Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #42 – Getting Vṛndāvana

October 16th, 2017

“I get it Mahārāja! I get it! I get it!” I had stopped by the Bhakti Dham to see off gentle giant Joe Carini from Brooklyn before he left Vṛndāvana after his successful pilgrimage. Those were his last words before he was about to board his taxi. His face was beaming with unabashed joy. You could hear the conviction in his voice. Indeed Joe got Vṛndāvana!

Joe Carini - " I got it!"

What does getting Vṛndāvana mean? It means seeing and feeling a very special beauty here that touches one’s heart with the joy of devotion like no other place in the world. It is a wonder beyond the veil of disrepair and chaos that too easily covers its glory, and a beatitude felt by those fortunate enough to enter that holy place under the guidance of a Vaiṣṇava who has communicated and inspired them with the proper perspective and mood.

 

I think no one has better summarized that proper mood needed for “getting” Vṛndāvana than Śrī Narottama, that great 15th century Vaiṣṇava saint:

 

“When my mind is peaceful and I am free from selfish desires then I will actually see Vṛndāvana.”[1]

 

Narottama expresses an interesting point about perception that just doesn’t refer to seeing Vṛndāvana, but refers to the perception of all phenomena—that to see something depends not just on the senses, but other factors such as the clarity of one’s mind and the attitude one has.

 

I thought of an interesting analogy to help one understand Narottama’s contention that seeing things properly, especially Vṛndāvana, refers to more than just sensual perception. Seeing things clearly is like properly capturing an image through the lens of a camera. One requires the right perspective and the proper focus.

 

The right perspective to see Vṛndāvana is to observe it through the viewpoint of the guide who has already seen Vṛndāvana and can tell and sing about it not only according to what the great saints have described, but also in their mood.

 

The proper focus to see Vṛndāvana is the clear mind that mystically arises quite effortlessly for one exclusively engaged in pañca aṅga bhakti, the five most potent practices of devotional service, namely chanting the holy name, hearing the stories and philosophy of Krishna, worshipping the Deity, serving the devotees, and visiting the holy places of Krishna’s pastimes. These practices are so powerful according to Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī that even a neophyte, one who is not highly advanced in devotion, can experience bhāva, the height of devotion, by humbly executing these practices under the guidance of a Vaiṣṇava, what to speak of achieving clarity and focus of the mind.

 

So in this way, Joe got it. Not only did Joe get it, but the forty-two other pilgrims in his group, which was led by Raghunath, also seemed to get it. You could see it in their faces, their unbounded enthusiasm for kīrtana, and by the gratitude they expressed for being here.

 

Raghunath did a great job of guiding this group of various levels of devotional commitment. He first prepped them for Vṛndāvana in Hṛṣīkeśa by immersing the group in chanting and hearing about Krishna and by instilling in them the proper mood of a pilgrim. [2] Then in Vṛndāvana he further inspired them to remain committed to a full day of bhakti, especially singing kīrtana and visiting special places of pilgrimage. I think it was not difficult for the group to remain absorbed in devotion here with the awe inspiring 24-hour kīrtana of Śrī Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir nearby and the early evening kīrtanas of the renowned Madhava in the courtyard of the MVT gardens where they were staying.

 

There is world beyond the ordinary eye that is accessible to those with the natural apparatus to perceive it, and that holds true even in the world of matter. For example, there is a high pitch sound made by a whistle that is beyond what humans can hear, but accessible to a dog whose ears are naturally wired for that sound. In a similar way, the sincere pilgrim can no doubt glimpse and feel the spiritual world here in Vṛndāvana when their heart is geared to a mood of service awakened by the holy name under the guidance of a Vaiṣṇava. Yes, like Brooklyn Joe you can also get Vṛndāvana!

 


[1] Lālasāmayi Prārthana, verse three

 

[2] To instill in his pilgrimage, group the proper mood Raghunath had his group recite daily the following pledge that he composed:

 

Foundations of a Successful Pilgrimage by Raghunath

  1. “I will not criticize”—Refrain from criticism, gossiping. Criticism=sadness
  2. “I will be tolerant”—I will stop blaming things, circumstances, or other people for my shortcomings. “I cannot blame myself to a better future”, when I complain I make a contract to be unhappy”
  3. “I take no offense”—A practice of NOT compiling others’ but accepting circumstances as God’; forgiving completely and immediately if one offends.
  4. “I am always ready to ask forgiveness for MY offenses”—A practice of humility
  5. “I will find the good in others and let them know it”—A practice of noticing other people’s good qualities and giving respect to others.
  6. “I will keep a tally of my blessings”—Practicing gratitude.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #41 – The Meandering Snail

October 9th, 2017

The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking trail in the world. It extends 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, and is also certainly one of the most serene and secluded. Those fortunate and brave enough to challenge the length of that path often choose an apt pseudonym for their brief encounter with the occasional pilgrim on a similar journey, usually passing them on the opposite way. My friend, Gita Nagari Dasa, has chosen the “Meandering Snail” on his epic journey. Yes, he is quite slow, having collapsed one morning over twelve years ago on his tenth vraja-maṇḍala parikramā only to find himself paralyzed from the waist down. Rushed to the hospital the next day and diagnosed for an emergency operation, he was told before going under the knife that he may never walk again. Fortunately, he awoke with a slight tingle in his toes and after excruciating physical rehabilitation for eight months progressed to a gimpy walk. His internal vow was to walk the Appalachian Trail, a lifelong ideal that was never really so much on the table in his over thirty years in Krishna consciousness, including the rigors of family life in America, and an arduous renounced life after the age of forty-five living in India. He is now living that dream, having left India after an expired visa. I am fortunate to be among a few selected readers for his occasional journal entries written quickly from a public library in one of the out of the way town stops on the trail needed for refueling supplies. The insights of one who really takes fully to the traditional sādhu life of forest walking, austerity, and chanting Hare Krishna all day can be quite inspiring and humbling. Let me share with you an excerpt from the last journal entry of the “Meandering Snail”. I think you will see what I mean.

 


 

This week I have passed the thousand-mile mark!!!! I started this hike in Duncannon, Pennsylvania at mile marker 1,147.7 on April 4th 2017. It is now almost 6 months later and I have managed to meander myself down to mile marker 109.3!!!! I have “only” 109 miles left to hike and I will have done the entire southern half of the Appalachian Trail. I am now only about 20 miles from the Georgia state border, the last state I have to pass through and then and there in that state I will finishing my hike (Krishna willing) on the top of Springer Mountain in the Amicalola State Park.

And—-oh—-what a journey it has been. Deep, exquisite, profound, austere, wonderful, enlivening, frustrating, tiring (but never boring), physically challenging (sometimes beyond my ability to handle) and, without doubt, full, absolutely chock full, of the mercy of Krishna. Every step has been just dripping with Krishna’s mercy, because at every step along this 1000 some mile journey, I have been chanting incessantly this mantra:

HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA HARE HARE
HARE RAMA HARE RAMA RAMA RAMA HARE HARE

And that has made all the difference in the world, and that my dear friends, when all is said and done, that is all that we really need.

JNANYAM ASTI TULITAM CA TULAYAM
PREMA NAIVA TULITAM TU TULAYAM
SIDDHA EVA TULITATRA TULAYAM
KRISHNA NAMA TULITAM NA TULAYAM

“The opulence of Vedic knowledge, and the perfection of the mystic yoga system, these two things can be compared to one another, and they can be compared to other things in this material world. But Krishna Prema, love for Lord Krishna, and Krishna Nama, the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krishna, these two things have no comparison to anything in the entire material universe. They can never be weighed on the scale of mundane consideration!!!!!”

So, as I walk down the trail, I have been thinking a lot these days about ecstasy. Do you remember when we first joined the Hare Krishna movement, we really joined not because of the philosophy, or even the prasadam (even though both those things helped a lot), but we really joined because by following just a little bit of the Krishna conscious teachings, we had an experience of ecstasy in relationship to Krishna?????? Do you remember that my friends?????? That experience of ecstasy that propelled you into the Krishna conscious movement????? Because I do, I remember it all the time, and I long for it in my heart all the time. And I have been thinking a lot these days about ecstasy, and have been searching for that ecstasy, and I am just so hungry for it, I cannot tell you how hungry that hunger is. And, oh, I cannot tell you how wonderful it is when that natural hunger is met by the perfect source of pleasure —–our great all enjoying, ever attractive Lord, our Sri Krishna!!!!

And you know what????? I have come to realize that there is nothing wrong with that. That we are eternally “ananda moya bhyasat”, we are eternally pleasure seeking by our very nature. And Krishna is naturally also “ananda  moya bhyasat”, He is always eternally full of blissful pleasure by His very nature. And what a perfect combination that is —–Him and us. It is not the seeking of pleasure that is bad—— for seeking it we will do by our very constitutional nature——— it is how you seek it that matters. Are you going to seek it in matter, in the material nature ——-or are you going to seek it in spirit.

So as I come to the end of this hike, I just want to encourage all of my friends to not give up on their ecstasy. I just want all of you to follow your ecstasy in Krishna consciousness to the utmost culmination. Do not look right or left, do not listen to those who will crash or come down on you in your pursuit of ecstasy. Just follow it and follow it with all your heart, all your will, and all the intelligence at your command. And Krishna ——HE WILL RESPOND. Do not worry about that, He has to respond.  Because why???? Because Krishna is an ecstasy hound just like us, and he cannot say no to Srimati Radhika, He is bound by Her, and ecstasy is Her property. So where there is bhakti, where there is Bhakti Devi, Srimate Radhika, then Krishna will not be far behind.

So do not worry about anything else, just constantly chant the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra, where Radha’s name is invoked eight times, following all the rules and regulations, and Krishna will eventually show up. It is that easy my friends, in this age of Kali Yuga it really is that easy——it is really, really, really that easy—–surprisingly!!!!!!

So, I am now walking through the Nantahala National Forest. And right now it is late at night and I am tired, so I will leave it here. Follow your ecstasy in Krishna Consciousness, give up trying to find ecstasy in matter, and then stand back and watch what happens!!!!! The opulence of Vedic knowledge

I wish this upon you all.

Hare Krishna, my dear friends, pray for this poor soul.

Gita Nagari Dasa

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #40 – On Time

October 2nd, 2017

I wanted to write about time this week and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to discuss the subject of time in general or defend punctuality, so I decided to write about both. The subject of this entry is thus both about time, or “On Time” and punctuality, or being “On Time”.
 
On Time (the subject of time)
 
When I was in college Eric Mausert, now Akṣobhya dāsa, my former roommate who had joined the Hare Krishna movement the previous year, decided to stay with me for a few days at my off-campus apartment during the spring. He always found unique ways to preach to me in order to get me to join him. One morning I woke up and found a verse from the Gītā written on a little piece of white adhesive tape stuck on the back of my small black alarm clock.
 
“Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people.” (Bg. 11.32)
 
There you are. Time is God or Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu means “God who pervades everywhere”. He witnesses our activities and then manifests as kāla, or time, to create circumstances in the future to teach us corrective lessons based on the impurities that He has witnessed in the past. The purpose of time is therefore karma.
 
Does time exist in the spiritual world? Is there not a sense of linear movement in Krishna’s pastimes, and if that is not time, what is it? Yes, there is the sequence of His activities to facilitate His desire to exchange love, but it is certainly not kāla, or time, as we know it. By definition God cannot be subjected to the superior power of anything—not past, present, or future—and certainly not the oppression of kāla or karma. And unlike kāla, where moments do not exist before they happen and immediately cease forever when they pass, all moments in the spiritual realm, even when sequential, exist eternally in all phases of time. It is just like the passing of the sun from one hour to another hour, where each hour that passes still exists somewhere on earth as do all phases of time.
 
Sound confusing? I hope not, but there is a sense that it should be. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, when discussing the origin of the living entity in this material world, discouraged one from trying to explain it by “the dirt of words”. I sensed he used this phrase to describe the futility of describing an event that reasonably must have both occurred and also originated by definition in a realm not subject to past, present, or future.
 
On Time (being punctual)
 
I already wrote so much about “On Time” (the subject of time) that for the sake of Monday Morning Greetings I will keep this part short. It is a misconception to think that because time, in a sense, is oppressive that regulation and punctuality stifle bhakti or spontaneity. Confucius spoke extensively on how ritual and regulation help to improve virtue by honing important considerations not simply determined by our impulses or personal needs. This correlation between the careful use of time and fulfilling our objectives is certainly important to Krishna-consciousness when applied thoughtfully. Otherwise, why would the regulated spiritual practices of Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī [1] be described as like “the lines of a stone” or the eternal pastimes of Radha-Krishna described as aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā? [2] Thus when punctuality and regulation are used properly to facilitate keeping focused on the moment, in a sense the oppression of time ceases to exist and the spontaneity of devotion flourishes, or in the words of a modern poet: “Time is on my side, yes it is.”
 


[1] Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī is the prayojana ācārya, the main teacher in our line for teaching prema-bhakti.

[2] Aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā means that the Lord’s different pastimes are basically eight fold and happen at the same time daily at eight distinct junctures of the day.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #39 – Chanting and Falling

September 25th, 2017

This may sound weird, but first let me introduce the subject to put it in context:

I try to make time early in the morning for a good amount of chanting. I basically just try to hear the Holy Name to feel direct communion with God in the form of His name, but the mind does not always focus so easily. I have therefore utilized and developed different ways of activating either my understanding of the importance of what I am doing or my attraction for it for the purpose of inspiring and increasing my concentration. I have discussed these techniques in my book Japa Meditations: Contemplation on the Holy Name. Now the unusual part:

Recently, due to an increase in my traveling and the consequent irregularity of my schedule, I have felt more challenged in maintaining the proper mode for concentrated chanting. I am therefore forced at times to be even more creative in order to maintain attentive chanting. I have even tried the following visualization to activate my attentiveness:

I imagine it is September 11, 2001, and that I am on one of top floors of the World Trade Center towers and that due to the intense fire I am forced to jump. Actually this thought first came to me as I was in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and was struck with the horrid image of people on the top floor being forced to fatally jump to their death. I thought, “What if that was me? What would I think of in those fatal last seconds on the way down?” Anyway in this meditation of falling, I literally have a few seconds to chant before I hit the ground. I watch what happens to my consciousness:

My focus and attention substantially increased: Attention is something that has to be activated. And there is nothing more powerful to activate concentration than the thought that your next destination will largely be determined by what you are thinking at the moment of death and realizing that you have only a few seconds to perfect yourself. Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!

The voice or sincerity of my chanting was amplified: Desperate situations inspire one to call for help sincerely. The vocative sense of the mantra, O Radha!, O Krishna!, becomes pronounced.

I chanted in humility: It is humbling when you face situations where you have no power to control your own destiny and your only shelter is God. I could understand how the power of such humility allows one to feel God’s mercy, invokes feelings of devotion and allows one to chant incessantly.

Don’t worry, the fall only takes a few seconds of my time during chanting and I definitely don’t try to envision the crash. But somehow these few seconds activate these three components of chanting that are the key to attentiveness: understanding its importance, chanting with sincerity, and embracing the humble position. It is also a fact that locking the mind in attention even for a few seconds often keeps us focused way beyond that. [1]

And when doing this meditation for a few seconds I also realize that chanting and falling is a microcosm for life in general. Will we not also die in just a blip of eternal time?


[1] Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura taught in his book Bhajana-rahasya that by concentrating on one couplet of the mantra you can lock in a sense concentration that continues for the whole mantra.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #38 – Rules: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

September 18th, 2017

Niyamāgraha is a Sanskrit word that means either too little or too much affinity for the rules, both of which are impediments to bhakti. It is important for an aspirant on the path of bhakti to properly understand the purpose and application of these principles.
 
The purpose of rules
 
Setting and following sound rules helps one to be governed by good judgment rather than impulse. The purpose of the rules in bhakti is simple: to facilitate the remembrance of Krishna, which is the mechanism on the path of bhakti for transformation. For example, when a devotee enters the temple, he or she must bow down. Why? We are basically egocentric. Our tendency is to lack awareness and consideration for others. Bowing down before the deity is meant to increase our awareness of God and our humble position as His servant.
 
Impediment One: Too little affinity for the rules
 
One is averse to rules because rules represent authority, a governance of life that limits our prospects for conforming the world to suit our attachments. To resist following rules just for self-centered purposes is obviously antithetical to spiritual development, especially when such guidelines are meant to uplift us. Similarly, to have too little affinity for the rules of bhakti out of this sense of rebellion, or even just laziness, is an impediment to bhakti for the rules of bhakti, as mentioned above, are meant to help us remember Krishna. Those who fall prey to or justify such folly only wallow in the impulses of their minds rather than awaken consciousness of God. Great souls thus strictly follow the rules of devotion. A good example of such firm adherence, for instance, can be found in the lives of the six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana:
 
“Who could list the unlimited transcendental attributes of Raghunātha dāsa? His strict regulative principles were exactly like lines on a stone.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 6.309)
 
Impediment Two: Too much affinity for the rules
 
We follow rules not just for the rule itself, but for the purpose of the rule, which in bhakti is to enhance devotion. It is thus an impediment for the bhakta to rigidly stick to a rule in neglect of the general principle for which that rule was made. For example, on Ekādaśī Vaiṣṇavas would traditionally fast, usually not taking even a drop of water. The purpose was to reduce bodily needs and increase devotion, but if such fasting causes one to feel too weak to serve and remember Krishna, then one’s inflexibility in observance is against the intent of fasting and thus an impediment to bhakti.
 
As it is an impediment to have affinity for rules outlining practices beyond our capability, it is also an impediment to have strict affinity for rules applicable to a particular stage of devotion that one has already passed. For example, there is an advanced stage of devotion called rāgānugā-bhakti where one’s devotion is better aided by acting spontaneously in devotion rather than blindly following the dictates of a specific rule meant for those without such devotion. For instance, while it is a devotional principle to not lie down in the temple before the deity, such a rule may be an impediment for one advanced in a particular type of devotion. Śrīla Prabhupāda describes such a case:
 
“Sometimes it is found that a pure devotee lies down in the temple of the Lord in order to serve Him as a confidential friend. Such friendly behavior of a devotee may be accepted as rāgānugā, or spontaneous. Although according to regulative principles, no one can lie down in the temple of the Supreme Personality of Godhead this spontaneous love of Godhead my be grouped under devotional service in friendship.” (NOD p. 97)
 
Although those more advanced are cautioned not to be rigid about guidelines no longer applicable to their situation, Śrīla Prabhupāda cautions all his disciples about the pitfall of too much affinity for the rules:
 
“The teacher (ācārya) has to consider time, candidate and country. He must avoid the principle of niyamāgraha—that is, he should not try to perform the impossible. What is possible in one country may not be possible in another. […] The essence of devotional service must be taken into consideration, and not the outward paraphernalia. […] It is not necessary that the rules and regulations followed in India be exactly the same as those in Europe, America and other Western countries.” (Cc. Madhya-līlā  23.105, purport)
 
Too much or too little? How can we know? Śrīla Prabhupāda was once asked a similar question in terms of distinguishing between a principle (rules that have to be followed in all circumstances) and details (rules that apply circumstantially). I think generally most tend to err on the side of too little, but I love his simple answer: “It takes a little intelligence.”
 
Yes, if we are thoughtful and sincere, we will mostly get it right.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #37 – Death Made Simple

September 11th, 2017

While sending this article for posting, I looked at the date and just realized it was 9/11 and that by coincidence the article was on death. I liked what I wrote a lot, but not particularly for this day. I will post it to keep with the regularity of Monday Morning Greetings and offer my heartfelt prayers for those who lost and sacrificed their lives. I am from New York and was in lower Manhattan on that day so this day may have a little more significance for me. I am including a link from my diary that I wrote watching the towers fallMy 9/11 journal entry.

Death Made Simple

  1. We are eternal.
  2. Death is thus the illusion of non-existence.
  3. We fear and suffer from this illusion due to the notion that takes the self, which is eternal, to be the non-self, or body, which is temporary.
  4. This misidentification is due to false ego, the desire to be the enjoyer and controller.
  5. The real pain of death is thus not just the physical pain, which can be numbed by either coma or drugs, but more the affront to the false ego at death when all our attachments are lost at once.
  6. Our real-ego, or eternal identity, is that we are servants of God. One who fully realizes this is not affected by the death of the body.
  7. “The wise lament neither for the living nor the dead” [1] thus means that we don’t lament that people change bodies or die, but lament that due to ignorance people identify with the body and suffer.
  8. For one with spiritual understanding, the fact that everyone faces death is not an act of cruelty, but an act of God’s mercy. Death announces loudly to the soul that one is not the controller and enjoyer, helping one to overcome the false ego, which is the root cause of misery life after life.
  9. One who hears this voice and serves and accepts death as God’s mercy overcomes the false ego, becomes fearless and realizes one eternal nature.
  10. We should always remember that death is not just a matter for the end of life. We should thus die now to live. By slaying the false ego of selfish desires and embracing our real identity of selfless devotion to Krishna we will experience and live our eternal nature now.

 

 


[1] Bhagavad-gītā 2.11

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #36 – Śrī Rādhā Made Simple

September 4th, 2017

  1. In this world everyone is seeking happiness and that pleasure is ultimately found in love. If that is the guiding principle in this world, why should it not be part of its source, the ultimate reality?
  2. If there is love in the spiritual realm there also must be beauty, for love means to offer the best.
  3. This correlation between happiness, love, and beauty is the key to understanding Śrī Rādhā.
  4. Śrī Krishna is the Supreme Enjoyer. His happiness is therefore love and the personification of that love is Śrī Rādhā, who must also be the reservoir of all beauty and good qualities, which are the concrete expression of love.
  5. For example, flowers are a common way to express love. They are fragrant, colorful, and may be soft and smooth, but offering them in love is not just a sensual experience, for getting a gift of flowers and experiencing all its wonderful attributes, is also the experience of love from the person who has offered those flowers.
  6. Krishna’s pleasure potency is called hlādinī śakti, the essence of which is Krishna prema (love of godhead) and when that love is heightened to the highest degree it is called mahābhāva. Śrī Rādhā is mahābhāva svarūpa, the form of the highest love (and pleasure).
  7. Even Śrī Rādhā’s many ornaments and decorations, which she adorns only for the pleasure of Krishna, are composed of and expressing mahābhāva. Thus Krishna’s experience of Śrī Rādhā is the experience of His greatest love and pleasure.
  8. As Śrī Rādhā is an expression of God’s own potency of love, we cannot imagine the intensity and greatness of her qualities. Although there is no limit to her love and qualities, descriptions of them can give us some idea. For example, here is a description of Śrī Rādhā’s beauty from Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi:

“The beauty of Śrī Rādhā’s smile defeats the beauty of a blue lotus. The beauty of her face defeats the beauty of a forest of blue lotuses, and the luster of her body puts gold in a painful situation.”

  1. Only someone who is impersonal is not conquered by love. As Krishna is the Supreme Person, He is responsive to and conquered by true devotion. As Śrī Rādhā is the highest form of love, her twenty-fifth transcendental quality is that she always keeps Krishna under her control.
  2. How is this relevant to us? Śrīla Prabhupāda instructs us:

“Rādhārāṇī, the symbol of the topmost bhakti, is so powerful that she has purchased Krishna. Therefore, Vrajavāsīs [1] take shelter of the lotus feet of Rādhārāṇī, for if she recommends, ‘O here is a nice devotee,’ Krishna must accept Him.” (Teachings of Queen Kuntī)

 


[1] The devotees who reside in Vṛndāvana, Śrī Krishna’s abode

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #35 – Nāma-Kīrtana: The Essence of The Bhāgavatam

August 28th, 2017

Śrī Caitanya sat attentively at the feet of Śrī Īśvara Purī, his spiritual master, who had just promised to reveal to Him the one verse that embodies the essence of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Īśvara Purī then revealed the conclusion, a verse that would form the foundation of Śrī Caitanya’s mission.
 
“One who chants the names of one’s beloved Lord without material attachment or inhibition awakens deep attachment to his Lord. As his hearts melts with ecstatic love, he laughs very loudly or cries or shouts. Sometimes he sings and dances like a madman oblivious to public opinion.” (Bhāg. 11.2.40)
 
No serious student of the Bhāgavatam questions that nāma-kīrtana is highlighted within the text. [1] How does that, however, make it its essence, the one topic that helps unify the myriad of subjects found within the Bhāgavatam that are geared to establishing Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead? [2]
 
To decipher the actual theme of any book the first place to look is the history of its composition, specifically the intention of the author in writing the text. That account is told in the Bhāgavatam itself:
 
Śrī Vyāsa, the empowered editor of the Vedas, had just failed in his attempt to edit them in a relevant way for this present age of discord called Kali. Seeing his despondency, Śrī Nārada, his spiritual master, confirmed what Śrī Vyāsa had already suspected: he had not sufficiently glorified Krishna. Shaken by his teacher’s rebuke, Śrī Vyāsa entered into meditation to garner the realization necessary to properly complete his task. The result was the Bhāgavatam, a text systematically and directly glorifying Krishna in 18,000 beautiful verses meant to be read and sung in various melodies. The intention and final composition of the author of the Bhāgavatam is therefore kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, the praise or glorification of God in His fullest manifestation as Krishna.
 
A study of the standard practices of devotion also reveals the same truth. There are nine practices, beginning with hearing (śravaṇaṁ), chanting (kīrtanaṁ), and remembering (smaraṇaṁ). Each is traditionally represented by a particular exemplar. Śukadeva Gosvāmī, the main speaker of the Bhāgavatam is the specific exemplar for kīrtana because he devotionally recited the text non-stop for seven days, thus further affirming the Bhāgavatam as kīrtana.
 
We have discussed the Bhāgavatam as kīrtana in itself to support the contention of kīrtana as the book’s soul. Another way to understand kīrtana, specifically nāma-kīrtana, as the essence of the Bhāgavatam, is to understand the key message the song delivers. What is the main message of the Bhāgavatam?
 
To decipher the theme of a complex text, classical hermeneutics places stress on, among other things, the first and last thing spoken in the text. The crux of the Bhāgavatam is thus initially revealed in the first exchange between King Parīkṣit (a dying ruler and great devotee) to that same Śukadeva Gosvāmī, the saintly monk that appears at his death to enlighten him.
 
The King asks:

“What is the duty of a man who is about the die and what should he not do?” (Bhāg. 1.19.24)
 
Śukadeva replies:

“O King, constant chanting of the holy name of the Lord after the ways of the great authorities is the doubtless and fearless way of success for all, including those who are free from all material desires, those who are desirous of all material enjoyment, and also those who are self-satisfied by dint of transcendental knowledge.” (Bhāg. 2.1.11)
 
As Śukadeva’s first instruction points to nāma-kīrtana, similarly the very last verse of the Bhāgavatam and Śukadeva’s final instruction to Maharaja Parīkṣit also supports nāma-kīrtana as the text’s fundamental teaching:
 
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord, Hari, the congregational chanting of whose holy names (nāma-sankīrtanaam) destroys all sinful reactions, and the offering of obeisances unto whom relieves all material suffering.” (Bhāg. 12.13.23)
 
Every age (yuga) has a particular practice effective for that epoch. As the Bhāgavatam was written specifically for the present age called Kali-yuga, one would expect the text to represent whatever that practice would be. Thus any evidence for nāma-kīrtana as the prescribed practice for Kali-yuga would also be a kind of support for nāma-kīrtana as the essence of the Bhāgavatam.
 
Such evidence is found in the eleventh canto of the Bhāgavatam, where the recommended spiritual practice for each age is listed along with the incarnation who inaugurates that practice. The following recommendation is made for this age:
 
“In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting (sankīrtana) to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Krishna […]” (Bhāg. 11.5.32)
 
Although nāma-kīrtana is certainly highlighted in the Bhāgavatam, how is one to understand the many other diverse subjects that are apparently unrelated to nāma-kīrtana? If the essence of something is that which pervades everything, how then is nāma-kīrtana the svarūpa (the inherent nature) of such assorted and apparently unconnected topics as calculation of time from the atom to the dynasty of Kings?
 
Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī gives the clue to the resolution of this quandary. At the beginning of Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha he describes the two ways in which one can approach the text: for good instruction or to relish one’s relationship with Krishna. [3] First we need good and repeated instruction to finally surrender to Krishna, at which time one awakens one’s relationship with the Lord. Having thus done so, one’s approach shifts. No longer needing just instruction, one now relishes each statement in the Bhāgavatam, including the instructional ones, as inspiration for one’s particular relationship with Krishna.
 
In other words, as it is this sense of our relationship with Krishna while chanting the holy name that is the essence of the Bhāgavatam, and each and every text of the Bhāgavatam is ultimately meant to inspire this relationship, it follows then that the whole Bhāgavatam is intimately connected to nāma-kīrtana. [4]
 
The tenth canto, although just one of twelve cantos, is by the far the most substantial in both its depth and shear number of verses. This is the part of the Bhāgavatam that not only fully delineates Krishna’s pastimes (līlā), but is considered the fruit of all the other subjects in the text studied before. Any analysis of the Bhāgavatam as nāma-kīrtana, must therefore also show the relevance between Krishna’s pastimes and nāma-kīrtana.
 
Hearing the pastimes of Krishna is directly connected to the practice of nāma-kīrtana because a mature sense of our relationship with Krishna, the key to devotional chanting, is awakened and nourished by hearing about the activities of one’s beloved, especially with those devotees whose relationship one inherently covets. [5]
 
And although it is true that the practice and goal of bhakti is to absorb oneself fully in thoughts of Krishna, especially His līlā, nāma-kīrtana still remains the foundation of such remembrance as within His name also rests His form, quality, and pastimes. That within Krishna’s name is his pastimes is seen within the initial verse cited about the essence of the Bhāgavatam where the result of chanting the names of one’s beloved Lord are crying, laughing, and other emotions. Such symptoms of pure chanting are the spontaneous response to the awakening of various līlās in one’s heart as a result of chanting the holy name. And nowhere is it recommended to give up nāma-kīrtana at this stage. Rather nāma-kīrtana remains the root of remembering the Lord’s pastimes, especially for that person who has properly heard them as delineated in the tenth canto. And that was the example of Śrī Caitanya, especially in the last eighteen years of His life in Purī. There in the Gambhīrā [6] He continuously chanted the holy name and nourished His relationship with Krishna, in this case in the mood of Śrī Rādhā, with narrations and songs based on the Bhāgavatam spoken and sung by His most confidential associates, Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya and Śrī Svarūpa Dāmodara. [7]
 
It should be noted here also, that Śrī Caitanya’s example also shows the healthy relationship between nāma-kīrtana and the other forms of kīrtana. Although nāma-kīrtana remained the base practice, the others forms of kīrtana are not to be neglected. The genuine rūpa, guṇa, and līlā-kīrtana based on the Bhāgavatam are also essential in the life of the serious practitioner.
 
One question remains: if nāma-kīrtana is the essence of the Bhāgavatam, is it the main mode of expression of the residents of Vṛndāvana as described in the tenth canto? The answer is no. The residents of Vṛndāvana are not chanting kīrtana as a practice to achieve love of Godhead. Rather their kīrtana is an expression of such love (the goal of practice) that manifests accordingly as calling Krishna’s name (nāma-kīrtana), [8] speaking about His form (rūpa kīrtana), talking about His qualities (guṇa kīrtana), or singing His pastimes (līlā kīrtana). [9] Nāma-kīrtana, however, remains the essence of the Bhāgavatam for the reasons mentioned above; it is the main process recommended by the Bhāgavatam to achieve love of Godhead and it is within itself simply kīrtana.
 
Conclusion: The essence of any text and path of yoga is samādhi, absorption in the object of one’s meditation to the point of non-awareness of anything external to that object. In bhakti-yoga such absorption in Krishna is best attained by the practice of nāma-kīrtana. Nāma-kīrtana is thus the essence of the teachings of the Bhāgavatam best exemplified by the spontaneous nāma-kīrtana of the eternal residents of Śrī Vṛndāvana:
 
“O virtuous lady, if trees or other obstacles block Krishna from sight even briefly, His companions at once shed tears and call in anxious drawn-out voices, “Śrī Krishna! Śrī Krishna!” (Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta 1.6.104, spoken by Rohiṇī to Devakī)
 
 


 
[1] It should be noted that the Bhāgavatam specifically recommends ś kṛṣṇakīrtana. You will not find the practice of kīrtana emphasized in the texts regarding the worship of Śiva, Durgā, or even Viṣṇu to nearly the extent it is promoted in the Bhāgavatam in relation to Śrī Krishna.
 
[2] In Tattva-sandarbha Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī describes Bhāg. 1.3.24 as the theme verse of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, which declares Śrī Krishna as the original personality of Godhead.
 
[3] Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha, Anuchedda 1
 
[4] It should be noted that the various subjects in the Bhāgavatam are also meant to attract a wide variety of people to devotional service.
 
[5] In the first of his seminal verses outlining the practice of rāgānugā-bhakti, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī writes, “The devotee should always think of Krishna within himself and one should choose a very dear servitor of Krishna in Vṛndāvana. One should constantly engage in topics about that servitor and his loving relationship with Krishna […]” (Brs 1.2.294)
 
[6] Śrī Caitanya spent the last eighteen years of His life in a small cave-like room in the house of Śrī Kāśī Miśra, the paṇḍita to the King of Purī, called Gambhīrā.
 
[7] “Two people—Rāmānanda Rāya and Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvami—stayed with the Lord to pacify Him by reciting various verses about Krishna pastimes and by singing appropriate songs for His satisfaction.” Cc. Antya-līlā 6.9
 
[8] A particularly beautiful example of nāma-kīrtana in the Bhāgavatam is when Krishna asks the cowherd boys to do kīrtana of the names of Balarāma and Himself to awaken the Vedic brāhmaṇas from slumber. See Bhāg. 10.23.4.
 
[9] A brief list of kīrtana as the main activity in Goloka, based on the Bhāgavatam:

  • Mother Yaśodā’s kīrtana – 10.9.1
  • Kīrtana of elderly gopīs – 10.16.21
  • Kīrtana in morning – 10.15.2
  • Kīrtana in the forest with cowherd boys – 10.15. 10-12.
  • How to do kīrtana – 10.15.16
  • Kīrtana returning from forest – 10.15. 41
  • Kīrtana of gopīs – 10.21.4, 10.30.43
  • Kīrtana of cowherd boys – 10.21.5

 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #34 – Is There Love in the Material World?

August 21st, 2017

While attending a lecture, I was skeptical of the apparent conclusion of the class that the only true love is bhakti, love for God, and consequently there is unequivocally no love in the material world. I respectfully raised a question and a discussion ensued.
 
For argument’s sake, even if we accept that bhakti is only for Krishna, isn’t there a danger in the application of that principle? There are studies done that show that people who adhere to movements promoting such transcendence are in general less empathetic than those that do not. Although, granted, according to the same studies twenty percent who deeply understand the tenets of such teachings are much more empathetic. Whether this study is accurate or not, doesn’t such preaching pose a danger of being misunderstood and making us more hard-hearted?
 
An intense discussion followed the morning class by Jaya Jagannāth and the discussion continued throughout the second day of our Bhakti Immersion retreat. His class was excellent and his points reasonably well argued, as was the push back to his ideas. The exchange is worth reproducing here in the form of a summary of Jaya Jagannāth’s basic view, the push back or opposing view, and what I think is the correct view, which is a kind of synthesis.
 
A summary of Jaya’s view:
 
Jaya’s class was based on a verse from the Tenth Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam where Krishna explains that it is only in relation with the self that anything becomes dear and thus there can be nothing dearer than the self. [1] He gave many good examples to support this principle, like how things are treasured or loved only because we perceive they belong to us, not in and of themselves, and how even love of family and sacrifice for country is only extending our concept of the self beyond ourselves to others. In other words, as long as love is based on the body, there is at least some element of ego involved antithetical to pure love and thus love in this world is suspect.
 
I cannot do justice to his presentation in such a short summary, but even those who disagreed with his conclusion, or wanted to modify it, appreciated the insight, logic, and śāstric reference that he offered in support of his view. Continuing his argument, he then referenced a verse from the same chapter where Krishna stated that those who understand their real self-interest render unalloyed devotion to Him because He is ātma-priya, most dear to the soul.[2] In other words, as we love or hold things dear because they belong us, and thus our self or soul is dearer than our body and its possessions, similarly Krishna, who is the soul of the soul, is the most dear object of devotion. Śrīla Prabhupāda emphatically concurs in his purport: “Lord Krishna is ātma-priya, the real object of love for everyone.”
 
Jaya Jagannāth’s main objective, which he clarified later, was that the term “bhakti” has basically been bastardized in the new age and yoga communities to include every sentiment of affection as bhakti, and that unless we understand that the true of object of bhakti is God, we will be mired in a falsely exclusive sense of love. We will then never experience real bhakti until we finally transcend or become frustrated with the mundane. His talk was thus entitled, “Love, Lust, Loss, and Beatitude”—“beatitude” meaning the state of the utmost bliss.
 
Opposing view
 
There seems to be some problems with the view that bhakti is only for God and no one else in this world, for this view inevitably limits our conception and vision of Krishna. Krishna is described in the Bhāgavatam as advayam jñāna—consciousness that is inclusive of everything. If we thus separate things from Krishna in this way, don’t we risk developing a vision that things are separate from God, the basic illusion at the foundation of material enjoyment? In the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu Krishna is generally defined as just His personality and expansions, but in his commentary Nectar of Devotion Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that Krishna also means His parts and parcels and His different energies. So why can’t a devotee in the proper consciousness love everyone as part of Krishna? [3]
 
And isn’t genuine affection for people a part of bhakti when affection is actually our duty or service to Krishna? Would a mother be a better devotee if she only loved Krishna and just dutifully served her children without affection because she wants to transcend it? That seems absurd. Her natural affection is part of her service. Can’t that affection then be called love, especially if she sees her child as belonging to God and her service to love or care for the child? Is it illusion to have genuine friendships in Krishna consciousness, even though we are not yet liberated, and if not what do we call such affection? Is it not a type of love? [4] Certainly love for Krishna can’t mean only directing our devotion at the deity and withdrawing our affection from everyone else.
 
This argument can even be taken further by stating that a theistic conception is not even an absolute requisite for love. If our dharma, or intrinsic quality, is to serve, then does sincere affection in some way reflect the soul regardless of one’s belief, and if so then how can we possibly argue that that there is no love in the material world?
 
Synthesis
 
The next day during class Jaya Jagannāth clarified his point. He said the distinction he wanted to make was distinguishing bhakti as love with a capital “L” and love in this world as love with a lower-case “l”. I think the synthesis rests there. I think confusion initially with the presentation was that this distinction wasn’t made more clearly. That yes, bhakti is for Krishna, but that doesn’t mean that love does not exist even if it is not bhakti. A good definition of love will help further clarify this point: “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”.[5] In this sense, certainly people do have love and even sacrifice their lives for others, even at times for strangers who have no bodily connection to them. I thus think it is a mistake to equate that all exchanges of love in this world are purely based on ego or abject self-interest, for if we do, we also lose the ability to distinguish even benevolence from cruelty even in the face of great examples of altruism or sincere benevolent relationships.
 
In other words, the distinction that bhakti is the topmost love, as described by the great teachers such as Nārada and others, does not negate that there is love in the material world. Rather it proves it, for by deeming bhakti as the pinnacle of love, it also acknowledges a spectrum of love before that. Furthermore, if we deny the existence of such love in the world, we fall at a loss to explain on what basis the Bhāgavatam expects us to have at least a preliminarily frame of reference to understand and appreciate the descriptions of affection between Krishna and His devotees.
 
Of course, it is not that all affectionate relationships in this world are love. Perhaps even most of what we see today, especially in romance, are just selfish relationships that people enter in the name of love only. That doesn’t discount, however, that we do have the capacity, even while still impure and bound in this world, to have sincere love or concern for others. I just heard a story about Śrīla Prabhupāda that synthesizes the point quite neatly:
 
“Śrīla Prabhupāda was sitting outside on the grass speaking to a group of devotees at New Vrindavan. In front of him were some baby kittens playing and wrestling in front of him and he was just watching them. Suddenly he commented, “You see? There is love in this material world.” He paused and then added that although there is concern and benevolence in this world it will never be enough to full satisfy the soul just as someone in the desert cannot be satisfied with a few drops of water.”[6]
 
In conclusion, love is a general loyalty and affection in relationships and it exists in this world, but only when that affection is extended to the Supreme Lord is it bhakti and fully universal, but bhakti can also be extended to others when we see them and serve them as connected to the Divine. Therefore it is important for all devotees to understand and meditate on how they can connect their relationships to Krishna.
 
 


[1] Bhāg. 10.23.27

[2] Bhāg. 10.23.26

[3] When we speak of “Krishna” we refer to the Supreme Personality of Godhead along with His many expansions. He is expanded by His plenary parts and parcels, His differentiated parts and parcels, and His different energies. “Krishna,” in other words, means everything and includes everything. Generally, however, we should understand “Krishna” to mean Krishna and His personal expansions.

[4] In the Śrī Upadeśāmṛta by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, an important book in our tradition that Śrīla Prabhupāda translated as the Nectar of Instruction, he summarizes the essence of our teachings in just twelve verses, wherein one whole verse is devoted to the description of loving exchanges between devotees. The exact word used is “prīti” or love.

[5] Definition of Love (4.a) Merriam-Webster Dictionary

[6] In our discussion period during Jaya Jagannāth’s class my god-sister Rukmiṇī Devī recounted this story of Śrīla Prabhupāda as her contribution to the discussion.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #33 – True Devotion: “I have none!”

August 14th, 2017

Sadhu, be careful! The ego is so insidious. It can appropriate even our best qualities to make us proud, even our budding devotion, thinking that I am the best devotee, or even a devotee. This doesn’t happen, however, when one develops true devotion.  Not only does one not become proud, one feels he doesn’t even have a trace of devotion. I love the description of Śrī Caitanya’s mindset as His feelings of devotion intensify:
 
“Wherever there is a relationship of love of Godhead, its natural symptom is that the devotee does not think himself a devotee. Instead, he always thinks that he has not even a drop of love for Kṛṣṇa.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 20.28)
 
Having intense devotion, but feeling none. How is that possible?
 
Bhakti is like a thirst or hunger, but a hunger to serve. As a hungry person feels deprived of food, one with bhakti hungers for devotion and feels humbly bereft of it. As this want of bhakti is bhakti itself compassionate sages like Śrī Nārada thus pray:
 
“Śrī Kṛṣṇacandra, please grant that no one will ever feel he has enough of Your mercy, Your devotional service, or pure love for You, the reservoir of ecstasy.” (Bṛhad-bhāgavātamṛta 1.7.135)
 
Just as the hunger for devotion actually enhances it, the complacency or sense that “I have bhakti” impedes it. The first symptom of unsteady devotion is therefore called utsāha māyī or “false enthusiasm”, where the beginner in devotional service sometimes feels falsely adept or advanced in devotion causing his yearning for bhakti and thus bhakti itself to naturally slacken. In fact any sphere where we feel accomplished and proud will damper our longing and consequently our devotion. Queen Kuntī thus warns the aspiring devotee:
 
“My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling. (Bhāg. 1.8.26)
 
Sincere feeling is the key in spiritual practice, and the basis of such emotion is the humble realization that we intensely need God’s mercy, a want or sense of lack that only increases when our devotion advances. By sincerely and attentively chanting the holy name this awareness of the glory of the holy name and our own lack of qualification will become progressively revealed. If even a speck of such humility graces our consciousness we should embrace it as the greatest treasure and consciously beg for the mercy of the holy name for ironically true bhakti is the humble feeling “I have none!”
 
 

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