Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #12 – Just Remain Obliged!

March 25th, 2019

“Any Questions?” Śrīla Prabhupāda had finished his class and looked out at his audience in the large temple room in the Dallas Radha Kalachandji Mandir. I had just recently joined ISKCON and sat in awe of my master. After a long moment of silence, 6’6” Jñānagamya stood and inquired, “How can we repay you?” Śrīla Prabhupāda’s sober response has remained etched in my consciousness: “Just remain obliged!”

 

Perhaps Śrīla Prabhupāda would have answered differently in other circumstances, but the significance of his response to a seminal question certainly can’t be minimized. For that reason, his answer has remained enough on my mind to occasionally dwell on its importance, and to keep an eye out for how gratitude is highlighted within my tradition.

 

The first thing that became apparent in my studies was how much ingratitude stunts devotion. A proud or entitled person is never grateful no matter how much they are given. They are like a spoiled child who never feels the love of their generous parents. In the same way, to the degree a devotee feels entitlement, or takes the gifts of devotion for granted, is the extent they will not feel the mercy of God. And without feeling such love, it is difficult to have love for others. On the other hand, the humble devotee who is able to appreciate and feel God’s mercy easily awakens devotion for Krishna in response. Humility and its consequent feelings of gratitude are thus the foundation of devotion. This same point can be seen in the third verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam by Śrī Caitanya, arguably the most important verse in the Krishna bhakti tradition, in its declaration that the humble can always chant. Why can the humble chant always? Only something done with love is ultimately joyful within itself and can be done without satiation or cessation, and, as explained before, only the humble person welling with gratitude can chant in such devotion. Thus Śrī Caitanya also affirms the importance of being consciously grateful, for only such a humble soul can chant the holy name with unalloyed and unbroken devotion.

 

Among the many ways to develop gratitude, a particularly powerful one for a devotee to practice is prayer. Prayer generally does two things. It exalts the object of our adulation and expresses our dependence and humility. In this way, by helping us feel the distance between the value of what we aspire for (and experience) and our ability to earn it, prayer evokes feelings of undeserved kindness, or mercy, and consequent devotion. A sincerely prayerful person is therefore an increasingly grateful and devotional one.

 

Besides being grateful for what we have, we also need to be indebted to those who contributed to what we have now. To take things for granted and to enjoy the fruits of the labor of others closes the heart and also does not bode well for devotion. I remember at Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance festival a few years ago when a senior devotee made a poignant point in this regard. He noted the marvelous facilities that the audience in Vṛndāvana was enjoying now and contrasted that with the very austere conditions when the devotees first came to Vṛndāvana. He then described the arduous austerities the pioneers of ISKCON performed to make our centers in Vṛndāvana, Māyāpur, and Mumbai what they are today. He implored the devotees to never forget to remain grateful to the pioneers of Krishna consciousness. It is important on the path of devotion to honor all of our predecessors.

 

I can now understand what Śrīla Prabhupāda meant when he said, “We advance by appreciation,”[1] and why he told his devotee to simply remain obliged when asked how to repay him.

 

Again, there is so much to write on this subject. In fact, I think just months ago I may have written a similar Monday Morning Greetings. I was once asked to give a lecture at a devotee gathering held on Thanksgiving, a prominent American holiday commemorating the gratitude the original settlers of America felt in the New World. Naturally, I was asked to speak on thankfulness and devotion. I choose to speak on a verse by Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī that expresses one’s thankfulness for the gifts one gets by the mercy of the spiritual master. For the purpose of brevity and the natural flow of the article, I don’t usually include the Sanskrit translation to verses cited in Monday Morning Greetings, but it’s just too beautiful a verse not to include. By reciting this verse daily it reminds us of the gifts bequeathed on us by our lineage, represented by Śrīla Prabhupāda and his sincere followers. I pray to just remain obliged.

 

nāma-śreṣṭhaṁ manum api śacī-putram atra svarūpaṁ
rūpaṁ tasyāgrajam uru-purīṁ māthurīṁ goṣṭhavāṭīm
rādhā-kuṇḍaṁ giri-varam aho rādhikā-mādhavāśāṁ
prāpto yasya prathita-kṛpayā śrī-guruṁ taṁ nato ’smi

“I bow down to the beautiful lotus feet of my spiritual master, by whose causeless mercy I have obtained the supreme holy name, the divine mantra, the service of the son of Śacīmātā [Lord Caitanya], the association of Śrīla Svarūpa Dāmodara, Rūpa Gosvāmī, and his older brother Sanātana Gosvāmī, the supreme abode of Mathurā, the blissful abode of Vṛndāvana, the divine Rādhā-kuṇḍa and Govardhana Hill, and the desire within my heart for the loving service of Śrī Rādhika and Mādhava [Krishna] in Vṛndāvana.”

 

 


[1] This is quote is from a purport by Śrīla Prabhupāda in Cc. Ādi-līlā. I have yet to find the exact reference, but I am sure it is there.

 

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