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

January 8th, 2018

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

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

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #1 – Tapo Divyaṁ-Divine Austerity

January 1st, 2018

When they saw me unexpectedly walking up the entrance pathway to their garden hermitage, the family of my vrajavāsī friend immediately woke him up. He was sleeping outside his simple dwelling on a plain rope bed common in rural India, trying to take advantage of the midday winter sun. I didn’t intend to disturb his deep sleep, especially as he has been struggling with high blood sugar and was taking a needed rest after lunch. I felt sorry for him. When you are ill, except when there is an initial fever, the body generally doesn’t generate much heat. I began to envision what it would be like without heat and hot water as the winter season gradually intensified. Even when he was healthy I could not imagine what it would be like to tolerate such extreme weather without counteracting such harsh conditions with the help of modern amenities such as a heater, hot water and or an air conditioner. But as I was thinking like this, my mind suddenly changed.
After all, isn’t this how all people have lived for hundreds of years? I started to see the benefit of such a simple life. When you live naturally you have to tolerate. In other words, you must practice tapasya, or austerity. It is healthy because when there is tapasya one is forced to abstract the mind from the body and it is this conjunction that is the root of all suffering. Modern amenities may thwart some temporary discomforts, but their excessive use is at a price. The major discomforts such as old age, disease, death, natural disasters, and a myriad of life’s challenges cannot be adjusted by a flick of a gadget, but can only be ameliorated by transcendence. The constant and artificial adjustment of the environment to avoid the practice of tolerance spurred by bodily identification only mires one to the body and thus intensifies the experience of pleasure and pain.
The long range tragedy of unwarranted bodily indulgence is best expressed in the aphorism, “a pinch of suffering is felt more than a ton of happiness,” which means that for every excess in the avoidance of natural austerity, the congregate amount of life’s suffering increases many fold. And this doesn’t include the mental malaise and even depression that is a result from an increasing disconnect from the soul caused by excess indulgence and consequent bodily identification.
In summary: As the soul’s identification with the body is just a mental concept, only by abstracting the mind from the body can one ultimately transcend its suffering. This arises only by the practice of tapasya, when the bodily discomfort impels one to loosen one’s absorption in the body. Let me share a personal example.
The austerities I performed my first three years in Vṛndāvana, when I stayed without break, were brutal. Without going into the details, just imagine living through summers in a climate that reaches, at its peak, nearly 118°F (~48°C) with the sporadic relief of an overhead fan, if you could call it that, limited to a few hours daily stunted by continuous electrical load shedding. The cloudy, heatless and hot-waterless winters were no less austere. After three years I returned to the US during the summer and visited my parents. My father took me to the dentist, who was also his good friend.
At that time the dentist never gave Novocain or any form of local anesthesia. He just told me to hold his left hand and squeeze if the drilling became too painful. He keep drilling and drilling, but I never gave any indication it was too much. He kept looking at my father appreciating my tolerance. It became clear to me then how much the austerity I performed increased my level of tolerance and enabled me to naturally abstract the mind from the body.
I am not recommending by this example that this level of austerity is required; It is just an example of how the mechanism of tapasya works. Living in the extreme climate of Vṛndāvana at the time was just a natural consequence of my service. And that’s the point. We don’t have to impose artificial austerity, but just accept sincerely the austerity of surrendering in devotional service and to live simply accordingly. I found a purport in the BBT’s edition of the eleventh canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that succinctly defines tapasya in this way: “Despite the irrational impulses of the mind one should remain fixed in executing his proper duty in life.” (Bhāg. 11.3.24, purport)
Anyway, seeing my friend in his simple dwelling and meditating on tapasya has been a bit of wake-up call. I do live relatively simply, but still my sannyāsa/guru life has eased into a mood a little too cushy as the standard of life in ISKCON has been raised considerably from our early pioneer days in Vṛndāvana. I am energetic and healthy for my age, but there is no doubt that at 67 one has entered the end game and one should fear entering that game in the bodily concept of life. I do. I noticed that since thinking about the simple life of my vrajavāsī friend, I have been inspired to follow suit. At least the winter has started and the heater hasn’t gone on yet. Why unnecessarily always fall prey to the call of the mind for comforts when you can practice a little tapasya well within the capacity of your health and mind to endure? I find the instructions of Lord Ṛṣabhadeva comforting:

tapo divyaṁ putrakā yena sattvaṁ
śuddhyed yasmād brahma-saukhyaṁ tv anantam

“Perform divine austerity that purifies the heart and brings unending spiritual happiness.” (Bhāg. 5.5.1)

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #52 – Is Material Attachment an Offense Towards the Holy Name?

December 25th, 2017

She sincerely wanted to advance in spiritual life, which means to chant without offense, but to overcome the tenth offense to the holy name seemed insurmountable.
The tenth offense is to maintain material attachment despite so many instructions on the matter.
Often basic instructions in bhakti are misunderstood when taken only at face value and not understood in the context of the whole philosophy, especially without investigating the original text and commentary. Below is a devotee’s sincere inquiry and my response on the subject of the tenth offense to the holy name.
Her inquiry:
“We were reviewing the ten offenses, and number ten worried me. As you know I am attached to my husband and my mother—both of whom taught me what love is. I feel like this can’t be all wrong… I try and view my husband as Krishna’s child, given to me to care for and serve. He certainly supports my spiritual path, as you have seen. And my mom, well both parents—my dad is gone now, showed me that there is a God, and their commitment to service is why sevā always seemed so natural to me. I understand this world is temporary, but I also see that there is love here. I think if that is so beautiful at times, then just think of what the spiritual world must be! Forgive me for going on, but I am wondering if my reasoning is sound.”
My response:
The phrase ‘to not maintain material attachments’ cannot mean that we should withdraw affection from our spouse in order to chant without offense. That would mean that entering the gṛhastha āśrama alone means nāmāparādha, as one enters that āśrama specifically to be purified of certain attachments. Rather, it is laudable for a woman to be chaste and attached to a qualified husband. To say that having affection for one’s husband is nāmāparādha is thus ludicrous.
Our philosophy is yukta-vairāgya, balanced detachment. We give up only those things that cannot be used in Krishna’s service. Reasonable affection for your husband is not only psychologically healthy for you, which is conducive for a stable life to serve Krishna, but it also sets the proper example of what is the healthy mindset of a devotee in marriage. To renounce such affection prematurely is thus false renunciation and against the principles of devotional service. So if our conception of detachment excludes renouncing attachments that can be used in Krishna’s service, how can it be an offense to have such attachments?
Furthermore, even if one wants to give up attachment to a loving mother and a good husband it is impossible to do so before the platform of bhāva. To say that having such attachment is nāmāparādha would make practically everyone with a good husband or wife and a loving mother ineligible to chant the holy name without offense.
Ajāmila was hopelessly attached to his son, but called his name at the time of death in nāmābhāsa, without offense, and was liberated. That’s a clear example of having attachment being not an offense to the holy name.
In fact, attachment can even be spiritualized according to the Bhāgavatam:
“Association for sense gratification is certainly the path of bondage. But the same type of association, performed with a saintly person, leads to the path of liberation, even if performed without knowledge.” (Bhāg. 3.23.55)
“Maintaining attachments” being an offense refers to remaining attached to things that cannot be used in Krishna’s service, or maintaining attachments beyond our needs that we are capable of giving up and don’t. We generally know what they are and to maintain them inhibits our chanting.
A description of the ten offenses to the holy name is found in the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa by Sanātana Gosvāmī. I consulted a reputable scholar about that reference and he sent me in his own words the import of Sanātana Gosvāmī ’s Dig-darśinī commentary on tenth offense. It confirmed my analysis. Here is what he sent:
‘The import is that if one’s material attachments are causing one to become faithless in the holy name, one is an offender. It doesn’t mean that a person having faith in the glories of the holy name is an offender if they have some material attachments remaining in them.”[1]
My response was a quick answer, but the application is clear. Use your affection for your husband, which can’t be and should not be renounced artificially, in Krishna’s service by keeping yourself healthy and setting a good example for him and others of what coming to Krishna consciousness means.
When I see you next we can talk about this in more detail because there are subtleties in a Krishna conscious marriage that have to be navigated, but general affection for your husband and mother are natural impulses that are not against pure devotional service and certainly not nāmāparādha.”
This exchange is an example of how one must be thoughtful and raise one’s doubts to understand the philosophy of Krishna consciousness deeply. Otherwise there is risk one will accept some things blindly, such as the concept of “not maintaining material attachment”, and misapply the philosophy. I was happy to have received her inquiry.

[1] The following was sent to me by Hari Pārṣada das of Mumbai:
The tenth offense is given in the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (11.524) as follows:

śrute’pi nāma-māhātmye
yaḥ prīti rahito ’dhamaḥ
nāmni so’py aparādha kṛt
In his Dig-darśinī commentary, Srīla Sanātana Gosvāmī  has given two interpretations of this verse. I am giving two simple translations based on these two interpretations:
Translation 1: Even (api) on hearing (śrute) the glories of the holy name (nāma-māhātmye), the wretched soul (adhamaḥ) who (yaḥ) is devoid of faith (prīti-rahito) for the holy name (nāmni), being obsessed with (paramo) I, mine and other material attachments (amaṁ-mamādi) — that person (so) too (api) is an offender (aparādha-kṛt).
Note: In this interpretation, Srīla Sanātana Gosvāmī  has translated the term pṛiti-rahito as śraddhā-rahito (devoid of faith). The import is that if one’s material attachments are causing one to become faithless in the holy name, one is an offender. It doesn’t mean that a person having faith in the glories of the holy name is an offender if they have some material attachments remaining in them. (emphasis mine).
Translation 2: Even (api) on hearing (śrute) the glories of the holy name (nāma-māhātmye), the wretched soul (adhamaḥ) who is devoid of prema, love of god (prīti-rahito) and is obsessed with (paramo) feelings of I, mine etc. (ahaṁ-mamādi) in relation to the holy name (nāmni) — that person (so) too (api) is an offender (aparādha-kṛt).
Note: In translation 2, it is said that such a person has feelings in terms of I and mine in relation to the holy name. Srīla Sanātana Gosvāmī explains this as follows — Such a person thinks — “I am a great chanter of the holy names. It is me who has spread kīrtana of the names here, there and everywhere. Who is a greater propagator of the holy name as compared to me? The holy name is thus under the control of my tongue.”

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #51 – Radha-Bhāva and Prabhupāda

December 18th, 2017

This is not about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s eternal relationship with Krishna. I will leave that for other discussions. What I want to share with you is a realization I had recently in my reading of the last chapter of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta by Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja called The Śikṣāṣṭaka Prayers, a realization that highlights how Śrīla Prabhupāda gave us the most practical path in understanding our own relationship with Krishna. [1]
In that regard, I found particularly relevant the discussion of the last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam that describes the mood of Śrī Radha at that height of Her devotion:
“I know no one but Krishna as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful Lord unconditionally.” (v. 8)
Before I continue with my thesis, it is important to understand the context in which this verse is recited. According to Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja this verse is a paraphrase by Śrī Caitanya of what Śrī Radha told Her friends after they advised Her to disregard Krishna. He had apparently spurned her. In other words, She loved Krishna so much that just the suggestion to ignore Krishna, even when seemingly justified, ignited the depths of Her unconditional love. [2] In Śrī Caitanya’s ensuing explanation of this verse to His most confidential associates Svarūpa Dāmodara and Rāmānanda Rāya, He further elaborates on how this concluding verse expresses the nature of Śrī Radha’s love at its height.
“I do not mind my personal distress. I only wish for the happiness of Krishna, for His happiness is the goal of my life. However, if He feels great happiness in giving me distress, that distress is the best of my happiness.” [3] (Cc. Antya-līlā 20.52)
Now back to my originally inspiration. After reading the eighth verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam and its explanation by Śrī Caitanya Himself, it struck me how this final verse not only expresses the mood of Śrī Radha at the height of her devotion but accentuates the basic foundation of bhakti in a manner very reminiscent of the way Śrīla Prabhupāda and his own spiritual master, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta, preached. This is clearer when understanding the history of their mission.
Without retreading a long and complex history, Śrīla Bhaktisddhanta appeared at a time when the teachings of Śrī Caitanya had become very much degraded. The people coming to Śrī Caitanya’s lineage were mostly guided to higher and esoteric meditations in Krishna consciousness without the prerequisite foundational sacrifice and proper behavior. Śrīla Prabhupāda describes Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta’s concern about this and how he called out those called prākṛta-sahajiyās who cheaply concentrated their meditation on Krishna’s intimate pastimes without the recommended step-by-step process to first purify their hearts.
“Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura says that a devotee does not care about his own happiness and distress; he is simply interested in seeing that Krishna is happy, and for that purpose he engages in various activities […] Those who are materialistic, […] like the prākṛta-sahajiyās, regard their own happiness as the aim of life. Some of them aspire to enjoy themselves by sharing the happiness of Krishna. This is the mentality of fruitive workers who want to enjoy sense gratification by making a show of service to Krishna.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 20.52, purport)
Seeing this tendency, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta, and Śrīla Prabhupāda after him, stressed unconditional surrender to the spiritual master and stringently warned of entering realms of esoteric bhakti prematurely. As a result they were often criticized for not giving what Śrī Caitanya came to give, rāgānugā-bhakti, a practice based very much on meditating on Krishna’s pastimes and visualizing one’s own spiritual identity within them.
The last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, however, implies clearly that what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta and Śrīla Prabhupāda stressed was not just for beginners, but also the essence of the highest attainment in Krishna-consciousness, a practice that only needs to be ripened by the pure chanting of the name to achieve its fruition.
So that’s my realization today while reading the Caitanya-caritamrita – that if you want to awaken your eternal relationship with Krishna then faithfully follow the teachings of Śrīla Prabhupāda by unconditionally surrendering to Śrī Śrī Guru and Krishna in service of Śrī Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana mission. Certainly one who sincerely does this is embracing the essence of radha-bhāva as expressed in that ultimate verse:
“I know no one but Krishna as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful Lord unconditionally.”

[1] It is worthy to note here that the Śikṣāṣṭakam prayers are particularly significant because they are the only verses, eight in number, that Śrī Caitanya composed.
[2] Also significant is that this verse is the last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam and represents the fulfillment of the internal reason for Śrī Caitanya’s appearance, to experience the love of His topmost devotee at the height of Her love.
[3] Śrī Caitanya’s explanation of the Śikṣāṣṭakam comprises thirteen verses. I have only chosen one for the sake of the clarity and force of my post to highlight the mood of them all.

Monday Morning Greeting 2017 #50 – The Self-Effulgent Vaiṣṇava

December 11th, 2017

Śrī Vibhu Caitanya passed me as he was trudging up the stairs of the gurukula building on his way to his residence on the top floor. It was a bit of a struggle now as his body from the waist was severely bent over as a result of old age. He also no longer had the strength to cook in the kitchen. It was just a few days back that he was forced by time to leave his service. It was difficult to for him to retire as he had been faithfully doing that service for over twenty years since Śrīla Prabhupāda asked him, a humble retired Bengali shopkeeper, to be the first deity cook for the ISKCON Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir. Every day he would enter the kitchen at two in the morning without fail to break the coal and start the fires for the day’s cooking. He would then stay until ten at night to single-handedly cook all six bhoga offerings, including the various deity sweets, only to rise again early the next day to start his service again. And whatever he cooked tasted like nectar! As I passed him on the stairs he looked at me affectionately and softly chuckled, “Six men, six men!” It was clear what he meant. That was the amount of devotees it took to replace his service in the kitchen!
That was one of the recollections I shared last week here when it was my time to offer him homage at the tenth anniversary celebration of his passing. I also thought that in addition to the stories of his life I should add some philosophical import to his example of service. I thought, “Why not find a word that served as the theme of his life, a common thread to all his glories?” The word “self-effulgent” suddenly came to my mind. I began to briefly explain why.
In Vaiṣṇava circles the term “self-effulgent” is reserved for the phrase self-effulgent ācārya. It means that although many people will adopt the post of guru, and there may be different opinions about the extent of their status and influence, a person such as Śrīla Prabhupada may arise that shines so self-evidently that their spiritual status is universally recognized without the need for authorization or promotion. Although Vibhu Caintanya wasn’t an ācārya in the sense of being a preacher or guru, for us he was that collectively respected Vaiṣṇava, our self-effulgent devotee. After Śrīla Prabhupāda left, I can’t think of anyone in ISKCON Vṛndāvana that was so universally recognized for the quality of their devotion.
Of course, his cooking service certainly stood out for its efficiency and quality of what was produced. He once said the altar belonged to Krishna, but the kitchen belonged to Radha. By the taste of what he cooked and offered, we had no doubt that he was the instrument to carry the love of Śrī Radha from the kitchen to the altar.
I could go on and on about the excellence of what he cooked and the kindness in which he would distribute it, but I think his more menial service shone most brightly. When Vibhu Caitanya was too old to cook he performed the humble service of sitting all day in the temple handing out the caraāmta. To this day the people who were there at the time remember the care and affection in which he would support their opened right hand with his left and then with his right hand carefully serve them the caraāmta ensuring that not a drop would touch the floor. He even arranged for a small refrigerator to keep the caraāmta cold so that he could serve his god-siblings very tiny cups filled with chilled caraāmta on a hot summer day.
He then became too disabled to even leave his room situated on the back bottom floor of the temple guesthouse, which he shared with several brahmacārīs. Again the force and beauty of his devotion could not be thwarted. He placed his bed next to the cement shelves on the wall where he made an altar with large beautiful pictures of all the temple deities. He then carefully picked out the flowers that were not wilted from the mahā deity garlands sent to his room and restrung them to make a stunning flower display for his altar. He demonstrated, and we observed, that when bhakti is spontaneous it cannot be stopped, even when confined to a cold dark brahmacārī āśrama.
I talked to his doctor a few hours before he was to leave the world. He showed me the instructions Vibhu Caitanya dictated to him just hours before he was to leave external consciousness and would no longer be able to express himself.
No medicine or medical treatment should be given.
Do not take me out of my room.[1]
No one should serve me.
I was astounded. We spend our whole lives vying for the center, but here was a person that was so fixed in service that to be served had become abhorrent. Even in his death he was self-effulgent. We all deeply mourned his separation.
This has been quite a long Monday Morning Greeting, but I wrote what needed to be expressed. I fear making this longer, but as a special feature of this morning’s greeting I will also share a page from Vibhu Caitanya’s journal, the only page to my knowledge that exists. It is translated from the Bengali and not really edited for clarity and force so you will have to read it carefully to follow his train of ideas, but I think his depth and sincerity will be self-evident.
Yathā Dharma Tathā Jaya
By Vibhu Caitanya Prabhu

Dated 29 March 2006
Yathā dharma tathā jaya”—Where there is dharma, there is victory.
One must suffer for sinful activities.
Arjuna was in the path of dharma therefore he became victorious. Just to kill a mosquito, one will slap one’s own cheek, and the same happened to the Kauravas. On the path of honesty there are many obstacles, but at the end is nectar. The door is open for dishonesty.
The thief is never peaceful, even after stealing he is always in fear that I am going to be caught by someone and the sin is on my shoulders.
Kuntīdevi, mother of the Pāṇḍavas, always prayed for miseries. Because I will forget you (Krishna) if there are no miseries.
Viśvāse milaya krishna tarke bahu-dūra: By faith one can reach Krishna, but by argument one cannot.
The Lord is only satisfied by devotion. One must give up his selfish motivation. One can’t do devotional service with a selfish motivation.
We are acting in this Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir just like opera party actors. After getting certain responsibilities here in Śrī Krishna-Balarama Mandir, one freely spends money as one likes. But they don’t know that after the stage program is over, the king does not remain king. We are all acting like that.
Just like sin and mercury. By incurring sin one must suffer, and by eating mercury it becomes visible in the body.
Abhay’s mother was eating with her left hand. Abhay asked his mother “Why are you eating with your left hand?” Then she started eating with her right hand. It was a vow for Abhay’s spiritual benefit.
Who is sādhu in this age of kali? Those who are truthful, they are the actual sādhus. Merely by wearing saffron, one cannot become a sādhu, and by wearing neck beads one can’t become a Vaiṣṇava. One who has firm faith in the absolute truth can obtain the Lord of the absolute truth.
A teacher told his students that I will give every one of you a piece of sandeśa (sweet). If you can eat it hiding in a place where no one sees you, then I will give you more sweets. All the students went out happily but one small boy thought, “How will I be able to eat it without anyone watching?”
The teacher told him to try.
The next day all the other students came back and described how they ate their sweet without being observed by anyone. Some reported to have eaten it in a dense jungle, some hiding in destitute buildings and so on. But the small boy did not return. The teacher told them, “Let the small boy come back and then I will give you enough sweets.”
When the boy returned, the teacher asked why he was late. The boy replied “I tried my best, but as I was ready to eat, I saw that someone was always observing me.” The boy was spiritually enlightened. Therefore him.
Once while traveling through the forest, Lord Ramachandra felt very thirsty. He went to a pond and upon reaching, he loaded His bow with an arrow and pierced the earth. Upon returning, He saw a frog pierced by his arrow. Lord Ramchandra asked “Why didn’t you give any signal when I loaded my bow?” The frog replied “Whenever I am in danger I call out ‘Lord Rama, please save me!’ But if Lord Rama is killing me, then to whom should I call out to for help?”
If the Lord wants to kill someone, then no one can save him.
The Lord is always with everyone, and never brings them any inauspicious.
Once there was scarcity in the time of Lord Buddha deva. He asked, “Who wants to take the responsibility of this scarcity?” No one wanted to take it. One girl from a poor family came forward and humbly offered to take responsibility. “I have a treasury at home,” she said. “In the morning I will beg from door to door and my pot will supply endlessly. I can save the world by begging.”
Everyone should learn from everyone.
From a dog, we can learn expertise in eating, satisfied by little, sleeping unperturbedly and quickly waking up.
From an ass, we can learn:
akatare aviram gurubhar vay,
kiva site kiva grisme katar na hay
They are carrying heavy loads continuously, but are never exhausted, be it summer or winter.
phutiyache sarovare kamal nikovar
dhariyache ki acarya sobha manohar
The wonderfully beautiful lotuses are blossoming in the pond and charming the mind of the beholder.
gun gun rave kata bhramar madhu khaya
kintu ara haraive adin yakhan asive na are karite gunjan
Many bumble bees are enjoying honey from the lotus and making a “ghun ghun” sound. But a day comes when there are no lotuses left to attract the buzzing bees.
Similarly, when men are in wealthy situations, many friends come to meet them. But when their situation not so lavish, no one comes.
One day a rich man gave some lakṣmī to his poor friend. He was returning home keeping that lakṣmī in his turban. But one rapacious bird came from a nearby coconut tree and snatched his pagri (turban) because the times were very bad. But when his good time arrived, he saw his turban along with his lakṣmī, kept nicely on the tree.
One day an elephant was walking near the market place and a few dogs were barking at him. But the elephant kept walking toward his destination undisturbed.
Similarly, real sādhus carry out their sādhana-bhajana without being disturbed by thousands of criticisms.
Who is a sādhu?
Two kinds of māyā are there. One is vidyā and the other is avidyā. There are two kinds of vidyāmāyā and six kinds of avidyā-māyā. Viveka and vairāgya are the vidyāi-māyās and kāma, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, and mātsarya (lust, anger, greed, illusion, pride, and envy) are the avidyāmāyās.
One day a man was passing near one house and heard someone crying inside. He entered the house and saw that a mother was crying with her dead son on her lap. The man asked her, “Why you are crying?” The mother replied, “My Gopal has left me forever.” The man said “You used to feed Gopal, kiss him, but after giving you some vātsalya humor, he left you forever.”
Give up māyā!
Do you know how māyā is? It is just like aquatic algae, which covers the water of a pond. If one can repel it by splashing water and blocking it using bamboo, the aquatic algae wont spread again. This is called viveka.
And vairāgya means to be freed from all desires for sense objects.
tyaja maya moha visay o vikar,
śrī hari sricaran hridi kara saar
bhaver karnadhar daka anivar,
naile ante pavine nistar
Please give up this māyā of illusion, don’t be disturbed by the sense object. Keep the lotus feet of Śrī Hari as the only object for your life and soul/heart.
Please call continuously the captain of this bhava-world, otherwise there is no way to be protected at the end.
cirasukhi jana bhrame ki kakhan
vyathito vedan bujhite pare
ki yatana vise bujhive se kise
kabhu asivise dansini yare
Those are always enjoying happiness can’t experience the miseries of miserable persons. How will one know the pain of poison, if he hasn’t been bitten by a snake?

[1] He hadn’t left the boundary of the temple complex for over thirty years.

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #49 – Life’s Greatest Tragedy

December 4th, 2017

The greatest tragedy is to have the wrong goal, for then all of one’s work in life will be for naught, even if one reaches one’s desired destination.
Take the rich and famous, for example. How sad to have reached their goal only to find that happiness still eludes them-as happiness is never something temporary or superficial like fame or money. This kind of happiness is superficial because such pleasure doesn’t touch the real you. We are consciousness that reaches fruition in service or devotion and therefore material attainments are useless unless they help to change one’s consciousness in that direction.
But misguided faith is not just the problem for the materialist. Are we not all, even the spiritual aspirant, to some degree or another in the illusion that “I will be happy in the future when the world finally conforms to my desires”? What a sad plight to set our aspiration on being the enjoyer of a world that we cannot control! The question then naturally arises: is there any alternative to such frustration and tragedy, an eternal and blissful goal that is attainable?
Theists say yes. That everlasting and joyful goal is our eternal loving relationship with the Divine, an experience so sublime and impressionable that just a drop of its awakening at the beginning of our spiritual life becomes śraddhā, unflinching trust in something truly sublime. It is only for one who has śraddhā that life is not a tragedy or a labor for nothing. If you don’t have it then pray for it. If you do have it then treasure and nourish it, especially by the company and service of those who call out the holy names of God with love. Put ephemeral things in perspective. You may need them to be peaceful, but they are not the goal within themselves. Do not make anything in life but krishna-prema, a heart filled with devotion, your aim in life. Don’t live a life of tragedy!
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Mark 8.36

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #48 – The Talking Book

November 27th, 2017

Part 1: Prayerful Reading
Have you ever read a book that talks to you? If you don’t believe it’s possible, then prayerfully read the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam daily. Your sincere questions and prayers will be answered, for the book that you hold in your hand is not just ink and paper. It’s cit-śakti, spiritual potency, and spiritual things are alive and living means responsive. Here’s how to prayerfully read the Bhāgavatam:

  1. Set a time and place exclusively for reading śāstra. If you don’t yet have the time or taste for it, even fifteen minutes is sufficient. More time of course is better, but whatever you can do is adequate to begin. During that time vow that nothing else will enter your sacred space whether it’s email, Facebook, or even family.
  2. Before beginning your study, pray to the teacher or teachers that you will encounter during your reading. Whoever it is, whether it be the book’s main speakers like Śukadeva or Sūta Gosvāmī, or its prominent commentators like Śrīla Prabhupāda, pour your heart out to them. You will be in the presence of a pure devotee, and a true saint is non-different than their vāṇī, or teachings. Ask them for inspiration, guidance, or whatever you feel you need spiritually.
  3. Slowly and prayerfully read out loud in the mood of your entreaties and in the consciousness of being before the persons that are instructing you.
  4. If any sentence or point in the text strikes you as exceptionally significant or relevant read it over three times.
  5. When the allotted time is up close the book and offer obeisances to the saintly people in whose presence you have just learned. Express your gratitude.
  6. Optional: Add three to five minutes of free writing. Free writing means that without referring to the book just begin to write about whatever point in your reading of the Bhāgavatam impressed you, or even just write anything you remembered. The trick is to keep the pen moving and never stop writing, even if you have to say, “I don’t know what to write.” In my experience that will not happen for just moving the pen mystically connects you to your memory. You will have plenty to say.

And the book will also talk to you.

Part 2: My Personal Experience With Prayerful Reading
Over the years the Bhāgavatam has many times spoken to me personally to answer my questions and to guide me, but I especially like when the book reveals new philosophical insights on the meaning of a particular text, meanings that I have never before read in any commentary. Here’s one example:
There is a profound connection between the first and last verse of the Bhagavad-gītā.
In the very first verse of the Gītā, King Dhṛtarāṣṭra inquires from Sañjaya, his mystical advisor, about the impending battle at Kurukṣetra between his sons and the sons of Pāṇḍu led by Arjuna:
“Dhṛtarāṣṭra said: O Sañjaya, after assembling in the place of pilgrimage at Kurukṣetra, what did my sons and the sons of Pāṇḍu do, being desirous to fight?”
The commentators explain that Dhṛtarāṣṭra is concerned with how the holy place will influence the battle, but that he expected victory in this ugly fratricidal war because of the greater size of his son’s army. The verse also forebodes victory for the sons of Pāṇḍu. The battlefield is a place of pilgrimage (dharma-kṣetra) and Krishna, who upholds and protects dharma (righteousness), is on their side.
The last verse of the Gītā states its conclusion and answers Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s initial inquiry definitively:
“Wherever there is Krishna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality. That is my opinion.”
The connection seems obvious, although I have never seen it stated. The first verse is a view of the battle through the eyes of a materialist filled with anxiety about a situation he cannot control, calculating success based on one’s personal power rather than doing what’s right. In contrast the last verse, spoken by his advisor Sañjaya is a view of that same world through the eyes of a spiritualist, seeing success or victory not by expedience or material superiority, but by choosing righteousness or dharma. Dharma here is represented by the presence of Krishna, the master of all mystics, and His devotee Arjuna, the supreme archer.
So that’s what the book spoke to me. I highly recommend beginning this conversation yourself.
Where to purchase the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam at

Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #47 – A Bhakti-Yogi’s Guide to Enjoying the Senses

November 20th, 2017

Unlike the traditional paths of jñāna and yoga, the path of bhakti does not deny sensual experience. Pure devotees feast and have favorite foods, hear beautiful melodies and rhythms, and enjoy the flower and jewel decorations of the deity. A question is thus raised. If one of the characteristics of pure devotional service is being without any extraneous desire, as a devotee advances in devotional service should not he or she try to gradually renounce any experience of sensual relish, even of certain favorite foods and music, even when offered to Krishna for His pleasure?
Intuitively, the answer seems simple. Of course not! But again the conclusion is not so free of complexity when considering the definition of pure devotional service as exclusively and even militantly only for Krishna. I always wanted to clearly reconcile this quandary. Recently, a situation gave me the inspiration on how to do so.
A few weeks ago I took some visitors here in Vṛndāvana to a special evening kīrtana program where the line up of singers was quite extraordinaire. Unfortunately I had to leave early for another engagement and was surprised how difficult it was to walk out the door. I was especially lamenting leaving before a particularly devotional and talented singer had the stage. Then it suddenly dawned on me why: More than staying to enjoy the kīrtana myself, I wanted to see how much my guests would relish it. Here was the example I was looking for, a clear illustration of wanting to enjoy a sensual experience, but not for one self. Other practical examples came to mind:
When I would visit my paternal grandmother she would always make for us her specialty—angel food cake. It was spongy soft, golden, and incredibly tasty. After we finished, my grandmother would only take a very small piece. I now understand why. She only needed a taste to relish how her grandchildren had enjoyed. Her experience was thus both sensual and selfless at that same time.
This juncture between the sensual and spiritual reveals how the pure devotee relishes Krishna mahā-prasādam. They experience the taste in relation to how Krishna enjoyed the offering. The experience or taste thus goes beyond the sensual to the spiritual or devotional, as our enjoyment becomes the happiness of our beloved, the very definition of bhakti.
It’s a comforting thought for those of us immersed in matter to understand that even when one achieves perfection and is serving in Krishna-līlā one can still enjoy the senses without that experience marring the fulfillment of consciousness, which is total and selfless devotion.
Of course initially within Krishna consciousness we can enjoy the senses for ourselves to the extent we need to keep the mind and body together for the purpose of executing Krishna consciousness peacefully, but as one advances in spiritual life our consciousness should gradually shift. We should see, taste and hear things through purified senses—senses that register the experience in the heart for a sense of devotion rather than direct the experience to the ego for a sense of enjoyment and control. We will then consciously hear music, taste food, and look at the deities through the pleasure of Krishna rather than our own. At the least we will not buy and eat things only for ourselves without offering them first in devotion to God.
And that is the bhakti-yogi’s guide to enjoying the senses.



Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #46 – On Being Considerate

November 13th, 2017

The raucous and outrageously over amplified sound of the Indian wedding band from the nearby town of Govardhana even pierced my sound protectors. I cursed them. It wasn’t only that my early morning chanting was disturbed. I could tolerate that. I just hate when people are blatantly inconsiderate. Other examples raced through my mind.
Years ago I was responsible for overseeing the main temple kitchen in ISKCON Vṛndāvana. [1] My specialty was personally organizing gourmet feasts on special holidays and seeing that the fifteen preparations were impeccably served. One of our specialties was cauliflower and potato sabjī with fried paneer. When it came time to serve the feast inevitably one senior person would use their rank to sit in the front of the line. After receiving a generous helping the devotee would not only direct the humble server to stop and serve him a second helping, but worse would direct the server to pick out the soft and succulent cheese pieces just for themselves. I would freak. If people selfishly do that, by the time we get to the end of the line there will be no fried paneer left for others. How inconsiderate!
Here is another: I was sitting in a relatively small room in India with a few people sharing our reflections on Śrīla Prabhupāda. It was fairly hot and we had the fans at full blast. A thin senior sannyāsi (monk) walked in and instructed someone to shut the fans. I can tolerate the heat, but I was boiling inside. I thought: Because he has a vāta constitution and is cold, he sees the whole world as cold, even if others are sweltering. How insensitive!
I could go on and on. And I am sure I also am not innocent. It’s the core material disease to see the world according to our own desires and to think of our self before others. Perhaps this racket is blasting in my ears to teach me a lesson and make me condemn the very thing that must still be in myself. If that is how the law of karma works, it is doing a good job for inconsideration has become my pet peeve. I abhor it.
To be considerate is not just another moral principle. To think of others before oneself is the foundation of the bhakti tradition. If we don’t learn that in our ordinary dealings, whether it is within partnership, family, or community how will we be qualified for the spiritual world where the basic qualification is pure devotion, to always see the desires of God and all his servants before our own?
The band played on and I pray to never be that way: May we always be considerate!

[1] Oversee means that as a temple manager the kitchen was under my direction, not that I was the cook.


Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #45 – Perils on the Path of Contemplation

November 6th, 2017

Beware! The false ego is lurking in the background of our consciousness waiting for the slightest inattention to steal even our best qualities to make us proud. I constantly remind myself of this, otherwise my efforts in spiritual practice will be spoiled. I am especially concerned this month. For over twenty years I have come to Govardhana during Kārttika to build up my spiritual strength by taking a vow to increase my chanting. I chant and chant. I pray not to ruin it as my vanity swells:
“My meditation is going deeper and deeper. Am I better than others?”
Suddenly I remember the gentle admonishment of an elderly Vaiṣṇava to my friend when he told that sādhu about his Kārttika vows: “You are not better than everyone or anyone!”
“I am getting taste for the holy name. Should I be proud?”
“What’s there to be proud of? You have been practicing for 47 years. It is about time you have some taste for the holy name.”
“I have been steady for the whole month. Am I becoming a great devotee?”
“What you are doing is a pittance compared to great devotees. And their mind doesn’t wander to do silly things. And let’s see how long it lasts.”
I battle the voice of egotism, the insidious part of me that will shamelessly use anything to promote my delusions of grandeur, even the little good I occasionally do. I remind myself, it just takes a little inattention and all my efforts will be ruined. I fight the voice of pride with the weapons of regret, mercy, and compassion – the sober voices of truth that arise by the grace of the holy name.
I regret my life as an enjoyer and controller. The things that I have done and that I have said embarrass me. I lament the people I have hurt. By the mercy of the holy name these thoughts spontaneously arise whenever I need to be humble. They remind me who I really am.
I consider the mercy I am receiving, for mercy requires an object of mercy and makes one reflect on one’s lack of qualification. By the grace of the holy name whenever thoughts of grandeur make me feel independent and proud I contemplate the undeserved kindness I have received on the path of bhakti.
I feel compassion. If I gain any small taste for the holy name I feel sorry for those lacking this gift, not proud that I have anything. By the grace of the holy name a drop of empathy awakens and I think of others instead of my inflated self.
Why I am writing this? Won’t sharing my bhajana make me proud? What can I do? My process of writing Monday Morning Greetings is to write about the first realization that comes to mind after I complete an article for posting. And this week it happens to be this realization. If I don’t post it, there will be nothing this week for my readers, but have I not also given away the personal benefit of my Kārttika-vrata? A story comes to mind:
I was taking lunch in Govardhana with a fairly renowned sādhu when a younger practitioner came over and announced to him, “I am chanting 64 rounds!” The sādhu smiled and replied, “Thank you. Now you have given the benefit of your chanting to me. When you announce your vow to someone you become proud and they become humble and the results is that the fruit of your effort goes to them.”
Oh, the perils on the path of contemplation!

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