Archive for April, 2001

Nyack, New York One treat

April 28th, 2001

Nyack, New York

One treat in a visit with Satyaraja is his vast library of religious and Vaishnava books. Today I read a fascinating book: ?Journey to Unknown India,? by Walter Eidlitz, an educated German Jew who, in the late 1930s, with the permission of his chaste wife and loving mother, left for India to find spiritual enlightenment. Soon after he arrives, World War II breaks out. Consequently, all Germans residing in British Colonies were put into detention camps. Walter is therefore arrested and sent to a camp just outside Calcutta. There he meets a fellow German, Sadananda dasa?a Western disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta who bears an uncanny resemblance to his own guru. Sadananda is learned and saintly and Walter gradually accepts him as his spiritual guide. The book strongly presents the tenets of Krishna consciousness, but in a very subtle and non-imposing way. It also gives very good insight into the mood and teachings of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. This morning I read a particularly enlightening excerpt spoken to Walter by Sadananda concerning Walter’s study of the Bhagavat:

?When we were together, he [Bhaktisiddhanta] looked over the translations I had completed since our last meeting. He often criticized me, complaining that I worked too fast and not precisely enough. ?Nobody expects you to be a racer,? he once said to me. ?One can speed on tracks of dead gravel and ashes. But on the spiritual pastures of the Bhagavata, where God and his friends play their eternal games, one should read with reverence.? You must bow down inwardly before every line of a verse, every word, as if they contain the final revelation. And then you must remain quiet, listening, until the original text itself takes the initiative within you and begins expressing itself.

?He once warned me, ?A notebook containing translations of the Bhagavata should be a model of neatness and order. This order attracts Krishna’s grace. Each pencil, each sheet of paper, can be a means of serving Krishna and bringing Him joy. My guru insisted on such order, which colors all one’s life, and he was an example of what he preached. Like all Hindus, he ate with the tips of his fingers. It was not like eating, when he partook of a meal, but rather like praying.?? (p. 179)

Studying sastra in a reverential mood?especially the Bhagavat?is such an important instruction for practicing Krishna consciousness. It is far more important to read with devotion and with the goal of a deeper understanding than it is to complete a certain amount of pages. I was taken aback by Bhaktisiddhanta’s warning about note-taking, since mine are notoriously casual. It’s a fact that orderliness in any spiritual endeavor cultivates an overall temperament of goodness, prayerfulness, and devotion.

Nyack, New York Visting with

April 27th, 2001

Nyack, New York

Visting with Satyaraja Prabhu. I spent a lot of time this morning with Satyaraja going over an article on ?Violence and the Bhagavad-gita? that he has been requested to write for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Avatar, a prominent modern analysis of the Bhagavad-gita by Anthony DeNicholas?a fairly well-known twentieth-century academician and philosopher. Avatar is unique in that it analyzes the Gita in reference to Western philosophers like Plato and Hegel.

Satyaraja has his work cut out for him. To justify a religious war to a modern audience, without making it seem like you?re promoting the crusades or a jihad, is a daunting task.

Basically, what makes an activity either just or immoral is not the activity itself, but the utilization of the activity and the consciousness in which it is done?even an activity as ghastly as war. Of course, explaining that properly takes real finesse. Satyaraja, however, did a good job. His arguments are strong and digestible. Here’s just a short excerpt from his extensively developed argument:

“A ksatriya is a defender, a protector?a person who will resort to physical means to cultivate the field of life. He is not violent, but, rather, he protects from violence. There will always be violence in this world, weeds that, left unattended, will destroy the garden, and so there must always be protectors of the innocent. To this end, a ksatriya is trained in the military arts. He is noble and chivalrous. But, if necessary, he will employ combative tactics. Because there are people who perform evil deeds, ksatriyas such as Arjuna are needed. And when ksatriyas fight according to fair standards of warfare, they serve an important function in society. A just war according to the Vedic system, then, is one of defense?it is never aggressive but rather serves humanity by protecting people and establishing God consciousness.

?It should again be underlined that not everyone is a ksatriya, and Arjuna’s dilemma is specific to his circumstance?not everyone in his position should fight. A brahmana, for example, should not engage in warfare, nor would he generally find himself in the midst of a battlefield. Nor is he properly trained for engaging in battle. But a ?born? warrior, like Arjuna, must fight. He would be sinful not to fight, and this is Krishna’s main point. The truth of this statement is so obvious that Gandhi, who otherwise endorsed nonviolence in all circumstances, felt it necessary to say the following:

“?Let us suppose that Arjuna flees the battlefield. Though his enemies are wicked people, are sinners, they are his relations and he cannot bring himself to kill them. If he leaves the field, what would happen to those vast numbers on his side? If Arjuna went away, leaving them behind, would the Kauravas have mercy on them? No. If he left the battle, the Pandava army would be simply annihilated. What, then, would be the plight of their wives and children? … Arjuna, therefore, had no choice but to fight.?

?That being said, it becomes obvious that sometimes fighting is necessary, as has been pointed out earlier. The Pandavas did not want to engage in warfare, but they had no alternative. The Kauravas made life intolerable, not only for the Pandavas, but for the mass of people. And if people suffer, ksatriyas engage in battle. As the Irish politician Edmund Burke writes, ?The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.? Men such as the Pandavas would never let evil triumph.?

Baltimore Tonight I read the

April 26th, 2001

Baltimore

Tonight I read the inspiring and devotion-laden story of Sudama Brahmana, the poor pure devotee brahmana who offered his friend Lord Krishna a humble offering of some broken rice and received unparalleled riches in return. The devotional sentiments of Sudama Brahmana and the reciprocation of Krishna are deep exchanges of pure affection. To attain such affection, called rasa, is the goal of life, and the best way to obtain it is by reading such stories and chanting the holy name.

I found some sobering messages in the story. When Sudama Brahmana was in gurukula with Krishna he received the benediction that whatever he would learn would always remain fresh within his mind. Srila Prabhupada discussed the significance of such a benediction:

“Cooked food left sitting for three hours is called yata-yama, indicating that it has lost its taste, and similarly if a devotee does not remain fixed in Krishna consciousness, the transcendental knowledge that once inspired him on the spiritual path will lose its ?taste? or meaning for him. Thus Sandipani Muni blesses his disciples that the Vedic mantras, which reveal the Absolute Truth, will never lose their meaning for them, but will remain ever fresh in their minds.” (Bhag. 10.80.42, purport)

I was especially inspired by Sudama’s fixedness in his guru’s service. He went to collect firewood for his teacher and got lost in a fierce storm. Despite wandering all night in the threatening forest searching for safety, he still continued to carry that same firewood. The sincerity of his service pleased his teacher.

It was good meditation for me on Srila Prabhupada’s repeated instructions to take the mission of the spiritual master as one’s life and soul. His disciples did that, but not always intelligently, sometimes confusing the structure of the institution with the ideals of the mission. I regret that, but we shouldn’t, as the saying goes, ?throw out the baby with the bath water.? Service to the spiritual master is the essence of spiritual life. We should intelligently try to understand Srila Prabhupada’s mission and make a practical offering of service to it. Our spiritual life depends on it.

While reading this section of Srimad Bhagavatam, I cross-referenced Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur?s purport to Bhagavad-gita, 2.41, that Srila Prabhupada credits with inspiring him to take up the order of his spiritual master as his life and soul:

“Of all kinds of intelligence, the best is intelligence focused on bhakti-yoga. In bhakti-yoga, one’s intelligence becomes single-pointed, or fixed in determination. One thinks, ?The instructions of my spiritual master to worship the Personality of Godhead by chanting, remembering, serving His feet, and so on are my only sadhana, my only sadhya, my only livelihood. I am unable to give 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.?

Great teachers, like Srila Prabhupada and Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti, set high ideals; otherwise regular devotees would be ignorant of the standards and goals. At times those ideals might seem difficult for us and we may even become discouraged or even guilt-ridden. That may not always be healthy. We should, however, be sincere, try our best, and if for reason we cannot practice at the standard level, at least hold those ideals above our heads in veneration.

There is no excuse, however, if I don’t surrender fully to the ideals of Srila Prabhupada’s mission. I am a sannyasi and by Krishna’s grace I have nothing do in life but to live by those ideals. I read on and reflect seriously on my debt to Srila Prabhupada and how to repay him:

“[Sandipani Muni said,] ?O my children, you have suffered so much for my sake! The body is most dear to every living creature, but you are so dedicated to me that you completely disregard your own comfort.? [Bhag. 10.80.40]

??This is indeed the duty of all true disciples: to repay the debt to their spiritual master by offering him, with pure hearts, their wealth, and even their lives.? [Bhag. 10.80.41]

?One engages one’s body to realize one’s purposes. The body is also the basis of the material consciousness of ?I,? while one’s fortune is the basis of the conception ?mine.? Thus by offering everything to the spiritual master, one realizes one’s self to be an eternal servant of the Lord. The spiritual master does
not exploit the disciple but rather engages him fully in Krishna consciousness for the disciple?s eternal benefit.? [Bhag. 10.80.41, purport]

Baltimore I am with Brajajana

April 25th, 2001

Baltimore

I am with Brajajana and Gaura-Priya. It seems that my life and journal follows themes. This week’s theme is the importance of community and a simple lifestyle in terms of spiritual development.

Brajajana and Gaura-Priya told me that she is expecting a child. It made our discussions on developing a community in Upstate New York even more relevant. Brajajana and Gaura-Priya both like children, will be natural parents, and wouldn’t mind raising a large family. They are also practical. I was surprised in my discussions with them to find out how costly it is to raise a child today in an urban environment by middle-class standards. It dawned on me that, in contrast, fifty years ago, when I was growing up, that parents of even moderate means could easily raise three children. My father brought home $200 a week from his small business and my mother stayed at home and raised a family of three children. And that was still enough to pay the mortgage on a eight-room house with land that my family purchased in south Brooklyn for $36,000 in 1956.

I also recalled the prices when I went to college?gas at 19 cents a gallon and the same for a quart of milk. A decent two-bedroom apartment in college costs me $90 dollars, and the elaborate Sunday feast I cooked at my place every week for over twenty people was less than fifteen dollars.

I also dwell on the gradual decrease in the quality of life. In this regard, a particular incident stood out in my mind. Twenty years ago, when I returned for a visit to my parents after three years in India, they took me to a supermarket to buy my groceries. I was taken aback when the cashier was able to decipher and register the price of an item by just wiping the item along the counter. It was a new development since I left for India. I thus, in wonder, inadvertently blurted out to the middle-aged lady cashier, ?Oh, things have advanced so much!? Catching myself in a contradiction to Srila Prabhupada’s teachings about modern civilization, I then quickly added, ?but the quality of life has not improved!? It stuck a chord on abject agreement in this simple working-class lady who looked at me and nodded in agreement.

It’s a good mantra: ?Things have advanced so much, but the quality of life hasn’t improved.? It applies more now than ever.

America is very prosperous but, still, the business-class is very much favored. The working class is not exploited in terms of their salaries, but they are exploited in another way. The business community expertly creates more and more and needs, and raises the prices on basic commodities like housing and health, so ironically, although the working class has more money than ever before, they are less free from want than ever before.

Businessmen are also entering the medical field so that the cost of even basic health care is becoming unaffordable. This brings up fond memories of our dedicated family doctor, Dr. Ralph Burke, with his personal care, his friendly home calls, and his moderate fees.

I?ve known Brajajana since 1990, when he came to Vrindaban and then became Satsvarupa Maharaja’s cook in his pilgrimage to Jagannatha Puri. Brajajana is a bit anarchistic by nature, but has honest ideals, and the thought of a life too confined to the dictates of corporate America irks him. Brajajana and Gaura-Priya also have a desire for a more natural life and they are looking for some land in Upstate New York. I like their vision and spirit in this regard.

Yes, there are devotees in the city that have managed healthy spiritual lives for their families and there are devotees who have moved to the country and failed to maintain even the basic standards of living for their families. Each family has to make a practical plan for their development based on the nature of their family and their means of livelihood. I see, however, many devotees feeling oppressed in their spiritual lives by a lack of community and the nature of their work, especially in the city. I like the mood of ?let’s do something about that??especially when it practically embraces Srila Prabhupada’s genius and insight into simple living and high thinking.

Gita-nagari Every time before I

April 23rd, 2001

Gita-nagari

Every time before I leave Gita-nagari, I visit Kaisori’s house on my way out to hear how her ten-year old daughter, Kalindi, has progressed in viola and also to encourage her. Years ago, to teach a child anything outside of direct Krishna consciousness would have been condemned, but in the absence of a viable Krishna conscious culture, it is sometimes difficult to satisfy a child’s healthy passions, give them a reasonable dose of culture, and instill within them a healthy self-esteem. Kaisori is not, however, neglecting her daughter’s Krishna consciousness. They share a very spontaneous and beautiful worship of their Deities. Next year, to give Kalindi a firm basis of transcendental knowledge, Kaisori will start her daughter’s sastric studies.

Kalindi expertly performed a beautiful concerto for me and then explained what she had just played?although, frankly, her explanations were so technical that she might as well have been speaking another language. After hearing her perform, I could understand what a dedicated and accomplished musician she has become. She has already gone on an international tour last year and, this year, she has a scholarship to study in California.

Kaisori is a thoughtful mother and an experienced teacher. She has taken full responsibility for her child. She has done whatever it takes to provide what Kalindi needs for her proper development, including arduous biweekly two-hour round trip visits to State College for her music lessons. In the absence of a workable devotee school, she has home-schooled her daughter, but in a progressive way, so that in addition to her academic studies, Kalindi has been able to satisfy her practical interests. This time, Kalindi also showed me an intricate and exquisite quilt that she had hand sown for her own use.

I was impressed with Kalindi’s healthy pride in self-improvement and the personal values imbibed by her training. Her mother has read and discussed with
her a study on the deleterious effects of television. When I asked Kalindi about it, she honestly expressed, and more importantly, understood the harmful effects
of television in terms of her own development?especially that it was a waste of time for someone with so many healthy interests to master.

Kaisori has understood an important feature of child development that I wished we had realized in pioneering gurukula:

?In a world as empirical as ours, a youngster who does not know what he is good at will not be sure what he is good for.? ?Edgar Z. Freidenberg, ?Emotional Development in Adolescence; The Vanishing Adolescent?

Gita-nagari John Havlek came over

April 22nd, 2001

Gita-nagari

John Havlek came over this morning to the cabin where I am staying to invite me to visit his house on the way to the evening program at Kaisori Mataji’s. John’s house is one of my regular stops at Gita-nagari. He is a practical man with integrity and his wife, Damayanti, also has high ideals. They came to Gita-nagari about ten years ago with a practical plan to raise a family in Krishna consciousness?to take full responsibility for their own family and to not become overly dependent on the success of a particular Krishna consciousness community for its development.

It’s not that they aren?t community-minded. They are. And they do appreciate the importance of a community to raise a child. That’s why they moved to Gita-nagari ten years ago. It’s just that they are watchful of idealist expectations. If they wait for Gita-nagari, or any pioneering spiritual community, to fully provide their social, educational, and spiritual needs?which may or may not happen?aspects of their family development may suffer or be delayed. Also, in frustration, they may move from place to place and
never get settled.

John’s spirit of healthy self-reliance allowed his family to move to Gita-nagari to take advantage of the Deities and the devotees with the confidence that they wouldn’t be moving again. As a result they were able to immediately get on with their business of planning and settling their family.

John and his wife both found jobs as teachers. This has allowed them to buy land and build their house, but their plan is long range. By owning sufficient land, residing in a place with very low taxes and with no mortgage, rent, or utilities, and by living simply, they are hoping to gradually have increased time for a more natural and spiritual life. John’s house has developed a lot since I last visited. It has lots of windows and faces south to get the morning sun. It is also very well insulated, which makes it easy and cost-efficient to heat. He built the house himself. The wood floors cut from the timber on his property give their home a natural and peaceful ambiance. The house, by choice, has no electricity. For most people, that would be a difficult and unnecessary inconvenience, but for them, it would be more inconvenient to work the rest of their lives at meaningless jobs to pay off all the modern conveniences one can become overly reliant on. They do, however, have a phone.

When you walk in the house you can feel the special peacefulness of a non-electro/mechanistic living space, but the present lighting?propane night-lights?pose a fire hazard. They?ve decided, therefore, to opt for solar electricity. He showed me the new all-in-one cast iron stove?strongly and efficiently built?that cooks, heats the house, and pumps hot water into the bathroom. They also have a garden and a family cow.

Plenty of milk products, grains, and few overhead costs give them hopes for financial and occupational freedom in the future. In pursuance of this goal they plan for a possible little guesthouse, a summer camp for devotee children, and perhaps an herb business so they can easily maintain their minimal expenses working at home.

Not everyone could, or perhaps should, live that way, but one has to give them credit for a plan to rest control of their future from bondage to heavy expenses and meaningless work. It’s a trade-off?only a few less modern conveniences for a simple and saner life. As Damayanti told me, ?I’d rather go into the forest to collect firewood then drive twenty miles to work just to pay for it.? It’s worth a thought.

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Gita-nagari I arrive by car

April 21st, 2001

Gita-nagari

I arrive by car at Gita-nagari by noon. As I turn by the brahmacari ashram, a brahamcari pays his obeisances. I stop the car and roll down the window. Advaita Acarya, from Croatia, smiles, folds his hands, and offers a humble entreaty: ?Please take darshan of Radha-Damodara.? I usually go to the cabin first, not the temple, but through Advaita, I sense Radha-Damodara’s will. I feel blessed and unworthy.

When Radha-Govinda called me to Schermerhorn Street a few days ago, I think I made a mistake by only offering respects outside and not going inside. When a master calls his servant, the servant should immediately drop everything, no matter what they are doing, and see what their Lord needs?like the gopis who left their husbands, children and family as soon as they heard the calling of Krishna’s flute. When the Lord calls, His darshan should be one’s first priority. On to Damodara!

As I enter the new temple I am completely taken aback. I am immediately captured by the charm of Damodara and His quaint and tasteful temple. The rustic setting, the wood design. It’s madhurya, a sweetness that over shadows majesty and opulence. It’s simple, but it wouldn’t be any nicer if it were a palace of gold.

After greeting the Deities I am welcomed by Kaulini and Mangala-Arati. The brijabasis are here, too!

I have never experienced such a powerful sacred space outside of Vrindaban before as Sri Sri Radha-Damodara’s temple. It’s like walking into Vrindaban by just traveling a few hundred miles and opening a door in the forest. My conviction is reinforced. Outside of Vrindaban, there is no place so Vraja as Gita-nagari!

New York City My last

April 17th, 2001

New York City

My last entry ended on the ninth day of March. They were focused around Vrindaban and may even be put into one book. Jal Keli has already proposed a design and title: “Greetings from Vrindaban”. Today, then, is perhaps the beginning of a new set of journal entries that may also eventually be compiled together as a book. “Greetings from New York”?

Starting up again I am not sure if the entries will be daily. I have too much else to write, but the journal should be maintained.

John picked up a car for me yesterday. I was surprised when he called and told me that he purchased a 1998 Toyota Corolla with the few thousand dollars we managed to save. He actually threw in some of his own money to complete a down payment, and signed loan payments in his own name. I initially felt embarrassed, as a sannyasi, to have a newer car, but I suppose I can probably stand to renounce the six tows and practically monthly breakdowns I had over the last few years in the old one.

In Vrindaban, when the devotees who make Life Members get a new Tata Sumo?the top of the line Indian SUV?they drive it right in front of Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi. They then worship the car with an elaborate puja. When I saw it once, an eerie sacrilegious feeling came over me. ?This is not about service to God, but personal status. Is nothing sacred??

At five this morning I drove with my new car into New York to beat traffic on my way to stay at the ashram here. I took the Holland Tunnel to Canal East, but it forced me on the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn. I turned and turned trying to get back to Flatbush Avenue for the bridge to Manhattan, but mysteriously wound up on Schermerhorn Street driving right past the Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir. Slowing down, I folded my hands and bowed my head toward the wheel. Ironically, my new car is now also ceremonially offered in Krishna’s service.

A great danger for devotees in America is being co-opted by Madison Avenue as consumers. I’m amazed how even so-called alternate people and revolutionary types are taken on board the ship of commercialism and have to fashion themselves according to the dictates of the mass psychologists of advertising who tell them how to fill up their closets.

I remember being gifted a new Rolex watch in India and, shortly after, asking an old sadhu about his concept of yukta-vairagya, balanced detachment. He said, ?If you need a watch, then 100 rupees. That’s yukta-vairagya.? I snuck my right hand slowly behind my back in shame.

Of course, different types of people have different requirements of opulence for their service, social status, and general esteem, so there’s quite a wide range of lifestyle within the realm of balanced detachment. Consumerism is something different. It is the senseless collection of possessions, for collection and show itself, beyond any utility. What a waste!

A found a nice explanation of consumerism:

?Enjoyment of the material world? Isn’t that hedonism? ? A hedonist might consume the juice of five oranges as a prelude to a pancake breakfast. A frugal person, on the other hand, might relish eating a single orange, enjoying the color and texture of the whole fruit, the smell and light spray that comes as you begin to peel it, the translucence of each section, the flood of flavor that pours out as the section bursts over the tongue ? the thrift of saving the peels for baking.

?To be frugal means to have a higher joy-to-stuff ratio. If you get one unit of joy for each material possession, that’s frugal. But if you need 10 possessions to even begin registering on the joy meter, you’re missing the point of being alive.? ?from “Your Money or Your Life; Transforming Your Relationships With Money and Achieving Financial Independence? by Joe Dominquez and Vicki Robin

As I write this by my window overlooking East 4th Street, I can see my car. No! It is being ticketed for parking! Fifty-five dollars lost! I didn’t know that there were also times of the week that meter parking is also restricted, but ignorance is no excuse for the law, Prahlad Maharaja instructs us. Maya-sukhaya?for every step forward in material happiness, one takes two steps back.