Archive for January, 2017

Monday Morning Greeting 2017 #5 – Community and Krishna Consciousness

January 30th, 2017

After the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon three years ago I was impressed by a poignant message from Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the city’s archbishop, that highlighted for me the value, even more than the value – the practical necessity – of community for spiritual life.
 
“The crowd is made up of self-absorbed individuals, each one focused on his or her own interests in competition with the conflicting projects of others. A community is where people come to value each other, and find their own identity in being part of something bigger than themselves, working together for the common good.”
 
I thought this really underscores the foundational spiritual need that community provides: a space where one can rise above the ego based “me first” consciousness that roots us in this world.
 
Of course, I am not negating the necessity of self-preservation or protecting oneself, but a “crowd” is not supposed to be our community. We need places where we can be openhearted without laboring to protect our interests.
 
My realization on this was especially reinforced by our recent Purī retreat. Our team worked particularly hard to create an environment that we felt would best foster community, a culture that we summed up as “welcomed, cared for, expertly done in the service of Śrīla Prabhupāda.” With this mindset, our crew was very attentive to serve the pilgrims by providing a clean and quiet setting with the highest quality talks, kīrtans, and prasādam and for no cost above the payment for their rooms. [1] And we felt the result.
 
When devotees no longer have to worry about protecting or serving their own interests they become eager to serve the community that does. Bhakti so easily flows when we find an identity of belonging to something greater than ourselves. We saw that so strongly at the retreat, which was confirmed by the feedback of the participants.
 
One former ballet dancer who tastefully enlivened the kīrtans with his graceful and blissful dancing remarked he hadn’t danced like this in kīrtan for years and related his spontaneity to the sense of community he was feeling. Aesthetic or rasa theory informs us that the full force of rasa, or heightened devotion, is only felt within a group when all the members experience it as if with one interest or mind. And that is certainly the case for kīrtan. [2]
 
Many years ago, I read The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm. I don’t remember much now, but one point struck me. He described narcissism as antithetical to love and defined it as seeing the world through one’s own desires. Although we need to be careful not to use membership in any group to fortify our ego by creating a mini world of individual or collective lordship, such alliances, do have an important redeeming purpose. When they are committed relationships in partnership, family or community they help us understand that the world is not just about us, which is a fundamental principle in bhakti, a principle that will not be learned by one who chooses to stay alone, even as a monk, unless he or she has the extraordinary realization to rise above narcissism and become the humble servant of everyone.
 
The pastimes of Kṛṣṇa demonstrate the perfect spiritual community. This is one of my favorite descriptions of community and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s relevant commentary:
 
“Like the whorl of a lotus flower surrounded by its petals and leaves, Kṛṣṇa sat in the center, encircled by lines of His friends, who all looked very beautiful. Every one of them was trying to look forward toward Kṛṣṇa, thinking that Kṛṣṇa might look toward Him. In this way they all enjoyed their lunch in the forest.” (Bhāg. 10.13.8)
 
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s commentary:
 
“The present Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is an attempt to keep Kṛṣṇa in the center, for if this is done all activities will automatically become beautiful and blissful.”
 
Let us pray to rise above the crowd and find our community.
 
[1] To facilitate the spirit of bhakti the retreat is maintained only by donations from the participants.
 
 
[2] In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta it is described that Śrī Caitanya stopped one of the nocturnal kīrtans at the house of Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura when He suddenly felt the relish of the kīrtan diminishing. When he inquired if someone unknown had entered it was revealed that a brahmacārī with an impersonal or monistic view had entered.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #4 – Is Jagannātha the Highest Manifestation of God?

January 23rd, 2017

Jagannātha is the highest form of God. That’s the realization I had today here in Purī. My reasoning goes like this:
 
God is a person. I am starting from that proposition because I assume my readership mostly accepts this proposal. Also, I have already argued this point extensively in Monday Morning Greetings #26. [1] Assuming that God doesn’t have the defect of impersonality, my argument proceeds as follows from that first proposition:
 
The fullest manifestation of any person is not in their position or power, but in his or her personality or inner self as a friend, parent, or lover. For example, we may meet a very powerful person, but if we don’t have a familial relationship with them – if they are a stranger or even a reverential superior – very little of that person’s fullest or most intimate self will be revealed. Position therefore covers personality or the fullest manifestation of being.
 
The example of a high court judge is often given to demonstrate this. We may have studied the judge’s background or history or even know him as kind or sober, but his full self is not manifest while holding court. It is only manifest when he comes home and his parental, fraternal, or romantic side is not checked by the formality and majesty that judgeship demands.
 
In the same way, God is not fully manifest when he displays His full grandeur as Nārāyaṇa, or the creator and controller of existence. His personality is only fully visible when He sheds His position of grandeur and appears as Kṛṣṇa, a beautiful cowherd where His intimate side is not restrained by the opulence (aiśvarya) and formality of Godhead. Kṛṣṇa is thus aptly described by Śrī Rūpa, the great Vaiṣṇava teacher, as akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti, the personification of the combined bliss of all rasa, or in other word, the fullest manifestation or personhood.
 
Certainly there can be nothing higher than Kṛṣṇa, but a question still remains. What is the fullest manifestation of Kṛṣṇa? Here’s where we come to Jagannātha.
 
Kṛṣṇa, like any person, gives His heart in proportion to the force of one’s love. As the most intense love is mādhurya-rasa, the mellow of conjugal love, Kṛṣṇa gives Himself most fully to the gopīs. And as Śrī Rādhā stands supreme even amongst the gopīs, Kṛṣṇa opens His heart most fully to her.
 
Therefore the fullest manifestation of Kṛṣṇa is in response to Rādhā’s love, specifically the height of that love, the peak of her separation from Kṛṣṇa. This is a love so powerful that even Kṛṣṇa’s body transforms in overwhelming ecstasy, a condition where His eyes become highly dilated and His limbs withdraw into His body, a form known as Jagannātha. [2]
 
And if there is still any doubt that Jagannātha is the fullest manifestation of Kṛṣṇa, please consider the following:
 
One of the main practices of spontaneous devotional service (rāgānugā-bhakti) is the worship of the form of Kṛṣṇa corresponding to the love one aspires to attain. Śrī Caitanya was seeking to taste the love of his best devotee, Śrī Rādhā, at the height of her love. He therefore accepted Jagannātha as His worshipful Lord and spent the last eighteen years of His life in Jagannātha Purī, and even one year when Śrī Caitanya stayed in Śrī Raṅgam for the four months of the rainy season, where the deity of Viṣṇu presides, and there is no Jagannātha temple, He personally carved His own Jagannātha deity to nourish His devotion.
 
Can there be any doubt that Jagannātha is the highest form of God?
 
[1] http://wavesofdevotion.com/2016/06/27/is-god-a-person/
 
[2] For an elaborate explanation of how Kṛṣṇa became Jagannātha see Three Logs of Wood from Gopal Jiu Publications.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #3 – The Cause and Cure of Anxiety

January 16th, 2017

When things go exactly our way, now that’s a time to worry! That sounds strange. Why would one worry when the world finally conforms to one’s desire?
 
About seven months ago, just as I was beginning my journey from my upstate home to New York City, a very pleasant thought struck me: “This is rare. My ambitions and desires are fulfilled. I feel completely satisfied.” I searched my mind further, “And wait, I can’t find any major problems either.”
 
Like everyone I’ve had my trials and tribulations in life. But now, for the first time since I can remember, there seemed to be no major discomfort confronting me. I also thought of the success I wanted as a preacher and how opportunities were now opening beyond my wildest desires. Then another thought struck me. “I’m enjoying what my world is now, but it will not stay this way. What my life is now is beyond my absolute control and what it will be in the future is also be beyond my complete control.”
 
As I was reflecting in this way, I began to realize something more deeply about the duality of the material world. Even when we get what we want, our happiness is mixed with distress because what we treasure is temporary. It will thus be lost in time and to the extent we are attached to it we suffer. Duality thus means that our pleasures will always be mixed with the fear of loss.
 
I especially remember the feelings of such duality and fear before I came to Kṛṣṇa consciousness when I had no conception of my eternality, when the sense that everything would end always rested as a heavy weight on my head. Can there be real enjoyment on death row? Isn’t all enjoyment for the person who thinks death is the end of existence like the pleasure of a last meal? I never want to forget the relief I felt after coming to spiritual life when that doom on my head was lifted by the simple realization that I was eternal.
 
But even for one who knows they are eternal there is still fear and suffering to extent that they are still attached to the temporary. I am not denying that there are basic material needs and desires that must be met to be peaceful. I am just acknowledging that even such attachments are still in the realm of the impermanent and thus mixed with duality.
 
As I was driving and these thoughts flashed in the mind, I realized that only by being equal in happiness and distress could one become peaceful. Yes, this was a rare moment when the world seemed to be reasonably conforming to my desires. I was happy for that, but still it was clear that I needed to be equipoised or detached, not absorbed in my “happiness”, otherwise I would suffer.
 
These thoughts may sound fatalistic, but they’re not. I do see happiness in this world, just not where we usually look for it. It rests in our free will, how we respond to the world, as long as we choose to respond by service and devotion, an option always within our control and a choice that is free from duality. But the message I received while driving my car to New York City stands without question:
 
Happiness in this world is ironically filled with worry. Don’t overly rejoice in the temporary.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #2 – I am the Greatest!

January 9th, 2017

I have finally been gifted my own residence here in Vṛndāvana after having lived here for over forty years. And what a place! It overlooks the āśrama of Rādhā-ṭilā, a place of Śrī Rādhā’s pastimes. Its simple āśrama residents try to preserve and worship the dhāma by living in exactly in the same way the Six Gosvāmīs did five hundred years ago unencumbered by any so-called modern conveniences. The special feature of Rādhā-ṭilā is that the sādhus here feed the birds of Vṛndāvana one hundred kilos of millet everyday at 2 PM. It attracts thousands and thousands of birds, mostly parrots, freely buzzing around its trees in droves during the feeding that lasts for several hours. The sight is stunning as is the remembrance of the pastime here: the parrots are the disciples of Vṛndā-devī, the goddess of the Vṛndāvana forest, who would fly all over Vraja to scout the safest passage ways for Rādhā to go meet Kṛṣṇa. In reciprocation Rādhā would come here to feed them and that bird feast is still going on after 5,000 years!
 
My seat for my japa meditation faces a large picture window that perfectly frames the top of this Rādhā-ṭilā forest with its birds. I so much enjoy sitting here and looking at the most beautiful sight in the world: the Vraja forest filled with its birds. But today a thought suddenly came, “Why do I enjoy this so much?” I searched my mind and saw a thought that disturbed me and made me question whether I was enjoying these sights as a service to Kṛṣṇa, or if there was some another reason for my joy? “I now have the best room with the best sight and thus I am better than others.” I was a bit taken aback. Was I becoming like the tourist who enjoys his vacation to an exotic destination and takes pictures, not because he is absorbed in the pleasure of the moment, but to announce to the world that he is also great because he is enjoying more than others? Am I wishing or announcing that most insidious of all thoughts:
 
“I am the greatest!”
 
My older brother and myself were big fans of Muhammad Ali. We listened intently to his fights on the radio with Sonny Liston and even went to the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden to watch him train. We also loved his bravado as he would proudly scream, “I am the greatest!” Now, almost fifty years later, my values have changed. In contrast, I adore the humble, simple servants of Kṛṣṇa whose greatness is that they don’t think themselves better than everyone or anyone. I now worship those who see everything in relation to love and service, but deep within me I still saw the false ego wanting to announce to the world in a similar way, “I am the greatest!” And all because I have the best view. How silly the subtle mind!
 
Sādhu beware! The false ego is devious and tries to take everything for its own service, even our good qualities, as one can easily become proud of being in goodness, practicing renunciation, or even being humble. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta thus even cautioned us about living in Rādhā-kuṇḍa, I assume because he understood how easily that same sinister voice could convince us that we are the best simply because we reside in the topmost place, a conviction that would ironically doom our spiritual life, even when residing in the best place.
 
I am sitting here writing this article on my seat of prayer enjoying this mystical scene of the Rādhā-ṭilā birds praying that my happiness is only because I am witnessing a spark of Kṛṣṇa’s splendor and feeling His mercy. I have no other qualification and by Śrīla Prabhupāda’s grace that is becoming clear.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #1 – Happy Birthday, Monday Morning Greetings!

January 2nd, 2017

I began Monday Morning Greetings on this same day, the first Monday in January, exactly one year ago, and in this exact same place, my residence in Śrīdhām Māyāpur, the home of Jagadīśa and Jugala. It began when Jugala expressed how much she liked my journals and then inquired why I hadn’t written any in over five years. I couldn’t think of a good reason. I immediately began this journal, now named Monday Morning Greetings, neatly on the first Monday of January last year.

I have now completed fifty-two Monday Morning Greetings that I will compile into a book. I have also decided to accept the personal challenge to continue this series for another year beginning with this entry, Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #1.

Yes, it’s a challenge to write them. Most of the initial posts were ideas I had swimming around my head for some time. I thus questioned whether I would be able to come up with enough fresh ideas to continue throughout the year when that beginning source of inspiration ran dry.

There was also the challenge of keeping the writing to the standard of clarity and force that I was demanding before each journal was to be posted. Satsvarūpa dāsa Goswāmī once told me, and I don’t know if it was his own realization or he was quoting a famous writer or artist[1], that writing is “inspiration, perspiration, inspiration”.

Unless you have something to say, some inspiration, there is really nothing to write, no matter how expert in word craft one is. And only with hard work, perspiration, will your original realization be manifest in a way in which others can experience your initial realization, or inspiration.

So, in some ways continuing Monday Morning Greetings was daunting, but by remaining steady a dynamic process of writing unfolded, a process that gave me confidence that I would be able to mine realizations, confront the initial blank page, draft the initial scrambled thoughts on the subject, and eventually every week craft that inspiration in another form – the completed written work.

I now very much enjoy watching that process manifest from my initial realization into something that can inspire my audience. And just as a side note, I want to thank the many readers who have communicated that appreciation to me. It inspires me to write. Now I will share the process.

Inspiration

I generally don’t have a specific idea of what I will write until I finish the piece I am working on, but what I do have is a frame of reference to see God in the world based on śāstra,[2] a context that I can immediately activate to find new sources of inspiration. That framework not only helps me to more and more see the world based on what I have gleaned from the sacred texts, but it also confirms those realizations in a way that brings them alive and inspires me to write about them.

For example, on the way to Māyāpur I stayed the night in Delhi at the home of a very pious Indian family who, among other things, consciously dedicates themselves to karma yoga and a life according to the Gītā. I was very impressed. I saw in them certain Gītā principles personified in a way that deepened my own understanding of them and instilled in me a desire to share what I saw in a future post.

Writing thus forces me to regularly engage with śāstra to keep spiritual thoughts in the front of my consciousness. It is the foundation of my process of writing.

Another important part of my process of gaining inspiration is lots of chanting, especially after I have completed a post. Chanting is for love of Godhead, but an important result is ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaṁ, the mind becomes clear. It is only in that clarity of mind that I can see the world lucidly enough to become spiritually inspired by it.

Chanting is the basis of my life, but it is also now an essential element for my process of writing.

Perspiration

After the day begins my time is mixed with other responsibilities and I find it difficult to focus on writing. I am also not the type of pure brāhmaṇa that can concentrate for long periods on intellectual work. In fact, in my youth my absorption was sports and the only two books I ever remembering reading and liking was Animal Farm by George Orwell and The Mouse That Roared. [3] Since writing Monday Morning Greetings I thus have had no choice but to rise many hours before sunrise for at least thirty minutes to an hour for writing, where in abject solitude my concentration is very focused.

Thus rising early and writing daily in full focus is very much a part of my writing process where I can overcome the sometimes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to clarity and focus that a next paragraph often poses.

So that’s how Monday Morning Greetings is born and hopefully I can continue this sevā for the pleasure of Śrīla Prabhupāda and my audience.

And to my readers, I remain indebted to you. There are two types of service to a Vaiṣṇava. One is physical service and the other is hearing. In ways hearing is the best service because it engages the person one serves also in service, the service of kīrtan, or glorifying the Lord.

So again thank you and I wish all the best for you and your families from Śrīdhām Māyāpur at the beginning of the New Year and on the birthday of Monday Morning Greetings.

[1] I know Thomas Edison is famous for saying that success is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration, but I remember the phrase I was told as “inspiration, perspiration, inspiration”.

[2] Sacred texts.

[3] I only remember now that I enjoyed the book, but don’t even remember what it was about or who the author was.