Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #17 – We Need Devotees Who Do Nothing

April 27th, 2020

Ravindra Svarupa dasa has a way with words. I heard him say the above more than twenty years ago. At that time, he was about to be installed as the yearly chairman of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission. He felt that for his purification and the purification of ISKCON, which was naturally facing a myriad of crises, he first needed to sit in Govardhana and chant all day for a month, which he did. His phrase initially sounded strange, but after some thought, I understood what he meant.


The foundational teaching of ISKCON is based on the Bhagavad-gītā. It strongly believes in its message and is focused on sharing that. Naturally, in the struggle to share and maintain its values, many problems have arisen. To rise to the challenge of dealing with them it needs to inspire its members to cooperate, which requires spiritual strength. Its leaders, therefore, must have a strong inner life. Although there are different ways on the path of devotion to do that, it would be helpful if at least a few of its leaders or senior members concentrated exclusively on a contemplative life by withdrawing from external responsibilities to sit down in one place and chant Hare Krishna, or at least to substantially make that more of a priority in their life. In other words, doing nothing, which is not exactly doing nothing, but instead freeing oneself of most external duties so that one can devote the bulk of one’s time to mantra meditation and other forms of chanting and hearing. I surmise that’s what he was implying with his quick-witted phrase. It also exemplifies our tradition.


Śrī Caitanya’s life was ācārya-līlā. He was setting the example, by His life, of how a devotee should live. Part of that example was that the last eighteen years of Śrī Caitanya’s life, and He only lived for forty-eight, was practically devoted to the exclusive cultivation of His inner life. That life wasn’t, however, completely detached from His mission to share Krishna-consciousness. His disciples visited Him yearly and were energized in their service by the depth of His association and the realizations He shared with them.


Śrīla Prabhupāda hinted that he also wanted to be that example for his mission, but there weren’t enough devotees qualified at the time to relieve him of his responsibilities.


“In the last stage of the spiritual master’s life, the devotees of the spiritual master should take the preaching activities into their own hands. In this way the spiritual master can sit down in a solitary place and render nirjana-bhajana [solitary spiritual practice].” (Bhag. 4.28.33, Purport)


I was sort of encouraged in this way myself when I took sannyāsa in 1982 from Satsvarupa das Goswami. He told the initiates, five at the time, that we need leaders whom other people can trust, so we should avoid politics and business. At the time, I was the manager of a large institution, so it was difficult to avoid political and money matters. It came with the territory, so to speak, but what he said did deeply resonate with me. Of course, he didn’t mean to give up preaching activities, but the import was similar: At a certain appropriate time one needs, as a service, to move more towards activities that connect one more directly with one’s inner development to remain spiritually fit for oneself and for the benefit of society.


I am hunkered down here in New Jersey. A few hours ago, Ṭoṭā-gopīnātha, who is near-by, brought me lunch. He shared with me a class he just heard “zoomed” in from Madhavananda das that echoed a similar theme to what I was just writing: “The Krishna consciousness movement began indoors with the devotees cloistered in kirtan at Śrīvāsāṅgana, the house of Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura, and now the mission of Śrī Caitanya is also forced inside. Is it not a call for inner life?”


True, the Krishna conscious movement began inside. The devotees were, in a way, locked down in their spiritual practices by the force of the Mogul rule and thus couldn’t practice their devotion outside. That deep internal cultivation of the holy name amongst them, however, created almost a centripetal force that quickly propelled the mission beyond the walls of their houses and into the streets to share their joy. Is history, in a way, repeating itself? Will being hunkered down inside force us to go deeper in our practices and impel us to return outside with a greater force and joy?


I turn seventy years of age this year and am happily confined inside, where I am increasingly inspired, as a service to the mission of Śrī Caitanya, to be a devotee who “does nothing”.


Chant Hare Krishna!


So this preaching is also chanting Hare Krishna mantra. This is preaching. That has been so when he is firmly convinced, then he can give up preaching and sit down and simply chant. Not in the beginning. That is imitation. He must be firmly convinced. So we have to study Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s life. Except—this is the clear and simple truth—except chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, there is no other business of the human being shown by all the disciples of Caitanya Mahāprabhu.” (Morning walk May 8, 1975)


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