Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #22 – Have I Become Nārada Muni and Other Pandemic Musings 

June 1st, 2020

Have I Become Nārada Muni?

 

A vision came. It was post quarantine New York. Pedestrians again filled the street. Cars again packed the road. All of sudden my mind let out a scream, “No!!!” What a strange reaction from this born and bred New Yorker. The peace and goodness of the last two months has indeed been spiritually intoxicating. I feared losing it. “Have you become Nārada Muni?” What a strange thought.

 

Nārada Muni gained audience with God only to have that vision quickly disappear. In desperation, he repeatedly tried to regain it, but to no avail. Finally, a divine voice from the sky revealed his defect, “You are not yet complete in service and have a material taint!” His taint? He was attached to the peace and goodness of the serene mountain place where he was meditating. How is that a blemish? Attachment even to goodness is passion and thus stains an otherwise pure consciousness. Permanent audience with God is only for those in viśuddha sattva, pure goodness, who are completely selfless and detached, and they go wherever service takes them, even New York. I hope this helps put my strange question in perspective.

 

Some Sannyāsī!

 

My students and friends from the Middle East were visiting me. I was being lavished with their gifts, and the bed where I was sitting was obscenely piled up with the exotic fruits, nuts and dried fruits from their country. I especially liked the pomegranates as big as softballs, the ambrosial sweet lemons, and the packages and packages of fresh saffron. A new devotee who was visiting Vṛndāvana, a red-headed actress and comedian from New York, suddenly walked in and paid obeisances in front of my bed. She then sat up, looked up at my bounty, and quipped, “Some sannyāsī!”

 

I loved it. That’s my type of city humor. Thinking back on it, I see some truth in it. Sannyāsa literally means “to practice dying”, learning the joy of shedding attachments before they are forcibly taken away. Modern sannyāsa, however, is filled with the accoutrements of opulence, such as followers and wealth. It poses a challenge to anyone entering that order, like sitting on a bed surrounded by doting followers and being showered with opulence. This is not by any means a blanket condemnation of the modern saffron soldiers. It is a caution, especially as a personal reflection on my own life.

 

In the last four months there have been challenges to the order of my world. I tend to handle things well, but when major attachments are threatened it tends to become a bit scary. But realizations also come. Why fret over that which you will lose anyway? Give it up now. Practice dying. Isn’t that what sannyāsa is for anyway? Otherwise, the red-head would be right, “Some sannyāsī!”

 

The Heart of Bhakti

 

Bhakti means devotion or love for God. Love manifest through relationship. The heart of chanting must be a call to understand our relationship with God. That is the specialness of the bhakti theology. Lover? Parent? Friend? O Lord, who am I? Please fully instill that sense in my heart.

 

A final thought: “Have I become Nārada Muni?” What a joke!

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #21 – Spiritual Autism

May 25th, 2020

Autism is a mental disability where one lacks the ability to read minds to the degree that it seriously impairs ordinary social functioning. When I say “autism” in the context of the phrase “spiritual autism”, I am not using the term to describe a mental disability, but rather to describe in an analogous way[1] the general inability of one to comprehend an action without understanding the mind behind it, especially when trying to fully comprehend Krishna’s pastimes.

 

For example, the loving relations between Krishna and the gopīs have nothing to do with mundane lust, the consciousness corresponding to the exchange of similar forms in this world. They are purely a manifestation of the highest devotional mind. One who is not mature in devotion, however, will fail to see that, which is why comparing the inability to understand Krishna’s pastimes and autism is such a good analogy.

 

Another example of what I call “spiritual autism” is the inability to understand spiritual texts without realizing the intention or mind behind their composition. This is described in the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad:

 

“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.” (ŚU 6.23)

 

The import of the Vedas is that one must give up the false ego, the desire for control and superiority. To realize that import, as to understand any deep subject, some preliminary frame of reference is required, a phenomenon of learning similar to how a very young girl must first mature before understanding romance. The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad therefore reminds one that only those who are sincerely trying to transcend the false ego by humbly taking shelter of both the Lord and the spiritual master will have the frame of reference to recognize that same principle in the Vedas. On the other hand, those lacking such a reference, will be unable to comprehend its meaning despite intellectual and linguistic prowess.

 

I was inspired to come up with the analogy of spiritual autism to help communicate a principle that is foundational in achieving perfection on the path of bhakti. The perfection of devotional practice is to fully feel the intense devotion of the pastimes of Krishna described in the Tenth Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, a practice that requires not just understanding the stories, but also realizing the pure intention behind them. Such mature understanding takes place by a systematic reading of the preliminary nine cantos free from spiritual autism, accompanied by the experience of devotion imbibed by humbly taking shelter of Krishna and His devotees. Oh, when will that day be mine?

 

“His pastimes with the gopīs are all displays of transcendental existence, bliss and knowledge, although these are manifested apparently as sex love. The specific attraction of His pastimes with the gopīs should never be misunderstood. The Bhāgavatam relates these transcendental pastimes in the Tenth Canto. And in order to reach the position to understand the transcendental nature of Lord Krishna’s pastimes with the gopīs, the Bhāgavatam promotes the student gradually in nine other cantos.”  (Bhag. 1.3.28, Purport)

 

 


[1] Analogies are meant to compare specific aspects of something with something else. They are not meant necessarily to compare one object with another. For example, if you compare someone’s face to the moon you are complimenting their face for its luster, not as being large and spherical. Similarly, I am using the analogy of autism in terms of the challenge of reading minds and not defining one in total by that, as people with a particular disability such as autism may, of course excel, in other ways intellectually and personally.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #20 – Why I Hate Clichés and Thoughts About Pain

May 18th, 2020

Corona, Karuna is a great pun for someone who accepts theistic philosophy, for within the challenges of destiny even something as pernicious as a devastating pandemic (Corona), there is also God’s mercy (karuna). The problem is that the pun is so obvious that it quickly became overused. When originality is lost, the innate beauty of a pun is also sacrificed, which is the creativity that stirs one’s thoughts, activates one’s intelligence, and thus drives home a point more deeply. In other words, it became a cliché.

 

Where I am going here? I have no specific realization to write about this week, so I am doing what I always do when this happens. I just put my fingers to the keyboard and see what comes. I have spoken about this technique before. There seems to be a magical connection between moving your fingers to write and activating a part of the brain that generates ideas to write about. Well, so far this is what I came up with this week—I said something about clichés that morphed into a discussion of writing. It worked. A topic came. Here’s how:

 

I was a little tired after my initial writing exercise so before continuing I got up from my desk for a little exercise break. Immediately afterwards, I relaxed on my back listening to a lecture from Śrīla Prabhupāda. I heard him say this:

 

We can’t even understand the creation, so how is it possible to understand the creator?  We therefore worship the residents of Vṛndāvana who do not know Krishna. They simply love Krishna.”

 

I really liked what Śrīla Prabhupāda said, but what struck me more than what he said was the conviction with which he said it. It actually it took me off-guard. A thought spontaneously arose, “This is the voice of the soul.” It made me acknowledge my paltry conviction in comparison to what I had just heard. Feeling exposed is painful. It bruises the ego. I felt it, but there was also some sweetness. Humility opens the heart to devotion. A topic finally came.

 

“The Mercy of Pain”

 

I am not sadomasochistic when I say this, but pain is not the problem, the cause of it is. Pain, in fact, has a noble purpose. It is the natural mechanism to indicate that something is wrong. Without pain our problems would go unnoticed and ravage us much more than the pain itself.  One form of pain is internal dissatisfaction. Without that internal sense of discontent, we would never understand that something is wrong and make the effort to go beyond our present level of advancement.

 

Krishna never lets a sincere practitioner of spiritual life rest on his laurels. Even when there is some success, the same effort that produced that taste in devotion is often met with an undercurrent of dissatisfaction just to force us to deepen our practices and realizations. There is room for just one example:

 

After Vyāsadeva completed his editing of the Vedas, which included the composition of the Mahābhārata and the Vedānta-sūtras, he still felt dissatisfied, which forced him to search his consciousness for what he did wrong. He realized he hadn’t sufficiently glorified Krishna. Without that dissatisfaction he would have never had the impetus to go further in his service to compile the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.

 

That’s the message I got today—embrace dissatisfaction in the heart as an indication sent by God that there is something wrong and use it as an impetus to increase our effort in spiritual life.

 

As I began the class with an analysis of a clichéd pun, let me try to offer an original one to highlight today’s topic:

 

Just as mercy (karuna) accompanies pain (Corona), similarly realization and understanding (vidyā) should also be mutual or “co” with our dissatisfaction or pain (Corona). Can we not also call our present crisis “Covidyā-19”?

 

I hate clichés. Worse than that, my own horrible pun.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #19 – The Secret to Advancing in Devotion

May 11th, 2020

A simple sādhu was asked by his friend for his secret in spiritual life. I loved his reply: “I do the same thing every day.” What he said struck me. It was simple and humble, but also brilliant and even witty.

 

A strictly regulated spiritual life certainly doesn’t conjure up the image of excitement. It is the key, however, to a truly dynamic one. Here’s why.

 

The strength of spiritual life are our practices, especially meditation, and the foundation of that practice is concentration. When our concentration is prolonged and uninterrupted, the mind gradually evolves to sattva, or goodness, which simultaneously raises one to a higher level of perception and contentment. It is hard to imagine achieving anywhere near this level of enlivenment without this “same thing every day” type of regulation, which fosters resolve and focus.

 

The mind is usually filled with a myriad of desires and responsibilities, ready at any minute to challenge the object of our meditation for attention. And that challenge becomes infinitely more difficult in today’s world if you add the multiple impressions of media, especially social media, that flood and agitate the mind. Without reserving an exclusive time and space for our spiritual practice every day, where as far as possible there are no other competing responsibilities or attractions, it’s hard to imagine resisting the two main obstacles to our focus, vikṣepa (distraction born of passion) and laya (lethargy and sleep born of ignorance). And without such regulation our practice will surely remain a chore and difficult to maintain. This is certainly true on the path of bhakti.

 

The foundation of bhakti is our relationship with God. Like all relationships, our attention to the object of our adoration is the basis of nourishing that relationship. But again, without the focus that regulated life affords us, we will likely be challenged on the path of bhakti by distraction or sleep, especially during our most important sādhana, the offering of our consciousness to Krishna in the form of His holy name.

 

There is no doubt that our goal is spontaneous devotion, but we should never equate our lack of regulation with such spontaneity. Those who truly have spontaneous devotion make every effort to discipline themselves without distraction. The devotion of Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, the exemplar for spontaneous devotion, was so unwavering and regulated that it was described to be like the lines on a stone.

 

Those who have studied the life of Śrīla Prabhupāda marveled at how regulated his life was, even during his travels around the globe fourteen times. When I first stayed in Vṛndāvana, I had the fortune of being able to gaze out my window in the very early morning to view His Divine Grace sitting on his āsana in front of his desk on his upstairs porch translating the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. No matter where he was, Śrīla Prabhupāda never failed to do that early morning service. That type of resolve and regulation is the story of every accomplished spiritual adept in the history our lineage, even the modern-day saints of devotion.

 

It is great to hear about the exemplars of devotion. But what about us? Shouldn’t we feel discouraged in the attainment of such regulated and sattvic meditation and practice? Bhakti is a science. Therefore, we should feel assured that as soon as we set a time and place daily for a practice, our enthusiasm and taste will gradually grow.

 

I am here in New Jersey on lockdown. It facilitates regulated life. I have strictly scheduled my day mostly around chanting and hearing about Krishna. I joke that I love “my boring life”, but I can’t imagine anything more enlivening than doing the “same thing every day”.

 

“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the six Gosvāmīs, namely Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, Śrī Jiva Gosvāmī, and Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, who were engaged in chanting the holy names of the Lord and bowing down in a scheduled measurement. In this way they utilized their valuable lives, and in executing these devotional activities they conquered overeating and sleeping and were always meek and humble, enchanted by remembering the transcendental qualities of the Lord.” (Śrī Śrī Ṣaḍ-gosvāmy-aṣṭaka, v. 6)

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #18 – The Movement of Radical Respect

May 4th, 2020

On first reading, the story seemed hard to believe. How can one possibly justify Śrī Caitanya chastising Advaita Ācārya, His respected senior by fifty years?

 

Of, course the simplest explanation was that Śrī Advaita purposely did the one thing that he knew would so infuriate the Lord that He would have no choice but to reprimand Śrī Advaita as an underling. He preached the doctrine of yoga-vāśiṣṭha, a doctrine so antagonistic to the tenets of Śrī Caitanya’s mission that the Lord would certainly lose His temper and take a superior position for the purpose of punishing him. It worked. By breaking the Lord’s “illusion” of reverence for him, Śrī Advaita was finally able to bask in the mood of being accepted as the Lord’s servant, a role where the Lord would now accept his prayers and service. That is the basic justification for the Lord’s behavior, but as the story continues a deeper import is gradually revealed.

 

When Śrī Caitanya’s anger subsided, He realized Śrī Advaita’s unalloyed devotion and felt extremely embarrassed for what He had just done. To make up for His offense, He offered Śrī Advaita this astounding benediction:

 

“I will bestow mercy on any living entity—even an ant, insect, animal or bird—who takes shelter of you for even a moment, even if that living entity commits hundreds of offenses against me.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.170)

 

Śrī Advaita appreciated the sentiment behind Śrī Caitanya’s statement; He simply wanted to exalt His devotee. After hearing what was said, Śrī Advaita cried and caught hold of the Lord’s feet. He couldn’t, however, agree with it literally. How could anyone acting antagonistic to the Lord get His blessing, even when taking shelter of a devotee? Śrī Advaita even cited numerous cases to support his view. Both Hiraṇyakaśipu and Rāvaṇa, who were antagonistic to the Lord, were killed by the Him, despite worshipping and satisfying His devotees. Śrī Advaita’s opinion was unequivocal and very strong:

 

“If one worships me [the devotee] but does not accept you [the Supreme Lord], then may his devotion to me [the devotee] annihilate him.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.172)

 

Śrī Caitanya patiently heard Śrī Advaita’s explanation. He did not overtly disagree with him, but became even more determined to return to the import of His original statement, which was to extol the position of respect His devotees hold:

 

“Everyone listen to My words. Any fallen soul who disrespects My servant and worships Me cuts Me into pieces. His worship feels like fire to my body. My wish-fulfilling holy names destroy one who blasphemes My servant.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.207-209)

 

Śrī Caitanya continued by not only strengthening His point about avoiding disrespect to His servant, but broadened the scope of who is considered to be a servant:

 

“All living entities in the innumerable universes are my servants, so anyone who blasphemes any living entity is ruined.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.210)

 

And He let it be known that no one, even those in the highest position in society, were not spared from His edict:

 

“If even a sannyāsī blasphemes an innocent person, he goes to hell and all his religious principles are destroyed.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.212)

 

Śrī Caitanya finally finished this pastime by announcing the real import of what had just transpired:

 

“Raising His arms, Lord Gauranga declared to the world: Avoid offenses and chant the names of Krishna! If one who is free from blasphemy chants the names of Krishna even once, I will certainly deliver him.”  (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 19.213-214)

 

Advaita did not want to be respected by Śrī Caitanya. He hatched a plan to break the Lord’s reverence for him so that he could therefore serve Him. The Lord responded by chastising Advaita and then glorifying him, which led to a segue that ultimately revealed the deepest import that is the core of Śrī Caitanya’s teachings—unconditional respect for others.

 

Śrī Caitanya has made it clear that He wants His followers to exemplify the radical respect that He has taught here. Can we rise to meet the challenge?

 

“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking himself lower than the straw in the street. One should be more tolerant than the 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.” (Śikṣāṣṭakm v. 3)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #17 – We Need Devotees Who Do Nothing

April 27th, 2020

Ravindra Svarupa dasa has a way with words. I heard him say the above more than twenty years ago. At that time, he was about to be installed as the yearly chairman of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission. He felt that for his purification and the purification of ISKCON, which was naturally facing a myriad of crises, he first needed to sit in Govardhana and chant all day for a month, which he did. His phrase initially sounded strange, but after some thought, I understood what he meant.

 

The foundational teaching of ISKCON is based on the Bhagavad-gītā. It strongly believes in its message and is focused on sharing that. Naturally, in the struggle to share and maintain its values, many problems have arisen. To rise to the challenge of dealing with them it needs to inspire its members to cooperate, which requires spiritual strength. Its leaders, therefore, must have a strong inner life. Although there are different ways on the path of devotion to do that, it would be helpful if at least a few of its leaders or senior members concentrated exclusively on a contemplative life by withdrawing from external responsibilities to sit down in one place and chant Hare Krishna, or at least to substantially make that more of a priority in their life. In other words, doing nothing, which is not exactly doing nothing, but instead freeing oneself of most external duties so that one can devote the bulk of one’s time to mantra meditation and other forms of chanting and hearing. I surmise that’s what he was implying with his quick-witted phrase. It also exemplifies our tradition.

 

Śrī Caitanya’s life was ācārya-līlā. He was setting the example, by His life, of how a devotee should live. Part of that example was that the last eighteen years of Śrī Caitanya’s life, and He only lived for forty-eight, was practically devoted to the exclusive cultivation of His inner life. That life wasn’t, however, completely detached from His mission to share Krishna-consciousness. His disciples visited Him yearly and were energized in their service by the depth of His association and the realizations He shared with them.

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda hinted that he also wanted to be that example for his mission, but there weren’t enough devotees qualified at the time to relieve him of his responsibilities.

 

“In the last stage of the spiritual master’s life, the devotees of the spiritual master should take the preaching activities into their own hands. In this way the spiritual master can sit down in a solitary place and render nirjana-bhajana [solitary spiritual practice].” (Bhag. 4.28.33, Purport)

 

I was sort of encouraged in this way myself when I took sannyāsa in 1982 from Satsvarupa das Goswami. He told the initiates, five at the time, that we need leaders whom other people can trust, so we should avoid politics and business. At the time, I was the manager of a large institution, so it was difficult to avoid political and money matters. It came with the territory, so to speak, but what he said did deeply resonate with me. Of course, he didn’t mean to give up preaching activities, but the import was similar: At a certain appropriate time one needs, as a service, to move more towards activities that connect one more directly with one’s inner development to remain spiritually fit for oneself and for the benefit of society.

 

I am hunkered down here in New Jersey. A few hours ago, Ṭoṭā-gopīnātha, who is near-by, brought me lunch. He shared with me a class he just heard “zoomed” in from Madhavananda das that echoed a similar theme to what I was just writing: “The Krishna consciousness movement began indoors with the devotees cloistered in kirtan at Śrīvāsāṅgana, the house of Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura, and now the mission of Śrī Caitanya is also forced inside. Is it not a call for inner life?”

 

True, the Krishna conscious movement began inside. The devotees were, in a way, locked down in their spiritual practices by the force of the Mogul rule and thus couldn’t practice their devotion outside. That deep internal cultivation of the holy name amongst them, however, created almost a centripetal force that quickly propelled the mission beyond the walls of their houses and into the streets to share their joy. Is history, in a way, repeating itself? Will being hunkered down inside force us to go deeper in our practices and impel us to return outside with a greater force and joy?

 

I turn seventy years of age this year and am happily confined inside, where I am increasingly inspired, as a service to the mission of Śrī Caitanya, to be a devotee who “does nothing”.

 

Chant Hare Krishna!

 

So this preaching is also chanting Hare Krishna mantra. This is preaching. That has been so when he is firmly convinced, then he can give up preaching and sit down and simply chant. Not in the beginning. That is imitation. He must be firmly convinced. So we have to study Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s life. Except—this is the clear and simple truth—except chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, there is no other business of the human being shown by all the disciples of Caitanya Mahāprabhu.” (Morning walk May 8, 1975)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #16 – Commitment Changes Consciousness

April 20th, 2020

After offering the traditional oblations for His recently deceased father in Gayā, Śrī Caitanya returned home to Nadiya as a changed man. A seemingly proud young scholar of Nyaya (logic) was now the emblem of humility. What happened? In Gayā He met his guru, Īśvara Purī, took initiation, and surrendered fully. As I was reading this pastime, an original phrase to represent the basis of spiritual transformation immediately came to mind: “commitment changes consciousness”. I loved how it sounded, but more importantly I was intrigued to investigate in a little more depth how this transformation works.

 

Commitment means surrender. Many times I have talked about this subject, how the word “surrender”, although the best English word available, does not accurately translate the word “śaraṇāgati”, which is used in a very specific spiritual context. “Śaraṇāgati” literally means approaching (agati) for shelter (śaraṇa), which is a voluntary submission to that which is worthy of refuge because of its embodiment of knowledge and affection, while the word “surrender” mostly means commitment by force, such as being conquered in war or battle, or blind or begrudging adherence to rank. In other words, when using the word “surrender” as a translation of śaraṇāgati, it is often naturally misunderstood in ways not intended. Now back to our original question of why Śrī Caitanya changed so radically by His firm surrender or commitment.

 

At every moment we have a myriad of choices. The correct choice that elevates and transforms the consciousness closer to the true self, which is consciousness meant for service and devotion, is deemed dharma. Without commitment to dharma we will be dictated mostly by the impulses of the mind, which simply fortify the bodily or egoistic conception of life. Commitment to dharma therefore changes one’s consciousness by helping one gradually transcend selfish or material consciousness.

 

The highest dharma, and the fullest sense of surrender, is unconditional surrender to the will of the Divine. It doesn’t mean to renounce one’s dharma or duties prescribed according to one’s material situation, for that is God’s will to purify us. However, it does mean that at heart the priority in all one’s activities is exclusively for the pleasure of God, even in the rare case it calls for the sacrifice of one’s prescribed duties. That internal sense of complete surrender, called śaraṇāgati, was the commitment that Śrī Caitanya made at Gayā when He took shelter of His spiritual master. That full commitment to live one’s life exclusively by the shelter of the highest truth is the doorway to bhakti. It naturally attracts God’s mercy, who reciprocates His unalloyed devotee’s surrender by bestowing upon them the highest form of love, prema-bhakti. Fully committed to the Divine, Śrī Caitanya thus returned to Nadiya a changed man, fully intoxicated by love of God.

 

Who is a person of character and how do we become one? It is one who is committed to live his or her life by principles rather than whims. Who is a person of devotion and how do we become one? It is a person who is committed in heart to fully serve guru and Krishna and, feeling the Lord’s presence in return, is overwhelmed with gratitude and devotion. Commitment changes consciousness!

 

Śrīmān Paṇḍita and the other devotees cried out of intense love for Krishna. Tears of love flowed from the Lord’s eyes in all directions as if the Ganges had appeared there. Everyone was struck with wonder and thought, ‘We have never before seen Him like this’.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 1.33-35)

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #15 – The Yoga of Corona

April 13th, 2020

I hesitated to keep this title. It seems a little ghastly or even insensitive, but there is a precedent that inspired me to leave it as it is. The first chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā is entitled “Viṣāda-yoga” (The Yoga of Despair). In other words, anything becomes yoga, even despair, when it brings us closer to understanding our self and God. In light of that, some reflections on the “Yoga of Corona” will follow, but first one more point is needed to highlight the relevance of today’s subject. Yoga is not just meant for an easy day-to-day life. It is specifically meant to give us the strength and spiritual buoyancy to deal with the world and the incredibly stressful circumstances that repeatedly arise, which is exactly the reason why the Bhagavad-gītā, one of the main yoga texts, was spoken in the midst of a ghastly war.

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda on Corona

 

“Constant remembering the lotus feet of the Lord means preparing for liberation from birth and death. Therefore, even though there are so-called calamities, they are welcome because they give us an opportunity to remember the Lord, which means liberation.” (Bhag. 1.8.25, Purport)

 

Removing the false ego

 

We don’t experience our connection with God because the soul is covered by the false ego, which is our sense of superiority based on the desire to control and enjoy. If anyone in the world had any sense that they were the controller because of their opulence and power, they should certainly think twice. Even the richest and most famous people with all of their accoutrements of power are helplessly quarantined. Is Krishna arranging all this, and for that matter all life’s challenges, simply to help deconstruct and remove that false sense of control so we can experience our true identity and call to Him with feeling?  Is this not the import of Queen Kunti’s prayers?

 

“My Lord, Your Lordship can be easily approached, but only 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.” (Bhag. 1.8.26)

 

What the hell are we missing?

 

A lawyer friend, whose office is in Manhattan, lamented staying home because of the crisis. I said, “But you hate your job!” He nodded, “It’s miserable. I really do hate work!” I commented, “Just see, you are missing that which gives you anxiety.” We laughed. A reflection: We get acclimated and attached to a life that moves at breakneck speed and robs us of the things that we value most and which simply cause us anxiety. Perhaps Krishna wants us to try to live more wholesome lives, rather than go back to the one we had, or to at least try to start making some adjustments to move in that direction?

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda was right.

 

He pushed for economically based self-sufficient rural communities, but for the most part his disciples failed in that endeavor. They were born in the mid-twentieth century and had already been conditioned by a false sense of opulence based on gadgets and convenience, and thus looked at rural life as too austere. Real opulence, however, is fresh air, home grown food with family, community, and worship in walking distance. When your whole modern economic system can seemingly collapse at any time like a stack of dominos, does not the stability of self-sufficiency that Śrīla Prabhupāda promoted suddenly look more enticing?

 

Final thoughts

 

“The duty of a sane person, therefore, is to be undisturbed by worldly calamities, which are sure to happen in all circumstances. Suffering all sorts of unavoidable misfortunes, one should make progress in spiritual realizations because that is the mission of human life. The spirit soul is transcendental to all material calamities; therefore the so-called calamities are false.” (Bhag. 1.8.25, Purport)

 

“This material world is full of suffering. Take shelter of the holy name of Krishna as your only business.” — Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura Aruṇodaya Kīrtana song 1, verse 6

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #14 – The Trick of Turning Weakness into Strength: Part 2

April 6th, 2020

Personal weakness can be classified into two categories: weakness of will and weakness of destiny. We have already discussed turning weakness of will into strength. I summarized that in Part 1:

 

If we use our imperfections, however, even our moral weaknesses, to reflect on our helplessness and humbly increase our dependence on God, then even such weaknesses can be transformed into the greatest strength, the power of humility to invoke grace. 

 

The weakness of destiny has two division: the weakness of abilities and the weakness of circumstance. The weakness of abilities refers to any inherent challenging physical or mental deficiencies that reduce our power to control and enjoy in the world. Weakness of circumstance refers to the challenging circumstances thrust upon us that come and go that are independent of our personal capabilities.

 

Whatever our weakness, whether it is in our ability or circumstance, we can turn them into a strength with two powerful tools: adjusting our goals and adjusting our perspective. For this entry we will focus on turning the weakness of ability into a strength.

 

The first trick to turning our weakness of ability into a strength is to change our goals to meet our abilities. I read an interesting example in this regard in reference to the law of karma that illustrates this.[1] If God gives one a hammer and the goal is to become a concert violinist, the hammer is a weakness. If one, however, changes one’s goal to become a carpenter, then all of a sudden one’s weakness, the hammer, becomes one’s strength. In other words, if we change our goal to align with the abilities God has given us, then what we may have perceived as a weakness can become a strength.

 

It is not that we cannot overcome obstacles and achieve great things, but we are only capable within certain karmic parameters. I have told the story before of a friend, David, who was very short by his constitution, but who ardently wanted to be a high school basketball player. Due to his physical inability — his lack of height — he never even came close to making the team and remained very frustrated. Again, if he had accepted his fate instead of setting unrealistic goals, and focused on a sport more suited to his physical stature, where there were different weight classes and height wasn’t necessarily an impediment, like wrestling for example, then the apparent weakness of his small stature could have been his strength.

 

I have discussed making a weakness into a strength by aligning one’s abilities with the proper goal, but what if one has few redeeming capabilities? Doesn’t one’s weakness remain so? Even if hypothetically one has no redeeming material attribute, one can adopt a spiritual perspective where one values virtue and spiritual consciousness more than anything else. From that perspective, even the most forlorn weakness can be seen as an asset or strength, for challenges in life are usually the forces that most deepen one’s consciousness. And even in terms of accomplishment in the world, a sincere person bereft of any substantial ability or talent can always serve and assist others with more ability than themselves, which from the spiritual perspective is the greatest strength. I always remember the profound words of a simple lady who passed away in Vṛndāvana: “I am not advanced, but I know who is, and I serve them.”

 


[1] I read this analogy years ago in a book on astrology from Vic Dicara.

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #13 – How Bhakti Works

March 30th, 2020

I had a few thoughts about how bhakti works based on what is arguably the most important verse in bhakti-yoga:

 

“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking himself 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.” (Śikṣāṣṭaka 3)

 

I argue that it is the most important verse because among the eight verses Śrī Caitanya personally wrote to codify His mission, it is this verse that He singled out when instructing Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī about the goal of life (prema-bhakti), whom the tradition honors as the prayojana ācārya, the main teacher to exemplify and espouse the intricacies of this goal. In this regard, it is also significant that Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, the main biographer of Śrī Caitanya, elevates this verse to a special status seemingly reserved for no other verse. After describing Śrī Caitanya’s explanation of this verse to Śuklāmbara Brahmacārī, he spontaneously declared:

“Raising my hands, I declare, ‘Everyone please hear me! String this verse on the thread of the holy name and wear it on your neck for continuous remembrance.’” (Cc. Ādi-līlā 17.31)

 

Before explaining how this verse reveals the essence of how bhakti works, we first need to understand further the nature of two things: prema (pure love of god) and the main obstacle to achieving it. First, a short explanation of the basic nature of prema.

 

Love is the natural energy of affection between two beings who have a relationship. Whether it’s a mother and a child, two siblings, or even a calf and a cow — any beings naturally related to one another spontaneously feel an energy of love between them. When this energy is transcendental and felt between the soul and God it is called the pinnacle of love, or prema-bhakti.

 

On face value attaining this shouldn’t seem difficult. After all, nothing is outside of God, and He is immediately accessible in His direct manifestations, like the holy name. Should we not, therefore, feel that all-powerful energy of our eternal relationship with God when in contact with Him, especially when we chant His names?

 

Unfortunately, no matter how powerful something is, its effect can be blocked from influencing something even insignificant if that thing is shielded or covered, just as the powerful energy of the sun can be thwarted in its influence on us by a small umbrella. Similarly, the powerful energy of our relationship with Krishna can be obscured from our hearts by the obstacle or cloud of the false ego, which more than anything else is the desire for superiority and control. Now back to our original thesis on how the third verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam reveals the essence of how bhakti works.

 

The third verse makes a very noteworthy claim that one in a humble state of mind can chant always. There is an interesting connection between the two. As just mentioned, the cloud that covers the soul and blocks the feelings of our relationship with Krishna is pride or false ego. As humility is directly antithetical to the false ego, a person with a humble mind, and therefore uncovered by false ego, can directly experience the energy of prema between the soul and God while chanting His names. As that experience of prema is the topmost love and the highest pleasure, one chanting in a truly humble state of mind never wants to stop. More specifically, the verse outlines the three qualities of a humble mind that open the heart to this direct communion with Krishna in the form of the holy name: deep modesty, tolerance, and respect.

 

So how does bhakti work? The goal of bhakti is the experience of communion with Krishna. Śrī Caitanya clearly outlined the four-fold process of achieving that: humility, tolerance, respect, and chanting the holy name always. That’s how bhakti works.

 

“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking himself 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.”

 

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