Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #30 – That Being of Which No Greater Can be Conceived

July 26th, 2021

He showed up at my college dorm unexpectedly. I had met the devotees the year before in Los Angeles with my college roommate Eric, but now my friend, recently initiated as Akshobhya das, was standing before me as a full-on head-shaved Hare Krishna! He enthusiastically gifted me the recently published Krsna book with that beautiful painting of Radha Krishna on the cover. I was so eager to read it that I cancelled my appointment that night and remained home. I already had a seed of faith in Krishna from my visit to California the year before, but when I got through Chapter Two: “Prayers by the Demigods for Lord Krishna in the Womb”, I had an epiphany: “Yep, there is no doubt. Krishna is God!”

 

I was studying philosophy at the university, and the previous week the teacher gave us the classic definition of God: “That being of which no greater can be conceived.” I had heard descriptions of Krishna before—the sweet butter thief and the lover of the gopis—but now, through the prayers of the exalted demigods, I was realizing more of His full-blown majesty and opulence. I remember my thinking at the time: “I can think of a being greater than the one with all the power that is ascribed to a traditional depiction of God. That is one who, in addition to such power, has a sweet and intimate life with family, friends, and lovers. In other words, a person who is Krishna!”

 

One of my inspirations for this week’s post was a lecture by Śrīla Radha Govinda Swami on krishna-lila where he puts to rest the concept of an amorphous mass of indistinct energy as that being of which no greater can be conceived. I like his simple logic:

“Jñānīs possess an absurd mentality in this respect. They understand that Śrī Krishna has made a world with beautiful people residing in it, but still feel the creator to be formless, which is madness.”

 

The Krishna concept of divinity, however, takes the idea of personhood as a prerequisite of supremacy even further. It espouses that the fullest manifestation of personhood is not just one’s majesty, but one’s personality or love defined in relationship as a father or mother, friend, or lover, and that, therefore, Krishna as akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti[1], the complete embodiment of the nectar of all relationships, is the original or fullest manifestation of God.

 

This week I have been studying Chapter Twelve of the Tenth Canto in the same book that I had received fifty years ago. Krishna is playing with His friends and suddenly disappears into the forest. Krishna’s friends, after desperately trying to find Him, suddenly hear Him challenging them to see who can find Him first. When they finally do, He offers each one an affectionate hug. A heart-felt expression of affection from those whom we share a deep relationship with, whether it is as friend, child, or lover, is surely one of the true joys in life. We can just imagine the warmth and pleasure of the existential flow of God’s own love that ensues when we embrace Krishna in our eternal relationship with Him. While meditating in this way, I thought back to that definition of God that I first heard over fifty years ago in a second-year philosophy course, and how much hearing these pastimes reaffirmed my conviction of the absolute position of Krishna. At the same time, I also thought of a cute saying by Friedrich Nietzsche[2] that I heard in another philosophy class that year. Somehow, I spontaneously parried it into my own saying that even further solidified in my mind Krishna’s position as “that being of which no greater can be conceived”:

“I would believe only in a God that hugs.”

 

 


[1] At the beginning of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī defines Krishna in this way as akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrtiḥ, the nectar of the embodiment of all relationships.

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote was, “I would only believe in a God that dances.”

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #29 – Have I Become Pavlov’s Dog?

July 19th, 2021

Have I Become Pavlov’s Dog?[1]

 

Ding! How the hell did a message from my iPhone pop up on my watch? I was recently gifted a new Fitbit to monitor my exercise. I am so technologically challenged that I just didn’t know my watch could even be connected to my phone. I immediately jumped up to check my phone across the room, but I then caught myself: “Wait a second! What in the world am I doing? Have I become Pavlov’s dog?”

 

I was surprised by how much I had been subtly conditioned by social media, especially since I am not even on Facebook or Instagram. That sound, and my subsequent response, did make me question if I should even keep an iPhone at all. Yes, the world has become our village and technology is necessary to keep us connected spiritually, but at what price? I think of my friend Carucandra who went off the grid in Kentucky. He works on his simple dwelling, peacefully chants his rounds, and then spends most of his day studying and writing curriculum by hand for the Śrī Rūpanūga Paramārthika Vidyāpīṭha in Mayapur. That type of integrity in this world of constant compromise is, in many ways, a potent example for others. Don’t get me wrong, evolved souls do efficiently and cautiously use modern technology to share good ideas for the benefit of others. I myself try to deal with the medium responsibly, but one is foolish if one does not take careful note of its potential to degrade the consciousness. In that regard, I noted a few things:

 

The internet is anti-yoga

If yoga is extinguishing thought, or in bhakti frivolous thought, social media puts a funnel to the brain to download a rush of extraneous thought—a magnitude of frivolity that could not be imagined even fifty years ago. Frankly, it is almost as if we are left with a choice: media or meditate?

 

The internet creates an alternate reality

In the world of the internet, individual people and the “mainstream” and “alternative” media constantly weave narratives according to their own view of reality under the modes of nature. It is so easy to be sucked into another’s impure self-created world. For a bhakta, that can be tantamount to spiritual death, for the more we can rise above illusion and see reality, which is God and God’s energies, the more our vision will inspire devotion within our hearts. Again, it is almost as if we are left with a choice: social media or śāstra?

 

The internet kills bhakti with idle talk and consequent Vaiṣṇava-aparādha

There is no doubt that the internet can facilitate meaningful exchanges. I hope we are having one here. And there is also no doubt that it can be, and usually is, an ocean of idle talk. Sādhu beware: “To abuse the reign of our self-control and allow ourselves to enter into discussions of anything and everything—that is prajalpa. Prajalpa generally becomes parā-doṣānusandhava—finding faults with others. That is generally the subject matter of idle talks.”[2] In this case, however, it is a bit different. There seems to be little choice. It is internet and idle talk!

 

Again, the internet has given a wonderful facility to share Krishna consciousness in what has become a global village, but after “ding!” I just thought there was a need for a “reality check” and to sincerely ponder: “How much does my use of technology, especially in terms of communication, enhance my service to Krishna, and how much does it degrade it? Am I becoming Pavlov’s dog?”

 

 


[1] Ivan Pavlov was a Russian psychologist who deepened the study of classical conditioning. His most famous experiment was conditioning a dog to salivate even when there was no food, by initially ringing a bell every time the dog was fed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning

[2] Upadesamrita, translation and commentary by Srila B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami, p.24.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #28 – The Four Ways in Which a Vaiṣṇava Sees Those Whose Mistakes Disturb Them

July 12th, 2021

Our present age is deemed the age of quarrel and confusion. Unfortunately, Vaiṣṇava societies are not spared from its influence. Too often, we see, at the drop of a hat, long internet threads started among devotees vehemently arguing and attacking one another on anything from differences in philosophical conceptions to conflicting opinions about another person. Śrī Caitanya lived His life as an example for those who want to attain love of Godhead. What can we then learn from His life about proper Vaiṣṇava behavior in contrast to those engaged in hostile exchanges or harboring unnecessary critical thoughts about others? His dealings with and vision of Dāmodara Paṇḍita are instructive.

 

Dāmodara Paṇḍita was an intimate associate of Śrī Caitanya and was among the few devotees chosen to accompany Śrī Caitanya to Puri after He took sannyāsa. Although Dāmodara Paṇḍita was just a brahmacārī, he had the audacity to take Śrī Caitanya to task for his apparent transgression of some technical rules for a sannyāsa. It got to a point that Śrī Caitanya even expressed His fear of doing anything that didn’t meet Dāmodara Paṇḍita’s high standards. Nonetheless, Śrī Caitanya expressed His appreciation for Damodara Pandit and used Pandit’s rule-based nature to responsibly look after His mother and to care for Damodara Pandit’s younger brother, who was also very dear to Śrī Caitanya.

 

The following is a list I have complied based on the above story on the various ways in which a Vaiṣṇava should view other devotees who, for one reason or another, disturb them:

 

The fault is not the whole person

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, we tend to latch on to the things in a person that disturb us based on the mistakes they have made or even our incompatibility with them, and then only see the person’s weakness or sin. A Vaiṣṇava, however, never falls into the trap of seeing one’s fault as the whole person. Śrī Caitanya had every right to condemn Dāmodara Paṇḍita, but rather than harp on his faults, He appreciated his sincerity and capabilities and accordingly engaged him in service. [1]

 

A Vaiṣṇava is judged by their inspired side, not by their ordinary dealings

Vaiṣṇavas are born in different types of families and, in general, have varied natures. A Vaiṣṇava, however, is not just their karmic nature. More importantly, they are a conduit through which Krishna manifests in their words and actions. Śrī Caitanya therefore overlooked Dāmodara Paṇḍita’s overly critical nature and focused on his inspired side – that he was so inspired to serve the Lord that he would even chastise Him to correct Him.

 

There are different types of Vaiṣṇavas

Different shapes of metal immersed in a fire become equally hot and effulgent but retain their unique shape at the same time. Similarly, devotees who attain perfection all become devotionally effulgent while still retaining their distinct nature. Śrī Caitanya therefore didn’t at all stifle the individuality of His disciples. Rather, He expressed equal appreciation for both Dāmodara Paṇḍita, who was formal and demanding, and his young brother, Śaṅkara Paṇḍita, who, in direct contrast, was spontaneous and compliant.

 

A Vaiṣṇava does not judge one by the past, or even by the present, but by his future or potential

Śrī Krishna speaks about this in the ninth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā where He teaches that if a devotee who is fixed in devotional service accidentally makes a horrible mistake, he should still be seen as saintly because he will soon be righteous. Therefore, having faith that the path of bhakti will quickly bear fruit, we should not overly harp on the things in devotees that may disturb us. Certainly, Śrī Caitanya demonstrated that faith by His respect and confidence in Dāmodara Paṇḍita.

 

I am past seventy now. I am feeling an increased urgency to deepen my Krishna consciousness. I realize that to chant the holy name purely I need to transcend any trace of the petty dualities of favoritism and hate remaining in my heart, especially towards my perception of devotees. I learned a lot from the story of Śrī Caitanya’s dealings with His critical disciple, and I pray to imbibe His perception of dealing with others within my heart.

 

 

 


[1] A teacher can also be very strict and demanding with his student. Śrī Caitanya, for example, dealt very heavily with Choṭa Haridāsa and Mukunda, banning them from His company. Still, Śrī Caitanya recognized their devotion and ultimately blessed them. The point stressed in this post is that a devotee never falls under the dualities of like or hate in his perception of others, whether he is seemingly tolerant or harsh with them.

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #27 – The Jewish Alachua

July 5th, 2021

The Jewish Alachua[1]

 

When the pandemic started, I was in a bit of a bind. The place where I usually stayed in Upstate New York wasn’t available. Fortunately, by providence, a new place was made available in Jackson, New Jersey, which is the next town over from the subject of today’s post: the culture of the town of Lakewood.

 

Lakewood is the fifth biggest and fastest growing township in New Jersey. Almost 60 percent of its residents are Orthodox Jews, and they support almost two hundred synagogues and one hundred yeshivas, including the 6,500-student Beth Medrash Govoha, the second biggest yeshiva in the world. I was fascinated when I first drove through the expansive city-town on my way to visit a friend further south in New Jersey. I just saw a “normal” town – families, children, people working, going to school, shopping and so on – except that all of the residents were dressed in 18th century vesture.[2] Even the sign of a Chinese restaurant that I passed was in Hebrew.

 

As the average Hasidic family has more than six children, there continues to be exponential growth in Lakewood, three generations after the first Orthodox Jews settled here. As a result, there has been a substantial expansion of the sect to the quieter and more affordable townships next door, including the neighborhood where I presently reside in Jackson. In fact, due to the financial power of a unified community looking out for its own, any Hasidic Jew seems to have the means to immediately buy available housing at top dollar as soon as it hits the market.

 

Recently, two families purchased and renovated two stately houses directly across the street from where I reside. As my desk faces a large picture window to the street, and the women and children seem to spend most of their time outdoors, it is natural for me to occasionally observe how they live. I was surprised with how impressed I was with the way they manage their families. I was surprised because when I grew up, my family, and similar minimally observant Jewish families, did not have a high opinion of Hasidic Jews. I guess some of that rubbed off on me, for it seems that I also initially negatively pre-judged Hasidic Jews, which was fortified by the media’s often unfavorable portrayal of them through stories of people who left their fold.

 

I saw exceptionally happy and well cared for children in peaceful and harmonious families. In fact, when they moved in, one of the families made the effort to come across the street to introduce themselves and to apologize for the noise caused by the months of reconstruction of their house before they moved in. I found them genuine.

 

I was especially impressed by how the children could be peacefully left alone on the front lawn, even from a very young age, to explore their surroundings. I joked to Kadamba and Jayadeva[3] that there was a child only six inches tall blissfully wheeling around a toy plastic lawn mower with his older brother, twelve inches tall, riding behind him on a foot scooter with a helmet, and their eighteen inches tall sister skipping rope. Of course, they were bigger than that, but I practically never saw such young children, some just beginning to walk, so carefree and independent. I noticed, however, that whenever the mother, who was in and out of the house, came outside, the children huddled around her affectionately whenever she called. When the father appeared, I observed a mutual respect among the husband and wife. The family seemed especially joyous on the Sabbath, when the whole family seemed to be on a perpetual stroll through the neighborhood to various religious and spiritual gatherings. I also noted that even though none of the parents were older than their mid to late twenties, they seemed to have an age-appropriate maturity for adults, one that is too often lacking in today’s Peter Pan culture.[4]

 

I am not so naïve as to claim that a few families in the neighborhood are a substantial test sample, or that in such a patriarchal society, like any system of hierarchy in the modern age, there isn’t risk of and instances of oppression or abuse. I can only say that there were positive things I gleaned from what I saw from people living in a traditional cultural model that I felt was worthy of sharing.

 

Peaceful Life

Too much time in modern society, often into one’s middle age, is spent worrying about establishing the four foundations of stable life:[5] a place to call home, a compatible partner, a suitable occupation or career, and having a spiritual teacher or tradition. In a traditional culture, these pillars of stable life are almost all set, without question, by one’s early twenties.

 

Compatibility in Marriages

One of the most successful examples for stable and compatible marriages is Hindu society. In one sense, that can be credited to carefully planned marriages affirmed by astrological compatibility that doesn’t overly prioritize a suitable match based on temporary sensual attraction. But that’s only part of it. There is great care that spouses are matched from the same sub-communities where one’s values and culture are exactly the same. Similarly, traditional cultures, like Orthodox Jews, begin the challenges of partnership very much within already agreed upon values and cultural proclivities among the partners in marriage. The divorce rate is therefore miniscule.

 

Schooled in Child Rearing  

Growing up in large families and communities where children have responsibility for other children at an early age creates a strong culture of proper child rearing that is carried down from generation to generation.

 

Community Support

People in traditional cultures tend to group in communities where they know their neighbors. One can’t minimize the value of such an asset for the support and affirmation of the way one lives one’s life and the values one has.

 

Non-difference Between the Religion One Practices and the Culture One Lives In

A feature of religion in America, even among the most religious, is the large dichotomy between one’s religious beliefs and the culture one embraces.[6] The culture of traditional societies is based on a close-knit community supporting one’s religion, so that one’s lifestyle facilitates, rather than dampens, one’s spiritual aspirations.

 

Anyway, I was surprised with what I saw. Perhaps these young, third-generation Hasidic families have, in a sense, become even more expert than their great-grand-parents in living their tradition in the context of America. Even if traditional cultures cannot be transferred wholesale to people growing up in a post-modern society, I think a study of them is certainly relevant to those serious about spiritual life. And that’s what I learned from The Jewish Alachua.

 

 

 


[1] Alachua, as many of you know, is a town in Florida that is so predominated by the Hare Krishna devotees that the Hare Krishna Project there is known by the name of the town. I am therefore using the term Alachua as a euphemism for any town that is predominated by a religious sect.

[2] A person garbed in ancient or traditional attire usually of a religious nature.

[3] The family I live with.

[4] Peter Pan is a fictional character created by Scottish Novelist J.M Barrie who is free-spirited and never grows up. He has become a cultural icon, symbolizing youthful carelessness and escapism.

[5] I coined the term and concept “The Four Pillars of Stable Life” from my own social study and observation.

[6] Often we see that people who profess various faiths in the United States are often as passionately devoted to NASCAR (The National Association of Stock Car Racing), the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) and the NFL (National Football League) and other various forms of entertainment as they are to the God they worship.

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #26 – Monday Morning Musings VI

June 28th, 2021

Chanting and Guru

I chant consciously as a devotional offering to Śrīla Prabhupāda, with the thought that he is listening. I reason that as the spiritual master is pleased when the disciple takes bhagavata prasada,[1] how much more pleased he is when the disciple sincerely chants the holy name.

 

Chanting and Momentum

In certain activities there is a momentum, an increasing strength gained when moving forward. One of those activities is chanting. If we don’t maintain a certain standard of practice daily, we lose momentum and chanting becomes more difficult. One day last week my practice waned, and my concentration faded. It took me days to return to the standard I had been keeping. I made a note: If I want to steadily move forward in this life towards the goal of prema-bhakti, I can’t afford to lose momentum.

 

Chanting and the Worldly Mind

We are not at the level of samādhi, an unbroken focus over the course of an extended meditational practice. Therefore, our mind will therefore sometimes wander to whatever we are generally pre-occupied with. At that time, if our mind has been reasonably imbued with thoughts of Krishna due to a life of duty, service, and hearing śāstra, then we will automatically be inspired to refocus on the holy name.

 

Chanting and Politics

My audiologists, who is an Orthodox Jew, yarmulke and all, was exceptionally friendly. While checking my hearing, he casually shared his realizations about surviving the pandemic. I especially appreciated his statement while sharing his last realization: “and no politics.” Reflecting on the intense political discord of the past year, I couldn’t agree more. If we allow mundane emotions, such as partisan political concerns, to consume us, they will supersede our feelings of devotion and stunt our devotional meditation.

 

Chanting and Rhythm

One day last week, when I began my japa meditation, I was feeling distracted. A thought came spontaneously. Why not deliberately chant rhythmically so that each mantra corresponded with the same beat? After a short while, I transcended my meditational slump. Lesson: There are no hard and fast rules in chanting the holy name. Whatever works!

 

Chanting and Mercy

I beg for the mercy of the holy name. Such entreaties are not just a call to attract mercy, they are mercy, for true expressions of humility from the heart are the best gift of devotion.

 

Chanting and Krishna’s Form

The mantra is Krishna. It is also a prayer to reveal Krishna. If we can chant even one mantra clearly, the form of Krishna will certainly appear, at least in our thoughts.

 

Chanting and Technique

When Krishna fully appears on the tongue of the sincere chanter by His own sweet will, they will no longer need a technique to keep focused. They will simply require an open heart to welcome the holy name.

 

Chanting and Writing

My japa meditation seems best during the week that I am writing my musings. To write a clear realization, one must first have one, which means that one’s chanting must be concentrated. Knowing that I will have to write something forces me to monitor my meditation more closely. While doing so, I observe how such consciousness creates an impetus to resist creeping complacency and to focus on the holy name of Krishna:

 

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

 

 


[1] Guruvaṣṭakam verse 4

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #25 – The Mother, the Mind, and Food

June 21st, 2021

Happy 100th Birthday!

My mother was born June 25, 1921. This Friday she will celebrate her 100th birthday. In her honor, I will reprint one of my favorite articles from five years ago.

 

The Mother, the Mind, and Food

 

Recently my mother related to me how she was advising her daughter-in-law, who had become overwhelmed with the responsibilities of her family and job. She quoted to her a Yiddish saying that her own mother had told her when my mother was raising my two brothers and myself:

 

“It will all soon pass.”

 

Now that my students have children and I am often living among them and see the sacrifice they are making, I have become more aware of the great sacrifice my mother made in raising us. Somehow, until my mother recently told me her advice to her daughter-in-law that alluded to her own struggles as a mother raising young children, I never realized that she underwent a similar sacrifice taking care of us. When she told me, my immediate reaction was to feel bad for the pain I had caused her by the insensitive way I joined the Hare Krishna movement (although I, of course, have no regrets with the fact that I joined). I have to say that seeing the sacrifice my students have made raising their own children over the last few years, my admiration for motherhood has soared!

 

A realization I recently gained from astrology about motherhood further increased this appreciation. In astrology, different planets and houses are the kāraka, or main indicators, for the prominent aspects of one’s life. For example, we can look to the position of the sun and the strength of the ninth house for the nature of one’s relationship with the father. The tenth house deals with one’s occupation, and Jupiter reflects one’s wisdom, guru, or religiosity. In the same way, the moon and fourth house indicate one’s mother. What struck me is the fact that the moon and the fourth house are also the indicators of the mind. As the mother and the mind have the same exact kāraka, astrology shows that the strength of one’s relationship with one’s mother, the nurturing aspect of one’s life, is also the main determining factor for one’s strength of mind.

 

When we say “mind” in this context, we are also referring to what we call the heart. A strong mind means that one can both freely express and when needed, control, one’s feelings. In other words, a person with a good mind is openhearted and secure but at the same time disciplined. They can thus also control their mind, make decisions, and think clearly. A good mind (heart) is thus the foundation of properly relating, communicating, and learning—the emblems of culture.

 

An interesting incident last year reinforced this realization about the correlation between the mother and the mind. His Holiness Radhanath Swami asked me to accompany him to place his mother’s ashes in the Yamuna. From the soberness and attentiveness he gave to this task, I could sense his gratitude and strong relationship with his mother, although he is a monk and is certainly a detached person. I was also told later about the positive influence his mother had on his life. As I reflected on the nature of his good heart, his ability to be openhearted and loving, and also the strength of his mind, his ability to remain fixed and undisturbed, it further dawned on me that there is a strong connection between the nature of one’s mind and the quality of the nurturing influences in one’s early life.

 

This understanding is confirmed by my observation of those lacking formative nurturing influences. Years ago, I was dealing with a person in Vrindavan who had all the signs of serious clinical depression. He was gradually losing touch with reality and needed serious mental health care. It took me months of pushing to finally get the temple authorities to seek professional consultation. Afterwards, I spoke to one of the leaders, a very cultured Indian, and told him frankly that he could never understand the need for psychiatric care because he had a loving mother at home. I also knew his mother and how close they were. He was startled by my statement and told me I was absolutely right. He related to me that when he would sometimes read in the newspaper how the rich and famous were depressed, he would ask himself, “What is this depression?” He had no personal frame of reference to understand it. His mother also cooked for him, and we discussed how much the sense of being loved in a family can be transferred through the serving and taking of meals affectionately prepared by a loving mother, and especially how the children were inoculated against insecurity and depression by the love and security impressed within them by this loving exchange.

 

As a person’s real success is based on his or her strength of mind, there is, in a sense, a mother behind every successful person. Although the nurturing influences in one’s life are the most significant factor in the development of one’s heart and mind, even if this is lacking it can be compensated for, or rectified, by other factors, like training and other forms of personal development—especially by cultivating a loving relationship with God and His devotees. Similarly, even if those nurturing influences are there, the mind can be disturbed by other factors, such as sinful reactions from bad karma or traumatic experiences. The effect of the appropriate nurturing in childhood on the development of one’s mind, however, cannot be underestimated. Also, there is a difference between proper nurturing and co-dependence and other forms of over-indulgence.

 

As the strength of a society is the character of its people, which is this strength of mind, it goes without saying how essential motherhood is to the proper development of society. Thank you, mothers!

 

 

 

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

June 14th, 2021

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

 

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

 

 

THOMAS GAUL

1882-1931

Gone But Not Forgotten

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

 

 

JOHN BRANNON

July 19, 1912- February 6, 1985

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

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

 

 

FREDERICK J. COOK

1875-1934

1904 Editor, Evening Register 1934

The rarest consecration of a labor of love 1934

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

 

 

JOSEPH GAUL

1809 – 1879

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

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

 

“In God’s loving care”

 

“Faithful until death”

 

“Alive in Christ”

 

 

MARY D’AMATO

1917 to 1995

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

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

 

 

DAVID SMITH COWLES

Colonel 126 Regt
New York Vol. Infantry

Died in battle
At Port Hudson Louisiana
27 May 1863

Tell my mother I died
With my face to the enemy

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

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

 

 

SUSAN M JACKOWSKI

1966 – 2009

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

June 7th, 2021

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

 

Is Jagannatha the Highest Manifestation of God?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


[1] See Is God a Person?

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

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #22 – Commitment Changes Consciousness II

May 31st, 2021

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

May 24th, 2021

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 


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

 

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