Archive for June, 2017

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #26 – Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All — Coming soon to a theater near you!

June 26th, 2017

I never thought I would be so proud to be a Hare Kṛṣṇa. Of course, I am proud of the tradition and the philosophy to which I belong and proud of what it has accomplished. But I am talking about a different pride—a more public pride. The pride one feels walking north up 2nd Avenue to attend the premiere of Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All and seeing the crowds of people waiting to enter the Village East Theater under the marque that announced its abbreviated title Hare Krishna. This pride swelled further when I entered the posh lobby as several photographers were flashing away trying to capture and document the excitement of the moment. The feeling of satisfaction continued to expand as I entered the ornate 400 seat theater and saw the people of New York pack the event, all to hear the inspiring story of Śrīla Prabhupāda, the founder of the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement! And my pleasure continued even while leaving the theater. There were long lines waiting to enter for the next showing.
It was a watershed moment for the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. I believe that was the term used in the film to describe the moment in 1977 when the Supreme Court of New York issued the verdict in response to a serious court case backed by the anti-cult movement that the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement is a bona fide religion. I sensed the film was again that type of moment. In fact, in the introduction before the film, the co-directors, John Griesser (Yadubara dāsa) and Jean Griesser (Viśākhā dāsī), mentioned to the audience a review of the film describing it as the second coming of Śrīla Prabhupāda. It certainly felt that way. Śrīla Prabhupāda was not only manifest through such a powerful medium, but the fact that it would to be shown worldwide if the opening was successful—and by all reports it was—is certainly, dare I say, a watershed moment for the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement.
I had a good view of the arriving audience from where I sat. I not only saw committed members of ISKCON parade in, but many others also, including people that have been touched in New York by the force of our kīrtanas and teachings around the city, but who have not yet really met its founder in any profound way. I saw many such familiar people from a subway conductor to the heads of several major yoga studios in New York. Yesterday I received a letter from Sybel Sierra, a former vice president at Morgan Stanley, who I met at the premiere. Sybel initially came in touch with devotees through a bhakti seminar I gave at a major New York yoga studio. What she wrote reflected what I had hoped the effect of the film would be:
“I was so happy that I could attend the premiere. I especially loved how the film captured the impact of a person’s strong faith on the hearts of everyone he touched. I knew something of Śrīla Prabhupāda from being around the devotees, but the film gave me an intimate view into his life and elevated his teachings to a much more personal level.”
It is hard to be this film’s critic when just about everything about Śrīla Prabhupāda inspires his followers, but I also tried to watch and study it carefully. Those of us who knew Śrīla Prabhupāda knew the expanse of his preaching. I marveled at the austerity it must have been for the directors to pick and choose a fraction of his life to communicate his whole life, but in a sense that highlighted his glories, because as I watched I could also reflect on how many wonderful aspects of his life and accomplishments had to be omitted. If I had a chance I would have liked to ask the directors why certain scenes were chosen over other important scenes, such as the omission in the film of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s dramatic journey on the Jaladuta, but I think the answer is obvious: just how much of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s rich life could be packed in an hour and a half? No matter how hard you try significant events would have to be omitted. Still I felt that still the film captured, summarized, and communicated quite effectively his personality and accomplishments.
A good film or drama has the very difficult task of creating a single mind out of an audience of various types of people. In classical Indian dramaturgy, for example, it is stressed that the purpose of a drama is to create this shared experience. I felt the film did an excellent job of creating a shared experience or understanding for its wide range of viewers. I liked how towards the beginning of the film an interview of Śrīla Prabhupāda is shown where he is asked what he thinks of the Bible potentially pigeonholing him as sectarian. Śrīla Prabhupāda immediately responds that any scripture is good as long as it promotes love of God and recommends the chanting of God’s names. I think his answer was far better than my memory of it, but I am sure his answer had a powerful and unifying effect on the audience, many not of our faith, especially accompanied by clear subtitles dramatically highlighting his speech. At the same time the film did not shy away from vintage Śrīla Prabhupāda speaking directly and boldly the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, exposing the real problems of life and promoting the necessity to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness. At the Bhakti Center reception after the show, I mingled with the crowd, especially to gauge the reaction of people who were not members of ISKCON by asking them what in the film struck them the most. I especially liked the answer of Katie, which surprised me, as I thought her answer was not what most people influenced by the post modern world would appreciate:
“I liked that he was so straight and direct. All successful people have a clear mission. He knew what he wanted and articulated it clearly, directly, and consistently.”
I spoke to Rāma Rāya, of Union Square harināma fame, yesterday about the film. He liked it so much he saw it four times over the last week. He loved how it directly promoted Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission of chanting and spreading the holy name and he added an extra special appreciation of the directors who have dedicated their whole lives to Śrīla Prabhupāda by communicating his glories through film. He described their accomplishment in producing this film as a “triumph!” I also strongly felt that. The accomplishment of producing this excellent film is the example of two humble and dedicated disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda, who gave their whole life to promote Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission through media, and now at the twilight of their careers succeeded against all odds with the perfect offering of that service at their spiritual master’s lotus feet.
I beg you—please go see this triumph!

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #25 – Seeing is Believing

June 19th, 2017

As I quickly closed the pasture gate to prevent the affectionate cows from following as I left, I ran into an elderly Colombian cowherd coming to take them to another pasture. He looked at me with a closed teeth smile typically indicative of the natural gladness of a good heart. I had never met him, but he was welcoming. We spontaneously hugged. If the face is indeed the index of the mind, his heart was pure contentment. Seeing him somehow unexpectedly awakened a much deeper understanding of something I read or heard many times in the teachings of my guru: the joy of simple living and high thinking. I thus not only saw him, but I saw before my eyes a whole social philosophy, one that promises contentment as a direct result of a sustainable natural life style, especially centered on the cows and the land. I read and studied this concept so many times before, but for some reason I never saw it as clearly as I did that day.

As much as the realization itself struck me, and there is so much I would love to discuss about that, something struck me even more from this epiphany: as much as we need philosophy to understand the world, we need to see such truths embodied in someone to fully comprehend them. I thought of the concept of humility for example. In a world of increasingly failed authority and exploitation, it is hard not to project weakness on modesty until we see the strength and beauty of one fully surrendered to guru and God.

I was recently teaching the Yoga Sūtras here in Colombia to a progressive and professional audience. I was trying to explain the concept found in the first pada, īśvara-praṇidhānād vā, the option in meditation of devotional surrender to the Lord. Good teachers should try to get a sense of their audience’s frame of reference to appropriately communicate their message. I had some doubt whether, despite the generally piety of the audience, all would fully appreciate the concept of surrender to God, probably having been disappointed with the Catholic Church when growing up and then influenced by modernity. I suspected, however, that despite such spiritual prejudice, the influence of devotion was still very firmly rooted in this deeply Catholic country. I attempted explaining the beauty of surrender to God by asking the audience to think of the qualities of their grandmothers, often very pious and humble Catholic ladies. As heads subtly nodded I sensed my strategy worked. As the saying goes, “example is better than precept.”

In his commentary of Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīla Prabhupāda made a similar point through a short aphorism about the necessity of living a philosophy in order for it to be understood: “Religion without philosophy is sentiment, or sometimes fanaticism, while philosophy without religion is mental speculation.”[1] The term “religion” here is not referring to a religious dogma, but the practical application of a teaching as opposed to just a book one, meaning that without embodying a teaching very little of it will be understood by ourselves or others.

Seeing this simple farmer inspired me, but it also put pressure on me. By putting Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings so starkly before my consciousness, it also put the weight of responsibility on me as his follower to somehow serve that mission, understanding that no matter how successful I become in sharing Kṛṣṇa consciousness within today’s world, it will lack a certain integrity and clarity without a better example of how a devotional society can be structured in a more sustainable way. I also felt pressure to be a better example, for if I want to influence people to live spiritual lives they have to see those teachings not just spoken by me, but also more powerfully embodied in me. And that is everyone’s challenge -somehow inspired by seeing the beautiful contented smile of a simple farmer.



[1] Bhagavad-gītā As It Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Chapter 3, Text 3 commentary



Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #24 – What is Bhakti?

June 12th, 2017

Bhakti is a faith –  the faith that the best thing is to surrender to God with devotion.

But it is more than just an understanding. It is the actual feeling in the heart to want to do so.

And bhakti is more than just that feeling of devotion. It is also the practical expression of that feeling through the faculty of the mind, body, and words called devotional service or sevā.

And higher than that is pure devotion, when that practical expression to please Kṛṣṇa is the exclusive desire of the heart unmixed or covered by any other desire.

Ultimately bhakti is God’s energy, the essence of His pleasure potency, which Kṛṣṇa mercifully places in the heart of that devotee who attracts His mercy by such pure devotional service.

Is bhakti inherent? Our nature is to serve is inherent and certainly we have the potential for bhakti within our heart.

That full potential of bhakti is called bhaktyānanda,[1] the bliss of devotion, which is the essence of God’s internal potency and His highest pleasure. Unlike svarūpānanda, God’s own pleasure, which He basks in alone, bhaktyānanda, the bliss of devotion, must come from another. We are that potential “other”, created as receptacles for a love meant to be offered back to the one who has bestowed it. That is real bhakti because love of Godhead (kṛṣṇa-prema), the essence of His pleasure potency (hlādinī-śakti), is the thing that pleases God the most.

To understand such bhakti we must understand the term tad-ātmikā, which means “to become one with”. Our eternal nature is to serve, to be perfect instruments for the pleasure of God. When that service attitude is pure and God trusts us with His energy of love, our mind becomes energized or one with that love just as an iron rod becomes energized or one (tad-ātmikā) with fire. That mind absorbed in devotion offered back to God for His pleasure is bhakti in its highest sense, although the mood of service and the practices of devotion to get such bhakti can also be deemed bhakti, in a sense.

Monday Morning Greetings has a diverse audience, from people many decades mature in bhakti, to those with a cursory interest who may have signed on to my mailing list after hearing just one of my lectures. This Greetings touches some deep philosophical content that may give food for thought, especially to experienced practitioners of bhakti, but I hope these beautiful concepts will touch everyone’s heart.

To close I would like to offer a definition of bhakti that was shared with me by a great Sanskrit scholar that in a sense sums up the essence of bhakti in such a way that if you can imbibe that mood, then for sure you will one day be bestowed with the highest devotion. He told me:

Bhakti is to make oneself available [for service].”


[1] The terms bhaktyānanda and svarūpānanda are found in the Jaiva Dharma by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. I was not able to get the exact reference by the time of the post.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #23 – Why Do We Make God Work So Hard?

June 5th, 2017

I have an image of an aspect of my life that has this certain background music. I can’t exactly describe that tune in writing. But it is the background music for the cartoon image of a happy-go-lucky soul that is walking down the street oblivious to the impending disaster ahead and then either slips and falls or gets a pie thrown in his face. He gets up with confidence and begins walking with the same obliviousness to his impending danger until the same thing happens again and again. Let me see if I can describe this more vividly: It would be like the cartoon character Goofy, created by Disney in the early thirties, who, in each episode, haplessly fumbles over the same task repeatedly [1].
Actually this is not how I see my life, but there is a specific aspect of my life that I like to describe in this comedic sense, as it seems to be a fit to an interesting definition of comedy that I had first heard about from a friend and a professional comedian. He described comedy as tragedy plus time. I am not exactly looking back at tragedy in my life, but more like a pattern of folly that seems to so much fit this hapless image of one being oblivious to one’s folly and falling prey to it again and again.
About a month ago, after making a mistake in not only how I was thinking about something, but in how I had reacted to it, and then seeing the anxiety it caused, I had a very strong realization that seemed to correct and complete my vision of the world. I was surprised because I was convinced that I was already seeing the world perfectly clear, but I had one doubt. This pattern has been repeating itself every year, often several times a year, for the last 42 years, since beginning Kṛṣṇa consciousness. I always think that I am seeing things clearly, until some upheaval, big or small, comes along that gives me a newer, more complete vision and with the same certainty as before. I often share this story with others with the background music of Goofy to express how hapless we are in walking the world with a vision of confidence, although destiny repeatedly turns our world on its head again and again.
I think my folly, however, is not unique, for until one’s mind is completely pure, it is the nature of the mind to see the world through a defective lens without even realizing one is looking through it. I think therefore my story should be, in a sense, everyone’s story on the spiritual path. Our natural confidence in how we see the world should be repeatedly shaken by destiny to help give us newer and higher visions of reality even though at the time we are probably not aware that we are seeing things through a distorted lens.
In reflecting on how many thousands of components of vision have been added to my life to improve my vision of reality and reflecting on how many more realizations I probably require in the future, I am humbled. Reflecting in this way also helps me to realize how many unlimited components of truth one requires to actually be tattva-darśana, one who sees the truth, and how hard Kṛṣṇa has to work, so to speak, to bring us to that point.  And that leads to my final realization and the title of this post:
Why do we make God work so hard?

[1] I found this description about Goofy in Wikipedia: “Goofy is a tall, anthropomorphic dog with a Southern drawl, and typically wears a turtle neck and vest, with pants, shoes, white gloves, and a tall hat originally designed as a rumpled fedora.”

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