Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #17 – Proof of the Paranormal

April 24th, 2017

I read a very interesting story about someone who was haunted by a ghost after moving into a new house. As soon as she stayed the night there she began to feel pressure on her chest and heard whooshing sounds. She had a sense that someone was watching her. When she went to work she felt fine, but every time she returned she felt the same way. Her feelings increased more and more throughout the night. This went on for weeks. She thought she was going to die. She did everything she could to get rid of the ghost, even burning fresh sage upon the recommendation of a new age friend. Nothing seemed to work. She was desperate so she Googled “ghost busting”. She found a ghost busting hotline. She called. To her surprise a person representing the Rationalist Society answered, an organization whose purpose was to debunk the supernatural. She thought what did she have to lose? She told them her symptoms. The receptionist immediately said she had the exact symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and that there was most likely a gas leak in her house. She immediately called the emergency number for the gas company who thankfully sent someone over within an hour. Sure enough there was a serious leak. After the gasman repaired the leak he soberly told her, “Ma’am, one more day and you would have been dead!” The next day all of her symptoms were gone. She felt duped by all the hocus-pocus thoughts about ghosts. She became inspired to help others understand that all paranormal experiences could be explained by science. She even told people of a $10,000 reward offered by the “Rationalist Society” to anyone who could demonstrate anything paranormal that couldn’t be explained by modern science.
Don’t worry. This isn’t an article about invalidating the paranormal by science. It’s actually the opposite. I want to prove that there are paranormal experiences beyond modern science. While I found this story interesting, I didn’t like its conclusion. No doubt this lady found that her horrid experience was anything but mystical, but it doesn’t mean that all paranormal experiences are a hoax. It brought out in me something that bothered me for some time: Why has no one ever tried to prove the paranormal by a fairly easy experiment using the law of karma through the science of astrology? It is paranormal because astrology says that our destiny is outlined at birth and that our experiences in life can be predicted. What can be more paranormal than that? Before I outline the scientific experiment based on astrology that can demonstrate there is a law of karma, let me share how in my own way I tried to prove the law of karma.
For over the first twenty years of my devotional life, I concentrated on studying Kṛṣṇa consciousness and then teaching it within the devotee community. In the mid-nineties I was inspired to share those teachings in New York. My problem was how to get people to attend my lectures. I was not known outside ISKCON, and there were thousands of teachers of Eastern thought lecturing in New York, most of them more known than myself. To get people to come to my lectures and become more visible I prepared a seminar entitled “The Psychology of Karma” and offered a free astrological reading for the first ten people who registered. It worked. I got a reasonable amount of responses. I would then send that information to my astrologer, Dīna Śaraṇa, who looked at those people’s charts and sent me a short description of each person’s character and a major event in their life. At a certain point in my lecture I would explain how there is a map of one’s destiny based on the position of the planets at one’s birth, and that this could be understood by the science of astrology. I would then call out a person’s name and with confidence say something about their character and perhaps an event in their life, although I had never seen them before. There were enough startling results to prove the law of karma. I would then say:
“All I knew about you was your birth time, so all of these predictions were known then. What is the force that moves the universe around you to give you these experiences, what is the purpose of those experiences, and what is the best way to respond to your destiny to get the most benefit out of them?”
I would then explain the law of karma in depth to an audience who was now open to the idea.
So here is my idea for a controlled scientific experiment to prove that there is a destiny set at birth. What could be more paranormal than that? You would just need an honest skeptic to get the birth information of ten people. Nine should be of ordinary income and one should be of fabulous wealth, and you could do that with any quality as long as one person had that particular quality in an exceptionally more significant way than the others. It would then be the responsibility of a skeptic or authorized third party to make sure the experiment was scientifically controlled so that the astrologer or astrologers had no way of knowing anything more than a person’s birth information. If the astrologer or astrologers could pick out the chart of the wealthy person, and I see no reason why they couldn’t, with a substantially higher probability than just chance, then that would be something paranormal that couldn’t be explained by modern science.
Maybe I could find where that $10,000 challenge is offered. Then I could make that information available to any qualified astrologer who is interested. Now that would be easy money!

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #16 – A Plug for Gītā-nagarī

April 17th, 2017

Today’s Monday Morning Greeting was written after a recent visit to Gītā-nagarī Farm.
Gītā-nagarī has a special place in my heart. In the mid to late ‘90s I frequented there as much as any senior devotee in ISKCON, usually staying in Satsvarūpa Mahārāja’s cabin by the river – that holy place where he penned much of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s biography. In fact, my best Kārttika ever was the one I spent there. That’s saying a lot because except for that one fall, I had spent the last forty Kārttikas in Vṛndāvana, usually at the foot of Govardhana Hill. Perhaps Gītā-nagarī is so Vṛndāvana-like because the resident deities there are Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara, the presiding deities of the month of Kārttika, also known as the month of Dāmodara. During that Kārttika at Gītā-nagarī, I performed a strict kārttikavrata of chanting and fasting, and took all the devotees there every day on parikramā to all the places of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes that we imagined there, like their Govardhana Hill at the top of the property. It was especially at that time that I became convinced more than ever that outside of Vṛndāvana there is no place more Vṛndāvana-like than Gītā-nagarī, with its simplicity and the mood of the devotees residing there. In fact, at the end of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life he was headed there to teach the devotes how to live off the land, but become too ill to continue.
But there have been challenges since Śrīla Prabhupāda left. It is quite cold there in the winters and most think why reside there when you could live in sunny Florida? Of course, they faced a myriad of other more serious problems in running a big farm. Devamṛta Swami has been guiding the project carefully over the last ten years. Under his direction two sincere devotees, Dhruva and Pārijāta, practically single handedly have saved, maintained, and developed the farm including developing, against all odds, a unique ahiṁsā dairy. Anyway, that is my preamble. Now what I want to say: I visited again this year and I was happy with the development there, especially that there are now some serious young couples dedicated to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s legacy. I pray that they imbibe Śrīla Prabhupāda’s vision – that happiness is consciousness and not just things and that the simple and hard-working life there is far superior to the economically, socially, and spiritually oppressive life of the modern-day cities and suburbs. I am convinced that they are beginning to realize that. The devotees there seem to have within them that joy of sevā – a joy that is just not offered so readily to even devotees working to survive in the modern world, sometimes just to accrue a few more comforts. My dear readers, I have strictly kept my Monday Morning Greetings to one or two pages of hopefully quickly digestible thought. Today, inspired by my visit to Gītā-nagarī, I have included a transcript of a lecture I gave this year at our Purī yātrā while visiting a simple village nearby. If you have time today please read it, or save it to read later. I think I had important things to share.
Class in Baligram, Odisha – January 18, 2017
Being here makes me think of the little village where I grew up – Brooklyn! There was a famous book about that town called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, like it was a big event. Joking aside, during Mādhavānanda’s class I was looking up and counting the potential coconuts on one tree. It’s forty or fifty on each tree. I was thinking how simple the village life is here. In just one tree, and there are thousands of lush coconut trees here, one could practically keep a family alive for a month. I was speaking to Tom from America, who’s here with Kiśorī and her four children. He told me that his aunt and uncle worked seven days a week at their own store. When he questioned them why they don’t take a day off they said: “If you close the door the money stops.” And I see that more and more people are being forced to embrace that mentality just to live. Today even in an ordinary middle class family, if even one parent stops working, the family will be consumed by their expenses. And I am seeing that today people can’t even retire and practically have to work until death because, “If you close the door the money stops.” But here in this village even if you have nothing, you can wear a gaṁchā, eat organic coconuts, and sleep under a tree and survive. The bottom line is that the traditional agrarian village life just doesn’t have that same air of oppressiveness found in the city.
When I first came to India forty years ago, life was very simple. There was only one phone and one car in all of Vṛndāvana. After being there for three years my parents sent me a ticket to visit them in New York. When I arrived the first thing they did was to take me to the supermarket so they could purchase me a few groceries. When I picked the items that I could eat and brought them to the counter, I was shocked that they just were touching the items to the counter and the price of those items was computed and added immediately. I never saw that before. When I was very young I remember how proud our grocer was that he could just take the pencil tucked behind his ear and accurately and quickly add up all the groceries on the small brown paper bag that he would then pack the items in. By the time I left for India they were still using manual cash registers, but this level of computation so amazed me that I spontaneously blurted out, “Things have advanced so much!” But then realizing that that was not really true, nor our teachings, I quickly corrected myself, “but the quality of life has not improved!” The cashier nodded and even my mother seemed to understand what I had just said.
Prabhupāda would talk about māyā-sukhāya, the illusion of modern happiness, that for every step forward technologically there is a heavy price to pay in the quality of life. For example, we now have airplanes so that we can get places quickly, but the result is that your near and dear ones live so far away. I see that often the elders in a modern Indian family instead of having their grown up children at home or across the street, now have to fly to places like London and then Los Angeles just to visit them. In one sense we have advanced. You can now quickly fly to another country instead of taking months on a boat, but that is illusory advancement for as a result of having airplanes family members often live far apart. It now may take one twelve hours to fly to see one’s daughter instead of visiting her in the next town. Even when I grew up, we knew everybody on our street. Today hardly anyone knows their neighbor. This is māyā-sukhāya.
Śrīla Prabhupāda really had a vision of these things. He was on the cutting edge of so many things. Cutting edge means the latest or most advanced stage in the development of something. So, fifty years ago Śrīla Prabhupāda was on the cutting edge of vegetarianism, the cutting edge of kīrtan, the cutting edge of Eastern philosophy and culture and the cutting edge of sustainable living, but we haven’t always succeeded in carrying his legacy and in too many cases have allowed others to take his mantle, especially with sustainable living. We all need to take that legacy back. Glories to places like Gītā-nagarī who are attempting to do that with their simple living and cutting edge ahiṁsā dairy.
Recently I gave a lecture near Harrisburg. The audience by circumstance was mostly composed of conservative Christians. Before beginning my talk, I was really wondering how to connect with such people, but then suddenly I had an inspiration and spoke: “At the end of my teacher’s life he was headed here to our farm in nearby Juniata County all the way from India to teach people how to live off the land, because he believed that you couldn’t separate economics from spiritual life.” As soon as I finished that sentence one very heavyset man with a big gruff beard and those denim overalls, that kind that cover your chest and hang around your neck, raised his right fist in the air and shouted out, “Amen, brother!” So, when I come here to Baligram, the village of Dasia Bauri, I just look around and marvel, “I’ve never seen a more beautiful place to live in my whole life, a place where people can easily live so simply off the land and have time for spiritual life.” Prabhupāda also wanted to give us such a better life, “Amen, brother!”
Many of you visit the town of Vṛndāvana and share my disturbance that its natural beauty is gradually being covered by housing and apartments, but still just fifteen or twenty minutes from Vṛndāvana, just a little off the path, there are the flower gardens of Vṛndāvana, thousands and thousands of pristine acres. I know quite well some of the mālīs, the gardeners, there and often take lunch with them. It’s such a simple life; they wake up in the morning, they pick their flowers, make garlands, put them in their baskets, and send one of their grown children to sit by one of the temples to sell them. And when the family finishes what do they do, they just sit and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. Sure they have their problems, but their simple life does not rob them of their spirit and fill them with fear. It’s inspiring to watch!
Tejiyas Prabhu, a senior disciple of of Śrīla Prabhupāda, shared me some interesting insights about sustainable living. Śrīla Prabhupāda asked him to start the kisān movement, the farm movement, so he has studied the subject deeply. As a result he is very well versed in the economics of a traditional agrarian based economy. He told me that the reason most ISKCON farm communities have failed, despite Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions and wishes, is because his disciples, like everyone else, were too conditioned to a false standard of opulence based on technology. Real opulence is having your own land, eating fresh food, and breathing clean air. Real opulence is having community with a temple so that family and friends can worship daily together, not that you have to drive in heavy traffic and find a parking space, or ride the F train, just to say Hare Kṛṣṇa in the association of devotees. But despite the advantages of simple living, people are conditioned to a false sense of opulence that forces them into cities mostly to suffer in cramped places. I appreciated Prabhu’s insights.
He shared with me another thing that struck me: “It is proven that if you are born, live, and die in the same place, seventy-five percent of all material problems will be solved.” And he described one of the biggest problems solved by that traditional lifestyle, caring for the aged. Without village community life, old people are usually put in assisted living facilities that for most people take all of their family’s money. What he said hit home. My ninety-six-year-old mother was a successful business lady and intelligently saved a good amount of money for retirement to live out her life comfortably. She still lives in the home she owns outright, but my elder brother told me that it costs almost eighty thousand dollars a year to care for her including her full time caregiver and that soon, within a year, her money will run out, and her house may have to be sold to care for her. Her situation is now the norm for the aged in the first world.
He also told me that if you just add the numbers the present system of caring for the aged, including the cost of artificially prolonging life in the most painful and horrid condition, will totally bankrupt the US economy within fifteen years at the most. Without firm knowledge of the soul, everyone tries to keep the body alive even in the most tortured state so that whatever family money is left will certainly follow the deceased to the grave. It will be gone. Christopher Hitchens, one of the Four Horsemen of Atheism, chronicled his last days dying of throat cancer. He wanted to write a book on what death is like and he wrote a book while dying called Mortality and made exactly this point. He had the astute realization while staying in the most advanced medical center in the world and chronicling the torture they put him through, that advanced medical facilities are simply places where they take all the family member’s money just to keep them alive in the most tortured condition – a telling realization of modern advancement.
Looking here, and seeing how beautiful it is, I am reminded of something that Paramahaṁsa Yogānanda said. I will paraphrase it. If you really want to control your mind, more important than your own personal willpower is the influence of your environment. So, we come here to this beautiful place today to have our hari kathā, but just as important as our hari kathā, is seeing firsthand what Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted us to realize, simple life.
Imagine what it would be like if we actually lived in communities like this that were free of economic oppression and where we could live a spiritual life centered on the temple and surrounded by our loved ones and friends. We then wouldn’t need a special retreat for what we would be retreating from. Mādhavānanda and Kṛṣṇakuṇḍa would be the local brāhmaṇa family and every single evening there would be quality hari kathā. I know someone who grew up in one of these villages in Orissa, and he said that every day you would hear either the recitation of the Rāmayana, the Mahābhārata, or the Bhāgavatam, and that even if you couldn’t read or write, you would learn the śāstra.
The austerity of simple life is actually also very healthy. I was in Mumbai at the Bhaktivedanta Hospital when there was a serious earthquake in Gujarat. Some of the doctors, especially the orthopedic surgeons, went to the scene of devastation. They brought back those people who needed more serious care to reset broken bones. The main orthopedic surgeon in the hospital, Girirāja dāsa, told me that the people he was treating from these villages were healing on the average fifty percent quicker than people from the city in similar conditions, another interesting meditation on the benefit of simple life.
Modern society and culture expertly provides entertainment and distraction, but it doesn’t readily solve four core problems, which a traditional society would provide effortlessly: where we are going to live, what is our occupation, who are we going to marry, and who is my spiritual guide. So much energy is wasted in settling these basic things in modern life that one has little room in his mind for anything else, in contrast to a proper culture where these things are provided automatically.
Although I’m a sannyāsi, I don’t like to travel and I never did, even before I was a devotee. I would often make excuses just to stay back in my house. Similarly, I was going to skip coming here today, but Mādhavānanda was insistent, “Please come. You will really enjoy it.” So, I’d like to thank him, because as soon as I came here, so much of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings came to life. This is what Prabhupāda had in mind when he told us simple living and high thinking. He so much wanted to give us a better way to live. And we should try to understand and support this part of his mission.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #15 – Immigration and the Gītā

April 10th, 2017

A friend of mine in Washington, D.C. complained to me that the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement is losing a good opportunity to share the profundity of its teachings by not being involved in spiritual activism. [1] I will take up his challenge by commenting on the modern-day mess in governance by analyzing immigration policy based on the Bhagavad-gītā.
There are two extreme views of immigration. One is radically exclusive nationalism, wherein “America First” is the only principle, and to protect that principle we have to apply the letter of the law seemingly without heart. In this view, families can sometimes be separated, and people who have been terribly oppressed, some who have sacrificed their lives abroad for American interest, can be detained or deported upon arrival, even if they have already been thoroughly vetted.
The other view is radically inclusive globalism, a perspective that sees any imposition based on nationalist borders as antithetical to both humanistic and spiritual values. I will argue based on the Gītā that both of these views lack compassion and sensibility.
The extremism of the first view would be opposed by verses in the Gītā that present the universality of living entities based on the soul.
“The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Bg. 5.18)
Such verses either imply or outright condemn viewing people according to the bodily concept of life such as nationalism. Another of many examples:
“That knowledge by which one sees that in every different body there is a different type of living entity you should understand to be in the mode of passion.” (Bg. 18.21)
It should also be noted in this discussion that at times Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke very strongly against borders based on artificial bodily distinction:
“We pass through Canada to USA. Why Canada? Why USA? This is bodily concept. ‘It is meant for the Canadians,’ ‘it is meant for USA, Americans.’ Immigration, customs, the same mentality as a dog coming from other neighborhood. The other dogs, they all come together, ‘Yow, yow, why you have come, why you have come?’ In civilized dress only. This is the position. What is the difference between the dog’s mentality… When another dog comes to another neighborhood, these neighborhood dogs, you know that? All animals. ‘Yow, why you have come?’ So this department, ‘Why you have come here?’ dogs barking, and this immigration, what is the difference?” (June 2, 1976 Toronto)
Although the Gītā certainly speaks about the principle of universality, the underlying value that is against nationalism, it also promotes the value of reciprocity, a view opposed to indiscriminate globalism. I would define “reciprocity” as the principle of caring more for those dependent on one, such as family, or in this case a government giving special care or consideration for its citizens, and to understand that not doing so is impersonal. Before I reference the Gītā, I would like to share a very interesting exchange that Confucius had with an adversary specifically in relation to this tension.
“Confucius advocated ‘care with distinctions’: we owe everyone a baseline benevolence, but we have specific duties towards those close to us, those who have done us the most good, like our family, our parents, our close friends.
“He was opposed by Mozi, a philosopher who argued that we owe everyone the same care, that the idea of specific obligations was too much like partiality.
“Confucius’ disciples like Mencius argue that Mozi’s idea is completely impracticable; even Mozi’s best followers treated their parents with special care. But worse, it is immoral: to treat people who have sacrificed much for us, like our parents, the same way that we treat a stranger is grossly offensive.” [2]
It seems clear that in the Gītā, Kṛṣṇa also supports this principle “care with distinction” that challenges the extremism of the second view.
“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Bg. 9.29)
In his purport Śrīla Prabhupāda discusses how the very basis of personalism is that one appropriately reciprocates with those under one’s care and such “partiality” is beyond selfishness and karma. I would recommend that one read the whole purport, but here is just a small excerpt where Śrīla Prabhupāda defends special care as natural, not narrow:
“One may question here that if Kṛṣṇa is equal to everyone and no one is His special friend, then why does He take a special interest in the devotees who are always engaged in His transcendental service? But this is not discrimination; it is natural. Any man in this material world may be very charitably disposed, yet he has a special interest in his own children.” (Bg. 9.29, purport)
Another famous reference for the principle of reciprocity as being above prejudice:
“As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pṛthā.” (Bg. 4.11)
In his purport Śrīla Prabhupāda comments on this principle of “care with distinction” in relation to the dealings of Kṛṣṇa and how it is equally applicable in this world:
“Kṛṣṇa reciprocates with His pure devotees in the transcendental attitude, just as the devotee wants Him. One devotee may want Kṛṣṇa as supreme master, another as his personal friend, another as his son, and still another as his lover. Kṛṣṇa rewards all the devotees equally, according to their different intensities of love for Him. In the material world, the same reciprocations of feelings are there […]” (Bg. 4.11, purport)
I think this “care with distinction” principle is also just common sense. I know one person close to me who, when growing up, had a father who was very altruistic to everyone, but not especially partial to her, and whose evenness to everyone caused her to feel sorely neglected.
In regard to the issue of immigration, both universality and reciprocity, as espoused in the Gītā, have appropriate application. Every entity, whether family or country, should extend themselves as far as possible for all people, understanding the superficiality of bodily distinctions, including taking those less fortunate into one’s fold to whatever practical extent one is capable of (care). However, it is also reasonable for a country to protect its borders and show some special concern to the needs of its own citizens for economic, social, or security reason (distinction). According to the Gītā we can’t deal with even illegal immigrants just on the basis of law without some real consideration for them as spiritual beings, nor can we deal with people living here illegally in total neglect of the laws intended to protect its citizens.
The specific application of these contradictory principles is beyond the scope of this paper, but their application calls for compassionate and intelligent leaders who apply these principles neither as indiscriminate multi-culturalists nor as xenophobic nationalists, having respect both for the universality of all beings and the need for reciprocity with those under one’s care.
These are complex issues with many considerations including the legitimacy of proprietorship of those who rule certain lands, but those discussions are again beyond the scope of this column. I have presented certain eternal principles in my attempt to add to these discussions a view through the eyes of śāstra. I will send it to my friend and see if he is satisfied with my attempt at spiritual activism.

[1] By spiritual activism I mean having an active voice in contemporary problems, while not taking partisan sides, but rather trying to find perspectives within the spiritual traditions by which we can make sense of our problems and challenges.
[2] This is from a correspondence I had with Professor Matthew Dasti, Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Bridgewater State University.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #14 – Spiritual Momentum

April 3rd, 2017

Have you ever lost spiritual momentum? It happens to us all. I had realization about that in relation to my writing that seemed applicable to spiritual life. I would like to share that, but first I think I need to define what I mean by “momentum”.
Momentum means the power gained when moving or continuing something that grows stronger as time passes, a force that is lost when stopping or pausing, and a force that takes time to build up when beginning to move again. A good example of momentum is when you are driving a car. As you are moving you gradually may be able to shift into high gear and gain momentum, allowing you to cruise along at a high speed effortlessly. However, when you stop and have to start again, that momentum has been lost and only gradually restores after some time.
This concept of momentum in relation to spiritual life dawned on me when faced with the weekly demand of writing Monday Morning Greetings. I noticed that when I don’t write every day I lose momentum and it takes an inordinate amount of time to shift into a reasonable pace of writing when I begin again. In contrast, when I write every day without fail, I seem to remain in high gear and can immediately build on the frame of reference where I left off. It seems that continuity over time in all endeavors gives momentum and enhances productivity.
I then also realized how much this same phenomenon of momentum was applicable to my spiritual practice. While in India this year, I was somehow able to sustain the practice of rising very early every day for my chanting. I noticed how after a while my practice substantially increased both in amount and quality. Since arriving in the United States, a combination of disrupted plans, late night programs, and unexpected travel disturbed my regulation, especially rising early, causing a reduction in the amount and focus of my chanting. When that temporary disruption in schedule passed, my practice lost momentum and ironically the minimum prescribed amount seemed as daunting as what I had being doing for almost a year, although then I was doing substantially more. Only gradually was I able to gain the momentum to sustain the previous level of practice.
This phenomenon of momentum is alluded to in the Yoga Sūtras where practice is defined as “concentration, without break, for a prolonged time with the right mood”. Here it specifically mentions that practice must be unbroken. In other words, it just can’t be casually done here and there, for even if you do the same amount sporadically, which is unlikely, you will not have the same momentum or gear to focus intensely. And I will add that without such focus, and the consequent realization and taste that follows, even the minimum amount of chanting will remain difficult and arduous. That’s the reason serious practitioners chant their japa at least in concentrated and unbroken bunches of four, eight or sixteen rounds and not haphazardly here and there.
Conclusion: Strictly set aside a time and place for chanting, for without minimum uninterrupted effort, we will never get the momentum to chant spontaneously and with realization. Rather our chanting will remain a bore and the effort to perfect one’s life hampered.
I am writing this very early in the morning trying to get back to my schedule. I will now pick up my beads and try to apply what I just wrote. For the next two hours, I will practice without break, confident that momentum will build, realizations will come and the thing that is best for me in this world, chanting the holy name, will more and more become the thing that I derive the most pleasure from. That is the glory of momentum.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #13 – Why Big Temples?

March 27th, 2017

To some visiting Māyāpur the sight of such a massive and lavish building in contrast to the simplicity and perceived poverty of the surrounding village could seem callous. Why not just feed people or build them simple homes rather than waste money on an extravagant temple? The last two times I guided groups in Māyāpur at least one person in each group raised such doubts and I sensed others in the group looking for similar answers. A summary of my response to their sincere inquiries:

  1. One of the main purposes of a large temple is to attract people to a place where they leave with some sort of spiritual knowledge. As the root of all suffering is ignorance, we shouldn’t underestimate the value of distributing spiritual knowledge in whatever form it takes. Even now thousands of people are coming daily to visit Māyāpur and in the future, when the temple is built, that number will expand exponentially. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself answered this question by commenting to his disciples that if he just sat in just a simple hut, who would come to hear him? If an impressive spiritual edifice attracts hundreds of thousands to Māyāpur where they become inspired in spiritual life, it is a great contribution to society.
  2. Although spiritual education is so important, the people who live around the temple are not to be ignored. Śrīla Prabhupāda specifically directed that no one within a ten square mile radius of any of our temples should go hungry. Holy places like Vṛndāvana and Māyāpur, which attract many pilgrims in general, are one of the last places in India where people go hungry.
  3. Millions more are spent in major cities on single high rise and a football stadium, which have little redeeming value for the poor, but we rarely hear these challenged. To only criticize the construction of an opulent temple seems hypocritical and prejudice.
  4. If we really feel so strongly that everything should be sacrificed for the poor beyond our basic necessities, then we should set that example ourselves, before criticizing the “extravagance ” of a whole society in building its major place of worship.
  5. When we lament the poverty of the villages surrounding Māyāpur, we should also question how much of that criticism is due one’s own conditioning to a false standard of opulence based on modern convenience. These people may only have the most simple of dwellings but they have land, fresh air, community, and family nearby.
  6. Most great civilizations understand that aesthetics helps enrich people’s lives. In this way, beautiful temples also serve a purpose, but it’s a type of aesthetics that is shared with the public and even the very poor, unlike many of the rich who live in beautiful and aesthetic surroundings only for themselves. We protest when the government cuts funding for the endowment of the arts where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent, so why should we make an issue when a fraction is spent for a beautiful temple?
  7. Spending on a temple doesn’t mean less for feeding people or anything else. Everything comes from God and if we please Him, then there may be more for everyone. A huge temple that specifically facilitates thousands of people regularly gathering for worshipping Kṛṣṇa in the form of kīrtan is a boon for that community and the world. At least that is our faith.

I finished with just a word caution to qualify my support for the construction of such temples.

  1. Those who conceive and execute such projects are responsible for any ill effects on the community like the cheap and ugly high rises that have grown around that project that have horribly defaced part of the holy dhāma’s
  2. A temple is useless unless surrounded by a strong spiritual culture that predominates the campus. There is great responsibility that when constructing such an edifice to Śrī Caitanya that the culture around it adequately reflects His ideals.

Śrīla Prabhupāda envisioned the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium as the center of a spiritual revolution. I trust that his words will be fulfilled by the sincere people dedicating their life selflessly to this project despite the great challenges in manifesting it. I bow down to their service.


Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #12 – The Problem of Evil

March 20th, 2017

Recently I became very interested in apologetics. Before I looked up the term it sounded like a group of people who just always say they are sorry and make excuses for themselves. Apologetics, however, from the Greek word “speaking in defense of”, is the rigorous discipline of defending or proving the truth of theism through systematic argumentation based on reason. In that regard, I am very inspired by the work of many profound modern day Christian apologists like William Lane Craig, John Lennox, and Alvin Platinga who publicly and successfully defend the existence of God from the modern onslaught of atheism.
Inspired by occasionally listening to their debates, I felt inspired for this Monday Morning Greetings to try my own hand at apologetics. Today I will try to defend the challenge that the existence of evil and suffering in the world are inconsistent with an omnibenevolent being, arguably the most confronting argument against the existence of God.
This is no doubt a very complex discussion. It will not be possible within the scope of this short column to do full justice from the standpoint of the academy, [1] but I am confident that I can share some good arguments on the matter, both from what I heard from the top apologists and also from what I have gathered by my own reasoning.
One of the most compelling arguments to help reconcile the existence of evil and a benevolent creator is the proof from the existence of evil itself. I first heard this argument from the life of the famous British novelist and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis. He left Christianity at a young age after experiencing the hell and evil of war and later came back to Christianity when reflecting on the ontological basis of evil. His thoughts in this regard as related by Art Lindsley, one of the main scholars on his life:
“But, where had he gotten this idea of evil? He realized that his atheism provided no basis for it. Lewis could have said that his idea of evil was just his own private affair, but then his argument against God collapsed, too. Yet, if evil was real, then there must be an absolute standard by which it was known to be evil and an absolute good by which evil could be distinguished from good. Where could we get this infinite reference point, this fixed point above all our personal and cultural bias? Did that not demand a God as an adequate basis for absolute good? This was a first clue to the cosmos: evil was real.” [2]
In other words, the existence of evil shows that objective moral values exist, ideals that that are independent and transcendent to human opinion. For example, torturing babies is wrong. It is not evolutionary or culturally wrong. It is wrong beyond circumstance or time. It is wrong by basis of the very fabric of the universe. Thus modern atheism, which is reductionist and sees reality simply as a collection of causal random events has no basis for objective moral values and cannot be a reasonable explanation for the world. God is.
Again, it is beyond the scope in this short column to rigorously dissect all the subtleties of determinism at the basis of atheism, but it is safe to say that modern atheism robs one of free will and thus the moral responsibility of one’s actions. It is a view that even most atheists can’t in good conscience embrace, but is nonetheless the natural outcome of their worldview.
Sam Harris is arguably one of the most brilliant atheists publicly challenging theism. If you have time you can watch as he miserably fails again and again to directly answer William Lane Craig’s challenge to explain how atheism can serve as a foundation for morality.

Śrīla Prabhupāda also offered an interesting argument on this subject when he was once asked why we have come here, indicating this world of suffering and evil. “God did not create you as dead stone. You have chosen to come here. Now don’t blame God.” [3]
In other words, part of God’s perfection is that He did not make us dead stone, but has given us life, a concomitant factor of which is free will, which necessitates the possibility of choosing evil. The argument here is that some things we accept by their own definition have conditions that follow from them. In this case, the possibility to choose evil as a necessary condition that follows free will.
Finally, I will offer my own argument. Part of the problem of denying the existence of God based on suffering and evil is that this conclusion is based on several wrong premises. The first mistaken premise is that true happiness is controlling and enjoying the world, and not a flourishing of the soul in devotion and compassion. The second misconception is that what is good must be agreeable, when many things that are good for us, such as medicine or a surgical operation, are generally not nice at all. Suffering, therefore, even to the extent of evil, doesn’t have to be contradictory with an omnibenevolent Being if that suffering frustrates our unbecoming attempts to control and enjoy the world and helps leads us to true happiness. [4] Our condemnation of God for the existence of evil is thus only contradictory with the goodness of God from our limited perspective and not from the perspective of God who sees good in that which brings us closer to true happiness.
When I begin writing a Monday Morning Greetings I never know what I am getting into. I must say that this subject is a tough one. The problem of evil is a complex subject and so much more can be written, and so many more questions that can be raised and answered, but I think the basic reasoning for the reconciliation between God and the suffering of this world is clear.

[1] “The academy is a term used to describe all of academia.
[2] From “The Problem of Evil” published in the Winter 2003 edition of Knowing & Doing.
[3] I could not find the reference where Śrīla Prabhupāda said this, but I do have a strong recollection of reading it and trust its authenticity.
[4] A further challenge to this argument would be to question how the young and innocent could learn from horrid experience. It is beyond the scope of this paper to tackle this head on here, but the answer rests in an in depth discussion of how karma works and how specific karma related reactions can impact the consciousness beyond intellectualizing them.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #11 – Can We Offer Krishna Pizza?

March 13th, 2017

While staying at the house of a friend in Princeton, a noted scholar in Indology, I saw lying on a side table in his library an English translation of an unpublished Hindi manuscript of questions to arguably the most learned scholar in Vṛndāvana. [1] I immediately picked it up and began to turn the pages curious to see what he had to say. The questions, it seemed, mostly from western devotees, were thoughtful and the answers were quite penetrating, covering a variety of subjects from basic social concerns to rāgānugā-bhakti. I not only appreciated the depth of scholarship, but I liked the general tone, especially that the teachings seemed to mirror the same emphasis on the foundations of Kṛṣṇa consciousness that Śrīla Prabhupāda espoused. I read at a good pace and with rapt interest the answer to one question after another appreciating the maturity of the conversation until one question made me suddenly pause. Its inclusion just seemed so out of place at the feet of such a traditional, learned and 90 year-old Vaiṣṇava scholar.
Can we offer pizza to Kṛṣṇa?
There was also something I didn’t like about the question. I couldn’t help but wonder if this out of place inquiry was just a set-up to get this simple bābā to criticize the more non-traditional ISKCON – pizza, pasta, and all. I waited in anticipation and turned the page for an answer.
Whatever you like most you can offer to Kṛṣṇa with the most devotion.
I loved the answer. First I appreciated how a true scholar never serves the interest of any particular ideology, left or right, for he speaks only on the basis of śāstra, not through one’s conditioned ideological intuition. His answer here seemed quite “liberal” while most of his other answers on other subjects were quite “conservative”. True scholars are objective and independent of any particular persuasion besides the text and its realized application. It reminded me of Śrīla Prabhupāda, who similarly was unpredictable from the perspective of political affiliation, neither controlled by political correctness nor by fundamentalism.
Mostly I appreciated the answer because it so succinctly expressed the essence of bhakti. Kṛṣṇa is pleased not just by things that are offered to Him but also by the expression of devotion that they embody. Of course, there are certain parameters of what can be offered, but within those broad parameters the ingredient that pleases Kṛṣṇa is the devotion in which things are offered.
I reflected how true the bābā’s answer was. Devotion means to offer the best. As people have different tastes, the things that they can offer Kṛṣṇa with the most love vary according to what a person thinks is best. It’s just common sense.
I reflected on times when I have visited the homes of families of different ethnicities. I remember being invited for lunch in Māyāpur by a family from Italy. To maintain his household the father of the family was importing pasta from Italy. I remember the abject enthusiasm in which he showed me the many varieties of pasta, from fusilli to ziti, carefully explaining with unbounded enthusiasm the difference between each one. And what a meal they served and how welcomed and loved I felt! Do you think the “pasta king” [2] could have served samosas with the same devotion, or for that matter do you think a South Indian could offer pasta with the same love as a masāla dosa?
Kṛṣṇa, like anyone for that matter, enjoys the fine tastes, fragrances, sounds, visuals, and textures offered to Him, but only as the vehicle by which love is expressed to Him. So naturally our own tastes, what best expresses our love, is a factor in how much Kṛṣṇa enjoys something.
This principle is the essence of bhakti, even in nāma-kīrtan, for what Kṛṣṇa hears is not just our sweet voice and perfect rhythms, but our soul – the heart or intensity in which we sing kīrtan or chant japa with devotion. Of course, out of love we should try to make the most sonorous melody and enchanting rhythm, but bhāva, love for God, is the main impetus for Kṛṣṇa to be pleased, not just our musical talent.
This principle is also why Śrī Rādhā has the most wonderful qualities. As she has the greatest love for Kṛṣṇa, her mahābhāva (intense love) is manifested in svarūpiṇī (the most pleasing and beautiful embodiment of that love). In other words, in having the most love she also has the greatest capacity to express that love in the form of the superlative nature of her being – from her unbounded compassion to her incomparable beauty and abilities.
Can we offer pizza to Kṛṣṇa? I think the baba’s answer was perfect:
Whatever you like most you can offer to Kṛṣṇa with the most devotion.
Final Meditation: think of what you can offer Kṛṣṇa with most devotion and how much you appreciate that very same thing.

The manuscript was from the late Śrī Haridās Śāstrī Mahārāja. He had translated and published over eighty books from Sanskrit into Hindi and Bengali, many with original commentary. He held nine graduate degrees and three postgraduate degrees in the six systems of Hindu philosophy.
[2] I remember that this is what people affectionately called him.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #10 – Realization: What is It, Why is It Important, and How Do You Get It?

March 6th, 2017

What is it?

If someone steps on your toe and you become angry have you realized you are not your body? You certainly theoretically understand you are not the body, but do you realize or see it? Simply put, jñāna (theoretical knowledge) is what one understands to be true, and vijñāna (realized knowledge) is what one sees as true.
A good way to better grasp this difference between understanding (theoretical knowledge) and seeing (realized knowledge) is to look at the difference between how one understands and sees one’s bad habits. For example, a recovering drug addict may theoretically understand (jñāna) how much suffering addiction causes, but still due to a lack of realization (vijñāna) when confronted with the source of his addiction mistakenly sees it as a source of happiness.
Why is it important?

The importance of having realization should be obvious. It is easier to live by the truth the more deeply we see it and the more we live the truth the happier we become. This is true in all spheres of life from the truth about health and relationships to the truth about the self.
The importance of realization should be even more obvious from observing the lack of it in ourself and others. In fact, all problems are a dearth of it. For example, our greatest fear is death, but death itself is the illusion of non-existence, and thus the self-realized soul, one who clearly realizes this, is not disturbed by it.
This important realization – that the self-realized can conquer death – is a major theme of śāstra (scriptures). [1] For example, in the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā a self-realized soul is described as not bewildered by the change of body called death. [2]
Realization is also important because it is a prerequisite for being an effective teacher, especially a spiritual teacher. Without such depth it would be impossible for a teacher to properly explain what he or she has understood in a way to accommodate the frame of reference of his or her audience without losing the original intended meaning. Lacking realization one can only repeat what one has learned verbatim, even if his or her audience figuratively no longer speaks the same language and misunderstands what the teacher has to say. In that regard, Śrīla Prabhupāda stresses the necessity for realization as a prerequisite for effective teaching:
The original purpose of the text must be maintained. [3] No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realization.” [4] (Bhāg. 1.4.1, purport)
The Bhāgavatam teaches us that the whole world is moving around us just to give us realizations, realizations so important it is worth any sacrifice to get them, and that properly understanding them allows one to confront any tribulation with hope. [5]
How to get it?

The Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad (4.5.6) gives a simple explanation how realization arises; first by hearing the truth, then by reflecting on it, and finally by repeatedly applying it.
In other words, the best way to garner realization is to regularly hear the śāstra (scripture), the repository of knowledge or good ideas, and reflect on what you have heard. This does not entail being a scholar or having to memorize text. It only requires the desire to be transformed by it and to commit oneself to regularly engaging with it. Profound thoughts will inevitably strike you, ideas that seem familiar and true, but which may not be deeply understood, but should be. By reflecting on them you will inevitably see those same truths in the world and by embracing them and acting on them gain important realizations. Your life will then change.
A Recommendation

While attending a seminar in Govardhana by Bhūrijana dāsa many years ago I learned a simple method to study śāstra that I regularly apply to the study of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books that helps me get helpful realizations and is the source of many or even most of my Monday Morning Greetings.

  1. Set a time and a place exclusively for the study of śāstra. Even ten minutes will do if you are busy.
  2. Pray to the teachers you will be encountering in your study to be transformed or impacted by their teachings and to address and answer your questions and doubts. For example, in reading the Bhāgavatam I pray to Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śukadeva Gosvāmī and those teachers I am expecting to encounter in that day’s study.
  3. Read slowly. Take a prayerful disposition; imbibe the mood as if you are in audience of these great souls. Sometimes reading a bit audibly will help.
  4. When something strikes you stop and read it out loud three times.
  5. When your prescribed time is over stop. Don’t continue reading more. If you feel you can devote more time then increase your vow the next day.
  6. Pay your obeisances and offer gratitude to the teachers you encountered.
  7. Optional: Free write your thoughts for a few minutes. Underline the sentence or thought in your writing you liked best. [6]

Final Thought

I will leave the reader with a final thought that was told to me once by a sādhu in Vṛndāvana when I asked him to share with me a realization:
“The most important thing is to have good thoughts. From good thoughts comes good action. From good action comes good habits. From good habits come good character and from good character comes the right destination.”

[1] The seminal question of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is “What is the duty of man who is about to die?” and the answer begins with the proposition “If you want to be fearless at the time of death…” implying that the purpose of the Bhāgavatam is to give one the realization to do so.
[2] Bhagavad-gītā 2.13
[3] Italicized in original text.
[4] Bolded here for emphasis. Does not appear in bold in original text.
[5] I gleaned this conception of realization from the text and commentary to Bhāg. 1.9.12-14 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda.
[6]Free writing is a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic.” ( It is important in free writing not to let your pen stop writing even if you write “I don’t know what to say”. My experience is that we remember a lot more than we give ourselves credit for and once the pen is moving we can hardly stop expressing our ideas.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #9 – Faith: A Unique Perspective

February 27th, 2017

The best definition of faith that I have ever heard is a simple one, although I think it is quite profound. It is from Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Faith is unflinching trust in something sublime.”
What I like here is that faith is not just defined simply in terms of what one understands is true, but in terms of how one feels about something. Simply put, faith is where one believes his happiness rests. We may say that we have faith in Kṛṣṇa, in the sense that we have faith in a particular religious doctrine, but this richer concept of faith asks us to go further than just a rudimentary belief. It tests the level our conviction. For example, according to this notion, if we spend more time on Facebook than with the holy name, then despite our belief in a specific canon where the glories of the holy name are described, our faith, or perceived sublimity, unfortunately rests elsewhere. It is a humbling introspection.
I recently came across a description of Kṛṣṇa that gave me further understanding of this insightful definition of faith. In the fourth canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Nārada describes Kṛṣṇa as nṛmṇam, [1] transcendentally pleasing in all respects. Various commentators [2] cite an interesting analogy to help deepen our understanding of this term; just as the sun is emanating light, the Lord is emanating spiritual pleasure (nṛmṇam) and thus whoever comes near Him also experiences that sublimity. That occurrence is so deep and inspiring that it becomes our unflinching trust in where sublimity resides.
According to Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī this type of faith has progressive stages beginning with the initial experience that convinces us that serving God is sublime. This progression proceeds as follows:
Śraddhā: I appreciate those who serve Kṛṣṇa.

Sādhu-saṅga: It is so good that I want to be with people that exemplify such devotion.

Bhajana-kriyā: It so good that I want to take up the practices that develop devotion.

Anartha-nivṛttiḥ: It is so good that I will give up those things that have no value to them.

Niṣṭhā: It is so good that I will do it all the time.

Ruci: It is so sublime that whenever my mind unintentionally goes someplace else, I immediately pull it back.

Āsakti: It is so sublime that I am addicted to it.

Bhāva: It is so sublime that my heart is melted by it.

Prema: It is so sublime that there is nothing in my consciousness but such devotion to such an extent that I am not even aware of anything else.[3]
Śrī Rūpa thus confirms that our faith or conviction in bhakti naturally progresses according to our level of taste for devotion.
A few challenges to this definition may arise. I would like to answer them.
Why doesn’t everyone who contacts the Lord in His various forms such as the holy name and His devotees develop this unflinching trust?

The soul is covered by false ego and therefore doesn’t experience this spiritual pleasure emanating from God, just as one’s eyes don’t experience the heat radiating from the powerful sun when it is covered by a cloud. When, after our boundless sojourn in the material world, we finally develop the humility that there must be something greater than just what I want, that crack in the false ego leaves a space between our soul and God to feel the Divine, just as a clearing in the cloud allows us to feel the heat of the sun.
Why am I not experiencing now the feelings of sublimity that I did when I initially connected with the Divine?

That initial feeling may be a special gift from God to jumpstart us on the path of devotion. This “religious experience” is also not cheap. Once this goal of our practice is instilled in our heart, it may be in our own interest to first earn it. It is thus withdrawn. We also often initially approach God unknowingly and become innocently exposed to God’s mercy, only to later become complacent and close that receptivity to God by careless offense.
What is the relationship between knowledge and faith?

Without teachings that give a reasonable explanation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and a sensible understanding of the world our mind will likely close to devotion after the initial experience of mercy has worn off. Without education we may also lose the conviction to make the sacrifices necessary to advance on the path.
Isn’t this just blind faith?

No. One’s conviction is based on experience and knowledge. It is reasonable faith, just as it is reasonable to trust a particular doctor as a medical authority when through our relationship with him we continually experience good health.

I like this definition of faith. Faith is unflinching trust in something sublime. What else can reasonably be the goal of any endeavor but a heart flourishing with sublimity?

[1] Bhāg. 4.8.26

[2] I heard this analysis from a lecture by Śrīla Rādhā Govinda Swami.

[3] Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.4.15-16

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #8 – Family Life: A Blessing or a Curse?

February 20th, 2017

In the mid-90s I lectured on the story of Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī. After years of trying to renounce family life to join the mission of Śrī Caitanya in Purī, he finally sits unencumbered at his master’s feet. I read Śrī Caitanya’s first words to Raghunātha after His disciple’s long trek through the jungles of Orissa to escape his family’s watch and join his guru’s mission:
“The mercy of Lord Kṛṣṇa is stronger than anything else. Therefore the Lord has delivered you from the ditch of materialistic life, which is like a hole into which people pass stool.” Cc Antya-līlā 6.193
Wow! That’s pretty heavy, especially since Raghunātha’s family, which Śrī Caitanya was alluding to, was not only the richest family in West Bengal, which included his most chaste and beautiful wife, but they were also very faithful Vaiṣṇavas. They served the devotees to such an extent that they practically purchased an entire district in West Bengal from the Moghul potentates just to give them shelter from their rulers.
Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice that as I was reading this very strong reference to family life, half the audience, the older and more established Indian born devotees, seemed amused and were nodding their heads in agreement, while the other part – the younger American devotees – for the most part seemed confused and in disagreement with what was read. I tried to understand the variance in response.
Many of the young Americans were not yet settled in their careers and were in relatively dissatisfying relationships, if in any relationships at all. For them the very thing that Śrī Caitanya seemed to condemn – stable family life – was the blessing they were seeking. In contrast, most Indians were quite well settled in career and family life. If there was any problem at all in family life it was that they were too attached to it. They could therefore appreciate the context of Śrī Caitanya’s strong words. Let’s explore these two reactions more thoroughly and understand when family life is a blessing and when it is a curse, and also explore in what way Śrī Caitanya could dare speak so “harshly”.
As a Blessing

I remember a young and dynamic brahmacārī (monk) who later got married commenting to me on how his new āśrama helped him spiritually, “I understand now that the world is not just about me.” What an important lesson that very few people are able to learn if they purposely avoid commitment to marriage. I referred to this point in a recent post:
“When they are committed relationships in partnership, family, or community they help us understand that the world is not just about us, which is a fundamental principle in bhakti, a principle that will not be learned by one who chooses to stay alone, even as a monk, unless he or she has the extraordinary realization to rise above narcissism and become the humble servant of everyone.” [1]
Besides the need to rise above narcissism, one also needs to reasonably satisfy one’s desires to peacefully execute spiritual life. [2] In that sense, for one who is unfulfilled in his needs for family, to find the proper partner to start a family is a blessing one seeks.
As a Curse

Although one enters household life to “enjoy”, its goal, like any āśrama, is to become detached. Thus although there is some scope to fulfill one’s desires, it is done under regulation, so within fulfilling one’s desires to pacify one’s mind, one also practices detachment. [3] While undergoing this “blessing”, one naturally also has to accept the burden of many worldly responsibilities that usually substantially limit one’s engagement in spiritual life. As one in family life has been granted the leeway to enjoy, there is also the danger of becoming increasingly attached to that enjoyment, thus remaining entangled in worldly duties at a time when one should be moving towards a more renounced and simple life. Such a person, even in old age, remains mired in the illusion that my home is my eternal abode and my family is my eternal relationship – instead of seeking to attain Vṛndāvana and one’s eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa. What a curse!
Harsh speech? The meaning of words is not just what is being said, but how it is understood, and that varies from culture to culture. In Indian culture, where this statement was born, people generally have been relatively “blessed” with a functional and happy family life and naturally develop a deep attachment to it. As they are pious and secure, the ācārya [4] can speak strongly to their attachments without causing trauma and they expect and welcome it.
Is family life a blessings or a curse? It’s a blessing for one who needs it and a curse when one becomes too ensconced in it.

[1] Community and Krishna Consciousness
[2] “Life’s desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s works.” Bhāg. 1.2.10
Purport: […] Because the body is made of senses which also require a certain extent of satisfaction there are regulative directions for satisfaction of such senses. […]
[3] For example, in household life there is a license for sex life so one gets to fulfill one’s desire. At the same time it is restricted in a monogamous relationship and in the highest standard for procreation only so that one’s desires and the practice of regulation or detachment are both satisfied. As a result one can gradually become detached from it.
[4] Guru

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