Archive for September, 2017

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #39 – Chanting and Falling

September 25th, 2017

This may sound weird, but first let me introduce the subject to put it in context:

I try to make time early in the morning for a good amount of chanting. I basically just try to hear the Holy Name to feel direct communion with God in the form of His name, but the mind does not always focus so easily. I have therefore utilized and developed different ways of activating either my understanding of the importance of what I am doing or my attraction for it for the purpose of inspiring and increasing my concentration. I have discussed these techniques in my book Japa Meditations: Contemplation on the Holy Name. Now the unusual part:

Recently, due to an increase in my traveling and the consequent irregularity of my schedule, I have felt more challenged in maintaining the proper mode for concentrated chanting. I am therefore forced at times to be even more creative in order to maintain attentive chanting. I have even tried the following visualization to activate my attentiveness:

I imagine it is September 11, 2001, and that I am on one of top floors of the World Trade Center towers and that due to the intense fire I am forced to jump. Actually this thought first came to me as I was in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and was struck with the horrid image of people on the top floor being forced to fatally jump to their death. I thought, “What if that was me? What would I think of in those fatal last seconds on the way down?” Anyway in this meditation of falling, I literally have a few seconds to chant before I hit the ground. I watch what happens to my consciousness:

My focus and attention substantially increased: Attention is something that has to be activated. And there is nothing more powerful to activate concentration than the thought that your next destination will largely be determined by what you are thinking at the moment of death and realizing that you have only a few seconds to perfect yourself. Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!

The voice or sincerity of my chanting was amplified: Desperate situations inspire one to call for help sincerely. The vocative sense of the mantra, O Radha!, O Krishna!, becomes pronounced.

I chanted in humility: It is humbling when you face situations where you have no power to control your own destiny and your only shelter is God. I could understand how the power of such humility allows one to feel God’s mercy, invokes feelings of devotion and allows one to chant incessantly.

Don’t worry, the fall only takes a few seconds of my time during chanting and I definitely don’t try to envision the crash. But somehow these few seconds activate these three components of chanting that are the key to attentiveness: understanding its importance, chanting with sincerity, and embracing the humble position. It is also a fact that locking the mind in attention even for a few seconds often keeps us focused way beyond that. [1]

And when doing this meditation for a few seconds I also realize that chanting and falling is a microcosm for life in general. Will we not also die in just a blip of eternal time?

[1] Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura taught in his book Bhajana-rahasya that by concentrating on one couplet of the mantra you can lock in a sense concentration that continues for the whole mantra.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #38 – Rules: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

September 18th, 2017

Niyamāgraha is a Sanskrit word that means either too little or too much affinity for the rules, both of which are impediments to bhakti. It is important for an aspirant on the path of bhakti to properly understand the purpose and application of these principles.
The purpose of rules
Setting and following sound rules helps one to be governed by good judgment rather than impulse. The purpose of the rules in bhakti is simple: to facilitate the remembrance of Krishna, which is the mechanism on the path of bhakti for transformation. For example, when a devotee enters the temple, he or she must bow down. Why? We are basically egocentric. Our tendency is to lack awareness and consideration for others. Bowing down before the deity is meant to increase our awareness of God and our humble position as His servant.
Impediment One: Too little affinity for the rules
One is averse to rules because rules represent authority, a governance of life that limits our prospects for conforming the world to suit our attachments. To resist following rules just for self-centered purposes is obviously antithetical to spiritual development, especially when such guidelines are meant to uplift us. Similarly, to have too little affinity for the rules of bhakti out of this sense of rebellion, or even just laziness, is an impediment to bhakti for the rules of bhakti, as mentioned above, are meant to help us remember Krishna. Those who fall prey to or justify such folly only wallow in the impulses of their minds rather than awaken consciousness of God. Great souls thus strictly follow the rules of devotion. A good example of such firm adherence, for instance, can be found in the lives of the six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana:
“Who could list the unlimited transcendental attributes of Raghunātha? His strict regulative principles were exactly like lines on a stone.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 6.309)
Impediment Two: Too much affinity for the rules
We follow rules not just for the rule itself, but for the purpose of the rule, which in bhakti is to enhance devotion. It is thus an impediment for the bhakta to rigidly stick to a rule in neglect of the general principle for which that rule was made. For example, on Ekādaśī Vaiṣṇavas would traditionally fast, usually not taking even a drop of water. The purpose was to reduce bodily needs and increase devotion, but if such fasting causes one to feel too weak to serve and remember Krishna, then one’s inflexibility in observance is against the intent of fasting and thus an impediment to bhakti.
As it is an impediment to have affinity for rules outlining practices beyond our capability, it is also an impediment to have strict affinity for rules applicable to a particular stage of devotion that one has already passed. For example, there is an advanced stage of devotion called rāgānugā-bhakti where one’s devotion is better aided by acting spontaneously in devotion rather than blindly following the dictates of a specific rule meant for those without such devotion. For instance, while it is a devotional principle to not lie down in the temple before the deity, such a rule may be an impediment for one advanced in a particular type of devotion. Śrīla Prabhupāda describes such a case:
“Sometimes it is found that a pure devotee lies down in the temple of the Lord in order to serve Him as a confidential friend. Such friendly behavior of a devotee may be accepted as rāgānugā, or spontaneous. Although according to regulative principles, no one can lie down in the temple of the Supreme Personality of Godhead this spontaneous love of Godhead my be grouped under devotional service in friendship.” (NOD p. 97)
Although those more advanced are cautioned not to be rigid about guidelines no longer applicable to their situation, Śrīla Prabhupāda cautions all his disciples about the pitfall of too much affinity for the rules:
“The teacher (ācārya) has to consider time, candidate and country. He must avoid the principle of niyamāgraha—that is, he should not try to perform the impossible. What is possible in one country may not be possible in another. […] The essence of devotional service must be taken into consideration, and not the outward paraphernalia. […] It is not necessary that the rules and regulations followed in India be exactly the same as those in Europe, America and other Western countries.” (Cc. Madhya-līlā  23.105, purport)
Too much or too little? How can we know? Śrīla Prabhupāda was once asked a similar question in terms of distinguishing between a principle (rules that have to be followed in all circumstances) and details (rules that apply circumstantially). I think generally most tend to err on the side of too little, but I love his simple answer: “It takes a little intelligence.”
Yes, if we are thoughtful and sincere, we will mostly get it right.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #37 – Death Made Simple

September 11th, 2017

While sending this article for posting, I looked at the date and just realized it was 9/11 and that by coincidence the article was on death. I liked what I wrote a lot, but not particularly for this day. I will post it to keep with the regularity of Monday Morning Greetings and offer my heartfelt prayers for those who lost and sacrificed their lives. I am from New York and was in lower Manhattan on that day so this day may have a little more significance for me. I am including a link from my diary that I wrote watching the towers fallMy 9/11 journal entry.

Death Made Simple

  1. We are eternal.
  2. Death is thus the illusion of non-existence.
  3. We fear and suffer from this illusion due to the notion that takes the self, which is eternal, to be the non-self, or body, which is temporary.
  4. This misidentification is due to false ego, the desire to be the enjoyer and controller.
  5. The real pain of death is thus not just the physical pain, which can be numbed by either coma or drugs, but more the affront to the false ego at death when all our attachments are lost at once.
  6. Our real-ego, or eternal identity, is that we are servants of God. One who fully realizes this is not affected by the death of the body.
  7. “The wise lament neither for the living nor the dead” [1] thus means that we don’t lament that people change bodies or die, but lament that due to ignorance people identify with the body and suffer.
  8. For one with spiritual understanding, the fact that everyone faces death is not an act of cruelty, but an act of God’s mercy. Death announces loudly to the soul that one is not the controller and enjoyer, helping one to overcome the false ego, which is the root cause of misery life after life.
  9. One who hears this voice and serves and accepts death as God’s mercy overcomes the false ego, becomes fearless and realizes one eternal nature.
  10. We should always remember that death is not just a matter for the end of life. We should thus die now to live. By slaying the false ego of selfish desires and embracing our real identity of selfless devotion to Krishna we will experience and live our eternal nature now.



[1] Bhagavad-gītā 2.11

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #36 – Śrī Rādhā Made Simple

September 4th, 2017

  1. In this world everyone is seeking happiness and that pleasure is ultimately found in love. If that is the guiding principle in this world, why should it not be part of its source, the ultimate reality?
  2. If there is love in the spiritual realm there also must be beauty, for love means to offer the best.
  3. This correlation between happiness, love, and beauty is the key to understanding Śrī Rādhā.
  4. Śrī Krishna is the Supreme Enjoyer. His happiness is therefore love and the personification of that love is Śrī Rādhā, who must also be the reservoir of all beauty and good qualities, which are the concrete expression of love.
  5. For example, flowers are a common way to express love. They are fragrant, colorful, and may be soft and smooth, but offering them in love is not just a sensual experience, for getting a gift of flowers and experiencing all its wonderful attributes, is also the experience of love from the person who has offered those flowers.
  6. Krishna’s pleasure potency is called hlādinī śakti, the essence of which is Krishna prema (love of godhead) and when that love is heightened to the highest degree it is called mahābhāva. Śrī Rādhā is mahābhāva svarūpa, the form of the highest love (and pleasure).
  7. Even Śrī Rādhā’s many ornaments and decorations, which she adorns only for the pleasure of Krishna, are composed of and expressing mahābhāva. Thus Krishna’s experience of Śrī Rādhā is the experience of His greatest love and pleasure.
  8. As Śrī Rādhā is an expression of God’s own potency of love, we cannot imagine the intensity and greatness of her qualities. Although there is no limit to her love and qualities, descriptions of them can give us some idea. For example, here is a description of Śrī Rādhā’s beauty from Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi:

“The beauty of Śrī Rādhā’s smile defeats the beauty of a blue lotus. The beauty of her face defeats the beauty of a forest of blue lotuses, and the luster of her body puts gold in a painful situation.”

  1. Only someone who is impersonal is not conquered by love. As Krishna is the Supreme Person, He is responsive to and conquered by true devotion. As Śrī Rādhā is the highest form of love, her twenty-fifth transcendental quality is that she always keeps Krishna under her control.
  2. How is this relevant to us? Śrīla Prabhupāda instructs us:

“Rādhārāṇī, the symbol of the topmost bhakti, is so powerful that she has purchased Krishna. Therefore, Vrajavāsīs [1] take shelter of the lotus feet of Rādhārāṇī, for if she recommends, ‘O here is a nice devotee,’ Krishna must accept Him.” (Teachings of Queen Kuntī)


[1] The devotees who reside in Vṛndāvana, Śrī Krishna’s abode

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