Archive for the 'Vyasa-puja' Category

The Highest Scoring Spiritual Performance – Dhanurdhara Swami’s Vyāsa-pūjā Offering to Śrīla Prabhupāda

August 12th, 2020

The Highest Scoring Spiritual Performance

I was a fan of watching the Olympics when I was young. One thing that I found intriguing was that gymnastics and diving competitors wouldn’t be scored just for the quality of their performance, but the degree of difficulty of the routine or dive they were attempting. I had a thought today. Why not use that same lens to increase our appreciation of what Śrīla Prabhupāda achieved in his mission by briefly highlighting the degree of difficulty of the task he accomplished?

 

For those of you who may not know, Śrīla Prabhupāda crossed the ocean by steamship in 1965 at the age of seventy to start his world mission in New York. By the time he left the world twelve years later, he established over 108 centers worldwide with thousands of followers dedicated to the promotion of bhakti-yoga, primarily focused on kīrtana. He also personally translated, expounded upon, and published over eighty volumes of authentic Indian spiritual texts, which were then translated into over fifty languages. More than a half a billion of those books have since been distributed worldwide. There’s more, but let’s keep our focus on our subject: the difficulty of his task.

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda alights on the shore of the New York Harbor with only eight dollars in his pocket and a trunk of his translated works. His mission is to spread bhakti and kīrtana in the Western world and to transplant an ancient culture, which, for all practical purposes, has never before left the shores of India. He stands there as a lone man with no backing, followers, or resources directly facing his opposition to the West – the full force of the most powerful material civilization known to man. Perhaps an even greater challenge is where, by providence, he was directed to start his mission.

 

After a short while in America, he winds up living in the Bowery sharing a loft with a young man he hopes to teach Sanskrit. One evening the young man suddenly loses his mind on LSD and Prabhupāda is forced onto the streets of the Bowery in the depth of night. With the help of some early followers, he soon settles in an apartment in the Lower East Side with use of a storefront for his lectures. The impediments he faces are unimaginable, especially for a man of his culture.

 

“Why have I come to this place? Why have I come to this place?” he ponders while sitting in his storefront in the Lower East Side, the last place a devotional, learned, and cultured Bengali Vaiṣṇava gentlemen would retire to serve his own personal needs. He immediately answers his own audible reflection, “I was cent per cent faithful to the order of my spiritual master!” By force of that faith, he continues with his calling.

 

He gradually collects a group of sincere young people to help him. It is by no means easy. His field of potential candidates is not of any noted culture or training, to say the least. He takes what comes and tries to train them. One story comes to mind:

 

A young lady from the Lower East Side joins the mission and is soon initiated by Śrīla Prabhupāda. To start his mission, he has no choice but to be extremely merciful. This young lady, however, hates men. After six months she requests to see Śrīla Prabhupāda. He grants her audience. “I have been chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa for six months, but I just can’t stand worshipping that man Kṛṣṇa!” Śrīla Prabhupāda, replies without losing a beat, “That’s OK, we worship Rādhā.”

 

It is hard to imagine a more insane place to try to transplant traditional Vaiṣṇava culture than the sex-crazed, drugged-out, hippy land of the Lower East Side.

 

Another story comes to mind:

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s new disciples indiscriminately organize programs for him to share his message of devotion and culture. They arrange for him to speak at a rally of Louis Abolafia, the founder of the Naked Party. He is running for President of the United States with a catchy slogan: “What have I got to hide?” When Śrīla Prabhupāda enters the room, the supporters of Louis Abolafia are dressed as bananas and are wildly dancing, mostly naked. Śrīla Prabhupāda remains sober, talks briefly, and leaves. Afterwards one of his disciples informs Śrīla Prabhupāda that Louis Abolafia couldn’t officially run for President because he didn’t meet the minimum age required. Śrīla Prabhupāda finds that hysterical and bursts into laughter. He certainly had a sense of humor and would sometimes chuckle or laugh, but the devotees never saw him laugh so hard. I can imagine what he was thinking: “As if his age was the reason he has not qualified!”

 

It is hard to imagine that a person whose mission was to create a class of Vaiṣṇava brāhmaṇas actually accomplished it within such a milieu of madness and at such an advanced age, with challenged health, I should add. He had suffered two heart attacks on his journey across the sea. Should not the score of his unprecedented accomplishments therefore be exponentially increased by the substantial challenges he faced?

 

A final story:

 

It was the disappearance festival of Śrīla Prabhupāda in 1978. Several of the most distinguished scholars of Vṛndāvana were assembled to offer their respects. I remember the homage of one of them. “If Śrīla Haridās Ṭhākur, Śrīla Rupa Gosvāmī, and Śrīla Prabhupāda were in the same room and Śrī Caitanya appeared, who would he go to first? I say Śrīla Prabhupāda! Who could be more attached to the holy name than that person who spread it around the world!”

 

Of course, Śrīla Prabhupāda had just recently passed from this world and the talks were in the mood of eulogy, but considering what he accomplished and the degree of difficulty of his task, is it not possible that we have witnessed the highest-scoring spiritual performance in the history of Vaiṣṇavism?

 

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Greatest Glory – Dhanurdhara Swami’s Vyāsa-pūjā Offering to Śrīla Prabhupāda

August 24th, 2019

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Greatest Glory

I gently bow my head to each tomb and meditate on the qualities of the various devotees that are honored there. I pray for those qualities to come to me. It is one of my favorite places in Vrindavan. I often visit the samādhi park at the ISKCON gośāla.

Moving clockwise, I first offer respect to the spot where Guṇagrahī Swami lies. I think of his humility and his attachment to preaching and kīrtan. The samādhi of Ananta Śānti, the first Russian devotee, is next. Vrindavan is flooded with Russian Vaiṣṇavas. I laud his sacrifice. Then where Vibhu Caitanya Prabhu rests, a self-effulgent Vaiṣṇava, universally recognized in the Vaiṣṇava community as an uttama bhakta for his deep devotion in even the simplest of services. The samādhi of Narmadā Goswami follows. He was an elderly and respected Indian gentleman who dedicated himself to the heart of Śrīla Prabhupāda, the BBT, for over 25 years. I next bow to Pūrṇacandra Goswami, a learned and Rasika Vaiṣṇava who beautifully sang songs of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa and was very strict in the line of Śrīla Prabhupāda. The noble samādhi of Yamunā devī follows. Her name alone is synonymous in ISKCON with bhāva bhakti, the deepest devotion. Need I say more? The final one is the biggest of all the samādhi structures. Brahmānanda Prabhu rests there. Perhaps the size of his tomb represents his heart for Śrīla Prabhupāda.

In Nectar of Devotion it describes that one of the main inspirations to develop a particular relationship with Krishna is to meditate on the devotees who love Krishna in the same relationship one aspires to attain. Thus, is not remembering the departed souls who have dedicated their lives to Śrīla Prabhupāda one of the main impetuses for developing our relationship with Śrīla Prabhupāda? And do not these same devotees represent his greatest glory, what he was able to give others of himself?

Today, in remembrance of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s accomplishments, I am inspired to highlight the many Vaiṣṇavas who have unfortunately passed from this world that Śrīla Prabhupāda inspired. My only regret is not being able to mention them all, especially the ones that I have known closely – great souls who have enhanced the appreciation of Śrīla Prabhupāda in the hearts of many. If Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mercy is all that we are made of, do not these souls embody his glories? I therefore pray to all of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s followers, those past, present, and even the millions yet to born who will carry his legacy and increase his glories. I stand in awe of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s greatest glory, the many he has inspired by the depth of his devotion, and the gift of his devotion that he keeps on giving.

 

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Vyāsa-pūjā 2018 – Dhanurdhara Swami’s Offering to Śrīla Prabhupāda

September 4th, 2018

Rādhā Bhāva and Prabhupāda

This is not about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa. I will leave that for other discussions. What I want to share with you is a realization I had recently in my reading of the last chapter of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta by Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja called “The Śikṣāṣṭakam Prayers,” a realization that highlights how Śrīla Prabhupāda gave us the most practical path in understanding our own relationship with Kṛṣṇa.[1]

In that regard, I found particularly relevant the discussion of the last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam that describes the mood of Śrī Rādhā at that height of Her devotion:

“I know no one but Kṛṣṇa as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful Lord unconditionally.” (v. 8)

Before I continue with my thesis, it is important to understand the context in which this verse is recited. According to Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja this verse is a paraphrase by Śrī Caitanya of what Śrī Rādhā told Her friends after they advised Her to disregard Kṛṣṇa. He had apparently spurned her. In other words, She loved Kṛṣṇa so much that just the suggestion to ignore Kṛṣṇa, even when seemingly justified, ignited the depths of Her unconditional love.[2] In Śrī Caitanya’s ensuing explanation of this verse to His most confidential associates Svarūpa Dāmodar and Rāmamanda Rāya, He further elaborates on how this concluding verse expresses the nature of Śrī Rādhā’s love at its height.

“I do not mind my personal distress. I only wish for the happiness of Kṛṣṇa, for His happiness is the goal of my life. However, if He feels great happiness in giving me distress, that distress is the best of my happiness.”[3] (Caitanya-caritāmṛta Antya-līlā 20.52)

Now back to my original inspiration. After reading the eighth verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam and its explanation by Śrī Caitanya Himself, it struck me how this final verse not only expresses the mood of Śrī Rādhā at the height of her devotion but accentuates the basic foundation of bhakti in a manner very reminiscent of the way Śrīla Prabhupāda and his own spiritual master, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, preached. This is clearer when understanding the history of their mission.

Without retreading a long and complex history, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta appeared at a time when the teachings of Śrī Caitanya had become very much degraded. The people coming to Śrī Caitanya’s lineage were mostly guided to higher and esoteric meditations in Kṛṣṇa consciousness without the prerequisite foundational sacrifice and proper behavior. Śrīla Prabhupāda describes Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s concern about this and how he called out those called prākṛta-sahajiyās who cheaply concentrated their meditation on Kṛṣṇa’s intimate pastimes without the recommended step-by-step process to first purify their hearts.

“Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura says that a devotee does not care about his own happiness and distress; he is simply interested in seeing that Kṛṣṇa is happy, and for that purpose he engages in various activities […] Those who are materialistic, [….] like the prākṛta-sahajiyās, regard their own happiness as the aim of life. Some of them aspire to enjoy themselves by sharing the happiness of Kṛṣṇa. This is the mentality of fruitive workers who want to enjoy sense gratification by making a show of service to Kṛṣṇa.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Antya-līlā 20.52 purport)

Seeing this tendency, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, and Śrīla Prabhupāda after him, stressed unconditional surrender to the spiritual master and stringently warned of entering realms of esoteric bhakti prematurely. As a result they were often criticized for not giving what Śrī Caitanya came to give, rāgānuga bhakti, a practice based very much on meditating on Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and visualizing one’s own spiritual identity within them.

The last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, however, implies clearly that what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta and Śrīla Prabhupāda stressed was not just for beginners, but also the essence of the highest attainment in Krishna consciousness, a practice that only needs to be ripened by the pure chanting of the name to achieve its fruition.

So that’s my realization today while reading the Caitanya-caritāmṛta – that if you want to awaken your eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa then faithfully follow the teachings of Śrīla Prabhupāda by unconditionally surrendering to Śrī Śrī Guru and Kṛṣṇa in service of Śrī Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana mission. Certainly one who sincerely does this is embracing the essence of Rādhā bhāva as expressed in that ultimate verse:

“I know no one but Kṛṣṇa as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful Lord unconditionally.”

 

 


[1] It is worthy to note here that the Śikṣāṣṭakam prayers are particularly significant because they are the only verses, eight in number, that Śrī Caitanya composed.

[2] Also significant is that this verse is the last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam and represents the fulfillment of the internal reason for Śrī Caitanya’s appearance, to experience the love of His topmost devotee at the height of Her love.

[3] Śrī Caitanya’s explanation of the Śikṣāṣṭakam comprises thirteen verses. I have only chosen one for the sake of the clarity and force of my post to highlight the mood of them all.

 

 

Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja – Dhanurdhara Swami’s Offering to Srila Prabhupada

August 16th, 2017

Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,
 
My most humble obeisances. All glories to you!
 
I stopped by Gītā-nagarī recently to take darśana of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara. Suddenly a thought came into my mind regarding how you were empowered in so many ways: Śrīla Prabhupāda was a visionary. And then an interesting phrase came to my mind that exemplified what I was thinking–cutting edge. I liked very much the sound of that: Śrīla Prabhupāda was cutting edge. I included that phrase in a description of you in another article that I wrote. I would like to offer that to your lotus feet in glorification.
 
“Śrīla Prabhupāda was on the cutting edge of so many things. Cutting edge means the latest or most advanced stage in the development of something. So, fifty years ago Śrīla Prabhupāda was on the cutting edge of vegetarianism, the cutting edge of kīrtana, the cutting edge of Indian philosophy and culture, and the cutting edge of sustainable living. We have succeeded in carrying your legacy in so many ways, but sometimes we have fallen short, and in too many cases have allowed others to take his mantle, especially with sustainable living. We all need to take that legacy back.”
 
I pray that I can be instrument in helping to carry your legacy. I pray that I may also be cutting edge in carrying the traditions and truths you revealed to us into the future.
 
Your humble servant,
 
Dhanurdhara Swami
 
 

Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa Puja – Dhanurdhara Swami’s Offering to Srila Prabhupada

August 18th, 2014

Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,

My obeisances at your lotus feet!

While meditating on writing this year’s homage to you a question came to my mind, “What was the single quality that made Śrīla Prabhupāda more Prabhupāda than any other quality?”

Certainly there are many things you did well and many qualities you possessed. I thought to myself, “Śrīla Prabhupāda was kind, fearless, and expert. He was an abode of compassion and attached to the holy name. All of those qualities are what made him Prabhupāda.”

But when I thought deeply about this question one quality came to my mind:

Faith!

Not faith in just the sense of believing something to be true, but faith as you have defined it:

“Unflinching trust in something sublime.”

You had fully tasted the sublimity of serving Kṛṣṇa and thus possessed unwavering conviction that there is nothing better than it. You were also therefore exemplarily faithful to the order of your spiritual master who directed you in that service.

What a wonderful thing your faith was! You had tasted the sublime and felt true compassion for those bereft of devotion. You were so convinced that you not only gave your life to end their suffering, but by your conviction laden words thousands developed the same faith and surrendered their lives to Kṛṣṇa. And the force of your faith continues to keep your mission vibrant years after your departure.

While writing this another question came to my mind, “What is the single quality that I would need more than any other quality to make me a worthy servant of your divine grace?”

I thought deeply and one quality came to mind:

Faith!

On this auspicious day of your appearance I thus offer my faith at your lotus feet and a pray that by your mercy I can realize the sublimity of devotion and thus feel true compassion for those bereft of devotion.

Humbly in your service,

Dhanurdhara Swami