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Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #20 – The Birth of the Śikṣāṣṭakam

May 13th, 2024

After just completing this week’s Monday Morning Greeting based on my theory of when and how the Śikṣāṣṭakam was written, I found a verse indicating that my theory was wrong. So, I was not left with much of a choice—either post a reprint or post what I have written with an explanation. I really try to avoid posting reprints, so I have chosen the latter. I reasoned that even though I came to the wrong conclusion on the historicity of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, I think my post gives an interesting and important view on Śrī Caitanya’s relationship to the holy name in terms of His mission and how philosophical speculation works and what can be gleaned from it.[1] Therefore, I have added this introduction, and I will include another short paragraph following my original post highlighting what I think were the important points one could gather from this week’s Greetings.

 

The Birth of the Śikṣāṣakam

 

This post is an attempt to pinpoint when Śrī Caitanya wrote the Śikṣāṣṭakam, His only literary contribution of eight verses summarizing His mission. Within the biographies of Śrī Caitanya, there is in no definitive description of Him writing the Śikṣāṣṭakam, nor in those descriptions of His God-intoxicated life is there even any indication that writing, which was a very cumbersome process at the time, was an activity He would have given His time to. I have a theory, however, how the Śikṣāṣṭakam was born based on the twentieth and last chapter of the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, His main biography, titled “The Śikṣāṣṭaka Prayers”. To elucidate my point, I need to first explain and analyze the beginning of the chapter. Please bear with me as the relevance of my initial analysis won’t be clear until I come to the part where Śrī Caitanya begins to recite His seminal composition.

 

“The Śikṣāṣṭaka Prayers” begins with a description of the various intense emotions Śrī Caitanya felt towards the end of His life produced by ecstatic love for Śrī Krishna. These sentiments parallel the deepest sentiments of Śrī Radha that fulfill the internal reason for the Lord’s descent, which is to taste Śrī Radha’s feelings at the height of Her love. Besides this internal cause of the Lord’s appearance (why He appeared for Himself) there is an external cause for His descent (why He appeared for others), which is to distribute such devotion. The fulfillment of His external mission is described in the chapter that directly precedes “The Śikṣāṣṭaka Prayers”, Chapter Nineteen. There it is described how Śrī Advaita Ācārya, who first petitioned the Lord to appear, and is therefore considered one of the prime causes for His descent, sent Śrī Caitanya a cryptic message strongly indicating that His mission had been fulfilled and that He could now return to His eternal abode. In other words, “The Śikṣāṣṭaka Prayers”, this last chapter of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which is set at a time at the end of His life, begins with a clear indication that both missions of the Lord have now been fulfilled.

 

Next what is described is how Śrī Caitanya tasted the devotional sentiments that He had attained with His two most confidential associates. He would sing songs and recite verses imbibing the rasa (mood) of Śrī Radha, at times losing Himself throughout the night in a particular mood or pastime expressing those feelings. Amid such intense joy and reflecting on the success of His descent, which He is now tasting, He suddenly turns to His associates and gratefully acknowledges the cause of the fulfillment of His mission.

 

“In great jubilation, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, ‘My dear Svarūpa Dāmodara and Rāmānanda Rāya, know from Me that chanting the holy names is the most feasible means of salvation in this Age of Kali.’” (Antya-līlā 20.8)

 

From here on in, rather than return to His discussion of the pastimes of Śrī Śrī Radha and Krishna, Śrī Caitanya continues to elaborate with deep emotion on the glories of the holy name. It’s almost as if He is getting carried away with a personal ecstasy. Then after expressing the glories of the holy name in a conversational, non-poetic manner, a formal composition of those same thoughts, the first verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, spontaneously flows from His heart. He then, in a seeming continued trance of personal ecstasy, continues to extol the glories of the holy name and progressively produce in a similar manner the remaining verses of the Śikṣāṣṭakam.

 

My theory in summary: After completing His mission and relishing the fruits of His attainment in association with His confidential associates, and in acknowledgment of the cause of such fortune, the Śikṣāṣṭakam comes from His heart in an ecstatic trance, conveniently codifying His legacy at the end of His pastimes in this world. And we know from His biography that this type of extraordinary wordcraft was well within His ability. In His mid-teens, when He was a brilliant student of Sanskrit and before He had awakened ecstatic love of Godhead, in a debate with Keśava Kāśmīrī, the top scholar in India at the time, Śrī Caitanya was able to spontaneously memorize and correct on the spot the most minor grammatical defects of the one hundred verses composed about the Ganga by the renowned pandit extemporaneously. And that’s my theory of the birth of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, having no other indication in the biography of Śrī Caitanya of how and when He wrote anything.

 

After finishing the above essay and going over Chapter Twenty again, I came upon a verse that sunk my theory. Although it doesn’t indicate when He wrote the Śikṣāṣṭakam, Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja writes:

 

“The Lord had formerly composed these eight verses [pūrve aṣṭa-śloka kari] to teach people in general. Now He personally tasted the meaning of the verses, which are called the Śikṣāṣṭaka.” (Antya-līlā 20.64, emphasis mine)

 

There is still no light, as far as I know, when Śrī Caitanya wrote the Śikṣāṣṭakam, but what hopefully comes out in my attempt to resolve that quandary, even if wrong, is just how much nāma-saṅkīrtana is at the root of what Śrī Caitanya gave, for even when relishing the height of devotion with His two closest associates, still thoughts of appreciation and gratitude for nāma-saṅkīrtana still overwhelmed Him. Could I have been wrong, but for the right reason?

 

 


[1] There is difference between mental speculation, which Vaiṣṇavas reject, and philosophical speculation which they accept. In mental speculation you reason to find out if the philosophical conclusions in a tradition are true, In philosophical speculation you speculate how they are true. In this case, I am accepting the authority of the Śikṣāṣṭakam and that its author was Śrī Caitanya, and I am just trying to figure out how it was composed.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #19 – A Decade of Tears

May 6th, 2024

This morning, I found out that my godbrother His Holiness Gopal Krishna Maharaja passed away. I won’t go into the details, but his service for Śrīla Prabhupāda was practically unparalleled, and he will be missed dearly, but what I remember about him most was that he treated devotees with respect and never criticized others. In his honor I will offer this fairly recent Monday Morning Greetings[1] reminding us how important it is to honor all devotees, big and small, who have given their lives to God, while they are among us.

 

A Decade of Tears

The phrase struck me. I was talking with Bhūrijana Prabhu after the passing of Śrīla Bhakti-caru Swami. We began to reflect on the fact that practically all of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples have just turned near seventy when this decade began, if not before, and that it was evident that as the decade proceeds, the number of our god-siblings that leave us will exponentially increase. We shared some pain at the thought. As our discussion ended his parting comment struck me: “It will be a decade of tears.”

 

Honestly, I never felt this deep sense of upcoming loss before. Maybe it comes with age, or maybe as I mature in spiritual life my heart is softening. I am not sure. What is certain, however, is that as one is advancing in Krishna consciousness, those who sincerely represent that should be valued more and more. It’s śāstra:

 

“Śrī Caitanya asked, ‘Of all kinds of distress, what is the most painful?’

Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya replied, ‘Apart from separation from the devotee, I know of no unbearable distress.’” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 8.248)

 

True friends and well-wishers should be missed when they pass from this world. They add so much to the development and comfort of one’s life. When they are dedicated Vaiṣṇavas they add even more. They nourish the soul. Their loss to the world and our lives is incalculable.

 

I remember over twenty years ago before The Bhakti Center was secured, we used to host programs in 26 Second Avenue. You can imagine how packed it was when Śrīla Radhanath Swami visited and gave class. I invited one young Jewish lady from Brooklyn to the program whom I had been guiding for the past year. She was a budding professional comedian who even appeared several times as a guest panelist on the very popular television improvisational comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway with Drew Carey.[2] I had introduced her a few months back to Mahārāja, so she was very anxious to see him again, but at the end of the class Mahārāja was mobbed in the front of the room. She was also by nature a very self-conscious person, so she hid towards the back in a little corner where the wall suddenly veered off to the right. When Mahārāja finished giving audience, however, and began walking towards the door, he noticed her to his right. He slowly walked towards her to greet her. She immediately broke down in tears but managed to sob, “I am so fallen, but I feel such relief that people like you are traveling around the globe helping others!” Later Mahārāja shared with me how much he appreciated her sentiment of humble appreciation for devotees. We should also.

 

We may not be attracted to every senior Vaiṣṇava we meet. Some have even failed to live up to the standards we expect and disappoint us, or it may just be that we just fail to see the inspired spiritual and dedicated side of an advanced Vaiṣṇava because they are not like-minded with us. This young lady, hardly a practitioner, however, got it right. There is something very special about sincere devotees who have given their whole life to God whether we are like-minded with them or not. It will certainly a sad day when any of them leave us.

 

Even more tragic is the loss of those people who are not just more dedicated than us, but those whom we deeply relate with and who have affection for us. If we have such people in our lives, whether as friends or mentors, we should consider ourselves very fortunate. When they leave a part of our life will be missing. I do have such people in my life. Sadly, their time with us is in a sense numbered, and as these next ten years go on, more and more of them will sadly leave us.

 

It is an unfortunate phenomenon that often we most appreciate the important people in our lives after they have left us. Let us all now think of the blessings we have and are receiving from those dedicated devotees who have given their lives to uplift others for decades and who have personally touched our hearts. Let this next decade therefore not just be a decade of tears but an epoch of increased appreciation of and service to those who have carried the mission of His Divine Grace into our lives.

 

“Then Śrī Caitanya asked, ‘Out of all auspicious and beneficial activities, which is the best for the living entity?’

Rāmānanda Rāya replied, ‘The only auspicious activity is association with the devotees of Krishna.’’ (Cc. Madhya-līlā 8.251)

 

 


[1] Originally published September 5, 2022.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whose_Line_Is_It_Anyway%3F_(American_TV_series)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #18 – Dog Bites Monk: Part Two

April 29th, 2024

After that dog attacked me, I remained quite calm, almost as an observer. I guess different people react in different ways—some shaken up, some perhaps angry or even hysterical. I was a bit proud of how much I could extract myself from the drama, but after my friend cleaned my wound and I went back to my room, I was surprised by how much the dog’s antagonism towards me had entered my body. In other words, although I wasn’t traumatized, in the sense that I could observe what happened and not react to it emotionally, I could still see that trauma of aggression within me and feel it somewhat physically. Thinking back on that observation affirmed an important realization: Our words and actions can carry our emotions to others—a realization that is also applicable to the path of devotion where our words and work serve as a vehicle to carry our devotion to God for His pleasure, which is the essence of devotional practice.

 

This phenomenon is clearly expressed in Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s principal definition of pure devotion where he explains that the primary characteristic of pure devotion is that the endeavors of one’s mind, body, and words flow towards Krishna carrying our intention to please Him.[1]

 

This same principle is also indicated in the Yoga-sūtras in terms of japa meditation, where Patañjali writes that one should dwell on the meaning of the mantra, which is full surrender to Īśvara (God), and carry that mood of devotion to God through the mantra to invoke His mercy.[2]

 

And certainly, this applies to kirtan. What is kirtan? “Kirtan is when the bhava (devotion) in the heart is expressed through the discipline of music.”[3]

 

Our practical service must also carry our devotion to Krishna. I heard this nicely explained by a local sādhu in Vrindavan in a charming way: “The term for servant in Sanskrit is sevāk. If you take away sevā (the mood of service) from sevāk (the person doing the act of service) you are left only with vak. Vak or bak represents Bakāsura, the duck demon in krishnalīlā who represents duplicity.”[4]

 

As I was chanting this morning, this realization of the mantra carrying my devotion to Krishna came to my mind, impelling me to listen carefully to the sincerity of my chanting so that I truly meant what I was saying—a call to Śrī Krishna begging for a heart of service and the mercy of the holy name.

 

So, this ends my two-part series of “Dog Bites Monk” (and enlightens him).

 


[1] “One should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa favorably and without desire for material profit or gain through fruitive activities or philosophical speculation. That is called pure devotional service.” (Brs.1.1.11)

[2] Vyasa, the main commentator on the Yoga Sutras, describes how the mantra expressing surrender invokes His mercy: “Devotion to God, according to Vyāsa, involves a particular type of devotion, bhakti-viśeṣa; simply by the yogī’s longing, God bestows his grace upon the yogī. When this happens, the fruits of samādhi become quickly available.” (Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary 1.23, Professor Edwin Bryant)

[3] Sat Hari Singh Khalsa, “Kirtan: The Sacred Music of the Sikhs,” Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Volume 17, No. 2 (Spring 2009), 169–184.

[4] I can’t remember where I heard it.

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #17 – Dog Bites Monk: Part One

April 22nd, 2024

Dog Bites Monk: Part One

 

Nothing serious. I just got my robes ripped to shreds and a nibble on my calf and thigh. Maybe a little more than a nibble, but nothing too serious.[1] Anyway, another opportunity to see things through the eyes of śāstra.

 

Realization One

 

Somehow, it was a peaceful time, the rare stretch where things seemed to fall in place, or at least no real major life challenges, which usually seem to always plague one, and a little more excitement than usual —some real good programs to look forward to. So just feeling great, and then I opened the door to the luxurious tropical backyard from the guestroom at my friend’s house in Boca Raton on the east coast of Florida. Ruff, ruff, ruff, real loud and vicious—I was attacked by a ferocious large, white half-German Shepherd, half-Labrador Retriever before I even got out the door. My first thought after the adrenaline rush to deal with the task at hand: “There was nothing I could do. It was destiny. Anything can happen at any time. I am not the controller.” And it became clear to me why Śrī Krishna never lets us rest in our comfort zone. My thought process:

 

It’s subtle, but this is what I witnessed in myself. I saw that if one is not careful when things are going well, one can subtly fortify the general illusion that we are the controller and enjoyer, which fosters the misplaced faith that happiness is based on our ability to conform a world to one’s desires, which is never under one’s control, instead of the proper and soul-nourishing faith of conforming one’s desires to God’s will in service, which is always under one’s control. The dog therefore represented the challenges that destiny brings to dampen the fantasy of attaining happiness now and in the future based on controlling destiny to impel to us to a healthy faith dependent on simply our free will, the choices we make. I think my point will be better understood by sharing one scientific study:[2]

 

There were two rooms with ten frogs each. One room had a large pot of boiling water and the other had a large pot of just hot water, but not hot enough so the frogs could not go in. After a few days, the rooms were opened and all the frogs in the room with boiling water were alive and all the frogs in the room with hot water were dead. What happened? In the room with boiling water, the frogs who naturally love water went in and immediately jumped out. In the rooms with hot water, the frogs stayed in the water, got dehydrated and died. Similarly, just like the frog in the water that killed them, we get attached to the world to the extent it goes our way, but as it binds us to the bodily concept of life, such attachment ultimately increases our suffering, especially of the unavoidable experiences of death, disease, and old age. And just like the boiling water that prevented the frog from dwelling in something that would kill them, the disturbances that come from destiny detach us from the world of birth and death and impel us to surrender to and serve God, to find real happiness by changing our consciousness rather than simply manipulating the world.

 

Ruff, ruff, ruff, and that’s what I learned from dog bites monk.

 


[1] It was my friend’s dog who had just come from a shelter and was being trained. He was familiar with the family but apprehensive of strangers. I was warned, but when I saw my friend outside, I thought I would be safe. The dog was already checked for rabies and was clear, and although I still have two definitive bite marks on my calf and thigh, it was somehow never painful.

[2] I heard this once, but I don’t recall where.

 

Monday Morning Greeting 2024 #16 – From Logos to Mythos: A Practicum in Adding Life to One’s Spiritual Practices

April 15th, 2024

When Jaya Jagannath arrived for this year’s Bhakti Immersion retreat in Colombia, I told him that I had changed the topic I would be speaking on. Instead of speaking on the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta I would be speaking on the Śikṣāṣṭaka prayers from Chapter 20 of the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. He seemed pleasantly surprised, announcing it as “serendipitous”. He explained why: His idea was to teach the attendees of his seminars to approach the text from the platform of what he called mythos, where one engages with the prayers of the Bhāgavatam as if they are the characters of the narrative and the prayers are coming from their own hearts, rather than what he called logos, approaching the text as a passive observer from the platform of understanding, which is exactly what is described in Chapter 20 of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta. There it is described how Śrī Caitanya used the stories of the Bhāgavatam to also enter its mythos, or the prevalent attitude that the verses of the narrative communicated. Jaya Jagannath is using the word mythos creatively, but when I share the exercise that he gave to the students in his seminar, and the work that they produced, it will be apparent what he was trying to do, and how it is exactly what the Bhāgavatam as a rasa-śāstra is meant to accomplish—to not just explain what is bhakti, but to make the reader feel and own the prayers of the text as if it is their own.

 

I will share two of the poems written as part of the exercise Jaya Jagannath gave, although they were all exceptional. Mind you, most of the participants were people who have only recently come to Krishna consciousness.

 

This may be a little longer than my usual Monday Morning Greeting, but I guarantee that once you read one, you will continue. They’re that good.

 

The Monday Morning Greeting format is not long enough to elaborate on all the preliminary teaching and preparation that Jaya Jagannath gave to the attendees, but the gist is that he asked the students to try to own, in a very honest and practical way, the following verse:

 

“Dear Kṛṣṇa, please pour the nectar of Your lips upon the fire within our hearts—a fire You ignited with Your smiling glances and the sweet song of Your flute. If You do not, we will consign our bodies to the fire of separation from You, O friend, and thus like yogīs attain to the abode of Your lotus feet by meditation.” (Bhag. 10.29.35)

 

The first poem is by Patrick from Chatham, New York. He is in his mid-thirties, and for most of his working career he has earned his living as an actor in New York. He is gay. Normally one’s sexual orientation is not worth mentioning to describe one following the path of bhakti, but it is necessary here to do so here to understand the context of his poem.

 

“Knowing You Now”

 

I’ve been burned by You before

but I didn’t know it was You

I mistook You

for Scott, Steven, Sebastian and Tom

I stopped short of seeing You

Making these men my god.

And so I suffered in a blaze of material existence.

Expecting them to fulfill what only You can.

Fruitlessly worshipping their form, situating myself ever deeper in my material condition.

Seeking to extinguish this small fire with medicines that would only temper the flames temporarily.

But this suffering is like a sunburn

compared to the inferno of what I know is possible

by Knowing You Now.

What once singed, now scorches.

The fire of my desire to know you Krsna is so intense it transforms

my material lust into an authentic love thirst that only the nectar from your lips can quench.

You taught me that my capacity for worshipping form wasn’t entirely wrong. Just misguided. That You too have form, and hips and eyes and a smile that I might meditate upon.

Instead of their slender physique I now yearn for your soft belly and curved hips.

Instead of their attention, I now only desire Yours.

And yet…you play me more than any of the guys I’ve crushed on in the past.

More intense yet is the fire of separation when I am not near you Krsna.

When you seemingly disappear from my sight.

You call me, I come running but You are nowhere to be found.

So fervent are the flames of this fire that it transforms my form in such a way that I no longer recognize who I once was

The shape of my former self

melted away like hot molten

cast in a new form

again and again

closer and closer each time to what will one day be revealed to me as my own true identity in eternal loving relationship with You.

But today—I burn.

You started this fire and only You can put it out.

I am not attached to the outcome.

Extinguished or not.

For You are both the fire and the fire fighter.

If You desire that I burn—then so be it.

But grant me at least that I burn in deep and unrelenting meditation on your Lotus Feet.

 

 

The next poem is by Anastasia Catz. She is just past her mid-twenties and a very talented actress, who like most actresses beginning their career, has to supplement their income from acting with a full-time job.

 

“For you”

 

Every day I come home from work

Fall on the floor and internally scream

Why do I have to endure a block after block

And it’s still full on darkness and no sign of your mercy’s beam

 

Have I not made enough sacrifices, have I not chanted enough rounds

Have I not cleaned my vices

Have I not crossed the right bounds?

Have I not cried enough by the altar have I not poured my heart inside out

Or is your heart made of the rock of Gibraltar

And you didn’t hear when I howled?

 

If you meant to leave me waterless in this drought

And I am to burn in this invisible flame of life

Then why did you gift me the divine sound

That made me feel so fortunate and rife

 

Why did you reveal the ultimate truth like it’s no big deal

And now leaving me on read after the whole ordeal?

 

I want to go deaf when you’re not playing your flute

I want to go blind when you’re not showing in my meditation

I want to follow Sati’s route

I need salvation.

 

I just want to serve you some butter

And go back to my original form

I am so tired of being in this gutter

All I am asking really is for you to take me home.

 

But if you don’t

here is what I am going to do:

I will continue coming home after my debilitating work

And I will continue yearning for you.

 

 

And that’s just a sample of from logos to mythos, a practicum on how to add life to one’s spiritual practice that more than met our expectations.[1]

 

 


[1] For those of you who would like to experience from Logos to Mythos and my seminar we will be doing the same thing in Upstate New York also joined by Hari-kirtana das. Information below:

 

Ready to liberate yourself from the mundane this Fourth of July?

 

Join Dhanurdhara Swami, Jaya Jagannath das, Hari-kirtana das, and special guests for the annual Bhakti Immersion—Upstate New York Retreat from July 4-6, 2024, at Pumpkin Hollow Retreat Center in upstate New York.

 

These three amazing days will feature: Transformative classes and workshops. Rollicking kirtans. Uplifting association. Nine delicious vegetarian meals. And enough free time to relish the 130 acres of open fields and lush forests or take a jaunt to any of upstate NY’s little towns and hamlets.

 

Arrive at Pumpkin Hollow on Thursday July 4th any time after 2:00 pm. Depart on Sunday July 6th after lunch.

 

Cost: $675 per person for a shared room. There are a limited number of single rooms available at $800 per person. Camping sites are available for $175 per person per day, and commuters are $150 per day.

 

A $150 deposit holds your spot and gives you first dibs on the cabin of your choice. If you came last year and liked your cabin, we would be happy to assign you to the same room.

 

For information and registration contact [email protected].

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #15 – A Beautiful and Puzzling Theology

April 8th, 2024

A puzzling verse:

 

“Only the most fortunate will relish the mad words of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, which were mixed with jubilation, envy, agitation, submissiveness and grief, all produced by ecstatic loving emotions.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 20.1)

 

This verse is from the last chapter of the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. I was up to this verse in my class and was asked to explain it. I thought deeply about how and realized that first I needed to explain the theology of Śrī Caitanya. Below are my thoughts as to why Śrī Caitanya is such a necessary manifestation of the divine and then my attempt to explain this verse in context:

 

  1. God means the Supreme Controller.
  2. Supreme Controller means Supreme Enjoyer. Why else would control be necessary?
  3. The ultimate enjoyment is pure love, and therefore to be the Supreme Enjoyer means to have the fullest experience of pure love.
  4. Love is an energy experienced between two people in relationship to each other – the object of love (the beloved) and the subject of love (the lover).
  5. It is a principle of love that the lover enjoys more than the beloved. Take motherly love, for example. The object of that love is the child, the beloved of the mother, and subject of that love is the mother, the lover of the child. They both enjoy the same energy of motherly love but from a different vantage point. But who enjoys that motherly energy more? Is it not our experience that the mother, or one who gives love, even though selfless, enjoys more than the beloved, or one receiving it?
  6. In the same way, according to Gauḍīya theology, in terms of love of God, although God (the beloved of the devotees) and the devotee (the lover of God) both enjoy the same love or energy between them, called prema, it is the devotee who enjoys that love more.
  7. Therefore, for God to be the Supreme Enjoyer and thus claim an Absolute position, He must also experience love from the perspective of His devotee.
  8. And that is the story of Śrī Caitanya, how God, who is relishing the love of His devotees, also becomes His own devotee in order to experience the joy of being a lover of God. But there is more.
  9. Śrī Krishna (God), to be the Supreme Enjoyer, must not only enjoy the love of His devotee, but He must also enjoy the love of His topmost devotee and at the height of that love. Therefore, Śrī Caitanya is the story of Śrī Krishna becoming His own devotee to experience the love of Śrī Radha at the time of her deepest separation from Śrī Krishna, which is the height of Her love.

 

Now that I have explained the ontology of Śrī Caitanya, now let us try to make sense of what is described in the first verse of this chapter referenced in the introduction. When emotion reaches an all-consuming height, it is called rasa whether it’s tragedy (karuṇa-rasa), romance (śṛṅgāra-rasa), chivalry (vīra-rasa), or in the case of devotion to God, bhakti-rasa. Now if bhakti-rasa is the all-consuming height of devotion and, in fact, the pleasure potency of God, then how can we imagine the height and intensity of that emotion experienced by Śrī Radha in her deepest feelings of separation from Śrī Krishna and emulated by Śrī Caitanya? Describing the very end part of Śrī Caitanya’s life, Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja tries to give us a glimpse of what Śrī Caitanya’s attainment of such overwhelming ecstatic emotions is like, beginning with introductory verse of the final chapter of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.

 

“Only the most fortunate will relish the mad words of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, which were mixed with jubilation, envy, agitation, submissiveness and grief, all produced by ecstatic loving emotions.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 20.1)

 

A puzzling verse indeed and this is my humble attempt to make sense of it.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #14 – How a Podcast Saved My Life

April 1st, 2024

Not really, but I think listening to one recently may have significantly improved my life. Here’s the story:

 

The non-stop flight from New Delhi to NYC is grueling. The passion of fast paced traveling and the ordeal of being confined to a less than ideal seat does not create goodness nor enlightened consciousness, to say the least. I resist the lure of the entertainment offered on the touch screen, but I needed some distraction. In desperation, I turned on the screen and looked for a kosher podcast. I found one—a wisdom one. I want to relate what I heard, but I didn’t even remember the name of the podcast, nor the person being interviewed who had impressed me. I was, however, able to find his name by searching some catchy phrase that I remembered in the title of the book he wrote, Tiny Habits. Professor B.J. Fogg has dedicated his life to the study of behavior modification, focusing on favorably developing good habits, the things we do in a regular and repeated way to improve our life. His analysis was brilliant and immediately applicable. A summary is below and then a link to his Ted Talk.[1]

 

B.J. Fogg has found that the most important thing in developing habits is making small commitments or tiny habits instead of proposing some significant change. He explains what he found to be the three foundations of developing a successful habit: motivation, ability, and a prompt or trigger.

 

Motivation is self-explanatory—the degree to which you believe or have reason to achieve a proposal. Ability is one’s capability to achieve one’s goal, and a prompt or trigger is an event that causes something to start.

 

B.J. Fogg discovered that, in general, the more difficult one’s commitment to implement change, the less one’s motivation is when it comes the time to do it. As a result, we rarely succeed in creating a habit when what we want to achieve is too challenging. Makes sense. How many times have we proposed some change in our life and failed because we found the task to laborious and our motivation consequently waning? Therefore, Dr. Fogg suggests that to develop a habit we should keep our motivation high by proposing easily attainable goals that facilitate success in developing a regular and repeated activity. Once the habit has been regularized, the intensity of the habit can then naturally increase.

 

One more thing is needed to solidify a habit: a prompt to remind one to do it. He defined a prompt as something that triggers a new behavior, which is best done by having the new habit follow an existing activity that is already being done regularly. I will now give an example from Dr. Fogg’s own life that demonstrates how brilliant and effective his technique is.

 

Dr. Fogg’s doctor told him that he needed to regularly exercise to maintain his health. He had been trying for years, but he set rigid goals and therefore lacked the motivation to implement them regularly. He then applied his three-fold technique to the problem. He vowed that every time after he passed water, he would do two push-ups, which gave him both the ability and motivation to succeed. The trigger was also obviously there, because going to the bathroom many times a day reminded him of his small commitment. Having been habituated to regular exercise, it was now easy to naturally increase his commitment. He now does almost two hundred push-ups a day regularly and repeatedly.

 

I was inspired by Dr. Fogg’s talk and practical system of behavior modification. I therefore decided to also implement his system in my own life by adding one habit a week. I started with the most important thing: reading the Bhāgavatam. It’s not that I don’t study śāstra. I am now studying and teaching Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta and writing on the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, but I felt that to further nourish my relationship with Śrīla Prabhupāda I needed to engage with the sound vibration of his purports daily. I thus decided that every day when I get up I would read for fifteen minutes. The trigger was obviously there because one rises daily, and the motivation was also there because fifteen minutes isn’t a lot. It works and I now read the Bhāgavatam every day for at least fifteen minutes, but usually more. Next week I will work on exercise, and the following week taking my vitamins, which I always seem to forget to do. I have long list of habits to implement and improve my life. It’s exciting.

 

And that’s how a podcast saved my life or at least improved it!

 


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdKUJxjn-R8

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #13 – A Day in the Life in Vraja

March 25th, 2024

“A Day in the Life in Vraja” comes from some notes I took during the last ekādaśī I spent in Govardhan.

 

An old acquaintance organized a retreat in Govardhan of prominent Vaiṣṇava scholars lecturing in English who were either living in or visiting Vrindavan. He texted me to please attend. I was off to Varsana that day for an overnight stay—a first for me—but on my friend’s request I first stopped by the retreat to hear the lecture of an elderly and venerable Vaiṣṇava, a retired Sanskrit professor and a Bhāgavatam scholar. He made some very interesting points. One stuck in my mind:

 

If we want to develop deep love for Śrī Krishna, we must know His svarūpa. Although I usually haven’t understood the term svarūpa in the way he was using it, I understood from his lecture that by svarūpa he meant Krishna’s inner self—His character or heart. This understanding is more inspirational, he said, than just knowing His position or opulence, like His beauty or power, for instance. He gave an example to illustrate the superiority of knowing a person’s svarūpa over just understanding their opulence. An honorable man who gets married to a qualified wife may initially be more attracted to her beauty or social status, but if the wife is a loving person and her husband develops a deep relationship with her, then even if she gets older or even disabled, she will still be attractive to him. In fact, she will be even more attractive to her husband than when he initially met her because he now deeply knows her heart. In the same way, the most attractive aspect of Śrī Krishna is not His opulence, but His heart, which is revealed to those who have developed a relationship with Him. The process to know the svarūpa of Krishna is the glorification of Him, an expression of love that naturally inspires Krishna to give His heart to His devotee.

 

After the morning class, I headed to Varsana with Savyasaci das, an ISKCON devotee and a resident of Govardhan. He accompanied my group on my Govardhan retreat this year, and we very much appreciated his insights. When we got to Varsana, we first sat at Pili Pokar [1] Kund near our hotel and reflected on what we heard that morning, then added our own points. The gist of our discussion:

 

The heart is the only instrument we have that can feel and express emotions, and therefore it is so important to keep the heart fit for devotion to Śrī Krishna by offering all respects to others. In other words, one just can’t be envious and hateful with people and then with the same heart turn to God and feel devotion. Savyasaci thought of an analogy to help illustrate this point by comparing the heart to a musical instrument. Just as a musical instrument that is not tuned properly cannot produce beautiful music, similarly a heart improperly tuned to hate and envy, will not be able to turn towards Krishna and feel and produce beautiful and devotional feelings.

 

After sitting at Pili Pokar for our discussions, we decided to complete the whole Varsana parikramā. Afterwards we took some rest and then attended the all night kirtan at the ashram of the venerable Śrī Vinod Baba. Baba used to chant every evening, but now he only chants on Ekādaśī, so his small ashram was especially packed. By the time I got there at 11:00 PM, the only place to sit was around the corner from the main kirtan maṇḍapa even beyond the mats covering the ground for the audience to sit on. I humbly sat down, but the locals saw me, an older visiting sannyāsī, and accommodated me. I was soon up front where I could see Vinod Baba and the other kīrtanīyās. I absolutely loved the kirtan, but what impressed me even more was the humble mood of the Vaiṣṇava audience, especially how eager they were to respect and serve others.

 

A day in the life in the real Vraja: Respect for all others and chanting the holy constantly. I will miss Govardhan.

 


[1] https://www.brajrasik.org/media/peeli-pokhar-barsana

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #12 – Why Humility is the Jewel of Devotional Practice

March 18th, 2024

Humility is the most important quality in developing devotion. I am therefore always interested in explaining it in various ways to save it from conjuring up misconceptions, such as humility is weakness or that humility fosters low self-esteem. That’s what I will do in this post, but first I need to make the concept of “authority”, which is fundamental to my definition, properly understood, as “authority” means different things to different people based on their personal and cultural experience or what definition they use. First, my definition of humility and then a clarification of the use of the word “authority” in terms of that definition: Humility means to give up one’s false and personal authority to the abode of real authority.

 

I am not using the word “authority” here in the sense of “the power and right to give orders and to make others obey”, because to acquiesce to such authority would indicate that the blind followers of despots and cult leaders would be humble. Rather, I am using the word “authority” in the sense of “a person of special knowledge” and humility as the tendency to acquiesce to such an authority, specifically to the Absolute Truth.

 

Also, when I refer to the authority of an Absolute Truth, I am not referring to a specific deity or a particular religion, but more in the sense that there is a logos, a truth embedded within the universe, and that humility is the tendency and feeling to be ruled by universal principles or truths above one’s own authority.

 

To help make this concept clearer I thought of an analogy to put this perspective of humility in the proper light. Relinquishing one’s personal authority to a greater authority is like the mood of child happily taking full shelter of their loving mother. The analogy is not meant to demonstrate that a humble person needs to be under the constant direction of someone else, for such a person can fend and think for themselves, as those principles of authority (higher knowledge) have already been internalized by their education and life experience.   In other words, the analogy is meant to demonstrate that, like a child in their mother’s arms, a humble person has a positive sense of insignificance when acknowledging the care and direction from a higher authority.

 

The first symptom of humility is therefore realizing that one’s own personal authority in pursuit of happiness has miserably failed, and that prudence dictates that one seeks a greater authority than one’s own regarding such a pursuit. If one is sincere and fortunate, by God’s grace, one will certainly find such shelter and fully surrender to the direction of such authority (higher knowledge).  As one’s life flourishes under such truth and the people who represent it, the validity of God’s authority and the limits of one’s own becomes more apparent and a deep sense of humility wells in the heart. Feeling mercy from God in this way, one’s devotion also blossoms. So, in this sense I see humility as giving up one’s false and personal authority to the realm of true authority, which, even more significantly, is the jewel of devotional practice:

 

“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street, more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant constantly.” (Śikṣāṣṭakam 3)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #11 – Immigration and the Gītā

March 11th, 2024

Immigration and the Gītā[1]

 

April 10, 2017

A friend of mine in Washington, D.C. complained to me that the Hare Krishna movement is losing a good opportunity to share the profundity of its teachings by not being involved in spiritual activism.[2] I will take up his challenge by commenting on the modern-day mess in governance by analyzing immigration policy based on the Bhagavad-gītā.

 

There are two extreme views of immigration. One is radically exclusive nationalism, wherein, in the US, “America First” is the only principle, and to protect that principle we have to apply the letter of the law seemingly without heart. In this view, families can sometimes be separated and people who have been terribly oppressed, some who have sacrificed their lives abroad for American interest, can be detained or deported upon arrival, even if they have already been thoroughly vetted.

 

The other view is radically inclusive globalism, a perspective that sees any imposition based on nationalist borders as antithetical to both humanistic and spiritual values. I will argue based on the Gītā that both of these views lack compassion and sensibility.

 

The extremism of the first view would be opposed by verses in the Gītā that present the universality of living entities based on the soul.

 

“The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Gītā 5.18)

 

Such verses either imply or outright condemn viewing people according to the bodily concept of life such as nationalism. Another of many examples:

 

“That knowledge by which one sees that in every different body there is a different type of living entity you should understand to be in the mode of passion.” (Gītā 18.21)

 

It should also be noted in this discussion that at times Srila Prabhupada spoke very strongly against borders based on artificial bodily distinction:

 

“We pass through Canada to USA. Why Canada? Why USA? This is bodily concept. ‘It is meant for the Canadians,’ ‘it is meant for USA, Americans.’ Immigration, customs, the same mentality as a dog coming from another neighborhood. The other dogs, they all come together, ‘Yow, yow, why you have come, why you have come?’ In civilized dress only. This is the position. What is the difference between the dog’s mentality . . . When another dog comes to another neighborhood, these neighborhood dogs, you know that? All animals. ‘Yow, why you have come?’ So this department, ‘Why you have come here?’ dogs barking, and this immigration, what is the difference?” (June 2, 1976 Toronto)

 

Although the Gītā certainly speaks about the principle of universality, the underlying value against nationalism, it also promotes the value of reciprocity, a view opposed to indiscriminate globalism. I would define reciprocity as the principle of caring more for those dependent on one, such as family, or in this case a government, giving special care or consideration for its citizens, and to understand that not doing so is impersonal. Before I reference the Gītā, I would like to share an interesting exchange that Confucius had with an adversary specifically in relation to this tension:

 

“Confucius advocated ‘care with distinctions’: we owe everyone a baseline benevolence, but we have specific duties toward those close to us, those who have done us the most good, like our family, our parents, our close friends.

 

“He was opposed by Mozi, a philosopher who argued that we owe everyone the same care, that the idea of specific obligations was too much like partiality.

 

“Confucius’ disciples like Mencius argue that Mozi’s idea is completely impracticable; even Mozi’s best followers treated their parents with special care. But worse, it is immoral: to treat people who have sacrificed much for us, like our parents, the same way that we treat a stranger is grossly offensive.”[3]

 

It seems clear that in the Gītā Krishna also supports this principle, “care with distinction,” that challenges the extremism of the second view.

 

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Gītā 9.29)

 

In his purport Srila Prabhupada discusses how the very basis of personalism is that one appropriately reciprocates with those under one’s care and such “partiality” is beyond selfishness and karma. I would recommend that one read the whole purport, but here is just a small excerpt where Srila Prabhupada defends special care as natural, not narrow:

 

“One may question here that if Kṛṣṇa is equal to everyone and no one is His special friend, then why does He take a special interest in the devotees who are always engaged in His transcendental service? But this is not discrimination; it is natural. Any man in this material world may be very charitably disposed, yet he has a special interest in his own children.” (Gītā 9.29, purport)

 

Another famous reference for the principle of reciprocity as being above prejudice:

 

“As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pṛthā.” (Gītā 4.11)

 

In his purport Srila Prabhupada comments on this principle of “care with distinction” in relation to the dealings of Krishna and how it is equally applicable in this world:

 

“Kṛṣṇa reciprocates with His pure devotees in the transcendental attitude, just as the devotee wants Him. One devotee may want Kṛṣṇa as supreme master, another as his personal friend, another as his son, and still another as his lover. Kṛṣṇa rewards all the devotees equally, according to their different intensities of love for Him. In the material world, the same reciprocations of feelings are there . . .” (Gītā 4.11, purport)

 

I think this “care with distinction” principle is also just common sense. I know one person close to me who, when growing up, had a father who was altruistic to everyone but not especially partial to her, and whose evenness to everyone caused her to feel sorely neglected.

 

In regard to the issue of immigration, both universality and reciprocity, as espoused in the Gītā, have appropriate application. Every entity, whether family or country, should extend itself as far as possible for all people, understanding the superficiality of bodily distinctions, including taking those less fortunate into one’s fold to whatever practical extent one is capable of (care). However, it is also reasonable for a country to protect its borders and show some special concern to the needs of its own citizens for economic, social, or security reason (distinction). According to the Gītā we can’t deal with even illegal immigrants just on the basis of law without some real consideration for them as spiritual beings, nor can we deal with people living here illegally in total neglect of the laws intended to protect its citizens.

 

The specific application of these contradictory principles is beyond the scope of this paper, but their application calls for compassionate and intelligent leaders who apply these principles neither as indiscriminate multi-culturalists nor as xenophobic nationalists, having respect both for the universality of all beings and the need for reciprocity with those under one’s care.

 

These are complex issues with many considerations, including the legitimacy of proprietorship of those who rule certain lands, but those discussions are again beyond the scope of this column. I have presented certain eternal principles in my attempt to add to these discussions a view through the eyes of shastra. I will send it to my friend and see if he is satisfied with my attempt at spiritual activism.

 

 


[1] It’s been quite a while since I used a reprint, Usually this is done only when I absolutely don’t have time to finish an article because of my schedule. This week I was tackling a complex issue and despite having the time I wasn’t able to achieve enough clarity on it to complete an article to my standard.

[2] By spiritual activism, I mean having an active voice in contemporary problems—not taking partisan sides, but rather trying to find perspectives within the spiritual traditions by which we can make sense of our problems and challenges.

[3] From a correspondence I had with Professor Matthew Dasti, Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Bridgewater State University.

 

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