Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #35 – Brrr!

September 2nd, 2019

I have bad hot water karma. Last year in my place at Govardhana the hot water was finally fixed after four years. The local ashram tried many things year after year, but they just couldn’t get the shower to work. They finally figured out the problem. The water tank on my one-story dwelling couldn’t muster enough pressure to push the hot water through the geyser. Four years of cold showers in the late fall/early winter is a small price to stay in Govardhana, but this is not an isolated incident. It happens to me often. I am writing from our ashram in Colombia and lo and behold, like last year, despite all the best efforts no one can get the hot water in my bathroom to work.


What’s the message of all this “bad karma”? First, there is no bad karma, per se. You just have to use what Krishna gives you for the purpose He sends it. I am a monk, a renunciate. Perhaps I have begun to live a bit too cushy for my order. Did the Gosvamis of Vṛndāvana have hot water geysers? They didn’t die from the cold. Rather, this type of simple tolerance, called tapasya, is essential for spiritual life, and certainly mine.


The mind is like a river, but with a very unique feature — it runs in two opposite directions. It flows both outward towards the senses and inward towards the soul. Yoga is the means of redirecting the consciousness towards the soul from sensual contact and consequent bodily identification. It does this in two ways. The positive way is called abhyāsa, or spiritual practice. We do that by focusing on an object of meditation, which naturally draws the flow of the mind inward. The negative way is called vairāgya, where we forcefully redirect the mind back internally from its outward flow to the sense objects. Back to the yogic cold bath.


When there is natural discomfort in sensual contact in the course of one’s duty, such as a cold morning bath, the mind automatically abstracts itself from its outward flow to the sense objects in order to avoid distress. In contrast, living a cushy life, where we constantly attempt to readjust the environment to avoid natural austerity, conditions the mind to keep flowing outwardly to external sense objects. Such constant tuning to seek comfort and avoid distress thus only increases absorption and attachment to the bodily concept of life, which is the locus of all suffering.


In my residence in Upstate New York, the hot water works. By now, however, I have become inspired to take a cold shower anyway, which makes the same cold water a form of tapasya rather than just the imposition of my karma. Further realizations come:


The identification with the body is just a mental conception. Before you enter the cold shower the expectation of discomfort is always worse than what you actually experience. The mind also has an ability to abstract oneself from the sensations of the body just as when one takes a hot shower one has the ability to absorb oneself in the sensation. The sensations of the body, like pain and pleasure, are thus mental conceptions and thus ultimately relative. Sorry to be so morbid, but here’s the message:


Better to practice now some simple tolerance to abstract one from bodily identification, for the body is doomed in the future to old age, disease, and death. The only adjustment we can make to counteract those increasing difficulties is to strengthen our mind, which requires some voluntary tolerance of the dualities of heat and cold and happiness and distress.


Ok. Ready for my cold morning bath now: Brrr!



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