Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #3 – How to Get a Taste for Bhakti

January 20th, 2020

In the progressive step-by-step levels of bhakti, in order to reach the stage of ruci (taste) one first has to come to the level of niṣṭha, which means to be fixed or steady. In order to set the tone for our discussion, here’s a simple example based on the Bhagavad-gītā that illustrates the connection between fixedness and taste in bhakti.

 

Krishna says in Bhagavad-gītā that He is the taste of water. That statement always puzzled me. Isn’t water neutral? Doesn’t water only become tasty when something is added to it? I never really resolved this minor conundrum until I visited Hrishikesh, where I drank the pure Ganga coming from the mountains before it flows through the plains of India and mixes with the minerals of the ground. I had an epiphany. Ahh, so tasty! Yes, this is the taste of water, when water is just water, unmixed with anything else. In fact, when water is pure we call it “sweet water”. Similarly, when we attain niṣṭha and become fixed in devotion, when our devotion is not mixed with anything else, we come to the stage of ruci, sweet or tasty devotion. Simply put, water is tasty when water is just water, and similarly devotion is tasty when devotion is just devotion.

 

The first principle, therefore, in gaining taste for bhakti is to gain this understanding or conviction that without a concerted effort to become more concentrated and fixed in your devotion, whether it is in your practices or life, your taste for bhakti will not substantially deepen. In terms of practically doing that, or achieving any spiritual goal, the most important thing is first to have the right understanding and conviction. That is the point I am making here, and it has certainly been my experience with nurturing my taste in devotion. In that regard, I will share something somewhat personal.

 

What I write is what I am thinking at the time, so my focus lately has naturally been on how to increase taste. Every morning after breakfast I take a short walk to chant some more rounds. My practice then is much more casual than in the early morning when I sit in one place and meditate. Still, this conception, the one I am writing about, kept on coming into my mind, inspiring me to remain focused so that my devotion could become just devotion. I felt the difference. It became so clear. Without the right conception in the forefront of our minds, it is just too easy to become casual and close the door to the taste of devotion. Other thoughts about this subject kept arising throughout the week related to the subject at hand.

 

I thought a lot about the nature of the mind. As the mind always seeks distraction and change, it is the enemy of fixity and taste. We must therefore, according to our capacity for meditation, set aside an exclusive time and place for meditation unmixed with the distraction of other interests and responsibility where we can be free to observe the mind and fix it on the holy name. In terms of fixing the mind, japa is very powerful, but it takes practice. Without some concerted effort for meditation, without some practice where we keep the mind in the present and experience the company of God, it is unlikely we will ever fully enter the world of ruci, or taste.

 

Although japa is powerful, and some meditational practice is essential in fixing the mind and rising to the stage of ruci, by Śrī Caitanya’s mercy we have the dispensation of kirtan where mantra is couched in raga (melody) and tāla (rhythm). Raga and tāla naturally allow us to easily enter deep aspects of the psyche to enhance our emotion and connection with mantra that can help transport even those in passion and ignorance to a state of meditation, fixity, and taste.

 

Often when writing Monday Morning Greetings, I realize that the scope and depth of my subject is so much vaster than what I can express in just a blog. In a longer dissertation so much can be said about avoiding the various conceptions and attitudes that keep our devotion unsteady,[1] especially offenses and criticisms that readily distance the mind from our connection and fixity on Krishna, even when we set a time and place to do so, but for now I will end with perhaps the most important takeaway from this morning’s musings that I think says it all:

 

“Simply put, water is tasty when water is just water, and similarly devotion is tasty when devotion is just devotion.”

 

 

 

 


[1] Mādhurya Kaḍambinī dedicates a whole chapter to anistitha bhakti (unfixed devotional practice) and lists six attitudes that prevent steadiness in bhakti. That in-depth analysis is beyond the scope of this post, but recommended reading. They are listed briefly below:

bhajana-kriyā is of two types, aniṣṭhitā (unsteady) and niṣṭhitā (steady). niṣṭhitā means one cannot fall down or slacken anymore. aniṣṭhitā is due to immature devotion. It appears in six stages as utsāha-mayī (temporary vigour), ghana-taralā (simultaneous intense and unsteady practice), vyūḍha-vikalpā (indecision), viṣaya-saṅgarā (struggle with the senses), niyamākṣamā (inability to hold vows), and taraṅga-raṅgiṇī (delighting in the facilities offered by bhakti). In the stage of aniṣṭhitā bhajana these six weaknesses gradually appear in the heart of the devotee.”

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #2 – Bhakti Is for All!

January 13th, 2020

I just spoke with Raghunath. He is very enlivened leading and teaching at the Govardhan Eco Village. He quipped that unless he is surrounded by a lot of people and leading a group, he can’t imagine how he could be absorbed in Krishna consciousness. I think what people like about him now is that he is not all pretentious as a leader. He humbly shares his own struggles, at times almost to the point of self-deprecation. It was a short casual call, so we couldn’t have an in-depth discussion, but one thing stood out — that what a devotee is and how a devotee remains engaged cannot be stereotyped. There are many different types of devotees and many different things devotees do. Therefore, what makes them advanced in practice and consciousness is not particularly what proclivity and service they have, nor whether they are extroverted or introverted, but the degree to which they are absorbed in devotional service and the humility and devotion they have in executing it.

 

I sometimes illustrate this point about distinguishing bhakti from external designations in relation to my own position as a renunciate by explaining how my sannyāsa is not necessarily a sign of devotional attainment, but a reflection of engaging my propensity for renunciation in Krishna’s service. To sum it up, bhakti is independent of both jñāna-sukṛti, credits from past deeds that grant one the propensity for renunciation, and karma-sukṛti, credit from past deeds that grant one a good material situation, including one’s personality and behavior. You can thus find sincere bhakti even in situations where it appears incongruous to classic yogic spirituality. I think a stark example will help make my general point more clear.

 

One of my favorite god-brothers, and a favorite of the devotees where he serves, has severe mental health challenges. His condition is so acute that he requires strong doses of heavy medication, including lithium, just to be functional. He lives in government housing and is incapable of rising from bed until late in the afternoon. Still, every day since I have known him, and that spans over thirty years, he immediately goes to the temple after rising and spends hours into the evening intricately cleaning every nook and corner of the three-story temple/ashram structure where he serves with the utmost sincerity and dedication. He is always humble, never offends anyone, and mostly uses whatever is left of his government stipend after meeting his essential needs to serve the devotees. In this life, he certainly doesn’t have enviable karma-sukṛti or a pronounced level of renunciation. What he does have, however, is considerable devotion.

 

My point about the independent nature of bhakti and the example I gave to illustrate it shouldn’t be misunderstood to mean that those on the path of bhakti are devoid of karma or jñāna-sukṛti. They certainly don’t have to be. The point I am stressing is that bhakti can be done without reservation from any platform of life, whether materially auspicious or not, because bhakti is independent of any external cause.

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda once stated that his purports to the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam were his personal ecstasy. I don’t think it is wrong to suggest that perhaps a purport of extraordinary length can indicate a particular enthusiasm or ecstasy in relation to a particular subject, not just because of its size, but by the apparent enthusiasm in which he cites so many varied references to establish a particular truth. I challenge the reader to find a purport longer and more well referenced than Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 2.9.36, one of the four nutshell verses of the initial Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, which describes the universal application of devotional service. Śrīla Prabhupāda goes on for over twenty-six pages about the subject we are discussing, how there is no material prerequisite for devotional service regardless of caste, creed, age, or even species of life and so on. I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that it was this ecstasy or conviction that gave him the faith that he could transform the wayward and uncultured youth of the 1960s by finding the ways and means to engage them in devotional service.

 

Our discussion here began with Raghunath’s observation that he can’t possibly be fully Krishna conscious unless he is surrounded by others and leading them, which almost seems counter-intuitive to bhakti where God is put in the center. His inquiry, however, brought out an interesting point – that it doesn’t matter what nature or status you have if you give it to Krishna. What a merciful opportunity to perfect our lives and achieve spiritual attainment! Whoever you are, whatever you do, just give it to Krishna.

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #1 – The Journey Home on Steroids

January 6th, 2020

For sheer drama and dependence on God, I don’t think any modern pilgrim’s journey can top Radhanath Swami’s trip from Europe to Vṛndāvana over forty years ago, which is memorialized in his popular recount The Journey Home. But if there is anything that even comes close, it is the recent “journey home” by a twenty-four year old from France named Marcel.[1] He not only walked from his birthplace to Vṛndāvana through Turkey and Iran to the border of Pakistan,[2] but, by choice, he did it penniless without ever stepping even once in a vehicle!

 

Upon arriving in Vṛndāvana he was directed to my afternoon class by a devotee that he met. I welcomed the sober and handsome Marcel, along with Marie, his partner of seven years, an attractive and highly educated Catholic, who occasionally joined him during her breaks from the university. After class I invited Marcel to share his story with me.

 

Marcel walked and chanted the mahā-mantra the whole way, mostly through smaller towns and villages. He was overwhelmed by the hospitality he received, especially through Turkey and Iran. He explained the culture to me. When a guest knocks on your door in the Middle East, it is considered that Allah has personally come to your home. He certainly felt received in that mood. Still, there were challenges. A substantial part of the journey through the Middle East was walking in the desert, which meant long treks between towns. He solved that problem by getting a small hand cart to carry food and water for a few days so that he never went hungry or thirsty even once!

 

I heard personally from people in Iran that despite the theocratic rule there, there is still quite a lot of violent street crime but, like most places, the crime rests more or mostly in big cities where the struggle for existence is more pronounced. As a result, he completed his journey danger free, except for one harrowing incident in Sirjan, a small city of history and culture in South Iran. He was confronted there by three ruffians, one who pulled a huge handmade dagger from under his shirt and brandished it in front of Marcel’s face demanding money. It was terrifying, and all Marcel could think of was the strange advice his well-traveled uncle gave him before he left: “If you are ever accosted on your travels, just stare quietly in the person’s eyes with a smile. If you don’t show any fear, you will go beyond the person’s eyes to find his soul. The aggressor will then immediately become confused and disarmed.” He couldn’t think of any other option, so he smiled and looked into the thug’s eyes. To his amazement, the thug just uttered some nonsense and quickly left. Marcel then continued peacefully on his journey.

 

I was impressed by Marcel’s journey of faith, but also humbled because it reminded me of my own duties to cultivate dependence on God as a sannyāsī (renunciate). It is not that I have to walk across Iran penniless, but I do have to consciously cultivate simplicity and detachment. If one doesn’t occasionally challenge one’s comforts to foster dependence, then how will one gain the deep realization that it is Krishna, not oneself, who is the protector and maintainer? And without feeling that, how is it possible to develop deeper feelings of love for Krishna?

 

Sannyāsīs today, by necessity, sometimes serve as institutional and spiritual leaders and, to one degree or another, need to accept the amenities provided to them out of respect and to facilitate their service. I admire those who cultivate dependence by selflessly taking on huge responsibility where they are forced to see Krishna’s hand in sorting out numerous seemingly impossible problems, but still Marcel’s example spoke to me. I need to shed more of what Śrīla Prabhupāda called “our material protective agents” and to learn what doing that teaches us. Sure, the world spins out of our control anyway. Just think of the inevitable struggle of old age and death. But still, if we are not careful to live a simple life and cultivate detachment, we risk obscuring God’s mercy and impeding our devotion. Without cultivating detachment, it also makes it much more difficult to face the imminent reverses in life without bitterness or fear when they do come as God’s mercy.

 

I am speaking from the perspective of sannyāsa, my āśrama, which is meant to prepare one for death by accepting situations beyond one’s control to learn full dependence on God’s mercy. I think, however, embracing difficult situations to learn dependence on God’s mercy is applicable to all on the path of dharma, for doing what is right often entails sacrifice at the expense of material advantage. And I think that is also the answer to my dilemma on how to increase my own dependence on Krishna within my service as a leader of sorts, a position that can at times compromise the life of simplicity that my āśrama calls for. My dharma is to be a sādhu, to vigilantly accept only what is necessary for the service of Krishna and not a farthing more, and then to watch how, by Sri Krishna’s mercy, His full shelter unfolds.

 

Wasn’t Marcel’s journey home inspiring? It seems to pose the following challenge to all of us: What is the best way for each of us to practically loosen our “material protective agents” so we can experience Krishna’s mercy unobscured by our false sense of control? I don’t, however, recommend a trek through Iran as your own journey home.

 

 


[1] The names “Marcel” and “Marie” are pseudonyms for our pilgrims who requested that if I write their story that their real names not be published.

[2] The immigration at Pakistan refused his request at the border to walk through their country penniless, and he was forced to fly to Delhi on his way to Vṛndāvana.

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #52 – Blind Following is Condemned

December 30th, 2019

Some readers may be thinking, “You write about authority and surrender, but isn’t blind following dangerous?” It’s condemned![1] Before exploring why, let’s put that discussion in context by first briefly summarizing something I have stressed many times — the need for faith.

 

As mentioned before, while faith is essential to learning, blind faith is an impediment. Blind faith means accepting what one hears from authority without a reasonable effort to get one’s doubts cleared to understand it. Being faithful without being thoughtful poses two risks: accepting something that is false because of faith in what an unqualified teacher erroneously taught or accepting something that is false because of misunderstanding what the qualified teacher properly taught. Either way one fails to catch the truth.

 

Accepting things that are false

 

Without being thoughtful we not only wind up accepting things taught that we would normally see as overtly false, but we also surrender the tool required to extricate ourselves from a false prophet.

 

To avoid such an unfortunate situation, it is thus incumbent to be reasonably certain that one has accepted a qualified guide before accepting their authority. The search for a spiritual guide begins with sincerity, the honest desire to live and surrender to the truth. Ultimately, a spiritual teacher is sent by providence in response to our sincere desire for truth. To ascertain, however, whether one is qualified to play that role in one’s life, one must first test the qualification of that person over a reasonable period of time by asking questions and having one’s doubts cleared.

 

Misunderstanding something that is true

 

Having a worthy guide also doesn’t guarantee understanding the truth. We often filter what we have heard through our desires and conditioning so that even if what we are taught is true, what we have understood is not. That’s why we often see good people with qualified guides embracing untenable positions in the name of faith.

 

To avoid misunderstanding a qualified teacher the student must continue, if necessary, to ask questions and get their doubts cleared. Such questioning does not belie our faith in our teacher, because we are not doubting his or her authority, which should have already been tested, but rather our own understanding of what he or she has said.

 

The need for such thoughtfulness in learning is stressed in some of the most traditional teachings of India, which are presented in the form of a dialectic where we can observe the sincere student continually questioning his teacher until his doubts or misunderstandings are cleared. The best example is the Bhagavad-gītā. It took Arjuna five chapters of going back and forth with Krishna before he finally understood one of the basic points that Krishna was stressing, which is that work can be spiritual if done with knowledge and in the proper consciousness. Arjuna is not an example of blind faith, nor is Krishna the example of a teacher who demands blind allegiance.

 

So yes, authority is not a bad word, nor is surrender, but blind faith is.

 

“Don’t follow blindly. Following blindly something, that is not good. That will not stay. But one should take everything with logic. But the servants of God, they put everything in logic. caitanyera dayāra kathā karaha vicāra. If you study the Caitanya’s philosophy with logic and argument… Don’t go by sentiment.” (Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lecture on Bhāg. 6.2.1-5, Calcutta, January 6, 1971)

 

 

 

 


[1] I got the phrase “blind following is condemned” from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purport on Bg. 4.34: “In this verse, both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned. Not only should one hear submissively from the spiritual master; but one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries.”

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #51 – Winter in Vṛndāvana Part I

December 23rd, 2019

It’s Tuesday — another day with the nothing-to-write blues. It’s definitely pressure, but I’m not worried. Classic Bhagavad-gītā. Do your duty and leave the results to Him. If Krishna wants, it will happen. A few reflections:

 

There is magic in putting your pen to page (fingers to the computer). It seems to activate part of the brain. I now know why Satsvarūpa Mahārāja wrote a series of books called Every Day, Just Write. If you can’t express yourself, or don’t know what to write, just write. Wonders will happen.

 

Pressure. I kind of like it. It serves as a barometer to my soul. Nothing to write. Why? Laxity in service and practice means a lack of clarity of mind and a dearth of realization to see and say something. Simple solution. Chant! Chant more!

 

Back to the page. A thought came: Winter in Vṛndāvana.

 

There is magic in Vṛndāvana in the time after Kārttika and the ensuant retreats until the Christmas holiday, when there is a short respite from the massive influx of visitors. I can even walk outside in relative solitude. Don’t get me wrong, the pilgrims bring a certain intensity of devotion, but along with the throngs of visitors comes the passion and the commercialism. This short winter lull in the bustle bares Vṛndāvana down to the local residents and their mood and culture. I love it.

 

I brought a flower garland for the deities of the Radha Tila Ashram next door. The sādhus are sitting peacefully taking prasad on the floor, which is one-foot of sifted Vṛndāvana dust, in their three-sided caged hall attached to their ashram. The small porch has a perfect view of the real Vṛndāvana. These kind sādhus have preserved a two-acre forest where hundreds of happy birds are welcomed by the pounds of millet left on the ground for their daily feed. They implore me to join them. I park myself on the cushy sand of Vraja. Ah! To sit with the simple sādhus of Vṛndāvana!

 

Vikramaditiyan, the assistant of Indradyumna Swami, takes Radhacaran and me to a place I have never seen before — the country path to Varṣāṇā through the mystical forest of Śrī Radha with its thousand-year old trees. As we walk through the thick talcum powder-like dust roads, lined with stately old trees and bordered by the lush fields of golden Radha-colored mustard flowers that are hugging the path, I am struck by its beauty. We finally reach the village of Varṣāṇā. One thought keeps coming through my mind as we pass one simple, happy “Rādhe, Rādhe!” smiling folk after another. These people have little, but what is important is not what they have, but how they feel. The fact of real happiness is staring me in the face. It’s the consciousness, stupid!

 

The parikramā continues. Vikramaditiyan takes us to an ashram on the foothills of the Śrīji Mandir, Varṣāṇā’s main temple, for prasādam. He knows the sādhus well and introduces me. I don’t know what he said, but the sādhus practically fall over each other to honor me. As I sit there honoring the most delectable prasādam, I can see that it’s not just me. Each and every visitor that enters is honored, and each person entering imbibes the same mood. Their humility is genuine. It’s like a page out of Jaiva Dharma.[1]

 

Just as I am about to leave, the mahant, who I was told has been chanting since five in the morning, suddenly comes out of his room. He profusely thanks me and drapes my shoulders with a new expensive pashima chaddar in a way that we have to embrace. A thought follows:

 

When you are criticized from people who are not well-wishers it is common to respond by thinking of your qualifications in defense. When you get honored by those who are pure far beyond what you deserve, it makes you reflect on your lack of qualification. I leave humbled and happy.

 

The winter evenings already have gotten down to 45 F/8 C degrees. I haven’t surrendered yet to using the space heater. I fear getting too cushy. I remember the advice of an old local friend, a married sādhu, who lived in Vṛndāvana so simply. “Vṛndāvana is for Krishna. When you want to have a prolonged stay here, then you have to show Krishna you are here not for your enjoyment. My experience is that you will be tested. You can either self-impose a simple life with some austerities to demonstrate your sincerity, or some challenge will be imposed in another way to test your sincerity.” I have observed that people who come here to stay a long time and adjust too much for their comforts never stay. I fear getting too comfortable.

 

“Of months I am November and December [Mārgaśīrṣa]” (Bg. 10.35, spoken by Krishna)

 


[1] Jaiva Dharma is a novel by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura that is about the activities of very advanced Vaiṣṇava monks living in a forest ashram in Godrumadvīpa, one of the nine islands of Navadvīpa, the birthplace of Śrī Caitanya.

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #50 – Authority is Not a Bad Word

December 16th, 2019

1954. I was four years old. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was walking down the street in Brooklyn in front of my home, holding my grandmother’s hand,when I saw a tall, imposing, and dignified looking figure dressed in a blue uniform walking towards us. Excitedly I told my grandmother, “Look grandma, a cop!” She looked down towards me at her side and soberly corrected me, “No, an officer of the law!”

 

She escaped the pogroms in Ukraine and came to America in 1912. She appreciated her newfound country and the freedoms and protection it afforded. She also carried with her some of the old-time culture rooted in respect for authority. I appreciated that culture of respect and was fortunate that my parents were responsible enough not to completely ruin that for me.

 

Words are impregnated with the experience of their use. If your elders are affectionate and mature, you tend to hear the word “authority” as knowledge and wisdom, but if you experience abuse and whim you will most likely hear it as exploitation and foolishness.

 

That is not to deny the experience many people have with the abuse of authority, perhaps by the same institutions I learned to respect, but let’s not get distracted from the point inspired by my grandmother’s instruction—regardless of how you feel about the word authority, the culture of respect towards authority is an important foundation of a proper culture, especially in terms of the ability to learn, relate, and communicate. A few examples in relation to respect for the authority of teachers and elders:

 

  • Faith is the precursor of knowledge. If you don’t have faith, which is assisted by the culture of genuine respect, your ability to understand things is limited to your own frame of reference.

 

  • As teaching and learning take effort, a teacher generally extends themselves to the degree they can gauge the student’s faith shown by their sincere respect.

 

  • People naturally reciprocate honest relationships. The love that flows up to one who is senior is called respect, and the reciprocation that flows down to one who is junior is called affection.[1] If one is not taught to be naturally respectful to those who are senior, one will likely be deprived of the most prominent source of love available in a proper society – the affection of one’s elders, a void that is often filled with depression.

 

  • Loving relationships create a natural conduit between people’s hearts. It is thus especially important on the path of bhakti to be respectful and to have good relationships with seniors who embody a devotion and wisdom that can naturally be absorbed in relationship with them.

 

  • Offenses destroy bhakti. As the eyelids protect the eyes from dust, humility and respect protect the soul from offense. It is thus a hindrance on the path of bhakti to not have nurtured and imbibed the culture of respect.

 

  • The most important relationships we have are the ones where we learn and teach. Good communication is essential to those relationships. Unless we learn to be a proper student through the culture of respect, we will neither properly communicate with our teachers nor effectively learn how to properly relate with our students and children.

 

  • Part of culture is the things prescribed to help us understand that there is a world, a reality, greater than our whims and desires. Honoring and respecting those in positions of authority is one of the things in a proper culture prescribed to help move us towards the higher consciousness of service and devotion.

 

It is important to note here, as mentioned above, that when talking about nurturing the culture of respect we are not just talking about respecting people based on their qualities. We are also acknowledging and honoring the position of authority, barring, of course, any serious and obvious anomalies in their behavior. Imagine if children are taught that instead of “honor thy mother and father” to “judge thy mother and father” and then come to a decision whether they should be honored. Of course, the capacity of a child to judge is completely limited, but we are all limited to some extent by our desires and prejudices. To reserve dealings of respect based solely on our judgment simply fosters what is known as the mental plane, the sphere of thought where one endlessly calculates based on material advantage. Such a judgment culture doesn’t nurture humility and respect even where overtly deserved. That should seem obvious today.

 

The śāstra also acknowledges honoring the position of authority. In the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Krishna declares that one should worship the ācārya, the spiritual master, as “Myself.”[2] While the term ācārya usually refers to the spiritual master, commentators indicate that in addition to the position of spiritual master, Krishna is also referring to anyone in a position of authority in society.

 

Of course, one may challenge that the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describes an intact, ancient culture where people in authority were trained to represent traditions of knowledge and wisdom, whereas today authority too often represents religious fanaticism and demagoguery, and thus the culture of respect simply nourishes the cult of totalitarianism. I agree that people today, perhaps more than ever, need to be encouraged and trained to be independently thoughtful in order to keep their guard up for potential exploitation, but that doesn’t negate the need for people to nurture their character by the culture of respect, nor is being thoughtful and principled the same as acting as a rebellious teen. Despite my own occasional periods of rebellion when growing up, in retrospect I am glad grandma told me “No, an officer of the law!”

 


[1] This concept of respect being the love that flows upward and affection being the love that flows down is one that I first heard in a seminar at the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education entitled “Vaiṣṇava Etiquette” by Śrīpad Bhakti Caru Swami over twenty years ago. Later it was confirmed by my study of rasa theory where parental love was called anugrahaḥ, mercy or affection.

[2] Bhāg. 11.17.27

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #49 – You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

December 9th, 2019

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide[1]

 

A realization came this morning while chanting: “Krishna sees not just what I am doing, but the heart behind it.” It was somewhat heavy, because it means that not only does Krishna see the sincerity beyond the externals, but He also sees the insincerity beyond any bluff. But the point is that either way we can’t hide. To know and live by that is very important in spiritual life, especially in gaining impetus for an inner life. After meditating on my realization for just a few minutes it dawned on me that it didn’t just come out of nowhere. It was actually from my studies the day before. Before I continue, here’s the point that inspired me:

 

After waiting for twelve years in Mathurā, Akrūra was finally on his way to Vṛndāvana for the opportunity to see Krishna. Suddenly a doubt entered his mind: “I am carrying the order of the evil King Kaṁsa by summoning Krishna to Mathurā where he plans to kill Him. Despite this, will Krishna see my heart and welcome me?” Sure, there were many good reasons in Krishna’s service for why Akrūra stayed in Kaṁsa’s government, but the optics were terrible. He even feared that the cowherd friends of Krishna would attack him before he got to see Krishna. After a minute of anguish, a thought relieved him: “Surely with His perfect vision, both externally and internally, Krishna would only externally see me as Kaṁsa’s friend, but internally would see me as a devotee.”

 

Reading Akrūra’s realization and then dwelling on it later helped reinforce in my mind how essential it is to be cognizant of Krishna as the witness and knower of our hearts at all stages of our spiritual development. I know many new people that come to a Krishna temple, especially in the west, who initially fret over the etiquette and rules, not knowing if they are doing something wrong. Even more experienced devotees, not always perfect in the external details of worship and devotion, may doubt their progress. What is implied here, however, is that our sincere intentions are more important to Krishna than any external formality or paraphernalia.

 

I don’t mean to minimize acts of devotion and strict adherence to spiritual practice. What and how much we do in Krishna’s service very much represents the devotion in our heart. The point here is different — that one should not make an absolute correlation between what one does and one’s level of devotion. To do so can not only influence us to remain mechanical in our devotional practices, but risks blinding us to the ability to see, as Krishna does, the good heart of both those who may not know the rules and also those sincere people struggling in devotion.

 

Strongly developing this cognizance that Krishna is seeing our heart should also make us more vigilant in developing an inner life of devotion. I am not talking about inner life in terms of practices of advanced devotional meditation, but just the simple awareness that for Krishna’s pleasure all devotional activities must be accompanied by an internal prayer commensurate with our level of devotion. A personal example of this comes to mind. Years ago, during my studies in Kārttika, I read something that particularly intrigued me. When one pays obeisances one should consciously cultivate the feeling of “I am inferior”, a mood meant to express and invoke reverential devotion. After reading that, every morning upon first seeing the sacred mount Govardhana I would bow down silently repeating that phrase. Doing so not only consciously amplified the devotion that was previously relatively silent in my more mindless and mechanical obeisance, but it helped me to become more cognizant of Krishna’s presence, and made that simple act of devotion more meaningful and devotional.

 

Our hearts are the place where Krishna enthuses devotion, which is the essence of His pleasure potency. Seeing such a heart is Krishna’s pleasure, and therefore the prime aim of one on the path of bhakti-yoga is to purify one’s heart by both adopting the practices of devotion and by enthusing that devotion with appropriate thoughts and feelings. Śrīla Prabhupāda called this conscious internal development the “mental culture” of Krishna consciousness. In other words, if we can’t hide our heart from Krishna, why not consciously try to bring it alive?

 

“Those who are cultivating spiritual life and executing devotional service are always engaged in activity. Such activity can be performed with the body or with the mind. Thinking, feeling and willing are all activities of the mind, and when we will to do something, the activity comes to be manifest by the gross bodily senses. Thus, in our mental activities we should always try to think of Krishna and try to plan how to please Him, following in the footsteps of the great ācāryas and the personal spiritual master. There are activities of the body, activities of the mind and activities of speech. A Krishna conscious person engages his words in preaching the glories of the Lord. This is called kīrtana. And by his mind a Krishna conscious person always thinks of the activities of the Lord—as He is speaking on the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra or engaging in His various pastimes in Vṛndāvana with His devotees. In this way one can always think of the activities and pastimes of the Lord. This is the mental culture [emphasis added] of Krishna consciousness.” (NOD, Introduction)

 

 


[1] “You can run, but you can’t hide” is a famous English idiom that means that no matter what you do you can’t avoid the consequences you are trying to avoid. It was originally spoken by Joe Louis, one of the greatest heavyweight boxing champions of the world just before the rematch will Billy Conn, a lighter, faster boxer. I have used it in context of this Monday Morning Greetings to indicate that Krishna is always seeing our hearts even if we try to avoid Him.

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #48 – Fear of Death

December 2nd, 2019

As you get older and your peers start leaving the world, death naturally becomes more of a reality. We suffer when we lose anything, and death is the loss of everything. The prospect of death therefore strikes fear into most. How can we be fearless, not just in our last moments, but also while living, knowing that sooner or later it will all end?

 

One of our greatest fears is uncertainty at what rests at our next destination. Even when traveling we may fret over not being sure of the accommodation and reception that awaits us, what to speak of our uncertainty about what awaits us after this life. How can we remain equipoised and fearless when, for almost all of us, except for those who are self-realized, our future identity will not conform to what we relate to now, nor will it include the attachments we have in relationship to that identity?

 

In a sense, the general solution is clear. Whether we are riddled with fear or we feel peaceful and assured in the face of death, it all depends on the identity we are embracing, and there are only two basic options: we can identify with the present body or we can identify with our soul.

 

Identification with the body is a temporary designation. Based on our past activities and desires our consciousness is delimited by the false ego (ahaṅkāra) to fit a particular field of activities for this life, which are designated at birth by race, nationality, family, and gender. As we grow, our superficial bodily identity is further fortified by our acquired proclivities and attachments. As that identification is spurred by the false ego (ahaṅkāra), which changes according to our karma life after life, one who embraces the body as their core identity will be increasingly fearful of losing everything at death, including their present identity.

 

The other option is to identify with the soul, which is eternally a conscious particle of the universal supreme consciousness, by constitution naturally meant to serve that which it is part of. To the extent we therefore realize and embrace our intrinsic, devotional identity, we will not fear the end of the body, for our soul identity will endure.

 

Fearlessness thus comes naturally in the practice of Krishna consciousness as long as we are focused on the process of transforming our identity from a self-centered focus on the body to a devotional focus on the soul. We can’t, however, take the process for granted. One must be conscientious to realize that succumbing to the attachments connected to the body, meaning those beyond what we need to keep the body and soul together, will only increase bodily identification and consequent fear, despite accepting the general tenets of bhakti-yoga. Identity comes by attachment. Therefore, unless we are becoming attached to Krishna by sufficiently hearing His pastimes and chanting His name, we won’t develop a yearning for a relationship with Him and the consequent deep identity as His servant will not awaken. We will then remain, to one extent or another, either mired in fear or ignorance of reality.

 

I sense this may feel a bit preachy. I want to assure my readers that when I speak very strongly, I am mostly preaching to myself. The whole process of Krishna consciousness is about transformation of identity, which is based on developing our relationship with Krishna. I must be especially vigilant not to feed my material identity, but to nourish my relationship with Krishna, otherwise the future is just fear, or worse — ignorance. I can’t hide my head in the sand anymore. If not now, when?

 

“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.” (Paraphrase of Śukadeva Gosvāmī’s instruction to Mahārāja Parīkṣit, The Nectar of Devotion, chapter 2)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #47 – Sādhus of Vṛndāvana

November 25th, 2019

A question recently came to my mind. I have lived here for almost forty-four years. Why? There are two types of causes for doing something: an external cause and an internal cause. The external cause — and note here external does not mean superficial — is why we do something for the benefit of others. The internal cause is why we do things for ourselves.

 

The external reason why I come here is for sevā, service. One of my important sevās, is to help pilgrims, especially from abroad, to enter, understand, and experience Vṛndāvana. If my sevā, whatever it may be, brought me some place else, I would not be here. And, I should note, that if one leaves this holy place to share its glories of pure devotion then that place is certainly as good as Vṛndāvana.

 

My internal reason for coming here is that there are people that live and visit here for an extended stay that are advanced in devotion. In other words, I may not be able to fully understand Vṛndāvana, this most holy of places, but because there are devotees/sādhus here who can, I come here to benefit from their association. That brings me to Sādhus of Vṛndāvana, the subject of this week’s Greetings.

 

Sādhu I

 

A friend shared his efforts in Kārttika to deepen his attraction for the holy name of Krishna. He described a moment of intense disappointment and frustration. Despite his effort to just focus on chanting for this special month, he was not getting what he wanted. He subtly told me that he was so desperate that he almost began to question the practice itself. At that point his heart suddenly opened, and his experience of the holy name became deeper than ever before. I trusted his word. The only thing separating us from a full revelation of God is our desire to embrace His grace. The sādhu’s extreme disappointment was only a reflection of his intense desire to be with Krishna and serve Him in the form of His holy name, a yearning that attracted Krishna’s mercy. I am grateful for such company.

 

Sādhu II

 

Another friend just arrived. Every year he spends the winter in Govardhana. His health is so chronic and debilitating that he can only leave his bed for five or six hours a day before again collapsing in exhaustion. We met and compared notes. He shared with me that despite the fact that his pain is more than ever, his meditation and focus on the holy name keeps on increasing. It confirmed for me a very important point: the holy name in non-different from Krishna and therefore not simply dependent on our ability and effort to mechanically produce it. How else to explain the holy name flowing through someone’s consciousness even when their body is ravaged with pain? Such association is priceless.

 

 

Sādhu III

 

I was more than impressed with what I saw. Bhūrijana Prabhu took me to the site of the Govardhana retreat center. He has been trying to develop it along with Sacinandana Mahārāja for years. The obstacles to completing such a project here in Govardhana are enormous. They have purchased more land since the last time I was here. They now have nearly ten acres with an unparalleled darśana of the sacred mount. The basic structure of almost three hundred rooms is now complete, and everything will be finished with the finest materials. Behind that structure even stands a small mobile-free zone with cottages, including a ventilated basement/cave below each cottage to deepen one’s meditation. A large kīrtana pavilion and separate prasādam complex will soon be started. But more impressive than the physical structure is the consciousness of the leaders of the project. They only want to serve Girirāja and please the Vaiṣṇavas. After years of toil to make this happen, neither will even construct or keep private quarters for themselves. I see this singular desire to please guru and Krishna, and consequent detachment from profit and admiration, as the fruit of their years of deep study of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Such sādhus are rare.

 

Sādhu IV — A Remembrance

 

When word came to me that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrother Akiñcana Krishna dāsa Bābājī was hospitalized and near death, I immediately rushed to the CFC hospital in Vṛndāvana where he had been admitted. That was more than thirty-five years ago. Bābājī Mahārāja was famous for chanting the holy name non-stop day and night, and even Śrīla Prabhupāda described him as having no material desires and at the highest level of devotion.[1] Unfortunately, by the time I arrived he had already departed for Nandagrāma, the home of Krishna, where soon after he left the world. As Bābājī Maharja had only left the hospital minutes before, the doctor was still in the room, so I inquired from him about his condition. What he told me was astounding. Although Bābājī Mahārāja had been unconscious when the doctor put his stethoscope to his heart, he heard the constant repetition of the holy name. By my faith I didn’t doubt what I was told, and years later such a phenomenon was also confirmed when studying a book on classical meditation. The book described that the perfection of the constant, concentrated repetition of a mantra after years of practice is that the mantra becomes so deeply embedded in the subconscious that it continues non-stop without extraneous effort. How fortunate to meet such devotees.

 

“The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment’s association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success.” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 22.54)

 

 


[1] “Śrīla Prabhupāda himself had spoken of Krishna dāsa as niṣkiñcana, ‘having no material attachments,’ and paramahaṁsa, ‘a swanlike pure devotee.’” Obituary in Back to Godhead, June 1982

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #46 – There is No Victim Consciousness in God Consciousness

November 18th, 2019

A standard definition of “victim consciousness”:

 

Victim consciousness is a stage of consciousness in which people deny personal responsibility for the things that happen in their lives. People in victim consciousness believe that the world is acting upon or against them, and they are the innocent targets of other people’s action or behavior.[1]

 

God consciousness is the exact opposite. Here are four examples:

 

Dharma the Bull

 

King Parīkṣit immediately rushed to the scene of the crime when he was informed that a bull had been badly beaten. Upon arriving, he immediately inquired from the bull about the identity of his perpetrator. Although the bull knew that the direct cause of his suffering was the personality of Kali, he refused to identify the perpetrator, knowing that without the sanction of the Lord no one could afflict trouble upon him. He then began to explain in detail the various misconceptions about the cause of suffering and described how one uses them to abnegate personal responsibility and avoid learning the lessons God has sent for purification. Observing the bull’s reaction, and hearing his exposition full of knowledge and philosophy, the King recognized the bull as Dharma (the personality of religion): “You are speaking according to the principle that the destination intended for the perpetrator of irreligious acts is also intended for one who identifies the perpetrator.” In other words, although it is the duty of one in God consciousness to protect the vulnerable from exploitation, such a person never embraces or promotes victim consciousness, but rather condemns it.

 

Vidura

 

The elderly Vidura was not only unfairly thrown out from the kingdom by his cruel nephew Duryodhana, who he served selflessly his whole life, but was also harshly insulted. As an evolved soul, he refused to play the victim. Rather, he saw that God was delivering him an important message: it was time to retire from the intrigues of family and political life and leave for holy pilgrimage. An elevated soul thus sees destiny as the language of God and his or her oppressor as simply the vehicle to deliver that message.

 

Bhīṣmadeva

 

Although Yudhiṣṭhira led a noble and sinless life, his suffering year after year was unbearable. Even worse was that no one could satisfy his inquiry as to why. In frustration he finally sought answers from his grandfather, Bhīṣmadeva, who was lying on the battlefield waiting to die. With great inner strength his grandfather was able to satisfy his inquiry. Destiny, he explained, for all its challenges, is just offering the priceless fruit of deeper realization and inner happiness to those who respond to their fate in cognizance of God’s grace and with righteousness. What is the question of victimhood for a person with such vision and realization?

 

Socrates

 

When Socrates was unfairly condemned to die by the Greek assembly for political reasons, his wish to confront his accusers was granted. Rather than feel persecuted, he informed them, “If you think you will harm me, you will not harm me; you will only harm yourself.” Socrates was expressing something quite deep, which is that the self or soul being eternal can only be harmed by covering its intrinsic, righteous nature by acts of selfishness. In other words, if he was executed, the Greek senate, who was to kill him in a mood of deceit and exploitation, would actually be the one disadvantaged and not himself, who would respond in dignity.

 

It’s unfortunate how far the modern world has veered from this culture of personal responsibility and self-correction based on God consciousness. The epitome of this is the modern more radical interpretation of intersectionality, where the more labels of oppression and victimhood one has accrued, the more one’s view of reality is deemed to have authority and the more one is considered to have moral worth. Certainly, all forms of oppression and exploitation should be shunned, and there are certain unique realizations one can glean from the perspective of the downtrodden, but to ascribe a sort of moral worth and awareness grounded in victimization based on group identity accedes far too much responsibility and power to others to make our life better, especially in contrast to the empowerment to change oneself as delineated in the teachings of Krishna consciousness.

 

“We all suffer, but to be a victim is a choice.” — Unknown

 

 


[1] Barry and Janae Weinhold — https://weinholds.org/victim-consciousness/

 

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