Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #7 – Dropping Dead at the Finish Line/Yoga of Thank You Part II

February 12th, 2018

I just finished a marathon of guiding visiting pilgrims, sometimes hosting two or three groups at a time. And what do you do after a marathon? You catch your breath and not much else. That’s what I have been doing, more or less, for the last two days. As a result, my strict schedule, which includes time for writing Monday Morning Greetings, has been a bit disrupted. It’s already Wednesday morning and I have not yet begun the next one. And it is not just the physical act of writing that has been put off, the quality and intensity of chanting has waned a bit, which affects my inspiration. Of course, I always maintain my vows, but it’s the regulation and focus on the Holy Name that purifies the mind to create a conduit for new ideas and realizations to write about. Śrīla Prabhupāda once remarked that he did not write his books; Krishna did! That’s bhakti. I took that to mean that one may make an effort, but ultimately the intelligence is given by Krishna in reciprocation with one’s constant engagement in devotional service. I get a small glimpse of what he meant when I am focused in my chanting and writing. I am sometimes surprised that every week I come up with a new inspiration and an essay is produced. This week that experience has been confirmed in another way. Nothing is coming. So if my readers will allow me, I am taking this week off to recapture my regulation and focus and get back to my standard of chanting.
 
For this week’s Monday Morning Greeting I have saved something special. A few weeks ago when I wrote “The Yoga of Thank You” one of our readers, Hari Pārṣada, forwarded me an essay he wrote on the same subject. Hari Pārṣada, is a humble soul that attends my Puri Yatra every year and now one of the presenters. He is also a very accomplished Sanskrit scholar. His forte however, is not just the language, but his ability to clearly conceptualize and express the philosophy based on śāstra. Don’t miss his essay below on gratitude. It is a comprehensive, lucid, and brilliant analysis of gratitude from śāstra.

 


 

Living a life of Gratitude
 
(Notes from a class given by Hari Pārṣada Dās on 16 July 2017 at the home of Narottam Prabhu and Manjari Mataji.)
 

Beginning with maṅgalācaraṇa
 
Beginning the program with maṅgalācaraṇa (auspicious invocations) is a really good practice. The first verse we usually utter is —
 
oṁ ajñāna-timirāndhasya jñānāñjana-śalākayā
cakṣur unmīlitaṁ yena tasmai śrī-gurave namaḥ
 
Translation: I was suffering from the night-blindness of ignorance, and through the application of the ointment of knowledge, Śrī Guru illuminated my eyes. Obeisances to Śrī-guru.
 
Maṅgalācaraṇa usually is done to ensure auspiciousness for the entire program, but it also serves another purpose.
 
Maṅgalācaraṇa is a reassurance for the speaker — that he/she is not an orphan in his/her spiritual life. For the speaker, maṅgalācaraṇa is a way to express gratitude for the wonderful support he/she has continued to receive through the paramparā. The speaker feels confident that whatever will be spoken will be free of errors, relevant and will touch the hearts of the listeners as long as it is coming from the teachings of the previous ācāryas.
 
Perhaps this is the reason why all ācāryas count their blessings at the beginning of their works. Srila Raghunath Das Goswami writes gratefully at the beginning of his composition named Muktā-carita:
 
nāma-śreṣṭhaṁ manum api śacīputram atra svarūpaṁ
rūpaṁ tasyāgrajam uru-purīṁ māthurīṁ goṣṭhavāṭīm
rādhā-kuṇḍaṁ girivaram aho rādhikā-mādhavāśāṁ
prāpto yasya prathita-kṛpayā śrī-guruṁ taṁ nato’smi
 
Translation: I offer my obeisances to Śrī Guru by whose abundant mercy I have obtained the topmost name of Hari, the dīkṣā mantras, the association of Sacidevi’s son, Svarupa Damodara Gosvami, Srila Rupa Goswami and his elder brother Sri Sanatana Goswami. Besides this I have attained the topmost abode of Sri Mathura. In Mathura I have attained the Vrindavan forest as well as Sri Govardhan and Radha Kunda. Most importantly, by the mercy of that Śrī Guru I have obtained the hope of rendering service to Sri Radhika-Madhava. (Muktā-carita, Verse 4)
 
Not only at the beginning, the ācāryas count their blessings at the end of their works too. For example, Srila Vishwanath Chakravarti Thakura says at the very end of his commentary on the Śrīmad-Bhagavatam:
 
vyākhyāsya bhaktyā gamyā sā śrī-guroḥ kṛpayekṣyate
tasmān namo namas tasmai gurave gurave namaḥ
 
Translation: This commentary of mine can be understood only by bhakti, and that bhakti expects the mercy of Śrī-Guru. Therefore, I repeatedly offer obeisances to Guru, who is guru (heavy with realization).
 
What more? The ācāryas count their blessings even in the middle of their works. While commencing every section of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ, Srila Rupa Goswami remembers and glorifies his śikṣā-guru and elder brother Srila Sanatana Goswami:
 
sanātana-tanur jayati
 
Translation: All glories to him who has taken a body by the name of Sanatana Goswami. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ, First verse of Southern Direction)
 
sanātana-mūrtis tanotu puruṣottamas tuṣṭim
 
Translation: May the best among men named Sanatana Goswami bestow spontaneous devotion unto me. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ, First verse of Western Direction)
 
Thus in our sampradāya, we have auspicious invocations in the beginning, in the end as well as in the middle. The great grammarian Patañjali says:
 
maṅgalādīni maṅgala-madhyāni maṅgalāntāni hi śāstrāṇi prathante vīra-puruṣāṇi ca bhavanti āyuṣmat-puruṣāṇi ca. adhyetāraḥ ca siddhārthāḥ yathā syuḥ iti.
 
Translation: Those ācāryas who compose literature that have grateful auspicious invocations at the beginning, middle and end of their compositions become extremely powerful and long-lived. The students of such literature obtain fulfillment of all desires. (Mahābhāṣya on Aṣṭādhyāyī 1.3.1) This is the reason why Gaudiya Vaiṣṇavas are such an immense force in the domain of Indian spiritualism today. We never forget to count our blessings.
 
 

Basic Definitions
 
What is gratitude? The Sanskrit term is kṛta-jñatā, which literally means ‘acknowledgement of what has been done for us’. A grateful person is known as kṛta-jña, or a favor (kṛta) acknowledger (jña).
 
An ungrateful person is known as kṛta-ghna. This term literally means — one who destroys the acknowledgement of what has been done for him/her.
 
 

Immensely indebted individuals
 
In the modern world, a social theory named ‘individualism’ states that each individual has total independence from another individual. Nobody is supposed to depend on anyone else. Nobody is answerable to others. According to this theory, the interests of the individual are superior to the interests of the community.
 
The Vedic approach is quite the opposite. From the Vedic perspective, each individual in the human form of life is heavily indebted, right from their birth in this world.
 
The first indebtedness is towards parents. Krishna expresses the indebtedness of every individual towards their parents in the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam (10.45.5):
 
sarvārtha-sambhavo deho janitaḥ poṣito yataḥ
na tayor yāti nirveśaṁ pitror martyaḥ śatāyuṣā
 
Translation: With one’s body one can acquire all goals of life, and it is one’s parents who give the body birth and nourishment. Therefore no mortal man can repay his debt to his parents, even if he serves them for a full lifetime of a hundred years.
 
In totality, every individual in the human form of life is considered to be indebted to the following five entities —

(a) pitṛ (parents/ancestors), who give us birth
(b) devatās (gods) who manage our bodily functions
(c) ṛṣis (sages), who teach us Vedic knowledge
(d) atithi (guests), because we too becomes guests for someone as soon as we leave home
(e) bhūtas (other living entities in general, for the entire ecological system is needed for our survival)

 
 
Payback is not optional
 
In order to relieve ourselves of the indebtedness towards these five entities, the śāstras prescribe five yajñas:

(a) pitṛ-yajña (offering regular oblations to one’s forefathers)
(b) deva-yajña (offering daily worship to the gods)
(c) ṛṣi-yajña (studying the scriptures daily and teaching others)
(d) atithi-yajña (welcoming any guest who has arrived at our home)
(e) bhūta-yajña (giving charity to deserving people)

If one does not perform these yajñas then one falls into a tremendous debt of karma. Krishna personally declares such a person to be a thief:
 
tair dattān apradāyaibhyo yo bhuṅkte stena eva saḥ
 
Translation: He who lives ungratefully without performing yajñas is certainly a thief. (Bhagavad-gītā 3.12)
 
Why should a person who did not show gratefulness towards parents/ancestors be gifted with good parents in the next life? Why should a person who does not show gratefulness towards his guru be gifted with a bona-fide guru in his next life?
 
 

Bhakti is the perfect payback for debts
 
If one cannot payback his/her debt towards the above-mentioned five entities by performing the five yajñas specified above, then the only other way is to perform bhakti with the topmost degree of surrender.
 
devarṣi-bhūtāpta-nṛṇāṁ pitṝṇāṁ
na kiṅkaro nāyam ṛṇī ca rājan
sarvātmanā yaḥ śaraṇaṁ śaraṇyaṁ
gato mukundaṁ parihṛtya kartam
 
Translation: One who has given up all material duties and has taken full shelter of the lotus feet of Mukunda, who offers shelter to all, is not indebted to the devas (demigods), ṛṣis (great sages), bhūtas (ordinary living beings), āptas (relatives), friends, mankind or even one’s pitṛs (forefathers) who have passed away. Since all such classes of living entities are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, one who has surrendered to the Lord’s service has no need to serve such persons separately. (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 11.5.41)
 
 

Realizing indebtedness the difficult way
 
It is only after being cheated in life that some individuals understand the value of genuine objects. One who has been cheated by his/her spouse can understand the value of a faithful spouse. One who has been cheated by a guru can understand the value of a genuine guru.
 
In my childhood my Sanskrit teacher Sri Vishnukant privately once narrated a story to me. (At this point, a funny story of an ungrateful king and cheating guru was narrated. Link for story can be found at the bottom of this article). Therefore one who has received genuine parents, spouse or guru should always remain grateful.
 
 
Gratitude is to be expressed publicly
 
Any gratitude which stays only in the mind and does not express itself directly is not true gratitude at all. In almost all religious denominations, the open expression of gratitude is considered to be mandatory.
 
For example, when the Jewish community gathers for their standing prayer service (Tefilat Ha Amidah), the audience is supposed to stay silent for all prayers and only respond with ‘Amen’ after each prayer. This is because the Rabbi is praying on their behalf and they need not pray along with him.
 
The only exception to this rule is the prayer named Modim de-Rabbanan. This is a prayer for expressing gratitude, and only in this prayer, everyone is supposed to express gratitude together along with the Rabbi. A 17th century commentator named Rabbi Elijah Spira explains this by saying that the expression of thanks cannot be delegated and performed through someone else. It has to be expressed personally.
 
Srila Jiva Goswami’s wonderfully gives all the credit for his scholarship to his gurus and takes all faults upon himself. He says in the beginning of the Krama-sandarbha commentary:
 
yad atra skhalitaṁ kiñcid vidvāṁsaḥ pūrayantu tat
yad atra sauṣṭhavaṁ kiñcid tad guror eva me na hi
 
Translation: Whatever errors are there in this commentary, may the learned souls correct it, and whatever good is found here belongs to my guru, not to me.
 
 

Expressing Gratitude is Sanātana-dharma (eternal religion)
 
In the Rāmāyaṇa, the sage Vālmīki says that expressing gratitude is actually a limb of sanātana-dharma:
 
kṛte ca pari-kartavyaṁ eṣa dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ
 
Translation: One should acknowledge a favor and try to pay it back. This is sanātana-dharma. (Rāmāyaṇa 5.1.113)
 
 

God himself is eternally grateful
 
Gratitude is such an intrinsic part of sanātana-dharma that God himself adorns it as one of his eternal qualities. Srila Rupa Goswami says in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ that one of the 64 eternal qualities of Krishna is — kṛta-jña (he is grateful).
 
Srila Rupa Goswami first defines a grateful person:
 
kṛtajñaḥ syād abhijño yaḥ kṛta-sevādi-karmaṇām
 
Translation: A grateful person is he who fully acknowledges the services, favors etc. that others have performed for him. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 2.1.91)
 
Then he gives an example of a statement where Krishna is expressing his gratitude:
 
ṛṇam etat pravṛddhaṁ me hṛdayān nāpasarpati
yad govindeti cukrośa kṛṣṇā māṁ dūra-vāsinam

 
Translation: [Krishna says], “My heart feels increasingly indebted by a debt that does not seem to go away. This is the debt of gratitude which I accrued when Draupadi loudly cried out to me even though I was situated far away in Dwarka. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 2.1.92)
 
 

Even the Supreme Lord bows down in gratitude
 
Gratitude is such a great quality that even the Supreme Lord becomes a servant of his devotees out of gratitude. Out of all the monkeys in Sugrīva’s army only Hanuman found out where Sītādevī was. Sri Rama then said out of deep gratitude:
 
eṣa sarvasvabhūtas tu pariṣvaṅgo hanūmataḥ
mayā kālam imaṁ prāpya dattas tasya mahātmanaḥ
 
Translation: This embrace of mine is all that I can offer to this great soul Hanuman, for this is the only thing I have right now. (Rāmāyaṇa 6.1.13)
 
Krishna too makes a similar statement to the gopīs:
 
na pāraye ’haṁ niravadya-saṁyujāṁ
sva-sādhu-kṛtyaṁ vibudhāyuṣāpi vaḥ
yā mābhajan durjara-geha-śṛṅkhalāḥ
saṁvṛścya tad vaḥ pratiyātu sādhunā
 
Translation: I am not able to repay my debt for your spotless service, even within a lifetime of Brahma. Your connection with me is beyond reproach. You have worshiped me, cutting off all domestic ties, which are difficult to break. Therefore please let your own glorious deeds be your compensation. (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 10.32.22)
 
 

Therefore we should all be grateful
 
Whether it is ordinary life or devotional life, we should all be grateful. Especially in devotional life we must be grateful. Nobody here is a self-made individual. We should not be egoists and should not avoid giving all due credits to Vaiṣṇavas from whom we have learnt anything. The more we try to be a self-appointed sādhu, the more we behave like an orphan, the more we will fall in our own eyes, and spiritual life will remain far away.
 
Plagiarizing the works of other devotees, copying movie tunes to make kīrtanas without taking the effort to learn genuine rāgas and other forms of ungrateful behavior may bring us ephemeral fame, but it can never be pleasing to Krishna. The Supreme Lord in the form of Lakṣmaṇa says:
 
brahmaghne ca surāpe ca core bhagna-vrate tathā
niṣkṛtir vihitā loke kṛtaghne nāsti niṣkṛtiḥ
 
Translation: There are atonements suggested in scriptures for a person who kills a brāhmaṇa, a person who drinks alcohol, who steals wealth who willingly breaks a vow. However, there is no atonement anywhere for someone who is ungrateful. (Rāmāyaṇa 4.34.12)
 
 

Conclusion
 
The saintly souls always express gratitude for even the smallest of favors:
 
prathama-vayasi pītaṁ toyam alpaṁ smarantaḥ
śirasi nihita-bhārā nārikelā narāṇām
dadati jalam analpāsvādam ājīvitāntaṁ
nahi kṛtam upakāraṁ sādhavo vismaranti
 
Translation: Remembering the small amount of water that was sprinkled on it in its childhood by a kind person, the coconut tree carries the load of coconuts for all humans and gives them sumptuous sweet water throughout its life. Indeed, saintly souls never forget even a small favor [and dedicate their lives to repaying it back]. — (Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāra)
 
 

Credits
 
I would like to give all credit to my guru-janas, especially my dīkṣā-guru Sri Srimad Radha Govinda Das Goswami Maharaja, to my śikṣā-gurus Sri Srimad Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja and H.G. Madhavananda Prabhu. Whatever I am today and whatever good qualities I possess are gifts given by them.
 
Thank you to Manjari Mataji and Narottam Prabhu for kindly extending their warm hospitality to all devotees. Thank you to everyone in the audience. Between the speaker and the audience, the audience is more important. This is because if the speaker goes missing, another speaker will be appointed, but if the audience goes missing then the entire program will have to be cancelled.
 
Link for Funny Story of the Ungrateful King and the Cheating Pandit:
 
http://hpdjottings.blogspot.in/2017/07/the-ungrateful-king-and-cheating-pundit.html
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #6 – The Desire for Fame and the Death of Bhakti

February 5th, 2018

I am not a hellfire-and-brimstone-type preacher, but I read a brash statement this week that I found  too important not to share:

 

“Even if one can give up all material desires, the desire for fame is very difficult to give up. This desire for fame, which I compared to stool, is the root cause of all anarthas. Therefore, one should carefully avoid touching this stool-like desire for fame.”

 

The statement was quoted from Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī’s Hari-bhakti-vilāsa—the main guidebook for Vaiṣṇava behavior—by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, who generally goes out of his way to explain things in the most digestible way.  Śrīla Bhaktivinoda was discussing different types of prayāsa (useless endeavors) as obstacles to developing bhakti and described pratiṣṭhā, the desire for fame, as the lowest of them all.

 

As if this statement wasn’t heavy enough, Bhaktivinoda follows it with a sober warning: “This instruction is very serious. The devotee should follow this exclusive duty with special care.”

 

I was immediately struck by these grave instructions. I am a writer and teacher, and my popularity is increasing. How can I not enjoy that? It is certainly better than being the object of scorn . . . or is it?  How much am I doing for Krishna, to please Him, and how much is fueled by a pernicious desire for fame—how many “likes” I get on Facebook—which is at the core of being grounded in the material world? Am I actually free from that? Is it even possible?

 

These instructions both hit my heart and stirred my thoughts. Why is pratiṣṭhā, the desire for fame, so particularly pernicious for bhakti? More than anything else, the root cause of bondage to this world is the false ego (ahakāra), the enjoyment one seeks in the identity of superiority, which plays out in this world in the desire for fame and distinction.

 

We can see this in the plethora of “You got talent” shows, or in today’s sports, in which ecstatic victors repeatedly and deliriously gesture and chant “We’re number one!” But more importantly, we can see a more subtle manifestation of these desires in our own motives in life. They are certainly there lurking, and I don’t get a pass.

 

When I was initially asked to accept disciples, I balked. On one hand, I saw the necessity and śāstric evidence to take up the responsibility, but on the other hand, I saw how the opportunity was stirring my desires for pratiṣṭhā (fame) and pūjā (worship). When I put the matter before a learned Vaiṣṇava, he encouraged me but gave a stiff warning: “Don’t think you are guru; do it as a service to your guru.” Good advice.

 

As I thought more about the matter and reflected on the challenges that I, or anyone who as a service has to lead and consequently attracts distinction, I came up with a three-fold safeguard from the insidious infection of pratiṣṭhā:

 

  1. Never act in a way that is impelled by a desire for fame. Be especially careful how you use social media.
  2. When thoughts of distinction arise, give them up and reflect honestly on your actual position.
  3. Strive ardently for devotion. When true devotion arises, one will gradually garner distaste for fame, which impedes the devotion’s sweetness.

 

While I am on the topic of hellfire and brimstone let me close this Monday Morning Greeting with words from Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī:

 

“O Mind! How can pure divine love appear in my heart as long as the shameless dog-eating outcast woman of the desire for false prestige [pratiṣṭhā] is audaciously dancing there?” (Manaśikṣā verse 7)

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #5 – Blank Page Blues

January 29th, 2018

Tuesday
 
I am sitting here trying to write the next Monday Morning Greetings. My page is blank. No matter how hard I try nothing comes. I admit defeat. Today I will simply fill the page with that admission. The problem is clear. Intense travel last month has thrown off my regulation. My sādhana has suffered. And without that it seems impossible for me to come up with something substantial every week. It is the early morning now, my allotted time for writing, but I realize it is more important to leave this task and begin chanting. Hopefully with a stronger practice, I will have something more to offer tomorrow.
 
Wednesday
 
Yesterday I was able to lock in, more or less, to my regular sādhana. Inspiration came. It is always like that. In fact, this process of garnering inspiration to write is in itself the topic I feel inspired to share. The ability to say anything of minimal merit in bhakti comes only by Krishna’s mercy in reciprocation for one’s fixed devotional service, especially the chanting of Hare Krishna. Without that, I have nothing to say. Immediately four references came to mind to support my thinking:
 
From the Gītā:
 
“To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Bg. 10.10)
 
From Caitanya-caritāmṛta:
 
The devotees assembled in Puri were astounded by the beauty and depth of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s poetry. In fact, his poetical compositions were so profound that they even revealed the inner thoughts of Lord Caitanya. They began inquiring among themselves how such compositions were even possible. Śrī Caitanya revealed the answer later to Rāmānanda Rāya—that He had met Śrī Rūpa previously at Prayāga and was attracted and satisfied by his attitude of service. [1]
 
From Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta:
 
A pious professor came to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta to resolve some deep intellectual quandary. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was busy when he came, so he asked the professor to help polish the brass in the deity room until he was free to speak to him. After an hour Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta called him and informed the professor that he was still busy, but if he could kindly return the next day surely he would answer his question. The professor agreed. When the professor came the next day, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was again busy and once more directed the professor to the deity room to polish the brass, but assured him that this time he would definitely meet him. True to his word an hour later he summoned the professor and informed him that he was ready to answer any inquiry. The professor, however, surprisingly replied that there was no need. He explained how suddenly in the morning while he was polishing brass he had an epiphany and the answer came. Of course, dialectic is a very important aspect of devotional service. What the story illustrates, however, is that grace invoked by service is also an essential aspect of enlightenment and revelation.
 
Friday
 
It took some time but my practices are coming back to standard. Many ideas are coming. Next week I just have to choose one of them. There is an interesting discussion on pratiṣṭhā prayāsā, over endeavor for fame, which Sanātana Gosvāmī at the conclusion of the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa writes is the greatest obstacle to bhakti. Perhaps I will write about that. I also am inspired to describe the spiritual world according to Śrī Rūpa’s revelation about the nāṭaka śāstra, the scripture pertaining to the composition of drama. Some time I would also like to write a provocative piece entitled “The Poison of Post-modernism”. For now I will just finish editing this. By the mercy of the holy name I no longer have the Blank Page Blues.
 


 
[1] Cc, Antya-līlā 1.197
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #4 – Logos, Logic, and Prasādam

January 22nd, 2018

Have you ever gone on a “word journey”? I made the term up, but I really think it is an apropos name for my engagement with the word “logos”. That journey began when I heard it used in a particular context in a lecture and was inspired to begin a search for the root of its meaning. I then began a correspondence about the term with a friend who is a professor of Philosophy. I thought a lot about it since and feel that I gained some very important and practical insights from that journey that I would like to share.
 
Here is the basic notion of logos, as my friend presented it in our conversation:
 
“Originally, ‘logos’ meant something like rationale, reasoning, or account. So if you gave a speech or made a case for something that would be your logos. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus adapted it to be the term for a divine world order, the ordering of the world around a rational principle. So, if you were in touch with the fundamental logos, then you could see the world in harmony. If not, it would seem confused and disjointed. Christian authors adapted this idea to say that the logos is God’s divine will that orders the world. And when they say, “Jesus is the WORD,” “WORD” translates “logos” from Greek.”
 
Now let me summarize what I learned from this journey about the meaning of logos.
 

  1. The universe is rationally ordered according to God’s plan.
  2. When you act according to His plan there is harmony.
  3. When you act against this order there is chaos and suffering.
  4. God’s rational plan for the universal order is expressed in words. Such knowledge is called Veda or based on śāstra (scripture.)
  5. Therefore the most important service in society is to create order by the clear conceptualization and expression of knowledge that creates peace and harmony.

 
Based on these principles I also came up with what I think is a reasonable definition of logos that I need to share before explaining my insights: the divine rational order of the world and the knowledge or words that express that. Now I will share the practical insights I gained from this study.
 
Every year I host a retreat in Puri, which is where I am writing this article now. I take pains to organize every detail of the retreat because I have the strong conviction that there is a way or “order” to do things and when executed properly there is harmony and ultimately happiness. While overseeing the retreat in this way I realized how connected this type of effort is to the concept of logos that I was meditating on. The activity of the retreat that best struck me as a way to highlight this correlation was the serving of prasādam. In that regard, I have made an outline below showing that correlation:
 
Prasādam Serving and Logos at the Puri Yātrā
 

  1. The universe is rationally ordered according to God’s plan.

 
There is a right way to serve prasādam that I learned by living in India for over forty years. I believe even practical details like this are ultimately embedded in logos or the divine rational order of the universe.
 

  1. When you act according to His plan there is harmony.

 
The prasādam was served properly and people thus enjoyed the prasādam without anxiety in addition to feeling served or loved in the process.
 

  1. When you act against this order there is chaos and world suffering.

 
Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but just one person who serves improperly would have impeded the quick and gracious flow of serving and caused anxiety.
 

  1. God’s rational plan for the universal order is expressed in words. Such knowledge is called Veda or based on śāstra (scripture).

 
There is a proper way to serve prasādam that is carried down in word or oral tradition in India that I learned from observing the beauty and efficiency of the process by living there for over forty years.
 

  1. Therefore the most important service in society is to create order by the clear conceptualization and expression of knowledge that creates peace and harmony.

 
Before we began I personally instructed the servers on the proper method to serve prasādam. I then carefully supervised the serving to make sure they understood how to do it properly. Notice that we have used language and verbal directions inspired and directed by divine order to create harmony and peace.
 
Below are just a few of the main principles I emphasized.
 

  1. The cook will instruct people how much to serve of each item and in what order.
  2. The servers will carefully and quickly place the modest amount directed by the cook on people’s plates in a pleasant mood of service and move on to the next person.
  3. Ideally the servers should move in a way so they can serve quickly. Best therefore if they can remain bent at the waist so they can proceed without having to bend again and again slowing and impeding the serve out. At all costs they should not put the bucket down to engage with any person disrupting the flow of service.
  4. If people sitting are not conversant in the culture of prasādam serving and demand huge helpings when we first go around, politely tell them that seconds will come, or if they insist just give them a little more and move on.
  5. Remember that the joy of prasādam is not just the sensual experience but also the exchange of love that people feel when being served nicely, which means efficiently and graciously.

 
The result of following guidelines in serving prasādam is that it is served quickly, graciously, without waste and peacefully. Doing it with these principles in mind not only pleases the devotees but also invokes Krishna’s grace on the assembly. Of course this is just one example, but the principle remains in all activities – that if things are done properly reflecting an order that is imbedded within the universe by God there will be harmony.
 
Conclusion: By tapping into the proper ordering of things, and by properly instructing those who are willing to learn about the proper ordering of things, we can be centered on the Lord’s will in any activity and create harmony and joy for our self and others.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #3 – Happy Small

January 15th, 2018

When Saint Augustine, the inimitable Catholic theologian, was asked to name the most important practices to achieve love of God, he thought for a while, answered that there are three, and named them: Humility, Humility, and Humility!

 

I loved Augustine’s answer but had a lingering doubt: What exactly is humility? The dictionary defines humility as having a modest or low opinion of one’s self-importance, but I was not satisfied. A good definition must be precise. It cannot be too inclusive and thus encompass things that it should not. One who has low self-esteem and one who is co-dependent also have a low opinion of their self-importance, but how can a psychological aberration be included within humility? But if they do not constitute humility, then what is the difference between humility and these two conditions?

 

I came up with a simple definition of humility that I think is more precise and thus excludes psychological aberrations such as low self-esteem and co-dependence.  I define humility as “happy small.” In other words, a humble person has a modest opinion of him- or herself but is not disturbed, whereas someone with low self-esteem is miserable about their self-conception. Many psychological reasons may explain why a person with low self-esteem has such a negative outlook, but the ultimate difference between a person who lacks self-esteem and a humble person is that the one with low self-esteem is negative about their lack of self-importance and a humble person is not. A person with low self-esteem is seeking self-importance and thus feels disturbed—and unworthy—in regard to their perceived lack of importance, whereas one who is truly humble embraces their humble position out of a desire to serve others. Therefore, unlike a person with low self-esteem, a humble person sees no dichotomy between their self-ideal and their current position; there is no psychological aberration in their modest feelings.

 

Keep in mind that this is not an either-or proposition. One can at different times have feelings of both humility and low self-esteem. But one should do one’s best to make a distinction between them.

 

What about a person who is co-dependent? Are they not happy to serve their beloved? Isn’t that happy small? Yes, one may feel a certain pleasure in submitting to someone they accepts as greater, but in contrast to one with true humility they does not feel small or humble. Rather, because the person’s identity is linked to someone, their prestige is enhanced and their submission, or so-called humility, is connected to the ego, the desire to have distinction.

 

As these concepts are subtle, and I have long searched for an example to illustrate them. I thought of a good one: Happy small is like the mood of a young child in the arms of his or her mother. As the child loves the mother and the mother is a worthy shelter, the child feeling subordinate is a positive experience. Again, there is no dichotomy between the child’s self-ideal and his or her actual position of dependence, because it is natural for a small child to seek the shelter of a loving mother. Also, because that subordination facilitates feeling loved, the child feels worthy in this dependence. A child’s feeling of happy small is thus analogous to a soul’s humble relationship to God—and more generally to all genuine loving relationships. As stated in Augustine’s Christian tradition, unless one becomes like a child, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

I can see that this is a deep topic, far beyond the scope of this week’s column. I have tried to make these distinctions because in this world of proliferating abuse and low self-esteem people tend to suspect humility, fearing weakness and exploitation, when in fact humility is a sign of strength. Only a humble person can resist the impulse of the ego. Humility is a virtue. Let us all pray to feel happy small and honor the dignity of our humble souls.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #2 – The Yoga of Thank You

January 8th, 2018

When I first read the second canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam a particular section in the fifth chapter struck me. Nārada inquires from his father, Lord Brahmā, about who is God and Lord Brahmā thanks his son profusely for doing so.
 
“My dear boy Nārada being merciful to all (including me) you have asked all these questions […]” (Bhāg. 2.5.9)
 
Śrīla Prabhupāda elaborates on the deep gratitude a spiritual teacher feels when an eager student gives that teacher an opportunity to speak about Krishna. He goes so far as deeming this the foundational principle of being a spiritual teacher:
 
“[…] Thus the devotee feels satisfied when such an opportunity is offered to him. This is the basic principle of missionary activities.” (Bhāg.  2.5.9, purport)
 
Every first Monday in January I ponder whether it is possible for me to come up with a new inspiration every week for the coming year and then find the time to write a quality essay on it? I become inspired to continue, however, when I consider the eagerness of my audience to read my weekly posts. So I thank all of you for engaging me in this service of writing Monday Morning Greetings.
 
I wanted this posting to be the first of the year because I feel there is no better subject to begin the New Year than gratitude. I miscalculated the date so I am posting it today, the second Monday of the year. Anyway, here are some thoughts on gratitude to begin the New Year.
 
Gratitude is the first budding symptom of the true self.
 
The goal of yoga is to live in the self. What is the self and what are its symptoms? We know the symptoms of the false self, the myriad of selfish desires and concerns connected to the conception of enjoyment and control. I thus think one of the symptoms of the true self must be genuine feelings that express the opposite, feelings such as gratitude. In gratitude we humbly acknowledge the mercy of receiving something that we value that is beyond our own control or ability to attain, an attitude that is the antithesis of the mood of false ego. Therefore I think gratitude must be one of the initial symptoms of the true self.
 
Śrīla Prabhupāda himself recognized gratitude as the foundation of spiritual relationships.
 
When I first became a Hare Krishna monk at the ISKCON ashram in Dallas, Texas Śrīla Prabhupāda soon came to visit. After Śrīla Prabhupāda’s morning lecture, a very tall devotee, around six foot five (apropos for Texas) named Jñāna-gamya, stood up and from his heart sincerely asked, “Śrīla Prabhupāda, how can we repay you?” I loved Śrīla Prabhupāda’s simple but profound answer that highlighted gratitude as the foundation of spiritual life: “Just remain obliged!”
 
Gratitude is the foundation of tasting the holy name.
 
Arguably the singular most important verse for followers of Śrī Caitainya[1] is the third verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam:
 
“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” (v. 3)
 
Śrī Caitanya here equates humility with the ability to always chant. What’s the connection between the two? The only activity that one can do without break is one done in pure love or devotion, for every other activity eventually gets hackneyed or stale. But how to get such devotion? The answer is gratitude—the ability to appreciate and feel love when mercy is bestowed. A simple way to understand this correlation is to consider a spoiled child who feels proud and entitled. No matter how many gifts the parents bestow on the undeserving child, the child never feels or reciprocates its parent’s love because he feels entitled. Similarly, unless we are humble we will never feel God’s mercy in the form of the holy name, nor reciprocate that affection by chanting in devotion. Gratitude born of the mindset of humility is thus the foundation of tasting the holy name.
 
Chanting with gratitude.
 
Krishna hears our heart through the quality of our chanting and that, not just the syllables, is what actually pleases Him. Śrīla Prabhupāda thus instructed us that we should listen to the sincerity of our chanting. Therefore, when chanting, I try to hear myself expressing my gratitude to Him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” then becomes the meaning or voice of my mantra.
 
Count your blessings! Happy New Year from Monday Morning Greetings.
 


[1] Śrī Caitanya personally told one brahmacārī to wear this verse around his neck and it is the instruction he gave to Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, the prayojana ācārya (the great teacher of prema-bhakti), when he wanted to know the goal of life and the practice to attain it.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #1 – Tapo Divyaṁ-Divine Austerity

January 1st, 2018

When they saw me unexpectedly walking up the entrance pathway to their garden hermitage, the family of my vrajavāsī friend immediately woke him up. He was sleeping outside his simple dwelling on a plain rope bed common in rural India, trying to take advantage of the midday winter sun. I didn’t intend to disturb his deep sleep, especially as he has been struggling with high blood sugar and was taking a needed rest after lunch. I felt sorry for him. When you are ill, except when there is an initial fever, the body generally doesn’t generate much heat. I began to envision what it would be like without heat and hot water as the winter season gradually intensified. Even when he was healthy I could not imagine what it would be like to tolerate such extreme weather without counteracting such harsh conditions with the help of modern amenities such as a heater, hot water and or an air conditioner. But as I was thinking like this, my mind suddenly changed.
 
After all, isn’t this how all people have lived for hundreds of years? I started to see the benefit of such a simple life. When you live naturally you have to tolerate. In other words, you must practice tapasya, or austerity. It is healthy because when there is tapasya one is forced to abstract the mind from the body and it is this conjunction that is the root of all suffering. Modern amenities may thwart some temporary discomforts, but their excessive use is at a price. The major discomforts such as old age, disease, death, natural disasters, and a myriad of life’s challenges cannot be adjusted by a flick of a gadget, but can only be ameliorated by transcendence. The constant and artificial adjustment of the environment to avoid the practice of tolerance spurred by bodily identification only mires one to the body and thus intensifies the experience of pleasure and pain.
 
The long range tragedy of unwarranted bodily indulgence is best expressed in the aphorism, “a pinch of suffering is felt more than a ton of happiness,” which means that for every excess in the avoidance of natural austerity, the congregate amount of life’s suffering increases many fold. And this doesn’t include the mental malaise and even depression that is a result from an increasing disconnect from the soul caused by excess indulgence and consequent bodily identification.
 
In summary: As the soul’s identification with the body is just a mental concept, only by abstracting the mind from the body can one ultimately transcend its suffering. This arises only by the practice of tapasya, when the bodily discomfort impels one to loosen one’s absorption in the body. Let me share a personal example.
 
The austerities I performed my first three years in Vṛndāvana, when I stayed without break, were brutal. Without going into the details, just imagine living through summers in a climate that reaches, at its peak, nearly 118°F (~48°C) with the sporadic relief of an overhead fan, if you could call it that, limited to a few hours daily stunted by continuous electrical load shedding. The cloudy, heatless and hot-waterless winters were no less austere. After three years I returned to the US during the summer and visited my parents. My father took me to the dentist, who was also his good friend.
 
At that time the dentist never gave Novocain or any form of local anesthesia. He just told me to hold his left hand and squeeze if the drilling became too painful. He keep drilling and drilling, but I never gave any indication it was too much. He kept looking at my father appreciating my tolerance. It became clear to me then how much the austerity I performed increased my level of tolerance and enabled me to naturally abstract the mind from the body.
 
I am not recommending by this example that this level of austerity is required; It is just an example of how the mechanism of tapasya works. Living in the extreme climate of Vṛndāvana at the time was just a natural consequence of my service. And that’s the point. We don’t have to impose artificial austerity, but just accept sincerely the austerity of surrendering in devotional service and to live simply accordingly. I found a purport in the BBT’s edition of the eleventh canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that succinctly defines tapasya in this way: “Despite the irrational impulses of the mind one should remain fixed in executing his proper duty in life.” (Bhāg. 11.3.24, purport)
 
Anyway, seeing my friend in his simple dwelling and meditating on tapasya has been a bit of wake-up call. I do live relatively simply, but still my sannyāsa/guru life has eased into a mood a little too cushy as the standard of life in ISKCON has been raised considerably from our early pioneer days in Vṛndāvana. I am energetic and healthy for my age, but there is no doubt that at 67 one has entered the end game and one should fear entering that game in the bodily concept of life. I do. I noticed that since thinking about the simple life of my vrajavāsī friend, I have been inspired to follow suit. At least the winter has started and the heater hasn’t gone on yet. Why unnecessarily always fall prey to the call of the mind for comforts when you can practice a little tapasya well within the capacity of your health and mind to endure? I find the instructions of Lord Ṛṣabhadeva comforting:
 

tapo divyaṁ putrakā yena sattvaṁ
śuddhyed yasmād brahma-saukhyaṁ tv anantam

 
“Perform divine austerity that purifies the heart and brings unending spiritual happiness.” (Bhāg. 5.5.1)
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #52 – Is Material Attachment an Offense Towards the Holy Name?

December 25th, 2017

She sincerely wanted to advance in spiritual life, which means to chant without offense, but to overcome the tenth offense to the holy name seemed insurmountable.
 
The tenth offense is to maintain material attachment despite so many instructions on the matter.
 
Often basic instructions in bhakti are misunderstood when taken only at face value and not understood in the context of the whole philosophy, especially without investigating the original text and commentary. Below is a devotee’s sincere inquiry and my response on the subject of the tenth offense to the holy name.
 
Her inquiry:
 
“We were reviewing the ten offenses, and number ten worried me. As you know I am attached to my husband and my mother—both of whom taught me what love is. I feel like this can’t be all wrong… I try and view my husband as Krishna’s child, given to me to care for and serve. He certainly supports my spiritual path, as you have seen. And my mom, well both parents—my dad is gone now, showed me that there is a God, and their commitment to service is why sevā always seemed so natural to me. I understand this world is temporary, but I also see that there is love here. I think if that is so beautiful at times, then just think of what the spiritual world must be! Forgive me for going on, but I am wondering if my reasoning is sound.”
 
My response:
 
The phrase ‘to not maintain material attachments’ cannot mean that we should withdraw affection from our spouse in order to chant without offense. That would mean that entering the gṛhastha āśrama alone means nāmāparādha, as one enters that āśrama specifically to be purified of certain attachments. Rather, it is laudable for a woman to be chaste and attached to a qualified husband. To say that having affection for one’s husband is nāmāparādha is thus ludicrous.
 
Our philosophy is yukta-vairāgya, balanced detachment. We give up only those things that cannot be used in Krishna’s service. Reasonable affection for your husband is not only psychologically healthy for you, which is conducive for a stable life to serve Krishna, but it also sets the proper example of what is the healthy mindset of a devotee in marriage. To renounce such affection prematurely is thus false renunciation and against the principles of devotional service. So if our conception of detachment excludes renouncing attachments that can be used in Krishna’s service, how can it be an offense to have such attachments?
 
Furthermore, even if one wants to give up attachment to a loving mother and a good husband it is impossible to do so before the platform of bhāva. To say that having such attachment is nāmāparādha would make practically everyone with a good husband or wife and a loving mother ineligible to chant the holy name without offense.
 
Ajāmila was hopelessly attached to his son, but called his name at the time of death in nāmābhāsa, without offense, and was liberated. That’s a clear example of having attachment being not an offense to the holy name.
 
In fact, attachment can even be spiritualized according to the Bhāgavatam:
 
“Association for sense gratification is certainly the path of bondage. But the same type of association, performed with a saintly person, leads to the path of liberation, even if performed without knowledge.” (Bhāg. 3.23.55)
 
“Maintaining attachments” being an offense refers to remaining attached to things that cannot be used in Krishna’s service, or maintaining attachments beyond our needs that we are capable of giving up and don’t. We generally know what they are and to maintain them inhibits our chanting.
 
A description of the ten offenses to the holy name is found in the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa by Sanātana Gosvāmī. I consulted a reputable scholar about that reference and he sent me in his own words the import of Sanātana Gosvāmī ’s Dig-darśinī commentary on tenth offense. It confirmed my analysis. Here is what he sent:
 
‘The import is that if one’s material attachments are causing one to become faithless in the holy name, one is an offender. It doesn’t mean that a person having faith in the glories of the holy name is an offender if they have some material attachments remaining in them.”[1]
 
My response was a quick answer, but the application is clear. Use your affection for your husband, which can’t be and should not be renounced artificially, in Krishna’s service by keeping yourself healthy and setting a good example for him and others of what coming to Krishna consciousness means.
 
When I see you next we can talk about this in more detail because there are subtleties in a Krishna conscious marriage that have to be navigated, but general affection for your husband and mother are natural impulses that are not against pure devotional service and certainly not nāmāparādha.”
 
This exchange is an example of how one must be thoughtful and raise one’s doubts to understand the philosophy of Krishna consciousness deeply. Otherwise there is risk one will accept some things blindly, such as the concept of “not maintaining material attachment”, and misapply the philosophy. I was happy to have received her inquiry.
 
 


[1] The following was sent to me by Hari Pārṣada das of Mumbai:
 
The tenth offense is given in the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (11.524) as follows:

śrute’pi nāma-māhātmye
yaḥ prīti rahito ’dhamaḥ
ahaṁ-mamādi-paramo
nāmni so’py aparādha kṛt
 
In his Dig-darśinī commentary, Srīla Sanātana Gosvāmī  has given two interpretations of this verse. I am giving two simple translations based on these two interpretations:
 
Translation 1: Even (api) on hearing (śrute) the glories of the holy name (nāma-māhātmye), the wretched soul (adhamaḥ) who (yaḥ) is devoid of faith (prīti-rahito) for the holy name (nāmni), being obsessed with (paramo) I, mine and other material attachments (amaṁ-mamādi) — that person (so) too (api) is an offender (aparādha-kṛt).
 
Note: In this interpretation, Srīla Sanātana Gosvāmī  has translated the term pṛiti-rahito as śraddhā-rahito (devoid of faith). The import is that if one’s material attachments are causing one to become faithless in the holy name, one is an offender. It doesn’t mean that a person having faith in the glories of the holy name is an offender if they have some material attachments remaining in them. (emphasis mine).
 
Translation 2: Even (api) on hearing (śrute) the glories of the holy name (nāma-māhātmye), the wretched soul (adhamaḥ) who is devoid of prema, love of god (prīti-rahito) and is obsessed with (paramo) feelings of I, mine etc. (ahaṁ-mamādi) in relation to the holy name (nāmni) — that person (so) too (api) is an offender (aparādha-kṛt).
 
Note: In translation 2, it is said that such a person has feelings in terms of I and mine in relation to the holy name. Srīla Sanātana Gosvāmī explains this as follows — Such a person thinks — “I am a great chanter of the holy names. It is me who has spread kīrtana of the names here, there and everywhere. Who is a greater propagator of the holy name as compared to me? The holy name is thus under the control of my tongue.”
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #51 – Radha-Bhāva and Prabhupāda

December 18th, 2017

This is not about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s eternal relationship with Krishna. I will leave that for other discussions. What I want to share with you is a realization I had recently in my reading of the last chapter of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta by Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja called The Śikṣāṣṭaka Prayers, a realization that highlights how Śrīla Prabhupāda gave us the most practical path in understanding our own relationship with Krishna. [1]
 
In that regard, I found particularly relevant the discussion of the last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam that describes the mood of Śrī Radha at that height of Her devotion:
 
“I know no one but Krishna as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful Lord unconditionally.” (v. 8)
 
Before I continue with my thesis, it is important to understand the context in which this verse is recited. According to Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja this verse is a paraphrase by Śrī Caitanya of what Śrī Radha told Her friends after they advised Her to disregard Krishna. He had apparently spurned her. In other words, She loved Krishna so much that just the suggestion to ignore Krishna, even when seemingly justified, ignited the depths of Her unconditional love. [2] In Śrī Caitanya’s ensuing explanation of this verse to His most confidential associates Svarūpa Dāmodara and Rāmānanda Rāya, He further elaborates on how this concluding verse expresses the nature of Śrī Radha’s love at its height.
 
“I do not mind my personal distress. I only wish for the happiness of Krishna, for His happiness is the goal of my life. However, if He feels great happiness in giving me distress, that distress is the best of my happiness.” [3] (Cc. Antya-līlā 20.52)
 
Now back to my originally inspiration. After reading the eighth verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam and its explanation by Śrī Caitanya Himself, it struck me how this final verse not only expresses the mood of Śrī Radha at the height of her devotion but accentuates the basic foundation of bhakti in a manner very reminiscent of the way Śrīla Prabhupāda and his own spiritual master, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta, preached. This is clearer when understanding the history of their mission.
 
Without retreading a long and complex history, Śrīla Bhaktisddhanta appeared at a time when the teachings of Śrī Caitanya had become very much degraded. The people coming to Śrī Caitanya’s lineage were mostly guided to higher and esoteric meditations in Krishna consciousness without the prerequisite foundational sacrifice and proper behavior. Śrīla Prabhupāda describes Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta’s concern about this and how he called out those called prākṛta-sahajiyās who cheaply concentrated their meditation on Krishna’s intimate pastimes without the recommended step-by-step process to first purify their hearts.
 
“Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura says that a devotee does not care about his own happiness and distress; he is simply interested in seeing that Krishna is happy, and for that purpose he engages in various activities […] Those who are materialistic, […] like the prākṛta-sahajiyās, regard their own happiness as the aim of life. Some of them aspire to enjoy themselves by sharing the happiness of Krishna. This is the mentality of fruitive workers who want to enjoy sense gratification by making a show of service to Krishna.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 20.52, purport)
 
Seeing this tendency, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta, and Śrīla Prabhupāda after him, stressed unconditional surrender to the spiritual master and stringently warned of entering realms of esoteric bhakti prematurely. As a result they were often criticized for not giving what Śrī Caitanya came to give, rāgānugā-bhakti, a practice based very much on meditating on Krishna’s pastimes and visualizing one’s own spiritual identity within them.
 
The last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, however, implies clearly that what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta and Śrīla Prabhupāda stressed was not just for beginners, but also the essence of the highest attainment in Krishna-consciousness, a practice that only needs to be ripened by the pure chanting of the name to achieve its fruition.
 
So that’s my realization today while reading the Caitanya-caritamrita – that if you want to awaken your eternal relationship with Krishna then faithfully follow the teachings of Śrīla Prabhupāda by unconditionally surrendering to Śrī Śrī Guru and Krishna in service of Śrī Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana mission. Certainly one who sincerely does this is embracing the essence of radha-bhāva as expressed in that ultimate verse:
 
“I know no one but Krishna as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful Lord unconditionally.”
 


[1] It is worthy to note here that the Śikṣāṣṭakam prayers are particularly significant because they are the only verses, eight in number, that Śrī Caitanya composed.
 
[2] Also significant is that this verse is the last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam and represents the fulfillment of the internal reason for Śrī Caitanya’s appearance, to experience the love of His topmost devotee at the height of Her love.
 
[3] Śrī Caitanya’s explanation of the Śikṣāṣṭakam comprises thirteen verses. I have only chosen one for the sake of the clarity and force of my post to highlight the mood of them all.
 
 

Monday Morning Greeting 2017 #50 – The Self-Effulgent Vaiṣṇava

December 11th, 2017

Śrī Vibhu Caitanya passed me as he was trudging up the stairs of the gurukula building on his way to his residence on the top floor. It was a bit of a struggle now as his body from the waist was severely bent over as a result of old age. He also no longer had the strength to cook in the kitchen. It was just a few days back that he was forced by time to leave his service. It was difficult to for him to retire as he had been faithfully doing that service for over twenty years since Śrīla Prabhupāda asked him, a humble retired Bengali shopkeeper, to be the first deity cook for the ISKCON Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir. Every day he would enter the kitchen at two in the morning without fail to break the coal and start the fires for the day’s cooking. He would then stay until ten at night to single-handedly cook all six bhoga offerings, including the various deity sweets, only to rise again early the next day to start his service again. And whatever he cooked tasted like nectar! As I passed him on the stairs he looked at me affectionately and softly chuckled, “Six men, six men!” It was clear what he meant. That was the amount of devotees it took to replace his service in the kitchen!
 
That was one of the recollections I shared last week here when it was my time to offer him homage at the tenth anniversary celebration of his passing. I also thought that in addition to the stories of his life I should add some philosophical import to his example of service. I thought, “Why not find a word that served as the theme of his life, a common thread to all his glories?” The word “self-effulgent” suddenly came to my mind. I began to briefly explain why.
 
In Vaiṣṇava circles the term “self-effulgent” is reserved for the phrase self-effulgent ācārya. It means that although many people will adopt the post of guru, and there may be different opinions about the extent of their status and influence, a person such as Śrīla Prabhupada may arise that shines so self-evidently that their spiritual status is universally recognized without the need for authorization or promotion. Although Vibhu Caintanya wasn’t an ācārya in the sense of being a preacher or guru, for us he was that collectively respected Vaiṣṇava, our self-effulgent devotee. After Śrīla Prabhupāda left, I can’t think of anyone in ISKCON Vṛndāvana that was so universally recognized for the quality of their devotion.
 
Of course, his cooking service certainly stood out for its efficiency and quality of what was produced. He once said the altar belonged to Krishna, but the kitchen belonged to Radha. By the taste of what he cooked and offered, we had no doubt that he was the instrument to carry the love of Śrī Radha from the kitchen to the altar.
 
I could go on and on about the excellence of what he cooked and the kindness in which he would distribute it, but I think his more menial service shone most brightly. When Vibhu Caitanya was too old to cook he performed the humble service of sitting all day in the temple handing out the caraāmta. To this day the people who were there at the time remember the care and affection in which he would support their opened right hand with his left and then with his right hand carefully serve them the caraāmta ensuring that not a drop would touch the floor. He even arranged for a small refrigerator to keep the caraāmta cold so that he could serve his god-siblings very tiny cups filled with chilled caraāmta on a hot summer day.
 
He then became too disabled to even leave his room situated on the back bottom floor of the temple guesthouse, which he shared with several brahmacārīs. Again the force and beauty of his devotion could not be thwarted. He placed his bed next to the cement shelves on the wall where he made an altar with large beautiful pictures of all the temple deities. He then carefully picked out the flowers that were not wilted from the mahā deity garlands sent to his room and restrung them to make a stunning flower display for his altar. He demonstrated, and we observed, that when bhakti is spontaneous it cannot be stopped, even when confined to a cold dark brahmacārī āśrama.
 
I talked to his doctor a few hours before he was to leave the world. He showed me the instructions Vibhu Caitanya dictated to him just hours before he was to leave external consciousness and would no longer be able to express himself.
 
No medicine or medical treatment should be given.
Do not take me out of my room.[1]
No one should serve me.
 
I was astounded. We spend our whole lives vying for the center, but here was a person that was so fixed in service that to be served had become abhorrent. Even in his death he was self-effulgent. We all deeply mourned his separation.
 
This has been quite a long Monday Morning Greeting, but I wrote what needed to be expressed. I fear making this longer, but as a special feature of this morning’s greeting I will also share a page from Vibhu Caitanya’s journal, the only page to my knowledge that exists. It is translated from the Bengali and not really edited for clarity and force so you will have to read it carefully to follow his train of ideas, but I think his depth and sincerity will be self-evident.
 
Yathā Dharma Tathā Jaya
 
By Vibhu Caitanya Prabhu

Dated 29 March 2006
 
Yathā dharma tathā jaya”—Where there is dharma, there is victory.
 
One must suffer for sinful activities.
 
Arjuna was in the path of dharma therefore he became victorious. Just to kill a mosquito, one will slap one’s own cheek, and the same happened to the Kauravas. On the path of honesty there are many obstacles, but at the end is nectar. The door is open for dishonesty.
 
The thief is never peaceful, even after stealing he is always in fear that I am going to be caught by someone and the sin is on my shoulders.
 
Kuntīdevi, mother of the Pāṇḍavas, always prayed for miseries. Because I will forget you (Krishna) if there are no miseries.
 
Viśvāse milaya krishna tarke bahu-dūra: By faith one can reach Krishna, but by argument one cannot.
 
The Lord is only satisfied by devotion. One must give up his selfish motivation. One can’t do devotional service with a selfish motivation.
 
We are acting in this Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir just like opera party actors. After getting certain responsibilities here in Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir, one freely spends money as one likes. But they don’t know that after the stage program is over, the king does not remain king. We are all acting like that.
 
Just like sin and mercury. By incurring sin one must suffer, and by eating mercury it becomes visible in the body.
 
Abhay’s mother was eating with her left hand. Abhay asked his mother “Why are you eating with your left hand?” Then she started eating with her right hand. It was a vow for Abhay’s spiritual benefit.
 
Who is sādhu in this age of kali? Those who are truthful, they are the actual sādhus. Merely by wearing saffron, one cannot become a sādhu, and by wearing neck beads one can’t become a Vaiṣṇava. One who has firm faith in the absolute truth can obtain the Lord of the absolute truth.
 
A teacher told his students that I will give every one of you a piece of sandeśa (sweet). If you can eat it hiding in a place where no one sees you, then I will give you more sweets. All the students went out happily but one small boy thought, “How will I be able to eat it without anyone watching?”
 
The teacher told him to try.
 
The next day all the other students came back and described how they ate their sweet without being observed by anyone. Some reported to have eaten it in a dense jungle, some hiding in destitute buildings and so on. But the small boy did not return. The teacher told them, “Let the small boy come back and then I will give you enough sweets.”
 
When the boy returned, the teacher asked why he was late. The boy replied “I tried my best, but as I was ready to eat, I saw that someone was always observing me.” The boy was spiritually enlightened. Therefore him.
 
Once while traveling through the forest, Lord Ramachandra felt very thirsty. He went to a pond and upon reaching, he loaded His bow with an arrow and pierced the earth. Upon returning, He saw a frog pierced by his arrow. Lord Ramchandra asked “Why didn’t you give any signal when I loaded my bow?” The frog replied “Whenever I am in danger I call out ‘Lord Rama, please save me!’ But if Lord Rama is killing me, then to whom should I call out to for help?”
 
If the Lord wants to kill someone, then no one can save him.
 
The Lord is always with everyone, and never brings them any inauspicious.
 
Once there was scarcity in the time of Lord Buddha deva. He asked, “Who wants to take the responsibility of this scarcity?” No one wanted to take it. One girl from a poor family came forward and humbly offered to take responsibility. “I have a treasury at home,” she said. “In the morning I will beg from door to door and my pot will supply endlessly. I can save the world by begging.”
 
Everyone should learn from everyone.
 
From a dog, we can learn expertise in eating, satisfied by little, sleeping unperturbedly and quickly waking up.
 
From an ass, we can learn:
 
akatare aviram gurubhar vay,
kiva site kiva grisme katar na hay
 
They are carrying heavy loads continuously, but are never exhausted, be it summer or winter.
 
phutiyache sarovare kamal nikovar
dhariyache ki acarya sobha manohar
 
The wonderfully beautiful lotuses are blossoming in the pond and charming the mind of the beholder.
 
gun gun rave kata bhramar madhu khaya
kintu ara haraive adin yakhan asive na are karite gunjan
 
Many bumble bees are enjoying honey from the lotus and making a “ghun ghun” sound. But a day comes when there are no lotuses left to attract the buzzing bees.
 
Similarly, when men are in wealthy situations, many friends come to meet them. But when their situation not so lavish, no one comes.
 
One day a rich man gave some lakṣmī to his poor friend. He was returning home keeping that lakṣmī in his turban. But one rapacious bird came from a nearby coconut tree and snatched his pagri (turban) because the times were very bad. But when his good time arrived, he saw his turban along with his lakṣmī, kept nicely on the tree.
 
One day an elephant was walking near the market place and a few dogs were barking at him. But the elephant kept walking toward his destination undisturbed.
 
Similarly, real sādhus carry out their sādhana-bhajana without being disturbed by thousands of criticisms.
 
Who is a sādhu?
 
Two kinds of māyā are there. One is vidyā and the other is avidyā. There are two kinds of vidyāmāyā and six kinds of avidyā-māyā. Viveka and vairāgya are the vidyāi-māyās and kāma, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, and mātsarya (lust, anger, greed, illusion, pride, and envy) are the avidyāmāyās.
 
One day a man was passing near one house and heard someone crying inside. He entered the house and saw that a mother was crying with her dead son on her lap. The man asked her, “Why you are crying?” The mother replied, “My Gopal has left me forever.” The man said “You used to feed Gopal, kiss him, but after giving you some vātsalya humor, he left you forever.”
 
Give up māyā!
 
Do you know how māyā is? It is just like aquatic algae, which covers the water of a pond. If one can repel it by splashing water and blocking it using bamboo, the aquatic algae wont spread again. This is called viveka.
 
And vairāgya means to be freed from all desires for sense objects.
 
tyaja maya moha visay o vikar,
śrī hari sricaran hridi kara saar
bhaver karnadhar daka anivar,
naile ante pavine nistar
 
Please give up this māyā of illusion, don’t be disturbed by the sense object. Keep the lotus feet of Śrī Hari as the only object for your life and soul/heart.
 
Please call continuously the captain of this bhava-world, otherwise there is no way to be protected at the end.
 
cirasukhi jana bhrame ki kakhan
vyathito vedan bujhite pare
ki yatana vise bujhive se kise
kabhu asivise dansini yare
 
Those are always enjoying happiness can’t experience the miseries of miserable persons. How will one know the pain of poison, if he hasn’t been bitten by a snake?
 


[1] He hadn’t left the boundary of the temple complex for over thirty years.
 
 

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