Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #28 – The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Oft Go Astray

July 13th, 2020

When I left India in March, my life was in transition, both by the circumstances of my life and by my age. I made a resolution after much thought. My service from now on would be the holy name, and I would consciously cultivate being equal in happiness and distress. The Hare Krishna movement is so service oriented in an active way that such a resolve for chanting almost seems radical. It’s not. Although I would prioritize my schedule around the holy name, there would still be time for my weekly blog and classes. I would also continue to meet with people, which now I could hopefully do from a higher level of spiritual integrity. To reserve time for chanting in my schedule, I would not take up any more time-consuming endeavors such as writing new books or organizing new retreats or projects, activities that had very much been my nature.


This type of life change is actually very standard in the culture in which my tradition is born. I am in the renounced order of life, sannyāsa, which has four stages. Modern sannyāsa very much begins and focuses on the third stage called parivrājakācāryaParivrājakācārya means to cultivate detachment by constant travel so that one is unable to become attached to home and hearth and to a world under the illusion of one’s control. The final, or fourth stage, is paramahaṁsa, where one sits in a holy place and completely depends on God, dedicating the rest of one’s life to chanting the holy name.


I am not a paramahaṁsa, which also means one who is completely above the modes of material nature, so my renunciation will not be that radical. I won’t retire to Radha Kunda and live in seclusion or anything like that, but I will increase my chanting and make that the most important thing in my life.


The most important thing in bhakti is being available for service as directed by the spiritual master. At the highest level that means a life completely free from frivolousness and hypocrisy. In other words, to know truth as far as possible and the practical application of it, and to live by that exclusively without any deviation, whether in the world of family responsibilities or the renounced order of life. I am open to Krishna’s will and the directions of those whom I respect, but as far as I can ascertain, and in consultation with others, what I have described above is now my calling in life.


For three months I was relishing my new focus in life. I also got a lot of inspiration to continue this service by seeing how much of a focus on spiritual practice empowered my writing, my classes, and most importantly the quality of my contact with others. It was also enlivening for me as a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda to see how my service was enhancing my contribution to his mission in this way beyond my own personal spiritual cultivation. Krishna also mercifully gave me a chance to practice the second resolution I made leaving India, to be equal in happiness and distress.


Health challenges suddenly came, and my whole program was thrown off keel. I hope it’s temporary, but I see that my illness is gifting me so many important realizations for inner life and spiritual practice, especially this importance of being equal in happiness and distress. There is no question of bhajan, deep spiritual practice, if one’s moods are too affected by the ever-changing world around one, especially various bodily afflictions that come with life, and especially old age.


My conclusion is that too feverishly trying to the control world as it moves beyond one’s control is just as painful, or even more so, than the afflictions one is trying to counteract. I am thus trying to remain detached, happy with God’s will, whatever it puts on my plate. Where does that leave me now?


I am just doing my duty by reasonably trying to get healthy, but ultimately leaving the result up to Krishna, and trying to build my spiritual practice again, whatever physical condition Krishna puts me in. That has been quite a test.


I shared with my friend this ironic twist of events in my life: I set off from India with the determination to live the rest of life as a more traditional Vrindavan sādhu, and I wound up in New Jersey wearing pants,[1] living twenty minutes from my mother. The well-known quote by 18th Century Scottish poet Robert Burns comes to mind:


“The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”


Note: As many of the readers are my friends and well-wishers, I think it is incumbent to explain a little bit more about my health. For over a month I have been having different arthritic muscle pains shifting to different parts of the body that make ordinary activities, and certainly sitting for chanting, a bit challenging. So far blood tests have shown no indications of rheumatoid arthritis or any other cause. I have been on a very strict anti-inflammatory diet and have seen a chiropractor. The discomfort has lessened, and for the last week I have been reasonably functional, but not nearly to the level of my previous health.  



[1] My illness made my body quite cold, and thus I am forced to wear pants to keep warm, which is something I never do.

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