Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #38 – It’s the Consciousness, Stupid

September 20th, 2021

Thinking about happiness again. Isn’t that what’s on most people’s minds? For me, at least today, I thought about it more in terms of a philosophical inquiry than as a personal issue. And the first thing about the subject that strongly came to my mind is that happiness ultimately comes down to consciousness. That thought inspired me to write about happiness in terms of consciousness under the heading “It’s the Consciousness, Stupid”. It’s a good title, because although it should be obvious that happiness ultimately resides in the mind, we repeatedly hanker and search for more stuff in the pursuit of fulfillment, including position and prestige. I will begin by writing two entries on this subject today, beginning with the incident that inspired me to write about this in the first place.

 

Theodicy and It’s the Consciousness, Stupid

 

The thirty-year-old son of someone I knew in India died unexpectedly. The father was heartbroken, but due to his stature in learning he could still be reasonably philosophical. After pouring his heart out about the death of his son and the pain that he and the child’s mother felt, he shared the following verse:

 

“No one knows, O Lord, what is the intention behind Your actions, which cause great confusion to mankind. We know You to hold no one in favor or disfavor, the appearance of partiality in You is a false belief of mankind.” (Bhag. 1.8.29)

 

Another friend reading his post texted me:

 

“This verse?
Intrigues me.
Your meditations on it?”

 

An edited transcription of my response:

 

This is the way I think we should meditate on it: I think the main difficulty in understanding tragedy in relation to God is that we tend to judge whether someone is merciful only in terms of the facility they give us to control and enjoy the world. Therefore, when the world moves against our control and consequent enjoyment, we tend to think that God, the controller of the world, is not merciful. I think the vantage point of the Absolute Truth is quite different. He doesn’t see mercy in terms of giving us power and more enjoyment, but in terms of positively changing our consciousness, which often requires circumstances that do not conform to our attachments and thus cause us to suffer. Karma, even when it is tragic, is still God’s mercy, because karma is the creation of circumstances, often very challenging, to teach us things that we were incapable of learning by just hearing philosophy or by getting good advice. Of course, such trying circumstances are often very difficult to understand, especially at the time they are happening. If, however, we live a life of dharma, we may be blessed with the vision to clearly see how everything that happened to us, especially our trials and tribulations, did in fact elevate our consciousness. If you still have a problem understanding that circumstances need to be challenging to change us, just meditate on someone you desperately want to change, or even someone you just can’t stand. Now, ponder what it would take to elevate that person’s consciousness to a state of contentment and complete selflessness. Would it be your words of wisdom or would God have to teach them some life lessons? Is it possible they would need some challenges or even trauma to make the seismic change in them that you perceive is needed? And while thinking about that we can also think what God would have to do to change us. I think you get the idea. So those are my thoughts.

 

Of course, these issues can go deeper and raise other questions, but I am convinced that if we ever hope to reconcile the tragedies in this world with the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being, we first need to shift our concept of seeing mercy from giving one the ability to control and enjoy to helping one elevate their consciousness.

 

Purpose in Life: It’s the Consciousness, Stupid

 

Another thought on consciousness: It is not stuff that gives meaning to life. This should be evident in the lives of the rich and famous, many of whom seem lost. Contrast that with the lives of the very simple and pious, many of whom have found deep meaning and purpose by living in a place where their simple contribution is valued by their family and community.

 

So, yes, it’s the consciousness stupid, and I still have to remind myself of that every day.

 

 

 

“…the most radical question which anyone can be asked is not how much their possessions cost, but whether they have found something of value – that is, something that makes living worthwhile.”

 

―Alister E. McGrath, Northern Irish theologian, scientist, and public intellectual

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #37 – Sri Radha Made Simple

September 13th, 2021

Sri Radha Made Simple [1]

  1. In this world everyone is seeking happiness, and that pleasure is ultimately found in love. If that is the guiding principle in this world, why should it not be part of its source, the ultimate reality?
  2. If there is love in the spiritual realm, there also must be beauty, for love means to offer the best.
  3. This correlation between happiness, love, and beauty is the key to understanding Sri Radha.
  4. Sri Krishna is the Supreme Enjoyer. His happiness is therefore love and the personification of that love is Sri Radha, who must also be the reservoir of all beauty and good qualities, which are the concrete expression of love.
  5. For example, flowers are a common way to express love. They are fragrant, colorful, and may be soft and smooth, but offering them in love is not just a sensual experience, for getting a gift of flowers and experiencing all its wonderful attributes is also the experience of love from the person who has offered those flowers.
  6. Krishna’s pleasure potency is called hlādinī śakti, the essence of which is Krishna prema (love of Godhead), and when that love is heightened to the highest degree, it is called mahābhāva. Sri Radha is mahābhāva svarūpa, the form of the highest love (and pleasure).
  7. Even Sri Radha’s many ornaments and decorations, which She adorns only for the pleasure of Krishna, are composed of and expressing mahābhāva. Thus Krishna’s experience of Sri Radha is the experience of His greatest love and pleasure.
  8. As Sri Radha is an expression of God’s own potency of love, we cannot imagine the intensity and greatness of Her qualities. Although there is no limit to Her love and qualities, descriptions of them can give us some idea. For example, here is a description of Sri Radha’s beauty from Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi:

“The beauty of Śrī Radha’s smile defeats the beauty of a blue lotus. The beauty of Her face defeats the beauty of a forest of blue lotuses, and the luster of Her body puts gold in a painful situation.”

  1. Only someone who is impersonal is not conquered by love. As Krishna is the Supreme Person, He is responsive to and con- quered by true devotion. As Sri Radha is the highest form of love, Her twenty-fifth transcendental quality is that She always keeps Krishna under her control.
  2. How is this relevant to us? Srila Prabhupada instructs us:

“Rādhārāṇī, the symbol of the topmost bhakti, is so powerful that She has purchased Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, Vrajavāsīs take shelter of the lotus feet of Rādhārāṇī, for if She recommends, ‘O here is a nice devotee,’ Kṛṣṇa must accept Him.” (Teachings of Queen Kuntī)

 

 


[1] Today is Radhastami, the appearance day of Sri Radha. Every Radhastami I will reprint this article on Sri Radha.

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #36 – May She Rest in Peace

September 6th, 2021

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a topic for this Monday Morning Greetings. When one finally did come to mind, and it came time to write something down, somehow nothing came to mind. This happened repeatedly. Only when my older brother Barry called with the news that my mother, already past her one-hundredth year, had passed away a few hours earlier, did I understand why. This Monday Morning Greetings was to be reserved in her honor. I always thought that when she passes away, I would just reprint my article “The Mother, The Mind and Food,” which glorifies motherhood. There was a problem with that. I just reprinted it a month ago in honor of her hundredth birthday. Fortunately, there is another story glorifying motherhood that just came to my mind. I pray that retelling it is relevant to honor her passing.

 

Over twenty-five years ago I lived in Vrindavan on the roof of a funky house on the other side of the backside wall of Bon Maharaja’s college, a large institution that was directly across from the ISKCON gurukula building. One evening as I was leaving my house to visit the Krishna-Balarama temple for ārati, I saw the great Odia Vaiṣṇava and scholar, Dr. Fakir Mohan, briskly walking by on the path. We had a relationship for many years, so I was eager to greet him and thus quickly caught up to him. Evidently, something was on his mind, because just after he smiled to acknowledge my greeting, he immediately sought my help: “Where is Bhakti Caitanya’s house? I heard Partha Sarathi Goswami is staying there.” Fakir Mohan Prabhu had this penchant to seek out and honor all Vaiṣṇavas, even those much junior to him like ISKCON gurus and sannyāsīs, so I directed him and accompanied him to Bhakti Caitanya’s house.

 

When we arrived, Partha Sarathi Maharaja immediately got down from his seat, paid his obeisances and offered Prabhu a seat opposite him. They chatted for a while, and then on Maharaja’s request, Prabhu began to sing “Mangala Gitam” with heart wrenching devotion, a favorite of his that expresses Śrī Radha’s feelings of separation when Śrī Krishna mounts Akrūra’s chariot to leave Vrindavan. I was expecting this wonderful exchange between these Vaiṣṇavas to continue, so I was a bit disappointed when Partha Sarathi Maharaja apologetically excused himself: “My mother, aunt, brother, and younger sister are visiting and staying next door in the MVT. I left home over twenty years ago, so my family is excited to spend time with me. I must take leave now. In fact, I am already a bit late.” Neither Maharaja nor I were expecting Prabhu’s response: “I will also come! I will also come!” The enthusiasm of his entreaty was quite compelling. We thus took off together to the MVT.

 

As we entered the apartment where his family was staying, Partha Sarathi Maharaja’s stately mother from Oxford, the wife of a retired Royal Air Force commandant, came out of her bedroom to greet us. However, before Partha Sarathi Maharaja could introduce us, Prabhu was already on the ground in deep meditation offering her his prostrated obeisances. When he finally began to slowly rise, Maharaja, almost embarrassed, began to introduce Prabhu so that she would not misunderstand the status of this elderly man at her feet. “This is Dr. Fakir Mohan Prabhu, the former chairman of the department of Sanskrit of Utkal University, a bhāva bhakta—a devotee of the highest devotion, a naishtika brahmacārī—a life-long celibate, and a sangeet acharya—a master of devotional music.” Dr. Fakir Mohan looked sheepishly at Maharaja’s family almost as to pardon himself, “Excuse me, but this is our culture.” He then immediately corrected himself, “No, we feel it!” He then began to quote from the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam how when one becomes a pure devotee fourteen previous generations become liberated. He went on for some time supporting his deep reverence for Maharaja’s mother with unfailing logic and śāstra.

 

I can’t gauge the power of my own devotion to influence generations of my family, but I am confident that to whatever extent I have remained fixed in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s service, my mother, who selflessly sacrificed her life for my care, and whose deep affection for me continued until the end of her life, will certainly be the recipient of his mercy. I will end with just a few indications of that fact.

 

In our tradition, visiting the holy land of Vrindavan is indeed God’s grace. In 1982, my mother and father visited me in Vrindavan, a visit which changed their whole perspective on Krishna consciousness. I remember calling her the following year. When she asked where I was, and I informed her I was calling her from Vrindavan, the emotion of her reply struck me. With deep affection she inquired, “How is my Vrindavan?” And she continued from those days on to have unbounded respect and affection for the devotees of Krishna, who showered their affection on her.

 

I returned after one month from Colombia this Friday. The first chance I got to pay my mother a visit just happened to be Janmāṣṭamī, this past Monday. My mother has been confined to a reclining chair in her home with one assistant for several years, but especially the isolation of the first year of COVID had taken a toll on her physical and mental health. I was thus pleasantly surprised when I entered her room. She calmly turned her head, greeted me with a truly beatific smile, and informed me that she was very happy and had no complaints in life. When I left her room, I related to her caretaker and the devotees picking me up the same thing: “I have never in my life seen my mother so peaceful and vibrant. I think she will live many more years.” She passed from this world shortly after on Wednesday morning.

 

I am not so confident in my own devotion to elevate generations of my family, but I am confident that somehow Krishna blessed my mother for whatever service I have offered at the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda. To me that is the only explanation why I was fortunate to be directed to visit her on her last days in this world, and why inexplicably a deep inner peace entered her heart just before she left reflected in a beatific smile. I thus remember her in gratitude. May she rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #35 – Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja

August 30th, 2021

Tomorrow is the birth anniversary of my beloved spiritual master, His Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. In his honor, I will share a short realization I had recently about his glories, and after that I will present my yearly homage to his honor.

 

The Significance of Srila Prabhupada’s Last Written Words

 

Unfortunately, Srila Prabhupada’s infirmity had visibly taken its toll on him. Day and night, he lay prone on his bed, and with whatever energy he could muster left in his body, he tried to rest comfortably and focus on the kirtan that softly played non-stop in his room. It is beyond comprehension that anyone in such a condition could gather the energy and mental acuity to continue dictating a profound commentary on such deep textual work as the Srimad-Bhagavatam. But he did. During hours through the day, he would listened attentively to his Sanskrit pandit read the various commentaries on a particular verse, assimilate them within his mind, and then with great effort bring his voice to a whisper into a dictaphone held to the side of his mouth, which is about as loud as he could struggle to be audible. Despite the condition in which these purports were written, I am convinced they are among his best. When going over those commentaries again recently, what particularly struck me was the significance of his last written words. They seemed to sum up in many ways the spiritual practice he was leaving the world:

 

“Seeing the Lord before him, Brahma began to offer prayers with great humility, respect and attention” (Bhag. 10.13.64)

 

Spiritual practice means concentration or attention. On the path of bhakti, that practice is kirtan or prayers, which to be done feelingly must be chanted from a platform humility and with respect (offenselessly)

 

Am I reading too much into this? Anyway, in classical hermeneutics, and in writing in general, what is said last is always significant.  Srila Prabhupada said that his books were dictated in his heart by Krishna. If that is a fact, Krishna certainly dictated a perfect legacy to his teachings. Can there be anything more significant in our practice than prayers or kirtan done with great humility, respect, and attention?

 

 

Vyasa Puja Homage

 

Dear Srila Prabhupada,

 

All glories to Your Divine Grace. Please accept my humble obeisances.

 

In many of the places I visited when I preached in South India during the summer of 1978, the people recognized us and proclaimed, “Yes, we have heard your Acyutananda Swami!”  I was impressed, not so much by how prominent Acyutananda had become by speaking their local language and singing their traditional songs, but by what that indicated about Your Divine Grace. It showed me the depth of your humility and devotion, for although you had every right to brand the movement with your name, you never did. Instead, you made it about Krishna and were thus more than happy to empower your disciples, who also brought Krishna to the forefront. As far as I know, no leader of any other Eastern religious or spiritual implant in the West could make the claim that their movement was about God more than about himself.

 

Today, in my homage to you, I would like to do something different. Although usually the plethora of your observable qualities are highlighted—as they should be—I would like to glorify you for what was not visible, which in a way says as much about your purity and devotion as anything else.

 

Let me start by further elucidating what my experience in South India revealed. You never promoted yourself, and thus we never saw in you even a whiff of the desire for pratistha (distinction) or puja (worship).

 

Your life was an open book, and although so many young ladies took shelter at your feet, no one ever saw you deal inappropriately, even subtly, with the opposite sex. In contrast, so many other Eastern gurus that came to the West—even those with high yogic accomplishments—fell prey to sex desire. That no one ever saw in you what seemed to plague everyone else, to one degree or another, showed us the glory of your clean heart.

 

By your mercy, the worship of Radha-Krishna was spread all over the world. In such an endeavor, it can be tempting to focus on the intimate side of the topic in a display of devotion meant to attract followers, even though most people today would likely misunderstand. Your preaching, however, though certainly deep, devotional, and comprehensive, was always careful, appropriately measured in terms of your audience. That you kept reserved the deeper internal side of your specific relationship with Krishna was also your glory.

 

There is no doubt that you had every talent needed to spread the teachings of bhakti around the world, or that your selflessness and devotion were self-effulgent. What is just as spectacular to me, however, is that you were always surrendered to the will of Krishna, down to both the simplest things you did and the unwanted things you avoided. It may not always have been flashy, but by your chastity to Krishna’s will, we were spared from seeing any ambition, lust, or pretension. I am honored that in this world of cheats and showmen, I have a spiritual master who, imbued with pure devotion, always remained beyond suspicion. I can only pray for your mercy that I can also always remain unseen in the same way.

 

Humbly in your service,

Dhanurdhara Swami

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #34 – If Krishna Knows What We Will Do in the Future, Does That Mean We Don’t Have Free Will?

August 23rd, 2021

Questions like this are challenging, for a theist naturally believes both in God and our free will to choose God. The problem is that if God knows past, present, and future then what we choose in the future is already known. But, if our choices are known, and thus apparently predetermined, then how do we have the free will to choose? To me the question comes in a certain genre of inquiries that to answer require an understanding that God has inconceivable potency and is therefore not restricted by the binary choices in this world governed by His own laws. That fundamental principle rests at the foundation of Upanishadic philosophy:

 

“The Supreme Lord walks and does not walk. He is far away, but He is very near as well. He is within everything, and yet He is outside of everything.” (Iso. 2)

 

I thought of a simple example to demonstrate that the metaphysical realm operates under a will that is beyond set laws, one that we can’t logically quantify. Let’s look at the origin of reality. There are basically two choices: either reality began at a particular time, and there was nothing before that, or reality has no beginning. Do we have the capacity to conceive that no matter how far back we go, reality can always go further back ad infinitum, or that there was nothing and then there was something? Of course, theists believe that reality, or God, has no beginning, but the point here is that one way or another the ultimate reality must be inconceivable, because the mutually exclusive alternatives of its origins are both beyond our experience of how things operate under the physical laws of this world.

 

Another puzzling feature of the ultimate reality that is relevant to our inquiry is that it is not subject to the authority of time. Of course, that is inconceivable to us in a world where time is absolute. But if the ultimate reality, or God, is subjected to time, then He is no longer absolute. In other words, if you believe in God, time is relative.

 

Now, based on our preliminary discussion, let’s tackle our original inquiry—“If Krishna knows what we will do in the future, does that mean we don’t have free will?” If we bear in mind our discussion above, then the root of the quandary created by the seeming contradiction between an omniscient God and free will is a problem we created ourselves by the false assumption that God must function under the same laws that rule this world. In other words, it is reasonable to assume that God, having inconceivable powers and being beyond time, can know everything, even the future, and still allow the living being to have full choice. If we deny that possibility, then we are embracing the untenable position that God lacks inconceivable potency.

 

I like how Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura dealt with a similar type of inquiry as we are discussing here, but in relation to the oft asked question concerning the origin of the conditioned soul in this world. He questioned the validity of even answering a question of “when” when it refers to an “event” that ultimately cannot be traced in mundane time by replying, “You can’t understand such things by the dirt of words.”[1]

 

Of course, words have meaning. This itself is hopefully a reasonable discussion through words, but if we are talking about quantifying the ultimately reality through words when it comes to expressing how transcendence intersects with the mundane, they will certainly fall short, as they will when we try to logically conceive how God knows the future and grants us free will at the same time.

 

 

Can God do everything? Yes. Then can he make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it? Yes, and then he will lift it. (A classic theistic answer to the Omnipotence Paradox that Śrīla Prabhupāda also used when confronted with this very same question.)

 

 

 


[1] I couldn’t find the exact reference in Jaiva Dharma. If anyone does find it, please send it to me. If any correction is needed, I will make it. I did find a statement similar in Chapter fifteen and will share a short excerpt here: “Our words always have some māyika defects. My dear son, you should always endeavor to realize the pure truths. Logic and arguments cannot help at all in this regard, so it is futile to use them to try to understand inconceivable subject matters. (Jaiva Dharma, Chapter 15)

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #33 – A Sannyāsi Walks onto a Train and Meets a Girl

August 16th, 2021

This past week Dhanurdhara Swami hosted a retreat at Shyam Ashram in Cali, Colombia. He was therefore not able to write the Monday Morning Greeting for this week. He requested us to reprint one of his favorite entries.

 

A Sannyāsi Walks onto a Train and Meets a Girl

July 25, 2016

 

I can’t remember the exact train or time, but I do remember the girl. It was about two months ago on a crowded train from Washington, D.C. to New York. I got on early to get a window seat and, I hoped, sit by myself, and began to work. A few minutes before the train was about to leave, I saw a girl in her early twenties struggling to drag her suitcase down the aisle. She was visibly exhausted and stopped when she got to my seat. Some good Samaritans helped her load her luggage onto the upper rack, and she plopped down in the seat next to me. Seeing her condition, I guessed she didn’t have enough energy to go further. Otherwise why would she choose to sit down next to a fellow in robes and tilaka? Once she had slumped down into the chair, she searched her handbag for a snack. It was as if she needed to eat something just to get enough energy to survive her ordeal. Then she made a phone call. “I made it, Mom,” I heard her say. “I’m OK.” Well, there goes my privacy, I thought, and went back to my work.

 

The train was only five minutes or so out of the station when the girl asked me if I was a monk. We talked, and I heard her sad story.

 

She was a successful, athletic, gifted college student who had even managed to maintain her devout Catholicism in school, when she was ravaged by a severe case of chronic Lyme disease. She almost died twice, but her devoted parents stood by her side and nursed her to life. After a long bout fighting the disease, she finally had enough energy, barely, to go by train and visit her boyfriend in Albany. He was also a pious Catholic from New England, and he had the character and devotion to stay with her. I don’t remember the details, but she suffered hell and was still suffering. Only her faith in God carried her through her trials with even a glimmer of hope and purpose. I encouraged her faith, which she said not many people did, and offered a few words of wisdom from what I learned from my revered teacher. She was grateful and took my card. Yesterday I received a letter from her. I thought what she wrote would be meaningful for our Monday Morning Greeting audience.

 

Hello,

This is Grace, from the Amtrak train, back in early May. I’m so sorry about the long delay in messaging. I have been meaning to write but keep getting distracted. (One of the many things I’m working on :).

I wanted to keep in touch and tell you how much our conversation meant to me. I think you were right when you said God sat us together for a reason. As I mentioned on the train, I have been very sick with Lyme disease for many years now. It has tested me in many ways, but this experience has made me stronger both mentally and spiritually. It was such a blessing to talk to someone else who had an understanding of something greater.

Many friends tell me they have no idea what to say to me, and many doctors similarly tell me they don’t know what to do for me. I know God has all the answers and can heal me. Still, I have prayed so hard for God to let me meet someone “who knows more than I do.” I definitely feel that prayer was answered by sitting next to you. It was amazing how little we discussed the details of the illness, yet I felt so many of my questions were answered.

It felt like a holiday having a conversation that lacked “small talk” and as I like to call it, “interviewing dialogue.” You seemed aware of my stress and physical ailment without me needing to explain it. I cannot tell you how happy and understood that made me feel. This may sound really silly, but I’m usually the “you” in conversations. Picking up on signs such as stress, mood, state, all while listening to the person. Receiving that sort of attention and understanding back was a true blessing I will always cherish.

Since our train ride, I’ve been focusing more on getting off medications and healing naturally. It is difficult. It takes a lot of persistence and prayer, but I know it’s what I’m supposed to do.

I’ve been finding a lot of answers through Ayurvedic medicine. It just kind of makes sense to me, if you know what I mean. I love all the warming spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, turmeric, and others. I’ve been cooking more often and supplementing with many herbs and vitamins. I’ll often read about natural healing methods and great herbs, later to find it’s often used in Ayurvedic healing. I’m just trusting in God that what I find is what I’m supposed to do.

Lastly, I wanted to ask a few questions. You mentioned meditating and prayer to me. At risk of sounding cliché or stereotyping, does your meditation focus on breathing? Such as in yoga? Do you do yoga? I know there are different types. I’m finding my greatest struggle is the breathing. I’m having an incredibly hard time with it. I get tightness, headaches, stomach aches, etc. A lot of people talk about the breathing, but I haven’t found anything helpful yet. I’m not sure if you have any advice. However, if you have any input at all, I’d to hear it. I feel my inability to truly breathe may be inhibiting my healing process.

Lastly, I wanted to tell you again how happy I am to have met you. You opened up my mind to many new ideas as well as confirmed many of my own beliefs. It was so good to talk about God with another person. Thank you so much for the prayers. I feel my body getting stronger and know that God is working.

Please do not take the delay in this email as a lack of interest. I’ve written and edited it so many times and finally told myself enough is enough. I would love to hear back from you whenever you’re free. I’ll definitely do my best to reply much, much sooner. I hope you are doing well, and I’ll keep you in my prayers as well.

Thanks so much,
Grace

 

That’s about it. I am just happy that I can share with others what I learned in my studies and life and meet such good people as Grace. I also wanted to ask my audience to pray for her. Grace is a sincere soul who wants God and wouldn’t mind good health to serve Him. Thanks for listening.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #32 – The Process is Simple, But the Application is Difficult

August 9th, 2021

The Process is Simple, But the Application is Difficult[1]

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda said that his purports were his personal ecstasy. Would not then Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 2.9.36[2] reflect the special joy in expounding a subject close to his heart considering that it is his longest commentary in the Bhāgavatam? It makes sense that one who had enthusiastically taken the message of devotional service to every nook and cranny of the world without considering the qualification of the audience, would have special enthusiasm to talk about the universal applicability of devotional service, the subject of that verse. It certainly seems so. Within those purports, for over twenty pages, Śrīla Prabhupāda cited reference after śāstric reference to establish how bhakti is applicable to all, regardless of caste, creed, gender, and even species. He even quoted a reference that shows how a child in the womb of his mother who is hearing the Bhāgavatam can also be practicing the path of devotion. Can there be any doubt that no process is easier to enter than the path of devotion?

 

In direct opposition to that conclusion, however, we also come across many verses describing how attaining devotion is the pinnacle of austerities and knowledge, implying it is the most difficult and rarest of all spiritual attainments.[3] So, which is it—the most difficult or the easiest? We can reconcile this apparent contradiction by thoughtfully analyzing this simple statement by Śrīla Prabhupāda: “The process is simple, but the application is difficult.”

 

The Process is Simple

 

Krishna says in Bhagavad-gītā: “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.”[4] Who is not able to do that? Even a small child whose parents direct him to the altar can bow down before the deity and offer a flower. In 1966, when Śrīla Prabhupāda was lecturing at 26 Second Avenue, a white-haired, grizzly stubbled, and shabbily clothed Bowery derelict entered and offered a roll of toilet paper for the bathroom, which was situated to the right of the dais where Śrīla Prabhupāda was sitting. Śrīla Prabhupāda appreciated his simple offering and commented that the derelict’s seemingly decadent life due to bad association was inconsequential compared to his humble devotional service. What process then can be easier to enter than the path of bhakti?

 

The Application is Difficult

 

About thirty summers ago, when I was staying in the ISKCON Brooklyn temple, I made an appointment to visit one of my old friends who lived in Park Slope, which was a twenty-minute walk away. I showed him a slide show, our media then, of the Krishna consciousness movement. He watched silently with interest until a slide of a devotee fully prostrating himself before Śrīla Prabhupāda invoked his strong reaction: “I don’t bow down to no one!” It became clear to me why that although the process of devotion was so simple, its application was difficult. Bowing down before guru and Krishna means to relinquish the false ego, the desire to be better than everyone or anyone, which is the conditioned soul’s very raison d’être.

 

Going deeper into my chanting inevitably forces me to confront the egoistic covering of the soul, which is dictating everything but the simple step of finally saying to God, “From this day, I am yours!” I shudder at what that means. Will opening my heart to be ruled by what is right mean accepting things that may not stroke my ego or even suggest that I relinquish things that do? Am I ready to live a life of service and surrender where the universal will of love and devotion takes precedence over my petty desires and independence? So certainly, the process is quite simple, and surely the application is difficult, but my solace is that with the mercy of guru and Krishna I can gain the strength to put my head on the floor and be their humble servant.

 

 

“For those who are void of ego Śrī Keśava is not distant, but for those who are full with ego mountain ranges stand between one and the Lord.”[5]

 

 

 


[1] This is a common saying by Śrīla Prabhupāda. Among the places it is found is Teachings of Lord Caitanya Chapter 23.

[2] “A person who is searching after the Supreme Absolute Truth, the personality of Godhead, must certainly search for it up to this, in all circumstances, in all space and time, and both directly and indirectly.”

[3] Bhag. 3.33.7, Bg. 7.3

[4] Bg. 9.26

[5] From Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa as cited in Anuchedda 236 of Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha

 

Monday Monday Greetings 2021 #31 – How To Be a Non-Sectarian Sectarian

August 2nd, 2021

I belong to a sect. It is called Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Within it there are many different institutions. How should those institutions relate with one another? What would it mean if any one of them was non-sectarian or sectarian?

 

Recently, I heard an analogy that I think helps to frame this issue for discussion.[1] It goes like this: Spirituality is like a liquid, and religion, or the institution, is like the pot. Just as a pot has walls to confine the liquid within, but also an opening to allow others to partake of it, similarly a proper institution, while maintaining and valuing its specific institutional culture and structure, should be open to reasonable exchanges with other legitimate spiritual groups.

 

Let’s take our analogy even further. Although different pots may have different shapes and sizes, it doesn’t mean that what is inside is any less valuable, or even different. Similarly, although different spiritual institutions may have a different culture or structure than the group in which one has reposed their faith, it doesn’t mean that the spirituality they have to offer is any less legitimate.

 

The root of sectarianism is thus when a group legitimizes its own structure or institution in a way that delegitimizes other spiritual institutions and, in doing so, fails to see the same spiritual essence elsewhere. In my observation, such sectarianism takes two forms: In the first form, the sectarian institution has little respect for those whose form is even slightly different, views them as a potential threat, and blocks any reasonable exchanges. In the second form of sectarianism, the group promotes inter-group exchange, but only to gain access to the other’s resources to bolster its own mission, which is viewed as uniquely legitimate. Either way it’s not sectarian to keep such groups at a distance.

 

An important point here is that being nonsectarian does not mean merging all groups into one. One can be proud and have faith in the organization and culture of the specific lineage where one has accessed God’s mercy and protect it if it is minimized or threatened by others. Being non-sectarian also doesn’t mean dropping one’s discrimination and accepting every group under the banner of Śrī Caitanya as legitimate. There are charlatans in every religion. It just means that a Gauḍīya Vaishnava doesn’t view and deal with other Caitanya institutions negatively just because their structure and culture is different. Rather, they recognize that the same mission of Śrī Caitanya to taste and distribute Krishna bhakti can be found in many forms.

 

A healthy Gauḍīya is broad minded and open to exchange and in proper circumstances can even serve or learn from other Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava groups without compromising the special faith in the form and culture in which Śrī Caitanya’s teachings have come to them. The institution in which I spiritually grew up often shared the prophecy about my guru maharaja, Śrīla Prabhupāda, given by an astrologer at the time of his birth that he would “build a house in which the whole world could live.” In many ways that has come to pass, at least in the sense that ISKCON, his institution, has become the most far-reaching Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava branch in history. But to truly fulfil that prophecy, will that house not have to have different rooms to accommodate even those who don’t rigidly fit into its set institutional culture and structure? Hey, maybe there is even a room for me?

 

 


[1] This analogy, which is the seed of this presentation, came up in a discussion I had with Rasik Mohan das of the Bhakta Bhandav ashram in Ellenville, New York.

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #30 – That Being of Which No Greater Can be Conceived

July 26th, 2021

He showed up at my college dorm unexpectedly. I had met the devotees the year before in Los Angeles with my college roommate Eric, but now my friend, recently initiated as Akshobhya das, was standing before me as a full-on head-shaved Hare Krishna! He enthusiastically gifted me the recently published Krsna book with that beautiful painting of Radha Krishna on the cover. I was so eager to read it that I cancelled my appointment that night and remained home. I already had a seed of faith in Krishna from my visit to California the year before, but when I got through Chapter Two: “Prayers by the Demigods for Lord Krishna in the Womb”, I had an epiphany: “Yep, there is no doubt. Krishna is God!”

 

I was studying philosophy at the university, and the previous week the teacher gave us the classic definition of God: “That being of which no greater can be conceived.” I had heard descriptions of Krishna before—the sweet butter thief and the lover of the gopis—but now, through the prayers of the exalted demigods, I was realizing more of His full-blown majesty and opulence. I remember my thinking at the time: “I can think of a being greater than the one with all the power that is ascribed to a traditional depiction of God. That is one who, in addition to such power, has a sweet and intimate life with family, friends, and lovers. In other words, a person who is Krishna!”

 

One of my inspirations for this week’s post was a lecture by Śrīla Radha Govinda Swami on krishna-lila where he puts to rest the concept of an amorphous mass of indistinct energy as that being of which no greater can be conceived. I like his simple logic:

“Jñānīs possess an absurd mentality in this respect. They understand that Śrī Krishna has made a world with beautiful people residing in it, but still feel the creator to be formless, which is madness.”

 

The Krishna concept of divinity, however, takes the idea of personhood as a prerequisite of supremacy even further. It espouses that the fullest manifestation of personhood is not just one’s majesty, but one’s personality or love defined in relationship as a father or mother, friend, or lover, and that, therefore, Krishna as akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti[1], the complete embodiment of the nectar of all relationships, is the original or fullest manifestation of God.

 

This week I have been studying Chapter Twelve of the Tenth Canto in the same book that I had received fifty years ago. Krishna is playing with His friends and suddenly disappears into the forest. Krishna’s friends, after desperately trying to find Him, suddenly hear Him challenging them to see who can find Him first. When they finally do, He offers each one an affectionate hug. A heart-felt expression of affection from those whom we share a deep relationship with, whether it is as friend, child, or lover, is surely one of the true joys in life. We can just imagine the warmth and pleasure of the existential flow of God’s own love that ensues when we embrace Krishna in our eternal relationship with Him. While meditating in this way, I thought back to that definition of God that I first heard over fifty years ago in a second-year philosophy course, and how much hearing these pastimes reaffirmed my conviction of the absolute position of Krishna. At the same time, I also thought of a cute saying by Friedrich Nietzsche[2] that I heard in another philosophy class that year. Somehow, I spontaneously parried it into my own saying that even further solidified in my mind Krishna’s position as “that being of which no greater can be conceived”:

“I would believe only in a God that hugs.”

 

 


[1] At the beginning of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī defines Krishna in this way as akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrtiḥ, the nectar of the embodiment of all relationships.

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote was, “I would only believe in a God that dances.”

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #29 – Have I Become Pavlov’s Dog?

July 19th, 2021

Have I Become Pavlov’s Dog?[1]

 

Ding! How the hell did a message from my iPhone pop up on my watch? I was recently gifted a new Fitbit to monitor my exercise. I am so technologically challenged that I just didn’t know my watch could even be connected to my phone. I immediately jumped up to check my phone across the room, but I then caught myself: “Wait a second! What in the world am I doing? Have I become Pavlov’s dog?”

 

I was surprised by how much I had been subtly conditioned by social media, especially since I am not even on Facebook or Instagram. That sound, and my subsequent response, did make me question if I should even keep an iPhone at all. Yes, the world has become our village and technology is necessary to keep us connected spiritually, but at what price? I think of my friend Carucandra who went off the grid in Kentucky. He works on his simple dwelling, peacefully chants his rounds, and then spends most of his day studying and writing curriculum by hand for the Śrī Rūpanūga Paramārthika Vidyāpīṭha in Mayapur. That type of integrity in this world of constant compromise is, in many ways, a potent example for others. Don’t get me wrong, evolved souls do efficiently and cautiously use modern technology to share good ideas for the benefit of others. I myself try to deal with the medium responsibly, but one is foolish if one does not take careful note of its potential to degrade the consciousness. In that regard, I noted a few things:

 

The internet is anti-yoga

If yoga is extinguishing thought, or in bhakti frivolous thought, social media puts a funnel to the brain to download a rush of extraneous thought—a magnitude of frivolity that could not be imagined even fifty years ago. Frankly, it is almost as if we are left with a choice: media or meditate?

 

The internet creates an alternate reality

In the world of the internet, individual people and the “mainstream” and “alternative” media constantly weave narratives according to their own view of reality under the modes of nature. It is so easy to be sucked into another’s impure self-created world. For a bhakta, that can be tantamount to spiritual death, for the more we can rise above illusion and see reality, which is God and God’s energies, the more our vision will inspire devotion within our hearts. Again, it is almost as if we are left with a choice: social media or śāstra?

 

The internet kills bhakti with idle talk and consequent Vaiṣṇava-aparādha

There is no doubt that the internet can facilitate meaningful exchanges. I hope we are having one here. And there is also no doubt that it can be, and usually is, an ocean of idle talk. Sādhu beware: “To abuse the reign of our self-control and allow ourselves to enter into discussions of anything and everything—that is prajalpa. Prajalpa generally becomes parā-doṣānusandhava—finding faults with others. That is generally the subject matter of idle talks.”[2] In this case, however, it is a bit different. There seems to be little choice. It is internet and idle talk!

 

Again, the internet has given a wonderful facility to share Krishna consciousness in what has become a global village, but after “ding!” I just thought there was a need for a “reality check” and to sincerely ponder: “How much does my use of technology, especially in terms of communication, enhance my service to Krishna, and how much does it degrade it? Am I becoming Pavlov’s dog?”

 

 


[1] Ivan Pavlov was a Russian psychologist who deepened the study of classical conditioning. His most famous experiment was conditioning a dog to salivate even when there was no food, by initially ringing a bell every time the dog was fed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning

[2] Upadesamrita, translation and commentary by Srila B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami, p.24.

 

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