Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #16 – A View from the Eye of a Tornado Through the Eyes of the Śāstra

April 17th, 2023

It was April 1st, but don’t let the date fool you. I swear this is true. It was the best of days. I had been away for three weeks in Colombia and had just arrived at 5:00 PM in Newark from a long flight. When I walked outside the airport to catch my ride back to my “home” in New Jersey, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by an unseasonably pleasant 72° F soft breeze. I remember being very relaxed in my seat on the way back home, appreciating the clear sky above and basking in the balmy weather. I mostly fasted during my flight, and I was also looking forward to getting back to our place, taking some prasādam, and resting. I noted that the early evening did seem exceptionally heavenly. Suddenly, out of nowhere, almost like an ominous ākāśa-vāṇī,[1] I heard an eerie, sharp beep. It was from my phone. I grabbed the phone at my side and looked down: Emergency Alert: Tornado warnings until 8 PM. Immediately take shelter in the basement of your house or go to the nearest public shelter. “What?!” I turned to Jack driving. “It’s nothing. It’s like being warned of a lightning strike. The probability of getting hit by one is practically nil. This is not Kansas. We’ll be home shortly.” I looked up, and the skies were perfectly clear. Sounds good, then boom!


The Sāṁvartaka clouds appear.[2] It becomes pitch black. Columns of torrential rain pound our windshield, blinding our vision. We slow down and stop at the next intersection. The winds are ominously blowing like a wind tunnel on the highway crossing before us, kicking up debris. It doesn’t look good. Finally, we arrive. We scurry ten feet in the rain to the door, rush inside and close the door quickly behind us. Home at last! As I place my bags in my room and sit down, a realization suddenly comes to my mind based on something I had just read from the Govardhan-līlā:


“The word mac-charaṇam indicates not only Lord Krsna was the sole shelter for the vraja-jana, the people of Vrindavana, but also that Lord Krsna had established His home among them. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura quotes from the Anekārtha-varga dictionary, śaraṇaṁ gṛha-rakṣitroḥ: ‘The word śaraṇaṁ can represent either home or protector.’” (Bhag. 10.25.18, purport)


The concept of śaraṇaṁ, taking shelter, and the suggested translation of “home”, seemed so appropriate for what just happened. I was somewhat in danger, then immediately relief—shelter at home. The translation of śaraṇaṁ as “home” does seem to add some important insight into its meaning, which is usually translated as “surrender”, such as in the famous verse:


sarva-dharmān parityajya
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ


sarvadharmān—all varieties of religion; parityajya—abandoning; mām—unto Me; ekam—only; śaraṇam—for surrender; vraja—go; aham—I; tvām—you; sarva—all; pāpebhyaḥ—from sinful reactions; mokṣayiṣyāmi—will deliver; —do not; śucaḥ—worry.


“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” (Bg. 18.66)


The English translation of śaraṇaṁ as “surrender” is certainly appropriate because śaraṇaṁ is a verb, and the word “surrender” expresses our agency in the matter of taking shelter, whereas the translation “home” is a noun and lacks action. The translation and metaphor of the word “home”, however, does add a lot to the meaning of śaraṇaṁ because the word śaraṇaṁ is never meant to conflated with a forced act of one defeated or enslaved, as the word surrender often implies, but rather seeking shelter willingly where one is protected and maintained like at home.


The word “śaraṇāgati”, is also usually translated as “surrender” but its literally meaning—śaraṇa (for shelter or protection) gati (to go)—is also very much enhanced by the image of going home, because the image of home suitably conveys what surrender looks like—putting ourselves under that place where our needs are finally maintained from an environment where those needs are threatened, and certainly not to a place of capitulation. I love how Śrīla Narottama beautifully expresses this concept of śaraṇaṁ as going from danger to relief in the song “Gaurāṅga karuna koro”, which also parallels my initial inspiration of finding shelter from a storm:


“I am plunged amidst the violent hurricane-stricken waves in the ocean of this material world, from which there is no escape. Kindly give me the gift of Your divine lotus feet, which are compared to a boat in which Your servant may cross over the ocean of birth and death.” (Verse 4)


One more important point must be stressed. Our greatest need is love. Ideally, home is a place where we also find fulfilling relationships in a world of strife and disappointment. The idea that home is where we find the shelter of love also enhances the metaphor between home and the ultimate shelter with God, because more than anything else our relationship with God is the place where our hearts can be fully satisfied. And that was my ultimate realization from the eye of a tornado!


“This temporary material world is full of suffering, take shelter of the holy name of Krishna as your only business.” (Arunodaya kirtan Song 1 verse 6 Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura)




[1] An ākāśa-vāṇī is an unembodied voice from the sky often described in the traditional literature of India, such as in the description of Krishna’s birth, when during the marriage procession of Devakī, his mother, a voice comes from the sky to predict that her eighth child will cause the death of her brother Kaṁsa. The emergency alert invoked that image for me as it came out of nowhere.

[2] The Sāṁvartaka clouds are the clouds of universal destruction. We see their effect in the story of Govardhan-līlā where they are summoned by Indra to destroy Vrindavan. The sky becomes black and there are unprecedented torrents of rain. The storm I was in reminded me of that.


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