Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #24 – Let the Dead Bury the Dead

June 14th, 2021

I thought this was an appropriate title for this Monday Morning Greeting about my Cemetery walks and thoughts. This was Jesus’s response to a disciple who wanted to leave his company to travel home to bury his father. Jesus’s insights about burial were not imbued with the usual sentiments of this world towards tombs, and neither are mine.

 

I have been walking every morning around the Hudson City Cemetery, which is across the street from our place. It is anything but a morbid stroll. These types of city cemeteries were intelligently designed to also serve as scenic parks. Here are my thoughts as I strolled its stunning eighty-eight acres.

 

 

THOMAS GAUL

1882-1931

Gone But Not Forgotten

Commentary: The Denial of Death is a 1973 book by cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker where he analyzes human civilization as an elaborate mechanism against the acknowledgment of mortality. Walking around, it became clear that the tombstone is indeed one of these mechanisms. Unfortunately, even if Thomas succeeds in his desire to live forever in the remembrance of him, he is not even the person being remembered. A strange thought came to my mind: Perhaps he is even buried here again in another grave from a future life.

 

 

JOHN BRANNON

July 19, 1912- February 6, 1985

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon the bank
Here will we sit and let the sounds
Creep into our ears, soft stillness and
Become the touches of sweet harmony
Such harmony is in immortal soul – Shakespeare

Commentary: As I walked this morning, I saw one tomb shaped as a soccer ball, another with a flag of the Buffalo Bills, and one old lady who passed away proudly sporting a laminated New York Yankees insignia on her tomb. How foolish to bring one’s transient identity to one’s tomb! It was therefore refreshing to see someone quote Shakespeare about the immortal soul. I pray I only bring the flag of my spiritual relationship with Krishna to my grave.

 

 

FREDERICK J. COOK

1875-1934

1904 Editor, Evening Register 1934

The rarest consecration of a labor of love 1934

Commentary: Apparently, Mr. Cook died on the job as his last year of service was the same year he died. It may not be the highest self-conception, but in this age of selfishness, I admire one who puts duty before self.

 

 

JOSEPH GAUL

1809 – 1879

FAITHFUL IN LIFE
TRIUMPHANT IN DEATH
THERE SHALL BE NO MORE DEATH
THE GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE

Commentary: Dying is no fun, but at least there is some solace for those who mark their grave with heartfelt expressions of eternal life, and for those who mourn for them. I was very inspired to see the many inscriptions of the devoted here. The engravings on their tombs reminded me of the profound relief I felt when first realizing I was eternal by reading the Bhagavad-gītā. It was as if a deep existential malaise of meaninglessness and mortality was immediately lifted from my head. I continued my walk savoring the more spiritual inscriptions:

 

“In God’s loving care”

 

“Faithful until death”

 

“Alive in Christ”

 

 

MARY D’AMATO

1917 to 1995

Beloved. Mom, Wife, Sister, Grandmother, Aunt, Cousin, Godmother and Friend

Commentary: Just like Mary, we are nothing but the various ways we manifest in response to the relationship we have with someone and the love they show us.  In the same way, the only method of realizing the Absolute Person, who is also ultimately a lover, friend, or child, is devotional service.

 

 

DAVID SMITH COWLES

Colonel 126 Regt
New York Vol. Infantry

Died in battle
At Port Hudson Louisiana
27 May 1863

Tell my mother I died
With my face to the enemy

Commentary: The cemetery goes back all the way to the Revolutionary War. This inscription was from the Civil War section. Real leaders are increasingly rare. I was impressed by the true warrior spirit of the Colonel. Who would not follow Colonel Cowles into battle? I was immediately reminded of the Bhagavad-gītā:

“O Pārtha, happy are the kṣatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets. (Bg. 2.32)

 

 

SUSAN M JACKOWSKI

1966 – 2009

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not here, I do not sleep
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I
am not here, I do not die

Commentary: I thought, perhaps Susan had read the Bhagavad-gītā:

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Bg. 2.13)

 

 

Ironically, after walking every day through the cemetery and philosophizing about it through somewhat of a transcendental lens, I did glean its earthly importance. I thought, if my father’s tomb was here, I would certainly go and offer my respects and remember his kindness and feel very good about that. People need to grieve and work their way through attachments and consequent loss. But ultimately, one day, we all need to embrace the highest vision of this reality:

 

“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bg. 2.11)

 

In other words, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #23 – Is Jagannatha the Highest Manifestation of God?

June 7th, 2021

In honor of the upcoming New York Ratha-yātrā, I will be sharing a Monday Morning Greeting from 2017 about the ontological position of Lord Jagannatha. I know I have posted this before the New York Ratha Yatra the two previous years, but relevant spiritual topics are always dynamic, because the more we meditate on such topics, the more their mystery is revealed. Just one final reflection before this week’s Greeting: I am quite surprised that this parade is being allowed just as the pandemic is receding, but on the other hand, if the Lord of the Universe wants a parade down 5th Avenue who can stop Him?!

 

Is Jagannatha the Highest Manifestation of God?

 

Jagannatha is the highest form of God. That’s the realization I had today here in Puri. My reasoning goes like this:

 

God is a person. I am starting from this proposition because I assume my readership mostly accepts it. Also, I have already argued this point extensively in Monday Morning Greetings #26.[1] Assuming that God doesn’t have the defect of impersonality, my argument proceeds as follows:

 

The fullest manifestation of any person is not in their position or power, but in their personality, or inner self, as a friend, parent, or lover. For example, we may meet a very powerful person, but if we don’t have a familial relationship with them—if they are a stranger or even a reverential superior—very little of that person’s fullest or most intimate self will be revealed. Position therefore covers personality, or the fullest manifestation of being.

 

The example of a high court judge is often given to demonstrate this. We may have studied the judge’s background or history or even know him as kind or sober, but his full self is not manifest while holding court. It is only manifest when he comes home and his parental, fraternal, or romantic side is not checked by the formality and majesty that judgeship demands.

 

In the same way, God is not fully manifest when He displays His full grandeur as Narayaṇa, or the creator and controller of existence. His personality is only fully visible when He sheds His position of grandeur and appears as Krishna, a beautiful cowherd, so His intimate side is not restrained by the opulence (aiśvarya) and formality of Godhead. Krishna is thus aptly described by Sri Rupa, the great Vaishnava teacher, as akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti, the personification of the combined bliss of all rasas—in other words, the fullest manifestation or personhood.

 

Certainly, there can be nothing higher than Krishna, but a question still remains. What is the fullest manifestation of Krishna? Here’s where we come to Jagannatha.

 

Krishna, like any person, gives His heart in proportion to the force of one’s love. As the most intense love is mādhurya-rasa, the mellow of conjugal love, Krishna gives Himself most fully to the gopīs. And as Sri Radha stands supreme even amongst the gopīs, Krishna opens His heart most fully to Her.

 

Therefore, the fullest manifestation of Krishna is in response to Radha’s love, specifically the height of that love, the peak of Her separation from Krishna. This is a love so powerful that even Krishna’s body transforms in overwhelming ecstasy, a condition where His eyes become highly dilated and His limbs withdraw into His body, a form known as Jagannatha.[2]

 

And if there is still any doubt that Jagannatha is the fullest manifestation of Krishna, please consider the following:

 

One of the main practices of spontaneous devotional service (rāgānugā-bhakti) is the worship of the form of Krishna corresponding to the love one aspires to attain. Sri Chaitanya was seeking to taste the love of His best devotee, Sri Radha, at the height of Her love. He therefore accepted Jagannatha as His worshipful Lord and spent the last eighteen years of His life in Jagannatha Puri, and even one year when Sri Chaitanya stayed in Sri Rangam for the four months of the rainy season, where the deity of Visnu presides, and there is no Jagannatha temple, He personally carved His own Jagannatha deity to nourish His devotion.

 

Can there be any doubt that Jagannatha is the highest form of God?

 

 


[1] See Is God a Person?

[2] For an elaborate explanation of how Krishna became Jagannatha, see Three Logs of Wood from Gopal Jiu Publications.

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #22 – Commitment Changes Consciousness II

May 31st, 2021

If not now, when? When will I fully realize my relationship with Krishna?  When you are hunkered down in America, with all the time in the world to chant Hare Krishna and hardly any other pressing concerns to distract you, these are the types of thoughts that arise. It becomes so clear that there is another world, a higher consciousness, that is incomparably more sublime than the one we wallow in now. That world seems so close, but the pure taste eludes me. Am I like the bee licking the outside of a honey jar? How can I enter that realm of sweetness? I am only separated from that world by my commitment, my firm dedication to pursue my highest ideal. Commitment changes consciousness!

 

Śrī Caitanya came to this world to taste and distribute love of Godhead, but He never manifested love of Godhead until visiting Gaya upon His father’s death. There He met His teacher and realized that the truth was embodied directly before Him. To realize that truth and manifest His full glory, He needed only to observe and listen to that godly person with faith. He became inspired, took initiation, and fully committed Himself to the teachings of His divine master. When He returned home from Gaya to Navadvīpa, the former scholar of logic could no longer be recognized. He was now intoxicated with love of Godhead! Commitment changes consciousness!

 

The Mahābhārata is full of stories about the exemplars of dharma like Bhīṣmadeva, Yudhiṣṭhira, and so on. Their main quality was their honesty, especially their firm commitment to their words. If one can follow those exemplars and develop such integrity, then one’s spiritual evolvement is assured, for all one need do is verbally commit oneself to perform a particular act of transformation daily, and one’s whole life will quickly evolve. Commitment changes consciousness!

 

This morning I realized I needed an extra push to enter deeper into my meditation. I tried to draw on my will power, but the well seemed somewhat dry. I thought about why. The reservoir of my determination needed to be replenished from a firm commitment to my duties the day before. For some reason, however, I was unregulated and became distracted, and my firm commitment to service waned. As a result, I had little to draw upon today. At least that’s the way I saw it. Commitment changes consciousness!

 

The door to bhakti is commitment. It is called śaraṇāgati, a faith in and commitment to God as one’s full shelter. What is that commitment? In all circumstances I accept what is favorable for the pleasure of Krishna, reject what is unfavorable, have confidence that Krishna will protect and maintain me, embrace the humble position, and give myself fully in heart to His service. If I want to achieve my innermost spiritual desires, the entry to real bhakti is clear: Commitment changes consciousness. 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #21 – Poverty, Protest, and the Vedic Way: Part 2

May 24th, 2021

Last week, I discussed the problem of poverty and the consequent protests in Colombia. I ended the post by proposing the necessity of adding a spiritual element to any solution. I think it is important to elaborate on this principle.

 

The first thing to understand is that for the common person to pursue spiritual life they require some degree of social, physical, and mental peace. There is thus not an absolute dichotomy between material and spiritual life. Organizing our material life properly according to the instructions of the śāstra and to help others in need through charity are both part of skilled living (dharma)[1], which helps keep us from being mired in selfishness.

 

On the path of bhakti, while acknowledging the necessity to both take care of ourselves and compassionately help others, there is also a higher dimension in dealing with social problems. It is certainly true that everyone has a need to enjoy the senses to some degree, and, in fact, without it, the body dies. We are instructed, however, that although there is a necessity for some level of enjoyment, one should never do it just for that purpose, but rather to keep one physically and mentally fit for the higher purpose of self-realization. If one doesn’t consciously make that higher connection in one’s duties, then one’s activities have limited value. Jesus Christ put it best: “For what shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul.” (Mark 8:36-38, KJV)

 

On the Vedic path, one is also taught that although one can’t neglect the suffering of others, one should never lose sight that ultimately suffering is a reaction to previous actions based on ignorance. Thus, while it is necessary to ensure that others have the basics they need to live, the higher level of charity is to purify people’s hearts by educating them in spiritual knowledge.

 

My initial article was about offering a solution to the frustration in society due to poverty. From the spiritual perspective, I should add that there will never be social peace in the world regardless of societal re-organization, without some system to elevate the consciousness of the populace, for if there is not some effort in society to temper greed and envy by spiritual teachings, a new leadership that arises will also exploit those below them out of greed, and even if the needs of the poor are met, people in general will still be envious of those who have more than them. Class disparity and struggle will continue.

 

In summary, welfare has many levels. On the base level, people’s basic needs must be met. To offer charity is thus part of one’s moral obligation. Higher than that is to help others cure the root of karmic suffering and avoid future distress by teaching them skilled living (dharma). The highest welfare, however, is to help people make a permanent solution to suffering by promoting self-realization. We’ll end with a metaphor that Śrīla Prabhupāda uses that aptly highlights the conclusion of this discussion, the necessity to help those suffering not only by providing their basic needs, but also by helping them come to a spiritual platform.

 

“There are so many welfare activities in the human society. People open hospitals, schools, colleges, charitable institution. They are nice. But the best contribution to the human society is to revive his lost relationship with God. Just like a rich man’s son. Some way or other he has left his father’s home and he’s loitering here and there. Somebody finds him: ‘Oh, you are Mr. Such-and-such. You are the son of such-and-such gentleman. He’s very rich man. Why you are suffering? Come, come with me. I shall take to your father.’ So this is one kind of welfare activity.

And another welfare activity, the same person who is loitering in the street, somebody says, ‘Oh, you are hungry. All right, come on. I shall give you some bread.’ That is also welfare activity. But this welfare activity, to get the lost son to his father, rich father, not ordinary father, that is the best service. “(Lecture Bhag. 2.2.5 Dec 2, 1968 LA)

 

 

 


[1] I heard a class by Jaya Jagannath Das where he described dharma as “skilled living”. I like the phrase and want to credit its source.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #20 – Poverty, Protest, and the Vedic Way

May 17th, 2021

Before I left our ashram in Cali to return to the States, I was asked to address our congregation about the current crisis in the country. Protesters blocked the city roads, and basic commodities could not be trucked into the city in response to a new proposed tax during a time that many families are struggling just to put bread on their tables due to COVID. The lecture posed several challenges due to the complexity of the situation, the limited time I had to present it, and the fact that I wasn’t sure of the audience’s mindset. I thus decided to narrow my focus to how a misunderstanding of destiny exacerbates class conflicts, and how a class of learned teachers are required to guide society through the subtleties of class cooperation and mutual prosperity.

 

I began by describing an ideal cooperative social system through a common analogy that compares an ideal society to a body where the head (the intellectuals and religious leaders), the arms (the military and administrative class), the stomach (the mercantile class), and the legs (the laborer class) work cooperatively for the benefit of the whole body. Based on that, I discussed how a misunderstanding of destiny/karma can exacerbate class conflict.

 

For example, if the mercantile class is not cognizant of the law of destiny and instead embraces the concept of meritocracy, a philosophy that professes that whether one is fortunate or unfortunate is solely based on that person’s effort, they can easily become callous to the plight of the poor and not recognize that often, even with a sincere effort, it is impossible for many to overcome their hardships.[1] As a result, policies may be supported that plant seeds of resentment by allowing income disparity to reach a level where the basic needs of the poor are neglected while the more elite continue to prosper.

 

On the other hand, if those championing the working class seek the unattainable goal of economic equity because of their failure to understand that there will always be people who, by the law of karma, have and create more wealth, they will inevitably need to curtail societal freedom to achieve economic equity, which is artificial and karmically impossible. In that case, as history has often shown, not only will freedom be lost, but by destroying the incentive of those most capable of economic productivity, the over-all economy will become worse, and the most vulnerable and poor will continue to wallow in poverty, exploited by a new elite class: party bureaucrats.

 

To maintain a society that is economically prosperous, and to avoid a destructive revolution that makes things worse for everyone, the mercantile class must ensure that while expanding their profit the basic needs of all society are met either by a fair share of taxes or the establishment of substantial charitable foundations. If they don’t do this, and they neglect the hungry, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam warns, they even risk their spiritual life.

 

“For a person having a differential outlook, who differentiates between the belly of himself and of other living entities, I (the Supreme Lord) appear in the form of all devouring death and continue his existence in the fearsome material world.” (Bhag. 3.29.26)[2]

 

Of course, this is a complex subject that needs a more comprehensive analysis than a short lecture or a two-page summary can offer. I hope, however, I did show how the knowledge found in our tradition, in this case the teachings of karma, is relevant in addressing social unrest.

 

I finished my talk by adding an important point emphasized by Śrīla Prabhupāda that needs to be added to any proposed social solution, otherwise even welfare work loses its value. Although one’s basic needs are required to function peacefully, ultimate happiness is internal. Without a class of trained spiritual teachers to guide people and teach the science of the soul, all of society, from the downtrodden to the elite, will be mired in dissatisfaction, envy, and constant strife, no matter how much prosperity they accrue. We must therefore keep Bhaktivinoda’s short instruction at the forefront of all our endeavors, even for social change, if our goal is lasting peace:

 

“This material world is full of suffering. Chant the holy name of Krishna as our only business.” (Aruṇodaya-kīrtana I, verse 6)

 

 

 


[1] https://aeon.co/ideas/a-belief-in-meritocracy-is-not-only-false-its-bad-for-you

[2] Translation (as per Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī’s commentary) by Hari-parshad das

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #19 – Monday Morning Musings V

May 10th, 2021

Krishna is fully present in His holy name, but like any person He does not give Himself to those just offering words. The words must have heart.

 

I caught myself chanting listlessly. The problem? Chanting must be grounded in a spiritual identity. What is that identity? We are consciousness meant for service. I listened carefully to the mantra to see if my soul, a call for service, was sufficiently amplified.

 

It has become clear to me that the quality of my morning chanting does not just depend on my determination when I sit down in the morning, but how I have lived my life the day before. How else can I explain why the clarity of my chanting sometimes varies day to day, even when my effort is relatively the same?

 

Only in samādhi is one focused without distraction for extended periods of time with absolutely no cognizance of anything outside the object of meditation. Until that point, we will certainly, to one extent or another, be distracted during meditation. Before chanting, I try to place myself at the feet of our great teachers and in the lap of the most holy places, so that when my mind wonders instead of going to the mundane, it will reside in a sacred place that inspires me to refocus on the holy name.

 

Chanting inspires reading because it is important to have the right thoughts in mind while chanting.

 

A Chinese proverb that I previously wrote about suddenly came to mind: “Patience in a moment of anger can prevent one hundred days of sorrow.” It became so clear to me during my meditation how, in life, overreaction to challenges to the false ego can needlessly entangle one’s time and mind in a world of drama for days. As a result, those thoughts inevitably violate the sacred space reserved for the name during chanting.

 

Chanting must be grounded in spiritual sentiment. Go in consciousness wherever you can find it. Give life to your entreaty to the holy name.

 

Chant in gratitude. You can never sufficiently pay for what you get, for the holy name is Krishna, and there is nothing equal to the joy it gives. Have I fully realized it? Enough to be very grateful to Śrī Śrī Guru and Gauranga. The voice of “thank you, thank you” is the foundation of my chanting.

 

 

“I do not know how much nectar the two syllables ‘Kṛṣ-ṇa’ have produced. When the holy name of Kṛṣṇa is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the holy name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert.”  (Cc. Antya-lila, 1.99)

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #18 – The Happiest People in the World

May 3rd, 2021

“They are the happiest people in the world!” Well, maybe not the happiest, but that was my spontaneous thought when observing Ricardo, our gardener, and Mireya, the housekeeper. Their smiles reminded me of the type of smile Krishna wears called smita, a closed mouth smile without any external impetus that simply reflects one’s inner contentment. Why are there so many simple people here in Colombia who seem so content and joyful when they have so little, especially compared to the first world?

 

Before trying to unravel this query, let’s first settle on a standard measure of happiness to gauge my observation. There are several ways to define happiness. Let me choose one: Happiness is a mind of good thoughts. What are good thoughts? Good thoughts are attachment to the qualities that elevate one’s consciousness, like devotion and humility, and the activities that inspire those attitudes, and aversion to the qualities that degrade one’s consciousness, like pride and avarice. In other words, the more a person’s mind is imbued with healthy attachments and aversions, and the less it is imbued with unhealthy attachments and aversions, or bad thoughts, the happier a person is. Now let us look at the attitudes that are naturally invoked in a modest life that elevate one’s spirits.

 

Santosh (Contentment)

 

Happiness is contentment that is expressed in the good thought, “Enough!” It seems that people with a humble life seem much more content with the simple joys in life and their modest possessions, while those who live in excess of their needs are more imbued with the mode of passion and never feel that they have enough.

 

Assurance

 

There is certainly some truth in the Hebrew saying, “The more you have, the more worries you have.” One of those worries is the fear of losing any of the multitude of one’s attachments. All things being equal, people who live a modest life are less fearful.

 

Decisiveness

 

Studies have shown that the more choices one has, the more difficult it is to make decisions. Sociologists have called this the paradox of choice.[1] As society becomes more “affluent” and the choices in food, clothes, and travel increase, there is a greater likelihood that people waver on the plane of indecisiveness, increase their material expectations, and even become more dissatisfied with their choices, fearing they have made the wrong one. Modest people who have less, therefore, tend to be more resolute in the minimal choices they make and are in less anxiety.

 

Emotionally Stable

 

The single greatest factor for general well-being, including physical health, is the amount of quality relationships one has.[2] Affluence in the modern world gives one a mobility in occupation and residence, which makes it more difficult to maintain community and family relationships. Often, modest people have no choice where they live and work. To take birth, live, and die in the same place creates the maximum opportunity to have the meaningful relationships in life that fill the mind with thoughts of stability and support.

 

Gratefulness

 

The more you have, the greater your expectations are, and the less likely you will feel deep love and appreciation in exchanges with others. In contrast, simple people have modest expectations and are easy to please. In other words, people who live a humble life tend to have deeper thoughts of gratefulness and appreciation in their consciousness.

 

Devotion and Faith

 

Srila Prabhupada use to quote the British poet Cowper: “The city is made by man, and the country is made by God.” Modern civilization, in a myriad of ways, from the overdependence on technology to its postmodern view of education, tends to cover the Divine. By dint of the sheer simplicity of their lives, those who are more modest are less affected by the complexity of modern life and are therefore more likely to experience the beautiful impressions in the mind inspired by simple faith, a sense of the Lord’s protection, and the eternality of their existence.

 

Aristotle made the insightful observation that happiness is the goal, but it is never the means to anything else. You may counter his conclusion by offering some other goal, he challenged, but it would easily be rebutted by the simple observation that the goal proposed was simply the means to happiness.

 

So yes, happiness, is the goal, and we have a lot learn from Ricardo, Mireya, and the simple god-fearing people of Colombia.

 

 

 


[1] https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_the_paradox_of_choice?language=en

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KkKuTCFvzI

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #17 – Unmasking the Truth

April 26th, 2021

I hope this will be the last COVID article I write, but I honestly have little choice what I write. It’s not easy to come up with something of substance to communicate every week. I have to just grab whatever realization comes by the time I have to start writing my next post and run with it. Sometimes my inspiration is a topical issue. Hopefully I have the empowerment to see those issues through the eyes of śāstra, and also to get the facts right about what I am commenting on. That’s the challenge.

 

Someone asked me if making a recommendation about wearing masks is śāstra. I didn’t make a recommendation about masks. I made a recommendation to be independently thoughtful in order to avoid letting ideological predispositions overly influence one’s opinions. For that purpose, to help test my readers’ objectivity, I presented what I thought was a reasonable study on masks that had challenged my own understanding. Before I sent it, I then checked the reasonableness of that study with people I highly trust. After it was published, most of the people I got feedback from thought my last article was fair. Two academics, one trained in the field of logic and another in rhetoric, however, independently questioned the fairness of my presentation. A spirited conversation ensued. One of the main points of my article was that we should be open-minded and detached, and follow where the facts lead, even if that forces us to turn around a previously held position. Those discussions convinced me that in order to balance my presentation, I should include the comprehensive and up-to-date study testing the efficacy of masks that one of them sent me. I have posted that below. [1] I am convinced that holding a forum where the expression of opposing opinions is welcome, even if we vigorously oppose them, is the best way to bring the most people to the healthiest consensus.

 

When I think about these discussions and the attempt to get to the bottom of any of these issues, it always brings me back to the title of my last article, which is also commensurate with the problem I saw when I started trying to deeply understand these issues: “Whom do you trust?” I think the conclusion of my last post still holds in relation to the quandary of the modern age, which is identifying reliable authority.

 

Now, “whom do I trust?” I’m not sure in these matters, but there is one thing I did learn from Śrīla Prabhupāda that can be applied in all endeavors to understand the truth—without sincerely wanting and praying for the truth, no matter whether that truth conforms to our desires or not, and in addition cultivating the detachment to accept that truth, we will always be susceptible to the false authority of cheaters and rogues.

 

So, my main topic is really not about masks. It’s about the need to be detached, thoughtful, and the willingness to consider points of view different from one’s own, and I hope this article reaffirms my commitment to that.

 

I think I have had my fill of topical commentary for a while. I pray that next week Krishna inspires me to write more directly about transcendence. And that is my final conclusion on unmasking the truth.

 

 

 


[1] A summary of 58 studies on the effectiveness of masks can be found in Table 3 of “A rapid review of the use of face mask in preventing the spread of COVID-19”, published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies Advances (Volume 3, 2021). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666142X20300126?via%3Dihub#tbl0003. The table can also be viewed on page 6 of the PDF version of the study.

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #16 – Whom Do You Trust?

April 19th, 2021

Whom Do You Trust?

 

I think that was the title of a quiz show in the late 1950s or early 1960s, hosted by Johnny Carson – if that means anything to my audience, most of whom were not even born yet. It is, however, the best title I could find for the subject I want to share today. I am concerned with how trust in our personal narratives is formed, and how difficult it is to change such trust even when what we previously believed is proven wrong. This is how my concerns arose.

 

I am not a big fan of masks. I generally avoid wearing them, but I have utilized them in certain situations for the simple fact that they protect one from airborne disease. I was then sent a video that said otherwise. I was not particularly attracted to the website where it came from, but the video itself seemed well-reasoned and authoritative. I am skeptical, however, about accepting anything on face value that I am not expert on. I thus shared it with a person whom I very much trust for his trained critical eye and objectivity. In several other instances where I have sent things to him, his response caused me to re-evaluate my initial judgment. His reply: “Sounds sensible and well supported. I’d be interested in seeing a reply. Otherwise: It does seem reasonable.”

 

As the conclusion was still puzzling when considering the overwhelming national consensus on wearing masks, for further confirmation I sent the video to another person whom I similarly trust for their intelligence and neutrality. It made sense to them especially considering “the size of the virus and the size of the natural gaps in even well-woven fabric?” They questioned, however, whether other factors were considered in terms of validating the utility of masks, such as “creating an automatic awareness of people’s space and staying safe and distanced enough, etc.”

 

Finally, I consulted an intelligent friend with a scientific background who thought that the video was not worth his time watching: “I made my decisions after reading at least 100 highly technical papers and attending 25 hours of Zoom discussion led by my own skeptical physician. Nothing I have read has convinced me otherwise other than saying more research is needed.”

 

I will summarize the finding below, include a link to the video[1], and then cite an opposing study. Finally, I will share what I learned about my own thinking from this endeavor at trying to figure out the truth here. A summary of the video:

 

Dr. Bostom is a respected professor of epidemiology and an experienced researcher on the science of medical intervention. He became skeptical about the use of masks after hearing Dr. Fauci dramatically change his previous declaration that masks are ineffective, a view also held at the time by the CDC and the NIH. What particularly disturbed Dr. Bostom was one of the reasons Dr. Fauci gave as a contributing factor to his previous statement about the ineffectiveness of masks—that he needed to discourage ordinary people from buying them at a time when there was a shortage for the health care workforce.[2] Dr. Bostom found that excuse quite strange for several reasons, but especially since cotton cloth is in abundance, can easily and quickly be mass produced, and even a makeshift one could be made in a few minutes. He therefore decided to study the published research on the matter. He was shocked by the findings:

 

Dr. Bostom explained that the “gold standard” of scientific testing is called random controlled trials (RCT), a type of scientific experiment that aims to reduce certain sources of bias when testing the effectiveness of a new treatment. He was quite surprised by the consistency of the studies. All the RCT studies, including those going back to a study during the Spanish flu, showed negative results. In other words, there is no benefit from masks in protecting one from airborne diseases. To confirm the conclusions of his research, Dr. Bostom even referenced a meta-analysis of all the major RCT studies on masks from The Journal of Emergency Infectious Disease, the CDC’s main inhouse journal. Again, the results were negative.

 

Finally, he referred to two recent studies, beginning with the Danmask-19 study, which was published in the peer reviewed Journal of Internal Medicine. The study was done in March 2020, where, of the 4900 people tested in Denmark, there was no significant difference in COVID-19 infection from those who used a mask and those who did not. Conclusion: “The answer was a nearly identical proportion – 42 of 2,393 people (1.8%) in the mask group and 53 of 2,470 (2.1%) in the no-mask group. The difference was not statistically significant.”[3] He also cited another RCT study about masking done with six thousand people visiting Mecca for the Haj. The results were exactly the same.

 

Although I couldn’t find any RCT study directly supporting the efficacy of masks to counter airborne disease, I did find a study in the respected Journal of Health Affairs[4] that found that states that mandated masks did better than states that didn’t, although the reasons why were not clear. [5]

 

Now let me share my thinking while reading these studies. Perhaps my readers can meditate on their own reaction.

 

I resisted claims that were against my previous opinions, almost as if I was a fan of my own opinions and against those that opposed it, rather than being a neutral umpire of the facts. I was surprised by just how difficult it is for me to change the direction I am moving on a particular ideological issue, which in many ways is what COVID has become[6], out of fear of being wrong and what that does to my ego’s thirst for superiority. Simply put, in so many ways I could see and feel the push to see the world according to my desire, rather than the way it is.

 

I could also see that by my practice of regularly writing on topical subjects, which forces me to look at issues objectively, how my mind has been trained a bit to resist the tendency to avoid facts that oppose my opinion and desires, although it is not easy.

 

It also dawned on me how our opinions are so dependent on which authority we accept, and how helpless we are in such material matters when, due to commercial interests and unbridled ego, all major public institutions have become substantially corrupted and untrustworthy.[7]

 

Now, “whom do I trust?” I’m not sure in these matters, but there is one thing I did learn from Śrīla Prabhupāda that can be applied in all endeavors to understand the truth—without sincerely wanting and praying for the truth, no matter whether that truth conforms to our desires or not, and in addition cultivating the detachment to accept that truth, we will always be susceptible to the false authority of cheaters and rogues.

 

 

Those who are addicted to unrestricted sense gratification can never be truthful, nor can they be trusted with any faith.” (Krishna Book, Ch. 1)

 

 

 


[1] https://www.lewrockwell.com/2021/03/no_author/dr-andrew-bostom-interview-with-naomi-wolf-on-studies-not-supporting-masking/

[2] https://www.bitchute.com/video/rJ3I74oEWvtq/

[3] https://www.medpagetoday.com/blogs/vinay-prasad/89778

[4] https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00818

[5] There is difference between being effective because they inoculate one from airborne diseases and being effective because they make one socially aware to socially distance and so on. I am also not a scientific researcher, so I can’t claim that my research is thorough.

[6] A bit of a disclaimer: While this video contains what some might consider explicit and implied vulgarity, it doesn’t change the relevance or importance of Maher’s message, which is the separation of politics and medicine: https://youtu.be/Qp3gy_CLXho

[7] The pharmaceutical industry has been sued and paid over 35 billion dollars in the last ten years for withholding, misrepresenting, or falsifying data that would impede their commercial interests, resulting in tens-of-thousands of deaths. Just one example: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-astrazeneca-texas-lawsuits-idUSKBN1KT0Q9

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #15 – Monday Morning Musings IV

April 12th, 2021

I travel every Sunday. That means an irregular schedule and diet. I feel it the next morning. My mind is more restless and my chanting less attentive. My solace: As long as I do my best, Krishna will see my heart and be pleased.

 

The mind offers millions of things to think of besides the holy name. Don’t fall for the bait. Have a time and place for chanting where there is absolutely no compromise with the mind. If our determination is resolute in that way, even if we sometimes fail, Krishna will see our effort and bless us with the holy name.

 

Krishna can appear whenever He wants, even in the restless mind. We would all fail controlling the mind if our success was dependent on our personal power born of a sattvic nature. I begged for mercy. It worked.

 

It doesn’t matter how much you chant the name, but rather how you chant the name. There is still strength in numbers if one uses that time to sincerely beg for the mercy of the holy name.

 

Concentration takes effort, which brings one to the point of realizing that our effort is not enough to be successful; We need mercy. Begging for the mercy of the holy name is the foundation of successful chanting.

 

A thought came while chanting about how much reading Krishna Book yesterday gave meaning and life to my mantra. I then remembered the instruction Vishal Prabhu told me he received from Śrīla Prabhupāda: “If you read Krishna Book every day, you will always be happy!”

 

Can you chant and think of Krishna’s pastimes at the same time without being inattentive? Yes, just like you can watch a movie and relish the background music at the same time. You must first, however, come to the platform of sattva by determined meditation.

 

Can you chant and think of Krishna at the same time without being inattentive? Yes! Words and names are spontaneously connected with their mental images, especially when we are attached to those objects.

 

Attachment to Krishna and His holy name comes by hearing His glories. Our practice of the chanting of the holy name is actually the practice of chanting and reading. You can’t separate the two.

 

Chanting is a competition for our attention between the name and everything else in the mind. For the holy name to win, we have to be more selective with what we put into our minds, especially through the channel of modern media.

 

Effort, mercy, focus. Then what? Hopefully we see our hearts and lament. What did I see today? I can’t sincerely call the holy name of Krishna because I don’t want Him. I want to be Him. It takes courage to go deeper and annihilate the false ego.

 

Chanting is a relationship with Krishna. He will tell you endless ways in which you can improve. The problem is that old habits die hard.

 

Good chanting is when sitting down to chant there is no other place in the world you would rather be.

 

The greatest blessing is when the things that are best for you are the things you most like to do. I pray for attachment to the holy name.

 

 

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