Archive for September, 2016

Monday Morning Greetings #39 – You’re Wrong!

September 26th, 2016

How we fight those words even when, well… we’re obviously wrong.

It was the early morning in the sweet land of Vṛndāvana during my japa meditation. As my concentration deepened suddenly some mistakes that I made drifted into my consciousness. I could have let those thoughts go, or at least I could try to, but the nature of those thoughts were forcing me to confront those mistakes, but before the pain of admission could pinch my ego, I heard a soothing voice come to the rescue.

“It wasn’t your fault! It was circumstantial. The mistakes were exaggerated. And you have accepted responsibility. You’re so humble…”

But just as I was rationalizing my faults, a more challenging and powerful message hit me. That week I had been teaching in my daily sat-saṅga the story “The Deliverance of the Wives of the Brāhmaṇas” from the tenth canto of the Bhāgavatam. I had just lectured on the part where the learned, austere brāhmaṇas were not only awakened to their own offenses, but also to the challenging realization of how paltry their spiritual attainment was as compared to their simple wives. They condemned themselves in the harshest way:

“To hell with our being initiated priests, our vows of celibacy, and our extensive learning! To hell with our aristocratic background and our expertise in the ritual of sacrifice! These are all condemned because we are inimical to the transcendental Personality of Godhead.” – Bhāg. 10.23.40

What struck me in this story was the Sanskrit word used for remorse that I gleaned to have the same root as tapa, which means “austerity” or “heat”. At least that’s how I read it. The story thus brought to my mind the point that embracing our faults is an austerity, a practice that burns our false ego – that cherished conception of being better than others as the controller and enjoyer.

So that day as I was watching the process of rationalization co-opting any sense of remorse I thought of this pastime and was inspired to just stop rationalizing and let the acknowledgement of my blunders burn the false ego, the insidious desire to be the controller. Internally I screamed, but at the same time the holy name became more and more the focus of my consciousness as I embraced the humble position.

“You’re wrong!” Oh how we hate those words, but at the same time how good they can be for us if we accept them properly. We have studied the teachings the Gītā so many times and we abhor the self-centered. Why then should it be so difficult to hear these words even for one fairly advanced on the path?

We have come to this world to seek our pleasure from enjoyment, not love. We thus seek power in the form of wealth, education, beauty, position, and so on to conform the world to our desires and a sense of superiority. As admitting our mistakes even to one other person or just ourselves means a diminishment of status or a loss of power, we fight that conception tooth and nail, even if it belies our core values and it is unbecoming to our spiritual life.

It is so counter intuitive, but all glories to “I’m wrong!

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings #38 – The Absolute Tooth

September 19th, 2016

I have been laying in the dentist chair for almost the last two hours here in Cali, Colombia. Oscar is drilling away. If he hits a nerve, he says, I may require root canal. Not really where I want to be, but I tolerate. What’s the use of studying the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, if you don’t apply it practically in day-to-day life? The drill seems to hit a nerve. I ask for anesthesia. Some thoughts come:

  1. The day before I went to the dentist, I had just finished a five-day course on bhakti here in Shyam Ashram in Colombia. I prepared a lot for the course not wanting to lose the opportunity to give my best to people new to the subject. After finishing the course successfully, I realized that I didn’t have pressing duties or problems to minister to and that I would now be able to just concentrate on chanting and writing, things that I most like to do. I thought to myself, “Finally a rare time where the world has conformed exactly to what I want. I can now really be free to enjoy these last two weeks here.” Bam! Immediately an unexpected trip to the dentist arose. Kṛṣṇa is so kind. Even on those rare occasions when the world finally seems to conform to one’s personal desires, he won’t let his devotee become complacent and fall into the illusion that he or she is the controller. This type of enjoyment is just simply too superficial, filled with the duality of temporality, and distances oneself from the selfless happiness of the soul. The drilling got a little more intense, but I tolerated thinking, “How merciful Kṛṣṇa is that as soon as I thought I was the enjoyer, He gave me a pinch to save me from complacency in this world of birth and death.”
  2. When I came into his office Oscar (my dentist) carefully explained to me the procedure and asked me if that was OK. I told him, “I am a soul surrendered unto you!” I thought to myself that this is what Kṛṣṇa consciousness means, that in every sphere of life, and especially spiritual life, there are people who are authorities in particular subjects. They know more than others, and thus the best way to avail oneself of their knowledge is to surrender to their direction. I don’t know if he was flattering me, but when I saw Oscar the next day he reminded me of what I said and told me, “You are my best patient.”
  3. Oscar was one of my students in the bhakti course, but now I was sitting in the chair helpless and dependent on him. He was sincerely trying to help me and I felt his care and shelter. My affection for him thus increased. I thought this is analogous to our relationship with God. When we realize that we are totally dependent on God and humbly take shelter of him with the faith that whatever he does is best, then bhakti naturally arises in the heart.
  4. If I didn’t get this treatment now, it is likely that I would have had to have serious dental work, or even root canal, in Vṛndāvana. That would obviously have been substantially more inconvenient and painful. These thoughts enabled me to sit, tolerate, and be grateful to Oscar although sitting in his chair was not fun. I thought how this was also analogous to the world. We suffer here, but our suffering is only to make the future better. Thinking like this enables one to be patient and tolerant amidst difficulty.
  5. To the extent that one practices the austerity of a relatively simple life, one will be able to extract oneself from bodily identification, and will be capable of tolerating the pains and pleasures of this world. While Oscar was working away, I saw that spiritual life enabled me to tolerate and extract my self from that pain just a little more than if I carelessly indulged myself in life. I gave myself a little pat on the back, although the pain really was minimal.
  6. The expectation of the pain from the dentist drill and its disturbing shrillness was actually worse than the actual experience of it. I thought this is also like the world in general where the expectations of pain and pleasure are generally more excruciating or pleasurable than the actual experience of it. This is especially true of the sensual and egotistical pleasures of this world.
  7. American cultural imperialism — Frankly, the expertise, equipment, office and care were far above anything I experienced in America. America has good facilities, but it is overrated, especially in health care.
  8. When you are a guru and go to a devotee dentist or doctor make sure to let them know that you are not transcendental to the pains and pleasures of the body so they are more inclined to help you numb the pain and that’s the Absolute Tooth.

 

Dhanurdhara Swami with Oscar

Monday Morning Greetings #37 – Are Vaisnavas Democrats or Republicans?

September 12th, 2016

Do Vaiṣṇavas have an ideology? Śrīla Prabhupāda had an interesting take in reference to the great Vaiṣṇava King Yudhiṣṭhira.

“Therefore there are so many states over the earth quarrelling because of ideological differences or other selfish motives. But a king like Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira had no ideology of his own.” (Bhag. 1.10.4, Purport)

Certainly Vaiṣṇavas strongly profess a particular system of economic and political ideals, an ideology called varṇāśrama.[i] How could Śrīla Prabhupāda describe a great Vaiṣṇava as Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira as having no ideology of his own?

The reconciliation is simple. Śrīla Prabhupāda is not saying that a Vaiṣṇava doesn’t have an ideology. Rather in describing a Vaiṣṇava as “having no ideology of his own” he means that unlike most modern day conservatives or liberals a Vaiṣṇava’s “own” conditioning does not bias his or her views. Rather a Vaiṣṇava’s opinion is informed by a detached judgment based on śāstra, not a predictable prejudiced “left” or “right” response regardless of the issue.

A Vaiṣṇava’s objectivity beyond bias is also described by Śrīla Prabhupāda in reference to the rule of Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira:

“He had but to follow the instructions of the infallible Lord and the Lord’s representative and the authorized agent, Bhīṣmadeva. It is instructed in the śāstra that one should follow the great authority and infallible Lord without any personal motive and manufactured ideology.” (Bhag. 1.10.4, Purport)

A learned Vaiṣṇava can thus not be pigeon holed politically simply as “left” or “right”. Śrīla Prabhupāda is a good example. Although in one sense he could be called conservative as he often espoused traditional mores in context of culture and civilization, he wasn’t limited by that ideology either. When teaching in the west, for example, he took a more liberal approach in terms of engaging and empowering women, although certainly not to the level of unabashed feminism. In other words, his views were not informed by his own ideology “left” or “right”, but by the authority of śāstra that advocated both a strong tradition and gave leeway for its practical application in modernity. Thus when in arriving in San Francisco and being shown by the devotees an article where Allen Ginsberg commented that he was conservative, Śrīla Prabhupāda was indignant that although he was conservative in the sense of restricting sex and drugs according to śāstra, “Conservative, we are not”. He went on to describe that although traditional sannyāsis like Śrī Caitanya would not even look at a woman, that he was accepting everyone “regardless of sex, caste, and position or whatever.” And later he would even engage those same women as head pūjārīs[ii] in his temples outside of India.

Are Vaiṣṇavas Democrats or Republicans? Such limited ideology born of one’s own material conditioning is just not how a Vaiṣṇava informs his or her views, nor does a Vaiṣṇava have faith that such a limited ideological platform of “left” or “right” would ever even come close to meeting any promises for a better world.

My views on the subject 13 years ago:

Are Vaiṣṇavas Democrats or Republicans? Part I

Are Vaiṣṇavas Democrats or Republicans? Part II

[i]  The social and economic system of traditional India.

[ii] The head priest of the temple Deities.

Monday Morning Greetings #36 – Giving Birth to Devotion

September 5th, 2016

I like the analogy of devotional activities giving birth to devotion like a mother gives birth to a child. One day there is no child and suddenly one is born. In the same way, although bhakti is generally a gradual process, bhakti can one day suddenly manifest or be born as a result of powerful spiritual activities.
 
In one song that highlights the potency of honoring special days of the Lord, like ekādaśī and Janmāṣṭamī, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura points out the possibility of such an unexpected surge in bhakti. He sings:
 
mādhava-tithi (the days of Lord Hari) bhakti-jananī (gives birth to devotion)
 
I would like to share with you my realizations of this principle in relation to our first Janmāṣṭamī here in the beautiful Shyam Ashram in Cali, both in this short post and the accompanying pictures to the event. First some background:
 
Our ashram is maintained by yoga and retreats, but we have Gaura Nitāi deities, and a mandatory morning program of maṅgala-ārati and japa for our small crew of resident teachers. There is plenty sat-saṅga, teaching and hearing śāstra (sacred texts), especially when either Kaustubha, Jaya Jagannātha or myself are here and quite substantial Gītā seminars by the trained residents when we are not present. The closest thing to Shyam Ashram would be The Bhakti Center in New York, a devotional cultural center that is increasingly attracting a professional class of people. By the location of our ashram and the type of outreach we do, we seem to cater to a very established class of people that have formed our growing congregation. The nice thing here is that, unlike many places, the well-to-do people here are generally pious Catholics, stable and family oriented, and thus naturally respectful and receptive to culture and people of devotion. Now the festival:
 
Although it was a first here, our festival was a typical Kṛṣṇa celebration. There were plentiful and stunning floral arrangements, a well-prepared bounty of tasteful foodstuffs offered to Kṛṣṇa, non-stop and melodious kīrtan, and a colorful abhiṣeka (ceremonial bath) of our Deities. I also gave a short talk to our first time participants explaining the relevance of the function. Most importantly the ashram residents and a core congregation were engaged non-stop throughout the day in devotional service preparing the elaborate celebration. My realization:
 
Flowers, food, and song offered in devotion embody the devotion that is created and offered with them. To see, taste, or hear them is thus not just a sensual experience. It is also an emotional or spiritual one because they project the potency of devotion that produced them. Our new time visitors were thus transformed by the overwhelming color, flavor, and sounds of our joyous celebration. I witnessed that and many also expressed that to me. The occasion was a substantial milestone for our project.
 
When I walked around Shyam Ashram early the next morning I saw Ximena (one of our directors), who worked tirelessly the day before the festival helping to prepare the festivities, sweeping and mopping the floor as she was chanting joyously. She has become dedicated in devotion, but her chanting this day had a special quality and depth. As she sang I could feel the extra devotion that had been born in her heart. I immediately thought of Bhaktivinoda’s song:
 
mādhava-tithi (the days of Lord Hari) bhakti-jananī (gives birth to devotion)
 
I thus became inspired to write this post. Enjoy the pictures!
Continue Reading »