Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #11 – A Fifth Commandment Solution to a Second Amendment Problem

March 12th, 2018

I was disturbed to hear about the recent school shootings in Florida and the epidemic of school shootings in general. I can’t imagine the pain of a mother burying her own child. I don’t have much to add to the debate on the immediate solution, but the liberality that assault weapons are accessible seems absurd. Obviously, something must be done. Although some form of legislation is needed to help alleviate this endemic problem, I can’t help but think that there is something more deeply amiss at the root that will not be solved by Second Amendment legislation—the increasing widespread frustration in American youth inevitably expressed in some form of destruction no matter their weapon of choice. In saying this, I do not intend to minimize the fact that the damage of that destructive urge can be exponentially increased by one’s weapon of choice, just voicing my concern that the root of the problem should not be neglected and that a comprehensive solution must include and prioritize what I call a “Fifth Commandment Solution”.
 
The Fifth Commandment, of course, states simply “Honor thy father and mother.” I call the pervasiveness of mass shootings a “Fifth Commandment Problem” to highlight that a culture that does not sufficiently focus on and safeguard the influence and importance of the family in the lives of its children will produce a society bursting with resentment and prone to violence regardless of whether guns are restricted or schools become armed fortresses. Krishna voiced similar concerns about the destabilization of family and its effect on society thousands of years ago in the Bhagavad-gītā, specifically referring to what happens to society when the men in the family are lost due to war. [1]
 
Unfortunately today we are seeing in full force what Krishna foresaw in terms of the effect of fatherless families, not due to war, as was Krishna’s concern, but instead due to the general degradation of dharma itself, where the grave duty to properly shelter one’s offspring is selfishly minimized or neglected. This level of irresponsibility in relation to family is a relatively new phenomenon as is the astronomical spike in mass shootings, practically one a day since the New Year. [2]  Can anyone doubt there is a correlation?
 
I was inspired to do a bit of quick research to support this connection. Here are just a few of the things highlighting this unfortunate parallel between the degradation of cultural norms and school violence that I found, beginning with a description of a reputable university sponsored project that researches the matter:
 
“The Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, Brad Wilcox, pointed out in 2013 that nearly every U.S. school shooting that year involved a young male whose parents either divorced or never married in the first place. ‘[A]s the nation seeks to make sense of these senseless shootings, we must also face the uncomfortable truth that turmoil at home all too often accounts for the turmoil we end up seeing spill onto our streets and schools,’ he wrote in his article “Sons of Divorce, School Shooters.” ‘The social scientific evidence about the connection between violence and broken homes could not be clearer.’” [3]
 
Dr. Warren Farrell, The author of “Boys in Crisis” discusses this same correlation:
 
“[…] boys with significant father involvement are not doing these shootings. Without dads as role models, boys’ testosterone is not well channeled. The boy experiences a sense of purposelessness, a lack of boundary enforcement, rudderlessness, and often withdraws into video games and video porn. At worst, when boys’ testosterone is not well channeled by an involved dad, boys become among the world’s most destructive forces. When boys’ testosterone is well channeled by an involved dad, boys become among the world’s most constructive forces.”
 
The absence of parental influence in children’s lives is not the only contributing factor to societal ills. The devaluation of motherhood can also have a profound effect. In this regard, I was recently sent an interview with Erica Kosimar, a psychoanalyst, concerning her book Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. Here is an excerpt about her book:
 
“It’s a problem in our society that all mothers and babies can’t be together for the first year. Our society tells women, ‘Go back to work,’ ‘Do what you want. They’ll be ok.’ And the truth is, children are not ok.
 
The book is basically about a devaluing of mothering in society. I was seeing a devaluing of mothering that was impacting children in my parent guidance practice. I was actually seeing an epidemic level of mental disorders [emphasis mine] in very young children who were being diagnosed and medicated at an earlier and earlier age, and I became concerned. And so I started looking at the research, which backed up what I was seeing in my practice—that the absence of mothers on a daily basis in children’s lives was impacting their mental health.” [4]
 
Broken families across America are producing mentally disturbed and violent children at a rapidly increasing rate. Certainly the liberality to which such people have access to weapons and the level of those weapons’ destructiveness is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately, but ultimately more than anything else America has a “Fifth Commandment Problem.”
 


[1] Bg. 1.39

[2] https://www.massshootingtracker.org/

[3] https://www.thetrumpet.com/16925-another-school-shooter-another-fatherless-child

[4] https://nypost.com/video/working-moms-are-producing-mentally-ill-children-says-author/

 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #10 – Spiritual Fear

March 5th, 2018

My chanting yesterday was exceptionally clear and focused, at least for me. I couldn’t understand why. I woke up in the morning much later than my scheduled time, which upset my regulation. There was nothing of particular note the previous day that should have inspired such devotion. That my meditation was concentrated seemed like mercy. As I continued chanting, the holy name became increasingly prominent in my consciousness. I became the observer and saw myself clearly. I could perceive my insignificance in relation to God in the form of His name. I was humbled and the taste of devotion deepened further, but I became halted by a subtle fear: “I am praying for the consciousness to chant with more taste and that means deepening my humility, but what if God answered my prayers and gave me the humility to accept His will? Could I truly allow the authority of guru and Krishna to fully be the rule of my life? What would I have to give up? What would I have to accept? Am I ready to cross the wall of false ego and totally surrender my selfish desire for independence and control at the lotus feet of Śrī Krishna?” I shuddered at the thought.
 
We are all stalled in our spiritual life by a type of fear, at least subtly or unconsciously, otherwise why would we not immediately take the plunge of full surrender to Krishna? But why hesitate? Surrender, in terms of spiritual life, simply means yielding or submitting to the reign of truth. Isn’t truth that which men and women of character die for and what sets one free? Is not the goal of life to see the truth and live by it? The Absolute Truth is reasonable, compassionate, and only for our benefit, so why fear humbly serving that truth simply because it doesn’t conform to all our attachments or endorse our ego?
 
These feelings of apprehension are so innate that we may even envy the authority of those capable of guiding us towards our ultimate welfare, fearing that our independence will be cramped. Krishna therefore cautions us about resenting the ācārya, one who knows and represents the truth.
 
“One should know the ācārya as Myself and never disrespect him in any way. One should not envy him [emphasis mine], thinking him an ordinary man, for he is the representative of all the demigods.” (Bhāg. 11.17.27)
 
This morning I was somewhat satisfied with my chanting. At least I reached the next step—confronting the wall of false ego that fears losing power and control, the very barrier we all must cross to go deeper at every proceeding level of our spiritual life. I am praying for the courage to sincerely stretch my hands above my head and unconditionally shout to Krishna from the bottom of my heart, “What you want I will do!” Unless our chanting sincerely brings us to that point of surrender, how will the pure holy name ever manifest on our tongue?
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #9 – The Bhakti Center: A Case Study in Empowerment

February 26th, 2018

The Bhakti Center is flourishing. It is beyond the scope of this post to go into the details, but I think it is self-evident. The Center now offers over 2,500 programs a year with especially large attendance for festivals and kīrtanas. It also houses the number one rated vegetarian restaurant in New York City, Divya’s Kitchen. More importantly, hundreds of people, many quite established, are enthusiastically embracing Krishna consciousness through their many śāstra discussion groups and spiritual programs. It also seems to be continually expanding. What is the secret of their success? There may be several reasons, but one thing for sure is their mood of empowerment.
 
Before continuing let me define “empowerment” and “disempowerment” to help you understand exactly what I am referring to. They are my own definitions based on my experience. Empowerment: “To recognize, encourage, and facilitate one’s abilities and then create parameters by which one can work in a greater managerial or social context.” Disempowerment: “To concentrate first and overly on the parameters within which one can work without the requisite acknowledgement and encouragement of one’s potential.” Disempowerment is also called bureaucracy.
 
Here is a brief template of the Bhakti Center’s success in empowerment. Radhanath Swami and other senior leaders at the Bhakti Center saw the potential of the second generation Hare Krishna devotees. For example Vīrabhadra Rāma, who was born in the Hare Krishna Movement and working in New York City at the time, was encouraged to participate in the development of the project and by that encouragement eventually increased his commitment to the level of initiation. His potential for leadership was soon recognized and he was encouraged to become the Executive Director of the Bhakti Center.
 
It is interesting to note the board of directors for the Bhakti Center invested in him the full authority to manage the project while still keeping full responsibility as a board to oversee that the project remains healthy within the parameters Śrīla Prabhupāda set. They didn’t fall into the bureaucratic trap of delegating the responsibility for him to manage, but keeping the authority for themselves, bogging down decision-making and discouraging initiative. They weren’t disappointed with the result.
 
Vīrabhadra Rāma worked at forming a team of mostly qualified young devotees based on a foundation of mutual trust to assist him in managing the project. As he was recognized and empowered to manage, he similarly empowered others. As a result many qualified people stepped forward, working cooperatively and effectively to push the forward the Bhakti Center’s mission. There seems to be no limit to what a project can do if a good leader is empowered and empowering. While initially such a leader has to be involved with the nitty-gritty, or whatever needs to be done, inevitably competent people eager for service will step forward to cover all services. Eventually there will be more people eager to serve than there are positions to fill.
 
Vīrabhadra told me recently that the greatest challenge now at the Bhakti Center is to engage and empower the many qualified people that are stepping forward spiritually. I think in many ways this parallels the way Śrīla Prabhupāda managed in ten short years to go from a storefront on 26 2nd Avenue to a large worldwide movement, by seeing the qualities in young people, trusting them, and offering them fresh challenges.
 
Having observed leadership in ISKCON over the last forty years and having been a manager myself for over twenty years, I have come to the firm conclusion that an empowering manager should be out of job within two years. I had mentioned that to Vīrabhadra Rāma when he first took up the job. By the phrase “out of a job” I am certainly not suggesting that a leader relinquishes any of his or her responsibilities, but within two years others should cover most of his or her initial duties so the leader is free to expand the project in other ways. When Vīrabhadra Rāma first took up the post of Executive Director just to cover the needful, he had to relinquish almost 80 percent of his clientele in a very successful life coaching and marma therapy business. I see now, however, that he is free to travel for business when needed to meet his family needs, lead extended pilgrimages to India, deepen his spiritual life and personal study, and concentrate on new initiatives to expand the project.
 
There is no limit to what can be accomplished when we have this vision and detachment to “recognize, encourage, and facilitate one’s abilities” – especially the next generation of devotees. This was Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mood. The Bhakti Center is a good study of what happens when we follow his path of empowerment. [1]
 
 


[1] “Our leaders shall be careful not to kill the spirit of enthusiastic service, which is individual and spontaneous and voluntary. They should try to always generate some atmosphere of fresh challenges to the devotees, so that they will agree enthusiastically to rise and meet it. This is the art of management: to draw out spontaneous loving spirit of sacrificing some energy for Krishna.” Śrīla Prabhupāda letter, 22 December 1972, Bombay
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #8 – The “I” Word

February 19th, 2018

Quick! Think of the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the following word: Institution! Bureaucratic. Restrictive. How about another “I” word: ISKCON! Constraint. Impersonal. Perhaps not all will react this way, but has anyone reading this spontaneously blurted out freedom, initiative, or creativity? I doubt it, because institutions by nature set limits on what we can do, and we generally tend to dislike anything that restricts our independence and expression. But is the angst we feel when we hear the “I” word the legitimate fear of an intrusive monolith of conformity, or is it just the adolescent in us that wants unconditional freedom? Can we step back from our prejudice to make a detached judgment? Simply put, are institutions a blessing or a curse?
 
Curse
 
An institution may start out with a noble objective, but inevitably those dedicated to running the institution tend to deify it. The institution then gradually supersedes the objective for which it was started. For example, a religious institution may start for the purpose of spreading compassion and love of God, but wind up practically making institutional loyalty the standard of spiritual advancement. As a result corporate attainment (rather than spiritual) becomes conflated with genuine devotion and people tend to aspire for position rather than purity. Those outside the institution also become judged negatively simply because they have a different affiliation. This inevitably leads to offense. Ironically, sectarianism and enmity, the enemies of spirituality, become the norm.
 
As an institution tends to value the corporation over the individual, its integrity can also be compromised. One such area would be its system of justice. Dedicated people who err, or who are just accused, too often live in fear knowing that expedience trumps jurisprudence when justice appears to not serve the institution.  And more often it is the victims that suffer as “venerable” institutions hush up their problems for the sake of their brand, fostering an atmosphere conducive to harassment and abuse.
 
Usually an institution naturally follows the inspiration and teachings of a charismatic leader. In order to share and preserve the mission, that leader, or his followers, may establish an institution. Unfortunately this is not without risk. The very same rules created to maintain the institution often stifle it by cramping the creativity of its most dynamic people – ironically the people who most emulate the initiative and charisma of their founder. Institutions are a curse!
 
Blessing
 
Naturally an institution seeks common interest at the sacrifice of individual desire, but is that necessarily bad or mean tyranny? Cultured people reasonably conform to values above their own desires in social contracts meant to serve a common interest whether it is partnership, family, community, or the institution they join. In fact, isn’t that the difference between a community of people and a crowd, the former being shared interest and the latter only a mass of individual interests?  Of course, there is always a risk of exploitation and disempowerment when we sacrifice some of our independence, even for the common good, but isn’t there a risk in any worthy endeavor? The risk of institutionalizing values is obvious, but isn’t the risk even greater if we don’t support institutions that share our values? And without establishing an institution to preserve a mission’s legacy, the mission itself will die. Tom Wolfe once criticized what he called the “me generation”, the children of the Sixties, for “they will never understand duty over self.” Is prejudice against the concept of institution itself just another form of the same ignorance?
 
Rather than just delineate in detail the benefits of socializing and sharing our values, I think we can just honestly look at what we gain from the institutions we join, whether they be social, educational, or religious. Would we be better off if they didn’t exist? For example, when I look at ISKCON through the years and shudder at the occasional disempowerment and injustice, I also consider the immense gifts we receive from the books they publish that we study, to the saintly devotees and spiritual centers born of ISKCON that nourish our devotion. Institutions are a blessing!
 
Blessing or Curse?
 
Institutions are like the water in a lake that keeps a boat afloat. Without the water the boat is useless, but at the same time if the water enters the boat it sinks. Similarly, while institutions are essential in supporting our life, they are also potentially harmful when too intrusive. Conclusion: Institutions are a blessing and a curse, but only a fool is happy without any.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #7 – Dropping Dead at the Finish Line/Yoga of Thank You Part II

February 12th, 2018

I just finished a marathon of guiding visiting pilgrims, sometimes hosting two or three groups at a time. And what do you do after a marathon? You catch your breath and not much else. That’s what I have been doing, more or less, for the last two days. As a result, my strict schedule, which includes time for writing Monday Morning Greetings, has been a bit disrupted. It’s already Wednesday morning and I have not yet begun the next one. And it is not just the physical act of writing that has been put off, the quality and intensity of chanting has waned a bit, which affects my inspiration. Of course, I always maintain my vows, but it’s the regulation and focus on the Holy Name that purifies the mind to create a conduit for new ideas and realizations to write about. Śrīla Prabhupāda once remarked that he did not write his books; Krishna did! That’s bhakti. I took that to mean that one may make an effort, but ultimately the intelligence is given by Krishna in reciprocation with one’s constant engagement in devotional service. I get a small glimpse of what he meant when I am focused in my chanting and writing. I am sometimes surprised that every week I come up with a new inspiration and an essay is produced. This week that experience has been confirmed in another way. Nothing is coming. So if my readers will allow me, I am taking this week off to recapture my regulation and focus and get back to my standard of chanting.
 
For this week’s Monday Morning Greeting I have saved something special. A few weeks ago when I wrote “The Yoga of Thank You” one of our readers, Hari Pārṣada, forwarded me an essay he wrote on the same subject. Hari Pārṣada, is a humble soul that attends my Puri Yatra every year and now one of the presenters. He is also a very accomplished Sanskrit scholar. His forte however, is not just the language, but his ability to clearly conceptualize and express the philosophy based on śāstra. Don’t miss his essay below on gratitude. It is a comprehensive, lucid, and brilliant analysis of gratitude from śāstra.

 


 

Living a life of Gratitude
 
(Notes from a class given by Hari Pārṣada Dās on 16 July 2017 at the home of Narottam Prabhu and Manjari Mataji.)
 

Beginning with maṅgalācaraṇa
 
Beginning the program with maṅgalācaraṇa (auspicious invocations) is a really good practice. The first verse we usually utter is —
 
oṁ ajñāna-timirāndhasya jñānāñjana-śalākayā
cakṣur unmīlitaṁ yena tasmai śrī-gurave namaḥ
 
Translation: I was suffering from the night-blindness of ignorance, and through the application of the ointment of knowledge, Śrī Guru illuminated my eyes. Obeisances to Śrī-guru.
 
Maṅgalācaraṇa usually is done to ensure auspiciousness for the entire program, but it also serves another purpose.
 
Maṅgalācaraṇa is a reassurance for the speaker — that he/she is not an orphan in his/her spiritual life. For the speaker, maṅgalācaraṇa is a way to express gratitude for the wonderful support he/she has continued to receive through the paramparā. The speaker feels confident that whatever will be spoken will be free of errors, relevant and will touch the hearts of the listeners as long as it is coming from the teachings of the previous ācāryas.
 
Perhaps this is the reason why all ācāryas count their blessings at the beginning of their works. Srila Raghunath Das Goswami writes gratefully at the beginning of his composition named Muktā-carita:
 
nāma-śreṣṭhaṁ manum api śacīputram atra svarūpaṁ
rūpaṁ tasyāgrajam uru-purīṁ māthurīṁ goṣṭhavāṭīm
rādhā-kuṇḍaṁ girivaram aho rādhikā-mādhavāśāṁ
prāpto yasya prathita-kṛpayā śrī-guruṁ taṁ nato’smi
 
Translation: I offer my obeisances to Śrī Guru by whose abundant mercy I have obtained the topmost name of Hari, the dīkṣā mantras, the association of Sacidevi’s son, Svarupa Damodara Gosvami, Srila Rupa Goswami and his elder brother Sri Sanatana Goswami. Besides this I have attained the topmost abode of Sri Mathura. In Mathura I have attained the Vrindavan forest as well as Sri Govardhan and Radha Kunda. Most importantly, by the mercy of that Śrī Guru I have obtained the hope of rendering service to Sri Radhika-Madhava. (Muktā-carita, Verse 4)
 
Not only at the beginning, the ācāryas count their blessings at the end of their works too. For example, Srila Vishwanath Chakravarti Thakura says at the very end of his commentary on the Śrīmad-Bhagavatam:
 
vyākhyāsya bhaktyā gamyā sā śrī-guroḥ kṛpayekṣyate
tasmān namo namas tasmai gurave gurave namaḥ
 
Translation: This commentary of mine can be understood only by bhakti, and that bhakti expects the mercy of Śrī-Guru. Therefore, I repeatedly offer obeisances to Guru, who is guru (heavy with realization).
 
What more? The ācāryas count their blessings even in the middle of their works. While commencing every section of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ, Srila Rupa Goswami remembers and glorifies his śikṣā-guru and elder brother Srila Sanatana Goswami:
 
sanātana-tanur jayati
 
Translation: All glories to him who has taken a body by the name of Sanatana Goswami. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ, First verse of Southern Direction)
 
sanātana-mūrtis tanotu puruṣottamas tuṣṭim
 
Translation: May the best among men named Sanatana Goswami bestow spontaneous devotion unto me. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ, First verse of Western Direction)
 
Thus in our sampradāya, we have auspicious invocations in the beginning, in the end as well as in the middle. The great grammarian Patañjali says:
 
maṅgalādīni maṅgala-madhyāni maṅgalāntāni hi śāstrāṇi prathante vīra-puruṣāṇi ca bhavanti āyuṣmat-puruṣāṇi ca. adhyetāraḥ ca siddhārthāḥ yathā syuḥ iti.
 
Translation: Those ācāryas who compose literature that have grateful auspicious invocations at the beginning, middle and end of their compositions become extremely powerful and long-lived. The students of such literature obtain fulfillment of all desires. (Mahābhāṣya on Aṣṭādhyāyī 1.3.1) This is the reason why Gaudiya Vaiṣṇavas are such an immense force in the domain of Indian spiritualism today. We never forget to count our blessings.
 
 

Basic Definitions
 
What is gratitude? The Sanskrit term is kṛta-jñatā, which literally means ‘acknowledgement of what has been done for us’. A grateful person is known as kṛta-jña, or a favor (kṛta) acknowledger (jña).
 
An ungrateful person is known as kṛta-ghna. This term literally means — one who destroys the acknowledgement of what has been done for him/her.
 
 

Immensely indebted individuals
 
In the modern world, a social theory named ‘individualism’ states that each individual has total independence from another individual. Nobody is supposed to depend on anyone else. Nobody is answerable to others. According to this theory, the interests of the individual are superior to the interests of the community.
 
The Vedic approach is quite the opposite. From the Vedic perspective, each individual in the human form of life is heavily indebted, right from their birth in this world.
 
The first indebtedness is towards parents. Krishna expresses the indebtedness of every individual towards their parents in the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam (10.45.5):
 
sarvārtha-sambhavo deho janitaḥ poṣito yataḥ
na tayor yāti nirveśaṁ pitror martyaḥ śatāyuṣā
 
Translation: With one’s body one can acquire all goals of life, and it is one’s parents who give the body birth and nourishment. Therefore no mortal man can repay his debt to his parents, even if he serves them for a full lifetime of a hundred years.
 
In totality, every individual in the human form of life is considered to be indebted to the following five entities —

(a) pitṛ (parents/ancestors), who give us birth
(b) devatās (gods) who manage our bodily functions
(c) ṛṣis (sages), who teach us Vedic knowledge
(d) atithi (guests), because we too becomes guests for someone as soon as we leave home
(e) bhūtas (other living entities in general, for the entire ecological system is needed for our survival)

 
 
Payback is not optional
 
In order to relieve ourselves of the indebtedness towards these five entities, the śāstras prescribe five yajñas:

(a) pitṛ-yajña (offering regular oblations to one’s forefathers)
(b) deva-yajña (offering daily worship to the gods)
(c) ṛṣi-yajña (studying the scriptures daily and teaching others)
(d) atithi-yajña (welcoming any guest who has arrived at our home)
(e) bhūta-yajña (giving charity to deserving people)

If one does not perform these yajñas then one falls into a tremendous debt of karma. Krishna personally declares such a person to be a thief:
 
tair dattān apradāyaibhyo yo bhuṅkte stena eva saḥ
 
Translation: He who lives ungratefully without performing yajñas is certainly a thief. (Bhagavad-gītā 3.12)
 
Why should a person who did not show gratefulness towards parents/ancestors be gifted with good parents in the next life? Why should a person who does not show gratefulness towards his guru be gifted with a bona-fide guru in his next life?
 
 

Bhakti is the perfect payback for debts
 
If one cannot payback his/her debt towards the above-mentioned five entities by performing the five yajñas specified above, then the only other way is to perform bhakti with the topmost degree of surrender.
 
devarṣi-bhūtāpta-nṛṇāṁ pitṝṇāṁ
na kiṅkaro nāyam ṛṇī ca rājan
sarvātmanā yaḥ śaraṇaṁ śaraṇyaṁ
gato mukundaṁ parihṛtya kartam
 
Translation: One who has given up all material duties and has taken full shelter of the lotus feet of Mukunda, who offers shelter to all, is not indebted to the devas (demigods), ṛṣis (great sages), bhūtas (ordinary living beings), āptas (relatives), friends, mankind or even one’s pitṛs (forefathers) who have passed away. Since all such classes of living entities are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, one who has surrendered to the Lord’s service has no need to serve such persons separately. (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 11.5.41)
 
 

Realizing indebtedness the difficult way
 
It is only after being cheated in life that some individuals understand the value of genuine objects. One who has been cheated by his/her spouse can understand the value of a faithful spouse. One who has been cheated by a guru can understand the value of a genuine guru.
 
In my childhood my Sanskrit teacher Sri Vishnukant privately once narrated a story to me. (At this point, a funny story of an ungrateful king and cheating guru was narrated. Link for story can be found at the bottom of this article). Therefore one who has received genuine parents, spouse or guru should always remain grateful.
 
 
Gratitude is to be expressed publicly
 
Any gratitude which stays only in the mind and does not express itself directly is not true gratitude at all. In almost all religious denominations, the open expression of gratitude is considered to be mandatory.
 
For example, when the Jewish community gathers for their standing prayer service (Tefilat Ha Amidah), the audience is supposed to stay silent for all prayers and only respond with ‘Amen’ after each prayer. This is because the Rabbi is praying on their behalf and they need not pray along with him.
 
The only exception to this rule is the prayer named Modim de-Rabbanan. This is a prayer for expressing gratitude, and only in this prayer, everyone is supposed to express gratitude together along with the Rabbi. A 17th century commentator named Rabbi Elijah Spira explains this by saying that the expression of thanks cannot be delegated and performed through someone else. It has to be expressed personally.
 
Srila Jiva Goswami’s wonderfully gives all the credit for his scholarship to his gurus and takes all faults upon himself. He says in the beginning of the Krama-sandarbha commentary:
 
yad atra skhalitaṁ kiñcid vidvāṁsaḥ pūrayantu tat
yad atra sauṣṭhavaṁ kiñcid tad guror eva me na hi
 
Translation: Whatever errors are there in this commentary, may the learned souls correct it, and whatever good is found here belongs to my guru, not to me.
 
 

Expressing Gratitude is Sanātana-dharma (eternal religion)
 
In the Rāmāyaṇa, the sage Vālmīki says that expressing gratitude is actually a limb of sanātana-dharma:
 
kṛte ca pari-kartavyaṁ eṣa dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ
 
Translation: One should acknowledge a favor and try to pay it back. This is sanātana-dharma. (Rāmāyaṇa 5.1.113)
 
 

God himself is eternally grateful
 
Gratitude is such an intrinsic part of sanātana-dharma that God himself adorns it as one of his eternal qualities. Srila Rupa Goswami says in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ that one of the 64 eternal qualities of Krishna is — kṛta-jña (he is grateful).
 
Srila Rupa Goswami first defines a grateful person:
 
kṛtajñaḥ syād abhijño yaḥ kṛta-sevādi-karmaṇām
 
Translation: A grateful person is he who fully acknowledges the services, favors etc. that others have performed for him. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 2.1.91)
 
Then he gives an example of a statement where Krishna is expressing his gratitude:
 
ṛṇam etat pravṛddhaṁ me hṛdayān nāpasarpati
yad govindeti cukrośa kṛṣṇā māṁ dūra-vāsinam

 
Translation: [Krishna says], “My heart feels increasingly indebted by a debt that does not seem to go away. This is the debt of gratitude which I accrued when Draupadi loudly cried out to me even though I was situated far away in Dwarka. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 2.1.92)
 
 

Even the Supreme Lord bows down in gratitude
 
Gratitude is such a great quality that even the Supreme Lord becomes a servant of his devotees out of gratitude. Out of all the monkeys in Sugrīva’s army only Hanuman found out where Sītādevī was. Sri Rama then said out of deep gratitude:
 
eṣa sarvasvabhūtas tu pariṣvaṅgo hanūmataḥ
mayā kālam imaṁ prāpya dattas tasya mahātmanaḥ
 
Translation: This embrace of mine is all that I can offer to this great soul Hanuman, for this is the only thing I have right now. (Rāmāyaṇa 6.1.13)
 
Krishna too makes a similar statement to the gopīs:
 
na pāraye ’haṁ niravadya-saṁyujāṁ
sva-sādhu-kṛtyaṁ vibudhāyuṣāpi vaḥ
yā mābhajan durjara-geha-śṛṅkhalāḥ
saṁvṛścya tad vaḥ pratiyātu sādhunā
 
Translation: I am not able to repay my debt for your spotless service, even within a lifetime of Brahma. Your connection with me is beyond reproach. You have worshiped me, cutting off all domestic ties, which are difficult to break. Therefore please let your own glorious deeds be your compensation. (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 10.32.22)
 
 

Therefore we should all be grateful
 
Whether it is ordinary life or devotional life, we should all be grateful. Especially in devotional life we must be grateful. Nobody here is a self-made individual. We should not be egoists and should not avoid giving all due credits to Vaiṣṇavas from whom we have learnt anything. The more we try to be a self-appointed sādhu, the more we behave like an orphan, the more we will fall in our own eyes, and spiritual life will remain far away.
 
Plagiarizing the works of other devotees, copying movie tunes to make kīrtanas without taking the effort to learn genuine rāgas and other forms of ungrateful behavior may bring us ephemeral fame, but it can never be pleasing to Krishna. The Supreme Lord in the form of Lakṣmaṇa says:
 
brahmaghne ca surāpe ca core bhagna-vrate tathā
niṣkṛtir vihitā loke kṛtaghne nāsti niṣkṛtiḥ
 
Translation: There are atonements suggested in scriptures for a person who kills a brāhmaṇa, a person who drinks alcohol, who steals wealth who willingly breaks a vow. However, there is no atonement anywhere for someone who is ungrateful. (Rāmāyaṇa 4.34.12)
 
 

Conclusion
 
The saintly souls always express gratitude for even the smallest of favors:
 
prathama-vayasi pītaṁ toyam alpaṁ smarantaḥ
śirasi nihita-bhārā nārikelā narāṇām
dadati jalam analpāsvādam ājīvitāntaṁ
nahi kṛtam upakāraṁ sādhavo vismaranti
 
Translation: Remembering the small amount of water that was sprinkled on it in its childhood by a kind person, the coconut tree carries the load of coconuts for all humans and gives them sumptuous sweet water throughout its life. Indeed, saintly souls never forget even a small favor [and dedicate their lives to repaying it back]. — (Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāra)
 
 

Credits
 
I would like to give all credit to my guru-janas, especially my dīkṣā-guru Sri Srimad Radha Govinda Das Goswami Maharaja, to my śikṣā-gurus Sri Srimad Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja and H.G. Madhavananda Prabhu. Whatever I am today and whatever good qualities I possess are gifts given by them.
 
Thank you to Manjari Mataji and Narottam Prabhu for kindly extending their warm hospitality to all devotees. Thank you to everyone in the audience. Between the speaker and the audience, the audience is more important. This is because if the speaker goes missing, another speaker will be appointed, but if the audience goes missing then the entire program will have to be cancelled.
 
Link for Funny Story of the Ungrateful King and the Cheating Pandit:
 
http://hpdjottings.blogspot.in/2017/07/the-ungrateful-king-and-cheating-pundit.html
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #6 – The Desire for Fame and the Death of Bhakti

February 5th, 2018

I am not a hellfire-and-brimstone-type preacher, but I read a brash statement this week that I found  too important not to share:

 

“Even if one can give up all material desires, the desire for fame is very difficult to give up. This desire for fame, which I compared to stool, is the root cause of all anarthas. Therefore, one should carefully avoid touching this stool-like desire for fame.”

 

The statement was quoted from Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī’s Hari-bhakti-vilāsa—the main guidebook for Vaiṣṇava behavior—by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, who generally goes out of his way to explain things in the most digestible way.  Śrīla Bhaktivinoda was discussing different types of prayāsa (useless endeavors) as obstacles to developing bhakti and described pratiṣṭhā, the desire for fame, as the lowest of them all.

 

As if this statement wasn’t heavy enough, Bhaktivinoda follows it with a sober warning: “This instruction is very serious. The devotee should follow this exclusive duty with special care.”

 

I was immediately struck by these grave instructions. I am a writer and teacher, and my popularity is increasing. How can I not enjoy that? It is certainly better than being the object of scorn . . . or is it?  How much am I doing for Krishna, to please Him, and how much is fueled by a pernicious desire for fame—how many “likes” I get on Facebook—which is at the core of being grounded in the material world? Am I actually free from that? Is it even possible?

 

These instructions both hit my heart and stirred my thoughts. Why is pratiṣṭhā, the desire for fame, so particularly pernicious for bhakti? More than anything else, the root cause of bondage to this world is the false ego (ahakāra), the enjoyment one seeks in the identity of superiority, which plays out in this world in the desire for fame and distinction.

 

We can see this in the plethora of “You got talent” shows, or in today’s sports, in which ecstatic victors repeatedly and deliriously gesture and chant “We’re number one!” But more importantly, we can see a more subtle manifestation of these desires in our own motives in life. They are certainly there lurking, and I don’t get a pass.

 

When I was initially asked to accept disciples, I balked. On one hand, I saw the necessity and śāstric evidence to take up the responsibility, but on the other hand, I saw how the opportunity was stirring my desires for pratiṣṭhā (fame) and pūjā (worship). When I put the matter before a learned Vaiṣṇava, he encouraged me but gave a stiff warning: “Don’t think you are guru; do it as a service to your guru.” Good advice.

 

As I thought more about the matter and reflected on the challenges that I, or anyone who as a service has to lead and consequently attracts distinction, I came up with a three-fold safeguard from the insidious infection of pratiṣṭhā:

 

  1. Never act in a way that is impelled by a desire for fame. Be especially careful how you use social media.
  2. When thoughts of distinction arise, give them up and reflect honestly on your actual position.
  3. Strive ardently for devotion. When true devotion arises, one will gradually garner distaste for fame, which impedes the devotion’s sweetness.

 

While I am on the topic of hellfire and brimstone let me close this Monday Morning Greeting with words from Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī:

 

“O Mind! How can pure divine love appear in my heart as long as the shameless dog-eating outcast woman of the desire for false prestige [pratiṣṭhā] is audaciously dancing there?” (Manaśikṣā verse 7)

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #5 – Blank Page Blues

January 29th, 2018

Tuesday
 
I am sitting here trying to write the next Monday Morning Greetings. My page is blank. No matter how hard I try nothing comes. I admit defeat. Today I will simply fill the page with that admission. The problem is clear. Intense travel last month has thrown off my regulation. My sādhana has suffered. And without that it seems impossible for me to come up with something substantial every week. It is the early morning now, my allotted time for writing, but I realize it is more important to leave this task and begin chanting. Hopefully with a stronger practice, I will have something more to offer tomorrow.
 
Wednesday
 
Yesterday I was able to lock in, more or less, to my regular sādhana. Inspiration came. It is always like that. In fact, this process of garnering inspiration to write is in itself the topic I feel inspired to share. The ability to say anything of minimal merit in bhakti comes only by Krishna’s mercy in reciprocation for one’s fixed devotional service, especially the chanting of Hare Krishna. Without that, I have nothing to say. Immediately four references came to mind to support my thinking:
 
From the Gītā:
 
“To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Bg. 10.10)
 
From Caitanya-caritāmṛta:
 
The devotees assembled in Puri were astounded by the beauty and depth of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s poetry. In fact, his poetical compositions were so profound that they even revealed the inner thoughts of Lord Caitanya. They began inquiring among themselves how such compositions were even possible. Śrī Caitanya revealed the answer later to Rāmānanda Rāya—that He had met Śrī Rūpa previously at Prayāga and was attracted and satisfied by his attitude of service. [1]
 
From Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta:
 
A pious professor came to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta to resolve some deep intellectual quandary. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was busy when he came, so he asked the professor to help polish the brass in the deity room until he was free to speak to him. After an hour Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta called him and informed the professor that he was still busy, but if he could kindly return the next day surely he would answer his question. The professor agreed. When the professor came the next day, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was again busy and once more directed the professor to the deity room to polish the brass, but assured him that this time he would definitely meet him. True to his word an hour later he summoned the professor and informed him that he was ready to answer any inquiry. The professor, however, surprisingly replied that there was no need. He explained how suddenly in the morning while he was polishing brass he had an epiphany and the answer came. Of course, dialectic is a very important aspect of devotional service. What the story illustrates, however, is that grace invoked by service is also an essential aspect of enlightenment and revelation.
 
Friday
 
It took some time but my practices are coming back to standard. Many ideas are coming. Next week I just have to choose one of them. There is an interesting discussion on pratiṣṭhā prayāsā, over endeavor for fame, which Sanātana Gosvāmī at the conclusion of the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa writes is the greatest obstacle to bhakti. Perhaps I will write about that. I also am inspired to describe the spiritual world according to Śrī Rūpa’s revelation about the nāṭaka śāstra, the scripture pertaining to the composition of drama. Some time I would also like to write a provocative piece entitled “The Poison of Post-modernism”. For now I will just finish editing this. By the mercy of the holy name I no longer have the Blank Page Blues.
 


 
[1] Cc, Antya-līlā 1.197
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #4 – Logos, Logic, and Prasādam

January 22nd, 2018

Have you ever gone on a “word journey”? I made the term up, but I really think it is an apropos name for my engagement with the word “logos”. That journey began when I heard it used in a particular context in a lecture and was inspired to begin a search for the root of its meaning. I then began a correspondence about the term with a friend who is a professor of Philosophy. I thought a lot about it since and feel that I gained some very important and practical insights from that journey that I would like to share.
 
Here is the basic notion of logos, as my friend presented it in our conversation:
 
“Originally, ‘logos’ meant something like rationale, reasoning, or account. So if you gave a speech or made a case for something that would be your logos. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus adapted it to be the term for a divine world order, the ordering of the world around a rational principle. So, if you were in touch with the fundamental logos, then you could see the world in harmony. If not, it would seem confused and disjointed. Christian authors adapted this idea to say that the logos is God’s divine will that orders the world. And when they say, “Jesus is the WORD,” “WORD” translates “logos” from Greek.”
 
Now let me summarize what I learned from this journey about the meaning of logos.
 

  1. The universe is rationally ordered according to God’s plan.
  2. When you act according to His plan there is harmony.
  3. When you act against this order there is chaos and suffering.
  4. God’s rational plan for the universal order is expressed in words. Such knowledge is called Veda or based on śāstra (scripture.)
  5. Therefore the most important service in society is to create order by the clear conceptualization and expression of knowledge that creates peace and harmony.

 
Based on these principles I also came up with what I think is a reasonable definition of logos that I need to share before explaining my insights: the divine rational order of the world and the knowledge or words that express that. Now I will share the practical insights I gained from this study.
 
Every year I host a retreat in Puri, which is where I am writing this article now. I take pains to organize every detail of the retreat because I have the strong conviction that there is a way or “order” to do things and when executed properly there is harmony and ultimately happiness. While overseeing the retreat in this way I realized how connected this type of effort is to the concept of logos that I was meditating on. The activity of the retreat that best struck me as a way to highlight this correlation was the serving of prasādam. In that regard, I have made an outline below showing that correlation:
 
Prasādam Serving and Logos at the Puri Yātrā
 

  1. The universe is rationally ordered according to God’s plan.

 
There is a right way to serve prasādam that I learned by living in India for over forty years. I believe even practical details like this are ultimately embedded in logos or the divine rational order of the universe.
 

  1. When you act according to His plan there is harmony.

 
The prasādam was served properly and people thus enjoyed the prasādam without anxiety in addition to feeling served or loved in the process.
 

  1. When you act against this order there is chaos and world suffering.

 
Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but just one person who serves improperly would have impeded the quick and gracious flow of serving and caused anxiety.
 

  1. God’s rational plan for the universal order is expressed in words. Such knowledge is called Veda or based on śāstra (scripture).

 
There is a proper way to serve prasādam that is carried down in word or oral tradition in India that I learned from observing the beauty and efficiency of the process by living there for over forty years.
 

  1. Therefore the most important service in society is to create order by the clear conceptualization and expression of knowledge that creates peace and harmony.

 
Before we began I personally instructed the servers on the proper method to serve prasādam. I then carefully supervised the serving to make sure they understood how to do it properly. Notice that we have used language and verbal directions inspired and directed by divine order to create harmony and peace.
 
Below are just a few of the main principles I emphasized.
 

  1. The cook will instruct people how much to serve of each item and in what order.
  2. The servers will carefully and quickly place the modest amount directed by the cook on people’s plates in a pleasant mood of service and move on to the next person.
  3. Ideally the servers should move in a way so they can serve quickly. Best therefore if they can remain bent at the waist so they can proceed without having to bend again and again slowing and impeding the serve out. At all costs they should not put the bucket down to engage with any person disrupting the flow of service.
  4. If people sitting are not conversant in the culture of prasādam serving and demand huge helpings when we first go around, politely tell them that seconds will come, or if they insist just give them a little more and move on.
  5. Remember that the joy of prasādam is not just the sensual experience but also the exchange of love that people feel when being served nicely, which means efficiently and graciously.

 
The result of following guidelines in serving prasādam is that it is served quickly, graciously, without waste and peacefully. Doing it with these principles in mind not only pleases the devotees but also invokes Krishna’s grace on the assembly. Of course this is just one example, but the principle remains in all activities – that if things are done properly reflecting an order that is imbedded within the universe by God there will be harmony.
 
Conclusion: By tapping into the proper ordering of things, and by properly instructing those who are willing to learn about the proper ordering of things, we can be centered on the Lord’s will in any activity and create harmony and joy for our self and others.
 
 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #3 – Happy Small

January 15th, 2018

When Saint Augustine, the inimitable Catholic theologian, was asked to name the most important practices to achieve love of God, he thought for a while, answered that there are three, and named them: Humility, Humility, and Humility!

 

I loved Augustine’s answer but had a lingering doubt: What exactly is humility? The dictionary defines humility as having a modest or low opinion of one’s self-importance, but I was not satisfied. A good definition must be precise. It cannot be too inclusive and thus encompass things that it should not. One who has low self-esteem and one who is co-dependent also have a low opinion of their self-importance, but how can a psychological aberration be included within humility? But if they do not constitute humility, then what is the difference between humility and these two conditions?

 

I came up with a simple definition of humility that I think is more precise and thus excludes psychological aberrations such as low self-esteem and co-dependence.  I define humility as “happy small.” In other words, a humble person has a modest opinion of him- or herself but is not disturbed, whereas someone with low self-esteem is miserable about their self-conception. Many psychological reasons may explain why a person with low self-esteem has such a negative outlook, but the ultimate difference between a person who lacks self-esteem and a humble person is that the one with low self-esteem is negative about their lack of self-importance and a humble person is not. A person with low self-esteem is seeking self-importance and thus feels disturbed—and unworthy—in regard to their perceived lack of importance, whereas one who is truly humble embraces their humble position out of a desire to serve others. Therefore, unlike a person with low self-esteem, a humble person sees no dichotomy between their self-ideal and their current position; there is no psychological aberration in their modest feelings.

 

Keep in mind that this is not an either-or proposition. One can at different times have feelings of both humility and low self-esteem. But one should do one’s best to make a distinction between them.

 

What about a person who is co-dependent? Are they not happy to serve their beloved? Isn’t that happy small? Yes, one may feel a certain pleasure in submitting to someone they accepts as greater, but in contrast to one with true humility they does not feel small or humble. Rather, because the person’s identity is linked to someone, their prestige is enhanced and their submission, or so-called humility, is connected to the ego, the desire to have distinction.

 

As these concepts are subtle, and I have long searched for an example to illustrate them. I thought of a good one: Happy small is like the mood of a young child in the arms of his or her mother. As the child loves the mother and the mother is a worthy shelter, the child feeling subordinate is a positive experience. Again, there is no dichotomy between the child’s self-ideal and his or her actual position of dependence, because it is natural for a small child to seek the shelter of a loving mother. Also, because that subordination facilitates feeling loved, the child feels worthy in this dependence. A child’s feeling of happy small is thus analogous to a soul’s humble relationship to God—and more generally to all genuine loving relationships. As stated in Augustine’s Christian tradition, unless one becomes like a child, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

I can see that this is a deep topic, far beyond the scope of this week’s column. I have tried to make these distinctions because in this world of proliferating abuse and low self-esteem people tend to suspect humility, fearing weakness and exploitation, when in fact humility is a sign of strength. Only a humble person can resist the impulse of the ego. Humility is a virtue. Let us all pray to feel happy small and honor the dignity of our humble souls.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #2 – The Yoga of Thank You

January 8th, 2018

When I first read the second canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam a particular section in the fifth chapter struck me. Nārada inquires from his father, Lord Brahmā, about who is God and Lord Brahmā thanks his son profusely for doing so.
 
“My dear boy Nārada being merciful to all (including me) you have asked all these questions […]” (Bhāg. 2.5.9)
 
Śrīla Prabhupāda elaborates on the deep gratitude a spiritual teacher feels when an eager student gives that teacher an opportunity to speak about Krishna. He goes so far as deeming this the foundational principle of being a spiritual teacher:
 
“[…] Thus the devotee feels satisfied when such an opportunity is offered to him. This is the basic principle of missionary activities.” (Bhāg.  2.5.9, purport)
 
Every first Monday in January I ponder whether it is possible for me to come up with a new inspiration every week for the coming year and then find the time to write a quality essay on it? I become inspired to continue, however, when I consider the eagerness of my audience to read my weekly posts. So I thank all of you for engaging me in this service of writing Monday Morning Greetings.
 
I wanted this posting to be the first of the year because I feel there is no better subject to begin the New Year than gratitude. I miscalculated the date so I am posting it today, the second Monday of the year. Anyway, here are some thoughts on gratitude to begin the New Year.
 
Gratitude is the first budding symptom of the true self.
 
The goal of yoga is to live in the self. What is the self and what are its symptoms? We know the symptoms of the false self, the myriad of selfish desires and concerns connected to the conception of enjoyment and control. I thus think one of the symptoms of the true self must be genuine feelings that express the opposite, feelings such as gratitude. In gratitude we humbly acknowledge the mercy of receiving something that we value that is beyond our own control or ability to attain, an attitude that is the antithesis of the mood of false ego. Therefore I think gratitude must be one of the initial symptoms of the true self.
 
Śrīla Prabhupāda himself recognized gratitude as the foundation of spiritual relationships.
 
When I first became a Hare Krishna monk at the ISKCON ashram in Dallas, Texas Śrīla Prabhupāda soon came to visit. After Śrīla Prabhupāda’s morning lecture, a very tall devotee, around six foot five (apropos for Texas) named Jñāna-gamya, stood up and from his heart sincerely asked, “Śrīla Prabhupāda, how can we repay you?” I loved Śrīla Prabhupāda’s simple but profound answer that highlighted gratitude as the foundation of spiritual life: “Just remain obliged!”
 
Gratitude is the foundation of tasting the holy name.
 
Arguably the singular most important verse for followers of Śrī Caitainya[1] is the third verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam:
 
“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” (v. 3)
 
Śrī Caitanya here equates humility with the ability to always chant. What’s the connection between the two? The only activity that one can do without break is one done in pure love or devotion, for every other activity eventually gets hackneyed or stale. But how to get such devotion? The answer is gratitude—the ability to appreciate and feel love when mercy is bestowed. A simple way to understand this correlation is to consider a spoiled child who feels proud and entitled. No matter how many gifts the parents bestow on the undeserving child, the child never feels or reciprocates its parent’s love because he feels entitled. Similarly, unless we are humble we will never feel God’s mercy in the form of the holy name, nor reciprocate that affection by chanting in devotion. Gratitude born of the mindset of humility is thus the foundation of tasting the holy name.
 
Chanting with gratitude.
 
Krishna hears our heart through the quality of our chanting and that, not just the syllables, is what actually pleases Him. Śrīla Prabhupāda thus instructed us that we should listen to the sincerity of our chanting. Therefore, when chanting, I try to hear myself expressing my gratitude to Him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” then becomes the meaning or voice of my mantra.
 
Count your blessings! Happy New Year from Monday Morning Greetings.
 


[1] Śrī Caitanya personally told one brahmacārī to wear this verse around his neck and it is the instruction he gave to Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, the prayojana ācārya (the great teacher of prema-bhakti), when he wanted to know the goal of life and the practice to attain it.
 
 

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