Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #3 – Helplessly Perfect

January 21st, 2019

We are now near the end of Śrī Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, where the story of Śrī Nārada’s search for the topmost recipient of Śrī Krishna’s mercy is narrated. What an incredibly gripping story! Nārada has been told that he must certainly search out Uddhava, who resides in Śrī Krishna’s capital as His most confidential courier. Eventually reaching his destination, Śrī Nārada, with unbounded enthusiasm, enters the gates of the city. Running through the extremely intricate and confusing labyrinth of the city’s winding streets, intoxicated by love of God, he still manages to find himself at his destination, although apparently oblivious to what he is doing. How did he succeed? The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust commentary explains:

 

“The truth is, however, that when one is conducted ‘helplessly’ under the control of pure love of God, one actually understands everything perfectly; he certainly cannot forget the way to reach the Personality of Godhead.”

 

“Helplessly perfect” is an interesting concept and a seeming oxymoron, but if we think about it, if there is a supremely powerful and intelligent force in the universe, and instead of acting out of self-interest we become an instrument for that force, then would we not be in a sense acting helplessly and perfectly?

 

Perhaps we have personally experienced the reconciliation of this dichotomy when sharing what we know, and then in a mood of prayer the explanation comes through us in a far more fluid or perfect manner than what we could have possibly intellectually composed, or when trying to helplessly understand something about God, a realization or conclusion arises by prayer beyond our capacity to otherwise formulate or even comprehend. In such cases are we not helpless and competent at the same time?

 

This exact phenomenon of being conducted “helplessly” to reach a more perfect result is highlighted in the second of the four nutshell verses in the Bhagavad-gītā, where Krishna shows how perfect knowledge is given only to those who depend on Him in a mood of devotion.

 

“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)

 

I would like to help substantiate the “helplessly perfect” concept from my personal experience while writing this today. Attempting to compose this week’s Greeting has been exceptionally trying, as I am right in the middle of managing and leading my Puri retreat. This morning it was not surprising that I was practically staring at the blank page for hours trying to write something cogent. At the height of my helplessness, however, some powerful thoughts on how to proceed spontaneously came to mind. One reference especially from the Nectar of Devotion arose that helped resolve my quandary.

 

In the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī described one of nine symptoms of advanced devotion as āśā-bandha, literally meaning that one’s hopes cannot be bound. In Nectar of Devotion Śrīla Prabhupāda translates the term in a very interesting way. He uses the English idiom “hope against hope”, indicating the idea of wishing for something against all odds. I found that translation quite revelatory in reconciling the dichotomy between hopelessness and perfection. The phrase “against hope” is such an excellent expression of the hopelessness of one seeking perfection on the basis of one’s own qualification, while “hope”, as used here, defines the confidence one can have at the same time when reflecting on God’s qualification, specifically His unbounded mercy. “Hope against hope” is thus a perfect aphorism for our theme here, “helplessly perfect”. It is also one that came to this essay when I myself was a bit lost about how to proceed.

 

I think Śrīla Prabhupāda’s poem “Mārkine Bhāgavata-dharma”, which was written upon arrival at Commonwealth Pier in Boston, is a perfect expression of this consciousness. He stood there with only forty-five rupees in his pocket and a trunk of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatams and began to reflect on the immense task that lay ahead, the spreading of Krishna consciousness throughout the Western world. Both his hopelessness in his personal ability to achieve his mission and his faith in the holy name to inspire him to achieve that mission arose simultaneously in his heart. The last two lines and his closing verification perfectly express this “hope against hope”, and his eventual success in that mission perfectly attests to the concept “helplessly perfect”:

 

“O Lord, I am just like a puppet in Your hands. So if You have brought me here to dance, then make me dance, make me dance, O Lord, make me dance as You like.

 

I have no devotion, nor do I have any knowledge, but I have strong faith in the holy name of Krishna. I have been designated as Bhaktivedanta, and now, if You like, You can fulfill the real purport of Bhaktivedanta.”

 

Signed-the most unfortunate, insignificant beggar
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami,
on board the ship Jaladuta, Commonwealth Pier,
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
dated 18th of September 1965

 

And there rests the secret to Krishna consciousness. As Śrī Nārada was conducted helplessly by devotion to reach the doorstep of Krishna’s palace, and Śrīla Prabhupāda in a mood of utter humility succeeded in his mission, only by attracting God’s mercy by our deep modesty and consequent calling of the holy name can we too hope against hope to achieve the sweet fruit of helpless perfection.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #2 – The Land of Magnanimity

January 14th, 2019

I am making a substantial statement here. For me, there is no question that holy places are, in fact, alive. I am writing this from Śrīdhāma Māyāpur, also known as Audārya-dhāma (the land of magnanimity). That’s quite a personal claim because only people can possess character traits. Anyway, I feel the magnanimity of this place, as do most others who approach this place respectfully. Each holy place has a unique personality that feels so real that, as the saying goes, “one can cut it with a knife”. Some examples to support my assertion:

 

Years ago while visiting Śrī Śrī Radha Damodara in Vṛndāvana I noticed the Vaiṣṇava scholar Śrī Gopīparāṇadhana Prabhu walking by. After greeting him and requesting him to say a few words to my group, he kindly shared with us a very interesting insight about the correlation between the internal nature of the place we were sitting and its influence externally.

 

“Radha Damodara is located within the area named Sevā-kuñja, which is not only the site of Krishna’s rāsa-līlā dance, but the kuñja (forest grove) where Krishna offered His sevā (selfless service) to Radha. Historically, therefore, Radha Damodara has always been a place to inspire sevā or selfless service. For example, there were many gosvāmī temples, but it was here, five hundred years ago, that the six Gosvāmīs met daily to discuss and gain inspiration for the sevā of expanding the mission of Śrī Caitanya. Similarly, there were many temples in Vṛndāvana that Śrīla Prabhupāda could have retired to, but it was here, almost sixty years ago, that he resided to plan and gain inspiration for his service of preaching Krishna consciousness in the Western world.” [1]

 

Yesterday, I went on pilgrimage to Godrumadvīpa, one of nine islands comprising the holy place called Navadvīpa, where each island represents one of the nine practices of devotional service. Godrumadvīpa specifically exemplifies and inspires the practice of kīrtana. It is therefore not a coincidence that five hundred years ago Lord Nityānanda chose Godruma to establish the nāma-hāṭa, his mission to spread the kīrtana of Krishna’s holy name all around West Bengal. It is the same place where, at the end of the Nineteenth Century, the great Vaiṣṇava saint Śrīla Bhaktivinoda did exactly the same. Evidently both understood and felt the particular nature of the place to give inspiration for kīrtana.

 

Perhaps the most convincing example of the personality of a holy place and its specific influence was the effect of Śrī Vṛndāvana on the visit of my dear elder cousin, Mā Sevā Bhāratī. Mā Sevā Bhāratī? Yes, that’s her name. Forty years ago, my cousin Susan took shelter of the famous yogi, Swami Rāma. Shortly after he left the world, she took sannyāsa from his successor, the great Sanskrit scholar Swami Veda Bhāratī and received the sannyāsa name Mā Sevā Bhāratī. Anyway, to continue my story, although she was residing for many years very high in the Himalayas in a place with no running water, I managed to contact her and convince her to visit me in Vṛndāvana.

 

Mā Sevā very much enjoyed her stay in Vṛndāvana, which is also known as Mādhurya-dhāma, the place of sweet intimate devotion. While there she even began to seriously chant every day sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra. I’ll never forget her appreciative inquiry to me one morning, “What is this sweetness here? What is this sweetness here?” In a sense I wasn’t surprised that by the depth of her humility and meditation she began to feel the personality of Mādhurya-dhāma, the land of sweetness.

 

After a few weeks in Vṛndāvana, I took her to Govardhana, which, according to Vaiṣṇava theology, is even sweeter than Vṛndāvana. After about week of chanting there she again shared her heart with me. I was bit stunned by the depth of her inquiry, “What is this sweetness here? What is this sweetness here? It is even sweeter than Vṛndāvana!” What a powerful confirmation that indeed holy places are alive.

 

I have a small group with me here. We have a few days left in the land of magnanimity. We have no doubt that the holy name has descended on our tongues far more than any of us deserve. I suppose if Mā Sevā was visiting me here she would be asking, “What is this mercy here? What is this mercy here?”

 

So fortunate to be in the land of magnanimity.

 

 


[1] This is what he said to the best of my remembrance.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #1 – Let God Do It!

January 7th, 2019

“Bhagavan will take care!” I didn’t like his answer.

 

His father was quite ill, but he never even visited him once. I asked why. This young man based in Hṛṣīkeśa was a kind of a sādhu, or at least an aspiring one, but not a serious sādhaka or tapasvī by any means. He could easily go to visit. His father lived only four hours away from Hṛṣīkeśa, so I pressed him just a bit further. He pawned off the excuse in a mumbled defensive tone that Bhagavan will take care, or something like that. I could see he felt uncomfortable by my inquiry and was leaving to go back to Hṛṣīkeśa, so I dropped the matter. But his answer, putting it on God, just didn’t sit well with me.

 

Of course, there are always existential questions about free will and agency, to what extent the living being is the doer, but factually all of that is irrelevant here. Regardless of what God can or cannot do, He has made this world to help us awaken our eternal self. One of the main ways He does this is by assigning us various roles and duties according to our present nature and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Without preliminarily transcending the “selfish me” by adhering to such dharma, what is the question of entering pure devotional service, which is selfless service to God?

 

This may be an unusual reference to rally against those who prematurely shun dharma, but I really like how the famous American satirist Tom Wolfe couched such social irresponsibility in his article “The Me Generation”. He debunks the hippie and new age narcissism of my generation, the prosperous baby boomers, with the phrase, “They will never understand duty above self.” Similarly, waving the “I am sādhu” transcendence card in the face of responsibility is just a ruse for lazy people pawning off their duties out of ignorance. It certainly isn’t the core philosophy of the Bhagavad-gītā.

 

If Krishna thought that being “not the doer” meant that we really don’t have to do anything because He Himself is the doer, then Krishna certainly would have never urged Arjuna to fight on the battlefield. Not only is being attentive to our duties in the world not inconsistent with realizing our deep self in relationship with God, but it is in many ways the vehicle to do it, regardless if the results are up to God or not. I like how Krishna puts it in chapter 2 verse 47 of Bhagavad-gītā:

 

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.”

 

Let me paraphrase the relevant points in Krishna’s message here in relation to our thesis “you should do your duty, although what happens, the result, is My will.” This type of prescription of duty for the sake of duty itself is just like a parent who is ever so capable of doing something quickly and efficiently, but still gives those tasks to his very young children to teach them character and their place within the family.

 

While writing this I couldn’t help but remember a contrasting example to my young friend’s shunning his duty. When Keśava Bhāratī Goswami’s mother fell ill with terminal cancer and there was absolutely no living relative to help her, he didn’t appeal to Krishna as the doer to care for her. He carefully considered the circumstance in consultation with others and concluded that it was his duty to care for her, although he had left home so many years before and as a sannyāsi had minimal contact with his family. Although it was quite an arduous sacrifice for him, by not shunning his responsibility he not only helped her, as among other things she became a devotee due to his visit, but I’m sure his sacrifice and selflessness reaped internal rewards so essential for developing the heart of a devotee.

 

Of course, if parents are overtly inimical to our path, or one is that rare soul that is called by God for a higher purpose and is not a cheater, we may in some circumstances not have such duties. That’s not the point. The point is that we should never avoid our duties, whatever they are, with the scam and philosophical dishonesty that Krishna will do them. It’s a failure of Krishna conscious understanding 101.

 

It is interesting to note that even when the six Gosvāmīs renounced the world out of compassion for the spiritually poor, they did not just leave it to God to take care of their families. They first carefully divided up their assets appropriately to meet family and social responsibilities. Even after Śrī Caitanya took sannyāsa, He lived in Purī on His mother’s wish out of obligation to her.

 

Wait a second. Doesn’t Krishna say in the Bhagavad-gītā to renounce all dharma and surrender unto Me? Of course, the highest duty is to surrender to God, and in the rare circumstance when that conflicts with a social duty, the social duty can be transcended. But also note that after Arjuna surrendered to Krishna, Krishna still asked him not to renounce his duties, but to fight in the spirit of one’s highest consciousness and eternal duty, surrendering unto Him.

 

Sorry, I have to go now. Although it’s the morning here in Māyāpur, it’s New Year’s Eve in New York. I need to call to wish my 97 year-old mother the best for the New Year. And to all my friends who are faithful readers: All the best to you for the New Year, which is also the third anniversary of Monday Morning Greetings. I am indebted to you all as readers. Thank you.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #53 – Idiots and Ideologues

December 31st, 2018

Despite the pejorative title, I am not being patronizing. I am commenting on a fundamental problem with human psychology of which I also have to be mindful. It is called the “righteous mind”. We tend to make moral judgments, whether political or religious, that have more to do with our personal psychology than our reasoning. Uncompromising and dogmatic, we become ideologues. I hate it.

 

Wait, I’m a Hare Krishna! I certainly have uncompromising beliefs. Isn’t that what an ideologue is by definition? Before I continue with my issue against ideologues, I think a clear distinction has to be made.

 

The term ideologue refers to an individual, not an ideology. It’s alright to have firm conviction in an all-encompassing belief or ideology whether one is a theist or atheist. Almost everyone does. Strong conviction alone doesn’t make one an ideologue, as long as one’s convictions are based on reason and experience, and one is willing to intelligently explore and test one’s conviction for a deeper understanding, including seriously hearing opposing views. What makes one an ideologue, then, is when one imposes one’s own moral bias, conservative or liberal, as the single lens to interpret the world. As a result, much needed civil discussion on controversial issues is often stifled. For instance, when a conservative or progressive ideologue seeks to understand the application of traditional gender roles in modern society, especially a religious one, they start with their conclusion and then gather facts, rather than first studying the tradition neutrally and then coming to a conclusion.

 

Now that it is hopefully clear that an ideologue is not just one with a conviction, but one with a biased mindset that prejudices how one understands the subtleties of their conviction, let me continue my thoughts on idiots and ideologues.

 

Of course, no one thinks they are an ideologue, but at least the best seekers of truth will train themselves to give other views full consideration before denigrating them. I myself try to become fully aware of my own biases to make sure that my opinions are based as much as possible on well thought out research after hearing both sides. Otherwise one’s conclusions may be influenced by an ingrained psychology more shaped by one’s relationship with one’s parents while growing up than anything else. For example, it is no coincidence that the four horsemen of new atheism, Dennet, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, all had problems with their fathers, as did Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Russel, Camus, Sartre, and practically all of their prominent predecessors.[1]

 

To be specific, this is what I hate about political and religious ideologues:

They view facts not to come to a conclusion, but rather to support their conclusion.

They only hear from and read those that agree with them.

They denigrate those with opposing views before considering their arguments.

They don’t accept that there are independent thinkers that don’t have a homogenous political persuasion. If one therefore disagrees with any of their issues, or even questions them, they lump them in with the opposing party and condemn them.

They don’t welcome civil discourse.

They don’t realize they are ideologues.

They see only the opposing party as one.

 

It is interesting that the term for metaphysical knowledge in Sanskrit is sambandha-jñāna. Sambandha means relationship. In other words, to have metaphysical knowledge one must understand the relationship between various and often opposing truths.[2] For example, there is a truth of detachment that we are not the body and should cultivate renunciation, and there is a truth of attachment that we need to appropriately work through our attachments before fully renouncing them. One with sambandha-jñāna thus knows the appropriate relationship or balance between the two, as he does between all truths, by carefully studying the śāstra to understand things deeply, while ideologues just study, quote references, and give examples only to support their forgone conclusions.

 

The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives the key to rising above prejudiced ideological perspectives. It teaches that if one really wants to objectively understand tattva (reality) in all its phases and subtleties then two things are required: faithfulness to a tradition of knowledge and thoughtfulness in understanding it.[3] If we are not faithful to a tradition of higher knowledge then our purview of the world will be limited to our own conditioned frame of reference. Similarly, if we are not thoughtful, we fall prey to filtering the truth through our pre-conceived notions and faithfully get it wrong. Ideologues are not thoughtful, nor do they welcome others who are. They thus fail in fully understanding tattva.

 

Idiots and ideologues. Sorry for the strong language. Everyone one has their pet peeves. I feel strongly about this, and I did need a catchy title. Perhaps even those reading it will push back. You say you are balanced, but that’s also a psychological lens. Great, let’s discuss my points. I stand to be corrected.[4]

 


[1] http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201203/201203_112_Is_God_crutch.cfm

[2] I gleaned this idea of sambandha-jñāna in a personal discussion with Pradyumna dāsa, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Sanskirit editor.

[3] Bhag. 1.2.12

[4] “I stand to be corrected” is a phrase that I always hear Vaiśeṣika dāsa repeat. I don’t know its origins.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #52 – Don’t Think This Won’t Happen to You

December 24th, 2018

Śrīla Prabhupāda had been bedridden for months in Vṛndāvana while preparing to leave this world when he turned to his young sannyāsi disciples surrounding his bed and issued a sober warning: “Don’t think this won’t happen to you.” Well, forty-one years later it is happening. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples are leaving us at an increasing rate.

 

I remember one devotee describing this phenomenon with the analogy of cooking popcorn. The analogy, although helpful for my point, is a bit morbid, so please bear with me. Initially when heating up the kernels just one or two will pop. Gradually, minute by minute, the number of kernels popping increases exponentially until they are all popped. In the same way, we had only one or two premature departures of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples in my first few years as a devotee. Now, as those devotees are aging, we are losing a few every year, a number that will continue to increase more and more until, in the not so distant future, they will all be gone.

 

When I begin to write each week I look for a realization that has crossed my mind the preceding week, so excuse me if what I came up with this week is a bit gloomy. I remember sitting at my desk in Vṛndāvana, reflecting on my life, and marveling at the thought that at sixty-eight years of age I am about the same age as Śrīla Prabhupāda when he left for America. I just couldn’t believe that I am that old. It was then that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words, “Don’t think this won’t happen to you,” came to my mind and a flood of thoughts followed.

 

Mostly, the realizations were positive and inspiring. For sure it makes one much more detached. In the presence of temporality, many things that seem of grave importance suddenly seem petty.

 

The reflection that hit me strongest was the thought of impending separation from many Godbrothers and Godsisters who may leave the world before I do. It was hard to fathom the void in my life by the absence of such substantial people, even if I only see them just a few times a year at most.

 

I also realized how much we need such reality checks for a healthy spiritual life, and that if we don’t refresh the fact of our temporality such thoughts will certainly recede in our consciousness by the core nature of human psychology. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam thus tells us that the most amazing thing in the world is that we act as if in this body we will live forever in the face of the fact that everyone in history has died. So yes, realizations of the temporary nature of the world do most often fade. I love the generic term Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam uses for this phenomenon: śmaśāna-vairāgya, the temporary thoughts of renunciation that arise only at a funeral and then quickly fade, but I pray not.

 

I am left with a sobering thought. Seriousness in Krishna consciousness is not something we plan for the future. If we don’t appropriately dedicate ourselves now to guru and Krishna according to our station in life, it may never happen. Trust no future, however pleasant.[1] I pray to heed Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words spoken in earnest to his young disciples. I meditate how much more relevant they are to me now: Don’t think this won’t happen to you!

 

 

 

 


[1] From “The Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #51 – The Supreme Personality of Rice

December 17th, 2018

If you look at my astrological chart, you will see that my Venus is debilitated. I joke sometimes that even if you buy me a new set of silk clothes, as soon as I put them on I will walk out the door and somehow my pocket will get caught in the doorknob and my fine clothes will be torn. I don’t know much about astrology, but I know that, among other things, Venus rules very fine things. It’s just not my karma to procure, possess, or be surrounded by fine things. I surmise that’s a good thing in general for a sannyāsi, for if one overly makes demands on the environment for fine things it would be difficult for one to remain an honest renunciate. Now on to the “Supreme Personality of Rice”.

 

Narma Sakhi from Iran invited me to lunch and the rice preparation was so fine it was almost like I had never had rice before. The imported Iranian rice itself was so fragrant that just keeping it in the room, even before cooking it, seemed almost like lighting incense. It was perfectly cooked and mixed with finely sliced almonds and pistachios, raisin sized pieces of fried paneer, and bright saffron. It was all of the finest quality ingredients and the taste was simultaneously incredibly rich and subtle with flavors. What to speak of the walnut/pomegranate sauce served on top! It was so ambrosial that after the meal I joked that I just had the supreme personality of rice.[1]

 

 

I am by no means a connoisseur of food, but boy was that rice good! And how much I enjoyed not just the taste, but also the aesthetic of it. It was so fine and perfect in every way, from the texture and color to the fragrance and taste. So here is the question: Is it good or bad to like fine things? Or perhaps a better question would be what is the role of fine things in society? First, we need a definition of culture to give us a foundation to understand the proper role of fine things in life. Here’s one that I particularly like:

 

Culture is the deliberate organization of society for the purpose of creating impressions in the consciousness to help one learn, communicate, and relate better.[2]

 

The key point here in the definition to help us understand fine things is the aspect of helping one relate better. Fine things are an essential part of exchanging love or relating better with others because love means offering the best to one’s beloved. A proper culture therefore evolves fine music, art, and so on, as well as fine cuisine in order to, among other reasons, enhance the expression of affection for others, including one’s devotion to God.

 

Another aspect of the necessity of fine things is the effect fine things can have on elevating the consciousness to transcendence. Things like art, music, or even great natural beauty elevate the consciousness by impassioning one with an undeniable feeling of meaning and truth in life, whether one believes in God or is secular. Leonard Bernstein, the great American conductor and composer, expressed this concept beautifully in relation to hearing properly composed music, but it can be applied to all finely created things:

 

Beethoven turned out pieces of breath-taking rightness. There is something that checks throughout, that follows its own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down.

 

Also, in relation to music, in The Republic Plato discusses how good music puts order in a child’s soul by training the child to have proper emotions even before he or she can intellectually understand them. He thus speaks of quality music as educating “through habits, by imparting by the melody a certain harmony of spirit that is not science, and by rhythm, measure and grace” and affirms its instrumental educational role “because more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way into the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it.”

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda makes the same point not just about music, but the effect of fine things in general in his commentary on verse 1.11.12 in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam where the beauty of Krishna’s city of Dvārakā is described. There he comments how “beautiful gardens, parks and reservoirs of water with ducks and swans playing in the midst of lotus flowers […] are essential for developing the finer tissues of the human body.” In contrast he described how congested, run down industrial cities “deteriorate the finer sentiments of the human being and society to form a dungeon of demons.”

 

Of note here is that the fine things of culture are never just limited to those of economic status. It was the duty of the government to provide an environment of fine architecture and nature, and the duty of those with money to especially construct beautiful temples and churches to soothe and elevate the consciousness of all the citizens, regardless of caste or creed. Of course, deep poverty can ruin all good qualities, and the government needs to assure a minimum sense of decency. If people have even a simple standard of living, they can keep their immediate environment and behavior fine and clean in order to deepen their spirituality, from how they keep their home to the music they listen to and so on.

 

Back to our original question: Should one in spiritual life dedicated to simple living surround oneself with fine things? Like all enjoyment in life, the value of fine things, as described above, is determined by how it is used. In other words, fine things, like most things in life, when applied appropriately and according to one’s nature and ashram, can help purify the consciousness. But when they are used ostentatiously or indulgently they can degrade it.

 

It should be noted that one in bhakti-yoga who has a propensity for fine things and has the means to procure them can become absorbed in deity worship where, according to one’s means, one can procure the best for Krishna. And by offering them to Krishna we can see, smell, and taste the finest things, not in the consciousness of selfish enjoyment, but in devotion. One can also exchange lovely gifts and finely cooked prasādam with the devotees to enhance the culture of loving exchanges so necessary in opening the heart for bhakti.

 

Certainly, as a renunciate I should cultivate detachment to anything not directly used in Krishna’s service, and not seek fine tastes and food, but boy was the supreme personality of rice good!

 

 


[1] Morassa Pulao (Nuts Rice)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • Rice, 6 cups
  • Oil, 8 tablespoons
  • Water, 10 cups
  • Salt, 6 teaspoons
  • Powdered saffron, 1 tablespoon
  • Curd cheese (paneer), chopped into 1 cm cubes, 2 cups
  • Chopped pistachios, 1 cup
  • Chopped almonds, 1 cup
  • Barberries (washed and drained), 1 cup
  • Cooking raisins (washed and drained), 1 cup

 

Directions:

  1. Wash and drain the rice.
  2. Heat 4 tablespoons. of oil over medium heat in a large pan and fry the rice for two minutes. Then add the water and salt and bring to a boil. Place the lid on the pan and simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes.
  3. Add a little hot water to the powdered saffron in a small bowl
  4. Heat the rest of the oil in a pan and slightly fry the curd cheese. Fry the chopped pistachios and almonds together with the barberries and raisins for 5 minutes and add the saffron to the mix. Mix all the ingredients with the rice and let it cook for further 10 minutes.

 

[2] I remember reading this definition of culture, but offhand don’t remember where it came from.

 

Monday Morning Greetings #2018 #50 – Which Religion is Best? Part II: Back By Popular Demand

December 10th, 2018

Several people wrote to me disappointed that in my article “Which Religion is Best” I chose not to continue the dialogue between Śrī Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya to its ultimate conclusion. I cited constraints of time (article deadline) and space (article length) as the reason. But it was more than that.

 

The original question asked by Śrī Caitanya to Rāmānanda Rāya was meant to ascertain the verse in the scriptures that represents the highest attainment. After a long dialectic between them where Caitanya initially expresses less than complete satisfaction with the references cited, Rāmānanda eventually progresses to a verse describing mādhurya-rasa, conjugal love of God.  Although Śrī Caitanya finally seemed satisfied and even deems the verse the limit of perfection (sādhyāvadhi suniścaya), He still unexpectedly requests Rāmānanda to speak something more. Rāmānanda’s reaction was telling: “Until this day I did not know anyone within this material world who could inquire beyond this perfectional stage of devotional service.”

 

Beyond the perfectional stage of devotional service!? That’s when I thought that even if there were no other restraints, there was no need to continue analyzing this dialogue to its conclusion. I reasoned that just as a very young child is not mature enough to understand a romance movie, we similarly lack the experience of bhāva, advanced devotion, to maturely understand subjects stretching to the intimate dealings of Radha and Krishna. For this reason these sections were only read, but not discussed publicly in the Gauḍīya Maṭha under Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta’s order.[1]

 

It’s already Thursday and too late to start a new article. What to do? I thought of a solution to reconcile the necessity to continue and my reluctance to do so. I will just be very careful in my presentation to honor the sanctity of the subject. After all, Śrīla Prabhupāda did carefully comment on these subjects in the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. I will therefore carefully summarize the remaining levels of this discussion so that we can at least have a theoretical understanding of the subject. I will do this by following the same formula I used to analyze the first five levels:

  1. Paraphrase of the verse Rāmānanda Rāya cited to answer Śrī Caitanya’s question
  2. Explanation of why the verse was cited
  3. Quote of Śrī Caitanya’s response to the verse cited
  4. Explanation of Śrī Caitanya’s response

I should mention here that the only difference between the levels of attainment I described before and the summary of the remaining levels is that now Rāmānanda Rāya often quotes several references for each level of attainment instead of just one.

 

Level 6: Prema-bhakti: Ecstatic love of Godhead.

  1. “When devotional service is executed with an intense greed or thirst for devotion transcendental bliss or pure love for God awakens in the heart of a devotee.” (Padyāvalī 13-14, paraphrased)
  2. One can practice pure devotional service (jñāna-śūnyā bhakti) when one is fixed in devotion, but until one has achieved an intense greed to please Krishna to the extent that there is nothing else within one’s heart, one has still yet to attain prema-bhakti, the ultimate perfection.
  3. eho haya, āge kaha āra: This is alright, but still speak something more.
  4. There is something higher than a simple cognizance of love of Godhead and that is when love of God is expressed in an intimate relationship where one feels a certain intimacy as God’s personal servant.

 

Level 7: Dāsya-prema: Spontaneous loving service in the mood of the Lord’s personal servant.

  1. “A man becomes purified simply by hearing the holy name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose lotus feet create the holy places of pilgrimage. Therefore what remains to be attained by those who have become his servants.” (Bhāg.5.16 as quoted in Cc Madhya 8.72)This is just one of several verses given to glorify dāsya-prema.
  1. This verse is a straightforward description of the exalted attainment of the mood of being the Lord’s personal servant.
  2. eho haya, āge kaha āra: This is alright, but still speak something more.
  3. Intimate service in the mood of the Lord’s personal servant is exalted, but because there is always a natural sense of obligation and apprehension in dealing with a superior, the force of pure devotion, although powerful, is somewhat inhibited within that relationship. Śrī Caitanya therefore still wants something more.

 

Level 8: Sakhya-prema: Loving service to Krishna rendered in the mood of fraternity.

  1. It is hard to understand how certain exalted persons, after accumulating volumes of pious activities are now playing with the Lord in friendship as cowherd boys. (Bhāg.12.11, paraphrased)
  2. Here the exalted attainment of loving service in fraternity is described where one plays with the Lord as one’s equal, not inhibited by a sense of reverence or fear.
  3. eho uttama, āge kaha āra: This statement is very good, but please proceed even further.
  4. Although since level five (jñāna-śūnyā bhakti) Śrī Caitanya has been appreciative of the answers (eho haya), this is the first time the reference is described as excellent (uttama) because, as mentioned above, one’s devotion is finally not weakened by even a scent of obligation. More intimate and deep than friendship with God, however, is parental love. Seeing the Lord as one’s dependent child is not only not tempered by apprehension, but the consequent feelings of anugraha (mercy) engendered in a parental relationship make it even more forceful than fraternal devotion. Śrī Caitanya thus still requests more.

 

Level 9: Vātsalya-prema: Loving service to the Lord in the parental relationship.

  1. “The favor mother Yaśodā obtained from Krishna was never obtained by Lord Brahma, Lord Siva, or even the goddess of fortune.” (Bhāg.9.20, paraphrased)
  2. In this verse the words na lebhire (never obtained) are used three times. When something is uttered three times it indicates a great stress on a fact. Here it indicates the exalted position of Mother Yaśodā where, in the mood of motherly love, Krishna has become completely subordinate to her
  3. eho uttama, āge kaha āra: This statement is very good, but please proceed even further.
  4. Parental devotion like fraternal devotion is forceful and without apprehension, and therefore deemed excellent by Śrī Caitanya. Śrī Caitanya is still not satisfied that the highest attainment has been achieved, so He again asks to hear about something better.

 

Level 10: Kāntā or mādhurya prema: Conjugal attachment for Krishna.[2]

  1. “My dear gopīs the force of your love is so strong that I cannot possibly repay you. You will have to be satisfied with the love itself.” (Bhāg.32.22, paraphrased)This is one of six references cited by Rāmānanda Rāya about the glories of mādhurya prema.
  1. Mādhurya-rasa, conjugal love for God, includes all the feelings manifest in previous relationships in addition to a level of intimacy and freedom unique to that relationship. The feelings of love for Krishna therefore become so forceful that even Krishna feels inadequate to properly reciprocate such devotion.
  2. ei ‘sādhyāvadhi’ suniścaya kṛpā kari’ kaha, yadi āge kichu haya: This is certainly the limit of perfection, but be merciful to Me and speak further if there is more.
  3. As mentioned, mādhurya-rasa is the most forceful and complete manifestation of love of Godhead and thus the highest attainment. Śrī Caitanya thus only reluctantly asks if there could be anything more.

 

Obviously, I miscalculated again. There is no way I have the time this week to go further on this subject. Among the gopīs, Śrī Radha is the best. Śrī Caitanya hints that He wants to hear Her glories. Stay tuned; To be continued.

 

 


[1] The spiritual organization of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s guru.

[2] Conjugal attachment for Krishna is described in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu as kāma-rūpa, the form of lust. In other words, it has nothing to do with mundane sex desire. Only the form is similar. The consciousness of one with this relationship with Krishna is simply, “How Krishna can be pleased by my romantic overtures?”

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #49 – To Bee or Not to Bee: The Kīrtana Verse

December 3rd, 2018

When Krishna enters the forest of Vṛndāvana, the forest is buzzing with joy. The sound of the bees, which proclaim His glories, is particularly captivating to His mind. Krishna Himself therefore describes them as the exemplars of kīrtana.

 

“O Original Personality, these bees must all have been great sages and most elevated devotees of Yours, for they are worshipping You by following You along the path and chanting Your glories, which are themselves a holy place for the entire world. Though You have disguised Yourself within this forest, O sinless one, they refuse to abandon You their worshipable Lord.” (Bhāg. 10.15.6)

 

This is one of a series of verses in the Fifteenth Chapter of the Tenth Canto describing Krishna’s entrance into the forest of Vṛndāvana along with His elder brother Balarama. As one by one the residents of the forest, such as the trees and peacocks, worship Krishna, He sets the example of one who is refined in character by deflecting that praise. When the bees therefore chant His glories, Krishna declares that their chanting is actually meant for His brother, who is at His side. He then proceeds in this way in detail to describe the glory of the bees, and thus all souls on the path of kīrtana, chanting the glories of the Lord.

 

The Sanskrit term “muni”, literally meaning “silent”, is used to describe great sages who dwell in the forest. The bees who are forest dwellers, however, are called not just munis by Krishna, but great munis (muni-ganah), for instead of taking vows of silence, they are loudly singing (gāyantaḥ) the Lord’s glories. And not only does chanting the Lord’s glories make them the best of the sages according to Krishna, but as they are constantly chanting the kīrtana of the Lord, they are the most intimate and elevated (mukhya) among the devotees (bhavadīya).

 

Śrī Krishna is non-different from His name. Those who constantly chant His glories actually never leave His side as they traverse the trail of devotion. Therefore, according to Krishna, the bees of Vṛndāvana, who are constantly singing the Lord’s glories, are intensely worshipping the Lord (bhajante) by following Him along both the pathway into the forest (anupatham) and remaining on the path of devotion.

 

And unlike other residents of the forest who may follow the path of Krishna, the bees who cling to His garland can also enter deep into the most protected and secret forest bowers where Krishna performs His most intimate pastimes. Those who constantly chant Krishna’s glories (kīrtana) thus not only never leave His side, but also have special entrance into the most intimate pastimes of the Lord.

 

As the practice of kīrtana is so powerful, Krishna describes chanting as a tīrtha, a holy place. According to its literal meaning from its root derivation tarati, tīrtha is not just a geographical location, but also the means in general for crossing the ocean of material existence. As one can chant the glories of the Lord anywhere, kīrtana is described by Krishna as a holy place for the entire world (akhila-loka). We always aspire to visit or live in the holy dhāma, but by absorbing oneself in the holy name one is always residing in a holy place!

 

Krishna’s dress and simple life as a cowherd disguise (ham) His majesty and position as God. Still the bees recognize His glory and thus continue to follow and worship Him through the forest of Vṛndāvana. Similarly, one who has constantly chanted the holy name of Krishna has been blessed with the depth of realization to understand that Vṛndāvana Krishna, although externally bereft of overt aiśvarya (opulence), is in fact the fullest manifestation of God.

 

Usually bees buzzing so close to one’s head and body can be a nuisance. Krishna therefore refers to His brother as anagha, or sinless, which indicates the quality of Krishna that doesn’t recognize the faults of His devotees. In the same way, Krishna being sinless (anagha) does not consider the deficiencies of one who constantly chants His name, but only remembers their service. And how important is that example for us to follow in relation to those who have dedicated their life to spreading the glories of the holy name?

 

Therefore, one who is intelligent should follow the example of the bees as described in this verse: To bee or not bee: that is the question.[1]

 

 

 


[1] The different points of analysis on this verse come from various commentaries of Vaiṣṇava ācāryas.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #48 – Which Religion is Best?

November 26th, 2018

One of the best summaries of comparative religion, at least in the tradition to which I adhere, is the recounted discussion between Rāmānanda Rāya, the great Vaiṣṇava scholar, and Śrī Caitanya found in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. It begins when Śrī Caitanya asks Rāmānanda Rāya, the most learned devotee at the time, to recite a verse from the revealed scriptures concerning the ultimate goal of life. He responds by citing verse after verse, progressively describing higher and higher attainments in religious life, until Śrī Caitanya is finally satisfied that the apex of spiritual attainment has been cited.

 

What follows is a brief outline of this ladder of religious ascent as described by Rāmānanda Rāya. I will use the following template to describe each step.

  1. Paraphrase of the verse Rāmānanda Rāya’s cited to answer Śrī Caitanya’s question
  2. Explanation of why the verse was cited
  3. Quote of Śrī Caitanya’s response to the verse cited
  4. Explanation of Śrī Caitanya’s response

 

The Ladder of Religious or Spiritual Attainment

Level 1: Sva-dharmācaraṇe: Executing one’s duties properly

  1. There is no other way to worship and satisfy God than by adhering strictly to one’s social and occupational duties. (Viṣṇu Purāṇa8.9)
  2. We all have social and occupational duties. Most people accept that there are social standards for what constitutes a good parent, son or daughter, spouse, and so on. Today we also see that people expect standards of appropriate behavior from people in different occupations, from the President of the United States down to an honest worker. To adhere to one’s occupational or social duty according to the proper standard outlined in śāstra is to follow God’s desire for order and purification and thus worshipping or satisfying Him.
  3. This is external. Say something more (eho bāhya, āge kaha āra).
  4. Properly following one’s duties is certainly praiseworthy, but ultimate spiritual attainment means something more. It is a direct manifestation of the soul, which is unfettered service to God. One can certainly satisfy God by his duty and advance in spiritual life, but as one’s duty is still prescribed according to one’s embodied nature, it remains connected to the body and the three modes of material nature. In that sense, prescribed duties are external to the soul and certainly not the highest attainment. Śrī Caitanya therefore requests something more.

 

Level 2: Kṛṣṇe karmārpaṇa: Offering the results of one’s activities to Krishna

  1. All the results of whatever one is doing, from eating, sacrifice, and charity to austerity, should be offered to Krishna. (Bg. 9.27)
  2. When one realizes that God is the basis and sustainer of all, one becomes conscious that our ultimate service is to Him, even as we still adhere to our “local” responsibilities or duties. Therefore, higher than just performing one’s duty is to consciously offer and dedicate one’s activities to God.
  3. This is external. Say something more (eho bāhya, āge kaha āra).
  4. Although one is consciously offering one’s activities to God, the basis of those activities is still born of one’s nature and material situation. Again, although laudable, it is still not the highest attainment. Śrī Caitanya thus requests something further.

 

Level 3: Svadharma-tyāga: To renounce one’s social and occupational duties (sannyāsa)

  1. Give up one’s religious and occupational duties to fully dedicate oneself to God. (Bg. 18.66)
  2. Higher than offering one’s material activities to Krishna is renouncing them and fully dedicating oneself to God’s will.
  3. This is external. Say something more (eho bāhya, āge kaha āra)
  4. Although one is no longer bound by social and occupational activities, which are dictated by one’s bodily situation, renunciation is still external to the soul, which is, in essence, dedication to God, not negation of the material world. Śrī Caitanya continues to ask for something more.

 

Level 4: Jñāna-miśrā bhakti: Devotion mixed with empirical knowledge

  1. Perform devotional service from the platform of the deep cultivation of knowledge that detaches one completely from the material world. (Bg. 18.54)
  2. Higher than coming to devotional service by the renunciation of karma or one’s duty, is coming to devotional service after one has already achieved bhakti. Here bhakti refers to a thorough realization of the soul’s difference from the body as a result of the cultivation of empirical knowledge.
  3. This is external. Say something more (eho bāhya, āge kaha āra).
  4. Quite astoundingly, Śrī Caitanya rejects this. Although one is now detached from the material world, the thrust of one’s devotional service is still tinged with a focus on renunciation. As materialistic thoughts, positive or negative, mix something with devotion, jñāna-miśrā bhakti is still external to the pure nature of the soul. Not satisfied, Śrī Caitanya asks Rāmānanda Rāya to go on.

 

Level 5: Jñāna-śūnyā bhakti: Devotional service unfettered by any other consideration such as jñāna.

  1. Give up the unnecessary focus on the empirical cultivation of knowledge and surrender fully to just chanting and hearing about the name, form, qualities, and pastimes of Krishna under the guidance of a pure devotee. (Bhāg.14.3)
  2. At this level of spiritual attainment, one’s devotion is completely free from the contamination of jñāna and karma. Therefore, both in consciousness and practice, there is nothing external to the soul.
  3. This is alright, but still speak something more (eho haya, āge kaha āra).
  4. Although Rāmānanda Rāya has finally cited a verse expressing pure devotional service that Śrī Caitanya has approved, until one achieves prema-bhakti, ecstatic love of Godhead, one’s attainment is not complete. Śrī Caitanya therefore requests Rāmānanda Rāya to go further.

 

When I start a Monday Morning Greeting I don’t have a complete idea how it will go, but I am conscious that it must fit into my general format of less than two pages, and I am pretty good about that. This one has already gone on past that. I am also close to the deadline where it must be completed. I will therefore end with a short summary of the rest of the concepts and verses cited by Rāmānanda Rāya until the highest attainment is finally referenced to Śrī Caitanya’s satisfaction.

 

Composite Summary of the Rest of the Levels of Attainment

Next Rāmānanda Rāya cites several verses describing prema bhakti, ecstatic love of God. Although Śrī Caitanya also very much appreciates the citations given about prema-bhakti, He still requests him to go further because love is ultimately expressed through a particular relationship. Rāmānanda Rāya thus progressively describes the glories of the various relationships or rasas one can have with the divine, but only when he has cited six references that beautifully illustrate the force of mādhurya-rasa, becoming a lover of Krishna, does Śrī Caitanya become satisfied. He finally declares that this is certainly the limit of perfection (sādhyāvadhi suniścaya).

 

Śrī Caitanya is somehow still eager for more and how the dialogue continues is certainly quite astounding in terms of the theological conceptions of Krishna consciousness. I, however, must unfortunately stop here, but I do highly recommend the complete study of this astonishing discussion on comparative religion.[1]

 

 


[1] The full discussion between Śrī Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya is found in Madhya-līlā, Chapter 8, of the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #47 – Only the Ignorant Have Enemies

November 19th, 2018

“In former times there were many ignorant fools like you who did not conquer the six enemies that steal away the wealth of the body. These fools were very proud thinking, ‘I have conquered all enemies in all ten directions.’ But if a person is victorious over the six enemies and is equipoised toward all living entities, for him there are no enemies. Enemies are merely imagined by one in ignorance.” (Bhāg. 7.8.10, emphasis my own)

 

These are the words of the young saintly Prahlāda to his powerful demonic father, Hiraṇyakaśipu. Today, when I read this verse, I was particularly struck by the last line. It claims rather emphatically that enemies are not real, just envisaged. I pondered the point. How can that be? People have enemies all the time. After some time a resolution came.

 

We generally think of the term “enemy” as a person who hates us, but the term here has a broader meaning. It refers simply to one who opposes our goal. That became clear when I checked Śrīla Prabhupāda’s English translation of the Sanskrit word for enemy, pare, which is also glossed as “opposing elements”. The resolution was thus clear. If an enemy means one who opposes our aim, and the aim of life is self-realization, then we have no enemies because by the law of karma everything that comes to us, even the enmity of others, is meant to bring us closer to God. To see another as enemy, opposing our welfare, is thus imagined only in ignorance. Here are some examples to make this clear:

 

Vidura was harshly insulted and unceremoniously banished from the palace by its ruler, his evil-minded nephew Duryodhana. He was deeply hurt. Rather than see Duryodhana as the enemy, however, Vidura saw within his nephew’s cruelty the hand of God giving him a message. Advanced in years, he was being advised to renounce home and leave for pilgrimage. Being saintly and wise Vidura understood that despite the hate in people’s hearts, ultimately there are no enemies, including his nephew. He knew that everyone, whether good or bad, is carrying a message from God for our own spiritual development.

 

When Mahārāja Parīkṣit was informed that a bull had been beaten by a low-class rogue, he immediately left his palace to find and punish the culprit. When he found the stricken bull barely left standing on one leg, he inquired who had beaten him. To his surprise, however, the bull refused to identify the perpetrator. By his answer, or lack thereof, he immediately recognized the bull’s identity and declared, “You are dharma!” Mahārāja Parīkṣit understood the bull’s position for the foundation of dharma is to see God’s hand in everything and the height of that vision is to not even view one’s oppressor as one’s enemy.

 

This same point was made to me about twenty-five years ago in a very personal way during a casual visit with my friend Bhūrijana Prabhu in Vṛndāvana. He knew that for the sake of cooperation and loyalty those in institutions sometimes have to tolerate people who abuse their authority due to immaturity. Knowing my situation, he therefore suspected that I may have a cause to be resentful and wanted to try something that perhaps could be helpful for me. He then asked me to visualize the face of the person whom I felt I had cause to be most angry with and express my feelings towards him. He even egged me on to rouse my anger. After a few minutes he then told me to replace that person’s face in my mind with my own. My feelings subsided and I got the message. Only the ignorant have enemies, for by the law of karma, we are ultimately the cause of the enmity that is coming towards us.

 

An unusual thought suddenly came to my mind while writing this: this concept is probably most succinctly expressed by Pogo, the namesake of a famous comic strip that I read in the 60s. I will leave you to ponder his famous words:

 

We have met the enemy and he is us.

 

 

 

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