Archive for August, 2003

Be Faithful

August 23rd, 2003

Vrndavana

Note: Every year when my disciples celebrate my Vyasa Puja, I write a separate series of journal entries for them (one a day for a week) to be read on Vyasa Puja. I am including one of the entries for the subscribers of the journal. It is therefore dated last month when it was written.

– Dhanurdhara Swami

Be Faithful (Through Submissive Hearing)

To learn truth, one must submissively hear from a bona fide teacher. This is a tough one for the modern mind, even for devotees. Faith, however, is the precursor to all knowledge. Unless you seriously consider a truth, how will you ever understand it?

For example, if you enter a classroom to learn about the composition of water but do not have enough faith in your teacher to perform the experiment under his guidance, then how will you be able to confirm that H2O is water? At the gurukula in Vrndavana, there is a master teacher of mrdanga named Bablu. Serious students learn from him with unquestioned faith. They accept what he says implicitly and learn quickly. Could they possibly learn what he has mastered without unquestioned faith?

The same process of faithful hearing holds true for spiritual knowledge. Without implicit faith in a spiritual master, can we learn spiritual truth and become realized?

Our problem is that we are conditioned to filter whatever we hear though our intelligence, which is blindly faithful to the cumulative experience of our upbringing, education, emotions, fears, and so on. It?s a highly limited method of processing information and it will certainly not help us to see God in the world, the highest perception of reality.

We must therefore hear with faith from a bona fide guru, to be molded in mind and heart through his instructions. There is no other way to accurately process what we perceive as the highest reality. If we are habituated by pride, however, constantly judging the validity of those instructions through the filter of our conditioned intelligence, we are doomed to our present worldview. Are we happy with that vision? Is that a vision that is giving us success in life, freeing us from fear and suffering?

I can hear your filter of knowledge protesting my instructions: ?I will not be a blind follower!? Yes, if you heard me recommend blind following, then you should immediately question what I said, because a guru does not want blind followers. If you hear without proper understanding, then what is the benefit of your hearing? It is the responsibility of the guru to encourage thoughtfulness and to clear all doubts, but if in the name of thoughtfulness we block the ability of the teacher to help mold our intelligence by a higher process of understanding, then we are wasting our time in spiritual life.

Srila Prabhupada explains this brilliantly in Bhagavad-gita, 4.34, the verse about approaching a spiritual master. Please read this short excerpt carefully. There?s a lot here:

?In this verse both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned. One should not only submissively hear from the spiritual master, but one must get a clear understanding from him, by submission and service.?

Prabhupada tells us to ?get a clear understanding,? but don?t become your own authority. Hear with faith and submission. Otherwise, you will never learn the truth.

I can this say with conviction, because I have accepted guru with faith. Yes, there are things that Srila Prabhupada said that I have difficulty understanding and won?t accept blindly. I wish he were here so that I could question him to get a clear understanding. But I won?t let a few details obstruct his teachings, my faith in them, or my desire to mold my heart and mind by them.

I discussed the concept of submissive hearing with Mahamuni in relation to his studies of the Anglican Church. He sent me something written by John Henry Newman, one of their great scholars, which profoundly expresses the same point. It went something like this. Please just try to grasp the essence of this statement without being sidetracked by the details:

?Even if the local priest says something wrong, it?s better to be molded by the tradition than to get stuck on the details and not see God. Afterward, we can discuss the details.?

Is what I said clear? No? Then get a clear understanding. I?m eager to hear from you.

The Big Black Snake Again: Entering the Dhama 2003

August 19th, 2003

Vrndavana

We live in a world that we falsely view as a productof our desires and fears. Because everyone sees theworld differently, we conflict with those who share
our world.

For example, before getting married, the husband and wife have exclusive control of their living space. But after marriage, they are thrust into a shared space.
The question then arises: How should that space look, especially when the husband and wife come from varied backgrounds with opposing tastes and wants? A fight frequently ensues for control until the stronger partner wins. Sometimes one of the partners comes to the conclusion that their mate no longer matches what they had envisioned them to be at the time of their fleeting romance. Frustrated, they might even try to transform their partner or seek a new one more agreeable to their conceit.

Entering the dhama means relinquishing such narcissism?the tendency to see the world as if it only exists for oneself?for Vrndavana is an eternal reality
moving exclusively for the pleasure of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna. To reside here is to implicitly make the claim, ?I will live in the dhama only for service!?

To test the integrity of our assertion, the Lord, through His internal potency, sometimes moves things in the dhama against our self-absorbed interest. We are forced to question ourselves: Do I want to stay in a place where I have no control, a place that exists solely for the pleasure of God?

My test usually comes on the first day with the appearance, real or imaginary, of the big black snake at Kesi-ghata (see my previous journals, dated October 24-31, 2001 and October 5, 2002, for an explanation).

First Test
This year it wasn?t a big black snake, but there was definitely something black. It started with a dream: I was standing by a great ocean, something like the one in Puri. Bhurijana Prabhu was there along with a revered unknown Vrndavana sadhu, a person I wanted to please. The waves of that ocean continually washed up a huge black fish the size of a dolphin. Thinking that the sadhu would be entertained, I tried to show him this phenomenon, but I could not catch his attention.

In my waking state, I asked Bhurijana Prabhu what he thought this meant. He said that he didn?t know much about dreams, but from what little he did know, he thought the ocean might represent the subconscious and the black fish could be the shadow, or dark side of the subconscious. The black fish coming to shore is thus the dark side of oneself emerging from the subconscious.

His analysis made sense to me. Coming to Vrndavana means to become purified of the false ego, the pretentious self. We think we are devotees, but scratch beyond the mask of pretension and the ugly face of egocentrism arises.

If by coming to Vrndavana I can identify and rid myself of the false ego, the sadhus will be pleased and I may gain entrance into the dhama.

Second Test
Coming here on the plane, Mikey told me how he wanted to arrive in Vrndavana with nothing as a sign of his insignificant position. Nice thought. Saci-Suta, his friend and well-wisher, however, insisted that he take Saci?s sleeping bag. Mikey was very appreciative, but he told me that he would have been happier if he could have come with nothing.

You get the karma of those that you are with. When we alight from our plane in Delhi I see my name, ?Dennis Winiker,? on the Passenger Service Board, requesting me to report to their desk at baggage claim. We are informed that none of our luggage made the plane in London. We are entering Vrndavana, on the wish of Mikey, with only the clothes on our back.

Third Test
I am sitting in my room, chanting japa. Fatigued from jetlag, I sit in an uncharacteristic pose for japa?lying in a bamboo chair with my feet resting on the bed. Clunk! Something lands on the thin cotton chadar just over my right shoulder. On first thought, I assumed it was a ?tik-tik,? the small harmless lizard. On second thought, however, I thought, it?s much too big! I bolt from my seat and whip my shoulder forward, thrusting the creature to the floor. It was a huge gruesome black bat! The bat, which seems to represent the shadow of my subconscious, then flies hideously around the room and mysteriously disappears. In 30 years I have never seen a bat in a room. What is Krishna telling me?

Fourth Test
Mikey comes to help me with my Giriraja-puja. I ask him to go downstairs to pick tulasi and flowers. I am peacefully halfway through my prayers, enjoying the first worship of Giriraja in Vrndavana, when I hear a rumble outside my door followed by a scream. ?Krishna! Krishna!? I leap from my asana, grab my cane, and open the door. Mikey is backed into a corner by a horde of vicious monkeys and he is barely keeping them at bay by wildly flailing the front of his dhoti before them. I flail my own cane and miss the monkeys, grazing Mikey?s nose, before quickly pulling him inside, bolting the door as the mad monkeys try to push their way in.

Evidently, while going downstairs, Mikey passed a baby monkey crying on the stairs. The mother of that monkey, thinking that Mikey was the cause of the baby?s cries, became livid and returned with two friends to confront him.

?It was pretty scary,? Mikey said. ?More scary then when my head was busted open and bloodied last December with a three-foot crowbar when I was walking through the ghetto in North Philadelphia.?

I told him the little monkey attack reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock?s ?The Birds,? the scariest movie I ever saw. ?Yeah, like that,? he said.

Quite an entrance test, but Mikey humbly assures me that he?s passed the rites of passage by invoking the attitude for entering Vraja: ?Whatever it takes, Maharaja. Vrndavana is my only hope.?

Note: Srila Prabhupada said that, in terms of visiting Vrndavana, a devotee should stay for ?three days or three years.? I take that to mean that it is easier to maintain a humble service mood if you visit for a short pilgrimage, but for those who stay longer, there should be a serious commitment to service. I find that these tests often come when one makes the claim to reside longer and not on short pilgrimages, where it is exciting and easy to keep focus. On our short pilgrimage, we also enter Vrndavana by first going to through Mayapur, where offenses are forgiven. This is the recommended method for going to Vrndavana.

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New York City When New

August 14th, 2003

New York City

When New York Turned Into Vrndavana
When I was a young child, not more than six years ofage, my father would occasionally show up at my door at bedtime, poke his head in, and ask in a fatherly manner, ?Where was Moses when the lights went out?? Whether I responded reasonably??In the dark!??or remained silent in protest, the result was the same: I was soon in the dark. And no matter how much my desire to stay up late was foiled, deep down I enjoyed the affectionate exchange with my dad.

Affectionate exchanges are life. Without them, the heart closes and the soul dries; neurosis consumes us. Therefore, the perfect place is Vrndavana?an anti-psychotic world where everything moves for the purpose of selfless intense affection, called rasa.

In contrast, New York is devoid of rasa. Here, the selfless loving spirit is overwhelmed by the vain pursuit of wealth, fame, and sex appeal. Even those intelligent enough to escape this frenzied passion are certain to be distracted from meaningful relationships by the lure of the lonely world of computers, the busy chatter of cell phones, or the insanity of multimedia. How unfortunate to mistake such loneliness for real community?

Today I sat peacefully on the Upper East Side as the plug of passion was pulled in New York and much of the Northeast?something to do with a malfunction on the Northern Grid.

Factually, however, the Northern Grid is a glitch on normal life. I thus celebrated today as the day when non-electricity was restored to the world. With great relief, I observed:

* A peaceful and quiet environment
* With people sitting on their stoops
* Talking to their neighbors
* Helping one another
* Sharing meaningful relationships
* Manifesting community
* Enjoying real life as New York turned into Vrndavana

A final thought: Today?s power outage ironically blossomed with rasa?just as the ?lights off? of my childhood incongruously flourished with affection.

We Shall Overcome (Our Weaknesses by Honesty and Humility)

August 1st, 2003

Recently, while visiting Towaco, Bhurijana Prabhu was asked a question on how to rid oneself of personal weaknesses. I liked his thoughtful reply. ?The first thing is to recognize them,? he said, ?and then decide which ones we can renounce. We should be humble about the weaknesses we are sincerely unable to give up and proceed in our efforts to become Krishna conscious.?

It was a simple answer, but it made me question my own approach. Do I at times inadvertently preach the ideals in a way that makes Krishna consciousness seem impractical and ridden with guilt? Are there sincere devotees who become overtly disturbed by their inability to practice Krishna consciousness strictly, even when particular injunctions may be beyond their realization to follow at this point in time? I recalled a thoughtful question asked of me at recent lecture:

?Should we judge righteousness as the impeccable practice of Krishna consciousness or the sincere endeavor to move toward that goal from our present platform of realization??

In this regard, another incident came to mind. While I was living in the Brooklyn temple in the mid-?90s, some of the asrama devotees were going across the street every Sunday morning to join a basketball game. A visiting sannyasi, who saw them playing, gave a heavy class the next morning indicating that these devotees had broken the regulative principles. After all, he reasoned, one of Srila Prabhupada?s early lists of the regulative principles associated frivolous sports with gambling. Afterward, I had to comfort one poor soul who was very shaken by the class, assuring him that their mistake was not the same as if they had eaten meat or taken intoxication. However, I was also upset that the devotees had violated the standards of asrama life.

I see things a little more liberally now. There have been too many examples of devotees prematurely renouncing aspects of their life only to be haunted by those same attachments years later.

We cannot gain deep spiritual realization, however, until our determination is unwavering. A few months ago, I had a nice talk with a ?pandit? who highlighted this point by sharing an interesting analysis on the seminal verse from the Padma Purana that states that?atah sri krsna namadi?Krishna can only be known by devotional service, not the blunt material senses. Commenting on the words ?sevon mukhe? (the term used for devotional service in that verse), he put his hands like blinders on the sides of his head and moved them back and forth. Indicating an unwavering fixedness on a goal with this hand motion, he said, ?Srila Prabhupada stressed determined service focused on the order of the spiritual master.? Therefore, ?sevon muhke? refers to service that unswervingly faces the directions of the spiritual master. (Mukhe literally means ?in the face? or ?directly.?) He stressed his point further by moving his head left and right, indicating a confused or irresolute mood, while remarking, ?Devotional service is sevon mukhe, not bahir muhke!? (Bahir means ?external? or ?turning the face away?).

The acarya must therefore set spiritual standards to help us remain fixed on the goal. They also know the nature our minds; that we want to enjoy independent of God without guilt. We thus seek justification for our lack of surrender by using concessions as sanctions to avoid renunciation. Therefore, the acaryas preach the proper standards without compromise.

Although Bhurijana?s answer was, in one sense, an allowance for certain failures, it is not a compromise. In many ways, it demands tough surrender (if we are sincere). We have to be honest enough to recognize and rid ourselves of the indulgences we can relinquish and humble enough, without cheating, to admit our helplessness to surmount those we can?t. It also offers an effective means that empowers us to not only conquer those frailties, but the root of all failings, our own pride?namely, the humble mood of a Vaisnava that enables us to depend on Krishna and beg His mercy. I liked his thoughtful reply, but in good conscience I can?t conclude my article here at its natural ending without a final word of caution.

The test for whether we may have to humbly accept a concession to the strictest standards of Krishna consciousness is whether or not one?s decision to do so is supported by a strong desire to please guru and Krishna. In other words, is it a humble step back to help us move forward with strength toward pure devotion? Or is it a selfish and lazy indulgence?

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