Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #27 – Hellfire, Brimstone, and Atlantic City

July 3rd, 2023

A great spot for a parade—a wide boardwalk filled with throngs of people enamored by Bally’s, Harrah’s, and at least a dozen other impressive edifices of cheat, with the ocean to its side to boot. As I walk down the Atlantic City boardwalk to meet the Ratha-yātrā, I hear a city public service announcement blaring that struck me as a bit strange:


“Anyone who has a gambling problem please call 1-800-GAMBLER.” I chuckle, “The whole city is a gambling problem. Just shut the whole damn thing down!”


As I continue to walk to greet Lord Jagannath, while surveying the mecca of New Jersey “fun”, another thought came to mind: “This is their Vrindavan—their concept of heaven.” In other words, as devotees of Sri Krishna see Vrindavan as the abode of joy, people here wander around this fantasy world as their ultimate destination of happiness, and probably even envision heaven as casinos and boardwalks.


The greatest tragedy is having the wrong faith or goal, one that will not only not bear true happiness but will ultimately lead to the opposite, which is more suffering. How is that? Happiness is a matter of consciousness, not just the things we surround ourselves with, and when those things are frivolous or sinful, a false and temporary identity is fostered, which means duality and fear. Win or lose here on the boardwalk, there is only degradation of consciousness and more suffering.


The next day, I gave a short class to our congregation here in New Jersey as Jayadvaita Swami, our special guest, would speak at length after me. Atlantic City was still on my mind, and while I usually speak on the more positive aspects of Krishna consciousness, such as the bliss of Vrindavan-līlā, my class spontaneously turned to hellfire and brimstone.[1]


“Suffering is when the world moves against our desires, and enjoyment is when the world moves according to our desires. To be the enjoyer, not sufferer, on the material platform you must be the controller. We are not, and therefore, we cannot be the enjoyer. Material attachment, therefore, ultimately means suffering. Honestly, if I lost my cell phone today, I would suffer. If something like that would disturb you, imagine what it feels like losing everything at once. That’s called death, and it’s coming soon. If we don’t cultivate non-attachment, and realize our eternal nature as Krishna’s servant, how much suffering awaits us!” I went on and on. Whew!


Jayadvaita Swami spoke next. If you know the Mahārāja, he needs no prompting to talk about renunciation. He takes his sannyāsa dharma seriously and is quite comfortable representing his ashram by living and strongly preaching non-attachment. He spoke very forcefully about the nature of material life and the need to cultivate non-attachment. He warned the audience not to become “dharmic karmīs”, a term he seemed to coin, having a veneer of religiosity, but at heart making one’s prime goal expanding one’s material existence.


I surveyed and gauged the audience’s reaction, as people, even devotees, can’t always swallow the unfiltered truth that this temporary world is simply suffering. Also, there is a history in ISKCON of the misapplied preaching of renunciation that mistakenly caused some to prematurely renounce family life, which may make people apprehensive to hear about renunciation in general. Most of the audience were past their forties and were practicing Krishna consciousness to one degree or another, but there were some newer and well-educated people as well. His lecture, however, was very well received, and that was the feedback I got later. I surmised that the people attending were honest and already had enough of material life to realize that that Swami’s uncompromising, but well-reasoned and clear message, could not be easily denied.


Of course, there is a philosophy of attachment that people should take what they need to be peaceful for the ultimate goal of self-actualization. I speak about that often, but hearing Mahārāja speak and seeing the positive response of the audience, I realized how important it is that we also hear a healthy exposé of the world we live in. I read something this morning in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that shows that, like Mahārāja, the Bhāgavatam also cuts to the chase in this regard. It’s too good not to share:


“Death is not at all pleasing, and since everyone is exactly like a condemned man being led to the place of execution, what possible happiness can people derive from material objects or the gratification they provide?” (Bhag. 11.10.20)


And that’s my hellfire, brimstone, and Atlantic City!



[1] Idiom to describe a preacher’s intense speech when he focuses on the misery awaiting one in hell.


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