Archive for August, 2016

Monday Morning Greetings #35 – More is Less: The Secret of Chanting

August 29th, 2016

When I am in America and not traveling, I live in Stuyvesant Falls — a quiet, small agricultural hamlet in Upstate New York — just two hours by express train from New York City. A converted barn is my Western bhajan kuṭīra*. I naturally chant more while there. When blessed, realizations come. I will share them here.

August 7

Realization I

Today the practice was better. I was more concentrated and chanted longer in the right mood without interruption. The real test of better chanting is the benediction of realization. I had one today: More is less. I am chanting more here, quite a bit more, but it feels easier, much easier than when I do less. More feels less. Why?

The saying goes, “Time flies when you are having a good time.” What is a good time? It is not what we usually think it is, a world conforming to our desires. It means living in the soul, which first awakens in gratitude and humility. In that place, one can live for forever, for gratitude is the basis of devotion, and love is the only place one never wants to leave for someplace else.

We feel time when we dwell in the past or the future. Focused in the present there is no time. When we live in gratitude and humility we are happy and present now, otherwise we lament (for the past) or hanker (for the future) and become oppressed by time. Chanting in gratitude and humility thus transcends time. If we are not concentrated in chanting and live in the future thinking, “When will I finish my chanting,” two rounds can seem like hours or more. If we are concentrated hours of chanting will seem like moments.

Am I there? I am practicing.

But by prolonged chanting when layers of ignorance are gradually pealed away, one may glimpse the soul. One may feel gratitude and humility and want to live in that place of devotion forever. Time then stops. So by chanting more and more, one feels less. Less doesn’t mean less chanting. It means one feels less of the oppression of time. So in good chanting, more is less.

Simple choice: Concentrate or be oppressed.

 

Realization II

A humble soul can feel God’s mercy and therefore respond by chanting with love and devotion. Humility is thus the key to chanting. Unfortunately, I need to be beaten by the world to be humble.

How? By having to confront reality.

What is that reality? It is the stark truth that the world moves at God’s whim and that I am not in control.

That thought is unnerving – that anything can happen. And it inevitably does. What a crazy world. It is hard to take. All I can do is take shelter. But that feeling of shelter, although inspired by apprehension and fear, is the greatest solace. That is the way of the world, to push us from ego to the lap of Kṛṣṇa. And I can stay there forever chanting the holy name.

 

* Meditation hut or humble place where one chants and hears about Kṛṣṇa.

 

Monday Morning Greetings #34 – Old Soul (And Body Too)

August 22nd, 2016

I went with Jaya Jagannātha to visit someone who is perhaps New York’s oldest living servant of Śrī Śrī Rādhā Muralīdhara. When I say oldest, I am not just referring to age, now past eighty, but years at Their lotus feet, now past thirty. Jayati Rādhikā has been visiting Śrī Śrī Rādhā Muralīdhara even before The Bhakti Center or The Sanctuary (its former namesake) existed, when they resided in a humble storefront on Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn, only eight blocks from her home. But I think she must have worshiped Them even longer than that, perhaps for many lives. I see in her all the symptoms of an old soul.
 
Jayati Rādhikā was not a hippy, or a straightedge, or from the yoga scene, and certainly not born in the movement, or any of the prominent sources or veins from where Hare Kṛṣṇa devotees are usually mined. She was just a simple middle class New York housewife, a mother and a dedicated registered nurse, when returning home from work in 1981 she encountered a young Hare Kṛṣṇa monk on the street and purchased from him an Easy Journey to Other Planets, one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s first books. When she reached home she read it from cover to cover, searched the address of the nearest ISKCON center, and that same Sunday visited the Rādhā Govinda Mandir. She never looked back, even though her family, although supportive, didn’t follow her on her journey.
 
Jayati Rādhikā is now bed-ridden, spending her last days in an assisted living facility in Western Massachusetts near the home of her daughter, but somehow she still greeted me with that same simple smile of contentment, a beam that had endured forty-eight regimens of chemotherapy over the last sixteen years and the constant pain of rheumatoid arthritis. That same smile had also belied her condition as she regularly trekked to The Bhakti Center every Sunday all the way from her home in Howard Beach, Queens. As we began kirtan, she closed her eyes and tapped her feet under the covers. When we finished the kirtan I began to reflect.
 
We read about advanced yogis who have practiced santoṣa (contentment). How many of them could have endured such ardor year after year without even the slightest scent of dejection or bitterness, not even when her husband fell ill in the last few years and was incapacitated mostly under her care. I inquired:
 
“How did you remain so joyful over the years despite the tribulations you faced and how do you remain so now even in the face of death and distanced from the association of devotees?”
 
She replied in her simple and guileless brogue, “Kṛṣṇa is in charge. Leave it to Him. Everything will be OK.”
 
I pressed further, “But aren’t you afraid of death?”
 
“People ask me that all the time. Not at all. I kind of look forward to it. I just know that Kṛṣṇa is in charge and if I leave it to Him, everything will be OK. I felt that from the first day I went to the temple.”
 
Although she spoke with such conviction, there was no alarm or drama in her reply. It was so matter of fact, almost amused, and certainly without fear. I pondered what she shared.
 
“Kṛṣṇa is in charge. Leave it to Him. Everything will be OK.”
 
What takes a lifetime of trial to realize, what is the essence of approaching the world and death with fearlessness, what is a realization so deep that it guarantees us entrance to the kingdom of God*, and a thought so transforming that it gifts us a heart of contentment and a smile of joy, was the property of this very simple housewife from the beginning of her spiritual life. How is this possible?
 
This is indeed a very old soul
 
 
* See Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.14.8
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #33 – Sixty-Five is the New Fifty

August 15th, 2016

About 25 years ago one sādhu in Vṛndāvana told me why traditionally at the age of fifty a person would start considering a life of renunciation.
 
“The Hindi word for fifty is pachasa. Asa means hope. At fifty, one still has hope. Hindi for fifty-one, however, is ikyavan, van means the forest.  Go to the forest, renounce life, there is no hope.”
 
Although I had taken sannyāsa at the age of thirty-two, even at the age of fifty it seemed as if I still had hope, ambitions, and dreams connected with garnering distinction. Old age was thus still something in the future. Marc Jacobson of the New York magazine describes this phenomenon:
 
“Throughout my life, there has always been a number that sounded old. When I was sixteen, it was twenty-seven; at twenty-nine it was forty-two; at thirty-eight, it was fifty-two, at sixty-five, however, it was sixty-five.”
 
Sixty-five means the creaky knees and bad digestion and other creeping physical anomalies. It’s destiny representing the voice of God telling you loudly that the vehicle you are riding in, in my case a vintage 1950 New Yorker, has had its days. It is the stark realization that you just can’t trust the future, for no matter how much you calculate there are just a few more years.
 
But for me, more than anything else, it’s the stark understanding of what death means and the fear of facing that in ignorance expressed so clearly to me by a Vaiṣṇava scholar and friend:
 
“The pain of death is not the physical pain. For if that becomes too intense one will either automatically go into a coma or will be medicated. The real pain is the losing of all one’s attachments at once.”
 
Am I ready?
 
Another friend related to me a sobering thought:
 
“What we think of at the moment at death will be what our mind spontaneously gravitates to and not what we will because our body and mind will be too disturbed. Do you want to have a glimpse of what that will be? Just look at what you dream. It is directly analogous to what you will think of at death because, like death, your thoughts are not consciously directed.”
 
Now that is really a sobering thought! And more sobering is the fact that what we are putting in our minds now will determine what we think of when we die. How much is about Kṛṣṇa? And what else do we put in? At sixty-five this seems to really be the challenge — to consciously re-program the mind in an even more serious way than ever before, to significantly increase the download of chanting and hearing and to ultimately gauge the success of that programming by what I am dreaming now.
 
It’s strange, but at sixty-five I am being called to real sannyāsa, something I took 33 years ago, and something that should have been taken at least by fifty — not just the change of cloth and a new position, but the death of the ego, the chance to die while living so that I am detached at that stark moment when everything is ripped away.
 
I feel the need to get serious as never before.
 
Sixty-five is the new fifty.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #32 – Why I Write Monday Morning Greetings Every Week Without Fail

August 8th, 2016

  1. I write in service to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission to help transform people by educating them in spiritual values. Succinct, clearly expressed thoughts that are based on sacred texts are a very effective way to do this.
  1. Much of today’s communication on important topics, even in spiritual societies, is too polemical. I strongly feel the world needs voices of reason. I try my best to do that.
  1. One can’t write a meaningful article every week if he doesn’t have realizations. Writing forces me to practice spiritual life seriously. Otherwise there will be very little of substance to say and that’s hard for me to tolerate.
  1. To write effectively means to channel something beyond one’s abilities. Every good writer intuitively understands this. I understand this channel as God in the heart. I thus write for communion with God and to bolster my faith.
  1. I have responsibility for students. To move forward in spiritual life they need a regular dose of  “good ideas” to dwell on. I write to meet my responsibilities as a guide.
  1. I don’t work outside for living, raise a family, have many disciples, or have consuming managerial responsibilities. The voice of destiny dictates that I take up this service to stay fully engaged in service.

And another’s perspective on why one writes:

 

For You

By Madan Oppenheimer
 
I write for you seekers,
for I’m one of you;
I share things found on the way.
 
I search for the exit,
the way out of matter;
imprisoned in night and day.
 
I try to be honest,
and filter out falsehood;
for me life isn’t a game.
 
I write for you seekers
so I’ll feel less lonely;
I’m hoping you’ll feel the same.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #31 – Narada-bhakti-sutra – Sutra 1

August 1st, 2016

Dhanurdhara Swami has started to write his commentary on Nārada-bhakti-sūtra again and we will occasionally on Mondays post one of his commentaries starting today with first one.
 
Nārada-bhakti-sūtra
A New Commentary by Dhanurdhara Swami

 
Sūtra 1
 
athāto bhaktiṁ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ
 
Now, therefore, I will try to explain the process of bhakti.

A sūtra is a condensed phrase codifying a larger body of thinking.  Most Indian schools of thought systematize their teachings into a series of sūtras to help their students memorize and understand the teachings. Since volumes of meaning have been condensed into very terse aphorisms, sūtras are also accompanied by suitable commentaries to unpack the sūtras meaning. In this way, a student can retain and understand a concise version of an entire philosophical system.
 
Such sūtras traditionally begin with “atha” (now) to indicate the significance of the school that will be discussed and the urgency to undertake its study. By the word “now” the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra points to the importance and urgency of practicing bhakti-yoga.
 
By endorsing the path of bhakti, the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra follows the same conclusion as Bhagavad-gītā: After summarizing the various paths of yoga in six chapters, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Gītā’s speaker, concludes, “Of all yogis, one who worships Me with devotion is the highest of all.”
 
Why do the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra and the Bhagavad-gītā both promote the preeminence of bhakti? Yoga practice revolves around controlling the mind through fixing it on an intended object of meditation. The more efficiently a practice helps such focus, the more effective that practice is said to be. Emotion is by far the most powerful means to fix the mind on a subject. Bhakti-yoga is meditation powered by the emotion of one’s loving relationship with the Divine, usually centered on mantras composed of the beloved names of the Divine. As the mind focuses so naturally on what one loves, bhakti is thus the most powerful form of yoga.
 
This relationship between the meditator and the object of meditation is not found in other paths, where the object of meditation serves only as a means to achieve something else, and yogis are thus forced to focus the mind by willpower alone: “I must do this if I wish to achieve my goal.” But even the strongest resolve cannot compare to the spontaneous, primal pull of emotion – especially the most powerful emotion of all: consummate devotion (“bhakti”). Thus bhakti-yogis are spontaneously and relatively effortlessly drawn to the focus of their meditation, the singing of the names of their Beloved Lord.
 
There is another reason bhakti-yoga is considered superior to all other schools. According to yoga philosophy, concentration on any object anchors and steadies the mind. By choosing to meditate on God rather than an inert object, bhakti practitioners have chosen an object that is alive and all-powerful – a being who can reciprocate with their efforts and who has the power to grant success beyond their own capacity. Bhakti is thus often called the path of grace.
 
Lastly, bhakti is the highest yoga because it alone goes directly to the root cause of karmic bondage: egocentrism and selfishness. Devotion by definition is the antithesis of selfishness; we are not truly devoted if personal motives stain our affection. Bhakti is therefore the soul of selflessness, and as such, it strikes at the heart of our karmic bondage more directly and powerfully than any other path.
 
Yogic teachings often encourage practitioners to develop a sense of urgency in their spiritual practice because of the value and rarity of human life. The soul transmigrates through millions of species, but only when we take birth in the human species do we have the ability to inquire why we are suffering and rise above our instincts to find a spiritual solution. One who understands this becomes serious about using the gift of human life for spiritual transformation.
 
Therefore, let us now inquire into bhakti.