Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #40 – Life’s Two Greatest Challenges

October 1st, 2018

Last week two thunderbolts of realization fell in my lap. I was challenged to rise in my own spiritual commitment to meet them. I realize them as two of life’s greatest challenges.

 

  1. To dissolve the subtle body before we die.

 

I just read in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that death usually means only the dissolution of the gross body. However, it can also mean that in addition to the dissolution of the subtle body if one is free of material desires at the time of death then one attains a spiritual identity never to take birth again. I felt Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words deeply. Keeping one’s petty desires only nourishes the subtle body, exacerbates the pain of leaving this world, and keeps one in this world of birth and death. If I don’t dissolve the subtle body by reasonable detachment, I shudder to think of a next birth where one will again suffer the challenges of growing up and the myriad of other countless frustrations and humiliations one must endure simply to satisfy one’s desire to be separate from God. The challenge? Surrender now!

 

These thoughts hit me hard, especially since the week before I watched the passing of my friend Gunagrahi dasa Goswami. I watched his last days and even his last moments live streamed throughout the world. I also was with him in Vṛndāvana much of the last year. I thus witnessed not only the physical pain of one giving up the material body, but also the pain endured, as the process of dying robs one step by step of everything one has ever cherished, except the holy name. It’s no joke. Sannyāsa actually means “to die while living” by renouncing the superfluous without delay. I pray to take up that challenge.

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s description of dissolving the subtle body struck me as a life and death challenge. If I don’t surrender fully now by detaching myself from that which has no value to devotion, then when will I do it?

 

  1. To be fearless, especially at death, one must be able to draw on one’s relationship to Krishna, for that is all one really has left.

 

Ghanashyam dasa, a former brahmacārī at the Bhakti Center, is now the Hindu chaplain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, one of the most prestigious hospitals in America. In his Bhāgavatam class he described his encounters with people dying. He described that although he is trained to comfort them in many ways, which he does, ultimately without being able to go within the heart and draw on one’s relationship with God there is not much for a dying person to hold on to. He stressed how important it is, especially as devotees, to develop that relationship now. He related a story that he heard from a devotee to illustrate that point.

 

The devotee described how the ocean riptide carried him out in a way that no matter how hard he tried to swim back to shore, the current kept pushing him further and further away. He was sure he would die and thus reached into his heart to call out to Krishna for help, but he was shocked by how little substance his cry held. He realized that he had not really yet developed his relationship with Krishna and his voice reflected that. Shaken, he vowed on the spot that if he was saved he would dedicate the rest of his life to truly develop his relationship with Krishna. His cry at least carried that sincerity. Obviously, he lived to share his realizations.

 

Ghanashyam’s point struck me. Developing our relationship with Krishna is such serious business. Perfunctory devotional service will just not do. In everything we do we must find and give a heart to it, which means our love and relationship with Krishna. If I can’t find that now, what will I have left to hang on to when everything else is being ripped way? The same point arises again and again in my life in different ways. The time to fully surrender and awaken one’s relationship with Krishna is now, for trust no future however pleasant.[1]

 


[1] The phrase “Trust no future however pleasant” is from A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #39 – Silence

September 24th, 2018

I’m not a silence guy. I’m a New Yorker. Hustle and bustle are music to my ears, at least by my nature. And I like to talk. Thank God I chose the path of bhakti where you can talk all day as long as it is about Krishna. But the path of bhakti brought out another side of me. This extrovert is no longer fearful of dwelling within, as long as the sound of the holy name is my constant companion. I was thus intrigued with Madan’s seminar at the Bhakti Immersion Retreat this year: “Forest Walk: A Meditative Stroll in the Forest”. I couldn’t attend, but I got very good feedback from the participants about his seminar. The format for Madan’s class was ingenious.

 

While sitting by the bridge, he first read a very profound poem from Khalil Gibran about silence. Then the group walked across the bridge, where they sat on the porch of the forest sanctuary and each individual had a chance to share their thoughts on silence. They ended with a meditative stroll through the forest in silence to deepen their realization about the subject.

 

What I heard inspired me to try my own hand at this on Monday to explore what silence means to me. First the poem by Gibran:

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.

There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.

When you meet your friend on the roadside or in the market place, let the spirit in you move your lips and direct your tongue.
Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear;
For his soul will keep the truth of your heart as the taste of the wine is remembered
When the colour is forgotten and the vessel is no more.

(“On Talking”, The Prophet)

 

My Thoughts:

 

There is no such thing as silence. You can either hear your mind or hear God. I was always struck by the Bhagavad-gītā verse that gives the simple advice that when the senses are controlled, the Supersoul is at reach.[1] In true silence we can therefore hear God’s voice of compassion guiding us, or even His flute calling us. I once remember hearing the voice of God when, by circumstance, I was forced into abject silence. Yes, I am convinced that God personally spoke to me.

 

When the deprogrammers kidnapped me, I would neither eat anything nor talk to anyone, no matter how hard they tried to engage with me. My senses, especially the tongue, was completely restrained. After thirty-six hours in total silence, I suddenly developed an intense desire to return to the shade of the lotus feet of Śrī Śrī Radha-Kalachandji, the presiding deities of the temple in Dallas where I was serving at the time. I remember praying as sincerely and intensely as I ever did in my life. A clear vision of the deities appeared in my mind. Suddenly I heard a voice with a very cogent and detailed plan: “If you want to get out, then do this, this, and this and you will be free.” I followed the plan to the T. Within two hours I was miraculously free.

 

It is beyond the scope of today’s Greetings to share the whole story with you now,[2] but what I can share is that the voice was so clear, the plan so ingenious, and the personal instructions so effective that I can fathom no other explanation for what happened than God. So yes, when by silence my attention was finally diverted from the chatter of the senses, I could clearly hear what had always been there: the voice of the Lord of my heart directing me.

 

In writing and reflecting on this it, I am embarrassed by how much I feel the need to talk or hear others talk. The words of Gibran hit me hard: “And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered”. I pray that the month of Kārttika comes as soon as possible, where in Govardhana, not New York, I am able to sit alone in silence for long periods of time just with the holy name. That sweetness is my silence. So yes, silence is golden, but also the color of a monsoon cloud.[3]

 

 


[1] Bg. 6.7

[2] In 1975 I was kidnapped by the infamous Ted Patrick in an attempted deprogramming. It is a long and intriguing story. If readers want to hear that story they can drop me a line and if enough are interested I will arrange a podcast where I will retell it.

[3] For those not familiar with the Krishna bhakti theology, the holy name of Krishna is considered non-different from Krishna and Krishna is the color of a monsoon cloud. Krishna appeared 500 years ago, but in a golden hue, to spread the holy name.

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #38 – Practicing Humility: Part Three – The Fifteen Core Practices

September 17th, 2018

Saint Augustine once announced to his audience that he would reveal to them the three most essential practices for developing love of God. Slowly he named them one at a time: Humility…. Humility… Humility!

This Monday Morning Greetings I will continue the discussion of the fifteen core practices of humility.

  1. Role Models and Exemplars

Voltaire said that which we appreciate gradually comes to us. It is easier to appreciate philosophical concepts, especially ones that are subtle, when we see those qualities through the life and character of people who live those precepts. Unless we identify those with true humility, people who demonstrate the strength and character to resist the urge for distinction, we may mistake humility for weakness, especially in a world of exploitation where the meek seem abused and the brash promoted. In order to cultivate humility one must consciously choose and think of those that exemplify it.

  1. Respect

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu writes in the Śikṣāṣṭakam that one of the main symptoms of a humble person is to offer all respect to others. The Eleventh Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describes that “others” means all living entities. Being mindful to show proper consideration to others is an essential practice of engendering a humble mood.

One important way to practice such respect, especially for a teacher, is to honor one’s audience. A speaker or teacher should be vigilant to never feel superior to his audience and, as far as is practical, make him or herself available for the sincere inquiries of those who honor his or her teachings, always keeping in in mind the saying, “Without a speaker there can still be an audience, but without an audience there cannot be a speaker.”[1]

A vivid example of this type of humility is Lord Brahmā, the chief authority of this universe. When his son Nārada asked about the identity of God, he profusely thanked him for giving him a chance to acknowledge and speak about Krishna.[2] In his purport of their exchange, Śrīla Prabhupāda even highlights such respect as “the basic missionary principle.”

  1. Introspection

There are certain thoughts, such as envy, that are so antithetical to humility that we have to be mindful to catch and identify them whenever they arise and either outright ignore them or counteract them with opposite and more wholesome thoughts. One of the most predominant forms of envy is to be competitive and envious of peers. A Vaiṣṇava must immediately check such envy and happily acknowledge those who have surpassed him or her in devotion and service. Ideally a Vaiṣṇava even sees all as serving Krishna better than themselves.

Even worse than envy is criticism, for envy rests in the heart and criticism is when it comes out. A Vaiṣṇava militantly avoids criticism. It is simply the servant of pride.

The mind also constantly judges others based on our own opinions. Of course, to practice devotion a Vaiṣṇava must discriminate between whom to revere, befriend, show compassion to, and avoid. That, however, is different from being judgmental, in which case we categorize people according to our likes and dislikes, often seeing a person’s faults as the whole person. Whenever we become judgmental it is helpful to remember that immature people also judge us in the same narrow way.

Therefore, in order to cultivate humility one has to be extremely mindful of one’s thoughts, rooting out envy and thwarting its offspring: criticism and judgmentalism. One must see others for their goodness and service.

  1. Simplicity and Austerity

People have different needs, but when we exceed what we require it only increases our wants, initiating a cycle of ever increasing accruement, attachment, and pride. Simplicity and contentment are thus the foundations of humility.

Tapasya means to continue in one’s duty despite the irrational impulses of the mind and body. By executing tapasya one naturally starves the false ego and nourishes the humble self.

Leading a simple life is thus certainly favorable to the modest feelings of a true devotee.

  1. Country Walks

The modern city is covered by man’s creation, which is mostly matter. As we are spirit, an energy superior to matter, the city subtly maintains and invokes our sense of lordship. Nature, on the other hand, is alive and we much more readily feel the expanse of God’s power within her. A previous Monday Morning Greetings was entitled “I Hate Country Walks”, but despite my city nature, it couldn’t be clearer how deep in the forest, where spirit is pervasive, it is much more difficult to think of oneself as the center.

To delineate and describe the fifteen core practices of humility is again taking longer than I thought. The remaining five listed below will be covered next week:

  1. Adhering to Dharma and Accepting Karma
  2. Prayerful Reading
  3. A Life of Prayer
  4. Meditation
  5. Sādhu-saṅga

 


[1] I heard Madhavananda Prabhu say this in a lecture, but I don’t remember the reference

[2] Bhag. 2.5.9

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #37 – The Passing Away of His Holiness Gunagrahi Goswami

September 10th, 2018

Many of you reading this have been inspired and blessed with the association of Raghunath and Kaustubha. If you have, then you have some debt to the person being honored here. That will become apparent as you read on.

 

In a sense, Mahārāja was one of the last of the real old time saṅkīrtana generals, those who set lofty goals in the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda and moved heaven and earth to achieve them. Thirteen years ago, Mahārāja invited me to Argentina to preach. I gave classes twice a day in the ISKCON temple, a very humble place that had been their residence for over twenty years. Mahārāja had only been there a short while, but within a few years marshaled, pushed, and led the forces of the yātrā[1] to acquire and renovate two attached petit hotels in the center of Buenos Aires in order to create arguably one of the most successful temples in South America. Shortly thereafter a struggling yātrā was flourishing.

 

When Raghunath became inspired to join the Hare Krishna movement, which in those days meant living in an ashram, he moved to the ISKCON Gītā-nagarī farm in Pennsylvania. Gunagrahi Mahārāja happened to be visiting there at the time. Mahārāja thought, “Why should one with so much potential to communicate Krishna consciousness be stuck on the farm?” So he brought Raghunath to Washington, DC where Mahārāja’s Krishnafest program daily performed dynamic kīrtana on the mall in front of the Smithsonian. A few months later I got a call from him:

 

“Mahārāja, I had Raghunath start a straight edge band again to spread Krishna consciousness through his music. It’s called Shelter. We soon will tour all over the USA. I can’t do this alone. Please come with me.”

 

Soon we were traveling all over the USA with Shelter as the headliner band and three other minor straight edge bands arranged by Raghunath, including Inside Out, which was led by the then unknown Zack de la Rocha, who would later become the leader of the seminal band Rage Against the Machine. From Shelter literally hundreds and hundreds of young people started to fill the pretty much barren ISKCON temples in North America. Shortly after that Shelter expanded the scope of its program to bring the disaffected youth throughout the world to the path of bhakti. Through Raghunath’s effort, which was the brainchild and inspiration of Gunagrahi Mahārāja, the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda, which suffered so much after his passing, was revitalized in America and much of the world. It’s a service that is not acknowledged nearly to the degree that it should be.

 

There are “preachers” and then there are preachers, those whose very life breath is dedicated to giving people the jewel of devotion. Mahārāja left no stone unturned to personally, and without judgment, reach out to anyone he thought he could inspire to serve the mission of his guru. It’s a rare quality. Dotting the globe, especially in the Americas, are countless devotees who came to the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda only by the compassion, insight, and personal effort of Gunagrahi Mahārāja to make them Krishna conscious. One of those numerous jewels is Kaustubha Prabhu, the senior educator at the Bhakti Center. Mahārāja visited him in his apartment on Havemeyer Street in South Williamsburg, arguably the most decrepit and dangerous neighborhoods in New York City at the time, where he inspired Dave (now Kaustubha) to travel with him and to soon commit himself to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission. Two days before Gunagrahi Mahārāja left this world in Vṛndāvana surrounded by the devotees chanting the holy name, including his loving god brothers, I got a call from Kaustubha asking me if I could find a way to send a letter to Gunagrahi Mahārāja expressing his gratitude. I immediately dictated his letter through WhatsApp to a friend helping to care for Mahārāja who played it for him. The following day I got a message from Gunagrahi Mahārāja. With all the strength he could muster, in the most heartfelt voice, a short message for Kaustubha came:

 

“Love and gratitude to you in my heart… love in my heart… so much love in my heart… so much.”

 

Bhurijan Prabhu, who taped the message, described that as Gunagrahi Mahārāja was losing strength and practically incapable of uttering a single word more, Mahārāja uttered almost inaudibly, “So much, so much gratitude,” while placing his hand on his heart indicating his love. Each word had almost a raspy whistling quality that seemed to slightly crescendo and get higher at the end of each phrase as the air needed to produce the words continued just a short while after finishing the phrase he wanted to produce.

 

True gratitude is the budding of our real self. In my mind, the depth and humility in which Mahārāja spoke was coming straight from his eternal identity with Krishna. It was the humble and loving voice of a resident of Vṛndāvana. When I heard the tape I somewhat broke up. I remembered the deep humility, gratitude, and affection Mahārāja had for Śrīla Prabhupāda, those who followed his footpath, and for almost anyone with a spark of devotion. Mostly I reflected on his affection for me.

 

Mahārāja’s passing was perhaps the most glorious departure of a devotee in ISKCON since the passing of Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Gaura Govinda Mahārāja. It made me reflect on the qualities he demonstrated that attracted such extraordinary mercy:

 

Gunagrahi Mahārāja was exceptionally humble. Although he was quite senior to me, he always treated me as his superior, although out of humility he also never hesitated to correct me if anything I did wasn’t a reflection in his mind of the highest ideals of presenting Krishna consciousness to others. For example, my sometimes raggedy Vṛndāvana dress rightly disturbed him and he would tell me. Like everyone, he also made mistakes, but there was nothing in the very depth of his heart but the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda, and he bowed down to the feet of anyone with even a spark of desire to assist in that mission. Gunagrahi Mahārāja was endlessly attracted to the holy name and deeply loved his godbrothers, friends, and disciples. It seemed at times more than anything else he was the friend of the poor. He just had this special type of affection for the downtrodden and motley,[2] those who seemed to be surviving in Krishna consciousness only by his compassion and inspiration.

 

Sometime before he left I also received a message from him. It began with the heartfelt and somewhat unusual phrase, “Luv you, honey”. He spoke of what I meant to him. He said that Śrīla Prabhupāda was the center and acknowledged that I may not be able to come immediately because of my service, although obviously he wanted that. I had some previous commitments to two festivals that I had organized where people had already even booked tickets to fly in and participate. I had moved up my ticket to fly to India when those commitments were to be finished, but as soon as I got the message that he was now beginning to leave, I booked my flight to leave the next morning to India from Colombia to be with him. Unfortunately, he left just a few hours after I booked my ticket. I pray he will forgive me for not being there at his side.

 

I bow my head to the lotus feet of the illustrious Vaiṣṇavas such as Bhurijan Prabhu, Rtadhvaja Swami, Govinda Mahārāja, and Radhanath Swami, who dropped everything to be at his side. Thank you!

 

All Glories to Śrīla Prabhupāda and the pure devotees he brought on the path of devotion and then took from this world to directly serve him. All Glories to Śrīla Gunagrahi Goswami!

 

 


[1] Spiritual community

[2] An astrologer once told him that throughout his life he would be surrounded by low class people. He understood this to be the many people he extended himself to who otherwise, it seemed, could never make the standards required for spiritual life. He loved them and called them his “homeboys”.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Vyāsa-pūjā 2018 – Dhanurdhara Swami’s Offering to Śrīla Prabhupāda

September 4th, 2018

Rādhā Bhāva and Prabhupāda

This is not about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa. 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 Śikṣāṣṭakam Prayers,” a realization that highlights how Śrīla Prabhupāda gave us the most practical path in understanding our own relationship with Kṛṣṇa.[1]

In that regard, I found particularly relevant the discussion of the last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam that describes the mood of Śrī Rādhā at that height of Her devotion:

“I know no one but Kṛṣṇa 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 Rādhā told Her friends after they advised Her to disregard Kṛṣṇa. He had apparently spurned her. In other words, She loved Kṛṣṇa so much that just the suggestion to ignore Kṛṣṇa, 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 Dāmodar and Rāmamanda Rāya, He further elaborates on how this concluding verse expresses the nature of Śrī Rādhā’s love at its height.

“I do not mind my personal distress. I only wish for the happiness of Kṛṣṇa, 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] (Caitanya-caritāmṛta Antya-līlā 20.52)

Now back to my original 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 Rādhā 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 Bhaktisiddhānta, preached. This is clearer when understanding the history of their mission.

Without retreading a long and complex history, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta 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 Kṛṣṇa consciousness without the prerequisite foundational sacrifice and proper behavior. Śrīla Prabhupāda describes Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s concern about this and how he called out those called prākṛta-sahajiyās who cheaply concentrated their meditation on Kṛṣṇa’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 Kṛṣṇa 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 Kṛṣṇa. This is the mentality of fruitive workers who want to enjoy sense gratification by making a show of service to Kṛṣṇa.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Antya-līlā 20.52 purport)

Seeing this tendency, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, 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, rāgānuga bhakti, a practice based very much on meditating on Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and visualizing one’s own spiritual identity within them.

The last verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, however, implies clearly that what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta 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-caritāmṛta – that if you want to awaken your eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa then faithfully follow the teachings of Śrīla Prabhupāda by unconditionally surrendering to Śrī Śrī Guru and Kṛṣṇa in service of Śrī Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana mission. Certainly one who sincerely does this is embracing the essence of Rādhā bhāva as expressed in that ultimate verse:

“I know no one but Kṛṣṇa 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 Greetings 2018 #36 – Practicing Humility: Part Two – The Fifteen Core Practices

September 3rd, 2018

In the last Monday Morning Greetings, I tried to clarify the concept of humility. I offered a definition: To happily accept that there is a truth or authority greater than my own that I should submit to. To be happy small.

 

This week I would like to discuss the practice of humility. Of course, humility is generally not so much thought of as a practice, but a state of mind. What will be discussed here is specifically what one can do to deepen one’s humility, or in other words, the practice of humility.

Humility is our intrinsic nature, as we are an infinitesimal part of the Divine. It’s a humble position as the part, by constitution, is naturally made to serve that which it is part of. Pride, a lack of humility, is born from the false self, the desire for independence, and a sense of inflated superiority. The general practice of humility is thus to nourish or awaken the real self by devotional service and starve the false self or ego by neglect. What this exactly means will become apparent when I discuss the specific practices.

I should add a disclaimer here. The following list is not something I have specifically seen written somewhere. As described in the last Greeting these are just my observations in my quest to understand and practice humility based on my study of śāstra.

 

  1. Spiritual Practice or Devotional Service

God, like any person, reveals Himself in love or devotion. The infinitesimal living entity’s communion with the infinite is naturally humbling. I remember about thirty years ago traveling back from Ranikhet, which is in the Himalayas. The view of the vast range of the Himalayas, which is a spark of God’s glory, was so awe inspiring that I asked our driver to stop the bus. We got out and gazed at God’s grandeur and splendor. I remember feeling very small and blissfully reverent. In the same way, when the infinite and all-attractive Krishna reveals Himself in response to one’s concentrated devotional practice, deep reverence and consequent humility naturally awakens in the heart.

By devotion God not only reveal’s His grandeur, but His heart or love, which is His greatest mercy. The nature of mercy, which by definition means “undeserved”, is that one naturally reflects on one’s own lack of qualification to have received such love, and humility awakens in the heart.

 

  1. Inspiration (Reading Sacred Texts)

In the conditioned state, our faith is in superiority and control, not humility and devotion. To become genuinely humble, we have to first change our subtle egotistic thoughts that for the most part pervade our being and all that we do. The inspiration to change one’s internal thought process comes from hearing the right concepts, and such good ideas come from the śāstra. Therefore, to gain the inspiration to seek the humble position we must first engage regularly with śāstra.

This process of transformation based on good ideas is explained in the following maxim:

From good thoughts comes good action.
From good actions come good habits.
From good habits comes good character.
And from good character comes good destination [1]

 

  1. Act humble

Our actions more powerfully influence our thoughts than anything else. In a recent discussion I had with Mahatma dasa he described this principle as follows: “It is usually easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. The problem as I see it is trying to be humble but missing opportunity after opportunity to actually act humbly. The idea, for example, is I tell you I am lower than grass, but a moment later I criticize someone or fail to show proper respect to a senior.”

In cultivating humility it is especially important to act humble because one’s thoughts naturally follow where one places the body. In the Bhakti-sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī discusses how this should work when describing the devotional practice of paying obeisances. He described the consciousness of a Vaiṣṇava paying obeisances to the Supreme Lord and the devotees as “I am less or inferior.”

We often have the choice to serve or be served. The humble person, or one seeking to become humble, always makes oneself available for service, which is the very definition of bhakti.

 

  1. Form Relationships and Communities of Trust

To trust someone means that you accept correction from them without taking it personally. Without such relationships it is too easy to fall into a self-inflated conception of oneself. For example, one danger of accepting a position of authority is to isolate oneself from one’s peers. Regardless of one’s status in society we need relationships and communities of trust to get feedback to avoid the pitfalls of pride and help us cultivate humility. Seek real friends ­– those who can correct you.

 

  1. Regret

I remember chanting one quiet winter morning in Vṛndāvana twenty years ago. Suddenly some mistakes that I had made came to my mind. I immediately began to rationalize them, seeing them as circumstantial and so on. At the time I was lecturing in Vṛndāvana on The Wives of the Brāhmaṇas Delivered so that story immediately also came to mind.

The very proud and ritualistic brāhmaṇas had an epiphany that their simple wives were much more spiritually advanced than them. They regretted that their absorption in petty rituals had caused them to ignore the request of Krishna’s friends for food, while their saintly wives immediately acceded to their request to feed Krishna.  What struck me here was the word tapa used to describe the brāhmaṇa’s remorse, a word that also means “heat” or “to burn”. It also dawned on me that tapa was also the same word used for the first of the five rites of Vaiṣṇava initiation (pañca-saṁskāra), which means that an aspiring disciple must regret or be remorseful of his past independent and egotistical nature.

By meditating in this way, I became inspired to own my mistakes and not rationalize them away. I could almost hear my false ego scream in protest.

Regret, accepting our mistakes, is thus an essential practice of cultivating humility.

 

To be continued in a later Greeting called “Practicing Humility Part 3: The Fifteen Core Practices”. Here is a list of the ten further core practices of humility that I will discuss:

  1. Role models and Exemplars
  2. Appreciation and Respect
  3. Internal Mindfulness of Envy, Criticism, and Being Judgmental
  4. Simplicity and Austerity
  5. Country Walks
  6. Adhering to Dharma
  7. Prayerful Reading
  8. A Life of Prayer
  9. Meditation
  10. Sādhu-saṅga

I pray all is well.

 


[1] I first heard this maxim from a famous sadhu in Vṛndāvana when I asked him to share some wisdom with me. Later I was surprised that he was quoting Loa Tzu.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #35 – Practicing Humility: Part One

August 27th, 2018

In order to illustrate ways one can gain inspiration to write, a friend described to me a documentary he saw on how the show Seinfeld was created. The main writer, Larry David, would keep a notepad to write down things that would amuse him in his daily personal interactions with people in New York, where he was then living. At the time I was thinking of doing a seminar called Practicing Humility and was stuck as to where to begin. That discussion gave me an idea. Why not just observe my mind for two weeks in relationship to how I respond to thoughts of pride and jot down my realizations?

 

When I began to formulate the seminar I realized that before I could make a presentation to an audience it would be wise to first confront some basic quandaries that seem to arise in most people seeking to understand the concept of humility. For example, many question the similarity between humility, a virtue, and low self-esteem, a psychological aberration. Other quandaries would also have to be addressed, such as how humility can be congruent with boldness, or healthy self-esteem.

 

Quandary One: Humility and low self-esteem appear too similar 

 

Those lacking self-esteem and those who are genuinely humble both feel inconsequential, but their feelings of insignificance are diametrically opposed. A humble person seeks worthiness in love and service and thus the fact of inconsequentiality has no bearing on their self-image as a humble servant. In contrast, a person with low self-esteem has a self-perception of material greatness and thus is disturbed by his self-image as one lacking or not being worthy of honor and prestige. I have thus deemed humility “happy small” and low self-esteem as “unhappy small”.

 

I thought of an example that best illustrates this seemingly improbable congruence in the concept of humility between feeling powerlessness and having self-worth. A baby feels small and utterly dependent in the arms of his mother, but worthy at the same time, for being a small and needy object of his mother’s love is his highest ideal self. In the same way, a pure soul is not disturbed to be unimportant because being an infinitesimal part of God meant for His service is their dharma, their intrinsic identity and purpose.

 

We have seen that a humble person may also be at times self-deprecatory, so how is that different from a lack of self-esteem? Although a humble person may naturally feel lacking as a servant of Krishna and condemn himself, he is still basically secure in his core identity, whereas a person with low self-esteem is basically insecure in his present self-image or identity, which weighs heavily on his psyche.

 

Quandary Two: A person in a high position or a bold person can also be humble

 

It is certainly a challenge to accept a position of authority and remain humble, but it can be done in the proper consciousness. For example, a spiritual master can accept honor and service from his disciples without making himself feel proud if he trains his students as a service to his own preceptor, and not to be better than others. We all generally have to accept a position of authority, whether as a parent or teacher, but if one is vigilant not to act independent of God’s will in doing so, one’s leadership will foster a mood of service and make one humble, not proud.

 

Quandary Three: A practicing devotee can have healthy self-esteem in his or her material situation

 

We can pursue reasonable attachments in Krishna consciousness when they are consistent with bhakti and don’t obscure it. For example, a young lady wanting to find a suitable husband is not against her development of Krishna consciousness. Rather it is usually a better situation for her to do so. In the same way, the development of healthy self-esteem does not have to generate pride or cover bhakti if pursued as a component of the healthy mind needed to support one’s devotion.

 

Definition and Conclusion

 

Humility: To happily accept that there is a truth or authority greater than my desires and opinions that I should submit to. Happy small.

 

Unfortunately, I have run out of my word limit for this Monday Morning Greeting. Stayed tuned for next week’s Greeting entitled: “Practicing Humility Part Two: The Twelve Core Practices”.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #34 – Submissive Aural Deception

August 20th, 2018

“Everyone knew,” Baladeva chuckled. That was my neighbor’s response here in Vasant Falls when I told him that I just got back from the audiologist and I was diagnosed with severe high frequency hearing loss. Of course, it seemed most people noticed. I can’t count how many times people speaking to me heard me respond, “What? What?” and either chuckled or were annoyed.

 

While in his office the doctor told me that once I get a hearing aid and walk outside, I will hear the singing of birds like I never heard before. I would be amazed, he said. What a good example of classic illusion, not seeing what is actually there! I thus naturally thought about my aural deception through the eyes of śāstra.

 

The conditioned soul is in illusion

 

Illusion has two aspects: to see what is not there and not to see what is there. The classic example of illusion is walking in a dark forest and mistakenly seeing a rope as a snake. We are seeing what is not there, a snake, and we are not seeing what is there, a rope.

 

This is analogous to mistaking the body to be the self. We see the body as our core identity, and we do not recognize that our core identity is the deep self. These two aspects of illusion comprise our ignorance as to who we really are.

 

Seeing and not seeing Vṛndāvana

 

When people first come to Vṛndāvana, they may get caught in a traffic jam in front of our temple, hear blaring loud speakers, and see trash strewn and feel disappointed. The first thing I tell such pilgrims is that Vṛndāvana is actually the most beautiful place in the world, but they are not able to see what is actually there at present. To explain the phenomena of imperceptible reality, I give the example of certain high frequency sounds that only a dog can hear. I explain that just as a dog can hear sounds not perceptible to the common man, in the same way a sincere person by the practice of bhakti can perceive the real Vṛndāvana, a realm not visible by our limited senses. I have thus observed that one who comes to Vṛndāvana under the guidance of a senior devotee and stays absorbed in devotion, especially chanting the holy name, rises above illusion and leaves with the impression of having visited one of the most beautiful places in the world.

 

Of course, I am also happy that there are so many sounds produced in a modern civilization that I can’t hear so well today. Think sound pollution, which comes to my next audiologist realization.

 

Modern civilization is neither sustainable nor advancing 

 

I asked the doctor the price of a hearing aid. He said there is a range of price just like with cars, but entry level is $2,000, and it is not covered by health insurance. Did I hear right? What?! I was aghast. How will the truly poor survive in today’s world? I fondly remember the house calls of Dr. Ralph Burke, our family doctor, at $10 a visit. When I was 3 years old I was hospitalized for over a week to remove a benign tumor which my family could afford even on their middle class salary without health insurance. Those were the days.

 

I had a friend that spent three years studying over 500 books on sustainable economics. I considered him quite a genius in these matters. At the time he shared with me one of his findings that he found in, of all places, a fiscal report by the USA Congressional Budget Office. It described that at the present cost rate the demand for caring for the aged and those who will become aged, including the exorbitant cost of medicine and end of life medical care, may very well bankrupt the US economy in the not too far future unless something is done.

 

Meditating on what appears to be an oppressive medical/pharmaceutical cartel that seems to be at the root of this $2,000 entry level hearing aid, I remembered one of my favorite Bhaktivedanta purports on a verse in the First Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that describes the pastoral beauty of the city of Dvārakā, the capital of Lord Krishna’s kingdom. There Śrīla Prabhupāda describes in contrast how the oppressed modern city dweller lives today. As soon as I got home from the doctor, I looked at that purport again. It was powerful.

 

“The leaders of modern civilization select their own residential quarters in a place where there are such naturally beautiful gardens and reservoir of water, but they leave the common men to reside in congested areas without parks and gardens. […] Development of factories and mills is called ugra-karma, or pungent activities, and such activities destroy the finer sentiments of the human beings and society to form a dungeon of demons. […] The vested interest flourish at the cost of the working class, and consequently there are severe clashes between them in so many ways […]” (Bhāg. 1.11.12, Purport)

 

I am looking forward to my hearing aid, but as I leave the office my focus is on conquering a more substantial illusion. I somehow find myself humming Lalasamayi Prarthana:

 

viṣaya chāriyā kabe śuddha ha ‘be mana
kabe hāma herabo śrī-bṛndābana

 

“When the mind is completely purified, being freed from all anxieties and desires, only then will I finally see Vṛndāvana.” (V. 3)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #33 – The Heaviest Book in the World

August 13th, 2018

The Sanskrit word for “heavy” is guru. Guru means “heavy” because the heaviest thing for a conditioned soul to bear is spiritual knowledge. This is because spiritual knowledge weighs heavily on our attachments. It tells us that some things we like we must relinquish and some things we don’t we must accept. That is the hefty price for sincerely hearing and embracing the truth. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the repository for spiritual knowledge, is thus guru, the heaviest book in the world.

 

Every morning upon rising I try to read the Bhāgavatam for some time. I brace myself for transformation, for if I am not open to hearing the truth, to have my conceptions and attachments challenged, I won’t actually hear the Bhāgavatam. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, the tradition’s main theologian, refers to this phenomenon in his Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha.

 

He quotes the second verse of the Bhāgavatam where Śrī Vyasa claims that by hearing its message just once, Krishna immediately, without delay, appears in one’s heart. Śrī Jīva quotes this verse to raise the question of why this doesn’t happen to us? His answer: One doesn’t hear what one doesn’t like. And because we are antithetical to the book’s theme and ultimate message, which is to fully surrender to guru and Krishna, we don’t actually hear the message of the Bhāgavatam. That’s heavy.

 

In this way spiritual knowledge acts like a mirror to the false ego. By gazing at our reflection in that message, we see who we actually are, not what we imagine our self to be. How shocking! It’s analogous to the emperor who proudly parades among his subjects in his new clothes, only to realize that he is actually naked. In a similar way, by hearing spiritual knowledge our inflated self-conception is exposed. Is there any wonder, therefore, why we shy away from its weighty message and close our hearts to the full appearance of Śrī Krishna?

 

Another question naturally arises: if being full of material desires blocks our minds from hearing the Bhāgavatam, then what is the use of hearing the book at all? Śrī Jīva explains that by repeatedly hearing the message of the Bhāgavatam something very wonderful happens. We gradually become purified of our unwanted desires and develop an ardent desire to hear the truth. The message of surrender then progressively becomes our joy and we enter the door of true devotion. Then, instead of weighing on our attachments, each and every word incites rasa, our specific and sweet relationship with Krishna. The heaviest book in the world then becomes the sweetest.

 

“O expert and thoughtful men, relish Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literatures. It emanated from the lips of Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī. Therefore this fruit has become even more tasteful, although its nectarean juice was already relishable for all, including liberated souls.” (Bhāg. 1.1.3)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #32 – Epistemology, Metaphysics and Relationship

August 6th, 2018

Every philosophy has a description of what they deem reality (metaphysics) and their prescribed means to understand it (epistemology). In Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy, or Krishna consciousness, this is called sambandha-jñāna,[1] or knowledge of relationship. Why is metaphysics in Krishna consciousness called sambandha-jñāna? From my studies and meditation on the subject, I have come up with four reasons.

 

Reason 1

 

The most basic reason that metaphysics is called sambandha-jñāna in Gauḍīya theology is that the ultimate aim of metaphysics is to ascertain one’s purpose in life, which is informed or determined by understanding one’s relationship to reality. Understanding where one fits in the metaphysical framework of reality is thus part of understanding one’s purpose in life, or relationship to the truth, and thus appropriately called sambandha-jñāna.

 

Reason 2

 

The metaphysics of Gauḍīya philosophy are centered on Krishna and His energies. His energies are basically two: matter and spirit. Reality, therefore, has three components that Śrīla Prabhupāda has aptly described as matter, spirit, and the controller of both (God). Metaphysics is called sambandha-jñāna because to properly understand reality one must understand the sambandha (relationship) between these three basic components of existence.

 

Sambandha between matter and spirit

 

If one doesn’t understand the relationship between spirit (the living entity) and matter (the body), which are separate energies, and thinks oneself the body, one will naturally identify as the body, a focus that covers one’s identity or relationship with God.

 

Sambandha between spirit and God

 

If one doesn’t understand the relationship between the living entity and God and thinks one is equal to God (impersonalism), then what is the question of worshiping or having a relationship with God?

 

Sambandha between God and matter

 

Finally, if one thinks that the relationship between God and matter is that God is material and thus illusory (māyāvāda), then why would one worship or develop a relationship with God?

 

Thus sambandha-jñāna, knowledge of the interrelationship between matter, spirit, and God is essential for deciphering a proper metaphysics and developing one’s relationship with God.

 

Reason 3

 

Another reason why the metaphysics of Krishna consciousness is called sambandha, or knowledge of relationship, is because one cannot clearly understand God and one’s relationship with Him if one does not have a proper understanding of the relationship between the various tattvas, or subjects, in Krishna consciousness.

 

For example, if one elevates the truth of detachment far too high in comparison with the truth of attachment, then renunciation will falsely become the standard of advancement instead of devotion, the gṛhastha ashram will become belittled and women shunned or disempowered. The same problem arises conversely. When the truth of attachment is overly inflated, one will mistake married life as an item of devotional service and minimize the importance of renunciation. Either way a lack of discernment in properly understanding the relationship between tattvas, whether between detachment and attachment, service and sādhana, or any other such imbalance in judgment, will certainly cloud one’s understanding of Krishna and our relationship with Him. In this way also, sambandha-jñāna is an appropriate designation for metaphysics.

 

Conclusion

 

In the Bhakti-sandarbha sambanda-jñāna is called siddhopadesh,[2] which means knowledge that implies perfection. The appellation is quite suitable, as once one has the proper metaphysical understanding in Krishna consciousness it will automatically lead to the means to realize truth (abhidheya-jñāna) and the goal of doing so (prayojana-jñāna), just as knowing where a treasure rests will easily lead one to understand the means to extract it and the goal of acquiring it. As sambandha-jñāna, proper metaphysical knowledge, is the basis of achieving perfection, it is the substantial majority of the teachings presented in the Bhāgavatam.

 

The goal of Krishna consciousness is to develop a loving relationship with Krishna, which first requires a reasonable understanding of the fundamental nature of reality. It is not required to become a scholar or theologian to do that. We do, however, have to sincerely hear śāstra like the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and the Bhagavad-gītā to gain sambandha-jñāna, a reasonable depth of the basic philosophy of Krishna consciousness. Here’s a verse from the Bhagavad-gītā that perfectly sums up our discussion:

 

“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me [sambandha-jñāna]. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service [abhidheya-jñāna] and worship Me with all their hearts [prayojana-jñāna]. (Bg. 10.8)

 

 


[1] I will be defining the terms sambandha-jñāna, abhidheya-jñāna, and prayojana-jñāna according to the technical usage of these terms the Cc. Madhya-līlā chapters 20-25.

 

[2] Śrī Bhakti-sandarbha, Anuchheda 1

 

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