Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #30 – Tattoo Tattva

July 24th, 2017

Big, burly, bearded and tattooed—they looked fierce and I was surrounded. They had gathered for the Hare Krishna initiation of their two friends. One of the candidates even had a tattoo on his head.  I went around after the function to greet everyone, including our tattooed friends, and a realization was confirmed. When it comes to the tattooed, the face is definitely not the index of the mind. These menacing looking souls were some of the gentlest people I have ever met. It got me thinking. Why do people get tattoos? It is certainly something I never even imagined doing.
 
When I was growing up there was one man at our summer pool club that had butterfly tattoos over each nipple of his chest. We would stare at him with amusement. I knew what those tattoos projected then: Low class!
 
My dear sister-in-law, my older brother’s wife, who was dying of cancer, got a Ganesha doll from an Indian nurse. She liked it and soon elephant gifts and charms started coming, and Ganesha, the elephant deity who removes obstacles, became her good luck charm. For solidarity my sister-in-law, her husband, and their two daughters decided to all get small matching Ganesha tattoos on their ankles. I heard that my younger brother was alarmed because one can neither be buried in a Jewish cemetery nor have a Jewish funeral service for the deceased if he or she sports goyish tattoos. They went to their rabbi, a man seemingly of depth, who explained why people thought it was forbidden, but how in essence it was not, or something like that, and how he would still officiate my sister-in-law’s funeral. They got them.
 
Anyway, that is one reason people get tattoos. External symbols foster identity, in this case family solidarity. I, myself, am not free of external symbols. Look at me with robes, a tuft of hair, and tilaka—markings with sacred clay to designate my body as a temple of God, a kind of temporary tattoo, all for the purpose of identity.
 
What you wear or mark on your body definitely supports your identity and communicates identity to others, but the external may also be superfluous or burdensome. Maharaja Yudhiṣṭhira sported royal dress for his service as the King, but when he decided it was time to renounce the world, the first thing he did was to discard his military dress, symbolizing and supporting an upādhi, a material designation, that bound him to the world when it was clearly time to leave.
 
Back to our question: Why do people get tattoos, and should they? I suppose sometimes it’s anger—a way to wear our rebellion. Many years ago, I once advised a sincere young man who was coming to Krishna consciousness that he should get no more tattoos because it was a waste of money and it didn’t foster the identity he was now seeking. His girlfriend informed me a few weeks later he was going through tough times, was suicidal, and that getting a tattoo was a way that he dealt with his pain. I felt terrible and rescinded my advice.
 
The rebellion and anger, however, may have a deeper spiritual side. After all, many of the devotees that repopulated the increasingly empty ISKCON temples in early ’90s were from the hardcore music scene, which mostly seemed an expression of frustration, many or most who wore their anger on their sleeves. [1] But for many their anger and frustration was directed properly, at the exploitive and superficial aspects of society that was oppressing their genuine desire for meaning and integrity, a yearning that eventually led them to bhakti.
 
I even knew one great Vaiṣṇava named Sri Kurma Rupa Prabhu who got tattooed around his neck the famous “tṛṇād api” verse about humility after reading Sri Caitanya’s recorded biography where he declares:
 
“Raising my hands, I declare, ‘Everyone please hear me! String this verse on the thread of the holy name and wear on your neck for continuous remembrance.’ ”  [2]
 
And there it was in Sanskrit tattooed plainly and subtly around his neck like a necklace:
 
“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking one self lower than the straw in the street, more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant constantly.” [3]
 
Back to the very gentle souls with sleeves, now in their mid-40s. Perhaps they grew up very kind and vulnerable in an imposing and aggressive world and marked their bodies with signs of rebellion to project an image that made others want to leave them alone. I don’t know, but like most things, they are not good and bad in themselves, but their value is determined by their use, and the things once needed at one stage of one’s life, like imposing tattoos, may or may not be suitable at a later time in one’s life. But although in one sense the external is superficial, in another sense it is not, as it can represent who we are. But more important than representing who we want to project, often to satisfy our ego, even that “I am a devotee”, is to actually be something that is worthy of representing, so that representing it, or wearing it, is a service to ourselves and others.
 
I will leave you with this thought from Srila Prabhupada’s translation of the twenty-first item of devotional practice from the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu:
 
“One should decorate the body with tilaka, which is the sign of a Vaiṣṇavas. (The idea is that as soon as a person sees these marks on the body of a Vaiṣṇava, he will immediately remember Krishna. Lord Caitanya said that a Vaiṣṇava is he who, when seen, reminds one of Krishna. Therefore, it is essential that a Vaiṣṇava mark his body with tilaka to remind other of Krishna.)”
 


[1] A sleeve tattoo (or tattoo sleeve) is a large tattoo, or a collection of smaller tattoos, that has a unified theme, that covers most or all of a person’s arm, usually from shoulder to wrist.
 
[2] (Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi-līlā 17.32)
 
[3] (Śikṣāṣṭakam verse 3)
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #29 – Now!

July 17th, 2017

I hate country walks! While walking briskly for my health, I plan a class, write an article in my mind, meditate on practical problems, and sometimes even make a call. Anything but nature! I grew up in Brooklyn. The action, the accents, the variety of people—I could walk all day there.
 
Today on my walk I ran out of things to occupy my mind. That’s strange. Chant? I could, but my walking is too rapid for good concentration. I prefer to sit for hours quite early in the morning. What to do?
 
An idea came: Why not just try to be in the moment? I slowed my mind and peacefully concentrated. I could see the lush forest, feel the cool morning breeze, smell the fragrant flowers, and hear the songs of nature. I stay in the moment. I see and feel God.
 
“How can they deny God?!” I never forgot the strong, angry words of Sannyāsa dāsa as beautiful full-bloomed peacocks repeatedly danced before us spreading their colorful plumes as we walked the then forest path around Vṛndāvana. His anger was directed at the Russian government. The God denying communists imprisoned and tortured him as one of the early pioneers of the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. Yes, the beauty of peacock is proof of a designer. How can they deny God?!
 
My mind was still a bit restless, but I was determined to stay in the moment. The lush greenery to my right inspired thoughts of the spiritual world. I could easily imagine Kṛṣṇa. Through the trees I also saw our powerful waterfall, Stuyvesant Falls, the namesake of the hamlet where I live. I listened to its powerful force, a sound that creates harmony. Yes, nature soothes, no matter how loud, while the sirens, horns, and screeching cars of my youth—the man-made sounds—go against nature. They disturb. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s quote of the famous British poet Cowper suddenly came to mind: “The country is made by God, and the city is made by man.”
 
I consciously remained in the moment. As I absorbed myself in the sights and sounds around me, my country walk was suddenly finished. I was back at my place. Where had time gone?
 
My final thought on my country walk: Time does not exist now. If you stay present you will see Kṛṣṇa and you will never be bored, especially if now is the holy name, or a stroll on a country road.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #28 – Is It Wrong To Ask God For What We Need?

July 10th, 2017

Her kind father met her at JFK airport to see her off. She made a humble request to him, “Could you please fold your hands and make a prayer for me?” Her supportive father repeated after her, “Dear Kṛṣṇa, could you please find a good husband for my daughter?” Her father’s prayers were soon answered. After more than twenty-five years she is still happily married to a very upstanding Vaiṣṇava.
 
She didn’t always feel that she needed to get married. She had already been married before she joined the āśrama and was feeling happily sheltered in her sevā of distributing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books with a group of other ladies, all quite elevated on the path of bhakti. What more could she want? But her idyllic life would not last. The leader and inspiration for the particular temple where her āśrama was situated fell away and as expected when a charismatic leader falls everything falls apart. But she was thoughtful. As soon as her world shifted she made an adjustment in her life. She decided to take shelter in Vṛndāvana, but also realized that she needed to get married again, this time someone who shared her ideals. Her father graciously agreed to offer her prayer.
 
But isn’t bhakti without personal desire and only for the pleasure of Kṛṣṇa? Doesn’t Kṛṣṇa give shelter and maintain His surrendered devotees by providing whatever they need? Why ask? Doesn’t Kṛṣṇa know one’s heart? Where is her faith?
 
Recently someone asked me a very similar question. This story came to my mind. On one hand, bhakti means the intention to please Kṛṣṇa without any extraneous desire, and the primary symptom of faith is that Kṛṣṇa will protect His devotees. And even when asking Kṛṣṇa for something, a devotee is very careful to not to question God’s motive or try to impose his or her will on Kṛṣṇa’s.
 
Śrīla Prabhupāda became very ill just after I first came to the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. He allowed us to pray for him. Still he only sanctioned a prayer that seemed to include a condition that inoculated us from questioning Kṛṣṇa’s power and benevolence, “O Kṛṣṇa, if you so desire, please cure Śrīla Prabhupāda!”
 
In the Śikṣāṣṭakam, the only eight verses that Śrī Caitanya composed, the purity of devotion is highlighted from the very beginning of his short poem culminating in the ultimate selflessness espoused in the final verse:
 
“I know no one but Kṛṣṇa as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful Lord unconditionally.” (Śikṣāṣṭakam, 8)
 
The path of devotion, however, does not reject aspirants with material attachment, especially when they have legitimate needs to be met for the peaceful execution of one’s spiritual life. Even in Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s seminal definition of pure devotion service, he doesn’t say that pure devotional service is free from all desires (anyābhilāṣa), only that it must be free from desires that are not integral with our selfish, or motivated nature (anyābhilāṣitā). In other words, the desire of a person threatened with death calling for help or a parent’s natural affection for their child are not necessarily considered against pure devotional service, although in one sense they are personal attachments.
 
So, can a devotee approach Kṛṣṇa with his needs? If we have legitimate needs that we require for the peaceful execution of devotional service and we call to Kṛṣṇa for their fulfillment, is that not part of one’s love for Kṛṣṇa? If a small child is hungry and approaches his mother for food is not that dependence an expression of love? In fact, in rāsa theory, the science of love, the flavor of a servant’s mood of affection is, “You are my maintainer!” Did not the great devotees Draupadī and Uttarā petition the Lord for protection in time of great distress? Did that compromise their devotion, or was it an expression of their love?
 
Did my god-sister, who had fully given her life at the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, violate her pure devotion by having her father ask Kṛṣṇa for a husband for her, or did she just show her dependence on God by asking for help to get what she required for her devotional service? It’s a fine line, and perhaps that is why this sincere and intelligent soul, perhaps being reluctant herself to ask Kṛṣṇa, asked her father to pray for her. It wouldn’t compromise her father’s devotion, as he was not a devotee, but it would endear her father to Kṛṣṇa by service to his daughter, a pure devotee. But if she did ask, what would be the harm?
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #27 – What Makes Bhakti Sweet?

July 3rd, 2017

I think it was the flowers. Summer is here and they are plentiful. Śrī Girirāja, my deity, looked stunning. I felt happy, but the quality of happiness had a unique flavor. I reflected on the feeling and why. It was more a joy than a pleasure, something that came from the heart, not just from the stimulation of a pretty sight. That transcendent feeling is bhakti, the pleasure you get when your happiness is the happiness of another, specifically God or Kṛṣṇa, because when happiness is directed at something inclusive of everything, such love is universal.
 
Although such focus away from oneself is true happiness, why are we so conditioned otherwise? We may say we are not, but are our dreams for ourselves or for others? Go deep in the heart. Listen to the voices of desire. Are they screaming in compassion and for service, or are they the voices of petty desires?
 
When we drink ambrosial nectar we derive a certain pleasure as it pours over our taste buds and down our throat. In the same way, our hearts have a kind of taste bud for the fluid of emotion, but instead of coming from outside and stimulating something on its way down, emotion comes from the inside, stimulates the heart, and flows outward in expression. You may see or touch a beautiful thing in the mood of exploitation and feel a fleeting high, but within our heart we only experience the bitter taste and expression of lust or greed. But contact the exact same thing with the understanding of the pleasure it gives to another, especially in relationship to God, and the sweet flavor of bhakti will exude.
 
And that’s the sweetness of bhakti. It doesn’t deny sensual experience. We can see and smell beautiful flowers, taste wonderful food, and hear the most exquisite melodies and rhythms, but if offered to Kṛṣṇa and then relished with the joy of His pleasure, instead of the bitter taste of simply selfish gratification, the sweet taste of devotion flows from our heart.
 
A while back, the main kitchens in ISKCON Vṛndāvana were under my management. I wasn’t the cook, but I personally oversaw all aspects of the feasts for the nearly contiguous festivals of Govardhan Pūjā and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance. The preparation was especially challenging because we had an inadequate coal based kitchen, no dining hall to feed the thousands of devotees in one place, and took on the responsibility of a fifteen course gourmet feast impeccably served to the thousands of guests sitting in rows. It was exhausting. Only after everyone else was fed did the cooks, servers, and myself honor the feast. I noticed that especially our illustrious cooks, led by B.B. Govinda Swami, then Ayodhyāpati dāsa, took very little, but with great joy. They would relish each preparation, but in relation to how all the Vaiṣṇavas assembled had enjoyed. That is sweetness of bhakti.
 
Frankly, too often the obligation for worship in my busy day becomes too much like a chore. But today the time and inspiration was to get the best for Kṛṣṇa, and that effort was especially expressed in the beauty of the decoration, especially the lush and fresh colorful roses picked right outside of my country home. I enjoyed them, but there was some grace, some bhakti, because my appreciation was somehow shifted to how my Lord was enjoying. That sensual experience then became spiritual and naturally awakened devotion, the happiness one feels upon the happiness of the divine. That universal love is the sweetness of bhakti.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #25 – Seeing is Believing

June 19th, 2017

As I quickly closed the pasture gate to prevent the affectionate cows from following as I left, I ran into an elderly Colombian cowherd coming to take them to another pasture. He looked at me with a closed teeth smile typically indicative of the natural gladness of a good heart. I had never met him, but he was welcoming. We spontaneously hugged. If the face is indeed the index of the mind, his heart was pure contentment. Seeing him somehow unexpectedly awakened a much deeper understanding of something I read or heard many times in the teachings of my guru: the joy of simple living and high thinking. I thus not only saw him, but I saw before my eyes a whole social philosophy, one that promises contentment as a direct result of a sustainable natural life style, especially centered on the cows and the land. I read and studied this concept so many times before, but for some reason I never saw it as clearly as I did that day.

As much as the realization itself struck me, and there is so much I would love to discuss about that, something struck me even more from this epiphany: as much as we need philosophy to understand the world, we need to see such truths embodied in someone to fully comprehend them. I thought of the concept of humility for example. In a world of increasingly failed authority and exploitation, it is hard not to project weakness on modesty until we see the strength and beauty of one fully surrendered to guru and God.

I was recently teaching the Yoga Sūtras here in Colombia to a progressive and professional audience. I was trying to explain the concept found in the first pada, īśvara-praṇidhānād vā, the option in meditation of devotional surrender to the Lord. Good teachers should try to get a sense of their audience’s frame of reference to appropriately communicate their message. I had some doubt whether, despite the generally piety of the audience, all would fully appreciate the concept of surrender to God, probably having been disappointed with the Catholic Church when growing up and then influenced by modernity. I suspected, however, that despite such spiritual prejudice, the influence of devotion was still very firmly rooted in this deeply Catholic country. I attempted explaining the beauty of surrender to God by asking the audience to think of the qualities of their grandmothers, often very pious and humble Catholic ladies. As heads subtly nodded I sensed my strategy worked. As the saying goes, “example is better than precept.”

In his commentary of Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīla Prabhupāda made a similar point through a short aphorism about the necessity of living a philosophy in order for it to be understood: “Religion without philosophy is sentiment, or sometimes fanaticism, while philosophy without religion is mental speculation.”[1] The term “religion” here is not referring to a religious dogma, but the practical application of a teaching as opposed to just a book one, meaning that without embodying a teaching very little of it will be understood by ourselves or others.

Seeing this simple farmer inspired me, but it also put pressure on me. By putting Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings so starkly before my consciousness, it also put the weight of responsibility on me as his follower to somehow serve that mission, understanding that no matter how successful I become in sharing Kṛṣṇa consciousness within today’s world, it will lack a certain integrity and clarity without a better example of how a devotional society can be structured in a more sustainable way. I also felt pressure to be a better example, for if I want to influence people to live spiritual lives they have to see those teachings not just spoken by me, but also more powerfully embodied in me. And that is everyone’s challenge -somehow inspired by seeing the beautiful contented smile of a simple farmer.

 

 


[1] Bhagavad-gītā As It Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Chapter 3, Text 3 commentary

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #24 – What is Bhakti?

June 12th, 2017

Bhakti is a faith –  the faith that the best thing is to surrender to God with devotion.

But it is more than just an understanding. It is the actual feeling in the heart to want to do so.

And bhakti is more than just that feeling of devotion. It is also the practical expression of that feeling through the faculty of the mind, body, and words called devotional service or sevā.

And higher than that is pure devotion, when that practical expression to please Kṛṣṇa is the exclusive desire of the heart unmixed or covered by any other desire.

Ultimately bhakti is God’s energy, the essence of His pleasure potency, which Kṛṣṇa mercifully places in the heart of that devotee who attracts His mercy by such pure devotional service.

Is bhakti inherent? Our nature is to serve is inherent and certainly we have the potential for bhakti within our heart.

That full potential of bhakti is called bhaktyānanda,[1] the bliss of devotion, which is the essence of God’s internal potency and His highest pleasure. Unlike svarūpānanda, God’s own pleasure, which He basks in alone, bhaktyānanda, the bliss of devotion, must come from another. We are that potential “other”, created as receptacles for a love meant to be offered back to the one who has bestowed it. That is real bhakti because love of Godhead (kṛṣṇa-prema), the essence of His pleasure potency (hlādinī-śakti), is the thing that pleases God the most.

To understand such bhakti we must understand the term tad-ātmikā, which means “to become one with”. Our eternal nature is to serve, to be perfect instruments for the pleasure of God. When that service attitude is pure and God trusts us with His energy of love, our mind becomes energized or one with that love just as an iron rod becomes energized or one (tad-ātmikā) with fire. That mind absorbed in devotion offered back to God for His pleasure is bhakti in its highest sense, although the mood of service and the practices of devotion to get such bhakti can also be deemed bhakti, in a sense.

Monday Morning Greetings has a diverse audience, from people many decades mature in bhakti, to those with a cursory interest who may have signed on to my mailing list after hearing just one of my lectures. This Greetings touches some deep philosophical content that may give food for thought, especially to experienced practitioners of bhakti, but I hope these beautiful concepts will touch everyone’s heart.

To close I would like to offer a definition of bhakti that was shared with me by a great Sanskrit scholar that in a sense sums up the essence of bhakti in such a way that if you can imbibe that mood, then for sure you will one day be bestowed with the highest devotion. He told me:

Bhakti is to make oneself available [for service].”

 


[1] The terms bhaktyānanda and svarūpānanda are found in the Jaiva Dharma by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. I was not able to get the exact reference by the time of the post.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #23 – Why Do We Make God Work So Hard?

June 5th, 2017

I have an image of an aspect of my life that has this certain background music. I can’t exactly describe that tune in writing. But it is the background music for the cartoon image of a happy-go-lucky soul that is walking down the street oblivious to the impending disaster ahead and then either slips and falls or gets a pie thrown in his face. He gets up with confidence and begins walking with the same obliviousness to his impending danger until the same thing happens again and again. Let me see if I can describe this more vividly: It would be like the cartoon character Goofy, created by Disney in the early thirties, who, in each episode, haplessly fumbles over the same task repeatedly [1].
 
Actually this is not how I see my life, but there is a specific aspect of my life that I like to describe in this comedic sense, as it seems to be a fit to an interesting definition of comedy that I had first heard about from a friend and a professional comedian. He described comedy as tragedy plus time. I am not exactly looking back at tragedy in my life, but more like a pattern of folly that seems to so much fit this hapless image of one being oblivious to one’s folly and falling prey to it again and again.
 
About a month ago, after making a mistake in not only how I was thinking about something, but in how I had reacted to it, and then seeing the anxiety it caused, I had a very strong realization that seemed to correct and complete my vision of the world. I was surprised because I was convinced that I was already seeing the world perfectly clear, but I had one doubt. This pattern has been repeating itself every year, often several times a year, for the last 42 years, since beginning Kṛṣṇa consciousness. I always think that I am seeing things clearly, until some upheaval, big or small, comes along that gives me a newer, more complete vision and with the same certainty as before. I often share this story with others with the background music of Goofy to express how hapless we are in walking the world with a vision of confidence, although destiny repeatedly turns our world on its head again and again.
 
I think my folly, however, is not unique, for until one’s mind is completely pure, it is the nature of the mind to see the world through a defective lens without even realizing one is looking through it. I think therefore my story should be, in a sense, everyone’s story on the spiritual path. Our natural confidence in how we see the world should be repeatedly shaken by destiny to help give us newer and higher visions of reality even though at the time we are probably not aware that we are seeing things through a distorted lens.
 
In reflecting on how many thousands of components of vision have been added to my life to improve my vision of reality and reflecting on how many more realizations I probably require in the future, I am humbled. Reflecting in this way also helps me to realize how many unlimited components of truth one requires to actually be tattva-darśana, one who sees the truth, and how hard Kṛṣṇa has to work, so to speak, to bring us to that point.  And that leads to my final realization and the title of this post:
 
Why do we make God work so hard?
 
 


[1] I found this description about Goofy in Wikipedia: “Goofy is a tall, anthropomorphic dog with a Southern drawl, and typically wears a turtle neck and vest, with pants, shoes, white gloves, and a tall hat originally designed as a rumpled fedora.”
 
 

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.
 
 

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