Archive for the 'Greetings from Vrindavan' Category

Monday Morning Greetings #51 – One Thing to Forget, Two things to Remember

December 19th, 2016

Today’s Monday Morning Greeting is one of my favorite excerpts from Greetings from Vṛndāvana.
 
One Thing to Forget, Two things to Remember
 
October 30, 2002
Govardhana

 
Omen at Rāsa-sthālī: Walking north on the parikrama path from the Narasiṁha temple I honor the rock candy given by the Narasiṁha pūjārī. To wash our hands, Vaiśeṣika Prabhu and I turn into the Rāsa-sthālī forest area (the place of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s spring rāsa dance) where there is a water tap on the outside wall of the fortress-like temple compound. Before leaving, Vaiśeṣika Prabhu looks above the tap on the wall to decipher a saying written in Hindi. All of the sudden, I see an unusual furry ball whiz above his head. It happened so fast I thought that someone had thrown something, but it’s alive. A bird crashes against the wall, falls to the ground, quivers for a moment, and stops. It’s dead!
 
Eerie! I can’t help but think what this means. Is it as simple as a random bird’s death? And if it is, then why did this happen right as we entered the solitary forest? Is there something more to this omen? We continue our walk. Vaiśeṣika gets the message we need to hear: “Just see how flickering this world is!”
 
We continue walking north through monkey-land on the west side of Govardhana. In the distance one monkey holds her limp young child—another unusual sight. She puts her baby down. It’s dead! Whew! I have never seen even one death in countless parikramas, but now two in five minutes. Strange! What does this mean?
 
Vaiśeṣika spontaneously quotes in Sanskrit from the Bhāgavatam, and then translates: “Four things give us evidence of the flickering nature of this world: hearing, direct experience, inference, and traditional wisdom.”
 
Today we are learning of the temporal nature of this world through direct experience. But are we actually learning? A little more than a year ago I was in lower Manhattan when the World Trade Center collapsed. If an entire city didn’t get the message of this “flickering world,” and I didn’t get the message, then what will I learn now from a kamikaze bird at Rāsa-sthālī? 
He quotes again: “There is one thing to forget and two things to remember. Forget what you have done for others. Remember what others have done for you. And remember death!”
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #15 – Can Women Take Sannyasa?

April 11th, 2016

Can Women Take Sannyāsa? *
 
An interesting question was asked after my Bhāgavatam class Sunday, “Why are women forbidden to take sannyāsa?” A thoughtful discussion ensued. I especially like the contribution of Kaustubha dās, the Senior Educator of The Bhakti Center, who was asked a similar question in a seminar he had given the week before. The thrust of his explanation involved how the dynamic of western or modern upbringings fosters a perspective of tradition that is somewhat skewed and often leads to the misunderstanding of the value, and even the basic intent, behind much of the traditional practices of yoga or bhakti, such as sannyāsa. Here is the gist of his interesting answer on this subject:
 
“In terms of women being forbidden to take sannyāsa, it is not unfair or discriminatory. It only seems so because of the image we have of sannyāsa in today’s world. The modern sannyāsa is usually in a hierarchical position in society, often a guru, and a leader within an institutional preaching mission. Even if very renounced, his position still generally wields power and he often controls substantial wealth and assets and much facility is offered for his. If that is indeed what sannyāsa is about, then I can see why people today would think it was and is discriminatory not to offer the same opportunity for women.
 
The traditional sannyāsa, however, was much different. It was an arduous life of renunciation. After taking sannyāsa, the man would have to leave home and walk through the forest barefoot and depend on God for sustenance and protection. Even sixty years ago when Śrīla Prabhupāda was initially asked to take sannyāsa by a respected god-brother, he momentarily balked contemplating what the life of a sannyāsa in the Gauḍīya Maṭha meant.
 
The people of yore thus shuttered to think what the life of a sannyāsa would impose on their father who left home, what to speak of the thought of putting their mothers, or any woman for that matter, in such an unprotected and painstaking situation. The prohibition of women taking sannyāsa was thus born out of this sense of compassion. As difficult and dangerous as it is for a man to wander as a homeless beggar, that situation would be even more vulnerable for women.
 
And for women who sought and were qualified for that level of renunciation, other gender appropriate situations were offered. After Lord Caitanya took sannyāsa, Viṣṇupriyā, the wife of Lord Caitanya, shaved her head, wore only white cloths and stay at home protected by his senior disciples. She would count her japa by placing one grain of rice in a bowl after each completed round and then after chanting all day she would cook that rice and offer it to a deity of Lord Caitanya. And that’s all she would eat. She was more than sannyāsa.”
 
So that was the gist of our discussion. I am satisfied with our conclusion. Having said that, the next obvious question arises, “Can women be dīkṣā-gurus?” That’s a subject for another day.
 
* I am not sure everyone reading this is familiar with the term. For those who are not familiar, sannyāsa is the fourth ashram of the Vedic social order, where a man, usually towards the last part of his life, leaves home for a life of complete renunciation.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #14 – What is the Krishna View of Homosexuality?

April 4th, 2016

I would like to share with the reader my understanding of homosexuality and Krishna consciousness in the form of my response to a letter I received from a person who is gay. Carla runs two successful yoga studios in New York City. She has visited the Bhakti Center, attended my Bhakti Immersion Retreat and also took a pilgrimage to India that included a visit to Vrindavan. I have also taught at her studio Jaya Yoga. She read what she felt was hurtful comments about homosexuality from devotees on Facebook and humbly inquired, “What is the Krishna view of homosexuality?” Her letter and my response below:
 
 

Dear Maharaj,

I hope this finds you well. What is the Krishna consciousness view on homosexuality? I am very concerned as I have just read some hateful posts from devotees of eastern European descent who live much of the time in beautiful Vrindavan. I hope you can help me with this. If you have no time of course I understand.

In service,
Carla

 
 
Dear Carla,
 
We just finished the Bhakti Immersion and I just saw your important letter.
 
Krishna consciousness, like Christianity, has many different groups with many different interpretations of the sacred texts – some liberal and some conservative. I feel very bad if you heard devotees with hateful and homophobic comments. I have not seen them. The Bhakti Center was formed specifically to present the beauty of bhakti in today’s language. I don’t find people judgmental there on the basis of one’s sexual preference. Your question, however, is “What is the Krishna conscious view on homosexuality?”
 
In traditional Vedic culture marriage was for raising children. Without children marriage was considered useless (putra-hīnaṁ gṛhaṁ śūnyam). Obviously, in such a culture there was no question of gay marriage.
 
Marriage today, however, serves other purposes such as companionship and legal protection, so I don’t see how it can exclude those who want it for the same reason. The only argument can be what one wants to call it.
 
Traditional yoga philosophy does consider sex desire as something that needs to be regulated and ultimately transcended because it tends to strongly deepen one’s identification with the body. That was the opinion of Patañjali.
 
Generally, the traditional yoga culture dealt with sex desire in the following ways:

  1. Regulating it within a monogamous relationship.
  2. Combining it with the responsibility of a life-long commitment to provide and care for one’s spouse.
  3. Establishing the act of carefully raising a child as an offering of sacrifice to God as a very central feature of sex and marriage.

In this way the act of sex, and consequentially marriage and raising a child, is karma-yoga ­ an act that dovetails one’s ego/desire with wisdom, responsibility, and detachment and also offers the fruit of one’s action to God.
 
This central yogic element in karma-yoga, the offering of the fruit of one’s action to God (in this case a child), is obviously not part of the sexual union of a same-sex couple. For this reason, as well as the fact that the responsibilities to care for one’s spouse and children tends to be very gender specific (a certain set of responsibilities for the male and another set for the female), it is likely that homosexuality rested outside the mainstream culture based on the tradition or yoga, although there are different opinions about that.
 
As far as homophobic or hateful comments in the scriptures, you can prove anything you want by selecting isolated comments out of context. In July of 1999, the son of Nikita Khrushchev became a US citizen. Nikita Khrushchev was the president of the former Soviet Union who was famous for his virulent hate of America. Anyway, at the news conference on the day of his naturalization as a citizen, he was bluntly asked by the first reporter, “What would your father think of you taking United States citizenship?” I loved his answer: “You can’t judge one era of history from the perspective of another.”
 
We live in different world now. Those who profess traditional values thus have to be very, very thoughtful to see how such values apply now in another context. It takes great depth of realization to understand the depth of tradition and its application in modern life. Archconservatives who want to mold life today only by the form of tradition and liberals who disregard the weight of tradition will both likely miss the essence of dharma.
 
The essence of dharma is that which brings one closer to God. For a gay person who is pursuing a spiritual path that means a monogamous relationship that regulates his or her natural desires within a lifelong commitment of care for his or her partner.
 
That’s about all I can say now on this very emotionally charged issue that is difficult to discuss philosophically without people projecting much of their own history of hurt on the discussion.
 
On a personal level I have tons of respect and affection for you and Ramit who I find as some of the most loving and spiritual persons I know. Thank you for your friendship.
 
Again, please forgive us if you heard any hateful comments from devotees of Krishna. I pray that it was mostly a misunderstanding, although in any religion there are always people that use religion to mask their own problems.
 
This is a deep discussion. I am willing to continue the dialogue if my letter does not answer or cover your doubts
 
Wishing you well,
Dhanurdhara Swami
 
 

Dearest Maharaja,

You cannot imagine how consoling this tender email is to read. Both Ramit and I deeply appreciate you taking the time to respond with such depth and sincerity.  

We were rattled by comments we read on ……..’s Facebook page but hearing your reply has been a balm which has soothed us. 

Thank you for restoring our faith in our connection to the NYC Krishna consciousness community. 

We hope to see you this summer. Thank you for being our teacher and friend.

Planting a little seed for our Jaya teacher training graduation in mid-January of 2016 if you happen to be in the NYC area we would love for you to return to us to speak. There will be a large group like last year at Jaya East. 

With respect and love,
Carla and Ramit 

 
 
My letter to the generally respected person whose post Carla reacted to:
 
I was trying to understand the root of this misunderstanding. Here is what I think:
 
In Eastern countries, for whatever the reason, homosexuality, or public homosexuality, is repressed or discouraged. The result is that those who take to it or exhibit it tend to be those who are extreme or perverse in that their sexuality and their sexual preference is their identity rather than an aspect of their life. In contrast, in America, where it is more accepted, the sexual preference of gay people tends to be more an aspect of oneself, than one’s group or identity. Your neighbor, colleague, relative and so on could be gay but you wouldn’t identify or deal with them as such. You would relate to them as everyone else on the basis of common interest and their character. For example, my uncle is gay and has lived with his partner for many years. My mother who is a Republican and quite conservative doesn’t think anything more about him than him being just her relative. I am just sharing with you the frame of reference of the people you were writing to and why they feel strongly that gay people have a civil right to formalize their relationship with their partner for reasons of companionship and legal necessity just like everyone else. Yes, it seems a sign of modern times, but in such a society a person’s sexual preference hardly stands out as a major problem to anyone, especially when they don’t embrace or flaunt their sexuality as their identity and in general are very decent citizens. I am just trying to share with you an explanation why there was such a misunderstanding although I am sure you meant no harm.
 
As always, wishing you well,
Dhanurdhara Swami

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings #13 – Confucius and Krishna Consciousness

March 28th, 2016

We can learn a lot from Confucius. For example:
 
“One who learns from tradition but who cannot think creatively will be confused. One who thinks creatively but who does not learn from tradition is in great danger.”

– Analects 2.15
 
Here Confucius conceptualizes exactly the tension facing most religious or spiritual groups in the modern world. Their members often see reality through a preconceived political lens born of their own modes. Overly conservative people try to keep religion strictly in the forms in which they were born. The teachings lose relevance and people become confused. Overly liberal people reformat the presentation without proper regard for the tradition. They risk the danger of losing touch with the core principles upon which their faith was born, principles that empower transformation.
 
When Śrīla Prabhupāda uncompromisingly espoused the four regulative principles of no meat eating, no intoxication, no gambling, and no illicit sex he was accused of being conservative. His response was strong, “How can you say I am conservative? I let women into the ashram!” –  a practice that certainly stretched the limits of the social structure of the tradition in which his spiritual life was inspired, the Gauḍīya Maṭha.
 
Śrīla Prabhupāda was revolutionary in so many ways, but he wasn’t politically correct either. He also strongly espoused classical gender specific roles as the basis of an ideal social system. He was thus also a traditionalist in many ways.
 
His comment on the story of the passing away of Grandfather Bhīṣmadeva is revealing in this regard. Bhīṣmadeva was resting on a bed of arrows pierced through his body awaiting imminent death. The greatest yogis and sages of his time gathered to pay their last respects. Due to Bhīṣma’s condition he could not appropriately greet them according to the standard expected etiquette, but through simple gestures with his eyes he was able welcome and satisfy them. Śrīla Prabhupāda comments:
 
“Expert religionists know perfectly well how to adjust religious principles in terms of time and place. All the great ācārysa or religious preachers or reformers of the world executed their mission by adjustment of religious principles in terms of time and place. There are different climates and situations in different parts of the world, and if one has to discharge his duties to preach the message of the Lord, he must be expert in adjusting things in terms of the time and place.” (Bhag. 1.9.9, Commentary)
 
His conversation below with an American reporter is also revealing in terms of his roots in the tradition:
 
Reporter: Are men regarded as superior to women?

Prabhupada: Yes, naturally. Naturally, woman requires protection by the man. In the childhood she is protected by the father, and youth time she is protected by the husband, and old age she is protected by elderly sons. That is natural.

Female Reporter: That goes against the thinking of a lot of people in America now. Do you know that?

Prabhupada: No… America, maybe, but this is the natural position. Women require protection.
 
A person versed and practiced in śāstra (sacred texts) can’t be boxed into a political worldview based on personal conditioning and prejudices. As their views are formed beyond their conditioning based on realization of śāstra and its practical application, like Śrīla Prabhupāda, they can’t be labeled as belonging to a particular mindset like “I am conservative” or “I am liberal”.
 
Are you liberal or conservative? How are your values informed? Is it purely by śāstra, or is it mixed with a psychological view based on your upbringing? If you fall into just one camp it is likely that they are. In the coming weeks I will post an article titled “What is the Krishna conscious view of homosexuality?” If you are just liberal or just conservative there is a chance that you might not like it.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #12 – God’s Problem: The Story of Śrī Caitanya

March 21st, 2016

God has a problem.

And it is the same problem that we have.

What’s that problem?

He is not a devotee.

What is a devotee?

A devotee is one who loves God.

And love means to have a particular relationship with God.

Why is that our problem?

Because in this sense we are trying become devotees.

But why is that a problem for God?

It’s a problem because God doesn’t have love of God.

How does God lack that?

Love of God is in the heart of His devotees, not God. God is the object of such love (the beloved) not the abode of such love (the lover of God or the devotee).

And why is that such a problem?

It’s a problem because to love is higher than to be loved. God is supposed to be the Supreme Enjoyer, but he lacks the highest pleasure – to love God – and to lack love (as the giver) is a problem.

What does God do about that? Surely he can make a solution.

Yes, that is the story of Śrī Caitanya. God becomes his own devotee to become complete in his experience of love. And not only does he become a devotee, but he becomes his highest devotee, Śrī Rādhā, at the height of her love, in her deepest feelings of love – her moments of separation from Kṛṣṇa.

Happy Gaura-pūrṇimā (The appearance of Śrī Caitanya)!

Monday Morning Greetings #11 – “You teach them, but don’t love them”

March 14th, 2016

“You teach them, but don’t love them.”

A man in my class in Moscow asked me about this admonishment from a local priest, who was criticizing what he saw as the lack of welfare work by members of the Krishna consciousness movement. I quickly shot back:

“Then why is he trying to teach you!”

The audience laughed, but I also saw some truth in it. I continued:

“But we have to be careful that he doesn’t have a point.”

There is a study done that shows that 80 percent of people who are committed to religions or philosophies of transcendence are less empathetic to the suffering of others than the general public, but 20 percent are much more. I’m not sure that I exactly agree to the seemingly extreme figures, but I’ve seen enough to consider whether there is some truth there.

One time I was giving a program outside New York. I called some local friends to send a drummer. They warned me that there is someone available, but that he will burst into the room huffing and puffing one minute before the program to make it on time. And sure enough that is exactly what happened.

After the kirtan, I began my seminar “Bhakti in Essence”. To show that perfection is a quality of the heart, I asked the audience to think of the person whom they admire most. I then asked them to share the quality in them that inspired them to make that choice. I was sure that most people would choose a person because of a quality of that person’s heart. In this way I would be supporting the path of bhakti whose goal is prema, or divine love, over the path of jnana or renunciation whose goal is moksa where all thoughts and emotions are suppressed. I went around the room:

“I thought of my father. He was a very kind man,” the first person volunteered. As I continued I heard about people who were “selfless”, “humble”, “compassionate”, and other qualities of the heart – that is until it came around to the last person to share, the devotee in traditional garb. He emphatically enunciated each syllable of his answer to make sure the audience understood his point:

“Control of the senses!!”

I leaned over to him and jokingly whispered into his ear, “Who were you thinking of Hiranyakasipu?”*

Humor aside, the contrast struck me. Here were non-devotees, most likely tinged with an impersonal conception of God, who view perfection as a change of heart, and a devotee, imbued with a personal conception of God, who seemed to view perfection as heartless detachment, or the path of jnana. Although his answer did seem ironic, I didn’t think it was just an isolated case. Yes, practitioners of bhakti become softhearted and can be exceptionally softhearted, but this mindset of renunciation/indifference still seemed too prominent among those who walk the path of devotion. And frankly, as one in the renounced order, I have too often found and fought this indifference in myself. I wanted to understand why. My thinking:

It is just natural on any serious path to misunderstand spiritual life as only the negation of material life, or renunciation, as each path begins with a concerted effort to control one’s senses and their unbridled engagement in the world. We learn from the Gita that even the great devotee, Arjuna, mistakenly thought renunciation or sannyasa as the natural solution to the crisis he was facing in life.

If you doubt how easily the philosophy of bhakti can temper empathy if misunderstood, consider Krishna’s first instruction to Arjuna in the Gita:

“Although you are speaking learned words Arjuna, you are a fool. For the wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bg 2.11)

Did I hear that right? “The wise man laments neither for the living nor the dead.” If that doesn’t sound like the antithesis of empathy, I don’t know what does.

Of course the real meaning of Krishna’s instruction is a bit subtle. The point raised by Krishna is not whether one should feel or lament for others, but what is worthy of lamentation. We suffer not because the body is changing, but because out of ignorance we identify with it.  Transcendentalists thus lament for old and dying people not because of their age or physical condition (the living), or that they soon may die (the dead), but for their ignorance of the soul, and the consequent suffering and fearfulness that misconception causes.

I digress. So was the priest’s advice “You teach them, but don’t love them” correct?

Of course not. Vasudeva Datta espouses the mood of true devotee:

“I do not pray to the Supreme Personality of Godhead for the eight perfections of mystic yoga, nor for salvation from repeated birth and death. I want only to stay among all the living entities and suffer all distresses on their behalf, so that they may be freed from suffering.”

And Srila Prabhupada comments: 

“A Vaisnava is therefore described as being para-duhkha-duhkhī, very much aggrieved by the sufferings of others. As such, a Vaisnava engages in activities for the real welfare of human society.”

And story after story in the bhakti tradition describes the overflowing empathy of the devotees for the suffering of others as the foundation of bhakti.

But yes also. Like all spiritual practitioners, devotees need to cultivate an appropriate non-attachment or risk becoming too indulgent and selfish for spiritual life. But in closing the heart to that which is unwanted, there is danger of closing the heart beyond that, even tempering our natural empathy for others.

Our predecessors thus recommend yukta vairagya, balanced detachment. We don’t militantly reject everything, but reject only those things that have no value to our practice and service in bhakti. In that way we practice detachment, but the heart is exercised by using our attachments and desires in devotional service.

Conclusion:

Teach others, but love others also, especially by feeling their pain and awakening their soul, or as Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur advises:

“The essence of all religion is show compassion to all living entities by awakening divine love in their hearts by giving them the holy name of Krishna.”

 

* Hiranyakasipu is the great demon described in the 7th canto of the Bhagavatam who is famous for his arduous austerities to become immortal and conquer the universe. He mastered “control of the senses!”

 

** The Catholics are aware of this problem and have a whole branch of theology dedicated to religious ethics called moral theology, a theology that deals with, among other things, social teachings. While theology mostly deals with what one believes, moral theology deals specifically with how one should act and feel towards others. Catholics theologians feel that without specifically focusing on a moral theology the “What you believe” in Christianity may overshadow the “How one acts in Christianity” in a way unbecoming to the teachings of Christ. I wrote an essay on this in response to a Catholic Priest and friend who asked me after reading Srila Prabhupada books, “Does ISKCON have a moral theology?” My answer: Does ISKCON Have A Moral Theology?

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings #10 – Chanting and Boredom

March 7th, 2016

A haiku and commentary:

When you are absorbed
You can never be bored
Chanting the holy name

What is boredom?

It is the listless feeling when we don’t like what we are doing and thus can’t be absorbed in the moment. Our mind moves to the future when hopefully our chore or monotony passes. Time thus slows down.

In the same way, when we are not attentive in our chanting our goal becomes finishing our “rounds”. We lose absorption, become bored, and count the minutes until we are done.

Time is thus relative to our consciousness; It moves quickly when we are absorbed in the moment and becomes overtly oppressive when we are not.

The Bhagavatam describes the relative experience of time when it seems to accelerate or “fly” in relation to the gopis ecstatic absorption in the rasa dance. They are so immersed in the moment of joy that millenniums seem to pass in a moment.

Sri Caitanya describes the exact opposite when time seems to immeasurably slow down or “stop” in relation to the deep feelings of separation of the gopis. Tortured by the absence of Krishna, they lament the moment. Time excruciatingly halts:

“O Govinda! Feeling Your separation, I am considering a moment to be like twelve years or more…” (Siksastakam 7)

Back to the meaning of our haiku about chanting: Our faith should not be in the completion of our practice (vaidhi) but our absorption in it (rag). If we chant only to finish our rounds, our practice will invoke time and become boring.

On the other hand if we learn to honor or revere the moment of our practice, where Krishna is fully present on our tongues, and we become absorbed, the oppression of time will gradually be lifted and the joy of devotion will be revealed.

In that regard, I am sharing a link to a short article that I wrote where I discuss different techniques to help us become absorbed and transcend the oppression of time.

The Five Qualities of Effective Mantra Meditation

Conclusion:

When you are absorbed
You can never be bored
Chanting the holy name

Monday Morning Greetings #9 – Is Surrender a Bad Word?

February 29th, 2016

When I was in my teens a popular and favorite situation comedy on television was called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. It was about typical young men in the 50s. The character that amused us the most was Dobie’s best friend, a beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs. Beatniks, like their descendants the hippies, had the reputation of never working.  During the show whenever Maynard was causally asked if he would like to work, he would nervously shriek “Work!” We loved it. It was as if “work” was a bad word.

I almost find the same reaction today among some devotees when you mention the word “surrender”, even though surrender is the foundation of bhakti. Ouch! Why do I hear some of my readers react that way when I say that surrender is the foundation of bhakti? Is surrender a bad word?

How can that be? Surrender is unquestionably the first thing Arjuna says to Krishna after accepting Him as his guru:

“I am a soul surrendered unto you. Please instruct me.”

And later when Krishna describes the responsibly of a disciple he says  “pranipatena” –  that before receiving knowledge the student must offer prostrated obeisances which takes the “I surrender” mudra of hands raised up in the air to the next level, falling flat at someone’s feet.

When discussing this very point about surrender in my Nectar of Devotion seminar, Satyahari, one of the students and a scholar in his own right, shared an insight from one of his teachers on the difficulty for some people with the word surrender. “When you translate words from Sanskrit to English the translated word is pregnant with history [of its usage].”

The English word “surrender” means to capitulate or submit and its usage in English are almost exclusively to an enemy or opponent.

But isn’t there a better word in English for prapatti or saranagati than surrender? Why is such a word with such negative connotations as “to enemy or opponent” used?

The core meaning of surrender is derived from the Middle English word “rendre” which means to return or give back, and the prefix “sous” which mean “under”, literally to place oneself under someone else.  “To an enemy or opponent” is the implied meaning in English due to the pre-Renaissance culture into which the meaning of surrender was born. But capitulation or submission does not have to be to an enemy. It can also be done out of great love.

In other words, both prapatti and surrender have the exact same meaning. They both describe the act of giving oneself over or to or “under” the control of another party. However, according to the culture in which that word is used and one’s personal experience with authority in life, surrender will conjure up one of two images or meanings:

One hears surrender and sees an image of waving a white flag and then marching in the hot sun with bayonet in back and hands raised in air. To such a person surrender means exploitation and abuse

Another hears surrender and sees the image of a child in the arms of their loving mother, completely “under” her care. To such a person surrender means shelter and love.

Regardless how you are conditioned to view the word, the more important consideration for a devotee is whether he can accept and embrace the base meaning of surrender, “giving control over oneself to another party”, for without the mood “ I am yours” one cannot enter the door of bhakti. Isn’t the mood of giving oneself to another by supplicating one’s will to their desires the basis of any relationship with a worthy object of love, especially one’s guide or protector?

I think there are a few other images that need to be clarified before the moniker of weakness can be lifted from the word surrender. Surrender –  “giving control over oneself to another party”  – does not mean one’s initiative is squelched or one is micromanaged, provided the person one surrenders to is worthy. One is fully empowered according to one’s ability, but always in the mood of dependence and humility. I heard a beautiful analogy that describes the subtlety of balancing full initiative and full dependence at the same time:

In an Indian joint family when the father retires his sons will be given the business and full initiative to run it. The father will come, however, everyday and sit there. Although he doesn’t interfere and the sons have full initiative to run it, they happily feel his presence, shelter, and authority. In a similar way a mature and educated disciple is given full initiative to practice spiritual life and render service according to his full realization, but always with an eye towards his spiritual guardians and their authority.

“But what if the guru is not qualified and I will be mislead or exploited?” The subtleties of dealing with that are another story and another paper, but we can’t change the philosophy about what surrender means on the basis that we have entered into the wrong relationship. Before judging guru in such a way, we better be sure that the problem is not mostly with us, the disciple. And it goes without saying that there must be a period of examination between the guru and disciple before one makes such a heavy commitment as “surrender”.

That’s it. Surrender is not a bad word, although the reality of our absolute dependence on God is a challenging one. False ego means we want power to control and enjoy, and accepting authority takes that power from our hands. Naturally we resist it and the words that represent it, but surrender is just not a bad word. Surrender is the gateway to world of bhakti.

 

Monday Morning Greetings #8 – The Rebuplican Vaisnava

February 22nd, 2016

The Republican Vaisnava*
 
In New York we have a joke about Pennsylvania. “What is Pennsylvania? It’s Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in-between.” For those of you who are not from the USA, Alabama is, or a least was, synonymous with Hicksville, a place where people are backward or provincial, or who didn’t vote for Obama. Why am I telling this? Because I am about to share something with you from someone from Alabama –  I mean Pennsylvania. Even worse than that, a social conservative and a Republican elected official for twenty-five years, but a person who by his example taught me something about my own prejudice: that enlightened thought is not an east coast or west coast monopoly, or the property of someone cast in a political persuasion, but something that rests solely in the heart of those who are sincerely searching for truth and humble enough to rule their lives by it. I will let the letter from my friend speak for itself. Usually I don’t share Vyasa Puja offerings to my humble self publicly, but the humility and depth of this offering inadvertently says more about the person writing it then it does about the person it is written for.
 
Introducing my good friend Graham Hetrick:
 

GRAHAM HETRICK

My daughter stood at the landing of the stairs.  I had recently picked her up at the airport as she returned from a trip to India.  She actually extended her trip to spend more time with an individual named Dhanurdhara Swami.  She started with some hesitation and asked;  “Dad you know that Swami I was talking about?  I would like him to come here to the farm for a few days, if that’s ok with you?”

My reply was immediate: “Sure Hon, have him come. I would love to talk with him.”

Now for those who don’t know my cultural background or me; this immediate acceptance of my daughter’s journey was unusual for someone who was born and raised brethren and evangelical Christian.  Upon my entry to college I started to define God differently than my parents.  Ultimately through the expansion of my ego I even denied that existence of any creator.  I was like Nietzsche’s Übermensch, screaming: “Man created God not the other way around.” 

God is so great and his grace beyond limits.  Over the years God has put me on a course to a meditative lifestyle.  About a year before my daughter’s trip I started to immerse in the Jesus prayer.  I was seeking the Christian church in its earliest form.  This search brought me closer to Eastern Christian thought.

My goal was to take God out of the confines of religion and the concept of otherness.  I wanted my God to be bigger than how God was defined by the Western Church.  In each phase of my journey God was softening my heart.  He was leading me to a teacher, a brother, and a mentor.

The days with Dhanurdhara Swami were wonderful.  I found an immense commonality between his understanding and devotion to God and my direction – trying to communicate and worship God in every aspect of my life.

It was all so new.  This man in orange robes seemed immediately to be a family member.  I later called him my brother from another mother.  We talked, we sang praise to God, and there was no separation between our faiths and our lives.  God once again bestowed his grace on me and gave me this lifetime teacher and friend.  God knew the student was ready so he had the teacher appear. 

Each morning I sit at my altar.  Yes, this once Brethren, evangelical, agnostic built his own altar, sits there, and reads the Bible, the Gita and thanks all his bhakti friends for helping him make his God so much bigger.

Hare Krishna and may Christ be with you my brother from another mother.

Love,
Your Loving Servant,
Graham

 
* Graham is a Republican elected official, but I don’t think Republican is the right moniker for him. Probably a better fit is libertarian or social conservative.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings #7 – Bhakti in Essence

February 15th, 2016

“I blew it!” The email heading was somewhat jarring. I immediately opened it.  It was from Bhurijan Prabhu. He was apologetic. He just found out the previous night that the person he asked to deliver an invitation to me for the groundbreaking ceremony of his proposed retreat center at Govardhan forgot to send me one. I read on. The function was starting in one hour! I left immediately.

I had actually never have seen the land before. It’s stunning: four choice acres facing the western side of Govardhan Hill with an incredible panoramic view of the sacred mount.

I was quite happy to be there to support a good friend. Bhurijan founded the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education over twenty years ago to spearhead sastric education in ISKCON. Before that practically none formally existed. And for the last ten years, they have been working through the endless bureaucracy to transfer the government deed of the land they purchased, originally suited for agriculture, to a suitable designation to build a residential facility. It was finally approved. The best tithi (time) to inaugurate it had arrived.

I sat next to Bhurijan for the auspicious agni hotra (fire sacrifice) to install Ananta Sesa, the serpent form of Godhead that bears the universes on its hoods. It is an absolute must to place Him securely in the foundation of any substantial building to protect it and ensure its successful completion.

We needed to finish the yajna quickly as the auspicious time to place the Deity in the foundation would end by 11:35 AM. After an expertly done, but abbreviated yajna, we rushed by procession to center of the land where a deep pit was dug to place Ananta Sesa in a small brick enclosure built at the bottom.  We descended carefully into the pit to ceremonially assist the mason by smearing some cement and placing a few bricks on top of the cement to complete the structure.

We returned to the pandal for short taks by Dina Bandhu Prabhu, Krishna Ksetra Maharaja, myself, and then Bhurijan Prabhu. A wonderful feast was served.

A great beginning to a glorious project!

Bhurijan came up to me just after the function, thanked me for coming and said how much he appreciated what I said about how we need retreats, times of the year only for Krishna. He then offered a casual comment on the last thing I said that struck me deeply. Despite all the pomp and auspiciousness of the ceremony this was by far the highlight of my day  – for what he said was a rare jewel of a deep personal realization.

The last thing I had expressed was that I was feeling happy and sad at the same time. Happy because after so many years Bhurijan Prabhu was embarking on this wonderful offering, but sad that he was nearly approaching seventy, obviously feeling the effects of old age, and by the time the project was finished, he probably wouldn’t be around that long to enjoy it. With sincerity he humbly shared his thoughts:

“You mentioned that it is sad that I won’t be around to enjoy this project. I don’t care at all to be around to enjoy this project. It is an offering. As he said “It’s an offering” he beamed and gently moved his open hands palms up and gestured towards Govardhan as if literally offering the project to Girirja Govardhan, the sacred mount majestically standing before us.

Bhurijana has intensely studied Bhagavatam for nearly fifty years and I realized that this realization was the fruit of his studies. He was completely sincere. He really has no desire to enjoy the project. His pleasure was devotion, and devotion is for others.

I don’t know why it struck me. Isn’t that our philosophy – that real happiness is devotion, not enjoying the results of our activities? I guess it struck me because it wasn’t just theoretical, just an understanding of truth, but it was the realization of truth, where someone actually sees that truth. And I could actually see how joyful he was when he gestured with his hands to offer what he did to Krishna, a joy so different from the cheap accolades of personal accomplishment that we all hanker for. And how rare even for a devotee!

I am very happy that I got to go this morning and witness the glorious beginning of a great project inspired by a good friend, but more important I am leaving with the most precious thing, the jewel of a personal realization, a deeper understanding about the essence of bhakti.
 
 

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