Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #16 – A Personal Commentary on Chinese and Brooklyn Proverbs

April 16th, 2018

By chance, I came across a book of Chinese Proverbs. [1] Out of curiosity I began thumbing the pages and wound up reading the whole thing. I’m glad I did. A quote by Francis Bacon in the introduction says it all:

“The genius, wit, and spirit of a nation are discovering proverbs.”

Let me share of few of my favorites with short personal comments on each.

 

Chinese Proverbs 

Only one who can swallow an insult is a man.

A real man is one who has the strength of humility to control the false ego, which especially gets stirred when one is insulted.

 

Do everything at the right time and one day will seem like three.

To do everything at the right time means to be thoughtfully regulated in one’s activities. Making appointments with oneself helps to inoculate one from the intrusion of other less essential demands made by our minds and others. So much can be accomplished when one does this. For example, if one wants to maintain or increase one’s chanting, then one should chant every day at a prescribed time and the completion of every three rounds will seem like one.

 

Patience in one minute of anger can prevent one hundred days of sorrow.

Too much of life is wasted in dealing with problems that one has brought upon oneself by reacting impulsively. In other words, too much of what we are dealing with is self-created and could be avoided if we had more self-discipline and thoughtfulness.

 

There are two kinds of perfect people. Those who are dead, and those who have not been born yet.

The only way not to make mistakes is to do nothing. If we sincerely endeavor to improve ourselves, even if we sometimes falter, there is no reason to feel guilty. [2]

 

Men will despise you only if you despise yourself.

Unfortunately low self-esteem projects weakness and attracts scorn from those who are weak and envious. In contrast, those who feel self-worth as pure, humble servants of God attract affection from all. Śrīnivāsa Ācārya describes this about the Six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana:

“They are just like the ocean of love of God, and they are popular both with the gentle and with the ruffians, because they are not envious of anyone.” (Ṣaḍ-gosvāmy-aṣṭaka v. 1)

 

To be fond of learning is to be near knowledge.

Our present knowledge is limited by our present frame of reference. There is so much more to know than what we can presently understand just by our perception. Therefore in terms of nearing knowledge, without eagerness to learn from a teacher—an authoritative source—one is doomed to either be stuck where one is or to learn very slowly.

 

Only by learning do we discover how ignorant we are.

Only by learning a subject can we understand the subject’s depth, especially spiritual subjects. For example, God is infinite. Thus the more we learn and realize about the expanse of God’s glories, the more we discover how much more there is to know.

 

Better to argue with a wise man than prattle with a fool.

Next time you engage with a Facebook thread or just follow one, keep this advice in mind.

 

To know another person is not to know the person’s face, but to know the person’s heart.

The most substantial part of any person, which is one’s nature as a friend, parent, or lover, is only revealed to one by those who love him or her. It can never be seen by perception or analysis alone. Similarly, God can only be known when He becomes inspired to give Himself in reciprocation with one’s devotion. Śrī Krishna describes this principle in the Bhagavad-gītā: “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)

 

Learning is like rowing upstream: To not advance is to fall back.

If one is not steady in one’s commitments in spiritual life, one will not gain the strength to move forward. Enthusiasm wanes for any endeavor in which one does not feel progress.

 

Only distance tests the strength of horses; only time reveals the hearts of man.

Many people at the beginning of their spiritual life practice at a level beyond their qualification due to their initial fervor, but as their motive is not yet pure, they often become slack in their practices. The real test of one’s devotion is when one steadily executes their service for many years despite the challenges that come over time. We should very much respect those devotees who, after decades of facing life’s natural “ups and downs”, are still engaged steadily in humble service.

 

I was angered for I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet

One should be content with one’s immediate needs of life. Accruing more than that will only increase one’s level of attachment, leaving one with the same level of dissatisfaction as before. According to the Yoga Sutras, the result of perfecting the niyama of contentment, this satisfaction with what one has, is the attainment of the highest happiness.

 

To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.

One of the six qualities that enhance bhakti is sādhu vṛtti—to follow in the footsteps of previous ācāryas. It is described that the footsteps of a sādhu are like so many lighthouses that help one cross an infinite ocean

 

A smile will gain you ten more years of life.

Many studies show that the single most important factor for physical health is not exercise or even diet, although they are certainly important for health. The single most important element necessary for a long life is the quality and amount of the good relationships one has. It is the key because it is the foundation of happiness and “a smile will gain you ten more years of life[3]”.

 

A book holds a house of gold.

The most valuable things we possess are life realizations, for only by seeing the truth everywhere can one become happy. Realizations come by applying what we have heard from books of knowledge. A book of true knowledge thus contains the greatest treasure. In this regard see “Be a Sage Page by Page” (iOS App StoreGoogle Play).

 

The beautiful bird is the one that is caged.

Opulence, whether it is beauty, wealth, fame, intelligence, and so on, can be used either to serve others or to control them. Unfortunately, because our desire to enjoy is so strong we often see and use our “good karma” to control others, entangling us in the ropes of karma.

 

When drinking water, remember its source.

There are some things written on the subject of devotion that I don’t read even though they seem intellectually and aesthetically stimulating because I doubt the character of the source. Whatever a person shares with conviction carries his or her heart. If a person’s convictions are jaded by an agenda then those misconceptions and feelings are subtly transferred into his or her writing

 

Don’t believe you will ever reach the destination without leaving the shore.

When I begin writing Monday Morning Greetings every week I can’t imagine that a finished article will be produced, but I realize that if I don’t start, I will never produce anything. Many talented people don’t write very much because producing a written piece is daunting and they never start. If one leaves the shore of paralysis by simply vowing to write even a sentence or two a day, then one will soon reach the destination of a completed piece.

 

Listening well is as powerful as talking well, and it is also essential to true conversation.

 

I don’t have time to comment on all my favorites so I will list the last few:

 

Disease enters through the mouth; disaster leaves from it.

 

Useless as a youth, useless as a man.

 

Learning that does not daily increase will daily decrease.

 

He who teaches for a day is my father for life.

 

Life is but a journey, death is returning home.

 

Brooklyn Proverbs

I have to admit that I put this in the title to make the article more attractive to read. Now I am forced to come up with at least one “Brooklyn Proverb”. I can only think of one. It’s quite revealing about the culture I grew up in.

Nice guys finish last.[4]

 


[1] Chinese Proverbs for Today’s World by Emil William Chynn

 

[2] “Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities.” [emphasis mine] (Bhag. 11.20.27-28)

 

[3] What Makes a Life Good: Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness – Robert Waldinger

 

[4] This was about as famous a quotation as there was growing up in New York. It is credited to Leo “the Lip” Durocher, the former manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, which was the professional baseball team we followed growing up.

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #15 – The Devotional and the Diabolical

April 9th, 2018

My conversations with Peter are always illuminating. Peter fully serves his church as an author, lecturer, and retreat facilitator. He was briefly passing through New York at the end of a lecture tour and we met at Divya’s Kitchen for lunch. I don’t remember how we got there, but somehow today’s discussion became about the devil. I was fascinated with Peter’s explanation of the word’s Latin derivative:

 

“The Greek term diabolos is the root for the English word ‘devil’. When we speak of ‘diabolical behavior’ we typically mean actions that are pure evil. The Greek term is from a compound: dia means to scatter (it’s where the term ‘diaspora’ comes from) and bolos (from the verb, ballo) means to throw an object. Together they connote someone taking a vessel and throwing it against a wall so it shatters and scatters into a million pieces. That’s what the Devil does in Judeo-Christian tradition. He kills and destroys (John 10:10). That’s what the world does on a more subtle level. It takes our attention, energy, and affections and scatters them in a million different directions, so we are never quite present, put together, or focused.”

 

I found the concept fascinating, especially the last point; our challenges in spiritual life are devilish, breaking our focus and concentration away from God and selfishly scattering it in different directions. Peter continued by explaining that the term “perfection or wholeness” is from the derivative of another word. Again I appreciated how he illustrates concepts by the root derivatives of a common word:

“On the contrary, shalom (peace, wholeness) can mean literally ‘nothing missing, nothing broken’. It’s our state when we turn to God. He puts us back together, collects the broken pieces, making the broken beautiful like the stunning art of mending in Japanese lacquerware called kintsugi. It’s when skilled artisans take a broken vessel and meticulously restore it. Rather than hide the cracks and imperfections, they fill them with powered gold (see photo above).”

 

His explanation of how completeness and peace is becoming whole by turning to God also struck a chord. Finally, he continued his line of thought by describing why an English word was chosen to describe the opening prayer for the Christian Mass:

 

“In the Mass, the opening prayer is called ‘The Collect’. The idea is worship collects, gathers our heart and mind back so we can give God ‘one-pointed attention’.”

 

As we were discussing these topics it was natural for me to immediately think of verses in my own tradition that, not surprisingly, define the same concepts in a similar way. The first verse that came to mind was Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 11.2.37[1] where the great sage Kavi describes that all fear and duality (bhayaṁ dvitīya) arises from turning away from God (īśād apetasya) and thus an intelligent person worships God fully with devotion (ataḥ budha ābhajet taṁ bhaktyā bhaktya). Interestingly, this verse is quoted by Śrī Jīva at the beginning of the Bhakti Sandarbha, where he defines the practice of devotion as reversing the cause of ignorance, which is turning away from God, by worshipping Him or turning towards Him.

 

The next verse that came to my mind that describes this dichotomy is Bhagavad-gītā 2.41[2]. Śrī Krishna contrasts one fixed in devotional service, one single-pointed in his attention towards God (vyavasāyātmikā buddhir ekeha), with one who is not, whose mind is thus many branched (bahu-śākhā) or scattered.[3]

 

I very much enjoyed my time with Peter and the perspective he shared from his tradition that inspired me in my own. If we are here in this world, by definition our consciousness has been shattered and disconnected from our true self and we have falling prey to the “diabolical”, so to speak. Those who are intelligent must therefore seriously take up a devotional practice. By turning our attention to Krishna we can then become once again whole or peaceful. Shalom!

 


 

[1] Fear arises when a living entity misidentifies himself as the material body because of absorption in the external, illusory energy of the Lord. When the living entity thus turns away from the Supreme Lord, he also forgets his own constitutional position as a servant of the Lord. This bewildering, fearful condition is affected by the potency for illusion, called māyā. Therefore, an intelligent person should engage unflinchingly in the unalloyed devotional service of the Lord, under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, whom he should accept as his worshipable deity and as his very life and soul.

 

[2]  Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one. O beloved child of the Kurus, the intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched.

 

[3] Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī in his commentary to this verse offers the bhakti perspective to this concept by explaining that this one-pointed attention in spiritual life means to take the order of one’s spiritual master as one’s life and soul. Śrīla Prabhupāda credits this specific point in Viśvanātha’s commentary of 2.41 for inspiring him to fully take up his spiritual master’s order for him to preach Krishna-consciousness in the western countries.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #14 – Kudos to Karma (Yoga)

April 2nd, 2018

A Nor’easter slams your town, dumps a ton of snow and your basement floods. You are knee-deep in ice water draining it out. It dawns on you how deep a hole this will put in your pocket—thousands of hard earned dollars. It sounds like hell. What would you be thinking at the time? I was impressed with my friend’s reaction.

 

“You know, initially I was disturbed, but then I thought of my studies of the Gītā and how to apply it: I have family so it is my duty to fix the house and my duty ultimately means what God wants me to do. So instead of being frustrated I was grateful to do my duty and serve God.”

 

My friend is a philosophy professor and he studied the Bhagavad-gītā with me over twenty years ago. It has remained the foundation of his life. I was impressed with his realization. Instead of the normal “kvetching” when things go wrong, he shifted his thoughts to the glory of connecting our “worldly” life to God’s will through dharma, which is, simply put, doing what God wants from us in any situation. Overcoming selfishness and seeing God’s will is the foundation of any spiritual path. As we continued to discuss, he opined how karma-yoga, the essence of the Gītā, was often too minimized in a devotee’s life. “After all,” he said, “Krishna asked Arjuna to fight.”

 

As we continued our discussion he shared with me some of his ideas on karma-yoga based on his study of the Gītā where he applies those teachings personally to his own life as a family man working in the world. I found his realizations insightful, and especially relevant to most people who like him work and live in the world. I don’t have to tell my audience how difficult it is to re-orient one’s consciousness to the soul in today’s world, a world that often forces us to adopt the mode of being the controller just to survive.

A summary of our discussion:

  1. Basic Foundation of Karma-yoga
    1. Karma-yoga is based on what the Gītā calls buddhi-yoga, which is the practice of conceptual re-adjustment, changing our thinking from material to spiritual.
    2. Two aspects of conceptual re-adjustment:
      1. To transform one’s motivation from selfishness to the desire for purification/liberation and especially to the service of God.
      2. A conscious effort to re-conceive of oneself as the pure soul, and not the body that is enmeshed in various material designations or identifications.

         

        Although one must act within material designation to perform dharma such as “I am a mother, a father, a husband, a wife, a guru, a leader” and so on, one still tries to remember in a deep way that one is playing a role, so to speak.)

  2. The Components of Karma-yoga
    1. One should try to live according to dharma, since dharma (doing your duties properly) is the basis for karma-yoga.
    2. While performing one’s dharma (work, family responsibilities, chores etc.) one should try to be conscious that one’s dharma is service to God and do it in that spirit conscientiously.

       

      Rāmānuja often remarks that the laws of religion are God’s commands. As such performing one’s duty is obeying His law and can be done lovingly and gratefully.

    3. Serving others, whether family, members of one’s work, or one’s community or society, can be infused by the consciousness that they are in fact parts of God and one can (and should) respect and love them as such.
    4. Try to constantly remember we are the self and as such are (I) not constituted of prakṛti (matter), and (II) completely dependent on God for everything we do, down to the smallest bodily movements.

       

      Rāmānuja further notes that as the world is ensouled by the paramātmā, the world is the body of God, and should be seen in that way.)

  3. Daily Mindfulness of the Above
    1. Some kind of early morning prayer, study, and contemplation time to provide focus and alignment for the day.
    2. Centering prayer at various parts of the day, including reading select verses from scripture, recitation of key prayers/mantras to help one be mindful along the lines mentioned in the last section.

       

      This is hard to do unless one makes certain official times to take a break from work to do this for ten or fifteen minutes, at least once a day.

  4. Other supportive practices
    1. Regular retreats to concentrate, focus, and absorb one in devotion.
    2. Following a liturgical calendar [1] in a serious way.

       

      The liturgical calendar, in this case the Vaiṣṇava calendar, looks at the year in a spiritually and reformative way, rather than seeing one’s week and month just in terms of family and social obligations. By following such a calendar dutifully, one’s faith is renewed and the year and consciousness is geared toward devotional transformation. For us it means ekādaśī, the appearance and disappearance of saints and special months like Kārttika and Śrāvaṇa (Jhulana-yātrā [2] and so on).

On the path of bhakti we have a rich spiritual tradition to transform our consciousness including deep practices of devotion and a commitment to a spiritual mission that is our primary spiritual focus. People often ask how to juxtapose that spiritual tradition practically within their modern day-to-day life in the home and workplace. Śrīla Prabhupāda was very concerned about that and often recommended a lifestyle based on developing spiritual communities more conducive to spiritual life. Nonetheless, by family circumstance and present economic situations most people and adherents to the bhakti tradition still remain in modern day work and family situations, which are not inherently born to support spirituality. They ask what to do to help spiritualize their situations. I thus am offering kudos to karma (yoga).

 


[1] Liturgical calendar is a calendar of the communal or public worship of a spiritual tradition based on its beliefs and customs.

[2] Jhulana-yātrā commemorates the pastime of Radha and Krishna swinging in the summer moths. In the temples of Radha and Krishna a beautiful swing is decorated and the deities of Radha and Krishna are placed in it in the evening. For five days the devotees are invited to visit the temple and swing the deities. It is a good example of a liturgical activity listed in a Vaiṣṇava calendar that by following helps one look at their year in a spiritual way.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #13 – Believers and the Elephant in the Room: Tackling the Challenge of Evil

March 26th, 2018

At the age of twenty-one Jeff, my youngest cousin, was mercilessly beaten to death by the local police in a Midwest jail for no reason. His crime: He had asthma and was Jewish. From what the family could gather, it was Jeff’s first day of law school and due to his asthma, he sat near the window in the library to help with his breathing. When the school librarian told him to move because the window seats were reserved for upperclassmen, he refused due to his health and out of principle; the place was nearly empty. When he repeatedly denied the librarian’s demands she summoned the local police. They eagerly hauled off this city boy from Los Angeles to jail, and unfortunately he never again saw the light of day again. He died in jail. His parents and his three older sisters, who loved Jeff practically more than their own lives, were devastated. This sort of suffering and loss is all too common in this world. And it leads us to consider the elephant in the room for theistic belief, sometimes called the problem of evil. If God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, why then when He knows about it, has the power to do something about it, and is supremely good does he allow such cruelty to continue? The existence of evil thus logically contradicts the existence of God. Or does it? Below is my attempt at theodicy: answering the challenge that if God exists, why does He permit evil?

 

Explanation I: One good argument doesn’t necessarily prove one’s point. One must weigh the cumulative evidence or arguments.

 

There may be very strong evidence or argument that one has committed murder, but that is not enough to convict a person. There also may be very strong arguments that one is innocent. The jury must come to a fair conclusion based on the cumulative evidence. Similarly, the argument against God from the reality of evil is a strong argument, but to come to a fair conclusion one must weigh the cumulative evidence. I would posit that the arguments for God’s existence are very strong, stronger than the problem of evil. Just one of the arguments below called “Monkey on a Typewriter”:

 

It is more probable that a monkey on a typewriter by chance produced the complete works of William Shakespeare or the Encyclopedia Britannica than this world happens by chance. And if you think about it, as I write this very article, every word scribed that fits into a sentence, or anything in the world that moves with reason or order, at every second increases exponentially the improbability that this world has happened by chance. And if the probability of the world having arisen by chance is as close to nil as mathematically possible and ever increasingly so, then the account of the world wherein God creates it has far more power to explain the nature of the world than the denial of God and its consequent randomness. Therefore, the argument by evil, although strong, cannot in itself establish the verdict that God does not exist.

 

Explanation II: The argument for evil itself proves the existence of God.

 

By recognizing the existence of evil we are acknowledging that objective moral values exist, which seems to far more point to the existence of God than to deny His existence. If everything ultimately is just particles of matter moving randomly then on what basis can any action be judged moral, and if everything is deterministic how can anyone be held morally accountable? In other words, our capacity to deem something genuinely good or morally evil requires an acknowledgement of something transcendent that is morally meaningful (God), otherwise moral judgments, even concerning the most horrendous actions, become reduced to subjective expressions of cultural conditioning or personal preference simply based on chance and consequent evolution. Even the most hardened atheists shudder to fully embrace the consequence of atheism where even the most horrendous actions are deterministic and not objectively wrong. Therefore the existence of evil, rather than denying God, points to His existence.

 

Explanation III: The acceptance of free will includes the choice for evil.

 

Love, which is the supreme ethic, requires freedom and thus the possibility of wrong choice—even evil. Thus rather than evil negating the possibility of God, evil affirms God’s existence because it is a world of humanity and not compliant or forced “good”. Simply put, God allows sin (moral evil) at the cost of freedom and that is His perfection. There are many reasonable arguments, both simple and complex, by substantial religionists and philosophers that deal with this train of response to the problem of evil. They are a little beyond the scope of this paper, but I recommend researching them. [1]

 

Although there is some weight to the argument of free will, I can also conceive some challenges to the argument by a conception of an all-powerful God who somehow is able to create a free choice and consequent love without the possibility for evil,[2] which is why I like the argument given by Leibniz as a complimentary one. It follows.

 

Explanation IV: The world God created is the best possible of all worlds.[3]

 

Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura gave a similar reason to one posited above by Leibniz. He argued that God would not be complete as the enjoyer of all energies if He didn’t also have the experience of exchanging with the material energy. On the surface, this argument may make God look self-serving or callous, but I think there is a sense to it that I would purport as follows: The material world allows for the beauty of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and the special flavor of a soul’s personal triumph over suffering that enhances God’s manifestation rather than contradicts His existence.

 

Explanation V: Soul-making theodicy and the law of karma. [4]

 

Evil only negates the existence of God if you look at the world from the very selfish perspective of affirming God’s goodness only when it serves our enjoyment and control. Judging God in that way is like a spoiled child evaluating his parent’s character based on the rewards and punishments he receives. In a similar way, evil and suffering is best understood by looking at the world from God’s perspective, which judges what is ultimately good, not what superficially rewards or punishes. In traditional Indian thought this perspective falls under the conception of the law of karma, which sees and even tries to prove that whatever happens to one, even if painful, are perfect conditions created by God to rectify one’s behavior for the purpose of everlasting joy. At least one serious about spiritual life should be able to connect the trials and tribulations in one’s life to his or her personal growth and then to project that onto the world. Evil does not therefore a priori negate the existence of God’s benevolence. It is a tough pill to swallow, but all traditional Indian philosophies, even if they disagree fundamentally on many core points, agree on this one: There is a moral force called the law of karma that is Absolute and ultimately good, even when one is on the receiving end of cruelty.

 

Explanation VI: Humility

 

It is one thing to equate suffering with growth and renewal, but what about pointless suffering? Does not pointless suffering challenge the existence of God? Bhīṣmadeva answered a similar question when enlightening Yudhiṣṭhira. I like his answer from a traditional Indian philosophical perspective: “No one can understand the inexplicable will of the Lord.”[5] As we have been entangled in this world since time immemorial, it is not possible to estimate our level of misconception and what it takes for the Lord to enlighten us. I think anyone on a genuine spiritual path cannot help but be amazed at the sheer number of constant and unending painful life lessons that one has endured that have helped expand one’s present awareness, lessons that one had absolutely no ability to comprehend at the time they occurred. So basically the answer to seemingly pointless suffering is to humbly accept that we lack the capacity to understand what we need, or to fully ever understand God’s will.

 

The elephant in the room—the problem of evil: Acknowledge it. Confront it. The theistic conclusion still stands.

 

 


[1] Alvin Plantinga’s summary of his argument for free will: A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.

[2] In Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism we have the concept of Śrī Rādhā and her eternal associates, who are the embodiment of the highest love, but have no choice of choosing evil.

[3] Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz, 17th century German Philosopher

[4] John Hick developed what is called “soul-making” theodicy in which he argued that God allows evil and suffering in the world in order to develop humans into virtuous creatures capable of following His will.

[5] Bhāg. 1.9.16

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #12 – Is Preaching a Bad Word?

March 19th, 2018

The word “preaching” today comes off so condescending, haughty, and intrusive. Frankly, I am preacher. I cringe a bit when I say that.

 

Unfortunately, words carry the baggage of the history of their application. To make a fair judgment on a word and its meaning, thoughtful people rise above their prejudices. In other words, just as we should judge a person as he or she is and not by some generalization based on some predisposition, the thoughtful also approach emotionally laden words and concepts like “preaching” without bias. So what is the “non-prejudicial” meaning of “preaching” and how should we fairly judge its use?

 

Preaching means to advocate a cause or course of action, often in terms of religious ideas. Certainly there is nothing wrong per se with that. It depends on the validity of the cause and how it is presented. Charlatans and egoists may preach and give the name a bad taste, but the compassionate also advocate or preach a cause vigorously.

 

Actually, I was inspired to clarify these points when someone inquired about something he read that spoke disparagingly about preaching in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission. Let me continue this discussion about the word “preaching” with my answers to his questions:

 

Is Krishna consciousness in its traditional sense a preaching mission?

 

The external cause for Śrī Caitanya’s descent, external here meaning the reason why He came for others, was to promote Krishna consciousness. He therefore requested some of His leading followers to preach widely. For example, he instructed Śrī Nityānanda that his main mission was to give Krishna consciousness to others without restriction and implored Śrī Advaita to “give Krishna consciousness, devotion to Krishna, even to the lowest of men [caṇḍālas]” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 2.15.41).[1] In other words, He engaged them in His preaching mission and they proceeded to go door-to-door imploring others to take up their cause. So yes, a major part of Śrī Caitanya’s mission was to preach according to its classical meaning, advocating a religious or spiritual cause.

 

Is opening temples and book distribution preaching in the traditional sense?

 

Śrī Caitanya sent those who are now known as the Six Gosvāmīs from Bengal to establish Śrī Vṛndāvana as a base to promote His mission by among other things constructing significant temples there. They weren’t sitting in Vṛndāvana just chanting and giving classes. They were working vigorously to push on Śrī Caitanya’s mission. [2]

 

Mass book distribution as we know it did not exist at the time of Lord Caitanya because the printing press had only been relatively recently invented. Books in India were still being handwritten by the author and, if desired, then copied. We do know, however, that after Lord Caitanya, Narottama and Śrīnivāsa made great effort to bring the books of the Gosvāmīs from Vṛndāvana to Bengal to see to their distribution. So, certainly book distribution is part of our tradition. I can’t imagine how the great stalwarts in our tradition wouldn’t laud the mass distribution of that knowledge, as long as it was done thoughtfully, especially when the books that are being distributed today have commentaries geared to a greater audience.

 

Is it wrong for a preacher to impose themselves on others?

 

When Śrīnivāsa and Narottama distributed books it was for the edification of the people already in the tradition, not for others. Should books also be used as a tool for conversion? It’s a principle of Lord’s Caitanya’s mission that Krishna consciousness should be spread and that the teachings of the Bhāgavatam should be shared widely.[3] Exactly how to do that may somewhat vary according to the teacher. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta and Śrīla Prabhupāda especially stressed the distribution of books and as a result the mission of Śrī Caitanya has spread exponentially. How can anyone question the fundamental basis of what they accentuated?

 

As far as aggressively imposing Krishna consciousness on others, a devotee should be a perfect gentlemen and always sensitive to others. A principle of devotional service, however, is to show compassion to the innocent. When one sees people suffering due to ignorance, there is nothing wrong with tactfully pushing them a bit for education. In fact, sitting back and not actively doing something in the face of suffering and chaos can also be condemned. The famous quote by Edmund Burke comes to mind: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

 

One more thing: While I think is fine to be somewhat fervent in sharing one’s knowledge for people to consider, I do not appreciate when it is done carelessly and aggressively, and it then comes to the point of confronting people with conversion.

 

Is preaching for everyone or just for those mature and spiritually advanced?

 

Although everyone should try to share what they understand according to their realization and also for the purpose of deepening their own realization, obviously those who are educated and mature best represent the tradition. At the beginning of the Krishna consciousness movement practically all its members were young, ex-hippies and full of passion. There was also no educational system in place to train them thoroughly, so there was little or no choice about who represented ISKCON. There is no excuse now to not properly educate people acting on behalf of the movement. I see such education is now being offered. Irrespective, it doesn’t negate the over-all value of participating according to one’s capacity, and in a dignified way, in Śrī Caitanya’s “preaching” mission.

 

Is preaching one of the sixty-four items of devotional service?

 

Yes, the first principle of devotional service is “guru-pādāśraya” and the fifth item is “following in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas”, so if one’s guru requests one to preach Krishna consciousness following in the footsteps of Lord Nityānanda, then certainly preaching is an item of devotional service. Preaching is a very broad category and most of the items fall directly or indirectly within the sixty-four items of devotional service, especially kīrtana.

 

It should also be noted that saṅkīrtana, chanting loudly with others, is especially lauded by Śrī Jīva because “those chanting loudly are not only benefitting themselves, but also other living entities”,[4] so not only is preaching within the umbrella of devotional service, when done properly it is specifically praised for its compassion and selflessness.

 

The main principle of devotional service is to remember Krishna and never forget Him. The spiritual master is expert at finding the ways and means to do so. ISKCON has shown that a preaching mission is an excellent way to engage masses of people in devotional service. Anyone who has made that sacrifice knows the level of absorption needed to put oneself on the line to properly share spiritual knowledge and to give the holy name, and also the exhilaration of doing so. Yes, it can be intrusive and abused for prestige or done with the wrong attitude, but sincerely advocating a worthy cause that enlightens others is praiseworthy even if done faultily. Those who actively criticize such endeavors fall prey to being hypocrites, not because they critically look at something, but because of the fervor in which they use media to actively advocate or “preach” their cause. As Pogo [5] aptly commented, “We have met thy enemy and he is us.”

 


[1] Śrī Caitanya’s instructions to preach are repeated throughout the Caitanya-caritāmṛta. There are numerous examples and they are not just to his intimate associates. In South India he not only told Kūrma the brāhmaṇa to become qualified and preach message of Krishna, but it is described that he spoke this same way to every person he met on his tour of South India.

[2] “Yes you remember rightly. Gosvamis did lot of work. To build a temple even now is not a simple thing. Imagine doing it when there were no roads here, no people, no labor, no material for construction. And that was not the end of it. To maintain a temple is even a bigger responsibility. With all this they wrote books. Even to get paper they needed some real help.” (letter, Bajaji Satyanaryan Dasa to Dhanurdhara Swami, March 14, 2018)

[3] yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa āmāra ājñāya guru hañā tāra’ ei deśa

Translation: “Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa as they are given in the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land.” (Cc. Madhyalīlā 7.128)

[4] Bhakti Sandarbha 269 by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī

[5] Famous cartoon strip by Walter Kelly lasting from mid-Forties to mid-Seventies

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #11 – A Fifth Commandment Solution to a Second Amendment Problem

March 12th, 2018

I was disturbed to hear about the recent school shootings in Florida and the epidemic of school shootings in general. I can’t imagine the pain of a mother burying her own child. I don’t have much to add to the debate on the immediate solution, but the liberality that assault weapons are accessible seems absurd. Obviously, something must be done. Although some form of legislation is needed to help alleviate this endemic problem, I can’t help but think that there is something more deeply amiss at the root that will not be solved by Second Amendment legislation—the increasing widespread frustration in American youth inevitably expressed in some form of destruction no matter their weapon of choice. In saying this, I do not intend to minimize the fact that the damage of that destructive urge can be exponentially increased by one’s weapon of choice, just voicing my concern that the root of the problem should not be neglected and that a comprehensive solution must include and prioritize what I call a “Fifth Commandment Solution”.
 
The Fifth Commandment, of course, states simply “Honor thy father and mother.” I call the pervasiveness of mass shootings a “Fifth Commandment Problem” to highlight that a culture that does not sufficiently focus on and safeguard the influence and importance of the family in the lives of its children will produce a society bursting with resentment and prone to violence regardless of whether guns are restricted or schools become armed fortresses. Krishna voiced similar concerns about the destabilization of family and its effect on society thousands of years ago in the Bhagavad-gītā, specifically referring to what happens to society when the men in the family are lost due to war. [1]
 
Unfortunately today we are seeing in full force what Krishna foresaw in terms of the effect of fatherless families, not due to war, as was Krishna’s concern, but instead due to the general degradation of dharma itself, where the grave duty to properly shelter one’s offspring is selfishly minimized or neglected. This level of irresponsibility in relation to family is a relatively new phenomenon as is the astronomical spike in mass shootings, practically one a day since the New Year. [2]  Can anyone doubt there is a correlation?
 
I was inspired to do a bit of quick research to support this connection. Here are just a few of the things highlighting this unfortunate parallel between the degradation of cultural norms and school violence that I found, beginning with a description of a reputable university sponsored project that researches the matter:
 
“The Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, Brad Wilcox, pointed out in 2013 that nearly every U.S. school shooting that year involved a young male whose parents either divorced or never married in the first place. ‘[A]s the nation seeks to make sense of these senseless shootings, we must also face the uncomfortable truth that turmoil at home all too often accounts for the turmoil we end up seeing spill onto our streets and schools,’ he wrote in his article “Sons of Divorce, School Shooters.” ‘The social scientific evidence about the connection between violence and broken homes could not be clearer.’” [3]
 
Dr. Warren Farrell, The author of “Boys in Crisis” discusses this same correlation:
 
“[…] boys with significant father involvement are not doing these shootings. Without dads as role models, boys’ testosterone is not well channeled. The boy experiences a sense of purposelessness, a lack of boundary enforcement, rudderlessness, and often withdraws into video games and video porn. At worst, when boys’ testosterone is not well channeled by an involved dad, boys become among the world’s most destructive forces. When boys’ testosterone is well channeled by an involved dad, boys become among the world’s most constructive forces.”
 
The absence of parental influence in children’s lives is not the only contributing factor to societal ills. The devaluation of motherhood can also have a profound effect. In this regard, I was recently sent an interview with Erica Kosimar, a psychoanalyst, concerning her book Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. Here is an excerpt about her book:
 
“It’s a problem in our society that all mothers and babies can’t be together for the first year. Our society tells women, ‘Go back to work,’ ‘Do what you want. They’ll be ok.’ And the truth is, children are not ok.
 
The book is basically about a devaluing of mothering in society. I was seeing a devaluing of mothering that was impacting children in my parent guidance practice. I was actually seeing an epidemic level of mental disorders [emphasis mine] in very young children who were being diagnosed and medicated at an earlier and earlier age, and I became concerned. And so I started looking at the research, which backed up what I was seeing in my practice—that the absence of mothers on a daily basis in children’s lives was impacting their mental health.” [4]
 
Broken families across America are producing mentally disturbed and violent children at a rapidly increasing rate. Certainly the liberality to which such people have access to weapons and the level of those weapons’ destructiveness is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately, but ultimately more than anything else America has a “Fifth Commandment Problem.”
 


[1] Bg. 1.39

[2] https://www.massshootingtracker.org/

[3] https://www.thetrumpet.com/16925-another-school-shooter-another-fatherless-child

[4] https://nypost.com/video/working-moms-are-producing-mentally-ill-children-says-author/

 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #10 – Spiritual Fear

March 5th, 2018

My chanting yesterday was exceptionally clear and focused, at least for me. I couldn’t understand why. I woke up in the morning much later than my scheduled time, which upset my regulation. There was nothing of particular note the previous day that should have inspired such devotion. That my meditation was concentrated seemed like mercy. As I continued chanting, the holy name became increasingly prominent in my consciousness. I became the observer and saw myself clearly. I could perceive my insignificance in relation to God in the form of His name. I was humbled and the taste of devotion deepened further, but I became halted by a subtle fear: “I am praying for the consciousness to chant with more taste and that means deepening my humility, but what if God answered my prayers and gave me the humility to accept His will? Could I truly allow the authority of guru and Krishna to fully be the rule of my life? What would I have to give up? What would I have to accept? Am I ready to cross the wall of false ego and totally surrender my selfish desire for independence and control at the lotus feet of Śrī Krishna?” I shuddered at the thought.
 
We are all stalled in our spiritual life by a type of fear, at least subtly or unconsciously, otherwise why would we not immediately take the plunge of full surrender to Krishna? But why hesitate? Surrender, in terms of spiritual life, simply means yielding or submitting to the reign of truth. Isn’t truth that which men and women of character die for and what sets one free? Is not the goal of life to see the truth and live by it? The Absolute Truth is reasonable, compassionate, and only for our benefit, so why fear humbly serving that truth simply because it doesn’t conform to all our attachments or endorse our ego?
 
These feelings of apprehension are so innate that we may even envy the authority of those capable of guiding us towards our ultimate welfare, fearing that our independence will be cramped. Krishna therefore cautions us about resenting the ācārya, one who knows and represents the truth.
 
“One should know the ācārya as Myself and never disrespect him in any way. One should not envy him [emphasis mine], thinking him an ordinary man, for he is the representative of all the demigods.” (Bhāg. 11.17.27)
 
This morning I was somewhat satisfied with my chanting. At least I reached the next step—confronting the wall of false ego that fears losing power and control, the very barrier we all must cross to go deeper at every proceeding level of our spiritual life. I am praying for the courage to sincerely stretch my hands above my head and unconditionally shout to Krishna from the bottom of my heart, “What you want I will do!” Unless our chanting sincerely brings us to that point of surrender, how will the pure holy name ever manifest on our tongue?
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #9 – The Bhakti Center: A Case Study in Empowerment

February 26th, 2018

The Bhakti Center is flourishing. It is beyond the scope of this post to go into the details, but I think it is self-evident. The Center now offers over 2,500 programs a year with especially large attendance for festivals and kīrtanas. It also houses the number one rated vegetarian restaurant in New York City, Divya’s Kitchen. More importantly, hundreds of people, many quite established, are enthusiastically embracing Krishna consciousness through their many śāstra discussion groups and spiritual programs. It also seems to be continually expanding. What is the secret of their success? There may be several reasons, but one thing for sure is their mood of empowerment.
 
Before continuing let me define “empowerment” and “disempowerment” to help you understand exactly what I am referring to. They are my own definitions based on my experience. Empowerment: “To recognize, encourage, and facilitate one’s abilities and then create parameters by which one can work in a greater managerial or social context.” Disempowerment: “To concentrate first and overly on the parameters within which one can work without the requisite acknowledgement and encouragement of one’s potential.” Disempowerment is also called bureaucracy.
 
Here is a brief template of the Bhakti Center’s success in empowerment. Radhanath Swami and other senior leaders at the Bhakti Center saw the potential of the second generation Hare Krishna devotees. For example Vīrabhadra Rāma, who was born in the Hare Krishna Movement and working in New York City at the time, was encouraged to participate in the development of the project and by that encouragement eventually increased his commitment to the level of initiation. His potential for leadership was soon recognized and he was encouraged to become the Executive Director of the Bhakti Center.
 
It is interesting to note the board of directors for the Bhakti Center invested in him the full authority to manage the project while still keeping full responsibility as a board to oversee that the project remains healthy within the parameters Śrīla Prabhupāda set. They didn’t fall into the bureaucratic trap of delegating the responsibility for him to manage, but keeping the authority for themselves, bogging down decision-making and discouraging initiative. They weren’t disappointed with the result.
 
Vīrabhadra Rāma worked at forming a team of mostly qualified young devotees based on a foundation of mutual trust to assist him in managing the project. As he was recognized and empowered to manage, he similarly empowered others. As a result many qualified people stepped forward, working cooperatively and effectively to push the forward the Bhakti Center’s mission. There seems to be no limit to what a project can do if a good leader is empowered and empowering. While initially such a leader has to be involved with the nitty-gritty, or whatever needs to be done, inevitably competent people eager for service will step forward to cover all services. Eventually there will be more people eager to serve than there are positions to fill.
 
Vīrabhadra told me recently that the greatest challenge now at the Bhakti Center is to engage and empower the many qualified people that are stepping forward spiritually. I think in many ways this parallels the way Śrīla Prabhupāda managed in ten short years to go from a storefront on 26 2nd Avenue to a large worldwide movement, by seeing the qualities in young people, trusting them, and offering them fresh challenges.
 
Having observed leadership in ISKCON over the last forty years and having been a manager myself for over twenty years, I have come to the firm conclusion that an empowering manager should be out of job within two years. I had mentioned that to Vīrabhadra Rāma when he first took up the job. By the phrase “out of a job” I am certainly not suggesting that a leader relinquishes any of his or her responsibilities, but within two years others should cover most of his or her initial duties so the leader is free to expand the project in other ways. When Vīrabhadra Rāma first took up the post of Executive Director just to cover the needful, he had to relinquish almost 80 percent of his clientele in a very successful life coaching and marma therapy business. I see now, however, that he is free to travel for business when needed to meet his family needs, lead extended pilgrimages to India, deepen his spiritual life and personal study, and concentrate on new initiatives to expand the project.
 
There is no limit to what can be accomplished when we have this vision and detachment to “recognize, encourage, and facilitate one’s abilities” – especially the next generation of devotees. This was Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mood. The Bhakti Center is a good study of what happens when we follow his path of empowerment. [1]
 
 


[1] “Our leaders shall be careful not to kill the spirit of enthusiastic service, which is individual and spontaneous and voluntary. They should try to always generate some atmosphere of fresh challenges to the devotees, so that they will agree enthusiastically to rise and meet it. This is the art of management: to draw out spontaneous loving spirit of sacrificing some energy for Krishna.” Śrīla Prabhupāda letter, 22 December 1972, Bombay
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #8 – The “I” Word

February 19th, 2018

Quick! Think of the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the following word: Institution! Bureaucratic. Restrictive. How about another “I” word: ISKCON! Constraint. Impersonal. Perhaps not all will react this way, but has anyone reading this spontaneously blurted out freedom, initiative, or creativity? I doubt it, because institutions by nature set limits on what we can do, and we generally tend to dislike anything that restricts our independence and expression. But is the angst we feel when we hear the “I” word the legitimate fear of an intrusive monolith of conformity, or is it just the adolescent in us that wants unconditional freedom? Can we step back from our prejudice to make a detached judgment? Simply put, are institutions a blessing or a curse?
 
Curse
 
An institution may start out with a noble objective, but inevitably those dedicated to running the institution tend to deify it. The institution then gradually supersedes the objective for which it was started. For example, a religious institution may start for the purpose of spreading compassion and love of God, but wind up practically making institutional loyalty the standard of spiritual advancement. As a result corporate attainment (rather than spiritual) becomes conflated with genuine devotion and people tend to aspire for position rather than purity. Those outside the institution also become judged negatively simply because they have a different affiliation. This inevitably leads to offense. Ironically, sectarianism and enmity, the enemies of spirituality, become the norm.
 
As an institution tends to value the corporation over the individual, its integrity can also be compromised. One such area would be its system of justice. Dedicated people who err, or who are just accused, too often live in fear knowing that expedience trumps jurisprudence when justice appears to not serve the institution.  And more often it is the victims that suffer as “venerable” institutions hush up their problems for the sake of their brand, fostering an atmosphere conducive to harassment and abuse.
 
Usually an institution naturally follows the inspiration and teachings of a charismatic leader. In order to share and preserve the mission, that leader, or his followers, may establish an institution. Unfortunately this is not without risk. The very same rules created to maintain the institution often stifle it by cramping the creativity of its most dynamic people – ironically the people who most emulate the initiative and charisma of their founder. Institutions are a curse!
 
Blessing
 
Naturally an institution seeks common interest at the sacrifice of individual desire, but is that necessarily bad or mean tyranny? Cultured people reasonably conform to values above their own desires in social contracts meant to serve a common interest whether it is partnership, family, community, or the institution they join. In fact, isn’t that the difference between a community of people and a crowd, the former being shared interest and the latter only a mass of individual interests?  Of course, there is always a risk of exploitation and disempowerment when we sacrifice some of our independence, even for the common good, but isn’t there a risk in any worthy endeavor? The risk of institutionalizing values is obvious, but isn’t the risk even greater if we don’t support institutions that share our values? And without establishing an institution to preserve a mission’s legacy, the mission itself will die. Tom Wolfe once criticized what he called the “me generation”, the children of the Sixties, for “they will never understand duty over self.” Is prejudice against the concept of institution itself just another form of the same ignorance?
 
Rather than just delineate in detail the benefits of socializing and sharing our values, I think we can just honestly look at what we gain from the institutions we join, whether they be social, educational, or religious. Would we be better off if they didn’t exist? For example, when I look at ISKCON through the years and shudder at the occasional disempowerment and injustice, I also consider the immense gifts we receive from the books they publish that we study, to the saintly devotees and spiritual centers born of ISKCON that nourish our devotion. Institutions are a blessing!
 
Blessing or Curse?
 
Institutions are like the water in a lake that keeps a boat afloat. Without the water the boat is useless, but at the same time if the water enters the boat it sinks. Similarly, while institutions are essential in supporting our life, they are also potentially harmful when too intrusive. Conclusion: Institutions are a blessing and a curse, but only a fool is happy without any.
 
 

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

February 12th, 2018

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next »