Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #33 – The Heaviest Book in the World

August 13th, 2018

The Sanskrit word for “heavy” is guru. Guru means “heavy” because the heaviest thing for a conditioned soul to bear is spiritual knowledge. This is because spiritual knowledge weighs heavily on our attachments. It tells us that some things we like we must relinquish and some things we don’t we must accept. That is the hefty price for sincerely hearing and embracing the truth. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the repository for spiritual knowledge, is thus guru, the heaviest book in the world.


Every morning upon rising I try to read the Bhāgavatam for some time. I brace myself for transformation, for if I am not open to hearing the truth, to have my conceptions and attachments challenged, I won’t actually hear the Bhāgavatam. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, the tradition’s main theologian, refers to this phenomenon in his Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha.


He quotes the second verse of the Bhāgavatam where Śrī Vyasa claims that by hearing its message just once, Krishna immediately, without delay, appears in one’s heart. Śrī Jīva quotes this verse to raise the question of why this doesn’t happen to us? His answer: One doesn’t hear what one doesn’t like. And because we are antithetical to the book’s theme and ultimate message, which is to fully surrender to guru and Krishna, we don’t actually hear the message of the Bhāgavatam. That’s heavy.


In this way spiritual knowledge acts like a mirror to the false ego. By gazing at our reflection in that message, we see who we actually are, not what we imagine our self to be. How shocking! It’s analogous to the emperor who proudly parades among his subjects in his new clothes, only to realize that he is actually naked. In a similar way, by hearing spiritual knowledge our inflated self-conception is exposed. Is there any wonder, therefore, why we shy away from its weighty message and close our hearts to the full appearance of Śrī Krishna?


Another question naturally arises: if being full of material desires blocks our minds from hearing the Bhāgavatam, then what is the use of hearing the book at all? Śrī Jīva explains that by repeatedly hearing the message of the Bhāgavatam something very wonderful happens. We gradually become purified of our unwanted desires and develop an ardent desire to hear the truth. The message of surrender then progressively becomes our joy and we enter the door of true devotion. Then, instead of weighing on our attachments, each and every word incites rasa, our specific and sweet relationship with Krishna. The heaviest book in the world then becomes the sweetest.


“O expert and thoughtful men, relish Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literatures. It emanated from the lips of Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī. Therefore this fruit has become even more tasteful, although its nectarean juice was already relishable for all, including liberated souls.” (Bhāg. 1.1.3)


Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #32 – Epistemology, Metaphysics and Relationship

August 6th, 2018

Every philosophy has a description of what they deem reality (metaphysics) and their prescribed means to understand it (epistemology). In Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy, or Krishna consciousness, this is called sambandha-jñāna,[1] or knowledge of relationship. Why is metaphysics in Krishna consciousness called sambandha-jñāna? From my studies and meditation on the subject, I have come up with four reasons.


Reason 1


The most basic reason that metaphysics is called sambandha-jñāna in Gauḍīya theology is that the ultimate aim of metaphysics is to ascertain one’s purpose in life, which is informed or determined by understanding one’s relationship to reality. Understanding where one fits in the metaphysical framework of reality is thus part of understanding one’s purpose in life, or relationship to the truth, and thus appropriately called sambandha-jñāna.


Reason 2


The metaphysics of Gauḍīya philosophy are centered on Krishna and His energies. His energies are basically two: matter and spirit. Reality, therefore, has three components that Śrīla Prabhupāda has aptly described as matter, spirit, and the controller of both (God). Metaphysics is called sambandha-jñāna because to properly understand reality one must understand the sambandha (relationship) between these three basic components of existence.


Sambandha between matter and spirit


If one doesn’t understand the relationship between spirit (the living entity) and matter (the body), which are separate energies, and thinks oneself the body, one will naturally identify as the body, a focus that covers one’s identity or relationship with God.


Sambandha between spirit and God


If one doesn’t understand the relationship between the living entity and God and thinks one is equal to God (impersonalism), then what is the question of worshiping or having a relationship with God?


Sambandha between God and matter


Finally, if one thinks that the relationship between God and matter is that God is material and thus illusory (māyāvāda), then why would one worship or develop a relationship with God?


Thus sambandha-jñāna, knowledge of the interrelationship between matter, spirit, and God is essential for deciphering a proper metaphysics and developing one’s relationship with God.


Reason 3


Another reason why the metaphysics of Krishna consciousness is called sambandha, or knowledge of relationship, is because one cannot clearly understand God and one’s relationship with Him if one does not have a proper understanding of the relationship between the various tattvas, or subjects, in Krishna consciousness.


For example, if one elevates the truth of detachment far too high in comparison with the truth of attachment, then renunciation will falsely become the standard of advancement instead of devotion, the gṛhastha ashram will become belittled and women shunned or disempowered. The same problem arises conversely. When the truth of attachment is overly inflated, one will mistake married life as an item of devotional service and minimize the importance of renunciation. Either way a lack of discernment in properly understanding the relationship between tattvas, whether between detachment and attachment, service and sādhana, or any other such imbalance in judgment, will certainly cloud one’s understanding of Krishna and our relationship with Him. In this way also, sambandha-jñāna is an appropriate designation for metaphysics.




In the Bhakti-sandarbha sambanda-jñāna is called siddhopadesh,[2] which means knowledge that implies perfection. The appellation is quite suitable, as once one has the proper metaphysical understanding in Krishna consciousness it will automatically lead to the means to realize truth (abhidheya-jñāna) and the goal of doing so (prayojana-jñāna), just as knowing where a treasure rests will easily lead one to understand the means to extract it and the goal of acquiring it. As sambandha-jñāna, proper metaphysical knowledge, is the basis of achieving perfection, it is the substantial majority of the teachings presented in the Bhāgavatam.


The goal of Krishna consciousness is to develop a loving relationship with Krishna, which first requires a reasonable understanding of the fundamental nature of reality. It is not required to become a scholar or theologian to do that. We do, however, have to sincerely hear śāstra like the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and the Bhagavad-gītā to gain sambandha-jñāna, a reasonable depth of the basic philosophy of Krishna consciousness. Here’s a verse from the Bhagavad-gītā that perfectly sums up our discussion:


“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me [sambandha-jñāna]. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service [abhidheya-jñāna] and worship Me with all their hearts [prayojana-jñāna]. (Bg. 10.8)



[1] I will be defining the terms sambandha-jñāna, abhidheya-jñāna, and prayojana-jñāna according to the technical usage of these terms the Cc. Madhya-līlā chapters 20-25.


[2] Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha, Anuchheda 1


Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #31 – Jumping to the Tenth Canto

July 30th, 2018

Śrīla Prabhupāda was once challenged about why at the beginning of his movement he jumped to publishing the Kṛṣṇa book, his summary study of the Tenth Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, when one is supposed to first study the first nine cantos before focusing on Krishna’s pastimes.  He hadn’t even yet completed and published beyond the First Canto at the time. His tongue-in-cheek response: “Just like the Gujaratis, they serve the sweets first.”[1] In other words, just as it is out of the ordinary to serve sweets before a meal, though it can be done, offering the Tenth Canto at the beginning of one’s spiritual life can also be done. The question remains, why is what Śrīla Prabhupāda did generally not recommended and why did he do it anyway?


Prematurely hearing the Tenth Canto is not recommended because perception, in this case hearing, is not just based on the senses, but also the mind, which interprets and ascribes feelings to what we hear. Therefore, although we may hear the Tenth Canto, we will misunderstand it unless properly educated and the mind is relatively pure.


Let me use a very stark example that illustrates how understanding something properly is way beyond just hearing or seeing it: Trump. People hear and see the same things in terms of the President, but the country is divided on how they perceive him. Let’s quickly move to a less polarizing and more spiritual example.


Recently, I was doing harināma kīrtana in Vilnius, Lithuania with the monks of the Holy Name Monastery. The kīrtana had devotion and enthusiasm, and the effect was powerful. Some smiled and clapped. Some were, at best, indifferent. As I marched down the main road of the city it was just so apparent how much proper perception is dependent on one’s mindset.


In a similar way, the main caution to jumping to a study of the Tenth Canto is that those not properly spiritually educated will hear the pastimes of Krishna with a type of prejudice and prejudge them as mundane love, rather than selfless devotion. Now back to the core concern, why, considering these cautions, did Śrīla Prabhupāda jump over the beginning cantos[2] to translate the Tenth?


Śrīla Prabhupāda was practical and had a mission. Due to his advanced age, he feared that if he waited to progressively translate and complete the preceding cantos before publishing Krishna’s pastimes, his disciples and followers might never get these important teachings in an appropriate way from him. In fact, he actually never finished translating the Tenth Canto. We are left with the poignant scene of Śrīla Prabhupāda lying on his back in his last days, whispering his translation and commentary of the Tenth Canto into a recorder to complete as much as he could before he left. He finished only the first thirteen chapters. Foreseeing this fate years before, he clearly shared his concern:


“Following in the footsteps of Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, I am trying to translate Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as quickly as possible. However, knowing myself to be an old man and almost an invalid because of rheumatism, I have already translated the essence of all literatures, the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, as a summary study in English. I started the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement at the age of seventy. Now I am seventy-eight, and so my death is imminent. I am trying to finish the translation of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as soon as possible, but before finishing it, I have given my readers the book Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so that if I die before finishing the whole task, they may enjoy this book, which is the essence of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. (Cc. Antyalīlā 1.11, purport)


Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, wrote the Kṛṣṇa book very carefully to accommodate his audience by couching the stories of Krishna in an appropriate philosophical context, ensuring his immature audience would not miss the point and take the stories cheaply. He thus masterfully gave us both the stories of the Tenth Canto, including the description of the rāsa-līlā, and the proper frame of reference to understand them at the same time.


Conclusion: By Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mercy we have special access to Krishna’s līlā so that we can both relish and respect it at the same time. We should certainly take avail of his mercy. In fact, Śrīla Prabhupāda encouraged us:


“If you read the Kṛṣṇa book every day you will be happy.”[3]



[1] Usually in Indian fare the sweets are served last, but the Gujarati’s take them at the beginning of their meal.

[2] He had only translated and published the First Canto before writing his summary study of the Tenth Canto.

[3] This was an instruction given to my god-brother Visal Prabhu by Śrīla Prabhupāda, who personally related this exchange with Śrīla Prabhupāda to me.



Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #30 – It’s the Mind!

July 23rd, 2018

Everyone has their own set of irrational fears and anxieties according to their past experiences, this life or the previous, often embedded deep in the subconscious. Mine is travel. I wouldn’t say it is debilitating. I don’t lose sleep over it, but when I travel I worry unnecessarily. I have to be hours early for a flight. I can understand being reasonably cautious, but inevitably I arrive far beyond what is necessary. And as soon as my car pulls out of the driveway to leave for the airport, I nervously slap my pockets checking for my passport, ticket, and wallet, although I checked for these things numerous times before I left. Today after more than forty years traveling in the Hare Krishna movement, I think I finally came to my senses:


Why all this worry?  Am I really the controller? Whether I miss my plane or not is really not up to me. There are five factors of action and only one is our endeavor, so just do your duty and leave on time, not hours before. The rest is really up to Krishna. He has already decided whether you need to be to the next place on time or not. It is all so basic that it is almost embarrassing.


And when thinking this way, it clearly reaffirmed a realization. It’s the mind! In other words, all our problems are more how we see things than how they actually are.


A personal and classic example: Previously, when coming from the airport to Vṛndāvana, I would have my driver head directly to Keśi-ghāṭa on the bank of the Yamunā. My ritual was to take a holy bath for purification before daring to begin my undeserved stay in this most sacred of places. One year while descending the steps of the ghāṭa to bathe, I noticed a big black snake looming on the very bottom step. Whoa! Apprehensively, I moved thirty yards further down the river before quickly bathing, still harboring that very dangerous serpent in my mind. While walking back to my car, I looked down to the first step only to see that same black snake sitting in the exact same position. It hadn’t moved an inch! I was surprised. As I wasn’t wearing my glasses I began to squint to examine the situation more clearly. I began to chuckle. Oh, it was just a black tire! Just see, a snake posed a danger, but the problem existed only in my mind.


A deeper existential example: The greatest problem or fear is death because we lose everything including our present identity, but death itself is only the illusion of non-existence. How much unnecessary and unlimited worry do we have to endure due to the mind before we wake up!


Now back to my petty anxieties. I am in Sochi. My flight for Vilnius is 11:15 AM and the airport is 45 minutes away. My host says we will leave at 8:00 AM. I suggest leaving 15 minutes earlier, but my host assures me it is more than enough time. I naturally start to think “What if…” but I check my impulse.  Stop this silliness and depend on Krishna. I began to reflect that the anxiety I accrued over the years in the process of travel was so much worse than the worst-case scenario, — a rare missed flight — which may never even have happened. It is so clear. There may be serious challenges in life, but most of our worries are needless. How much time and energy we could save for a productive and peaceful life if we could only starve those irrational thoughts by neglect. It’s funny, but I suddenly think of one of the most famous quotes in American history:


“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”[1]



[1] By Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States in his first inaugural address referring to the Great Depression the country was facing at that time.

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #29 – The Marriage of Faith and Doubt

July 16th, 2018

Faith is good. Doubt is bad. Not so quick; they are not enemies. Both faith and doubt have a common goal—to help us understand things further.


First, faith. In his essay “The Will to Believe”, Williams James[1] gives a very practical example of how faith is essential for knowledge: If a man wants to know if a woman loves him, he first has to have the faith that she does. If he sat around waiting for her to express her love first, he may lose out on the opportunity to discover and understand the love that was there.


The general point he makes is that in many instances of practical importance without faith or initial trust we cannot fully realize what we suspect may be true. We must rely on individuals or traditions of thought that educate us about a world beyond our experience. This involves trust. Without such faith we are restricted in the expanse of our knowledge to our present and limited frame of reference. Almost by definition the knowledge we are seeking is beyond our present purview and requires faith in its pursuit, otherwise why would we need to learn something in the first place? If we think of anything we want to learn, from music and science to spiritual subjects, it should become obvious how much faith in an authority, a person who knows and sees what we don’t, accelerates our learning. In many ways, therefore, faith is a precursor of knowledge.


It is important to note that such faith doesn’t mean blind acceptance. Faith means trust by evidence. For example, it is very reasonable for a young man to faithfully accept his father’s words on trust if through the years that relationship has proven to be one of affection and wisdom, or to trust the directions of a doctor who has demonstrated himself as a medical authority by repeatedly curing his patients. It is likewise reasonable for a student to trust her professor’s claims about her field if the professor is a reputable authority in an established tradition. Faith thus means to reasonably accept something beyond our current state of knowledge.


It is commonplace in Indian thought that philosophical reflection begins with doubt. In fact, according to Lord Kapiladeva, doubt is one the five attributes of intelligence.[2] But how does doubt help us understand things given the role of trust in knowing as discussed above? The dichotomy is resolved when we clarify how the faculty of doubt is used. If it is used to reject a legitimate authority, it is then opposed to faith; but if it is used to find a genuine authority, or to clarify from him or her what we don’t understand, it is the partner of faith.


In fact, in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.12 Sūta Gosvāmī describes the necessity for this type of doubt specifically to explain the method to understand tattva, or truth. Two qualities are delineated: faithfulness and thoughtfulness (or doubt). If one is not faithful, then one’s knowledge is limited to one’s present understanding. And if one is not thoughtful, it is mired to one’s inadequate grasp of what one has faithfully heard. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī quotes a relevant reference in his commentary on this verse to validate this claim:


“Lord Brahma heard the Vedas three times from Lord Krishna before he concluded that the essence of religion is devotional service.” (Bhag. 2.2.34)


In elaborating on this reference Śrī Jīva explains that the first time Lord Brahma heard the Vedas, which to a large degree promotes ritualistic activities, he heard the essence of the Vedas as karma, but doubted how that could be true. Krishna thus explained the Vedas a second time. He listened carefully again, this time noting the Upaniṣadic sections, and concluded that the essence of religion was jñāna, analytic knowledge and renunciation. He doubted once again that he had understood the text properly. Krishna therefore explained the Vedas a third time and he finally understood that the essence of the Vedas was bhakti.


Śrī Jīva comments in this regard that if a disciple is not similarly thoughtful and doesn’t raise his doubts to his spiritual master for clarification, he will surely mistake devotional service for either karma or jñāna. Almost all major Vaiṣṇava texts, like Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, are therefore recorded dialectics, or in other words discussions between teachers and students where the doubts of the students are cleared.


Faith is glorious, but doubt is not the enemy. Thoughtlessness is, whether it be fanatical faith or skeptical rejection of reasonable faith.



[1] Renowned American philosopher and psychologist (1842-1910), who wrote various classics including The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).

[2] Bhag. 3.26.30



Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #28 – Songs of Devotion

July 9th, 2018

Surprisingly, my grandfather affectionately grabbed my grandmother’s hand. They had three children together when they were young, but almost no romance or affection after that. After their third child was born when they were in their mid-twenties, my grandfather became a bit distant. Although my grandmother suffered there was no question of divorce. She just tolerated her fate. My mother (their daughter) and father had brought them to the Imperial Theatre on Broadway for their fiftieth wedding anniversary to watch Fiddler on the Roof, a play about matchmaking and romance in Eastern Europe at the turn of the century. The play powerfully moved them, especially as they had migrated to America from Odessa in the early 1900s, which was about the same time period in which the play was set.  When the theme song “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” broke out even my grandfather was moved. He affectionately clasped his wife’s hand. My grandmother was so excited, as related to me by my mother, that she turned to her daughter sitting to her right, smiled and discreetly pointed to my grandfather’s display of affection as if to say, “Look! Look!” Oh, the power of drama and song!


A good song, poetry, or drama goes beyond just communicating or explaining an emotion, it embodies the emotion and makes one feel it. That same power of song or poetics to nourish or incite emotion is integral to the development of the sentiment of bhakti. That was the example of Śrī Caitanya, especially in His twilight years (the antya-līlā).


Śrī Caitanya Mahaprabhu spent the last eighteen years of His life fulfilling His internal mission, which was to taste the love of Śrī Krishna’s topmost devotee Śrī Radha at the height of Her love. He passed his time in the Gambhīra, a small cave-like room near the Jagannath Mandir, where day and night he chanted the holy name in the mood of separation from Krishna seeking to attain this special devotion.


His practice or means for achieving His goal was absorption in the holy name. Every object has a śakti or potency and objects and acts of devotion have a bhakti śakti, an energy that draws out devotion from our hearts, ultimately in the form of rāsa, our mature relationship with Krishna. But how to achieve that full absorption?


To deepen His absorption in the holy name of Krishna, Śrī Caitanya interspersed His constant chanting with the songs and stories of Krishna, the person whose name He was chanting. These songs and stories, especially of Śrī Radha’s intense love for Śrī Krishna, were perfectly composed to imbue the particular devotion that Śrī Caitanya longed for. But there was one problem. Śrī Radha’s mood of separation was so deep and confidential there was a paucity of such compositions.


Understanding Śrī Caitanya’s quandary, poets and qualified followers eagerly began to try to write such compositions to be carefully screened by Svarūpa Dāmodara for use in Śrī Caitanya’s bhajan or practice.  In other words, properly composed poetics in the form of stories (drama), poetry, and song were absolutely essential for the bhajan of Śrī Caitanya to increase His absorption in the holy name and nourish His aspiration. But what does this have to do with us struggling practitioners? Well, everything.


Śrī Caitanya’s life was ācāry-līlā, a perfect example meant to teach us how to gradually awaken and nourish our own relationship with Krishna. As songs of devotion were essential to this practice, so are they to ours. To foster that mood, whether it is to develop a deeper disposition of humility and longing, or in a more advanced stage to develop affection for Krishna in a particular mellow, our ācāryas, especially Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, have left a treasure of songs that encapsulate devotional moods and nurture whatever spark of worthy sentiment rests in our hearts. If my grandfather’s heart could be moved by a dynamic Broadway drama with songs embodying romance, why cannot our hearts melt with devotion by the bhakti laden poetics of our rich tradition? Learn them and hear them and deepen your absorption in the holy name!


Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #27 – The Yoga of Talking to Yourself

July 2nd, 2018

Listen to the sincerity of your chanting. Go deeper in your meditation. Other thoughts may come, but don’t follow them. As I guide people in japa meditation seminars, I have observed how effectively submitting to a comforting voice of authority helps one cross the mental blocks of distraction and seep into deeper states of awareness and concentration. From doing this I have also realized how much activating my own inner voice has helped guide my own chanting. More and more I find myself talking to myself during my morning meditation.


Talking to yourself? Isn’t that a distraction? Before continuing this discussion, I think it is necessary in general to consider the concept of “voice” in relation to chanting.


I heard a somewhat interesting example to illustrate this. Have you ever walked through the famous Loi Bazaar shopping area in Vṛndāvana when a shopkeeper in a squeaky voice calls out “Haribol, prabhu!”? What do you hear? Do you hear the holy name or someone asking for your money? What we say carries more than just syllables; it carries our heart. And more than anything that is what Krishna hears when we chant His holy name.


Another good example of “voice” in chanting is the phrase I used at the very beginning of the article: “Listen to the sincerity of your chanting.” This originally came from Śrīla Prabhupāda. What was he asking us to listen to in our chanting, if not our heart, or own voice, begging Krishna for service?


A bit surprisingly I also found a verse in the Yoga Sūtras that recommends activating the mind, at least in terms of mantra meditation. Patañjali says taj-japas tad-artha-bhāvanam, which means we should dwell on the meaning of the mantra when meditating on it.


I could go on and on with references and examples about the relationship between our inner voice and mantra meditation, but back to the original thesis of talking to yourself while chanting. Just as we have a natural voice in chanting that arises from the heart, I find it helpful, especially in the beginning of my chanting, to consciously activate the voice of my intelligence in order to tell my mind in as comforting and authoritatively voice as possible where to go, so to speak. Here are some of my favorite commands and what they mean.


Chant and hear every syllable. Perfect your mantra one mantra at a time. When we perfect a mantra by carefully chanting and hearing every syllable we get the fruit of that mantra. The Hare Krishna mantra is a yugala mantra, a divine love or devotion mantra, and when perfected brings devotion into the heart.


Vibrate the mantra in every pore of your body. Feel the mantra. Mantra means God is sound. Hearing and feeling the vibration of the Hare Krishna mantra is thus direct communion with God.


Listen to the sincerity of your chanting and go deeper into your meditation. The Hare Krishna mantra is also a prayer begging for the mood of service to Śrī Śrī Radha and Krishna.


Chant as sweetly as possible for Krishna hears our chanting and gets pleasure from it. The Śikṣāṣṭakam describes the holy name as having all śaktis. Energy comes from a source to please its source. Krishna’s śaktis, especially within the holy name, are thus pleasing to Him. Every syllable should be therefore offered as beautifully as possible as a direct personal offering, like the petal of a flower, at the lotus feet of Śrī Krishna.


Cry for Krishna. Śrīla Prabhupāda said we should chant as a child crying for his mother. Śrī Caitanya chanted deeply in the mood of separation, crying for Krishna.


Niyamitaḥ smaraṇe na kālaḥ. There are no hard and fast rules for chanting the holy name. These are some of the ways in which I amplify my heart and inner voice to direct my mind to the holy name. The best method is what personally helps you to hear and feel the holy name. Meditation doesn’t start at samādhi any more than you can start a car in fourth gear. These are just some of the ways I rev up my attention to achieve increased focus on the holy name.


One more thing: Offer your heart to Krishna and tell Him what you want. The language that Krishna understands is the mahā-mantra. The holy name is a thus a conversation with God.


And that is The Yoga of Talking to Yourself.




Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #26 – Wild Wild Guru: A Bogus Guru Guide

June 25th, 2018

I don’t watch movies, but I had to see this one. While visiting my mother last month, I met my two brothers as they were leaving. We talked for a short while. They both were raving about a documentary that they had just watched called Wild Wild Country. I was surprised. It was not the type of subject I thought would interest them – a documentary about the cult of Rajneesh and their failure to establish their own city in wilderness of Oregon. I would have dropped the matter right there, but when I arrived at Shyam Ashram in Colombia, our ashram residents were also talking about the film. They weren’t at all impressed by Rajneesh, but the story and the quality of the presentation intrigued them. My interest was further piqued, at least enough to express some desire to see it.


Someone in the ashram suggested I could watch it on my long plane ride back to the USA and that all I had to do was just download it on Netflix. There was only one problem. What is Netflix?  I knew it was something about movies, but beyond that I had absolutely no idea what it offered or how to get or use it. One resident volunteered to download it on my computer. I decided to give it a look.


I was surprised that no one mentioned to me the few racy blips in the film that I had to fast forward, but in general what I saw impressed me—not the Rajneesh cult, but how well that cult and its story was documented. I was especially intrigued with how such an obvious shyster could fool and inspire so many seemingly intelligent people.


Shyster?  Wow, strong words. And isn’t such criticism like the pot calling the kettle black?  What about New Vrindavan and the other leadership scandals in ISKCON over the years? It is just not the same. Although some individuals in ISKCON may have at times faltered or even deviated over its long history, those leaders were a few out of many. They did not hold absolute autocratic power within ISKCON, nor did their actions represent the organization. Ultimately, they have been removed by the legitimate authority of ISKCON itself. In contrast, Rajneesh simply was his organization. And when ISKCON was guided in Prabhupāda’s living presence and he served as its ultimate authority, his character was and remained beyond suspicion. And that is what struck me most about the film, the basic principle of genuine guru in contrast to what I saw in the film.


Of course, this is a long subject and Monday Morning Greetings is limited in its scope, but at least we can briefly reflect on the most rudimentary standard of guru as a lens to view Wild Wild Country.


The primary standard of a bona-fide guru is that he himself has humbly served and studied under a guru. That is to say, one can only be a guru if one has already submitted him or herself to genuine disciplehood. This principle of learning is succinctly described in the first aphorism of the Yoga Sūtras: “Now the teachings of yoga are presented.”  The exact phrase in Sanskrit is anuśāsanam—following a tradition of teachings or discipleship. Allied to this, any legitimate spiritual teacher within the “Hindu” tradition follows and submits to a time-tested tradition or lineage based on the Vedas. They don’t manufacture their own teachings. There is an obvious reason for that.


Accepting the authority of a spiritual teacher means the acknowledgment that truth rests beyond our present purview and we therefore require the guidance of one who sees beyond our limits. Such submission to one who knows a subject is thus common to all learning and precisely why the term for teacher is often master. One who thus avoids submitting to a spiritual master is, by definition, limiting understanding to his or her own imperfect view of the world and therefore lacking the most basic foundation to be a guru—being a humble disciple first. Worse is that by human nature such a person is prone to mold one’s philosophy to suit one’s own desires, rather than mold one’s life to the truth, regardless of the magnitude of one’s intellectual prowess.


Rajneesh was a classic example of this. He was very intelligent and philosophically well-read and seemingly a master of conceptualizing and expressing concepts, but if you listened carefully to what he said you will not find any dignified metaphysics beyond pure hedonism. I shuttered as he drove up in what was described as one of his hundred Rolls Royces. What in the world does an explicit desire for such a huge fleet of personal luxury cars have to do with any genuine spiritual teachings? No matter which way you twist it, in terms of yogic principles such extravagance is pure gluttony, violating the basic yama of aparigraha, “non-acquisitiveness”. Last year, I saw the film Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All.  You couldn’t miss the solid spiritual principles Śrīla Prabhupāda stood for. They were repeated, backed by śāstra, and exemplified by his life.


Spiritual life begins with restraint or at least regulation, first in terms of how you control your mind in relation to others (yama or abstentions) and then how you control your mind in relationship to yourself (niyama or observances). You can call it what you want, but orgies and sipping champagne have nothing to do with spiritual or yogic life. A sincere person trained under a spiritual master can’t miss these simple facts. Rajaneesh did.


Of course, just accepting a genuine teacher and the tradition of teachings he represents is no guarantee one will sincerely accept that directive. One can still be a deviant, but without being a disciple first, one can’t be a guru. It is as simple as that. If anything, Wild Wild Country is a testimony to that.


So how did so many people become so dedicated to such an obvious fraud? I was also pondering that question while skimming through the film, so perhaps that is another article. Just a few thoughts: A charismatic leader who can unite people for a common goal does give a type of joy as the feeling of community is always uplifting, even if it’s only quasi spiritual. If you combine that with a philosophy that justifies hedonism and gives a sense of superiority in the guise of Eastern spirituality, then certainly lost souls seeking something better than humdrum modern life will feel a powerful rush, even if it is fleeting and ends in disaster. Anyway, despite its morbid subject, the film certainly successfully documents how one can be cheated in the name of spirituality.



Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #25 – The Kīrtana of the Cowherd Boys

June 18th, 2018

What a joyous sight! Śrī Krishna leaves every morning to graze His cows in the sacred forest of Vṛndāvana. Fearing that His beloved cows are trampling Vṛndāvana with their sharp hooves, He follows behind His herd to gently caress this sacred ground with His lotus feet. At the same time, He glances lovingly at His cowherd friends, each one intensely feeling Krishna’s love for them. The cowherds spontaneously respond to Krishna’s affection with jubilant kīrtana, a kīrtana so rousing that it continues throughout the day. Just imagine that kīrtana! What does it sound like? How does it look?  Don’t imagine, just hear:


anye tad-anurūpāi
manojñāni mahātmana
gāyanti sma mahā-rāja
sneha-klinna-dhiya śanai


“My dear King, other boys would sing enchanting songs appropriate to the occasion, and their hearts would melt out of love for the Lord.” (Bhag. 10.15.18) [1]


Four characteristics of their kīrtana are described. By discussing each not only is the kīrtana of the cowherd boys described, but also the authority of proper kīrtana in general is established.


sneha-klinna-dhiya (with a heart melted from love)


The most important quality of good kīrtana is that it comes from a heart (dhiya) filled with deep affection or devotion (sneha). The symptom of such a heart is that it is not hard, but melted (klinna), a condition of devotion also called bhava. In fact, real kīrtana is only when that bhava in the heart is expressed through the discipline of music. No matter how musically talented one is, it is not kīrtana without such bhava, or at least the humble aspiration for it, even when chanting the mahā-mantra. Therefore the primary quality of the kīrtana of the cowherd boys, and all kīrtana, is that it is born from a heart of devotion.


manaḥ-jñāni (attractive to the mind)


In general, proper rāga (melody) and tāla (rhythm) are connected to deep parts of the psyche that open the heart further to sentiments of genuine devotion. The kīrtana of the cowherd boys is thus not only devotional, but their devotional feelings are enhanced by sonorous melodies (rāga) and perfect rhythm (tāla) that are attractive to the mind (manaḥ-jñāni).


tat-anurūpāi (appropriate for the occasion)


Everything about Krishna, down to the smallest detail of His being and actions, is all-attractive. One day in the forest a soft wind blew Krishna’s golden dhoti so that it gently hugged His legs in a way that further revealed His form. That visual so overwhelmed His observant friends that one enthusiastically suggested, “Let’s have a festival!” The cowherd boys immediately began to organize a forest feast and spontaneously composed songs about the beauty of Krishna’s dhoti blowing in the wind. Their kīrtana was thus tat-anurūpāi—appropriate for the occasion or pastime. Whether it is līlā-kīrtana, kīrtana describing Krishna’s pastimes, or nāma-kīrtana, chanting the holy name that is sung in rāgas suitable for the time of day, the kīrtana of the cowherd boys is always appropriate­—tat-anurūpāi.


śanaiḥ (slowly, builds up gradually)


In good kīrtana enthusiasm gradually build by the force of the devotion. It is never forced or artificial. In other words, tempo never precedes devotion, but is a natural result of devotion as the kīrtana matures. The kīrtana of the cowherd boys is thus described as śanaiḥ­—it slowly or gradually builds, an essential element of proper kīrtana.


We can now imagine the akhanda (non-stop) kīrtana of the cowherd boys with its deep devotion, beautiful melodies and appropriate rāgas that gradually build to a crescendo as they become immersed in kīrtana, overwhelmed with devotion, and, most importantly, accompanied by the virtuoso flute of the original guru of all music and dance, Śrī Krishna.


[1] The various analysis of the words in this verse that describe the kīrtana of the cowherd boys are found in various commentaries on the verse that I have read or heard over the years. I didn’t have access to them at the writing of this article.



Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #24 – Humility and Low Self-Esteem: What is the difference?

June 11th, 2018

I have thought about this distinction for years and have come up with different explanations. Recently I had a sort of epiphany:


Humility and low self-esteem—though not just low self-esteem, but self-esteem in general—are just different categories. Humility is ultimately a spiritual category and issues of self-esteem are more of a psychological one. Thus you can have a healthy self-esteem or low self-esteem and still be humble or proud in either case. I make this distinction based on how I define humility.


Of course, there is a standard definition of humility (“the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance”), but I seek here to define humility in a deeper way. I don’t want to just say what humility is, but to define it in a way that includes what makes one humble, a definition that I hope better explains the distinction between humility and low self-esteem.


I define humility as the willing acceptance of authority and the conscious renunciation of the enjoying spirit in the act of doing so. Before you shut the page, let me define what I mean by “authority”. I am not referring to submitting to a person because of the authority of their position, but surrendering to the authority of truth or knowledge, including the people who genuinely represent it. This willing acknowledgment of the acceptance of the rule of truth, and those that carry the mantle of truth, is the essence of humility and the fullest renunciation of the selfish or enjoying spirit.


I would like to make a further distinction between the two definitions to help in this discussion. The standard or psychological definition I will call micro-humility, not in the sense that it is trivial, just that the first definition that I described as psychological modesty is not as substantive as the spiritual modesty described in the second one. I call the second one macro-humility, meaning full-surrendered humility at the very core of the soul.


One reason I felt inspired to look at this issue more deeply is my observance of Vaiṣṇava leadership where sometimes we see a person possessing unbecoming controlling propensities and deep devotion for Krishna at the same time. I don’t think this is hypocrisy, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Most people have, to one degree or another, some dichotomy between their spiritual side and the vehicle by which it is expressed, between inspired or deep convictions and their incidental or non-deliberate nature. It’s natural. Yes, people can even do things that exhibit selfishness and control and be overly concerned with how they look or what people think, lacking apparently micro-humility, but when push comes to shove, when conscious decisions are to be made, fully acknowledge that there is an absolute truth. They surrender to the will of God represented by Śrī Guru and the Vaiṣṇavas demonstrating substantive macro-humility.


I can think of many pronounced examples of the dichotomy between the non-integral and essential qualities in a person’s character. One person in particular as an example comes to mind, my friend and god-brother, the late Tamal Krishna Goswami. To be in his presence sometimes could be overbearing because of his nature to control the environment around him, but still from the core of his being he was the humble servant of his spiritual master. When Śrīla Prabhupāda heard complaints of how his fervor and competitive nature had caused disturbance to the temples of North America, Śrīla Prabhupāda called him, immediately disbanded his successful preaching party and ordered him to go to China. It was not easy, but he acceded to that directive, recognizing a rule and authority much greater than his own, showing the macro or substantive humility at the core of his self.


And where you find legitimate macro-humility, when the passion of one’s day and service subsides, you are also likely to find reflections of micro-humility. Although Tamal Krishna Mahārāja always took control, he did not have a self-inflated conception of his self. I never saw or heard him express that he thought himself better than others and even one time remember where he lamented his nature, noting by name many god-brothers, even leaders, and wishing he could be like them in their apparent piety.


I think an important point to note here before we conclude is that like all subtle principles this one can also be misapplied or abused when not understood deeply. Of course, one can’t hide behind this dichotomy describing humility in this way to protect one’s ego or blindly judge others and give them a pass. Yes, too often people who are proud and controlling are not humble on any level, micro or macro.


We shouldn’t also discount genuine saints who by nature are inwardly surrendered souls and also outwardly genuinely humbler than a blade of grass. I think the main point here, however, is something different and is best summed up and expressed by an elderly Vaiṣṇava I met in Bengal. He advised me that there is not an absolute correlation between the inspired side of a Vaiṣṇava and his nature or more ordinary dealings, and that if we get stuck or evaluate one only on his or incidental qualities it will not only dampen one’s appreciation for genuine Vaiṣṇavas but make one prone to offense.


Now we can get back to our original dilemma. How can humility (a virtue) and low self-esteem (a character defect) look the same? When you define humility in its macro or more substantive definition—“the willing acceptance of authority and the conscious renunciation of the enjoying spirit in the act of doing so” —the issues of self-esteem are inconsequential.



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