Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #45 – How to Feel Bad About Yourself and Other Kārttika Thoughts: Part 3

November 11th, 2019

My Kārttika thoughts continue from Govardhana, where I am blessed with the saṅga (association) of advanced Vaiṣṇavas:

 

During a casual conversation, a senior devotee shared this gem: The uncontrolled mind is like a bubble to keep the ego self in the center.

 

Another godbrother shared his realization on victim consciousness in relation to bhakti with an interesting analogy. He described a recent conversation with his wife of almost fifty years. Like many married people, he said, when something goes wrong, he tends to blame his spouse. He was upset with his wife for misplacing something he needed, only to be reminded by her where he had moved it the day before. Similarly, he continued, when something goes wrong in our life, we tend by natural psychology to play the victim and blame God, when actually everything that comes to us ultimately has its origin in our past deeds.

 

I loved his point. There is no victim consciousness in Krishna consciousness. We can’t just sit back and blame someone else. We also have to take responsibility and rectify ourselves. This subject deserves more than a few lines of discussion; it needs a whole piece. Expect a Monday Morning Greeting titled “Bhakti and Victim Consciousness.”

 

If you are satisfied internally, external changes will affect you less. That is one of the fruits of absorption in chanting the holy name. One of the most powerful statements about the power of one’s inner life to help one transcend the dualities of life is from the diaries of Etty Hillesum before her death at the Auschwitz concentration camp. “When you have an inner life,” she wrote, “it certainly doesn’t matter what side of the fence you sit on.”

 

It is better to watch the mind than to identity with it. If you identify with your mind, you are likely to act on false narratives, which can entangle you in various worldly tensions. Here in Govardhana, I see how much precious time in life is freed for devotional service by japa meditation and the consequent neglect of or disidentification with the mind.

 

Although chanting the holy name should not be done with the objective of gaining anything material, still I can see how much it positively affects my life. It creates efficiency in life by giving one a clear mind to access inner inspiration and make decisions. By focusing on japa meditation this month, for example, I found that the realizations needed to write Monday Morning Greetings came easier and that the time it took to write them was cut in half.

 

Kārttika is like an Olympic event—not that I am competing to win something, but like one’s performance in the Olympics, one’s effectiveness in japa meditation is based not just on the moment one begins the activity, but also on what one does beforehand to prepare oneself. That becomes especially apparent to me here, where I feel how much the quality of my life each day, supported by the sublime association and atmosphere of Bhaktivedanta Ashram, positively affects the quality of my meditation the next day. I may not always be able to live here, but the principle applies. The quality of one’s meditation is based on the way one lives, and those serious about going deeper into the holy name have to be vigilant about how and what they eat, and how and with whom they associate.

 

Sometimes when I’m chanting, deep regrets come to my mind. I can’t count how many regrettable things I have done in life. But I don’t stay in that mental space too long. I refocus my chanting, though I do let that mood linger as a foundation for taking shelter of the holy name. Tāpa (regret), looking back and lamenting one’s previous life based on ego, is the first saṁskāra in the process of initiation.[1] You can’t move forward in spiritual life without condemning your own foolishness. And it is a step you never leave; it remains part of your spiritual life as you advance.

 

“[I]n full Krishna consciousness, [the devotee] regrets his past experiences in material existence. This regret is very beneficial because it purifies the living entity of material, conditional life. He then prays to the Lord to engage in His service, and at that time, Krishna grants liberation from the clutches of māyā.” Bhāg. 4.29.29, purport

 


[1] Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, quoting the smṛti-śāstra, described the initiation process: “Tāpa, puṇḍra, nāma, mantra, and yāga—these five items comprise the pañca-saṁskāra. They are the cause of intense devotion.” Tāpa traditionally includes purification by repentance and a healthy aversion to material life.

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #44 – How to Feel Bad About Yourself and Other Kārttika Thoughts: Part 2

November 4th, 2019

I will try an experiment for this week’s Monday Morning Greeting: rather than develop a specific topic, I will try share the realizations that come up through the week during my morning chanting. Why not? Being here in Govardhana seems to enhance one’s clarity of thought and foster realizations. Let me try:

 

Until one reaches the level of samādhi, no matter how hard you concentrate, the mind will sometimes wander. The question is, what will the mind wander to? The secret of progressive chanting is more and more developing a mind filled with spiritual thoughts, especially Krishna kathā, so that even when the mind wanders, it will remain in the realm of bhakti and one will be inspired to re-focus one’s attention on the holy name.

 

God hears our heart, not just our words.

 

The greatest mercy is when the thing that is best for one is the thing one likes best. Japa is not a chore; there is mercy here!

 

How can the repetition of three words over and over again not be boring? Simple. Happiness is about consciousness. If our consciousness is awakened in devotion and compassion, we can stay in that space forever without needing to be entertained by a constantly changing world. Focused chanting of the three words of the mahā-mantra, even though repetitious, awakens compassion and devotion in the heart. Kīrtanīya sadā hari. One can, therefore, stay there forever.

 

Unexpected, the fearful thought of death struck me. My chanting became deeper. An internal warning arose: Develop your spiritual identity, for the one you have will be lost at death.

 

There are two fears of death: the fear of pain at the end of one’s life and the fear that one will not obtain one’s desired destination. I think the latter fear is greater, because the physical pain of death can be drowned out by drugs or coma. Some solace: if one eventually surrenders to God, one’s destination is assured but real comfort comes only if one surrenders now. Actually, to conquer fear there is no other choice.

 

Maya’s tricks. I started to feel satisfied with what I am accomplishing this month. A short while after, however, I notice complacency almost imperceptibly affecting my resolve and practice for the sake of comfort. When satisfaction morphs into complacency, it is the enemy of bhakti, because bhakti is based on a deep yearning for the lotus feet of Krishna.

 

When we hear the holy name clearly and distinctly, it is not just due to our effort at the time we sit down to chant. It is Krishna’s mercy for our service and sincerity, especially the day before.

 

An obstacle to going deeper in chanting: the thought “What will Krishna have to do to me to answer my prayer to make me really humble and dependent on His mercy?”

 

Proud thoughts come—how special I am. It’s like poison to my bhakti creeper. It is better to feel bad about oneself.

 

Pride in victory, or moroseness in defeat, in useless. One should fully depend on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is responsible for the victory and defeat of all living entities. (Bhāg. 6.12.7 purport)

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #43 – How to Feel Bad About Yourself and Other Kārttika Thoughts: Part 1

October 28th, 2019

Good month. Chanting and hearing all day. Lots of realizations. Jotted them down. I see a theme. How to feel bad about yourself. That’s strange. I’ve never felt better. Contradiction?  Not necessarily. More about that later. First a few of the simpler thoughts this week:

 

The Essence of Material Pleasure

An essential aspect of the ego and material pleasure is to feel superior to others. What is the meaning of being better than others if we are not enjoying more than others? And what is the use of enjoying more than others if people can’t see it? Therefore, for many people more important than actually wearing a popular brand name or owning a luxury item is the feeling of status or superiority that it gives one. This core material consciousness, “I am a superior enjoyer” is also one of the main engines driving social media. I wonder sometimes which some people enjoy more, their actual vacation or posting a dynamic picture of themselves enjoying their vacation and the feelings of superiority it gives them. Even the practices of bhakti, if it is not pure, can be co-opted by the desire to enjoy fame driven by a desire for superiority. Sādhu, beware!

 

Making Sense of Krishna’s Līlā

The highest reality is love. The highest love is love of God, because, by definition, only God is inclusive of everything. For any emotion to reach its height, that emotion must be stimulated, which requires some drama. Therefore the highest reality, which is love of God, is naturally set in a drama or līlā, which brings the emotion of devotion to its height.

 

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Vaiśeṣika dāsa tells a story:

“I often take a walk in a beautiful park near my house in San Jose. It gives me a chance to observe the world through the eyes of śāstra. On one such walk I saw a fox terrier madly chasing a squirrel. The squirrel ran the dog in circles and finally scurried up a tree. The dog quickly ran to the base of the tree and began to bark furiously. Unfortunately, it was the wrong tree. It suddenly hit me that that’s where the metaphor “barking up the wrong tree” came from, which describes feverishly pursuing the wrong course in life. It also perfectly describes one of the main impediments to bhakti, asat tṛṣṇā, thirsting after the temporary.”

Food for thought: I am looking for happiness, but how often am I barking up the wrong tree like the foolish dog?

 

 

Sādhus of Govardhana I

I pass a close friend while walking in Govardhana. We compare notes on chanting. In confidence, he shares a point that I take note of: “After years of chanting I think I am finally getting somewhere. I feel like the seen, that a presence is observing me while chanting.” He didn’t have time to say much more, but what little he spoke, he spoke with conviction. His realization was genuine. In material consciousness we put ourselves in the center and observe everything else as an object for our control and enjoyment. There is a radical shift in consciousness in advanced devotion.  Transcending our egocentric view, we now see God as the center and ourselves as objects or seen for His pleasure. I have little doubt that after years of dedicated service and spiritual practice, my friend is getting somewhere. We offer our respects and move quickly to our next destinations.

 

 

Sādhus of Govardhana II

I visit another god-brother. He also shares his heart. He recently saw a list that he wrote ten years ago on the obstacles he faced in devotion. He laments that he is still facing the same challenges and thus not advancing in spiritual life. He questions if he will ever develop his spiritual identity while being still immersed in so many material conceptions. He observes that services like manager or guru can fortify one’s material identity as the controller unless one is very advanced in bhakti. I listen carefully, but I only see advanced devotion as a result of years of deep Bhāgavatam study. It is the fortunate soul who can finally lament one’s separation from Krishna and strongly hanker for a spiritual identity. I am humbled by the advanced Vaiṣṇavas residing in Govardhana for Kārttika.

 

 

How to Feel Bad About Yourself Part I

A friend shared with me his realization about staying in Vṛndāvana: “Vṛndāvana is like holding up a mirror to your false ego.” How true! One can’t hide from oneself in Vṛndāvana. Immersion in spiritual life in the holy dhāma in association of advanced Vaiṣṇavas forces one to become aware of one’s impurities. One then can’t help but regret a life of pretense in separation from God. Such feelings, however, don’t crush one’s spirit, but instead awaken the soul and allow one to call to Krishna in sincerity. They form the basis of bhakti, which is our only joy and solace. Oh, the joy of feeling bad about yourself in Vṛndāvana!

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #42 – Krishna Giveth, Krishna Taketh

October 21st, 2019

I hope you don’t get bored of me sharing my writing struggles again. The writing itself is not the difficulty, in the sense that if I have an idea and begin expressing it I know that it is just a matter of time before that idea is reproduced in a written form. That has been increasingly my experience in writing Monday Morning Greetings. The greater struggle is when I don’t have something to write about. Hopefully I don’t sound too self-promoting by saying that Krishna has blessed me that week after week I am inspired with something to write about. I’m amazed how it happens. Krishna giveth!

 

I am writing this on Tuesday. I was just sitting here for a half-hour trying to write something. I finally just closed my computer in frustration. Although I thought I had something to say, nothing came. This week, more than any other week, that should have not been the case. I am in Govardhan with spiritually advanced devotees, chanting and hearing about Krishna all day. There has been no dearth of personal realizations. In fact, they seem palpable and thick, but for some reason they are just not translating into that impelling idea that I am bursting to share, and that will move my pen (keyboard) with enthusiasm. Krishna taketh!

 

It’s frustrating, but I can also see the grace of Krishna. By withdrawing His empowerment He is reinforcing the realization that I am only the desirer, not the doer, and thus the results of all my endeavors are totally dependent on Him. An impelling idea just came. Why not write about this through the story of Nārada?

 

Nārada was the son of a poor maidservant who didn’t even have a father. Fortunately, his mother was the maidservant at an ashram where learned and renounced devotional scholars visited for the duration of the four-month rainy season. Nārada’s natural humility and serious nature attracted their mercy. They educated and blessed him with genuine realization, although he was just five years old. Unfortunately, by the will of providence, shortly after their visit, Nārada’s mother suddenly died. Having no parents, and only armed with the mercy of those great souls, he saw no other choice but to take full shelter of Krishna. He immediately left to wander the world, deepening his dependence on God. After some time, he sat down in earnestness to meditate as he had been taught by those great souls. In that state of complete helplessness and dependence, his meditational efforts somehow attracted sākṣāddarśana, the direct audience of God. He became overwhelmed in total bliss, only to have that soon withdrawn. No matter how hard he repeatedly tried to invoke the Lord’s presence in the exact same way, it was to no avail.

 

“I desired to see again that transcendental form of the Lord, but despite my attempts to concentrate upon the heart with eagerness to view the form again, I could not see Him anymore, and thus dissatisfied, I was very much aggrieved.” (Bhāg. 1.6.19)

 

In his commentary to this verse Śrīla Prabhupāda explains why:

 

“When He pleases, being satisfied with the sincere attempt of devotional service depending completely on the mercy of the Lord, then He may be seen out of His own accord.”

 

I was reminded of something important today, reaffirmed here by Śrīla Prabhupāda, something that is at the core of the practice of bhakti. The result of all devotional endeavors is totally dependent on the mercy of Krishna, but if there is any hope of pleasing Krishna and attracting His mercy, our efforts must also be imbued with humility and dependence. Without that understanding and mood, His mercy can be withdrawn no matter how expert we are. And even if our efforts come to fruition, without imbuing our endeavor with such humility the result will lack the substance to change either our heart or the hearts of others.

 

I sat down today to share something. Nothing came. Krishna taketh.

 

I begged for mercy. Then something came. Krishna giveth.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #41 – The Last Stand of Truth

October 14th, 2019

Perhaps some of you have heard this story: When Mahārāja Parīkṣit heard that a low-class man was beating a bull in his kingdom, he immediately left his palace to confront the miscreant. The bull, who was religion personified, had been so cruelly beaten that he was left standing only on one leg. This not only angered the king, but observing the scene left him with a significant message:

 

Sad times are ahead. Of the four legs of the bull, which represent the four pillars of religion -mercy, austerity, cleanliness and truthfulness, only the leg of truthfulness was still barely standing. Thus, the only thing separating man from complete hell was whatever integrity he could muster.

 

It’s not difficult to see the truth of this ancient story from the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in terms of predicting how the present age is unfolding. Can anyone doubt that there is an assault on the last leg of religion, which plagues today’s world left and right with rampant hypocrisy and cheating in practically every quarter of society? What can possibly be done?

 

Integrity is the strong impression (saṁskāra) in the consciousness generally instilled at youth that, “I must conform my words and actions to what is and what I know as true.” If family and society is not focused on strongly instilling this value in the next generation as their primary mission, the void will certainly be filled by the message of modernity based on hedonism and moral relativism, leaving little left to be true to, including one’s word. People of true integrity will be increasingly few and far between and the world will sink further into confusion.

 

Traditionally, such integrity was reinforced by the stories and history of the lives of exemplars of character that were read and retold practically as the society’s main entertainment. Who are our heroes today?  What does our entertainment promote? Is there any wonder that, with rare exception, the present leaders in government and media mostly raised in modernity have no qualms of expediently twisting the truth to suit their agendas?

 

When I came to India over forty year ago, I was able to meet people of another generation who were raised in villages and towns where the regular recitation of books of dharma, like the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, were heard daily. I was thus fortunate to have the acquaintance of many people so deeply inculcated with these messages of integrity that they would rather die than not keep their word. Where are such people today?

 

Yesterday I was reading about Queen Kunti in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. I couldn’t help but be impressed by her integrity. Her husband, the noble emperor of the world, was cursed to die the minute he approached any woman intimately. Out of care and concern for his wife Kunti, he implored her to use the boon she had received from the powerful Durvāsā Muni to petition any demigod for a child. Despite her loving husband’s strong urging, out of faithfulness and chastity, she repeatedly refused. It’s a long story, and eventually she was able to have children without compromising her principles, but I couldn’t help but become struck with her example of duty over self and lament the lack of such exemplars today.

 

As the story forewarned thousands of years ago, only truthfulness, the final pillar of civilization, is standing today, and barely at that. From media to government, ideologues of all shades threaten the last modicum of truthfulness left. I doubt the solution is political change either. After all, in a democracy our leaders only reflect the values of the populace, and that does not bode well for whatever political tribe garners victory. It seems the last leg of religion is doomed until we ourselves develop deep honesty and pass that on to coming generations. It’s a daunting task, but history has shown that the best way for a society to maintain a culture of integrity is to inspire its populace with oral and written traditions that describe moral and spiritual exemplars taught to the people by honest teachers. And that may be the last stand of truth!

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #40 – I Tried, I Failed, I Entered

October 7th, 2019

My deadline is nearing for this week’s Monday Morning Greetings. I have to admit defeat. There is no way I will be able to complete what I started this week. The expression “hit the ground running” means that after you arrive in a place, even before settling in and unpacking, you begin your work immediately. Well, when I arrived in Vṛndāvana I “hit the ground running”, as immediately I had to attend to people visiting. That, combined with my jet lag, upended my regulation. Not being able to finish this week affirmed the factors necessary to garner the realizations and maintain the focus necessary to do Monday Morning Greetings every week, which I consider one of my most important services:

 

  1. I need sufficient early morning chanting to purify my consciousness so that I am able to garner a realization to write about weekly. If I don’t then one may or may not come.
  2. I need a regulated life that allows me to rise early so I can concentrate on writing without distraction.
  3. I need time for deep focused study.

 

By next week I should be in gear. Here’s what I will do instead for this week. I will share with you the first paragraph of the article I was writing called “Identity Holy Fix”. I will then reprint an entry written twenty years ago that describes entry into Vṛndāvana, which I think is still quite relevant today:

 

From this week’s aborted journal:

Entered Vṛndāvana yesterday for a prolonged stay for the forty-third year. Naturally strolled out today among the vrajavāsis to get a few necessities, but mostly just to mingle with my very old vrajavāsi friends. Pandey, the old perfumer, sits peacefully in his scented oil shop. I walk in to say hello. No matter what I say, even small talk, he is always preaching. He hasn’t changed in forty years.

 

“To renounce the senses and mind, that is easy. What is difficult is to give up the ego.”

 

An old Journal on entering Vṛndāvana:

 

October 6, 2000

Delhi/Vṛndāvana

I entered a myriad of signs lining the path exiting the airport, held by various drivers searching for their pick-up. I wasn’t sure if the message announcing my arrival had reached Vṛndāvana, so I was anxiously searching for my name. What a relief to spot the smiling face of Gopal, our vrajavāsī driver!

 

All of my entries into Vṛndāvana have been similar: the feeling of unworthiness, the grime of my long journey representing the contamination of a prolonged stay in America, the instant relief of a yamunā-snāna (bath), and the happiness of seeing my old vrajavāsī friends.

 

The water at Keśī-ghāṭa was deep and flowing swiftly. It was five o’clock and the sun was beginning to set in the west, sending a reflection of yellow light through its waters like a pathway cutting diagonally to the base of the ghāṭa where I was sitting. I carefully entered her waters, and facing the shimmering golden pathway, I reflected on the natural beauty of Vraja. After chanting my gāyatrī, I waded like a child in her soothing waters. Home at last!

 

After five minutes Ramesh, my auto-rickshaw driver, calmly pointed to the last step of the ghāṭa, about twenty feet to my left. A large snake sat there with a fish in its mouth. I don’t know how to describe my reaction other than that I tried to remain calm and dignified, but I still somewhat panicked. Quickly placing my hands two feet above me on the steps, I swiftly kicked my right foot up onto the first step of the ghāṭa and vaulted myself out of the water—or, I should say, tried to vault myself out of the water. I floundered and fell back in. I finally made it out and quickly moved up a few steps to where I had placed my things. As I looked to my right, about ten feet to the other side of the snake, I saw a sādhu calmly washing his loṭā. He was smiling and gesturing to me. He was laughing and flapping his right hand, which obviously represented to him my panic in getting out of the water. He laughed and laughed.

 

The vrajavāsī children, who were the only other people there and had been sporting blissfully in the Yamunā when I arrived, were also amused; their cunning smiles and laughter representing the anxiety and carefree hearts of young, simple children.

 

I looked at the sādhu again and heard, “Baba!” I couldn’t exactly hear what he was saying, but I intuitively understood him very clearly. “What are you so afraid of? Don’t you realize that Krishna is in everyone’s heart?”

 

As I walked up to the top of the ghāṭa and turned right to find my rickshaw, I looked back. The sādhu was still laughing and flapping his right hand. I also began to laugh and enjoy the fun. We maintained eye contact, both laughing until I drifted out of sight. By Krishna’s mercy, I had entered the dhāma.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #39 – In Defense of Judgment

September 30th, 2019

“That’s a judgment!” I hear this too often. What a silly statement! How can one criticize a judgment itself? You can say it’s a bad judgement or that one is too judgmental, meaning one is making judgments unnecessarily, excessively, or with motive. That is, however, criticizing the quality or application of one’s judgement, not condemning discrimination in itself. Where did this crazy idea come from? Sounds like something that has seeped down either from some new age sentiment or postmodern thought where all knowledge is considered a relative judgment born of power. Either way, how absurd! That’s my judgment, and yes, I stand by it.

 

Does anyone really believe that knowledge, which is the standard of judgment, is relative? In other words, that there are no truths that can stand absolutely and independently of human evolution and cultural relativism. How about this one? It is wrong to abuse and torture women, or to orchestrate the genocide of a particular race or nationality. Does anyone actually believe that there was a time and place when this was not absolutely pernicious? A brute crushes an innocent baby’s skull with his boots. Do you really think a moral judgement in relation to such a deed is dependent on evolution and that only after the action served the survival of the fittest it became wrong? I will assume that honest and reasonable people, regardless of their world view, will admit that there are things that are wrong, transcendentally wrong, and to call one out simply for making a judgment, besides obviously being a judgment in itself, is an untenable conviction to say the least.

 

In summary, it is self-evident that there is transcendent truth, including objective morality, that exists eternally and independent of human opinion. To think or live, therefore, as if an appeal to objective standards is whimsical is an idea that no reasonable person will embrace. Let me bring this concept of “in defense of judgment” a little further by analyzing what the existence of objective truth means practically.

 

It means evolved seekers throughout the ages will search for that truth, and those fortunate enough to have found it will have realized it by applying it in their lives.

 

It also means that there will be souls who are compassionate, a foundational principle of that truth, who have encapsulated those truths in traditions of knowledge recorded in books for the benefit of others.

 

Finally, it means that sincere people, who in the future follow those traditions, understand that their relationship to transcendent truth is one of surrender. If surrendering to the truth is a frightening prospect, just reflect for a second on the following. Are not the people we most admire, people who rule their lives by certain noble principles beyond just what they want? Are we happy in relationship to those who rebel against values of humility, selflessness and compassion, and other universal truths, and live with no ideal higher than their own desires and opinions?

 

A quick word about how these truths are communicated in the tradition of bhakti: The universe is manifest from sound. The same sound that creates the universe gives knowledge of its utility, which is called the Vedas. There are spiritual lineages that know and realize the essence of the Vedas. By the sincere desire in the heart to seek and serve the truth, one will find a teacher who represents those teachings. By serving and inquiring from such a realized soul and surrendering to his or her teaching, one can also realize the truth.

 

A word of caution: Traditions of knowledge warn that hierarchical systems, especially in modernity, can be abused by unscrupulous or unqualified people. It is thus the duty of every seeker of the truth to test the relationship of mentorship with their teacher for some time before committing to discipleship. It is also the duty of a teacher to test the qualification of the student before fully accepting them.

 

In conclusion, there is universal truth manifest in different forms. We are incumbent to become men and women of character by realizing and surrendering to the truth.

 

“That’s a judgment!”

 

Yes, that’s my whole point.

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #38 – A Commentary on the Lakota Code of Ethics

September 23rd, 2019

True religion is not just a faith born at particular time within history that is confined to a geographical location and a culture. Rather it is the eternal nature of the soul within everyone to love God and the responsible choices in life that move us closer to such an awakening. We may have full trust in the authenticity of our faith and the depth of its presentation. I certainly do in mine. That’s fine, but to deny any manifestation of the same truths just because it is dressed in another culture is sectarian.

 

Recently Madhavananda dasa shared with me the Lakota Code of Ethics. Evidently, he saw some depth in it. I did also. The Code expertly encapsulates basic principles of behavior. More than the clarity and force of its presentation, what struck me is how it demonstrates the universality of truth. We say truth is veda, which means knowledge, but we don’t limit the manifestation of that truth to just within a book, no matter how comprehensive the presentation. Truth is embodied. It exists eternally and independently of human creation. The book just encapsulates it to communicate it appropriately according to the audience. Throughout the ages, and even occasionally in modernity, great thinkers have seen and realized aspects of that truth and have communicated it according to the language and capacity of the people of their time.

 

I often get feedback from my readers who appreciate that Monday Morning Greetings is sufficient in length to give substance, but not so long that working people won’t have time to read and digest it. That poses a problem here. After looking at the Lakota Code, I could write an article on each one listed. Therefore, I will just briefly comment on the first code and then just list the rest. The main thrust of this entry, therefore, is to use the Lakota Code to show the universality of truth. Before we begin, a definition is required of universal truth in the broadest terms (my own):

 

We are part of something greater than ourselves that we are meant to serve. If we want to be happy or satisfied our behavior should direct us towards that goal by developing selflessness and discouraging egoism.

 

 

Lakota Code of Ethics

 

  1. Rise with the sun to pray. Pray alone. Pray often. The Great Spirit will listen, if you only speak.

 

Commentary:

 

Rise with the sun to pray: According to Vedic calculations, the twenty-four hour day is better divided into thirty muhūrtās, or forty-eight minute periods that reflect the different effects that different parts of the day have on consciousness. The early morning around sunrise, especially the brahma-muhūrtā, the forty-eight minutes before sunrise, have by far the greatest impact on the mind for peace and concentration. Serious spiritual practitioners take avail of those hours to deepen their spiritual life.

 

Pray alone: For meditation we need a time and place reserved exclusively for Krishna where we sit alone separated from all of life’s other responsibility. That place is called our asana, literally a place to sit for exclusive concentration. When the mind does become focused, asana becomes upāsanā, which literally means “to sit near (upa)”. This conventionally implies worshiping, or serving, as one has to be present near the object of worship to do so, not just physically, but in the mind. Without that type of regulation where our worship can be exclusive, our mind will be divided between the object of worship and our responsibilities and attachments. Yoga or meditation will not take place.

 

Pray Often: To get true realization our thoughts need not only be concentrated and without interruption, but they have to be prolonged. “Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time.” (Yoga Sūtras 1.14)

 

The Great Spirit will listen, if you only speak: “To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Bg. 10.10)

 

  1. Be tolerant of those who are lost on their path. Ignorance, conceit, anger, jealousy — and greed stem from a lost soul. Pray that they will find guidance.

 

  1. Search for yourself, by yourself. Do not allow others to make your path for you. It is your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.[1]

 

  1. Treat the guests in your home with much consideration. Serve them the best food, give them the best bed and treat them with respect and honor.

 

  1. Do not take what is not yours whether from a person, a community, the wilderness or from a culture. It was not earned nor given. It is not yours.

 

  1. Respect all things that are placed upon this earth — whether it be people or plant.

 

  1. Honor other people’s thoughts, wishes and words. Never interrupt another or mock or rudely mimic them. Allow each person the right to personal expression.

 

  1. Never speak of others in a bad way. The negative energy that you put out into the universe will multiply when it returns to you.

 

  1. All persons make mistakes. And all mistakes can be forgiven.

 

  1. Bad thoughts cause illness of the mind, body and spirit. Practice optimism.

 

  1. Nature is not for us; it is a part of us. They are part of your worldly family.

 

  1. Children are the seeds of our future. Plant love in their hearts and water them with wisdom and life’s lessons. When they are grown, give them space to grow.

 

  1. Avoid hurting the hearts of others. The poison of your pain will return to you.

 

  1. Be truthful at all times. Honesty is the test of ones will within this universe.

 

  1. Keep yourself balanced. Your Mental self, Spiritual self, Emotional self, and Physical self — all need to be strong, pure and healthy. Work out the body to strengthen the mind. Grow rich in spirit to cure emotional ails.

 

  1. Make conscious decisions as to who you will be and how you will react. Be responsible for your own actions.

 

  1. Respect the privacy and personal space of others. Do not touch the personal property of others — especially sacred and religious objects. This is forbidden.

 

  1. Be true to yourself first. You cannot nurture and help others if you cannot nurture and help yourself first.

 

  1. Respect others religious beliefs. Do not force your belief on others.

 

  1. Share your good fortune with others.

 

 


[1] One of the main principles on the bhakti path is to follow in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas. This would be the truth of this principle in the bhakti tradition: “When flying an airplane, one cannot take care of other planes. Everyone has to take care of his own plane, and if there is any danger, no other plane can help another in that condition. Similarly, at the end of life, when one has to go back home, back to Godhead, everyone has to take care of himself without help rendered by another. The help is, however, offered on the ground before flying in space. Similarly, the spiritual master, the father, the mother, the relatives, the husband and others can all render help during one’s lifetime, but while crossing the sea one has to take care of himself and utilize the instructions formerly received.” (Bhāg. 1.15.50, Purport)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #37 – Can Destiny Be Changed? Part II

September 16th, 2019

After starting this entry, I discovered that it is the second one I am writing on this subject this year. It is a very important subject, so I will continue the article and just tackle the subject a little differently. Last time I broached the subject on how to change destiny in two ways: changing what happens and changing how one reacts. This time I will further divide those categories and then introduce a new one — how to completely eradicate karma by pure devotional service. First, a refresher of what destiny, or the law of karma, is.

 

What is destiny

Destiny is a universal moral force that functions to purify us of selfish desire. After witnessing our past exploitative deeds, Viṣṇu (the all-pervading Supreme Lord) manifests as time to create appropriate situations to help us overcome the egoism those deeds represent. In other words, karma is God’s system to make us selfless by teaching us needed lessons.

 

Changing destiny completely

The degree of selfishness fueling a past deed determines the severity of the reaction required to purify us. The only case, therefore, where we can avoid those reactions is when our selfishness is relatively negligible. A practical day to day example: When we accidentally offend one whom doesn’t even take offense, just regretting our mistake may be sufficient in itself to purify ourselves. For a more serious offense, however, to rectify ourselves we require a reaction such as suffering a loss of reputation or even a punishment. In conclusion, only in rare cases of negligible past offense can we completely nullify our destiny.

 

Changing destiny by partially counteracting the offense

There are rituals of atonement to inspire the universe to yield in its karmic punishment. For example, a man who abused a woman in a past life may have to suffer the reaction of a bad relationship with his mother in this life. To reduce the destined reaction one can offer white cloth in charity to widows on Monday, the day of the moon or the mother.[1] I won’t go into the details here, but I think you can get the general idea. According to the offense one has committed one can get the universe (time or karma) to somewhat relent by performing certain prescribed atonements specifically tailored to rectifying the consciousness that caused the offense in the first place.

 

Changing destiny by using destiny

One can also change their destiny by using it properly. A good example is Vidura from the Mahābhārata. He was thrown out of his life-long residence in the King’s palace by his envious nephew. Instead of trying to eradicate or modify what happened, Vidura simply matched his aspirations with his destiny. In other words, he just changed his goal to suit his present lot. He left on pilgrimage with the goal of increasing his love for God and to further his purification. In conclusion, by reasonably changing one’s goals to match one’s destiny, one can change one’s karma in the most important way — from misery to satisfaction.

 

Changing destiny by changing one’s perspective on life

One can also change destiny by simply changing one’s perspective on life. The cursing of Mahārāja Parīkṣit is a perfect example. He was cursed to die due to offending a forest sage, but rather than expend energy to counteract or modify it, he just accepted it as God’s blessing. By Krishna’s grace he was not only able see how his destiny was accelerating his detachment, but also how it was freeing him and his family from any further reactions. In conclusion, one can change one’s destiny by viewing it through the lens of knowledge as a chance for spiritual growth, instead of seeing it as a cause for despondency.

 

Changing destiny by eradicating all karma

God is not cruel. Destiny has purpose. It is His mechanism to make us selfless and pure. If we achieve the purpose of destiny by fully submitting out of devotion to God’s will, why would God still punish us whimsically? He wouldn’t. One who fully surrenders to Guru and Krishna is therefore free from karma.[2]

 

The question therefore arises as to why devotees still suffer along the lines of their destiny as demonstrated time and time again by seeing their astrological charts. The answer: Karma is God’s law directed at the impurities in our heart to free us from selfishness. Why would God not sanction His law to bring His devotee closer to Him, even for a surrendered devotee? In that case, destiny is no longer karma, an impersonal law, but Krishna’s direct care, and as the devotee is now directly under Krishna’s protection, Krishna can also certainly eradicate one’s karma completely, or at least reduce it to the degree one has been sufficiently purified by devotion.

 

There is a final point about bhakti and the eradication of karma: Our bodies run on karma. To be completely free from karma thus means death and consequent liberation. The problem is that our goal is not just liberation, but to attain prema-bhakti. Thus Krishna keeps the karma-run body going, with its apparent happiness and distresses, even after all karma has been eradicated so that the liberated devotee can continue to practice devotion and achieve prema.

 

I am happy that I elaborated further on this topic. The conclusion is exactly the same as the original article.

 

Can destiny be changed? In the most important way, yes. I will leave you with Rumi:

 

“When providence seems to be digging a hole to throw us in, it is actually planning to quench our thirst by drawing water from the ground.”

 

 


[1] I once took a young man with this problem to a reputed astrologer and this was his recommendation.

[2] There is here is a statement in the Brahma-saṁhitā: karmāṇi nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhājām (Bs. 5.54). Everyone is bound by his fruitive activities, but the devotees, because they work completely for the satisfaction of the Lord, suffer no reactions. Similarly, the gopīs’ attitude toward Krishna, although seemingly lusty, should not be considered to be like the lusty desires of ordinary women. (Kṛṣṇa, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Chapter 22)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #36 – The Highest Scoring Spiritual Performance

September 9th, 2019

I was a fan of watching the Olympics when I was young. One thing that I found intriguing was that gymnastics and diving competitors wouldn’t be scored just for the quality of their performance, but the degree of difficulty of the routine or dive they were attempting. I had a thought today. Why not use that same lens to increase our appreciation of what Śrīla Prabhupāda achieved in his mission by briefly highlighting the degree of difficulty of the task he accomplished?

 

For those of you who may not know, Śrīla Prabhupāda crossed the ocean by steamship in 1965 at the age of seventy to start his world mission in New York. By the time he left the world twelve years later, he established over 108 centers worldwide with thousands of followers dedicated to the promotion of bhakti-yoga, primarily focused on kīrtana. He also personally translated, expounded upon, and published over eighty volumes of authentic Indian spiritual texts, which were then translated into over fifty languages. More than a half a billion of those books have since been distributed worldwide. There’s more, but let’s keep our focus on our subject: the difficulty of his task.

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda alights on shore of the New York Harbor with only eight dollars in his pocket and a trunk of his translated works. His mission is to spread bhakti and kīrtana in the western world and to transplant an ancient culture, which, for all practical purposes, has never before left the shores of India. He stands there as a lone man with no backing, followers, or resources directly facing his opposition to the west — the full force of the most powerful material civilization known to man. Perhaps an even greater challenge is where, by providence, he was directed to start his mission.

 

After a short while in America, he winds up living in the Bowery[1] sharing a loft with a young man he hopes to teach Sanskrit. One evening the young man suddenly loses his mind on LSD and Prabhupāda is forced onto the streets of the Bowery in the depth of night. With the help of some early followers, he soon settles in an apartment in the Lower East Side with use of a storefront for his lectures. The impediments he faces are unimaginable, especially for a man of his culture.

 

“Why have I come to this place? Why have I come to place?” he ponders while sitting in his storefront in the Lower East Side, the last place a devotional, learned, and cultured Bengali Vaiṣṇava gentlemen would retire to serve his own personal needs. He immediately answers his own audible reflection, “I was cent per cent faithful to the order of my spiritual master!” By force of that faith he continues with his calling.

 

He gradually collects a group of sincere young people to help him. It is by no means easy. His field of potential candidates is not of any noted culture or training, to say the least. He takes what comes and tries to train them. One story comes to mind:

 

A young lady from the Lower East Side joins the mission and is soon initiated by Śrīla Prabhupāda. To start his mission, he has no choice but to be extremely merciful. This young lady, however, hates men. After six months she requests to see Śrīla Prabhupāda. He grants her audience. “I have been chanted Hare Krishna for six months, but I just can’t stand worshipping that man Krishna!” Śrīla Prabhupāda, replies without losing a beat, “That’s OK, we worship Radha.”[2] It is hard to imagine a more insane place to try to transplant traditional Vaiṣṇava culture than the sex crazed, drugged out, hippy land of the Lower East Side. Another story comes to mind:

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s new disciples indiscriminately organize programs for him to share his message of devotion and culture. They arrange for him to speak at a rally of Louis Abolafia, the founder of the Naked Party. He is running for president of the United States with a catchy slogan: “What have I got to hide?” When Śrīla Prabhupāda enters the room, the supporters of Louis Abolafia are dressed as bananas and are wildly dancing, mostly naked.[3] Śrīla Prabhupāda remains sober, talks briefly, and leaves. Afterwards one of his disciples informs Śrīla Prabhupāda that Louis Abolafia couldn’t officially run for president because he didn’t meet the minimum age required. Śrīla Prabhupāda finds that hysterical and bursts into laughter. He certainly had a sense of humor and would sometimes chuckle or laugh, but the devotees never saw him laugh so hard. I can imagine what he was thinking: “As if his age was the reason he has not qualified!”[4]

 

It is hard to imagine that a person whose mission was to create a class of Vaiṣṇava brāhmaṇas[5] actually accomplished it within such a milieu of madness and at such an advanced age, with challenged health, I should add. He had suffered two heart attacks on his journey across the sea. Should not the score of his unprecedented accomplishments therefore be exponentially increased by the substantial challenges he faced? A final story:

 

It was the disappearance festival of Śrīla Prabhupāda in 1978. Several of the most distinguished scholars of Vṛndāvana were assembled to offer their respects. I remember the homage of one of them. “If Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, and Śrīla Prabhupāda were in the same room and Śrī Caitanya appeared, who would he go to first? I say Śrīla Prabhupāda! Who could be more attached to the holy name than that person who spread it around the world!” Of course, Śrīla Prabhupāda had just recently passed from this world and the talks were in the mood of eulogy, but considering what he accomplished and the degree of difficulty of his task, is it not possible that we have witnessed the highest scoring spiritual performance in the history of Vaiṣṇavism?

 

 


[1] When Śrīla Prabhupāda arrived in the United States the Bowery was one of the worst slums in New York City, known for its homeless drunken derelicts and flophouses.

[2] This story was told to me three years ago by Nayanabhiram dasa who joined at 26 Second Avenue and witnessed this happening.

[3] The cult of Louis Abolafia believed that you could get high from smoking dried banana peels, so the glory of bananas was part of their creed.

[4] This story was told to me two years ago by my revered neighbor in Upstate New York, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, who was one of the first devotees to join at 26 Second Avenue and was there when all of this took place.

[5] A learned and cultured teacher of bhakti.

 

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