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

November 12th, 2018

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

 

Like a wave

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

 

Is the mantra chanting you?

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

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

 

Boredom and bhakti

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

 

It’s taste, not time.

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

 

Time flies when you are having a good time.

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

 

Chanting is real love

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

 

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

 


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

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

November 5th, 2018

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 


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

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

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

 

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

October 29th, 2018

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

 

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

 

 

What did Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura say?

 

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

 

Our work should be our fun.

 

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

 

What did Śrīla Prabhupāda say?

 

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

 

 

The sacrifice is always worth it.

 

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

 

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

 

 

Conclusion

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 


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

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

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #43 – Guru for Dummies

October 22nd, 2018

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

 

Why Guru?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

One who knows and lives those teachings is called guru.

 

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

 

 

How to Find Guru

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


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

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #42 – Entering Vṛndāvana

October 15th, 2018

“Where are you calling from Dennis?”

“Vṛndāvana.”

“How is my Vṛndāvana?”

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

“Something terrible happened last night.”

“What is it mom?”

“I’m ashamed to admit it.”

“Mom, what is it?!”

“I can’t say.”

“MOM! WHAT HAPPENED?”

“No, I am ashamed to admit it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

October 8th, 2018

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

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

  1. Adhering to Dharma and Accepting Karma

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

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

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

  1. Prayerful Reading

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

  1. A Life of Prayer

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

  1. Meditation

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

  1. Sādhu-saṅga

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

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

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

 


[1] Bhagavad-gita 2.11

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #40 – Life’s Two Greatest Challenges

October 1st, 2018

Last week two thunderbolts of realization fell in my lap. I was challenged to rise in my own spiritual commitment to meet them. I realize them as two of life’s greatest challenges.

 

  1. To dissolve the subtle body before we die.

 

I just read in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that death usually means only the dissolution of the gross body. However, it can also mean that in addition to the dissolution of the subtle body if one is free of material desires at the time of death then one attains a spiritual identity never to take birth again. I felt Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words deeply. Keeping one’s petty desires only nourishes the subtle body, exacerbates the pain of leaving this world, and keeps one in this world of birth and death. If I don’t dissolve the subtle body by reasonable detachment, I shudder to think of a next birth where one will again suffer the challenges of growing up and the myriad of other countless frustrations and humiliations one must endure simply to satisfy one’s desire to be separate from God. The challenge? Surrender now!

 

These thoughts hit me hard, especially since the week before I watched the passing of my friend Gunagrahi dasa Goswami. I watched his last days and even his last moments live streamed throughout the world. I also was with him in Vṛndāvana much of the last year. I thus witnessed not only the physical pain of one giving up the material body, but also the pain endured, as the process of dying robs one step by step of everything one has ever cherished, except the holy name. It’s no joke. Sannyāsa actually means “to die while living” by renouncing the superfluous without delay. I pray to take up that challenge.

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s description of dissolving the subtle body struck me as a life and death challenge. If I don’t surrender fully now by detaching myself from that which has no value to devotion, then when will I do it?

 

  1. To be fearless, especially at death, one must be able to draw on one’s relationship to Krishna, for that is all one really has left.

 

Ghanashyam dasa, a former brahmacārī at the Bhakti Center, is now the Hindu chaplain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, one of the most prestigious hospitals in America. In his Bhāgavatam class he described his encounters with people dying. He described that although he is trained to comfort them in many ways, which he does, ultimately without being able to go within the heart and draw on one’s relationship with God there is not much for a dying person to hold on to. He stressed how important it is, especially as devotees, to develop that relationship now. He related a story that he heard from a devotee to illustrate that point.

 

The devotee described how the ocean riptide carried him out in a way that no matter how hard he tried to swim back to shore, the current kept pushing him further and further away. He was sure he would die and thus reached into his heart to call out to Krishna for help, but he was shocked by how little substance his cry held. He realized that he had not really yet developed his relationship with Krishna and his voice reflected that. Shaken, he vowed on the spot that if he was saved he would dedicate the rest of his life to truly develop his relationship with Krishna. His cry at least carried that sincerity. Obviously, he lived to share his realizations.

 

Ghanashyam’s point struck me. Developing our relationship with Krishna is such serious business. Perfunctory devotional service will just not do. In everything we do we must find and give a heart to it, which means our love and relationship with Krishna. If I can’t find that now, what will I have left to hang on to when everything else is being ripped way? The same point arises again and again in my life in different ways. The time to fully surrender and awaken one’s relationship with Krishna is now, for trust no future however pleasant.[1]

 


[1] The phrase “Trust no future however pleasant” is from A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #39 – Silence

September 24th, 2018

I’m not a silence guy. I’m a New Yorker. Hustle and bustle are music to my ears, at least by my nature. And I like to talk. Thank God I chose the path of bhakti where you can talk all day as long as it is about Krishna. But the path of bhakti brought out another side of me. This extrovert is no longer fearful of dwelling within, as long as the sound of the holy name is my constant companion. I was thus intrigued with Madan’s seminar at the Bhakti Immersion Retreat this year: “Forest Walk: A Meditative Stroll in the Forest”. I couldn’t attend, but I got very good feedback from the participants about his seminar. The format for Madan’s class was ingenious.

 

While sitting by the bridge, he first read a very profound poem from Khalil Gibran about silence. Then the group walked across the bridge, where they sat on the porch of the forest sanctuary and each individual had a chance to share their thoughts on silence. They ended with a meditative stroll through the forest in silence to deepen their realization about the subject.

 

What I heard inspired me to try my own hand at this on Monday to explore what silence means to me. First the poem by Gibran:

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.

There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.

When you meet your friend on the roadside or in the market place, let the spirit in you move your lips and direct your tongue.
Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear;
For his soul will keep the truth of your heart as the taste of the wine is remembered
When the colour is forgotten and the vessel is no more.

(“On Talking”, The Prophet)

 

My Thoughts:

 

There is no such thing as silence. You can either hear your mind or hear God. I was always struck by the Bhagavad-gītā verse that gives the simple advice that when the senses are controlled, the Supersoul is at reach.[1] In true silence we can therefore hear God’s voice of compassion guiding us, or even His flute calling us. I once remember hearing the voice of God when, by circumstance, I was forced into abject silence. Yes, I am convinced that God personally spoke to me.

 

When the deprogrammers kidnapped me, I would neither eat anything nor talk to anyone, no matter how hard they tried to engage with me. My senses, especially the tongue, was completely restrained. After thirty-six hours in total silence, I suddenly developed an intense desire to return to the shade of the lotus feet of Śrī Śrī Radha-Kalachandji, the presiding deities of the temple in Dallas where I was serving at the time. I remember praying as sincerely and intensely as I ever did in my life. A clear vision of the deities appeared in my mind. Suddenly I heard a voice with a very cogent and detailed plan: “If you want to get out, then do this, this, and this and you will be free.” I followed the plan to the T. Within two hours I was miraculously free.

 

It is beyond the scope of today’s Greetings to share the whole story with you now,[2] but what I can share is that the voice was so clear, the plan so ingenious, and the personal instructions so effective that I can fathom no other explanation for what happened than God. So yes, when by silence my attention was finally diverted from the chatter of the senses, I could clearly hear what had always been there: the voice of the Lord of my heart directing me.

 

In writing and reflecting on this it, I am embarrassed by how much I feel the need to talk or hear others talk. The words of Gibran hit me hard: “And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered”. I pray that the month of Kārttika comes as soon as possible, where in Govardhana, not New York, I am able to sit alone in silence for long periods of time just with the holy name. That sweetness is my silence. So yes, silence is golden, but also the color of a monsoon cloud.[3]

 

 


[1] Bg. 6.7

[2] In 1975 I was kidnapped by the infamous Ted Patrick in an attempted deprogramming. It is a long and intriguing story. If readers want to hear that story they can drop me a line and if enough are interested I will arrange a podcast where I will retell it.

[3] For those not familiar with the Krishna bhakti theology, the holy name of Krishna is considered non-different from Krishna and Krishna is the color of a monsoon cloud. Krishna appeared 500 years ago, but in a golden hue, to spread the holy name.

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #38 – Practicing Humility: Part Three – The Fifteen Core Practices

September 17th, 2018

Saint Augustine once announced to his audience that he would reveal to them the three most essential practices for developing love of God. Slowly he named them one at a time: Humility…. Humility… Humility!

This Monday Morning Greetings I will continue the discussion of the fifteen core practices of humility.

  1. Role Models and Exemplars

Voltaire said that which we appreciate gradually comes to us. It is easier to appreciate philosophical concepts, especially ones that are subtle, when we see those qualities through the life and character of people who live those precepts. Unless we identify those with true humility, people who demonstrate the strength and character to resist the urge for distinction, we may mistake humility for weakness, especially in a world of exploitation where the meek seem abused and the brash promoted. In order to cultivate humility one must consciously choose and think of those that exemplify it.

  1. Respect

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu writes in the Śikṣāṣṭakam that one of the main symptoms of a humble person is to offer all respect to others. The Eleventh Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describes that “others” means all living entities. Being mindful to show proper consideration to others is an essential practice of engendering a humble mood.

One important way to practice such respect, especially for a teacher, is to honor one’s audience. A speaker or teacher should be vigilant to never feel superior to his audience and, as far as is practical, make him or herself available for the sincere inquiries of those who honor his or her teachings, always keeping in in mind the saying, “Without a speaker there can still be an audience, but without an audience there cannot be a speaker.”[1]

A vivid example of this type of humility is Lord Brahmā, the chief authority of this universe. When his son Nārada asked about the identity of God, he profusely thanked him for giving him a chance to acknowledge and speak about Krishna.[2] In his purport of their exchange, Śrīla Prabhupāda even highlights such respect as “the basic missionary principle.”

  1. Introspection

There are certain thoughts, such as envy, that are so antithetical to humility that we have to be mindful to catch and identify them whenever they arise and either outright ignore them or counteract them with opposite and more wholesome thoughts. One of the most predominant forms of envy is to be competitive and envious of peers. A Vaiṣṇava must immediately check such envy and happily acknowledge those who have surpassed him or her in devotion and service. Ideally a Vaiṣṇava even sees all as serving Krishna better than themselves.

Even worse than envy is criticism, for envy rests in the heart and criticism is when it comes out. A Vaiṣṇava militantly avoids criticism. It is simply the servant of pride.

The mind also constantly judges others based on our own opinions. Of course, to practice devotion a Vaiṣṇava must discriminate between whom to revere, befriend, show compassion to, and avoid. That, however, is different from being judgmental, in which case we categorize people according to our likes and dislikes, often seeing a person’s faults as the whole person. Whenever we become judgmental it is helpful to remember that immature people also judge us in the same narrow way.

Therefore, in order to cultivate humility one has to be extremely mindful of one’s thoughts, rooting out envy and thwarting its offspring: criticism and judgmentalism. One must see others for their goodness and service.

  1. Simplicity and Austerity

People have different needs, but when we exceed what we require it only increases our wants, initiating a cycle of ever increasing accruement, attachment, and pride. Simplicity and contentment are thus the foundations of humility.

Tapasya means to continue in one’s duty despite the irrational impulses of the mind and body. By executing tapasya one naturally starves the false ego and nourishes the humble self.

Leading a simple life is thus certainly favorable to the modest feelings of a true devotee.

  1. Country Walks

The modern city is covered by man’s creation, which is mostly matter. As we are spirit, an energy superior to matter, the city subtly maintains and invokes our sense of lordship. Nature, on the other hand, is alive and we much more readily feel the expanse of God’s power within her. A previous Monday Morning Greetings was entitled “I Hate Country Walks”, but despite my city nature, it couldn’t be clearer how deep in the forest, where spirit is pervasive, it is much more difficult to think of oneself as the center.

To delineate and describe the fifteen core practices of humility is again taking longer than I thought. The remaining five listed below will be covered next week:

  1. Adhering to Dharma and Accepting Karma
  2. Prayerful Reading
  3. A Life of Prayer
  4. Meditation
  5. Sādhu-saṅga

 


[1] I heard Madhavananda Prabhu say this in a lecture, but I don’t remember the reference

[2] Bhag. 2.5.9

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #37 – The Passing Away of His Holiness Gunagrahi Goswami

September 10th, 2018

Many of you reading this have been inspired and blessed with the association of Raghunath and Kaustubha. If you have, then you have some debt to the person being honored here. That will become apparent as you read on.

 

In a sense, Mahārāja was one of the last of the real old time saṅkīrtana generals, those who set lofty goals in the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda and moved heaven and earth to achieve them. Thirteen years ago, Mahārāja invited me to Argentina to preach. I gave classes twice a day in the ISKCON temple, a very humble place that had been their residence for over twenty years. Mahārāja had only been there a short while, but within a few years marshaled, pushed, and led the forces of the yātrā[1] to acquire and renovate two attached petit hotels in the center of Buenos Aires in order to create arguably one of the most successful temples in South America. Shortly thereafter a struggling yātrā was flourishing.

 

When Raghunath became inspired to join the Hare Krishna movement, which in those days meant living in an ashram, he moved to the ISKCON Gītā-nagarī farm in Pennsylvania. Gunagrahi Mahārāja happened to be visiting there at the time. Mahārāja thought, “Why should one with so much potential to communicate Krishna consciousness be stuck on the farm?” So he brought Raghunath to Washington, DC where Mahārāja’s Krishnafest program daily performed dynamic kīrtana on the mall in front of the Smithsonian. A few months later I got a call from him:

 

“Mahārāja, I had Raghunath start a straight edge band again to spread Krishna consciousness through his music. It’s called Shelter. We soon will tour all over the USA. I can’t do this alone. Please come with me.”

 

Soon we were traveling all over the USA with Shelter as the headliner band and three other minor straight edge bands arranged by Raghunath, including Inside Out, which was led by the then unknown Zack de la Rocha, who would later become the leader of the seminal band Rage Against the Machine. From Shelter literally hundreds and hundreds of young people started to fill the pretty much barren ISKCON temples in North America. Shortly after that Shelter expanded the scope of its program to bring the disaffected youth throughout the world to the path of bhakti. Through Raghunath’s effort, which was the brainchild and inspiration of Gunagrahi Mahārāja, the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda, which suffered so much after his passing, was revitalized in America and much of the world. It’s a service that is not acknowledged nearly to the degree that it should be.

 

There are “preachers” and then there are preachers, those whose very life breath is dedicated to giving people the jewel of devotion. Mahārāja left no stone unturned to personally, and without judgment, reach out to anyone he thought he could inspire to serve the mission of his guru. It’s a rare quality. Dotting the globe, especially in the Americas, are countless devotees who came to the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda only by the compassion, insight, and personal effort of Gunagrahi Mahārāja to make them Krishna conscious. One of those numerous jewels is Kaustubha Prabhu, the senior educator at the Bhakti Center. Mahārāja visited him in his apartment on Havemeyer Street in South Williamsburg, arguably the most decrepit and dangerous neighborhoods in New York City at the time, where he inspired Dave (now Kaustubha) to travel with him and to soon commit himself to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission. Two days before Gunagrahi Mahārāja left this world in Vṛndāvana surrounded by the devotees chanting the holy name, including his loving god brothers, I got a call from Kaustubha asking me if I could find a way to send a letter to Gunagrahi Mahārāja expressing his gratitude. I immediately dictated his letter through WhatsApp to a friend helping to care for Mahārāja who played it for him. The following day I got a message from Gunagrahi Mahārāja. With all the strength he could muster, in the most heartfelt voice, a short message for Kaustubha came:

 

“Love and gratitude to you in my heart… love in my heart… so much love in my heart… so much.”

 

Bhurijan Prabhu, who taped the message, described that as Gunagrahi Mahārāja was losing strength and practically incapable of uttering a single word more, Mahārāja uttered almost inaudibly, “So much, so much gratitude,” while placing his hand on his heart indicating his love. Each word had almost a raspy whistling quality that seemed to slightly crescendo and get higher at the end of each phrase as the air needed to produce the words continued just a short while after finishing the phrase he wanted to produce.

 

True gratitude is the budding of our real self. In my mind, the depth and humility in which Mahārāja spoke was coming straight from his eternal identity with Krishna. It was the humble and loving voice of a resident of Vṛndāvana. When I heard the tape I somewhat broke up. I remembered the deep humility, gratitude, and affection Mahārāja had for Śrīla Prabhupāda, those who followed his footpath, and for almost anyone with a spark of devotion. Mostly I reflected on his affection for me.

 

Mahārāja’s passing was perhaps the most glorious departure of a devotee in ISKCON since the passing of Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Gaura Govinda Mahārāja. It made me reflect on the qualities he demonstrated that attracted such extraordinary mercy:

 

Gunagrahi Mahārāja was exceptionally humble. Although he was quite senior to me, he always treated me as his superior, although out of humility he also never hesitated to correct me if anything I did wasn’t a reflection in his mind of the highest ideals of presenting Krishna consciousness to others. For example, my sometimes raggedy Vṛndāvana dress rightly disturbed him and he would tell me. Like everyone, he also made mistakes, but there was nothing in the very depth of his heart but the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda, and he bowed down to the feet of anyone with even a spark of desire to assist in that mission. Gunagrahi Mahārāja was endlessly attracted to the holy name and deeply loved his godbrothers, friends, and disciples. It seemed at times more than anything else he was the friend of the poor. He just had this special type of affection for the downtrodden and motley,[2] those who seemed to be surviving in Krishna consciousness only by his compassion and inspiration.

 

Sometime before he left I also received a message from him. It began with the heartfelt and somewhat unusual phrase, “Luv you, honey”. He spoke of what I meant to him. He said that Śrīla Prabhupāda was the center and acknowledged that I may not be able to come immediately because of my service, although obviously he wanted that. I had some previous commitments to two festivals that I had organized where people had already even booked tickets to fly in and participate. I had moved up my ticket to fly to India when those commitments were to be finished, but as soon as I got the message that he was now beginning to leave, I booked my flight to leave the next morning to India from Colombia to be with him. Unfortunately, he left just a few hours after I booked my ticket. I pray he will forgive me for not being there at his side.

 

I bow my head to the lotus feet of the illustrious Vaiṣṇavas such as Bhurijan Prabhu, Rtadhvaja Swami, Govinda Mahārāja, and Radhanath Swami, who dropped everything to be at his side. Thank you!

 

All Glories to Śrīla Prabhupāda and the pure devotees he brought on the path of devotion and then took from this world to directly serve him. All Glories to Śrīla Gunagrahi Goswami!

 

 


[1] Spiritual community

[2] An astrologer once told him that throughout his life he would be surrounded by low class people. He understood this to be the many people he extended himself to who otherwise, it seemed, could never make the standards required for spiritual life. He loved them and called them his “homeboys”.

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