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.
 
 

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

May 8th, 2017

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

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

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

I met Dr. Fakir Mohan about fifteen or twenty years ago. I was staying at ISKCON Govardhana and was told that an elderly Vaiṣṇava from Orissa, who was a renowned Vaiṣṇava scholar, had just arrived. I went to greet him to pay respects, but when I introduced myself he moved a few steps to the left and when I again went to face him, he moved again to his right. I was puzzled until someone whispered that he would not step on a Vaiṣṇava’s shadow, so as the sun was to my back he moved every time I would directly face him.
 
The next morning, we asked him to give class, but before he sat on the seat he bowed to every sannyāsi, affectionately clasping their hands and in a heartfelt voice murmuring, “Bless me. I know nothing.”
 
Kṛṣṇa Mohan was an elderly and pious Indian who had been a doctor in Mathura in 1950. He now lived in the USA and was seeking to take initiation from me, but I refused. I wasn’t accepting any disciples at that time. One day after the Sunday Feast at ISKCON Towaco he came to my room, paid prostrated obeisances, and then crying begged for my mercy. He was so sincere. I felt embarrassed. I overheard a young devotee nearby aptly comment, “Now I know what Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu meant when he said to Śrīla Rūpa, ‘Your humility is breaking my heart’.”
 
True humility is not just a concept that one accepts and executes. It’s something that overflows from the simple and pure heart. It was inspiring to meet such devotees.
 
Wisdom

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

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

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #18 – That Last Honest Man

May 1st, 2017

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

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #17 – Proof of the Paranormal

April 24th, 2017

I read a very interesting story about someone who was haunted by a ghost after moving into a new house. As soon as she stayed the night there she began to feel pressure on her chest and heard whooshing sounds. She had a sense that someone was watching her. When she went to work she felt fine, but every time she returned she felt the same way. Her feelings increased more and more throughout the night. This went on for weeks. She thought she was going to die. She did everything she could to get rid of the ghost, even burning fresh sage upon the recommendation of a new age friend. Nothing seemed to work. She was desperate so she Googled “ghost busting”. She found a ghost busting hotline. She called. To her surprise a person representing the Rationalist Society answered, an organization whose purpose was to debunk the supernatural. She thought what did she have to lose? She told them her symptoms. The receptionist immediately said she had the exact symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and that there was most likely a gas leak in her house. She immediately called the emergency number for the gas company who thankfully sent someone over within an hour. Sure enough there was a serious leak. After the gasman repaired the leak he soberly told her, “Ma’am, one more day and you would have been dead!” The next day all of her symptoms were gone. She felt duped by all the hocus-pocus thoughts about ghosts. She became inspired to help others understand that all paranormal experiences could be explained by science. She even told people of a $10,000 reward offered by the “Rationalist Society” to anyone who could demonstrate anything paranormal that couldn’t be explained by modern science.
 
Don’t worry. This isn’t an article about invalidating the paranormal by science. It’s actually the opposite. I want to prove that there are paranormal experiences beyond modern science. While I found this story interesting, I didn’t like its conclusion. No doubt this lady found that her horrid experience was anything but mystical, but it doesn’t mean that all paranormal experiences are a hoax. It brought out in me something that bothered me for some time: Why has no one ever tried to prove the paranormal by a fairly easy experiment using the law of karma through the science of astrology? It is paranormal because astrology says that our destiny is outlined at birth and that our experiences in life can be predicted. What can be more paranormal than that? Before I outline the scientific experiment based on astrology that can demonstrate there is a law of karma, let me share how in my own way I tried to prove the law of karma.
 
For over the first twenty years of my devotional life, I concentrated on studying Kṛṣṇa consciousness and then teaching it within the devotee community. In the mid-nineties I was inspired to share those teachings in New York. My problem was how to get people to attend my lectures. I was not known outside ISKCON, and there were thousands of teachers of Eastern thought lecturing in New York, most of them more known than myself. To get people to come to my lectures and become more visible I prepared a seminar entitled “The Psychology of Karma” and offered a free astrological reading for the first ten people who registered. It worked. I got a reasonable amount of responses. I would then send that information to my astrologer, Dīna Śaraṇa, who looked at those people’s charts and sent me a short description of each person’s character and a major event in their life. At a certain point in my lecture I would explain how there is a map of one’s destiny based on the position of the planets at one’s birth, and that this could be understood by the science of astrology. I would then call out a person’s name and with confidence say something about their character and perhaps an event in their life, although I had never seen them before. There were enough startling results to prove the law of karma. I would then say:
 
“All I knew about you was your birth time, so all of these predictions were known then. What is the force that moves the universe around you to give you these experiences, what is the purpose of those experiences, and what is the best way to respond to your destiny to get the most benefit out of them?”
 
I would then explain the law of karma in depth to an audience who was now open to the idea.
 
So here is my idea for a controlled scientific experiment to prove that there is a destiny set at birth. What could be more paranormal than that? You would just need an honest skeptic to get the birth information of ten people. Nine should be of ordinary income and one should be of fabulous wealth, and you could do that with any quality as long as one person had that particular quality in an exceptionally more significant way than the others. It would then be the responsibility of a skeptic or authorized third party to make sure the experiment was scientifically controlled so that the astrologer or astrologers had no way of knowing anything more than a person’s birth information. If the astrologer or astrologers could pick out the chart of the wealthy person, and I see no reason why they couldn’t, with a substantially higher probability than just chance, then that would be something paranormal that couldn’t be explained by modern science.
 
Maybe I could find where that $10,000 challenge is offered. Then I could make that information available to any qualified astrologer who is interested. Now that would be easy money!
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #16 – A Plug for Gītā-nagarī

April 17th, 2017

Today’s Monday Morning Greeting was written after a recent visit to Gītā-nagarī Farm.
 
Gītā-nagarī has a special place in my heart. In the mid to late ‘90s I frequented there as much as any senior devotee in ISKCON, usually staying in Satsvarūpa Mahārāja’s cabin by the river – that holy place where he penned much of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s biography. In fact, my best Kārttika ever was the one I spent there. That’s saying a lot because except for that one fall, I had spent the last forty Kārttikas in Vṛndāvana, usually at the foot of Govardhana Hill. Perhaps Gītā-nagarī is so Vṛndāvana-like because the resident deities there are Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara, the presiding deities of the month of Kārttika, also known as the month of Dāmodara. During that Kārttika at Gītā-nagarī, I performed a strict kārttikavrata of chanting and fasting, and took all the devotees there every day on parikramā to all the places of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes that we imagined there, like their Govardhana Hill at the top of the property. It was especially at that time that I became convinced more than ever that outside of Vṛndāvana there is no place more Vṛndāvana-like than Gītā-nagarī, with its simplicity and the mood of the devotees residing there. In fact, at the end of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life he was headed there to teach the devotes how to live off the land, but become too ill to continue.
 
But there have been challenges since Śrīla Prabhupāda left. It is quite cold there in the winters and most think why reside there when you could live in sunny Florida? Of course, they faced a myriad of other more serious problems in running a big farm. Devamṛta Swami has been guiding the project carefully over the last ten years. Under his direction two sincere devotees, Dhruva and Pārijāta, practically single handedly have saved, maintained, and developed the farm including developing, against all odds, a unique ahiṁsā dairy. Anyway, that is my preamble. Now what I want to say: I visited again this year and I was happy with the development there, especially that there are now some serious young couples dedicated to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s legacy. I pray that they imbibe Śrīla Prabhupāda’s vision – that happiness is consciousness and not just things and that the simple and hard-working life there is far superior to the economically, socially, and spiritually oppressive life of the modern-day cities and suburbs. I am convinced that they are beginning to realize that. The devotees there seem to have within them that joy of sevā – a joy that is just not offered so readily to even devotees working to survive in the modern world, sometimes just to accrue a few more comforts. My dear readers, I have strictly kept my Monday Morning Greetings to one or two pages of hopefully quickly digestible thought. Today, inspired by my visit to Gītā-nagarī, I have included a transcript of a lecture I gave this year at our Purī yātrā while visiting a simple village nearby. If you have time today please read it, or save it to read later. I think I had important things to share.
 
 
Class in Baligram, Odisha – January 18, 2017
 
Being here makes me think of the little village where I grew up – Brooklyn! There was a famous book about that town called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, like it was a big event. Joking aside, during Mādhavānanda’s class I was looking up and counting the potential coconuts on one tree. It’s forty or fifty on each tree. I was thinking how simple the village life is here. In just one tree, and there are thousands of lush coconut trees here, one could practically keep a family alive for a month. I was speaking to Tom from America, who’s here with Kiśorī and her four children. He told me that his aunt and uncle worked seven days a week at their own store. When he questioned them why they don’t take a day off they said: “If you close the door the money stops.” And I see that more and more people are being forced to embrace that mentality just to live. Today even in an ordinary middle class family, if even one parent stops working, the family will be consumed by their expenses. And I am seeing that today people can’t even retire and practically have to work until death because, “If you close the door the money stops.” But here in this village even if you have nothing, you can wear a gaṁchā, eat organic coconuts, and sleep under a tree and survive. The bottom line is that the traditional agrarian village life just doesn’t have that same air of oppressiveness found in the city.
 
When I first came to India forty years ago, life was very simple. There was only one phone and one car in all of Vṛndāvana. After being there for three years my parents sent me a ticket to visit them in New York. When I arrived the first thing they did was to take me to the supermarket so they could purchase me a few groceries. When I picked the items that I could eat and brought them to the counter, I was shocked that they just were touching the items to the counter and the price of those items was computed and added immediately. I never saw that before. When I was very young I remember how proud our grocer was that he could just take the pencil tucked behind his ear and accurately and quickly add up all the groceries on the small brown paper bag that he would then pack the items in. By the time I left for India they were still using manual cash registers, but this level of computation so amazed me that I spontaneously blurted out, “Things have advanced so much!” But then realizing that that was not really true, nor our teachings, I quickly corrected myself, “but the quality of life has not improved!” The cashier nodded and even my mother seemed to understand what I had just said.
 
Prabhupāda would talk about māyā-sukhāya, the illusion of modern happiness, that for every step forward technologically there is a heavy price to pay in the quality of life. For example, we now have airplanes so that we can get places quickly, but the result is that your near and dear ones live so far away. I see that often the elders in a modern Indian family instead of having their grown up children at home or across the street, now have to fly to places like London and then Los Angeles just to visit them. In one sense we have advanced. You can now quickly fly to another country instead of taking months on a boat, but that is illusory advancement for as a result of having airplanes family members often live far apart. It now may take one twelve hours to fly to see one’s daughter instead of visiting her in the next town. Even when I grew up, we knew everybody on our street. Today hardly anyone knows their neighbor. This is māyā-sukhāya.
 
Śrīla Prabhupāda really had a vision of these things. He was on the cutting edge of so many things. Cutting edge means the latest or most advanced stage in the development of something. So, fifty years ago Śrīla Prabhupāda was on the cutting edge of vegetarianism, the cutting edge of kīrtan, the cutting edge of Eastern philosophy and culture and the cutting edge of sustainable living, but we haven’t always succeeded in carrying his legacy and in too many cases have allowed others to take his mantle, especially with sustainable living. We all need to take that legacy back. Glories to places like Gītā-nagarī who are attempting to do that with their simple living and cutting edge ahiṁsā dairy.
 
Recently I gave a lecture near Harrisburg. The audience by circumstance was mostly composed of conservative Christians. Before beginning my talk, I was really wondering how to connect with such people, but then suddenly I had an inspiration and spoke: “At the end of my teacher’s life he was headed here to our farm in nearby Juniata County all the way from India to teach people how to live off the land, because he believed that you couldn’t separate economics from spiritual life.” As soon as I finished that sentence one very heavyset man with a big gruff beard and those denim overalls, that kind that cover your chest and hang around your neck, raised his right fist in the air and shouted out, “Amen, brother!” So, when I come here to Baligram, the village of Dasia Bauri, I just look around and marvel, “I’ve never seen a more beautiful place to live in my whole life, a place where people can easily live so simply off the land and have time for spiritual life.” Prabhupāda also wanted to give us such a better life, “Amen, brother!”
 
Many of you visit the town of Vṛndāvana and share my disturbance that its natural beauty is gradually being covered by housing and apartments, but still just fifteen or twenty minutes from Vṛndāvana, just a little off the path, there are the flower gardens of Vṛndāvana, thousands and thousands of pristine acres. I know quite well some of the mālīs, the gardeners, there and often take lunch with them. It’s such a simple life; they wake up in the morning, they pick their flowers, make garlands, put them in their baskets, and send one of their grown children to sit by one of the temples to sell them. And when the family finishes what do they do, they just sit and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. Sure they have their problems, but their simple life does not rob them of their spirit and fill them with fear. It’s inspiring to watch!
 
Tejiyas Prabhu, a senior disciple of of Śrīla Prabhupāda, shared me some interesting insights about sustainable living. Śrīla Prabhupāda asked him to start the kisān movement, the farm movement, so he has studied the subject deeply. As a result he is very well versed in the economics of a traditional agrarian based economy. He told me that the reason most ISKCON farm communities have failed, despite Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions and wishes, is because his disciples, like everyone else, were too conditioned to a false standard of opulence based on technology. Real opulence is having your own land, eating fresh food, and breathing clean air. Real opulence is having community with a temple so that family and friends can worship daily together, not that you have to drive in heavy traffic and find a parking space, or ride the F train, just to say Hare Kṛṣṇa in the association of devotees. But despite the advantages of simple living, people are conditioned to a false sense of opulence that forces them into cities mostly to suffer in cramped places. I appreciated Prabhu’s insights.
 
He shared with me another thing that struck me: “It is proven that if you are born, live, and die in the same place, seventy-five percent of all material problems will be solved.” And he described one of the biggest problems solved by that traditional lifestyle, caring for the aged. Without village community life, old people are usually put in assisted living facilities that for most people take all of their family’s money. What he said hit home. My ninety-six-year-old mother was a successful business lady and intelligently saved a good amount of money for retirement to live out her life comfortably. She still lives in the home she owns outright, but my elder brother told me that it costs almost eighty thousand dollars a year to care for her including her full time caregiver and that soon, within a year, her money will run out, and her house may have to be sold to care for her. Her situation is now the norm for the aged in the first world.
 
He also told me that if you just add the numbers the present system of caring for the aged, including the cost of artificially prolonging life in the most painful and horrid condition, will totally bankrupt the US economy within fifteen years at the most. Without firm knowledge of the soul, everyone tries to keep the body alive even in the most tortured state so that whatever family money is left will certainly follow the deceased to the grave. It will be gone. Christopher Hitchens, one of the Four Horsemen of Atheism, chronicled his last days dying of throat cancer. He wanted to write a book on what death is like and he wrote a book while dying called Mortality and made exactly this point. He had the astute realization while staying in the most advanced medical center in the world and chronicling the torture they put him through, that advanced medical facilities are simply places where they take all the family member’s money just to keep them alive in the most tortured condition – a telling realization of modern advancement.
 
Looking here, and seeing how beautiful it is, I am reminded of something that Paramahaṁsa Yogānanda said. I will paraphrase it. If you really want to control your mind, more important than your own personal willpower is the influence of your environment. So, we come here to this beautiful place today to have our hari kathā, but just as important as our hari kathā, is seeing firsthand what Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted us to realize, simple life.
 
Imagine what it would be like if we actually lived in communities like this that were free of economic oppression and where we could live a spiritual life centered on the temple and surrounded by our loved ones and friends. We then wouldn’t need a special retreat for what we would be retreating from. Mādhavānanda and Kṛṣṇakuṇḍa would be the local brāhmaṇa family and every single evening there would be quality hari kathā. I know someone who grew up in one of these villages in Orissa, and he said that every day you would hear either the recitation of the Rāmayana, the Mahābhārata, or the Bhāgavatam, and that even if you couldn’t read or write, you would learn the śāstra.
 
The austerity of simple life is actually also very healthy. I was in Mumbai at the Bhaktivedanta Hospital when there was a serious earthquake in Gujarat. Some of the doctors, especially the orthopedic surgeons, went to the scene of devastation. They brought back those people who needed more serious care to reset broken bones. The main orthopedic surgeon in the hospital, Girirāja dāsa, told me that the people he was treating from these villages were healing on the average fifty percent quicker than people from the city in similar conditions, another interesting meditation on the benefit of simple life.
 
Modern society and culture expertly provides entertainment and distraction, but it doesn’t readily solve four core problems, which a traditional society would provide effortlessly: where we are going to live, what is our occupation, who are we going to marry, and who is my spiritual guide. So much energy is wasted in settling these basic things in modern life that one has little room in his mind for anything else, in contrast to a proper culture where these things are provided automatically.
 
Although I’m a sannyāsi, I don’t like to travel and I never did, even before I was a devotee. I would often make excuses just to stay back in my house. Similarly, I was going to skip coming here today, but Mādhavānanda was insistent, “Please come. You will really enjoy it.” So, I’d like to thank him, because as soon as I came here, so much of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings came to life. This is what Prabhupāda had in mind when he told us simple living and high thinking. He so much wanted to give us a better way to live. And we should try to understand and support this part of his mission.
 
 

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