Tag Archives: Ravindra Svarupa dasa

Saṁsāra in California

As I write, California burns. Multiple wildfires continue to afflict the land.

California! For so long the migratory terminus of American dreams, her own Hollywood gave those dreams back to the world crafted in dazzling pageants of lights and shadows that seemed more real than reality itself. Yet California herself now suffers under multiply woes, most of them, like the Los Angeles fires, self-inflicted.

The state’s budgetary mess has become the stuff of legend, and the one-time paragon of material progress seems on the descent toward third-world status. Yet the main engine of decline is the state’s own electorate, captivated by the spell of an ancient error, described in Vedic literature as “the fallacy of half a hen,” ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya.

A man cherishes the egg-producing end of his hen, but resents the expense of providing for the other end, the mouth which eats. He thinks he’ll do better if he cuts off the eating end. By various referendums the voters have radically circumscribed the states ability to tax, but still want the state to provide benefits. Even their Hollywood superhero governor cannot save them by conjuring something from nothing.

Ah, the material world.

Now California illustrates another ancient Vedic trope: This world as wildfire.

THE METAPHOR OF THE WILDFIRE

Should we find ourselves at some time surrounded by a monstrous wildfire, we are doomed; there is no way out for us. So the uncontrollable conflagration of a wildfire or forest fire becomes used as an apt emblem for our factual state in this world: Death surrounds and engulfs us, and there is no escape.

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu uses the Sanskrit compound bhava-mahā-dāvāgni: Bhava, material existence, is a huge (mahā), forest fire (dāvāgni). He says that sakīrtana, the cultivation of the divine names in association of devotees, causes the extinction (nirvāpanam) of the fire.

Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhakura develops this imagery. Saṁsāra-dāvānala-līha-loka, he writes. Saṁsāra, the unending cycle of birth and death in which we are trapped, is like a forest fire, dāva-anala, that consumes (ha) the whole world (loka).

If we are trapped in a huge conflagration, no human agency may rescue us. Yet should the clouds open above and pour down rain, we are saved. Therefore, Viśvanātha Ṭhakura writes that the Vaiṣṇava guru is like a cloud heavy with rain (ghanāghanatvam) whose downpour of mercy (kāruṇya) obliterates the all-consuming fires of saṁsāra.

The image of this world as an all-devouring fire should be kept in mind. The Vedic sages advise us to see this world as it is. Kṛṣṇa notes that those who are great souls (mahātmas) understand this world as dukhālayam (full of suffering) and aśāśvatam (temporary).

To those dedicated to preserving their illusions, the sober realism of the wise looks like pessimism.

A California scene: In 1970, in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, a huge crowd of counter-youth gathers for Rathyatra. Prabhupāda—coming like the raincloud—praises them for their frustration and discontent:

In this country especially, in all other countries also, the younger generation are not very satisfied. In your country, they say that the frustrated community, the confused community, the hippies. But I have got all sympathy for these frustrated community, everywhere. They should be frustrated. In the Vedānta-sūtra it is said that athāto brahma jijñāsā. This human form of life should feel frustration. If he does not feel frustration, then it is animal life. The symptom of human life is that he should be very much pessimistic, not optimistic, of this material world. Then there is path of liberation. And if we think that we are very much happy here, that is called illusion, māyā. Nobody is actually happy here. But if anyone wrongly thinks that he is happy, that is called māyā, illusion.

So my request to you, those who are feeling frustration, confused, this is a good qualification. Good qualification in this sense: that those who are feeling frustration and confused, they are disgusted with this materialistic way of life. That is a good qualification for spiritual advancement. But if you are not properly guided, then that will be another frustration. That will be another frustration. To save you from that frustration, this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement has come to your country, Lord Caitanya’s movement.

We are being devoured by the all consuming flames of saṁsāra, yet we think we are safe.

Therefore, we may contemplate with profit the photograph below. Here is the very emblem and image of our true condition, captured in a contemporary California picture.

ss-090830-calfire-01.ss_full

THE METAPHOR OF THE DEER

In a number of places, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam compares the conditioned human being to a mṛga, a deer.

In 4.29.53, Nārada Muni likens the oblivious human being to a deer grazing with his mate happily in the forest. The stag is absorbed in the taste of the sweet grass and enchanted by the humming of the bees. He does not know that in front of him a tiger is crouching, preparing to spring, and that behind him a hunter stalks with drawn bow.

The deer is noted for its tendency  to be easily fooled by a mirage. A Sanskrit word for mirage is mṛga-tṛṣṇā, that which induces thirst in the deer. In 7.13.29, a saintly brāhmaṇa tells Prahlāda Mahārāja: “Just as a deer, because of ignorance, cannot see the water within a well covered by grass, but runs after a mirage [mga-tṛṣṇām], the living entity covered by the material body does not see the happiness within himself, but runs after happiness in the material world.”

In 11.5.34, the yogīndra named Karabhājana predicts the appearance of the kali-yuga avatāra who will teach, and so deliver the bewildered souls. Here the conditioned soul is indicated by the word māyā-mga, a deluded deer. Commenting on this word in a lecture in New Delhi in 1973, Prabhupāda says:

We are entrapped by the false reality,māyā. Māyāmgaṁ dayitayepsitam anvadhāvat [SB 11.5.34]. Māyā-mgam: just like the deer, he runs toward the false water in the desert. But the water goes ahead more and more, and the poor animal, without finding water, dies. But a sane man does not go. A sane man knows that reflection of water is not water. But because there is no water in the desert, it does not mean that there is no water. The water is there, but not in the desert. That is knowledge.

We are advised by Kṛṣṇa to become sages who see with the eyes of knowledge (jñāna-cakṣuṣa). We may use these metaphors to educate our senses. See saṁsāra in wildfires, and the deluded living being in the deer.

Here, courtesy of California, is a photograph that put both together. Contemplate it with the eyes of knowledge and reflect, “Here I am”:

slide_2552_36028_large

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The Soul of Compassion

It is December of 1936. Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Dāsa, a forty-year-old pharmaceutical distributor then in Bombay on business, feels a sudden impulse to write a letter to his spiritual master, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura.

Bhaktisiddhanta2_1Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura

It is December 9, 1968, thirty-two years later. The same disciple—now a renunciant and spiritual master himself—finds himself in the city of Los Angeles where he relates to a gathering of his own disciples the story of his 1936 letter. He is observing with them the “Disappearance Day” of his spiritual master.

Srila Prabhupada“Swamījī”— A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami asks ­his disciples: “Who knew that I would come in America? Who knew that you American boys will come to me? These are all Kṛṣṇa’s arrangement. We cannot understand how things are taking place.” He continues:

In Bombay, I was then doing some business. All of a sudden, perhaps on this date, sometimes between 9 or 10 December. At that time, Guru Mahārāja was indisposed little, and he was staying at Jagannātha Purī, on the seashore. So I wrote him letter, “My dear master, your other disciples, brahmacā, sannyā, they are rendering you direct service. And I am a householder. I cannot live with you, I cannot serve you nicely. So I do not know. How can I serve you?” Simply an idea, I was thinking of serving him, “How can I serve him seriously?” So the reply was dated 13th December, 1936. In that letter he wrote, “My dear such and such, I am very glad to receive your letter. I think you should try to push our movement in English.” That was his writing. “And that will do good to you and to the people who will help you.” That was his instruction. And then in 1936, on the 31st December—that means just after writing this letter a fortnight before his departure—he passed away.

Some background: “Push our movement in English” was an expression immediately recognized among the followers of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. It denoted his fervent desire for his disciples to propagate Kṛṣṇa consciousness boldly in the countries of the West. He had urged this course upon his most competent leaders in his institution, who, as sannyāsīs or brahmacārīs, were free to venture forth unfettered by familial and social bonds. These renunciants, under Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’s direction, had spread Lord Caitanya’s movement all over India, opening sixty-four temples. Now he wanted to expand outside of India. Yet his disciples had, so far, disappointed him.

Householders, with their domestic and social obligations, were not as available for widespread preaching.  Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Dāsa understood well the intensity of his guru’s desire to give others Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and he keenly felt his own lack. So he had written: “I am bound by family obligations and cannot serve you like my renounced godbrothers; even so, is there any service I can render?” How astonishing, then, it must have been for Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Dāsa to receive in answer the exact same instruction Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura had imparted to his renounced leaders.

In Los Angeles in 1968, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami—at that time addressed as “Swamījī”—recounts to his small band of disciples: “I took that order of my spiritual master very seriously. But I did not think that I’ll have to do such and such thing. I was at that time a householder.” In other words, although he took the order to heart, he could not at first consider any practical plans. He was incapacitated: “at that time a householder.”

Swamījī continues: “But this is the arrangement of Kṛṣṇa. If we strictly try to serve the spiritual master, his order, then Kṛṣṇa will give us all facilities. That is the secret.” How did it happen that he came to America and American youth joined him? Here he answers the question. Even though the order of his guru seemed like “mission impossible,” (to expropriate the title of an old American TV series), Swamījī committed himself to it anyway: “Although there was no possibility. . . . I never thought . . . . But I took it little seriously by studying a commentary by Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura on the Bhagavad-gītā.” Explaining the “resolute determination” cited by Kṛṣṇa (BG 2.41) as necessary for spiritual success, Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura wrote:

The instructions of my spiritual master . . . are my only dhana, my only dhya, my only livelihood. I am incapable of giving up these instructions either in the stage of practice or in the stage of perfection. They alone are my object of desire and my only responsibility. Besides them I can desire no other responsibility, not even in my dreams. It is all the same to me whether I feel happy or unhappy, or whether my material existence is eradicated or not.

[quoted by Bhūrijana Dāsa,  As They Surrender Unto Me, preface]

Swamījī continues: “So I tried a little bit in that spirit. So he has given me all facilities to serve him. Things have come to this stage, that in this old age I have come to your country, and you are also taking this movement seriously, trying to understand it. We have got some books now. So there is little foothold of this movement.”

And now something momentous happens:

So on this occasion of my spiritual master’s departure, as I am trying to execute his will, similarly, I shall also request you to execute the same order through my will. I am an old man, I can also pass away at any moment. That is nature’s law. Nobody can check it. So that is not very astonishing, but my appeal to you on this auspicious day of the departure of my Guru Mahārāja, that at least to some extent you have understood the essence of Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. You should try to push it on. People are suffering for want of this consciousness.

Perpetuating his guru’s order, he directs us to cultivate Kṛṣṇa consciousness and to give it to others. He explains:

A Vaiṣṇava, or devotee of Lord, his life is dedicated for the benefit of the people. You know—most of you belong to Christian community—how Lord Jesus Christ, he said that for your sinful activities he has sacrificed himself. That is the determination of devotee of the Lord. They don’t care for personal comforts. Because they love Kṛṣṇa or God, therefore they love all living entities because all living entities are in relationship with Kṛṣṇa. So similarly you should learn. This Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement means to become Vaiṣṇava and feel for the suffering humanity.

“Push our movement in English” is the order of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, and now Swamījī, in transmitting  “the same order” to his disciples, expressing it as “feel for the suffering humanity.” Prabhupāda goes on to explain that many people make strenuous attempts to alleviate human suffering, but because they understand this suffering on the bodily platform, their efforts, however laudable, cannot solve the problem. The Vaiṣṇava, on the other hand, understands the root cause of suffering, and offers the only effective remedy: Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

It is illuminating to note that in 1936, in backward, colonial India, where the advanced British nation, having dutifully shouldered “the white man’s burden,” strives ceaselessly to bestow upon the materially and socially retarded people the blessings of centuries of European progress—in this archaic, benighted civilization, so desperately in need of enlightened Western guidance,  Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura expresses his deep concern for the suffering humanity of the West.

What effrontery! India is the land of suffering, not Europe!

Yet look at what is happening in the West in 1936, the result of centuries of progress. In Germany, Hitler sends his rearmed military to take over the Rheinland, thus breaking the Treaty of Versailles; Germany enters into a pact with Japan against the USSR. Mussolini and Hitler proclaim the “Rome-Berlin axis.” In Spain, a civil war breaks out, pitting Fascists against Communists in a harsh struggle later recognized as the “dress rehearsal” for World War II. Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini poured men and material into the civil conflict.

A world-engulfing war is in the works, taking an estimated toll of over 60 million human lives before it is over.  Research is ongoing: The systematic viciousness of this death-orgy is highlighted in a recent article in The New York Review of Books by Timothy Snyder, a Yale professor of history, who gives close consideration to the way “the bureaucracies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union turned individual lives into mass death, particular humans into quotas of those to be killed.”

Here are Snyder’s approximate numbers for “the five largest policies of mass killing of civilians carried out by Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.”

The German attempt to exterminate European Jews              5.7 million deaths
German starvations of Soviet citizens                                            4 million
German mass reprisals against civilians                                        750,000 (at least)
Soviet starvations of Soviet citizens                                                5.5 million
The shootings of the Soviet Great Terror                                     700,000

Triumph of deathPieter Brueghel the Elder, The Triumph of Death

I was born during the course of this global slaughter; as a child I played in the war’s detritus in Okinawa and Germany. Since then, I do not see that the world, despite so many efforts of good-willed, self-sacrificing people, has become more hospitable. Most of us know now that at any moment the next great human devastation can break out.

A few years after Swamījī handed on the order of his spiritual master to his own disciples, I was blessed to receive initiation from him. By that time he was called “Śrīla Prabhupāda,” for by his action he had proven himself to be the rightful inheritor of his Guru Mahārāja’s own title. On the morning of my initiation (July 21, 1971) in New York, I heard my first class from Prabhupāda in person.

In the verse for that day (SB 6.1.6), Mahārāja Parīkṣit asks Śukadeva to “kindly tell me how human beings may be saved from having to enter hellish conditions in which they suffer terrible pains.”

Prabhupāda remarks:

Vaiṣṇava is always feeling for others’ distress. That is Vaiṣṇava. Vaiṣṇava—para-duḥkha-dukhī. They’re very much afflicted with others’, I mean to say, miserable life. Just like Lord Jesus Christ, he presented himself as very much afflicted with others’ miserable condition of life. So all the Vaiṣṇavas, devotees—It doesn’t matter which country he belongs to or which sect he belongs to. Anyone who is God-conscious or Kṛṣṇa conscious. . . Para-duḥkha-dukhī kṛpāmbudhi. These are the adjectives of the qualifications. . . . kṛpāmbudhi means ocean of mercy, kṛpāmbudhi. And para-duḥkha-dukhī [one who suffers because of the suffering of others].

He explains Parīkṣit’s question like this:

“Sir, you have described that on account of these sinful activities, he’s put into this hellish condition of life or in hellish planetary system. Now what are the countermethods by which they can be saved?” This is the question. This question: Because he is Vaiṣṇava, he is thinking, “Oh, so many living entities are suffering. How they can be saved?” A Vaiṣṇava comes, God also comes, and God’s son or very confidential devotee also comes. Their only mission is how to save these sinful men who are suffering so much. That is their mission. They have no other mission.

Prabhupāda has charged his disciples with the same order he received from his Guru Mahārāja. He has also shown us that single-minded dedication to that order is the secret of success. He has demonstrated this by his own example.

And we know how much the world is suffering. Therefore, we should wholeheartedly fulfill the request Prabhupāda made at the conclusion of his address in Los Angeles in 1968:

Now, you American boys and girls who have taken to this movement, please take it more seriously and. . . That is the mission of Lord Caitanya and my Guru Mahārāja, and we are also trying to execute the will by disciplic succession. You have come forward to help me. I shall request you all that—I shall go away, but you shall live—don’t give up pushing on this movement, and you’ll be blessed by Lord Caitanya and His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī  Goswami Prabhupāda.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Triumph of Death

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Monsoon Parade—Queens

Queens flag

The consolidated city of New York comprises five boroughs (each a county): Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. Among these, the borough of Queens is blessed with The Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Mandir, which stands in the neighborhood of Richmond Hill.

“Queens County,” we learn, “is one of the most ethnically diverse areas on earth. There are over 130 different languages spoken by its citizens, and in many neighborhoods hearing English is rare.” Richmond Hill is home to many Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, and Sikh gurdwaras that minister to the local, twice-exiled Indian communities from Caribbean lands like Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname.

On August 2nd, a warm but stormy Sunday, Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma (Śrī Śrī Hari-Haladhārī) went out on a parade through Richmond Hill. Outside the temple at 111-14 101 Ave., devotees chanted as Hari-Haladhārī were escorted from their altar to the van that would convey them to their chariot:

SunandaSunanda Dāsa, the temple president, playing drum, leads kīrtana


Mahesvara Carrying Balarama 1Maheśvara Dāsa, assisted by Nityānanda Dāsa, carries Balarāma from temple to the waiting van


Mahesvara Carrying Balarama 2
Mahe
śvara holds The Holder of the Plow (Haladhārī)


Balarama in vanBalarāma in van, cradled by Bhūṣāra Dāsa


For the record, our taking out large marble Deities on parade created some controversy.  When the idea of this parade first occurred to Sunanda, he called to ask me, his spiritual master, whether it could be done. Was it bona fide?  At once I answered “yes,” and then I recounted a conversation I had in 1974 with Śrīla Prabhupāda himself on this very topic.

That year, I talked with Prabhupāda in his quarters in New Vṛndāvana and gave him an account of our recent Philadelphia Rathayātrā, with the largest cart ever.

Prabhupāda’s  response was enthusiastic. He extolled such parades as extremely important. The Deities, he said, can be taken out on parade four times a year. He mentioned Janmāṣṭamī as one such occasion. “Oh, Lord Jagannātha will go out then, too?” I asked. “No,” said Prabhupāda. “Not Jagannātha. Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa.”

Surprised, I exclaimed: “The big Deities?”

He paused a beat and said “Yes. They can go.”

“Isn’t that risky?” I asked.

“Just be careful.” Prabhupāda answered.

He went on to say that when Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa come out in procession, the participants in front of the Deity car hold upraised poles or standards, made of silver or gold, surmounted by lion’s heads.

Then, returning to the earlier topic about bringing out big marble Deities, he said that some temples had special replicas of the altar Deities just for going out of the temple for festivals. He called them “vijaya-vigraha.”

But, he said again, the altar Deities themselves could be taken out, but one had to be very careful.

Having heard this from me, Sunanda went ahead with the festival plans. But soon, other ISKCON authorities registered objections to the marble Deities’ being taken out. By that time, however, the plans and preperations were too far along to change. We understood the concern for the safety of the Deities and planned to have vijaya-vigraha for next year’s festival.

In the meantime, we would take Prabhupāda’s “just be careful” very seriously. That’s why Sunanda and I were thankful for the help of Maheśvara—devout, highly experienced, and strong.

Mahesvara placing Balarama on chariotWith the care of a mother for her baby, Maheśvara places Haladhārī on the chariot


Suspension System 2Suspension system for Deities’ throne on the chariot


Suspension System 1

Manu constructed this remarkable suspension system for the Deities’ throne. A professional in this matter, Manu said the system is used to protect highly sensitive payloads (like electronics or explosives) from shocks.


Kirtan before ParadeKīrtana before the parade starts


Umbrellas Come Out 1The umbrellas come out


Umbrellas Come Out 2More umbrellas

This year we’ve undergone a monsoon season in the northeast United States. The Ratha-yātrā in Purī also takes place during the rainy season.


Gaura NitaiGaura Nitāi led the procession. These are the Deities of Akhilānanda Dāsa. He also provided the chariot for Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma.


Singing in the Rain 1Getting ready


Setting OffSetting off


Siva, Hanuman, GanesaOther divinities join the procession: Śiva, Hanumān, and Gaeśa


Lion-headed standardBearing the lion-headed standard (see conversation with Prabhupāda above)


Singing in the Rain 3“Singin’ In The Rain”


Singing in the Rain 2More “Singin’ In The Rain”


Walking on roadsProceeding on roads first washed clean by Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma


Candrasekhara SwamiCandraśekhara Swami wet, but, as they say, “smokin’”


AkhilanandaAkhilānanda adds brass


Richmond Hill Residents 2Richmond Hill residents watch under cover


Richmond Hill Residents 1Devotees of Lakmī-Nārāyaa come out to see the mobile Lords


Richmond Hill Residents 3More residents of the place sometimes called “New Guyana”


Richmond Hill Residents 4More residents watch from on high


Residents Bring OfferingsResidents along the way bring offerings for the Deities and distribute prasāda to the celebrants


HaryasvaHaryaśva Dāsa adapts completely to the aquatic environment, manifests appropriate form


MannequinsEven the mannequins gaze on Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma with unblinking eyes


Joyous conclusion 1A joyous conclusion


Joyous conclusion 3


Krishna-Balarama on altarKṛṣṇa and Balarāma return safely to their altar


A final note: Any pilgrimage to New York requires a visit to the Deities presiding in three boroughs:

Radha GovindaThe spectacular Rādhā-Govinda in Brooklyn


Radha MurlidhariThe merciful Rādhā-Murlīdhāra in Manhattan


Hari Haladhari on Balarama PurnimaThe playful Hari-Haladhārī in Queens


As of now, Staten Island and The Bronx still await their Lords. . . .


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A Table of the Modes: The Remedy for Cluelessness

Clueless? Indeed.

As the bard of my generation once lamented:

You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

The real remedy for cluelessness is to become a person who can see things through the “eyes of knowledge” (jñāna-cakṣuṣaḥ). This blog (whose very title owes something to Dylan’s  “something is happening here”) aims to promote seeing through the eyes of knowledge.

The science of the three modes of nature is essential to the education of our vision. I’ve recently offered three postings concerning the three modes of nature. As an addition to them, this table provides a systematic overview compiled by Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

Click here to view PDF.

MODES 14pt_Page_1MODES 14pt_Page_2MODES 14pt_Page_3MODES 14pt_Page_4MODES 14pt_Page_5MODES 14pt_Page_6MODES 14pt_Page_7MODES 14pt_Page_8

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A Short Letter to Śrīla Prabhupāda

Prabhupada mrdanga

My dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,

Please accept my most fallen dandavats at your feet.

For twelve extraordinary years you crossed and re-crossed the world, sowing the seeds of love of Krishna. Who can actually know the extent of your work? Wherever you went, you broadcast the seeds of bhakti—by your footfall, by your speech, by your glance. And wherever in the nooks and crannies of this earth your various energies came to alight, the seeds of bhakti scattered and spread—carried by your books, your recorded voice, your followers. To this day no one knows the breath and depth of your work.

One day it will be known. Your greatness will become manifest. You sowed the seeds, and I labor joyfully with your followers in the fields you planted to nurse the huge harvest of love to fruition; I work so that your glories can be known. Each day we uncover new fields, discover growing testimony to your great work. Each day we mark the indomitable growth. We get a hint of the dimensions of what is to come.

I am the most fortunate person in all the worlds to have had your association and to be able even now to keep your association by following your order and doing your work. I undertake these things for your glorification. Pleading to remain forever at your lotus feet,

Your unworthy servant,
Ravindra Svarupa dasa

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THEATRE OF THE MODES

Feature 1: Modes of Combat

Feature 2: Passion to Misery to Goodness—A Drama

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Part II—Contented, Tormented, Demented: The Economy in Three Modes

Knowledge of the three modes (guṇatraya) proves to be fruitful on a variety of levels. The principles that offer insight into the working of individuals also illuminate the characteristics of entire cultures or civilizations. Prabhupāda demonstrates this application in a comment on the Gītā: “Modern civilization is considered to be advanced in the standard of the mode of passion. Formerly, the advanced condition was considered to be in the mode of goodness.”

Prabhupāda’s remark provides us with an illuminating and useful way to comprehend recent western history.

We can clearly recognize the shift from the standard of goodness to that of passion in the great historical transformation from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy—or “modernization” as it is called.

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century was a watershed in the process, but neither the beginning nor the end of it. Industrialization has kept on going: Agriculture did not become fully industrialized until after World War II, when traditional family farms became replaced by huge “factory farms,” agri-businesses controlled by multinational corporations.

Reviewing Michael Pollan’s recent documentary “Food, Inc.” Andrew O’Hehir notes

We’ve got the fact that, as Pollan puts it, the production of food has changed more in the last 50 years than it did in the previous 10,000. With the massive application of fertilizers, pesticides and economies of scale after World War II, raising crops and animals for food ceased to be a rural lifestyle based on many small farmers and ranchers, and rapidly became a heavily mechanized (and lightly regulated) industry dominated by a handful of big companies who run on low-wage labor.

Most recently, computer technology has been transforming “white collar” occupations—including those of medicine and education—into factory-style assembly-line labor.

The rajoguṇa gospel of “progress” has converted nearly the whole world, and everyone worships at the feet of Economic Development.

Ten Commandments for Economic Development

What can we expect of all this progress? The answer is not in dispute: rajasas tu phalaṁ duḥkham. The fruit of the mode of passion is suffering.

Our refugees from the Wall Street storm, reflecting on their travail, call on the President to lead us away from a culture of greed and avarice, of “more is better,” in effect to lead us from passion to goodness. Yet the great government bail-out of financial firms seems mostly to have prompted an additional frenzy of greed.

Hand outs

In terms of our science, we recognize that modernity is a hypertrophy, a monstrous overdevelopment, of rajoguṇa and the predicted, inevitable outcome—misery—is arriving big time, on multiple fronts: the financial storm crashing around is just the leading edge of the mother of all hurricanes on the way: the global climate crisis.

The reactions to the misery engendered by rajoguṇa will be in the three modes also.  As often happens, Lewis and Cohan are at least attracted to sattvaguṇa, and the Lewis Family Farm, “devoted to the principles of organic sustainable agriculture” seems a laudable attempt to return to a purer, more sattvic way of life.

Unfortunately, he has some way to go. Those who know the science of the guṇas doubt that much will be gained by exchange of this:

BullExploiting the Bull Market for Money—Rajoguṇa

For this:

Bull 2Exploiting the Hereford Bull for Beef—Tamoguṇa

Knowledge of the three guṇas is greatly needed to help us deal effectively with our overwhelming crisis, the ever-growing global misery engendered by the hypertrophy of the mode of passion.

Whenever rajoguṇa yields its harvest of suffering and misery on which we feast, we undergo the typical reactions to such a diet—for instance, rage and its internalize form known as depression, sedation by low- or high-tech drugs, escape into illusions and delusions—such reactions convey us into tamoguṇa.

Yet there is also the chance that with a little help we can also elevate ourselves to goodness.

Prabhupāda asserts that we have choices.

Here in his account of struggles of the individual spiritual self (the ātmā) with the modes, Prabhupāda describes our options:

When a living entity comes in contact with the material creation, his eternal love for Kṛṣṇa is transformed into lust, in association with the mode of passion. Or, in other words, the sense of love of God becomes transformed into lust, as milk in contact with sour tamarind is transformed into yogurt. Then again, when lust is unsatisfied, it turns into wrath; wrath is transformed into illusion, and illusion continues the material existence. Therefore, lust is the greatest enemy of the living entity, and it is lust only which induces the pure living entity to remain entangled in the material world. Wrath is the manifestation of the mode of ignorance; these modes exhibit themselves as wrath and other corollaries. If, therefore, the mode of passion, instead of being degraded into the mode of ignorance, is elevated to the mode of goodness by the prescribed method of living and acting, then one can be saved from the degradation of wrath by spiritual attachment.

(The word “lust” here—kāma in Sanskrit—denotes the strong desire to enjoy the pleasures of the sense. Kāma is not limited to sexual desire, although sex, as Freud said, “is the prototype of all pleasure.”)

Most of us can see everywhere the increase in the effect of the mode of ignorance.  Mental disturbances proliferate all around us. In America, one out of four adults suffer in a given year from a diagnosable mental disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Look it up—or just turn on a television or take a walk through the city streets. . . . Based on a 2001 study, the World Health Organization predicted that by 2020 mental illness would become the second leading cause of death and disability in the world.

Politically, the increase in tamoguṇa can be seen in the rise of social or cultural rage, resentment, panic, and despair. The rant has become a favorite form of political discourse (check out “Rant of the Year”), with a concomitant rise of ideologically motivated violence.

The economy in the mode of ignorance is chronically depressed (and depressing), and prosperity turns out to be illusory, producing fortunes as insubstantial as the airy nothing of day-dreams, made only of “bubbles.” Livelihoods increasing depend on the black market or underground economy. Prisons, mental facilities, addiction recovery centers, and similar institutions that care for those overwhelmed by tamoguṇa become a vital element of the visible economy.

Although those committed to the culture and economy of rajoguṇa see and fear the increase of tamoguṇa, they do not know how to deal with it effectively. This is because their own solution to the problems caused by rajoguṇa is simply more rajoguṇa.

In dealing with mental illness, for example, it rarely occurs to them that if many people are disturbed it is because the conditions of their lives are in fact disturbing. If they should recognize this, they have no idea of how to deal with it; or if they do have some inkling, they think the solution “impracticable.” They rely on the mode of passion, and put their hopes in “big pharma.”

I remember well the first great oil shock that rocked the country in 1973. Many saw it as a harbinger of things to come, especially in light of a study published the previous year, which argued that in view of the earth’s finite resources, we were approaching The Limits to Growth. The book sold thirty million copies.

People began to give serious consideration to proposals that we should live in ways that had many features of what would be, in our terms, an economy in the mode of goodness: local self-sufficiency in food and energy (features of an agrarian economy), shift to a largely vegetarian diet, employ appropriate technology, and so on.

The idea of limits to growth is anathema to those in the mode of passion. I remember receiving several issues of a newsletter, put out by some consortium of large energy corporations, assailing the idea of limits to growth as sacrilege against Progress itself. Whatever problems human ingenuity creates, that same ingenuity solves. When the “cavemen” learned to control fire, and found the flames of their hearths filled their shelters with smoke, did they abandon fire? No! That is not the human way! They “advanced” by devising further technology—in this case, chimneys. The problems of technology will be solved by more technology.

Now that further technology threatens apocalyptic catastrophe produced global climatic changes, scientists are busy developing ingenious technological fixes. The cavemen now must erect a chimney on the earth. Well, not that, exactly.

Here’s one plan: We have already seen that erupting volcanoes produce global temperature drops by pouring vast amount of sun-blocking sulfur dioxide into the air. We engineer the same effect, thus counteracting the temperature increase from greenhouse gases. Imagine, then, an armada of 1,500 zeppelins hovering at 65,000 feet, each one studded with nozzles that continuously spew a mist of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Flexible hoses trail from each airships like strands of vermicelli from an uplifted fork; the sulfur dioxide aerosol is pumped aloft through these conduits from production plants on the ground at a rate of ten kilos per second. This process goes on 24/7, no end in sight.

Graeme Wood surveys a number of such breathtaking geo-engineering plans under development in his article “Moving Heaven and Earth” in the latest issue of The Atlantic.

Wood is concerned to emphasize the great risk such solutions pose. We are messing with our entire ecology, and there is a distinct danger of unforeseen consequences on a catastrophic scale. If we employ the sulfur dioxide or other sun-blocking schemes—because reduction of greenhouse gas emissions proves politically or economically unworkable—then those gases will continue to build up in the atmosphere. If, for any reason, one of these projects stops, then the accumulated atmospheric carbon could produce a sudden and drastic temperature rise, with calamitous results.

Wood notes that these schemes are considerably cheaper than the cost of sufficiently reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Estimates that geo-engineering could completely reverse human caused climate change for $100 billion—and some say for much less. Reducing emission will cost an estimated one trillion dollars, yearly.

The low cost of such schemes makes them more attractive. And, in fact, it brings some of them within the scope of unilateral action by even a poor nation—or of a single very rich individual. Those who worry about these things dread the emergence of a hypothetical “Greenfinger,” the environmental cognate of Goldfinger, the mega-villain of the James Bond sagas.

Wood, in fact, hopes that these geo-engineering solutions are so frightening and affordable that these very features may prompt—through sheer terror—a serious effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the possibility of geo-engineering would remain, lurking in the near shadows, poised to pounce like the monster in a horror movie, the price of our failure.

It is typical for those controlled by rajoguṇa to try to assuage the resulting misery by means of the very mode that produced it. At best, these efforts can no more than retard the fruition of misery, and the delay only amplifies the suffering when it arrives with tamoguṇa in its train, smothering the earth.

One thing is sure: We are soon to be instructed and entertained by some of the several dozen eco-disaster-horror-thriller novels and screenplays now filling up hard drives across the land. Greenfinger! Who could resist?

Wood’s overview of geo-engineering plans provides us with a textbook-worthy study of rajoguṇa in large scale action. Be very scared.

Under these circumstances it is encouraging to see a widespread increase in attraction for what is, in effect, the mode of goodness. Impelled by danger and dire need, Wordsworth’s “plain living and high thinking,” disappearing in his own time, awaits a revival.

Here the science of the modes has a major contribution to make: how to free the human heart from the control of rajas and tamas and situate it in sattva. Such an effort attacks our social, political, and environmental problems at their very root. This treatment of the disease of the heart, including “the prescribed method of living and acting,” is proven efficacious: Prabhupāda’s ISKCON may be seen as a kind of pilot program in this regard. Where the treatment has been properly applied, it has worked.

Where the treatment has failed of proper application, it should be implemented once more, with greater care. This is an urgent matter. In our global emergency, any who undertake a renewed and revivified effort to elevate themselves to goodness by the “proscribed methods” will bring inestimable benefit not only to themselves, but also to all humanity—more—to all living beings on earth.

The clock is ticking.

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