->

Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

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

April 8th, 2024

A puzzling verse:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

April 1st, 2024

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


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

 

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

March 25th, 2024

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


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

 

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

March 18th, 2024

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #11 – Immigration and the Gītā

March 11th, 2024

Immigration and the Gītā[1]

 

April 10, 2017

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


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

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

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

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #10 – Substance is More Important Than Allegiance

March 4th, 2024

A few stories and the question they raise:

 

I have dealt with Father Ashley intimately and have observed him carefully as he manages the Isopanthi Retreat Center where we have been holding our Puri Retreat for years. He serves others selflessly and shows utmost deference to everyone, including the Vaiṣṇavas. As far as I can tell he tries to emulate Christ. We were impressed with him. If I had any criticism, I suspect it would be his diet.

 

I am still in touch with my elder cousin, Ma Seva Bharati, a sannyāsini, who, forty-five years ago, renounced a very comfortable and successful life to serve her guru in the Himalayas, at times high in the mountains without even running water. She has visited me in Vrindavan several times and has shown great respect to the devotees of Krishna, the holy name, and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Bhagavad-gītā, especially appreciating his strong purports. When I introduced my cousin to a god-brother who, for a second, was taken aback by her appearance—a shaved head with a bright orange kurta down to her ankles—I loved her response, indicating her study of those purports: “I’m a rascal impersonalist!” She’s good humored, respectful, and saintly. I enjoy her company.

 

Twenty years ago, due to visa problems, I had to leave India for six months and started visiting and teaching at yoga centers in New York. I especially liked the Broome Street Temple where Kaustubha was learning yoga and had become friendly with the head teacher, Eddie Stern. I was very impressed with his brahminical qualities, including how respectful he was to others, especially the devotees who visited. He even invited Kaustubha to bring his Radha-Krishna deities to his center, which Kaustubha worshiped there for a while. I was surprised how my mind initially responded to him, myself having been cloistered in a Hare Krishna center in India for so many years: “How can he be so elevated? He’s not a devotee,” but I quickly corrected such petty thinking by recalling the obvious—that although I have my faith as a Vaiṣṇava in the preeminence of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings, a person’s spiritual status is much more than just belonging to a group. I immediately branded my realization as “substance is more important than allegiance”.

 

I think my “mantra” is a challenge to the members of all institutions, as there is such a tendency to worship and serve an institution and forget what that institution is a vehicle for. That is not meant to minimize the importance and benefit we receive from proper spiritual institutions, which socialize, preserve, and disseminate the realizations of the great spiritual leader who founded them. I only mean to offer a caution to not fall prey to the illusion that I saw in myself—that just because one feels they have the best tradition or have the most elevated guru or belong to the most powerful organization, it makes one more elevated than others who adhere to teachings one finds less elevated or even questionable. In other words, if we don’t do the work to imbibe and practice the tenets or ideals of our tradition, then our allegiance to that tradition means little in terms of our stature.

 

A few years ago, while visiting Isopanthi, a friend of mine and I were walking around their center when we noticed two large, framed pictures of two prominent saints in their religious order. One of the saints, although from Poland, very much looked Chinese with a Fu Manchu beard and a traditional Chinese cap. We read how he spent his whole life in China preaching the gospel and so much appreciated being there that “he prayed to be Chinese in heaven.” We looked at each other and shared the same thought: “What a shallow understanding!” We were glad that we were in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s line where “you are not the body” is the most rudimentary of teachings. In a playful way I then challenged my friend:

 

“OK. Who does Krishna look more favorably upon, Father Ashley who serves Christ selflessly and shows utmost respect to the devotees or _______ who, although was a devotee of Krishna and had done a lot of service, also terribly mistreated the devotees, even banning people from his temple for personal and doctrinal reasons, all the while using it as base for his personal business eventually being forced to leave with probably millions of dollars only to sue ISKCON for more?” My friend thought for a moment and responded:

 

“Good question.”

 

Yes, good question, but I think ultimately the conclusion should be clear:

 

Substance is more important than allegiance!

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #9 – The Agony is the Ecstasy

February 26th, 2024

I just finished studying and teaching the second chapter of the Madhya-līlā, “The Ecstatic Manifestations of Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu”. It’s a challenging chapter because counter-intuitively the highest ecstasy is described as manifest through emotions, which reflect neither ecstasy nor the highest consciousness, but gloom and an uncontrolled mind:

 

“[…] all the ecstatic symptoms of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu—including despondency, moroseness, humility, restlessness, joy, endurance and anger—instructed His body and mind.” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 2.76)

 

Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja outlines this dichotomy:

 

“Externally there appeared severe tribulation, as if He were suffering from poisonous effects, but internally He was experiencing bliss. This is characteristic of transcendental love of Krishna.” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 2.50)

 

My attempt to resolve this quandary:

 

Beyond Duality

The spiritual realm is beyond duality. The Taittiriya Upaniṣad describes this as raso vai saḥ, “He (the Lord) is rasa (heightened love)”, which is ecstasy, because pure love is the highest pleasure. Makes sense. If there is a God, everything that happens in His spiritual realm would naturally be only for the purpose of intensifying rasa, or His transcendental pleasure, and thus every emotion, even the apparently negative ones, would also serve this purpose and in that way there is no duality between the agony and the ecstasy there. The rasa theory further resolves this dichotomy.

 

The Rasa Theory

The rasa theory, based on the ṭya Śāstra, is a thorough description of how drama is to be composed. It’s a complex thesis but let me try to simplify it for our purpose, which is to reconcile how agony can be ecstasy in Krishna’s pastimes. Rasa is a consuming human emotion. There are generally nine in number such as tragedy (karuṇa-rasa), fear (bhayānakarasa), romance (śṛṅgāra-rasa), and so on. Rasa theory is the science of recreating a consuming emotion in a drama, so that the qualified audience feels that same emotion and enjoys the drama. In other words, the audience should feel sorrow (karuṇa-rasa) while watching a tragedy or feel scared (bhayānak-rasa) while watching a horror movie and enjoy those dramas at the same time, a dichotomy I think we may have all experienced. Śrī Krishna-līlā in the spiritual world, as portrayed in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, operates by the same principles of drama found in the ṭya Śāstra, but instead of recreating one of the nine consuming human emotions, Śrī Krishna-līlā is about bhakti-rasa, the heightening of love for God. Cannot therefore the same principle be applied there, where negative emotions are intensely felt but enjoyed at the same time? But I think there is one more point that is even more compelling in terms of resolving this dichotomy.

 

The Lord has Inconceivable Potency

We often make the mistake when trying to solve apparent contradictions in reference to the Divine by trying to resolve them through how things operate in this world, forgetting that God has inconceivable potency and thus not subject to the laws of nature and the reasoning they dictate. The Śrī Īśopaniṣad describes this nicely:

 

“The Supreme Lord walks and does not walk. He is far away, but He is very near as well. He is within everything, and yet He is outside of everything.” (Mantra 5)

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda elucidates the point further in his purport:

 

“[…] Ordinarily, if someone can walk, it is illogical to say he cannot walk. But in reference to God, such a contradiction simply serves to indicate His inconceivable power. With our limited fund of knowledge we cannot accommodate such contradictions, and therefore we conceive of the Lord in terms of our limited powers of understanding.”

 

So, I think, in a sense, this may be the ultimate reconciliation of such quandaries—that God has inconceivable potencies, and such contradictions cannot be resolved by ordinary reasoning based on how the laws of nature operate, which do not rule the Absolute.

 

So can the agony be the ecstasy? Why not?

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #8 – This is the Movement of the Living Entity!

February 19th, 2024

I was standing in a large meadow in Golden Gate Park in the middle of San Francisco before the stage where Śrīla Prabhupāda was lecturing to thousands of young people who were attracted by the Ratha-yātrā. It was July 1974. Perhaps, you remember that famous picture of Śrīla Prabhupāda wearing a white sweater adorned with a starkly contrasted bright red rose garland, his hands raised in ecstasy in kirtan surrounded on stage by his dancing disciples. To this day I remember the profundity and force of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s speech that reverberated from the speakers in the trees that lined the back of the meadow:

 

“There are so many movements of liberation: women’s liberation, black liberation, this liberation, and that liberation, BUT THIS IS THE MOVEMENT OF THE LIVING ENTITY!”

 

Now let me take you forward to yesterday, here in Govardhan, and then explain what inspired me to connect that experience to what I heard in 1974.

 

Paramananda das and his son Kana were visiting, so I took them, along with two lady guests, Bhakti Śāstra and Yogamāyā, for some Brijabasi rotis in the nearby village of Aniyor in Govardhan at the house of the family of Bal Kishan Sharma, 84, one of the blessed brāhmaṇa families who, for generations, cook rotis for the sādhus who circumambulate the hill once or twice daily. I like to share the experience of taking lunch there with others so they can relish the rotis and watch one effulgent sādhu after another show up at the door as the family enthusiastically responds to serve them. When we arrived, Bal Kishan was there along with his wife, daughter-in-law, and a couple of late teen/early twenties granddaughters congregated in their small second floor common room, which also has two attached small bedrooms and an adjacent uncovered large veranda that houses a small enclave for their one simple clay chula (stove) on the floor.

 

We watched how the family exchanged so lovingly with each other, served us with enthusiasm and reciprocated with the sādhus who blessed them with their smiles. When we finished, they also brought us into their web of joy and laughter. It took me some time to extract our group from the “party.” I finally just looked at my watch and decided it was time to kill the fun and politely asked permission to go. We then proceeded again towards the parikrama on a small village road perpendicular to the front of their house, which rests practically adjacent to Govardhan Hill. It was the first day of spring so as we were walking, we passed many elderly Brijabasi ladies sitting in bunches in front of various houses getting sun and enjoying each other’s company. Upon seeing us they also invited the people with me to exchange with them. My party was again caught in a web of joy.

 

When were back on the parikrama path, I think we all had the same epiphany—that this was a kind of Alice in Wonderland experience where you fall down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world. It was like a veil was lifted and we entered Krishna’s village thousands of years ago when He was manifest there. But something else struck me that was also more topical, which is the focus of what I was inspired to share this week and brings me back Śrīla Prabhupāda’s comment in 1974.

 

Besides our epiphany in relationship to seeing the real Vrindavan, I also saw something more basic, a very functional family and community. To me it was such a stark contrast to the increasing social dysfunction today in the west, especially America, where I stay part of the year. Numerous studies show that there is a burgeoning mental health epidemic that just can’t be minimized by the greater awareness of mental illness today.[1] It’s real, just as is the rapidly increasing problems of drugs, crime, and loneliness in the modern world are real. I think you have to be blind to not see that something has gone terribly awry. Therefore, when leaving Aniyor, and experiencing what seemed to me to be the best of tradition in terms of family and community and contrasting that to what I am seeing today, I thought of the statement by Śrīla Prabhupāda that reverberated in my ears in 1974—that although some change, some liberation was arguably needed, that alone would not lead to the transformation that people wanted and that should be obvious today more than ever. What we need more than ever before is a spiritual revival—A MOVEMENT OF THE LIVING ENTITY!

 

 


[1] Studies that indicate this take into account that mental illness is less of a stigma and more readily acknowledged and reported today.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #7 – I Have No Devotion!

February 12th, 2024

There is a principle in spiritual life that the more one is advanced in devotion, the less devotion one feels they have. Here’s how Śrī Caitanya feels at the height of His devotion:

 

“Srī Caitanya Mahāprabhu continued, ‘My dear friends, I have not the slightest tinge of love of Godhead within My heart. When you see Me crying in separation, I am just falsely exhibiting a demonstration of My great fortune. Indeed, not seeing the beautiful face of Krishna playing His flute, I continue to live My life like an insect, without purpose.’” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 2.46)

 

It sounds almost counterintuitive to have the most of something, in this case devotion, but to feel you have none of it. Here’s four reasons why this is the case in terms of prema-bhakti, the height of devotion:

 

Purity and humility

 

Just as in a clear, pure glass of water a speck of dust becomes apparent, in a pure heart even an apparent indiscretion seems significant. Srīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja illustrates this humble position in relation to attaining prema with a similar analogy:

 

“Love for Lord Krishna is very pure, just like the waters of the Ganges. That love is an ocean of nectar. That pure attachment to Krishna does not conceal any spot, which would appear just like a spot of ink on a white cloth.” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 2.48)

 

The immanence of God and humility

 

The very definition of maya (illusion) is ma (not) ya (this)—that what you are seeing is not what it is. In other words, everything is God’s energy, but we fall into the illusion that it is not God’s because if we recognize God’s immanence then our false ego, the desire for a sense of control and superiority, cannot be maintained, and we are humbled. In contrast, one who has pure devotion embraces God’s immanence rather than avoid it, for seeing God’s immanence is simply an inspiration to serve Him. In this regard, I always liked how Śrī Gopīparāṇadhana dāsa, in his commentary to Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, described the reason why a pure brāhmaṇa so militantly demurred Nārada’s praise, when Nārada deemed him the topmost recipient of Śrī Krishna’s mercy:

 

“Any true devotee of Krishna considers himself insignificant, thinking himself one of countless jīvas who are mere sparks of God’s splendor.” (Bb. 1.1.44, commentary)

 

Hunger and humility

 

When one strongly desires something, one feels a lack of it, even if they have a substantial amount of it, just as a craving for food indicates a lack of it in one’s mind, even if one already has been sufficiently fed. Pure devotion is the strong desire to be with and serve God. Therefore, as one’s hunger for God increases, one naturally feels they have less and less devotion.

 

Reverence for the sādhus and humility

 

A devotee just related to me an exchange that he had with a senior Vaiṣṇava from ISKCON who had just given class, a devotee I know for his deep internal attainment. He asked him how to remain humble when one’s devotion increases, especially when one has a deep religious or spiritual experience. I loved his answer: “We don’t compare ourselves to our previous selves or compare our devotion to just anybody, but we compare ourselves to those more advanced in devotion. Whenever I feel Krishna’s mercy while chanting in a particular place of pilgrimage in Vrindavan, I just imagine what Srīla Rūpa Gosvāmī was feeling there in comparison, and it’s humbling”. When this was related to me, I immediately thought of Uddhava’s response when Śrī Nārada approached him as the topmost recipient of Krishna’s mercy:

 

“[…] Aware of what Nārada was thinking, Uddhava remembered many devotees who had received the Lord’s special favor. As Uddhava meditated on those devotees, their love for the Lord, and the wealth of their loving ecstasies, he felt distress, thinking himself fallen, and cried helplessly […]” (Bb. 1.6.19-21)

 

It should not, therefore, be hard to understand:

 

“Wherever there is a relationship of love of Godhead, its natural symptom is that the devotee does not think himself a devotee. Instead, he always thinks that he has not even a drop of love for Krishna.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 20.28)

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #6 – The Art of Traction

February 5th, 2024

Years ago, I showed a short TED Talk called “The Art of Distraction” during a japa seminar.[1] It featured Apollo Robbins, the world’s most expert pick pocket, explaining and demonstrating his art. His premise was that perception is based on attention and as the mind can focus on only one sense at a time, if you can distract a person from the feel of touch in their pocket to some other sense—perhaps touching them someplace else—you can pick their pocket without them knowing it. He was so expert at the art of distraction that he was able to pick the pocket of a person brought on stage right in front of the audience with neither the person nor the audience noticing it.

This principle—that perception is based on attention—is more deeply described in ṅkhya when discussing the two main qualities of the mind as anutvam (atomic) and ekatvam (it can only focus on a singular object at one time).[2] Using these terms, for example, “the art of distraction” can be translated as deliberately moving or distracting the atomic and single focused mind away from something someone really wants, in this case a focus on the things in their pocket for the purpose of taking them without notice. It doesn’t take much to understand how this principle of perception based on attention can be applied to japa meditation, for if one doesn’t take precaution to concentrate on hearing the holy name by at least creating a time and space for chanting free from distraction, our perception of, and therefore taste for, the holy name will probably be compromised. I would like, however, to couch this discussion in just a slightly different way, which I will aptly call “the art of traction”—consciously moving the atomic and singular focused mind toward something we want, in this case the sense of hearing, so that we can perceive (hear) Krishna’s holy name during our japa meditation.

There are two ways that the mind can be focused in japa meditation by “the art of traction”. We can do this by bringing the atomic mind to a single focus on hearing the holy name by consciously awakening an understanding that we should do so (traction by intelligence) or awakening an attraction to do so (traction by the heart).

Of course, the most powerful connection with an object is through traction by the heart, or an emotional connection, in the case of japa meditation by a love for Krishna and thus an attachment to His holy name. Most of us, however, either do not have a profound attraction for Krishna or are too distracted at the beginning of our meditation to immediately access such devotion. Here are just some ways in which I try to gain traction for meditation, at least at the beginning of my chanting.

There are no hard and fast rules for gaining traction for the holy name. This post is more about explaining a principle than outlining a definitive guide. To demonstrate the “art of traction” I will therefore share two ways I have used recently to gain traction in meditation, and then I will share a link to some other ways that I have previously described.

An example of traction by intelligence

Focusing on one couplet of the mantra: I especially consciously focus on pronouncing one couplet of the Hare Krishna mantra, usually the first. At the beginning of our meditation the mind may wander even during one mantra. By bringing the mind to the first couplet with special concentration on pronouncing it helps fix the atomic mind (anutvam) back to singular focus (ekatvam) on the whole mantra. I was inspired to do this by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Bhajan Rahasya.[3]

An example of traction by the heart

Reading and chanting: The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and books based on the Bhāgavatam describe and imbibe devotion for the person (Śrī Krishna) whose name you are chanting. The combination of imbibing the mood of the Bhāgavatam and chanting the holy name can help one gain focus in japa meditation, especially when done together. This was the example of Śrī Caitanya in the Gambhīra. During His bhajan, He both chanted the holy name and listened to the songs and stories of the person of the name He was chanting (Śrī Krishna) recited by His confidential associates Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya and Śrī Svarūpa Dāmodara. Following His example, sometimes before chanting and after every eight rounds or so I read a few pages of Krishna Book.

Other examples of the art of traction

In a post from over ten years ago I mentioned five ways in which I gained traction for chanting, both from the intelligence and heart. For example, I mentioned how Śrīla Prabhupāda told us to chant like a child crying for his mother, which is a powerful technique to gain traction in meditation by the heart.

https://wavesofdevotion.com/2012/04/10/the-five-qualities-of-effective-mantra-meditation/

We should not be surprised that meditation is not always easy for us. The Bhāgavatam predicts that people today will always be disturbed and distracted.[4] I thus found it helpful to understand “the art of distraction” and apply “the art of traction”.

 

 


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZGY0wPAnus

[2] I first heard this concept of the mind in a discussion with Bhakti Vijnana Goswami about ayurveda and mental health. I assumed it is from the school of Sāṅkhya but never confirmed it.

[3] I first was inspired to do this by reading Bhajan Rahasya by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. He described advanced techniques to connect each couplet of the holy name with a stage of devotion and with a period of time in the day of Krishna’s pastimes. I am not referring here to such an advanced meditation, but reading this did spark in my mind that this was also a technique for mechanically focusing the mind. In our dīkṣā mantras there also is a seed mantra before each mantra that helps refocus brings the mind back to our mantra before each repetition of it.

[4] Bhag. 1.1.10

 

« Prev - Next »