Archive for October, 2017

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

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #40 – On Time

October 2nd, 2017

I wanted to write about time this week and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to discuss the subject of time in general or defend punctuality, so I decided to write about both. The subject of this entry is thus both about time, or “On Time” and punctuality, or being “On Time”.
 
On Time (the subject of time)
 
When I was in college Eric Mausert, now Akṣobhya dāsa, my former roommate who had joined the Hare Krishna movement the previous year, decided to stay with me for a few days at my off-campus apartment during the spring. He always found unique ways to preach to me in order to get me to join him. One morning I woke up and found a verse from the Gītā written on a little piece of white adhesive tape stuck on the back of my small black alarm clock.
 
“Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to destroy all people.” (Bg. 11.32)
 
There you are. Time is God or Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu means “God who pervades everywhere”. He witnesses our activities and then manifests as kāla, or time, to create circumstances in the future to teach us corrective lessons based on the impurities that He has witnessed in the past. The purpose of time is therefore karma.
 
Does time exist in the spiritual world? Is there not a sense of linear movement in Krishna’s pastimes, and if that is not time, what is it? Yes, there is the sequence of His activities to facilitate His desire to exchange love, but it is certainly not kāla, or time, as we know it. By definition God cannot be subjected to the superior power of anything—not past, present, or future—and certainly not the oppression of kāla or karma. And unlike kāla, where moments do not exist before they happen and immediately cease forever when they pass, all moments in the spiritual realm, even when sequential, exist eternally in all phases of time. It is just like the passing of the sun from one hour to another hour, where each hour that passes still exists somewhere on earth as do all phases of time.
 
Sound confusing? I hope not, but there is a sense that it should be. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, when discussing the origin of the living entity in this material world, discouraged one from trying to explain it by “the dirt of words”. I sensed he used this phrase to describe the futility of describing an event that reasonably must have both occurred and also originated by definition in a realm not subject to past, present, or future.
 
On Time (being punctual)
 
I already wrote so much about “On Time” (the subject of time) that for the sake of Monday Morning Greetings I will keep this part short. It is a misconception to think that because time, in a sense, is oppressive that regulation and punctuality stifle bhakti or spontaneity. Confucius spoke extensively on how ritual and regulation help to improve virtue by honing important considerations not simply determined by our impulses or personal needs. This correlation between the careful use of time and fulfilling our objectives is certainly important to Krishna consciousness when applied thoughtfully. Otherwise, why would the regulated spiritual practices of Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī [1] be described as like “the lines of a stone” or the eternal pastimes of Radha-Krishna described as aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā? [2] Thus when punctuality and regulation are used properly to facilitate keeping focused on the moment, in a sense the oppression of time ceases to exist and the spontaneity of devotion flourishes, or in the words of a modern poet: “Time is on my side, yes it is.”
 


[1] Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī is the prayojana ācārya, the main teacher in our line for teaching prema-bhakti.

[2] Aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā means that the Lord’s different pastimes are basically eight fold and happen at the same time daily at eight distinct junctures of the day.

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