Archive for May, 2017

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #22 – How Are You? My Answer

May 29th, 2017

How are you?

Everything is going great, but there is one problem.

What is that?

I’m not the controller.

What?

If you are not the controller, how can you be the enjoyer?

Why not?

Because no matter how many things are going your way, if you are not the controller, not everything will go your way.

So?

When we are in the mood of the enjoyer, then the problem, the thing that doesn’t go our way, becomes prominent, and not the things that are going our way. That one lousy thing, no matter how insignificant it is, ruins everything, at least for most people.

How?

As it is said, “A pinch of suffering is felt more than a ton of happiness.” Think Bill Gates with a toothache. Not just physical pain, but any small insult, or any frustration of our immediate, or long-term desires, can ruin everything. As the world rarely conforms to our desires, this world is always a place of suffering for those immersed in false ego, the desire to control and enjoy, which is, unfortunately, most people.

What to do?

We have to change our strategy. We need to go from seeking our happiness in destiny, what happens to us, which is beyond our control, to seeking happiness in in our free will –  how we react to what happens to us –  which is within our control. In other words, we need not to change the world, but to change our selves, and this is within our power.

Explain further.

We are consciousness, or being who reaches fulfillment in love or service. Happiness is thus not controlling the world, but serving the world, and that opportunity and consciousness is available no matter what the circumstances.

How are you?

Everything is fine. I am not the controller, but when you have an inner life, then that does not matter at all.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #21 – The Kīrtana Sūtras

May 22nd, 2017

Have you ever heard of the Kīrtana Sūtras? Probably not, as I recently coined the term. It’s a fitting title for the Śikṣāṣṭakam, the eight verses comprised by Śrī Caitanya, the father of the modern day kīrtana movement, which are the only direct writings He left behind. This term is appropriate because the purpose of a “sūtra” is to codify a larger body of thinking into condensed phrases that allows the students of a tradition to more easily memorize and understand its teachings. In that way, the Siksatakam is like other collections of sūtras as it systematizes the teachings of Śrī Caitanya into a series of terse verses packed with the glories of saṅkīrtana, the major tenet of His teachings.
 
Sūtras traditionally begin with the word “atha” (now) to indicate the significance of the school that will be discussed and the urgency to undertake its study. “Atha” (now) is thus not just a unit of time, but hierarchical, meaning the moment of time when one has reached the summit. In other words, “atha” (now) that you have studied so many other things you have finally come to the conclusion of all spiritual paths, whether that “now” is referring to the school of yoga in the Yoga Sūtras, as in atha yogānuśāsanam, the school of Vedanta in the Vedanta Sūtras, as in athāto brahma-jijñāsā, or the school of bhakti in the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra, as in athāto bhaktiṁ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ and so on.
 
Similarly, in the first verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, the school of Caitanya is also introduced by a hierarchical expression of time. Śrī Caitanya says “paraṁ vijayate” meaning the topmost (paraṁ) special glory (vijayate), in this case referring to śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana as not only the apex of all spiritual processes, but the summit of all paths or practices of devotion as well. In other words, now that you have engaged in so many spiritual practices it is time to do śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana, to humbly chant the holy name loudly and with others, accompanied by mṛdaṅga and kartalas, not only for your benefit, but for the benefit of others as well. [1]
 
The history of the composition of the Śikṣāṣṭakam as described in the “Śikṣāṣṭakam Prayers”, the title and subject of the concluding chapter of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, [2] also points to the nature of the Śikṣāṣṭakam as a summary of Śrī Caitanya’s teaching. The “Śikṣāṣṭakam Prayers” opens by describing Śrī Caitanya in the highest ecstasy of love of Godhead, the fulfillment of His mission. Overwhelmed by ecstasy, but reflecting on its cause, He suddenly quotes a verse from the eleventh canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describing that in this age, people who are exceptionally intelligent will do saṅkīrtana. [3] While relishing the meaning of that verse, the eight verses of the Śikṣāṣṭakam spontaneously pour forth from His heart, systematically describing the effect of the holy name at different levels of faith from śraddhā, the preliminary stage of devotion based on initial faith, to prema, the highest level of devotion. For example, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, describes that the first verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, describes chanting at the level of faith. What is that faith? Paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam: the most glorious spiritual practice is saṅkīrtana. In a similar way, Bhaktivinoda then proceeds to describe how each verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam corresponds to a particular stage of devotional development awakened by the chanting of the holy name and inspired by deepening levels of humility and devotion. In this way, by the nature of the Śikṣāṣṭakam’s succinct message and by its history, it becomes self-evident that in these verses Śrī Caitanya indeed was codifying His mission around saṅkīrtana.
 
Another relatively unique feature of a sūtra is that often a core concept is defined and then its meaning is unpacked by succeeding verses. For example, after yoga is defined in verse two of the Yoga Sūtras as yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ, the proceeding verses unpack the meaning of each word. Verse three through four describe citta, the options of awareness for the mind; verses five through eleven the vṛttis, the various fluctuations of the mind; and verses twelve through sixteen nirodhaḥ, how the mind is stilled. In a similar way, the first verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam delineates the progressive glories of saṅkīrtana and with each succeeding verse those same glories as mentioned in its first verse are expanded further. [4]
 
Although Śrī Caitanya was a great scholar, He only composed these eight verses at the end of His life, which was the culmination of the fulfillment of His mission based on its foundation, śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana. Is it not fair to assume that indeed He was codifying his mission in something that could aptly be called the Kīrtana Sūtras?
 
 


 
[1] In his commentary on the verse kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ (Bhāg. 11.5.32) Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī comments that saṅkīrtana means meeting with many people to blissfully sing about Śrī Kṛṣṇa and do so loudly for the benefit of others. Not sure of the meaning here?
 
[2] The main biography of Śrī Caitanya by Śrī Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja.
 
[3] “In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Kṛṣṇa. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Kṛṣṇa Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions.” (Bhāg. 11.5.32)
 
[4] There is a definite progression of spiritual attainment described in the first verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam. The proceeding seven verses also describe a gradual elevation of spiritual attainment. Although the correlation between the progression of attainment from śraddhā (preliminary faith) to prema (love of God) and the eight verses of the Śikṣāṣṭakam is definitively described by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, he doesn’t mention the correlation between the glories of the holy name mentioned in the first verse and the succeeding verses of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, although both describe progressive levels of spiritual levels of spiritual attainment. In his commentary on Śrī Bhajana-rahasya, Śrīla B.V. Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja does make that correlation.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #20 – The Last Honest Man II

May 15th, 2017

I received a lot of feedback from my post The Last Honest Man. Readers found the last line especially moving: “I am not the last honest man, but I know those who are and I serve them.” Several mentioned that the post had a beat, like poetry, in that its timely refrain gave it a rhythmic sense. And one person wrote:
 
“What an inspiring topic and what a potent and poetic way you presented it! It made me wonder if it was inspired by something specific that had happened recently, as it had such a strong emotional undercurrent to it.”
 
Yes, it did have an emotional element. How can one not be stirred today? I read something recently that basically summed up my angst: “Common sense is not a gift, it’s a punishment because you have to deal with everyone that doesn’t have it.”
 
This present age is called Kali-yuga, which Śrīla Prabhupāda called the age of quarrel and confusion. As the effects of this age increase how can one not be disturbed by the hypocrisy of the world that seems to have reached into every sphere of life both left and right? Need I give examples? Here’s just one prominent way that’s disturbing: narcissism. I like Eric Fromm’s definition of the word: “To see the world according to one’s own desires.” [1] Did you ever have a conflict with someone like this, who saw something in a particular way just because they desired it so, sometimes even seeing something that belonged to you as their own? How dishonest! Are you also guilty of the same thing? Be honest.
 
Another thing that has been bothering me is the epidemic of motivated reasoning and the arrogance in which people promote their side without hearing the other. One definition: “Motivated cognition refers to the unconscious tendency of individuals to fit their processing of information to conclusions that suit some end or goal.” [2] In other words, you fit your reasoning to support your conclusion or goal, not that your conclusions are based on your reasoning.
 
Yes, there were personal things that disturbed me, and there was emotion behind what I wrote, but I will keep that personal. But it wasn’t just negative emotions that inspired me to write about honesty. I was also inspired to write by thinking of honest men, the few that are sincere to the core of their hearts, and speak the truth despite what people think or do in opposition.
 
The last line was: “I am not the last honest man, but I know who they are and I serve them.” So although I get disturbed by the dishonest and laud the honest, there was another emotion that inspired my piece. I need to be more honest.
 
Madan Oppenheimer, one of our readers, was inspired to explore his own feelings on the subject after reading what I wrote. Someone shared it with me. I liked it because it added another dimension to honesty, the call to further look at the subtleties of honesty and dishonesty in our own heart. Indeed this is a personal, moving, and deep subject for everyone. We could go on forever exploring it. I will leave it at that and finish with Madan’s offering. What are yours? I would love to hear them.
 
 
An honest person recognizes that they might be wrong about things that they feel sure of, or believe in, even things they hold sacred.
 
An honest person recognizes that honesty is only as good as the love it allows them to feel for others, including those that they perceive as being dishonest.
 
An honest person recognizes that dishonesty may serve good purposes at times. [3]
 
An honest person recognizes that they are a complex being that is part of a complex reality in which honesty and dishonesty equally serve complex purposes. [4]
 
An honest person admits that even when they try to act selflessly, they are inescapably a self that has self-interests.
 
An honest person questions their honesty, ever aware of their limitations.
 
An honest person recognizes that the world is full of people and creatures and environments that need all kinds of help, in all kinds of ways, and that even though their efforts to help may never be enough, they probably should keep trying anyway, in whatever ways they are presently capable of, even if they have some selfish motives in the mix.
 
An honest person recognizes that they should be as helpful as they know how to be, even if they have selfish motives in the mix, because they recognize that the need is so great that they should not wait till they are “perfect”.
 
An honest person recognizes that they may not fully understand what constitutes honesty.
 
 


[1] I remember this quote from The Art of Loving. I don’t have the book with me. It’s a paraphrase.
 
[2] Dan Kohan
 
[3] A practical example of dishonesty serving a good purpose would be telling a lie in order to protect someone who is under your care from the harm an aggressor intends to cause them.
 
[4] For example, by the law of karma one person’s dishonesty may be teaching you a lesson and thus be communicating a truth to you and serving a good purpose.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #19 – What I Learned from Great Men

May 8th, 2017

The glory of a culture is most fully understood through the people that live and exemplify it. During the forty years I lived in India, especially my early years, I was fortunate to meet many pious devotees of Kṛṣṇa, people who were elderly enough to have imbibed its culture before the accelerated onslaught on that culture by everything modern and western. The following is just a glimpse of what I saw and learned from them.
 
Integrity

It’s not easy today to find a man whose attachment to keeping his word is stronger than even his desire for life itself. I was fortunate to meet such a man.
 
Dr. Omkarnath Sharma, the first principal of the Vṛndāvana Gurukula, was quite an accomplished person. I looked up to him in many ways, but to me, more impressive than his scholarship or success in business, his accomplishments in fine art or his mastership of yoga, or even the startling fact that he also held an advanced degree in film-making in 1950 from the University of Southern California, was his unshakeable adherence to his vows. He shared with me his story:
 
He was the elder brother in a joint family of brāhmaṇas in Agra. To keep peace in the family, and to follow family etiquette, he sometimes had to side with his youngest brother in conflicts with his youngest son, although he confided to me that his younger brother was a bit of a rascal. At the age of twenty his only son left home as a result of such a dispute. When, after a year, his son had still not returned, his wife died of heartbreak. He then immediately responded with a stringent vow of renunciation:
 
“Until my son comes home, I will never again return home, I will never again eat any grains, beans or anything with oil, nor will I ever take anything sweet or salty, or with any spice at all!”
 
I met him thirty years after that vow. His son never returned home, and neither did he. He remained unwavering in his promise and kept his fast. His daily diet for the last thirty years: a single cup of yogurt in the late morning with a small bowl of steamed vegetables and a glass of milk with a little fruit in the evening.
 
The foundation of Indian culture was primarily adherence to one’s words, often expressed in the vows one would make. I was happy to have met a person whose character reflected the integrity of that bygone era.
 
Submissiveness

It was the tirobhava tithi, the disappearance celebration, of Śrīla Bhakti Dayitā Mādhava Mahārāja, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s god-brother. I had come on the invitation of Śrīla Maṅgala Mahārāja, his disciple, who had kindly befriended me when he came to New York in the late eighties. Soon after I arrived Maṅgala Mahārāja invited to me to the second floor to take darśana of one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s last living god-brothers, Śrīla Bhakti Promode Purī Mahārāja, and to wait for the feast.
 
Now just past his hundredth birthday, Purī Mahārāja was sitting peacefully, but crouched over by force of age, his drooping eyelids practically covering his eyes. I remember his beatific smile and how honored I felt to sit in his presence. Suddenly a brahmacārī passionately entered the room and announced in Bengali, “The feast is being served. All the Vaiṣṇavas must come!” I was startled by the stampede of saffron rushing past me to the door as Maṅgala Mahārāja translated for me what had just been said. Then, to my surprise, I saw the elderly and bent over Purī Mahārāja suddenly pick himself up and with great effort start shuffling slowing towards the door. When his servant looked up and noticed what was happening, he was also surprised. He quickly called out, “But Mahārāja you know we will bring your prasādam here. You don’t have to go downstairs.” I will never forget his humble reply:
 
“When the Vaiṣṇavas command, I must obey!”
 
In the modern world of exploitation and low self-esteem it is easy to miss the beauty of the gentle and submissive unless you see it embodied in the behavior of a great soul. I was fortunate to have sat in the presence of such a person.
 
Humility

I met Dr. Fakir Mohan about fifteen or twenty years ago. I was staying at ISKCON Govardhana and was told that an elderly Vaiṣṇava from Orissa, who was a renowned Vaiṣṇava scholar, had just arrived. I went to greet him to pay respects, but when 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 moved 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.”
 
Kṛṣṇa Mohan was an elderly and pious Indian who had been a doctor in Mathura in 1950. He now lived in the USA and was seeking to take initiation from me, but I refused. I wasn’t accepting any disciples at that time. One day after the Sunday Feast at ISKCON Towaco he came to my room, paid prostrated obeisances, and then crying begged for my mercy. He was so sincere. I felt embarrassed. I overheard a young devotee nearby aptly comment, “Now I know what Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu meant when he said to Śrīla Rūpa, ‘Your humility is breaking my heart’.”
 
True humility is not just a concept that one accepts and executes. It’s something that overflows from the simple and pure heart. It was inspiring to meet such devotees.
 
Wisdom

In the early Nineties, I became somewhat close with Śrīpāda B.V. Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja. Śrīla Prabhupāda had asked him to supervise the rituals of his samādhi ceremony after he had passed away. It was natural for us to take advantage of his association for advice – advice born from years of śāstric study and application.
 
When I was asked to take sannyāsa initiation, the formal order of renunciation, I was in a dilemma. At that time ISKCON was under a system that practically obliged one to take sannyāsa, or any initiation, from the guru who managed the zone in which one served. Although I liked and respected our flamboyant local GBC/guru, I was less impressed with his renunciation. I feared taking this solemn vow from someone who was not an example of detachment. I put this matter before Śrīla Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja. I told him the situation, and offered that taking sannyāsa was just a formality anyway. He replied soberly: “There are no formalities in Vaiṣṇava relations! All are real. Take from the person who inspires you the most.”
 
I did. I took sannyāsa from His Holiness Satsvarūpa Goswami, who lived a simple and renounced life. I also somehow able to do so without disturbing others attached to the present system.
 
On another occasion Mahārāja asked me to relay a message to one of my god-brothers who had held a grudge against another god-brother and was seeking punitive action. The potential victim begged Mahārāja to speak to that devotee. Factually, his mistake was neither personal nor very serious, but whether it was or not was irrelevant to the crux of the message that Mahārāja asked me to relay, “When a Vaiṣṇava begs forgiveness, then it is finished.” He then shook his hand in the air in the gesture that indicated that something was gone or finished. His instruction struck me deeply. I remember several times calling on that instruction to forgive those that asked for pardon, never considering or dwelling on that offense again. It was gone or finished.
 
Another instruction I heard from him that I followed despite the impulse sometimes in human interaction to want to act otherwise: “A Vaiṣṇava is one who promotes faith in guru.”
 
Good instructions when spoken with conviction by one who has realized them have a potency to make one assimilate them quickly. It’s a great blessing to have known people of knowledge and wisdom based on śāstra.
 
Realization and Fearlessness

I awoke one morning to the unexpected news that Śrīla Prabhupāda was coming in a few hours. He was supposed to have stayed in Rishikesh to recover his health, but when his feet suddenly swelled up at night during a shutter-rattling storm, he read it as a sign that he might leave this world soon. He requested his disciples to immediately return to Vṛndāvana. When he arrived, we greeted him and he summoned us at once into his house. Due to health, instead of sitting yogic style behind his desk, he sat in a chair to the left of his desk. What he said was difficult for us to hear. He had come to leave this world, he announced, but assured us that Vṛndāvana was the best place to remember Kṛṣṇa at the time of death because everything was here. I specifically remember him noting the Yamuna and the white sands of Ramaṇa-reti where our temple was located. He then quoted with conviction a relevant verse from the Gītā:
 
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Bg. 2.13)
 
With startling nonchalance, he concluded: “But what is death but a change of body!”
 
Three month later I stood by the side of his bed for hours and joined with other disciples fervently chanting the holy name as we witnessed his passing from this world completely undisturbed.
 
I had read in the Gītā about the sober in the face of death and remembered the casualness with which Śrīla Prabhupāda had addressed death, but now I saw that it was just not words: a self-realized soul was not bewildered by such a change.
 
 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #18 – That Last Honest Man

May 1st, 2017

Truth is the last leg of religion. It is rare to find. I bow down to that last honest man.
 
Truth challenges our selfish desires. It may tell us to give up things we want and to accept things we don’t. The honest, however, accepts what is right no matter what it means for his life.
 
I bow down to that last honest man.
 
The word expediency does not exist in the vocabulary of the truthful. He never makes an excuse to simply do what he wants in the face of impropriety, no matter how practical or convenient it seems.
 
I bow down to that last honest man.
 
If the truthful makes a mistake he faces it head on no matter how loud his false ego screams. You will never catch him trying to rationalize away or justify his missteps or mistakes.
 
I bow down to that last honest man.
 
The reasoning of the truthful is never motivated. He reasons first and then comes to conclusions, not the other way around.
 
I bow to that last honest man.
 
Most are hopelessly stuck on the mental plane. Such people can’t make decisions frozen by the minute calculations of trying to calculate what is best for themselves. The honest is not shackled by such selfish concerns and therefore acts quickly and decisively.
 
I bow down to that last honest man.
 
Too many, in serving God and others, really want something for themselves, whether it’s profit, admiration, or distinction. The honest has no hidden agenda. He is completely sincere and serves only to please guru and Kṛṣṇa.
 
I bow down to that last honest man.
 
The private and public life of the truthful are the same. What you see is what you get. Don’t you just love the forthright, even with their rough edges?
 
I bow down to that last honest man.
 
Authority is not a bad word for the truthful if authority means the rule of knowledge and the person who possesses that knowledge. Rather the sincere humbly embrace and surrender to such authority.
 
I bow down to that last honest man.
 
When the leaders of spiritual institutions value the form of the institution more than the values on which they are based, such leaders fear the last honest man for he is detached and there is no way to control or silence him. Only such a man protects the legacy of those institutions from being mired in expediency and cheating.
 
I bow down to that last honest man.
 
When such institutions, however, live by the values they represent, the honest man is their defender and will give his life to protect it.
 
I bow down to that last honest man.
 
Although an honest man is bold, he fears the unnecessary criticism of others, especially those serving Kṛṣṇa, and only with the utmost caution, and as a last resort, does he ever mention one personally. The truthful hate only the sin and not the sinner.
 
I bow down to that last honest man.
 
The honest man never compromises the truth in thoughts, words, or action.
 
I am not that honest man, but I know who they are and serve them. I bow down to the last honest man.
 
 

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