Archive for February, 2005

Saving Sergeant Schoenberg

February 22nd, 2005

February 22, 2005

Saving Sergeant Schoenberg *

Although B.B. Govinda Swami has a place in Vrindavana next door to where I am staying, I rarely see him. He doesn’t visit much, only in the spring when I’m already in the West. When I heard today that he would be stopping here for the night on his way from the Middle East to Central Asia, I immediately went to see him.

It was nice to see Maharaja again, but he was talking long distance on a speaker cell-phone when I came in. I could hear the conversation. I was surprised that it was from a US soldier in Iraq! Govinda Swami immediately explained to the caller who I was and then introduced the soldier to me:

?This is Sergeant Schoenberg, Partha-sarathi dasa. He?s in Iraq. Everyday at 3 PM, when possible, he holds kirtan for over thirty soldiers. Fifteen also came yesterday for his Bhagavatam class. They?re even letting him use the camp chapel. His tour of duty is up in only thirty days, but he is thinking of staying on as a chaplain for soldiers of Eastern religion. There is talk that they may even offer it for him. Please offer him some inspirational words. He would appreciate it.? Govinda Swami then suddenly handed me the phone and asked me to speak.

What could I do but speak from the heart? Naturally, being here for almost six months, the mood of Vraja came out:

?Risk is always rewarded in Krishna consciousness. That?s why parikiya rasa is the highest. The gopis risk everything for Krishna, even their good karma?their reputation, their families?but that risk heightens their love for Krishna to the highest level of prema. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada told us that a preacher who takes risks for spreading Krishna consciousness, particularly in the Muslim countries, is especially rewarded. Your efforts to help give Krishna consciousness to others, even at the risk of life, will certainly be noted by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.?

I wish I wasn’t put on the spot so that I could weigh my thoughts and words more carefully. Comparing gopi bhava to fighting in Iraq? Who am I to encourage someone to risk their life?

Two days later I received the following letter and essay from Partha-sarathi:

Dear Maharaja

Please accept my humble obeisances. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada

Hare Krishna! My name is Partha-sarathi dasa. I am a devotee who has been fighting and preaching in Iraq for 19 months. We spoke briefly in H.H. B.B. Govinda Maharaja’s room in Vrindavana the other day. I wanted to thank you for the kind words you said to me. It was very inspiring and it helped me a lot with my day. I have enclosed an article I have written about it. I feel more devotees need to know more about death. Please let me know what you think.

Your servant,
Partha-sarathi dasa

Face To Face With Death
by Partha-sarathi dasa

Iraq is an intense place with death around every corner. You never know when some car bomb will go off or you might be killed in an ambush. Soldiers everyday die, but would it be possible for me to be fixed on Krishna facing death?

As I sit in my vehicle, I keep on staring at the crimson blood on my uniform. The events of today are indelibly etched into my consciousness.

Earlier, I was driving down the road as part of convoy heading to another base camp. It was three of us in our vehicle. We were scanning the surroundings to avoid an ambush.

I notice another US convoy coming our way. I briefly turn again to scan the road. When I turn back to the convoy ahead I see a flash of light and then the loud boom that always follows. The vehicle bursts into flames. The air quickly fills with the stench of burning rubber and metal.

My driver and I immediately jump out of our vehicle. Our gunner sets up to protect us and secure the site. Other soldiers in the convoy follow suit as we run towards the damaged vehicle. I prepare myself for the worst, but hope for the best. My beating heart calls out, “O Krishna, let these soldiers be O.K.!”

It was much worse than I thought. The passenger and gunner are seriously injured, each covered in blood. Thankfully, at least the driver was saved as the blast came from the right side. We quickly grab the two soldiers out of the smoldering vehicle to give whatever medical care we can. Two of us work feverishly to save the passenger, another two on the gunner. We are trained to reassure the casualties. While administering care, I bend down and start describing relevant teachings from the Bhagavatam, even something of the glories of Lord Nrsimhadeva. It?s intense, but I remain focused on his care while simultaneously concentrating on the powerful verses in the Srimad Bhagavatam that I continue to chant softly.

Medevac (medical evacuation) arrives. As we prepare to move the seriously wounded, I spontaneously rip a piece of Lord Nrsimha?s dhoti that I always keep tied around my wrist and place it in the soldier?s hand. I turn to him and chant “Hare Krishna!” Our duty done, I solemnly walk away hoping that my prayers have been heard.

* ?Saving Sergeant Schoenberg? means that Sergeant Schoenberg is doing the saving, not that he is being saved.

Japa Thoughts

February 19th, 2005

February 19, 2005

Japa Thoughts

Japa takes concentration. A moment of inattention and the mind jumps from the holy name to a mundane thought. We even sometimes become lost in one of the deep groves of attachment (samskaras) imbedded in our consciousness, sliding on the path of those thoughts until our good sense drags us back to the holy name. How easy it is to free fall in chutes of attachment created by our sinful life whether it?s the long furrow of sex life, the rut of money worries, the daydream of family, the channel of frivolous sports, the trough of friends, enemies, and politics?the fancy of anything but the holy name. ?He did this to me!? we think, and we glide into the fantasy of revenge. So many problems, so many dreams, endless trivial thoughts?a roller coaster of useless adventure ?full of sound and furry, signifying nothing.? And it plagues us!

The purpose of sadhana, the serious practice of Krishna consciousness, is to create within the inner recess of the mind the proper samskara?devotion for the Lord, especially in the form of kirtan. It takes some discipline, but if we realize something of the purpose of life, and a little of the glory of the holy name, that effort is nothing compared to what we will gain.

Japa is thus very important. We are dealing directly with the mind and changing the desire of the mind by practice and detachment. If we don?t devote some time in our day to changing the nature of our merciless mind now by practice (sadhana), then when will we change it? ?Trust no future however pleasant.?

A concession and recommendation: If we are lyrical by nature, if we already have a samskara for music, then we may follow our trough of melody and inject the holy name. We should do kirtan, as much as possible.

One way or another in this life, by devotional service in practice, we must create a deep impression for holy name, which is, in fact, condensed bliss, otherwise ours is a life wasted.

Lessons from Bhakti Sandarbha 1

February 1st, 2005

February 1, 2005

Lessons from Bhakti Sandarbha 1

Note: My focus of studies now is Sri Bhakti Sandarbha. Sri Bhakti Sandarbha is Sri Jiva Goswami?s greatest exposition on the process of devotional service. I will occasionally write journal entries focused on my realizations from the text.

Surrender! Part 1 *

Sri Jiva lists surrender (saranagata) as the first practice of pure devotional service. It is the gateway to bhakti as devotion begins with a sense of belonging to the Lord.

Surrender is not the best translation for saranagata. Sanskrit words often imply deep and subtle concepts not conveyed properly in English by a single word.

Saranagata implies a feeling of love in the act of submission, while surrender a sense of force or defeat.

?Taking shelter? better conveys the sense of saranagata. And what is taking shelter?

Taking shelter is submitting, out of dependence and with affection, to a person capable and willing to meet the needs we are unable to meet ourselves. But, what is our deepest need?

Our deepest need is to fully repose our love in a worthy object of love. Why?

Our needs are determined by our nature, what we are made for. A fish thus needs water, a child the shelter of their mother, and the intellectual the haven of his library. And we (the soul) need??

We are infinitesimal particles of conscious of the Supreme consciousness. As a part is naturally made to serve what it is part of, loving service is our eternal nature and greatest need. But do we have to take shelter of God to fully satisfy our need to love?

Yes, that?s the definition of God. He is the asraya or shelter. But why is He our shelter? **

He is bhagavan, one fully replete with qualities that make Him worthy of love.

That naturally includes all beauty, which also means inner beauty, the fullest capacity to reciprocate love.

And those qualities, which inspire our love, don?t end in time and space, for He is ananta (unlimited).

God is also artha (the ultimate reality). He is not illusory like material objects. Unless we see things in relation to God our love will be fleeting and unfulfilled.

And He is atma, the most dear. Why? Naturally one most loves the self (atma). God is the atma of the atma and thus priya, our beloved, the most pleasing to serve.

Finally He is isvara, the Supreme Controller. He not only has the full power to satisfy our needs, but to sustain them eternally.

Conclusion: Krishna is our ultimate shelter. Without fully depending on Him we will always feel empty and in want.

* The concept of surrender (saranagata) is discussed in Sri Bhakti Sandarbha Anuccheda 235

** The following description of Krishna as the worthy object of our worship is from Srimad Bhagavatam 2.2.6 and discussed is Sri Bhakti Sandarbha Anuccheda 2.

Japa thought: The foundation of chanting is namasraya, to consciously take shelter of the holy name by helplessly begging for mercy.

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