Archive for September, 2001

Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York

September 17th, 2001

Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York City

This is my last emergency journal as I am leaving this afternoon. I wasn’t able to send one yesterday due to the distraction caused by VD. I wrote him personally and received somewhat of an apology and so many letters of support and appreciation for the journal arrived that had to be attended to. Here’s a short message of appreciation from my esteemed god-brother His Holiness Giriraj Swami that also offers some insight on the tragedy from the Bhagavatam.

“Dear Maharaja,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I very much appreciated your timely response to our recent calamity.

Thank you.

balasya neha saranam pitarau nrsimha
nartasya cagadam udanvati majjato nauh
taptasya tat-pratividhir ya ihanjasestas
tavad vibho tanu-bhrtam tvad-upeksitanam

“My Lord Nrsimhadeva, O Supreme, because of a bodily conception of life, embodied souls neglected and not cared for by You cannot do anything for their betterment. Whatever remedies they accept, although perhaps temporarily beneficial, are certainly impermanent. For example, a father and mother cannot protect their child, a physician and medicine cannot relieve a suffering patient, and a boat on the ocean cannot protect a drowning man.” (SB 7.9.19)

Hare Krishna. Hare Krishna.

Your servant,
Giriraj Swami”

Maybe the most interesting response was from Jan Potemkin, a high school friend who is also a recipient of the journal. Jan is a lawyer on Broadway, a practicing Buddhist, a gentle and pious man, and a very independent thinking and perceptive person. He was fascinated by the flurry of exchanges concerning VD and I thought his outside, and therefore certainly neutral response, would be of particular interest to the reader. It’s quite insightful:

“I’m glad to hear all is well with you and the ashram, and I found the last few journal entries interesting. I was a little surprised that you put the whole exchange with VD, but it was certainly interesting.

“Your letters contain several examples of caring and compassion. You advised one devotee to gently point out to his mother (?) that Krishna consciousness has given him some help in coping with this disaster.

“However, I can understand that there must have been devotees who have made light of people’s ‘material’ difficulties. ‘Just chant’ is sometimes not correct advice. Maybe VD had some bad experience in the past like that. Or maybe he is exhibiting what is called transference of emotional response. He can’t express his anger about the terrorists so he lets it out inappropriately. Or maybe he is mad at you for some other reason. Or maybe he is mad at Krishna?

“At any rate, the whole exchange was interesting.”

To help VD I sent a copy of Jan’s letter to him. He acknowledged his insights and sent the following reply:

“I appreciate what the Broadway lawyer wrote about my message. I definitely have baggage towards ISKCON and Guru that is transferring. That makes it hard to be sensitive.”

Sriman Satyaraja Prabhu will be happy with VD’s acknowledgement. He just returned to the city yesterday, read the journals, sent a short message of appreciations and then added:

“I applaud Mahamuni Prabhu’s fair and even compassionate assessment of Vic, and I would only add that Vic should now be humble enough to reconsider his statements and offer a public apology (unless he has already done so). I wish him all the best and pray for his progress in Krishna consciousness.”

I have never lived so close to such a magnitude of agony. It affects you. There was not a day here upon rising that I didn’t think of the suffering here and grieve for the anguish it caused.

I visited 26 2nd Ave on Friday. It was the first time I saw many of the congregation. The disaster touched several of them personally as they lost lose friends who worked at the World Trade Center.

Several had tales of horror. Yogesh, an administrator at the World Financial Center, 160 feet from the World Trade Towers, was stepping off the ferry a thousand feet away when the first plane crashed. When the first building collapsed he ran with his fellow workers quickly back towards the Hudson River. Several of his colleagues just jumped directly into the river. I cannot describe the horrors he saw next to him as the building crashed and the debris flew wildly in all directions.

Donia Salem left her room in midtown Manhattan in the evening for fresh air when all of a sudden the Empire State Building was being evacuated. When she looked back, she saw the police also running. She was chased all the way to the FDR Drive and then told to move uptown, leaving her homeless at 10:30 at night, a frightening experience for a young twenty-two year old student just two weeks living in New York City. Fortunately, a family friend gave her shelter.

Some were miraculously saved. Ed Keenan was politicked out of a job on the 92nd floor of the South Building a few months before, and then soon after lost a job on the 82nd floor of the North Building.

I am running short of time here to write something more. There is so much more to say. Seeing what happened, sensing the distress it caused, dealing with the uncertainty and fear it caused, and answering the deep metaphysical questions that such a magnitude of torment brings concerning the nature of God, practically the whole philosophy of Krishna consciousness was brought to life.

You will hear from me again soon, and perhaps this will be discussed further. Soon other journals that were put on hold will be sent out. I thank you all for the many letters I’ve received with your support and insights.

My flight to India on Thursday was cancelled.

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” – John Steinbeck

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Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York

September 13th, 2001

Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York City

“The drowning man is not troubled by rain” (Persian Proverb)

We worry about such trivial things. In the face of calamity such worries seem petty. The Bhagavatam teaches that we are always facing impending disaster?that everyman is “the man who is about to die”? and thus our daily worries are always trifling.

The Bhagavad Gita says that the wise lament neither for the living nor the dead. Does that mean devotees are callous to suffering? No. However, we do not lament for the inevitable. Dying is inevitable no matter what form it takes. What we do lament for is the real cause of suffering – identification with the body due to ignorance. Out of compassion we therefore try to enlighten others with real knowledge.

Some devotees asked if we should volunteer to help with the rescue effort in New York or perform other welfare work. They cited the example of Cardinal Egan of the Roman Catholic Church who was immediately at St Vincent’s Hospital, the main trauma center, lending his support. It is a religious principle to help save life and devotees should not be callous (see SB 10.1.48). It is a principle of devotional service that one should not give unnecessary pain to any living entity (see devotional principle eighteen in the Nectar of Devotion). Bhakti requires a soft heart, so we should be cautious to avoid coldness in the name of brahma jnana (introspection and philosophy). Srila Bhaktisiddanta thus instructed his grhastha disciples not to pass a beggar in need without giving them something. We are not needed, however, in New York to be rescuers of the body. We suffer for the pain of others and perform the more important duty of comforting and enlightening people with real knowledge.

A prominent NY psychologist advises, “People are in trauma because they are losing control of their lives. They need to sense some certainly in life, a situation where they can again sense that they are in control of their lives. They should be with their families and loved ones.”

I appreciate his sentiments from a standpoint of psychology, but it is a shallow view of reality. Are people ever in control of their lives? Doesn’t attachment to family just foster the illusion that this temporary life full of misery is our eternal position? Sukadeva Goswami advises:

“Persons devoid of atma-tattva do not inquire into the problems of life, being too attached to the fallible soldiers like the body, children and wife. Although sufficiently experienced, they still so not see their inevitable destruction.” (SB 2.1.4)

A devotee offered me an interesting theory on how newspapers in New York correspond with the four varnas (occupational duties). The Times is for brahmanas and ksatriyas, the Wall Street Journal for vaisyas, the Daily News for the sudras, and the Post for the untouchables. It’s an amusing theory.

It was hard to find a newspaper today as delivery trucks are not allowed below 14th street. A friend could only find the NY Post. I listened and thought about my friend’s theory as he shared some excerpts from their main editorial condemning terrorism and recommending action in the language of the common New Yorker.

EVIL BASTARDS KILLED THEM ALL [headline]
America bleeds. This is war. It needs to be prosecuted as such. The men behind the men who rained havoc on New York and Washington need to be called to account. The heavens need to fall on their heads. They need to bleed. Not next month. Not next week. Now. Cast a wide enough net, and you’ll catch the fish that need catching. And it is inconceivable that American Military intelligence – working with allies like Britain and Israel – doesn’t know where the big fish run. So locate them. Pinpoint them. Bomb them. And then bomb their smoldering rubble – one more time! They believe that they are on a fast track to Heaven. Which is fine. Dispatch enough of them on the journey with no return, and this war will end quickly enough. Bombs away.

I saw today the transcript of a lecture that His Holiness Radhantha Swami gave two days ago. It was a very brilliant and balanced exposition on the situation. Not discounting the appropriate proper military response to the terrorists, his lecture pinpointed the real cause of crime and terrorism – hate and envy in the heart. In that sense we all must share the blame for the tragedy.

I really appreciate Maharaja’s analysis. It’s something we may not want at this time to preach outside, but we cannot forget that collective sinful activity is the ultimate cause of calamity. The appropriate response to what happened can be viewed from different levels. I reflect on something I remember hearing Srila Prabhupada say from the standpoint of Varnasrama in terms of the duty of a statesman response to terrorism.

When some American soldiers were attacked in Cambodia 30 years ago, Srila Prabhupada was asked what the proper response would be. Reflecting in the mood of ksatriya leader he said something like, “If America became Krishna consciousness they would say, ‘If you harm one hair on the head of our man there will be fight!”

In conclusion we are all responsible. As long as sin and hate remain in our hearts there will be sinful reactions and disaster. The best response to calamity is to cleanse one’s heart….. and then kill those bastards!

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“It kept getting worse.”

September 12th, 2001

Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York City

Luke showed up at the door at eleven o’clock this morning and brought the New York Times. The opening sentence of its lead article (above) explained it all. Luke lives on 6th two blocks away so I joked with him, “It takes a national tragedy for you to visit the ashram.” Luke, however, was unusually somber. His mother was visiting his disabled sister at her Battery Park City apartment yesterday next to the World Trade Center. They were watching the burning towers and nearly got stampeded as they were literally forced to the ground by the power of the collapse before the mad rush began. He was initially in contact them, but didn’t hear from them again until evening when they were finally evacuated from the area by tugboat to the midtown pier on the Hudson River. He was still somewhat shaken from yesterday and we talked for some time.

At eleven o’clock I began my daily walk. The roads are now completely desolate, most shops and businesses closed, the quietude uncanny. It’s a once in a lifetime New York sans passion, no running here and there. People are sad, but the mode in New York is so much more peaceful. I pass the regal Middle Collegiate Church on 2nd Ave. Its doors are surprisingly wide open, as are every church I eventually passed this morning, welcoming the distressed souls for shelter. As I stop and curiously look inside a man standing on the steps, about sixty, casually and neatly dressed, wearing a baseball cap, looks up and sincerely invites me in to pray. A few people in the front pews sit with heads down. I sit in the back and chant on beads quietly appreciating a sacred space and praying for Krishna’s mercy.

I return to the ashram. There’s a phone call from Akincan Krishna. He asks,”My mother is falling apart and wants to see me. Should I see it as an opportunity to help her understand God consciousness? She has been so averse to religion that she immediately becomes indignant and shuts off even at the mention of it”

I advise. “Try to increase her understanding, but be sensitive to her trauma. There is no set formula. Judge the situation and apply your intelligence accordingly. Perhaps tell her that you also find it difficult, but the knowledge and insight you’ve gained by philosophy and theology enable you to cope with such difficulties. You may try to explain that all bona-fide creeds of spirituality and wisdom teach that stability and happiness lie not in our destiny (which is beyond our power) but in our perspective and response to it (which is in our control).

I check my email. There’s a lot of response to the journal sent yesterday on the disaster here. I read:

“I hope this does not lead to a full scale war, we will have to pray hard for calm amongst the countries, the world is now so far away from the simplistic life that once reigned on this planet.”

Why is there such widespread fear and insecurity? We have come to this world for material enjoyment and naturally use our environment for that purpose. Unsurprisingly, after a time, in any environment, as we learn more and more to employ and view it selfishly, we become attached. (By the covering potency of Maya even Indra, the king of heaven, became attached to his filth when cursed to take birth as a hog) As our world moves beyond our control by the force of destiny, we live in constant fear, especially in calamity, where our environment rapidly changes in a manner threatening our attachments. When such alterations foretell permanent hanges in our life, the fear is especially strong.

A devotee is detached. He is satisfied with God’s will regardless of what that means to his comforts and pleasures. He is thus sober and satisfied in all circumstances, beyond duality. Srila Prabhupada’s Godbrother, Srila Sridhara Swami, therefore offered us the very deep but relevant aphorism:

“If you’re not optimistic, you’re an atheist.”

Without Srila Prabhupada I would be just another fearful soul swept in uncertainty by the force of time. I offer my respectful obeisances to my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who kindly bestowed upon me the elixir of transcendental knowledge.

9/11

September 11th, 2001

Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York City

I am trying to see the world through the eyes of sastra and then relate that view for others. The scene outside is so devastating that its difficult to just be analytical. Should I? An hour ago I was standing on east 4th and bowery. The roads are practically desolate except for the rushing of fire trucks, ambulances and police cars screeching in an endless procession to and from the West Side. Except for the constant sirens there is almost an eerie silence everywhere. Throngs of New Yorkers are hurriedly walking north almost like refugees in their own city, several covered completely in ash, even though the World Trade Center is burning to the southwest nearly forty blocks away. A young middle class women weeping uncontrollably runs past me into to middle of the street to embrace an ashen covered businessman, evidently her husband. She has been anxiously waiting in front of her apartment since news of the disaster broke, not sure if her husband was dead or alive.

Just yesterday I was again thinking that I am the controller, that my destiny is in my hands, and that the world I live in is an eternal reality under my control. What an illusion! A whole city was turned topsy-turvy in a second by the will of God, despite so-called plan makers and world organizers. What then is the stability of my little world and what power and intelligence do I have to control it.

With hundreds of other pedestrians Akincana Krishna was watching the World Trade Towers burn from Mercer and 4th street. He watched in shock as it suddenly crumbled and watched the onlookers crumble in heart with it. It was horrible. The most inauspicious thing that I every saw”, he said somberly as he entered the ashram for shelter. His mother calls and starts crying uncontrollably, ” I fear for the danger of humanity! I don’t knowwhat’s happening! My son is trapped in Manhattan like a prisoner!” People are so much shaken as their environment and comforts have moved forcibly and controllably beyond their control, and they fear it is a shift with lifetime consequences.

Queen Kunti prayed for such calamity as such adversity brings one closer to reality. What is that reality? God and God’s energies! Everything else is an illusion. We tend to see that more clearly when the world we embrace shockingly reveals its impermanence.What does this mean for devotees? Hopefully, it means a reality check. Am I accepting material life as my eternal life and my present body as the eternal self? Am I overly attached to that illusion and thus investing too much of my energies in it, although such life has no endurance and is thus unreal? Am I endeavoring for real life, Krishna consciousness.

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