Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #49 – You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

December 9th, 2019

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide[1]

 

A realization came this morning while chanting: “Krishna sees not just what I am doing, but the heart behind it.” It was somewhat heavy, because it means that not only does Krishna see the sincerity beyond the externals, but He also sees the insincerity beyond any bluff. But the point is that either way we can’t hide. To know and live by that is very important in spiritual life, especially in gaining impetus for an inner life. After meditating on my realization for just a few minutes it dawned on me that it didn’t just come out of nowhere. It was actually from my studies the day before. Before I continue, here’s the point that inspired me:

 

After waiting for twelve years in Mathurā, Akrūra was finally on his way to Vṛndāvana for the opportunity to see Krishna. Suddenly a doubt entered his mind: “I am carrying the order of the evil King Kaṁsa by summoning Krishna to Mathurā where he plans to kill Him. Despite this, will Krishna see my heart and welcome me?” Sure, there were many good reasons in Krishna’s service for why Akrūra stayed in Kaṁsa’s government, but the optics were terrible. He even feared that the cowherd friends of Krishna would attack him before he got to see Krishna. After a minute of anguish, a thought relieved him: “Surely with His perfect vision, both externally and internally, Krishna would only externally see me as Kaṁsa’s friend, but internally would see me as a devotee.”

 

Reading Akrūra’s realization and then dwelling on it later helped reinforce in my mind how essential it is to be cognizant of Krishna as the witness and knower of our hearts at all stages of our spiritual development. I know many new people that come to a Krishna temple, especially in the west, who initially fret over the etiquette and rules, not knowing if they are doing something wrong. Even more experienced devotees, not always perfect in the external details of worship and devotion, may doubt their progress. What is implied here, however, is that our sincere intentions are more important to Krishna than any external formality or paraphernalia.

 

I don’t mean to minimize acts of devotion and strict adherence to spiritual practice. What and how much we do in Krishna’s service very much represents the devotion in our heart. The point here is different — that one should not make an absolute correlation between what one does and one’s level of devotion. To do so can not only influence us to remain mechanical in our devotional practices, but risks blinding us to the ability to see, as Krishna does, the good heart of both those who may not know the rules and also those sincere people struggling in devotion.

 

Strongly developing this cognizance that Krishna is seeing our heart should also make us more vigilant in developing an inner life of devotion. I am not talking about inner life in terms of practices of advanced devotional meditation, but just the simple awareness that for Krishna’s pleasure all devotional activities must be accompanied by an internal prayer commensurate with our level of devotion. A personal example of this comes to mind. Years ago, during my studies in Kārttika, I read something that particularly intrigued me. When one pays obeisances one should consciously cultivate the feeling of “I am inferior”, a mood meant to express and invoke reverential devotion. After reading that, every morning upon first seeing the sacred mount Govardhana I would bow down silently repeating that phrase. Doing so not only consciously amplified the devotion that was previously relatively silent in my more mindless and mechanical obeisance, but it helped me to become more cognizant of Krishna’s presence, and made that simple act of devotion more meaningful and devotional.

 

Our hearts are the place where Krishna enthuses devotion, which is the essence of His pleasure potency. Seeing such a heart is Krishna’s pleasure, and therefore the prime aim of one on the path of bhakti-yoga is to purify one’s heart by both adopting the practices of devotion and by enthusing that devotion with appropriate thoughts and feelings. Śrīla Prabhupāda called this conscious internal development the “mental culture” of Krishna consciousness. In other words, if we can’t hide our heart from Krishna, why not consciously try to bring it alive?

 

“Those who are cultivating spiritual life and executing devotional service are always engaged in activity. Such activity can be performed with the body or with the mind. Thinking, feeling and willing are all activities of the mind, and when we will to do something, the activity comes to be manifest by the gross bodily senses. Thus, in our mental activities we should always try to think of Krishna and try to plan how to please Him, following in the footsteps of the great ācāryas and the personal spiritual master. There are activities of the body, activities of the mind and activities of speech. A Krishna conscious person engages his words in preaching the glories of the Lord. This is called kīrtana. And by his mind a Krishna conscious person always thinks of the activities of the Lord—as He is speaking on the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra or engaging in His various pastimes in Vṛndāvana with His devotees. In this way one can always think of the activities and pastimes of the Lord. This is the mental culture [emphasis added] of Krishna consciousness.” (NOD, Introduction)

 

 


[1] “You can run, but you can’t hide” is a famous English idiom that means that no matter what you do you can’t avoid the consequences you are trying to avoid. It was originally spoken by Joe Louis, one of the greatest heavyweight boxing champions of the world just before the rematch will Billy Conn, a lighter, faster boxer. I have used it in context of this Monday Morning Greetings to indicate that Krishna is always seeing our hearts even if we try to avoid Him.

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #48 – Fear of Death

December 2nd, 2019

As you get older and your peers start leaving the world, death naturally becomes more of a reality. We suffer when we lose anything, and death is the loss of everything. The prospect of death therefore strikes fear into most. How can we be fearless, not just in our last moments, but also while living, knowing that sooner or later it will all end?

 

One of our greatest fears is uncertainty at what rests at our next destination. Even when traveling we may fret over not being sure of the accommodation and reception that awaits us, what to speak of our uncertainty about what awaits us after this life. How can we remain equipoised and fearless when, for almost all of us, except for those who are self-realized, our future identity will not conform to what we relate to now, nor will it include the attachments we have in relationship to that identity?

 

In a sense, the general solution is clear. Whether we are riddled with fear or we feel peaceful and assured in the face of death, it all depends on the identity we are embracing, and there are only two basic options: we can identify with the present body or we can identify with our soul.

 

Identification with the body is a temporary designation. Based on our past activities and desires our consciousness is delimited by the false ego (ahaṅkāra) to fit a particular field of activities for this life, which are designated at birth by race, nationality, family, and gender. As we grow, our superficial bodily identity is further fortified by our acquired proclivities and attachments. As that identification is spurred by the false ego (ahaṅkāra), which changes according to our karma life after life, one who embraces the body as their core identity will be increasingly fearful of losing everything at death, including their present identity.

 

The other option is to identify with the soul, which is eternally a conscious particle of the universal supreme consciousness, by constitution naturally meant to serve that which it is part of. To the extent we therefore realize and embrace our intrinsic, devotional identity, we will not fear the end of the body, for our soul identity will endure.

 

Fearlessness thus comes naturally in the practice of Krishna consciousness as long as we are focused on the process of transforming our identity from a self-centered focus on the body to a devotional focus on the soul. We can’t, however, take the process for granted. One must be conscientious to realize that succumbing to the attachments connected to the body, meaning those beyond what we need to keep the body and soul together, will only increase bodily identification and consequent fear, despite accepting the general tenets of bhakti-yoga. Identity comes by attachment. Therefore, unless we are becoming attached to Krishna by sufficiently hearing His pastimes and chanting His name, we won’t develop a yearning for a relationship with Him and the consequent deep identity as His servant will not awaken. We will then remain, to one extent or another, either mired in fear or ignorance of reality.

 

I sense this may feel a bit preachy. I want to assure my readers that when I speak very strongly, I am mostly preaching to myself. The whole process of Krishna consciousness is about transformation of identity, which is based on developing our relationship with Krishna. I must be especially vigilant not to feed my material identity, but to nourish my relationship with Krishna, otherwise the future is just fear, or worse — ignorance. I can’t hide my head in the sand anymore. If not now, when?

 

“My dear King, if you want to be fearless in meeting your death next week (for actually everyone is afraid at the point of death), then you must immediately begin the process of hearing and chanting and remembering God.” (Paraphrase of Śukadeva Gosvāmī’s instruction to Mahārāja Parīkṣit, The Nectar of Devotion, chapter 2)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #47 – Sādhus of Vṛndāvana

November 25th, 2019

A question recently came to my mind. I have lived here for almost forty-four years. Why? There are two types of causes for doing something: an external cause and an internal cause. The external cause — and note here external does not mean superficial — is why we do something for the benefit of others. The internal cause is why we do things for ourselves.

 

The external reason why I come here is for sevā, service. One of my important sevās, is to help pilgrims, especially from abroad, to enter, understand, and experience Vṛndāvana. If my sevā, whatever it may be, brought me some place else, I would not be here. And, I should note, that if one leaves this holy place to share its glories of pure devotion then that place is certainly as good as Vṛndāvana.

 

My internal reason for coming here is that there are people that live and visit here for an extended stay that are advanced in devotion. In other words, I may not be able to fully understand Vṛndāvana, this most holy of places, but because there are devotees/sādhus here who can, I come here to benefit from their association. That brings me to Sādhus of Vṛndāvana, the subject of this week’s Greetings.

 

Sādhu I

 

A friend shared his efforts in Kārttika to deepen his attraction for the holy name of Krishna. He described a moment of intense disappointment and frustration. Despite his effort to just focus on chanting for this special month, he was not getting what he wanted. He subtly told me that he was so desperate that he almost began to question the practice itself. At that point his heart suddenly opened, and his experience of the holy name became deeper than ever before. I trusted his word. The only thing separating us from a full revelation of God is our desire to embrace His grace. The sādhu’s extreme disappointment was only a reflection of his intense desire to be with Krishna and serve Him in the form of His holy name, a yearning that attracted Krishna’s mercy. I am grateful for such company.

 

Sādhu II

 

Another friend just arrived. Every year he spends the winter in Govardhana. His health is so chronic and debilitating that he can only leave his bed for five or six hours a day before again collapsing in exhaustion. We met and compared notes. He shared with me that despite the fact that his pain is more than ever, his meditation and focus on the holy name keeps on increasing. It confirmed for me a very important point: the holy name in non-different from Krishna and therefore not simply dependent on our ability and effort to mechanically produce it. How else to explain the holy name flowing through someone’s consciousness even when their body is ravaged with pain? Such association is priceless.

 

 

Sādhu III

 

I was more than impressed with what I saw. Bhūrijana Prabhu took me to the site of the Govardhana retreat center. He has been trying to develop it along with Sacinandana Mahārāja for years. The obstacles to completing such a project here in Govardhana are enormous. They have purchased more land since the last time I was here. They now have nearly ten acres with an unparalleled darśana of the sacred mount. The basic structure of almost three hundred rooms is now complete, and everything will be finished with the finest materials. Behind that structure even stands a small mobile-free zone with cottages, including a ventilated basement/cave below each cottage to deepen one’s meditation. A large kīrtana pavilion and separate prasādam complex will soon be started. But more impressive than the physical structure is the consciousness of the leaders of the project. They only want to serve Girirāja and please the Vaiṣṇavas. After years of toil to make this happen, neither will even construct or keep private quarters for themselves. I see this singular desire to please guru and Krishna, and consequent detachment from profit and admiration, as the fruit of their years of deep study of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Such sādhus are rare.

 

Sādhu IV — A Remembrance

 

When word came to me that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrother Akiñcana Krishna dāsa Bābājī was hospitalized and near death, I immediately rushed to the CFC hospital in Vṛndāvana where he had been admitted. That was more than thirty-five years ago. Bābājī Mahārāja was famous for chanting the holy name non-stop day and night, and even Śrīla Prabhupāda described him as having no material desires and at the highest level of devotion.[1] Unfortunately, by the time I arrived he had already departed for Nandagrāma, the home of Krishna, where soon after he left the world. As Bābājī Maharja had only left the hospital minutes before, the doctor was still in the room, so I inquired from him about his condition. What he told me was astounding. Although Bābājī Mahārāja had been unconscious when the doctor put his stethoscope to his heart, he heard the constant repetition of the holy name. By my faith I didn’t doubt what I was told, and years later such a phenomenon was also confirmed when studying a book on classical meditation. The book described that the perfection of the constant, concentrated repetition of a mantra after years of practice is that the mantra becomes so deeply embedded in the subconscious that it continues non-stop without extraneous effort. How fortunate to meet such devotees.

 

“The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment’s association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success.” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 22.54)

 

 


[1] “Śrīla Prabhupāda himself had spoken of Krishna dāsa as niṣkiñcana, ‘having no material attachments,’ and paramahaṁsa, ‘a swanlike pure devotee.’” Obituary in Back to Godhead, June 1982

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #46 – There is No Victim Consciousness in God Consciousness

November 18th, 2019

A standard definition of “victim consciousness”:

 

Victim consciousness is a stage of consciousness in which people deny personal responsibility for the things that happen in their lives. People in victim consciousness believe that the world is acting upon or against them, and they are the innocent targets of other people’s action or behavior.[1]

 

God consciousness is the exact opposite. Here are four examples:

 

Dharma the Bull

 

King Parīkṣit immediately rushed to the scene of the crime when he was informed that a bull had been badly beaten. Upon arriving, he immediately inquired from the bull about the identity of his perpetrator. Although the bull knew that the direct cause of his suffering was the personality of Kali, he refused to identify the perpetrator, knowing that without the sanction of the Lord no one could afflict trouble upon him. He then began to explain in detail the various misconceptions about the cause of suffering and described how one uses them to abnegate personal responsibility and avoid learning the lessons God has sent for purification. Observing the bull’s reaction, and hearing his exposition full of knowledge and philosophy, the King recognized the bull as Dharma (the personality of religion): “You are speaking according to the principle that the destination intended for the perpetrator of irreligious acts is also intended for one who identifies the perpetrator.” In other words, although it is the duty of one in God consciousness to protect the vulnerable from exploitation, such a person never embraces or promotes victim consciousness, but rather condemns it.

 

Vidura

 

The elderly Vidura was not only unfairly thrown out from the kingdom by his cruel nephew Duryodhana, who he served selflessly his whole life, but was also harshly insulted. As an evolved soul, he refused to play the victim. Rather, he saw that God was delivering him an important message: it was time to retire from the intrigues of family and political life and leave for holy pilgrimage. An elevated soul thus sees destiny as the language of God and his or her oppressor as simply the vehicle to deliver that message.

 

Bhīṣmadeva

 

Although Yudhiṣṭhira led a noble and sinless life, his suffering year after year was unbearable. Even worse was that no one could satisfy his inquiry as to why. In frustration he finally sought answers from his grandfather, Bhīṣmadeva, who was lying on the battlefield waiting to die. With great inner strength his grandfather was able to satisfy his inquiry. Destiny, he explained, for all its challenges, is just offering the priceless fruit of deeper realization and inner happiness to those who respond to their fate in cognizance of God’s grace and with righteousness. What is the question of victimhood for a person with such vision and realization?

 

Socrates

 

When Socrates was unfairly condemned to die by the Greek assembly for political reasons, his wish to confront his accusers was granted. Rather than feel persecuted, he informed them, “If you think you will harm me, you will not harm me; you will only harm yourself.” Socrates was expressing something quite deep, which is that the self or soul being eternal can only be harmed by covering its intrinsic, righteous nature by acts of selfishness. In other words, if he was executed, the Greek senate, who was to kill him in a mood of deceit and exploitation, would actually be the one disadvantaged and not himself, who would respond in dignity.

 

It’s unfortunate how far the modern world has veered from this culture of personal responsibility and self-correction based on God consciousness. The epitome of this is the modern more radical interpretation of intersectionality, where the more labels of oppression and victimhood one has accrued, the more one’s view of reality is deemed to have authority and the more one is considered to have moral worth. Certainly, all forms of oppression and exploitation should be shunned, and there are certain unique realizations one can glean from the perspective of the downtrodden, but to ascribe a sort of moral worth and awareness grounded in victimization based on group identity accedes far too much responsibility and power to others to make our life better, especially in contrast to the empowerment to change oneself as delineated in the teachings of Krishna consciousness.

 

“We all suffer, but to be a victim is a choice.” — Unknown

 

 


[1] Barry and Janae Weinhold — https://weinholds.org/victim-consciousness/

 

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.

 

 

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