Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #9 – What I Learned at a Tea Stall

March 4th, 2019

Last week I wrote about my morning Vṛndāvana walks. Recently, it has been my main inspiration so I will write something more about it, especially as this is my last week in Vṛndāvana.


The morning hours reveal reality anywhere, not just in Vṛndāvana, but I think especially Vṛndāvana. The quiet early morning hours are more in goodness, sattva. Sattva means the nature of being. The world in the early morning hours, before people wake up to activities of exploitation (passion) and destruction (ignorance), is thus truer to the nature of God’s creation. The early morning world also influences one to become further perceptive and to see the world as it is. Here’s what I saw this morning.


The road to the town’s center was almost totally desolate, except for a few very jolly townspeople and sādhus crowding around a tea shop. The shop wallah sat behind a single-burner propane stove with a tin pot of chai boiling on it. He seemed to enjoy the sense of community as he expertly sweetened, in his own estimation, his brew by flinging one scoop of sugar after another into the mix.


There was something about this scene that impressed me. It certainly wasn’t what they were doing. Even if I took tea, I couldn’t imagine drinking that sugary blend in the morning. What hit me was the simplicity of their joy. I am also not reiterating here my theme of natural Vrajavāsī bliss. It was just something about the fundamental principle of happiness that I saw. That simple chai community seemed to, by their contentment, shout out that happiness is a very internal thing, and something not overly dependent on the external world for our pleasure. Their modest setting wasn’t much, to say the least.


What I am writing here sounds to me not so substantive for my audience, but it wasn’t the idea alone that struck me as profound. It was the clarity of the realization. As I walked by in that early morning hour, I saw such a stark dichotomy between the principle of joy and what we need to be happy. It forced me to confront my own faith.


Do I really believe happiness is internal, or is my joy-faith still too much invested in the ephemeral world? Have I, a monk, rationalized my needs in the name of service to take way above what is required?


I remembered when one very senior sannyāsi spoke in a lecture about how happy he was in the early days of ISKCON when his only possession was his bead bag. Yes, when I first joined ISKCON, believe it or not, we would randomly pick our wear for the day from a common laundry shelf of folded dhotis and kurtas. Of course, artificial or excess renunciation has little to do with bhakti, but another point is being made here. Do I —do we — invest too much energy in the external when the accruement and collection of things meant for happiness usually does not deliver its happiness part of the bargain? How much have I realized that happiness is a matter of consciousness, something that radiates from the self, and ultimately not a material thing, something that comes to the self?


So those are my early morning thoughts and that is what I learned from a tea stall.



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