Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #16 – Happiness: What It Is and What It’s Not

April 22nd, 2019

Quickly, without thinking, say the first thing that comes into your mind: I will be happy when _____?

 

Whatever answer you gave fits into one of two general categories: I will be happy in the future when I change the world to conform to what I want, or I will be happy now when I change my consciousness to conform to what the universe or God wants.

 

If you chose the former, your faith is misdirected for three reasons: you are not the controller, so the world will not conform to your desires; even if you were successful, your achievement would be temporary; and even if that change was permanent it still wouldn’t be happiness. Real happiness is in the heart and not just the world.

 

The world is beyond our control.

 

Our quest for happiness will fail if our objective is solely in the future, because no matter how much power we amass in the form of wealth, beauty, or fame to achieve that goal, we still are not the ultimate controller. Something will surely go wrong and frustrate us. In fact, even the littlest thing out of our control can negate all of our material happiness. Think of Bill Gates with a toothache. In other words, to really be the enjoyer of the world, we need to be totally the controller of the world or our destiny, and we are not.

 

The world is temporary.

 

Even if we could control the world to finally conform to our desires, we still wouldn’t be happy, because anything achieved in this world is temporary and filled with duality. Duality means that even the best of material things is also imbued with distress, because when something is temporary there is fear of loss, and always pain when we do.

 

The world is not happiness anyway.

 

Even if you could control the world to finally conform to your desires forever, still happiness would allude you, for real happiness is not what you have, but how you feel. It is not power and consequent material accruement, but an internal state of flourishing.

 

Real Happiness

 

Two of the main words for satisfaction are very revealing concerning the internal nature of happiness: contentment and fulfillment.

 

The word “contentment” indicates that to be content (satisfied within) depends on your content (what is inside of you). One of the suspected etymological explanations of this connection between the two definitions of this one word is a phrase first used by Shakespeare, “heart’s content” [1], which means doing something to your full satisfaction. In other words, reaching the point when you are fully satisfied or content is not just how much you accrue but the content of the heart, the point where you feel full. In that regard, fulfillment as a synonym for contentment has the same connotation — that we will be happy not just with what we have but also by how much the heart is fulfilled. How many times have we seen people with everything but not feeling satisfied or full?

 

We aren’t talking renunciation here. It’s not that one shouldn’t pursue their needs, or that family and career cannot be connected or important to one’s fulfillment. Done properly, they should be. They are just not ultimate happiness in themselves, and to pursue anything external without a connection to the eternal will surely fail.

 

There is a saying I have quoted often that really sums up this concept of what happiness is and what it is not, which merits repetition and a very short analysis:

 

“Pleasure is the happiness of a madman and happiness is the pleasure of a sage.” The words can be synonymous, but in the first phrase pleasure is used to indicate external stimulation in terms of the senses and ego, which is a foolish goal. Happiness in the second phrase is defined as contentment, or an internal flourishing, which for the enlightened is actual pleasure or joy.

 

I will leave you this week with another of my oft-repeated phrases, one I heard from a simple vrajavāsī gardener. I consider it like a mantra to describes the true and internal nature of happiness:

 

Happiness is a heart filled with devotion.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] This phrase is first put into print in Shakespeare’s plays and there’s every reason to believe that he coined it. He used it in at least two plays:

Henry VI, Part II, 1592 — “Her grace in Speech, Makes me from Wondring, fall to Weeping ioyes, Such is the Fulnesse of my hearts content.” 

The Merchant of Venice, 1596 — “I wish your Ladiship all hearts content.”

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #15 – The Power of Gratitude

April 15th, 2019

Gratitude is the basis of experiencing love.

 

As a spoiled child never experiences his parents’ love no matter how much they give him, a proud and entitled person will never fully appreciate the kindness and love of others.

 

Gratitude is the basis of relationships.

 

I have observed how sometimes an ungrateful spouse neglects a good relationship by failing to appreciate the kindness of their partner, even though lavished with generosity and care, only to later regret sabotaging what they had when the relationship broke by their own doing.

 

On the other hand, I have observed very grateful people seeing the good in their substantial connections, despite other’s weaknesses, feeling very secure and loved in this world.

 

Gratitude is therefore the basis of all good relationships in this world.

 

Gratitude grounds you in present.

 

I was walking here in Colombia to visit a bakery opened by one of our friends who I met on his pilgrimage to India two years ago. Although it was only fifteen minutes from our ashram I got lost, and it took me an inordinate amount of time to get there. When I begun my return to Shyam Ashram, I therefore felt tired and bored and strongly hankered to already be back home. As I was in the midst of preparing to write something about gratitude and was contemplating how gratitude grounds one in the present, I consciously started to base myself in the moment by appreciating nature around me, and the fact that I could turn inside my mind to dwell on this subject. I was amazed. My consciousness in gratitude immediately shifted from the future and my anxiety to the present, where my satisfaction laid. My walk then became unexpectedly pleasant.

 

“Now” is rarely the problem. Our problem is hankering (what I want in the future) and lamenting (what I lost in the past), but not gratitude (what I have and appreciate now).

 

In other words, for the humble and thoughtful, gratitude grounds one in the present, where humility and joy rests.

 

Gratitude forms your character.

 

Voltaire said, “That which you appreciate gradually comes to you.” One in a state of not only recognizes the good in others, but also develops those qualities. It is no wonder, therefore, that the word “appreciate” can mean both “to value something” and “the increase of value in something”. For example, when appreciating a teacher or an elder their knowledge substantially increases or appreciates in oneself.

Unfortunately, one who is envious and ungrateful — and the two are connected — misses many opportunities to appreciate and develop good character and wisdom.

 

 

Gratitude awakens the bliss of service.

 

Gratitude naturally awakens the service mind, for when we appreciate someone we develop a desire to serve them. As service and devotion is the basis of happiness, gratitude is also the basis of joy.

 

In a talk I heard by Vaiśeṣika dāsa, he added a very powerful insight that I think is relevant to this discussion. He described that the one switch that one can immediately flip to powerfully alter our anxiety and frustration is the conscious shift in identity to “I am a servant”. He then referenced Dale Carnegie in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, who offered the supporting advice that a most powerful way to free one from anxiety in any situation is to immediately find someone to serve.

 

How important for a healthy psyche to awaken the service mind by the power of gratitude.

 

Gratitude as a state of perfection

 

My close friend Guṇagrāhī Mahārāja left this world in Vṛndāvana chanting the holy name of Krishna, a sign in our tradition of attaining perfection. A week before he left this world he went into a non-communicative internal or semi-conscious state. The last words out of his mouth before he seemingly went unconscious was a response to an audio message sent to him from Kaustubha, a person he personally brought to Krishna consciousness. Mahārāja was overwhelmed with appreciation when hearing the kind thoughts from someone he loved dearly. In response, in his last audible breath, patting his heart to softly to express affection, he mustered up the strength for a final heartfelt whisper: “Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.”

 

I noted that the feelings and words left in Mahārāja after almost fifty years of dedicated service and years of purification from a painful disease were “Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.” I heard his voice as the pure consciousness of the soul.

 

Gratitude as a state of being

 

Yes, certainly one can count their blessings, but what about all the suffering and frustration we face in this world? How can we be thankful for that? A person who understands the nature of God, or reality, lives always in a state of gratitude because they understand that whatever comes to one is for one.[1] Rumi stated it best:

 

“When God is digging a hole to throw you in, he is actually digging a ditch to quench your thirst.”

 

The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is full of stories, too long to recount here, where great saints live in a state of gratitude. They see the blessings of God even in the most trying of circumstances. Here is one of many examples:

 

When Vidura was insulted and banished from the kingdom by his evil nephew Duryodhana, he both recognized the cruelness of his nephew, but also saw God’s hand. He was thus grateful that he was being directed at this later stage in life to leave the intrigue of the palace and go on pilgrimage for his own purification. [2]

 

To feel grateful in every situation is not a feat of psychological gymnastics. A person of dharma who responds to each trial in life with humility gains a concrete gift of realization from each challenge worth the price of the difficulty faced and feels grateful even in the face of death. I bow down to the power of gratitude.

 

 


[1] I like the phrase describing karma as “not to me, but for me”. It comes from a discussion about karma I had with Lakṣmī Nṛsiṁha dāsa.

[2] Some other great examples are the instructions of Bhīṣmadeva (Bhag. 1.9) and Mahārāja Parīkṣit’s reaction to being cursed (Bhag. 1.19.4).

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #14 – Can Changing Diapers Be Bhakti?

April 8th, 2019

It’s a question often asked. Well, not exactly about changing diapers, but about how, in general, we should reconcile our material and spiritual lives for full Krishna consciousness, especially when much of our material life consists of unavoidable family and occupational duties. The answer: For one on the platform of uttama-bhakti, or pure devotional service, there is, in a sense, no difference between one’s material and spiritual life. Let’s explore that concept, but first a definition of uttama-bhakti.

 

Here’s a simple but accurate definition, and one that best serves the point at hand: “To give up all separate or selfish interest for the service of the Ultimate Truth.”

 

Before I continue to make my case, I need to lay out the premises on which my reasoning will be based. I assume most of my audience already accepts these assumptions. For those who may not — perhaps those for whom bhakti is not their tradition — I hope they will still appreciate how the philosophy of bhakti works.

 

  1. There is an Ultimate Truth.
  2. A person of character puts devotion to truth above selfish interests. Such devotion, when fully pure, is called uttama-bhakti.
  3. The ultimate truth is revealed in śāstra (revealed scripture).
  4. A guru is defined as one who knows and lives by the śāstra and thus realizes that truth.
  5. Therefore, when one surrenders fully to a legitimate spiritual master, one’s whole life, including their family and work, is guided by the Ultimate Truth and on the platform of uttama-bhakti.

 

In other words, in answer to our question, a soul fully committed to guru and Krishna, who thus never acts with separate or personal interest, is always on the platform of uttama-bhakti whether at the temple, at work, or at home.[1]

 

It is for this very reason that a major subtext of the Bhagavad-gītā states that Arjuna did not have to renounce his “worldly” dharmas in order to be a fully realized yogi. In bhakti, both worldly and spiritual duties can be reconciled.

 

We should also note that although the general principle is that pure devotion does not require us to change our occupational or social status, that doesn’t mean we can do anything in the name of bhakti, or that one shouldn’t alter their activities if they are not conducive to devotion. For example, one fully surrendered to his spiritual master may very well change his job after initiation if his work promotes sinful activities, or he feels his present situation is not conducive to his devotion.

 

The fact that worldly activities can also be spiritual also doesn’t mean that marriage or a job are items or practices of devotional service. Rather, it means that to the extent that everything, even “material” duties like family and occupation, is done dutifully and from one’s identity as servant of the spiritual master, the distinction between worldly and spiritual duties blurs.

 

But what if one has natural material desires that cannot be renounced without disturbing the mind? For example, a mother needs to express her affection for her children. Is that desire not separate from the one-pointed focus required of uttama-bhakti? The body and mind will die if we don’t satisfy at least a minimal amount of their emotional and sensual needs. These needs may vary from person to person.

 

The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam instructs that this sort of self-satisfaction may also not be separate from the path of bhakti if we take only what we need to keep body and soul together. In other words, if such measured enjoyment is not the objective but only the means to keep mentally and physically fit in order to realize the Ultimate Truth, then those needs don’t inhibit spiritual life, but instead serve it.

 

My intention here is to not cheaply promote worldly duties as necessarily spiritual, or to minimize the process of chanting and hearing about Krishna. One on the platform of uttama-bhakti is chanting Krishna’s glories at every spare minute regardless of their occupational or social status. My aim, as reasoned above, is to highlight the principle of uttama-bhakti to show how it extends to one’s whole life when one fully surrenders to a spiritual master.

 

It should be noted that we are not here just talking about the formality of initiation, but the full depth of commitment that not only substantially deepens one’s spiritual practices and devotion, but adds a positive spiritual dimension to the grind often felt while living in this world.[2]

 

So back to changing diapers. Let’s finish with a hypothetical, and then a comment by Śrīla Prabhupāda. First, the hypothetical: A mother is so eager to hear and chant about Krishna that she leaves her child unattended or sits in the class with her child crying and disturbed because the child wants to go outside. Another mother, although wanting to hear the class, dutifully cares for her child and makes the sacrifice of going outside with him. Who is pleasing Krishna more? If the former, then it seems that Arjuna should have given up fighting and taken up japa meditation.

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s comment on the dilemma of how to prioritize the important things in a devotional life offers a fitting conclusion to our discussion. It also highlights that bhakti is ultimately not just the particular activity one is doing, but ultimately what Krishna wants us to do at the moment.

 

“Everything in the household affairs of Mother Yaśodā was meant for Krishna. Although Krishna was drinking the breast milk of Mother Yaśodā, when she saw that the milk pan in the kitchen was overflowing, she had to take care of it immediately, and thus she left her son, who then became very angry, not having been fully satisfied with drinking the milk of her breast. Sometimes one must care for more than one item of important business for the same purpose. Therefore Mother Yaśodā was not unjust when she left her son to take care of the overflowing milk. On the platform of love and affection, it is the duty of the devotee to do one thing first and other things later. The proper intuition by which to do this is given by Krishna.

 

teṣāṁ satata-yuktānāṁ
bhajatāṁ prīti-pūrvakam
dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ
yena mām upayānti te

 

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

 

 


[1] Just so there is no confusion, when we use term uttama-bhakti we are referring to a faithful and honest soul who has fully surrendered to his guru, not necessarily a person who is not yet free from all material desires.

[2] I thought it was important that I acknowledge how difficult it is to work in the modern world, but also offer something practical to do about it that would apply to everyone, even those not at the level of uttama-bhakti.  Below are notes I took from a discussion with Mahāmuni dāsa about karma-yoga years back.

 

Buddhi-yoga (the practice of conceptual readjustment required for karma-yoga)

 

Two aspects of buddhi-yoga:

  1. Transformation of motivation from selfishness to the desire for purification/liberation and the service of God.
  2. Identity with the self, not the body. Body assists self in fulfilling dharma (moral and religious duties).

 

Karma-yoga requires trying to consciously live the following:

  1. Dharma. Try to live according to dharma (righteous duties) since dharma is vehicle or occasion for karma-yoga.
  2. Dharma in the service of God. Be conscious while performing dharma (work, family responsibilities, chores, etc.) so that our performance is in service to God. Should be done lovingly and gratefully.
  3. Serve others. All (family members, work peers, society, etc.) are parts of God and should be respected and loved as such.
  4. Identify with true self. We are not merely the psychophysical contingencies of this life. Our core self is grounded in our relationship with God. Remember body is dependent on God to function.
  5. World is the body of God(paramātmā)  Interact with it thus.

 

Daily mindfulness of the above requires centering:

  1. In the early morning.Prayer/study/contemplation provides focus and alignment for the day.
  2. Throughout day. Fifteen minute break from work. Can include reading select versus from scripture, recitation of key prayers/mantras, contemplation of reality as posed in b, c, and d above.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #13 – In Every Town and Village and Other Thoughts

April 1st, 2019

In Every Town and Village

 

To my surprise, the living room was already packed. I counted forty. Not bad for a weekday afternoon. Satsvarūpa Mahārāja and Ravīndra Svarūpa Prabhu, my immediate neighbors here in Stuyvesant Falls, were already sitting for the festival and listening to the kīrtana. I was very impressed by the depth of how people were chanting.

 

The day was Gaura-pūrṇimā. I immediately thought of Śrī Caitanya’s prediction, pṛthivīte āche yata nagarādi grāma sarvatra pracāra hoibe mora nāma: “In every town and village, the chanting of My name will be heard.”[1] Just two hours outside of Manhattan, Stuyvesant Falls is a small agriculturally zoned hamlet that rests inside the town of Stuyvesant, which itself has a population of just about two thousand. Ravīndra Svarūpa, also noticing the substantial turnout, turned to me and whispered, “In this remote corner of the world.” That was Śrīla Prabhupāda’s famous comment when he first visited Gainesville, Florida in 1970. He was on an international tour to all the major cities of the world and was pleasantly surprised by the unexpectedly large, enthusiastic group of devotees that greeted him in an out of the way stop to a relatively obscure place.

 

I like living here. Krishna consciousness is not a cult; it is your neighbor next door. I’m not sure how it happened, but I remember even a Girl Scout troop from here visited Vṛndāvana during a trip to India years ago. My place, a reconverted barn behind the house of Saci-suta and Keli Lalita of Equal Vision Records, shares a driveway ­– actually adjacent driveways – with Jody and his girlfriend, both in their late fifties. You could not ask for friendlier, always willing to offer a helping hand neighbors. Not bad for red cap, Make America Great Again, beer in hand “deplorables”[2] who like prasādam, but literally only when offered mac and cheese.

 

I remember when Gauravani came and did a concert in the large barn behind mine. Jody didn’t attend, but he sat in a lounge chair in his backyard right on the border of our land, listening and guzzling a beer. At the end he even walked over the boundary line ­– he’d never done that before – and bought a CD.

 

“Every town and village!” It’s a nice meditation to have on a weekday afternoon while sitting in a remote place packed with local townsfolk chanting the holy name on Śrī Caitanya’s appearance day.

 

Sevā, Dayā, and Śrī Caitanya

 

Sevā is service to a superior. Dayā is service to one’s subordinate. I had never heard the distinction explained like that before. Dayā is usually translated as compassion, but this was the distinction Śrīla Prabhupāda made in a recorded lecture from the early seventies that I listened to this morning. When I heard him say this, I had a revelation about the difference between Krishna and Gaura-lila.[3] The focus on Krishna-lila is sevā, the intimate service of others towards God. The focus of Gaura-lila is dayā, the intimate service of God towards others.

 

The Accessibility of Gaura-lila

 

There is no difference between Radha-Krishna and Śrī Caitanya. Both are svayaṁ bhagavān, the original and fullest manifestation of the Absolute Truth. The only difference is in mood and form. When the mood of dayā, or magnanimity (audārya), becomes prominent in Radha and Krishna, They become Śrī Caitanya for the purpose of giving Their love to others. Maybe in another Monday Morning Greetings this fairly deep point can be explained in more depth. I just wanted to give some background to a point I want to stress. As Gaura-lila is imbued with dayā or compassion, spontaneous devotion is more accessible to us through Gaura-lila than through Krishna-lila. An example:

 

What I am about to say is a little more esoteric than the usual Monday Morning Greetings subjects. Please follow closely. I hope you’ll enjoy the point.

 

Śrīvāsa Aṅgana in Mayapur, the birth-place of Śrī Caitanya, is the place where the saṅkīrtana movement began. Daily, Śrī Caitanya and His intimate associates would meet for twelve-hour nocturnal kīrtanas. As there is no difference between Radha-Krishna and Śrī Caitanya, Śrīvāsa Aṅgana is rāsa-sthalī (the place of the rasa dance in Vṛndāvana) in Gaura-lila, but in a more accessible form. How? What is the rasa dance? It is the love of Radha and Krishna brought to its height by the combination of dance and music, and with the accompaniment of the vraja gopīs. What is Śrīvāsa Aṅgana? It is internally the exact same thing. Śrī Caitanya embodies the mood of Radha’s love for Krishna brought to its height by music (kīrtana) and dance accompanied by Śrī Caitanya’s associates, who internally imbibe the same mood. One can see how difficult it would be to emulate the mood of Radha and Krishna in the rasa dance without filtering that experience through our mundane conceptions, but how easily that same mood is more understandable and can be emulated in its contemporary form of kīrtana and ecstatic dance as inaugurated in Śrīvāsa Aṅgana.

 

Reflection: How wonderful is it that by the mercy of Śrīla Prabhupāda that same divine love, made accessible by saṅkīrtana, inaugurated by Śrī Caitanya, is happening just as he predicted in “Every town and village”!

 

 

 


[1] Caitanya-bhāgavata Antya-khaṇḍa 4.126

[2] “Deplorables” has become a derogatory expression for white, uneducated working people, usually from middle America, after its use in the last election to describe those types of people who voted for Donald Trump.

[3] Gaura-lila is the Bengali for Śrī Caitanya’s pastimes.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #12 – Just Remain Obliged!

March 25th, 2019

“Any Questions?” Śrīla Prabhupāda had finished his class and looked out at his audience in the large temple room in the Dallas Radha Kalachandji Mandir. I had just recently joined ISKCON and sat in awe of my master. After a long moment of silence, 6’6” Jñānagamya stood and inquired, “How can we repay you?” Śrīla Prabhupāda’s sober response has remained etched in my consciousness: “Just remain obliged!”

 

Perhaps Śrīla Prabhupāda would have answered differently in other circumstances, but the significance of his response to a seminal question certainly can’t be minimized. For that reason, his answer has remained enough on my mind to occasionally dwell on its importance, and to keep an eye out for how gratitude is highlighted within my tradition.

 

The first thing that became apparent in my studies was how much ingratitude stunts devotion. A proud or entitled person is never grateful no matter how much they are given. They are like a spoiled child who never feels the love of their generous parents. In the same way, to the degree a devotee feels entitlement, or takes the gifts of devotion for granted, is the extent they will not feel the mercy of God. And without feeling such love, it is difficult to have love for others. On the other hand, the humble devotee who is able to appreciate and feel God’s mercy easily awakens devotion for Krishna in response. Humility and its consequent feelings of gratitude are thus the foundation of devotion. This same point can be seen in the third verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam by Śrī Caitanya, arguably the most important verse in the Krishna bhakti tradition, in its declaration that the humble can always chant. Why can the humble chant always? Only something done with love is ultimately joyful within itself and can be done without satiation or cessation, and, as explained before, only the humble person welling with gratitude can chant in such devotion. Thus Śrī Caitanya also affirms the importance of being consciously grateful, for only such a humble soul can chant the holy name with unalloyed and unbroken devotion.

 

Among the many ways to develop gratitude, a particularly powerful one for a devotee to practice is prayer. Prayer generally does two things. It exalts the object of our adulation and expresses our dependence and humility. In this way, by helping us feel the distance between the value of what we aspire for (and experience) and our ability to earn it, prayer evokes feelings of undeserved kindness, or mercy, and consequent devotion. A sincerely prayerful person is therefore an increasingly grateful and devotional one.

 

Besides being grateful for what we have, we also need to be indebted to those who contributed to what we have now. To take things for granted and to enjoy the fruits of the labor of others closes the heart and also does not bode well for devotion. I remember at Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance festival a few years ago when a senior devotee made a poignant point in this regard. He noted the marvelous facilities that the audience in Vṛndāvana was enjoying now and contrasted that with the very austere conditions when the devotees first came to Vṛndāvana. He then described the arduous austerities the pioneers of ISKCON performed to make our centers in Vṛndāvana, Māyāpur, and Mumbai what they are today. He implored the devotees to never forget to remain grateful to the pioneers of Krishna consciousness. It is important on the path of devotion to honor all of our predecessors.

 

I can now understand what Śrīla Prabhupāda meant when he said, “We advance by appreciation,”[1] and why he told his devotee to simply remain obliged when asked how to repay him.

 

Again, there is so much to write on this subject. In fact, I think just months ago I may have written a similar Monday Morning Greetings. I was once asked to give a lecture at a devotee gathering held on Thanksgiving, a prominent American holiday commemorating the gratitude the original settlers of America felt in the New World. Naturally, I was asked to speak on thankfulness and devotion. I choose to speak on a verse by Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī that expresses one’s thankfulness for the gifts one gets by the mercy of the spiritual master. For the purpose of brevity and the natural flow of the article, I don’t usually include the Sanskrit translation to verses cited in Monday Morning Greetings, but it’s just too beautiful a verse not to include. By reciting this verse daily it reminds us of the gifts bequeathed on us by our lineage, represented by Śrīla Prabhupāda and his sincere followers. I pray to just remain obliged.

 

nāma-śreṣṭhaṁ manum api śacī-putram atra svarūpaṁ
rūpaṁ tasyāgrajam uru-purīṁ māthurīṁ goṣṭhavāṭīm
rādhā-kuṇḍaṁ giri-varam aho rādhikā-mādhavāśāṁ
prāpto yasya prathita-kṛpayā śrī-guruṁ taṁ nato ’smi

“I bow down to the beautiful lotus feet of my spiritual master, by whose causeless mercy I have obtained the supreme holy name, the divine mantra, the service of the son of Śacīmātā [Lord Caitanya], the association of Śrīla Svarūpa Dāmodara, Rūpa Gosvāmī, and his older brother Sanātana Gosvāmī, the supreme abode of Mathurā, the blissful abode of Vṛndāvana, the divine Rādhā-kuṇḍa and Govardhana Hill, and the desire within my heart for the loving service of Śrī Rādhika and Mādhava [Krishna] in Vṛndāvana.”

 

 


[1] This is quote is from a purport by Śrīla Prabhupāda in Cc. Ādi-līlā. I have yet to find the exact reference, but I am sure it is there.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #11 – Chant and Be Happy: How Does It Work?

March 18th, 2019

Chant and be happy. It seems so simple. But is it? Do we find chanting automatically pleasurable, or do we find it sometimes a chore? How does bhakti work and how can I make it work for me? In other words, how can I chant and be happy?

 

Before discussing how chanting makes us happy, we first must understand what happiness is. Most people would agree that the essence of happiness is love, which is the energy that flows between two people in a relationship. A simple analogy will help us understand this concept further.

 

When a calf is born she immediately gravitates to her mother’s teats for milk, and the mother responds by intensely and affectionately licking her calf. They innately feel an intense bond, or energy, between them called love. In a similar way, as we have a natural relationship with God, being part of Him, that intense bond or energy between us, called bhakti, will awaken when we focus our attention on God. Now we can proceed to discuss how chanting works to invoke devotion and happiness in a similar way.

 

According to the yogic tradition, mantra, or specifically names of God, is non-different from God. Therefore, when we focus our attention on God’s holy name, we naturally feel the sublime energy of love between the soul and God. That’s how chanting works. Now, when doesn’t chanting work?

 

We may not necessarily experience the holy name when chanting, and thus receive the full benefit of its presence, if we are not attentive, for perception depends not just on the senses, but also on the mind. How many times when listening to a class or chanting the holy name are we not hearing the message, or mantra, because our mind is elsewhere? Chanting is therefore “not happy” when the mind is not properly focused on the holy name and thus doesn’t fully perceive Him.

 

Our ability to experience something also depends on our attitude. For example, if we envy someone, we see them as less than they are, or when lacking a loving attitude towards someone, the person directly before our eyes is not fully revealed to us. In order to fully experience Krishna in the holy name, and thus “chant and be happy”, we must, along with chanting His name, develop the proper relationship with Krishna. We do this by hearing the glories of Krishna and worshiping His form. Regularly reading the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and visiting the Lord’s temple are thus essential to making the holy name work.

 

Finally, to fully understand something and experience its potency our focus has to be not just concentrated, but concentrated without any interruption over a period of time. That effort is called practice. In other words, to experience the holy name we must practice chanting the holy name. I thought of an analogy to illustrate this point:

 

To set alight a piece of paper by focusing the sun on it through a magnifying glass requires that the sun must be concentrated on the paper for some time. Similarly, to melt the heart and enflame our natural feelings of devotion we need to practice, or concentrate, for some time, beginning with having a time and place for chanting unfettered by any distraction.

 

In that regard, serious meditators thus usually have an āsana, or a seat, for practice. Having an āsana for chanting indicates a place that, once sat upon, is exclusively for the worship of Krishna, which, in this case, is for the chanting of His holy name. When we do that, we sit near (upa) to Krishna not just by a physical distance, but by our consciousness. Our practice then truly becomes upāsana or worship, sitting (āsana) near (upa) the Lord.

 

That’s how it works. Chant and be happy!

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #10 – Going… Going… Gone!

March 11th, 2019

Mel Allen, “the voice of the Yankees”, would announce a home run by following the ball’s trajectory with a long drawn out “going, going” and punctuating it when it would finally go over the wall for a home run with a dramatic “gone!” It was his signature call. My older brother, Barry, and I were often glued to the television in the early 60s as Mel Allen announced the Yankee games. We were charmed whenever he would call a home run. Strangely enough this impression from way back recently sprouted in my consciousness as I was finishing a one-month lecture series on Krishna leaving Vṛndāvana. While describing the three types of separation the gopis felt at that time, namely when they heard He was going, when they actually watched His chariot leave, and when He had finally gone, a voice suddenly arose in my mind, “Going, going, gone!“ To my surprise, it was a perfect summary of what I had just described.

 

While meditating on the gopis’ plight I began to reflect on my own situation. It is my last day in Vṛndāvana and l am already feeling separation. Soon I will leave and then be gone. My thoughts on “going”:

 

Knowing that I will soon leave here intensifies my understanding and feelings of the significance of where I am. There are so many things to tie up before I leave. I don’t have a second to waste, especially the precious time I have left here to honor and realize Vṛndāvana by chanting and hearing about Krishna. I am surprised by how much I am accomplishing in my last days by cherishing each second that passes. A thought comes: I could do so much more in service and chanting if only I could maintain this intensity of purpose and focus throughout the year. It is not a matter of becoming more renounced. It’s the need to become more dedicated.

 

I am feeling separation from Vṛndāvana, which is a painful feeling of loss. The mood of separation, however, is also an expression of devotion. l am thus also feeling the joy of devotion. I gain a slight glimpse of how the spiritual world is beyond duality, how the intense and painful feelings of the gopis’ separation is counter-intuitively the greatest joy. I am therefore both sadly and blissfully leaving the holy dhama.

 

It’s Sunday. I enter the temple for sandhya-ārati, a kind of good-bye to Radhe Shyam. The temple’s packed. I have never seen anywhere else such a crowd of such unbounded bliss, cheering the deities as Their doors open, jostling for darśana, and dancing without attachment or inhibition. There are sādhus of joy, families of joy, children of joy — everywhere I turn, super joyful people, down to every last friendly person that makes a point to smile at me as I stand in the courtyard observing the scene. There is just something about Vṛndāvana, where Krishna is fully Krishna, all attractive, that draws out the spontaneous devotion of the visitors like no other place in the world. Isn’t that our philosophy? It’s infectious. I will miss it.

 

I head for a quick late morning ārati at Tatiasthan. Bless the sādhus there who keep the holy land as it was five hundred years ago — a large forested, no electricity zone ashram. The ashram caller walks the parameter of the compound to announce the ārati. His loud, guttural “Radhe! Shyama!” not only wakes up the surrounding old Vṛndāvana town to devotion, but also calls the sādhus from their morning prayers. Hearing the call, the mostly elderly sādhus leave their bhajan kuṭirs and proceed to the temple. I watch them emerge from different directions, ritualistically covered from head to foot in Vṛndāvana dust tilak, walking soberly with no-bend arthritic knees, a kind of spiritual “Night of The Living Dead” scene. I enter the temple. The ceiling of this deeply impressive temple is the Vṛndāvana sky. Its floor, the daily sifted fragrant one-foot thick Vṛndāvana sand, sparkling like crushed diamonds. The pious Vṛndāvana town folk and the eerie looking sādhus begin to chant acapella, classic drupad kīrtana,[1] like the best of Gregorian chants, but in local Brajabhasa. Glory to God! To Krishna! To Radha! Powerful! Powerful! Powerful! I don’t understand the language, but I hear and feel their bhāva and take their devotion reformed into sound into my heart. I will miss the real Vṛndāvana!

 

A respected older god-brother once told me that the perfection of life is to shed tears on the disappearance day of the spiritual master because separation is the sign of real devotion. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s most declarative statement on chanting the holy name is that we should cry like a child separated from his mother. I am so glad that I am on a path of attachment. Become attached to Krishna’s holy name, His holy land, His beautiful form, His stories and songs, and, most importantly, His devotees. Feel separation in their absence, shed a tear, and perfect one’s life. What a process!

 

Now in Moscow. Going! Going! Gone!

 


[1] Dhrupad is the strictest vocal style of Hindustan music in classical Indian music. Swami Haridas the founder-ācārya of Tatiyasthan is considered to be one the originators of this style of devotional singing.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #9 – What I Learned at a Tea Stall

March 4th, 2019

Last week I wrote about my morning Vṛndāvana walks. Recently, it has been my main inspiration so I will write something more about it, especially as this is my last week in Vṛndāvana.

 

The morning hours reveal reality anywhere, not just in Vṛndāvana, but I think especially Vṛndāvana. The quiet early morning hours are more in goodness, sattva. Sattva means the nature of being. The world in the early morning hours, before people wake up to activities of exploitation (passion) and destruction (ignorance), is thus truer to the nature of God’s creation. The early morning world also influences one to become further perceptive and to see the world as it is. Here’s what I saw this morning.

 

The road to the town’s center was almost totally desolate, except for a few very jolly townspeople and sādhus crowding around a tea shop. The shop wallah sat behind a single-burner propane stove with a tin pot of chai boiling on it. He seemed to enjoy the sense of community as he expertly sweetened, in his own estimation, his brew by flinging one scoop of sugar after another into the mix.

 

There was something about this scene that impressed me. It certainly wasn’t what they were doing. Even if I took tea, I couldn’t imagine drinking that sugary blend in the morning. What hit me was the simplicity of their joy. I am also not reiterating here my theme of natural Vrajavāsī bliss. It was just something about the fundamental principle of happiness that I saw. That simple chai community seemed to, by their contentment, shout out that happiness is a very internal thing, and something not overly dependent on the external world for our pleasure. Their modest setting wasn’t much, to say the least.

 

What I am writing here sounds to me not so substantive for my audience, but it wasn’t the idea alone that struck me as profound. It was the clarity of the realization. As I walked by in that early morning hour, I saw such a stark dichotomy between the principle of joy and what we need to be happy. It forced me to confront my own faith.

 

Do I really believe happiness is internal, or is my joy-faith still too much invested in the ephemeral world? Have I, a monk, rationalized my needs in the name of service to take way above what is required?

 

I remembered when one very senior sannyāsi spoke in a lecture about how happy he was in the early days of ISKCON when his only possession was his bead bag. Yes, when I first joined ISKCON, believe it or not, we would randomly pick our wear for the day from a common laundry shelf of folded dhotis and kurtas. Of course, artificial or excess renunciation has little to do with bhakti, but another point is being made here. Do I —do we — invest too much energy in the external when the accruement and collection of things meant for happiness usually does not deliver its happiness part of the bargain? How much have I realized that happiness is a matter of consciousness, something that radiates from the self, and ultimately not a material thing, something that comes to the self?

 

So those are my early morning thoughts and that is what I learned from a tea stall.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #8 – Vṛndāvana the Beautiful!

February 25th, 2019

I renewed a cherished old daily practice. Early in the morning, before the dawn of the day, I walk out into Vṛndāvana to experience its beauty. And what is that beauty? Is it the visual as I negotiate through the meandering streets to the town’s center, or circumambulate the city on the path now paved around it? Is it the dilapidated structures, open sewers, and sleeping street dogs, or piles of strewn trash with the pigs feasting on it? What exactly is the beauty of Vṛndāvana?

 

In the far distance I periodically hear the birth of a kīrtana and then another and another. I can’t see them, but it’s so mystical to witness a city gradually awakening to the sweet sound of the holy name.

 

An elderly bābā sits on the side of the parikramā path in the cold. He sits in the same spot every day without fail, beautifully chanting the morning melody of Hare Krishna on an old harmonium. His smile reflects the beauty of his heart. I read his mind: “I am the most fortunate person in the world!”

 

I pass through the narrow corridors that embrace the once grand but now in disrepair Keśī-ghāṭa. I step over the small powerful stream of sewage rushing towards the river. I continue down the long dark corridor where on my left the path finally fully opens to the river in descending sandstone steps. A smattering of small rooms and platforms in the palace wall house sādhus and paṇḍitas huddled for joyous worship with incense and mantra. I pass a family sleeping together to the side of the path under a pile of thick blankets. The father’s head pops up “Haribol!” The children follow suit. They all smile. A blissful family in the most unlikely of places.

 

Thank God the celebrated, nasty eye glass-hat-purse snatching monkeys are still asleep as I walk the narrow street to the center of town, carefully negotiating my stroll around the resting bulls and sleeping dogs. Even I am overwhelmed, Venus and all,[1] by the thick ambrosial fragrance of devotion surrounding me. I whiff what I feel is the hearts of the vrajavāsīs’ offering incense to their Lord. My heart is buoyed by their devotion.

 

An old sādhu bathes by the hand pump in just his kaupīnas.[2] A barefoot shop keeper throws water in front of his shop to clean the ground, and then waves incense before baby Gopāla[3] on the shelf. I see the same souls every day. What happy hearts with so little!

 

A simple man on a bike passes me on my right singing odes to Krishna in joy. An old widow scurries past with soft, deep prayers to Radha under her breath. I occasionally pass a full throttled maṅgala-ārati kīrtana as I peer into the various temples behind the worn, intricately carved entrances. A few temple hopping souls occasionally rush past me to catch another ārati on their morning rounds. A whole city gradually awakening to devotion. A joyous sight!

 

I meet a simple mālī (gardener) as I walk through the beautiful flower gardens of Vṛndāvana just minutes from the town. Hundreds of acres of lush, colorful floral acres rest before me, a splash of hue if I ever saw one. Yes, the real Vṛndāvana is also still there hidden through a secret black gate that seems to forever preserve its beauty. Amidst the truly paradisiacal Vṛndāvana the mālī tells me his woes. The floods wiped out his crop. As he is complaining I am puzzled as his eyes and body still sparkle with immense joy. I ask a simple question, “How can you be so happy?” His answer was like a mantra revealing the true glory of Vṛndāvana, whether walking through its run-down town or strolling through its splendid gardens.

 

Happiness is a heart filled with devotion. Ah, Vṛndāvana the beautiful!

 

 


[1] I sometimes joke about the weak Venus in my astrological chart, which is not overly sensitive to refined things like fine scents.

[2] Loin cloth

[3] His deity of baby Krishna

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #7 – A Simple and Creative Definition of Faith

February 18th, 2019

Faith is what you value the most. Defined in this way, faith is not an intellectual choice, as in “I believe this or don’t believe this”. It is based on an experience of happiness that determines what one cherishes or has faith in.

 

Of course, one can’t make up his own definitions. The problem here is that I am trying to communicate what the Sanskrit word śraddhā means in English, but it doesn’t exactly translate into the English word “faith”. I have therefore taken leeway with its translation to try to better express its import. My explanation is actually based on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s definition of śraddhā as “unflinching trust in something sublime”. Sublimity is not a person’s decision intellectually. It is a choice one makes based on what one is spontaneously attracted to. By defining faith in this way, as what one values or is attracted to the most, I hope to enhance our understanding of śraddhā, and maybe even challenge our faith in a healthy way. I hope you will see what I am getting at as I apply this understanding first to devotion.

 

A devotee’s faith is that the highest pleasure, what they value most, is sevā, loving service to God or Krishna. Now, according to our definition, let’s test our faith. If given a choice, would you rather chant and serve the holy name of Krishna or surf the web? In other words, what do you really value most from the heart? If it’s the web, then by this definition, that’s your faith.

 

Naturally what I am writing early in the morning comes into my mind throughout the day. When I was chanting during maṅgala-ārati in the Krishna Balarama Mandir, I listened carefully to the quality of my entreaty. It hit me. The degree to which I enjoy chanting is my level of faith. It can’t be bluffed.

 

I like the definition of bhakti as the mood of being available for service. How much are you in that mood and how much do you enjoy serving? That is your level of faith, regardless of how much you think you believe in Krishna. When there is a big feast do you enjoy serving it or eating it more? Which is your faith?

 

Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī was referring to this experiential definition of faith when he described the first stage of bhakti as ādau śraddhā, beginning with faith. The path of devotion usually starts with innocent contact with the holy name of Krishna that awakens a sublimity exceeding any previous type of joy. That encounter engenders such a strong trust in devotion that despite challenges on the path of devotion it remains our most valued objective, even if we have failed to recapture that initial sublimity, or “religious experience”.

 

The question naturally arises of how to maintain and increase our faith, for if an experience is not renewed it will gradually recede within the consciousness. Faith is rekindled by engaging with it by practice, which means four things: concentration, done over a prolonged period time, without interruption, and in the right mood. Except for some special mercy, such prolonged and uninterrupted attention is the basis of any profound renewed spiritual experience, which is the foundation of faith.

 

To translate practically what this faith generating practice implies for us, it means at least a period of time during the day reserved exclusively for our meditation on Krishna. Without that type of concentrated effort daily, the intensity of devotion that kindled our initial faith will not be strongly felt, just as the heat reflected through a magnifying glass by the light of the sun only becomes fire if focused or concentrated on a piece of paper without interruption over some time.

 

As usual, and I hope you don’t get bored of me saying it, this topic goes far beyond the limited scope of the present paper. There is so much more to discuss about faith. For example, in devotional service people become absorbed and awaken faith in bhakti in various ways according to their taste. That’s certainly worth a discussion. Also, no discussion of faith is complete without understanding the role of sacred texts in increasing our devotional aspirations and consequently our faith. There is also no time to discuss that here, but I will leave you with just one more point about faith that I think is relevant to everyone.

 

The greatest tragedy is to have the wrong objective in life and to realize that your attainment is unsatisfactory and ephemeral. Intelligent people therefore strive to awaken their eternal nature, the substantive and eternal happiness of devotion. That is the real definition of śraddhā. My simple faith:

 

Chant and be happy!

 

 

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