Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #38 – The Culture of Faith

September 21st, 2020

The Culture of Faith[1]

 

Have you ever heard of the “Sherborn Gathering”? Over twenty years ago I started a yearly academic conference with young devotees who were newly transitioning out of the brahmacari ashram,[2] and who sought to make their career in academia. It was hosted every summer in a mansion owned by one of the participant’s parents in Sherborn, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. My purpose for organizing the conference was to provide these young devotees with peer comradery, as well as senior guidance. In that regard, Jayadvaita Swami, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s main English editor, and Pradyumna Prabhu, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s main Sanskrit editor, also attended.

 

I think the gatherings, which continued for ten years, were successful. The participants made life-long friendships, and most went on to achieve successful academic careers.[3] The tricky part for me as the convenor of the conference was to balance our devotional objectives with the rare occasion when one of the participants had chosen a presentation in his field of study, which may have been a critical exploration of one of the basic foundations of Krishna-consciousness. One such talk was an examination of Bhagavad-gītā As It Is based on writings in the field of scholarship that critically analyzed it.

 

Although I had doubts about the appropriateness of the presentation, I was happy with the conclusions reached after a vigorous discussion. Half the young scholars at the conference had previously attended the school I established in New Jersey to thoroughly study the basic Vaiṣṇava texts through Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books. They testified that as a result of that study their understanding of the Bhagavad-gītā was, in general, much deeper than those that they met in the university who had studied and taught it from other translations. The authenticity and effectiveness of Bhagavad-gītā As It Is stood as the natural conclusion of that session.

 

Although I was relieved, I still didn’t feel right about the presentation. I told Pradyumna about what had transpired and asked his opinion, as he had arrived late and missed that session. He offered a word of caution about how such presentations should proceed, by describing what he called the “culture of faith”. He gave many examples; One stood out. Contemporary Sanskrit scholars in the line of Madhvacarya sometimes find a mistake, I assumed not philosophical, made in a commentary by one of their revered acaryas written over 500 years ago. When they write about it, however, they never say the acarya is wrong. Instead they just write “rsi ucuh (the sagie said),” repeat what the acarya wrote, even if they believe it isn’t accurate, and then follow that with their version without passing judgment.

 

What Pradyumna explained struck a chord with me. Over the years, I have contemplated its meaning. Faith is the mechanism in the mind that allows us to contemplate and apply truths beyond our limited frame of reference to expand our awareness. Without it, our understanding is basically limited to our present conditioned frame of reference. St. Anslem summed up the necessity for faith in traditions of knowledge and the teachers who represent them: “I believe so that I may understand.” As faith is the precursor to knowledge, a proper society therefore maintains a culture that strengthens the mechanism of faith for the purpose of supporting the general enlightenment of its citizens.

 

What better testimony to this than Sri Krishna promoting such faith in His teachings to Uddhava, where He describes the necessity for a student to respect the authority of their teacher as if it were God speaking?

 

“One should know the ācārya as Myself and never disrespect him in any way. One should not envy him, thinking him an ordinary man, for he is the representative of all the demigods.” (Bhag. 11.17 27)

 

What to do, however, if one cannot accept the authority of their teacher? It is unfortunate. Either one has the wrong teacher, or one is a poor student. There are legitimate safeguards in such traditional societies to protect the citizens from unqualified teachers and to encourage students to raise all their doubts until they are cleared. Unless, however, one has implicit faith in a proper spiritual authority, no matter how intelligent one is, the expansion of our consciousness will always be impeded. Without strong faith in someone more spiritually realized and learned than us, what mechanism do we have to advance in our understanding and overcome the illusion that covers us all in this world—the vision that there is no reality beyond our present perception and opinions?

 

Even in science, culture is defined as an environment that allows something to grow to its potential. Vaiṣṇava culture is meant help the soul mature to love of Godhead. One of its main constructs are the ways one behaves to facilitate learning, including dealing with elders and especially teachers. This culture of respect fortifies the aspect of the mind that engenders trust, which is essential when we are fortunate enough to find a teacher.

 

Back to our Sherborn Gathering. If I knew then what I know now, would I have done anything differently? At least I would have injected into the conversation a healthy discussion on the culture of respect. It is certainly an important consideration, for among other things, “Your faith can move mountains, and your doubt can create them.”[4]

 

 


[1] There are many deep issues to be resolved about the issue of faith, including the danger of blind following. They are beyond the scope of this paper to discuss, but I have addressed these issues in other articles.  https://wavesofdevotion.com/2018/07/16/the-marriage-of-faith-and-doubt/

[2] Celibate student life

[3] Among the participants in our original Sherborn Gathering who completed their PhD, we now have professors of Philosophy in Boston, the University of North Carolina, and University of Florida; a Sanskrit professor at Brown University; and the Program Director for the Yale School of Sacred Music.

[4] This is an anonymous quote. When we do find a proper teacher doubts may rise. That is welcome. According to Lord Kapiladeva that is one of the five aspects of intelligence. But that type of doubt is not doubting the authority of our teacher, which makes the relationship not highly functional, but doubting our understanding and raising questions to illicit further meaning. (Bhag. 3.26 30)

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #37 – Waiting for God, Oh!

September 14th, 2020

Waiting for God, Oh![1]

 

It was 1976. I was sitting in the temple room of the former Hare Krishna skyscraper on 55th Street in Manhattan. Kirtanananda Swami, in good standing at the time, was giving class. He was known for being laconic, a kind of master of spiritual one-liners. At least what he said was powerful enough that it stirred my intellect. I remember it to this day:

 

“Waiting is the greatest surrender!”

 

Surrender means to accept that there is an authority, a truth, that is higher than our opinions and desires, and that we must make sacrifices to follow it.[2] I hear that expressed today, perhaps without deep understanding and in a seemingly gentler way, in the phrases “Let go!” or “Go with the flow.” In other words, stop resisting what you should do, and be in harmony with something greater than yourself. That’s called character. We struggle with character, with surrender, because we are here in this world with the expressed desire to be the central enjoyer, and thus lack faith that the universal will is higher than our own.

 

I am not sure waiting is the greatest surrender, but when I heard the phrase it struck a chord. I reflected on how difficult it is to wait for something that I felt was important that was beyond my control to quickly obtain. It struck a nerve, for the desire for self-centered enjoyment is embedded in the DNA of this world. Waiting thus takes surrender, because it’s a challenge to be happy with God’s will when one has absolutely no power to attain what one desires.

 

Obviously, these are “pandemic” thoughts. When Covid-19 first hit and everyone was quarantined, I marveled at God’s power. In one fell swoop, Krishna announced to everyone in the world, even the most powerful controllers, “Stay in your home!” And now, six months later, Krishna seems be saying the same thing in just a little bit of a different way: “Just wait!” Quite tough, especially when you are waiting for a ticket to Vrindavan.

 

Yes, waiting is a great surrender. It is one of the ways God tells us we are not the controller. The thoughtful, who finally hear and happily accept that message, even while waiting, certainly reap the fruits of spiritual surrender—the opening of the door to bhakti.

 

 

Waiting for God, oh,

He answered my loud demands,

“Wait like Her, longing.” [3]

 


[1] The title is a pun. I wonder how many people get it?

[2] We are conditioned to hear the word “surrender” in a negative way. I have previously written about this: https://wavesofdevotion.com/2016/02/29/is-surrender-a-bad-word/

[3] I got feedback that people liked the haiku at the end of the Monday Morning Greetings two weeks ago. I asked Jan, my poet friend, to write another one for this article.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #36 – But the Quality of Life Hasn’t Improved!

September 7th, 2020

Two months ago, I woke up with some stiffness in my left thigh that was quite debilitating. Within two days, I could no longer find a comfortable position to sleep at night and was forced to rest in a recliner chair. The stiffness began to shift to different parts of my body until I couldn’t even put on my socks or lift a t-shirt over my head without great difficulty. I was constantly cold and required two blankets and a sweatshirt at night even though it was the summer. My comprehensive blood work could not come up with the cause of my illness. As my condition had already persisted for six weeks, the doctor offered the option of steroids to relieve my discomfort, which I postponed to first seek an alternative. Fortunately, soon after my blood test, a devotee with a certification in Chinese Medicine called to offer a visit. The cause of my debilitation was immediately identified. I had textbook symptoms of B1 syndrome dampness. A protocol for recovering my health was recommended, including acupuncture, fresh ground Chinese herbs, and avoidance of the foods causing the disturbance. I was seventy per cent better after the first two acupuncture treatments. After a month, my condition is almost back to normal. My personal experience of the profound effect of an ancient medical system reminded me what Śrīla Prabhupāda often stressed—that the advancement of civilization based on modern scientific and technological improvement is a myth.

 

Certainly, there is no dearth of advanced material knowledge in ancient life traditions, such as medicine and architecture, to challenge the view that advancement in civilization is exclusive to the evolvement of modern society over time. What is even a stronger argument to debunk the view that progress in civilization is advancing over time is that the real template of what makes civilization advanced is its ability to elevate the consciousness of its citizens, and in that regard modern civilization has sorely failed. That the standard of advancement of civilization should primarily deal with the mind is just common sense. What value does a new gadget have, or anything for that matter, no matter how startling the wizardry, if it is not connected with the elevation of the mind? And what does Elon Musk and Silicon Valley contribute to that?

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda would often give a clear example to illustrate how advancement in technology is not commensurate in itself with the advancement of civilization. He defined animal life as eating, sleeping, mating, and defending and challenged how using a sophisticated car to pursue those goals is more advanced than the four legs of a dog moving for the same objectives.

 

I sometimes wonder if we modern yogis have a disconnect with what we read in the texts of our traditions about the advancement of civilization and how we live our lives. Have we gauged the environment that we have weaved around us and its effect on the upliftment of our minds? Have we been subtly conditioned to a false standard of happiness based on technology and in the process sacrificed a more evolved mode of living and thinking?  Do we even notice?

 

In 1980, when I returned to the USA to visit my parents after three years of living in India, my mother immediately took me to the supermarket to pick up a few things that suited my diet. I was taken aback when the price of the items we purchased were marked and added immediately on the cash register just by touching them to the counter, an innovation introduced only after I had already left for India. I immediately blurted out, “Things have advanced so much!” I paused, then immediately corrected myself based on what I had been taught, “But the quality of life has not improved!” The cashier shook her head affirmatively, and even my mother could see the validity of what I said.

 

I sit here writing this in fairly good health in a world that is imbued with the marvels of technology and reflect how what I said forty years ago is more relevant today than ever before: “But the quality of life hasn’t improved!”

 

 

 

You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.”
― Wendell Berry

 

(When asked what he thought of Western civilization): “I think it would be a good idea.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

“Civilization is a hopeless race to discover remedies for the evils it produces.”
― Rousseau

 

“The truest test of civilization is not the census, size of cities, or crops; but the kind of man the country turns out.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

“Progressive civilization is based on Brahminical culture,[1] God consciousness and protection of cows”[2][3]

―  A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

 

 

 


[1] A society and its culture guided by people in sattva-guṇa (the mode of goodness) who are thus learned and well-behaved.

[2] Bhag. 1.19.3, Purport

[3] This is a bit unorthodox, but I need to include here a note from my previous Monday Morning Greetings. I saw the necessity to end my last piece about “regret” with a haiku. I received a lot of feedback that people liked it. I didn’t sufficiently make clear its origin, and I wanted to clarify that. After I wrote it, I sent it to my friend Jan Potemkin, who studied Asian Literature in graduate school and is a poet. He found that one essential component of the haiku needed to be enhanced ― that it must have more imagery. So, he rewrote it and sent it back.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #35 – I Regret

August 31st, 2020

Regret is the first stage of devotion. Without regretting, to one degree or another, our past mistakes that were based on a desire to control and enjoy, how will we ultimately embrace our identity as unalloyed servants of God? The Sanskrit for regret or remorse is tapa, which is the same word for austerity or heat. There is nothing that burns the false ego more than acknowledging that our life and self-image as the center was regrettable. Tapa is therefore the first of five saṁskāras for those committing themselves to the devotional path.

 

Those who can relinquish the false ego in this way and humbly surrender to the tenets of the bhakti lineage become qualified to awaken their spiritual identity. I lament that when first committing myself to bhakti my regret was not deep enough to thwart my lingering false ego that sometimes mixed with my devotional service. At the age of 70, I therefore look back on my life and see within my service many mistakes due to material identity (false ego).

 

Although it is difficult to look back and acknowledge our frailties, I can sense how sincere regret can potentially deepen devotion. The false ego covers the soul from feeling our connection with Krishna. Regret razes the ego, allowing us to directly feel Krishna’s mercy, which inspires us to call out His name in devotion.

 

Perhaps this sounds a bit morbid. Isn’t our self-esteem today already so battered?  It is true that regret diminishes our self-conception, but I think that is very different from low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is feeling bad about one’s lack of material status, although still desiring it. Tapa, on the others hand, is not about lamenting material status, but regretting having desired it, and in the process forgetting God. Regret thus uncovers the soul and allows one to feel authentic self-worth, being loved and recognized by God as His insignificant humble servant.

 

A well-known example of the type of tapa that impels one to heights of devotion is found in the story of Yāmunācārya. He was a king who naturally enjoyed the pleasure of wealth and women. Upon visiting the famous Ranganatha temple, he had an epiphany that his life of sensual pleasure was regrettable. He immediately renounced the world to live as a sannyāsa. His strong sentiments of tapa or regret kept him humble and inspired. They are immortalized in a famous line from one of his compositions:

 

“Since I have been engaged in the transcendental loving service of Krishna, realizing ever-new pleasure in Him, whenever I think of sex pleasure I spit at the thought, and my lips curl with distaste.”

 

Yāmunācārya was speaking as a great renunciate, who had transcended the bodily platform and was relishing the highest levels of devotional ecstasy. His mood of regret, however, is something for us all to emulate. I regret.

 

Regretting old faults,
toss them on the altar flames.
Fragrant soul ascends.

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #34 –  Sri Radha Made Simple in Ten Easy Steps

August 24th, 2020

  1. In this world everyone is seeking happiness, and that happiness is ultimately found in love.
     
  2. If that is the guiding principle in this world, why should it not be part of its source, the ultimate reality?
     
  3. If there is love in the spiritual realm, there must also be beauty, for love means to offer the best.
     
  4. This correlation between happiness, love, and beauty is the key to understanding Śrī Rādhā.
     
  5. Krishna’s happiness potency (that which gives Him pleasure) is called hlādinī śakti, the essence of which is Krishna prema or love of Godhead. When that love is heightened to the highest degree, it is called mahābhāva. Śrī Rādhā is mahābhāva svarūpa, the form of the highest love (and pleasure). In other words, as Radha is the personification of the happiness potency, which is intense love, Radha has the full capacity to offer such love in terms of Her exemplary qualities.
     
  6. To understand Radha more deeply one has to understand the relationship between love, an internal emotion, and the necessity of a concrete expression of that love to enable another to feel it. An example should help. When we love someone, we may offer them flowers to express our love. Why? Flowers are fragrant, colorful, and may be soft and smooth. The experience of those flowers is not just a sensual experience, but an emotional one, which is the experience of the love from the person who has offered it so nicely.
     
  7. Similarly, as Śrī Rādhā is an expression of God’s own potency of love, there is no limit to the intensity and greatness of Her qualities to express that love. Descriptions of those characteristics and abilities, however, can give us some idea of the intensity of her love. For example, here is a description of Śrī Rādhā’s beauty from Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, just one of Her twenty-five prominent qualities:
     
    “The beauty of Śrī Rādhā’s smile defeats the beauty of a blue lotus. The beauty of Her face defeats the beauty of a forest of blue lotuses, and the luster of Her body puts gold in a painful situation.”
     
  8. Śrī Rādhā’s many ornaments and decorations, which She adorns only for the pleasure of Krishna, are also a personification of mahābhāva, the highest manifestation of Krishna prema, and naturally non-different from Her. Therefore, Krishna’s experience of Śrī Rādhā, down to His appreciation of those decorations, are the highest experience of happiness.
     
  9. Only someone who is impersonal is not conquered by love. As Krishna is the Supreme Person, He is responsive to and conquered by true devotion. As Śrī Rādhā is the highest form of love, Her twenty-fifth transcendental quality is that She always keeps Krishna under Her control.
     
  10. How is this relevant to us? Śrīla Prabhupāda instructs us:
     
    “Rādhārāṇī, the symbol of the topmost bhakti, is so powerful that She has purchased Krishna. Therefore, Vrajavāsīs[1] take shelter of the lotus feet of Rādhārāṇī, for if She recommends, ‘O here is a nice devotee,’ Krishna must accept him.” (Teachings of Queen Kuntī)
     

 

 


[1] The devotees who reside in Vṛndāvana, Śrī Krishna’s abode.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #33 – If You Think It is a Good Idea

August 17th, 2020

There is something charming about Krishna’s relationship with the residents of Vrindavan. Almost as enlivening as hearing about the rasa of Krishna and the Brijabasis is hearing the gems of philosophical understanding that are placed within those stories. It is almost as if they have been carefully placed there just to take advantage of the receptive heart that has been opened by the sweetness of those stories itself. Today we will discuss one of those points. First the context:

 

Krishna’s friends forcibly, but with love, ask Krishna and Balarama to quell their hunger by going to the forest of Tālavana, where hundreds of thousands of succulent, fragrant tāla fruits are lying on the ground, guarded by the ferocious man-eating ass demon and his cohorts. After informing Krishna three times in no uncertain terms how great their desire is for these fruits, they end their entreaty by qualifying their request with two simple words: yadi rocate (“if you think it is a good idea”). Thus, hidden within this sweet story rests a powerful instruction: There is room on the path of bhakti for our own personal desires, as long as they conform to the will of God.

 

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura speaks very strongly about the necessity for personal enjoyment even when on the path of bhakti: “Without enjoying the sense objects, a living entity cannot survive. As soon as the living entity gives up sense enjoyment, he leaves the body.” (Śrī Bhaktyāloka p. 2)

 

When I initially read Śrīla Bhaktivinoda’s comment, I was a bit surprised by how strong it was, considering that the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam seems to repeatedly espouse almost the opposite. One of my favorite verses in this regard: “My dear sons, there is no reason to labor very hard for sense pleasure while in this human form of life; such pleasures are available to the stool-eaters (hogs).” (Bhag. 5.5.1)

 

The simple reconciliation of the two perspectives is that sense gratification is heavily condemned when not sanctioned by the Lord and allowed if Krishna “thinks it is a good idea.” The question, then, is when does Krishna think it is a good idea?

 

A healthy peaceful mind facilitates meditation and devotional service. For that, different people require different levels of enjoyment. When our goal is self-realization and we sincerely take only what is prescribed to keep body and soul together, then our sense gratification is what Krishna so desires, or at least has been sanctioned by Him.

 

When sense pleasure, however, becomes the goal in itself, which is usually the case in this world, then it is not what Krishna thinks is a good idea. It is then utterly condemned.

 

This relationship between sense pleasure and devotion is clearly outlined in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.10 in response to a question that commentators imply from the previous verse: “What about sense gratification (kāma) on the path of bhakti?” Sūta Gosvāmī answers that sense gratification is not for the pleasure of the senses in itself (kāmasya nendriya-prītir). We should only take as much as we need (lābho jīveta yāvatā) to maintain a heathy life for the purpose of realizing the self (jīvasya tattva-jijñāsā). Simply put, although we may get pleasure from the senses, its purpose should only be to satisfy our need for a peaceful mind for the higher endeavor of self-realization.

 

The cowherd boys’ simple words, “if you think it is a good idea”, in the midst of their sweet, playful exchanges with Krishna are a powerful template for all of one’s activities. The most important consciousness for a devotee to have, therefore, is the mood and conviction that nothing I do or want should be independent of the will of God. A sincere bhakta, therefore, carefully gauges all of their activities, even their sensual and emotional needs, by sincerely petitioning Krishna in their heart with the same simple words of Krishna’s friends: “if you think it is a good idea.”

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #32 – The Yoga of Slander and Sickness

August 10th, 2020

A friend recommended that I look through the discourses of Epictetus, one of the prominent Stoic philosophers who taught during the second century AD. He marveled how much Epictetus’s teachings paralleled basic Bhagavad-gītā philosophy. I was especially intrigued by how the Stoics described karmic challenges, such as slander and sickness, as God bestowing one with the means to go deeper in spiritual understanding. Their perspective would be analogous to the tougher and tougher challenges a trainer gives to the trainee when it is time to go to the next level of fitness.

 

The basic Stoic philosophy is that God has given us the gift of making good use of our will or choice. If we focus our lives on making the best use of that power by making honest choices, which is always within our control, rather than trying to focus on what happens to us, which fluctuates beyond our control, we can always live with dignity and satisfaction.

 

The word “stoic” therefore became synonymous with the act of enduring hardship without showing feelings, because a true Stoic is even minded in response to happiness and distress, knowing that glory and virtue lie not in destiny, but in free will. Sounds like Bhagavad-gītā:

 

“Act while fixed in yoga, abandoning attachment, and remaining the same in success or failure. Such even-mindedness is called yoga.” (Bg. 2.48)

 

This concept of Stoicism, as found in Epictetus, is especially comforting in relationship to one of the most disturbing karmic situations, slander.

 

When one’s objective is the reformation of consciousness rather than the outcome of events then even the most disappointing consequences, such as being slandered, are no longer disturbing because they serve one’s mission, which is to uplift one’s thoughts. Such consciousness is certainly not easy when one’s reputation is sullied or one is ill, but a yogi (stoic) trained as described above, is already naturally, as the Bhagavad-gītā says, “indifferent to all that has been heard and all that is to be heard,” (2.52) which certainly includes slander. In that regard, I love how Epictetus instructs a student who is concerned about how people will think of him:

 

“It is not in a good person’s nature to grieve, complain or whine; they don’t go pale, tremble and say, ‘What kind of hearing or reception will he give me?’ Idiot, that’s his concern—don’t concern yourself with other people’s business. It’s his problem if he receives you badly.” (Discourses and Selected Writings II.2. 17)

 

A perfect example of a yogic or stoic response to slander is Socrates’s response to the Senate assembly in Greece when they unfairly accused him of treason and condemned him to death.[1] His response can almost serve as a mantra for the yogic view of tolerating slander, which deems the offender who misuses his will as harming himself more than the victim who responds with reason:

 

“If you think you can harm me, you will not harm me; you will only harm yourself.”

 

The Stoic’s reaction to illness parallels his reaction to slander, so there is not much more to add. We do our duty to keep the body reasonably fit[2] and leave the results to God. As the results, whether health or illness, are the will of God, we remain equipoised towards the body’s condition and instead focus on the deepening of our consciousness in response to whatever God has brought us.

 

Conclusion: We do not suffer from the events in our lives, but to our response to them. We can thus always live with inner peace and integrity, especially in this increasingly turbulent world filled with sickness and slander that inevitably ends in death, if we simply choose to respond to what comes to us with dharma and devotion, rather than ceaselessly trying to alter our fate.

 

What gems of realization the Stoic’s shared with us, and how much they parallel the basic teachings of our eternal Bhagavad-gītā!

 

 

 “God’s greatest gift to man
In all the bounty He was moved to make
Throughout creation-the one gift the most
Close to his goodness and the one He calls
Most precious-is free will.”
 Dante Alighieri, Paradiso

 


[1] Although Socrates predates the Stoics, it is not surprising that aspects of their philosophy parallel his, as he was certainly one of their inspirations.

[2] When Epictetus was asked how much we should be concerned with external things like health he answered, “Only so far as not to trouble himself about them unreasonably.” (Discourses and Selected Writings I. 10.16)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #31 – Inspiration and the Path of Bhakti

August 3rd, 2020

Last week, my new book, Monday Morning Greetings: Giving Strength to the Week, went to print. It contains more than three years of my weekly posts. When I skimmed through the articles in the galley, it was hard to imagine how I was able to come up with something somewhat original to write about every week.

 

Of course, many posts came from an event during the week that sparked a realization, but that was certainly not always the case. Sometimes an idea came from a weekly inspiration that suddenly popped into my mind, often the day before I needed to start my writing. I can’t claim any major significance to what I write, but many great artistic compositions or startling scientific discoveries are reportedly born from inspiration, where brilliant and often fully formed ideas enter the mind far beyond one’s conscious endeavor, as if from an external source. This is how Mozart described such a creative process:

 

“When I feel well and in good humor when I am taking a drive or walk…thoughts crowd into my mind as easily as you could wish. Whence and how do they come? I do not know and have nothing to do with it… once I have a theme, another melody comes, linking itself with the first one, in needs of the composition as a whole. It does not come to me successively, with its various parts worked out in detail, as they will be later on, but it is in its entirety that my imagination lets me hear.”

 

Mozart is such a good example of demonstrating the power of inspiration, and there are several ways to explain it from the Vedic perspective – but back to the subject of my inspiration, the main subject of the post.

 

One of the most powerful effects for me in the experience of inspiration is the strengthening of faith in God, for higher guidance seems to have much more explanatory power to describe the phenomena of inspiration than randomness, the only alternative explanation.

 

Inspiration also seems to have a special place on the path of bhakti. Bhakti is the path of grace, which means that a dedicated practitioner is able to achieve far beyond their capability in service and practice. By its very nature, bhakti is therefore the path of inspiration, the descent of higher guidance.

 

“To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Bg. 10.10)

 

It is interesting here how easily in bhakti inspiration generates feelings of mercy or kindness, because no matter how great the idea one comes up with, or however brilliant the plan to execute it, both are ultimately the mercy or inspiration of Krishna.

 

“I am situated in everyone’s heart, and from Me comes remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness […]” (Bg. 15.15)

 

Inspiration is therefore a powerful tool to cultivate humility, for the experience of inspiration informs us that no matter how much we accomplish, our achievements are dependent on the grace of God.

 

I am excited that Monday Morning Greetings: Giving Strength to the Week has finally gone to press. Do I feel a sense of accomplishment? I can’t say I don’t, but thankfully in writing it I’ve had enough experiences of something greater than me working through me to be convinced that it is all the mercy of guru and Krishna.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #30 – The Road Less Traveled

July 27th, 2020

I woke up last week to an unexpected thought: “Your sādhana has crashed. No excuse!” Since my health challenges began, my chanting has gone down, and my deity worship has been manasa-pūjā (done mentally). I began to reflect on what happened.

 

One rarely starts meditation with full absorption and taste. You need a little effort and discipline at the beginning to gradually come to that stage. Deep meditation is just like a car that cannot begin in fifth gear, but instead must first rev up through the other gears. Not being able now to sit comfortably made that initial discipline of chanting much more austere, giving my mind the excuse not to make the extra effort needed for taste. As my energy level waned and my chanting became more of a struggle, my practices were reduced to my minimum vows.

 

“No excuse” is exactly the loud message I needed to hear. The mind always looks for the easy way out, or the road less traveled. The phrase “the road less traveled” is derived from a line from the poem “The Road Not Taken”[1] by former American Poet Laurette Robert Frost, and later became the title of a best seller by Scott Peck, a prominent psychologist. Scott Peck used the phrase to indicate that on the path of true fulfillment one often avoids the essential components of that path, delayed gratification and personal responsibility, which today, unfortunately, is too often the road less traveled. For me that meant to abdicate spiritual responsibility to some degree by the excuse of poor health.

 

The Yoga Sutras explain that we do āsana so that the body is happy and steady, so poor health can, and usually will, reduce one’s ability to adopt the austerity and discipline of spiritual practice. That’s natural. What I did, however, was use health as an excuse to reduce my discipline and spiritual responsibility beyond what I now think I was capable of performing, even if that capability was less than my usual standard.

 

If we are just a little mindful, we will observe a multitude of ways that our mind justifies avoiding the challenging work often needed to move to the next step in our spiritual life. For example, I have become vigilant about how powerful victim consciousness is, taking the easy way out of blaming the cause of one’s own failures on others, rather than doing the hard work of purifying oneself. In general, my health challenges just made me more aware that I need to take full responsibility for my spiritual life.

 

I have again picked up my practices. My health has also somewhat improved, but it is not just that. I heeded the warning of “no excuses!” I also see the gift of health challenges. When you lose physical power due to health, your engine of determination must come more from the heart, which now has a much deeper voice of dependence on mercy, and that is the real impetus for full absorption in the holy name, whether you are healthy or not.

 

“No excuses!”

 

“People who are evil attack others rather than face their own failures.” – Scott Peck

 

“Rationalization is intelligence in the service of the false ego.” – Dhanurdhara Swami

 

 


[1] Scott Peck adapted the name The Road Less Traveled from the last lines in Frost’s poem: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/ I took the one less traveled by, /And that has made all the difference.”

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #29 – Defriend the Police?

July 20th, 2020

I am no stranger to the tragedy of police brutality. I have mentioned this before. My very beloved youngest cousin, Jeffrey, was murdered at the hands of the police 45 years ago in a Midwest jail. His crime: He was Jewish. I am also no stranger to the hell of weak government in relation to effective law enforcement. I am from New York City. When I would return from India for the summer in the early 1990s, I couldn’t help but notice how dangerous it had become to walk the streets at night. Violent crimes especially plagued the poorer neighborhoods. I then watched how a stronger government quickly turned the situation around to make New York City one of the safest cities in the world.

 

Any system of hierarchy or authority, however, is by human nature challenged by the abuse of power. We shouldn’t be surprised to see such stark examples of that today. That doesn’t deny or justify, however, that law enforcement is still plagued by, to one degree or another, the problems of excess force and racism, and that this problem needs to be addressed. As the scope of the issue is much too broad for a Monday Morning Greetings, my discussion will be limited just to the necessity of having a strong police force in society and the qualification of people fit for that service. I will do that from the standpoint of the ancient texts of India, which I consider authoritative.

 

The Sanskrit for a person in society responsible for law enforcement is kṣatriya, which literally means to protect one from hurt.[1] What is implied here is that there must be a specific class of people in society to keep society safe and secure. In other words, society will not be peaceful unless there is a specific group of qualified people that have the strength and character to appropriately use force to subdue unsocial elements. There should be cooperation with the community, but any conception to protect citizens from crime that minimizes a strong and qualified police force is just sentiment according to the Vedic version.

 

What the texts therefore see as a solution to proper law enforcement in society is a strong enforcement presence of qualified people with a system of vigilance against its natural abuse. One story from the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam comes to mind that illustrates this.

 

When the powerful King Aṅga  abdicated his throne and left for the forest, the kingdom became overrun with crime. The respected brāhmaṇa priests became concerned that if they didn’t act quickly it would become worse, and therefore immediately installed Aṅga ’s very powerful son, Vena, as the next leader. Although the elements of lawlessness were quickly quelled, Vena also abused innocent people. The priestly caste found themselves in a dilemma that is described in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam by a powerful analogy.

 

“When the great sages consulted one another, they saw that the people were in a dangerous position from both directions. When a fire blazes on both ends of a log, the ants in the middle are in a very dangerous situation. Similarly, at that time the people in general were in a dangerous position due to an irresponsible king on one side and thieves and rogues on the other.” (Bhag. 4.14.8, Purport)

 

The brāhmaṇas then forcibly removed Vena and managed to replace him with a powerful leader of impeccable character. The brāhmaṇa solution to police overreach is instructive. They realized the necessity of both reform and change, but not at the expense of strong law enforcement. But what are the qualifications of a kṣatriya?

 

“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kṣatriya.” (Bg. 18. 43)

 

Of note is the qualities of enforcement are always tempered with the character of generosity or kindness.

 

There are a myriad of problems in today’s world. People are passionate about solutions. How to know that what one proposes will actually be effective? I put my trust in Vedic knowledge. Otherwise, solutions will be based on how they sound or feel according to one’s ideology, and not whether they are practical and effective. A safe and secure society therefore requires a strong police force screened for both powerful and noble qualifications. There is no other option.

 

 


[1] The basic derivation I heard from Prabhupāda is: “kṣa” – destruction, injury, loss, etc (coming from ‘ksati’) + “triya” – one who protects (from the verb ‘tra’).

 

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