Monday Morning Greeting 2017 #50 – The Self-Effulgent Vaiṣṇava

December 11th, 2017

Śrī Vibhu Caitanya passed me as he was trudging up the stairs of the gurukula building on his way to his residence on the top floor. It was a bit of a struggle now as his body from the waist was severely bent over as a result of old age. He also no longer had the strength to cook in the kitchen. It was just a few days back that he was forced by time to leave his service. It was difficult to for him to retire as he had been faithfully doing that service for over twenty years since Śrīla Prabhupāda asked him, a humble retired Bengali shopkeeper, to be the first deity cook for the ISKCON Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir. Every day he would enter the kitchen at two in the morning without fail to break the coal and start the fires for the day’s cooking. He would then stay until ten at night to single-handedly cook all six bhoga offerings, including the various deity sweets, only to rise again early the next day to start his service again. And whatever he cooked tasted like nectar! As I passed him on the stairs he looked at me affectionately and softly chuckled, “Six men, six men!” It was clear what he meant. That was the amount of devotees it took to replace his service in the kitchen!
 
That was one of the recollections I shared last week here when it was my time to offer him homage at the tenth anniversary celebration of his passing. I also thought that in addition to the stories of his life I should add some philosophical import to his example of service. I thought, “Why not find a word that served as the theme of his life, a common thread to all his glories?” The word “self-effulgent” suddenly came to my mind. I began to briefly explain why.
 
In Vaiṣṇava circles the term “self-effulgent” is reserved for the phrase self-effulgent ācārya. It means that although many people will adopt the post of guru, and there may be different opinions about the extent of their status and influence, a person such as Śrīla Prabhupada may arise that shines so self-evidently that their spiritual status is universally recognized without the need for authorization or promotion. Although Vibhu Caintanya wasn’t an ācārya in the sense of being a preacher or guru, for us he was that collectively respected Vaiṣṇava, our self-effulgent devotee. After Śrīla Prabhupāda left, I can’t think of anyone in ISKCON Vṛndāvana that was so universally recognized for the quality of their devotion.
 
Of course, his cooking service certainly stood out for its efficiency and quality of what was produced. He once said the altar belonged to Krishna, but the kitchen belonged to Radha. By the taste of what he cooked and offered, we had no doubt that he was the instrument to carry the love of Śrī Radha from the kitchen to the altar.
 
I could go on and on about the excellence of what he cooked and the kindness in which he would distribute it, but I think his more menial service shone most brightly. When Vibhu Caitanya was too old to cook he performed the humble service of sitting all day in the temple handing out the caraāmta. To this day the people who were there at the time remember the care and affection in which he would support their opened right hand with his left and then with his right hand carefully serve them the caraāmta ensuring that not a drop would touch the floor. He even arranged for a small refrigerator to keep the caraāmta cold so that he could serve his god-siblings very tiny cups filled with chilled caraāmta on a hot summer day.
 
He then became too disabled to even leave his room situated on the back bottom floor of the temple guesthouse, which he shared with several brahmacārīs. Again the force and beauty of his devotion could not be thwarted. He placed his bed next to the cement shelves on the wall where he made an altar with large beautiful pictures of all the temple deities. He then carefully picked out the flowers that were not wilted from the mahā deity garlands sent to his room and restrung them to make a stunning flower display for his altar. He demonstrated, and we observed, that when bhakti is spontaneous it cannot be stopped, even when confined to a cold dark brahmacārī āśrama.
 
I talked to his doctor a few hours before he was to leave the world. He showed me the instructions Vibhu Caitanya dictated to him just hours before he was to leave external consciousness and would no longer be able to express himself.
 
No medicine or medical treatment should be given.
Do not take me out of my room.[1]
No one should serve me.
 
I was astounded. We spend our whole lives vying for the center, but here was a person that was so fixed in service that to be served had become abhorrent. Even in his death he was self-effulgent. We all deeply mourned his separation.
 
This has been quite a long Monday Morning Greeting, but I wrote what needed to be expressed. I fear making this longer, but as a special feature of this morning’s greeting I will also share a page from Vibhu Caitanya’s journal, the only page to my knowledge that exists. It is translated from the Bengali and not really edited for clarity and force so you will have to read it carefully to follow his train of ideas, but I think his depth and sincerity will be self-evident.
 
Yathā Dharma Tathā Jaya
 
By Vibhu Caitanya Prabhu

Dated 29 March 2006
 
Yathā dharma tathā jaya”—Where there is dharma, there is victory.
 
One must suffer for sinful activities.
 
Arjuna was in the path of dharma therefore he became victorious. Just to kill a mosquito, one will slap one’s own cheek, and the same happened to the Kauravas. On the path of honesty there are many obstacles, but at the end is nectar. The door is open for dishonesty.
 
The thief is never peaceful, even after stealing he is always in fear that I am going to be caught by someone and the sin is on my shoulders.
 
Kuntīdevi, mother of the Pāṇḍavas, always prayed for miseries. Because I will forget you (Krishna) if there are no miseries.
 
Viśvāse milaya krishna tarke bahu-dūra: By faith one can reach Krishna, but by argument one cannot.
 
The Lord is only satisfied by devotion. One must give up his selfish motivation. One can’t do devotional service with a selfish motivation.
 
We are acting in this Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir just like opera party actors. After getting certain responsibilities here in Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir, one freely spends money as one likes. But they don’t know that after the stage program is over, the king does not remain king. We are all acting like that.
 
Just like sin and mercury. By incurring sin one must suffer, and by eating mercury it becomes visible in the body.
 
Abhay’s mother was eating with her left hand. Abhay asked his mother “Why are you eating with your left hand?” Then she started eating with her right hand. It was a vow for Abhay’s spiritual benefit.
 
Who is sādhu in this age of kali? Those who are truthful, they are the actual sādhus. Merely by wearing saffron, one cannot become a sādhu, and by wearing neck beads one can’t become a Vaiṣṇava. One who has firm faith in the absolute truth can obtain the Lord of the absolute truth.
 
A teacher told his students that I will give every one of you a piece of sandeśa (sweet). If you can eat it hiding in a place where no one sees you, then I will give you more sweets. All the students went out happily but one small boy thought, “How will I be able to eat it without anyone watching?”
 
The teacher told him to try.
 
The next day all the other students came back and described how they ate their sweet without being observed by anyone. Some reported to have eaten it in a dense jungle, some hiding in destitute buildings and so on. But the small boy did not return. The teacher told them, “Let the small boy come back and then I will give you enough sweets.”
 
When the boy returned, the teacher asked why he was late. The boy replied “I tried my best, but as I was ready to eat, I saw that someone was always observing me.” The boy was spiritually enlightened. Therefore him.
 
Once while traveling through the forest, Lord Ramachandra felt very thirsty. He went to a pond and upon reaching, he loaded His bow with an arrow and pierced the earth. Upon returning, He saw a frog pierced by his arrow. Lord Ramchandra asked “Why didn’t you give any signal when I loaded my bow?” The frog replied “Whenever I am in danger I call out ‘Lord Rama, please save me!’ But if Lord Rama is killing me, then to whom should I call out to for help?”
 
If the Lord wants to kill someone, then no one can save him.
 
The Lord is always with everyone, and never brings them any inauspicious.
 
Once there was scarcity in the time of Lord Buddha deva. He asked, “Who wants to take the responsibility of this scarcity?” No one wanted to take it. One girl from a poor family came forward and humbly offered to take responsibility. “I have a treasury at home,” she said. “In the morning I will beg from door to door and my pot will supply endlessly. I can save the world by begging.”
 
Everyone should learn from everyone.
 
From a dog, we can learn expertise in eating, satisfied by little, sleeping unperturbedly and quickly waking up.
 
From an ass, we can learn:
 
akatare aviram gurubhar vay,
kiva site kiva grisme katar na hay
 
They are carrying heavy loads continuously, but are never exhausted, be it summer or winter.
 
phutiyache sarovare kamal nikovar
dhariyache ki acarya sobha manohar
 
The wonderfully beautiful lotuses are blossoming in the pond and charming the mind of the beholder.
 
gun gun rave kata bhramar madhu khaya
kintu ara haraive adin yakhan asive na are karite gunjan
 
Many bumble bees are enjoying honey from the lotus and making a “ghun ghun” sound. But a day comes when there are no lotuses left to attract the buzzing bees.
 
Similarly, when men are in wealthy situations, many friends come to meet them. But when their situation not so lavish, no one comes.
 
One day a rich man gave some lakṣmī to his poor friend. He was returning home keeping that lakṣmī in his turban. But one rapacious bird came from a nearby coconut tree and snatched his pagri (turban) because the times were very bad. But when his good time arrived, he saw his turban along with his lakṣmī, kept nicely on the tree.
 
One day an elephant was walking near the market place and a few dogs were barking at him. But the elephant kept walking toward his destination undisturbed.
 
Similarly, real sādhus carry out their sādhana-bhajana without being disturbed by thousands of criticisms.
 
Who is a sādhu?
 
Two kinds of māyā are there. One is vidyā and the other is avidyā. There are two kinds of vidyāmāyā and six kinds of avidyā-māyā. Viveka and vairāgya are the vidyāi-māyās and kāma, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, and mātsarya (lust, anger, greed, illusion, pride, and envy) are the avidyāmāyās.
 
One day a man was passing near one house and heard someone crying inside. He entered the house and saw that a mother was crying with her dead son on her lap. The man asked her, “Why you are crying?” The mother replied, “My Gopal has left me forever.” The man said “You used to feed Gopal, kiss him, but after giving you some vātsalya humor, he left you forever.”
 
Give up māyā!
 
Do you know how māyā is? It is just like aquatic algae, which covers the water of a pond. If one can repel it by splashing water and blocking it using bamboo, the aquatic algae wont spread again. This is called viveka.
 
And vairāgya means to be freed from all desires for sense objects.
 
tyaja maya moha visay o vikar,
śrī hari sricaran hridi kara saar
bhaver karnadhar daka anivar,
naile ante pavine nistar
 
Please give up this māyā of illusion, don’t be disturbed by the sense object. Keep the lotus feet of Śrī Hari as the only object for your life and soul/heart.
 
Please call continuously the captain of this bhava-world, otherwise there is no way to be protected at the end.
 
cirasukhi jana bhrame ki kakhan
vyathito vedan bujhite pare
ki yatana vise bujhive se kise
kabhu asivise dansini yare
 
Those are always enjoying happiness can’t experience the miseries of miserable persons. How will one know the pain of poison, if he hasn’t been bitten by a snake?
 


[1] He hadn’t left the boundary of the temple complex for over thirty years.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #49 – Life’s Greatest Tragedy

December 4th, 2017

The greatest tragedy is to have the wrong goal, for then all of one’s work in life will be for naught, even if one reaches one’s desired destination.
 
Take the rich and famous, for example. How sad to have reached their goal only to find that happiness still eludes them-as happiness is never something temporary or superficial like fame or money. This kind of happiness is superficial because such pleasure doesn’t touch the real you. We are consciousness that reaches fruition in service or devotion and therefore material attainments are useless unless they help to change one’s consciousness in that direction.
 
But misguided faith is not just the problem for the materialist. Are we not all, even the spiritual aspirant, to some degree or another in the illusion that “I will be happy in the future when the world finally conforms to my desires”? What a sad plight to set our aspiration on being the enjoyer of a world that we cannot control! The question then naturally arises: is there any alternative to such frustration and tragedy, an eternal and blissful goal that is attainable?
 
Theists say yes. That everlasting and joyful goal is our eternal loving relationship with the Divine, an experience so sublime and impressionable that just a drop of its awakening at the beginning of our spiritual life becomes śraddhā, unflinching trust in something truly sublime. It is only for one who has śraddhā that life is not a tragedy or a labor for nothing. If you don’t have it then pray for it. If you do have it then treasure and nourish it, especially by the company and service of those who call out the holy names of God with love. Put ephemeral things in perspective. You may need them to be peaceful, but they are not the goal within themselves. Do not make anything in life but krishna-prema, a heart filled with devotion, your aim in life. Don’t live a life of tragedy!
 
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Mark 8.36
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #48 – The Talking Book

November 27th, 2017

Part 1: Prayerful Reading
 
Have you ever read a book that talks to you? If you don’t believe it’s possible, then prayerfully read the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam daily. Your sincere questions and prayers will be answered, for the book that you hold in your hand is not just ink and paper. It’s cit-śakti, spiritual potency, and spiritual things are alive and living means responsive. Here’s how to prayerfully read the Bhāgavatam:
 

  1. Set a time and place exclusively for reading śāstra. If you don’t yet have the time or taste for it, even fifteen minutes is sufficient. More time of course is better, but whatever you can do is adequate to begin. During that time vow that nothing else will enter your sacred space whether it’s email, Facebook, or even family.
  2. Before beginning your study, pray to the teacher or teachers that you will encounter during your reading. Whoever it is, whether it be the book’s main speakers like Śukadeva or Sūta Gosvāmī, or its prominent commentators like Śrīla Prabhupāda, pour your heart out to them. You will be in the presence of a pure devotee, and a true saint is non-different than their vāṇī, or teachings. Ask them for inspiration, guidance, or whatever you feel you need spiritually.
  3. Slowly and prayerfully read out loud in the mood of your entreaties and in the consciousness of being before the persons that are instructing you.
  4. If any sentence or point in the text strikes you as exceptionally significant or relevant read it over three times.
  5. When the allotted time is up close the book and offer obeisances to the saintly people in whose presence you have just learned. Express your gratitude.
  6. Optional: Add three to five minutes of free writing. Free writing means that without referring to the book just begin to write about whatever point in your reading of the Bhāgavatam impressed you, or even just write anything you remembered. The trick is to keep the pen moving and never stop writing, even if you have to say, “I don’t know what to write.” In my experience that will not happen for just moving the pen mystically connects you to your memory. You will have plenty to say.

 
And the book will also talk to you.
 

Part 2: My Personal Experience With Prayerful Reading
 
Over the years the Bhāgavatam has many times spoken to me personally to answer my questions and to guide me, but I especially like when the book reveals new philosophical insights on the meaning of a particular text, meanings that I have never before read in any commentary. Here’s one example:
 
There is a profound connection between the first and last verse of the Bhagavad-gītā.
 
In the very first verse of the Gītā, King Dhṛtarāṣṭra inquires from Sañjaya, his mystical advisor, about the impending battle at Kurukṣetra between his sons and the sons of Pāṇḍu led by Arjuna:
 
“Dhṛtarāṣṭra said: O Sañjaya, after assembling in the place of pilgrimage at Kurukṣetra, what did my sons and the sons of Pāṇḍu do, being desirous to fight?”
 
The commentators explain that Dhṛtarāṣṭra is concerned with how the holy place will influence the battle, but that he expected victory in this ugly fratricidal war because of the greater size of his son’s army. The verse also forebodes victory for the sons of Pāṇḍu. The battlefield is a place of pilgrimage (dharma-kṣetra) and Krishna, who upholds and protects dharma (righteousness), is on their side.
 
The last verse of the Gītā states its conclusion and answers Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s initial inquiry definitively:
 
“Wherever there is Krishna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality. That is my opinion.”
 
The connection seems obvious, although I have never seen it stated. The first verse is a view of the battle through the eyes of a materialist filled with anxiety about a situation he cannot control, calculating success based on one’s personal power rather than doing what’s right. In contrast the last verse, spoken by his advisor Sañjaya is a view of that same world through the eyes of a spiritualist, seeing success or victory not by expedience or material superiority, but by choosing righteousness or dharma. Dharma here is represented by the presence of Krishna, the master of all mystics, and His devotee Arjuna, the supreme archer.
 
So that’s what the book spoke to me. I highly recommend beginning this conversation yourself.
 
Where to purchase the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:
 
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam at Krishna.com
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #47 – A Bhakti-Yogi’s Guide to Enjoying the Senses

November 20th, 2017

Unlike the traditional paths of jñāna and yoga, the path of bhakti does not deny sensual experience. Pure devotees feast and have favorite foods, hear beautiful melodies and rhythms, and enjoy the flower and jewel decorations of the deity. A question is thus raised. If one of the characteristics of pure devotional service is being without any extraneous desire, as a devotee advances in devotional service should not he or she try to gradually renounce any experience of sensual relish, even of certain favorite foods and music, even when offered to Krishna for His pleasure?
 
Intuitively, the answer seems simple. Of course not! But again the conclusion is not so free of complexity when considering the definition of pure devotional service as exclusively and even militantly only for Krishna. I always wanted to clearly reconcile this quandary. Recently, a situation gave me the inspiration on how to do so.
 
A few weeks ago I took some visitors here in Vṛndāvana to a special evening kīrtana program where the line up of singers was quite extraordinaire. Unfortunately I had to leave early for another engagement and was surprised how difficult it was to walk out the door. I was especially lamenting leaving before a particularly devotional and talented singer had the stage. Then it suddenly dawned on me why: More than staying to enjoy the kīrtana myself, I wanted to see how much my guests would relish it. Here was the example I was looking for, a clear illustration of wanting to enjoy a sensual experience, but not for one self. Other practical examples came to mind:
 
When I would visit my paternal grandmother she would always make for us her specialty—angel food cake. It was spongy soft, golden, and incredibly tasty. After we finished, my grandmother would only take a very small piece. I now understand why. She only needed a taste to relish how her grandchildren had enjoyed. Her experience was thus both sensual and selfless at that same time.
 
This juncture between the sensual and spiritual reveals how the pure devotee relishes Krishna mahā-prasādam. They experience the taste in relation to how Krishna enjoyed the offering. The experience or taste thus goes beyond the sensual to the spiritual or devotional, as our enjoyment becomes the happiness of our beloved, the very definition of bhakti.
 
It’s a comforting thought for those of us immersed in matter to understand that even when one achieves perfection and is serving in Krishna-līlā one can still enjoy the senses without that experience marring the fulfillment of consciousness, which is total and selfless devotion.
 
Of course initially within Krishna consciousness we can enjoy the senses for ourselves to the extent we need to keep the mind and body together for the purpose of executing Krishna consciousness peacefully, but as one advances in spiritual life our consciousness should gradually shift. We should see, taste and hear things through purified senses—senses that register the experience in the heart for a sense of devotion rather than direct the experience to the ego for a sense of enjoyment and control. We will then consciously hear music, taste food, and look at the deities through the pleasure of Krishna rather than our own. At the least we will not buy and eat things only for ourselves without offering them first in devotion to God.
 
And that is the bhakti-yogi’s guide to enjoying the senses.
 
 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #46 – On Being Considerate

November 13th, 2017

The raucous and outrageously over amplified sound of the Indian wedding band from the nearby town of Govardhana even pierced my sound protectors. I cursed them. It wasn’t only that my early morning chanting was disturbed. I could tolerate that. I just hate when people are blatantly inconsiderate. Other examples raced through my mind.
 
Years ago I was responsible for overseeing the main temple kitchen in ISKCON Vṛndāvana. [1] My specialty was personally organizing gourmet feasts on special holidays and seeing that the fifteen preparations were impeccably served. One of our specialties was cauliflower and potato sabjī with fried paneer. When it came time to serve the feast inevitably one senior person would use their rank to sit in the front of the line. After receiving a generous helping the devotee would not only direct the humble server to stop and serve him a second helping, but worse would direct the server to pick out the soft and succulent cheese pieces just for themselves. I would freak. If people selfishly do that, by the time we get to the end of the line there will be no fried paneer left for others. How inconsiderate!
 
Here is another: I was sitting in a relatively small room in India with a few people sharing our reflections on Śrīla Prabhupāda. It was fairly hot and we had the fans at full blast. A thin senior sannyāsi (monk) walked in and instructed someone to shut the fans. I can tolerate the heat, but I was boiling inside. I thought: Because he has a vāta constitution and is cold, he sees the whole world as cold, even if others are sweltering. How insensitive!
 
I could go on and on. And I am sure I also am not innocent. It’s the core material disease to see the world according to our own desires and to think of our self before others. Perhaps this racket is blasting in my ears to teach me a lesson and make me condemn the very thing that must still be in myself. If that is how the law of karma works, it is doing a good job for inconsideration has become my pet peeve. I abhor it.
 
To be considerate is not just another moral principle. To think of others before oneself is the foundation of the bhakti tradition. If we don’t learn that in our ordinary dealings, whether it is within partnership, family, or community how will we be qualified for the spiritual world where the basic qualification is pure devotion, to always see the desires of God and all his servants before our own?
 
The band played on and I pray to never be that way: May we always be considerate!
 


[1] Oversee means that as a temple manager the kitchen was under my direction, not that I was the cook.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #45 – Perils on the Path of Contemplation

November 6th, 2017

Beware! The false ego is lurking in the background of our consciousness waiting for the slightest inattention to steal even our best qualities to make us proud. I constantly remind myself of this, otherwise my efforts in spiritual practice will be spoiled. I am especially concerned this month. For over twenty years I have come to Govardhana during Kārttika to build up my spiritual strength by taking a vow to increase my chanting. I chant and chant. I pray not to ruin it as my vanity swells:
 
“My meditation is going deeper and deeper. Am I better than others?”
 
Suddenly I remember the gentle admonishment of an elderly Vaiṣṇava to my friend when he told that sādhu about his Kārttika vows: “You are not better than everyone or anyone!”
 
“I am getting taste for the holy name. Should I be proud?”
 
“What’s there to be proud of? You have been practicing for 47 years. It is about time you have some taste for the holy name.”
 
“I have been steady for the whole month. Am I becoming a great devotee?”
 
“What you are doing is a pittance compared to great devotees. And their mind doesn’t wander to do silly things. And let’s see how long it lasts.”
 
I battle the voice of egotism, the insidious part of me that will shamelessly use anything to promote my delusions of grandeur, even the little good I occasionally do. I remind myself, it just takes a little inattention and all my efforts will be ruined. I fight the voice of pride with the weapons of regret, mercy, and compassion – the sober voices of truth that arise by the grace of the holy name.
 
I regret my life as an enjoyer and controller. The things that I have done and that I have said embarrass me. I lament the people I have hurt. By the mercy of the holy name these thoughts spontaneously arise whenever I need to be humble. They remind me who I really am.
 
I consider the mercy I am receiving, for mercy requires an object of mercy and makes one reflect on one’s lack of qualification. By the grace of the holy name whenever thoughts of grandeur make me feel independent and proud I contemplate the undeserved kindness I have received on the path of bhakti.
 
I feel compassion. If I gain any small taste for the holy name I feel sorry for those lacking this gift, not proud that I have anything. By the grace of the holy name a drop of empathy awakens and I think of others instead of my inflated self.
 
Why I am writing this? Won’t sharing my bhajana make me proud? What can I do? My process of writing Monday Morning Greetings is to write about the first realization that comes to mind after I complete an article for posting. And this week it happens to be this realization. If I don’t post it, there will be nothing this week for my readers, but have I not also given away the personal benefit of my Kārttika-vrata? A story comes to mind:
 
I was taking lunch in Govardhana with a fairly renowned sādhu when a younger practitioner came over and announced to him, “I am chanting 64 rounds!” The sādhu smiled and replied, “Thank you. Now you have given the benefit of your chanting to me. When you announce your vow to someone you become proud and they become humble and the results is that the fruit of your effort goes to them.”
 
Oh, the perils on the path of contemplation!
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #44 – What I Learned from a Cow and its New Born Calf: A Vaisnava View of Perfection

October 30th, 2017

We were sitting outdoors peacefully taking lunch in the garden hermitage of our host, my old sādhu friend Śrīdhara, when suddenly his ten-year old grandson entered. The young boy excitedly whispered something into his grandfather’s ear and our almost doting host bolted our company following his grandson’s lead running down the dirt entrance path of his garden dwelling. We all soon followed. When we reached the end of the path near the front gate we saw the cause of the commotion. To the left of the path where Śrīdhara Bābā keeps his few cows, Lalitā had just given birth to a calf.
 
I was surprised how big the newborn calf was. She was lying on his belly with all four legs spread-eagle. She was struggling to push his legs together to rise and, to my astonishment, in no time she was suddenly standing on all fours fervently searching for her mother’s teats for milk. The mother in return began to passionately lick her child all over her body. I had an epiphany.
 
This was a perfect analogy for a Vaiṣṇava’s view of perfection. In all schools of thought the goal or objective is to realize the ultimate reality as that school defines it. For a Vaiṣṇava that reality is God or Krishna and His energies. As Krishna is a being or personal, we have a natural relationship with Him. Thus when by the practice of devotion we become free from ignorance, we not only realize the ultimate reality, but also love that reality, which is only Krishna. This topmost love for God is called prema-bhakti, the goal or perfection of life.
 
I never really fully understood why realizing the truth in Krishna consciousness was defined as intensely loving the truth, until I saw the passionate exchange between the cow and its newborn calf. They had no previous conception or experience of each other, yet as soon as they saw each other spontaneous love flowed passionately, reinforcing the point that when there is natural relationship between any two beings there is innate energy between them called love, a spontaneous affection that requires absolutely no mutual introduction. Similarly, when we fully realize the Absolute Truth we will immediately and naturally love the Absolute Truth, especially since the Absolute Truth is Krishna, meaning All-Attractive.
 
Watching the relationship between that cow and calf was a beautiful thing to see and reflective of the innate principle of love guiding the universe. Still no matter how beautiful and inherent their mutual affection was, nonetheless it is limiting, being confined to a temporary body and somewhat superficial, as the body is ultimately not one’s real self. I don’t want to minimize the spark of divinity within each soul, but rather I want to show that the exchange I saw between the cow and the new born calf was so analogous to the love awakened spontaneously between the soul and God.
 
And that is the beautiful thing I learned from a cow and its newborn calf on a peaceful day in Vṛndāvana.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #43 – What the Blind Man Saw

October 23rd, 2017

The only way he could find his way forward was by scraping his cane along the side of the curb separating the outer sandy parikramā path around Govardhana from the joining asphalt road. He looked sad and alone in life. Otherwise why was there no one assisting this poor blind man on his arduous journey? I didn’t have the impression that he was on parikramā either, instead just someone dredging home from town a few kilometers down the road. He was also not dressed as a sādhu, nor exhibiting the joy of spiritual life. Rather he was shabbily dressed in pants and shirt and the strain and pain in his face was apparent. But whether he was doing parikramā or heading back towards a broken dwelling, there was one thing for sure: he was suffering greatly. I felt for him. My mind naturally went into his. I began to ponder what did the blind man see?

 

As I continued to look through the “eyes” of that seemingly hapless soul and envision his plight, a thought persistently came to mind. What exactly was he missing? Surely such loss is tragic, but as I kept pursuing this vicarious exercise, I was confronted with the same question. What value and joy does vision actually add to one’s life, specifically my own?

 

There is an interesting verse, actually verses, in the Bhāgavatam, that question the value of perception devoid of meaning. These verses suddenly came to mind:

 

“One who has not listened to the messages about the prowess and marvelous acts of the Personality of Godhead and has not sung or chanted loudly the worthy songs about the Lord is to be considered to possess earholes like the holes of snakes and a tongue like the tongue of a frog.

“The upper portion of the body, though crowned with a silk turban, is only a heavy burden if not bowed down before the Personality of Godhead who can award mukti [freedom]. And the hands, though decorated with glittering bangles, are like those of a dead man if not engaged in the service of the Personality of Godhead Hari.

“The eyes [emphasis mine] which do not look at the symbolic representations of the Personality of Godhead Viṣṇu [His forms, name, quality, etc.] are like those printed on the plumes of the peacock, and the legs which do not move to the holy places [where the Lord is remembered] are considered to be like tree trunks.” (Bhāg. 2.3.20-2.3.22)

 

Whether you embrace this specific theistic metaphysic, or not, quite an interesting general point is being made:

 

What is important is not just what one sees, but how one sees it. The senses only bring input into the mind, but it is the mind that identifies and interprets such sensual data. Therefore if the mind is not pure it is questionable how much sight actually helps us. We can see the world through 20/20 vision, but if the lens of our mind is distorted by hate, greed, anger, lust, or envy then what is the value of our so-called seeing?

 

Bilvamaṅgala, the great Vaiṣṇava saint, previous to his enlightenment was so plagued by lust that he even rushed the completion of his father’s funeral for an appointment with a prostitute. Through her, however, he heard the voice of his guru and vowed to change his ways. When he later again fell sway to the lure of a beautiful woman’s form, he gouged out his eyes and lived the rest of his life in Vṛndāvana as a renowned Vaiṣṇava saint and poet.

 

I had a friend who worked with deaf people. He commented to me how much more compassionate they were than people in general and surmised that this was because their minds were not polluted with the degrading sounds and speech of today.

 

At the moment of death we will have little control over what comes to the forefront of our consciousness. Whatever we have put in during our lives will likely come out beyond our power determining our next destination. A scary thought for those who constantly surf the web through their eyes and with their ears.

 

So what did the blind man see? I’m not sure. But what is sure is that even a blind man with a pure mind envisions a lot more than one just viewing that same world in a mood of exploitation.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #42 – Getting Vṛndāvana

October 16th, 2017

“I get it Mahārāja! I get it! I get it!” I had stopped by the Bhakti Dham to see off gentle giant Joe Carini from Brooklyn before he left Vṛndāvana after his successful pilgrimage. Those were his last words before he was about to board his taxi. His face was beaming with unabashed joy. You could hear the conviction in his voice. Indeed Joe got Vṛndāvana!

Joe Carini - " I got it!"

What does getting Vṛndāvana mean? It means seeing and feeling a very special beauty here that touches one’s heart with the joy of devotion like no other place in the world. It is a wonder beyond the veil of disrepair and chaos that too easily covers its glory, and a beatitude felt by those fortunate enough to enter that holy place under the guidance of a Vaiṣṇava who has communicated and inspired them with the proper perspective and mood.

 

I think no one has better summarized that proper mood needed for “getting” Vṛndāvana than Śrī Narottama, that great 15th century Vaiṣṇava saint:

 

“When my mind is peaceful and I am free from selfish desires then I will actually see Vṛndāvana.”[1]

 

Narottama expresses an interesting point about perception that just doesn’t refer to seeing Vṛndāvana, but refers to the perception of all phenomena—that to see something depends not just on the senses, but other factors such as the clarity of one’s mind and the attitude one has.

 

I thought of an interesting analogy to help one understand Narottama’s contention that seeing things properly, especially Vṛndāvana, refers to more than just sensual perception. Seeing things clearly is like properly capturing an image through the lens of a camera. One requires the right perspective and the proper focus.

 

The right perspective to see Vṛndāvana is to observe it through the viewpoint of the guide who has already seen Vṛndāvana and can tell and sing about it not only according to what the great saints have described, but also in their mood.

 

The proper focus to see Vṛndāvana is the clear mind that mystically arises quite effortlessly for one exclusively engaged in pañca aṅga bhakti, the five most potent practices of devotional service, namely chanting the holy name, hearing the stories and philosophy of Krishna, worshipping the Deity, serving the devotees, and visiting the holy places of Krishna’s pastimes. These practices are so powerful according to Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī that even a neophyte, one who is not highly advanced in devotion, can experience bhāva, the height of devotion, by humbly executing these practices under the guidance of a Vaiṣṇava, what to speak of achieving clarity and focus of the mind.

 

So in this way, Joe got it. Not only did Joe get it, but the forty-two other pilgrims in his group, which was led by Raghunath, also seemed to get it. You could see it in their faces, their unbounded enthusiasm for kīrtana, and by the gratitude they expressed for being here.

 

Raghunath did a great job of guiding this group of various levels of devotional commitment. He first prepped them for Vṛndāvana in Hṛṣīkeśa by immersing the group in chanting and hearing about Krishna and by instilling in them the proper mood of a pilgrim. [2] Then in Vṛndāvana he further inspired them to remain committed to a full day of bhakti, especially singing kīrtana and visiting special places of pilgrimage. I think it was not difficult for the group to remain absorbed in devotion here with the awe inspiring 24-hour kīrtana of Śrī Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir nearby and the early evening kīrtanas of the renowned Madhava in the courtyard of the MVT gardens where they were staying.

 

There is world beyond the ordinary eye that is accessible to those with the natural apparatus to perceive it, and that holds true even in the world of matter. For example, there is a high pitch sound made by a whistle that is beyond what humans can hear, but accessible to a dog whose ears are naturally wired for that sound. In a similar way, the sincere pilgrim can no doubt glimpse and feel the spiritual world here in Vṛndāvana when their heart is geared to a mood of service awakened by the holy name under the guidance of a Vaiṣṇava. Yes, like Brooklyn Joe you can also get Vṛndāvana!

 


[1] Lālasāmayi Prārthana, verse three

 

[2] To instill in his pilgrimage, group the proper mood Raghunath had his group recite daily the following pledge that he composed:

 

Foundations of a Successful Pilgrimage by Raghunath

  1. “I will not criticize”—Refrain from criticism, gossiping. Criticism=sadness
  2. “I will be tolerant”—I will stop blaming things, circumstances, or other people for my shortcomings. “I cannot blame myself to a better future”, when I complain I make a contract to be unhappy”
  3. “I take no offense”—A practice of NOT compiling others’ but accepting circumstances as God’; forgiving completely and immediately if one offends.
  4. “I am always ready to ask forgiveness for MY offenses”—A practice of humility
  5. “I will find the good in others and let them know it”—A practice of noticing other people’s good qualities and giving respect to others.
  6. “I will keep a tally of my blessings”—Practicing gratitude.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #41 – The Meandering Snail

October 9th, 2017

The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking trail in the world. It extends 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, and is also certainly one of the most serene and secluded. Those fortunate and brave enough to challenge the length of that path often choose an apt pseudonym for their brief encounter with the occasional pilgrim on a similar journey, usually passing them on the opposite way. My friend, Gita Nagari Dasa, has chosen the “Meandering Snail” on his epic journey. Yes, he is quite slow, having collapsed one morning over twelve years ago on his tenth vraja-maṇḍala parikramā only to find himself paralyzed from the waist down. Rushed to the hospital the next day and diagnosed for an emergency operation, he was told before going under the knife that he may never walk again. Fortunately, he awoke with a slight tingle in his toes and after excruciating physical rehabilitation for eight months progressed to a gimpy walk. His internal vow was to walk the Appalachian Trail, a lifelong ideal that was never really so much on the table in his over thirty years in Krishna consciousness, including the rigors of family life in America, and an arduous renounced life after the age of forty-five living in India. He is now living that dream, having left India after an expired visa. I am fortunate to be among a few selected readers for his occasional journal entries written quickly from a public library in one of the out of the way town stops on the trail needed for refueling supplies. The insights of one who really takes fully to the traditional sādhu life of forest walking, austerity, and chanting Hare Krishna all day can be quite inspiring and humbling. Let me share with you an excerpt from the last journal entry of the “Meandering Snail”. I think you will see what I mean.

 


 

This week I have passed the thousand-mile mark!!!! I started this hike in Duncannon, Pennsylvania at mile marker 1,147.7 on April 4th 2017. It is now almost 6 months later and I have managed to meander myself down to mile marker 109.3!!!! I have “only” 109 miles left to hike and I will have done the entire southern half of the Appalachian Trail. I am now only about 20 miles from the Georgia state border, the last state I have to pass through and then and there in that state I will finishing my hike (Krishna willing) on the top of Springer Mountain in the Amicalola State Park.

And—-oh—-what a journey it has been. Deep, exquisite, profound, austere, wonderful, enlivening, frustrating, tiring (but never boring), physically challenging (sometimes beyond my ability to handle) and, without doubt, full, absolutely chock full, of the mercy of Krishna. Every step has been just dripping with Krishna’s mercy, because at every step along this 1000 some mile journey, I have been chanting incessantly this mantra:

HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA HARE HARE
HARE RAMA HARE RAMA RAMA RAMA HARE HARE

And that has made all the difference in the world, and that my dear friends, when all is said and done, that is all that we really need.

JNANYAM ASTI TULITAM CA TULAYAM
PREMA NAIVA TULITAM TU TULAYAM
SIDDHA EVA TULITATRA TULAYAM
KRISHNA NAMA TULITAM NA TULAYAM

“The opulence of Vedic knowledge, and the perfection of the mystic yoga system, these two things can be compared to one another, and they can be compared to other things in this material world. But Krishna Prema, love for Lord Krishna, and Krishna Nama, the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krishna, these two things have no comparison to anything in the entire material universe. They can never be weighed on the scale of mundane consideration!!!!!”

So, as I walk down the trail, I have been thinking a lot these days about ecstasy. Do you remember when we first joined the Hare Krishna movement, we really joined not because of the philosophy, or even the prasadam (even though both those things helped a lot), but we really joined because by following just a little bit of the Krishna conscious teachings, we had an experience of ecstasy in relationship to Krishna?????? Do you remember that my friends?????? That experience of ecstasy that propelled you into the Krishna conscious movement????? Because I do, I remember it all the time, and I long for it in my heart all the time. And I have been thinking a lot these days about ecstasy, and have been searching for that ecstasy, and I am just so hungry for it, I cannot tell you how hungry that hunger is. And, oh, I cannot tell you how wonderful it is when that natural hunger is met by the perfect source of pleasure —–our great all enjoying, ever attractive Lord, our Sri Krishna!!!!

And you know what????? I have come to realize that there is nothing wrong with that. That we are eternally “ananda moya bhyasat”, we are eternally pleasure seeking by our very nature. And Krishna is naturally also “ananda  moya bhyasat”, He is always eternally full of blissful pleasure by His very nature. And what a perfect combination that is —–Him and us. It is not the seeking of pleasure that is bad—— for seeking it we will do by our very constitutional nature——— it is how you seek it that matters. Are you going to seek it in matter, in the material nature ——-or are you going to seek it in spirit.

So as I come to the end of this hike, I just want to encourage all of my friends to not give up on their ecstasy. I just want all of you to follow your ecstasy in Krishna consciousness to the utmost culmination. Do not look right or left, do not listen to those who will crash or come down on you in your pursuit of ecstasy. Just follow it and follow it with all your heart, all your will, and all the intelligence at your command. And Krishna ——HE WILL RESPOND. Do not worry about that, He has to respond.  Because why???? Because Krishna is an ecstasy hound just like us, and he cannot say no to Srimati Radhika, He is bound by Her, and ecstasy is Her property. So where there is bhakti, where there is Bhakti Devi, Srimate Radhika, then Krishna will not be far behind.

So do not worry about anything else, just constantly chant the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra, where Radha’s name is invoked eight times, following all the rules and regulations, and Krishna will eventually show up. It is that easy my friends, in this age of Kali Yuga it really is that easy——it is really, really, really that easy—–surprisingly!!!!!!

So, I am now walking through the Nantahala National Forest. And right now it is late at night and I am tired, so I will leave it here. Follow your ecstasy in Krishna Consciousness, give up trying to find ecstasy in matter, and then stand back and watch what happens!!!!! The opulence of Vedic knowledge

I wish this upon you all.

Hare Krishna, my dear friends, pray for this poor soul.

Gita Nagari Dasa

 

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