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Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #51 – Who Can Hear the Rasa-līlā?

December 18th, 2023

When I go to Vrindavan every couple of weeks, I teach Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta in the morning in my room. We are up to the Second Chapter of the Madhya-līlā, “The Ecstatic Manifestations of Śrī Caitanya”, where Śrīla Krishna das Kavirāja summarizes Śrī Caitanya’s aspirations to imbibe the mood of Śrī Radha. As Śrīla Prabhupāda and his guru issued strong cautions about prematurely hearing such elevated subjects, an important question naturally arises as to who can hear these subjects, and if so, how should they be presented? Sivaram Swami, in his new book, Part Two of his commentary on Vilāpa-kusumāñjali, answers this question in a thorough analysis of Śukadeva Gosvāmī’s instruction to Mahārāja Parīkṣit, where he states that the qualification is faith.

 

“Anyone who faithfully hears [śraddhāanvitaḥ anuśṛṇuyāt] or describes the Lord’s playful affairs with the young gopīs of Vṛndāvana will attain the Lord’s pure devotional service. Thus he will quickly become sober and conquer lust, the disease of the heart.” (Bhag. 10.33.39)

 

I can’t do justice within limits of a weekly post to properly summarize Sivaram Swami’s detailed and well thought out analysis of exactly what such “faith” means, but I can, in a cursory way, explain how I understand and explain what faithfully hearing means when I teach those subjects in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books. It goes something like this:

 

One of the main objectives of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is to qualify its reader to be able to properly understand Śrī Krishna’s pastimes, especially His playful affairs with the young gopīs, so they will inspire us in devotion and elevate our desires beyond the mundane. Otherwise, we will hear them as ordinary and degrade our consciousness. Obviously understanding those pastimes, or understanding anything, does not entail just hearing them, but having the faculties of intelligence and heart to comprehend them properly. For example, from the intellectual platform we may hear something, but lack the context or frame of reference to comprehend it, or we may read something, but from the heart prejudge it based on our previous experience and miss the intended meaning. Similarly, faithful hearing of the rasa-līlā, denoting that we accept and see it for what it is—the highest selfless devotion and joy—means having the ability to appropriately, intellectually, and emotionally to recognize that.

 

In that regard, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is progressively composed to achieve exactly this objective. Before we reach its tenth canto, where the rasa-līlā is described, we are first equipped with the proper intellectual and emotional state of mind to appropriately understand it in the previous nine cantos. In other words, by such study we will be educated to hear the romantic affairs of Śrī Krishna as transcendental and not fantasy and be purified in heart so that the pastimes inspire us as the height of selfless devotion and not something mundane. This type of hearing, where we can experience the rasa-līlā as real and pure, is exactly what the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam refers to as faithful hearing and can help one rise, even when still on the material platform, to the level of pure devotion where the taste to satisfy lust is eradicated.

 

One more point: The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam has a consistent theme from the beginning: it progressively describes pure devotion in all its forms. When by such study one develops a certain level of devotion, one seeks and becomes inspired by all impetuses for devotion, whether it’s the holy name, the devotees of God, the holy dhāma, the stories of Krishna, and so on. In this consciousness, when hearing about Radha and Krishna, one’s devotion will first naturally be incited before one’s lust can be aroused.

 

So, who is qualified to hear the rasa-līlā? Simply one who has the intellectual and emotional bandwidth to be devotionally inspired by it and not confused or sensually provoked. Choosing to study and hear it is therefore first a matter of personal integrity. Experienced devotees therefore neither limit these subjects nor present them carelessly, but rather treat them with reverence and study and share them selectively and appropriately.[1]

 

 

 


[1] There is a liberal and conservative approach to hearing the rasa-līlā. For example, in Bhag 10.4 Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, “Therefore when those who are after sex life in this material world hear about Krishna’s pastimes with the gopīs, they will relish transcendental pleasure, although it appears materialistic.” He also spoke conservatively about prematurely hearing these subjects. I thought about how to reconcile the two, but it would take another post to do it justice. What I can briefly say is the above quote from Śrīla Prabhupāda seems to be a paraphrase of Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary on this verse (Bhag 10.4). In the same purport Śrīla Prabhupāda paraphrases 10.33.39 and adds that faithful hearing means to submissively hear for spiritual authorities, so there he was more representing his guru mahārāja, who appeared six generations after Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī and was responding to a general degradation in India, which was then under British rule, and the abuse of Gauḍīya philosophy to promote sahajiyism and even sex cults, which diminished its reputation.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #50 – A Beggar’s Journey

December 11th, 2023

I have very little responsibility imposed upon me, like a job, a family, or any management commitment. I thus sometimes joke that I am unemployed, but isn’t that age appropriate for me? When we get older shouldn’t we be free from work and family obligations so that we can chant God’s names? That’s mostly what I try to do—focus attentively on the holy name—but naturally, realizations come when chanting on how to deepen one’s meditation. Two came today. I wrote them down afterwards:

 

Realization One

 

I spent Puruṣottama Mas (month) and Kārtika Mas focusing on my spiritual practices, specifically on chanting the holy names. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says “mādhava-tithi bhakti-jananī,” that the observance of the days of Lord Hari, like Ekādaśī and special holidays, give birth to devotion, so what to speak of the power of observing special months of Lord Hari in terms of giving birth to devotion. I felt that. My chanting, my taste for the holy name, substantially improved by observing these two special months. Just like in childbirth something suddenly appears that wasn’t there before, similarly a greater taste for the holy name manifested by strictly adhering to these special observances. It was quite mystical and that led to my first realization from these months. It goes something like this:

 

The distance between the step we’re on in devotion and our next step in devotion always seem impossible to broach by our qualification, at least it appears that way. That distance therefore can only be covered by mercy, which can only be petitioned by begging. I thus beg for the mercy of the holy name. Practicing devotion in that humble way is our main sādhana at every step of devotion.

 

The beggar’s journey: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. I look at my next step. I’m humbled. Way beyond me. Some confidence arises. Attainment is possible by the mercy of Krishna. I beg for the mercy of the holy name.

 

Realization Two

 

I was walking to the Govardhan Retreat Center for the morning kirtan by the side of Śrī Girirāja. Somehow I thought of the crowd and some negative thoughts came, not really critical but also not sufficiently respectful. I was surprised. I continued to watch my mind. How judgmental! We have conceptions of good or bad based on our modes. That’s not Vaiṣṇava. A real Vaiṣṇava does not ultimately judge another Vaiṣṇava by who they are now and not even by their past, but by their future, knowing the power of devotion and the pure destination of those who are gathered to sincerely chant the holy name.

 

A beggar’s journey: Krishna, Krishna. Only those who offer all respects to others by rising above being petty and judgmental can attain the full mercy of the holy name. In that humble mood, I beg for the mercy of the holy name!

 

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

December 4th, 2023

Kārtika ended yesterday. Some realizations from the month:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Destiny is the language of God.

 

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

 

 

Where there is no circumference, the center is everywhere.

 

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

 

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

 


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

 

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

November 27th, 2023

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


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

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #47 – The Power of Gratitude

November 20th, 2023

The Power of Gratitude [1]

 

Gratitude is the basis of experiencing love.

 

As a spoiled child never experiences his parents’ love no matter how much they give him, a proud and entitled person will never fully appreciate the kindness and love of others.

 

Gratitude is the basis of relationships.

 

I have observed how sometimes an ungrateful spouse neglects a good relationship by failing to appreciate the kindness of their partner, even though lavished with generosity and care, only to later regret sabotaging what they had when the relationship broke by their own doing.

 

On the other hand, I have observed very grateful people seeing the good in their substantial connections, despite other’s weaknesses, feeling very secure and loved in this world.

 

Gratitude is therefore the basis of all good relationships in this world.

 

Gratitude grounds you in present.

 

I was walking here in Colombia to visit a bakery opened by one of our friends who I met on his pilgrimage to India two years ago. Although it was only fifteen minutes from our ashram I got lost, and it took me an inordinate amount of time to get there. When I begun my return to Shyam Ashram, I therefore felt tired and bored and strongly hankered to already be back home. As I was in the midst of preparing to write something about gratitude and was contemplating how gratitude grounds one in the present, I consciously started to base myself in the moment by appreciating nature around me, and the fact that I could turn inside my mind to dwell on this subject. I was amazed. My consciousness in gratitude immediately shifted from the future and my anxiety to the present, where my satisfaction laid. My walk then became unexpectedly pleasant.

 

“Now” is rarely the problem. Our problem is hankering (what I want in the future) and lamenting (what I lost in the past), but not gratitude (what I have and appreciate now).

 

In other words, for the humble and thoughtful, gratitude grounds one in the present, where humility and joy rests.

 

Gratitude forms your character.

 

Voltaire said, “That which you appreciate gradually comes to you.” One in a state of not only recognizes the good in others, but also develops those qualities. It is no wonder, therefore, that the word “appreciate” can mean both “to value something” and “the increase of value in something”. For example, when appreciating a teacher or an elder their knowledge substantially increases or appreciates in oneself.

Unfortunately, one who is envious and ungrateful — and the two are connected — misses many opportunities to appreciate and develop good character and wisdom.

 

 

Gratitude awakens the bliss of service.

 

Gratitude naturally awakens the service mind, for when we appreciate someone we develop a desire to serve them. As service and devotion is the basis of happiness, gratitude is also the basis of joy.

 

In a talk I heard by Vaiśeṣika dāsa, he added a very powerful insight that I think is relevant to this discussion. He described that the one switch that one can immediately flip to powerfully alter our anxiety and frustration is the conscious shift in identity to “I am a servant”. He then referenced Dale Carnegie in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, who offered the supporting advice that a most powerful way to free one from anxiety in any situation is to immediately find someone to serve.

 

How important for a healthy psyche to awaken the service mind by the power of gratitude.

 

Gratitude as a state of perfection.

 

My close friend Guṇagrāhī Mahārāja left this world in Vṛndāvana chanting the holy name of Krishna, a sign in our tradition of attaining perfection. A week before he left this world he went into a non-communicative internal or semi-conscious state. The last words out of his mouth before he seemingly went unconscious was a response to an audio message sent to him from Kaustubha, a person he personally brought to Krishna consciousness. Mahārāja was overwhelmed with appreciation when hearing the kind thoughts from someone he loved dearly. In response, in his last audible breath, patting his heart to softly to express affection, he mustered up the strength for a final heartfelt whisper: “Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.”

 

I noted that the feelings and words left in Mahārāja after almost fifty years of dedicated service and years of purification from a painful disease were “Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.” I heard his voice as the pure consciousness of the soul.

 

Gratitude as a state of being.

 

Yes, certainly one can count their blessings, but what about all the suffering and frustration we face in this world? How can we be thankful for that? A person who understands the nature of God, or reality, lives always in a state of gratitude because they understand that whatever comes to one is for one. [2] Rumi stated it best:

 

“When God is digging a hole to throw you in, he is actually digging a ditch to quench your thirst.”

 

The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is full of stories, too long to recount here, where great saints live in a state of gratitude. They see the blessings of God even in the most trying of circumstances. Here is one of many examples:

 

When Vidura was insulted and banished from the kingdom by his evil nephew Duryodhana, he both recognized the cruelness of his nephew, but also saw God’s hand. He was thus grateful that he was being directed at this later stage in life to leave the intrigue of the palace and go on pilgrimage for his own purification.[3]

 

To feel grateful in every situation is not a feat of psychological gymnastics. A person of dharma who responds to each trial in life with humility gains a concrete gift of realization from each challenge worth the price of the difficulty faced and feels grateful even in the face of death. I bow down to the power of gratitude.

 

 


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

[2] I like the phrase describing karma as “not to me, but for me”. It comes from a discussion about karma I had with Lakṣmī Nṛsiṁha dāsa.

[3] Some other great examples are the instructions of Bhīṣmadeva (Bhag. 1.9) and Mahārāja Parīkṣit’s reaction to being cursed (Bhag. 1.19.4).

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #46 – Devotion and the Dumbphone

November 13th, 2023

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 


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

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

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

 

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

November 6th, 2023

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


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

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

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

 

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

October 30th, 2023

Are you OK?

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

 

 

Chanting and Writing

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

 

 

The Pain of Prema

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

 

 

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Japa

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

 

 

Two Stories, Same Story

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

 

Pride and Parikrama

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

 

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

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #43 – Talking to God

October 23rd, 2023

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

One more thought: Freedom of Speech and Talking to God

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Today, excellent advice: Talk to God!

 

 

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

October 16th, 2023

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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