Archive for November, 2016

Monday Morning Greeting #48 – Darśana: Seeing God

November 28th, 2016

The devotees were puzzled. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta could not see without his glasses so why was he viewing the deities everyday without them? His reply:
 
“We are not the subject and God is thus not an object for our enjoyment. Rather Kṛṣṇa is the subject and we are an object for His enjoyment. I don’t need my glasses for darśana for darśana means He is seeing us.” *
 
This principle is poignantly illustrated in the story of “The Wives of the Brāhmaṇas Delivered”. They were always hankering to see Kṛṣṇa and after years of yearning they finally got His darśana. It is interesting how this is described:
 
“Lord Kṛṣṇa, who witnesses the thoughts of all creatures, understood how those ladies had abandoned all worldly hopes and come there simply to see Him. Thus He addressed them as follows with a smile upon His face.” Bhāg. 10.23.24
 
What is important here is that it is Kṛṣṇa, not the wives of the brāhmaṇas, who is being described as the seer. It is also noteworthy as to what He saw — tyakta-sarvāśāḥ — that they, the wives of the brāhmaṇas, had given up all material hopes and desires. And finally, it is significant how Kṛṣṇa reacted. Such love brought Him pleasure and He smiled. Thus, darśana, going before the Lord, reveals the essence of bhakti. We go before the Lord not just to see His form, but for Him to see our hearts for His pleasure.
 
This type of darśana is the heart of bhakti and it should be reflected consciously in all our devotional activities, such as chanting. Real chanting is thus not just repeating syllables, but offering our heart transformed into sound to God for His pleasure. In other words, we mostly chant as way to allow Kṛṣṇa to hear and see our devotion.
 
This concept of darśana, becoming an object of God’s pleasure, was unexpectedly reinforced in a video I saw when I was visiting one God-brother in Vṛndāvana. It was a talk by Śrīla Prabhupāda’s god-brother B.R. Śrīdhar Mahārāja, where he humbly talked about his experience of “divine knowledge”. I understood his use of the term “divine knowledge’ to be a translation of divya-jñāna, the initial experience of enlightenment. He describes that moment humbly.
 
“I was the subject and then I became the object for Kṛṣṇa. I was captured.”
 
What is described here is the shift of consciousness at the moment of liberation or enlightenment where one is impelled and inspired to take oneself out of the center, where one finally sees oneself fully as the object for God’s pleasure. When he mentions “captured” the term is used in the sense that out of intense attraction and affection for Kṛṣṇa one moves helplessly, but happily, according to His will. Such joyful, dependence is in fact the template for any real love, for without being impelled to follow the desires of a worthy other, without putting someone else in the center, what is the question of love?
 
So that is the challenge of bhakti and I accepted that challenge of darśana in a bit of a unique way. I sit every morning in Govardhana for my chanting directly facing Govardhana Hill. Today, I consciously tried not to view the sacred mount as an object of my vision. Rather I viewed Govardhana as the subject or center and myself on His periphery as an object for His pleasure. Of course, this can’t be done artificially, but just the concept and the attempt to be seen by God, rather to see or enjoy God really soothed my heart. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta thus summed up the essence of darśana:
 
“Don’t try to see God, but act in a way that God wants to see you.”
 
 
* I have only paraphrased Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s statement from memory.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #47 – In Memory of Dr. Fakir Mohan

November 21st, 2016

We are saddened by the passing of our friend and well-wisher, Dr Fakir Mohan Prabhu, the Vaiṣṇava saint and scholar.
 
I met Prabhu about 15 or 20 years ago. I was staying at ISKCON Govardhana and was told that an elderly and somewhat renowned Vaiṣṇava from Orissa had arrived. I went to greet him to pay respects. But as I introduced myself he moved a few steps to the left and when I again went to face him he moved again to his right. I was puzzled until someone whispered that he would not step on a Vaiṣṇava’s shadow so as the sun was to my back he had to move every time I would directly face him.
 
The next morning, we asked him to give class, but before he sat on the seat he bowed to every sannyāsi affectionately clasping their hands and in a heartfelt voice murmuring, “Bless me I know nothing.”
 
So, he stayed with us for a short time at Govardhana and in this way, we developed an affectionate relationship. It is impressive to meet someone genuinely humble, but what is more impressive is when such a person has every reason to be proud. He not only was a lifelong celibate, but also the chairman of the Department of Sanskrit at Utkal University, and arguably one the top scholars on the history of Vaiṣṇavism, having completed his PhD on the subject. Most important he was a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa. His initiated name itself is the emblem of humility as “Fakir” is not even a Sanskrit name, but the Urdū or Muslim name for “beggar”. He personally told me its origins:
 
Before he was born his mother had several children, but they all died shortly after birth. When he was born, fearing that God would again take their child, his parents gave him the name “Fakir” or “beggar” so God wouldn’t take such a forlorn person.
 
He also told me how he joined the Gauḍīya Maṭh. He was naturally interested in bhakti from a very young age and left home at the age of fourteen to join the Gauḍīya Maṭh in Purī, where his family lived. His father came to take him, but he threatened his father, “If you let me join I will stay here in the maṭh near home, otherwise I will run away and join a maṭh in a far distance place and you may never see me again.” His father agreed. I found that interesting how an otherwise relatively meek person who is saintly can also be bold for the sake of their convictions. Shortly afterwards his guru surprisingly mostly kept his name by just naming him Fakir Mohan dāsa.
 
After I met him I would see him in Vṛndāvana often as he started coming there every Kārtika. He was the caretaker or sevaite of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Mādhava, the ancestral deities of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, the deities Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura glorifies in his famous bhajana, “Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava Kuñjabihari”. He would leave Them on the altar of the Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Mandir where they could have pleasure of seeing the international devotees, which was one of the visions of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda in Mayapur, that people from all over the world will soon join together chanting “Jaya Sacidānanda, Gaurahari!”
 
I was living at the time in a place called Satsvarūpa’s House, a strange moniker as Satsvarūpa Mahārāja had only lived there once. It was in the colony behind Bon Mahārāja’s college and Dr. Fakir Mohan was my neighbor during Kārtika. One evening I ran into him walking in the street outside my house. He asked me if I knew where Bhakti Caitanya’s House was (another strange moniker) as Pārtha Sārathī Mahārāja was staying there and he wanted to offer his respects. I told him that I did know where he lived, and he enthusiastically waved for me to show him.
 
We often take our god-brothers and the devotees for granted, but here was a very advanced devotee who earnestly sought them all out to offer his respects – a good example for us all.
 
We arrived at Bhakti Caitanya’s House and Pārtha Sārathī Mahārāja asked Dr. Fakir Mohan to chant Maṅgala-gītā, a beautiful Oriyan song describing the separation of the gopīs when Akrūra was taking Kṛṣṇa to Mathurā. His singing was extraordinary, so powerful and devotional, as powerful in force and devotion as anyone I have ever heard. We very much enjoyed his sharing of his heartfelt devotion. Pārtha Sārathī Mahārāja then apologetically informed Dr. Fakir Mohan that his mother, aunt, brother, and sister were visiting next door in the MVT, and as he had basically neglected them for so many years since joining the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement it was important that he be punctual in his visit with them during their stay. Immediately Dr. Fakir Mohan said with bubbling enthusiasm, “Then I will also go! I will also go!”
 
When we entered the apartment where Mahārāja’s family was staying his dignified British mother from Oxford came out to greet us. To my remembrance she was a reserved lady with curly grey hair and a simple one-piece cotton dress from her neck to the ankles. To our amazement Dr. Fakir Mohan immediately paid his daṇḍavat praṇāmas, his prostrated obeisances. Pārtha Sārathī was shocked. As Dr. Fakir Mohan arose he apologetically told his mother, “This is Dr. Fakir Mohan, a great Vaiṣṇava saint and scholar. He is the Chairman of the Department of Sankirt at Utkal University, a Sangeet ācārya, and a lifelong celibate saint.”
 
I will never forget Dr. Fakir Mohan’s simple reply: “This is our culture.” He then paused and with conviction added, “No, we feel it!” He went on to quote verse after verse citing how if a person becomes a pure devotee then “generation after generation, 14 generations are liberated,” justifying why the mother of Partha Sārathī Mahārāja was worthy of his worship.
 
When Dr. Fakir Mohan joined the maṭh his only joy was to serve the senior Vaiṣṇavas. He told me that he prayed to spend his life that way, but his guru, seeing how intelligent he was, sent him back to school. And despite returning after each graduation wanting to stay in the āśrama for service, his guru sent him back again and again until he received his PhD in Sanskrit. He taught for many years, but his heart was mostly into the service of guru and the Vaiṣṇavas.
 
A few years ago, I got a surprise call from him when I was in Purī that he wanted to attend my Purī retreat. He would then come almost every year and sit humbly for all of the classes. Finally he agreed to our demand and would give one or two classes himself during the retreat. Two stuck in my mind.
 
One year the Sanskrit students from Gopīparāṇadhana Prabhu’s class were attending our yātrā. I told Dr. Fakir Mohan that they had come and that as he was a Sanskrit teacher he might be interested in encouraging them. He started our morning Bhāgavatam class that year looking in their direction and posing the question, “Who is śāstra-jña (the knower of the śāstra)?” He then looked at them and with a sweeping forward gesture of his hand bellowed loudly with pronounced enunciation, “One who practices!”
 
Another year I asked him to please speak on the holy name. I had heard that one year in Bhubaneswar he was asked to lecture every day on Bhaktivinoda’s songs and he started with one bhajana that describes, “This temporary material world is full of suffering, chant the holy name as your only business,” and he lectured on that verse and the holy name for three years continuously. But that day instead of lecturing on the holy name he lectured on Jagannātha prasādam telling the devotees to eat more and more Jagannātha prasādam for their spiritual advancement and his glorification had no end. I had wished he would have spoken on the holy name, but I couldn’t help but appreciate his absolute faith in Jagannātha and His prasādam.
 
I think I could go on and on re-telling the times I was fortunate to be in his association and the lessons he imparted and the example he set, but I do like to keep these Monday Morning Greetings digestible for those of you rushing off to work, and many people have commented that they appreciate that. I will finish with my last encounter.
 
He came again this year to year to Govardhana for Govardhana a Pūjā as he always does during Kārtika and as usual he greeted me very affectionately and respectfully, more than I deserve. He had been an incredibly vibrant person for a person of his age, but this year I could see that his health had gone down. He had previously told me that he had six heart attacks over the last few years and in every case when he had gone unconscious he was still murmuring Hare Kṛṣṇa, as the doctors later related to him. Anyway, old age, somewhere around ninety, had gotten to him and he told me that for the first time he wasn’t giving classes. When it was time to bathe the Hill, and in Govardhana there is a large mound dirt right opposite our āśrama that takes us right up to the Hill, I had the honor of gently and affectionately taking his hand and helping him wade through the crowds so that he could bathe Girirāja first with the other senior devotees. He would have never pushed he way forward himself. I watched as with great devotion he massaged Girirāja with oil and then receded back in the crowd to listen to the kīrtana and look lovingly at his Lord.
 
This evening I received the following text from Mādhavānanda Prabhu:
 
“At about 6:46 PM tonight, the world became a darker place. Pūjyapāda Fakir Mohan Mahārāja left this world, surrounded by devotees chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and crying. He had a prasāda tulasī leaf on his mouth, the Govardhana-śilā given to him by his gurudeva was on his forehead, on his chest was a prasāda chaddar from the ancient deity of Ṭoṭā-Gopīnātha, there was a full plate of śālagrāmaśilās by his head. Also on his chest was a silk rope that had been used to tie Lord Jagannātha to His Ratha-yātrā cart in Purī. There was also a Jagannātha prasāda Gīta-govinda khandua on his chest, the cloth with verses written on it from Jayadeva Gosvāmī’s Gīta-govinda. He was our great friend, teacher, and well-wisher. Today there is great pain in our hearts.”
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #46 – The Nature of Bhakti is the Topmost Love for God

November 14th, 2016

Nārada-bhakti-sūtra

Sūtra 2

sā tv asmin parama-prema-rūpā

The first verse declares that bhakti is the subject of the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra. It also implied that bhakti is the culmination of all spiritual practices. This verse now defines the nature of such bhakti:
 
It is the topmost love for God.
 
The topmost love, also called uttama-bhakti, is classically defined as activities done with the exclusive intention to please Kṛṣṇa (God) that are not covered by any selfish desire.
 
Obviously, real devotion cannot be motivated by personal desire, but why does it have to be for God?
 
God by definition is the basis of existence, one inclusive of all reality. That means that nothing can be outside of Him. Truly loving God thus means to love everything and everyone, just as watering the root of a tree nourishes the whole tree.
 
Without loving God, however, one’s love becomes somewhat exclusive and narrow. Your love for someone excludes affection for another, just as watering the leaves of a tree excludes service for the whole tree.
 
Such love, however, is not restricted to just an immanent being. Loving exchanges with others are essential to the path of bhakti. In fact, one who claims to love God, but who has enmity towards others, is not actually a lover of God. At best, his devotion is of a low or mixed quality.
 
A true bhakta thus humbly serves those who are more advanced than him or herself in spiritual life, makes friends with his peers, and shows compassion to those in need. And although those relationships entail real affection, they are not limited. Whether as parent for a child or a wife or husband for their partner, the bhakta is united with others with a vision towards the eternal. Seeing the soul, the spark of God in everyone, the devotee naturally serves and loves others as intrinsic parts of God and they naturally satisfy that person’s needs so that they may have peaceful minds to eventually pursue the highest endeavor of awakening God consciousness. *
 
The nature of bhakti is thus the topmost love, selfless service to God, which is inclusive of his parts and parcels.
 
 
* After writing this and having it edited upon casually showing this to a friend I was asked, “Is at best our relationships in this world just a psychological boon. Is there any direct spiritual benefit at all?” In the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī defines Kṛṣṇa as Kṛṣṇa, His parts and parcels and his differentiated energies. So seeing someone as part of God and serving them in a particular relationship cognizant of that fact can also be worship of Kṛṣṇa.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #45 – I want to be a Vaisnava!

November 7th, 2016

Amidst the throngs of seemingly ordinary people here in Vṛndāvana just one old Vaiṣṇava sādhu has to smile and greet you in his raspy voice “Jai Ho, Mahārāja!” and you realize why you have come to this place. Does that sound sentimental? After living here for more than forty years that is my strong conviction, that the endearing voices and bountiful smiles of such beautiful people inform us powerfully of the real goal in life, to become simple hearted, happy, and in a mood of service. Yes, the beautiful things in life are simple and sweet, because they are born not from opulence, but from the hearts of devotion. And that’s the glory of Vṛndāvana, the jewels of mādhurya (sweetness) that are hidden in the hearts of the real Vrajavāsīs.* Yesterday I mined one.

Govinda Kuṇḍa is just a forty-minute walk down the parikramā path from my own place near Dāna-ghāṭī (the place of the tax pastime). It sits next to the side of Govardhana Hill. It’s where Indra performed the ceremonial bath of Kṛṣṇa to beg pardon for his offense and whose bath waters formed this beautiful pond according to Kṛṣṇa lore. Five of us took a late morning outing there to visit this small sādhu hamlet.

Our visit eventually took us down a small road off the main path on the southern side of the kuṇḍa that ended at a yellow iron gate with a sign above announcing the place as the āśrama of the renowned late Vaiṣṇava saint and mystic Manohar Bābā. We entered and walked straight alongside the āśrama building under an enclosed pavilion to the end of the property where we faced an old indiscreet closed wood door on our left side. We cautiously pushed the door open and entered a dimly light hall and the altar of small Śrī Madana-mohana deities. One simple sādhu was sitting there chanting, but he immediately stood up to greet us and beamed, “prasādam, prasādam” enthusiastically pointing our way through a corridor to the back of the property where their kitchen and prasādam hall stood.

As we entered the rustic kitchen pavilion of this ancient āśrama, Sītānāth Bābā, the recently installed mahant of the place, was standing over an open fire vigorously stirring a wok of vegetables. When he saw us enter he turned and also beamed “prasādam, prasādam” earnestly pointing to a single plank table with chairs for our group all facing where Sītānāth was cooking as another joyful sādhu fed us a sumptuous meal. Sītānāth then suddenly left his cooking to scurry around to find whatever he could in the āśrama to please us, from their special stash of sweets for guests, to even hot cow’s milk at the end.

We felt so welcomed. I just loved their culture, especially their smiles that were worn almost as badges of their faith. And what was their faith? It was the happiness of prīti or love, their deep conviction that pleasure is not to enjoy or control the world, but to genuinely serve God and his devotees. And that’s what Vraja* really is and that is what I really hanker for, the simple heart of service reflected in the beautiful smile of the true residents here.

Once when a faithful disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda said to him, “You are greatest Vaiṣṇava!” he became grave and emphatically said, “No! Vaiṣṇava is not an ordinary thing!” Of course, part of being of Vaiṣṇava is humility and in one’s deep hunger for the service of God one naturally feels a lack of devotion. Indeed, Śrīla Prabhupāda was one of the greatest Vaiṣṇava, but he highlighted the rarity and value of a simple heart and mood of service.

Being here in Vraja and being inspired by the Vaiṣṇava’s here, my chanting has taken up a singular prayer for this auspicious month of Kārtika:

“I want to be a Vaiṣṇava!”

* Either one born in Vṛndāvana or one who lives there and truly imbibes its mood.

** Another name for Vṛndāvana.