Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #9 – Monday Morning Musings III

March 1st, 2021

Reflection One

“Devotion in the form of kirtan is unlimitedly merciful to those devoid of false prestige. Humility is natural in Kali Yuga, because even the most highly competent today lack the qualification to properly perform penance, yoga, Vedic study and sacrifice. Therefore, the people today who are naturally meek have a special dispensation to easily achieve the results derived from the more arduous practices of previous ages through the easy practice of sankirtan.”[1]

 

 

Reflection Two

Begin with a saṅkalpa, a vow, to not dwell on extraneous thoughts while meditating. Do that sincerely for some time, and Krishna will reciprocate by helping fix the mind on Him. Devotion will then naturally flow from the heart without bearing the weight of discipline.

 

 

Reflection Three

To one degree or another, the mind of one who has not perfected yoga will occasionally wander while meditating. For such a person, their advancement on the path of meditation will depend on what the mind wanders to. If we are constantly serving Krishna and hearing about Him, then the mind will go to thoughts about Krishna, which will inspire us to regain focus on His holy name. If we are wasting time on social media, it will wallow in the sea of material distraction and hate.

 

 

Reflection Four

The taste of chanting is mercy. Only a humble person can feel mercy. The world makes us humble so we can taste the holy name.

 

 

Reflection Five

For chanting to go deep, there must be some relationship with the holy name, which means to be ever conscious that we are dealing with a person. That relationship only develops by hearing about the person whose name we are chanting. The process of properly chanting the holy name therefore means not just chanting Krishna’s name, but regularly reading about His glories, including hearing His pastimes.

 

 

Reflection Six

It was certainly Krishna’s grace that I heard fairly clearly each and every syllable in the mantra. I then silently said thank you quickly after every mantra for the rest of the round. Gratitude invokes a humble mind and enables us to feel Krishna’s mercy. It helps create a consciousness where the holy name can shine. Thank you!

 

 

Reflection Seven

When we follow the dictates of our mind, our material identity is reinforced. However, if we can neglect those commands, our consciousness will flow towards the soul. Yoga begins with saying no to the mind’s chatter. Therefore, in mantra yoga, we must have a time and place for chanting, where, with determination, we can neglect the pushing of the restless mind to break our concentration.

 

 

Reflection Eight

It took practically all of my chanting today for the mind to be clear, and what did I see? I desperately need Krishna. Then real chanting began. I lamented, “Why can’t I begin that way?”

 

 

Reflection Nine

MVP (Most Valuable Post)

 

“If an assembly of sannyāsīs indulges in blasphemy, then that assembly is more sinful than an assembly of drunkards.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata, Madhya 9.42)

 

Comment: Devotion is very easy. What is difficult is avoiding gossiping and the criticism of others. If a Vaishnava saṅga carelessly allows that to pervade its assembly, that assembly will be ruined, even if following everything else strictly. Therefore, the key to chanting is to avoid gossiping and criticizing others. And that is, no doubt, the MVP.

 

 


[1] Paraphrased from Bhakti-sandarbha, Anucchedda 270.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #8 – “Before Breaking the Rules, You Have to Know Them!”

February 22nd, 2021

“Before Breaking the Rules, You Have to Know Them!”

 

I recently heard this quote in a class by Friar Richard Rohr that I was listening to in preparation for my last post. I became struck with the profundity of the statement and researched its origins. It is difficult to exactly pinpoint its roots, but it is generally credited to either Pablo Picasso or the Dalai Lama. I don’t know anywhere, however, where this saying is so deeply elucidated as in the essay “The Bhagavat, its Ethics and Theology” by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. The essay is a mine of jewels on this subject. I will pick just one short excerpt to begin our analysis of this point:

 

“Thoughts will necessarily continue to be an endless series of means and objects in the progresses of humanity. The great reformers will always assert that they have come out not to destroy the old law, but to fulfill it. Valmiki, Vyasa, Plato, Jesus, Mohammed, Confucius, and Caitanya Mahaprabhu assert the fact either expressly or by their conduct.”

 

As I thought further on the need to be immersed in tradition before attempting to reform it, it became evident to me why this understanding is so essential. At the crux of this view is the conviction that there is logos, a truth or controlling principle that forms the basis of ancient traditions. Therefore, “breaking the rules” to institute reform cannot possibly mean to totally discard the tradition. Rather, it means reformatting or changing how these truths are expressed and applied so that those same truths remain relevant in a modern context.

 

From my experience, it is either those who are too reactionary or progressive that pose the greatest challenge to maintaining this type of a living tradition. While the reactionary fail to recognize the occasional need to break the form of the law when it is no longer functional, the thoughtlessly progressive fail to recognize the purpose of the law leading to either an uncompromising break with tradition or a radical transformation of it. A state or institution without this ability to both break and remain true to its roots at the same time will surely lack the wisdom needed for its conservation.

 

A more contemporary example that demonstrates this very delicate concept is the success of Srila Prabhupada implanting an ancient Indian tradition in the West. He credited the marked success of his movement to the liberality in which he accepted women into the ashram and empowered them to serve despite the apparent orthodoxy of the Indian tradition in this matter. At the same time, he no qualms carefully delineating and promoting the place of traditional gender roles in a functional society when they could be appropriately applied. In other words, he broke rules, but also knew their value and thus set the foundation for a living tradition, one with both the purity of tradition and the compassion of adaptability to survive the nihilistic post-modern world.

 

“Before Breaking the Rules, You Have to Know Them!” The statement intrigued me, and I found no one that better elucidated either the depth of its meaning or the folly of its neglect than Bhaktivinoda Thakur. We’ll end our Monday Morning Greeting here with another one of his gems: “Progress certainly is the law of nature, and there must be correction and developments with the progress of time. But progress means going further or rising higher. Now, if we are to follow our foolish critic, we are to go back to our former terminus and make a new race, and when we have run half the race, another critic of his stamp will cry out: ‘Begin anew, because the wrong road has been taken!’ In this way, our stupid critics will never allow us to go over the whole road and see what is in the other terminus. Thus, the shallow critic and the fruitless reader are the two great enemies of progress. We must shun them.”

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #7 – What I Learned from Tom Brady

February 15th, 2021

In American sports, there is a term “GOAT”, which is an acronym for “Greatest Of All Time”. That title unquestionably belongs to Tom Brady, at least in terms of American football. I just spoke to my older brother the other day, and he informed me that at the age of forty-three Tom Brady won his unprecedented seventh Super Bowl, an unimaginable accomplishment for those who know the game. A lot of talk surrounding his success included his dedication to his craft based on a daily regimen that allowed him not only to continue to excel, but to dominate his sport at a position where top athletes rarely last into their mid to late thirties. I was curious to explore his regimen, so I found an article on his routine.[1]

 

His daily hour-by-hour schedule and his unwavering commitment to follow it was impressive, and it inspired me to improve my own regimen. But it wasn’t just his schedule that impressed me. His approach to excellence was comprehensive, from the intricacy of his fitness program and his daily exercises for mental acuity to his carefully planned diet to give him energy and strength without causing inflammation in the body. Here’s what I gleaned as the two main factors leading to Tom Brady’s excellence that I think also have practical application in spiritual life.

 

Having a Fixed Objective

Tom Brady set his goal on being the best at his craft. What stands out more than anything else when studying his career is how his goal of excellence informed all aspects of his life. In the same way, for a yogic aspirant to have reasonable spiritual attainment, his or her life has to be fully informed by their spiritual goals. The story of how Srila Prabhupada became inspired to know and fulfill his life mission is a good example of this. While reading a verse in the Bhagavad-gita about being resolute in determination, he was suddenly struck by its commentary, which was interpreted to mean that one should take the order of the spiritual master as one’s life and soul. He then remembered his guru’s instruction to preach Krishna consciousness in the English language and took it up with fervor. That mission or objective ruled the rest of his life, enabling him to achieve what others saw as impossible. At the age of seventy, he took the holy name of Krishna first to America and then to every town and village of the world.

 

Regulation

Having a set, fixed objective is no doubt the most important component of success in life, but that alone is not sufficient to achieve excellence. Like Tom Brady, one must chalk out a schedule and be disciplined to fulfill it. Regulation as the foundation of achievement is especially true on the path of yoga, where success requires an exclusive time and place for the practice of meditation and the fulfillment of one’s seva. Without that, one’s focus will inevitably be challenged or distracted by other priorities. Distraction is not yoga on any path. When meditating on the power of regulated life, the example of three spiritual luminaries come immediately to mind. The substantial spiritual practices of Raghunatha dasa Goswami, the prayojana acaraya,[2] were so fixed or immovable that they were described as like the lines of a stone. Bhaktivinoda Thakur was so regulated in his life that besides his work as a District Magistrate and his responsibilities as a father of ten children, his schedule included, among other things, six hours of writing every day. Srila Prabhupada started and led a world-wide spiritual movement, circling the globe twelves times in ten years. At the same time, his fixed schedule still afforded him the ability to translate more than fifty volumes of Sanskrit texts into English with personal commentaries.

 

Tom Brady is an exemplar of excellence. His fixedness in his goal and consequent discipline should inspire anyone, even those in the spiritual field. While meditating in this way, however, another thought suddenly came to my mind that encouraged me personally. I wouldn’t trade my simple life of chanting the holy name with him for all the money in the world. I couldn’t imagine the level of attachment someone like him accrues, and the consequent duality and fear that accompanies it. Like every man, his time will soon be up, and deep in his heart he knows it. Jesus said it best: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36, ESV)

 

And that’s what I learned from Tom Brady.

 

 

 


[1] https://nypost.com/article/tom-brady-diet-fitness-routines/

[2] In the Caitanya bhakti tradition, Raghunath dasa Goswami is considered the main teacher for exemplifying how to attain the ultimate goal of premabhakti.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #6 – Movement or Mission?

February 8th, 2021

In a discussion with a friend, he distinguished between the Hare Krishna Movement (its structure and organization) and its mission (its goals or objectives), stressing the importance of the mission: awakening our eternal relationship with Krishna. It was a passing remark in a brief discussion, but as I reflected on his statement, I was inspired to give it some more thought. It seems important to make a careful distinction between the concepts of “movement” and “mission” in order to balance their relative value. I would like to deepen my understanding of that relationship by first discussing the views of two scholars on the subject, beginning with the thoughts of the late Joseph T. O’Connell, one of the most prominent scholars of South Asian religion in the modern era.

 

Professor O’Connell defined the purpose of an institution as carrying its culture – what is right, real, and of value – into the future.[1] He further divided institutions into two divisions: hard institutions, where the values are preserved by a hierarchical management structure, and soft institutions, where the values are preserved more spontaneously through its teachers, devotional practices, and, most importantly, its sacred literatures. In the history of Caitanya Vaishnavism, both have had a role in preserving its culture, but the latter has proven to be more important, because it deals more exclusively with Sri Caitanya’s mission. An example of such prioritization is demonstrated in a fairly well-known exchange between Srila Prabhupada[2] and his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. His guru shared with him his concern about the terrible infighting that was occurring amongst his disciples over control of their lavish, newly built temple in Calcutta, and expressed his regret: “If I could sell this marble of this temple, and secure some money, and if I could print some books, that would have been better. That would have been better.” He then instructed Srila Prabhupada that, “if you ever get money, print books,” ensuring that his mission would be carried into the future. In other words, he prioritized the soft institution, where the mission is inherently embedded.

 

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar and a prominent spiritual teacher and author. In his book Falling Upward, he also makes a distinction between the external structures of an institution meant to support spiritual life and an institution’s core mission. However, he focuses on such distinctions not in terms of formal organizations, but in terms of how they are relevant in an individual’s personal life. To highlight that distinction, he outlines the journey of the hero as expressed in classical literature, which is inevitably divided in two parts of life. The first part, the external function of religion, is developing the structures of life to hold our internal development. We have all done that in our quest for stable family, suitable occupation, reasonable self-esteem, and supportive spiritual community. In the second part of the hero’s life, by destiny, these same structures that were necessary become an impediment and collapse. The hero is then forced to take full shelter of their spiritual essence, which becomes the second part of the hero or spiritual aspirant’s life. As one’s material protective agents breakdown, one is impelled forward in spiritual life, which is a phenomenon Rohr called “falling upwards”. I assume most reading this who are on a spiritual path have experienced how the unintended failure of aspects of our external support systems have impelled us to take shelter of the real purpose of those systems – our spiritual life – which perhaps we had neglected or not fully utilized.

 

I think I now understand more fully my friend’s concern. Hard Institutions are very important in preserving culture and facilitating spiritual life. Therefore, much energy must certainly be put into maintaining and promoting them. The objective of those institutions—and I think he was obviously referring to ISKCON, where he is a loyal and respected member—is the careful development of our spontaneous relationship with Krishna as outlined in the tradition’s sacred texts. That focus becomes more and more a necessity as the institution grows older and more stable, and its membership matures and ages. The tendency of spiritual institutions, however, is to make the maintenance and expansion of the hierarchical institution its main focus, and, in the process, lose sight of its purpose or mission, which is to bring its individual members back to Godhead. In the case of the Hare Krishna Movement, that means an increased focus on the devotional practices the tradition outlines to achieve that goal.

 

I appreciate my friend’s concern. I hope I added something to our discussion, because there is nothing more important to a spiritual movement than clarity about its mission.

 

 

 


[1] Joseph T O’Connell’s article on the subject:  https://gaudiyadiscussions.gaudiya.com/topic_1446.html

[2] Srila Bhaktisiddhanta is also known among his followers as Srila Prabhupada. In this article I will refer to him as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, his disciple, as Srila Prabhupada, the honorific title that he is also known as.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #5 – Are Vaishnavas Democrats or Republicans?

February 1st, 2021

I failed this week. I wanted to elaborate on a discussion I had with a friend about the difference between the Hare Krishna Movement (its structure and organization) and its mission (its goals or objectives). The wonderful thing about writing is that one is forced to clarify one’s conceptions. What I realized as my thoughts became clearer is that this week’s post needed to go in a completely different direction, and I just wouldn’t have time to complete it by Monday. I am thus reposting an article I wrote four years ago on a subject that I feel is relevant: the tendency for people in the modern age, including spiritual people, to fall too far into political camps rather than to think independently.

 

Are Vaishnavas Democrats or Republicans?[1]

 

Do Vaishnavas have an ideology? Srila Prabhupada had an interesting take in reference to the great Vaishnava King Yudhisthira:

 

“Therefore there are so many states over the earth quarrelling because of ideological differences or other selfish motives. But a king like Maharaja Yudhiṣṭhira had no ideology of his own.” (Bhāgavatam 1.10.4, purport)

 

Certainly Vaishnavas strongly profess a particular ideology, an economic and political system called varṇāśrama. So how could Srila Prabhupada describe as great a Vaishnava as Maharaja Yudhisthira as not having one of his own?

 

The reconciliation is simple. Srila Prabhupada is not saying that a Vaishnava doesn’t have an ideology. Rather, he means that unlike the conditioning of most modern-day conservatives or liberals, a Vaishnava does not bias his or her views. A Vaishnava’s opinion is informed by a detached judgment based on shastra, not a predictable, prejudiced “left” or “right” response regardless of the issue.

 

A Vaishnava’s objectivity being beyond bias is also described by Srila Prabhupada in reference to the rule of Maharaja Yudhisthira:

“He had but to follow the instructions of the infallible Lord and the Lord’s representative and the authorized agent, Bhīṣmadeva. It is instructed in the śāstra that one should follow the great authority and infallible Lord without any personal motive and manufactured ideology.” (Bhāgavatam 1.10.4, purport)

 

A learned Vaishnava can thus not be politically pigeonholed as simply “left” or “right.” Srila Prabhupada is a good example. Although in one sense he could be called conservative, as he often espoused traditional mores in the context of culture and civilization, he wasn’t limited by that ideology. When teaching in the West, for example, he took a more liberal approach in terms of engaging and empowering women. In other words, his views were informed not by his own “left” or “right” ideology but by the authority of shastra, which both advocates a strong tradition and requires leeway for its practical application in modernity. Thus, when arriving in San Francisco and being shown an article in which Allen Ginsberg had commented that he was conservative, Srila Prabhupada was indignant that although he was conservative in the sense of restricting sex and drugs according to shastra, “Conservative, we are not.” He said that although traditional sannyāsis like Sri Chaitanya would not even look at a woman, he was accepting everyone, “regardless of sex, caste, and position or whatever.” And later he would even engage those same women as head priests, pūjārīs, in his temples outside India.

 

Are Vaishnavas Democrats or Republicans? Such limited ideology born of one’s material conditioning is just not how a Vaishnava informs his or her views; nor does a Vaishnava have faith that such a limited ideological platform of “left” or “right” can even come close to meeting any promises for a better world.

 

 


[1] Originally posted September 12, 2016

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #4 – Monday Morning Musings II

January 25th, 2021

Chanting means to mean what I say: That’s called sincerity. O Radha! O Krishna! Please engage me in your service. Unless the voice in our mind becomes one with our words, it is not pure chanting.

 

Chant until the false ego screams: Chanting brings one in contact with the soul where one joyfully embraces the humble position of servant of the holy name. We are then forced to accept that we are not better than everyone or anyone. Ouch!

 

Pure chanting requires a soft hear: When you feel for others, the soft heart can easily be directed with feeling towards Krishna.

 

Attentiveness in chanting is tastefulness in devotion: The first expression of love is to focus on the object of one’s devotion, which consequently unlocks the mutual feelings of affection in that relationship. Therefore, without attentiveness for Krishna in the form of His holy name, it is not possible to awaken the feelings of devotion between the chanter and His Lord, a feeling that is the taste in devotion.

 

Chanting as prayer: Mindful chanting is the exaltation of the object of prayer and the consequent feelings of humility.

 

The agony and the ecstasy of chanting: Chanting clears the mind and exposes our false self. How painful to see one’s folly as a pretender, but how fortunate to realize that! It is our pretense only that impedes the heartfelt call for shelter that attracts God’s mercy.

 

Chanting must be inspired: There are so many mindsets from humility and determination to appreciation that inspire one to focus on Krishna. It takes effort to overcome lethargy and access the best of our thoughts in order to focus our mind with determination on the holy name. The discipline to offer our consciousness to Krishna is the first expression of our devotion for Him. Krishna, like any person, is responsive to love and will certainly reciprocate our effort with a taste for the holy name. The message I got today: Don’t surrender to the lazy mind. Find the best within you and use it to surrender to the holy name.

 

In chanting the negative attracts the positive: The mind is wandering. I can’t focus. What a wonderful opportunity to embrace our abject need for mercy and beg for the holy name. Success in devotion depends on humility. Our failings, therefore, can help us if it they reveal to us our dependence on God.

 

Chanting means seeking mercy: Meditation means to control the mind. We have millions of competing impressions imbedded in our consciousness over many lifetimes that challenge our will to focus on the holy name. As a result, success in meditation is only possible by mercy, a kindness that allows us to attain focus beyond our capability. Chanting therefore means begging for mercy.

 

We should chant with urgency: The name “Krishna” is the vocative case. It means “O Krishna”. “Hare” is in the vocative case. It means “O Radha”. It is the same with the name “Rama”. When dwelling on the meaning of the mantra, are we feeling that sense of urgency? Are we not to die tomorrow?

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #3 – Kaniṣṭha, Madhyam, and Uttama Eating

January 18th, 2021

The first and lowest stage of material consciousness, which represents the karmic or selfish mind, is called anna-moya, the animal consciousness of seeing everything only in terms of food. Therefore, for one who is serious about self-realization, controlling their eating is a priority. It is no wonder that one of the six main obstacles on the path of bhakti-yoga, the selfless path of devotion, is called atyāhāraati – extreme, āhāra – eating — for just like all obstacles on the path of bhakti, overeating sinks one into material consciousness and impedes devotion. Interestingly, although atyāhāra literally means “overeating”, it is used primarily in a generic way to indicate the excessive increase of material demands, which shows how much eating is conflated in general with the core of material consciousness, and why eating properly is so important.

 

I have divided eating into three levels according to its effect on consciousness. The terms kaniṣṭha (neophyte), madhyam (middling), and uttama (topmost) are generic terms used to indicate the level of one’s qualification for practicing devotion. I am using these terms here in a somewhat similar way in order to gradate the levels in which we can approach eating.

 

Kaniṣṭha (Restaurant Eating)

I am using the term restaurant eating to refer to eating food that was cooked to accrue profit and not cooked for one personally and lovingly. The experience of eating such food is simply sensual. As the activity of the eater is not sacrificial, but selfish, there is karmic reaction for such eating, whether one is a vegetarian or even a vegan.

 

“ […] Others [those who don’t offer food first for sacrifice], who prepare food for personal enjoyment, verily eat sin.” (Bg. 3.13)

 

Madhyam (Home Cooking)

I am using the term home cooking to refer to food that was cooked with love for one’s family, such as food cooked by a loving mother for her children. Taking such food is therefore not just a sensual experience, but also an emotional one, as the taste of the food is an expression of the cook’s love for the person being served. I have written about this before[1] in terms of how much of today’s mental disease, such as depression and anxiety, is caused by a lack of affection in one’s formative years, a nurturing that was mostly communicated through the food cooked by one’s mother.

 

It is, therefore, a sad time now in modern society, where there is not a culture at home of family meals, and, when eating, one thus mostly fends for oneself through restaurants, take-out, frozen meals, and snacking. Contrast that with high-end Bengali culture where even when two people are taking meals, one person will lovingly serve it.

 

Still, if the food is not offered in sacrifice there is a karmic reaction.

 

Uttama (Prasādam)

Prasādam literally means “grace”. It is an age-old tradition in Indian eating. One’s food is lovingly cooked and offered to God, and only taken in a mood of honoring Krishna’s mercy. It is thus also karma-free, because the cooking, serving, and eating is done with devotion.[2] The experience is therefore both sensual, emotional, and spiritual.

 

It is beyond the scope of a weekly post to describe the intricacies of how food is offered to God and transforms in the process.[3] I will state, however, that it is the experience of those adhering to the tradition, and confirmed by the sacred texts, that food cooked and taken in this way has a tangible transformative effect. Narada, the most famous Vaiṣṇava saint, describes his experience of taking prasādam from the plate of his teacher:

 

“Once only, by their permission, I took the remnants of their food, and by so doing all my sins were at once eradicated […]” (Bhag. 1.5.25)

 

Properly honoring prasādam is thus uttama eating, a sensual, emotional, and spiritual experience.

 

 


[1] https://wavesofdevotion.com/2016/04/18/the-mother-the-mind-and-food-2/

[2] Of course, it goes without saying that offering things with devotion means to offer vegetarian foodstuffs.

[3] There is so much more that can be discussed from exactly how one offers food to God and philosophical foundation of how it becomes transformed and frees one from sin.

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #2 – Is Surrender a Bad Word?

January 11th, 2021

Is Surrender a Bad Word? [1]

 

When I was in my teens a popular and favorite situation comedy on television was called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. It was about typical young men in the ’50s. The character that amused us the most was Dobie’s best friend, a beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs. Beatniks, like their descendants the hippies, had the reputation of never working. During the show, whenever Maynard was asked if he would like to work, he would shriek nervously, “Work!” We loved it. It was as if work was a bad word.

 

I find almost the same reaction today among some devotees when they hear the word surrender, even though surrender is the foundation of bhakti. Ouch! Why do I hear some of my readers react that way when I say that surrender is the foundation of bhakti? Is surrender a bad word?

 

How can that be? “Surrender” is unquestionably the first thing Arjuna says to Krishna after accepting Him as his guru: “I am a soul surrendered unto you. Please instruct me.”

 

And later, when Krishna describes the responsibly of a disciple, He says “praṇipātena”—that before receiving knowledge, the student must offer prostrated obeisances, which takes the “I surrender” mudrā of hands raised up in the air to the next level, falling flat at someone’s feet.

 

When discussing this point about surrender in my Nectar of Devotion seminar, Sat Hari—one of the students, and a scholar in his own right—shared an insight from one of his teachers on the difficulty for some people with the word surrender. “When you translate words from Sanskrit to English,” he said, “the translated word is pregnant with history [of its usage].”

 

The English word surrender means to capitulate or submit, and its usage in English is almost exclusively to an enemy or opponent.

 

Isn’t there a better word in English for prapatti or śaraṇāgati than surrender? Why use a word with such negative connotations—“to enemy or opponent”?

 

The core meaning of surrender is derived from the Middle English word render, which means “to return or give back,” and the prefix sous, which mean “under,” literally to place oneself under someone else. “To an enemy or opponent” is the implied meaning in English, due to the pre-Renaissance culture in which the meaning of surrender developed. But capitulation or submission does not have to be to an enemy. It can also be done out of great love.

 

In other words, both prapatti and surrender have the exact same meaning. They both describe the act of giving oneself over or to or “under” the control of another party. However, depending on the culture in which that word is used and one’s personal experience with authority in life, surrender will conjure up one of two images or meanings:

 

One hears “surrender” and sees an image of a person waving a white flag and then marching in the hot sun with bayonet in back and hands raised in air. To such a person, surrender means exploitation and abuse.

 

Another hears “surrender” and imagines a child in the arms of his or her loving mother, completely “under” her care. To such a person, surrender means shelter and love.

 

Regardless of how you are conditioned to view the word, the more important consideration for a devotee is whether he or she can accept and embrace the base meaning of surrender, “giving control over oneself to another party,” for without the mood of “I am yours,” one cannot enter the door of bhakti. Isn’t the mood of giving oneself to another by supplicating one’s will to their desires the basis of any relationship with a worthy object of love, especially with one’s guide or protector?

 

There are a few other images that should be clarified before the sense of weakness can be lifted from the word. Surrender—“giving control over oneself to another party”—does not mean that one’s initiative is squelched or that one is micromanaged, provided the person one surrenders to is worthy. One is fully empowered according to one’s ability but always in the mood of dependence and humility.

 

I heard a beautiful analogy that describes the subtlety of balancing full initiative and full dependence: In an Indian extended family, when the father retires, his sons will be given the business and full initiative to run it. The father, however, will come every day and sit there. Although he doesn’t interfere and the sons have full initiative, they feel his presence, shelter, and authority. In a similar way, a mature and educated disciple is given full initiative to practice spiritual life and render service according to his full realization but always with an eye toward his spiritual guardians and their authority.

 

“But what if the guru is not qualified and I am misled or exploited?” The subtleties of dealing with that are another story and another paper, but we can’t change the philosophy about what surrender means on the basis that we have entered into the wrong relationship. Before judging a guru in such a way, we had better be sure that the problem is not mostly with us, the disciple. And it goes without saying that there must be a period of examination between the guru and disciple before one makes such a heavy commitment as surrender.

 

That’s it. Surrender is not a bad word, though the reality of our absolute dependence on God is a challenging one. False ego means we want power to control and enjoy, and accepting authority takes that power from our hands. Naturally we resist it and the words that represent it, but surrender is not a bad word; it is the gateway to the world of bhakti.

 


[1] This Monday Morning Greetings was original published on February 29, 2016.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #1 – My Favorite Quotes on Death

January 4th, 2021

I was walking in the twenty-acre cemetery park across the street from where I stay in New York, when I spontaneously began to think of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s quotes on death, as well some other quotes on the subject. I became inspired to share them with a brief commentary on each one.

 

“What is death but a change of body!”

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda came back from Hrsikesh to Vrindavan to announce that he was preparing to leave the world. He gathered his disciples in his room and said the above. What struck me was not just what he said, but the conviction with which he said it. Śrīla Prabhupāda then quoted the Bhagavad-gītā:

 

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (2.13)

 

We were there months later in the same room witnessing his passing. It was obvious to those who were there: he was not bewildered by such a change!

 

“Don’t think this won’t happen to you!”

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples, almost all of whom were younger than thirty years of age, surrounded his bed during his last days. He turned to them and relayed this important instruction. If any of us had any psychological avoidance of death at that time, as Śrīla Prabhupāda’s statement seemed to indicate, how could we possibly continue that illusion in the face of the fact that so many who stood by his bed then are now gone?

 

“The pain of death is not the physical pain, for either the body goes into a coma, or one is given drugs to dull the pain. The real pain of death is losing one’s attachments.”

 

About thirty years ago, I was having a philosophical discussion with Satyanarayan Baba, who, at that time, served under me as the Sanskrit teacher in the gurukula. I don’t remember specifically what our discussion was about, but this point stuck with me. Even now, if I lost the smallest thing, say my cell phone, I would be in anxiety. Imagine what it is like to suddenly face the prospect of losing everything at once, including your material identity and everyone you know and love. For one who has not cultivated an eternal spiritual identity, the psychological trauma of losing all of one’s attachments at death is indeed even more painful than the physical pain itself.

 

“The more you transform your life from the material to the spiritual domain, the less you become afraid of death. A person who lives a truly spiritual life has no fear of death.”

 

While writing the previous quote, I thought it wouldn’t be proper to not follow it up with something that offers some hope. I thus picked this quote from Leo Tolstoy. When we perform activities of devotion such as chanting the holy names of God, because it is an activity of the eternal soul, it gives us the realization that our activities and existence do not end with the body, and we become fearless. In contrast, the activities of material enjoyment, because they are expressions of the false ego, put us in the illusion that our activities and existence end at death, leaving us always in duality and fear.

 

“Death is the illusion of material existence.”

 

Years ago, I began to study and teach the Yoga Sutras in yoga studios around New York City. One important point I gleaned from the study was that all of our problems are perceptual – how we see things – and not actual, how they are. I thought the best example of this was our apparently biggest problem, death. I searched for a good way to express my realization and composed the above statement.

 

“Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people.” (Bg. 11.32)

 

After the Atom Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the Manhattan Project, which developed the bomb, was riddled with guilt. Shortly after, he was interviewed. Contemplating the destruction he helped cause, he, with tears in his eyes, paraphrased this Bhagavad-gītā verse in his own words: “I am become death, the destroyer of the worlds.” This became perhaps the most famous quote from the Bhagavad-gītā in the western world.[1]

 

“What is death but another birthday?”

 

I seem to recall Śrīla Prabhupāda saying this, but I am not certain of its origins. We look at death with the greatest trepidation and look at a birthday as the most joyous occasion. To equate the two in this manner is a brilliant and ironic way of highlighting the positivity of death.

 

I didn’t mean to begin the new year with such an apparently macabre subject. But is it? Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher disagreed: “The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.”

 

 


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb13ynu3Iac

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #52 – Monday Morning Musings

December 28th, 2020

Reflection One

 

My experience is that my ability to meditate on the holy name is very much commensurate with the quality of my life the previous day, meaning that I met my responsibilities, reasonably prioritized them, and didn’t frivolously waste time. If chanting becomes our service, our life becomes our service.

 

Reflection Two

 

Chanting is like shooting an arrow, for in both marksmanship and prayer one must aim at a target or objective to be effective. I aim my chanting at the lotus feet of Sri Krishna and the Vaiṣṇavas and beg for the mercy of the holy name. O Holy Name! O Sri Girirāja! O devotees of the Lord! O Śrīla Prabhupāda! Please engage me in your service!

 

Reflection Three

 

Don’t fall into the misconception that the holy name isn’t service because a person is seemingly not actively doing or accomplishing anything. Service means to give pleasure to another person, and real pleasure is to feel the love of another. To sit and to offer our consciousness to Krishna in devotion is the highest service, for we are consciousness that reaches maturity and fulfilment in pure love. And in that mood of devotion, we remain fully available for whatever other service is requested from above.

 

Reflection Four

 

Taste in chanting makes us humble, because whenever we just glimpse the holy name, although the experience is sublime, it is also so simple. We then realize that so many others, including the everyday practitioners, must be already at that level of chanting, and that we may be so far behind.

 

Reflection Five

 

By our nature and upbringing, we tend to see the fault in a devotee whose nature and thoughts differ from ours. Unfortunately, we often mistake that small aspect of that person as the whole person and miss their devotionally inspired side. Lately, I have been meditating on the qualities of my godbrothers and godsisters who have passed away and have noticed that the reverse is true. I focus only on their inspired side as dedicated servants of Śrīla Prabhupāda, even in cases where their nature and thoughts appeared so much different than mine. A real Vaiṣṇava, however, always focuses on the inspired side of the devotees, whether they have passed away or are still living.

 

Reflection Six

 

The key to chanting: You have to know what you are praying for and want it really bad.

 

 

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