Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #29 – The Marriage of Faith and Doubt

July 16th, 2018

Faith is good. Doubt is bad. Not so quick; they are not enemies. Both faith and doubt have a common goal—to help us understand things further.

 

First, faith. In his essay “The Will to Believe”, Williams James[1] gives a very practical example of how faith is essential for knowledge: If a man wants to know if a woman loves him, he first has to have the faith that she does. If he sat around waiting for her to express her love first, he may lose out on the opportunity to discover and understand the love that was there.

 

The general point he makes is that in many instances of practical importance without faith or initial trust we cannot fully realize what we suspect may be true. We must rely on individuals or traditions of thought that educate us about a world beyond our experience. This involves trust. Without such faith we are restricted in the expanse of our knowledge to our present and limited frame of reference. Almost by definition the knowledge we are seeking is beyond our present purview and requires faith in its pursuit, otherwise why would we need to learn something in the first place? If we think of anything we want to learn, from music and science to spiritual subjects, it should become obvious how much faith in an authority, a person who knows and sees what we don’t, accelerates our learning. In many ways, therefore, faith is a precursor of knowledge.

 

It is important to note that such faith doesn’t mean blind acceptance. Faith means trust by evidence. For example, it is very reasonable for a young man to faithfully accept his father’s words on trust if through the years that relationship has proven to be one of affection and wisdom, or to trust the directions of a doctor who has demonstrated himself as a medical authority by repeatedly curing his patients. It is likewise reasonable for a student to trust her professor’s claims about her field if the professor is a reputable authority in an established tradition. Faith thus means to reasonably accept something beyond our current state of knowledge.

 

It is commonplace in Indian thought that philosophical reflection begins with doubt. In fact, according to Lord Kapiladeva, doubt is one the five attributes of intelligence.[2] But how does doubt help us understand things given the role of trust in knowing as discussed above? The dichotomy is resolved when we clarify how the faculty of doubt is used. If it is used to reject a legitimate authority, it is then opposed to faith; but if it is used to find a genuine authority, or to clarify from him or her what we don’t understand, it is the partner of faith.

 

In fact, in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.12 Sūta Gosvāmī describes the necessity for this type of doubt specifically to explain the method to understand tattva, or truth. Two qualities are delineated: faithfulness and thoughtfulness (or doubt). If one is not faithful, then one’s knowledge is limited to one’s present understanding. And if one is not thoughtful, it is mired to one’s inadequate grasp of what one has faithfully heard. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī quotes a relevant reference in his commentary on this verse to validate this claim:

 

“Lord Brahma heard the Vedas three times from Lord Krishna before he concluded that the essence of religion is devotional service.” (Bhag. 2.2.34)

 

In elaborating on this reference Śrī Jīva explains that the first time Lord Brahma heard the Vedas, which to a large degree promotes ritualistic activities, he heard the essence of the Vedas as karma, but doubted how that could be true. Krishna thus explained the Vedas a second time. He listened carefully again, this time noting the Upaniṣadic sections, and concluded that the essence of religion was jñāna, analytic knowledge and renunciation. He doubted once again that he had understood the text properly. Krishna therefore explained the Vedas a third time and he finally understood that the essence of the Vedas was bhakti.

 

Śrī Jīva comments in this regard that if a disciple is not similarly thoughtful and doesn’t raise his doubts to his spiritual master for clarification, he will surely mistake devotional service for either karma or jñāna. Almost all major Vaiṣṇava texts, like Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, are therefore recorded dialectics, or in other words discussions between teachers and students where the doubts of the students are cleared.

 

Faith is glorious, but doubt is not the enemy. Thoughtlessness is, whether it be fanatical faith or skeptical rejection of reasonable faith.

 

 


[1] Renowned American philosopher and psychologist (1842-1910), who wrote various classics including The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).

[2] Bhag. 3.26.30

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #28 – Songs of Devotion

July 9th, 2018

Surprisingly, my grandfather affectionately grabbed my grandmother’s hand. They had three children together when they were young, but almost no romance or affection after that. After their third child was born when they were in their mid-twenties, my grandfather became a bit distant. Although my grandmother suffered there was no question of divorce. She just tolerated her fate. My mother (their daughter) and father had brought them to the Imperial Theatre on Broadway for their fiftieth wedding anniversary to watch Fiddler on the Roof, a play about matchmaking and romance in Eastern Europe at the turn of the century. The play powerfully moved them, especially as they had migrated to America from Odessa in the early 1900s, which was about the same time period in which the play was set.  When the theme song “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” broke out even my grandfather was moved. He affectionately clasped his wife’s hand. My grandmother was so excited, as related to me by my mother, that she turned to her daughter sitting to her right, smiled and discreetly pointed to my grandfather’s display of affection as if to say, “Look! Look!” Oh, the power of drama and song!

 

A good song, poetry, or drama goes beyond just communicating or explaining an emotion, it embodies the emotion and makes one feel it. That same power of song or poetics to nourish or incite emotion is integral to the development of the sentiment of bhakti. That was the example of Śrī Caitanya, especially in His twilight years (the antya-līlā).

 

Śrī Caitanya Mahaprabhu spent the last eighteen years of His life fulfilling His internal mission, which was to taste the love of Śrī Krishna’s topmost devotee Śrī Radha at the height of Her love. He passed his time in the Gambhīra, a small cave-like room near the Jagannath Mandir, where day and night he chanted the holy name in the mood of separation from Krishna seeking to attain this special devotion.

 

His practice or means for achieving His goal was absorption in the holy name. Every object has a śakti or potency and objects and acts of devotion have a bhakti śakti, an energy that draws out devotion from our hearts, ultimately in the form of rāsa, our mature relationship with Krishna. But how to achieve that full absorption?

 

To deepen His absorption in the holy name of Krishna, Śrī Caitanya interspersed His constant chanting with the songs and stories of Krishna, the person whose name He was chanting. These songs and stories, especially of Śrī Radha’s intense love for Śrī Krishna, were perfectly composed to imbue the particular devotion that Śrī Caitanya longed for. But there was one problem. Śrī Radha’s mood of separation was so deep and confidential there was a paucity of such compositions.

 

Understanding Śrī Caitanya’s quandary, poets and qualified followers eagerly began to try to write such compositions to be carefully screened by Svarūpa Dāmodara for use in Śrī Caitanya’s bhajan or practice.  In other words, properly composed poetics in the form of stories (drama), poetry, and song were absolutely essential for the bhajan of Śrī Caitanya to increase His absorption in the holy name and nourish His aspiration. But what does this have to do with us struggling practitioners? Well, everything.

 

Śrī Caitanya’s life was ācāry-līlā, a perfect example meant to teach us how to gradually awaken and nourish our own relationship with Krishna. As songs of devotion were essential to this practice, so are they to ours. To foster that mood, whether it is to develop a deeper disposition of humility and longing, or in a more advanced stage to develop affection for Krishna in a particular mellow, our ācāryas, especially Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, have left a treasure of songs that encapsulate devotional moods and nurture whatever spark of worthy sentiment rests in our hearts. If my grandfather’s heart could be moved by a dynamic Broadway drama with songs embodying romance, why cannot our hearts melt with devotion by the bhakti laden poetics of our rich tradition? Learn them and hear them and deepen your absorption in the holy name!

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #27 – The Yoga of Talking to Yourself

July 2nd, 2018

Listen to the sincerity of your chanting. Go deeper in your meditation. Other thoughts may come, but don’t follow them. As I guide people in japa meditation seminars, I have observed how effectively submitting to a comforting voice of authority helps one cross the mental blocks of distraction and seep into deeper states of awareness and concentration. From doing this I have also realized how much activating my own inner voice has helped guide my own chanting. More and more I find myself talking to myself during my morning meditation.

 

Talking to yourself? Isn’t that a distraction? Before continuing this discussion, I think it is necessary in general to consider the concept of “voice” in relation to chanting.

 

I heard a somewhat interesting example to illustrate this. Have you ever walked through the famous Loi Bazaar shopping area in Vṛndāvana when a shopkeeper in a squeaky voice calls out “Haribol, prabhu!”? What do you hear? Do you hear the holy name or someone asking for your money? What we say carries more than just syllables; it carries our heart. And more than anything that is what Krishna hears when we chant His holy name.

 

Another good example of “voice” in chanting is the phrase I used at the very beginning of the article: “Listen to the sincerity of your chanting.” This originally came from Śrīla Prabhupāda. What was he asking us to listen to in our chanting, if not our heart, or own voice, begging Krishna for service?

 

A bit surprisingly I also found a verse in the Yoga Sūtras that recommends activating the mind, at least in terms of mantra meditation. Patañjali says taj-japas tad-artha-bhāvanam, which means we should dwell on the meaning of the mantra when meditating on it.

 

I could go on and on with references and examples about the relationship between our inner voice and mantra meditation, but back to the original thesis of talking to yourself while chanting. Just as we have a natural voice in chanting that arises from the heart, I find it helpful, especially in the beginning of my chanting, to consciously activate the voice of my intelligence in order to tell my mind in as comforting and authoritatively voice as possible where to go, so to speak. Here are some of my favorite commands and what they mean.

 

Chant and hear every syllable. Perfect your mantra one mantra at a time. When we perfect a mantra by carefully chanting and hearing every syllable we get the fruit of that mantra. The Hare Krishna mantra is a yugala mantra, a divine love or devotion mantra, and when perfected brings devotion into the heart.

 

Vibrate the mantra in every pore of your body. Feel the mantra. Mantra means God is sound. Hearing and feeling the vibration of the Hare Krishna mantra is thus direct communion with God.

 

Listen to the sincerity of your chanting and go deeper into your meditation. The Hare Krishna mantra is also a prayer begging for the mood of service to Śrī Śrī Radha and Krishna.

 

Chant as sweetly as possible for Krishna hears our chanting and gets pleasure from it. The Śikṣāṣṭakam describes the holy name as having all śaktis. Energy comes from a source to please its source. Krishna’s śaktis, especially within the holy name, are thus pleasing to Him. Every syllable should be therefore offered as beautifully as possible as a direct personal offering, like the petal of a flower, at the lotus feet of Śrī Krishna.

 

Cry for Krishna. Śrīla Prabhupāda said we should chant as a child crying for his mother. Śrī Caitanya chanted deeply in the mood of separation, crying for Krishna.

 

Niyamitaḥ smaraṇe na kālaḥ. There are no hard and fast rules for chanting the holy name. These are some of the ways in which I amplify my heart and inner voice to direct my mind to the holy name. The best method is what personally helps you to hear and feel the holy name. Meditation doesn’t start at samādhi any more than you can start a car in fourth gear. These are just some of the ways I rev up my attention to achieve increased focus on the holy name.

 

One more thing: Offer your heart to Krishna and tell Him what you want. The language that Krishna understands is the mahā-mantra. The holy name is a thus a conversation with God.

 

And that is The Yoga of Talking to Yourself.

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #26 – Wild Wild Guru: A Bogus Guru Guide

June 25th, 2018

I don’t watch movies, but I had to see this one. While visiting my mother last month, I met my two brothers as they were leaving. We talked for a short while. They both were raving about a documentary that they had just watched called Wild Wild Country. I was surprised. It was not the type of subject I thought would interest them – a documentary about the cult of Rajneesh and their failure to establish their own city in wilderness of Oregon. I would have dropped the matter right there, but when I arrived at Shyam Ashram in Colombia, our ashram residents were also talking about the film. They weren’t at all impressed by Rajneesh, but the story and the quality of the presentation intrigued them. My interest was further piqued, at least enough to express some desire to see it.

 

Someone in the ashram suggested I could watch it on my long plane ride back to the USA and that all I had to do was just download it on Netflix. There was only one problem. What is Netflix?  I knew it was something about movies, but beyond that I had absolutely no idea what it offered or how to get or use it. One resident volunteered to download it on my computer. I decided to give it a look.

 

I was surprised that no one mentioned to me the few racy blips in the film that I had to fast forward, but in general what I saw impressed me—not the Rajneesh cult, but how well that cult and its story was documented. I was especially intrigued with how such an obvious shyster could fool and inspire so many seemingly intelligent people.

 

Shyster?  Wow, strong words. And isn’t such criticism like the pot calling the kettle black?  What about New Vrindavan and the other leadership scandals in ISKCON over the years? It is just not the same. Although some individuals in ISKCON may have at times faltered or even deviated over its long history, those leaders were a few out of many. They did not hold absolute autocratic power within ISKCON, nor did their actions represent the organization. Ultimately, they have been removed by the legitimate authority of ISKCON itself. In contrast, Rajneesh simply was his organization. And when ISKCON was guided in Prabhupāda’s living presence and he served as its ultimate authority, his character was and remained beyond suspicion. And that is what struck me most about the film, the basic principle of genuine guru in contrast to what I saw in the film.

 

Of course, this is a long subject and Monday Morning Greetings is limited in its scope, but at least we can briefly reflect on the most rudimentary standard of guru as a lens to view Wild Wild Country.

 

The primary standard of a bona-fide guru is that he himself has humbly served and studied under a guru. That is to say, one can only be a guru if one has already submitted him or herself to genuine disciplehood. This principle of learning is succinctly described in the first aphorism of the Yoga Sūtras: “Now the teachings of yoga are presented.”  The exact phrase in Sanskrit is anuśāsanam—following a tradition of teachings or discipleship. Allied to this, any legitimate spiritual teacher within the “Hindu” tradition follows and submits to a time-tested tradition or lineage based on the Vedas. They don’t manufacture their own teachings. There is an obvious reason for that.

 

Accepting the authority of a spiritual teacher means the acknowledgment that truth rests beyond our present purview and we therefore require the guidance of one who sees beyond our limits. Such submission to one who knows a subject is thus common to all learning and precisely why the term for teacher is often master. One who thus avoids submitting to a spiritual master is, by definition, limiting understanding to his or her own imperfect view of the world and therefore lacking the most basic foundation to be a guru—being a humble disciple first. Worse is that by human nature such a person is prone to mold one’s philosophy to suit one’s own desires, rather than mold one’s life to the truth, regardless of the magnitude of one’s intellectual prowess.

 

Rajneesh was a classic example of this. He was very intelligent and philosophically well-read and seemingly a master of conceptualizing and expressing concepts, but if you listened carefully to what he said you will not find any dignified metaphysics beyond pure hedonism. I shuttered as he drove up in what was described as one of his hundred Rolls Royces. What in the world does an explicit desire for such a huge fleet of personal luxury cars have to do with any genuine spiritual teachings? No matter which way you twist it, in terms of yogic principles such extravagance is pure gluttony, violating the basic yama of aparigraha, “non-acquisitiveness”. Last year, I saw the film Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All.  You couldn’t miss the solid spiritual principles Śrīla Prabhupāda stood for. They were repeated, backed by śāstra, and exemplified by his life.

 

Spiritual life begins with restraint or at least regulation, first in terms of how you control your mind in relation to others (yama or abstentions) and then how you control your mind in relationship to yourself (niyama or observances). You can call it what you want, but orgies and sipping champagne have nothing to do with spiritual or yogic life. A sincere person trained under a spiritual master can’t miss these simple facts. Rajaneesh did.

 

Of course, just accepting a genuine teacher and the tradition of teachings he represents is no guarantee one will sincerely accept that directive. One can still be a deviant, but without being a disciple first, one can’t be a guru. It is as simple as that. If anything, Wild Wild Country is a testimony to that.

 

So how did so many people become so dedicated to such an obvious fraud? I was also pondering that question while skimming through the film, so perhaps that is another article. Just a few thoughts: A charismatic leader who can unite people for a common goal does give a type of joy as the feeling of community is always uplifting, even if it’s only quasi spiritual. If you combine that with a philosophy that justifies hedonism and gives a sense of superiority in the guise of Eastern spirituality, then certainly lost souls seeking something better than humdrum modern life will feel a powerful rush, even if it is fleeting and ends in disaster. Anyway, despite its morbid subject, the film certainly successfully documents how one can be cheated in the name of spirituality.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #25 – The Kīrtana of the Cowherd Boys

June 18th, 2018

What a joyous sight! Śrī Krishna leaves every morning to graze His cows in the sacred forest of Vṛndāvana. Fearing that His beloved cows are trampling Vṛndāvana with their sharp hooves, He follows behind His herd to gently caress this sacred ground with His lotus feet. At the same time, He glances lovingly at His cowherd friends, each one intensely feeling Krishna’s love for them. The cowherds spontaneously respond to Krishna’s affection with jubilant kīrtana, a kīrtana so rousing that it continues throughout the day. Just imagine that kīrtana! What does it sound like? How does it look?  Don’t imagine, just hear:

 

anye tad-anurūpāi
manojñāni mahātmana
gāyanti sma mahā-rāja
sneha-klinna-dhiya śanai

 

“My dear King, other boys would sing enchanting songs appropriate to the occasion, and their hearts would melt out of love for the Lord.” (Bhag. 10.15.18) [1]

 

Four characteristics of their kīrtana are described. By discussing each not only is the kīrtana of the cowherd boys described, but also the authority of proper kīrtana in general is established.

 

sneha-klinna-dhiya (with a heart melted from love)

 

The most important quality of good kīrtana is that it comes from a heart (dhiya) filled with deep affection or devotion (sneha). The symptom of such a heart is that it is not hard, but melted (klinna), a condition of devotion also called bhava. In fact, real kīrtana is only when that bhava in the heart is expressed through the discipline of music. No matter how musically talented one is, it is not kīrtana without such bhava, or at least the humble aspiration for it, even when chanting the mahā-mantra. Therefore the primary quality of the kīrtana of the cowherd boys, and all kīrtana, is that it is born from a heart of devotion.

 

manaḥ-jñāni (attractive to the mind)

 

In general, proper rāga (melody) and tāla (rhythm) are connected to deep parts of the psyche that open the heart further to sentiments of genuine devotion. The kīrtana of the cowherd boys is thus not only devotional, but their devotional feelings are enhanced by sonorous melodies (rāga) and perfect rhythm (tāla) that are attractive to the mind (manaḥ-jñāni).

 

tat-anurūpāi (appropriate for the occasion)

 

Everything about Krishna, down to the smallest detail of His being and actions, is all-attractive. One day in the forest a soft wind blew Krishna’s golden dhoti so that it gently hugged His legs in a way that further revealed His form. That visual so overwhelmed His observant friends that one enthusiastically suggested, “Let’s have a festival!” The cowherd boys immediately began to organize a forest feast and spontaneously composed songs about the beauty of Krishna’s dhoti blowing in the wind. Their kīrtana was thus tat-anurūpāi—appropriate for the occasion or pastime. Whether it is līlā-kīrtana, kīrtana describing Krishna’s pastimes, or nāma-kīrtana, chanting the holy name that is sung in rāgas suitable for the time of day, the kīrtana of the cowherd boys is always appropriate­—tat-anurūpāi.

 

śanaiḥ (slowly, builds up gradually)

 

In good kīrtana enthusiasm gradually build by the force of the devotion. It is never forced or artificial. In other words, tempo never precedes devotion, but is a natural result of devotion as the kīrtana matures. The kīrtana of the cowherd boys is thus described as śanaiḥ­—it slowly or gradually builds, an essential element of proper kīrtana.

 

We can now imagine the akhanda (non-stop) kīrtana of the cowherd boys with its deep devotion, beautiful melodies and appropriate rāgas that gradually build to a crescendo as they become immersed in kīrtana, overwhelmed with devotion, and, most importantly, accompanied by the virtuoso flute of the original guru of all music and dance, Śrī Krishna.

 


[1] The various analysis of the words in this verse that describe the kīrtana of the cowherd boys are found in various commentaries on the verse that I have read or heard over the years. I didn’t have access to them at the writing of this article.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #24 – Humility and Low Self-Esteem: What is the difference?

June 11th, 2018

I have thought about this distinction for years and have come up with different explanations. Recently I had a sort of epiphany:

 

Humility and low self-esteem—though not just low self-esteem, but self-esteem in general—are just different categories. Humility is ultimately a spiritual category and issues of self-esteem are more of a psychological one. Thus you can have a healthy self-esteem or low self-esteem and still be humble or proud in either case. I make this distinction based on how I define humility.

 

Of course, there is a standard definition of humility (“the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance”), but I seek here to define humility in a deeper way. I don’t want to just say what humility is, but to define it in a way that includes what makes one humble, a definition that I hope better explains the distinction between humility and low self-esteem.

 

I define humility as the willing acceptance of authority and the conscious renunciation of the enjoying spirit in the act of doing so. Before you shut the page, let me define what I mean by “authority”. I am not referring to submitting to a person because of the authority of their position, but surrendering to the authority of truth or knowledge, including the people who genuinely represent it. This willing acknowledgment of the acceptance of the rule of truth, and those that carry the mantle of truth, is the essence of humility and the fullest renunciation of the selfish or enjoying spirit.

 

I would like to make a further distinction between the two definitions to help in this discussion. The standard or psychological definition I will call micro-humility, not in the sense that it is trivial, just that the first definition that I described as psychological modesty is not as substantive as the spiritual modesty described in the second one. I call the second one macro-humility, meaning full-surrendered humility at the very core of the soul.

 

One reason I felt inspired to look at this issue more deeply is my observance of Vaiṣṇava leadership where sometimes we see a person possessing unbecoming controlling propensities and deep devotion for Krishna at the same time. I don’t think this is hypocrisy, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Most people have, to one degree or another, some dichotomy between their spiritual side and the vehicle by which it is expressed, between inspired or deep convictions and their incidental or non-deliberate nature. It’s natural. Yes, people can even do things that exhibit selfishness and control and be overly concerned with how they look or what people think, lacking apparently micro-humility, but when push comes to shove, when conscious decisions are to be made, fully acknowledge that there is an absolute truth. They surrender to the will of God represented by Śrī Guru and the Vaiṣṇavas demonstrating substantive macro-humility.

 

I can think of many pronounced examples of the dichotomy between the non-integral and essential qualities in a person’s character. One person in particular as an example comes to mind, my friend and god-brother, the late Tamal Krishna Goswami. To be in his presence sometimes could be overbearing because of his nature to control the environment around him, but still from the core of his being he was the humble servant of his spiritual master. When Śrīla Prabhupāda heard complaints of how his fervor and competitive nature had caused disturbance to the temples of North America, Śrīla Prabhupāda called him, immediately disbanded his successful preaching party and ordered him to go to China. It was not easy, but he acceded to that directive, recognizing a rule and authority much greater than his own, showing the macro or substantive humility at the core of his self.

 

And where you find legitimate macro-humility, when the passion of one’s day and service subsides, you are also likely to find reflections of micro-humility. Although Tamal Krishna Mahārāja always took control, he did not have a self-inflated conception of his self. I never saw or heard him express that he thought himself better than others and even one time remember where he lamented his nature, noting by name many god-brothers, even leaders, and wishing he could be like them in their apparent piety.

 

I think an important point to note here before we conclude is that like all subtle principles this one can also be misapplied or abused when not understood deeply. Of course, one can’t hide behind this dichotomy describing humility in this way to protect one’s ego or blindly judge others and give them a pass. Yes, too often people who are proud and controlling are not humble on any level, micro or macro.

 

We shouldn’t also discount genuine saints who by nature are inwardly surrendered souls and also outwardly genuinely humbler than a blade of grass. I think the main point here, however, is something different and is best summed up and expressed by an elderly Vaiṣṇava I met in Bengal. He advised me that there is not an absolute correlation between the inspired side of a Vaiṣṇava and his nature or more ordinary dealings, and that if we get stuck or evaluate one only on his or incidental qualities it will not only dampen one’s appreciation for genuine Vaiṣṇavas but make one prone to offense.

 

Now we can get back to our original dilemma. How can humility (a virtue) and low self-esteem (a character defect) look the same? When you define humility in its macro or more substantive definition—“the willing acceptance of authority and the conscious renunciation of the enjoying spirit in the act of doing so” —the issues of self-esteem are inconsequential.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #23 – Is Jagannātha the Highest Manifestation of God?

June 4th, 2018

In honor of the upcoming New York Ratha-yātrā, we are sharing this Monday Morning Greeting from 2017:

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

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

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

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

In the same way, God is not fully manifest when he displays His full grandeur as Nārāyaṇa, or the creator and controller of existence. His personality is only fully visible when He sheds His position of grandeur and appears as Kṛṣṇa, a beautiful cowherd where His intimate side is not restrained by the opulence (aiśvarya) and formality of Godhead. Kṛṣṇa is thus aptly described by Śrī Rūpa, the great Vaiṣṇava teacher, as akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti, the personification of the combined bliss of all rasa, or in other word, the fullest manifestation or personhood.

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

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

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

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

One of the main practices of spontaneous devotional service (rāgānugā-bhakti) is the worship of the form of Kṛṣṇa corresponding to the love one aspires to attain. Śrī Caitanya was seeking to taste the love of his best devotee, Śrī Rādhā, at the height of her love. He therefore accepted Jagannātha as His worshipful Lord and spent the last eighteen years of His life in Jagannātha Purī, and even one year when Śrī Caitanya stayed in Śrī Raṅgam for the four months of the rainy season, where the deity of Viṣṇu presides, and there is no Jagannātha temple, He personally carved His own Jagannātha deity to nourish His devotion.

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

 


[1] http://wavesofdevotion.com/2016/06/27/is-god-a-person/

[2] For an elaborate explanation of how Kṛṣṇa became Jagannātha see Three Logs of Wood from Gopal Jiu Publications.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #22 – Why Death?

May 28th, 2018

I recently gave a seminar on death and a question came to my mind before the class that I felt must be answered. Why death?

 

Death is the most heartless and cruel experience when everything we cherish is lost in one fell swoop. Why death?

 

There is nothing more traumatic than that horrid moment when we lose even our very concept of existence and identity. It is so traumatic that it still remains indelibly imbedded in our subtle bodies to the extent that even as a babe in our next life we are more terrified of death than anything else, even though we have no experience of it yet. Oh Lord, can you not spare even the innocent and pure this fear? Why death?

 

O Krishna, how I pray to beat the reaper of time. Please don’t appear before me in the form of cancer, your seeming doom flavor of the month that keeps us in a state of apprehension and terror. Don’t take me now! Don’t take my loved ones! Let us live on at any cost, even a few years more! Why death?

 

Our problem is not death, or the inevitable change of body. It is the ego—the false conception of controller and enjoyer that binds us to the body and causes our suffering. Death announces with certainty that we are not the controller. It is a tool given by God to help us remove the root of our suffering—the false ego. It is not the enemy. Ignorance is! Fear not!

 

Staying in the body forever, even if healthy, is not a boon as long as we have the mood of selfishness, which disconnects us from the soul.  When that spirit dies, which is the root of all anguish, we are, in one sense, no longer in need of a body. We then live eternally within the true self, our spirit self of pure service. “Die to live.” Fear not!

 

When some things don’t go our way it is called a problem. When our world is upended it is called a tragedy. I felt tragedy. All I could do is take shelter of the holy name chanting day and night. A realization came. The voice of chanting is a heartfelt prayer for service and thus related to the real me, the soul, which is consciousness meant for service, and that me, the one calling out to God, will not end with the body. Only the false self, the ego, the voice that is disturbed when the world is not conforming to my desires, will die. I deeply sense eternality and feel great relief. Fear Not!

 

I was there when Śrīla Prabhupāda arrived in Vṛndāvana to leave the world. He called us to his room and announced ever so nonchalantly, “What is death, but a change of body?” He then quoted from the Bhagavad-gītā chapter 2 verse 13 where it says the self-realized is not bewildered by such a change. We were there when he left. He was sober, undisturbed, and not bewildered by such a change. Fear not!

 

“The holy name of Krishna is as powerful as the Lord Himself. Therefore, simply by chanting and hearing the holy name of the Lord, many men can be fully protected from fierce death without difficulty. Thus a devotee is saved. By the grace of the Lord, if a devotee, at the time of death, can simply chant His holy name.” (Bhāg. 4.10.30)

 

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

 

“Simply by chanting this mahā-mantra, he immediately surpasses the great ocean of the material sky and enters the spiritual sky. He never has to come back for repetition of birth and death. Simply by chanting the holy name of the Lord, one can surpass the ocean of death.” (Bhāg. 4.10.30, purport)

 

“What is death but another birthday?”[1] Fear Not!

 

Death is the illusion of non-existence. Fear Not!

 

Why death?  My question is answered.

 


[1] I remember reading how Śrīla Prabhupāda said this, but I cannot find the reference.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #21 – Accosted By a Drunk

May 21st, 2018

Don’t worry, nothing serious happened. It is a good story, however.

 

I was staying on 7th Street just off 1st Avenue. I left my apartment at 3:30 AM and turned onto 1st Avenue for the short five-minute walk to the Bhakti Center. I usually chant japa before the morning ārati, but this was the first time I walked there from outside the center. I was actually surprised to see so many people still mulling around. I guess am a bit naïve. Of course, they are out so late. It was early Saturday morning. Young singles work all week at stressful jobs, and starting Friday night it’s prime time to drown their pain into the wee hours of the morning. Mostly there were mixed groups hanging outside the bars, usually with at least one in every group nervously smoking a cigarette to hide their inhibitions.

 

As I walked past 4th Street I noticed the  “Karma” bar. Yes, that’s the name. An Indian lady and her sons own it. At least in the midst of all this ignorance someone has the sense to hang a purport to this madness. Amused, I looked across the street trying to locate the Nam Café. I can’t find it. Maybe it has been closed. Oh, the Nam Café.  I surmise that some Vietnamese immigrant opened a café with their country’s namesake and that by Krishna’s mercy the “Viet” fell off of their sign leaving us just the “Nam”, [1] as if to give those here in their stupor a hint at salvation.

 

Monday Morning Greetings is based on seeing the world through the eyes of śāstra. As a devotee of Krishna, I am trained to see things not just through the mind, which categorizes and ascribes feelings according to our past prejudicial experiences, but to see the world aided by thoughtful judgments based on śāstra, a vision I believe more lucid and healthy than just seeing only with the eyes and impure mind.

 

As I was just awakening to take avail of these hours that infuse clarity and contentment into the consciousness, the people around me, drowned in ignorance, are soon to slumber. I thus thought of the “eyes of the Gītā”, which had also become my vision:

 

“What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.” (Bg. 2.69)

 

The Bhakti Center at last! Just as I was about to try to open the door, which was, in fact, still locked, a drunk appeared out of nowhere, like “poof”.  I hadn’t noticed him at all, but even if the door was unlocked, I still couldn’t have opened it from where he was standing without moving him aside. With glassy angst eyes, his drunken head tilted to the side a few inches from my face, as if sizing me up, he asked about my religion. The drunk was about thirty, swarthy complexion, bi-racial, with semi-braided long hair, and a kind of Fu Manchu facial hair. I think of a young Carlos Santana. I did, however, see a spark of sincerity in him. I answered clearly and lucidly with a universal answer that I was confident was communicative, satisfying and stimulating. I guess not. “You’re f’ing with me!” Not what I wanted to hear.

 

I had no choice but to try to engage in dialogue with this madman, a post-modern drunk, who I could see, even if sober, would not agree with my more traditional perspective. I tried to find a common ground despite his clouded mind and muddled view in order to reason with him, but he remained belligerent, projecting that I was rude and condescending even on my most accommodating replies. He took exception to my name—“Mahārāja”. “Why did you change it? What’s your real name? You’re Jewish aren’t you?” What? The situation remained volatile.

 

I had already been up for a few hours writing and reading and I was quite peaceful. I felt no enmity or anger towards him for troubling me. I had this confidence that if I could remain peaceful, it should influence him to be at least non-violent. I thought of my study of the Yoga Sutras where the mystic perfection of ahiṁsā is discussed. One fully accomplished in ahiṁsā projects an aura of peace so powerful that in such a person’s presence even the most mortal enemies, the mongoose and the cobra, would not war. I certainly haven’t perfected that, but I was convinced that by remaining focused and calm, his frustration wouldn’t boil over. I wasn’t really sure how this would end, but I did know soon someone from the harināma ashrama would arrive, as they do very every morning at that time.

 

Suddenly Bhakta Amrit Singh opened the door and apologized that it was locked. “Come in! Come in!” My drunken “friend” looked at him and demanded three more minutes. I tell Amrit it is OK. The drunk makes one more incoherent request. I then tell him it’s time for me to go. He turned, almost sheepishly, and headed towards 2nd Street.

 

Amrit is from a kṣatriya family, all of whom served the Indian military. I have noticed that he holds himself with a certain dignity and discipline. I thus meditated on another bhāva or internal mood, that of the noble warrior. I couldn’t help but think that by the way the drunk quickly walked away that he intuitively felt some of that bhāva from Amrit, which is probably a more effective way of dealing with these modern day Jagāi and Mādhāis[2] than my attempt at ahiṁsā.

 

As I finally entered the oasis of the Bhakti Center, I reflected on the faith that I have been gifted, one that gives happiness by changing the consciousness. I contrasted that faith with the conviction I saw outside, an illusory happiness based on fleeting pleasure ending in sadness and ultimately inebriation just to dull the consequent pain. I remember a saying I read that describes it all:

 

“Pleasure is the happiness of madman, and happiness is the pleasure of a sage.”[3]

 

 


[1] “Nam” is short for “nāma”, which means the holy name of Krishna.

[2] The infamous drunken and vicious brothers that tried to kill Lord Nityānanda but were ultimately delivered by him.

[3] A quote referenced in a book called Happiness by Matthieu Ricard. I don’t know offhand the origin of the quote he referenced.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #20 – A Match Made in Heaven

May 14th, 2018

Even though “heaven” is technically not the right word, the phrase works here. I can’t think of a better match of two people or things than the match between humility and prema (love of God). They nourish each other. The more one’s humility increases the more one feels love of God, and the more one feels love of God the more humble one becomes. In fact, one who has attained prema is so humble that he or she feels devoid of even a scent of divine love. Let’s explore this unique relationship, for it forms the foundation of bhakti.

 

Philosophical concepts can be subtle and difficult to explain. They often need practical examples to illustrate them. In my struggles to explain the relationship between humility and prema it took me years before I finally came up with some examples to help communicate this principle.

 

Example 1

A child who is proud and entitled never feels the love of his parents even if the parents give their child the whole world, and as a result of not feeling that love from his parents he doesn’t develop love for his parents either. A child who is humble, however, overflows with appreciation and love at the slightest gesture of affection. In the same way, a proud soul feels entitled and can neither feel God’s mercy nor develop love for Him, while a humble soul can both fully experience the mercy of God and awaken feelings of devotion in his heart. Humility and prema thus naturally encourage each other.

 

Example 2

A mafia Don sees the world according to his own desire to such an extent that he may even kill a person who gets in his way. He is an emblem of pride, for in his self-created world he sees everyone under his control. That same crime boss, however, when at home may happily take the humble position in the presence of his mother and center his desires according to her will out of affection for her. Similarly, as one develops prema-bhakti, one puts Krishna in the center and sees the world according to His desires, a vision that fosters deep humility. Again, there is a direct relationship between prema and humility.

 

Example 3

As hunger increases a person feels his own lack of food more and more. Lack or poverty naturally makes one humble. Prema is the thirst or hunger for God and thus as prema increases one feels a lack of it to the extent that one humbly feels devoid of even a scent of devotion.

 

Example 4

When one receives something far beyond his or her ability to earn, one experiences undeserved kindness and naturally contemplates one’s lack of qualification. In other words, being a recipient of mercy instinctively makes one feel humble. The greatest treasure is love of God. Therefore when even a drop of that love enters the heart one feels unbounded mercy, reflects on one’s dearth of qualification, and becomes humbled by such grace.

 

Example 5

If a person keeps a messy living space then he will hardly notice the addition of more clutter, while a person who keeps things spotlessly clean notices the smallest mess. Prema is the height of purity and thus even an apparent impurity or mistake becomes glaring and prominent. Ironically, a person with the treasure of prema thus feels impure and humble, while a person filled with selfishness doesn’t even notice.

 

Example 6

Two verses come to mind that succinctly illustrate the correlation between humility and prema. The first is by Śrī Caitanya and the second by Queen Kuntī:

 

“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” (Śikṣāṣṭakam v. 3) [1]

 

“My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling.” (Bhāg. 1.8.26) [2]

 

The point is clear. Humility and devotion are tied at the waist. But the question remains: How to become humble? I heard a nice saying that sheds some light on the question: “It is easier to act humble and then to become humble than think humble and then act humble.”

 

Acting humble means to culture a mood of service and to think of others before oneself. In this regard, I heard one beautiful definition of bhakti: To make oneself available. And that is the mood of chanting the mahā-mantra – to announce both in voice and in heart that we want to serve and actually be ready when Krishna, through guru and the Vaiṣṇavas, respond to our prayer.

 

Whenever we talk about spiritual life and developing our relationship with Krishna it comes down to this point of humility, because it is indeed a match made in heaven.

 


[1] Implied here is that humility is the foundation of prema because the only activities that can be done ceaselessly are those done in devotion, so if humility is the cause of constant chanting it must have invoked feelings of devotion.

[2] Simply put, only one who is not proud can chant with devotion.

 

 

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