Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #51 – The Krishna Challenge

December 21st, 2020

A friend shared with me an excerpt from a book he was reading on his favorite subject, the realizations of the Greek Stoics. I am always impressed with what he sends me:

 

“Listen, as the saying goes, it’s crisis time: make a last desperate effort to gain freedom and tranquility — to be a Stoic. Lift up your head, like a person finally released from slavery. Dare to face God and say, ‘from now on, use me as you like. I am of one mind with you, I am your peer.’ Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it. You may put me where you like, in any role regardless: officer or citizen, rich man or pauper, here or overseas. They are all just so many opportunities to justify your ways to man, by showing just how little circumstances amount to.” (From Epictetus’s Discourses and Selected Writings, translated by Robert Dobbin, pg. 116)

 

Reading this, I felt challenged; Could I throw my hands in the air and “dare to face God” and say, as the best of the Stoics do, “From now on use me as you like”? I will soon again visit and stay with my mother. It is not at all easy for me to live there for many reasons, but knowing how overwhelmed my family is with their own responsibilities and struggles, it is not out of the question that more and more responsibility could eventually fall on me. If that is the case — that it is God’s will — I will have to bow my head to Krishna with full conviction and declare, “Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it.” It won’t be easy.

 

I think my situation may be a good example of why, unlike the path of jñāna, the simple process of bhakti, which has no rigid prerequisites, can be so darn challenging. In devotion, all we have to do is sincerely serve the will of God, leaving the results up to Him. Anybody in any condition or station in life, therefore, can advance on the path of devotion. The only difficulty is if we are asked to do something that does not conform to our desires, in which case a simple task will seem difficult and will likely be resisted. In other words, the path of bhakti is only challenging because we don’t always like to serve a higher purpose, especially when, in the process, we have to relinquish control.

 

This “stoic” acquiescence to a higher truth is also called surrender. It is the foundation of devotion, for without surrendering selfishness — and that’s what surrender means — one can never enter the door of bhakti, or, for that matter, any sincere loving relationship.

 

As we go deeper in any spiritual endeavor, we will inevitably hit a barrier, and an inner voice will challenge us: “If you want the highest love you have to fully surrender.” The Stoics had it right. Are we ready to meet The Krishna Challenge and boldly declare in full devotion, “From now on use me as you like”?

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #50 – Dying in America

December 14th, 2020

Dying in America[1]

 

For the past week, I have been staying at my mother’s house. She will be 100 years of age next June, bless her soul. My younger and older brother responsibly manage her affairs, but besides a full-time helper, she lives without any family. Prior to the pandemic they could at least visit regularly.

 

I won’t bore you with the details, but getting old and dying is no fun, especially in America where independence is valued to such a degree that everyone wants their own place, even after visibly getting older. Unfortunately, the result is that when one eventually becomes debilitated, they hardly ever age or die with family and are mostly shuffled off to a nursing home. What could be a worse fate than dying without the care of loved ones, which now seems the norm or culture in most of the first world?

 

I think the root of this tragedy is a misunderstanding of freedom. Freedom is great when it allows you to worship the God of your choice and freely voice your opinions. When freedom, however, is defined simply as freedom to, which tends to overvalue abject independence, then an equally important freedom is excluded, the freedom from, in this case from loneliness, when the support one requires to be secure and emotionally fulfilled is insufficient. In my opinion, this situation is a direct result of the unhinged freedom to culture that minimizes the value of duty, sacrifice, and ultimately the extended family. Thinking about this gave me a remembrance that I think highlights this loss of tradition and culture.

 

I was walking down the main road in Govardhan with a friend when I noticed a stately old building. The sign carved in stone on the edifice in bold letters announcing “ANATHALAYA” caught my attention. I asked my friend what it meant. It was an orphanage. I was then immediately able to recognize how the meaning of the word was derived from its components, which were common Sanskrit words — a (not)—nātha (to control or rule) — ālaya (dwelling). I was struck by the cultural implications of the meaning, “a dwelling for those who have no ruler.”

 

In a traditional culture, the concept of no one to rule one describes a tragic situation, for the concept of authority or rule mostly means shelter and consequent guidance, and to lack that is indeed unfortunate. In the post­modern world, the term no ruler or controller, however, would never be the choice of words to describe something negative, because becoming free from rule or authority is actually valued. Today’s children therefore usually don’t remain with their parents, and most parents today prefer to stay in their own house even when getting older. By the time the need for serious care arises, there are usually not even enough family members in one house capable or willing to take on such responsibility.

 

Anyway, I am here with my mother trying to help. I am arranging to get her hearing aid fixed. Somehow her helper didn’t realize it was not working, which made it practically impossible for the family to talk with her on the tablet they purchased. I am trying to do my part. Aging and dying without spiritual realization is difficult enough, but dying in America is especially tragic.

 

 


[1] America can refer to anyplace in North or South America. Here I am using it to refer to the United States.

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #49 – Humility! Humility! Humility!

December 7th, 2020

Humility! Humility! Humility!

 

This was St. Augustine’s declarative answer to the rhetorical question he posed to an assembly of the faithful gathered to hear him speak: “What is the most important quality for spiritual advancement?” As humility is of paramount importance to spiritual life, I have discussed this subject many times in Monday Morning Greetings, from posts defining humility to discussing how it is distinguished from low self-esteem. This week, I had an inspiration to define humility in another way that I hope adds to the understanding of this important subject: Humility is moving out of the center.

 

When I refer to the center here, I am referring to the pride that the world should or does revolve around my desires and the faith that happiness occurs when that is achieved. Moving out of the center is the humility to shift from this identity to one of servant of God, who is actually the center of all existence and inclusive of all. Some thoughts on how this perspective demonstrates the subject of humility.

 

Family and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

A sannyāsī once told his student monks ( brahmacārīs), “If you want to remain a monk, you have to be the humble servant of everyone. Otherwise, you should get married and at least be the humble servant of a wife and family.” Marriage and family are meant to teach that there is something higher than oneself. If, out of pride, one tries to use family to center himself for enjoyment and control, the whole purpose of it is ruined.

 

 

Community and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

The whole purpose of community is to provide a place where one can happily leave the self-centered false ego at the door in order to joyfully experience that common interest is higher and serves one better than self-interest.

 

 

Disciple and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

Disciple means one who moves out of the center and puts guru and Krishna there.

 

 

Guru and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

A spiritual master is indeed the center of his disciples’ lives. A guru, however, never thinks he is guru or the center, but humbly accepts this position as a service to his spiritual master. In that way, guru and Krishna remain the center of the guru’s life. If he wavers from holding that consciousness, he is not qualified to be a guru.

 

 

Coming to the Path of Bhakti and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

The path of bhakti begins with the realization that our attempts to be the center of existence have only led to duality and fear, which impels us to take the humble position of desiring a truth higher than our own failed authority.

 

 

Bhakti and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

The practice of bhakti is the process of putting God in the center of one’s life by moving to the periphery for service and vigilantly resisting the false ego’s constant attempt to drag one back.

 

 

Bhakti-sastra and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

Bhakti-sastra is meant to attract us to Krishna by describing His glories. By reading the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and hearing Krishna’s glories, one becomes attracted to Krishna and puts Him in the center of their life, which inspires one to move to the position of Krishna’s servant. This hearing process, this study of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, is thus the crux of the bhakti practice.

 

 

Shunning Praise and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

Material consciousness means we like to be praised, because it puts us in the center where we can control and enjoy. A bhakta thus militantly deflects or shuns praise.

 

 

Experiencing Love and Humility (moving out of the center)

 

The only place where God’s love does not shine is the center where we shield ourselves from His mercy by the cloud of self-centeredness. Why are we so attached to the only place where love and happiness do not flow?

 

I think I understand further now as to why St. Augustine was so emphatic: “Humility! Humility! Humility!”

 

 

“Be silent and listen: Have you recognized your madness, and do you admit it?” – Carl Jung

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #48 – Kartik Meditations 2020 II

November 30th, 2020

Years ago, I was sitting with a sādhu in Govardhana when a young devotee came over to him and declared, “I chanted sixty-four round today!” When the young man left the sādhu turned to me and whispered, “He is so merciful. He just gave me the benefit of his chanting.” If you accomplish something and proclaim your glories, you become proud and won’t advance. You may, however, help others to advance by making them humble.

 

Chanting makes one humble because it clears the mirror of the mind. One not only sees God and oneself, but one also sees the false or pretentious self. Seeing the charade of who we think we are is painful, but somehow there is simultaneous joy.  Only when we are humble can one taste Krishna’s mercy.

 

We can’t produce the holy name of Krishna. We can only attract the holy name. One who realizes that begs for the holy name. Krishna is merciful and will certainly appear in His holy name if our entreaty is sincere.

 

A combination lock won’t open the door to a treasure until we get the combination exactly right. The combination that cracks the lock of the holy name and allows us entrance to the kingdom of God is chanting and hearing each syllable attentively and with the right heart. That stage is called śuddha nāma (pure chanting). I have faith, however, that by the sincere attempt to chant attentively and avoid offenses (the stage of nāmābhāsa), we will at least get a glimpse of Sri Krishna behind the door of the mind.

 

When the mind wanders it will naturally flow towards our material attachments. If one is not vigilant to let those thoughts go while chanting, we won’t hear the holy name. If we can become attached to Krishna, however, by serving and hearing the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, we will spontaneously think of Krishna’s form and pastimes. Not only will we continue to hear the holy name, but the holy name will become more pronounced.

 

Chanting is a science. There is a predictable result if done properly. That is why there are so many teachings about chanting the holy name. Does that mean that by our effort in chanting we can attain Krishna, and the result is therefore not dependent on His mercy? No. By the science of chanting our chanting will become imbued with sincere hankering to attain the lotus feet of Krishna, and that chanting may attract Krishna’s mercy.

 

Our success in japa meditation is based on faith, a trust in the value of what we are doing. We will then make the proper effort to protect that treasure by avoiding the offenses to the holy name and by maintaining a dharmic or responsible life. Our only fear then is becoming lax and losing the treasure of the holy name.

 

His Holiness B.B. Govinda Swami explained the glories of Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmīon his appearance day: “He was such a great devotee that he was chanting all day long and daily paid one thousand obeisances to the Vaiṣṇavas.” After the lecture, one devotee asked the Mahārāja, “You said that Raghunātha dāsa was such a great a devotee, that he chanted all day and paid a thousand obeisances, but what service did he do?” When I heard Mahārāja tell the story years ago, I chuckled to think that the devotee was thinking that chanting wasn’t service, but now I am asking myself the same question.

 

One important principle in chanting is to think of others before oneself, for without selflessness and compassion we can’t chant the holy name purely. That is why Śrīla Prabhupāda and his guru mahārāja were so wary of people who prematurely retired to a holy place. This is how I reconcile chanting more for my own purification with the mission to vigorously and selflessly give devotion to others.

 

Chanting more: The most important thing is to save oneself.

 

Chanting more: I am seventy. As one gets older it’s quite appropriate to dedicate oneself more to one’s internal spiritual life, and it is a good example for others.

 

Chanting more: It doesn’t substantially reduce my service because chanting more sharpens my mind and makes my services and responsibilities more efficient and less time consuming.

 

Chanting more: Our mission is to taste and distribute the holy name. If I can become attached to the holy name it will inspire others in our mission.

 

Chanting more: I am praying for service and am fully available for Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission, whatever that means and wherever it takes me. Somehow he has given me the service of chanting. I am thus confident it is very connected to his mission.

 

 

“This temporary life is full of various miseries. Take shelter of the holy name as your only business.” (Aruṇodaya-kīrtana, verse 6, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura)

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #47 – Do We Live in a Matrix?

November 23rd, 2020

Do We Live in a Matrix?[1]

 

Edward Jay Epstein[2] gave me some food for thought, challenging whatever political worldview I may embrace based on the news. I gleaned this from an article he wrote in 1981 called “The Selection of Reality”[3] where he analyzed the various constraints, from the pressure of time to the demands of advertising, in accurately presenting the news. Here’s his conclusion:

 

“One question finally must be asked: Given these constraints, do the media present a picture of reality upon which rational men may make decisions? In spending over a year watching the three television networks collect, analyze, and present data in the form of news stories, I concluded that these pictures of reality were systematically distorted by organizational requirements.”

 

Professor Epstein’s analysis reaffirmed what I was already thinking based on studying the research of Johnathan Haidt[4], one of the most cited scholars on moral psychology, on the origin of political choices: that most people making political choices, whether left or right, make them based more on their conditioning than on sound reasoning, making them susceptible to unbalanced views that ultimately distort part of their worldview.

 

Of course, in reading this most people will say, “Not me, it’s the other side that lives in a fantasy world.” My experience is that people today on both sides of the aisle are much more prone to fall into tribal thinking than they realize. My aim here in quoting Epstein and mentioning Haidt is to reference the tendency to dogmatically embrace a particular vision of reality so that we can become more reflective on the causes of how we form our worldview. Another way to understand that is to look back on our life after a period of growth and reflect on just how distorted our view of the world was previously. In that sense, we have all been living, to some extent, in a reality distorted by our conditioning and misinformation.

 

I think this type of challenging, self-reflective thinking is important, because our decisions determine our fate, and our decisions are very much connected to how we see the world. Unfortunately, how we see the world is generally what we think the world actually is, despite the countless mistakes made based on our previous faulty perceptions that should have exposed our tendency to be illusioned. I am not discounting the validity of holding strong convictions based on śāstra and those who have realized it, but I am suggesting the need to be more open-minded towards others whose views and opinions are different than ours. Let me end by sharing a list I have personally made in my quest to avoid living in a matrix.

 

Avoiding the Matrix

  1. I pray to know the truth, regardless if it proves me wrong and diminishes my ego.
  2. Doubt is a sign of intelligence when it means we humbly want to understand things more deeply.
  3. While there are basic facts and śāstric principles that are the bedrock of my convictions, I am open to improve or nuance my understanding of these and anything else I may believe.
  4. I welcome having my convictions challenged.
  5. I always hear both sides of any issue.
  6. No matter how much I disagree with someone, let me understand why they think the way they do, and let me never forget their humanity.
  7. Even if I feel I have indeed realized or seen a truth deeply, I still lay that truth before trusted peers for confirmation.
  8. I stand to be corrected.

 

 

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

 

 


[1] I am using the word “matrix” to describe living in an alternative reality that is false, not an alternative reality that is in fact the actual reality, which I am told is how the movie uses the term. This is more consistent with the sociological meaning of the word, which is the way people unreflectively live their lives based on various cultural norms born from their environment.

[2] Edward Jay Epstein (born 1935) is an American investigative journalist and a former political science professor at Harvard, UCLA, and MIT.

[3] From What’s News: The Media in American Society (1981), edited by Elie Abel

[4] His seminal work is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012)

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #46 – Kartik Meditations 2020

November 16th, 2020

For all practical purposes, Monday Morning Greetings was started twenty years ago while I was staying in Govardhan in 2000 for my yearly Kartik vow of increased devotional practices. It was then that I had the realization that it would be a good service to share my japa realizations regularly by email and then Facebook. Those realizations were later compiled into two books, Greetings from Vrindavan and, then later, Japa Meditations. Unfortunately, I am not in Govardhan this Kartik for only the second time in forty-four years. I do, however, try to follow the same yearly spiritual protocol and, as much as possible, live there in my mind. So back to the roots of Greetings—“Kartika Meditations 2020”:

 

Poor chanting: “When will I finish my rounds?”

Good chanting: “I hope this never ends!”

 

Chanting the holy name becomes more and more my service to Krishna as I become older. Conscious that chanting is my service, I try to offer each syllable carefully for the pleasure of Krishna. It dawned on me that I can’t perfect that service just by turning on some yogic power of concentration when I sit down to chant. The quality of my chanting depends much on how I live my life, for how I live my life is how I deal with God. In other words, just as you can’t ignore or mistreat someone publicly and expect to have them intimately deal with you in private, if we spend our day frivolously or irresponsibly in neglect of God’s will, we shouldn’t be surprised if He remains a bit distant in our meditation when we are alone with Him in the form of His divine holy name. If I am to perfect this service, I must be more conscientious in how I live my life.

 

Chanting is prayer. A successful chanter therefore has to know deep in their heart what they are actually praying for and to be conscious of that while chanting. Otherwise, their chanting may be empty.

 

We cannot earn Krishna; We can only attract Krishna. But Krishna is attracted by our humble effort to chant begging for His mercy.

 

Without regulation—a time and place for chanting—we lose focus, and when that happens chanting becomes somewhat tedious. Today I lost regulation. I thus had hours left of chanting in the afternoon. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I then had a thought: “If boredom is just a thought, then why not just determinedly neglect that thought, especially the thought of finishing my rounds. If I can neglect thoughts of boredom, my chanting will not be tedious.” It helped a lot. The eternal present is never boring.

 

As God is non-different from His name, within the name of Krishna is His form, qualities, and pastimes. These aspects of Himself are gradually revealed to the sincere chanter of the holy name, for Krishna, like any person, is responsive to love. Ultimately, we see the form and qualities of a person within their name to extent we have a meaningful relationship with them. Think of a person that you love or respect dearly. Say their name. Do you not spontaneously see their form and think of their qualities? When we sincerely serve Krishna and hear His glories and thus develop a meaningful relationship with Him, then certainly His form, qualities, and pastimes immediately come to mind when chanting His name. Even more than that, they actually manifest in His Name. When will that day be mine?

 

A bhakti catch-22: Taste in bhakti comes when we are concentrated over a reasonable period of time, but without being concentrated over a reasonable period of time it is hard to get taste. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura offers a solution: mādhava-tithi bhakti-jananī – the days of Lord Hari give birth to devotion. In other words, if we can at least have days of the month for God, like Ekādaśī, when we fully concentrate on God, a taste for devotion arises that can help us to remain concentrated in our future practices. And even better is to take advantage of the month of Kartik.

 

Back to my roots: “Kartik Meditations 2020”. I kind of like it.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #45 – Why No Detail?

November 9th, 2020

There are thousands of volumes of elaborate descriptions in Vaiṣṇava literature about Radha and Krishna’s forms, qualities, and pastimes. They are all based on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, but the descriptions of the exchanges between Krishna and the gopīs, and ultimately with Radha, are found in just five chapters of the book, encompassing less than 200 verses. Who then filled in the details, what was their right to do so, and how much of that was borrowed from the historical period in which it was composed?

 

I think to answer this question we first have to understand something about the Vaiṣṇava conception of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Vaiṣṇavas believe that God, being Absolute, is non- different from His name and also non-different from descriptions about Him. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, like Krishna, is thus a person and not just a book. One can’t therefore understand either Krishna or Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam fully just by studying Them devoid of a mood of service, any more than one can fully understand anyone unless that person is inspired to open their heart by one’s service mood. The method of understanding the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is therefore the use of one’s intellect in the service of Krishna in a mood of humility and devotion with the realization that full revelation of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam will only be given to one who inspires the text and Krishna to reveal Their full splendor through such prayerful study.

 

The elaborate and detailed books about Radha and Krishna were thus written by spiritually elevated Vaiṣṇava scholars who analyzed the text while praying to and worshipping each word.  Volumes of meaning thus poured forth from the codes of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, which were then recorded in their commentaries and books, which also conformed to and enhanced their own direct experience of Krishna’s form and activities. We thus have a fairly consistent description of Krishna and His pastimes in the lineage of our self-realized teachers, which allows us, under their guidance, to also fully see Krishna in the pages of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.

 

It is not that Krishna is not fully described in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam; He is. But how much we can actually perceive is limited by an intelligence that is skewed by the filter of our own mundane conceptions and attachments. By somewhat hiding its full nature in the codified verses of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, it also forces the sincere reader to go beyond our imperfect intellect and humble ourself in devotion to fully perceive Krishna in the message of the Bhagavat.

 

How much of the description is borrowed from the historical period in which it is written? Our acharyas inform us that Krishna’s manifest pastimes are a replica of the spiritual world. Obviously, in order to communicate something clearly it must be done in the language and mode of understanding of the audience to which it is directed. Descriptions of Krishna may therefore slightly vary in their expression according to how the author feels his realizations are most effectively communicated, but still all such expressions are based on how Krishna appeared in this world. For example, in the various paintings of Krishna, we see that Krishna’s complexion, which is blue, may vary in shades according to the artist, but Krishna’s color is not red or yellow. He is the color of a bluish-dark monsoon cloud, and by meditating on any of those slightly varied descriptions we can certainly realize the beautiful complexion of Krishna.

 

Why no detail? The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is rich in detail about the name, form, qualities, and pastimes of Krishna, but the fullest manifestation of Krishna, especially His deep intimate life, is revealed within the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam only to the pure devotional scholars who wrote voluminously about Him and to those who humbly follow in their footsteps.

 

“To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Bg.10.10)

 

 

“Wearing a peacock-feather ornament upon His head, blue karṇikāra flowers on His ears, a yellow garment as brilliant as gold, and the Vaijayantī garland, Lord Krishna exhibited His transcendental form as the greatest of dancers as He entered the forest of Vṛndāvana, beautifying it with the marks of His footprints. He filled the holes of His flute with the nectar of His lips, and the cowherd boys sang His glories.” (Bhag. 10.21.5)

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #44 – On Criticism II

November 2nd, 2020

I received a lot of feedback on my previous post about criticism. Obviously, it was a relevant post to many. According to Bhagavad-gītā, we are born here overcome with the dualities of desire and hate. If that’s our basic material nature, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand why we all struggle with the problem of being over-critical. After all, the propensity to criticize is specifically born of those dualities. That being said, the question still remains: What constitutes constructive criticism, and when do we overstep that line?

 

Before defining that line, I think it is necessary to understand more deeply what criticism is, and why it should be avoided. Criticism is when envy, born of desire and hate, is expressed. It is therefore against the very foundation of yoga, which is ahimsa or non-violence. Here’s why:

 

The shadow of resentment keeps our spiritual light from shining through, never allowing us to fully experience who we are.[1]

 

Now, how do we reconcile that with the obvious need and duty to correct the mistakes of others and expose injustice? Those on the spiritual path can criticize when it is our duty to correct, when we are in position to achieve a constructive result, and if it is done with compassion, not hate.

 

For example, in the Bhagavad-gītā, the first thing Krishna says to Arjuna is, “You are a pretender and a fool, for the wise man laments neither for the living nor the dead.”[2] Krishna is taking the role of a teacher who must correct the student in a way to help the student overcome ignorance and transcend the ego. Krishna’s criticism is the right thing to do. It is His duty to correct Arjuna, who will accept His correction as His student. Most importantly, Krishna is criticizing Arjuna out of genuine affection for His devotee and friend.

 

In other words, it is not enough of a reason to criticize another simply because they have made a mistake. We have to be vigilant that our criticism is not just an excuse to enjoy a sense of superiority or that it comes from a feeling of hate. Such intentions create a cloud of ignorance that covers the soul. If we are somewhat introspective, we will realize that our criticism of others usually says more about ourselves than it does about anyone else. At least that has been my own experience.

 

I once did an exercise called “A Complaint Free World”.[3] The exercise dictates keeping a band on one’s wrist and moving it to the other wrist every time one criticizes someone. The exercise promises that if one can avoid criticism completely by keeping the band on one wrist without ever changing for it three weeks, the habit of avoiding unnecessary criticism will be established.[4] It was tough. Every time I wanted to criticize someone, I immediately became not only aware that I was doing something wrong, but I could see how much my desire was very rarely a product of duty, but mostly a selfish desire to satisfy ego and superiority.

 

The role of the critic, however, has its proper function, for unless there are people who can point out and correct the faults of others, individual or societal development will be stunted. But, again, it is only effective for those who have the duty to point out another’s faults and, most importantly, the character and compassion to do so. William Penn said it best:

 

“They have a Right to censure, that have a Heart to help: The rest is Cruelty, not Justice.”[5]

 

 

 


[1] I don’t have a reference for this, but I can attest it is anonymous.

[2] Bg 2.11

[3] https://www.willbowen.com/complaintfree/

[4] I discussed why this exercise actually works in terms of yoga psychology in my article “Yoga Psychology”: https://wavesofdevotion.com/essays/yoga-psychology/

[5] I am not a literary scholar. When I need a quote for my article, I just google the topic. Even then it is often difficult to find the right quote. On this relevant topic I found so many gems of wisdom. I will share them here beginning with two quotes supporting the critic, although the vast majority of quotes on this subject seem to oppose criticism acknowledging what a stumbling block that habit is to moral and spiritual development.

 

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.” [New Statesman interview, 7 January 1939]”
― Winston Churchill

 

“The proper function of the critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.” ― D.H. Lawrence

 

 “The motive behind criticism often determines its validity. Those who care criticize where necessary. Those who envy criticize the moment they think that they have found a weak spot.” ― Criss Jami, Killosophy

 

“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” ― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

 

Criticism of others is thus an oblique form of self-commendation. We think we make the picture hang straight on our wall by telling our neighbors that all his pictures are crooked.” ― Fulton J. Sheen, Seven Words of Jesus and Mary: Lessons from Cana and Calvary

 

“Be warned: A person content to sit with you and criticize others will speak critically of you out of earshot.” – Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse, and Grumbling for Every Day of the Year.

 

“Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.” ― Abraham Lincoln

 

“I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never seen a statue of a critic.” ― Leonard Bernstein

 

 “A critic is a legless man who teaches other people to run” Channing Pollock

 

“One does not have the right to criticize until he can do the same work without being criticized” ― Dr. Amit Abraham

 

“Some people have never received compassion, only criticism. That is why criticism is all they have to hand out.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich, Being Bold: Quotes, Poetry, & Motivations for Every Day of the Year

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #43 – That Last Honest Man

October 26th, 2020

That Last Honest Man [1]

 

Truth is the last leg of religion. It is rare to find. I bow down to that last honest man.

 

Truth challenges our selfish desires. It may tell us to give up things we want and to accept things we don’t. The honest, however, accepts what is right no matter what it means for his life.

 

I bow down to that last honest man.

 

The word expediency does not exist in the vocabulary of the truthful. He never makes an excuse to simply do what he wants in the face of impropriety, no matter how practical or convenient it seems.

 

I bow down to that last honest man.

 

If the truthful makes a mistake, he faces it head on, no matter how loud his false ego screams. You will never catch him trying to rationalize away or justify his missteps or mistakes

 

I bow down to that last honest man.

 

The reasoning of the truthful is never motivated. He reasons first and then comes to conclusions, not the other way around.

 

I bow to that last honest man.

 

Most are hopelessly stuck on the mental plane. Such people can’t make decisions frozen by the minute calculations of trying to calculate what is best for themselves. The honest is not shackled by such selfish concerns and therefore acts quickly and decisively.

 

I bow down to that last honest man.

 

Too many, in serving God and others, really want something for themselves, whether it’s profit, admiration, or distinction. The honest has no hidden agenda. He is completely sincere and serves only to please guru and Krishna.

 

I bow down to that last honest man.

 

The private and public life of the truthful are the same. What you see is what you get. Don’t you just love the forthright, even with their rough edges?

 

I bow down to that last honest man.

 

Authority is not a bad word for the truthful if authority means the rule of knowledge and the person who possesses that knowledge. Rather, the sincere humbly embrace and surrender to such authority.

 

I bow down to that last honest man.

 

When the leaders of spiritual institutions value the form of the institution more than the values on which they are based, such leaders fear the last honest man for he is detached and there is no way to control or silence him. Only such a man protects the legacy of those institutions from being mired in expediency and cheating.

 

I bow down to that last honest man.

 

When such institutions, however, live by the values they represent, the honest man is their defender and will give his life to protect it.

 

I bow down to that last honest man.

 

Although an honest man is bold, he fears the unnecessary criticism of others, especially those serving Krishna, and only with the utmost caution, and as a last resort, does he ever mention one personally. The truthful hate only the sin and not the sinner.

 

I bow down to that last honest man.

 

The honest man never compromises the truth in thoughts, words, or action.

 

I am not that honest man, but I know who they are and serve them. I bow down to the last honest man.

 


[1] I am posting today a reprint for the second week in a row. I got very good feedback for the few times I have done this, but the reason I haven’t been able to complete a Monday Morning Greetings for the last two weeks is that since Puruṣottama-māsa I have increased my sādhana and need to adjust my schedule for more writing time in case a particular post is challenging and requires more time. I should be back on track for next week.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #42 – On Criticism

October 19th, 2020

On Criticism [1]

 

“The poison of that which you criticize comes to you.”

 

“Criticism is worse that throwing a spear in someone’s body, because the spear can only pierce the body, but criticism can pierce the heart.”

 

“Criticism is worse than envy. Envy is when it is in the heart. Criticism is when it comes out.”

 

I have often repeated these statements. I am sure I read them someplace, although somehow I can’t find their reference. I have no difficulty, however, embracing their conclusion. And here is one strong clearly referenced statement about the necessity to avoid criticism.

 

“Of the nine processes of devotional service, the most important is to always chant the holy name of the Lord. If one does so, avoiding the ten kinds of offenses, one very easily obtains the most valuable love of Godhead.” Cc Antya 4.71

 

It’s a good reference for the most serious of the ten offenses against the holy name is criticism. Of course, the word for criticism used here “nindā” is qualified by the word “sādhu” and there is also allowance for constructive criticism. We will get to that, but we need to realize that the stakes for an offender are high. You just won’t get “love of Godhead”. And for the devotee that is everything. Best err on the side of caution.

 

I struggle with that. So many people, devotees who are dedicated and senior, sometimes do things that disturb me. How can one not criticize? Be careful! If one’s criticism is not born of compassion, but even harbors a trace of ill will, that hate will certainly cover the soul, for the soul is simply consciousness meant for love and devotion.

 

And if I think about it honestly I also must do things that serve as fuel for the lower nature of others. We all struggle with our own impurities and conditioning and its bound to be just the thing that annoys another, especially one with a different nature. That is simply the way of the world. At all costs I just don’t want to be a self-righteous hypocrite that is always clamoring for justice for others and mercy for oneself.

 

But what about all the injustice? By all means speak up and speak up strongly, but first make sure there is no hate in your own heart, otherwise your kīrtan of others faults which merely embodies the impurities of your own heart will only spread hate of others and not love of God. We have seen too often that the modern champions of controversy mostly create threads that attract the bitter.

 

I remember reading in a history of the Gauḍīyā Math of a younger devotee who had a very critical intelligence. He would often see things that are wrong. He sought the counsel of a very senior and elevated Vaiṣṇava who gave him the very simple advice which he followed for the rest of his life, “Observe and don’t talk”. He followed that instruction and attained spiritual heights. Yes, it may be one’s service to point on mistakes. I just don’t envy that person and I pray they are fairly pure. Otherwise:

 

“We all become well-disguised mirror image of anything that we fight too long or too directly… Most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot.” – Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

 

My prayer is to be a Vaiṣṇava. So many places in śāstra that is defined as one who is free from the propensity to criticize others. Who else can a Vaiṣṇava be other than one who has no hate in his or her heart? I hanker for such saṅga. And by Śrīla Prabhupāda’s grace there are many such souls. I just have to be the bee that seeks the honey and not the fly that looks for the sores.

 

To conclude with another oft-repeated statement of mine that has no reference, but I embrace whole-heartedly:

 

Bhakti is simple. Even a child can do it. What is difficult is avoiding offense.”

 

 


[1] This week I accidentally deleted the final part of what I was working on and couldn’t complete it on time. This is a reprint from 2016. I hope you enjoy it.

 

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