Archive for August, 2004

The Mother, The Mind, and Food

August 31st, 2004

Recently my mother related to me how she was advising her daughter-in-law who had become overwhelmed with the responsibilities of her family and job. She quoted to her a Yiddish saying that her own mother told her when she was similarly overwhelmed with the care of her three young sons. She said something to the effect that ?it will all soon pass?. Now that my disciples have children, and I am often living among them, I have become more aware how much sacrifice a mother has to make. Somehow, until my mother recently told me about her own struggles as a mother raising young children, I never realized that she also underwent a similar sacrifice taking care of me and my two brothers. When she told me, my immediate reaction was to feel bad for the pain that I caused her by the insensitive way I joined the Hare Krishna movement (although I, of course, have no regrets with the fact that I joined). I have to say my admiration for motherhood has soared over the last few years!

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

When we say ?mind? in this context, we are also referring simultaneously to what we call the heart. A strong mind thus means that one can both freely express, and when needed control, ones feelings. In other words, a person with a good mind is thus open-hearted and secure, but at the same time not overwhelmed by mood swings. They can thus control their mind, make decisions, and think clearly. A good mind (heart) is thus the foundation of properly relating, communicating, and learning, the emblems of culture.

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

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

As a person?s real success is based on one?s strength of mind, there is, in a sense, a mother behind every successful man. As the strength of a society is the character of its people, the nature of their hearts and minds, we can also gauge how essential motherhood is to the proper development of society. Thank you mothers!

*Although the nurturing influences in one?s life is the most significant factor in the development of ones mind (heart), even if this is lacking it can be compensated for, or rectified, by other factors, like training and other forms of personal development, especially by cultivating a loving relationship with God and His devotees. Similarly, even if those nurturing influences are there, the mind can be disturbed by other factors such as sinful reactions from bad karma or traumatic experiences. However, the effect of the appropriate nurturing in childhood on the development of one?s mind cannot be underestimated. Also there is a difference between proper nurturing and co-dependence and other forms of over-indulgence.

Guru-tattva II: How to see the Guru as God

August 28th, 2004

August 28, 2004
Sri Vrindavana dhama
Guru-tattva II: How to see the Guru as God
The importance of guru-bhakti is highlighted in another famous verse about guru-tattva discussed in Sri Bhakti-sandarbha:
“One should know the preceptor to be my very self. One should never disregard or envy him in any way, thinking him to be mortal, because the guru is the embodiment of all the gods.”
This is probably one of the five most often quoted verses about the spiritual master. Sri Jiva Goswami reveals a startling fact about this verse. It does not even necessarily refer to a spiritual master, but a teacher in general!*
The thinking behind this verse is a little subtle. All teachers, even those teaching material knowledge, are to be seen, in a sense, by a cultured person as God, as all knowledge is ultimately meant to culture us towards the Absolute Reality. This refers to the parents who maintain social traditions, the maestro who knows the universal principles of music, or even the academic teacher who instructs us in basic reading and writing. In other words, as God's main relationship to this world is to educate us, and he does this through his representatives, the instructions of a teacher should be seen as God manifest through them. More important than this understanding, however, is the psychology behind it.
First, this mindset, abject faith in the teacher, is a prerequisite for learning, for without seriously considering a subject, it is impossible to understand it. Teaching also takes great effort. Unless the student establishes a conduit for learning that is nonresistance, the teacher will not be enthused to use their valuable time to enlighten them. Therefore the legitimate teacher must be seen and approached with great faith to create at atmosphere for learning, what to speak of how we must accept a spiritual master.
There's a problem however. It's hard to give up the false ego. We hate authority. Indeed, that attitude separates us from God. The tendency is thus to disregard and envy the guru. Often at best we struggle with it, because we just abhor the inferior position. The caution is therefore given, don't let your ego, your fear of being subordinate, obstruct your learning, Do not ?disregard or envy him thinking he is a mortal man? for you will remain in ignorance.
But what if he is mortal man? If he is guru, teacher, and you want to learn then he is devata, God, otherwise you will not. The person may be mortal, but if they have knowledge and you approach them properly, then Krishna, who represents knowledge, will certainly appear through them. Otherwise the relationship will not bear fruit and the teacher will be forced to neglect you.
Of course the expert teacher knows the nature of their students. Especially today most people are suspicious of authority, and for good reasons. The competent teacher has to know the art of creating an atmosphere where the student wants to learn. Still, it is expected that the intelligent student will eventually learn the subtleties of studentship so that his progress will not be thwarted with misconceptions, such as equating surrender and faithfulness with blind following.
In the very next section, Sri Jiva not only reinforces the need to approach the teacher properly, but makes his real point, the necessity for approaching the spiritual master with the highest regard:
“This being the case [that such respect even applies to the teacher of relative knowledge], it is all the more incumbent on those pursuing the path of spiritual realization, to have such feelings towards their guru, as Sri Narada told Yudhisthira:
“The spiritual master should be considered to be directly the Supreme Lord because he gives transcendental knowledge for enlightenment. Consequently, for one who maintains the material conception that the spiritual master is an ordinary human being, everything is frustrated. His enlightenment and his Vedic studies are like the bathing of an elephant.?” (Bhag. 7:15.26)
Srila Prabhupada's purport here is enlightening. It analyzes the same point being discussed:
“One may argue by saying that since the spiritual master's relatives and the men of the neighborhood consider him an ordinary human being, what is the fault on the part of the disciple who considers the spiritual maser an ordinary human being? This will be answered in the next verse, but the injunction is that the spiritual master should never be considered an ordinary man.”
In that next verse Sri Narada again compares seeing the spiritual master to directly seeing the Supreme Lord because he purely represents His teachings.
*Specifically he reveals that in the context of the Bhagavatam this verse is about a student who is studying karma.

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Guru Tattva I: The Glories of Guru Bhakti

August 27th, 2004

August 27, 2004
Sri Vrindavana dhama
Guru Tattva I: The Glories of Guru Bhakti
Sadhu-sanga is the single most important component for spiritual advancement on the path of bhakti. It has three components: the sadhu, our relationship with him, and our own receptivity. All are important, but in many ways our receptiveness is the most essential, for unless we open our hearts with faith, how will we benefit from sadhu-sanga?
I am thus going to discuss the subject of discipleship found in Sri Bhakti-sandarbha in the section where guru-tattva is analyzed. I will do this by commenting on two main verses quoted by Sri Jiva beginning with a very famous text from the Svetasvatara Upanishad:

“Unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master, all the imports of Vedic knowledge are automatically revealed.”

Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.23

“Implicit faith” refers to guru bhakti, devotion to the spiritual master. Why does guru bhakti help reveal the import of the sastra? It's because bhakti is the humble position of giving oneself to God and His devotees with love and it takes saranagata, or surrender. Bhakti thus naturally entails ridding oneself of the false ego, the consciousness that separates us from the Absolute Reality. As the ultimate aim of all scriptural studies is the eradication of false ego, one who has embraced guru bhakti, the position of humble servant, has intuitively understood the import of all scriptures. It's simple. When one understands the essence of a thesis, one has naturally understood the relevance of its parts. In other words, a humble soul, who has given himself to God through the Lord's devotees, upon hearing the sastra naturally, understands its intended import, others will not.
How many times have we witnessed prideful souls independent of guru miss even the most fundamental devotional precepts of humility and service, even when they are expert in intellectualizing and quoting sastra?
Guru bhakti, the mood of humble servant, thus acts like a password to the domain of sastra. Without it, we have no access to it.

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Purusottama Journal | August 1st -16th

August 16th, 2004

Purusottama Journal

August 1 – 16, 2004
Sri Vrindaban Dham

Vrindaban life: There’s not much social interaction or dynamic preaching here for me at this time of the year. My friends and students usually come later. There is, in that sense, little to satisfy my personal nature, only chanting and studying almost all day. It’s tapa, or heat, and I can feel the purification, but it’s divine, and also makes me happy. (August 1st )

Japa thoughts: Time is relative. When an activity lacks relish, time almost unbearably stretches. When an activity is full of pleasure, the oppression of time mystically dissolves. Is our japa “a moment that takes ten years or more”, or “a few hours that goes by in a flash”? Thoughts of finishing our rounds bring on the oppression of time. Ideally it’s the chanting itself that is important, not what we get from it. Attention in chanting plus thoughts of its relevance equals timelessness, because focus keeps us in the present. Concentrate on the holy name, think of its meaning and importance, and go deeper and deeper. Time will gradually cease. (August 1st)

Japa thoughts: Relevance of chanting the holy name: It cleans the heart and reveals Sri Krishna, and also our own true nature. It extinguishes suffering. It invokes the pleasurable sentiments of devotion and enlightens us with transcendental knowledge. We have a loving relationship with the holy name. In fact, our beloved has appeared. We thus humble ourselves and feel satisfied before the holy name. Sincere chanting pleases the spiritual master, which also makes us happy, as his pleasure is ours. We thus chant with affection for the holy name, and also for the giver of the holy name. Activities with love can never bore or burden us. (August 3rd)

Sadhus of Vrindaban: I went with Brajajana to Surya Kunda, a sublime, solitary and off-beaten place, where Sri Radha meets Sri Krishna every Sunday at noon on the pretext of worshipping the sun God, Surya Narayan, for the good health and long life of her husband. After visiting the temple of Surya Narayan, and paying respects to the bhajan kutir of Srila Jagannatha Dasa Babaji, we visit another pristine forest ashram on the bank of Surya Kunda, the place of bhajan and the samadhi mandir of a late and apparently famous local siddha mahatma or perfected soul. Unfortunately, I didn’t get his name. The ashram mostly consists of a large almost open-aired temple pavilion looking out on the forestry banks of Surya Kunda. Three dignified looking elderly men are dispersed in the temple, sitting peacefully, two absorbed in sastra and one in the holy name. Goodness pervades. They offer us humble respect, gently smile, and then dispassionately return to their service. I can sense pure devotion, hearing about Sri Krishna simply because of liking to do so, a state where one’s heart and attention flow effortlessly to His name and pastimes. They must sit there everyday, all year, for what else is here in this inaccessible and simple village. I also want to hear and chant more because of a simple liking to do so, not just obligation or fear. That’s certainly coming more and more, but I want to go even deeper. I’m enlivened by seeing the saints of Surya Kunda. I pray for akincana bhakti. (August 6th)

Vrindaban thoughts: The saints of Surya Kunda did inspire me. I try to continue my spiritual practices until lunch at noon. I sit late morning reading, “The Killing of the Kaliya Serpent”. Would I rather be preaching? I am preaching here in my own way. I give class twice a day and write. I want what Krishna wants for me. At least for now it’s this. (August 7th)

Bhagavatam thoughts: Bhakti flows unimpeded to Krishna. Why? Very simple, you can only stop an action by obstructing its cause. Bhakti is pure love, and love by definition is causeless. If it has a cause or motive, then it’s obviously not love. In other words, the only thing that can stop pure love is to stop loving, so if you have pure love, it will flow non stop, because there is no cause to stop it. If there were a reason or motive, it wouldn’t be love. For example, if we work for money, then the work can easily be stopped by just stopping the money or salary. If we are serving out of love, however, our service will continue, even without payment or prestige. It can’t be stopped. Its causeless devotion like the mood of the gopis who pray:

“I know no one but Krishna as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is my worshipful Lord, unconditionally.” (August 9th)

Japa thoughts: Chanting the holy name means turning oneself towards the Absolute Reality, Sri Krishna. It must be done with some affection. Why? If God is everywhere and everything, then we can only turn to and from Him in the sense of our consciousness. It is a fact. Not wanting the Absolute Reality, we become blinded to reality by envy or aversion. We thus fall in to maya, the illusion that God is not here. As it is, only non devotion, or dislike, turns us from the all-pervading Absolute Reality, then only the reverse, heartfelt affection, will reveal God and His holy name. Chant with attention, but chant with affection. It is the only means (abhideya) to reveal the Absolute Reality and to give us the experience (prayojana) of the Absolute Reality, love of Godhead.
(August 11th)

Vrindaban thought: I heard the distressing news of Sripad Bhakti-tirtha Swami’s illness, a very sincere servant of Srila Prabhupada and the holy name. My day is dedicated to prayers for his welfare. (August 12th)

Bhagavatam thoughts: As the import of all sastra is humble service, to deeply understand sastra one has to approach sastra and the teacher representing it in the mood of a humble servant. This methodology ingenuously affords sastra some protection from those who are proud, who would only use it only to enhance their prestige. A Sanskrit scholar here, an old friend, told that me that guru bhakti, the ultimate mood of humble service, serves almost as a password to enter the domain of the sastra. I pray not to forget why I am studying here. (August 13th)

Vrindaban life: After evening class I take a brisk walk to the Goshalla where Nandandana and his wife serve me fresh hot milk. She had just finished the milking before I arrived. I sit in front of their house watching the cows and admiring those who have real life, who do things directly connected with their own sustenance and survival. Afterwards I visit my godbrother, Prema Kishor, who has house on a small farm on the other side of the parikram path, right across from the Goshalla. Although only fifty yard from the parikram path, his house faces the Yamuna and his farm extends towards her shore. There is absolutely nothing between his property and the river. After his rigorous morning sadhana, which includes picking plenty of fragrant flowers and fresh tulasi for Giriraj, he works all day on the farm growing the flowers, harvesting the wheat, cultivating the vegetables and taking care of his cows. He even has a small orchid. I listen intently as he speaks, “Srila Prabhupada wanted his preachers to spend time in the Dham, but what is the Dham. It’s vraja, the forest and pasturing grounds of Vrindaban. It’s the sound of birds, the fragrance of flowers, the feel of its earth, the taste of its natural bounty.” Today I lament as a city boy who grew up thinking that milk came from a store. Those impressions run deep. (August 14th)

Bhagavatam meditations: I read something today that confirmed that our main spiritual practice is the mood of humble service to guru and the vaisnavas: “For those devoid of ego, Sri Krishna is not at all distant. But for those who are full of ego, mountain ranges stand between them and the Lord.” (Brahma Vaivarta Purana) (August 16th)

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