Archive for the 'Monday Morning Greetings' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #49 – “Where There is No Circumference, the Center is Everywhere” and Other Kārtika Realizations

December 4th, 2023

Kārtika ended yesterday. Some realizations from the month:


How to reconcile that on the highest levels of love of God (prema), the greatest suffering is also the highest ecstasy.


During Kārtika I taught chapter two of the Madhya-līlā of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta: “The Ecstatic Manifestations of Śrī Caitanya Mahaprabhu” and the seventh chapter of Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta: “Pūrṇa” (complete devotional perfection). One of the main themes of both chapters was that the emotions of intense suffering that the gopīs feel in their relationship with Krishna is counterintuitively the greatest ecstasy. Here’s a description of such love from Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta:


“But this anguish of separation is praised as greater than the happiness of enjoying with those one loves. Separation is so pleasing to the mind that it cannot be described. It always transforms at last into an abundance of pleasure. Only experts in tasting these moods can understand how this happens.” (7.126)


In both classes questions were asked about how to reconcile this apparent contradiction between the gopīs’ ecstasy being the greatest joy and the greatest suffering at the same time. The answer rests in the fact that the highest joy is love of God and thus the gopīs’ apparently painful emotions in deep separation from Krishna only increase their love and therefore their ecstasy. Still having trouble reconciling the two? I did also, until I thought of an analogy illustrating how painful emotions and joyful emotions can exist at the same time:


Just as in viewing a well written tragedy (drama) one deeply experiences the feelings of tragedy while at the same time enjoying the drama, in the same way the gopīs can experience the pain of separation and while at the same time enjoy the devotional ecstasy it engenders.



Destiny is the language of God.


In the story “The Passing Away of Bhīṣmadeva”, Bhīṣma answers his grandson Yudhiṣṭhira’s inquiry as to why he greatly suffered although he was so righteous by explaining to him the benevolent purpose behind the law of karma. Destiny is benevolent because it is directed towards each individual by the will of God to teach a specific lesson in one’s spiritual evolution provided one responds to it appropriately according to sacred wisdom texts under the guidance of those who have realized them. From that I came up with the above phrase, “destiny is the language of God,” in the sense that God is specifically talking to us by how He moves the world around us, and thus an important part of our spiritual development is understanding what essential lesson He is in fact teaching us, especially in the most trying of times. The worst mistake one can make in such instances is playing the role of a victim, because by excessively externalizing the cause of our suffering we lose sight of what God is telling us in terms of changing something in ourselves internally. In Kārtika I tried to use the clarity of consciousness resulting from a deeper sādhana this month to understand what God was telling me by how He was moving the world around me so that I could move forward with stronger faith in whatever direction that takes me.



Where there is no circumference, the center is everywhere.


This is an anonymous quote from the Liber XXIV, a medieval text consisting of twenty-four “sentences”, “aphorisms”, or “definitions” of God.[1] I can’t remember where I first heard this particular aphorism, but I kept on referring to it when in my teachings we would come upon a philosophical point or story expressing  that we are not separated from God by a physical distance but by the quality our consciousness or a faith. I found this realization very helpful in not seeing the spiritual world just as some place we need to travel to, but as a place we could access anywhere by deepening our spiritual life.


I bow my head to Kārtika, the most favorable of all months, which enthuses the heart with auspiciousness!


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_the_24_Philosophers


Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #48 – What Made Prabhupāda Prabhupāda?

November 27th, 2023

It was the late seventies, early eighties—I can’t remember the exact date, but it was soon after Śrīla Prabhupāda left this world. I was given the service of inviting some of the senior Vaiṣṇavas in Vrindavan who knew Śrīla Prabhupāda to his disappearance festival. I first approached Śrīla Bhaktivedanta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja, as Śrīla Prabhupāda lived in his ashram after taking sannyāsa. He was at first somewhat reluctant to speak, but I prodded him by asking him to describe the qualities he saw in Śrīla Prabhupāda when he lived at his ashram as a humble mendicant that indicated who he would become later as a world ācārya. He thought about my inquiry deeply and then began to explain two qualities that he saw in Śrīla Prabhupāda: his boldness and his ability to relate to others.[1]


Recently, when reflecting on that exchange, I began to ponder what I thought was the prime quality in Śrīla Prabhupāda that perhaps indicated what made him Prabhupāda, the person who succeeded above all others to bring the holy name of Krishna around the world. I thought of his many attributes and came up with one—his depth of realization.


When I thought about this quality, I had in mind Śrīla Prabhupāda’s definition of realization that struck me when I first read the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:


“[…] he must realize the subject so nicely that he can present the matter for the particular circumstance in a suitable manner. The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realization.” (Bhag. 1.4.1)


Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission in the west was challenging. He had to explain to those who came mostly from a drug infused and sex crazed hippie culture the very high theological conception of Śrī Śrī Radha and Krishna, in addition to a supportive culture of dharma and discipline. To effectively communicate those teachings in a suitable manner to such an audience without compromising the principles and conceptions of those teachings indeed required a very deep realization of the subject. Otherwise, how was Śrīla Prabhupāda able to make such a tradition and philosophy so alluring to those who recently came from a culture so antithetical to the Vaiṣṇava way of life? Śrīla Prabhupāda’s unique ability in this regard was highlighted for me in my early days of Krishna-consciousness in an unexpected way.


Eleven days after Śrīla Prabhupāda left this world, his commemoration festival was held. To honor the Indian system of spiritual hierarchy, the most senior Vaiṣṇava in attendance was given the distinction of presiding over the assembly. He was from a very high class brāhmaṇa family, a life-long celibate, the third person to receive tridaṇḍi sannyāsa from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta, and one of the most renown preachers in the Gauḍīya Maṭha. He was especially lauded for going to the west years before Śrīla Prabhupāda to bring back to India two German converts to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Obviously, Śrīla Prabhupāda far surpassed him and that that seemed to bother him was reflected in his inaugural talk: “I could have done what Swamiji had done, but I didn’t have the mentality to preach to the hippies.” I could see that many were upset by his remarks, as they appeared to be minimizing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s greatest accomplishment. Initially I was also upset, but then I saw that he was in fact complimenting Śrīla Prabhupāda even though he didn’t mean to, for what was that mentality to preach to the hippies—it was the deepest realization of Krishna consciousness that allowed Śrīla Prabhupāda to effectively communicate the teachings of Śrī Caitanya to those with little frame of reference to assimilate it.


I thus think that, among his many qualities, his depth of realization and consequent ability to communicate was especially significant in making Śrīla Prabhupāda who he was. What do you think made Prabhupāda Prabhupāda?



[1] He described Śrīla Prabhupāda’s boldness by describing two drama’s he wrote: One was a spoof on the very popular Ramakrishna Mission in Hindi called the Murga [Chicken] Mission because although a Hindu mission, they weren’t vegetarians, and the other a satire on the Gauḍīya Maṭha after it splintered where the main character was called Bhojane Vilāsa [the pastime of material enjoyment] Mahārāja. I don’t remember the title. Śrīla Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja also described to me a very heavy letter that Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to the President of India. When he described to me Śrīla Prabhupāda’s ability to relate he described to me how when a senior person came Śrīla Prabhupāda was the most respectful, when a peer came he was most collegial, and when a junior came he was very affectionate.


Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #47 – The Power of Gratitude

November 20th, 2023

The Power of Gratitude [1]


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. [2] 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.[3]


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] This is reprint from April 15, 2019. I was busy here in Govardhana with Govardhana-pūjā and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance and meeting the many devotees who congregate here at this time, so unfortunately I had no time for writing this week.

[2] 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.

[3] 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 2023 #46 – Devotion and the Dumbphone

November 13th, 2023

I pass a man who is walking around Govardhan, smartphone to his ear, chatting away. Unfortunately, I have seen this more and more. A thought comes to mind:


“If he completes the whole Govardhan parikrama while talking on the phone, how much spiritual advancement benefit does he get? Afterall, he would have completed a powerful practice of devotional service.”


In other words, how much benefit do we get by completing our parikrama, or any devotional activity, without any devotional focus while doing so? Very little, for sure, in comparison to absorbing ourselves in the prescribed activity, which is the whole purpose of a devotional activity. This is outlined clearly in the Padma Purāṇa, where it describes that always thinking of Krishna without forgetting Him is the most basic of all regulative principles, and by following that injunction all other rules and regulations automatically fall into line.


This most basic of basic of all regulative principles offers a word of caution to devotional practitioners: As vaidhī (rule based) bhakti is driven by our faith in śāstra and the promise it gives of spiritual benefit by adhering to a prescribed devotional practice, one can easily lose sight of this most basic of all regulative principle and thus fall under the misconception that the advantage of a prescribed devotional activity comes only from completing it, rather than the opportunity it affords to remember Śrī Krishna.


I am not being dismissive of the practice of following our devotional commitments strictly. It is important to, one way or another, complete one’s devotional prescription, for before the level of spontaneous devotional service, unless we are ruled by the prescriptions of śāstra, we will be prone to instinctively follow our whims and not remember Krishna at all. And even those on the highest platform of devotion, whose bhakti was solely inspired by their love of Krishna, are still in general, inspired to regulate their devotional practices to deepen their focus and meditation on Krishna.[1]


A thought just came while chanting after my morning writing session. It wasn’t directly related to the subject at hand, but I immediately understood its relevance to today’s discussion. I have made a vow for this month of Kārttika to complete a certain number of names of Krishna while chanting japa.[2] Yesterday I fell short of the daily quota I set to reach my goal by the end of the month, and therefore would have to make up that chanting some other day. I began to feel a little pressure, but then I thought of today’s discussion. What’s really the difference between chanting 3,000,000 names and 2,975,000 for the month?[3] So what if I fall short of my goal by a dozen or so rounds as long as I continue to remain concentrated? I was surprised by my answer. It’s a substantial difference. When Śrī Guru and Śrī Krishna see the effort we make for their pleasure to meet our vows, they are pleased with our tapasya and that certainly attracts their mercy, but, by all means, don’t walk around Govardhan chatting on a smartphone, or finish your rounds with dumbphone in hand, as the benefit from your practice will surely be minimal!




[1] I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Six Gosvāmīs, namely Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī, Śrī Jiva Gosvāmī, and Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, who were engaged in chanting the holy names of the Lord and bowing down in a scheduled measurement. [emphasis mine] In this way they utilized their valuable lives, and in executing these devotional activities they conquered overeating and sleeping and were always meek and humble, enchanted by remembering the transcendental qualities of the Lord.

[2] There are sixteen names of God in each Hare Krishna mahā-mantra and thus one round of 108 mantras is 1,728 names of God. Sixteen rounds thus equal 27,648 and sixty-four rounds equal 110,592 names.

[3] This is a hypothetical example. I am not revealing my vow.


Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #45 – I Don’t Want to Die!

November 6th, 2023

Within the last week, two people sought counsel expressing a sudden preoccupation, almost panic, with death. I discussed the matter with them. Some further thoughts:


Everyone fears death. Fear of death is one of the five kleśas, the psychological underpinnings of all troubling material thoughts, described in the Yoga-sūtras as the basis of ignorance, or identification with the body as the self.


The experience of death, being ripped of all one’s attachments at once, is so traumatic and leaves such an aversion to that experience in the subconscious that even a baby, who has no experience in this life of what is death, fears it terribly. That a child fears death, even though they have no experience of it in the present life, is a good argument for reincarnation, otherwise where does such fear come from but a previous life?


For one in the bodily concept of life, death, the impending and inevitable threat of non-existence, stains all material enjoyment with duality, for whatever attachment one maintains and enjoys is mixed with the reality that death will eventually take it away. In that sense, enjoyment in material life is somewhat analogous to the pleasure one gets from the last meal on death row.[1] Can you really enjoy each bite facing impending doom? In the same way, how much can you enjoy life while faced with imminent death?


Everyone on the bodily platform therefore tries to avoid death in two ways: by psychologically blocking it from the conscious mind and doing things that have a sense of eternality, such as producing and investing in offspring to carry on one’s legacy or by seeking lasting fame.


Despite our denial of death, the subject is still so consuming that fear always lies just below the surface. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam thus offers a solution:


“My dear King, if you want to be fearless in meeting your death next week (for actually everyone is afraid at the point of death), then you must immediately begin the process of hearing and chanting and remembering God.”[2]


But exactly how does that work—that chanting and hearing about Krishna makes us fearless at death? A personal experience to illustrate at least one way how:


Did you ever have your world rapidly move in the opposite direction of your ambitions and desires? I did. That was about twenty-five years ago. I had no recourse but to take complete shelter of the holy name. I went to Gītā-nagarī and stayed in that quaint cabin by the side of the river where Satsvarūpa Mahārāja wrote Śrīla Prabhupāda-līlāmṛta, and I chanted a lot, day after day. In fact, there wasn’t much opportunity for me to do much else. After a few days, I had an epiphany: the activity I am doing—chanting God’s names—and the person who is doing it—the devotee of Krishna—will not end with the body, while most all other activities and ambitions, and the designation I embraced doing them—a male, ISKCON, sannyāsī—will be finished at death. I remember feeling such a strong spark of eternality, hope, and fearlessness knowing that the activities of devotion—chanting God’s names—and I—the soul who is chanting God’s names—do not end with the body.


Final reflection: The world is on fire! Death is in our face at every step! Our only solace: the holy name!


“This temporary material world is full of suffering. Take shelter of the holy name of Krishna as your only business.”[3]



[1] Hearing me speak in this way, a devotee expressed that it depressed them. They asked how could they even enjoy their family? The point here is that the problem is not the enjoyment. We need some enjoyment to keep the body and soul together for the service of God. The problem is the duality we face to the extent that we are not conscious of our eternal nature. So, enjoy what you need, but become fearless by the process of devotion.

[2] I couldn’t find the exact verse. This is a paraphrase of a Bhāgavatam verse found in chapter two of The Nectar of Devotion.

[3] Arunodaya kīrtan Song 1 verse 6, by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura


Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #44 – Monday Morning Musings: Chanting and Writing and Other Thoughts

October 30th, 2023

Are you OK?

Last Monday Morning Greetings I discussed that my life was at a crossroads. Some people inquired if I could share what that was. Nothing serious. As I explained in a previous post, I am in the unique situation—or perhaps it’s just the time of life—where I have no externally imposed responsibilities, and I can freely choose how I want to serve Krishna. As I was trying to figure it out, a friend visited and recommended that I just talk to God. I did. I will be working on a new book and will continue to develop more the sādhu side of my life—live simply and chant more.



Chanting and Writing

A scholar was burdened with a deep philosophical question. He decided to ask Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, the great Vaiṣṇava scholar and saint, so he made an appointment to see him. When he arrived, however, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was busy, so the great saint asked him if he would mind polishing the deity paraphernalia while he waited. When he returned as scheduled, the saint told him that something extremely important came up and if he could please come the next day. Although he had to wait again, when he finished polishing the brass, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta graciously welcomed his inquiry. To the saint’s surprise the scholar sat their silently, but soon revealed why: “I had this very deep question that had been bothering me for some time, but after finishing polishing the brass today the answer suddenly came!” In the same way, although I am taking time from my morning writing schedule to walk around Govardhan chanting the holy name, I am amazed that the concepts I have been struggling to properly conceptualize and express suddenly become clear. Some people ask how I come up with a fresh realization every week to write about an express that realization clearly. One answer: chanting! The mercy of the holy name is very much a part of my writing process.



The Pain of Prema

I have a small group that I meet once a week where I am lecturing on the second chapter of the Madhya-līlā where Śrī Caitanya’s ecstasies are described in terms the mood of Śrī Radha as a disappointed lover, which is arguably the most painful and consuming consciousness. As I am teaching this section, others and I were struggling to reconcile the sorrowful descriptions of Śrī Radha’s pain with its descriptions of simultaneously being the height of Her ecstasy. While walking and chanting an analogy came to mind to reconcile this: Sometimes a drama communicates a tragedy that the audience feels deeply but is simultaneously the cause of their enjoying that drama. In the same way, the apparent feelings of pain Śrī Radha experiences in the drama of krishna-līlā is simultaneously the cause of Her ecstasy, as it heightens Her love of Krishna, which is the highest form of ecstasy.



The Agony and the Ecstasy of Japa

I had a personal realization while chanting about the idea I was musing on yesterday in terms of reconciling the concepts of agony and ecstasy in devotional service. The japa was good today. I went deeper and hit the wall of surrender—that I couldn’t go much deeper until I sincerely prayed for unconditional devotion—to ask Śrī Krishna to do whatever it takes to attain His lotus feet. I clearly saw the anchors of attachment and felt the pain of giving them up, but simultaneously that endeavor was couched in a depth of devotion that was very sweet.



Two Stories, Same Story

I am also teaching the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, which is a summary of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as it’s a response to Mahārāja Parīkṣit’s mother’s request to quickly share its essence after he had just finished hearing the complete Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam on the last day of his life. Another quandary arose: How exactly is the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta a summary of the ŚrīmadBhāgavatam when it’s a completely different story? The answer again came while chanting: The goal of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is to understand the pastimes of Śrī Krishna in the Tenth Canto, especially His loving dealings with the gopīs as the highest manifestation of devotional service, and not something mundane or imaginary. One way the book accomplishes that is to present stories of pure devotional service in progressively greater and greater forms of intimacy. When we see the same concept but in different forms, it helps us understand that concept more deeply so that we can recognize it when applied in different circumstances. In this case, seeing the concept of pure devotional service in a variety of devotees with different relationships with Krishna gives us a depth of understanding to recognize such selfless devotion even in the more challenging form of the intense loving romantic exchanges of Śrī Radha and Śrī Krishna. In the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, although the story is very much different, the search of Śrī Narada to find the topmost recipient of Krishna’s mercy basically follows the same progression of devotees as the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam does in terms of their level of intimacy with Krishna and with the same expressed purpose, to help us see the love of Krishna and the gopīs as the height of selfless devotion, which is finally revealed at the end of Śrī Narada’s search.


Pride and Parikrama

As I was walking today, for a second a thought of pernicious pride entered my mind for a second, thinking how great what I was doing was, walking every day around the hill, which is only a pleasant, brisk morning stroll that many people do, but I quickly caught myself and had an antidote for such thoughts. Beg for the mercy of the holy name. How can a beggar be proud?


So that’s my musings here in Govardhan this week. See you again next morning!




Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #43 – Talking to God

October 23rd, 2023

A friend visited. I revealed my mind in confidence. I am at a bit of a crossroads in my spiritual journey and seeking direction on which way to move my life forward. I liked his advice:


“Just talk to God. Ask Him for clarity on what you should do. Śrī Girirāja is a person, and you are here under His shelter. He can hear and respond to you. Don’t you believe that? Isn’t that our philosophy? Don’t we talk and reveal our minds to those whom we love and respect? Doesn’t that also help us to develop that relationship?”


I approached Śrī Girirāja. I fell at His feet. I verbalized my quandary and asked for help. I began my walk. I noticed that my chanting gradually became conversational. I listened to my heart. What is God telling me? Some clarity came. Our relationship deepened. So simple. Just talk to God.


After my walk a realization came: I should talk to God more, especially during my mantra japa.


In the Yoga-sūtras, when Patañjali recommends that to control the mind we should surrender to God (īśvara), he also recommends how to surrender. We should focus on repeating a mantra (tad japas) and dwell on the meaning (artha bhavanam). In other words, the mantra is not just names of God to be repeated with attention, it is also an address to God, and one should be very much cognizant of its meaning: “O Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in your service.” In other words, don’t just parrot Sanskrit words, but also address God, at least in our mind, and in the language we understand.


The Hare Krishna mantra is also unique. As far I know, it is the only mantra where every word is declined in the vocative. Krishna is not just the name “Krishna”, but it means, “O Krishna!”  “Hare” means, “O energy of the Lord, O Radha!” The vocative case means we are addressing someone declaratively. Simply put, the Hare Krishna mantra is talking to God.


In the biography of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda, the great 19th century ācārya in our lineage, it is described that sometimes his next-door neighbor would hear him chanting in the morning, and it sounded to her as if he was talking to God, which is certainly one way to chant the mantra.


One more thought: Freedom of Speech and Talking to God


Freedom of speech is the foundation of a properly functioning society. One of the many reasons why is because without the freedom to verbalize one’s thoughts and the freedom to allow others to challenge one’s ideas, one can never find out how either valid or stupid one’s thoughts are. What does this have to do with talking to God? In verbalizing one’s thoughts before God, one can more readily judge the sincerity of one’s heart and challenge one’s thoughts.


One of the sixty-four qualities of Krishna is that He speaks all languages. I thus talk to God in English. Of course, God understands me, so besides chanting verses in Bengali and Sanskrit, we can, and it is important to, talk to God in our mother tongue.


I am continuing my daily jaunts. One sādhu once told me that as a devotee walks around the Hill, Girirāja follows that devotee around the hill and asks them what they want. I respond, “Hare Krishna,” saying the mantra in Sanskrit but thinking, “O Lord, O energy of the Lord, how should I serve you!”


Today I spoke to God, and He told me what to do. It’s a challenge. Tomorrow I will talk to Him and ask for the mercy to have the strength to follow His will.


Today, excellent advice: Talk to God!



Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #42 – Why Niṣṭhā Leads to Ruci

October 16th, 2023

I don’t have a job or a family and just a few disciples to guide. No management responsibilities either. I only travel one or two places to teach. I guess that’s called the life of sannyāsī, maybe a little bābājī in there. I am also blessed with good health and don’t need much sleep. That’s how my destiny has unfolded. What, then, do I do all day? Good question. I chant a lot, do some writing, occasionally entertain or counsel a guest, and do some reading. Still, I have time on my hands and must be vigilant to not waste it. Everyone one has a personal challenge; That’s mine.


I arrived a few minutes early at the gate of Brij Vasundhara (the Govardhan “resort”) on the parikramā path and sat there waiting for my parikramā partner to come when those above thoughts flooded my mind. My train of thought continued: “Ruci, real taste in devotion, comes after niṣṭhā, being always absorbed or fixed in devotion. That’s why this daily jaunt around Govardhan is important for me. It keeps my schedule tight to ensure I don’t fall prey to the distraction or idleness that compromises my fixedness and taste for bhakti. That touches on a quandary: Without being fixed in devotional service, there is no taste in Krishna consciousness, but without that taste you can’t remain fixed. Chanting under the shade of Śrī Girirāja, however, seems to help both. It sparks devotion and also gives a strong impetus to remain fixed. My original plan was to circumambulate the hill just once at the beginning of my stay to help me enter the spirit of the holy dhāma. Now I fear stopping.”


Anyway, what you just heard was my mind in a nanosecond while waiting for my parikramā partner to come. It also gives you an insight as to how my weekly Greetings are born. A fleeting thought comes, and I run with it, never knowing if and when another realization to write about will come. This week’s post: Why niṣṭhā leads to ruci.


When I came to Vrindavan, we were completely dependent on the local well water for drinking. There was no other choice. The problem was that it was salty. Great effort had to be made to find what the locals called “sweet water”, even if we had to travel some distance to find it. Still even the best water was not completely sweet, causing a lot of digestive problems. What is sweet water? It is water that’s just water, not mixed with anything else. Similarly, ruci, taste in bhakti, is when bhakti is just devotion not mixed with anything else. That’s specifically why the stage of ruci comes after the stage of niṣṭhā, being fixed in devotion without any break or distraction.


Just as a piece of paper will not burn immediately by intensifying the sun’s rays on it through a magnifying glass, but only when it is steadily focused for some time, similarly devotion will only alight in our heart if we can stay focused on the object of our devotion steadily for some time. Therefore, to get taste in devotion we must remain attentive and fixed. And what is the practice to do that? Four things: Concentration, without interruption, over a prolonged period, and in the right mood. In other words, niṣṭhā, prolonged fixedness or attentiveness, naturally leads to real taste, or ruci.


What about people who, unlike me, have many material responsibilities? How can they be fixed and gain taste in bhakti? Obviously, there are challenges, but doing our duties properly does not compromise our steadiness in bhakti because it is also Krishna’s will that we responsibly maintain our family and properly raise our children. Therefore, they do not break our devotion and do not hamper the development of our taste as long as we leave in our day a time and place for Krishna and remained fixed in our devotional practices. If done sincerely, they can also give us, Krishna willing, the realization and inspiration to change our life to make it more conducive to the practice of bhakti or inspire Krishna to do so.


Basically, my service and challenge seem to be just to live as a simple sadhu. I am not qualified. I can thus only pray:


“My Lord, I know that young girls have natural affection for young boys, and that young boys have natural affection for young girls. I am praying at Your lotus feet that my mind may become attracted unto You in the same spontaneous way.” (From Padma Purāṇa referenced in The Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 9)



Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #41 – Can an Atheist be Moral?

October 9th, 2023

Of course they can! I have studied the moral argument for the existence of God from the writings of the best Christian apologists. While they make very compelling arguments that it’s very difficult to validate the existence of objective moral values[1] without accepting the existence of God,[2] they make it clear that you don’t need to believe in God to have moral values—to love your children rather than abuse them or to be honest and not steal, for example. So, what is this post about?


Last week I was trying to complete a two-part series on the quotations of Saint Augustine from a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava perspective. What I realized was that besides Saint Augustine’s most famous quote, “Humility! Humility! Humility!”, which I highlighted in the first article, he had several other good quotes about humility that might make an interesting new post if I commented on them from a Gauḍīya perspective. I began with this insightful one: “Humility is the foundation of all other virtues hence, in the souls in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except mere appearance.” I started my commentary on this verse by referencing a somewhat similar statement from the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.18.12) where it states that if one is not a devotee of the Lord, they have no good qualities because one’s qualities are born of the mind and in service to the material energy.[3] According to my philosophical understanding, that declarative statement—that one who is not a devotee of the Lord has no good qualities—seemed a bit spurious, so I got stuck on trying to reconcile my understanding with what I just read in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, which I accept as authoritative. I therefore never finished last week’s post. I decided this week to have a go at it again and make a separate post trying to reconcile what I saw as a challenging point. I struggled again, but was able to break down my thoughts on the matter into three main arguments:


1. It is a challenge to hold true to any conviction, even one affirming objective moral values, if your over-all world view doesn’t support it.


Generally, atheism comes with an endorsement of naturalism—that ultimate reality exists in matter and the world is nothing but “blind omnipotent matter rolling on.”[4] It seems a stretch to justify the idea that personal choices are “good” or “bad” when what we “really” are is just clusters of molecules that come together by chance for a few years in the void.[5] It is thus not hard to imagine that when such a naturalistic philosophy becomes pervasive in society it will eventually have an effect on society in a Dostoevskian “if there is no god, all is permitted”[6] Are we not seeing that today as our worldview becomes increasingly Godless—that almost anything goes, and thus immorality and lawlessness are rampant?[7]


2. Without God consciousness, there are no good qualities.


To try to understand the import of this statement from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 5.18.12, let me go back to my original post on humility where I described that from a theistic perspective the seed of humility and the emblem of character is the willingness to submit to a truth higher than one’s own whims, which manifest fully in unalloyed devotion to God. I think what the verse is saying, therefore, is that to the extent one does not have such full surrender to God, then the basis of one’s good qualities will be the mind that is grounded in the false ego, the desire for superiority and control. As a result, even the good qualities of such a person are bound to be co-opted in some way to exert one’s superiority, for example that I am more honest and just than others, and thus cease to be purely good qualities, but rather tools of the ego. Saint Augustine describes this phenomenon beautifully: “Pride will wrest from our hand any good deed we do while we are in the very act of taking pleasure in it. It is true that other defects have to be feared in our sins, but pride is to be feared in our very acts of virtue; otherwise, those praiseworthy acts will be lost through the desire of praise itself.”[8] I think that is what it means in verse 5.12.18 when it says that “one who is not a devotee”, which I have tried to show, means not being fully humble, “has no good qualities.”


3. This philosophy is affirmed by the character of a true devotee.


It’s been the second week of trying to understand and express this point. It hasn’t been easy. Thank Krishna that at 5:00 in the morning every day I can rest my mind as I walk half-way around Govardhan chanting Hare Krishna and praying for Śrī Giriraja’s mercy. Today, just when I was about to finish the parikrama on the lush forest path north of Jatipur, a cleanly-dressed young man in simple pants, bead bag in hand, was walking the opposite way. When he crossed my path, he stopped, and paid his obeisances. I don’t know why, but he sat on his knees for a few seconds looking up to me with hands folded in reverence as his eyes sparkled with devotion. I was taken aback by the joy emanating from his being born of his full acquiescent to God, whom he seemed to see in everyone and somehow now in me, a “respected” sannyāsī. He was a beautiful young Brijbasi named Giridhari Rupa, a local schoolteacher, who embodied the humility and state of pure goodness that I am convinced can only be found in the heart of an unalloyed devotee of God. Can an atheist be moral? Perhaps, but not like this!



[1] This is how William Lane Craig defines objective moral values: “Objective means ‘independent of what people think or perceive’. By contrast, ‘subjective’ means ‘not objective’. Or ‘dependent on what humans think or perceive’. So, for moral values and duties to be objective, what is good or evil doesn’t depend on the opinions of human beings.”

[2] For those who are philosophically inclined, here is an outline of the moral argument for the existence of God by William Lane Craig, arguably one the world’s most prominent theistic apologists: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-1/s1-moral-argument/moral-argument-part-1

[3] https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/5/18/12/

[4] The famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russel’s description of reality according to his naturalistic worldview.

[5] Here is a quote by Steven Pinker, renowned Harvard cognitive psychologist and intellectual atheist on why in a naturalist viewpoint there are no objective moral values: “The scientific outlook has taught us that some parts of our subjective experience are products of our biological makeup and have no objective counterpart in the world. The qualitative difference between red and green, the tastiness of fruit and foulness of carrion, the scariness of heights and prettiness of flowers are design features of our common nervous system, and if our species had evolved in a different ecosystem or if we were missing a few genes, our reactions could go the other way. Now, if the distinction between right and wrong is also a product of brain wiring, why should we believe it is any more real than the distinction between red and green? And if it is just a collective hallucination, how could we argue that evils like genocide and slavery are wrong for everyone, rather than just distasteful to us?”

[6] This was the famous affirmation made by the character Ivan Karamázov in the novel The Brothers Karamázov, by Fiódor Dostoiévski, in the 19th century.

[7] I have not researched or done a statistical study to affirm this. It is my observation, which seems self-evident to me. That also doesn’t mean that in the name of religion horrible things haven’t been done, but that is another discussion.

[8] There are too many good quotes from Saint Augustine on this subject to not share one more: “If humility does not proceed and accompany and follow every good work we do, if it is not before us to focus on, it is not beside us to lean upon, if it is not behind us to fence us in, pride will wrench from our hand any good deed we at the moment we do it.”


Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #40 – How to Feel Bad About Yourself

October 2nd, 2023

How to Feel Bad About Yourself [1]


A friend once joked: “You’re so optimistic that you could be falling out of the Empire State Building and on the fiftieth floor say, ‘so far so good’.” I’m a hopeless optimist. We laughed, but it is no joke. A dose of pessimism, even pain in the heart, is essential for bhakti. I feel that more and more. Comes with age? Could I be advancing in spiritual life? Who knows? But my wall of unhinged optimism is cracking, and it’s sometimes heavy.


The pain of purification


One friend described being in a holy place like putting a mirror to your false ego. Devotion is like that. It cleans the heart and helps you see yourself, warts and all. When the mind is cluttered with desires it is often hard to notice our faults, like not noticing something out of place in a cluttered room. For a minute I see myself. How many lifetimes have I been parading as Pauṇḍraka?[2] Can I bear the truth of self-realization?


The pain of understanding God


To really believe in an Absolute Truth sets a standard for our life. How demanding it is to conform one’s living to something higher than one’s whims and attachments. I am reading that standard of truth. It is called the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. I am informed page after page, “You are not up to the mark. Change!” Can I bear the truth of self-realization?


The pain of realization


I not only understand a truth; I see a truth — a realization. That realization is so clear. I kick myself. How did I miss it? I look back. How foolish to have lived in ignorance of such a simple truth. I should have known. And such realizations keep coming again and again. I am pained to have lived in foolishness, and it follows that I must be living in folly now. Can I bear the truth of self-realization?


The pain of regret


Bhakti begins with regretting a life lived egocentrically separate from God. That regret is called tapa, or remorse. It is the first step in spiritual commitment. Tapa also means heat. Remorse is heat because admission of fault painfully burns the lurking sense of ego that engines material life. No, I am not wrong! It is not my fault! It wasn’t a mistake! Am I man enough to resist such rationalization? Admit it; regret it. Let that acknowledgment burn our charade. Can I bear the truth of self-realization?


The pain of opening the heart


The essence of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is to chant the name of our beloved Lord without attachment or inhibition. Such simple-hearted sincerity is painful because the proud fears vulnerability and humility. Chanting means to open that heart fully and beg for the mercy of the holy name. Why the resistance? Can I bear the pain of self-realization?


The joy of pain


Crushing thoughts awaken humility, which is the foundation of devotional yearning and thus the greatest joy. That pain, however, has nothing to do with one’s psychology. It is the soul aching for connection to God and realizing our failure. It is the birth of devotion and joy, but can I bear the price of self-realization?




[1] This Monday Morning Greeting was originally published on June 3, 2019.

[2] A foolish king described in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam who paraded around in the dress of Krishna and declared himself God but was later killed by Krishna.


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