Archive for August, 2001

New York City People Profile

August 23rd, 2001

New York City

People Profile 2
Pradyumna called to confirm a ride with me to Upstate New York where he was to attend a lecture on social organics. I offered to pick him up as hisapartment in
Washington Heights on the way.

His apartment was in an old stately building. It was spacious, with six large rooms, and he shared it with two roommates. I was surprised at the cost of rent.
“Only $600 a month for the whole thing until last year when we decided to give the landlord more,” he volunteered when he greeted me at the door. Pradyumna’s room was fashioned just like the room he was living in when I first met him in 1976, when he was staying at Srila Prabhupada’s rooms at Radha-Damodar. No furniture, but piles and piles of books stacked ten rows back all around the room with a small mattress as his sitting place buried inside. When I first visited him at Radha-Damodar I thought no one was in until he popped his head up from behind the fortress of books and greeted me. Pradyumna was Srila Prabhupada’s Sanskrit editor and was affectionately called by him “Panditji.” He has a wealth of knowledge and is very respectful, especially to sadhus, but he is eclectic. I thus can never tell exactly where he now stands in his convictions, but it really doesn’t matter, since he’s always willing to discuss with me exclusively the conclusions of Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

Pradyumna showed me a rare Bengali book by a disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta who compiled an encyclopedia on Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. It has hundreds of categories of Vaishnava truths with excerpts from Srila Bhaktivinoda’s explaining what he said on each subject. Some of the references, according to Pradyumna, are even from rare articles by Srila Bhaktivinoda. My hope is to get Pradyumna to translate it and then help him get it published.

Of all the people I know, there is no one who can so expertly conceptualize and express philosophy like Pradyumna. We were completely absorbed in discussion
for the whole two-hour drive.

We first talked about the nature of faith. Pradyumna was studying a book about Loa Tzu and I peeked at the title of an intriguing chapter entitled something like, “Partial Faith is Not Faith at All.” It lead to a very interesting discussion. I am working on a more extensive paper on the subject, but the conclusion of our discussion went something as follows:

Faith is a precursor to knowledge. In other words, certain knowledge, especially that which is numinous, requires a certain implicit acceptance of that knowledge before one can fully understand it. The crux of the guru/disciple relationship in any tradition is therefore faith in the teacher’s authority. This does not by any means promote blind acceptance.

The teacher must encourage inquiry, elicit doubts, and clear those doubts, but if the student becomes selective in his acceptance of his preceptor’s teachings?”I accept this, but not this”?he is doubting not just his own understanding, but his
teacher’s authority itself. His process of learning has thus become empiric and limited. In all mystical traditions, therefore, faith or belief is a prerequisite to understanding.

In this regard, “partial faith is not faith at all” because when one is selective in their acceptance of their teacher’s authority?even if only a small percentage of the time?it really means that one is accepting the authority of their teacher only when their teacher agrees with them. Thus one’s partial faith means that their faith is in their own authority, not their teacher’s, even if one agrees with their teacher 99 percent of the time.

Pradyumna gave a nice example of how partial, or selective, faith is not faith at all. “It’s like saying one has faith in Gaudiya Vaisnavism, but accepting Yasoda and not Nanda, or Krishna, but not Radha. You can’t be faithful to only select tenets of the tradition and then claim to be a faithful adherent of the tradition. You’re not. You’re faithful to a new tradition?your own, not Gaudiya Vaisnavism.”

Pradyumna also gave a nice example describing faith as the foundation of knowledge. He said that just like a building cannot rest if the foundation is not solid, but has cracks or spaces in it, when one’s faith is partial, the edifice of one’s knowledge cannot be built.

In his final analysis Pradyumna described faith as a condition of the mind that is a necessary component of learning and not just a mental conception.

When I mentioned my discussion with Pradyumna to Mahamuni, he offered an example he had just read from William James illustrating this same point?although the example is a bit unusual. William James said that when a boy wants to understand whether a girl loves him, he has to start with the faith that she does, otherwise he could never act in a way to elicit her love and find out.

The role of faith in understanding is a very complex subject and prone to misunderstanding. I feared that in relating our discussion some would certainly misread it. To test if my points were clear, I let Akincana Krishna dasa, who is here at the ashram, read it. He is a critical thinker,and would raise questions and doubts if something wasn’t to his understanding. His response was encouraging. “I’ve always understood this as our philosophy and a basic point in philosophy in general, although it may be a difficult concept for one to accept personally,” he said. “It’s ultimately a question of humility. One needs to be humble enough to accept that there are standard bodies of knowledge and that there are representatives of these teachings that are far more knowledgeable than we are.”

I just read a wonderful explanation about faith by C.S. Lewis:

Training the Habit of Faith

“Faith, in the sense in which I am using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever your reasons takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a ChristianI do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off’, you can never be a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

“The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next step is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time everyday. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of teh Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost theiir faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”

Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York

August 20th, 2001

Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York City

People Profiles I
My best friend from high school, Jan, visited again today. He’s a lawyer on Broadway, so he works nearby. He likes the ashram, and now even visits when I’m not here.

Jan’s a gentle and pious soul, not the usual city folk filled with an indomitable passion to get ahead. Fighting just seems against his nature, so being a New York City lawyer is especially a lot of tension for him. He works honestly, however, to support his wife and two children.

Jan has been a Buddhist for more than twenty years now, but he hasn’t forgotten the powerful experiences of Krishna consciousness in his life, mostly from the times when we used to visit the Henry Street temple in Brooklyn in 1970?a center hopping and buzzing with the fervent enthusiasm of a burgeoning spiritual and social phenomenon, the Hare Krishna Movement. These
remembrances, however, also give him pain. Twenty-five years as a practicing Buddhist and he can’t forget the overwhelming religious experience he had as a
devotee?the ecstasy that flooded his heart, the indelible attraction for bhakti that still remains, and the attraction and devotion for Krishna again awakening within heart with his regular visits to the ashram. His anguish lies over whether the tenets of Buddhism based on non-attachment to thinking are reconcilable with his positive innate attraction for thoughts of Krishna. Ultimately, he decided that Krishna consciousness was an experience that couldn’t and shouldn’t be denied, and that there was no reason that his strain of Zen Buddhism couldn’t accommodate it. I had no argument with that.

At first, however, we would argue. He’s a harmonist by nature, abhorring conflict, so he was disturbed by our discussions because they seemed to put us at odds. I wasn’t trying to be confrontational, but how can intimate friends meet after twenty years and not share their cherished values and conceptions, even when,
from my standpoint, they are in such opposition? After several unpleasant meetings we finally agreed to avoid the strong issues of contention and center our meetings on prasadam. We strongly agreed that the prasadam expertly prepared by Yajna Purusa is always excellent.

Jan often speaks of his overpowering experience of rapture during his first darshan of the Sri Sri Radha-Govinda Deities in New York, an experience that has endured twenty-five years of countless hours and instructions of Zen Meditation. From his portrayal, it fits the descriptions of bhava-bhakti in the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu?the devotional ecstasy that overcomes even a neophyte when he approaches the Deity without offense.

I’ve also had similar experiences of rapture in approaching Krishna consciousness in innocence. I assumed that everyone who came Krishna consciousness had similar encounters. Sometimes, I’ve wondered if devotees today actually have the same experiences, or if there was something very special when Srila Prabhupada was directly at the helm of the Hare Krishna Movement that made such experiences accessible. And ultimately, I believe they do. Otherwise, how have they endured throughout all that’s happened over the last several years?

My talk today with Jan centered on Harikesa, who was also a close friend of his. Following Harikesa’s breakdown he again contacted Jan and they’ve had regular contact since. Meeting two friends after almost thirty years, who both became devotees but whose destiny on the devotional path wound up so variant, intrigues Jan. I listened intently as Jan described his recent two-week visit to Harikesa’s place in France. I was happy that Harikesa seemed less angry and distraught and that he was still a Vaishnava, although his conceptions of Krishna
consciousness are still quite a departure from our tradition. He did tell Jan an interesting story about Srila Prabhupada.

“Harikesa was sitting next to Srila Prabhupada on the airline when a movie about Ravi Shankar began to play. Harikesa was very strict in his Krishna consciousness, but the most difficult thing for him was to give up his guitar and music. He thus began to listen with almost vicarious relief as Ravi Shankar was playing incredible riffs on the sitar, but at the same time feeling the pressure of sitting next to Srila Prabhupada. The thought weighed heavily on his ability to enjoy the music. He closed his eyes and began to relish, hoping against hope that it would be sanctioned. Suddenly he heard the pin of Srila Prabhupada whisper apparently burst the balloon of his attachment. ‘It’s maya!’ Submissively, but disappointedly, Harikesa nodded. Just as he was about to sink to the floor, Srila Prabhupada whispered again, ‘[but it’s] good maya!'”

Five o’clock. Jan has to pick up his daughter at summer camp before returning home. He excuses himself, respectfully pays obeisances to Gaura-Nitai, leaves a
donation, and thanks the devotees. Nice to see an Old friend.

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New York City Getting good

August 14th, 2001

New York City

Getting good feedback for the Humility Meditations. Here’s one that came yesterday from Jaya Gaurasundara Prabhu:

“Pride, like humility, is destroyed by one’s insistence that he possesses it.”

New Ekachakra Dham Another interesting

August 5th, 2001

New Ekachakra Dham

Another interesting day planned on the retreat.

In the morning Mahatma Prabhu spoke on “dying in ecstasy,” the storyof the passing away of Mother Kirtida. I liked his point that Kirtida didn’t waist time trying to make others think she was advanced. She just put all her effort into becoming advanced. I also liked his point that at death you cannot fake Krishna consciousness. Your ability to transcend, or not transcend, by dint of your level of devotion, will be tested and apparent.

As part of the Art Show we drove by a caravan of cars, only five minutes away, where Madan Mohan gave us a tour of the unique, but functionally built, house he is designing for his home. It was interesting how his design seemed to connect an expression of his “self,??? the aesthetic of the environment and his Krishna consciousness all in one space.

We then proceeded to Innisfree Gardens. Instead of a lengthy Vrindaban Parikram, as we did there last time, we only took a short tour of the main garden where we eventually sat in a most idyllic shady place to hear a drama written by Bhakta Alex from the NYU theater department. I had originally asked Yajna Purusa with Alex’s assistance to organize a performance. Unfortunately there was not enough time to get together a presentation, but fortunately the script was ready. Yajna Purusa gave a short introduction to put the drama in context of its place in Gaura Lila and then Alex read his rendition of the chastisement of Mukunda. We were overwhelmed by the quality of the presentation written in perfect iambic pentameter, the standard for Shakespearean Drama:

Lord Caitanya: Dear Friends of fortune cast your eyes on me
Your humble, oh humble, your love held true
Your devoted servant through all of time
Through ages past and ages brought anew
My eyes run piercing tears of solid stream
At thoughts of those gathered with graceful soul
As my heart drifts through a deep ocean dream
For love of God, and all his devotees.
I cry HARI HARI, in chorus pure
With hope that all shall join my song of love
Dance true, let not your aching woes endure
For here is God, and God is here with you.

The drama was well written and dramatically read. The audience was captivated. A lively discussion followed as to why Mukunda was overjoyed when Lord Caitanya announced his final decree that Mukunda would be able to see him after ten million births. The devotees didn’t want to leave, but I had wind things up so the devotees could return for lunch and their journeys back home.

Krishna conscious drama is essential to developing Krishna consciousness.

After explaining and rejecting mixed devotional service, Sri Krishna explains to Uddhava the essence of pure devotional service by quoting from the Srimad Bhagavatam. I was surprised to see the standing of drama in Sri Krishna’s concluding verse highlighting the practice of pure devotional service.

“My dear Uddhava, narrations of My pastimes and qualities are all-auspicious and purify the entire universe. A faithful person who constantly hears, glorifies, and remembers such transcendental activities, who through dramatic performances relives My pastimes beginning with my appearance, and who takes full shelter of Me, dedicating his religious, sensual and occupational activities for My satisfaction, certainly obtains unflinching devotional service to Me, the Eternal Personality of Godhead.” (SB 11.11.23-24, emphasis added)

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New Ekachakra Dham This is

August 4th, 2001

New Ekachakra Dham

This is our second attempt at organizing a weekend retreat. Our prime objective; to give devotees living in the world concentrated periods for Krishna consciousness beyond just hours during the day or week. We also tried something new this retreat, a visual art show of community devotees. Our general objective was to make Krishna consciousness more inclusive. I divided this into three specific objectives:

  1. To encourage individual devotees with artistic talents in the community of Vaisnavas.
  2. To encourage the community of Vaisnavas at large that Krishna consciousness is inclusive of individuality and creativity.
  3. To make Krishna consciousness more accessible to the general public, specifically artists.

Many people who could appreciate the wealth of culture and wisdom in Krishna consciousness perhaps never do because of preconceived notions of what Krishna consciousness is based on the history and how it has been presented. They see it as too restrictive, conformist, or cloistered. Artistic devotees and their visual art, or art in general, could serve as a bridge to communicate Krishna consciousness to such people, especially in the general area around New York City, a region that produces and attracts creative people.

A question arose: Does the art in our show have to be directly Krishna consciousness and traditional? My general opinion: No, although in many ways that’s ideal. Devotees are of different levels of commitment in different stages of their spiritual journey. To restrict their form of visual expression to traditional Krishna conscious art could be repressive to their creative expression, and might alienate those who need such an outlet for their innate creative impulse.

The essence is chanting and hearing about Krishna, but to make people comfortable to interact and participate in a community based on those ideals, they need to see the Krishna conscious community as inclusive, or at least supportive, of their essential – not illicit – attachments.

After the art show and the superb feast we were scheduled to have a discussion about the art show. Mahatma Prabhu was singing beautiful kirtans in the temple to help congregate the devotees. The consensus of the devotees and the artists (let’s do kirtan), however confirmed a certain inkling I had about today’s program. When a religious community takes care of the needs if its members the members become much more serious about their religion.