Archive for April, 2016

Monday Morning Greetings #17 – Enternot

April 25th, 2016

Enternot! What a nice play on the word internet by the poet Madan Oppenheimer. Everything has a utility. I say that for those who will shoot back after my post, “But you are using the internet to make this post!”
 
Disclaimer: I am not against its use, but rather its abuse, and we may even have to consider if its abuse outweighs its use.
 
For those of you that go back to the Sixties, the famous sociologist Marshal McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message”. He argued that the nature of the medium you use has a greater affect on you than the content it communicates. I think everyone has to thoughtfully weigh what one is getting out of the internet to determine whether the content they get outweighs the affect it has on one’s consciousness. I did.
 
I now use the internet for email, to check the news once a week, and occasionally google a piece of information, as I did for the spelling and refresher understanding of Marshal McLuhan. Others may require more for their service, but everyone should be very sincere and cautious about its use, especially serious spiritual aspirants.
 
For those who are serious spiritual aspirants we should especially be aware of the internet’s susceptibility to foster prajalpa (idle talk), one of the six main obstacles to the growth of bhakti. Prajalpa also includes frivolous news and politics (almost all news and politics). And the real danger of prajalpa is that it usually becomes parā-doṣānusandhana – finding faults with others, the general subject matter of idle talks. And there is nothing that distances oneself from awakening of the heart of divine love than sādhu-nindā, the propensity to carelessly criticize others, especially those committed on the spiritual path.
 
In regard to the internet I want to share with you two pieces on the subject matter. The first is Madan Oppenheimer’s poem Enternot, which serves as the title of this essay. The second is a piece I wrote ten years ago when my computer broke called “Windows to the Material World” – a play on the computer software “Windows” and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s statement where he called the beautiful paintings on the wall at the foot of his bed “windows to the spiritual world“.
 
First Madan’s poem and then a link to my article “Windows to the Material World”.
 
Enternot
  
Dot communists everywhere
Invasion on a grand scale
Too much information too quick
Check your head when you check your email
  
They come disguised as friends and well-wishers
You’ve never had less time to think
This fruit of man’s progress looks good on the surface
But inside it’s toxic and stinks
 
If I give in
And I hope that I don’t
I’ll log on to forgiveme.com
   
But until then
You’ll find me on the run
From the fallout of dot-commie bombs
 
My essay: “Windows to the Material World”
 

I guess the message is simple:
 
Beware Of Computer.
 
Enter at Your Own Risk!
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #16 – The Mother, the Mind, and Food

April 18th, 2016

Note: For this Monday Morning Greeting I am republishing a re-edited version of one of my favorite articles.
 
The Mother, the Mind, and Food
  
Recently my mother related to me how she was advising her daughter-in-law who had become overwhelmed with the responsibilities of her family and job. She quoted to her a Yiddish saying that her own mother told her when my mother was raising my two brothers and myself.
 
“It will all soon pass”.
 
Now that my students have children, and I am often living among them, and see the sacrifice they are making, I have become more aware of the great sacrifice my mother made in raising us. Somehow, until my mother recently told me her advice to her daughter-in-law that alluded to her own struggles as a mother raising young children, I never realized that she also underwent a similar sacrifice taking care of us. When she told me, my immediate reaction was to feel bad for the pain that I caused her by the insensitive way I joined the Hare Krishna movement (although I, of course, have no regrets with the fact that I joined). I have to say that seeing the sacrifice my students have made raising their own children my admiration for motherhood has soared over the last few years!
 
 
A realization I recently gained from astrology about motherhood increased this appreciation more. In astrology different planets and different houses are the karaka, or main indicators, for the prominent aspects of ones life. For example, we can look to the position of the sun and the strength of the ninth house for the nature of ones relationship with the father. The tenth house deals with one’s occupation, and Jupiter ones wisdom, guru or religiosity. In the same way, the moon and fourth house indicate ones mother. What struck me is the fact that the moon and the fourth house are also the indicators of the mind. As the mother and the mind have the same exact karaka, astrology shows that the strength of one’s relationship with one’s mother, the nurturing aspect of ones life, is also the main determining factor for ones strength of mind.
 
When we say, “mind”, in this context, we are also referring simultaneously to what we call the heart. A strong mind thus means that one can both freely express, and when needed control, ones feelings. In other words, a person with a good mind is thus openhearted and secure, but at the same disciplined. They can thus also control their mind, make decisions, and think clearly. A good mind (heart) is thus the foundation of properly relating, communicating, and learning, the emblems of culture.
 
An interesting incident last year reinforced this realization about the correlation between the mother and the mind. His Holiness Radhanatha Swami asked me to accompany him to place his mother’s ashes in the Yamuna. From the soberness and attentiveness he gave to this task, I could sense his gratitude and strong relationship with his mother, although he is a monk and is certainly a detached person. I was also told later about the positive influence his mother had on his life. As I reflected on the nature of his good heart, his ability to be openhearted and loving, and also the strength of his mind, his ability to remain fixed and undisturbed, it further dawned on me the strong connection between the nature of ones mind and the quality of the nurturing influences in one’s early life.
 
This understanding is also confirmed by my observation of those lacking formative nurturing influences. Years ago I was dealing with a person in Vrindavan who had all the signs of serious clinical depression. He was gradually losing touch with reality and needed serious mental health care. It took me months of pushing to finally get the temple authorities to seek professional consultation. Afterwards, I spoke to one of the leaders, a very cultured Indian, and told him frankly that he could never understand the need for psychiatric care because he had a loving mother at home who fed him. I also knew his mother and how close they were. He was startled by my statement, and told me I was absolutely right. He related to me that when he would sometimes read in the newspaper how the rich and famous were depressed he would say to himself “what is this depression?” He had absolutely no personal frame of reference to understand it. We then discussed how much the sense of being loved in a family is transferred through the serving and taking of meals affectionately prepared by a loving mother, and especially how the children were inoculated against insecurity and depression by the love and security impressed within them by this loving exchange.
 
As a person’s real success is based on one’s strength of mind, there is, in a sense, a mother behind every successful man. As the strength of a society is the character of its people, which is this strength of mind, it goes without saying how essential motherhood is to the proper development of society. Thank you mothers!
 
*Although the nurturing influences in one’s life is the most significant factor in the development of ones mind (heart), even if this is lacking it can be compensated for, or rectified, by other factors, like training and other forms of personal development, especially by cultivating a loving relationship with God and His devotees. Similarly, even if those nurturing influences are there, the mind can be disturbed by other factors such as sinful reactions from bad karma or traumatic experiences. However, the effect of the appropriate nurturing in childhood on the development of one’s mind cannot be underestimated. Also there is a difference between proper nurturing and co-dependence and other forms of over-indulgence.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #15 – Can Women Take Sannyasa?

April 11th, 2016

Can Women Take Sannyāsa? *
 
An interesting question was asked after my Bhāgavatam class Sunday, “Why are women forbidden to take sannyāsa?” A thoughtful discussion ensued. I especially like the contribution of Kaustubha dās, the Senior Educator of The Bhakti Center, who was asked a similar question in a seminar he had given the week before. The thrust of his explanation involved how the dynamic of western or modern upbringings fosters a perspective of tradition that is somewhat skewed and often leads to the misunderstanding of the value, and even the basic intent, behind much of the traditional practices of yoga or bhakti, such as sannyāsa. Here is the gist of his interesting answer on this subject:
 
“In terms of women being forbidden to take sannyāsa, it is not unfair or discriminatory. It only seems so because of the image we have of sannyāsa in today’s world. The modern sannyāsa is usually in a hierarchical position in society, often a guru, and a leader within an institutional preaching mission. Even if very renounced, his position still generally wields power and he often controls substantial wealth and assets and much facility is offered for his. If that is indeed what sannyāsa is about, then I can see why people today would think it was and is discriminatory not to offer the same opportunity for women.
 
The traditional sannyāsa, however, was much different. It was an arduous life of renunciation. After taking sannyāsa, the man would have to leave home and walk through the forest barefoot and depend on God for sustenance and protection. Even sixty years ago when Śrīla Prabhupāda was initially asked to take sannyāsa by a respected god-brother, he momentarily balked contemplating what the life of a sannyāsa in the Gauḍīya Maṭha meant.
 
The people of yore thus shuttered to think what the life of a sannyāsa would impose on their father who left home, what to speak of the thought of putting their mothers, or any woman for that matter, in such an unprotected and painstaking situation. The prohibition of women taking sannyāsa was thus born out of this sense of compassion. As difficult and dangerous as it is for a man to wander as a homeless beggar, that situation would be even more vulnerable for women.
 
And for women who sought and were qualified for that level of renunciation, other gender appropriate situations were offered. After Lord Caitanya took sannyāsa, Viṣṇupriyā, the wife of Lord Caitanya, shaved her head, wore only white cloths and stay at home protected by his senior disciples. She would count her japa by placing one grain of rice in a bowl after each completed round and then after chanting all day she would cook that rice and offer it to a deity of Lord Caitanya. And that’s all she would eat. She was more than sannyāsa.”
 
So that was the gist of our discussion. I am satisfied with our conclusion. Having said that, the next obvious question arises, “Can women be dīkṣā-gurus?” That’s a subject for another day.
 
* I am not sure everyone reading this is familiar with the term. For those who are not familiar, sannyāsa is the fourth ashram of the Vedic social order, where a man, usually towards the last part of his life, leaves home for a life of complete renunciation.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #14 – What is the Krishna View of Homosexuality?

April 4th, 2016

I would like to share with the reader my understanding of homosexuality and Krishna consciousness in the form of my response to a letter I received from a person who is gay. Carla runs two successful yoga studios in New York City. She has visited the Bhakti Center, attended my Bhakti Immersion Retreat and also took a pilgrimage to India that included a visit to Vrindavan. I have also taught at her studio Jaya Yoga. She read what she felt was hurtful comments about homosexuality from devotees on Facebook and humbly inquired, “What is the Krishna view of homosexuality?” Her letter and my response below:
 
 

Dear Maharaj,

I hope this finds you well. What is the Krishna consciousness view on homosexuality? I am very concerned as I have just read some hateful posts from devotees of eastern European descent who live much of the time in beautiful Vrindavan. I hope you can help me with this. If you have no time of course I understand.

In service,
Carla

 
 
Dear Carla,
 
We just finished the Bhakti Immersion and I just saw your important letter.
 
Krishna consciousness, like Christianity, has many different groups with many different interpretations of the sacred texts – some liberal and some conservative. I feel very bad if you heard devotees with hateful and homophobic comments. I have not seen them. The Bhakti Center was formed specifically to present the beauty of bhakti in today’s language. I don’t find people judgmental there on the basis of one’s sexual preference. Your question, however, is “What is the Krishna conscious view on homosexuality?”
 
In traditional Vedic culture marriage was for raising children. Without children marriage was considered useless (putra-hīnaṁ gṛhaṁ śūnyam). Obviously, in such a culture there was no question of gay marriage.
 
Marriage today, however, serves other purposes such as companionship and legal protection, so I don’t see how it can exclude those who want it for the same reason. The only argument can be what one wants to call it.
 
Traditional yoga philosophy does consider sex desire as something that needs to be regulated and ultimately transcended because it tends to strongly deepen one’s identification with the body. That was the opinion of Patañjali.
 
Generally, the traditional yoga culture dealt with sex desire in the following ways:

  1. Regulating it within a monogamous relationship.
  2. Combining it with the responsibility of a life-long commitment to provide and care for one’s spouse.
  3. Establishing the act of carefully raising a child as an offering of sacrifice to God as a very central feature of sex and marriage.

In this way the act of sex, and consequentially marriage and raising a child, is karma-yoga ­ an act that dovetails one’s ego/desire with wisdom, responsibility, and detachment and also offers the fruit of one’s action to God.
 
This central yogic element in karma-yoga, the offering of the fruit of one’s action to God (in this case a child), is obviously not part of the sexual union of a same-sex couple. For this reason, as well as the fact that the responsibilities to care for one’s spouse and children tends to be very gender specific (a certain set of responsibilities for the male and another set for the female), it is likely that homosexuality rested outside the mainstream culture based on the tradition or yoga, although there are different opinions about that.
 
As far as homophobic or hateful comments in the scriptures, you can prove anything you want by selecting isolated comments out of context. In July of 1999, the son of Nikita Khrushchev became a US citizen. Nikita Khrushchev was the president of the former Soviet Union who was famous for his virulent hate of America. Anyway, at the news conference on the day of his naturalization as a citizen, he was bluntly asked by the first reporter, “What would your father think of you taking United States citizenship?” I loved his answer: “You can’t judge one era of history from the perspective of another.”
 
We live in different world now. Those who profess traditional values thus have to be very, very thoughtful to see how such values apply now in another context. It takes great depth of realization to understand the depth of tradition and its application in modern life. Archconservatives who want to mold life today only by the form of tradition and liberals who disregard the weight of tradition will both likely miss the essence of dharma.
 
The essence of dharma is that which brings one closer to God. For a gay person who is pursuing a spiritual path that means a monogamous relationship that regulates his or her natural desires within a lifelong commitment of care for his or her partner.
 
That’s about all I can say now on this very emotionally charged issue that is difficult to discuss philosophically without people projecting much of their own history of hurt on the discussion.
 
On a personal level I have tons of respect and affection for you and Ramit who I find as some of the most loving and spiritual persons I know. Thank you for your friendship.
 
Again, please forgive us if you heard any hateful comments from devotees of Krishna. I pray that it was mostly a misunderstanding, although in any religion there are always people that use religion to mask their own problems.
 
This is a deep discussion. I am willing to continue the dialogue if my letter does not answer or cover your doubts
 
Wishing you well,
Dhanurdhara Swami
 
 

Dearest Maharaja,

You cannot imagine how consoling this tender email is to read. Both Ramit and I deeply appreciate you taking the time to respond with such depth and sincerity.  

We were rattled by comments we read on ……..’s Facebook page but hearing your reply has been a balm which has soothed us. 

Thank you for restoring our faith in our connection to the NYC Krishna consciousness community. 

We hope to see you this summer. Thank you for being our teacher and friend.

Planting a little seed for our Jaya teacher training graduation in mid-January of 2016 if you happen to be in the NYC area we would love for you to return to us to speak. There will be a large group like last year at Jaya East. 

With respect and love,
Carla and Ramit 

 
 
My letter to the generally respected person whose post Carla reacted to:
 
I was trying to understand the root of this misunderstanding. Here is what I think:
 
In Eastern countries, for whatever the reason, homosexuality, or public homosexuality, is repressed or discouraged. The result is that those who take to it or exhibit it tend to be those who are extreme or perverse in that their sexuality and their sexual preference is their identity rather than an aspect of their life. In contrast, in America, where it is more accepted, the sexual preference of gay people tends to be more an aspect of oneself, than one’s group or identity. Your neighbor, colleague, relative and so on could be gay but you wouldn’t identify or deal with them as such. You would relate to them as everyone else on the basis of common interest and their character. For example, my uncle is gay and has lived with his partner for many years. My mother who is a Republican and quite conservative doesn’t think anything more about him than him being just her relative. I am just sharing with you the frame of reference of the people you were writing to and why they feel strongly that gay people have a civil right to formalize their relationship with their partner for reasons of companionship and legal necessity just like everyone else. Yes, it seems a sign of modern times, but in such a society a person’s sexual preference hardly stands out as a major problem to anyone, especially when they don’t embrace or flaunt their sexuality as their identity and in general are very decent citizens. I am just trying to share with you an explanation why there was such a misunderstanding although I am sure you meant no harm.
 
As always, wishing you well,
Dhanurdhara Swami