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Monday Morning Greeting 2024 #25 – Metro Mantra Sanga

June 17th, 2024

During the Memorial Day weekend, I held several programs in the New York/New Jersey area. The events were accommodating to newcomers, but for the most part they were gatherings of like-minded people with deep, longstanding bonds. There was no dearth of volunteers, and the many services were all done expertly, especially the Memorial Day feast—chapatis, rice, sweet potato soup, koftas in tomato sauce, creamy paneer subji, bhel puri, handva, coriander chutney, potato patra, cupcakes, ladoo, kheer, mango lassi, and nimbu pani.

 

There was such a strong sense of community. I was impressed, and right after kirtan, at the beginning of my class, I made a simple point based on what I had just seen: “Bhakti is easy. Just chant Hare Krishna with people who like each other.” Like Christianity, the Hare Krishna movement must offer different “churches” for different people—eventually more localized, to bring nearby like-minded people together and provide community to the maximum number of those interested in devotion.

 

The modern world is increasingly exploitative, and it does not provide sufficient genuine community to give people respite from our dog-eat-dog modern society. As the Catholic social activist Dorothy Day said, “We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.” More than ever, people need gathering places that can foster a deep sense of care and belonging, where one is inspired by the community’s service mood to serve others before themselves, the first step in spiritual life. It’s with this vulnerability, this letting down of the guard of self-centeredness that covers the soul, that one’s heart can be open to God’s grace—essential to experiencing the divinity of the holy name.

 

Bhakti is best expressed through seva, humble service, and genuine community inspires and offers opportunities for service; it is one of the most attractive and powerful tools to draw people toward devotion and keep them within the association of devotees. So, this week I am sharing a very simple realization: We need more of what I saw on Memorial Day—devotees who know and like each other gathered with a sense of belonging and care in genuine community expertly and selflessly engaged in service.

 

To address this need, I have started Metro Mantra Sanga. It’s a simple idea: I am organizing a yearly calendar of events—home programs and festivals—in the metropolitan area to provide more opportunities for participation and service in devotion and thus bring like-minded people together in spiritual community. On occasion we will also invite other devotees to enlighten us—some of whom are close to us but don’t have local platforms to share their wisdom.

 

Many of my students and followers render service and/or participate in other communities’ gatherings, events, and online groups, and I encourage them to continue to do so. Metro Mantra Sanga just adds another resource for in-person community and devotional service.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #24 – Swami’s Analogies

June 10th, 2024

A reasonable person wants to understand what is true and live by it. But how to ascertain the truth? The wisdom traditions of India generally outline three main means of knowing called pramāṇa.[1] The three main pramāṇas are verbal testimony (śabda—what we accept as true in the form of the testimony of a recognized authority), pratyakṣa (direct experience), and anumāna (inference or logical conclusions). In our tradition we consider śabda, our sacred texts, as the highest pramāṇa.

 

Of course, there are limits to śabda when communicating the truth. The audience may not accept the authority of one’s tradition or may accept the authority of śāstra but misunderstand the point being referenced. I therefore find upamān or analogy, making comparison between things that have similar features, helpful in communicating certain points, especially those which are somewhat abstract.

 

For this Greetings I would therefore like to share a few of the analogies I composed to hopefully demonstrate how helpful analogy can be in illustrating concepts that are sometimes challenging to explain.

 

What is Bhakti?

Introduction: Is bhakti our nature, an energy of God, or a practice to achieve perfection? It is all of these, but in explaining what bhakti is, especially to an audience not familiar with our tradition, I composed the following analogy.

 

Analogy: Just as there is a natural love that flows between a newborn calf and its mother, there is a natural love that flows between the soul and God called bhakti.

 

Comment: I was in the flower gardens of Vrindavan visiting a gardener friend when I saw a calf being born for the first time in my life. The calf got up immediately to drink its mother’s milk and the mother began to intensely lick its calf. I had an epiphany. There is a universal principle of natural love between two beings that have a relationship clearly seen in this innate love between a cow and its calf. It perfectly illustrates what bhakti is, except that in bhakti the natural affection is between the soul and God.

 

Why devotional practice must be concentrated, uninterrupted and prolonged to bear the fruit of realization.

Analogy: Just as a piece of paper under the intense rays of the sun focused upon it through a magnifying glass will not burn immediately but only catch fire when those rays are focused steadily for some time, similarly the experience of the holy name will only touch one’s heart in the practice of japa meditation when one is concentrated on the holy name uninterruptedly over a prolonged period.

 

Comment: This analogy came to me after reading in the Yoga-sūtras the definition of practice—meditation that is concentrated, uninterrupted and prolonged over a period of time.

 

How can the same divine energy of the holy dhāma which pushes us so sweetly and easily towards God feel sometimes so challenging?

Analogy: The same eastern wind, which is very pleasant for a sailboat moving east, is oppositional and unpleasant when the sailboat is moving west. Similarly, the divine energy of Vrindavan is helpful towards the service of Krishna and makes residing in Vrindavan so sweet. But it is oppositional to our desires when we are moving in the direction of false ego and makes residing in Vrindavan quite unpleasant.

 

What does śuddha-nāma, or the pure name mean? Isn’t the holy name pure itself?

Analogy: Sometimes a person whom we don’t recognize, although they are right before us, doesn’t reveal their full self and remains a stranger. But when we serve and love them, they reveal their full being as a child, friend or lover. Similarly, when we chant the holy name with neglect, although the holy name is right before us, it remains distant like a stranger. But when chanted with pure love, the holy name reveals itself fully as our child, friend or lover and that is called śuddha-nāma.

 

Analogies are a powerful tool in communicating principles of truth that we seek to share with others. I hope you found mine effective.

 


[1] From root mā, “to measure”. Pra usually means “completely”.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #23 – The Problem of the Problem of Evil

June 3rd, 2024

I was surprised by the emotional reaction from some to my class and the questions and dialogue that ensued.

 

I was speaking on Nsiha-līlā and somehow a point in the class was made about reconciling evil in the world with the existence of God. This is just a summary of the perspectives on that issue.

 

“If one has lived a life of dharma and has thus gained the realizations one was meant to get by appropriately responding to one’s karma (destiny), one should be able to look back on all those experiences and understand that the consciousness that has evolved by the lessons of destiny has been worth any of the suffering needed to get there.”

 

The audience was divided, some seemed to be enlivened by my point and others disturbed. When I say disturbed, no one was disrespectful, but they expressed their personal challenges concerning my point, somewhat intellectually, but more emotionally. Here were the responses as far as I understood them at the time:

 

“There are so many horrible things that happen to one and it is so difficult to go through them. It seems this kind of philosophy, that it is all one’s fault, just adds to the burden.”

 

“I can accept that I have learned from my past, but I will find it hard to accept it if God puts me through more.”

 

“I am trying in devotional service, but these powerful emotions come up again and again. Why?”

 

“I was just so relieved when the doctor told me after my diagnosis of breast cancer that it wasn’t my fault. Now I find out it is.” [Related to me later.]

 

I tried to engage with each doubt by tackling the problem of evil comprehensively as I have done before as outlined in a previous Monday Morning Greeting[1], at the same time trying to remain sensitive to people’s individual feelings. It is not easy, however, to satisfactorily respond to a person’s trauma individually, while at the same time remaining cognizant of the collective mind of a whole audience. In fact, there were just as many who expressed how the philosophy has pacified them as people who felt challenged by the discussion. One lady offered a quote from the famous book A Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz:

 

“Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses suggest that inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him, mentally and spiritually.”

 

The discussion seemed to be so relevant that the following day I addressed the issue again to another audience in even a more thorough, and in a sense, refined way.[2] A few days later, I contacted one of the people initially raising doubts and asked for the question to be expressed so that I could understand it more clearly. This is what I received:

 

“It seems like an added cruelty to also hold the victim responsible to fix or move on from the dilemma and also blame them for not having enough faith or mental wherewith-all in the face of their circumstances—how to see God’s benevolence in the actual moment of pain’s infliction, when contending with what seems like that added cruelty?”

 

After receiving the reply, I began to contemplate if I could’ve responded in class more effectively. I don’t think there is anything more I could have added philosophically during my class or by my writings. I have dealt with this problem comprehensively.[3] In terms, of seeing God’s benevolence in the actual moment of pain, it’s a question of application of the philosophy. I therefore doubt, except in the rarest of instances, if it is the time and place for utilizing the philosophy of karma at all. In terms of speaking of it in a class of devotees, if the point comes up it must be addressed. But perhaps one should be a little cognizant of the trauma and pain that people, especially those growing up in the modern world, experience. The Yoga-sūtras make it clear that compassion (ahi) is the most important or most foundational yama (abstentions) and if there is any conflict with any other principle, such as satya (speaking truthfully), compassion takes precedence.

 

So, if such a situation arises again, in addition to tackling the issue comprehensively from a philosophical standpoint, I would stress to the audience how carefully the philosophy must be presented, and, of course, how it rarely should be the first response to trauma. Perhaps I could have also stressed another point, that an understanding that we are the ultimate cause of our destiny affirms our agency to change things in the future. That is comforting, while a sense of victimhood robs us of our own agency by externalizing the cause of our suffering, which dampens hope and is depressing.

 

Conclusion: There is the problem evil, an intellectual challenge, and the problem of the problem of evil, an emotional one. Both are not easily addressed, but I haven’t seen a better approach to this quandary than the Bhāgavatam.

 

 


[1] https://wavesofdevotion.com/2018/03/26/believers-and-the-elephant-in-the-room-tackling-the-challenge-of-evil/

[2] Home Program – May 26, 2024

[3] https://wavesofdevotion.com/2017/03/20/the-problem-of-evil/

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #22 – Blind Following is Condemned

May 27th, 2024

Blind Following is Condemned[1]

 

Some readers may be thinking, “You write about authority and surrender, but isn’t blind following dangerous?” Yes. It’s condemned![2] Here’s why.

 

Blind faith means accepting what one hears without a reasonable effort to understand it which poses two risks: accepting something that is false because of faith in an unqualified authority presenting something fallacious; or accepting something that is false because we have misunderstood what the qualified teacher has properly presented. Either way one fails to catch the truth.

 

Accepting things that are false

 

Without being thoughtful we not only wind up accepting things taught that we would normally see as overtly false, but we are also surrendering the tool required to extricate ourselves from being misled.

 

To avoid such an unfortunate situation, one must be thoughtful before fully accepting a spiritual authority. Ultimately, a spiritual teacher is sent by Providence in response to our sincere desire for truth. To ascertain, however, whether someone is qualified to play that role, one must first test that person’s qualification over a reasonable period by asking questions and having one’s doubts cleared.

 

Misunderstanding something that is true

 

Having a worthy guide also doesn’t guarantee understanding the truth. We often filter what we have heard through our desires and conditioning so that even if what we are taught is true, what we have understood is not. That’s why we often see good people with qualified guides nevertheless embracing untenable positions in the name of faith.

 

To avoid misunderstanding a qualified teacher the student must continue, if necessary, to ask questions and get any doubts cleared. Such questioning does not belie our faith in our teacher, because we are not doubting the teacher’s authority, which should have already been tested, but rather our own understanding of what has been said.

 

The need for such thoughtfulness in learning is stressed in most traditional teachings of India in the form of a dialogue in which we can observe the sincere student continually questioning his teacher until his doubts or misunderstandings are cleared. The best example is the Bhagavad-gītā. It took Arjuna five chapters of going back and forth with Krishna before he finally understood and accepted one of the basic points that Krishna was stressing—what makes something spiritual is not necessarily a particular activity but the understanding and consciousness in which such an activity is done. Therefore, Arjuna’s surrender to Krishna is not an example of blind faith, nor is Krishna the example of a teacher who demands blind allegiance.

 

So yes, authority is not a bad concept, nor is surrender, but blind faith is.

 

“Don’t follow blindly. Following blindly something, that is not good. That will not stay. But one should take everything with logic. But the servants of God, they put everything in logic. caitanyera dayāra kathā karaha vicāra. If you study the Caitanya’s philosophy with logic and argument… Don’t go by sentiment.” (Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lecture on Bhāg. 6.2.1-5, Calcutta, January 6, 1971)

 

 


[1] While waking early today (Saturday) to finish my Monday Morning Greetings I found that it was mysteriously nowhere to be found. I thus searched my files for an old one. The first one I opened was this one from December 19, 2019, and when I read it, I realized something—how much my writing has improved. I thus completely rewrote this old Greetings. I have also decided that my old Greetings must be re-edited. I really see Krishna’s hand in mysteriously deleting this week’s Greetings. This morning what started off as a real bummer has turned into a real blessing.

[2]I got the phrase ‘Blind following is condemned” from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purport on Bg 4.34: “In this verse both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned. Not only should one hear submissively from the spiritual master; but one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries”

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #21 – Swami’s Quotations

May 20th, 2024

I wonder if anyone ever has written a definition for the phrase “notable quotation.” So far, I haven’t found one. I suspect that’s the case because there are almost innumerable characteristics that inspire a statement to become memorialized, anywhere from a nugget of wisdom to a historical moment, what to speak of the cultural context by which some may appreciate a particular quotation. Thus “notable quotations” is just too broad a term to precisely define. To give my post some context, however, I will offer my own definition of the phrase as a criterion to deem whether a statement is notable.

 

“A notable quotation is usually a short, succinct statement that clearly and powerfully captures an insight, inspiration or event that others are inspired to repeat so that eventually that statement becomes memorialized.”

 

One more point: I will offer short explanations of some statements I have made, although ultimately a notable quotation should be able to stand alone.

 

Swami’s Notable Quotations

 

Destiny is the language of God

Karma, what happens to us, is God’s law to teach us lessons to help us become closer to the self, which is the mood of service. In other words, destiny is the language in which God affectionately speaks to us.

 

Commitment changes consciousness

Making a commitment or vow is the promise to act on a good idea from a time-tested traditional perspective rather than just our whims. Such good ideas are called dharma, which is the science of elevating or changing one’s consciousness to a higher level of perception and contentment.

 

Humility is happy small

We generally fear the humble position because acquiescing to those greater than us may mean that we are exploited and abused. True humility, however, is acquiescing to that which is not only greater than us but which can maintain, protect, and love us. One thus feels shelter and happiness in the truly humble position.

 

For the rest of the post, I will just list other statements that I made that I think may encapsulate an insightful truth in a concise and expressive manner. In the future I may comment on them.

 

Krishna is God with His guard down

 

Position covers personality

 

Rationalization is intelligence in service of the false ego

 

All our problems are perceptual and not actual

 

Humility is reality

 

Death is the illusion of non-existence

 

And I will end with my favorite statement worth repeating (not mine):

 

Essential truth spoken concisely is true eloquence—Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #20 – The Birth of the Śikṣāṣṭakam

May 13th, 2024

After just completing this week’s Monday Morning Greeting based on my theory of when and how the Śikṣāṣṭakam was written, I found a verse indicating that my theory was wrong. So, I was not left with much of a choice—either post a reprint or post what I have written with an explanation. I really try to avoid posting reprints, so I have chosen the latter. I reasoned that even though I came to the wrong conclusion on the historicity of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, I think my post gives an interesting and important view on Śrī Caitanya’s relationship to the holy name in terms of His mission and how philosophical speculation works and what can be gleaned from it.[1] Therefore, I have added this introduction, and I will include another short paragraph following my original post highlighting what I think were the important points one could gather from this week’s Greetings.

 

The Birth of the Śikṣāṣakam

 

This post is an attempt to pinpoint when Śrī Caitanya wrote the Śikṣāṣṭakam, His only literary contribution of eight verses summarizing His mission. Within the biographies of Śrī Caitanya, there is in no definitive description of Him writing the Śikṣāṣṭakam, nor in those descriptions of His God-intoxicated life is there even any indication that writing, which was a very cumbersome process at the time, was an activity He would have given His time to. I have a theory, however, how the Śikṣāṣṭakam was born based on the twentieth and last chapter of the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, His main biography, titled “The Śikṣāṣṭaka Prayers”. To elucidate my point, I need to first explain and analyze the beginning of the chapter. Please bear with me as the relevance of my initial analysis won’t be clear until I come to the part where Śrī Caitanya begins to recite His seminal composition.

 

“The Śikṣāṣṭaka Prayers” begins with a description of the various intense emotions Śrī Caitanya felt towards the end of His life produced by ecstatic love for Śrī Krishna. These sentiments parallel the deepest sentiments of Śrī Radha that fulfill the internal reason for the Lord’s descent, which is to taste Śrī Radha’s feelings at the height of Her love. Besides this internal cause of the Lord’s appearance (why He appeared for Himself) there is an external cause for His descent (why He appeared for others), which is to distribute such devotion. The fulfillment of His external mission is described in the chapter that directly precedes “The Śikṣāṣṭaka Prayers”, Chapter Nineteen. There it is described how Śrī Advaita Ācārya, who first petitioned the Lord to appear, and is therefore considered one of the prime causes for His descent, sent Śrī Caitanya a cryptic message strongly indicating that His mission had been fulfilled and that He could now return to His eternal abode. In other words, “The Śikṣāṣṭaka Prayers”, this last chapter of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which is set at a time at the end of His life, begins with a clear indication that both missions of the Lord have now been fulfilled.

 

Next what is described is how Śrī Caitanya tasted the devotional sentiments that He had attained with His two most confidential associates. He would sing songs and recite verses imbibing the rasa (mood) of Śrī Radha, at times losing Himself throughout the night in a particular mood or pastime expressing those feelings. Amid such intense joy and reflecting on the success of His descent, which He is now tasting, He suddenly turns to His associates and gratefully acknowledges the cause of the fulfillment of His mission.

 

“In great jubilation, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, ‘My dear Svarūpa Dāmodara and Rāmānanda Rāya, know from Me that chanting the holy names is the most feasible means of salvation in this Age of Kali.’” (Antya-līlā 20.8)

 

From here on in, rather than return to His discussion of the pastimes of Śrī Śrī Radha and Krishna, Śrī Caitanya continues to elaborate with deep emotion on the glories of the holy name. It’s almost as if He is getting carried away with a personal ecstasy. Then after expressing the glories of the holy name in a conversational, non-poetic manner, a formal composition of those same thoughts, the first verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, spontaneously flows from His heart. He then, in a seeming continued trance of personal ecstasy, continues to extol the glories of the holy name and progressively produce in a similar manner the remaining verses of the Śikṣāṣṭakam.

 

My theory in summary: After completing His mission and relishing the fruits of His attainment in association with His confidential associates, and in acknowledgment of the cause of such fortune, the Śikṣāṣṭakam comes from His heart in an ecstatic trance, conveniently codifying His legacy at the end of His pastimes in this world. And we know from His biography that this type of extraordinary wordcraft was well within His ability. In His mid-teens, when He was a brilliant student of Sanskrit and before He had awakened ecstatic love of Godhead, in a debate with Keśava Kāśmīrī, the top scholar in India at the time, Śrī Caitanya was able to spontaneously memorize and correct on the spot the most minor grammatical defects of the one hundred verses composed about the Ganga by the renowned pandit extemporaneously. And that’s my theory of the birth of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, having no other indication in the biography of Śrī Caitanya of how and when He wrote anything.

 

After finishing the above essay and going over Chapter Twenty again, I came upon a verse that sunk my theory. Although it doesn’t indicate when He wrote the Śikṣāṣṭakam, Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja writes:

 

“The Lord had formerly composed these eight verses [pūrve aṣṭa-śloka kari] to teach people in general. Now He personally tasted the meaning of the verses, which are called the Śikṣāṣṭaka.” (Antya-līlā 20.64, emphasis mine)

 

There is still no light, as far as I know, when Śrī Caitanya wrote the Śikṣāṣṭakam, but what hopefully comes out in my attempt to resolve that quandary, even if wrong, is just how much nāma-saṅkīrtana is at the root of what Śrī Caitanya gave, for even when relishing the height of devotion with His two closest associates, still thoughts of appreciation and gratitude for nāma-saṅkīrtana still overwhelmed Him. Could I have been wrong, but for the right reason?

 

 


[1] There is difference between mental speculation, which Vaiṣṇavas reject, and philosophical speculation which they accept. In mental speculation you reason to find out if the philosophical conclusions in a tradition are true, In philosophical speculation you speculate how they are true. In this case, I am accepting the authority of the Śikṣāṣṭakam and that its author was Śrī Caitanya, and I am just trying to figure out how it was composed.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #19 – A Decade of Tears

May 6th, 2024

This morning, I found out that my godbrother His Holiness Gopal Krishna Maharaja passed away. I won’t go into the details, but his service for Śrīla Prabhupāda was practically unparalleled, and he will be missed dearly, but what I remember about him most was that he treated devotees with respect and never criticized others. In his honor I will offer this fairly recent Monday Morning Greetings[1] reminding us how important it is to honor all devotees, big and small, who have given their lives to God, while they are among us.

 

A Decade of Tears

The phrase struck me. I was talking with Bhūrijana Prabhu after the passing of Śrīla Bhakti-caru Swami. We began to reflect on the fact that practically all of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples have just turned near seventy when this decade began, if not before, and that it was evident that as the decade proceeds, the number of our god-siblings that leave us will exponentially increase. We shared some pain at the thought. As our discussion ended his parting comment struck me: “It will be a decade of tears.”

 

Honestly, I never felt this deep sense of upcoming loss before. Maybe it comes with age, or maybe as I mature in spiritual life my heart is softening. I am not sure. What is certain, however, is that as one is advancing in Krishna consciousness, those who sincerely represent that should be valued more and more. It’s śāstra:

 

“Śrī Caitanya asked, ‘Of all kinds of distress, what is the most painful?’

Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya replied, ‘Apart from separation from the devotee, I know of no unbearable distress.’” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 8.248)

 

True friends and well-wishers should be missed when they pass from this world. They add so much to the development and comfort of one’s life. When they are dedicated Vaiṣṇavas they add even more. They nourish the soul. Their loss to the world and our lives is incalculable.

 

I remember over twenty years ago before The Bhakti Center was secured, we used to host programs in 26 Second Avenue. You can imagine how packed it was when Śrīla Radhanath Swami visited and gave class. I invited one young Jewish lady from Brooklyn to the program whom I had been guiding for the past year. She was a budding professional comedian who even appeared several times as a guest panelist on the very popular television improvisational comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway with Drew Carey.[2] I had introduced her a few months back to Mahārāja, so she was very anxious to see him again, but at the end of the class Mahārāja was mobbed in the front of the room. She was also by nature a very self-conscious person, so she hid towards the back in a little corner where the wall suddenly veered off to the right. When Mahārāja finished giving audience, however, and began walking towards the door, he noticed her to his right. He slowly walked towards her to greet her. She immediately broke down in tears but managed to sob, “I am so fallen, but I feel such relief that people like you are traveling around the globe helping others!” Later Mahārāja shared with me how much he appreciated her sentiment of humble appreciation for devotees. We should also.

 

We may not be attracted to every senior Vaiṣṇava we meet. Some have even failed to live up to the standards we expect and disappoint us, or it may just be that we just fail to see the inspired spiritual and dedicated side of an advanced Vaiṣṇava because they are not like-minded with us. This young lady, hardly a practitioner, however, got it right. There is something very special about sincere devotees who have given their whole life to God whether we are like-minded with them or not. It will certainly a sad day when any of them leave us.

 

Even more tragic is the loss of those people who are not just more dedicated than us, but those whom we deeply relate with and who have affection for us. If we have such people in our lives, whether as friends or mentors, we should consider ourselves very fortunate. When they leave a part of our life will be missing. I do have such people in my life. Sadly, their time with us is in a sense numbered, and as these next ten years go on, more and more of them will sadly leave us.

 

It is an unfortunate phenomenon that often we most appreciate the important people in our lives after they have left us. Let us all now think of the blessings we have and are receiving from those dedicated devotees who have given their lives to uplift others for decades and who have personally touched our hearts. Let this next decade therefore not just be a decade of tears but an epoch of increased appreciation of and service to those who have carried the mission of His Divine Grace into our lives.

 

“Then Śrī Caitanya asked, ‘Out of all auspicious and beneficial activities, which is the best for the living entity?’

Rāmānanda Rāya replied, ‘The only auspicious activity is association with the devotees of Krishna.’’ (Cc. Madhya-līlā 8.251)

 

 


[1] Originally published September 5, 2022.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whose_Line_Is_It_Anyway%3F_(American_TV_series)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #18 – Dog Bites Monk: Part Two

April 29th, 2024

After that dog attacked me, I remained quite calm, almost as an observer. I guess different people react in different ways—some shaken up, some perhaps angry or even hysterical. I was a bit proud of how much I could extract myself from the drama, but after my friend cleaned my wound and I went back to my room, I was surprised by how much the dog’s antagonism towards me had entered my body. In other words, although I wasn’t traumatized, in the sense that I could observe what happened and not react to it emotionally, I could still see that trauma of aggression within me and feel it somewhat physically. Thinking back on that observation affirmed an important realization: Our words and actions can carry our emotions to others—a realization that is also applicable to the path of devotion where our words and work serve as a vehicle to carry our devotion to God for His pleasure, which is the essence of devotional practice.

 

This phenomenon is clearly expressed in Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s principal definition of pure devotion where he explains that the primary characteristic of pure devotion is that the endeavors of one’s mind, body, and words flow towards Krishna carrying our intention to please Him.[1]

 

This same principle is also indicated in the Yoga-sūtras in terms of japa meditation, where Patañjali writes that one should dwell on the meaning of the mantra, which is full surrender to Īśvara (God), and carry that mood of devotion to God through the mantra to invoke His mercy.[2]

 

And certainly, this applies to kirtan. What is kirtan? “Kirtan is when the bhava (devotion) in the heart is expressed through the discipline of music.”[3]

 

Our practical service must also carry our devotion to Krishna. I heard this nicely explained by a local sādhu in Vrindavan in a charming way: “The term for servant in Sanskrit is sevāk. If you take away sevā (the mood of service) from sevāk (the person doing the act of service) you are left only with vak. Vak or bak represents Bakāsura, the duck demon in krishnalīlā who represents duplicity.”[4]

 

As I was chanting this morning, this realization of the mantra carrying my devotion to Krishna came to my mind, impelling me to listen carefully to the sincerity of my chanting so that I truly meant what I was saying—a call to Śrī Krishna begging for a heart of service and the mercy of the holy name.

 

So, this ends my two-part series of “Dog Bites Monk” (and enlightens him).

 


[1] “One should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa favorably and without desire for material profit or gain through fruitive activities or philosophical speculation. That is called pure devotional service.” (Brs.1.1.11)

[2] Vyasa, the main commentator on the Yoga Sutras, describes how the mantra expressing surrender invokes His mercy: “Devotion to God, according to Vyāsa, involves a particular type of devotion, bhakti-viśeṣa; simply by the yogī’s longing, God bestows his grace upon the yogī. When this happens, the fruits of samādhi become quickly available.” (Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary 1.23, Professor Edwin Bryant)

[3] Sat Hari Singh Khalsa, “Kirtan: The Sacred Music of the Sikhs,” Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Volume 17, No. 2 (Spring 2009), 169–184.

[4] I can’t remember where I heard it.

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #17 – Dog Bites Monk: Part One

April 22nd, 2024

Dog Bites Monk: Part One

 

Nothing serious. I just got my robes ripped to shreds and a nibble on my calf and thigh. Maybe a little more than a nibble, but nothing too serious.[1] Anyway, another opportunity to see things through the eyes of śāstra.

 

Realization One

 

Somehow, it was a peaceful time, the rare stretch where things seemed to fall in place, or at least no real major life challenges, which usually seem to always plague one, and a little more excitement than usual —some real good programs to look forward to. So just feeling great, and then I opened the door to the luxurious tropical backyard from the guestroom at my friend’s house in Boca Raton on the east coast of Florida. Ruff, ruff, ruff, real loud and vicious—I was attacked by a ferocious large, white half-German Shepherd, half-Labrador Retriever before I even got out the door. My first thought after the adrenaline rush to deal with the task at hand: “There was nothing I could do. It was destiny. Anything can happen at any time. I am not the controller.” And it became clear to me why Śrī Krishna never lets us rest in our comfort zone. My thought process:

 

It’s subtle, but this is what I witnessed in myself. I saw that if one is not careful when things are going well, one can subtly fortify the general illusion that we are the controller and enjoyer, which fosters the misplaced faith that happiness is based on our ability to conform a world to one’s desires, which is never under one’s control, instead of the proper and soul-nourishing faith of conforming one’s desires to God’s will in service, which is always under one’s control. The dog therefore represented the challenges that destiny brings to dampen the fantasy of attaining happiness now and in the future based on controlling destiny to impel to us to a healthy faith dependent on simply our free will, the choices we make. I think my point will be better understood by sharing one scientific study:[2]

 

There were two rooms with ten frogs each. One room had a large pot of boiling water and the other had a large pot of just hot water, but not hot enough so the frogs could not go in. After a few days, the rooms were opened and all the frogs in the room with boiling water were alive and all the frogs in the room with hot water were dead. What happened? In the room with boiling water, the frogs who naturally love water went in and immediately jumped out. In the rooms with hot water, the frogs stayed in the water, got dehydrated and died. Similarly, just like the frog in the water that killed them, we get attached to the world to the extent it goes our way, but as it binds us to the bodily concept of life, such attachment ultimately increases our suffering, especially of the unavoidable experiences of death, disease, and old age. And just like the boiling water that prevented the frog from dwelling in something that would kill them, the disturbances that come from destiny detach us from the world of birth and death and impel us to surrender to and serve God, to find real happiness by changing our consciousness rather than simply manipulating the world.

 

Ruff, ruff, ruff, and that’s what I learned from dog bites monk.

 


[1] It was my friend’s dog who had just come from a shelter and was being trained. He was familiar with the family but apprehensive of strangers. I was warned, but when I saw my friend outside, I thought I would be safe. The dog was already checked for rabies and was clear, and although I still have two definitive bite marks on my calf and thigh, it was somehow never painful.

[2] I heard this once, but I don’t recall where.

 

Monday Morning Greeting 2024 #16 – From Logos to Mythos: A Practicum in Adding Life to One’s Spiritual Practices

April 15th, 2024

When Jaya Jagannath arrived for this year’s Bhakti Immersion retreat in Colombia, I told him that I had changed the topic I would be speaking on. Instead of speaking on the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta I would be speaking on the Śikṣāṣṭaka prayers from Chapter 20 of the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. He seemed pleasantly surprised, announcing it as “serendipitous”. He explained why: His idea was to teach the attendees of his seminars to approach the text from the platform of what he called mythos, where one engages with the prayers of the Bhāgavatam as if they are the characters of the narrative and the prayers are coming from their own hearts, rather than what he called logos, approaching the text as a passive observer from the platform of understanding, which is exactly what is described in Chapter 20 of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta. There it is described how Śrī Caitanya used the stories of the Bhāgavatam to also enter its mythos, or the prevalent attitude that the verses of the narrative communicated. Jaya Jagannath is using the word mythos creatively, but when I share the exercise that he gave to the students in his seminar, and the work that they produced, it will be apparent what he was trying to do, and how it is exactly what the Bhāgavatam as a rasa-śāstra is meant to accomplish—to not just explain what is bhakti, but to make the reader feel and own the prayers of the text as if it is their own.

 

I will share two of the poems written as part of the exercise Jaya Jagannath gave, although they were all exceptional. Mind you, most of the participants were people who have only recently come to Krishna consciousness.

 

This may be a little longer than my usual Monday Morning Greeting, but I guarantee that once you read one, you will continue. They’re that good.

 

The Monday Morning Greeting format is not long enough to elaborate on all the preliminary teaching and preparation that Jaya Jagannath gave to the attendees, but the gist is that he asked the students to try to own, in a very honest and practical way, the following verse:

 

“Dear Kṛṣṇa, please pour the nectar of Your lips upon the fire within our hearts—a fire You ignited with Your smiling glances and the sweet song of Your flute. If You do not, we will consign our bodies to the fire of separation from You, O friend, and thus like yogīs attain to the abode of Your lotus feet by meditation.” (Bhag. 10.29.35)

 

The first poem is by Patrick from Chatham, New York. He is in his mid-thirties, and for most of his working career he has earned his living as an actor in New York. He is gay. Normally one’s sexual orientation is not worth mentioning to describe one following the path of bhakti, but it is necessary here to do so here to understand the context of his poem.

 

“Knowing You Now”

 

I’ve been burned by You before

but I didn’t know it was You

I mistook You

for Scott, Steven, Sebastian and Tom

I stopped short of seeing You

Making these men my god.

And so I suffered in a blaze of material existence.

Expecting them to fulfill what only You can.

Fruitlessly worshipping their form, situating myself ever deeper in my material condition.

Seeking to extinguish this small fire with medicines that would only temper the flames temporarily.

But this suffering is like a sunburn

compared to the inferno of what I know is possible

by Knowing You Now.

What once singed, now scorches.

The fire of my desire to know you Krsna is so intense it transforms

my material lust into an authentic love thirst that only the nectar from your lips can quench.

You taught me that my capacity for worshipping form wasn’t entirely wrong. Just misguided. That You too have form, and hips and eyes and a smile that I might meditate upon.

Instead of their slender physique I now yearn for your soft belly and curved hips.

Instead of their attention, I now only desire Yours.

And yet…you play me more than any of the guys I’ve crushed on in the past.

More intense yet is the fire of separation when I am not near you Krsna.

When you seemingly disappear from my sight.

You call me, I come running but You are nowhere to be found.

So fervent are the flames of this fire that it transforms my form in such a way that I no longer recognize who I once was

The shape of my former self

melted away like hot molten

cast in a new form

again and again

closer and closer each time to what will one day be revealed to me as my own true identity in eternal loving relationship with You.

But today—I burn.

You started this fire and only You can put it out.

I am not attached to the outcome.

Extinguished or not.

For You are both the fire and the fire fighter.

If You desire that I burn—then so be it.

But grant me at least that I burn in deep and unrelenting meditation on your Lotus Feet.

 

 

The next poem is by Anastasia Catz. She is just past her mid-twenties and a very talented actress, who like most actresses beginning their career, has to supplement their income from acting with a full-time job.

 

“For you”

 

Every day I come home from work

Fall on the floor and internally scream

Why do I have to endure a block after block

And it’s still full on darkness and no sign of your mercy’s beam

 

Have I not made enough sacrifices, have I not chanted enough rounds

Have I not cleaned my vices

Have I not crossed the right bounds?

Have I not cried enough by the altar have I not poured my heart inside out

Or is your heart made of the rock of Gibraltar

And you didn’t hear when I howled?

 

If you meant to leave me waterless in this drought

And I am to burn in this invisible flame of life

Then why did you gift me the divine sound

That made me feel so fortunate and rife

 

Why did you reveal the ultimate truth like it’s no big deal

And now leaving me on read after the whole ordeal?

 

I want to go deaf when you’re not playing your flute

I want to go blind when you’re not showing in my meditation

I want to follow Sati’s route

I need salvation.

 

I just want to serve you some butter

And go back to my original form

I am so tired of being in this gutter

All I am asking really is for you to take me home.

 

But if you don’t

here is what I am going to do:

I will continue coming home after my debilitating work

And I will continue yearning for you.

 

 

And that’s just a sample of from logos to mythos, a practicum on how to add life to one’s spiritual practice that more than met our expectations.[1]

 

 


[1] For those of you who would like to experience from Logos to Mythos and my seminar we will be doing the same thing in Upstate New York also joined by Hari-kirtana das. Information below:

 

Ready to liberate yourself from the mundane this Fourth of July?

 

Join Dhanurdhara Swami, Jaya Jagannath das, Hari-kirtana das, and special guests for the annual Bhakti Immersion—Upstate New York Retreat from July 4-6, 2024, at Pumpkin Hollow Retreat Center in upstate New York.

 

These three amazing days will feature: Transformative classes and workshops. Rollicking kirtans. Uplifting association. Nine delicious vegetarian meals. And enough free time to relish the 130 acres of open fields and lush forests or take a jaunt to any of upstate NY’s little towns and hamlets.

 

Arrive at Pumpkin Hollow on Thursday July 4th any time after 2:00 pm. Depart on Sunday July 6th after lunch.

 

Cost: $675 per person for a shared room. There are a limited number of single rooms available at $800 per person. Camping sites are available for $175 per person per day, and commuters are $150 per day.

 

A $150 deposit holds your spot and gives you first dibs on the cabin of your choice. If you came last year and liked your cabin, we would be happy to assign you to the same room.

 

For information and registration contact [email protected].

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