely that anyone would insert this verse there prior to the appearance of Lord Caitanya because hari nāma wasn’t a thing then, no one was interested, no one had a motive, and so the verse should be accepted as genuine.

Next question would be about the context and this is what we don’t have. The context won’t change the primary meaning but it could give us a scope for its application, though even the scope is given in the śloka itself – the age of Kali. Someone who can read Sanskrit can check the original online but I bet that there are no excuses given there after the verse repeated “there’s no other way” three times.

So, the meaning should be taken as literally as we possibly can, there’s no leeway in interpretation, and here is where our intelligence often fails us. I have tried to find any alternative prescriptions so that people could object “it’s just one verse, there are others that contradict it”, but there aren’t any. There’s Kali Saṇṭāraṇa Upaniṣad which is just as clear and explicit.

It’s a short conversation between Lord Brahmā and Nārada Muni at the end of Dvāpara yuga and Nārada Muni gets straight to the point from verse one – how can people save themselves from the degradation of the incoming age of Kali. Lord Brahmā congratulated him for asking a question for the benefit of the whole humankind and replied that they can protect themselves simply by chanting the names of Nārāyaṇa. “Which names specifically?” Nārada asked, and in reply Lord Brahmā recited our mahāmantra.

Now, there’s some confusion whether it starts with Hare Rāma or with Hare Kṛṣṇa. There’s an opinion that the original order was later switched by Rāmānandis who naturally wanted to put Lord Rāma’s name first. This one is a bit of mystery but we shouldn’t have a problem with whatever order because once you start chanting non-stop you still get to pronounce the whole thing, wherever the true beginning of the mantra is. We also have the testimony of our entire sampradāya that it works.

Lord Brahmā then said that chanting this mantra destroys illusory cover of the soul and allows Parā Brahman to shine within one’s heart. Nārada asked about the rules for its chanting and Brahmā replied that there aren’t any. He then said that this mantra destroys sins of killing a brāhmaṇa and some other serios ones, if chanted 35 million times, and concluded by saying that it delivers one from sins of abandoning all varieties of religion (exact words Kṛṣṇa used in Bhagavad Gītā) and repeated that it’s the only way three times, just like Nāradīya Puraṇa.

That’s the whole upaniṣad, btw, only eleven verses.

Once again, the meaning is clear and indisputable – in this age of Kali there’s only one method, chanting of the holy name, and there aren’t any others. Other methods are obviously there, too, just look around, but they don’t work, and that’s the most important part.

We clearly have alternatives in our lives, from atheism to Christianity to Buddhism to impersonalism to māyāvāda and they appear genuine and attractive to conditioned souls but they don’t work, period.

Our disbelieving nature would then prompt us to ask “Why?” We think it’s a good thing – to ask questions, we are told to question everything right from the start of our education, the whole modern western civilization is build on “transparency” and “openness”, demanding answers is not only our right but a duty, we’ve been taught.

Nārada Muni didn’t ask why, what makes us better than him?

We might never know why practices of yoga and jñāna are ineffective in shielding souls from the effects of Kali but we can observe it in real life. No one achieves perfection by doing yoga anymore. We might have some examples somewhere high in the Himalayas but then they wouldn’t be under the influence of Kali there, would they? It’s not the yoga that protects them there, it’s the mountains.

They, if they even exist, avoid Kali by all means. They stay away from people, who are prime carriers of this disease, and they stay away from animals and vegetation, too. There isn’t a living soul around them to contaminate their environment with their egoistic attitudes. Air is still clean, there aren’t smells of urine or cooking meat wafting through their caves and there’s no industrial pollution either. Since they only breath air, once in a while, they do not interact with the world in any way and they wouldn’t even know if Kali was there, his influence doesn’t reach them and therefore can’t disturb their meditation.

Needless to say, it’s not for us, we are full blown Kali carriers, we ARE the disease, caves won’t help us. Our defensive walls should be built right around our hearts and spread from there, gradually purifying all aspects of our existence. Simply isolating our bodies won’t be enough, the disease is already within.

Karma isn’t even a serious yoga and it requires full support from the material energy, and in Kali yuga the material energy just doesn’t cooperate. There aren’t even suitable ingredients for the sacrifices, there aren’t qualified priests, and that’s in India itself. In the west this way of life is simply implausible. Karma yoga is a societal, communal effort, and in this day the best we can do is to give small part of our money to temples and hope they don’t misuse it, which they very likely will. The misuse will bring negative karma back to us and reduce our ability and desire to continue. Protecting ourselves by doing karma yoga is out of the question.

That leaves jñāna yoga and it’s not so easy to rule it out effectively, I’ll explain why I think so the next time.

Vanity thought #275. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Puri and punishment of Bisakisen.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur spent about two years in Dinajpur during which he had a daughter and a death of a new born son. By some unfortunate circumstance his father-in-law died at exactly the same time and Bhaktivioda Thakur chose to withhold this sad news from his wife for a few days to spare her even more grief. I don’t know if that would have been possible in modern age, we can tell people white lies for their benefit but we not something like this – death of a father. This is the kind of news that has to be told right away, this is our default setting – people are supposed to be mentally strong to absorb something like this, in fact we believe that telling them unpleasant news makes them stronger, though they obviously need to mobilize more energy to deal with the situation. It wasn’t an easy choice back then, too, I believe, but it worked without any serious consequences for the family, his wife survived through one big unhappiness just fine. Later in Dinajpur she gave birth to a baby girl and all was forgotten.

There were also examinations, with mixed results, long vacations and some more progress in government service. There were also a few months spent in a place called Champarn but none of that seems important now. What’s important is that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was given a position in Jagannatha Puri.

His newly born daughter wasn’t old enough to travel yet so Bhaktivinoda Thakur didn’t take his family with him, instead he took Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita. Of all the things in his household he thought that those two books were most important. It’s like “what would you take with you if you were on a deserted island?” question. Bhaktivinoda Thakur, or Kedar Nath, as he was known at that time, chose books about devotion.

Puri wasn’t a deserted island either. First habit he started there was to daily visit the temple. He would see the Lord Jagannatha and remember how Lord Chaitanya visited Him, too, and that made him very happy. There were vaishnavas everywhere and he immensely enjoyed their association.

Puri, of course, is the place where he overpowered a local mystic pretending to be an incarnation of Vishnu. Every story about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur mentions this episode and the way I remember it was that none of the mystics curses worked on Bhaktivinoda Thakur and the power of Srimad Bhagavatam. I remember how it was rendered in the Abhai Charan TV series – mystic was cursing and Bhaktivinoda Thakur was reading Bhagavatam. This is how I remember it from my first days with devotees, too.

Svalikhita Jivani gives a slightly different account, to say the least, there was no mysticism involved and no mentions of the power of Bhagavatam or bhakti at all. Mataji Nalini Kanta’s book has quite a few more details and adds a touch of spiritualism that is missing from autobiography, I believe Bhaktivinoda Thakur excluded it intentionally, out of his humility. This was also the time when Bhaktivinoda Thakur became famous in vaishnava circles and so his life had started being documented by others.

Anyway, that mystic was an Atibari, a break away sect of followers of Lord Chaitanya. Their founder gave up pure devotion and took shelter of mayavadis and was rejected by Mahaprabhu Himself. Atibaris wrote their own books about Chaitanya and had some weird ideas, one of them being people pretending to be Gods. There was Krishna, Balarama, Lord Chaitanya, and one dude who claimed to be Mahavishnu. That dude’s name was Bisakisen, with alternative spellings.

He had some yogic powers and that attracted a large number of followers, he did miracles for them – cure diseased persons, read people’s minds etc etc. What got government’s attention was a complaint from a local brahmana community that Bisakisen was spoiling their women under the pretext of rasa dance. Bhaktivinoda Thakur was sent to investigate.

He went to the yogi’s place accompanied by a few collegues, among them an Englishman, and a few soldiers for protection. They heard Bisakisen speak and they determined that he was posing a genuine threat to peace and the British government. Bisakisen was scheduled to manifest a four armed form of Vishnu, kill all the infidels and free entire India from the British rule.

In Seventh Goswami there’s a description of their dialogue, how Bisakisen tried to prove to Bhaktivinoda Thakur that he indeed was Vishnu by displaying his powers – telling Kedar Nath his entire lifestory, healing wounds and curing sick people on the spot and issuing threats. Bhaktivinoda Thakur wasn’t moved, just gravely offended that the impostor declared the Deity of Jagannath an ordinary slab of wood. Something had to be done. Next time Bhaktivinoda Thakur formed a posse and went to Bisakisen with the intention to arrest him.

This time he took a hundred policemen with him but Bisakisen wasn’t about to give up easily, he started shooting fire out of his hair and his eyes and policemen got scared. Bhaktivinoda Thakur wasn’t afraid, though, he continued trying to convince Bisakisen to give up his ambitions and accept that he was not God. Bisakisen didn’t want to go to Puri himself so they ordered a bullock cart to transport him. Bisakisen was arguing until the very end but eventually realized that he had no power to stop being arrested and led away by force, not in Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s presence.

Next was the turn of Brahma and Shiva who didn’t argue at all but blamed everything on their ringleader, Vishnu, naturally.

During the trial Bisakisen didn’t eat or drink anything and he was sending some curses Bhaktivinoda’s way. His seven year old daughter came down with a fever and it took many many doctors to cure her but it eventually happened. Bhaktivinoda Thakur believed that Lord would protect him and his family and was resolute in his determination to bring Bisakisen to justice. Even when his wife pleaded with him for the sake of their children he was unmoved.

Next day Bisakisen reminded Kedarnath about the calamity he sent to his house and promised to attack the judge directly. On the last day of trial Kedarnath came down with a severe chest pain and had to be carried to court in a palanquin but he saw the trial through, having full faith that Krishna would protect him no matter what.

Bisakisen was sentenced to a year and half in jail and immediately after the sentencing, just as constables were about to take Bisakisen away, an English medical doctor who had some knowledge of how yoga works, jumped up and cut off Bisakisen’s hair with a large pair of scissors. As soon as Bisakisen had lost his locks he lost his powers, too, and, exhausted, fell on the floor. That had made a big impression on his followers who finally realized he was a fraud all along, a typical yogi, not God by any stretch. Bisakisen eventually poisoned himself in jail and died.

This whole story looks like a big test for Kedarnath, a test of his faith and devotion in Krishna and the result showed that it wasn’t lacking in any sense. Think of it – only two-three years earlier he was eating meat and now he withstood an onslaught of mystical curses on himself and the family. We’ve been eating prasadam for decades but in many cases we would demand Krishna to spare us from any inconvenience to prove his care. Bhaktivinoda Thakur nearly died, his daughter nearly died, yet he hadn’t thought for a minute that Krishna had deserted him. His standard of proof was very different from mine, he thought that as long as he could perform his duties it was proof of Krishna’s protection already. Never mind he had to be carried to court, that was his personal inconvenience.

To a devotee personal inconvenience is not a sign of being forgotten by Krishna. A devotee doesn’t think that “I will protect you” promise from the Gita refers to his personal comfort but rather to success of his service to Krishna, because that’s what a devotee is really interested in. If one puts personal safety before the safety of his mission he is probably not a devotee and so doesn’t qualify for Krishna’s protection.

This should have great practical application next time I get in trouble and need Krishna’s help. I must not ask for help for myself, I can only believe that Krishna provides help for his mission, anything more than that is the product of my imagination and my selfishness.

How to put it better – real devotees care only about their service and in reciprocation Krishna assures them that execution of his service will never face any obstacles. Obstacles to one’s own well-being don’t count and a real devotee never counts them either. In any situation Krishna will always provide a way to serve Him and that’s what Krishna guarantees, nothing more than that. A devotee would not be interested in anything more than that anyway so there’s no contradiction. You want more – you are not a devotee, not covered by Krishna’s insurance.

After passing this test Kedarnath Dutt’s career as a vaishnava really took off, but that’s the matter for another day.

Vanity thought #139. Week in review.

Five day japa marathon is finally over, time to count the chickens.

Can’t string my thoughts into any coherent narrative, so, in no particular order.

My life does not belong to me, my time does not belong to me either. I promised to chant sixteen rounds a day and that’s all I can claim for myself. Beyond that I’m at the mercy of the elements. If elements combine themselves into a shape and that shape picks up the phone and says “There’s something I need you to do..” then I must oblige because my body has responsibilities.

It’s because of the Kali yuga – there’s no sannyasa, no renunciation, one must live in his household life and perform his household duties. No one can sit down in meditation and tell the rest of the world to get lost.

Also, this is not the kind of yoga that we practice. Before Kali yuga meditation was the norm and no one could ever disturb a meditating yogi or rishi. First of all it was simply not done, there was no higher duty than meditation, second – it was plain dangerous. Wasn’t it Kardama Muni who was distracted from his samadhi and with one look of his eyes he burned sixty thousand princes with their armies to ashes? And he wasn’t even angry, they say. The offence was so great that those unfortunate souls got burned by their karma, not by Kardama Muni.

Now consider bhakti yoga. You might sit and think about Krishna’s pastimes all by yourself but if a vaishnava comes up to you and humbly begs for your help you drop everything you are doing and go out of your way to satisfy the devotee. That’s how our yoga works – we don’t do anything for ourselves, even our own advancement depends on serving others first.

Okay, looks like weekend will be lost on family and relatives but next Monday I’m planning on chanting at least a hundred rounds a day again.

What changes did this week bring?

First, my hand no longer cramps or sores, even the tip of the middle finger doesn’t bother me anymore, it’s a bit numb but at least there’s no pain. My legs are getting used to the routine, too. I still can’t sit for long periods of time but I figured – I’m not chanting so that I learn to sit quietly, if I need to walk I’ll walk – whatever works, sometimes I even lie on the bed and stretch myself. There’s no rule against it, it’s not traditional yoga.

I also learned a bit more about vocative case. We don’t have it in English but that would be something like “John, come here”, or just “John” when you call him. It took me a while to realize the obvious – we put so many different meanings in that simple call for John. It could be a threat, it could be a plea for help, it could be an invitation, it could be a tease – one simple word can carry so many emotions. Exactly the same thing happens with Hare, Krishna, and Rama.

We are not supposed to think about anything when we chant the mantra but we can still put a lot of different emotions in our calls for these names. We can sound content or frustration, or pleas for mercy, or even aggression (“I’m coming!”)

At one point during this week I got a knock on the head to tone it down a bit. It’s nice to express feelings towards the Lord but it’s better if the feelings come from a purified heart, and to purify my heart I have to listen to the Names themselves first, otherwise I just drown them with my own immature, material, contaminated emotions.

So for the last couple of days I’ve been learning to listen. It was unremarkable at first but today, during the last couple of hours, I really got used to it. Whatever thought comes up – discard it and just listen. Don’t beg, don’t cry, don’t gloat – just listen, but intently. It was not possible for me before but I see that it can be done now. I see no other reason than a lot of practice.

You could say it’s Krishna’s mercy, but I didn’t have this mercy until I chanted ten hours a day. For some people mercy is easy to come by but I’m not one of them. I could have chanted for months like this with no effect, too, but Krishna decided to show me some proof that it’s not all in vain. I’m truly thankful but also a bit jealous of my effort. If someone gets the same result for free I would consider it unfair – there’s still a lot of dirt in my heart.

Speaking of dirt – I’ve noticed that lust has become easier to manage. Just two days ago or so it required a gargantuan effort to divert my mind to something less agitating, today it was simply listening a bit more attentively. It came up more often but each attack was less severe. Don’t know whether it’s sustainable or it’s just a temporary reprieve, I’m glad it happened anyway.

Then there was something bizarre and unusual – couple of times my mouth went completely out of control. It happened in the morning so fatigue couldn’t be the reason. First I noticed that last “Hare Hare” were becoming unclear and I tried to correct my pronunciation. To my total amusement I suddenly lost the ability to pronounce anything! It was like a deaf person trying to speak – words coming out very slowly and at unusual pitch. I had a real trouble trying to say “K-r-i-sh-n-a”, after half a minute or so it was all back to normal.

Then, an hour later, it happened again. The tongue would just not budge. I had to pause, relax, and try to sing the Names instead. Push the reset button, so to speak.

Later in the day it happened again and again but not as severe. Luckily, it was always when my mind was drifting away and doing some thinking on the side. As soon as it was off, either last “Hare Hare” or the “Rama Rama” parts were all mingled.

At first, in the morning, I thought there’s something wrong with my brain, maybe I got a tumor or something, but in the afternoon it was really a boon – easy to notice that the mind is drifting, and easy to bring it back, by concentrating on pronouncing the mantra at the usual speed.

Amusing, to say the least.

Finally, a big discovery – I was reading HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s book to keep me going and one particular “meditation” reminded me the reason why I’m doing this.

I sort of accepted that I survive only by Krishna’s mercy. Okay, half the time I don’t even remember but that’s the situation as I understand it. Today, however, I realized that I should survive not by mercy but by my love. Like a mother, for example, who doesn’t stop and think about what mercy has been given to her so that she could continue caring for her child. She puts her love first and foremost, mercy and means might come or not, doesn’t hinder mother’s love for a second.

Practically it means that I must chant not because Krishna has given me a chance but because I love chanting and can’t live without it. I must try to chant with whatever minuscule powers I, as a jiva soul, possess, against all odds and regardless of Krishna’s provisions.

That’s a tall order, but it is also true. I sit and listen to myself and I wonder – where is this love? How can I put non existent attraction for the Names above all other interests? Sex and material love, for example, are very welcoming and promising and comforting, and they are very real. How can I even compare them with my taste for the Holy Names? How could this “taste” overcome sexual attraction, or hunger, or need for sleep?

No idea, but I better keep on chanting, because that’s the only way to develop it, and, there’s a chance Krishna might lend a helping hand, too.

Vanity thought #136. Dharana.

As I said, it means holding on.

In my case I’m trying to maintain my new regiment of chanting lots of rounds. It’s not a novelty for me anymore, there’s no excitement, no rush, no curiosity to see what happens. I know what happens already – nothing major, but there are changes and not all of them for the better.

Bad news first – somewhere on the third hour I had to admit that I’d rather be doing something else. There are plenty of interesting things out there waiting for me to finish, I only caught a glimpse while scanning newsfeeds but that was enough.

Perhaps I went in too fast, perhaps I should cut on my rounds and check out those juicy news first. One should not pretend to be more advanced than he is and one should not imitate practices that are above his own level. Very reasonable argument, and to add salt to the injury – if I still insist on chanting I would be doing it to feed my pride.

While I was thinking like this the rush has gone. Still, to make a compromise, I allowed myself to go online during the lunch break. Then I went on chanting and during the break, among other things, bought Bhakti Tirtha’s Swami first book The Beggar I: Meditations and Prayers on the Supreme Lord . I’ve read only the first few chapters so far but they’ve already helped a lot. There’s nothing like prayers of real vaishnavas to shake off one’s ignorance.

Thankfully, the “japa is boring” feeling has disappeared for now but I’m afraid it will come back, just like any other material distraction. One day I will have to give up, there’s no way I’m going to chant so many rounds for the rest of my life. I will make the best of the opportunity I have now, feelings and boredom would have to wait.

Now the good news – I observed some progress, that’s part of the reason I called today’s blog “dharana”. Yet again I experienced a period of unusual absorption in chanting, last time it lasted for about three rounds, today it extended to eight or even ten, depending on where I agreed that it was totally gone.

During these first rounds I was completely unplugged from the rest of the world. I kept my eyes shut, I didn’t moved an inch, and the sound of the Holy Names seemed to be reaching the depths of my very heart. My mind was conspicuously absent, the sound of the maha mantra was the only experience I registered.

I was trying to hold on to it and it lasted a lot longer than before but eventually it disappeared. I managed to observe how it happened and it might help me in the future. First, the memory was back online. I started to remember what I said about this stage yesterday, then the mind started analyzing the reality of what is happening. Then I remembered “pratyahara” stage – ignoring the sense objects, but, in my case, I started noticing things that I was supposed to ignore instead. The whirring of the fan was first, then I opened my eyes – lots of new information to ignore, took careful notice of it all.

Then I felt the urge to get up and stretch my legs, and so I did, and it went downhill from then on.

I have to say, though, that it was quite a long seesaw battle. Open my eyes, lose concentration, close my eyes again, concentration comes back. Walk around a bit, lose concentration, sit down, close my eyes, concentration comes back.

That’s why I’m not sure when exactly I realized that this morning spell has gone completely and couldn’t be revived. I started really losing it on the eighth round and by the tenth I had only a vague memory of how it felt.

Never mind the loss – it’s still very inspiring. I count on Krishna when He said that results of one’s devotional service are never lost, so I figure that even if I can’t repeat the same success tomorrow, eventually the day will come when I get to experience it again, and probably for a bit longer. At the end of the day I’ve added another brick to the tower of devotion that is supposed to reach Krishna.

Please don’t think that when I say “I added” I mean I actually did it. It was entirely Krishna’s mercy, from the start to the end, I was just trying to hold on to it for as long as I could, and I was praying for the power to hold on for even longer.

Another important point is that even this display of Krishna’s mercy is not the goal of our practice. Yesterday I was talking about yogis finally reaching their goal on the stage of “samadhi”, and it was a similar experience of going through the stages for us, but there’s a gulf of difference.

Yogis, you see, are trying to achieve perfection of their practice. They do all the hard work, and their motivation is only theirs. They want success, Krishna, the Supersoul in everyone’s heart, grants it.

Our practice is completely different. We don’t want anything from Krishna, we don’t want yogic perfection, we don’t want to enjoy our success. We simply do whatever is pleasing Him. If He wants us to chant we sit and chant but if He wants us to go and cook instead we happily get up and go, without a shred of discontent that we might miss the chance of getting the taste of the Holy Names.

We know that among various kinds of service chanting of the Holy Names is the most sublime, absolutely perfect way to reach Krishna, but we also know that our own desire to see Krishna is inferior to serving Krishna’s devotees.

Keeping that in mind I contemplated my next steps. Finally I decided to continue chanting, however imperfect. If Krishna withdrew His mercy it doesn’t mean I should stop, not at all. In my life I’ve offered plenty of service to the Lord, probably 99% of it was rejected out of hand. I don’t know how to please Him or His representatives or other devotees.

My constitutional position, however, is to keep on trying no matter what. Krishna can show me His mercy or He can break my fragile heart, He is still my eternal Lord and Master.

So I kept on chanting, and I was rewarded yet again. Comparing to my previous efforts I had far less distractions from the mind and it was far easier to bring the mind back to listening the mantra. Then I started worrying that I won’t have time to proofread my yesterday’s entry and no time to type up today’s but by Krishna’s grace it’s happening, He somehow squeezed the time. I completed the eighty rounds, just as I planned, and I have some leftovers, too!

Oh, and I noticed that my speed doesn’t drop anymore, never. It could be the achievement of my mouth and tongue but it could be my minds failure to distract me. Today my mind was just not as strong and powerful as before and couldn’t affect the rhythm.

So here it is – empirical observation of the effect of chanting the Holy Names, in a space of just a couple of days and magnified by chanting as much as possible.

It works.

Hare Krishna!

Vanity thought #135. Measly sixty-four and yoga continued.

The plan was to chant before lunch, go out to the city and add another sixteen rounds before evening but it was not to be. One very nice and very polite bus driver turned into a racing maniac for a split second, forgot to watch the road and hit the back of my car while I was waiting at the small intersection for my turn to go. That was a total waste of time and now I have to explain what happened and how it was not my fault. Again.

Interesting thing is that over the years I developed a sort of sixth sense when it comes to car troubles – occasionally a wild thought manifests in my mind, usually going along the line “Look how long I didn’t have any accidents”, and only a few days later – Wham! The thought gets nullified.

These thoughts are completely uninvited yet so familiar and brutal in their finality that last time one visited me, a few days ago, I immediately started praying to Krishna that I don’t get into too much trouble. Well, thank God, I didn’t, just wasted time, didn’t chant my extra rounds, and, to top it off, I had to wait for the insurance guy in front of “Massage by pretty” salon, very clean looking building with coffee, free wifi, surrounded by trees and tastefully decorated with shrub and flowers and, well, a giant picture of “pretty” outside to entice patrons.

There’s nothing worse for the mind than hanging out in places like this. Minus sixteen rounds from today’s tally.

Anyway, I was supposed to write about parallels between yoga system and chanting japa, so here it goes.

Basically, whatever process of yoga we follow, we have the same starting point – a conditioned living entity, and we have the same end point – loving relationships with the Supreme God. I figure that the stages in between are more or less the same even if the means of getting there are different.

Patanjali Yoga itself is not necessarily directed at the Supreme God, we know from Bhagavad Gita that they can reach the Supersoul but they themselves often settle for simply observing their own nature. I guess it’s because of their close relations with Sankhya, a philosophical schools that analyses material elements and so is useful to yogis with their pranas and chakras but the Supreme Lord is not part of that system.

For one thing, God is not a material element, so they are not wrong there, but without God the yoga system kind of loses its point.

Anyway, the first stage is “yama” – regulative principles in our speak. No intoxication, no meat eating, no gambling – the list of prohibited items can get very long. We are clearly on the same page here. Regardless of chanting the maha mantra or sitting in meditation, one should restrain himself from certain harmful activities.

Next step is “niyama” – things we should do to facilitate our practice – cultivate austerity, charity, self discipline, study scriptures, helping others and so on. It’s like when someone asked Prabhupada how to recoginze a genuine vaishnava he answered “Vaishnava is a perfect gentleman.”

So far so good, yama and niyama stages are shared by any spiritual tradition, no surprises here.

Next stage is asana and it’s not obvious what it has in common with our mantra-yoga. Well, the goal of asana is preparing the body for the inner work, getting mechanics ready for the meditation itself. Yogis must sit in the same position, comfortably, for really long periods of time – the body must be trained for that.

In Mantra yoga the corresponding stage would be learning mechanics of chanting. At first we start with one or two rounds a day, not because we don’t want to do more but because it’s kind of uncomfortable in the beginning. Then we increase the tally to sixteen but that’s not the end of it yet. We learn to chant faster but not too fast, we work on pronunciation, we control our body movements (machine gun japa, anyone?). Then we realize that it’s not so easy to finish all our rounds at once, we need breaks.

What I am trying to say is that learning to properly chant our daily rounds is not as easy as it looks, some of us put more effort in it, some less, some realize the importance, some don’t. Some see their shortcomings in that area, others might not be aware, but we all agree on what a proper japa looks and sounds like. We might not know what’s going on inside other people’s heads or hearts but we know the outward standards, and that’s, I think, is “asana”.

Next stage is pranayama, the breathing control, but also a lot more – yogis learn to control flows of energy in their bodies, they bring them to equilibrium and don’t allow them to squirt anywhere they want. In our practice it can be compared to mind control. When we got this far, steadily chanting sixteen rounds a day with proper speed and conforming to outward standards, next comes the inner work, just like with yoga. The mind must be brought under control, it should not be allowed to have a life on its own.

Another big thing that should happen on this stage or whereabouts is getting rid of the offenses against the Holy Name, at least the conscious ones. Our hearts might still be impure but in our minds we should offer no compromises anymore. We can control the mind even if we can’t control what the heart wants. We should not allow it to think about food or sex or anything else. Big job, I know.

Once we achieved that, comes the next step.

In yoga it’s called pratyahara – withdrawing the senses from their objects. It’s a bit more complicated than that, though – senses can’t be stopped and cut off, but yogi’s awareness of their current state can. If a bird flies into yogis view he sees it but doesn’t pay any attention to it, as if unaware of bird’s existence.

In our practice we do exactly the same thing – do not let the mind follow the senses anymore. Just like in yoga this step is closely related to the previous step, pranayama. We should learn to ignore all external stimuli when we chant. No “radar japa”, no scanning the environment. When we learn to do that we move on.

Next step is dharana, the beginning of the actual yoga. Now, instead of avoiding things yogis start looking at something instead. Not to look at things is fine, but you have to look at something anyway, and that’s when yogis turn their attention inside, concentrate, and maintain their concentration as long as possible. I don’t know what they see, they don’t really agree among themselves.

In our tradition we concentrate on the Holy Names, the question answered. Next.

I should add that the word dharana basically means holding on, maintaining the concentration, and it has the same root as dharma, I guess in a sense of duties that hold us in our place. There’s no further progress without dharma, or dharana, that’s something that should always be maintained.

Next comes dhyana, and that’s the term Krishna used in Bhagavat Gita, that’s what yoga really is – meditation. I guess now that the yogi has learned to look inside he starts watching what’s going on there. I guess it’s the difference between “I can maintain my gaze on the TV screen” and actually watching the show.

In our kind of yoga it should be listening to the Names themselves, not listening to the sound of the Names. There’s a difference and I hope one day I can experience it for myself. Not qualified to even speculate yet.

Finally we come to samadhi, the realization of the God in our hearts for yogis, or presence of Krishna in the maha mantra for us.

Actually, we already know that Krishna is present in the Holy Name, what’s the difference? I guess we’ll just see Krishna in all His glory, unobstructed by our material speculations of who He really is.

That would be awesome.

And that is the goal of yoga. For mantra-yoga it’s only the beginning – beginning of actually serving the Lord and beginning of our love for Him, just like wedding is only the beginning of the marriage.

And that is it for the parallels, not so difficult afterall.

Vanity thought #134. Mantra yoga.

In the beginning days of ISKCON “mantra yoga” was a popular phrase to attract people to our kirtans. It’s fairly easy to understand why it worked because the phrase contains two terms that elicit a lot of interest, both promising some mystical transformation and totally new experiences. Add some LSD in the mix and and it’s unbeatable.

Eventually, though, the novelty has worn off and we don’t hear “mantra yoga” nearly as much, certainly not for our internal consumption. Too bad, I think, ‘cos we were really onto something there.

The following is a totally speculative attempt to draw some parallels and connections and, perhaps, revitalize the idea of “mantra yoga”.

Let’s start with yoga itself. We know it’s a connection to the Supreme, most people know it as stretching exercises for middle aged women, there’s no mystery in it anymore.

I don’t know how we can still use the word “yoga” to describe our practice to outsiders, our meaning has been completely lost, possibly forever. There needs to be an immediate disclaimer attached to it – current forms of “yoga” are just modern adaptation of one of the stages in a proper yoga system, hatha, adapted for totally different purposes.

Most of the time the point is to sweat out as much as possible, there’s power yoga, hot yoga, Pilates – it’s all about hard work outs and building strength. If you tell any modern yoga student that asana means a very comfortable position in which you can sit/stand for indefinite amount of time without increasing your heart rate or breathing they wouldn’t know what to say. Their goal is not to stay still, if you achieve that you are doing something wrong and you should find a harder asana. There’s no such thing as “hard asana”, it’s an oxymoron, but what do they care? Whatever progress they are making it’s not yoga, they’ve just corrupted the word.

Anyway, what about real yoga and mantra yoga?

Well, real yoga, as per Patanjali, consists of eight consecutive stages. Krishna didn’t enumerate them in Bhagavat Gita but Patanjali Sutras do not contradict Krishna in any way. Actually, Patanjali’s yoga is not part of out philosophical tradition, ours is Uttara Mimamsa, paired with Karma Mimamsa. They both deal with vedic hymns, gods, sacrifices etc but there’s a gulf of difference.

Karma Mimamsa nailed the means, we nailed the meaning. They really really know all the hymns inside out down to the last syllable but they believe there’s no higher meaning beyond them. It’s pretty interesting because in principle they act like our modern materialist scientists. They perform some actions, observe the results, reproduce them as many times as they want and draw verifiable conclusions.

If you pour ghee into fire this thing will happen, and if you perform these steps, perfectly and in exact order, you will get this amount of gold or wives or children. The universe and everything in it is mechanical to them, there’s a strict law of cause and effect and so you can observe the world around you an predict with high degree of confidence what will happen next, or explain why something is happening now.

I don’t know what it is if it’s not our gross materialism. I find it hard to believe that followers of Karma Mimamsa built their entire philosophy on something they have never ever observed in practice, that they only imagine that their sacrifices work but have never seen the actual results. Modern scientists believe that none of that sacrifices business has any truth in it but here we have a thousand year old tradition that is built entirely on observing sacrifices work.

Perhaps we, as devotees, should always keep it in mind when we observe yet another feat of science.

Anyway,I believe karma mimamsis (?) were just pulling different strings in the universe. If we want to destroy an enemy we fire off missiles, they would chant sets of mantras. In the vedic times they had their own airplanes which did the same thing but were obviously different from our modern contraptions. Same with our instant communications, mobile phones and the Internet.

Have we discovered an entirely new way of manipulating the world or are we just practicing demoniac methods imported from planets inhabited by asuras? How did we import them? I have some ideas but they are for the different day.

So, Karma Mimamsa perfected the means of achieving results while our Uttara Mimamsa, the Vedanta, found the deeper, transcendental meaning behind all those vedic activities. If they have the means, we know what the end is. They refuse to accept our proposals, we can accept theirs, and even better – we can find completely different set of means to achieve out goal, and yoga is one of them.

Krishna didn’t make any principal distinctions between various ways of reaching Him. Some are easier, some are more difficult, some are superior and some take longer time, but they are all legitimate as long as they lead to Krishna.

There’s actually only one way of approaching Him but it takes different forms, whatever we are doing we still have to go through the same stages, just call them differently. I think it’s more of a linguistic problem because the words people use here stem from their traditions and they make little sense to people of other traditions, but, from Krishna’s point of view, there must be a unified set of markers that describe how close or how far each practitioner is from Him.

I can’t possibly imagine how it all looks to Krishna but, assuming this unified set exists, I might try to find commonalities between our methods and, hopefully, it might help me understand what I am doing and what I am doing wrong.

The disclaimer is that I have absolutely no idea how bhakti fits in all this. Spontaneous devotional service follows no rules or regulations and it’s all on the absolute platform, we can’t say that this action is better than that, and yet there are clearly superior ways of service. How can that be? The answer is that bhakti is just not of this world, anything we have here is by its nature inferior to anything that exists on bhakti level, meaning that whatever parallels between various methods of yoga I might find they will all be immaterial and irrelevant to those who possess raganuga bhakti.

Sadhana bhakti is a slightly different matter, due to the tinge of materialism still covering sadhakas’ hearts, and that’s what I want to concentrate on, especially chanting the Holy Names, yet without minimizing the value of any other practice, like deity worship, reading Bhagavatam or kirtans. Those are still a mystery to me, from the yoga point of view.

With this introduction finally out of the way I must postpone the actual stuff until tomorrow. That wasn’t my intention initially but it’s probably for the better, because tomorrow I will have the chance, hopefully, to put some of what I wanted to say in practice first, and then speak from experience.

I desperately need the experience of approaching Krisha, but don’t we all?