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.

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #46 – Contemplations on the Holy Name

November 12th, 2018

Monday Morning Greetings began, at least the idea to regularly write and share my realizations, about twenty years ago during my yearly holy name retreat in Govardhana during Kārttika. At that time, the inspiration came to write and share the realizations I was getting about entering the holy name. I have the inspiration this week to return to the roots of Monday Morning Greetings by again sharing my contemplations on the holy name.

 

Like a wave

The holy name is like a wave and our mind is like a surfer. Just as a surfer struggles to stay on a great wave, we may similarly struggle to ride or focus on the holy name. And just as a surfer gets great joy if he rides the wave through to completion, we also get great joy if we ride the wave of even one mantra by hearing each syllable attentively, without falling into the ocean of inattentive thoughts.

 

Is the mantra chanting you?

Sacinandana Swami once related to me that while he was staying in Varṣāṇā on a japa retreat, a sādhu spontaneously appeared and asked him: “Are you chanting the mantra, or is the mantra chanting you?” I forgot the exact point that Sacinananda Maharaja was making by relating this example, but recently during my present japa retreat I began to again ponder the sādhu’s words. In that regard, I posed a question to myself: If the holy name is Krishna, does that mean that we produce or manifest Krishna by our own voiced effort and how can that be?

Krishna, who is merciful, manifests in the holy name for whomever chants His name sincerely. So yes, in that sense we are chanting the mantra. Real chanting, however, begins when we hear and observe the holy name flowing spontaneously from our heart through our lips by the mercy of the holy name. In this way, the mantra, descending from the spiritual world, is chanting us. Wanting to have more of that feeling while chanting, I became more inspired during this Kārttika to put more concentration into hearing the name than chanting the name. Of course, by hearing carefully, one automatically chants attentively.

 

Boredom and bhakti

When we meditate on the holy name, we should just repeat the same syllables and not indulge the mind in other thoughts. How boring! But that’s how we feel if we are conditioned to rely on only our thoughts to keep us enlivened in the recitation of the name, because all frivolous thoughts are negated except the holy name in the practice of japa. If, however, we rely on our feelings to absorb us in devotion, such as humility and gratitude, then one will never be bored, for devotion is the one state of mind that remains ever fresh and dynamic. Chant attentively, but with a heart.

 

It’s taste, not time.

I once visited the home of a student who had given up chanting completely. I asked her to begin again by just chanting for fifteen minutes a day, two or three rounds. Her New York-esque affirmative answer was both humorous, honest, and revealing: “Yeah, half a sit-com.”[1] In other words, usually the time we waste on frivolous media could be used to increase our chanting of the holy name, so our lack of commitment to the holy name is usually more about taste than time. Give a set time and place for chanting. Concentrate. Taste will gradually come. There can be no greater mercy than having a taste for the things that are best for us.

 

Time flies when you are having a good time.

We vow to chant a prescribed number or rounds. Without commitment we descend to the mental platform where we do things only out of our like and dislike, not whether the activity is actually good for us or not. To succeed in any endeavor, we thus need some discipline. A word of caution, however. If you put your faith too much in the rule to chant, that the benefit you get from chanting is only when you complete your obligation, your mind will be concentrated more on finishing your rounds than worshipping the holy name. Chanting then becomes boring, because thoughts of the future bring on the oppression of time. Time exists in the future, time exists in the past, but time doesn’t exist now. Be careful to concentrate on the holy name, merge into the eternal now and free yourself from the oppression of relative time. Time flies when you are having a good time.

 

Chanting is real love

There are three desires that manifest in pure love: the desire to be with someone, the desire to have a relationship with them, and, most importantly, the desire to serve them. God appears in the holy name, so by chanting the holy name we can be with Krishna, develop a relationship with Krishna, and serve Krishna. All we need to do is remember the sacredness and dynamisms of chanting God’s name, that He has actually appears before us. How wonderful!

 

As I finish writing, I am sitting in my room at Govardhana on the morning of the Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance day. I am facing the sacred mountain, which is less than a hundred yards away, thinking of the gifts Śrīla Prabhupāda has given us, especially the holy name.

 


[1] Sit-com means a half hour situation comedy on television.

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #45 – The World’s Biggest Ass

November 5th, 2018

I can imagine who most of you think this article is about, but I am not talking about an elephant, but a donkey, and this is not a political statement.[1] I just finished lecturing here in Vṛndāvana on Chapter Fifteen of The Tenth Canto entitled “The Killing of Dhenuka (the Ass Demon)” and I became very inspired by the concept expressed in the story of what makes the biggest ass, or the most grossly ignorant person.

 

In the Śrī Caitanya-Śikṣāmṛta Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura reveals the very intriguing point that each of the demons that Krishna kills in krishna-līlā represent a different anartha (unwanted quality), and thus, among other things, hearing these pastimes with faith has a subtle psychological effect to remove the particular anartha that each demon represents. Dhenukāsura specifically represents the anartha of ignorance, or gross materialism, and subsequently, he is personally killed by Krishna’s brother Balarama, who represents guru. Why does Dhenukāsura specifically represent the greatest ignorance?

 

Dhenukāsura is intensely guarding the Tāla forest, where he is residing, to prevent anyone from tasting the very lush tāla fruits lying on the ground. Now here’s the catch: Donkeys only eat grass. The lush fruits were therefore just rotting on the ground. This attitude, “I can’t enjoy something, so no one else should” thus represents the greatest ignorance. Let’s go through what I see as a step-by-step logical progression of why this level of envy is the grossest ignorance.

 

The basis of ignorance is when the blissful, eternal soul thinks it’s the temporary, suffering body.

 

The cause of such identification is the desire to be the enjoyer and controller rather than the servant of Krishna, which is our very essence.

 

The crux of material desire, or enjoyment, is thus the desire for superiority.

 

This desire to be the Supreme enjoyer naturally also manifests in envy or hate of others, for one’s relish of superiority is tempered if others seem better than us.

 

Therefore, the grossest manifestation of ignorance is to prevent others from enjoying simply out of such spite or envy, instead of servings others, which is the very nature of the soul.

 

After writing this a doubt came. My readers are quite spiritual people. They are definitely not like this. What is the message for them? Actually, the message here is most relevant. Although we may have too much integrity to be overtly spiteful, the desire for superiority and consequent envy is subtly in us all. To advance spiritually it must be rooted out at its core. That is the subtle message conveyed by the killing of Dhenukāsura.

 

If you doubt this is your problem, just mark your internal or overt response the next time someone points out your fault or tells you that you are wrong. How vehemently do you defend yourself no matter what? If that is not a fear of one’s superiority being diminished and consequently the seed of envy, then what is?

 

Note, that when Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu brought Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī in His assembly as a new devotee and had him reluctantly read his non-paralleled poetical compositions describing the beauty of Krishna, He deliberately looked at His most senior disciples to test their reaction. [2] Of course, they only glorified and blessed Śrī Rūpa, but Śrī Caitanya’s message was clear. We are born into this world overcome with the dualities of desire and hate.[3] The potential for envy thus lurks at the highest level, what to speak of within us.

 

If we seriously introspect can we deny that envy sometimes unwittingly arises in our hearts? A clear choice is offered: Reject such thoughts, acknowledge that person’s glories, and, if possible, at the next opportunity serve them rather than risk becoming the world’s greatest ass

 

 

 


[1] For those that are not aware of American politics the symbol of the Republican party is the elephant and the symbol of the Democratic party is the donkey.

[2] “Just to examine Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya and Rāmānanda Rāya, the Lord began to praise the transcendental qualities of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī before them.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 1.106)

[3] “O scion of Bharata [Arjuna], O conqueror of the foe, all living entities are born into delusion, overcome by the dualities of desire and hate.” (Bg. 7.27)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #44 – Is Krishna Consciousness Too Much?

October 29th, 2018

People who joined Krishna consciousness at a very early age, including most of my students, usually had to struggle to put energy into attaining things that people in a normal, traditional society would be provided for almost automatically, like a stable marriage and a viable and satisfying means of employment. And even if those things were relatively settled, still, in modern life, the responsibility of raising a family are exceptionally time-consuming and straining. When you add to that the yogic commitment of near two hours of meditation daily for those initiated the question naturally arises whether at times Krishna consciousness is too much for some?

 

This realization arose at my Vyāsa-pūjā[1] this year. I was observing several students who had become somewhat distant from Krishna consciousness in their twenties and thirties and who are doing much better now having entered their forties. In fact, whether people had previously stuck to the path of Krishna consciousness strictly or not, I observed that, for the most part, people were advancing much more quickly in Krishna consciousness after finally becoming reasonably settled socially and occupationally. In my talk that day I even mentioned that one of the challenges of being their teacher when they were younger was adding to their already burdened life, often including very rocky and incompatible marriages, and the very substantial commitment of initiation in Krishna consciousness. While pondering this quandary of whether the burdens of modern life make a serious commitment to spiritual practice somewhat impractical, various random thoughts came to mind connected to this subject. I thought that it might be beneficial to list those thoughts and then try to resolve this tension between modern life and spiritual commitment.

 

 

What did Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura say?

 

Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was once asked about the relationship between varṇāśrama[2] and Krishna consciousness. His answer: “Varṇāśrama provides an individual with physical, emotional, and social peace, and without physical, social, and mental peace what is the question of the higher endeavor of Krishna consciousness.” In other words, a society that guarantees a proper job according to one’s nature provides both one’s physical needs and one’s mental fulfillment in addition to a functional and peaceful society manned by well-trained people. These are all aspects of well-being and peacefulness, along with a functional marriage, which are supportive and even necessary for most people to gain the disposition required for a successful devotional practice without feeling overburdened by it.

 

Our work should be our fun.

 

The main joy in life should be a chosen occupation according to our proclivities, talents, and liking, either as intellectuals, administrators, merchants (including farming), and laborers (including craftsman). When our work itself is our joy, and we come home to a relatively peaceful family, it is so much easier to add to one’s life the austerities required for a dedicated spiritual practice. When work itself, however, is the austerity, the practices of Krishna consciousness can certainly seem like too much.

 

What did Śrīla Prabhupāda say?

 

Near the end of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life, when no ordinary person in such a debilitated physical condition would dare consider travelling abroad, Śrīla Prabhupāda embarked on a journey to Gītā-nagarī farm to teach people how to live off the land. Unfortunately, by the time he reached London his condition worsened and he had to immediately return to Vṛndāvana. But his message was clear, and it was a message that he repeated throughout his teachings — that you cannot separate economics from spiritual life and thus self-sustainable communities based on simple living and high thinking is a requirement for most families to succeed in serious spiritual life. Time has arguably proven his concerns as valid. Without such support, too many families have become lax in their devotional commitments.

 

 

The sacrifice is always worth it.

 

The commitment to full Krishna consciousness is always worth it no matter how challenging, even if one can’t maintain their original commitment. Śrīla Prabhupāda makes it clear in numerous commentaries on verse 1.5.17 in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that whatever one sacrifices for a full commitment to spiritual life is well worth it, even if one later becomes lax in his commitments. His paraphrase of the translation of this verse highlights the point:

 

“If a person, out of sentiment or for some other reason, takes to the shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord and in due course of time does not succeed in coming to the ultimate goal of life, or falls down due to lack of experience, there is no loss. But for a person who does not take to devotional service, yet executes his material duties very nicely, there is no gain.”

 

 

Conclusion

 

There is no loss ever in taking a risk for the sake of a sincere spiritual commitment, but it is always better to do everything one can to maintain one’s commitment, especially situating oneself the best one can according to one’s occupational and social proclivity. Obviously, a self-sustainable spiritual community, or as close a facsimile as possible, is the best way to do that. We should not underestimate its importance and thus, as far as possible, one should seek situations conducive to spiritual life so one is not feeling the pressure to choose between maintaining one’s material life and one’s spiritual commitments.

 

Saying that I also realize that for many valid reasons we are stuck in various situations not conducive or supportive of Krishna consciousness despite our best effort. Our only recourse then is to avail ourselves at every opportunity of the association of spiritually evolved devotees who certainly have the power to inspire us in the importance of spiritual life and give us a taste for the holy name. For ultimately, no matter how burdened we are with material responsibilities and karmically challenging situations, if by the mercy of a sadhu one can just understand the urgency of spiritual realization and gain a taste for the holy name, then Krishna consciousness will never be too much, and our challenges will just become opportunities to invoke Krishna’s mercy by showing Him our sincerity. And that mercy has no bounds!

 

 

 

 


[1] Vyāsa-pūjā is the appearance day of the spiritual master. Traditionally, the spiritual master shows his disciples how to honor their spiritual lineage by worshiping his own spiritual master and then, in turn, accepting homage and worship from his own disciples.

[2] Varṇāśrama was the traditional Indian social and economic structure based on situating oneself properly both occupationally and socially.

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #43 – Guru for Dummies

October 22nd, 2018

There are three tattvas, or subjects, that are very difficult to understand because they deal with the intersection of the spiritual and material realm: dhāma-tattva, śiva-tattva, and guru-tattva. I have an inspiration to simplify the concept of guru-tattva. Therefore I’m calling it “Guru for Dummies”, not because accepting a guru is for those that are not intelligent, but because there is an aspect of guru-tattva that I want to clarify in a simple way, and “for dummies” has become an appropriate appellation when one does that. I especially want to explain why accepting and surrendering to a guru makes sense, although the concept of full surrender, the foundation of accepting a guru, is challenging to accept in the modern age.

 

Why Guru?

 

The foundational principle of any worthy life, and certainly spiritual life, is to give up selfishness.

 

We can be selfless out of love or out of duty.

 

To be selfless out of love means acting to please someone out of the sole desire to make that person happy.

 

To act selflessly out of duty means to adhere to a truth or a set of principles that are higher than simply our own desires.

 

Either out of duty or love, a person of character surrenders to something more important than their own wish or opinion.

 

The highest demonstration of selflessness and surrender is when one’s love is not exclusive, but instead universal or inclusive of all creation, and when the truth we follow is not relative, but absolute.

 

The object of universal love and the highest truth is God, that being or consciousness inclusive of everything and the foundation of all truth. To truly surrender to God is to love all of His creation and is thus the epitome of selflessness.

 

A sincere person who seeks to give up selfishness and serve the Absolute Truth must seek and surrender to the will of God.

 

The will of God is found in sacred or revealed scriptures.

 

One who knows and lives those teachings is called guru.

 

By giving ourselves to the mission of a true guru and submissively learning from them, we thus also imbibe their life of selflessness.

 

 

How to Find Guru

 

The search for guru begins when we finally realize that our self-direction, life after life, has repeatedly brought us only misery, which thus inspires us to deeply pray for a higher truth other than our own selfish desires and opinions.

 

Hearing our prayer, God then reciprocates with us by sending a person that represents that higher truth. This is a person whose association, guidance, and example inspire in us śraddhā (faith). Śraddhā is the experience of the sublimity of bhakti (devotion) implanted deep in our hearts that gives us the strong conviction in bhakti as the goal of life and also the person and teachings that have given us such faith.

 

We then test that guru by submitting to his or her guidance, but not fully committing ourselves to that relationship until we are convinced of both that person’s spiritual authority and our connection to him or her as our teacher. If the person whom we follow is not selfless and surrendered to his guru, one’s faith will usually not last. A sincere person can then continue searching until they have found their guru.

 

When we come to a path or spiritual institution like ISKCON, represented by its founder Śrīla Prabhupāda, we will generally develop our faith first in the founder and his teachings before finding our specific initiating guru. In that case, by studying his teachings and praying to find a person who represents him, we will eventually find our initiating guru. Śrīla Prabhupāda will then remain our śikṣā guru, or main instructing guru.

 

It may not always be easy to find our guru. Sometimes even people we sincerely take shelter of disappoint us, but Krishna will not cheat us. A sincere person will eventually find his guru.

 

I guess that it is not so simple after all, and there are so many aspects of guru-tattva that I could not cover. Anyway, I tried to simplify a difficult subject and that’s my attempt at “Guru for Dummies.”[1]

 


[1] One more thing: While writing this I was sent a very interesting and brilliant article by the late Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja, which I had read before, that in many ways exemplifies in the most lucid way what is Guru. If you have time I highly recommend it: https://gosai.com/chaitanya/srila_sridhara_mj/sri_guru/sri_guru_intro.html

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #42 – Entering Vṛndāvana

October 15th, 2018

“Where are you calling from Dennis?”

“Vṛndāvana.”

“How is my Vṛndāvana?”

I couldn’t believe how sweetly and affectionately my mother voiced those two words: “My Vṛndāvana!” It had been ten years since my parents visited me here in January of 1982. They weren’t happy with my choice and it was quite a sacrifice for them to come here. Imagine two middle class New Yorkers staying at a guesthouse where there wasn’t even Western style toilets and living in a town that still hadn’t seen purified bottled water yet. I’ll never forget what my mother shared with me when I came to check on her first thing in the morning on the third day of her visit.

“Something terrible happened last night.”

“What is it mom?”

“I’m ashamed to admit it.”

“Mom, what is it?!”

“I can’t say.”

“MOM! WHAT HAPPENED?”

“No, I am ashamed to admit it.”

After her third refusal, I became adamant, “MOM, TELL ME!”

“I woke up in the middle of the night chanting Hare Krishna!”  She paused a second, and in character with a Brooklyn Jewish mother added seriously: “I could have killed myself!”

Despite her reply, her reaction struck me. I immediately thought of a room conversation about the power of Vṛndāvana where Śrīla Prabhupāda, in his very sober and authoritative voice, told one guest: “Even a dog at the end of their life who dies in Vṛndāvana goes back to Godhead. That is the glory of Vṛndāvana-dhāma!”

I was then also inspired to recall Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words from the Nectar of Devotion, which seemed to validate my mother’s experience despite her reaction: “Such transcendental feelings are aroused immediately and without fail after one arrives in Mathurā or Vṛndāvana” and could “actually be felt even by non-devotees.” (NOD, ch. 13, footnote)

Now on to my own entrance into the dhāma this year:

I arrived at midnight in Delhi and practically slept the whole way to Vṛndāvana, only to sit up as we entered its boundary. I have been living here for most of the last forty-two years. Vṛndāvana is my home.  How strange this time to somehow feel a bit of a culture shock. Maybe it was that I just woke up or perhaps I had become conditioned to the comforts of the West, but as soon as I entered my room I felt a powerful welcoming feeling. I immediately started to chant. Usually when I begin chanting it’s the holy name, my soul, and between them the mind to be controlled. But now it felt as it was just my soul and the name with nothing in between. That is the glory of this sacred place.

Day after day here there is confirmation of that glory, especially as I see the visiting pilgrims that I host overwhelmed with their experience of being here, an experience I think they will never forget. This is “my Vṛndāvana”! With strong conviction I affirm that I never want to leave.

This morning a local friend came to visit me. He was glorifying a famous sādhu that lectures in the morning in a nearby sacred forest-like ashram on the parikramā mārg. I heard from a few others who attend his classes how deep and clear this sādhu’s realizations are.  My friend shared his notes with me that he translated into English from Hindi. One statement in particular struck me and put things in perspective:

“We should never leave Vṛndāvana for sense gratification. But if one leaves Vṛndāvana on the order of guru to spread the glories of the holy name and leaves his body there, then that place is non-different than Śrī Vṛndāvana-dhāma.”

So those are my thoughts on entering the holy place. I am here now and come every year only because my sevā brings me here. I love the sādhu’s point that where sevā brings you, here or there, is non-different from Śrī Vṛndāvana-dhāma. But still I am humbled to be here and so happy to serve. And yes, there is no place like Vṛndāvana.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #41 – Practicing Humility: Part Four

October 8th, 2018

The false ego insidiously lurks in the back of our consciousness attempting to appropriate even our good qualities to enhance its power to control and enjoy. Śrīla Prabhupāda pointed this out in a humorous way: “You’re not the most anything!” he replied when a disciple said to him in a self-effacing way, “I am the most fallen!” C.S. Lewis, a master of wit and insight, made the same point in another way: “Never are we so proud as when we are good.”

I will finish the last five of the fifteen core qualities of humility today with the caution above, that good qualities are cultivated to make us humble, and never to be used or worn counterintuitively as emblems of pride.

  1. Adhering to Dharma and Accepting Karma

Karma (destiny) is what happens to us and dharma is the science of reacting appropriately. Both serve the cause of humility.

Destiny loudly announces that we are not the controller. If, in addition to hearing this humbling call, we accept and then experience our karma (destiny) for what it is, Krishna’s mercy, we develop a mood of shelter and dependence. These feelings are the foundations of humility.

Dharma, the proper response to what destiny places before us, means to consciously choose what is right, not just what we like. This type of modest acceptance of an authority higher than our own whims and desires, this mark of character, is practically the definition of humility.

  1. Prayerful Reading

There are two ways to read or study śāstra: for power and for transformation. Accruing knowledge to increase our prestige for the purpose of control and material enjoyment is reading for power. In contrast, reading in a prayerful mood means petitioning the truth and authority of śāstra to inspire and expose the folly of our conditioned life. Such prayerful study done for transformation where one opens oneself to correction takes humility and should be done daily to foster modesty and devotion.

  1. A Life of Prayer

Prayer both exults the object of our entreaty and expresses our own insufficiency. In doing so it invokes the need to petition for mercy. By its constitution, prayer therefore creates the foundational sentiments of a humble heart. A humble person enters the life of prayer.

  1. Meditation

Mantra meditation not only helps us to neglect the impulses of the mind born of the false egoistic self, but also awakens our true self (the soul) in relationship with God. The first budding symptoms of such awakening are devotion, gratitude, and compassion, which are the basic expressions of humility. One who sincerely explores the depth of chanting will surely become a humble soul.

  1. Sādhu-saṅga

It takes humility to seek the association of a sādhu, for the true sādhu not only inspires humility by their example, but at times deservingly cuts our pride by their teachings, as Krishna did in his first instruction to Arjuna, even pointing out his foolishness.[1]

Associating and revering a sādhu can also mean entering their world, a world where Krishna, not our own desires, is intensely the center. Such association is also called sadhu-saṅgharṣa, which means “strong friction with a sādhu”, because their instruction and world will certainly conflict with any materialistic perspective we may have.

This is most important. If we want to cultivate humility we should pray and seek sādhu-saṅga, the association of advanced souls.

 


[1] Bhagavad-gita 2.11

 

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