Archive for January, 2016

Monday Morning Greetings #4 – My Friend, Archbishop John

January 25th, 2016

I was surprised when Archbishop John decided to stay this week in Isopanthi, their Catholic retreat center in Puri, especially as we had rented it out as we do every year for our Bhakti Immersion there. After-all, Archbishop John is the head of all Catholics in Orissa. That means one million Christians and 40 churches are under his care. He told me he was staying to recover from a heart operation. He seemed sincere, but in the back of my mind naturally rested some suspicion.
 
Any apprehension I had of him being with us was soon abated. He took Jagannath prasad one day and even attended our kirtan led by Jahnavi. He smiled and clapped through the whole thing. He mixed with the devotees and effusively glorified our music and devotion to them and also to his visitors, although our daily amplified three or six hour kirtans in the courtyard blared into his room.
 
My room was next to his. We thus had opportunity for many exchanges and talks and I met many of the people visiting him. He never seemed to put himself above anyone and was not pretentious in the least, as were the brothers who managed the center. I could see that John, however, commanded respect, by humility. Unlike too many adherents of faith, his personal culture and that of his brothers reflected the true values of his lineage, in his case the compassion and kindness taught by Christ.
 
I remember when I first met John, I asked him his name. He sheepishly said, that his title is His Grace, but people should just call him John.
 
I admired how he embraced the essence of religion. From the heart he told me:
 
“This is not our center. It is your center. Its belongs to God and we are all brothers.”
 
Meeting John, now my friend, confirmed and reinforced my own understanding of dharma – that dharma, or religion, is not a faith but the nature of the soul. We are not devotees by the label we have, but by the sincere expression of devotion in our heart to God and others. Archbishop John is a genuine devotee. I don’t need to convert him, but need to convert my own heart to humility and dedication.
 

Monday Morning Greetings #3 – Does a fallen soul have to be depressed?

January 18th, 2016

A saintly soul prays in the mood of dhainya, utter humility:
 
“For my own pleasure I never fear to commit any sin. I am devoid of pity and full of selfishness; I’m sorry at others’ happiness and am an inveterate liar. Indeed, I take delight in others’ miseries.” Amara Jivana – Bhaktivinoda Thakur
 
If the great devotees feel likethis, shouldn’t the actually fallen practitioner of bhakti feel depressed and ridden with guilt?
 
Remorse is certainly healthy, but does the sincere and weak need to feel shame? I don’t think so. I found a reference to support this.
 
“Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities.” [emphasis mine] (Bhag. 11.20.27-28)
 
I like the balance. We do need to be humble and repent if we cannot maintain our practices. We shouldn’t, however, embrace the type of shame and excess guilt that is depressive and lowers self esteem, that makes the adoption of spiritual life miserable and debilitating.
 

Monday Morning Greetings #2 – Thoughts in the Shower

January 11th, 2016

Best place I have ever stayed in India. Everything is new, well built, spotless and spacious. A two foot wide covered veranda encircles the fourth floor penthouse protecting the place from sun and rain. And it is quiet, very quiet. I can even see from my window beyond the pakur (pond) and open field the spiral of Sri Caitanya’s birth place. This couldn’t be better for my meditation and study. That being said there is also a beautiful simplicity to the place. The water is solar heated. It works pretty well, except for the morning bath following an overcast day, which brings me to my point:

The shower this morning wasn’t cozy. The water was tepid and the room cold. When I got out there was some discomfort. It was a good chance to practice what I preach, tapasya, neglecting the irrational impulses of the mind and body. Understanding that ultimately happiness and distress is just in the mind, I mentally abstracted myself from the situation. By practicing tapasya I was not affected by any discomfort. A thought came: Shouldn’t I do the same in a delicious steaming shower in my usual comfy heated room? Shouldn’t I just enjoy? Ahhhh! No! I should abstract myself in both situations. I should be equal in happiness and distress. Why?

The body is a place of suffering. Think of the myriad diseases that threaten us, think of inevitable old age and ultimately the loss everything dear, the pain of death. For every unneeded indulgence, for every excess and unnecessary adjustment for comfort, for every deviance from our quota to keep the body and soul together, we dive deeper into the bodily concept of life. We then not only absorb ourselves in petty pleasure, but also feel the natural discomforts and agonies of the body more. A pinch of pain is felt more than a ton of pleasure. Are the indulgent, unneeded, and unnecessary excesses of life worth it? Should we thus not also extract ourselves from those excesses so that at the end of life we can abstract ourselves from the agony of the temporary body and think of Krishna? Just some thoughts in the shower.

Monday Morning Greetings #1 – Reviving Greetings from Vrindavan

January 4th, 2016

January 1, 2016

My last journal entry was more than six years ago. Many people inquired why I stopped journaling and implored me to continue. I’ll try, but I have doubts if this is what I should be doing now. Times have changed. When I started the journals seventeen years ago, by fate I had time on my hands.  Often, especially in Vrindavan, I wouldn’t see a soul until late afternoon. Today there is not a day that goes by that I am not hosting a group, a contact, or a friend. Not only has my destiny changed, but my mood has changed as well. My chanting has substantially increased and I am more and more comfortable in the inner world. Journaling puts the camera on your life. It is not quite reality TV, but an intrusion of privacy nonetheless. Journaling puts one too much on stage, at least in my mind. When journaling I tend to see the world to retell it, tinged subconsciously in the identity that I am the center, the hero. Is that good for bhakti?  Those are my doubts, but I have decided to give it a try anyway. After all, I am a preacher. My duty is to be out front, so why shy from the spotlight when what I have to say can help others? As far intruding on my privacy and stroking my ego, I will try my best to do it in a way that is more consistent with my spiritual aspirations. Expect postings once a week on Mondays. Looking forward to seeing you next week.
 
Dhanurdhara Swami