Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #14 – COVID and the Cow in the Room

April 5th, 2021

There is much discussion about how best to deal with COVID-19. There is something, however, that few seem to be talking about, even those well versed in traditional Indian literature—that the ultimate cause and cure for the COVID-19 pandemic is beyond a virus.

 

The Cause (collective karma):

“Any country where people indulge in unnecessary killing of animals will have to suffer from wars and pestilence imposed by material nature.” (Bhag. 7.15.24, Purport)

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda was especially concerned with the result of the pervasive slaughter of the cow:

 

“Therefore they are sinful. They must have, there must be war, pestilence and famine.” (Lecture, London, 24 July 1973)

 

The word “pestilence” comes from the Latin “pestis”, meaning plague, and is defined in English as “a contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating.” Sound familiar? What to do? To cure a particular disease, you have to first locate its cause and then reverse or eradicate it.

 

The Cure (pious leadership):

“As soon as there is complete eradication of sinful activities in the state, then there will be no more war, pestilence, famine or natural disturbances.” (Bhag. 4.20.14, Purport)

 

I am not being facetious. The śāstra is saying something here that should be at the forefront of our discussion. The ultimate cause of pestilence is collective karma. Therefore, a vaccine, even if efficacious, won’t solve the problem. If the hearts of people are not purified, and corrupt leaders and ignorant educators continue to mislead people and sanction trillions of animals to be killed world-wide, the collective reactions to such mass exploitation will continue in one form or another, even if everyone on the planet is vaccinated, immune, and this particular karmic reaction is paid.

 

Does that mean that I should not take a vaccine? That’s another discussion. We should always deal with the symptoms of any ailment, as they also cause harm. When one has a very high fever, one must be very vigilant to bring it down. One should not, however, foolishly think that subduing the fever has eradicated the disease. Similarly, in dealing with COVID-19, we should do whatever it takes to help eradicate the disease, but not lose focus on its ultimate cause. As long as unqualified leaders continue to support and sanction the mass killings of animals, especially the cow, the sin of exploitation will certainly manifest in continual calamities and society will be ravaged by one disease or another.

 

There is an English metaphorical idiom: “The elephant in the room.” It indicates that something as conspicuous as an elephant can be overlooked for various psychological reasons, including ignoring an obvious truth that we can’t hear because it challenges our attachments or worldview. I changed the metaphor for this article to “the cow in the room” to indicate something that is so glaring, but too often overlooked in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings—that if we don’t gravitate to a more self-sustainable and karmic-free life based on the land and cow protection, we all will be subject to the karmic reaction for using and thus supporting an exploitive society. The result will not be pretty:

 

“European and America civilization will be finished on account of this sinful activity of killing the cows.” (Śrīla Prabhupāda letter to Kīrtanānanda, 31 May 1975)

 

So why are we not talking of “COVID and the Cow in the Room”?

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #13 – God’s Problem: The Story of Sri Chaitanya

March 29th, 2021

God’s Problem: The Story of Sri Chaitanya [1]

 

God has a problem.

 

And it is the same problem that we have.

 

What’s the problem?

 

He is not a devotee.

 

What is a devotee?

 

A devotee is one who loves God.

 

And love means to have a particular relationship with God.

 

Why is that our problem?

 

Because in this sense we are trying to become devotees.

 

But why is that a problem for God?

 

It’s a problem because God doesn’t have love of God.

 

How does God lack that?

 

Love of God is in the heart of His devotees, not in God’s. God is the object of such love (the beloved), not the abode of such love (the lover of God, the devotee).

 

And why is that such a problem?

 

It’s a problem because to love is higher than to be loved. God is supposed to be the Supreme Enjoyer, but He lacks the highest pleasure—to love God—and to lack love (as the giver) is a problem.

 

What does God do about that? Surely, He can make a solution.

 

Yes, that is the story of Sri Chaitanya. God becomes His own devotee to become complete in His experience of love. And not only does He become a devotee, but He becomes His highest devotee, Sri Radha, at the height of Her love, in Her deepest feelings of love—Her moments of separation from Krishna.

 

Happy Gaura-purnima (The appearance of Sri Chaitanya)!

 

 

 


[1] Originally published on March 21, 2016

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #12 – Are You Bivaxual?

March 22nd, 2021

I love branding and coining new words. This one’s about vaccination. I’ve discovered that some people are pro-vaccination, some militantly anti-vax, and some could go either way—a stance I call “bivaxual.” Because I have some position of authority as a teacher, people are asking my opinion. I guess I see myself as bivaxual. I see whether or not to take the vaccines in terms of risk analysis—whether the greater risk is in taking or not taking it—and therefore a decision based on age and health, and perhaps practicality—like whether it will be required for work, service, or travel. I see it, therefore, as a decision best left to the individual and his or her family. If someone asks my personal opinion according to their situation, however, I may give it. But meditating on this issue for the last week in relation to whether or not I should get myself vaccinated has brought other issues that I think in many ways rest at the core of the debate.

 

When I began to consider the vaccine for my personal health and to discuss the matter with various people, it became apparent how polarized people’s views of the world are, and that healthy public discourse is dying, even in spiritual movements. I see mostly fundamentalism and orthodoxy, which manifests as people hearing only the view with which they already agree and dismissing opposing views by attacking the authors of references cited in opposition to their opinion. When I brought forth information that I wanted to better understand to some anti-vax people, it was dismissed as the ideas of sheep following the mainstream media. When I brought legitimate questions about the authority of big pharma and the NIAID[1] to some pro-vaxers, it was dismissed as coming from right-wing conspiracists. Of course, there were those on both sides who welcomed the dialogue and helped me hone my conceptions, but that was rarer than I expected. The courage to enter discussions to test one’s own viewpoint with the sole objective of honing the truth, which is the emblem of first-class discourse, seems no longer the standard. This was not always the case.

 

There is an Indian philosophy called Nyāya, the school of logic, where a standard for quality discourse was promoted. That standard was called vāda, where those with a particular conviction are encouraged to put forth their best arguments, not to seek victory over other ideas, but to do so with detachment and aimed only at discovering the truth.

 

Unfortunately, the debate I see going on today in practically all spheres—and certainly in this life-and-death matter of vaccination—is not a search for truth, but a focus on justifying one’s own strongly held beliefs, which are often based on one’s attachments. Discussion has therefore degraded to the two lower standards of public discourse that the school of Nyāya sought to discourage: jalpa, seeking victory even by resorting to fallacies and distortions; and vitaṇḍā, or the attempt to simply destroy one’s opposition without even bothering to offer a reasonable alternative. Perhaps we have become even worse, since these days we too often refuse to engage in discourse with those who oppose us and instead justify censoring others’ views.

 

Whom can we trust? How can we make educated decisions? That’s a problem. It seems the authority of all institutions for information and knowledge, from the government (including its medical establishment) to academia to the media, have been proven to be compromised. I can only share what I do. I listen to all sides of any issue with an open mind, clear my consciousness as much possible through meditation, and pray to Krishna to reveal His will for me beyond my personal attachments.

 

What is my decision?  I will keep that personal. But, I can say that in coming to a decision I am happy that I was bivaxual, for, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”―John Stuart Mill

 


[1] National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #11 – The Fault is Not the Whole Person!

March 15th, 2021

One of the benefits of association with spiritually evolved souls is that sometimes their utterances in casual conversations are so profound that they can become a moral foundation for one’s life. About twenty-five years ago, I called Tamal Krishna Maharaja to ask for a small donation. A friend of ours and his wife were in dire straits, and I thought I should take up a small collection to help him. He quickly agreed to my request before I could give him the caveat, “Do you know what that person did?” When I did, however, he immediately responded, “Yes, but the fault is not the whole person. I love him!”

 

Like most of us, I can’t count the number of times people rubbed me the wrong way or even mistreated me. I also can’t count the number of times that that casual utterance, now imbedded within my moral compass, saved me from the degradation of resentment, especially when the person I was disturbed with was, by all accounts, a sincerely dedicated spiritual person.[1]

 

There are many examples of this principle of liberality in bhakti literature. One of the most prominent is the story of Kala Krishnadasa. Although he was trusted with the service of being Śrī Caitanya’s personal assistant during the Lord’s pilgrimage to South India, he was somehow allured by the beautiful women of the local Gypsy community. Śrī Caitanya, however, personally rescued him, but naturally relieved him of his service. Upon returning to Navadvipa, he took shelter of Lord Nityānanda. Not only did Nityānanda refuse to see Kala Krishnadasa only through the lens of his mistake, but recognizing his repentance, simplicity, and devotion Nityānanda immediately engaged him in very responsible service.

 

Whenever I think of this subject, I remember the story of an unmarried, elderly Indian businessman that I knew who retired to Vrindavan. He was kind and generous and substantially helped ISKCON. He even became close with Śrīla Prabhupāda. Some of the locals, however, caught him in some impropriety with a lady and maliciously broadcast it widely. I was struck, in contrast, with how compassionately his sādhu god-brothers from the Char Sampradāya dealt with him. They immediately came, and rather than harp on his faults and deal with him in a punitive way, they respected him for his otherwise notable career in devotion. With compassion, they invited him to live in their ashram where he could live in an environment more protected from his weaknesses for the rest of his life.

 

The successful practitioners of bhakti-yoga passionately embrace this vision of liberality out of fear of offense. A close friend of mine, who is adept in the practice of devotional meditation, often shares with me his personal spiritual practices. Before even picking up his beads to chant, he spends over an hour praying for the mercy of the great teachers in our lineage, including all the main associates of Śrī Caitanya and Śrī Krishna. He then proceeds to pray to over one hundred god-brothers and god-sisters, meditating on their unique qualities of service and devotion. What impressed me most was that he meditates on, in his own words, “Both those that are svapakṣa and vipakṣa,” or, in other words, those that are like-minded (sva-pakṣa) and share a similar mood with him, and those who hold a view opposing (vipakṣa) his more reclusive approach to devotion. His motive in meditating on even those with a mood seemingly opposed to his, he explained, was that he didn’t want to be obscured from recognizing their dedication to Krishna consciousness because focusing only on one’s differences with another devotee inevitably leads to vaiṣṇava-aparādha.

 

Not letting the faults of someone who worships Krishna with exclusive devotion obscure one’s vision of their devotion is such an important principle on the path of bhakti-yoga that in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.30) Krishna asks His devotees to embrace this principle to the extreme. He emphatically declares that even one who does something very bad, but who is generally a resolute devotee, can be seen as a sādhu or saintly person because of one’s core commitment to pure devotion.[2]

 

We live in the world of quarrel and confusion. If one is therefore not vigilant, even those who are dedicated spiritual practitioners can fall prey to vaiṣṇava-aparādha by allowing another’s mistakes, or even difference in viewpoint or personality, obscure their otherwise substantial devotional ideals. Beware: the fault is not the whole person!

 

 


[1] Of course, this doesn’t discount the many people I have disturbed. I also pray they can see beyond my frailties.

[2] Like many verses in Vaishnava literature the meaning goes deeper than a few sentences of explanation. What this verse does not support is bad character in the name of devotion. For a fuller explanation of this verse, I encourage you to read Śrīla Prabhupāda’s commentary and also the excellent commentaries on this verse from Bhurijana dasa in Surrender Unto Me and Swami B.V. Tripurari in Bhagavad Gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy. An excerpt from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s commentary: “On the other hand, one should not misunderstand that a devotee in transcendental devotional service can act in all kinds of abominable ways; this verse only refers to an accident due to the strong power of material connection.”

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #10 – What I Don’t Understand About Yoga Philosophy: Part Two

March 8th, 2021

I was sent an article written by a renown Vrindavan Vaishnava scholar and friend of many years. I was being asked for a clarification as the article didn’t seem to conform to what we have been taught about the nature of the soul. I greatly respect the scholarship of the person who wrote the article, but I could not understand in relationship to bhakti-yoga the view he seemed to advocate on Vedantic and Yogic grounds: the soul has no thoughts or will of its own. I concluded his view must certainly be more nuanced than what was expressed in a simple question and answer, or I simply misunderstood what he was saying. I responded to the person who sent their inquiry by sending her an article that I wrote many years ago contesting what seems to have been expressed in the article about the ātma. I have included my article below, but first an excerpt from the article in contention:

 

Question: From where does viveka or the faculty to choose between wrong and right come? Does it come from the buddhi or ātma? 

Answer: It comes from buddhi.

 

Question: Does the soul have intrinsic mind, intelligence, and ego? 

Answer: No, it doesn’t.

 

Question: Does the soul act only as a source of consciousness (e.g. battery power for a car), while always needing the external mind, intelligence and ego? Is this true even in the spiritual world? 

Answer: Yes.

 

What I Don’t Understand About Yoga Philosophy

 

July 11, 2016

About fifteen years ago I got my first copy of the Yoga Sutras when I was staying at Professor Edwin Bryant’s house in Princeton. He has been a friend since the time we stayed in the same ashram in Vrindavan in the early ’80s. At the time of this visit, he hadn’t yet published his lauded translation and commentary of the Yoga Sutras, but when I chanced upon a rough copy of his unpublished manuscript in the living room and started to thumb through it, Professor Bryant gifted me a copy. Reading it, I was enthralled.

 

The Yoga Sutras is a compilation of short aphorisms summing up the school of yoga, the school of mental discipline, or psychology—one of the six schools of philosophy gleaned from the ancient Vedas. I learned and applied to my meditation many things from the Sutras about the philosophy and practice of mental discipline that were consistent with the teachings of my own path, the path of bhakti, which also falls into one of the six schools of Vedic philosophy, Vedanta. There was one point, however, that I just couldn’t make sense of.

 

The Yoga Sutras clearly professes—at least the way I read it—that thoughts rest solely in the material mind and that, though possessing consciousness, the pure spirit soul is thus devoid of all thoughts.

 

Here’s what I don’t understand: If all thoughts are only in the mind, then what is the use of shastra, whose purpose is to give us good ideas that inspire proper thoughts and impel us to liberation? Some of those thoughts are determination, thoughtfulness, inspiration, good likings, and avoidance of bad habits.

 

Now, here’s the point. It’s a bit subtle, so please listen. If all these positive changes happen in the mind, and the soul, being devoid of thought, is just a third party to them, then our liberation and bondage is just a matter between God, who is moving the world, and our unconscious mind. In other words, if the soul lacks agency, the ability to institute change upon something (and it is hard to make sense of our notion of personal agency without thought, since how can we institute any change upon something unless we have a goal to achieve, an understanding of how to achieve it, and the will to execute it?), then our liberation and bondage has nothing to do with us. We remain just a hapless third-party witness who can never appropriately say yes, I like this, or no, I don’t, which are the choices (or thoughts) that are the precursor to liberation. What, then, is the use of shastra if the change in our mind is at another’s whim and not ours, when even the decision to read shastra has nothing to do with us?

 

And how can thoughts be only in the mind? The mind is inert. Inert matter doesn’t think. If one says, however, that the mind is like the reel of a movie and the soul illuminates and experiences it, then still how can you say that thoughts are not also in the soul? How can there be experience without thought?

 

And what about karma? If we are truly thoughtless, why should we suffer the reactions of our good and bad deeds? All action is preceded by thought, so how can we be truly responsible for our actions if we have no thoughts?

 

And suffering is also a thought. Don’t tell me it is all in the mind and I am not suffering. Of course, the cause of suffering is in the mind and I can ultimately transcend that, but how can one say that I am not feeling it now, that that feeling is someplace else, a place that is inert, the mind? Dead things don’t feel. In other words, I may or may not be in illusion about the cause of suffering, but it still hurts when I falsely identity with it. For example, I may dream of being eaten by a tiger and feel relieved when I awaken, but still was it, not I, the person awakened, who had the nightmare and was gripped with fear (a thought) due to illusion?

 

There is an argument against thought being in the soul, that the soul is eternal and things eternal must be changeless. Why? God has energies that create so many things, but by his inconceivable potency He is still changeless and eternal. And similarly, the soul can also have potency and be changeless, being a part of God. That seems to be the case.

 

I am not saying that Patanjali is wrong, but there must be something more to this. In this debate, I fall with Descartes:

 

“I think, therefore I am!”

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #9 – Monday Morning Musings III

March 1st, 2021

Reflection One

“Devotion in the form of kirtan is unlimitedly merciful to those devoid of false prestige. Humility is natural in Kali Yuga, because even the most highly competent today lack the qualification to properly perform penance, yoga, Vedic study and sacrifice. Therefore, the people today who are naturally meek have a special dispensation to easily achieve the results derived from the more arduous practices of previous ages through the easy practice of sankirtan.”[1]

 

 

Reflection Two

Begin with a saṅkalpa, a vow, to not dwell on extraneous thoughts while meditating. Do that sincerely for some time, and Krishna will reciprocate by helping fix the mind on Him. Devotion will then naturally flow from the heart without bearing the weight of discipline.

 

 

Reflection Three

To one degree or another, the mind of one who has not perfected yoga will occasionally wander while meditating. For such a person, their advancement on the path of meditation will depend on what the mind wanders to. If we are constantly serving Krishna and hearing about Him, then the mind will go to thoughts about Krishna, which will inspire us to regain focus on His holy name. If we are wasting time on social media, it will wallow in the sea of material distraction and hate.

 

 

Reflection Four

The taste of chanting is mercy. Only a humble person can feel mercy. The world makes us humble so we can taste the holy name.

 

 

Reflection Five

For chanting to go deep, there must be some relationship with the holy name, which means to be ever conscious that we are dealing with a person. That relationship only develops by hearing about the person whose name we are chanting. The process of properly chanting the holy name therefore means not just chanting Krishna’s name, but regularly reading about His glories, including hearing His pastimes.

 

 

Reflection Six

It was certainly Krishna’s grace that I heard fairly clearly each and every syllable in the mantra. I then silently said thank you quickly after every mantra for the rest of the round. Gratitude invokes a humble mind and enables us to feel Krishna’s mercy. It helps create a consciousness where the holy name can shine. Thank you!

 

 

Reflection Seven

When we follow the dictates of our mind, our material identity is reinforced. However, if we can neglect those commands, our consciousness will flow towards the soul. Yoga begins with saying no to the mind’s chatter. Therefore, in mantra yoga, we must have a time and place for chanting, where, with determination, we can neglect the pushing of the restless mind to break our concentration.

 

 

Reflection Eight

It took practically all of my chanting today for the mind to be clear, and what did I see? I desperately need Krishna. Then real chanting began. I lamented, “Why can’t I begin that way?”

 

 

Reflection Nine

MVP (Most Valuable Post)

 

“If an assembly of sannyāsīs indulges in blasphemy, then that assembly is more sinful than an assembly of drunkards.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata, Madhya 9.42)

 

Comment: Devotion is very easy. What is difficult is avoiding gossiping and the criticism of others. If a Vaishnava saṅga carelessly allows that to pervade its assembly, that assembly will be ruined, even if following everything else strictly. Therefore, the key to chanting is to avoid gossiping and criticizing others. And that is, no doubt, the MVP.

 

 


[1] Paraphrased from Bhakti-sandarbha, Anucchedda 270.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #8 – “Before Breaking the Rules, You Have to Know Them!”

February 22nd, 2021

“Before Breaking the Rules, You Have to Know Them!”

 

I recently heard this quote in a class by Friar Richard Rohr that I was listening to in preparation for my last post. I became struck with the profundity of the statement and researched its origins. It is difficult to exactly pinpoint its roots, but it is generally credited to either Pablo Picasso or the Dalai Lama. I don’t know anywhere, however, where this saying is so deeply elucidated as in the essay “The Bhagavat, its Ethics and Theology” by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. The essay is a mine of jewels on this subject. I will pick just one short excerpt to begin our analysis of this point:

 

“Thoughts will necessarily continue to be an endless series of means and objects in the progresses of humanity. The great reformers will always assert that they have come out not to destroy the old law, but to fulfill it. Valmiki, Vyasa, Plato, Jesus, Mohammed, Confucius, and Caitanya Mahaprabhu assert the fact either expressly or by their conduct.”

 

As I thought further on the need to be immersed in tradition before attempting to reform it, it became evident to me why this understanding is so essential. At the crux of this view is the conviction that there is logos, a truth or controlling principle that forms the basis of ancient traditions. Therefore, “breaking the rules” to institute reform cannot possibly mean to totally discard the tradition. Rather, it means reformatting or changing how these truths are expressed and applied so that those same truths remain relevant in a modern context.

 

From my experience, it is either those who are too reactionary or progressive that pose the greatest challenge to maintaining this type of a living tradition. While the reactionary fail to recognize the occasional need to break the form of the law when it is no longer functional, the thoughtlessly progressive fail to recognize the purpose of the law leading to either an uncompromising break with tradition or a radical transformation of it. A state or institution without this ability to both break and remain true to its roots at the same time will surely lack the wisdom needed for its conservation.

 

A more contemporary example that demonstrates this very delicate concept is the success of Srila Prabhupada implanting an ancient Indian tradition in the West. He credited the marked success of his movement to the liberality in which he accepted women into the ashram and empowered them to serve despite the apparent orthodoxy of the Indian tradition in this matter. At the same time, he no qualms carefully delineating and promoting the place of traditional gender roles in a functional society when they could be appropriately applied. In other words, he broke rules, but also knew their value and thus set the foundation for a living tradition, one with both the purity of tradition and the compassion of adaptability to survive the nihilistic post-modern world.

 

“Before Breaking the Rules, You Have to Know Them!” The statement intrigued me, and I found no one that better elucidated either the depth of its meaning or the folly of its neglect than Bhaktivinoda Thakur. We’ll end our Monday Morning Greeting here with another one of his gems: “Progress certainly is the law of nature, and there must be correction and developments with the progress of time. But progress means going further or rising higher. Now, if we are to follow our foolish critic, we are to go back to our former terminus and make a new race, and when we have run half the race, another critic of his stamp will cry out: ‘Begin anew, because the wrong road has been taken!’ In this way, our stupid critics will never allow us to go over the whole road and see what is in the other terminus. Thus, the shallow critic and the fruitless reader are the two great enemies of progress. We must shun them.”

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #7 – What I Learned from Tom Brady

February 15th, 2021

In American sports, there is a term “GOAT”, which is an acronym for “Greatest Of All Time”. That title unquestionably belongs to Tom Brady, at least in terms of American football. I just spoke to my older brother the other day, and he informed me that at the age of forty-three Tom Brady won his unprecedented seventh Super Bowl, an unimaginable accomplishment for those who know the game. A lot of talk surrounding his success included his dedication to his craft based on a daily regimen that allowed him not only to continue to excel, but to dominate his sport at a position where top athletes rarely last into their mid to late thirties. I was curious to explore his regimen, so I found an article on his routine.[1]

 

His daily hour-by-hour schedule and his unwavering commitment to follow it was impressive, and it inspired me to improve my own regimen. But it wasn’t just his schedule that impressed me. His approach to excellence was comprehensive, from the intricacy of his fitness program and his daily exercises for mental acuity to his carefully planned diet to give him energy and strength without causing inflammation in the body. Here’s what I gleaned as the two main factors leading to Tom Brady’s excellence that I think also have practical application in spiritual life.

 

Having a Fixed Objective

Tom Brady set his goal on being the best at his craft. What stands out more than anything else when studying his career is how his goal of excellence informed all aspects of his life. In the same way, for a yogic aspirant to have reasonable spiritual attainment, his or her life has to be fully informed by their spiritual goals. The story of how Srila Prabhupada became inspired to know and fulfill his life mission is a good example of this. While reading a verse in the Bhagavad-gita about being resolute in determination, he was suddenly struck by its commentary, which was interpreted to mean that one should take the order of the spiritual master as one’s life and soul. He then remembered his guru’s instruction to preach Krishna consciousness in the English language and took it up with fervor. That mission or objective ruled the rest of his life, enabling him to achieve what others saw as impossible. At the age of seventy, he took the holy name of Krishna first to America and then to every town and village of the world.

 

Regulation

Having a set, fixed objective is no doubt the most important component of success in life, but that alone is not sufficient to achieve excellence. Like Tom Brady, one must chalk out a schedule and be disciplined to fulfill it. Regulation as the foundation of achievement is especially true on the path of yoga, where success requires an exclusive time and place for the practice of meditation and the fulfillment of one’s seva. Without that, one’s focus will inevitably be challenged or distracted by other priorities. Distraction is not yoga on any path. When meditating on the power of regulated life, the example of three spiritual luminaries come immediately to mind. The substantial spiritual practices of Raghunatha dasa Goswami, the prayojana acaraya,[2] were so fixed or immovable that they were described as like the lines of a stone. Bhaktivinoda Thakur was so regulated in his life that besides his work as a District Magistrate and his responsibilities as a father of ten children, his schedule included, among other things, six hours of writing every day. Srila Prabhupada started and led a world-wide spiritual movement, circling the globe twelves times in ten years. At the same time, his fixed schedule still afforded him the ability to translate more than fifty volumes of Sanskrit texts into English with personal commentaries.

 

Tom Brady is an exemplar of excellence. His fixedness in his goal and consequent discipline should inspire anyone, even those in the spiritual field. While meditating in this way, however, another thought suddenly came to my mind that encouraged me personally. I wouldn’t trade my simple life of chanting the holy name with him for all the money in the world. I couldn’t imagine the level of attachment someone like him accrues, and the consequent duality and fear that accompanies it. Like every man, his time will soon be up, and deep in his heart he knows it. Jesus said it best: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36, ESV)

 

And that’s what I learned from Tom Brady.

 

 

 


[1] https://nypost.com/article/tom-brady-diet-fitness-routines/

[2] In the Caitanya bhakti tradition, Raghunath dasa Goswami is considered the main teacher for exemplifying how to attain the ultimate goal of premabhakti.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #6 – Movement or Mission?

February 8th, 2021

In a discussion with a friend, he distinguished between the Hare Krishna Movement (its structure and organization) and its mission (its goals or objectives), stressing the importance of the mission: awakening our eternal relationship with Krishna. It was a passing remark in a brief discussion, but as I reflected on his statement, I was inspired to give it some more thought. It seems important to make a careful distinction between the concepts of “movement” and “mission” in order to balance their relative value. I would like to deepen my understanding of that relationship by first discussing the views of two scholars on the subject, beginning with the thoughts of the late Joseph T. O’Connell, one of the most prominent scholars of South Asian religion in the modern era.

 

Professor O’Connell defined the purpose of an institution as carrying its culture – what is right, real, and of value – into the future.[1] He further divided institutions into two divisions: hard institutions, where the values are preserved by a hierarchical management structure, and soft institutions, where the values are preserved more spontaneously through its teachers, devotional practices, and, most importantly, its sacred literatures. In the history of Caitanya Vaishnavism, both have had a role in preserving its culture, but the latter has proven to be more important, because it deals more exclusively with Sri Caitanya’s mission. An example of such prioritization is demonstrated in a fairly well-known exchange between Srila Prabhupada[2] and his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. His guru shared with him his concern about the terrible infighting that was occurring amongst his disciples over control of their lavish, newly built temple in Calcutta, and expressed his regret: “If I could sell this marble of this temple, and secure some money, and if I could print some books, that would have been better. That would have been better.” He then instructed Srila Prabhupada that, “if you ever get money, print books,” ensuring that his mission would be carried into the future. In other words, he prioritized the soft institution, where the mission is inherently embedded.

 

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar and a prominent spiritual teacher and author. In his book Falling Upward, he also makes a distinction between the external structures of an institution meant to support spiritual life and an institution’s core mission. However, he focuses on such distinctions not in terms of formal organizations, but in terms of how they are relevant in an individual’s personal life. To highlight that distinction, he outlines the journey of the hero as expressed in classical literature, which is inevitably divided in two parts of life. The first part, the external function of religion, is developing the structures of life to hold our internal development. We have all done that in our quest for stable family, suitable occupation, reasonable self-esteem, and supportive spiritual community. In the second part of the hero’s life, by destiny, these same structures that were necessary become an impediment and collapse. The hero is then forced to take full shelter of their spiritual essence, which becomes the second part of the hero or spiritual aspirant’s life. As one’s material protective agents breakdown, one is impelled forward in spiritual life, which is a phenomenon Rohr called “falling upwards”. I assume most reading this who are on a spiritual path have experienced how the unintended failure of aspects of our external support systems have impelled us to take shelter of the real purpose of those systems – our spiritual life – which perhaps we had neglected or not fully utilized.

 

I think I now understand more fully my friend’s concern. Hard Institutions are very important in preserving culture and facilitating spiritual life. Therefore, much energy must certainly be put into maintaining and promoting them. The objective of those institutions—and I think he was obviously referring to ISKCON, where he is a loyal and respected member—is the careful development of our spontaneous relationship with Krishna as outlined in the tradition’s sacred texts. That focus becomes more and more a necessity as the institution grows older and more stable, and its membership matures and ages. The tendency of spiritual institutions, however, is to make the maintenance and expansion of the hierarchical institution its main focus, and, in the process, lose sight of its purpose or mission, which is to bring its individual members back to Godhead. In the case of the Hare Krishna Movement, that means an increased focus on the devotional practices the tradition outlines to achieve that goal.

 

I appreciate my friend’s concern. I hope I added something to our discussion, because there is nothing more important to a spiritual movement than clarity about its mission.

 

 

 


[1] Joseph T O’Connell’s article on the subject:  https://gaudiyadiscussions.gaudiya.com/topic_1446.html

[2] Srila Bhaktisiddhanta is also known among his followers as Srila Prabhupada. In this article I will refer to him as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, his disciple, as Srila Prabhupada, the honorific title that he is also known as.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #5 – Are Vaishnavas Democrats or Republicans?

February 1st, 2021

I failed this week. I wanted to elaborate on a discussion I had with a friend about the difference between the Hare Krishna Movement (its structure and organization) and its mission (its goals or objectives). The wonderful thing about writing is that one is forced to clarify one’s conceptions. What I realized as my thoughts became clearer is that this week’s post needed to go in a completely different direction, and I just wouldn’t have time to complete it by Monday. I am thus reposting an article I wrote four years ago on a subject that I feel is relevant: the tendency for people in the modern age, including spiritual people, to fall too far into political camps rather than to think independently.

 

Are Vaishnavas Democrats or Republicans?[1]

 

Do Vaishnavas have an ideology? Srila Prabhupada had an interesting take in reference to the great Vaishnava King Yudhisthira:

 

“Therefore there are so many states over the earth quarrelling because of ideological differences or other selfish motives. But a king like Maharaja Yudhiṣṭhira had no ideology of his own.” (Bhāgavatam 1.10.4, purport)

 

Certainly Vaishnavas strongly profess a particular ideology, an economic and political system called varṇāśrama. So how could Srila Prabhupada describe as great a Vaishnava as Maharaja Yudhisthira as not having one of his own?

 

The reconciliation is simple. Srila Prabhupada is not saying that a Vaishnava doesn’t have an ideology. Rather, he means that unlike the conditioning of most modern-day conservatives or liberals, a Vaishnava does not bias his or her views. A Vaishnava’s opinion is informed by a detached judgment based on shastra, not a predictable, prejudiced “left” or “right” response regardless of the issue.

 

A Vaishnava’s objectivity being beyond bias is also described by Srila Prabhupada in reference to the rule of Maharaja Yudhisthira:

“He had but to follow the instructions of the infallible Lord and the Lord’s representative and the authorized agent, Bhīṣmadeva. It is instructed in the śāstra that one should follow the great authority and infallible Lord without any personal motive and manufactured ideology.” (Bhāgavatam 1.10.4, purport)

 

A learned Vaishnava can thus not be politically pigeonholed as simply “left” or “right.” Srila Prabhupada is a good example. Although in one sense he could be called conservative, as he often espoused traditional mores in the context of culture and civilization, he wasn’t limited by that ideology. When teaching in the West, for example, he took a more liberal approach in terms of engaging and empowering women. In other words, his views were informed not by his own “left” or “right” ideology but by the authority of shastra, which both advocates a strong tradition and requires leeway for its practical application in modernity. Thus, when arriving in San Francisco and being shown an article in which Allen Ginsberg had commented that he was conservative, Srila Prabhupada was indignant that although he was conservative in the sense of restricting sex and drugs according to shastra, “Conservative, we are not.” He said that although traditional sannyāsis like Sri Chaitanya would not even look at a woman, he was accepting everyone, “regardless of sex, caste, and position or whatever.” And later he would even engage those same women as head priests, pūjārīs, in his temples outside India.

 

Are Vaishnavas Democrats or Republicans? Such limited ideology born of one’s material conditioning is just not how a Vaishnava informs his or her views; nor does a Vaishnava have faith that such a limited ideological platform of “left” or “right” can even come close to meeting any promises for a better world.

 

 


[1] Originally posted September 12, 2016

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