Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #19 – Community and Krishna Consciousness

May 8th, 2023

One way of defining love is the natural energy of affection between two persons that have a relationship. When that energy is between a living entity and God, it is called prema, which is universal love and the essence of all happiness or pleasure. A question arises: if God is both a person and advayam jñāna, all pervading consciousness, which nothing rests outside of, then why don’t we feel that pleasure? After all, God’s energy is infinitely powerful, and we are infinitesimal and helpless. Let me state the quandary as a simple paradox begging a resolution: “God’s love everywhere, but not a drop to relish.”[1] I pondered that seeming contradiction for a while, and an original analogy came to my mind to help me resolve it. Just as the sun has unlimited heat, and we can cover ourselves from its effect by a small umbrella, we can cover ourselves from the rays of spiritual pleasure emanating from God by the covering of false ego.


Our existential problem in this world is therefore false ego, and the focus in removing it is a common factor on all spiritual paths. For example, the import or theme of the Vedas, the point that connects its apparently varied teachings, is that all its teachings are connected to removing the false ego,[2] which can be defined as the subtle element that fosters the illusion that we are the material body, symptomized by the desire to enjoy, control, and feel superior. Spiritual life therefore begins when you try to realize the world is “not just about me”, which is why Vedic prayers often begin with the word namaḥ, literally meaning “not me”.


All institutions that are ideally based on altruistic teachings, such as a proper congregation or community, which is the focus of today’s post, share at their root these ideals of fostering ego-lessness. The transformative dynamic in community that helps one achieve this is that community is a place where one puts a common interest above self-interest, which is especially true in communities on the path of devotion where people join together to support each other in their service to God. Of course, not all institutions purely live up to their ideals, but the foundational transformative dynamic of community is clear.


One way to understand the spiritual dynamic of community in bhakti is to understand the concept of saṅkīrtana, where people join to glorify God. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī deemed saṅkīrtana, community kirtan, better than kirtan, individual chanting, because it gives special feelings of bliss.[3] Just exactly how does that work—that it gives special feelings of bliss? When one is intensely united with others in a shared experience, it creates, in a sense, a shared mind that helps to overcome the limited or selfish sense of “I” that is at the root of the false ego.[4] Being absorbed in community kirtan, where the ego is slackened and the power of the holy name is more easily received and powerfully felt, naturally gives rise to special feelings of bliss, a state more difficult to attain by oneself.


Just in general, a saṅga (devotee community) is uplifting, provided the members are mature, at least to the extent that they are enough united towards serving each other that they can leave their separate interests at the door. In the modern world we especially need Vaiṣṇava saṅga because the world has become extremely exploitative, and we need to be always focused on ourselves just to avoid exploitation. A Vaiṣṇava saṅga, in contrast, ideally serves as a place where we can be vulnerable, confident that in terms of our own spiritual needs and happiness we are in a place that serves our needs better than we can do by ourselves. Again, because true saṅga is a welcoming place with shared spiritual experience, it gives us a special facility to open our heart to the chanting and hearing of the Lord’s glories in a way that in a solitary place we usually cannot.


How tragic it is when a Vaiṣṇava saṅga is ruined by those who enter with separate interests, and what a blessing it is when we have a saṅga of like-minded devotees fully united in the service of Śrī Śrī Guru and Gauranga. Let us all find our saṅga and congregate with the sole purpose of serving our spiritual community!



[1] This is a spiritual take on arguably the most famous paradox, “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”

[2] About thirty years ago when Satyanarayana dasa Babaji was the Sanskrit teacher in the Gurukula, he would also teach the Sandarbhas. I remember him quoting a commentary on the following verse from the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad to support that the import of the Vedas was to remove the false ego: “Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of the Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.23)

[3] This is stated directly in Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī’s Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha

[4] A basic principle of the rasa theory as explained in the Nāṭaka-śāstra is that for the experience of rasa to take place in the audience of a classical drama, the audience must be united in its experience of the rasa being communicated. We see this same principle demonstrated in the kirtans at Śrīvasangam when Śrī Caitanya experience of the kirtan began to wane because someone had joined the kirtan who did not share the mood of the devotees there.


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