Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #28 – The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Oft Go Astray

July 13th, 2020

When I left India in March, my life was in transition, both by the circumstances of my life and by my age. I made a resolution after much thought. My service from now on would be the holy name, and I would consciously cultivate being equal in happiness and distress. The Hare Krishna movement is so service oriented in an active way that such a resolve for chanting almost seems radical. It’s not. Although I would prioritize my schedule around the holy name, there would still be time for my weekly blog and classes. I would also continue to meet with people, which now I could hopefully do from a higher level of spiritual integrity. To reserve time for chanting in my schedule, I would not take up any more time-consuming endeavors such as writing new books or organizing new retreats or projects, activities that had very much been my nature.

 

This type of life change is actually very standard in the culture in which my tradition is born. I am in the renounced order of life, sannyāsa, which has four stages. Modern sannyāsa very much begins and focuses on the third stage called parivrājakācāryaParivrājakācārya means to cultivate detachment by constant travel so that one is unable to become attached to home and hearth and to a world under the illusion of one’s control. The final, or fourth stage, is paramahaṁsa, where one sits in a holy place and completely depends on God, dedicating the rest of one’s life to chanting the holy name.

 

I am not a paramahaṁsa, which also means one who is completely above the modes of material nature, so my renunciation will not be that radical. I won’t retire to Radha Kunda and live in seclusion or anything like that, but I will increase my chanting and make that the most important thing in my life.

 

The most important thing in bhakti is being available for service as directed by the spiritual master. At the highest level that means a life completely free from frivolousness and hypocrisy. In other words, to know truth as far as possible and the practical application of it, and to live by that exclusively without any deviation, whether in the world of family responsibilities or the renounced order of life. I am open to Krishna’s will and the directions of those whom I respect, but as far as I can ascertain, and in consultation with others, what I have described above is now my calling in life.

 

For three months I was relishing my new focus in life. I also got a lot of inspiration to continue this service by seeing how much of a focus on spiritual practice empowered my writing, my classes, and most importantly the quality of my contact with others. It was also enlivening for me as a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda to see how my service was enhancing my contribution to his mission in this way beyond my own personal spiritual cultivation. Krishna also mercifully gave me a chance to practice the second resolution I made leaving India, to be equal in happiness and distress.

 

Health challenges suddenly came, and my whole program was thrown off keel. I hope it’s temporary, but I see that my illness is gifting me so many important realizations for inner life and spiritual practice, especially this importance of being equal in happiness and distress. There is no question of bhajan, deep spiritual practice, if one’s moods are too affected by the ever-changing world around one, especially various bodily afflictions that come with life, and especially old age.

 

My conclusion is that too feverishly trying to the control world as it moves beyond one’s control is just as painful, or even more so, than the afflictions one is trying to counteract. I am thus trying to remain detached, happy with God’s will, whatever it puts on my plate. Where does that leave me now?

 

I am just doing my duty by reasonably trying to get healthy, but ultimately leaving the result up to Krishna, and trying to build my spiritual practice again, whatever physical condition Krishna puts me in. That has been quite a test.

 

I shared with my friend this ironic twist of events in my life: I set off from India with the determination to live the rest of life as a more traditional Vrindavan sādhu, and I wound up in New Jersey wearing pants,[1] living twenty minutes from my mother. The well-known quote by 18th Century Scottish poet Robert Burns comes to mind:

 

“The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”

 

Note: As many of the readers are my friends and well-wishers, I think it is incumbent to explain a little bit more about my health. For over a month I have been having different arthritic muscle pains shifting to different parts of the body that make ordinary activities, and certainly sitting for chanting, a bit challenging. So far blood tests have shown no indications of rheumatoid arthritis or any other cause. I have been on a very strict anti-inflammatory diet and have seen a chiropractor. The discomfort has lessened, and for the last week I have been reasonably functional, but not nearly to the level of my previous health.  

 

 


[1] My illness made my body quite cold, and thus I am forced to wear pants to keep warm, which is something I never do.

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #27 – Sounds of the Ultimate Reality

July 6th, 2020

In Memoriam: Before this Monday Morning Greetings, I want to offer some heartfelt remembrance of His Holiness Bhakti Caru Swami, who passed away this Saturday. Perhaps many of you are not familiar with him, but he was my god-brother and a respected spiritual leader in the Hare Krishna movement. There will be many things spoken about his accomplishments, which were many, but I wanted to just say something personal. All of my exchanges with him were filled with his respect, kindness, and expressions of empathy. It was humbling to be in his presence. He was a rare soul and will be missed dearly.  

 

Sounds of the Ultimate Reality

 

Love is an emotion, but it is experienced through the senses. If someone says they love you, does not the sound carry their emotion or conviction? On Mother’s Day, or another noted occasion, we may receive flowers or a garland. Do we not experience the other person’s affection through the shape, color, and fragrance of the flowers? Whether it is sound, sight, taste, fragrance, or touch, feelings are mostly communicated through the objects of senses.

 

This emotion/sense relation has a strong bearing on the krishnabhakti conception of the ultimate reality. In krishnabhakti, the highest reality is the overwhelming experience of universal love between the Supreme Soul, Krishna, and His unlimited parts and parcels played out through His līlā, a divine drama of loving exchange, or rasa. As this reality is a world of pure love, it is therefore also a world of beautiful sights, sonorous and ambrosial sounds, and delectable tastes, all manifest as an expression or vehicle for devotion. If we hold pure love as the most universally exalted concept is not, then the sensually expressive krishnalīlā a reasonable conception of what the ultimate reality may be? Let’s explore this contention through just one of the objects of the senses described there as a vehicle of perfect love: sound.

 

Upon entering the forest, Krishna blows His flute. Imagine what that sounds like, but more importantly try to understand where that matchless sound is coming from. Krishna is overjoyed entering the Vrindavan forest, the land of love, where even out of devotion the wind is intentionally carrying the fragrance of the flowers and the cool droplets of the lake for the His pleasure and that of His devotees. The supreme sound is thus carrying Krishna’s joy and His love of His devotees.

 

The sound of the flute is also a personal expression of Krishna’s heart. It announces Krishna’s affection for each particular devotee, who somehow hear in that sound their name and a confirmation of Krishna’s love for them. In response to Krishna’s acknowledgement, the cowherd boys sing songs of Krishna’s pastimes deep from the heart, with sonorous melodies supported by the perfectly driven beat of the wood drums of a few select friends. The kirtan slowly builds up to such an unprecedented level of joy that some boys even spontaneously grab the big shiny leaves of particular trees and roll them as trumpets to add the sound of triumph to Krishna’s march through the forest.

 

When Krishna enters the forest there is the stunning sound of the singing of thousands and thousands of birds and bees, a breath-taking spectacular that would even shame the forest sounds of a modern science fiction extravaganza set in the background of a tropical jungle or forest. Anyway, accompanying the flute and cowherd kirtan is the all-pervading and overwhelming chirping and buzzing of devotion.

 

Despite the brilliant forest choir of birds, Krishna somehow initially becomes allured by the sounds of the bees. They have drunk the pollen of flower after flower, and are now buzzing, with eyes closed, in a state of intoxication. Actually, they are simply overwhelmed with singing for Krishna as they surround His garland. Krishna then adds something new and extraordinary to the forest symphony. He perfectly imitates the bees in the intricacy of their songs, and then, while exploring their various forest paths, He spontaneously replicates all the varieties of feathered crooners in the forest. Mind you, these are not ordinary birds who have just one tune and pitch, but Krishna’s birds, who are operatic and expert as they glorify Krishna in different pitches, cadences, and tunes.

 

The cowherd boys will not be outdone by the birds and bees. They bring their kirtan to new heights even outdoing the bees. All that can then be heard in the forest is the extra-ordinary sounds of devotion. The heart of any entity, therefore, who simply opens their ears in Vrindavan completely melts overflooded with prema.

 

Ah, the sounds of Vrindavan! May we all one day hear the sound of Krishna’s flute, but more importantly, feel the joy and love it carries!

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #26 – The Times They Are A-Changin’

June 29th, 2020

It is one of those weeks that I am not inspired to write. I am still recovering from some health issues that significantly reduced my chanting and hearing, which substantially limits my ability to conceptualize and express ideas. It’s the way it works. It seems all I can think about deeply is the body, and I wrote about that last week. The only thought that has come to mind is how much the world has changed in such a short time. The title of a Bob Dylan song about “changin’” just came to mind. I hope it activates some insights, because I need to write something today. I’ve delayed long enough.

 

We are eternal, so it’s natural that we want an “always”, not changing, situation that pleases us. Most people therefore make plans around such life fixtures, but because of recent events many of those things are no longer certain. For example, I live for visiting and residing in Vrindavan. That has been a given for forty-four years, but who knows if that is even an option, at least for the immediate future. And it is like that about so many things now that used to be permanent fixtures in our life. We thus fear the times they are a-changin’.

 

In fact, loss (change) of the things we are attached to is the very definition of suffering. I thought of three categories where we can place all changing, and thus suffering.

 

Let’s make the first category of change the big one ­– death ­– where all material attachments are obliterated. As death causes the biggest change, it is therefore the greatest suffering. It does, however, do one very important thing. It informs our life that all our material attachments, even those serving some purpose at the time, are temporary, and only gain real value when connected to the eternal.[1]

 

There are times in life when we may not feel immediately threatened with death, but still major fixtures in our world are seriously disturbed. Let’s call that second category of change calamity. We will see how the pandemic and the resultant unrest plays out, but we can’t discount the possibility of it turning into a more serious calamity, where our key life foundations are endangered. The times they are a-changin’ doesn’t bode well.

 

For one in the consciousness of enjoyer, daily life is suffering, because to enjoy we need to be the controller, and we are just not. We thus suffer from one small change that goes against our desire to another, from the common flu to relational disappointments, and so on. The third category of change we can just call daily life.

 

Attachment means suffering, because whether it is small changes, calamitous ones, or final ones, everything we like will change, and we have no power to control that. The only solution is to become unmoved by the changes around us. That is called detachment, which does not just mean to renounce things, but to be satisfied with God’s will no matter how He moves the world around us. Here is how it works:

 

A spiritual person is unmoved by destiny because he views it differently. Rather than seeing destiny as happiness, which is beyond one’s control, he views the development of consciousness as happiness, which is dependent on one’s free will. He thus remains detached from the changes in the world, because they have little bearing on his main objective of enlightenment. Every change is thus simply a different opportunity to develop one’s inner life, or to serve God. For such a person the times they are a-changin’ hardly matters.

 

“Devotees solely engaged in the devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Nārāyaṇa, never fear any condition of life. For them the heavenly planets, liberation and the hellish planets are all the same, for such devotees are interested only in the service of the Lord.” (Bhag.  6.17.28)

 

 


[1] An example of connecting a material attachment to the eternal is family life, but only if one does it as dharma, meaning properly according to one’s duties ordained by God.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #25 – More Thoughts About Pain

June 22nd, 2020

I wrote about this subject a month ago. This time it’s different. In that article I wrote theoretically about pain in relationship to the pandemic in terms of how pain, or reversals in life, are not bad, but are rather the indication that something is wrong and how it is mercy. However, this time it is personal. I’m actually in pain.

 

It started about nine days ago. My left thigh became sore and became progressively worse until I couldn’t find a comfortable position to sleep at night. The pain then spread to my other thigh and then my upper arms and neck, which made it even worse. Now my whole schedule has been thrown off.

 

I think I am beginning to understand the purpose of all this. I had just finished almost three months hunkered down in New Jersey. I described this before as a blissful “boring” life. All my needs were perfectly being met, and I was able to do the same thing at the same time every day. I would rest very early, rise just after midnight, and regulate my day mostly around chanting and hearing until evening. As I look back at those months, there wasn’t a minute in my day that I would want to change, but in retrospect there was something in my thinking that needed to be adjusted to deepen my practices further.

 

An ordinary person’s goal in life is to enjoy the world, which naturally entails trying to control it. That, in a nutshell, is material consciousness. Of course, I regulated myself during the pandemic for the purpose of focusing on the holy name, a type of control that is naturally a good thing. But to the extent one’s effort fosters a sense of “doership” and control, one’s practices will lose the full sense of dependency and humility foundational to bhakti and become mechanical. This subtle type of tether to material consciousness is described in the commentary to Nārada’s failure to attain perfection despite his notable efforts.

 

“There is no mechanical process to see the form of the Lord. It completely depends on the causeless mercy of the Lord […] When He pleases, being satisfied with the sincere attempt of devotional service depending completely on the mercy of the Lord [emphasis mine], then He may be seen out of His own accord.” (Bhag. 1.6.19, Purport)

 

So, I see this karmic episode of discomfort and pain that has torpedoed my regulation and practices as just a reset. I hope to soon begin again with a greater vigilance, so that in regulating my life it doesn’t engender the misconception that I can control or earn Krishna’s mercy, a thinking that covers the sense of dependence necessary to actually attract the Lord’s mercy. I guess Krishna doesn’t want me in any way, shape, or form to maintain a sense of trying to control and enjoy if I want to deepen my internal life.

 

I started seeing a chiropractor a few days ago. I can sleep now, but, so far, the discomfort during the day hasn’t abated. Two more realizations came today about the internal components of spiritual life that this experience is giving me. I am practically never ill, in pain, or without full energy. As one tends to see the world through the lens of their own experience, it is harder for me to fully empathize with those in physical pain. There is a component here of increasing my empathy that I see as essential for deepening my spiritual life. Also, taken in the right way, pain can foster detachment for material enjoyment and serve as an impetus to increase one’s determination to realize the self.

 

Sorry to talk so much about myself, but I have no other choice in Monday Morning Greetings than to write unabashedly what is on my mind, and this is it. I shouldn’t actually complain. I know many who live with worse discomfort all the time and rarely talk about it. It is just that I am not use to this, so I take it hard. It is not so bad, and the gifts of essential realization are worth the pain. I’m grateful.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #24 – The World is Burning and Krishna Loves the Trees

June 15th, 2020

I received some unusual feedback from a friend on my last article, “Krishna Loves the Earth”. “Hilarious, the world is burning!” It was tongue-in-cheek, but he had a point. Monday Morning Greetings is the platform where I try to serve as a public intellectual, and one important aspect of that is reflecting on my tradition to make it relevant to current issues. My regular readers over the years know that I have never shied away from addressing the issues at hand, so the question arises, why have I not yet addressed this crucial one? Truth just doesn’t neatly fit in an ideological box. In a world that is increasingly polarized it is not an easy task to represent our tradition in a way that will not be misunderstood by people on both ends of the political spectrum. Don’t get me wrong. I have patiently heard the views of many people on this issue and have come to my own conclusions about its cause and where the solution rests. My understanding of the prejudice African Americans face has certainly deepened. I have just become painfully aware from my experience in being inadvertently drawn into such discussions that I would not be an effective agent of change here, nor is it particularly my duty to do so. I will leave that service to others,[1] but I will do my part in another way that very much reflects our tradition and my personal mission, which is to highlight the ancient practice of turning our minds to God in all circumstances, especially in times of social tumult. I hope I have not disappointed you, and that doesn’t discourage you from reading “Krishna Loves the Trees”.

 

In the two previous posts, I have discussed the need to more deeply realize the pastimes of Krishna by understanding the mind of the main protagonists. I demonstrated this through an analysis of Krishna’s exchange with Mother Earth. I would like to continue this theme in terms of Krishna’s relationship with the trees.

 

When Krishna enters the forest of Vrindavan, all the trees simultaneously blossom with the most exotic fruits and flowers, which display gorgeous colors, stunning designs, and emit ambrosial fragrances, all manifesting as an offering of unalloyed devotion. Other forest entities vie for Krishna’s attention with no less beauty and devotion. Each bird sings beautifully in a variety of tunes and pitches. Of the sounds Krishna hears, He is especially allured by the bees buzzing with intoxicated devotion, but all the animals of the forest come to the path where Krishna is walking to offer Him their best, from the beauty of the peacocks, to the cute auspicious glances of the does. Although Krishna looks here and there all over the forest in appreciation of the many exquisite devotional offerings, He first turns His attention to the trees by pointing them out to His brother Balarama. Why of all the millions of entities in the forest welcoming Him are the trees recognized by Krishna first?

 

As Krishna enters the forest, the tallest trees lining the path gradually bend so their reddish flowers touch Krishna’s lotus feet as if to announce, “The opulence and beauty of our flowers is nothing compared to stunning red lac on Your lotus feet.” Krishna reads their minds: “We are so fallen. Due to our sinful life as trees, we are cursed to stand stationary, while all others can follow You into the forest.” Their sentiment especially moves Krishna’s inner heart as He considers their disability — their inability to move. Overflowing with affection, Krishna therefore veers towards them to accept their offerings. Perhaps more than any other quality, Krishna exudes compassion and is allured by those humble souls who realize their dependence and take shelter of His lotus feet.

 

The trees are described as vanaspatim, the Lords of the forest (vanas) because they stand tall and erect and project a sense of aristocracy. There is special charm when those with status humble themselves. But it is not just their humility that invokes Krishna’s attention, it is there unparalleled level of service. In the Bhagavad-gītā Krishna deems four natural items that can be offered in devotion: a fruit, flower, leaf, and water.[2] Is there any other entity among all innumerable devotees in the forest that can offer to Krishna, from their own body, three of the four items mentioned by Him as offerings of devotion?

 

Krishna’s relationship with the trees is so sweet. The trees are humble, dependent, and dedicated to service. Krishna’s heart melts in response, and He reciprocates with their desire to serve. In fact, there is not a flower or fruit in the forest that He does not personally harvest and accept.

 

The world is burning in hatred. If I was more qualified and had more time, then maybe I could have added something of significance to that discussion. But perhaps there is relief to hear that there is actually a world where God loves the trees.

 

 


[1] There is an attempt to analyze the current controversy from the standpoint of śāstra by Hari Pārṣada Dās, a scholar whose articles I have often shared with you. I appreciate people who can step out of ideological lenses and look at issues neutrally. I will send out his article on Tuesday to everyone here.

[2] Bg. 9.26

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #23 – Krishna Loves the Earth

June 8th, 2020

To truly perceive another person requires more than just what we overtly see. It requires an understanding of the mind behind what we perceive. For example, when someone is happy, we don’t see just the end of the lips curl up and the teeth show, we see the emotion of happiness. All actions represent the consciousness that produce them. If we miss that, our perception is very limited. This principle is especially important in understanding Krishna’s pastimes as described in the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. I discussed this in a previous post called “Spiritual Autism”.[1] Let us now look at the pastimes of Krishna through the lens of the consciousness behind what is described, specifically in relation to Krishna’s feet touching the ground of Vṛndāvana as He is about to enter the forest.

 

When Krishna first enters the forest, the marks of His feet make the ground of Vṛndāvana auspicious. As mentioned above, one must also see in this pastime the affection with which Krishna touches the Earth and the emotions that she feels in response. Another name for the Earth is dharaṇī meaning “one who sustains and maintains”, for the Earth sustains and maintains everything in this world, including Krishna’s abode there. Krishna’s feet touching the ground is therefore an expression of overwhelming gratitude for her service. In fact, His feet not only touch the ground, but caress it as He compassionately walks behind the cows to pacify the Earth, which is being trampled by the stampede of His beloved cows.

 

There are so many pebbles, thorns, and other rough patches in the thick forest of Vṛndāvana. His mother therefore implores Him to wear shoes. Krishna refuses. He argues that a servant cannot enjoy more than the master, and therefore as the servant of the cows, He must also walk barefoot like them. His argument to not wear shoes, however, is just an excuse.  When, in desperation, Krishna’s mother offers to make silver shoes for all the cows in Vṛndāvana, He still refuses. Why is Krishna so adamant? He loves the Earth so much that He just wants to reciprocate with her by placing His soles on her dust without a covering in between. Krishna’s feet touching the ground of Vṛndāvana is thus a deeply affectionate act of gratitude, compassion, and devotion. To truly see this pastime of Krishna is to also see this.

 

For a devotee there is nothing more stimulating to one’s devotion than a tangible acknowledgment by Krishna of their relationship. When Krishna’s feet affectionately touch the ground, Mother Earth intensely feels the exchange of energy flowing between the Lord and His devotee called prema. As the Lord’s lotus feet step-by-step make imprints in her dust, a deep sense of belonging to the Lord increasingly awakens in her heart. Those footprints then become her tilaka, the sign of devotional belonging to one’s revered lineage and ultimately Krishna. Her sense of belonging to Krishna then becomes so deep that she never allows those imprints, her tilaka of belonging, to fade, even while the cows trample them.

 

How could the Earth allow Krishna to walk barefoot and bruise His soft lotus feet? Isn’t she concerned, like the gopīs, that His feet will be bruised and pained? Mother Earth is completely absorbed in sevā-bhāva, the mood of service, and like all great devotees she transforms in devotional ecstasy by that sevā. As Krishna’s feet touch her ground, the Earth therefore in devotional ecstasy immediately softens like butter to protect Krishna’s lotus feet.

 

This connection with the Divine that moves the heart to ecstasy is the greatest mercy. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam therefore describes that the Lord’s feet made the Earth ati-punyam, extremely auspicious. In conclusion, we should try to understand and hear the Lord’s pastimes by seeing the emotions that are generated by Krishna’s loving exchanges with His devotees and, in doing so, become inspired to make our lives auspicious by a connection with the Divine, especially His presence in the holy name.

 

 

“O dearly beloved! Your lotus feet are so soft that we place them gently on our breasts, fearing that Your feet will be hurt. Our life rests only in You. Our minds, therefore, are filled with anxiety that Your tender feet might be wounded by pebbles as You roam about the forest path.” (Bhag. 10.31.19, The Gopīs to Krishna)

 

 


[1] I received comments after my last article on “Spiritual Autism” that my definition of autism as “mind blindness” was too narrow, and there are multiple ways to describe such brain complexity.

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #22 – Have I Become Nārada Muni and Other Pandemic Musings 

June 1st, 2020

Have I Become Nārada Muni?

 

A vision came. It was post quarantine New York. Pedestrians again filled the street. Cars again packed the road. All of sudden my mind let out a scream, “No!!!” What a strange reaction from this born and bred New Yorker. The peace and goodness of the last two months has indeed been spiritually intoxicating. I feared losing it. “Have you become Nārada Muni?” What a strange thought.

 

Nārada Muni gained audience with God only to have that vision quickly disappear. In desperation, he repeatedly tried to regain it, but to no avail. Finally, a divine voice from the sky revealed his defect, “You are not yet complete in service and have a material taint!” His taint? He was attached to the peace and goodness of the serene mountain place where he was meditating. How is that a blemish? Attachment even to goodness is passion and thus stains an otherwise pure consciousness. Permanent audience with God is only for those in viśuddha sattva, pure goodness, who are completely selfless and detached, and they go wherever service takes them, even New York. I hope this helps put my strange question in perspective.

 

Some Sannyāsī!

 

My students and friends from the Middle East were visiting me. I was being lavished with their gifts, and the bed where I was sitting was obscenely piled up with the exotic fruits, nuts and dried fruits from their country. I especially liked the pomegranates as big as softballs, the ambrosial sweet lemons, and the packages and packages of fresh saffron. A new devotee who was visiting Vṛndāvana, a red-headed actress and comedian from New York, suddenly walked in and paid obeisances in front of my bed. She then sat up, looked up at my bounty, and quipped, “Some sannyāsī!”

 

I loved it. That’s my type of city humor. Thinking back on it, I see some truth in it. Sannyāsa literally means “to practice dying”, learning the joy of shedding attachments before they are forcibly taken away. Modern sannyāsa, however, is filled with the accoutrements of opulence, such as followers and wealth. It poses a challenge to anyone entering that order, like sitting on a bed surrounded by doting followers and being showered with opulence. This is not by any means a blanket condemnation of the modern saffron soldiers. It is a caution, especially as a personal reflection on my own life.

 

In the last four months there have been challenges to the order of my world. I tend to handle things well, but when major attachments are threatened it tends to become a bit scary. But realizations also come. Why fret over that which you will lose anyway? Give it up now. Practice dying. Isn’t that what sannyāsa is for anyway? Otherwise, the red-head would be right, “Some sannyāsī!”

 

The Heart of Bhakti

 

Bhakti means devotion or love for God. Love manifest through relationship. The heart of chanting must be a call to understand our relationship with God. That is the specialness of the bhakti theology. Lover? Parent? Friend? O Lord, who am I? Please fully instill that sense in my heart.

 

A final thought: “Have I become Nārada Muni?” What a joke!

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #21 – Spiritual Autism

May 25th, 2020

Autism is a mental disability where one lacks the ability to read minds to the degree that it seriously impairs ordinary social functioning. When I say “autism” in the context of the phrase “spiritual autism”, I am not using the term to describe a mental disability, but rather to describe in an analogous way[1] the general inability of one to comprehend an action without understanding the mind behind it, especially when trying to fully comprehend Krishna’s pastimes.

 

For example, the loving relations between Krishna and the gopīs have nothing to do with mundane lust, the consciousness corresponding to the exchange of similar forms in this world. They are purely a manifestation of the highest devotional mind. One who is not mature in devotion, however, will fail to see that, which is why comparing the inability to understand Krishna’s pastimes and autism is such a good analogy.

 

Another example of what I call “spiritual autism” is the inability to understand spiritual texts without realizing the intention or mind behind their composition. This is described in the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad:

 

“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.” (ŚU 6.23)

 

The import of the Vedas is that one must give up the false ego, the desire for control and superiority. To realize that import, as to understand any deep subject, some preliminary frame of reference is required, a phenomenon of learning similar to how a very young girl must first mature before understanding romance. The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad therefore reminds one that only those who are sincerely trying to transcend the false ego by humbly taking shelter of both the Lord and the spiritual master will have the frame of reference to recognize that same principle in the Vedas. On the other hand, those lacking such a reference, will be unable to comprehend its meaning despite intellectual and linguistic prowess.

 

I was inspired to come up with the analogy of spiritual autism to help communicate a principle that is foundational in achieving perfection on the path of bhakti. The perfection of devotional practice is to fully feel the intense devotion of the pastimes of Krishna described in the Tenth Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, a practice that requires not just understanding the stories, but also realizing the pure intention behind them. Such mature understanding takes place by a systematic reading of the preliminary nine cantos free from spiritual autism, accompanied by the experience of devotion imbibed by humbly taking shelter of Krishna and His devotees. Oh, when will that day be mine?

 

“His pastimes with the gopīs are all displays of transcendental existence, bliss and knowledge, although these are manifested apparently as sex love. The specific attraction of His pastimes with the gopīs should never be misunderstood. The Bhāgavatam relates these transcendental pastimes in the Tenth Canto. And in order to reach the position to understand the transcendental nature of Lord Krishna’s pastimes with the gopīs, the Bhāgavatam promotes the student gradually in nine other cantos.”  (Bhag. 1.3.28, Purport)

 

 


[1] Analogies are meant to compare specific aspects of something with something else. They are not meant necessarily to compare one object with another. For example, if you compare someone’s face to the moon you are complimenting their face for its luster, not as being large and spherical. Similarly, I am using the analogy of autism in terms of the challenge of reading minds and not defining one in total by that, as people with a particular disability such as autism may, of course excel, in other ways intellectually and personally.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #20 – Why I Hate Clichés and Thoughts About Pain

May 18th, 2020

Corona, Karuna is a great pun for someone who accepts theistic philosophy, for within the challenges of destiny even something as pernicious as a devastating pandemic (Corona), there is also God’s mercy (karuna). The problem is that the pun is so obvious that it quickly became overused. When originality is lost, the innate beauty of a pun is also sacrificed, which is the creativity that stirs one’s thoughts, activates one’s intelligence, and thus drives home a point more deeply. In other words, it became a cliché.

 

Where I am going here? I have no specific realization to write about this week, so I am doing what I always do when this happens. I just put my fingers to the keyboard and see what comes. I have spoken about this technique before. There seems to be a magical connection between moving your fingers to write and activating a part of the brain that generates ideas to write about. Well, so far this is what I came up with this week—I said something about clichés that morphed into a discussion of writing. It worked. A topic came. Here’s how:

 

I was a little tired after my initial writing exercise so before continuing I got up from my desk for a little exercise break. Immediately afterwards, I relaxed on my back listening to a lecture from Śrīla Prabhupāda. I heard him say this:

 

We can’t even understand the creation, so how is it possible to understand the creator?  We therefore worship the residents of Vṛndāvana who do not know Krishna. They simply love Krishna.”

 

I really liked what Śrīla Prabhupāda said, but what struck me more than what he said was the conviction with which he said it. It actually it took me off-guard. A thought spontaneously arose, “This is the voice of the soul.” It made me acknowledge my paltry conviction in comparison to what I had just heard. Feeling exposed is painful. It bruises the ego. I felt it, but there was also some sweetness. Humility opens the heart to devotion. A topic finally came.

 

“The Mercy of Pain”

 

I am not sadomasochistic when I say this, but pain is not the problem, the cause of it is. Pain, in fact, has a noble purpose. It is the natural mechanism to indicate that something is wrong. Without pain our problems would go unnoticed and ravage us much more than the pain itself.  One form of pain is internal dissatisfaction. Without that internal sense of discontent, we would never understand that something is wrong and make the effort to go beyond our present level of advancement.

 

Krishna never lets a sincere practitioner of spiritual life rest on his laurels. Even when there is some success, the same effort that produced that taste in devotion is often met with an undercurrent of dissatisfaction just to force us to deepen our practices and realizations. There is room for just one example:

 

After Vyāsadeva completed his editing of the Vedas, which included the composition of the Mahābhārata and the Vedānta-sūtras, he still felt dissatisfied, which forced him to search his consciousness for what he did wrong. He realized he hadn’t sufficiently glorified Krishna. Without that dissatisfaction he would have never had the impetus to go further in his service to compile the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.

 

That’s the message I got today—embrace dissatisfaction in the heart as an indication sent by God that there is something wrong and use it as an impetus to increase our effort in spiritual life.

 

As I began the class with an analysis of a clichéd pun, let me try to offer an original one to highlight today’s topic:

 

Just as mercy (karuna) accompanies pain (Corona), similarly realization and understanding (vidyā) should also be mutual or “co” with our dissatisfaction or pain (Corona). Can we not also call our present crisis “Covidyā-19”?

 

I hate clichés. Worse than that, my own horrible pun.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #19 – The Secret to Advancing in Devotion

May 11th, 2020

A simple sādhu was asked by his friend for his secret in spiritual life. I loved his reply: “I do the same thing every day.” What he said struck me. It was simple and humble, but also brilliant and even witty.

 

A strictly regulated spiritual life certainly doesn’t conjure up the image of excitement. It is the key, however, to a truly dynamic one. Here’s why.

 

The strength of spiritual life are our practices, especially meditation, and the foundation of that practice is concentration. When our concentration is prolonged and uninterrupted, the mind gradually evolves to sattva, or goodness, which simultaneously raises one to a higher level of perception and contentment. It is hard to imagine achieving anywhere near this level of enlivenment without this “same thing every day” type of regulation, which fosters resolve and focus.

 

The mind is usually filled with a myriad of desires and responsibilities, ready at any minute to challenge the object of our meditation for attention. And that challenge becomes infinitely more difficult in today’s world if you add the multiple impressions of media, especially social media, that flood and agitate the mind. Without reserving an exclusive time and space for our spiritual practice every day, where as far as possible there are no other competing responsibilities or attractions, it’s hard to imagine resisting the two main obstacles to our focus, vikṣepa (distraction born of passion) and laya (lethargy and sleep born of ignorance). And without such regulation our practice will surely remain a chore and difficult to maintain. This is certainly true on the path of bhakti.

 

The foundation of bhakti is our relationship with God. Like all relationships, our attention to the object of our adoration is the basis of nourishing that relationship. But again, without the focus that regulated life affords us, we will likely be challenged on the path of bhakti by distraction or sleep, especially during our most important sādhana, the offering of our consciousness to Krishna in the form of His holy name.

 

There is no doubt that our goal is spontaneous devotion, but we should never equate our lack of regulation with such spontaneity. Those who truly have spontaneous devotion make every effort to discipline themselves without distraction. The devotion of Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, the exemplar for spontaneous devotion, was so unwavering and regulated that it was described to be like the lines on a stone.

 

Those who have studied the life of Śrīla Prabhupāda marveled at how regulated his life was, even during his travels around the globe fourteen times. When I first stayed in Vṛndāvana, I had the fortune of being able to gaze out my window in the very early morning to view His Divine Grace sitting on his āsana in front of his desk on his upstairs porch translating the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. No matter where he was, Śrīla Prabhupāda never failed to do that early morning service. That type of resolve and regulation is the story of every accomplished spiritual adept in the history our lineage, even the modern-day saints of devotion.

 

It is great to hear about the exemplars of devotion. But what about us? Shouldn’t we feel discouraged in the attainment of such regulated and sattvic meditation and practice? Bhakti is a science. Therefore, we should feel assured that as soon as we set a time and place daily for a practice, our enthusiasm and taste will gradually grow.

 

I am here in New Jersey on lockdown. It facilitates regulated life. I have strictly scheduled my day mostly around chanting and hearing about Krishna. I joke that I love “my boring life”, but I can’t imagine anything more enlivening than doing the “same thing every day”.

 

“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the six Gosvāmīs, namely Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, Śrī Jiva Gosvāmī, and Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, who were engaged in chanting the holy names of the Lord and bowing down in a scheduled measurement. In this way they utilized their valuable lives, and in executing these devotional activities they conquered overeating and sleeping and were always meek and humble, enchanted by remembering the transcendental qualities of the Lord.” (Śrī Śrī Ṣaḍ-gosvāmy-aṣṭaka, v. 6)

 

 

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