Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #4 – Monday Morning Musings II

January 25th, 2021

Chanting means to mean what I say: That’s called sincerity. O Radha! O Krishna! Please engage me in your service. Unless the voice in our mind becomes one with our words, it is not pure chanting.

 

Chant until the false ego screams: Chanting brings one in contact with the soul where one joyfully embraces the humble position of servant of the holy name. We are then forced to accept that we are not better than everyone or anyone. Ouch!

 

Pure chanting requires a soft hear: When you feel for others, the soft heart can easily be directed with feeling towards Krishna.

 

Attentiveness in chanting is tastefulness in devotion: The first expression of love is to focus on the object of one’s devotion, which consequently unlocks the mutual feelings of affection in that relationship. Therefore, without attentiveness for Krishna in the form of His holy name, it is not possible to awaken the feelings of devotion between the chanter and His Lord, a feeling that is the taste in devotion.

 

Chanting as prayer: Mindful chanting is the exaltation of the object of prayer and the consequent feelings of humility.

 

The agony and the ecstasy of chanting: Chanting clears the mind and exposes our false self. How painful to see one’s folly as a pretender, but how fortunate to realize that! It is our pretense only that impedes the heartfelt call for shelter that attracts God’s mercy.

 

Chanting must be inspired: There are so many mindsets from humility and determination to appreciation that inspire one to focus on Krishna. It takes effort to overcome lethargy and access the best of our thoughts in order to focus our mind with determination on the holy name. The discipline to offer our consciousness to Krishna is the first expression of our devotion for Him. Krishna, like any person, is responsive to love and will certainly reciprocate our effort with a taste for the holy name. The message I got today: Don’t surrender to the lazy mind. Find the best within you and use it to surrender to the holy name.

 

In chanting the negative attracts the positive: The mind is wandering. I can’t focus. What a wonderful opportunity to embrace our abject need for mercy and beg for the holy name. Success in devotion depends on humility. Our failings, therefore, can help us if it they reveal to us our dependence on God.

 

Chanting means seeking mercy: Meditation means to control the mind. We have millions of competing impressions imbedded in our consciousness over many lifetimes that challenge our will to focus on the holy name. As a result, success in meditation is only possible by mercy, a kindness that allows us to attain focus beyond our capability. Chanting therefore means begging for mercy.

 

We should chant with urgency: The name “Krishna” is the vocative case. It means “O Krishna”. “Hare” is in the vocative case. It means “O Radha”. It is the same with the name “Rama”. When dwelling on the meaning of the mantra, are we feeling that sense of urgency? Are we not to die tomorrow?

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #3 – Kaniṣṭha, Madhyam, and Uttama Eating

January 18th, 2021

The first and lowest stage of material consciousness, which represents the karmic or selfish mind, is called anna-moya, the animal consciousness of seeing everything only in terms of food. Therefore, for one who is serious about self-realization, controlling their eating is a priority. It is no wonder that one of the six main obstacles on the path of bhakti-yoga, the selfless path of devotion, is called atyāhāraati – extreme, āhāra – eating — for just like all obstacles on the path of bhakti, overeating sinks one into material consciousness and impedes devotion. Interestingly, although atyāhāra literally means “overeating”, it is used primarily in a generic way to indicate the excessive increase of material demands, which shows how much eating is conflated in general with the core of material consciousness, and why eating properly is so important.

 

I have divided eating into three levels according to its effect on consciousness. The terms kaniṣṭha (neophyte), madhyam (middling), and uttama (topmost) are generic terms used to indicate the level of one’s qualification for practicing devotion. I am using these terms here in a somewhat similar way in order to gradate the levels in which we can approach eating.

 

Kaniṣṭha (Restaurant Eating)

I am using the term restaurant eating to refer to eating food that was cooked to accrue profit and not cooked for one personally and lovingly. The experience of eating such food is simply sensual. As the activity of the eater is not sacrificial, but selfish, there is karmic reaction for such eating, whether one is a vegetarian or even a vegan.

 

“ […] Others [those who don’t offer food first for sacrifice], who prepare food for personal enjoyment, verily eat sin.” (Bg. 3.13)

 

Madhyam (Home Cooking)

I am using the term home cooking to refer to food that was cooked with love for one’s family, such as food cooked by a loving mother for her children. Taking such food is therefore not just a sensual experience, but also an emotional one, as the taste of the food is an expression of the cook’s love for the person being served. I have written about this before[1] in terms of how much of today’s mental disease, such as depression and anxiety, is caused by a lack of affection in one’s formative years, a nurturing that was mostly communicated through the food cooked by one’s mother.

 

It is, therefore, a sad time now in modern society, where there is not a culture at home of family meals, and, when eating, one thus mostly fends for oneself through restaurants, take-out, frozen meals, and snacking. Contrast that with high-end Bengali culture where even when two people are taking meals, one person will lovingly serve it.

 

Still, if the food is not offered in sacrifice there is a karmic reaction.

 

Uttama (Prasādam)

Prasādam literally means “grace”. It is an age-old tradition in Indian eating. One’s food is lovingly cooked and offered to God, and only taken in a mood of honoring Krishna’s mercy. It is thus also karma-free, because the cooking, serving, and eating is done with devotion.[2] The experience is therefore both sensual, emotional, and spiritual.

 

It is beyond the scope of a weekly post to describe the intricacies of how food is offered to God and transforms in the process.[3] I will state, however, that it is the experience of those adhering to the tradition, and confirmed by the sacred texts, that food cooked and taken in this way has a tangible transformative effect. Narada, the most famous Vaiṣṇava saint, describes his experience of taking prasādam from the plate of his teacher:

 

“Once only, by their permission, I took the remnants of their food, and by so doing all my sins were at once eradicated […]” (Bhag. 1.5.25)

 

Properly honoring prasādam is thus uttama eating, a sensual, emotional, and spiritual experience.

 

 


[1] https://wavesofdevotion.com/2016/04/18/the-mother-the-mind-and-food-2/

[2] Of course, it goes without saying that offering things with devotion means to offer vegetarian foodstuffs.

[3] There is so much more that can be discussed from exactly how one offers food to God and philosophical foundation of how it becomes transformed and frees one from sin.

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #2 – Is Surrender a Bad Word?

January 11th, 2021

Is Surrender a Bad Word? [1]

 

When I was in my teens a popular and favorite situation comedy on television was called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. It was about typical young men in the ’50s. The character that amused us the most was Dobie’s best friend, a beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs. Beatniks, like their descendants the hippies, had the reputation of never working. During the show, whenever Maynard was asked if he would like to work, he would shriek nervously, “Work!” We loved it. It was as if work was a bad word.

 

I find almost the same reaction today among some devotees when they hear the word surrender, even though surrender is the foundation of bhakti. Ouch! Why do I hear some of my readers react that way when I say that surrender is the foundation of bhakti? Is surrender a bad word?

 

How can that be? “Surrender” is unquestionably the first thing Arjuna says to Krishna after accepting Him as his guru: “I am a soul surrendered unto you. Please instruct me.”

 

And later, when Krishna describes the responsibly of a disciple, He says “praṇipātena”—that before receiving knowledge, the student must offer prostrated obeisances, which takes the “I surrender” mudrā of hands raised up in the air to the next level, falling flat at someone’s feet.

 

When discussing this point about surrender in my Nectar of Devotion seminar, Sat Hari—one of the students, and a scholar in his own right—shared an insight from one of his teachers on the difficulty for some people with the word surrender. “When you translate words from Sanskrit to English,” he said, “the translated word is pregnant with history [of its usage].”

 

The English word surrender means to capitulate or submit, and its usage in English is almost exclusively to an enemy or opponent.

 

Isn’t there a better word in English for prapatti or śaraṇāgati than surrender? Why use a word with such negative connotations—“to enemy or opponent”?

 

The core meaning of surrender is derived from the Middle English word render, which means “to return or give back,” and the prefix sous, which mean “under,” literally to place oneself under someone else. “To an enemy or opponent” is the implied meaning in English, due to the pre-Renaissance culture in which the meaning of surrender developed. But capitulation or submission does not have to be to an enemy. It can also be done out of great love.

 

In other words, both prapatti and surrender have the exact same meaning. They both describe the act of giving oneself over or to or “under” the control of another party. However, depending on the culture in which that word is used and one’s personal experience with authority in life, surrender will conjure up one of two images or meanings:

 

One hears “surrender” and sees an image of a person waving a white flag and then marching in the hot sun with bayonet in back and hands raised in air. To such a person, surrender means exploitation and abuse.

 

Another hears “surrender” and imagines a child in the arms of his or her loving mother, completely “under” her care. To such a person, surrender means shelter and love.

 

Regardless of how you are conditioned to view the word, the more important consideration for a devotee is whether he or she can accept and embrace the base meaning of surrender, “giving control over oneself to another party,” for without the mood of “I am yours,” one cannot enter the door of bhakti. Isn’t the mood of giving oneself to another by supplicating one’s will to their desires the basis of any relationship with a worthy object of love, especially with one’s guide or protector?

 

There are a few other images that should be clarified before the sense of weakness can be lifted from the word. Surrender—“giving control over oneself to another party”—does not mean that one’s initiative is squelched or that one is micromanaged, provided the person one surrenders to is worthy. One is fully empowered according to one’s ability but always in the mood of dependence and humility.

 

I heard a beautiful analogy that describes the subtlety of balancing full initiative and full dependence: In an Indian extended family, when the father retires, his sons will be given the business and full initiative to run it. The father, however, will come every day and sit there. Although he doesn’t interfere and the sons have full initiative, they feel his presence, shelter, and authority. In a similar way, a mature and educated disciple is given full initiative to practice spiritual life and render service according to his full realization but always with an eye toward his spiritual guardians and their authority.

 

“But what if the guru is not qualified and I am misled or exploited?” The subtleties of dealing with that are another story and another paper, but we can’t change the philosophy about what surrender means on the basis that we have entered into the wrong relationship. Before judging a guru in such a way, we had better be sure that the problem is not mostly with us, the disciple. And it goes without saying that there must be a period of examination between the guru and disciple before one makes such a heavy commitment as surrender.

 

That’s it. Surrender is not a bad word, though the reality of our absolute dependence on God is a challenging one. False ego means we want power to control and enjoy, and accepting authority takes that power from our hands. Naturally we resist it and the words that represent it, but surrender is not a bad word; it is the gateway to the world of bhakti.

 


[1] This Monday Morning Greetings was original published on February 29, 2016.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #1 – My Favorite Quotes on Death

January 4th, 2021

I was walking in the twenty-acre cemetery park across the street from where I stay in New York, when I spontaneously began to think of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s quotes on death, as well some other quotes on the subject. I became inspired to share them with a brief commentary on each one.

 

“What is death but a change of body!”

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda came back from Hrsikesh to Vrindavan to announce that he was preparing to leave the world. He gathered his disciples in his room and said the above. What struck me was not just what he said, but the conviction with which he said it. Śrīla Prabhupāda then quoted the Bhagavad-gītā:

 

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (2.13)

 

We were there months later in the same room witnessing his passing. It was obvious to those who were there: he was not bewildered by such a change!

 

“Don’t think this won’t happen to you!”

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples, almost all of whom were younger than thirty years of age, surrounded his bed during his last days. He turned to them and relayed this important instruction. If any of us had any psychological avoidance of death at that time, as Śrīla Prabhupāda’s statement seemed to indicate, how could we possibly continue that illusion in the face of the fact that so many who stood by his bed then are now gone?

 

“The pain of death is not the physical pain, for either the body goes into a coma, or one is given drugs to dull the pain. The real pain of death is losing one’s attachments.”

 

About thirty years ago, I was having a philosophical discussion with Satyanarayan Baba, who, at that time, served under me as the Sanskrit teacher in the gurukula. I don’t remember specifically what our discussion was about, but this point stuck with me. Even now, if I lost the smallest thing, say my cell phone, I would be in anxiety. Imagine what it is like to suddenly face the prospect of losing everything at once, including your material identity and everyone you know and love. For one who has not cultivated an eternal spiritual identity, the psychological trauma of losing all of one’s attachments at death is indeed even more painful than the physical pain itself.

 

“The more you transform your life from the material to the spiritual domain, the less you become afraid of death. A person who lives a truly spiritual life has no fear of death.”

 

While writing the previous quote, I thought it wouldn’t be proper to not follow it up with something that offers some hope. I thus picked this quote from Leo Tolstoy. When we perform activities of devotion such as chanting the holy names of God, because it is an activity of the eternal soul, it gives us the realization that our activities and existence do not end with the body, and we become fearless. In contrast, the activities of material enjoyment, because they are expressions of the false ego, put us in the illusion that our activities and existence end at death, leaving us always in duality and fear.

 

“Death is the illusion of material existence.”

 

Years ago, I began to study and teach the Yoga Sutras in yoga studios around New York City. One important point I gleaned from the study was that all of our problems are perceptual – how we see things – and not actual, how they are. I thought the best example of this was our apparently biggest problem, death. I searched for a good way to express my realization and composed the above statement.

 

“Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people.” (Bg. 11.32)

 

After the Atom Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the Manhattan Project, which developed the bomb, was riddled with guilt. Shortly after, he was interviewed. Contemplating the destruction he helped cause, he, with tears in his eyes, paraphrased this Bhagavad-gītā verse in his own words: “I am become death, the destroyer of the worlds.” This became perhaps the most famous quote from the Bhagavad-gītā in the western world.[1]

 

“What is death but another birthday?”

 

I seem to recall Śrīla Prabhupāda saying this, but I am not certain of its origins. We look at death with the greatest trepidation and look at a birthday as the most joyous occasion. To equate the two in this manner is a brilliant and ironic way of highlighting the positivity of death.

 

I didn’t mean to begin the new year with such an apparently macabre subject. But is it? Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher disagreed: “The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.”

 

 


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb13ynu3Iac

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #52 – Monday Morning Musings

December 28th, 2020

Reflection One

 

My experience is that my ability to meditate on the holy name is very much commensurate with the quality of my life the previous day, meaning that I met my responsibilities, reasonably prioritized them, and didn’t frivolously waste time. If chanting becomes our service, our life becomes our service.

 

Reflection Two

 

Chanting is like shooting an arrow, for in both marksmanship and prayer one must aim at a target or objective to be effective. I aim my chanting at the lotus feet of Sri Krishna and the Vaiṣṇavas and beg for the mercy of the holy name. O Holy Name! O Sri Girirāja! O devotees of the Lord! O Śrīla Prabhupāda! Please engage me in your service!

 

Reflection Three

 

Don’t fall into the misconception that the holy name isn’t service because a person is seemingly not actively doing or accomplishing anything. Service means to give pleasure to another person, and real pleasure is to feel the love of another. To sit and to offer our consciousness to Krishna in devotion is the highest service, for we are consciousness that reaches maturity and fulfilment in pure love. And in that mood of devotion, we remain fully available for whatever other service is requested from above.

 

Reflection Four

 

Taste in chanting makes us humble, because whenever we just glimpse the holy name, although the experience is sublime, it is also so simple. We then realize that so many others, including the everyday practitioners, must be already at that level of chanting, and that we may be so far behind.

 

Reflection Five

 

By our nature and upbringing, we tend to see the fault in a devotee whose nature and thoughts differ from ours. Unfortunately, we often mistake that small aspect of that person as the whole person and miss their devotionally inspired side. Lately, I have been meditating on the qualities of my godbrothers and godsisters who have passed away and have noticed that the reverse is true. I focus only on their inspired side as dedicated servants of Śrīla Prabhupāda, even in cases where their nature and thoughts appeared so much different than mine. A real Vaiṣṇava, however, always focuses on the inspired side of the devotees, whether they have passed away or are still living.

 

Reflection Six

 

The key to chanting: You have to know what you are praying for and want it really bad.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #51 – The Krishna Challenge

December 21st, 2020

A friend shared with me an excerpt from a book he was reading on his favorite subject, the realizations of the Greek Stoics. I am always impressed with what he sends me:

 

“Listen, as the saying goes, it’s crisis time: make a last desperate effort to gain freedom and tranquility — to be a Stoic. Lift up your head, like a person finally released from slavery. Dare to face God and say, ‘from now on, use me as you like. I am of one mind with you, I am your peer.’ Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it. You may put me where you like, in any role regardless: officer or citizen, rich man or pauper, here or overseas. They are all just so many opportunities to justify your ways to man, by showing just how little circumstances amount to.” (From Epictetus’s Discourses and Selected Writings, translated by Robert Dobbin, pg. 116)

 

Reading this, I felt challenged; Could I throw my hands in the air and “dare to face God” and say, as the best of the Stoics do, “From now on use me as you like”? I will soon again visit and stay with my mother. It is not at all easy for me to live there for many reasons, but knowing how overwhelmed my family is with their own responsibilities and struggles, it is not out of the question that more and more responsibility could eventually fall on me. If that is the case — that it is God’s will — I will have to bow my head to Krishna with full conviction and declare, “Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it.” It won’t be easy.

 

I think my situation may be a good example of why, unlike the path of jñāna, the simple process of bhakti, which has no rigid prerequisites, can be so darn challenging. In devotion, all we have to do is sincerely serve the will of God, leaving the results up to Him. Anybody in any condition or station in life, therefore, can advance on the path of devotion. The only difficulty is if we are asked to do something that does not conform to our desires, in which case a simple task will seem difficult and will likely be resisted. In other words, the path of bhakti is only challenging because we don’t always like to serve a higher purpose, especially when, in the process, we have to relinquish control.

 

This “stoic” acquiescence to a higher truth is also called surrender. It is the foundation of devotion, for without surrendering selfishness — and that’s what surrender means — one can never enter the door of bhakti, or, for that matter, any sincere loving relationship.

 

As we go deeper in any spiritual endeavor, we will inevitably hit a barrier, and an inner voice will challenge us: “If you want the highest love you have to fully surrender.” The Stoics had it right. Are we ready to meet The Krishna Challenge and boldly declare in full devotion, “From now on use me as you like”?

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #50 – Dying in America

December 14th, 2020

Dying in America[1]

 

For the past week, I have been staying at my mother’s house. She will be 100 years of age next June, bless her soul. My younger and older brother responsibly manage her affairs, but besides a full-time helper, she lives without any family. Prior to the pandemic they could at least visit regularly.

 

I won’t bore you with the details, but getting old and dying is no fun, especially in America where independence is valued to such a degree that everyone wants their own place, even after visibly getting older. Unfortunately, the result is that when one eventually becomes debilitated, they hardly ever age or die with family and are mostly shuffled off to a nursing home. What could be a worse fate than dying without the care of loved ones, which now seems the norm or culture in most of the first world?

 

I think the root of this tragedy is a misunderstanding of freedom. Freedom is great when it allows you to worship the God of your choice and freely voice your opinions. When freedom, however, is defined simply as freedom to, which tends to overvalue abject independence, then an equally important freedom is excluded, the freedom from, in this case from loneliness, when the support one requires to be secure and emotionally fulfilled is insufficient. In my opinion, this situation is a direct result of the unhinged freedom to culture that minimizes the value of duty, sacrifice, and ultimately the extended family. Thinking about this gave me a remembrance that I think highlights this loss of tradition and culture.

 

I was walking down the main road in Govardhan with a friend when I noticed a stately old building. The sign carved in stone on the edifice in bold letters announcing “ANATHALAYA” caught my attention. I asked my friend what it meant. It was an orphanage. I was then immediately able to recognize how the meaning of the word was derived from its components, which were common Sanskrit words — a (not)—nātha (to control or rule) — ālaya (dwelling). I was struck by the cultural implications of the meaning, “a dwelling for those who have no ruler.”

 

In a traditional culture, the concept of no one to rule one describes a tragic situation, for the concept of authority or rule mostly means shelter and consequent guidance, and to lack that is indeed unfortunate. In the post­modern world, the term no ruler or controller, however, would never be the choice of words to describe something negative, because becoming free from rule or authority is actually valued. Today’s children therefore usually don’t remain with their parents, and most parents today prefer to stay in their own house even when getting older. By the time the need for serious care arises, there are usually not even enough family members in one house capable or willing to take on such responsibility.

 

Anyway, I am here with my mother trying to help. I am arranging to get her hearing aid fixed. Somehow her helper didn’t realize it was not working, which made it practically impossible for the family to talk with her on the tablet they purchased. I am trying to do my part. Aging and dying without spiritual realization is difficult enough, but dying in America is especially tragic.

 

 


[1] America can refer to anyplace in North or South America. Here I am using it to refer to the United States.

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #49 – Humility! Humility! Humility!

December 7th, 2020

Humility! Humility! Humility!

 

This was St. Augustine’s declarative answer to the rhetorical question he posed to an assembly of the faithful gathered to hear him speak: “What is the most important quality for spiritual advancement?” As humility is of paramount importance to spiritual life, I have discussed this subject many times in Monday Morning Greetings, from posts defining humility to discussing how it is distinguished from low self-esteem. This week, I had an inspiration to define humility in another way that I hope adds to the understanding of this important subject: Humility is moving out of the center.

 

When I refer to the center here, I am referring to the pride that the world should or does revolve around my desires and the faith that happiness occurs when that is achieved. Moving out of the center is the humility to shift from this identity to one of servant of God, who is actually the center of all existence and inclusive of all. Some thoughts on how this perspective demonstrates the subject of humility.

 

Family and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

A sannyāsī once told his student monks ( brahmacārīs), “If you want to remain a monk, you have to be the humble servant of everyone. Otherwise, you should get married and at least be the humble servant of a wife and family.” Marriage and family are meant to teach that there is something higher than oneself. If, out of pride, one tries to use family to center himself for enjoyment and control, the whole purpose of it is ruined.

 

 

Community and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

The whole purpose of community is to provide a place where one can happily leave the self-centered false ego at the door in order to joyfully experience that common interest is higher and serves one better than self-interest.

 

 

Disciple and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

Disciple means one who moves out of the center and puts guru and Krishna there.

 

 

Guru and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

A spiritual master is indeed the center of his disciples’ lives. A guru, however, never thinks he is guru or the center, but humbly accepts this position as a service to his spiritual master. In that way, guru and Krishna remain the center of the guru’s life. If he wavers from holding that consciousness, he is not qualified to be a guru.

 

 

Coming to the Path of Bhakti and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

The path of bhakti begins with the realization that our attempts to be the center of existence have only led to duality and fear, which impels us to take the humble position of desiring a truth higher than our own failed authority.

 

 

Bhakti and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

The practice of bhakti is the process of putting God in the center of one’s life by moving to the periphery for service and vigilantly resisting the false ego’s constant attempt to drag one back.

 

 

Bhakti-sastra and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

Bhakti-sastra is meant to attract us to Krishna by describing His glories. By reading the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and hearing Krishna’s glories, one becomes attracted to Krishna and puts Him in the center of their life, which inspires one to move to the position of Krishna’s servant. This hearing process, this study of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, is thus the crux of the bhakti practice.

 

 

Shunning Praise and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

Material consciousness means we like to be praised, because it puts us in the center where we can control and enjoy. A bhakta thus militantly deflects or shuns praise.

 

 

Experiencing Love and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

The only place where God’s love does not shine is the center where we shield ourselves from His mercy by the cloud of self-centeredness. Why are we so attached to the only place where love and happiness do not flow?

 

I think I understand further now as to why St. Augustine was so emphatic: “Humility! Humility! Humility!”

 

 

“Be silent and listen: Have you recognized your madness, and do you admit it?” – Carl Jung

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #48 – Kartik Meditations 2020 II

November 30th, 2020

Years ago, I was sitting with a sādhu in Govardhana when a young devotee came over to him and declared, “I chanted sixty-four round today!” When the young man left the sādhu turned to me and whispered, “He is so merciful. He just gave me the benefit of his chanting.” If you accomplish something and proclaim your glories, you become proud and won’t advance. You may, however, help others to advance by making them humble.

 

Chanting makes one humble because it clears the mirror of the mind. One not only sees God and oneself, but one also sees the false or pretentious self. Seeing the charade of who we think we are is painful, but somehow there is simultaneous joy.  Only when we are humble can one taste Krishna’s mercy.

 

We can’t produce the holy name of Krishna. We can only attract the holy name. One who realizes that begs for the holy name. Krishna is merciful and will certainly appear in His holy name if our entreaty is sincere.

 

A combination lock won’t open the door to a treasure until we get the combination exactly right. The combination that cracks the lock of the holy name and allows us entrance to the kingdom of God is chanting and hearing each syllable attentively and with the right heart. That stage is called śuddha nāma (pure chanting). I have faith, however, that by the sincere attempt to chant attentively and avoid offenses (the stage of nāmābhāsa), we will at least get a glimpse of Sri Krishna behind the door of the mind.

 

When the mind wanders it will naturally flow towards our material attachments. If one is not vigilant to let those thoughts go while chanting, we won’t hear the holy name. If we can become attached to Krishna, however, by serving and hearing the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, we will spontaneously think of Krishna’s form and pastimes. Not only will we continue to hear the holy name, but the holy name will become more pronounced.

 

Chanting is a science. There is a predictable result if done properly. That is why there are so many teachings about chanting the holy name. Does that mean that by our effort in chanting we can attain Krishna, and the result is therefore not dependent on His mercy? No. By the science of chanting our chanting will become imbued with sincere hankering to attain the lotus feet of Krishna, and that chanting may attract Krishna’s mercy.

 

Our success in japa meditation is based on faith, a trust in the value of what we are doing. We will then make the proper effort to protect that treasure by avoiding the offenses to the holy name and by maintaining a dharmic or responsible life. Our only fear then is becoming lax and losing the treasure of the holy name.

 

His Holiness B.B. Govinda Swami explained the glories of Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmīon his appearance day: “He was such a great devotee that he was chanting all day long and daily paid one thousand obeisances to the Vaiṣṇavas.” After the lecture, one devotee asked the Mahārāja, “You said that Raghunātha dāsa was such a great a devotee, that he chanted all day and paid a thousand obeisances, but what service did he do?” When I heard Mahārāja tell the story years ago, I chuckled to think that the devotee was thinking that chanting wasn’t service, but now I am asking myself the same question.

 

One important principle in chanting is to think of others before oneself, for without selflessness and compassion we can’t chant the holy name purely. That is why Śrīla Prabhupāda and his guru mahārāja were so wary of people who prematurely retired to a holy place. This is how I reconcile chanting more for my own purification with the mission to vigorously and selflessly give devotion to others.

 

Chanting more: The most important thing is to save oneself.

 

Chanting more: I am seventy. As one gets older it’s quite appropriate to dedicate oneself more to one’s internal spiritual life, and it is a good example for others.

 

Chanting more: It doesn’t substantially reduce my service because chanting more sharpens my mind and makes my services and responsibilities more efficient and less time consuming.

 

Chanting more: Our mission is to taste and distribute the holy name. If I can become attached to the holy name it will inspire others in our mission.

 

Chanting more: I am praying for service and am fully available for Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission, whatever that means and wherever it takes me. Somehow he has given me the service of chanting. I am thus confident it is very connected to his mission.

 

 

“This temporary life is full of various miseries. Take shelter of the holy name as your only business.” (Aruṇodaya-kīrtana, verse 6, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura)

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #47 – Do We Live in a Matrix?

November 23rd, 2020

Do We Live in a Matrix?[1]

 

Edward Jay Epstein[2] gave me some food for thought, challenging whatever political worldview I may embrace based on the news. I gleaned this from an article he wrote in 1981 called “The Selection of Reality”[3] where he analyzed the various constraints, from the pressure of time to the demands of advertising, in accurately presenting the news. Here’s his conclusion:

 

“One question finally must be asked: Given these constraints, do the media present a picture of reality upon which rational men may make decisions? In spending over a year watching the three television networks collect, analyze, and present data in the form of news stories, I concluded that these pictures of reality were systematically distorted by organizational requirements.”

 

Professor Epstein’s analysis reaffirmed what I was already thinking based on studying the research of Johnathan Haidt[4], one of the most cited scholars on moral psychology, on the origin of political choices: that most people making political choices, whether left or right, make them based more on their conditioning than on sound reasoning, making them susceptible to unbalanced views that ultimately distort part of their worldview.

 

Of course, in reading this most people will say, “Not me, it’s the other side that lives in a fantasy world.” My experience is that people today on both sides of the aisle are much more prone to fall into tribal thinking than they realize. My aim here in quoting Epstein and mentioning Haidt is to reference the tendency to dogmatically embrace a particular vision of reality so that we can become more reflective on the causes of how we form our worldview. Another way to understand that is to look back on our life after a period of growth and reflect on just how distorted our view of the world was previously. In that sense, we have all been living, to some extent, in a reality distorted by our conditioning and misinformation.

 

I think this type of challenging, self-reflective thinking is important, because our decisions determine our fate, and our decisions are very much connected to how we see the world. Unfortunately, how we see the world is generally what we think the world actually is, despite the countless mistakes made based on our previous faulty perceptions that should have exposed our tendency to be illusioned. I am not discounting the validity of holding strong convictions based on śāstra and those who have realized it, but I am suggesting the need to be more open-minded towards others whose views and opinions are different than ours. Let me end by sharing a list I have personally made in my quest to avoid living in a matrix.

 

Avoiding the Matrix

  1. I pray to know the truth, regardless if it proves me wrong and diminishes my ego.
  2. Doubt is a sign of intelligence when it means we humbly want to understand things more deeply.
  3. While there are basic facts and śāstric principles that are the bedrock of my convictions, I am open to improve or nuance my understanding of these and anything else I may believe.
  4. I welcome having my convictions challenged.
  5. I always hear both sides of any issue.
  6. No matter how much I disagree with someone, let me understand why they think the way they do, and let me never forget their humanity.
  7. Even if I feel I have indeed realized or seen a truth deeply, I still lay that truth before trusted peers for confirmation.
  8. I stand to be corrected.

 

 

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

 

 


[1] I am using the word “matrix” to describe living in an alternative reality that is false, not an alternative reality that is in fact the actual reality, which I am told is how the movie uses the term. This is more consistent with the sociological meaning of the word, which is the way people unreflectively live their lives based on various cultural norms born from their environment.

[2] Edward Jay Epstein (born 1935) is an American investigative journalist and a former political science professor at Harvard, UCLA, and MIT.

[3] From What’s News: The Media in American Society (1981), edited by Elie Abel

[4] His seminal work is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012)

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